Grandpa and the Pocket Knife

One summer, when I was a young teen, I bought a pocket knife with my birthday money. I was proud of my knife. It was an Old Timer, with two folding blades, the normal blade and the one my dad called a “frog sticker”.  I practiced sharpening them and whetting them, and then I showed my treasure to my mother’s dad.

He wasn’t as impressed as I hoped he would be. He showed me his pocket knife, which was very sharp. He didn’t keep it in his pocket, even though this is what the name implied–I mean, you keep a pocket knife in your pocket, right?

No! Said Grandpa! You never keep a pocket knife in your pocket. What if it came open, and you cut yourself? Grandpa’s knife was extremely sharp, Granny said proudly. He even told their neighbor at the cabin “Be careful, it’s sharp,” and the old guy didn’t listen and he cut himself.  I don’t know if Granny agreed with Grandpa because she actually agreed with him, or if it was just easier to go along with the illusion.

You see, Grandpa was a worrier. If worrying was an Olympic sport, he would have earned a medal, which he would have worried over until it got thin and tarnished. He had ulcers in the 1970s, and he was hospitalized. So, it follows that he wouldn’t keep his pocket knife in his pocket.

Instead, he carried a worry stone. I don’t know anyone else who carried a worry stone, but my Grandpa did. His stone was smooth, the size of a quail’s egg, and had a rounded spoonlike indentation from all his worrying. Or maybe when he found the stone, the river or lakeside had done all the worrying for him.  Still, he rubbed it, the way some people would handle prayer beads. Extra worrying, all rolled into a stone.

The stone was a constant pocketed reminder for him not to worry. Not to worry about things like financial instability. Or if you were making your own wife and children frantic or miserable with your worrying. I don’t know if he worried about that or not. I’m just musing here.

When I asked him about the stone, he was actually eager to help find me one of my own, for my pocket.  We went to the shoreside on a sunny day at Donner Lake (a place for worrying about cannibals if there ever was one). There was a brisk breeze. I presented him with dozens of candidate pebbles, but none of them would pass muster. Some were too rough. Some were too smooth.  Some would just fall apart in my pocket after a few weeks. Some were the wrong color. Too hard. Too big. We never found my worry stone.

Maybe he was worried that if the worry stone wasn’t perfect, if he wasn’t perfect, we would stop loving him.  Maybe Donner Lake just wasn’t the right place for worry stones.  I’m sure that’s why he spent his summers there.  You don’t need to worry in your vacation cabin when you’re surrounded by the people who love you.

We would take hikes to the Union Pacific railroad sheds, high on the granite mountains above the lake. His own dad, and his grandpa, were both railroad men. It’s from the railroad where he got his nickname. How can a person with a nickname like Spike be worried about anything? But he was. He wouldn’t let us play on the railroad crossbeams. We might get slivers.  He wouldn’t let us walk inside the snowsheds. What if a train came when we were inside?

We placed a penny on the railroad track because, he said, it was good luck. We came back down the mountain.  That night, we heard the long, funereal whistle of the trains passing high above us. We never went back to see our penny. Maybe it was a sacrifice to progress. Maybe letting go of little things are just easier than holding onto what you can’t control. The perfect worry stone, for example, or the flattened railroad penny.

I carried my pocket knife in my pocket, despite Grandpa’s warning. Eventually, I lost the knife, which is exactly what young boys are supposed to do with them. He never said a word. He bore all the burdens of what-might-happen on his shoulders so we would never have to hold onto all those troubles.

I never did end up finding the perfect worry stone. Maybe it takes a special kind of person to find the right one, and I was just never going to be that guy. I bet grandpa never lost a single pocket knife he ever owned. They tend to stay in your possession longer, if you don’t carry them around, but you miss so much joy, and so much danger, just keeping the knife on the stand by your favorite chair.

Really Low Surdite Levels

There is a secret element called surdite. It exists inside every thing and every being, to a greater or lesser degree. The amount of surdite in a thing is inversely proportional to how absurd something is. Stuff with less surdite tends to be more absurd because to be Surd is to be normal. To be absurd is to have all the surdite taken out of it.

Q: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?
A: Because he was dead.

That there’s a joke, son! A joke with almost no surdite. Only a surdless person like myself would get the joke. Otherwise it’s just a ridiculous statement. I can hear my in-laws shouting right now. “That’s not funny! That’s not even a joke.” Awwww man. You’re no fun anymore!

I was musing on humor yesterday. The moments I find myself laughing are so completely different from the ones many of my friends laugh at. Why do otherwise-compatible couples end up in divorce over Monty Python and the Holy Grail? If you don’t laugh at the French knight saying “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries,” your surdite level is ridiculously high.

I love absurdity. It makes me laugh. Put a weird person in a weird situation, (or put a weird thing in a weird person), and it makes me snort.

Christo Umbrellas
The artist Christo’s Umbrellas of Doom. Kern County, California (around 1991).

Here is a clipping from a 1991 New York Times article:

“A 485-pound yellow umbrella, part of an international project of the environmental artist Christo, was toppled by winds on Saturday, killing a woman near here and injuring several other people, officials said.”

