Category - Digest

#HomeAlone Day 84
Uh, Houston? We Have…. A Kitten

Every year, around the middle of March, as the cold and dreary of winter wears on, I will say of the season, “Winter: it goes on until you can’t take it any more – and then it goes on a while longer.”

The same can now be said of the spring of 2020.

And quite possibly the summer.

Maybe the whole fucking year.

It can likewise be said of the past 5 years, when speaking of the descent that started with that ride down the escalator that has no bottom floor. 5 years later, new bottom after new bottom, and still we descend…

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln….

I really have no reason to complain (but I’m Jewish, why should that stop me?) as I have been comfortably ensconced out here in West Bumfuque for the past nearly three months. My cupboards and freezer are filled with provisions, and “essential workers” have made the trek out here each week to drop off more.

It gets pretty damn lonesome at times, but I figure I am better off this way than if my ex was still around. I am grateful that all resolved itself well before I had to lockdown, otherwise the operative hashtag would be #MurderSuicide instead of #HomeAlone.

I wish I had more to show for all this time I have had to myself. I have ventured furtively into various creative endeavors, but let’s just say “the input exceeds the output.”

My attempt at an audio/video recording space. If only I sounded half as good as it looks…

I set up the ‘studio’ in the back of house – the space with the big picture window that I cleared of all but a mediation cushion once I had the house to myself  – to attempt some audio and video recording, but the first attempts at actually recording something sounded so bad that I have not tried again for a week or so.

I have not really been writing much. I lament that most of my verbal energy gets dissipated into Facebook posts and comments. Facebook has become my go-to distraction and frustration. On the one hand, it offers the illusion of some kind of contact with other humans. On the other hand, the conceit of keeping an open mind and peering outside my own bubble opens the window on a stream of crazy nonsense that melts my brain.

The back roads less traveled aka my typical top-down joyride routes – Old Charlotte, Pond Creek, River Road and back again.

I really didn’t leave the house for about two months, except for #LifeIsBetterWithTheTopDown joy rides along the back roads between here and Ashland City most afternoons. This has been the season for a convertible, and I have not let it pass without making the best of it, nearly every day.

As for writing… heh.

I’ve written a couple of accounts of my life in isolation, that, again, mostly got posted to Facebook. But I also made some notes about my visit to the doctor last month for my annual physical, posted to my website in two parts here and here.

I have been missing my job at the Apple store. The store closed on March 14. The good news is that Apple has so much cash (like $2-million-per-employee!) – and continuing revenue through online sales – that they haven’t laid anybody off. We’re all still on the payroll. I had a personal experience there that has transformed how I feel about that job and the company:

As the Coronavirus Panic reached its first crest of frenzy in mid-March, I started to worry about the risk for my age bracket relative to the rest of the personnel I work with (many of whom are literally a third of my age). I called the store on Friday March 13 and expressed my anxiety, telling a couple of mid-level managers that while on the one hand I didn’t want to ask for any special dispensation, on the other hand… I’m old and 3-to-5 times as likely to die if I get the Covid. A couple of hours later the Lead Manager called back and said “we’ll take you off the schedule and make sure you get paid.”

That moment brought me almost to tears. No, wait… actually… it did bring me to tears, to the extent that this emotionally-arrested old man is capable of them.

The next day they announced that the store would close indefinitely and offered a similar arrangement for all personnel. But I felt like the universe had singled me out in a way that I felt like somebody had my back – as my therapist pointed out – maybe the first time in my life.

And then I settled into my confinement. They have tried to keep us busy with online training and video conferencing – just more glass and silicon and mostly looking at my own disembodied image on the screen.

In preparation for what remains an unscheduled reopening, I actually went in to the store for the first time on Tuesday for several hours of “socially distanced retail training.” I wish I could say it was anything other than just fucking weird. It was great to be in the presence of other actual humans again but of course we were all visible only from the eyes up. And seeing people for the first time in months but… no hugs, no physical contact of any kind. Wearing a mask and trying to communicate through it… not fun. Also very itchy with the beard. And, of course… don’t touch your face…

“The Pile” – my father was a prolific letter writer; my mother saved them all.

