Easy Little Things

Even reflecting on the obvious can bring us to unexpected conclusions.
Even reflecting on the obvious can bring us to unexpected conclusions.

I had my first successful nap in 10 days.

Despite being tired and needing to rest, when I had the Rona, lying down often resulting in a shift in my head and chest mucus, prompting yet another coughing fit, so napping was impossible, and sleeping at night was tough.

Today, though, I balled up in the living room couch quite cozily, and dove into a hard, welcome nap.

The first thing I dreamed was that Abby was there with me, as simple as that. I could feel her breathe.

Then the dreamscape shifted. At first, I was convinced that I had to accomplish something like answering a riddle, and if I got it even partially wrong, all the consciousness of the universe would vanish with no hope of being restored.

Next, I was trying to escape some kind of a plot to end the world. Mackenzee Crosby  and I were forced into a maze of trickery and exploration as we probed through streets that were sometimes made of asphalt, and sometimes made of cotton candy. We eventually realized that the plot was to flood the world.

Rounding a corner into a child’s room, we see millions of white and blue balloons floating around us. The white ones are hydrogen, and the blue ones are oxygen, and at the given time, they would collide and combine into water, along with, I am told by an explanatory video, hundreds of light sabre duals fought with blue and white fluorescent  light bulbs.

At an opera we are led into the basement through a trap door, where we enter a room made entirely of shiny brown leather. We see a fat man in a leather bed, where I sit and give him counseling for his depression. At the session ends, I pull a straight razor from a cubby in the side of the bed and say, “So I guess you won’t be needing this, now.”

I look up to realize the watering has begun. Balloons are colliding and water is rising. We escape through a street-level window, Mackenzee pulling me through at the last possible second. We are in an alley at a biker bar. I see children who have obviously gone insane. The water continues to rise.

How much of our perception depends on our perspective?
How much of our perception depends on our perspective?

A COVID-19 Journal

This is my rapid COVID-19 test from the evening of Jan. 16, 2022, indicating I am positive for the virus.
This is my rapid COVID-19 test from the evening of Jan. 16, 2022, indicating I am positive for the virus.

Day 10, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, final report: This is my last entry about this illness. Although I am still experiencing residual symptoms, especially nasal and chest congestion, I believe I am through it. It’s been days since I had any fever.

I had a worse case than many of those around me, and there is no telling why that might be the case. On the other hand, I never felt that my life was in danger, nor did I ever feel compelled to go to the emergency room.

My case is an excellent argument for the use of masks in public, since I was probably contagious for several days before I was aware I was ill, but I masked the entire time.

How does the vaccine fit into all this? I was vaccinated before the omicron variant appeared, and was probably protected from the previous variants.

Day 9, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022: I managed to sleep until 10:30 this morning, all on the living room couch, which, for unknown reasons, seemed to accommodate me better than the bed right now.

No fever today, and I am eating, but I still have that nagging cough, and I still can barely speak.

For the first time all week it was nice out, so I walked the dogs, and that went fine. While I was out I saw Mike next door. I kept my distance. He told me he was about to take his daughter Jen to the emergency room in Shawnee because of “some kind of crud.”

When I am legitimately better, I am going to clean, clean, clean. The reason I can’t do it now is 1. Cleaning send  clouds of filth into the air and into my nose and lungs, and 2. The head-down posture required for things like scrubbing a sink causes a mucus shift in my chest and sinuses, which often triggers a coughing fit.

Day 8, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022: I slept the whole night, only interrupted by a couple of coughing fits, after which I was able to go right back to sleep. I was also able to eat a real meal today. I weighed 150 pounds this morning, compared to 139 pounds two years ago when I had the flu. Directly comparing them isn’t very useful, but at least in terms of “how I felt,” I was legitimately sicker when I had the flu.

My cough is mostly productive, and my voice has returned about 5%.

I think today was a step in the right direction.

Day 7, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022: As the day turned to night yesterday, it seemed like my cough was getting more productive and, despite the 100-yard walk to the mailbox that made me a little woozy, I hoped to get to sleep earlier and try to make up for a very sleepless period.

By about 1:30 this morning, I started having very intense dreams about being congested. To my surprise, with no warning or even nausea, I found myself running to the bathroom to throw up, which I did three times, and I was such a mess. I also had to clean up the mess in the hall where I hadn’t been quite fast enough to make it to the bathroom. It’s not like me at all to have gastrointestinal symptoms. I guess this is another thing we are finding with this pandemic; it is a very complex and dangerous disease.

Day 6, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022: It was very hard to sleep last night, despite taking a bunch of Benadryl, which makes me drowsy. The trouble both nights was that if a lied down and actually went sleep, not long after that a hugely uncomfortable coughing fit hit me hard, over and over. I ended up kind of propping myself in the corner of the couch and dozing off. If I wasn’t in a hard sleep, I could feel the coughing attack coming on and could either chase it out of my chest with a big glass of water, or by coughing it up before it got too terrible. Either way, I was up and down in a half-sleep doing that about every 20 to 30 minutes all night.

Day 5 supplemental: At around 4 p.m. while trying to talk to the dogs, I discovered that I have lost my voice. I also discovered that my throat was getting sore, and the mucus was looser. I don’t know if that’s a stage of the disease, random chance, or me doubling-down on the expectorants, but it is nice that I have a more-productive cough, which hopefully keeps me out away from any kind of pneumonia.

Day 5, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022: My recovery seems to be on hold. I don’t have any fever today, and I have yet to experience body aches many of my friends have described. But it seems to have settled in my chest. I am breathing fine, but I have a nagging, frustrating cough, such that despite medicating myself with tons of OTC meds, woke me up repeatedly last night. By about 4 a.m., I gave up and turned on some Netflix. I got a grand total of maybe three hours of actual sleep.

Once last night and once this morning, I coughed so hard I actually did blarf, but it wasn’t from nausea or GI, but that the muscles of my diaphragm slammed so hard it actually forced a little bit of food up.

Exactly zero appetite.

Day 4, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022: My symptoms are hanging on tight as a tick. Several people who had the omicron variant recently said they had a nearly identical set of symptoms, and they all said it was “like the worst head cold you ever had.”

I can still taste and smell. I woke up in coughing fits a couple of times last night and nearly blarfed from coughing so hard. My ribs hurt from coughing.

Since I have no appetite, I made a deal with myself that I’ve made with Abby a bunch over the years: even though it doesn’t sound good, what if I put some scrambled eggs in front of me? Turns out, they were great.

I had a very rough cold that was just like this in 2005, the week my dad died, and I felt so apologetic that I couldn’t stop coughing on the plane when Abby and I flew to Florida for his funeral.

It’s still early in my isolation, but except that I can’t visit Abby right now, I am enjoying it. The dogs are great company, and I use whatever energy I have to take on little projects around the house. I am also immersed in entertainment.

Day 3, later in the morning Monday, Jan. 17, 2022: Jamie called to ask me if I needed anything. For some reason, her genuine concern sort of shook off a layer of denial for me. After thanking her and hanging up, I worked myself into a legitimate panic attack which, in my current state, I mistook for shortness of breath. I laid down and put a fan on myself and tried to sleep, with Summer the Chihuahua on my lap. A minute or two later I thought I should call Abby and tell her I love her incase I died right then. I talked to her and she sounded good, so I was able to calm myself. As of 1:15 this afternoon, I am not dead.

Day 3, early morning, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022: I seemed to sleep all night long, but woke up feeling weirdly weak and dizzy. I am still coughing. No fever. If there is a bright spot, it’s that tooth paste and coffee smell and taste like toothpaste and coffee.

It might not last, but on Day 3, I could still taste and smell coffee.
It might not last, but on Day 3, I could still taste and smell coffee.

Day 2, evening, Sunday Jan. 16. 2022: A friend on social media saw that I couldn’t find a test kit and dropped one in our mailbox for me this evening. I took the test and it was positive. I have COVID-19.