I saw the Christo umbrellas (not the same as a CRISCO umbrella. That’s different). They were huge and yellow. My friend Dina and I were driving over the Grapevine between Northern and Southern California, to visit some friends in Anaheim. Then an umbrella went rogue. (“In a world where umbrellas go rogue…”) When we drove back, the umbrellas had all been uninstalled. Crisco art is not meant to kill.

Yeah. I get it.  A life was lost. But I couldn’t stop laughing. When I told my friends that Christo’s happy yellow 485 pound umbrellas had gone away, I couldn’t manage to supress a little snort of laughter. My friends said “But Brian! That’s just awful!” I know! It was horrible in the most hilarious of awful ways. Maybe if my mother had died in a freakish gorilla’s-umbrella accident I’d have been… Nah. Who am I kidding here? It’d still be funny.

Still not funny?

Here’s the NYT headline from three days later: “Second Death Mars Christo’s Art Exhibit : Umbrellas: A crane operator is electrocuted while dismantling a giant parasol in Japan.”

I don’t know. Christo also covered an entire island in red Saran Wrap for world peace. He also managed, with his Umbrella installations, to create an artistic work with the least surdite imaginable. And don’t get me started about New York Times using the word Mars in a headline. You mean the planet? Death Mars? I played that game on the Nintendo GameCube, I’m pretty sure.

If you mix an unusual person, place or thing, apply a little time, add an unusual catalyst, you can generally reach a level of absurdity. Do they make you laugh?

I’m thinking back to every Coen Brother’s movie I’ve ever seen, except Fargo. I didn’t like Fargo. I don’t know why.

Q: Hey. These balloons blow up into funny shapes at all?
A: Naw. Unless round is funny.

Round, my friends, is HILAROUS. The mini-muffin is the most comical of all baked goods. Asparagus is the funniest vegetable. It even makes your pee smell funny. The snickerdoodle is the funniest cookie available. and haberdashery is the funniest profession. Insanely-low amounts of surdite.


Two days ago, the Guy in Front of Me at the Grocery Store purchased twelve gallons of distilled water, two gallons of liquid bleach, a bottle of Merlot and a baguette. After he cleaned up the murder scene, I guess he was going to have a little picnic?

I remember going to a wedding where the bride sent me on an errand: head to the grocery store, and buy (1) flashlight batteries, (2) mayonnaise, and (3) 4 bottles of sparkling cider.  It was apparently gonna be a hell of a honeymoon. Batteries, mayo, and Martinelli’s are notoriously low in surdite.

Another grocery store anecdote: a few months ago, the Woman in Front of Me bought three dollars in lottery tickets. She won $200 dollars. Cool! So, she bought $195 more in lottery ticket, and a box of Popsicles. She stood there in line eating her popsicles, and scratching off 195 more tickets. She held up the line for whatever-length-of-time it takes to remove the grey stuff from all those Scratchers. Maybe that grey stuff is surdite, because the more she removed, the more weird it seemed, until it was ludicrous. Hilarious. Absurd. Eventually other cash register operators took the patiently-waiting customers and she merrily stood there, scratchin’ the surdite away.

It takes a certain type of humor, and probably a morbid mind, to make the connections I do. Is it objectionable to link giant yellow death umbrellas, and twelve gallons of distilled water, and a ridiculous joke about monkeys falling out of trees? Probably? But my surdite levels have been obscenely low, and as far as I can tell, they will continue to drop for the foreseeable future.


Ahhh it gets me every time…

Raw Strawberries and Nonfat Yogurt

Just like every morning, just like a prayer to start the day, I got up, put on clothes, had some coffee and went for a run. Slow and easy does the trick, they say.  Good thing. I was slow, and I took it easy. Now I’m home, made more coffee, cut up a big pile of strawberries (they’re gone now; sorry. Can’t share with you), and sat down to yogurt and coffee. The yogurt is plain, Greek, and full of nonfat goodness.  I don’t know how that works, yogurt without the fat. I grin and bear it. Plain yogurt has never been my favorite thing.

In fact, I have never developed a taste for sour food in general. I need to sweeten my lemonade to balance the tartness. I never really liked raw, fresh berries. They’re just annoying. But, if you think about it, this is 1/4 of the palate of taste that I’ve basically rejected (1/5 if you count umami). In my life, I’ve definitely covered the gamut of sweet and salty. But bitter and sour are our basic biological response to poisons, most of which, I’m told are bitter or sour. Sour and bitter are reminders that, every time we drink alcohol, “just a dab’ll do ya.” Any more than a little bit, and you’re doing crazy things: you know, like killing yourself.

Somehow, over 47 and 3/4 years, I got used to eating, let’s say, gravy. It’s made with fat, liquid, a thickener (usually flour) and seasoning. And I love gravy. Especially the kind my grandma made so well, the white gravy with sausage chunks floating in it. Put that on a biscuit, and it’s like heaven for fifteen minutes. Gimme another plate please! But this doesn’t happen with strawberries, or yogurt, or almonds or grapefruits.

But strawberries are sour. Not poisonous; just sour. So are almonds, just a bit. (They’re also poisonous, just a bit, so don’t eat 1,800 of them at once). And grapefruits. Ugh. Nuff said about grapefruits. Although if I wanted to make a spiffy helmet for our cat, a grapefruit skin would be just the thing!