The other thing I have done in the past couple of weeks is return to what I am now calling “The Pile” of letters that my parents exchanged with each other in the year between their meeting and their marriage in 1943. I have been reading the letters and dictating them into a digital document. I don’t know what I will do with this stuff. I have reached the point now where I feel like I just need to stay with “the work” such as it is and eventually something will manifest. I have been circling the idea of weaving my own memoir (remember the 1969 stuff?) with some of this material. I just don’t know yet.

As I’ve been dictating/transcribing these letters into a Scrivener doc, I’ve stored some on Dropbox so my sister in Connecticut can read them. Here’s one from Harvey, and here’s one from Ellen. I’m pretty sure there’s a story in there somewhere…

It’s not quite so lonely out here for the past two weeks… as some of you know (via Facebook), I got a kitten… Her name is “Buster” (she was gender-confused when she first arrived) and she’s about 8 weeks old.  I’ve posted pictures of her on Facebook almost every day over the past two weeks.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln….

#Home Alone Day 63
To Doc or Not To Doc Part 2:
You Can’t Get There From Here

(continued from here)

As I suspected, the hard part was just getting to the clinic from the parking garage. 

The elevators, they’re easy to find, they are centrally located in a red-walled glass box in the center of the garage.  But the stairs?  Good fucking luck. 

The parking lot was fuller than I thought it might be, but I was pleased that everybody I saw was wearing a mask.  

After I’d parked the car, I searched for a stairwell  in what amounted  to wandering around in a dark concrete maze. I saw a couple of gentlemen in scrubs (and masks!) conversing near the entrance to the elevator lobby, so I approached, and from a socially safe distance asked,

“Do either of you gentleman know where I can find the stairs up to the Frist Clinic.” 

“The stairs are locked,” the gentleman in the navy blue scrubs muffled to me through his mask.

I took this news rather incredulously.  “The stairs are locked?” 

“Yeah,” Mr. Scrubs repeated, “on account the virus.  The elevator is the only way up…”

Let me see if I’ve got this straight:  Because there is an infectious virus a-loose in the land, the only way to get to the doctor is by getting into a small enclosed chamber with a bunch of strangers?

One of the more vocal members of the Committee Inside My Head said something like “if that’s true, that’s the dumbest fucking thing you’re going to hear all day.”  I’m not sure, but those words may have gotten through before the committee member that holds my tongue could stop them. 

It wasn’t easy, given the labyrinthine nature of this particular parking garage, but I managed to find the vehicular entrance/exit, thinking I’d just go out on the street and find the entrance to the building that way.  But the way these buildings are arranged around Centennial, I couldn’t even find the entrance to the building I was trying to get in to.   

I went back into the garage, and after a little bit more dialog with Mr. Scrubs, resisted the Covid Wheel of Anxiety -induced urge to just get back in my car and go home.  I resigned myself to getting on an elevator in order to proceed with my mission: to risk my life in order to get a clean bill of health.  #IronyAbounds

Not so fast…

I wanted to wait for an empty elevator.  Two people with masks got into the first car that opened, and I figured “what the hell…” and got in with them.  But before the doors could shut… another woman got in.  She was not wearing a mask.  I got out. 

The next car that opened, there was just one other guy – with a mask –  waiting to get on, so I took my chances with him.  

I put on a rubber glove and pressed the “4” button.  #ParanoidMuch? 

The door closed before anybody else could get in.  In the few seconds available, to us, we exchanged our mutual surprise that there was no stairwell access to the building.  He got off in the lobby and again, mercifully, nobody else got on.   30 seconds later I had finally reached my desired destination.  

I’m sorry I didn’t think to grab a photo of the lobby of the Frist Clinic. It’s usually a pretty bustling place, but this time it was nearly empty.  Most of the seating had been removed, and what remained was all socially-distanced apart.  There were signs saying everybody had to wear a mask, and a Miranda-like warming that “if you don’t have a mask, one will be provided for you…” 

I waited a safe distance from the counter for my turn to check in.  The receptionist asked me for my Insurance card, and I made a mental note to thank Apple for keeping me employed and insured while so many millions of people are losing not only their jobs but also their health insurance – at a time when they are really going to need it.  Note to America: this is fucking stupid. 

After a short wait the nurse invited me in. 