Day 2, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022: I was able to sleep in, and slept well. First temp was 98.5ºF. Cough sounds and feels ugly, but not very different from a cough that might have with a cold.

Day 1, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022: I felt fine for much of the day, but by afternoon, I started thinking my chest congestion was becoming more significant. By around 5 p.m., I was running a fever hovering around 99.2º F, but no additional symptoms. My nose was less runny, but my chest remained congested in just about the same way it does once or twice a year when I catch the crud. It is a nagging nuisance, but I don’t feel any difficulty breathing, and I don’t feel any rattling like I did two years ago when I had the flu. Update late Saturday night: I still have my sense of taste and smell.

Prior to day 1, I felt fine except for a runny, itchy nose completely consistent with hay fever for about three days. It was very windy some of those days, and I covered several grass fires for my newspaper and got into the smoke. I masked the entire time.

At a photo/interview op Friday, the Ada Police Chief Carl Allen told me, “Don’t have a stroke, don’t have a heart attack, don’t get in a car crash, don’t fall out of a tree. There is no room for you in any hospital.”

I am not currently in possession of a COVID-19 home test kit, so I may go to town for one tomorrow.

COVID-19 numbers nationwide have been soaring, with a seven-day new case average of nearly 800,000, but fewer people than ever seem concerned or wear masks. The current dominant variant of SARS-CoV-2 is the Omicron, which is reportedly much more contagious than previous versions, but also notably less severe.

I got the Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations on Feb. 24 and March 26, and a booster vaccination on Aug. 23.

I have been in a hospital setting most of the time for the last six months, since my wife Abby was critically ill, then in long-term care. I have always masked in those settings, but I am certain that my risk was elevated by this.

My overall health situation is that I am 58, physically active at home and on the job, am not diabetic or obese, and tend to eat very healthy foods. My blood pressure is well-controlled, and I don’t have any important underlying medical conditions.

Sadly, I will not be able to visit my wife until I am fully well.

My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm March 26, 2021.
My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm March 26, 2021.

The Arches Connundrum

I read just today that Arches National Park  will implement a temporary, pilot timed entry system “to help manage traffic and improve visitor experiences, from April 3 to October 3, 2022.”

I shot this Delicate Arch image in Arches National Park on our 10th anniversary, October 12, 2014. I was at the trail head 90 minutes before sunrise, and it was cold out, so I had the place entirely to myself.
I shot this Delicate Arch image in Arches National Park on our 10th anniversary, October 12, 2014. I was at the trail head 90 minutes before sunrise, and it was cold out, so I had the place entirely to myself.

I wrote about this issue once before (link), but today I want to be a little more thoughtful.

The National Park system is under stress right now, and I don’t know how much of this is the fault of photographers like me tempting photographer wannabes to go to the sites they see on the web, and how much of it is just the nature of a growing population becoming more mobile, and more hooked in by technology.

There are a lot of people in our National Parks these days, but the parks belong to all of us, not just self-righteous photographers and granola nuts.
There are a lot of people in our National Parks these days, but the parks belong to all of us, not just self-righteous photographers and granola nuts.

My personal National Park experience has mostly been much better in terms of crowding and all that entrails because I am very much a cold-weather person who dislikes the heat, and have usually visited in colder months, often very early in the day. That includes our trip to Arches in 2004 to get married.

Another factor that probably leads to more crowding in the spring and summer are school schedules. You can only take your kids to the Grand Canyon when they are not in school. I don’t have kids, though Abby and I were guardians of a teenager for a while.

When I really thirst for the wilderness, I imagine higher, harder, and farther than most people. The crowds are chatter and clutter, and I yearn to be alone. Also, I don’t get inspired to travel and explore from sources like Instagram or Tumblr. My main source of inspiration is actually paper maps.

This April 2015 Grand Canyon image spells out the less-appealing side of the popularity of our National Parks.
This April 2015 Grand Canyon image spells out the less-appealing side of the popularity of our National Parks.

Just as an aside: when I actually looked at Instagram for pictures of Delicate Arch, the location where Abby and I got married in 2004, I wasn’t particularly impressed. I guess that might be because I have been there many times, and it has become less-surprising to me.

If there is anything missing from my Delicate Arch portfolio, I would say it is either at night with a star field behind it, or with snow on the ground. In either case, about a thousandy-grillion other photographer have these.

One of the comments about Delicate Arch I found in my Instagram search was, “If you ever get the chance to visit Arches, it’s an empowering life event that you’ll never forget!” I agree that you’ll never forget, but how, exactly, is making the relatively easy hike to a popular rock formation “empowering”?

Maybe when it comes to our National Parks, Abby and I were just lucky that we came along when we did, before their explosion in popularity.

Everybody deserves a chance to see the wonders that our National Park system protects, but protecting them has to be a higher priority, since once they are damaged or gone, there’s no getting them back.

You host is silhouetted against a post-dusk sky in the Windows section at Arches National Park in March 2011. (Photo by Robert Stinson)
You host is silhouetted against a post-dusk sky in the Windows section at Arches National Park in March 2011. (Photo by Robert Stinson)

Most Highly Recommended: The Vietnam War

A Bell UH-1 Iroquois "Huey" helicopter is shown in this screen shot. Of the 16,000 variants of this helicopter built, about 5000 went to the Vietnam War, where nearly half of those were lost in combat or abandoned.
A Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter is shown in this screen shot. Of the 16,000 variants of this helicopter built, about 5000 went to the Vietnam War, where nearly half of those were lost in combat or abandoned.

I am a fan of several movies about the Vietnam War: Apocalypse Now and its companion piece  Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, We Were Soldiers, and even The Post.

There are also some not-so-great movies about the Vietnam War: Born on the Fourth of July, Hamburger Hill, The Boys in Company C, The Green Berets, Casualties of War, and Good Morning Vietnam, to name a few.

But standing head and shoulders above all this fiction, good and bad, is The Vietnam War, by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

This ten-part series originally produced for PBS is a definitive work about the Vietnam War.

I first got a taste of this in 2017 on Netflix, where it was a limited run, but recently bought the DVD box set and rewatched it, and it is amazing. It is unflinchingly candid about the war from start to finish, and brutally honest about how horrible it was. Yet at the same time, it seems fair and unbiased, an even and difficult account of what might have been one of America’s darkest chapter.

Never mind that the main musical score is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Never mind that there is a full-screen view of my newspaper in Episode 4. Never mind that it took 10 years and $30 million to complete.

It hits so hard that despite wanting to, I couldn’t unhear some of the most difficult things human beings can utter, like, “I hated them. I hated them so much. And I was so afraid of them. And the more afraid of them I was, the more I hated them.”

I’ll leave that last quote un-cited because it is so brilliant, true, and universal.

Part of the difficulty in watching a series like this is that it becomes tedious and difficult to watch through to the finish, especially since it is so densely packed. This is ironic, because everything about the war itself was tedious and difficult to watch. Are we so weak and shielded from human nature that we can’t watch depictions of what our fellow human beings actually did?

After a full watching the second time through, though, I have to say that The Vietnam War goes near the top of my recommendations list.

This is a front page from my very own Ada Evening News, shown in episode 4 of The Vietnam War.
This is a front page from my very own Ada Evening News, shown in episode 4 of The Vietnam War.

Song Review: Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand

“I’ve been downhearted, baby, ever since the day we met.”

The song Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand is an excellent example of one of the dirtiest tricks the record industry played on us music-hungry fans: find an artist with a quirky, catchy song, have him or her record it (with a record producer’s finesse), then fill the rest of the CD/Album with his real talent, no talent at all.

I loved this song when it came out, and that’s no small compliment in the midst of one of the most creative, liberating, and musical periods – the mid-1990s – in entertainment. I heard it on the radio, which, of course, is much less likely today in the age of streaming.