I guess those other foods are better for you than the buttercream frosting on your birthday cake. At least that’s what modern nutrition tells us. Who knows: maybe 200 years in the future, we’ll find out that buttercream is the staple substance that holds our bodies together, without which we just wither up and die and our body parts fly away like corn silk on the wind. But probably not. So I ate my strawberries and unflavored (shudder) yogurt this morning, the same way I have for a few weeks now.

I used to have a big purple terrycloth bathrobe. I stole it from Judi because I look way better in purple than she does. Also, I stole it because came down to my knees, and when I cut off the sassy purple ribbons that held up the sleeves, the terrycloth flowed smoothly down my arms all the way to my wrists. And God, I loved that bathrobe. I wore it around the house every single day for five years, until the elbows and butt wore out, and I had to utter sad words of goodbye. I made Judi it in the trash can so I wouldn’t try to get it out and patch up the butt. And God, I loved that bathrobe. So comfy. So purple.  So… robey!

But I couldn’t wear it every single day. I couldn’t wear it, for example, to work. If I tried, they would have sent me home to change clothes, or maybe to an asylum to change my brain. I wasn’t allowed to wear my robe to the grocery store. Or even to pick up Alex and Daniel from school. My precious purple bathrobe was for home only. Kicking around, reading Harry Potter novels. Making a big pot of vegetable soup. Downloading unlimited music from Napster. (What? It was a thing then!) Playing Sims. But my fluffy purple bathrobe was NOT for getting the mail, or even answering the doorbell to greet the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Except that one time. They never came back.

Maybe that’s what biscuits and gravy are: my fluffy purple bathrobe. They are a food for around the house, but not the restaurant. Besides, it is not easy to take a plastic Ziploc of gravy to work with you, even though it’s comfy.  So at work, which occupies two meals a day, I try my best to eat healthy. I pack about thirty pounds of horse food into the same Ziploc bag I’d rather fill with sausage gravy, and eat that on my breaks. I bring a big can of raw unsalted almonds for protein. As to not touching the day-old pastries in the store? I try my best to stay out of them. I leave my comforts at home and try to be healthy.

And you know what? I’m starting to get used to it. I wonder if taste palates can change, and how much it can vary.  I’ve noticed that the less salt I eat, the more outrageously salty something like potato chips taste. I’m still new to this. Maybe the same thing happens over time with strawberries and yogurt. The more you tolerate their natural flavors, the more you are able to enjoy them? And the more you enjoy them, the more you’re able to enjoy other foods like them… I suspect. I’m a novice at eating healthy. Maybe I’m just making this all up. It took me forty+ years to get to the point where I’d even try to eat this way. Who knows if it’s working. I guess I’ll find out in a few months. In the meantime… Here’s to a healthy colon! Wish me luck.

Thunderstorms and Worm Rescuing

Yesterday I walked home in a thunderstorm. I rode the bus from work, to Reston’s county bus depot and then, from the depot, we all rode to the Metro stop. These shenanigans take about 30 minutes. Then I walk the last 10-15 minutes home. It started raining at the depot, and by the time we reached the Metro station it was pouring and rain was coming down sideways. On the open air landing at the bus depot are a number of small shops, hardly bigger than a garden shed. One sells pearl tea. A couple sell jewelry. One is a bookstore with what I imagine to be a *very* limited selection. There could hardly have been more than 400 books in there. But, like I said, it was raining sideways so I didn’t stop. Then there is a long open air pedestrian causeway that crosses the toll road. It has a roof, and mesh sides, so nobody becomes a victim to too much leaning in traffic. The sideways-coming rain blasted into our faces.

The causeway leads to the Metro boarding area, and for me, the other side of the tool road. I reached the very wet other side with ease, after being several dozen feet off the ground for about five minutes. I traveled down an escalator and was once again connected to terra firma, rather than air up-there-a.

This is where I spotted the worm. He was most likely driven from his home by flooding. He lay squirming in the pavement. I was surprised by the very short amount of time that had passed between him and his evacuation. His tunnels must not have been up to code. I pinched his wriggling worm body between my fingers and tossed him into a lawn-and-tree island in the parking lot. His family would thank me later.

I watched for worms all the way home on the rainy sidewalk. There was a tree that dropped long soggy wormlike pollen tufts. It tried to fool me but I couldn’t be dissuaded. I crossed a busy street, and another not-so-busy avenue, to get home. I hiked in the mud between two huge pine trees near our house. I found the next worm about 30 feet from my home. And another, and another and another. Probably 8-12 worms. Some had left too early, and fried on the pavement during an earlier rainstorm. But some were alive. I rescued them all; at least the live ones.

I always wonder at the flight of the worms, whenever I rescue one. Maybe it makes me feel slightly better about the dozens I leave behind when I’m splashing my way to the car on a rainy day. It makes me become more considerate of the hundreds I probably run down between my home and my work. What is a token worm tossed back to the grass? Well, to Mr. Worm, everything. (It is Mr. Worm still. He is still editing his Doctoral dissertation.)

In the meantime, Judi had the car in Washington, DC, where she was attending a conference. She had to pay $50 for valet parking at the hotel, but will be reimbursed. GOD I hope she’ll be reimbursed. Whatever happened to $5 valet parking?

