Cloister Commentary, Day 108: Leftover Heaven

Projects: Nicole worked on coronavirus piñatas, I nerdily transferred files from my old 2T external drive to my new 4T (some accomplishment, and yes it’s backed up in that cloud over there).

Interactions: We Zoomed with our inspirational comrades Jill, Rex, Isaac, and Michael in the afternoon, sipping on dirty martinis and getting down to the real nitty gritty.

Dining: “Leftover Heaven” – spaghet, Parmesan chicken, tres leches cake. Times are rough, but sometimes I must say, “I got it made!”

Media: James McBride’s new book Deacon King Kong is a danged hoot; if you’ve never encountered the great blues singer and guitarist Otis Rush, please YouTube him; and, I don’t know about you, but for us Jaws never gets old–in fact, right now, it’s too close for comfort. “Farewell and ado / Ye fair Spanish ladies….”

Streaming for Strivers:

Sometimes you have to blow out the cobs.

Cloister Commentary, Day 101: Wavelengths

Opened the day with a wonderful conversation with Mom’s neighbors Ronnie and Missy Williams. Ronnie was the first friend I made when I moved to Monett in 1980, occupied our new house until my family could join me, and started a summer factory job. For about a week, all I had was a mattress, a blanket, a pillow, some clothes and a diddy bag, a jam box, and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ Hearts of Stone 8-track (?). Ronnie quickly acted as a conduit between me and some Monettians around my age, and I’ve always been grateful. Ronnie’s going to keep Mom’s lawn mowed and Missy’s going to offer herself as a resource, since she checks in on other women in the neighborhood who’ve lost their husbands.

Afterwards, I cleaned out, vacuumed, washed and waxed Dad’s truck. Apparently no one in Monett installs car stereos, so I will be leaning on the ol’ FM wavelengths for a bit. Gotta have a CD player in any vehicle o’ mine.

Our friends in Monett have supported us with great grub in eye-popping fashion over the past week, but God almighty it has been great to return to Overeem/Volker home cooking! Jane has always been a sharp chef, and we enjoyed her Panko-and-Parmesan crusted chicken breasts and olive-oiled and rosemary’d lil’ taters Saturday night and garlic buttered shrimp last night. I may also have set a personal record by devouring three helpings of lettuce salad on the former eve.

I Zoomed in the afternoon with the Nicole – Heather – Jill Power Trio. At the moment of its convening, I really needed the connection; I haven’t been able to start processing past events with any regularity, and I was feeling a mite unsteady. The Zoomversation gave me a lift.

Closing out the day, Mom watched her Sunday PBS regular shows, and I read and listened to Bob Dylan and the band. Hoping for the best for both of us and my brother this week.

Streaming for Sustainers:

“Don’t believe what you’ve heard / ‘Faithful”s not a bad word.”

Cloister Commentary, Day 97: Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Mafia Members

My students gave presentations yesterday, the first I’d assigned on Zoom. Actually, with everyone but the speaker fully muted, they weren’t wholly unenjoyable. One gave hers accompanied by her dog and standing outside a stable (she had to work but didn’t want to miss class), and neither augmentation was a distraction. Also, I’d assigned an excerpt from Lars Eighner’s Travels with Lizbeth that I’ve always loved as an expository writing model but students have always hated, and all of these humans chose it as their favorite from among three. I wish I could teach them this fall, too.

Though it was released Friday, I had not been able to get to Bob Dylan’s new album My Rough and Rowdy Ways until yesterday. My expectations were a little low, though he has long been a very important voice in my life. Hot take: his most nuanced singing in a long time (yes, he can squeeze nuance out of those destroyed cords), sly, funny, allusive, and wise writing–and some tuff blues ‘n’ roll. Like my friend Whitney, I’d like to think the finale might really be the finale: “Murder Most Foul.” It’s hard to know when exactly to wave bye-bye, but Bowie’s showed us. Not that Bob’s dying.

Nicole drove to Roaring River State Park to take a meditative hike and commune with nature. I’d liked to have accompanied her, but we plan to return together with our friend Candace.