I remember riding somewhere with a fellow newspaper staff member. When this song came on, I told him I liked it, and he added, “This guy is that one-man band.”

This song is moody, has thought-provoking lyrics, and has some edgy elements added to it, especially the church bell (or whatever bell) in the background offbeat. The beat and the doot-doos invite you to bob your head slightly when it’s playing, and even play it again once its done.

So I own a CD for this song, filled elsewhere with filler, songs that bring to a sharp point why we have one-hit wonders: talent is chance, success is chance, commerce is chance.

When I got this challenge, I grabbed the CD, which I bought when it came out, and put it in my car's CD slot, displacing the legendary Switched-On Bach.
When I got this challenge, I grabbed the CD, which I bought when it came out, and put it in my car’s CD slot, displacing the legendary Switched-On Bach.

A Tuna Steak Experiment

Last year my wife Abby, at the urging of a friend, asked me to pick up some tuna steaks. I did, and placed them in the freezer, where they have been since then. Two nights ago I spotted them, and thawed a couple, then read about how to prepare them.

Between the web and my sister Nicole Barron Hammill and her husband Tracey Hammill, I tried my first-ever tuna steak tonight. I pan-seared it in toasted sesame oil with garlic, fresh ground pepper, and salt, and it was pretty good, though next time I think I’ll use more salt.

I served this tuna steak on a bed of mixed rice with some Brussels sprouts, and it was pretty good.
I served this tuna steak on a bed of mixed rice with some Brussels sprouts, and it was pretty good.

Christmas Eve Range Time

Our Ruger 22/45 Target, Walther P22, and Ruger 22/45 Lite sit on the bench at our range in the back pasture this afternoon.
Our Ruger 22/45 Target, Walther P22, and Ruger 22/45 Lite sit on the bench at our range in the back pasture this afternoon.

I made time today to shoot a few of our firearms, including the NRA Special Edition Ruger Mark III 22/45 Lite I bought Abby for our 12th anniversary, my Ruger Mark III 22/45 Target pistol, and the Walther P22 I bought Abby for Christmas in 2009. I put about 140 rounds downrange, all .22LR, both to stay current and because it was an amazingly warm Christmas Eve day to be outside shooting. I had a lot of fun.

Afterwards I cleaned all three pistols. The Walther is easy to disassemble and reassemble, but the Rugers are notoriously difficult to reassemble, so much so that the Ruger Mark IV’s have been completely redesigned for one-button takedown and reassembly.

That said, getting the Mark III’s put back into working order isn’t undoable, as long as your learn and practice the tricks. You can find the full set of instructions elsewhere on the web (here, for example), though webizens have half a dozen or more slightly different versions of this. But I am here to encourage you that it’s not that hard to do. I got my pistols reassembled in just a few minutes.

This is how the Ruger Mark III's look once you have them field stripped.
This is how the Ruger Mark III’s look once you have them field stripped.

Also on my Christmas radar is the early morning launch tomorrow of the James Webb Space Telescope, the next generation deep-sky space telescope that will in some ways replace the Hubble Space Telescope. I have an alarm set to get up and watch the launch at 6:20 a.m. central time.

This is the Ruger 22/45 Target pistol, ready to shoot.
This is the Ruger 22/45 Target pistol, ready to shoot.

 

Once a Creep, Always a Creep

Updated in December 2021 to include a review of Creep by Radiohead

Around the dinner table with my Norman, Oklahoma friends (a group known at the time by several names, such as The Thirty Something Group [despite the fact that they weren’t 30-something any more], The Breadmaker Group, and The Bohemian Continuum) in 2009, I revealed a not very secret secret that those closest to me, like my wife, already know: I look at women’s hands, kind of obsessively. I related a story about having these feelings in third grade, explaining to them that when Mrs. Dzialo was at the front of the room, I stared at her hands. They looked really sexy to me.

When I was done with this story, Thea said, “So, you’ve always been a creep?”

After the laughter died down, I said, “Yes. Yes I have.”

Thus, even those closest, and presumably most understanding, to me were inclined to label and judge me. And thus, when Dan Marsh challenged me to review the song Creep by Radiohead, a song I already loved, it seemed obvious.

When I was younger, I usually felt like an outcast, and this feeling was never more apparent and powerful than when I was a young teenager, without a clue how to act around girls my age, who, in my view, shunned and mocked me. This perception imprinted deep into me, creating the idea that I really was more awkward and less attractive than the girls were.

It was manipulation that, as an adult, I realize was far from accurate. I think about the girls that age who I meet and photograph all the time as a news photographer, and I realize that they are the ones who are awkward and mannered, not me. How do I know this? I am completely comfortable socially is all settings, unless I am talking to a teenager. There is friction, and it comes from them. I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their incomplete replies.

So the song Creep tends to strike a chord.

“I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul…”

Then the perfect, and most revealing lyric, is sung: “What the hell am I doing here?”

What, indeed, Creep? How dare you be an oddball, an outcast, a nerd?

Creep is layered densely. You can’t listen to this song without going deep.

And in the end, of course, the voice is NOT the creep, and doesn’t “belong here” because of the special someone who has us all psyched to imagine she’s perfect. She’s not perfect, and his desire is as honest as anything she has to offer.

I love this song, but I love High and Dry and Fake Plastic Trees just as much. Radiohead rules!

“They’re the ones who’ll hate you
When you think you’ve got the world all sussed out
They’re the ones who’ll spit at you
You will be the one screaming out…” ~High and Dry

All that said, the only reason I know anything at all about Radiohead is due to Napster, and the Apple friendly app Macster. Yes, that’s right, I stole all the Radiohead I own.

Me, a creep? Maybe you're looking in the wrong mirror.
Me, a creep? Maybe you’re looking in the wrong mirror.

Song Review: Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden

Soundgarden has a bit more polish than it’s contemporaries. It’s is more densely layered than Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

In Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, I am reminded of Alice in Chains: driving, deep, super-masculine vocals, harmonic, dynamic instruments, and a song structure that narrates and navigates us through the story.

The lyrics are brilliant. If Nirvana wrote lyrics to fill the space between the music, Soundgarden writes and sings lyrics with a purpose unto themselves.

I was guardian of a teenager once who wanted nothing else than to play Black Hole Sun on the electric guitar we got him.

I would say if you are not familiar with Soundgarden, give it a try.

Never ever confuse Soundgarden with Savage Garden. I dated a young woman in 2000 whole loved Savage Garden with all her heart, and wow, it was so lame. Boy band lame. Should be labeled Toxic, Do Not Play, Impotent and Lame in All Respects!

At that time in music history, I was flying a lot, and I listened to a huge amount of Brahms and Grieg, usually preferring the more flowing composition that resembled my feelings about flying.

Your host flies a spiffy Cessna 150 named "Old Gomer."
Your host flies a spiffy Cessna 150 named “Old Gomer.”

2020’s Most Relevant Movie: 2011’s Contagion

Though similar to scenes in the movie Contagion, this is actually the fallen-down remains of a building in rural Pontotoc County.
Though similar to scenes in the movie Contagion, this is actually the fallen-down remains of a building in rural Pontotoc County.

As I have noted in a couple of previous movie reviews, futurism – the fictional depiction of how the future might look for humanity – is notoriously inaccurate. But what about fiction that is set in the present, but accidentally depicts – with alarming accuracy – actual events that come to pass?

Contagion is just such a movie.

When the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 exploded into the world, many of us took the news sideways, reacting in half-steps with half-information. At first, we cowered in our cars, closed schools and restaurants, and bought up all the hand sanitizer. When it got much worse, we went back to school, we went back to sporting events, we stopped masking and social distancing. You get the idea.

Contagion has pretty much everything the real pandemic offered: a dangerous virus, panicky people, concerned scientists, a quack blogger, even the kidnapping of a WHO epidemiologist. It even shows the zoonosis from bats to domestic pigs to humans, similar to the 2019 zoonosis.