Around 4PM, near the end of her conference day, a child decided it would be fun to pull a fire alarm. They had to evacuate the entire hotel. She, the gimpy one, led a co-worker with seizure disorders, up three flights of stairs.  The epileptic one had to climb the same stairs, with her eyes closed, and both hands over her ears, so the lights and bells wouldn’t trigger an episode.  Behind them, another coworker was monitoring their progress so they wouldn’t come tumbling back down the stairs.  She got to stand in the same thunderstorm until, awhile later, the building was given the all-clear signal.

Essentially, we had the same day, except she is far more heroic than I am. I like to think that I rescue the little things, like worms. Judi rescues the big ones. Like her seizure-prone friend. And like me.

Every time I move, I affect the universe on a larger, or smaller, scale. I inhale microbes that don’t make it past my immune system. I stand uncomfortably close to a person in line at the grocery store. I shout at a staff member. My thousands and thousands of tiny interactions are sometimes negative, sometimes positive. Sometimes they’re with people, sometimes with the cat. Sometimes it’s with even smaller critters. All I can do is make a few of them better. I mean, I just gave Mr. Worm the chance to visit his family again (if I put him into the correct lawn island) during a thunderstorm, and to earn his Ph. D.

Doctor Worm. It has a nice ring to it.

The Vampire Queen and Spider Poets

Yesterday at work, I met a vampire. At least I’d like to think it was a vampire, because it makes the story better. She licked the dribbles of blood from her hand, that she had discovered moments earlier, while she was waiting to order. She asked us for a bandaid. Then she started bleeding again, and said something like “Man, I keep cutting myself on something.” Then she proceeded to lick off all that blood from her hand, right in front of me. Next she went to the bathroom, to do god-knows-what, and returned a few moments later to exclaim that it was the rhinestones on her pants that were “disintegratering.” Kids, don’t do drugs. Not even once. I’m surprised she didn’t ask for a pair of pliers to pull the rhinestone studs out of her pants. I imagine those pants really wreak havoc on wooden furniture. Maybe she should stick to skirts. Dark colors of course, so they don’t stain red.

I just got back from my run. Welcome to week three, Brian! It wasn’t too horrible, but I really pushed myself. I hope I don’t pay for it later. The workout this week is only 28 minutes. Thank God. I don’t know that I could have managed 30 today. It was fairly grueling, and I could feel my legs tighten when I was going up hills. Also when I was going down hills. It was already close to 80 when I started my run, and the trail was slippery from two days of humidity. It was like breathing soup. I was afraid I’d slip and fall down on some random leaf. I remembered to keep my butt underneath me, and to land each step carefully, but every once in awhile I could feel the paved trail give zero resistance under my feet. This scared me, and I was constantly worried that one false move would send me tumbling. Anyway, I made it home, and I wasn’t dead or dying or anything. I was sweating more than a normal person should. Maybe it’s my super power.

I try to listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac podcast every day, to get relaxing moment of poetry in my mind. My goal is to really consider a few words, and find out where they take me. I try to keep an open mind. Lots of the poems he chooses aren’t really to my taste. Or, rather, they are, because they’re perfectly unchallenging. They give you a scene, and a picture or a reminiscence, but nothing more. Occasionally I want to read a little more by an author whose name he mentions. Louise Erdrich, for example. But mostly I want to figure out a way to make my prose poetic, and make my poetry prosaic.

have you ever wondered at those people who manage to spin out poems like a spider spins webs out their butt? The poem may seem intricate and homey, but only to the spider. Anyone else will get stuck in the sticky web, and want to scream, but you just. can’t. get. away. A big purple, bulbous face appears above you, and says “Hey, did you like my poem? What did you think?” Then, before you realize it, all your juice is sucked out, and you’re a dessicated husk. You find yourself smiling, and bobbing your withered head. “Maaaan that was some good poem.” But what you really wanted to do was run away from the person who would set rhyme to “love” and “above”, and who shifted their verbs to the end of lines to force a rhyme. No enjambment here. Please move on.

Today, It feels like I’m scraping thoughts off my brain the same way you’d use sandpaper to clean off a piece of rough wood. And coming up with… dust. I need to look at the finished product, not the pile of dust. Who knows: maybe I’ve been looking at the wrong pile all along?

Writing is like running. Don’t stare down at the ground where your feet are landing–look forward, 20, 50, 100 feet ahead. You need to focus on what’s coming. I’m not sure how good I am at this, either when running or writing. At the very least, looking forward what I should do. It’ll keep me far, far away from the hand-licking vampire queen.

Eleven Songs in Eight Hours

Here’s a list of songs that got stuck in my head yesterday, and I found myself singing, out loud, yesterday at work. There may very well have been more songs that I was humming, and never really noticed. This isn’t particularly an enlightening post about anything except the inner workings of my head, and the soundtrack that bounces through my mind, and flows out my head. And boyyy are you folks in for a treat.

Let it also be known, my workplace has a stereo, and it cranks out mostly indie music all day long. It’s monotonous and makes everyone on staff quite grumpy. I have a feeling, without knowing for sure, that they’d rather listen to me sing. 😉

“Just Call Me Angel of the Morning.”  This classic has been done by several people, including Olivia Newton John and Nina Simone. It was originally written for Connie Francis, but her handlers thought it was too risque.  The version in my head was the one from my early teens, that Juice Newton sang. It’s a little bit country. It’s also a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.