Speaking of, my father’s service is today, and my aunts and uncles and members of their families arrived at Mom’s yesterday. Jane is one of nine; five of her siblings still walk the earth. My uncle Larry, a skilled craftsman, made two wooden urns for us to choose from for Dad’s cremains; the funeral director was rendered almost speechless examining them. We had fried chicken and mashed potatoes provided by Monett’s Cox Hospital Auxiliary volunteers and got caught up. A couple founding members of my brother Brian’s Monett Mafia dropped by to pay their respects. We closed the day by showing Mom an episode of Gavin & Stacey with English subtitles.

We are doing our best to keep everyone safe as possible at the service, which is coinciding with other news that is definitely not great. Everyone must mask.

Streaming for Survivors:

A voice out of Texas crying holy unto its lord.

Cloister Commentary, Day 87: Migas!

Any day I can see and talk to my dad, mom, brother, honorary sister, and my stalwart Springfieldian friends is a good day. I am thrilled to report my dad is exploring the work of Bart Ehrman! Also, my friend Heather’s family love and care, activism and neighborhood leadership is very inspiring. Zoom, I dislike you, and I will resolve that, but you made our visits possible.

Nicole and I walked Louis about three miles around the Stephens Lake Park loops. The ol’ pooch is getting a little creaky, as his recovery time’s getting slower. He is still on-point with random barking outbursts, thanks to the fox who’s pooping in his backyard.

I had been begging Nicole for migas all week and, thanks to our neighbor Shireen’s gift of fresh tortillas from Tortilleria El Patron, who make the best in town, I was quieted. They featured a spicy black bean and salsa topping with avocados and radish slices.

We closed the evening by reading and listening to three disks of Art Tatum. I was mostly occupied with Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America, which chronicles the lives of 10 American kids who died by gun on November 23, 2013. That wasn’t far from a normal day.

Streaming for Strivers:

Punk + a poet. Pissed. Pennsylvanian. “In the midnight hour / [She] erases these cowards.”

Cloister Commentary, Day 84: The Return of Ponty Apers

Nicole and I participated in two outings, one a sort of outdoor committee meeting at the Hickman labyrinth to finalize some important details, the other a catch-up, hangout, beer-slurp, wine-sip with a dear friend in West Columbia. Lawn chairs and tree-shade came in mighty handy.

We got home and my body twisted my arm (a tangled metaphor, that) and hissed in my ear through gritted teeth, “You will take a nap!” I did.

Just when I get really comfortable with Zoom, the company shuts down a celebration of the Tiananmen Square protest. Remember, the one with the man standing down the tank? We cheered that one as a nation, I think. It was so long ago. I may have to pursue an alternative teaching method.

I am closing in on finishing two series: Chester Himes’ nine-book “Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones” Harlem Cycle, and Gilbert Hernandez‘s Love and Rockets/Palomar Stories graphic novels. No regrets about either undertaking: those worlds are fascinating and enriching.

We played Scrabble, sipped mint juleps, cranked up the music of the great Louis Jordan, and just chilled. I cinched a win by adding an “s” to “bowel.” Bastard.

Bess, Susie, Melody, Lee, and Kendra will probably get this, but just before bed, looking out into the backyard, we spied Ponty Apers 🦊. Why yesterday? Indeed.

Streaming for Strivers:

I was once accused by a former friend when I was (politely) unimpressed by his demo tape that I “don’t even listen to rock and roll anymore.” I did, I do, I always will. Also, Black Lives Matter in garage punk!

Cloister Commentary, Day 80: The Joy Unit

I may have to change this commentary’s name, though I have no illusion that the journey is over. Nicole and I walked the trail from Cosmo Park to Garth, which certainly helped us to feel less cloistered. Columbia offers some great trail walks.

We finally were album to Zoom with our friends Rex, Jill, and Heather. They are a good bunch, part of an unofficial team formed several years ago to combat indifference. It was good to see their faces, and next week we hope to round up the rest of the Joy Unit: Isaac, Beth, Angela, Frank, Mike, and Derrick. Could be a weekly thing; in fact, we will convene next Sunday. As The Commodores sang in our youth, friends:

Whoa, Zoom, I’d like to fly far away from here
Where my mind can see fresh and clear
And I’ll find the love that I long to see
People can be as what they wanna be
Whoa, I wish the world were truly happy
Living as one
I wish the world they call Freedom
Someday would come
Someday would come!