“Cover your mouth please,” results in, “fuck off!”

“We are only able to give 50 doses today,” results in a rush and riot at a pharmacy.

Some things this movie missed, at least to some degree…

  1. The weird coprophelial toilet paper hordage in early 2020
  2. The crushingly disappointing political scene in 2020
  3. The silly, childish anti-vax, anti-mask scene masquerading as personal rights advocacy or patriotism
  4. In most places, vaccine distribution is sensible (first to need, first to get), not by lottery as depicted in the movie
  5. Society stayed mostly ordered, with the glaring exception of January 6

This movie was based on the 2002-2004 SARS epidemic, and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, after which Steven Soderbergh hopped into a time machine to today, made some notes, then went back to 2011 to start filming.

This film was gripping when it came out, but is over-the-top relevant today. I highly recommend it.

Your host, Photographer Richard R. Barron, rolls up his sleeve to receive his first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 at Pontotoc Technology Center. There was no lottery for eligibility, just a polite invitation when my group came up. The entire process was cordial and easy.
Your host, Photographer Richard R. Barron, rolls up his sleeve to receive his first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 at Pontotoc Technology Center. There was no lottery for eligibility, just a polite invitation when my group came up. The entire process was cordial and easy.

Testing, One, Two…

Ballard Nursing Center called me this afternoon to say that Abby was having trouble breathing and, between her and the nursing staff, decided to go to the emergency room.

I caught up with her there, where we saw a doctor, who ordered the usual tests.

Abby seemed to be breathing easier, and was feisty and defiant. Her vitals were normal, including her blood oxygen saturation hovering around 99-100%.

Then a nurse came in and told me her PCR COVID-19 test was positive, and apologetically told me I would need to leave.

Abby is vaccinated, and tested positive for COVID once before, for two weeks in November.

At this point, I don’t know if she will return to Ballard to the isolation wing, or will be admitted to the COVID wing at Mercy Hospital.

Late update: Mercy called to say they are sending her back to Ballard, where she will not need return to COVID isolation like she was in November, since re-testing positive is common for weeks or months after an initial positive.

This is one of my favorite photos of Abby, from a trip to the Oklahoma City Zoo a few years ago.
This is one of my favorite photos of Abby, from a trip to the Oklahoma City Zoo a few years ago.

The Utopian

40 years ago, I was a freshman college student at the University of Oklahoma. I had yet to buy my first Nikon camera. I lived in Adams Center, the older of the “tower” dorms at OU. My roommate was Jeff, who had switched rooms, without being invited or even asking, with the kid I was assigned to live with at the beginning of the semester.

My friends and I had some distorted priorities. We were way too invested in audiophilia, the devotion to “hi-fi” stereo and all it entailed. We spend way too much money on cassette tapes – sidebar about that here (link).  We stayed up way too late at night. We skipped way too many classes.

But today I am talking about Jeff’s raison d’etre, the band Utopia.

By start of 1982, he had a tinted banner at the top of the windshield of his beloved (more so than any human) Pontiac Trans Am that said “Utopian.”

His parents correctly called him out about this, but he, and we, were loathe to listen. We knew it all, we thought, and parents are just old people who just wanted us to be “normal.”

He and several other friends also had rebel flag front license plates (though I did not). In the 2020s, most of us recognize what this actually represents and how offensive it was, but to Jeff and his ilk, it represented freedom and rebellion, not racism.

I never enjoyed much of Utopia, formed by Todd Rundgren in 1973. Whole albums of theirs seemed unlistenable to me, though I was able to cull out a few songs I kind of liked: Love Is the Answer [immediately covered by England Dan and John Ford Coley], The Road to Utopia, Set Me Free, Overture: Mountain Top and Sunrise/Communion With The Sun, and Singring and the Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairy Tale).

Overall, however, Utopia suffered from what too many bands do: it wasn’t very musical. Most of their tunes scratch by semi-tunelessly, striking no pleasure centers in the brain or conjuring empathy.

And although Todd Rundgren couldn’t sing, I liked much of his solo work: Hello It’s Me, I Saw the Light (a song that, for me, is about Abby), Can We Still Be Friends, and practically all of his albums Healing and Hermit of Mink Hollow.

When Jeff and I were roommates in 1981, we quickly learned to hate each other’s musical tastes. His Utopia decidedly clashed with my Pink Floyd, James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, Phil Keaggy, and so on.

The question for me, though, has always been: why was Jeff so mentally and emotionally obsessed with Utopia? Jeff owned close to 100 record albums when we were roommates, but I can’t seem to remember any other band he liked. It makes him seem shallow and single-minded, like Rush Guy (link).

By January 1982, Jeff flunked out of college and moved back to Lawton. He killed himself in May. You can read about that year and Jeff’s suicide in an entry I called That Dark Season Underground (link).

Allen, Jeff and I pose for a photo on the night the three of us had a barbecue at my parents house in Lawton, Oklahoma, in August 1981, as a college going-away party. The thing that intrigues me the most about this photo isn't the pose (although it is noteworthy that Jeff took those kinds of chances all the time), but that I have no recollection of owning a "Boomer Sooner" belt buckle.
Allen, Jeff and I pose for a photo on the night the three of us had a barbecue at my parents house in Lawton, Oklahoma, in August 1981, as a college going-away party. The thing that intrigues me the most about this photo isn’t the pose (although it is noteworthy that Jeff took those kinds of chances all the time), but that I have no recollection of owning a “Boomer Sooner” belt buckle.

Good Songs Become Bad Songs Become Good Songs

My friends and I pose for a photo in my dormitory at the University of Oklahoma in early 1983. The image was made on Kodak Ektachrome Infrared slide film, and the scan is labeled "Dorm Rats" on my hard drive. You will notice behind me a collection of phonograph albums. At that time, it was mostly Pink Floyd, Kansas, and Journey.
My friends and I pose for a photo in my dormitory at the University of Oklahoma in early 1983. The image was made on Kodak Ektachrome Infrared slide film, and the scan is labeled “Dorm Rats” on my hard drive. You will notice behind me a collection of phonograph albums. At that time, it was mostly Pink Floyd, Kansas, and Journey.

Dan most recently challenged me to review Rearviewmirror by Pearl Jam. Dan’s really getting into 1990s grunge/garage recently, and I approve of this message.

It took me a while to get down to listening, but I am now, and I like it. It’s got that “I don’t care what the record producers says, let’s jam” sound to it.

It also got me thinking about what music we like, and why, and how that changes from one decade, year, month, day, and hour to the next.

What music did I think was the absolute ultimate when I was in college, for example? If you had asked me in 1982, I probably would have said Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. I played the album into vinyl extinction, then played the CD over and over, usually in my headphones at fighter-jet loudness levels. These days, I have little desire to hear it.

If you’d asked me when I was a young journalist in the late 1980s, I might have said With Tomorrow by This Mortal Coil. By December of 1992, I know I would have said Wild Horses by The Sundays (a cover of the Rolling Stones song.)

How much if this is what we construct between our ears, and how much of it is how we are born and raised? My wife Abby, for example, can’t get enough Garth Brooks, but his sound just bounces off me.

My musical taste is fluid, however, and I wonder how much of that is because the global cadre of music is ever-enlarging. If you turned on the radio in 1940, for example, how many contemporary songs even existed at that point?

Then today I turned on the radio, the actual FM radio in the truck, and heard something – um, wow, millennials, this is music? I can’t even describe how artificial and monotonous it sounded. Kids these days.

Oh, and FM radio? You’re doing about as good a job reinventing yourself as newspapers are. “92.2, The Pump! Cranking out your favorites from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, 2010s, and today!”

You can tune a tuner, and you can tune a piano, but you can't tune a fish.
You can tune a tuner, and you can tune a piano, but you can’t tune a fish.