“I Can See Clearly Now,” recorded by Johnny Nash, was soon vying for equal time. I looked this song up on Wikipedia because I wasn’t certain I knew the exact title. It’s a little reggae, a little sunshine. A little honky Rhodes piano. I like the piece even though it’s most definitely an earworm. It’s laid-back with unthreatening lyrics that make you relax. Sometimes, it’s exactly what you need to get through a long shift.

“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” If this song had any couth at all, it would have lined up right after Angel of the Morning, and made a country-western playlist from the last quarter of the 20th century. But it didn’t. Crystal Gayle, with the super-long hair (and, apparently, with brown eyes that did not change colors), was the sister of Loretta Lynn. I didn’t think of Loretta. So I didn’t think of Kenny Rogers or Waylon Jennings. Or Conway Twitty. I thought of Crystal Gayle. And her brown, brown eyes that were made blue.

Then, and this was a treat, I thought of the “Kovari Waltz.” Unless you are Czech, and lived in the late 19th century, I’d wager you’ve never heard this piece. My great grandmother taught it to me.  I know all the words in Czech. It doesn’t make me special. It makes me really really weird. And I like this song, not because I dig polka bands (although that’s as good a reason as any) but because my grandma taught me to play it on the accordion. That’s right. I have heretofore unrevealed Accordion Super Powers.  I could only find a single version of this song on YouTube. I guess that makes that version of the song definitive, although it’s definitely not quite how I remember the tune going.

Czech polkas and waltzes lead, of course, to Elvis Presley singing “Blue Christmas.”  The background singers were even doing their doo wop rumble in the background. I didn’t try to sing that part though. I’m good, but I’m not *that* good. And I just have to say, DANG this song annoys me. It didn’t take long before it finally left my mindscape for something else.  Nobody deserves too many minutes of Blue Christmas. Not even Enemies of the State. Not even defense attorneys.

Something made me think of “Abraham, Martin and John.” The famous version was recorded by Dion (without the Belmonts.  He was keeping away from Runaround Sue, I guess). I remember a less popular version: Harry Belafonte had one tucked away on an album that I listened to over and over again. I really love his voice. It can’t be helped. Sometimes cheeseball melancholia gets the better of me, and I find myself crooning this piece while I’m trying to locate the mop.

Then: “My Glory and the Lifter of My Head.” This is taken from a Psalm 3. I have a really tough time taking this song seriously, because it needs a banjo and a bluegrass fiddle to really give me any kind of feels. It’s too happy, but It’s stuck in my memory, from the 1970s when we sang songs like this in my church. I remember Brother Fred Eccleston strumming out the chords on his guitar.

“The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” There’s only one version of this song. He was the greatest little hobbit of them all, you know. And if you’re not listening to this Leonard Nimoy novelty masterpiece, you should be. I annoyed my co-workers with it for a full 10 minutes yesterday, before I finally veered off into the Rolling Stones.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Oddly, I heard this song this morning as part of my runner’s playlist. I assume that this Stones piece entered my head because I was complaining about a customer.

And then I sang another song that few people remember: “Gitarzan,” by Ray Stevens.  The song is not one of his most famous works, but the following lines: “He had a pet monkey, and he liked to get drunky, and they played boogie woogie and it sounded real funky.” I mean, how can you go wrong with deep lyrics like that?

Aaaand finally, before anyone killed me, one more song passed my mind: The Serendipity Singers did a calypso piece called “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down.” I don’t remember when I learned this piece, but as a kid I remember going to Fairytale Town, across the street from the Sacramento Zoo. I loved that place almost as much as I loved the Zoo itself.  It had a plaster Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall. It had a giant Shoe you could climb inside, à la “there was an old woman who lived in a…” There were plaster swans and ceramic toads, and giant mushrooms to climb on. And “there was a crooked man who had a crooked smile. He had a crooked sixpence and he walked a crooked mile. He had a crooked cat and he had a crooked mouse. And they all lived together in a crooked little house.” The crooked mile was there (a raised stone garden pathway that meandered all through the place) as well as the crooked house.  I discovered the song years later. And then I sang his crooked song for 20 minutes while I did the dishes.

And that, my friends, is why you don’t want to work with me.

The Lard Is Good to Me

Today I chopped up an apple and tried to log into my “nutrition” app on my iPhone. It is quite difficult to determine exactly how large an apple a person has. (worst pickup line ever… :Hey baby… how big is that apple of yours?”) I weighed mine in grams. 262 grams, and that was after the core was sliced out. I know this much… I weigh as much as a bag of 560 sliced apples. The Lard is good to me. Johnny Appleseed would be so proud of that pun.

