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Go sleep it off, old man

Keith Moon, who used to party like a rock star

Some months ago I wrote about sitting at a crowded bar with Sherry while we were waiting for a dinner table, and a man standing behind us was telling his friends how he had been on a cruise ship and one night "partied like a rock star." As we were called to our table, I made it a point to look at the guy. He was in his mid- to late 60s, maybe, and looked like he wouldn't last five minutes at a bar with the ghost of Keith Moon.

I filed the phrase away as just another dumb buzz phrase, but this week I was watching a promotional video by an artist I am distantly acquainted with, and she was saying that people attending her upcoming exhibit's opening would, after the show, be able to "party like a rock star."

I am not entirely sure this is a style of partying most people should pursue. I mean, consider:

(The party's over)

As empty as the phrase "party like a rock star is," I have adopted the simile for general purpose use. When my cats get loose, they "shoot through the door like a rock star." When I buy more than I expected to at the grocery store, I "shopped like a rock star."

And, of course, at this moment I am "blogging like a rock star."

The context of death

I saw a woman who looked familiar getting out of her car when I pulled into a local greenhouse today. She walked briskly into the place, and I soon lost sight of her as I began talking with one of the workers.

As I talked, the woman walked past me (I was off to the side with the greenhouse worker), paid for her purchase and was about to leave when I called her name. She stopped with an “I don’t recognize you” look turning into an “of course I recognize you” look in a couple of seconds. We began to talk. She was in town from New York City to arrange a memorial service for her brother, she said, and unexpected things—major things—were cropping up.

“I’m frazzled,” she said. I wish I wore “frazzled” as well as she was. She had no makeup on, and her hair was less red and more bronze than I remembered, but she still looked smart, dignified, a woman sure of her place in the world. I knew enough not to prolong the conversation, although in other circumstances, neither of us would have done that.

I’ve known her since what, eighth grade? We ran in entirely different circles—she was a “band kid,” I wasn’t. All I remember of her was that she was extremely smart and wasn’t someone whom I wanted to work up any high school angst-y antipathy toward. I had a bit of a crush on her during my senior year but was too shy to tell her or anybody else.

As I grow older, whenever I run into people like her—people who were smart enough, talented enough and had sense enough to leave our home town—it’s often in the context of death. People come back here for memorial services and funerals. I suspect it’s always been that way in anyone’s hometown.

Invariably, talking with the folks who return is an eye-opener. The conversations are different than they were when we all were growing up. We now recognize each other as people whose lives are in many ways very much alike, as opposed to high school, when the differences among us were paramount.

She and I might have a cup of coffee if she stays here next week (the service is Friday). I hope it happens—but I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t. After Friday, her life will start tilting again toward the here-and-now, and our hometown will be, for her, a good place to be from.

In the meantime, I’ll continue checking the obituaries page in the paper, where familiar names pop up much more often than makes me comfortable.

Definitely maybe, or possibly maybe not

The weather forecast for tomorrow calls for a 50 percent chance of scattered showers.

In a world full of equivocation, that's at the pinnacle.


We stand on guard for thee

To all my friends and readers who live in the true north, strong and free: Happy Canada Day!


Gardening as exercise? No, as torture

Late June is a time to sweat, stink, get dirty and plant things. All at once, that is. The first three are easy enough. The fourth one? Around here, it’s brutal.

That’s because we don’t have dirt where I live. Trees, bushes, flowers—they aren’t planted in dirt. They don’t grow in dirt. The soil—if you can call it that—is heavy clay. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say you want to dig a hole 8 inches across and about 6 inches deep. You take your shovel and, using your foot, drive it into the ground. But you can’t use the shovel as a lever to break the dirt (clay) up to remove it from the hole. Instead, you have to drive your shovel into the ground on the opposite side of the hole. Chances are you’ll have to do this twice more, covering the entire circumference of the hole. Finally, you’ve loosened the clay to the point that you can get it out of the hole—and it all comes out in one big clump weighing, oh, 35 or 40 points. That’s a lot to keep balanced on the shovel blade while you try to drop the chunk of clay into a wheelbarrow.

And remember: That’s for a small hole.

Planting even the smallest perennial is a chore, and Sherry and I have spent probably 12 hours over the last three days planting things out back. That may not sound like much, but with the clay, heat and humidity, it’s been only slightly more appealing than the idea of being waterboarded. We have hired landscapers to massively overhaul the front and side of our house, and they have removed every significant bush and shrub we had. So we’re transplanting the stuff we like out back, and, unlike professional landscapers, we have just one guiding principle: “It looks good right there.”