Song Review: Moon Over Bourbon Street by Sting

In Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Diane Keaton plays a neurotic New Yorker named Mary Wilke. On the night Mary and Woody’s character meet, she and her date discuss the “Academy of the Overrated,” an imaginary collection of musicians, intellectuals and entertainers whose work isn’t nearly as great as they are generally regarded.

Musician Sting, the former frontman for The Police, might be in the top ten of such a list I would author. Too polished, too packaged, too careful, too 80’s, then too 90’s.

A music-critic I once dated called him “Stinj,” because she thought the very name was lame (although she happily got on board with U2’s “The Edge.”)

My friend Dan Marsh asked me if I would review a Sting song, and I mistakenly said yes. I had forgotten that Sting’s superstardom didn’t agree with me, and that I don’t like his music.

For this review, I listened to the song, Moon Over Bourbon Street, and the two CDs we own of his music, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, and The Summoner’s Tale. Ick.

It is especially hard to review this song after heavy doses of Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots in the last few days.

Sorry Dan.

Q: What is more homoerotic than the volleyball scene in Top Gun? A: Sting in the 1984 version of Dune.
Q: What is more homoerotic than the volleyball scene in Top Gun? A: Sting in the 1984 version of Dune.

Really Missing Her

This ceramic moon ornament hangs on a pillar on the front porch this evening. Like so much of this home, it is something Abby and I bought together, in Santa Fe about 10 years ago. It, and all the things like it around me, reminds me of her.
This ceramic moon ornament hangs on a pillar on the front porch this evening. Like so much of this home, it is something Abby and I bought together, in Santa Fe about 10 years ago. It, and all the things like it around me, reminds me of her.

Everyone around town asks about Abby every day. I give them part of the story: she’s about the same. Closer to the truth is she isn’t thriving. She is quiet and comfortable, but has no energy, and is able to do little more than watch television.

She was is COVID isolation for two weeks at Ballard Nursing Center, but tested negative yesterday, and moved back into a regular room, so I no longer have to dress like the abdominal snowman in order to see her.

I bring her egg nog. I tell her about my day. She falls asleep.

There is no shortage of “I love you” from either of us, but sometimes it’s all we have left.

I miss her.

Now that Hawken the Irish wolfhound is an indoor dog, he follows me in and out of the house. He and his sister, Summer the Chihuahua, seem to know that Abby is missing. Abby asks about the dogs every day.
Now that Hawken the Irish wolfhound is an indoor dog, he follows me in and out of the house. He and his sister, Summer the Chihuahua, seem to know that Abby is missing. Abby asks about the dogs every day.

Band of Brothers and The Pacific

In The Pacific, Eugene Sledge curses out Lt. Mac when the latter berates him for disobeying a cease-fire order. "We're here to kill Japs, aren't we?"
In The Pacific, Eugene Sledge curses out Lt. Mac when the latter berates him for disobeying a cease-fire order. “We’re here to kill Japs, aren’t we?”

I grew up watching b-grade war movies. My dad was a war movie fan, but never wanted to spend the money to take us to the cinema. He would sit up many nights watching “Five Star Treater” (on channel 5), and the station didn’t have the budget for top-tier films. Some of the titles we saw over and over were Battle of the Bulge, Anzio, To Hell and Back, Hell is for Heroes, The Big Red One, Merrill’s Marauders, The Guns of Navarone, and Sergeant York.

As a young adult, I was lukewarm about war films until I saw Platoon, Oliver Stone’s 1986 flawed but gritty, engaging movie about the Vietnam War.

By 1998, technology and budgets had improved and increased enough to bring us movies like The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan, both amazing and sobering fictionalized tellings of World War II events.

2001’s Band of Brothers makes a couple of awkward missteps, but is, overall, a better show to watch than 2010’s The Pacific.

It’s easy to say that The Pacific, the follow-on of Band of Brothers, paints a grimmer, more horrible picture of war and its inherent cruelty. The Japanese are shown as mindless, wild animals with absolutely no regard for humanity, military or civilian. They surrender, only to pull grenades to kill MPs and medics. They shoot or booby trap civilians. They poison all the drinking water they leave behind.

At one point we see an American Marine torturing a Japanese soldier with his bayonet, only to have another Marine throw him to the ground and execute the prisoner with a .45 shot to the head, “to put him out of our misery.”

An interesting scene in Band of Brothers: Ssgt John Martin asks Private David Webster, who speaks German, what the captured soldiers are saying. "He's telling me that they're Polish." Martin responds by saying, "Bullshit. There ain't no Poles in the SS."
An interesting scene in Band of Brothers: Ssgt John Martin asks Private David Webster, who speaks German, what the captured soldiers are saying. “He’s telling me that they’re Polish.” Martin responds by saying, “Bullshit. There ain’t no Poles in the SS.”

In other scenes, a lot of them, actually, we see Joseph Mazzello’s character Eugene Sledge look back toward us with breathless disgust at the horrors he has either seen, prevented, or, in the end, perpetrated.

So in a way, while we mostly like and cheer for the Band of Brothers as they march across Europe, fighting “the good war,” we eventually hate everyone in The Pacific.

But then we see episode 9 of Band of Brothers, Why We Fight, in which the 101st Airborne liberates a concentration camp near Landsberg. The depiction of the horrors there is soul-blackening. When my wife watched it (only once), she cried out loud through whole scenes.

If you like war movies for their realistic depiction of combat, both are at the top of the list. But The Pacific shows us that it is non-stop, chaotic, filthy, and, much of the time, without purpose, whereas the battles in Band of Brothers mostly seem to at least in some way try to win battles and the war.

A marine nicknamed "Snafu" (left) is one of the characters we learn to hate early and often. At right is Eugene Sledge, a real hero in the Pacific, but someone whose very soul is poisoned by the cruelty of war.
A marine nicknamed “Snafu” (left) is one of the characters we learn to hate early and often. At right is Eugene Sledge, a real hero in the Pacific, but someone whose very soul is poisoned by the cruelty of war.

A big plus for Band of Brothers was that it was made at the end of the 20th century, when some of the actual soldiers were still alive, and each episode includes interviews with these men. The accounts are honest and moving: imagine the toughest human that training and character could create, reduced to tears by a 60-year-old memory.

Imagining the Future: The Andromeda Strain

Is the future really this red?
Is the future really this red?

Imagine it’s 1971. The Apollo Program is wrapping up its missions that the public has come to regard as commonplace and expensive. Star Trek‘s three short seasons are done, and it is in reruns. Television has moved into the era of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and All in the Family.

Futurism is a tough nut to crack. Would we have flying cars by 1982? Would we be in space by 1999 like in the show Space 1999?

As I rewatch the 1971 drama The Andromeda Strain, I think of these things.

  1. Everything is clean. Even in actual NASA clean rooms, there is tape and clutter and more clutter. The real future remains untidy.
  2. Everything is austere. Despite the nature of people and the necessity of work, futurism seems to think we have room for huge rooms containing almost nothing at all.
  3. Everything is made of stainless steel.
  4. Clothing is all the same, usually a one-piece outfit in a bland color, or made of foil.
  5. Doors slide open and closed automatically.
  6. There are many unlabeled, seemingly similar lights and switches.
  7. Food is in pill form.
  8. There is a huge amount of chatter about technical things. (Unfortunately for The Andromeda Strain, literally all the chatter is nonsense.)
  9. All important information is shared by lazy, barefoot, overweight teenagers using small video monitors, and all that information is true to the viewer.   (Oh, wait, that’s the actual future. Never mind.)

I actually like the original 1971 film The Andromeda Strain, and I have read, and like, the book.

How does YOUR future look?
How does YOUR future look?

Midway vs Midway

Midway vs Midway
Midway vs Midway

For decades I have been hoping that a big Hollywood studio would remake a couple of my favorite, but achingly terrible, war movies, The Battle of the Bulge (1965) and Midway (1976).