I was just thinking of the Disney film the other day. It was called Melody Time, and featured 6 or 7 stories. There was a video featuring “Little Toot,” sung by the Andrews Sisters. He was a tugboat with pluck. People thought he was too little, but he had courage. It’s a classic tale. “In a world where tugboats are scared by giant barges…” And Melody time had “Bumble Boogie,” based on a boogie version of Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee.” An animated bee ran away from scary musical notes and violent trumpet flowers. But mostly I remember Melody Time for the stories of Pecos Bill, and of Johnny Appleseed.  “The Lord is good to me,” He sang. “And so I thank the Lord For giving me the things I need, the sun and rain and the appleseed.” It is an old hymn (Swedenborgian, if you know your early nineteenth century cults). I never knew that; I always thought Disney made up the tune. The singer pronounced the it Lard. Maybe it’s a midwest thing. They do tend to use lots of grease in their cooking…

Today promises to be a good day. I got up early and made my coffee. I fed the cat. Sliced up the apple, of course, and now I am sitting quietly, typing on the computer. Here is a little secret. Are you ready?  Well, the secret is this:  eating lots of fruit and vegetables will make you fart. OMIGOD I was a machine yesterday. They were, thankfully, the opposite of silent-but-deadly.  Noisy but unproductive? Maybe the opposite.  Anyway, think “Congress” and you will get a sure picture of how I, and my gas, were exceedingly obnoxious yesterday. I was lucky that nobody knew I was so, uh, productive in my un-productivity.

I work at 11 o clock today.

I was thinking of music that is so firmly planted in my head that I need only two or three words to get the song stuck in my head. I am sure you have that moment.
I often (and by often, I mean several times a day) hear a name, or a few words, and it will graft a melody into my brain, sometimes for the next hour or so.  Seriously–how hard is it for you to hear the name Jenny without singing 867-5309? Or Cecilia? “You’re breakin’ my heart. You’re shakin’ my confidence daily.”  I know one or two people named Michelle who hate that song. Not to say that I blame them.  Only once or twice, someone has elected to sing the theme song to “Life of Brian” for me. I generally give them an awkward stare, and shout something like “Wolf nipple chips! Get ’em while they’re hot!” Then I will get an awkward stare back, and thereby win the awkward staring contest. I mean, the whole thing was a contest to begin with, right?

My mother and I were chatting about our family and music the other day. it started with reminiscing about my grandpa: “Boy could he whistle!” Followed by nonsense songs. Not nonsense like made-up words, but instead, the nonsense of finding a song for everyday tasks.  My mother would often sing “Doin’ the dishes…” or some other equally mundane task, maybe to the tune of “Doin’ the Pigeon” (know your Sesame Street, people. Seriously…) and I do the same thing.  My wife quirked an eyebrow toward me, a couple years ago, for inventing the lyrics “Beautiful balls, wonderful balls, wonderful balls of meeeeeeat….” It’s hymnic. And relevant. Some people have no taste for art.  We determined that my mom had this habit, and so did I. So did her dad.  Also, it turns out, so did my great grandfather. “Shopping for some shirts,” he would sing. Somehow, he made his day a little more delicious by singing about it. I barely remember my mother’s grandpa. I remember he shook a lot, and his jaw quivered when he wasn’t talking. He probably had Parkinson’s. I was 4 or 5 when he passed away. Neither of my kids do this, and it makes me sad, just a little bit. Even more so now, since I found out that four generations of my family have done the “singing-weird-tunes-about-everyday-events” thing.

Maybe a person just needs a certain kind of personality. Maybe that person needs a voice that is unafraid to sing out loud. Maybe the person need a devil-may-care attitude for the muse to strike.

Kind of like today. I mean seriously, how is writing today’s blog not like making up a song about mopping the kitchen in your underwear? Except for the singing, and the underwear, they’re practically the same mental exercise.

You people are so lucky to know me!

That’s sarcasm, people. Don’t delete me immediately. And on that note (Ha! Note! Get it?) I need to shower and work.

Freewheelin’ It with Bob Dylan

When I run, I have a rock and roll playlist streaming on my iPhone. Today’s selection included “Highway Sixty One Revisited” by Bob Dylan. This piece was one of his first, after the famous folk singer went electric. The song includes this memorable scene:

Well, Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
‘I got forty red, white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don’t ring.
Do you know where I can get rid of these things?’
And Louie the King said, ‘Let me think for a minute, son.’
And he said, ‘Yes, I think this could be easily done:
Just take everything down onto Highway Sixty One.'”

Another fun song he wrote around this same era is “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.” I recommend you check it out.

I don’t like Bob Dylan’s voice. He makes me shiver with nausea and indignation. Bob Dylan delivers his music with all the tunefulness of a steroid injected goat. Yet, despite his bleating, his lyrics are filled with vivid characters and imagery. They can be fun, especially if you don’t try not to listen to him and, instead, listen to it. Occasionally the images come a bit too fast and you just drown in his mental thrashing about. I’m thinking of the words from “Like a Rolling Stone”:

You used to ride on a chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat.
Ain’t it hard when you discovered that
He really wasn’t where it’s at,
After he took from you everything he could steal.


And of course I’m running with Bob. Yeah. This was a blog about running. At least, that’s where this whole thing began when I started writing this morning. I’m at the end of my second week of actual running. In the early part of the Couch to 5k plan, the online coach calls for you to run for two minutes, and walk for two minutes. I end up running for twelve, and walking for twelve. Then I have a five minute cooling off period. Since I walk around the lake in a big loop, I occasionally spot folks headed the other way. Sometimes I see them twice, which defies some kind of mental logic. How can I see the same old person twice and the same Irish setter twice, and they don’t want something either time? I guess I’ve been working in the service industry too long now.