“How are you?” she asked dutifully.

“Right this moment… I’m pretty agitated!” I replied, launching into a concise summary of the Ordeal of My Arrival and repeating the profane conclusion that the  Committee Inside My Head had arrived at earlier.

Then she sat me down,  took my blood pressure – and rattled off a number that didn’t sound right. 

“Is that good?” I asked, sensing some alarm. 

“No.” was all she said.  

She left me in the room to wait for the doctor while I wondered if being forced  to ride an elevator could actually elevate one’s blood pressure.  

Dr. Louis Johnson at the Frist Clinic, who has been my Primary Care Provider for the entire time I’ve lived in Nashville. Another, like my barber and my housekeeper, who have been around longer than my (now ex-) wife.

Eventually the doctor arrived and I told him the story of the limited choice of conveyance. He was surprised that somebody had told me the stairs were inaccessible.  We talked a little about the Strange Times we’re living in, and the exam commenced.  

I’ll spare you the sordid details of the ensuing poking and prodding.  The highlight for me may have been the discussion around my weight.  He didn’t say anything, but I did express my concern that I have add a few lbs from “sitting on my ass for the past two months.”  

“Yes,” he said, “that’s been a concern for a lot of people.” 

“Yeah, that’s what happens when the grocery store has run out of chicken but you can get all the Oreos you want…”

When the exam was over, the doc took me out into the hallway and showed me an exit to the stairs. “That’ll take you right down to the parking lot.” 

Before I left, he took my blood pressure one more time. 

“Normal,” was all he said.  

Whew. 

So, yeah… riding an elevator in the spring of 2020 is definitely not good for your health. 

Of course we won’t really know the full impact of this penetration into the Infection Zone for another 12-14 days so… y’all standby!

#HomeAlone Day 63:
To Doc or Not To Doc?

After much perseveration, I have decided to go to the doctor for my annual physical today.

Like every thing else over the past two months, the decision hasn’t come easily.

So far as I know, my health is good. Despite my advancing age (a “7-handle in November!), the only health issues I have are blood pressure and A1C that have hovered near the “you might have to do something about that” levels in recent years. The last time I did the blood work, all the numbers were fine and the doc said “just keep doing what you’ve been doing.” That was a couple of months after the divorce was finalized. Go figger.

This is a non-essential excursion into a potentially risky environment. The nurses I spoke to at the Frist Clinic assure me that they are taking all the necessary precautions: everybody in the clinic must wear a mask and observe social distancing. And there was one point during the conversation when I realized: the nurses and the doctors and staff at the clinic are going to work every day – and they’re not dead yet…

Once I’d decided it was probably (?!?) safe, The Great Wheel of Covid Anxiety starts turning again: How do I get from the parking garage to the clinic? Sure, once in the clinic, all the guidelines are being practiced, but I usually ride an elevator to the clinic on the 4th floor. What is the likelihood that everybody on the elevator will be wearing a mask? From what I read, not very likely. I can just imagine: one cough from somebody on an elevator and dial up the body bag.

It’s not helping to turn on the TeeVee or read something on the newspad (do they still make newspapers?) that singles out Nashville as one of the newest hotspots in the nation and wonder all over again, “why risk it?”

There seem to be two factors driving the Covid Anxiety Wheel: On the one hand, it only makes sense to be cautious. On the other hand, at what point do you realize that your life is being ruled by fear? At what point do you have to listen to the third voice in your head (it’s quite a committee…) that says “feel the fear and do it any way”? (H/T Julie).

Anyway I’ve made my decision.

Like Luke finding the exhaust port on the Death Star, “I’m going in…”

I just hope I can find the stairs. And I am grateful-sweet-jesus that I have the strength to climb them…

#HomeAlone Day 55

We keep hearing the phrase “these uncertain times,” but it is not that the times are uncertain so much as the quality of time itself has changed.

It is May and there is no baseball.

To fill that seasonal void, I’ve been reading Phllip Roth’s “The Great American Novel” – which is a sordid satire about baseball (what else could a Great American Novel be about?).