In 2019, one big studio made one of my wishes come true: they remade Midway.

My first criticism is a big one: why does this film start long before the events it is depicting? Was it really necessary to bloat this picture with hash and rehash? Start at the beginning of … The Battle of Midway! The actual battle went on for three days, so why would you need to pad your runtime with other events?

The special effects work well in this piece, since all the effects in the 1976 version were practical effects, and not very effective, in many instances made using a technique known as back-projection, in which the performers and props are placed in a studio space with a film of the exterior projected onto a screen behind them. It was far cheaper than Star Wars’ inlaid matte paintings, and well before the time of motion capture and digital chroma key.

Midway’s showy special effects are fun and eye-pleasing, and even engage fans of war films, but remain an example of buying content rather than mastering it. $100,000,000 buys a lot of eye candy, but like all candy, it’s not very nourishing.

So how does Midway (2019) compare with Midway (1976) in terms of theatrical nourishment? I definitely prefer the new version, and though it isn’t brilliantly written, it tell its story.

The Heston version gets bogged down in a pointless sidebar story about Captain Garth’s son, a navy pilot, falling in love with a Japanese-American Hawaiian island resident, both so we can have some reason to care about him when he gets badly burned carrying out one of the attacks, but also to show us that Americans had outgrown anti-Japanese racism and resentment by the 1970s. “Don’t give me any of that racial bigot crap!” Heston growls.

Both films feature star-studded ensemble casts. Both films are too long.

The final insult from the 1976 version is the crass, obvious reuse of stunt crash scenes from 1970s far superior Tora! Tora! Tora!

So, finally, I am happy that big Hollywood remade Midway, and I have watched it several times. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun and engaging. I recommend it.

It's hard to call this an "effect."
It’s hard to call this an “effect.”

Song Review: Big Empty by Stone Temple Pilots

A song like Big Empty by Stone Temple Pilots summons nice memories of an era of music that was a lot freer than more recent genres. They were free to scratch along a warbly guitar, free to write lyrics that mixed sleaze with perfection, free to go from quiet introspective to bridge to chorus without following – or even knowing – the rules of music.

That era was grunge/garage, started in the 1990s in the crucibles of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and even Smashing Pumpkins. Music was finally willing to chuck the bone at big record producers and just play and sing what they wanted to play and sing.

It was one brief, shining moment in music history, lasting just long enough for some oily record executive to figure out how to make money from this creative firestorm.

Orbiting the barycenter of this giant moment in music was Stone Temple Pilots.

Big Empty is a very involving song, one I never turn down or turn off, and one I enjoyed playing again and again as I thought about this moment in music. No synth. No drum machines. No “millennial whoop.” They just jammed.

Song Review: Mofo by U2

I was watching MTV in my rooming house in college in 1984. A U2 video, probably Sunday Bloody Sunday, came on. One of other roommates who happened to be in the room said, “They’re so concerned.”

U2 has done a pretty good job of reinventing themselves as the years have gone by. That’s pretty rare. Even rarer is when bandmates can stay together. Everyone from Pink Floyd to The Beatles parted ways with a fair amount of hostility. U2 seems to stay together with no hint of infighting or “creative differences,” and I wonder why?

But back to the review of Mofo. Or forward to the review. This is an odd song. I know it’s trying hard to be driving and edgy, but for one reason or another, every time I tried to listen to it all the way through, I found a distraction, usually another song in my library. I’m trying to like this song, I really am.

I hate to be one of those guys who thinks they know everything about music and what’s good and what’s bad, because hey, I’ve never sold a million copies of anything. But I give Mofo a thumbs down.

I miss The Unforgettable Fire.

I'm not a huge U2 fan, but it might do me some good to throw a few of these CDs in my car and listen when I have time on the road.
I’m not a huge U2 fan, but it might do me some good to throw a few of these CDs in my car and listen when I have time on the road.

Interesting Times

When I feel like I am getting into a creative rut, I sometimes turn to the rather large cadre of work I have created in my journals over the years. Just in the last few days, I picked up a journal from 2002 and read in it some, putting little Post-It® notes on the pages with notes like “Kay said she loved me on the phone,” or “OU practice light gun,” about getting the control tower in Norman to use the signal lights as I climbed out on my way back to Ada in the Cessna 172 I was renting all the time back then.

These notes are from 2001-2002, right around the time I tried to date Lisa, and about six months before I started dating Abby.

I love it when she says my life is better than hers. I could listen to her voice for hours, but not for days.

Misty told me, “We’ll never forget these endless nights on the balcony.” (We shared a balcony at my apartment.)

Balcony party, early 2000s.
Balcony party, early 2000s.

Laughed and laughed all night long with Kay online, both of us joking that we’d meet in Joplin tomorrow at midnight. Such tender feelings for her. I adore her.

Wayne is playing Quake III Arena on my computer and Misty is contemplating cutting her own hair.

In Norman, I decided on Thai food for lunch. It’s the anti-Ada. Excellent volleyball later on in a clear afternoon with Misty and two kids from across the street. We ended up on the balcony in the warm night air, trading stories.

I called Kay after her computer crashed, and listened to her go on about the stupidest stuff, captivated by the way her voice trails off and the way she pronounces her Ps.

Jamie called to tell me about getting run over and breaking her hand getting her friend’s car out of ditch.

Ten years ago was dirty and pure. It was just before Pam in the middle of the whole MP infatuation thing. In a way, I miss those times, and in a way, I know I never want to do that again.

I saw Anna (not the Norman one) at the store, and as I left, I thought, “I can’t believe I ever went out with her,” and I’m sure she was thinking the same thing.

Ostensibly for Cinco de Mayo, I took Wayne and Misty to Norman for dinner with the gang. Thea cooked and did a great job, and everyone laughed and had a great time.

Marilyn has been trying to set me up with someone named Amy. I called her today and asked her out, and she said, “I don’t even know you!” Why even try?

Instant message with Kay tonight…

K: I’m sorry, it’s not you. I’m just very mellow tonight.
R: If I were there, I would brush your hair.
K: I wonder why my husband never thinks of that.
R: Some guys are hair-brushers, and some guys aren’t. You are a great person and a great friend.
K: Thanks. I haven’t felt worthy of it in the last few days.
R: You have my permission to sleep well and wake up in a positive mood.
K: I’ll do my best. Thanks for cheering me up.
R: I love you. Good night.
K: I love you.

May 15: So much emotion arcing between Kay and me tonight. We admire each other. Today in an email, she said, “that’s why you’re my idol.” I’ve never felt closer to her.

Kay called to say she wouldn’t be online tonight. In some ways, she’s my defacto girlfriend. I probably talk to her as much as anyone, including her husband. Maybe it’s just as well that she lives 450 miles away. Or maybe if she lived close, this relationship wouldn’t exist. Sometimes I really hurt for her.

“It feels like I’m fighting God, that God hates me.” ~A

She wants her love life to be like a book, but it’s not a good book.

“When I wasn’t looking, you became my closest confidant.” ~Kay, May 29

She’s spending the evening with her husband, and it feels like she’s cheating on me.

“Have I said ‘I love you’ lately?” ~Kay, June 4. She called me four times today, and during the last one she said, “That’s why you’re my mentor, my hero.”

June 8: Jamie and I laid down together on my futon, where she slept for an hour while I read Quiet Days in Clichy. I could feel her body unwind as I held her. Afterwards, I could smell her on my clothes.

June 11: I had an excited message from Kay. I called her, and she was excited because she had processed her film from class. “I wanted to tell someone,” she said, “but no one cares but you.”

Women all around, all out of reach.

D told me that “kids suck.”

June 17: A told me she masturbated six times yesterday.

Kay isn’t who I think she is.