And the two minute alternations? That’s where I’m at physically. I’m taking it easy, wanting to make a lifestyle of this, sort of like what I’m trying to do with writing. I realize I need to lose a bunch of weight, and working my butt off is the only way I know how to do it.

Oh–believe it or not, I’m still writing, although my schedule has been sketchy. I’m a morning person. I like to wake up, and get things done before my mind or body realize what kind of torture I’m putting them through. I’m not a horrendously evil guy, but on occasion my body thinks so. Still, I’m throwing 750 words, or sometimes just a paragraph or two, onto the computer every day, even if you don’t see anything.

Apparently I have old knees. They’re older than the rest of my body–with the possible exception of my ankles–by about fifteen years. The rest of me ages correctly, but my knees and ankles put up stiff resistance every time I try to move. I guess I could probably do low impact exercise like swimming, but this costs money, and requires squeezing my giant hairy body into swim trunks. Also, I need to face facts: I’m not quite there aerobically. Even my twenty four minute sprint walks tend to heighten my breathing until I’m sometimes not sure I’ll make it home.

Speaking of breathing, did I ever mention I use an inhaler for asthma? It’s not a bad condition like some people, but I do require an inhaler. It can be incredibly tedious to have your lung capacity diminish to the point of each wheeze sounding like Minnie Mouse.

As for diet? I just spent the last forty five minutes chopping up vegetables. I’m trying to make a serious attempt at eating more healthy food. This is going… Well, it could be going better. Most days I do well for breakfast and lunch, then when it gets to be dinnertime, I blow it horribly. For breakfast, banana, cherries and yogurt. For lunch, an assortment of veggies, and a dressing I made from yogurt and some variety of spices. I’m pretty much cutting carbs and fat out of my diet in the form of bread. I guess when it comes to it, I’m trying hard to eat things that improve potassium levels.  Avoiding cramps is a good thing. I ate dried apricots, but they had an awful lot of sugar. The other day I bought some prunes. They remind me of the cabin my grandparents owned in Wright’s Lake, way up in the Sierra Nevadas in California.  Great Grandma always had a big glass jar of dried prunes, and she’d dole them out slowly so we kids wouldn’t poop like seagulls. They were always a delicious snack that I’d really enjoy. Oh, and radishes too. I bought a bunch of radishes.  My Farmer grandparents always seemed to have radishes. They grew them in their huge backyard garden. I bought a few dozen of them today, washed them up and threw them in my veggie tray. I guess that’ll be my healthy dinner.

Then I chased a grumpy Alex away from the computer and began this blog. Nothing is earth-shattering today. I, ran, I shopped, I ate a little, I chopped vegetables, and now I’m writing. Work happens in an hour.

Oh, and Bob Dylan. He ties things together with his free-wheelin’ness. May your days be informed by his advice:

Look out kid!
Don’t matter what you did:
Walk on your tiptoes,
Don’t try “No-Doz”–
Better stay away from those–
That carry around a fire hose,
Keep a clean nose,
Watch the plain clothes.
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows.

Blessings and donuts to all of you.

The Farmer’s Market

Yesterday I went to the Farmer’s Market. Judi was having a good morning, which is somewhat rare for a Saturday. I had just finished my run and once I finished a half hour of spacing out and sweating, I jumped into the shower and we made our way to the market. We left the boys at home. We will bring them them out and get them air later in the week. Anyway, Every Saturday at our Farmer’s Market, people from all around the area plant square awnings, weighted by gallon milk jugs filled with sand so they won’t fly away, and sell us arts and crafts, fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses. There is usually live music. Yesterday it was a bluegrass band. It starts every year around Memorial Day, when you can buy leafy green vegetables and strawberries, and continues until the last week of October when it’s dark as they set up their wares.

I dropped Judi off at the corner of the Market so I could look for parking. This can take a bit of time as you circle the lot with the dozens of other cars who had the same idea that we did. Today we had a pretty easy time of it though, and I located a spot within ten minutes. I soon located Judi through the hundreds of people milling about. She was shopping through the arts and crafts booths. There were five or six folks selling handmade jewelry. Several people were selling loose-fitting clothes at way-too-high a price. There was lots of batik and tie-dye. There was plenty of homemade knickknacks–the woman from Newport Oregon had a wooden sign that identified her as “The Oregon Gal”.  The sign had a beaver on it. There’s no accounting for taste. She made wine shelves from pallets she tore apart. She had made a few cork trivets, she announced, with corks contributed by local vineyards, and from trash of her wino neighbors. The woman to whom she had related this story just raised a chilly eyebrow and walked on. Maybe she had wino neighbors too. Oregon Gal crocheted little kitchen scrubbing pads out of wedding tulle. We bought a couple of them.

An Indian woman really wanted Judi to buy a flowy white, sleeveless cotton sun dress. Judi wasn’t interested. Not for $70. She couldn’t pass up socks with cats on them. I admit, those were pretty cool.  The weavers who hand-make dish towels and washcloths occupied the same spot they always do. There’s a woman, presumably the weaver; and a man, who is always silent, and is always wearing a tee shirt that says things to the effect of “I just do what my wife tells me.” A girl was selling handmade soap and candles in dozens of colors.