Most of the story takes place during World War II; There is a passage where one of the team owners explains to a player that what is really at stake has less to do with Hitler than the looming threat Stalinist Communism:

 

Even as this war rages on against the Germans and the Japs, the other war against us has already begun, the invisible war, the silent assault upon the very fabric that holds us together as a nation…

In order to destroy America, the Communists in Russia and their agents around the world are going to attempt to destroy the major leagues…

When baseball goes, Roland, you can kiss America goodbye. Try to imagine it, Roland, an American summer Sunday without doubleheaders, an American October without the World Series, March in America without spring training. No, they can call it America, but it’ll be something very different then. Roland, once the Communists have made a joke of the majors, the rest will fall like so many dominoes.

 

The “invisible war”? The “silent assault”?

Who knew Coronavirus is a Communist??

#ColdWarOver #CommiesWin

photo credit: The Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles played a game in an empty ballpark in 2015. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

#HomeAlone Day 49 = Seven Weeks

49 days. That’s seven weeks.

Seven weeks of FaceTime, Zoom and Webex.

The last time I did anything in the actual world was March 12, when I went to McCabe Pub in Sylvan Park for my weekly cheeseburger – something I’d been doing for more than twenty years. I hope that tradition can resume one of these days, but I imagine it will be weird with only three or four people at the bar, spaced two or three bar stools apart. Will I need to make a reservation? How do you eat a cheeseburger through a mask?

I’d started using a grocery delivery service a couple of months before “stay home!” started; I’ve continued that routine, getting delivery once a week and leaving a generous cash tip taped to the front door for the shopper. Those people are my heroes. Their efforts provide a weekly reminder just how upside down our culture and economy are.

Several times a week, when the weather is nice and the sun is shining, I’ve indulged myself with #TopDown joy rides over the back roads out here in West Bumfuque. That has necessitated several trips to the Shell station in Pegram; I gas up the car with a rubber glove on one hand. I made one trip to another service station to swap out my propane tank and two trips to the post office to drop off stuff I’d sold on eBay. That is the full extent of my outside-the-house commerce. Amazon/UPS delivers everything else.

Every morning I get out of bed, put on my sneakers and go for a two-mile walk trough my neighborhood. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I have all the conspiracy theories sorted out, and I almost understand what is happening in WestWorld. Thomas Jefferson is still dead but Clay Jenkinson lives! Most days I take another walk in the late afternoon, then I sit on the back deck and read a book, watch the hummingbirds – and remind myself repeatedly how fortunate I am. Despite it all…. #gratitude.

In seven weeks, the only other humans I have seen are the neighbors I encounter on my walks. We stand on opposite sides of the street and exchange pleasantries. Their dogs are the only living creatures I have touched. I regret not getting a kitten when I was thinking about it last year. The animal shelter not far from here has been closed.

The only people who have been to my house are my housekeeper who comes every other Tuesday, a plumber and the HVAC guy. Otherwise, all my “human interactions” (including two ‘virtual dinner dates’) have been mediated by screens, electrons, and digits. Thank you all for setting your camera in “landscape” mode and minimizing the backlight.

Speaking of dating: I did a bit of that in the months that followed my divorce last year, but was informed / reminded numerous times that: divorced less than a year, I was essentially radioactive. Late last year I decided to go into hibernation and wait for the year to end. The year ended in January and then…. oh boy, more hibernation.

It has been seven weeks since I’ve gone to my job, which keeps me on my feet – and burning calories – for eight hours several days a week. I know I am among the fortunate ones to work for such a large company that I have stayed employed and paid even though I have not really been working; the company has kept us engaged with video conferences and online training. They’re doing their level-best to get us ready for reopening, though it is quite uncertain when that will be or it will look like. In the meantime, I look forward to those video-interactions with my co-workers (aka “the kids”).

So it was no surprise when I stepped on the scale this morning and learned that in seven weeks I have gained six pounds.

It has been seven weeks since I’ve have had a hug; seven weeks since I’ve had any physical contact with another human being.

If I can’t touch anybody or anything, I’m starting to wonder why I even need a physical body.

And then I remember: my body a transportation device.

It transports my mouth to the refrigerator.

 

Public Service Announcement
For Facebook Live Broadcasters

Last week, I posted this query on Facebook.