June 20: K and I just talked and talked and talked. She told me it was no accident that she calls all the time, and she really likes “talking to someone who has something intelligent to say.” I told her I hope I was a good listener. “I hadn’t really thought about it,” she added. “Maybe that’s why I like talking to you so much.”

I have a spotty acting career that included being in my next door neighbor Wayne's send up of James Bond, Montana Max. In this March 2002 scene, Max is about to break my neck at the end of a fight scene.
I have a spotty acting career that included being in my next door neighbor Wayne’s send up of James Bond, Montana Max. In this March 2002 scene, Max is about to break my neck at the end of a fight scene.

Kay, why didn’t this happen to us nine years ago? She is so much on my mind. I seriously doubt she understands the depth of my feelings for her. After all, what woman ever has?

“Your scrapbooks?” I told Kay, “they’re your style!”
“Ugh,” she said. “Can I have your style instead?”

June 27: “Kay, you can’t dispute what I am about to say. You were adorable in junior high.” …followed by the sound of a frustrated sigh on the other end of the phone.

She called me later on the phone in a foul and furious mood, repeatedly referring to herself as “stupid.”

“And it would be better if I could just go home and go to sleep,” she said, “but my husband will be there, and I don’t want to explain to him why I had a bad day. So you’re getting it all. I’m really a bitch on days like these.”

July 23, 2002: “You know why I like being with you?” Jamie asked. “All my other friends are noisy. You’re quiet.”

I ran into Allison, another woman who I asked out but wouldn’t go out with me.

July 31, 2002: Looking at my logbook, I realize yet again what a shame it is that I’m not flying much any more. Years ago it was so easy: the keys to the Cessna 150 were in my pocket, and Vera sent me a bill every month at $30 an hour. I practically had no choice but to fly a couple of times a week. Now, though, scheduling is a pain, and it’s more than $60 an hour for the Skyhawk. My flight instructor and the airport manager both haven’t flown in years.

I was flying a fair amount during this period.
I was flying a fair amount during this period.

August 3, 2002: At last I got my biennial flight review in the T-34. I didn’t fly especially well, but it was only my second hour in the model. Its splendid handling and power are easily offset by its awkward control layout and ergonomics. Still, it was a joy to fly.

Kay called me “Sweetie” on the phone today. Later she was online only long enough to tell me she was pissed off at her husband and “wasn’t handling it very well.” I re-read her December 1994 letter about how much she is in love with her husband, but she never says that about him any more. For the first time, I heard her use the phrase “seven year itch” to describe her marriage.

Wayne and Misty decided to move out.

It was that week that I got an email from a mutual friend that Lisa, a long-time hard crush for me, was divorcing, and that became my primary focus.

Kay called and told me she felt “protective of” me.

“Lisa was in my arms tonight!” ~Journal, August 11, 2002

In the middle of an my emotional conflagration, in the middle of the night, there is a knock at the door. It’s Jamie, who is a mess. “I just needed a few minutes with somebody sane,” she tells me, and I am secretly amused by the irony.

Kay called and listened to my self-indulgence for about 45 minutes. Sometimes I don’t understand what she gets from “us.”

September 16, 2002: I certainly haven’t been a Buddha these last few weeks. My thoughts are all over the place, in other times and other’s hearts.

Great flirting with Kay on the phone. Very affectionate. At the end of the conversation, she said she loved me.

A called in her usual funk of dissatisfaction. Jamie called in a miasma of heartache. The comfort of tears, and the night.

When asked to pick one word to describe me, W said it was a tie between “intense” and “passionate.”

Kay on the phone, miserable with allergies. A on the phone, miserable with a toothache. Richard (me) on the phone, miserable with self-indulgence and ingratitude. Lame is too lame a word to describe it.

This chapter sort of ends in October 2002, when I took a trip to Caprock Canyons in Texas, then just a month later, a longer trip to Utah.

This was my apartment in 2002.
This was my apartment in 2002.

 

Song Review: Shades by Iggy Pop

Your host makes a triple-exposure self-portrait on the floor of my Shawnee, Oklahoma apartment in 1986.
Your host makes a triple-exposure self-portrait on the floor of my Shawnee, Oklahoma apartment in 1986.

Shades by Iggy Pop (whose actual name is James Newell Osterberg Jr.) shares a lot with the 1980s sound: primitive gated reverb drum tracks, that ringing rhythm guitar, the obvious and predictable bass line (blum, bluh-blum), and the exactly-in-1986 lyrics. And do I hear a keytar in there somewhere?

I guess there were certainly worse songs produced and performed in the mid-1980s, but this song hits almost every 80s point, right down to being produced by David Bowie. Once you learn that Bowie produced it, you can’t unhear his hand in it.

I really like the lead-in and lead-out guitar and the “whoo-hoo”s.

I know there is a place in the music salon for tunes like this, but checking another “no thanks” box for me is how instantly and vividly it brings back that time for me. In 1986, I was 23, and dating a tomboy named Kathy. Kathy and I spent late nights watching videos on TBS and MTV. She was a huge U2 fan. It was a very intense relationship, one I can almost still smell on me, and it didn’t end at all well.

If I can set aside those criticisms, though, I found myself enjoying this song. It’s a catchy tune, dressed up with just enough synth and glitz to keep it complex and interesting to the ear.

This Wikimedia image of Iggy Pop is from 1987.
This Wikimedia image of Iggy Pop is from 1987.

 

Reviews: Carnage Visors and Scentless Apprentice

See through.
See through.

I challenged my writer/blogger friend Dan Marsh to review a song, and he counter offered by suggesting an additional song for us both to review.

The song I suggested, Carnage Visors, is a 27 minute instrumental musical orgasm of darkness that was offered as a cassette-only b-side recording by The Cure in 1981.

The music is hypnotic and repetitive, but never boring, built not on lyrics, but on a grimly constructed bass line that keeps teasing us and tempting us to let go into an abyss.

It is entirely plausible to put this piece of music on an endless loop and play it in hell; not the seventh circle of hell, but the nicest parts of hell (Nine Inch Nails reference).

Carnage Visors is the opposite of the high school cheerleader, the opposite of the public relations spokesmodel, the opposite of the nuclear family. Carnage Visors elicits honest tears of loss, of fear, of humiliation, of regret.

How many secrets must we keep in plain sight?
How many secrets must we keep in plain sight?

If Carnage Visors is an orgy of blackened souls, Dan’s suggestion, Scentless Apprentice by Nirvana, instantly sounds like the chaos Jewish children created when asked to draw pictures of their homes after World War II.

Musically, Scentless Apprentice hits hard.

For as acidic and oddly tuneless as it is, and with all the screamed lyrics, you might think this song is trying to get you to stop listening, but as I fired it up to play for the second time, the third time, the tenth time, I couldn’t stop listening. I couldn’t even turn the volume down. It was injecting some kind of musical drug into my ears. I found myself bobbing my head and shoulders to the driving rhythm, and almost getting chills during the dirtiest of the screams.

Yes, Kurt Cobain’s dirty screams hit my ears with a desperation that can’t be faked. Were these the sounds of a dying drug addict? No, not at all. The dying and drug addiction followed the downward spiral (Nine Inch Nails reference) Cobain had been building since he could talk, and this song is following it as well.

Much of this song is aimed at expressing chaos; chaos in a tortured soul, chaos in an unfair world, chaos of intimacy gone wrong.

In an odd way, Scentless Apprentice invites me to reinvent my past, only as a dirt poor roadie fan crashing as many Nirvana concerts and appearances as I could. It invites me to be a photographer at the gates, held back by security men, trying to get the truth of this mess, but at the same time, filled with the desire to be a part of the band.

Unlike the often sophisticated lyrics of Nine Inch Nails, Cobain keeps his words relatively simple… “Hey, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away…”

The downside to songs like this is that they invite you to go to a similar dark place, a place we all have inside us, filled with rage and fear, a perfect place where it all seems simple. I learned this lesson decades ago when I listened to too much Nine Inch Nails, and let it take me down with it.