I’d like to say to my city that, though we have much work left to do and just keep doing, I am very proud to live here, especially after yesterday. We were not among the thousands–thousands–who were out on our streets for justice, but we have been applying our hearts and minds to it indoors, I assure you. And to our city police who are protecting, standing with, and even on occasion kneeling with the freedom fighters, I hope you feel it’s only strengthened you within, and cost you nothing that’s truly of value.

Streaming for Strivers:

A soundtrack to successful resistance and remaking–it ain’t called Rhodesia anymore!–but a reminder that the shoulder must be kept firmly to the wheel of justice. From The Lion of Zimbabwe…

Cloister Commentary, Day 77: WWJJD?

The day opened with Nicole’s delicious thick blueberry pancakes, some real maple syrup, and two poached eggs. After that, I was ready for anything.

I experimented with an open Zoom writing workshop, since my charge have a paper due for peer (and my) review Monday. Seemed to work fine. I had a few students pop in to (gently) bounce ideas off me, including the one who wore a WWJJD shirt to class yesterday (“What would Joan Jett do?”). Week 1 of summer school teachin’? Loved it.

For lunch, Nicole fixed us our 10th locally-grown 🍅 + (Blue Plate) mayonnaise + lettuce sandwich of the pandemic. Our summer officially starts with those.

I previous mentioned Derf Backderf’s graphic novel Trashed, but I didn’t expect to devour it in two sittings (it’s 260 pages long). If you’ve ever wondered about the fate of your trash, or reflected on your trash practices, you might want to check it out. Plus, it’s eye-wateringly funny, and distinctively drawn. Backderf’s much-anticipated Kent State book arrives on September 4th.

We closed the day with a relatively long jaunt around our neighborhood which we completed just before trouble descended in our locality–and just opened today marveling at a strange, jaundiced sunrise.

Streaming for Shut-Ins (Do I need to rename this feature?):

Rod Taylor, thanks for recommending Mr. Gil’s Refavela to me, which led me to THIS one, which I also love and had never heard. Folks, this musician is a shining jewel of Brazilian expression…

Cloister Commentary, Day 76: Run For a Jewel

First long neighborhood walk in awhile. First watering of the landscaping. The roses are poppin’–Japanese beetles, stand down!

Absolutely not kidding–my summer school students responded to their reading assignment with the best analytical discussion I’ve witnessed in a long time, through that dang Zoom. They read three essays that I carefully selected to help them set early goals for their own writing: Roxane Gay’s very recent piece in the NYT, Yuyun Yi’s short, sharp, and vivid “Orange Crush,” and Zoe Shewer’s three drafts of “Ready, Willing, and Able.” They participated pretty broadly and had amazing insights, and I think they’d have appreciated my facial expressions if I’d remembered to “Start Video”!!! All they saw for the first half-hour was an avatar of me standing on the stage of The Blue Note in a Dead Moon shirt, yelling during a Battle of the Bands.

I played with three of our cats for maybe too long (Jeez Louise, I’m 58!). They have found a cruddy piece of cord that is driving them insane–they have no time for official toys–and I have to hang it up on a nail high on a wall after each round unless I want to lose it. I walked into the office and Spirit was sitting there, staring at it as if that would make it drop, so I put her, Junior, and Cleo through their paces. #COVID19activities.

Speaking of COVID-19, my test results came back and I am negative. Nicole is still waiting for hers.

I began Walter Johnson’s The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States. If the whole book is as shattering and mind-boggling as the introduction, it will be one I will never forget. Also, Run The Jewels literally said “F***k it” and dropped what could well be the album of the year early, for free–but with suggested funds linked to which fans can donate and support the protesters and the fight for justice. I would have linked the full album today, but a usable one doesn’t yet exist. You’ll have to settle for Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

 

Cloister Commentary, Day 68: Steppin’ Out

I have written here before about Love Coffee, a shop in Columbia that supports its citizens with disabilities by training and employing them. Like many small businesses, the enterprise is struggling under the heavy hand of the coronavirus. We dropped in again and ordered a mess of delicious offerings (I highly recommend the brioche cinnamon rolls and the pecan rolls and the muffins and the quiche and the chai). If you are in Columbia, you might think about dropping by, too.