The question arose after watching my good friend Jerry Vandiver delivered an otherwise wonderful performance of his music from the porch of his house in East Nashville to his friends and fans via Facebook Live.  I say “otherwise” because the delivery was marred by what I consider the Cardinal Sin of Internet Video and a Scourge of Our Times surpassed only by the Coronavirus and herpes: ‘vertical’ video.

See the problem?

I will spare you all the diatribe about why vertical video is such an anathema.  Suffice it to say that 9-out-of-9 video and photography professionals agree.

In Jerry’s case last week, he had is band socially-distant-spread across his  lawn, but because the video was shot in “portrait” (vertical) mode, the bottom half of the frame was just empty street.  Apparently when he tried to set his iPhone camera in “landscape” (i.e. horizontal, like the way we watch TeeVee) mode, the image got “flipped” so that it looked like everybody was playing their instruments left-handed.  So Jerry settled on the “vertical” aspect, I threw a gasket, and posted the question above on my own Facebook page.

After a couple of days another Facebook friend, another singer/songwriter by the name of Bill Mann, posted the complete solution:

Let me break it down for you and simplify where I can:  1

  1. Facebook Live is accessible when you go to make a post to your FB (personal)) profile or (business) page.  Clickd the little red camera icon:
  2. HERE’S THE IMPORTANT STEP: Before you do ANYTHING ELSE, rotate your phone into LANDSCAPE (horizontal) mode and LEAVE IT THAT WAY!
  3. When the Facebook Live window opens, tap the text line that lets you put in a description.
  4.  Tap on the little wand with a star, in the lower right-hand corner (I think Bill may have misplaced this icon in his post – it’s on the lower right, not left).
  5. This will open up two rows of icons at the bottom of the screen. Ignore the top row of colored icons; find the screw-driver-and-wrench on the lower right.  Tap that to open  the “settings” panel.
  6. Tap the icon on the far left to reverse the mirror image.
  7. Make sure you back out of this menu by clicking the “X” in the upper left-hand corner.
  8. Now, keeping your device IN LANDCAPE MODE, tap the blue button to the right or your screen to begin broadcasting (I use the term loosely).  You might want to mount the phone on a tripod first.

These steps pre-suppose that you are going to use the front-facing (aka the “selfie”) camera for your broadcast – assuming you want to be able to see what is in the frame while you’re transmitting. This is OK with newer phones, like the iPhone 10 and newer, because the resolution of the front facing camera is adequate (though never as good as the primary, rear camera) for what you’re doing.

If you’re using the rear camera, you can skip steps 4-6, just make sure you have the camera mounted in landscape mode before you click the blue “start” button.  You can’t  change the orientation once the recording/streaming has begun.

Jerry and I tested all this out this morning, and  discovered that it is only with that front-facing “selfie” camera that Facebook flips the image so that normal guitarists all look like they are playing left-handed.

Which, with the only exception being Paul McCartney, is another violation of the laws of the natural universe on par with vertical videos.

I hope somebody finds this helpful.

Dispatch from #HomeAlone
Day 32: Wither Baseball?

What is Spring without baseball??? 

Along with everything else that his been canceled or postponed, there is no baseball.  No major league baseball.  No minor league baseball, no Little League baseball.  No hits, no runs, no errors.

I’ve been hearing that maybe the entire MLB 2020 season will be televised from (empty?) stadiums in Arizona and Florida.  The Nashville Sounds should have had their opening day  and my friends and I should be triangulating on our first game of the season.  And my annual 4th (3rd) of July game? Could be canceled for the first time since 1999. 

I’m trying to fill the void by reading Phillip Roth’s The Great American Novel, which is all about baseball (what else would the “Great American Novel” be about?).  Yesterday I read a passage in which one of the characters waxes eloquently his objection to flood lights and night games, which passage I share with you here – as a reminder of what we are missing. 