On the other hand, it definitely washes the Sarah McLaughlin from your mouth.

You can wash your face, but can you wash your soul?
You can wash your face, but can you wash your soul?

The Comfort of Family

My readers recall that my wife Abby is not well, and remains in skilled nursing care.

I visit her every day, and try to bring her something  – photos, pillows, magazines, clothes – that hopefully will help her feel comfortable and restful.

One thing I recently brought her is a quilt her aunt Judy made.

After Abby’s father Hershel Shoffner died in April 2010, Abby got ahold of his blue jeans. At first she had no idea what to do with them, but then Judy offered to make them into a quilt. It turned out to be really beautiful.

Abby's aunt Judy Taff made this quilt for her out of Abby's father's blue jeans.
Abby’s aunt Judy Taff made this quilt for her out of Abby’s father’s blue jeans.

I brought it to Abby early in her stay. It is heavy and very warm, and reminds her of her father, who she thinks about and misses every day.

Including the flaws in Hershel's blue jeans in this quilt was a brilliant idea. It really is a beautiful piece.
Including the flaws in Hershel’s blue jeans in this quilt was a brilliant idea. It really is a beautiful piece.

Euphoria

Journal, March 1997…

“You sounded really euphoric on the phone,” she said.

Alone in the four-seat Cessna Skyhawk, I climbed quickly to 4500 feet to find a very special layered sunset. I did a couple of hard-breaking power-on stalls, and handled them perfectly, then headed back for my required three night full-stop landings to remain current.

I fly in the pursuit of perfection.

The sky awaits.
The sky awaits.

Why, Internet, Why?

Is this all that's left of self-perception?
Is this all that’s left of self-perception?

Lately the internet has been hocking wet loogies on my cupcake and telling me it’s frosting.

Most recently is the idea that every page … every page … had some kind of delayed pop-up, mostly intended to get me to sign up for updates. Usually there is no “No Thanks” button, just a tiny, hard-to-see “X” in the corner of the box.

The pages are mostly alike, too. Title, share buttons, long, lengthy, long YouTube video that restates what you are about to read, and a comments section in which nurds tell us what idiots we are.

Every time, the YouTube video takes 17 minutes to tell us 35 seconds worth of information.

This level of commercialized crap must be working or it would go away, so who is signing up for free updates at “How to Sit Down”?

No wonder you’re not getting my emails. You have 3400 unread emails from “The Best Way to Cut Up Cabbage.”

Even worse are the pages that claim they will teach you how to burp your baby. “Step one,” the article will say, but when you get to the end of the paragraph, it tells you to click to the second page, and so on.

Do these pages really need us to look at 400 ads for baby blankets? Can’t it just say, “Hold your baby on your shoulder, put gently on the back, wait for burp. You’re done.”?

No, website, I don't want to sign up. Also, I was reading when you popped up. If you'd done that in person, I would have smacked you.
No, website, I don’t want to sign up. Also, I was reading when you popped up. If you’d done that in person, I would have smacked you.

National Pickle Day

Robert wears a pickle suit and holds "The Pickle" in downtown Ada, Oklahoma today.
Robert wears a pickle suit and holds “The Pickle” in downtown Ada, Oklahoma today.

Our long-time photographer friend Robert visited today, both to see Abby, and because today is National Pickle Day, and he brought The Pickle.

Wait, “The Pickle”?

Robert balances The Pickle on a rail of our front deck this afternoon.
Robert balances The Pickle on a rail of our front deck this afternoon.

Well, it’s a long story, and I haven’t talked about it much because really, it’s not my story. The Pickle has been on television and in newspapers, and, as pickles go, it is famous.

The Pickle wears the fifth iteration of a case. When it was first "pickled" in 1984, it wore a Seal-a-Meal bag, but as it became famous, it got a series of new enclosures.
The Pickle wears the fifth iteration of a case. When it was first “pickled” in 1984, it wore a Seal-a-Meal bag, but as it became famous, it got a series of new enclosures.

Abby enjoyed her visit, for which Robert dressed in a pickle costume. He brought her flowers, and said she looked good.

Robert photographed me visiting Abby at Ballard Nursing Center, where coronavirus restrictions have forced us to visit through a window. Abby looked and sounded good.
Robert photographed me visiting Abby at Ballard Nursing Center, where coronavirus restrictions have forced us to visit through a window. Abby looked and sounded good.

As always, Robert and I did photography together.

Robert holds the pickle while we visit Abby today.
Robert holds the pickle while we visit Abby today.

Abby and I were glad to see him.

Your humble host photographs Summer the Chihuahua this afternoon.
Your humble host photographs Summer the Chihuahua this afternoon.

A New Home

A month ago, Abby and I attended her family reunion, and Abby, seen on the right side of the image, seemed fine, and had a great time.
A month ago, Abby and I attended her family reunion, and Abby, seen on the right side of the image, seemed fine, and had a great time.

I wish I had better to news to share with my readers, but my wife Abby has moved from Coal County Memorial Hospital in Coalgate, Oklahoma, to Ballard Nursing Center in Ada, near where we live.

She has shown inconsistent recovery, and a gradual regression in her physical health.

2021 was a very hard year for her, though, oddly, not at all connected to the ongoing worldwide COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

In February, she collapsed during a difficult period of dehydration, followed by a slow recovery.

We were both happy to travel to New Mexico in June, but she struggled with travel and all that involved.

On August 7, Abby fell and broke the head of her left humerus, requiring an emergency room visit. On August 8, she was too weak to stand on her on own due to a urinary tract infection, requiring an ER visit, which resulted in a week’s stay at Mercy Hospital Ada, and about two weeks recovering at CCMH.

Abby came home the Friday before Labor Day, still weak but getting better. Home health care came to see her regularly.

As all this was happening to her physically,  her brother-in-law Larry died of COVID-19 in January, her former brother-in-law Tim died in July, and her former mother-in-law Dorothy and her sister Inez died in August.

Abby was excited about attending her family’s annual reunion October 9 and 10, and had a good time there.

She and I hoped to go out to eat for our anniversary October 12, but she was too weak. She got steadily worse as the week wore on, and was admitted to Mercy Hospital again on October 15 with a diagnosis of pneumonia. She was at CCGH from October 21 until today, November 10.

Realistically, I have no concrete expectations about the outcome of this.

Finally, a word about the professional health care providers who treated and cared for Abby. You are in a great and noble profession, despite the often difficult circumstances you face both in treated so many patients with COVID-19 infection, to the completely unforgivable abuse you might have faced by those ignorant of how medicine, and especially vaccines, work. You are heroes and hard workers, and deserve thanks.

I took Summer the Chihuahua, right, to visit Abby today at her new room at Ballard Nursing Center. Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, we had to visit through this window, but Abby was happy to see her dog. You can see she is wearing her "Yeti," a super-warm pullover her daughter gave her for Christmas a couple of years ago.
I took Summer the Chihuahua, right, to visit Abby today at her new room at Ballard Nursing Center. Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, we had to visit through this window, but Abby was happy to see her dog. You can see she is wearing her “Yeti,” a super-warm pullover her daughter gave her for Christmas a couple of years ago.

Another Non-Report on Abby

Abby has been hospitalized for 19 days, presently in a recovery-level of care in Coalgate, Oklahoma. It is the third time this year she’s been in hospital care.

I wish I could say she is doing cartwheels in the halls and coming home tomorrow, but she’s still just too weak to come home yet.

She is eating well, and is lucid, and wants to come home. She is receiving occupational therapy and physical therapy.

Abby and I certainly miss each other, and she wants to be in the comfort of her own home, but I doubt she misses anything more than the company of her Chihuahua, Summer Time Lane.
Abby and I certainly miss each other, and she wants to be in the comfort of her own home, but I doubt she misses anything more than the company of her Chihuahua, Summer Time Lane.