And there were two booths, one manned by local republicans, right across the alley from their democratic rivals.  The republicans had a plate of free cookies. “Come to the dark side,” said the balding man with a wink. Okay, he didn’t actually say that, but he *should* have.

There was a trailer that sold kettle corn. They did a popping business. yukyuk. No, really. There was always a line for gallon plastic bags of kettle corn.  There were two, or maybe three, meat vendors there.  The meat was all stored in coolers full of ice. One had an “All meat in this cooler is 50% off” cooler. It was filled with veal, which doesn’t appeal to either Judi or me, so we moved on. Another vendor proudly sold “Rabbit, duck, and water buffalo.” It sounded like a Looney Toons presentation.

There were several vendors who sold salsa, sauces, and pickles. But two booths actually made a business from it. We bought gnocci and pesto from a woman who made her own. There were two or three creamers, selling goat cheeses, ice creams, and yogurts. There was a woman selling strawberry, chocolate and vanilla milk.

And of course there were fruit and vegetable vendors. Several varieties of squash and cucumbers were available. It was a bit early in the season for tomatoes, but there were a few. We bought some apples and strawberries.

The new addition to the farmer’s market was the food vendors. It used to be just the popcorn guy, but now four vendors sold tacos, barbecue (Uncle Fred’s barbecue to be exact), empanadas, and pulled meat sandwiches. I grabbed a couple because by 11AM, after my long sweaty run, I was getting quite hungry. Then we loaded our vegetable treasures into the bag and left.

I think I wore Judi out. I hope she’s okay, because today is our 23rd anniversary, and we need to do *something* to celebrate. We have enough vegetables now. I’m sure we can think of something fun to do with them.

Coffee, Jiffy Lube, and Old Victrolas

Today is warm and overcast, but I have my coffee and I am willing to get going on life.  I drove Judi into work and had her grab me a large coffee with the online ordering system. Don’t look at me that way–I’m a well-behaved gentleman and get my own coffee most of the time.  She got TWO large coffees and a sandwich so she wouldn’t have to make a second trip from her office (where there is lousy coffee) to the coffee shop (where there is much better coffee and a long line). At 6:30 AM, these are the sacrifices you have to make.

Next, I drove the car to the Jiffy Lube. They don’t open until 8AM, and I got there at 6:45 so it was sort of a mess-up.  I need to get the oil changed (not sure I’m capable of doing this task by myself anymore) and have the tires filled with air.  When we drove to Alexander’s birthday dinner last night, it seemed quite bumpy with 1000+ pounds of “cargo” in the automobile. I think we might have a slow leak in one of the tires anyhow, so this is just a stopgap measure, until I can buy some new ones, maybe later this summer.

It is 8AM and I was listening to Spotify for the last hour. Today’s playlist was from 1940. I assembled it a few months ago, when I was watching that Ken Burns documentary about the Roosevelts, and the second documentary about World War II.  Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” was popular that year. So were “Tuxedo Junction” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,”.  It seems 1940 was full of Glenn Miller. The United states was still a couple years from entering the war, and the Depression was gripping us. I guess we needed something go make us believe in ourselves again.

Next, I listened to old wax cylinder recordings from the turn of the last century.  I’m coming to realize that I have missed loads of music that may have been really important to our history. The music is muddy, of course, with scratches and cracks. I guess when you record on wax, it’s bound to happen.  My Granny and Grandpa Spurgeon had some friends when we were growing up. I remember this place well, because Joe and Esther Moser had two different recording devices that played wax cylinders. One was Edison make, and the other was a Victor. In those days, the music was controlled by the manufacturer of the device it was recorded on.  Edison had its own stable of musicians and recordings, which would *only* be playable on Edison’s machines (not to mention player pianos) It’s not like today, when every song is easily purchasable on any device you’d like to listen to it with.

Anyway, the Mosers had all these machines, and a catalpa tree in his back yard, that grew big long beans. He let me visit his son’s room. The son had died a few years earlier in a car accident. He owned a trumpet that he played in the high school band. Joe kept the room exactly the same as she had left it. Joe showed the trumpet to me, but wouldn’t let me play it. I was perhaps 12 years old so I wasn’t surprised he never allowed me the chance to put my own spit into his memorial tribute. My mother tells me Joe had a couple *really* old cars and would occasionally take them out for a spin. I don’t remember old cars. This was the first place anyone let me touch a typewriter. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever thing. I guess Joe Moser liked his gadgets.

In my listening, I heard an old song that I hadn’t recalled in years.  My grandfather used to bounce me on his knee and sing it to me: “Pony Boy, pony boy… Won’t you be my Pony Boy?” went the chorus.  And he would bounce me harder and harder when the lyrics turned to “Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, whooooooa!” He was a good man, my grandpa, and loved to sing.  That song is over 100 years old now.  When I knew him I don’t think there was a single record in the house. He listened to talk radio. It’s funny how things will change.  If you give a person a Victrola, they’ll be interested in music for awhile. But give them a song to sing, and that song will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Books and Writing, Linguistics, Christianity and whatever else I feel like talking about at the time…

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