– – – – 

The great Ulysses S. Fairsmith, renowned manager of the Ruppert Mundy’s in the Roth’s  fictional Patriot League, and known throughout league not as Mr. Fairsmith but as Mister Fairsmith expressed his opposition to  against the introduction of  baseball played under artificial light rather than the bright natural sunlight that God himself had intended:

I do feel in every part around the league, on those golden days of sweet, cheerful spring, hot plenteous summer, and bountiful and benevolent autumn, when physically strong and morally sound young men do sport in seriousness beneath the sun, as did the two in Eden, before the Serpent in the Fall. Daytime baseball is nothing less than a reminder of Eden in the time of innocence in joy; and too, an imitation of that which is yet to come. For what is a ball park but that place wherein Americans gathered to worship the beauty of God’s earth, the skill and strength of his children, and the holiness of his commandment to order and obedience.

For such are the twin rocks upon which all sport is founded.And woe onto him, I say, who would assemble our players in our fans beneath the feeble, artificial light of godless science! For in the end is in the beginning, in the Paradise to come as in the Eden we have lost, it is not by the faint wattage of the electric light bulb that you shall be judged, but rather in the unblinking I of the Lord, wherein we are all as bareheaded fans in the open bleachers and tiny players prancing the vault of His Heaven.

So, that’s what’s missing.  Just one more reason we all feel so disoriented.  Because it’s April, and there is no baseball.

Daytime, nighttime… Play ball already!

Appomattox 150 (+5)

Today, kids, Cohesion Arts has a history lesson for you:

On April 9, 1865,  Union General Ulysses S. Grant accepted the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the drawing room of a house near the village of Appomattox Court House in western Virgnia.  There are no actual photographs of this historic occasion, though most people familiar with the history have probably seen artistic renderings like this one:

An (unknown) artists rendering of Lee’s surrender to Grant – April 9, 1865

For most people who know a little American history, this is presumed to be the moment that marked the end of the American Civil War.

What most people don’t know is that there were two meetings between Grant and Lee.  The second took place  the following morning – April 10, 1865 – 155 years ago today.

When Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9th, Lee had only the authority to surrender his own Army of Northern Virginia.  He did not have the authority to surrender the rest of the Confederacy, or the other armies that remained in the field.

Realizing that the war was not yet fully over despite Lee’s surrender, Grant summoned Lee to a second meeting. At this second “interview,” Grant implored Lee to use his considerable influence over the other generals to likewise surrender.   They met for roughly 30 minutes, first doffing their hats to each other, then shaking hands, but never leaving their horses.

Once contacted, the other generals complied and the war was, within a few days, effectively over.

From late 2010 until mid 2015, I was privileged to be part of “The 186 Project” – a musical commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial produced by Americana songwriter and guitarist Thomm Jutz.  I formed a partnership with Thomm and songwriter Peter Cronin, and acted as an Executive Producer on the project. Thomm and Peter did most of the songwriting along with a host of some of Nashville’s finest, and I did all the photography for the cover art and inserts for the three CDs the project delivered between 2011 and 2014.

That assignment took me to several Civil War re-enactments over the course of of the following four years – culminating in the re-enactment of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April of 2015.

I did not get to enter the McLean House, where Lee’s surrender was re-enacted the morning of April 9.  That plumb assignment went to a photographer working with the National Park Service.

But the following morning, I did  manage to get myself into the catbird seat for the re-enactment of that ‘second interview’.  I ignored the NPS ropes and pushed my way through to a small rise, across the road from the ridge where my friend Curt Fields,  portraying General Grant, and Thomas Jessee, portraying General Lee, met: at the exact same spot, and at the exact same time that their predecessors had met 150 years earlier.

I was the only photographer at that vantage point, and I believe that I shot the defining photo of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

There is more to be told of the event, and the final “tintype” rendering of the photo above (available for purchase, duh) can be found at apx150photos.com.

This “tintype” rendering suggests how an actual photo of the event might have turned out in 1865

There are links on that page to some of the other photography I shot during the Sesquicentennial.

While you are perusing those images, let me suggest you also listen to this moving to tribute to Grant and Lee co-written and performed here by Dana Cooper, from The 1861 Project Volume 1: From Farmers to Foot Soldiers.

And…. funny story:  I really felt this was a special image from the Sesquicentennial.  I imagined all kinds of products that would go well in the National Park Service gift shop at Appomattox.  I called the manager there, they sounded really interested, but would have to clear it with the Park Historian.  I sent some mounted prints.  A couple of weeks later the manager got back to me and said that the Historian didn’t like the picture – because the horses are too fat.

Go figger.