We will be getting tested for COVID-19 next Tuesday at Hickman High School courtesy of the state health department. If you’re interested, you must register. I also made my first blood donation appointment since we started staying home, so I guess you can say I’m steppin’ out.

I’m almost done writing material for my summer comp class. I hope it doesn’t drive us all mad. Are they all gonna know to Zoom in via Canvas at 9 Monday morning?

Do you ever catch fire with an artist? I’ve loved Miles Davis since before I turned twenty, but an outstanding bookmy friend Phil Freeman wrote and sent me a copy of has me aflame with Milesmania. Yesterday was the anniversary of Davis’ birth, and I probably listened to 3-4 hours of his exciting and still surprising electric music. I also had my nose in the last Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings for an hour, even though I purt-near have the book’s 1,646 pages memorized. I miss those guides, dammit. They had a slightly European-skewed perspective that one just couldn’t get anywhere. Check out their recommended core jazz collection, helpfully extracted by the hard-workin’ Tom Hull.

Nicole and I drove out to Capen Park to hike up to a spot George Frissellonce showed us. As we began to get out of the jalopy, the skies poured down rain. Maybe this weekend, as part of a bigger hike?

I am grateful for neighbors like Dave Huggler and Shireen Razavi. Just talking to them makes you feel like you can weather any local storm.

This is the first commentary I’ve written on computer–the rest I’ve thumbed on on my smartphone. I think we’re all lucky I’ve been doing that, as with this trusty keyboard I feel I could just peck on til noon.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

What I’m listening to right now. I have WORN this album OUT.

Cloister Commentary, Day 31: “The Good, The Bad, and The Good”

The good?

Laughing our butts off at Randy Newman and his wife on CBS Sunday Morning (sheltering in place is bringing them spatial and motivational challenges).

Mixing a couple of tequila sunrises, cranking up the 2-CD Dead Moon compilation ECHOES OF THE PAST, and realizing we were fortunate enough to see the Coles play seven times, and get to know them. They have always been an inspiration to us.

A Zoom session with my parents Ron and Jane and my brother Brian and his gal Myra. We got caught up and enjoyed some great views of Dad’s belly (low-angle camera work). My mom is busy making masks for friends and my dad is out in the shop a lot. (See pic in comments.)

Mom and Dad

Nicole’s lasagna, made with fresh spinach from the Columbia Farmer’s Market–their operation is a model for these times. And doesn’t lasagna taste even better the second day?

Relaxing with a book, some music, and the windows open, and enjoying a beer on the front landing with our cat Tuxalini.

Tuxalini

The not-so-good?

Neighbors. A neighbor of ours already had three dogs they insufficiently controlled, and they recently added a NEW dog and a cat that had not been spayed and now appears pregnant. Yesterday, they gathered in their driveway with (at least) four friends for almost two hours, definitely not practicing social distancing, sharing smokes–and allowing the new dog to run freely in the street (stopping traffic twice) and over into our yard multiple times, though IT HAD A LEASH ON THAT WAS APPARENTLY DECORATIVE. Upon the dog’s last foray, Nicole stepped out and asked them politely to keep their dog in their yard. Response: “I’ll do whatever I want.” Animal Control does not operate on Sunday; a heads-up to the authorities went unaddressed. That unnerved us for the rest of the evening. It is really difficult, sometimes, to sit with things you can’t control. We will get better at it, but Animal Control is now on speed dial.

The good–on the rebound?

Tyler Keith of Oxford, Mississippi, is one of the States’ last dyed-in-the-wool rock and rollers. In the Nineties, he led The Neckbones, which were what the first version of The Heartbreakers (with Johnny Thunders and Richard Hell in tow) would have sounded like if they had been from The Deep South. But Tyler, solo and with his various bands (The Preacher’s Kids, The Apostles), has continued to make barbed-wire, hard-hitting music that’s continued the Southern tradition, most vividly exemplified by Jerry Lee Lewis, of watching the sunrise with God and closing down the bar with Satan. He performed a Facebook live concert last night to celebrate the release of his new album (see below), and that rescued the day for us, in a way. By the way, the album is great.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

This album has always done us good. Perhaps it will do the same for you!