The joy of looking back and appreciating what we’ve done, though, is more than offset by the sheer fatigue that occurs during the digging and planting. Truth be told, after I’ve done about two hours of it, I usually uncork a string of F-sharps, throw my shovel down, fling my soaking headband away, wipe off my head with a wet towel and spend about an hour recovering and realizing that there’s more to do. A lot more.

I hear people say they like gardening because of the exercise. To them, I say, “Stop by my place. I’ve got your gardening exercise right here.” The Fire Department would need a conveyor belt to carry the exhausted bodies from my yard to the ambulances.

This is why newspapers matter

Because no one else will do this kind of work:

When I teach a writing course, I tell the students on the first day that at the end of the course, they'll never look at writing the same again. Here's an example. A student from my introductory writing course emailed me this, accompanied by the following message:

I came across this on Pinterest and immediately thought of you, so I thought I would share!

photo-11 copy

Tick tock

My sports watch gave out the other day, so Sherry and I went shopping for a new one. As I looked them over, she wandered away to check out the jewelry. It took me about five minutes, but I finally found the perfect watch.

"Why did you pick that one?" Sherry asked. I replied, "Because the display had the biggest numbers."

Are you a jerk?

This one hits a little too close to home:

(Nobody's perfect, but still ...)

For people with more money than brains

Something tells me the people buying these tickets will be taking lots of selfies during the game:

(Pro sports is decadent and deranged)

I need to know

What was the greatest thing before sliced bread?

Forget about Z.Z. Top ...

I just found out today that Z.Z. Top is playing about half an hour from where I live in late August.

I'm not a Z.Z. Top fan, but the headliner—the great Jeff Beck—makes this a must-see show.

Tickets go on sale at noon, if you're interested, and because it's Jeff Beck, you should be.

Third Stamp from the Sun

(Postal haze all in my brain)

"If I don't see you no more in this world
I'll meet you on the next one
Don't be late."


"The chickadees never came back"

Yesterday's New York Times carried a story about evidence that climate change is well underway:
(A map accompanies the article)

One of the reader comments, from a J.B. in Oklahoma, really struck me—maybe because it reminded me of my favorite Ray Bradbury story, "There will come soft rains."  J.B. wrote: Like water on a patient dying of feverCollapse )
Here's video of The War on Drugs performing "Eyes to the Wind," a track from their latest CD, Lost in the Dream, which you should buy right now:

An Ocean in Between the Waves

Here's a link to one of the many great songs from Lost in the Dream, the new album from The War on Drugs. I have been listening to the album nonstop and to this song in particular for the past three weeks. This live track isn't as compelling as the studio version, but it launches itself into interstellar overdrive at the 5-minute mark.

This is my early favorite for album of the year. Thanks to my friends Jamie and Dick for turning me on to these guys. They're playing in Buffalo on Sunday. I'll be the nearly-bald guy boppin' on the dance floor.

(The moon through the midnight rain )


title or description

Scientists say they've found water beneath the surface of a moon of Saturn—a sea the size of Lake Superior.

Saturn gets no closer to us than 839 million miles. To put that in perspective, light from the sun takes a little more than 8 minutes to get to Earth. Sunlight takes an additional 71 minutes to reach Saturn.

I mention this distance because of some of the measurements scientists had to make to find the water. One of measurements involved how fast NASA's Cassini spacecraft was moving as it orbited Enceladus, the moon in question. (Cassini arrived in Saturn's neighborhood ten years ago.)

The New York Times article about the discovery of water said scientists "could discern changes in the velocity of Cassini ... as minuscule as 14 inches an hour." From nearly a billion miles away. That's shake-my-head amazing.

The Times article does a great job making the discovery easy to understand:

(Big science made easy)

Driving me backward

Tonight I heard a TV newsguy say a group had "set an agenda going forward." As opposed to an agenda going—where, exactly?

When people use the phrase "going forward," it's a sign their brains temporarily stopped functioning for the time it took to speak those words.


They want a handout, not a hand

Here are five public welfare programs that are wasteful and turning us into a nation of “takers.”

(Give, and they'll just come back for more)


Latest Month

July 2014
Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“We like to talk in parables and in hints and in indirections—whether from diffidence or some other instinct.” — Robert Frost

“One has to spend so many years in learning how to be happy.” — Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot

“There is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” —T.S. Eliot"

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title: "Now if the six turned out to be nine, I don't mind." – Jimi Hendrix

• Journal subtitle: “Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp
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