Update: twice a week

twice a week


I have been fooling around with this blog again, now that my energy is coming back, and have decided that two blogs a week (Sunday and Thursday) are perfectly sufficient for now – for myself (to make myself feel productive) and for all of you readers (so that you don’t have to read too much of my drivel).

 

 

 

Now and then there will be a special post – like this one – but they will almost always be short or topical or informational or seasonally-oriented.

 

 

 

How’s that for a deal?

 

 

 

Happy Christmas from your sleepy little friend . . . .


 

Advertisements

The cormorant and the mayflower

cormorant and mayflower

I was walking across the Point Street Bridge recently, here in Providence. There’s an ancient wooden piling / dock beneath the bridge, which is now terribly rickety and unsafe.

But the birds love it. There are always gulls and ducks there, and sometimes egrets and swans. And almost always there are cormorants: lithe delicate birds with slender curving necks and broad wings, which fly low over the water’s surface and dive quickly to snap up fish with their sharp little beaks.

The cormorants were resting that day. It was warm and humid, but there was a pleasant quiet breeze blowing off the land toward the ocean; I could feel it up on the bridge, and the birds on the piling could feel it too.

One cormorant was facing into the breeze, its winds outstretched as if it were flying. It stood and rocked gently in the cool breeze.  I took some pictures, but I’m not very good with my phone’s camera, so you can barely see it:

cormorant flying

“He was pretending to fly in the breeze,” I said to my friend Cathleen later, showing her the photo. “He looked so serene and happy.”

“He was drying his wings,” she said soberly. “It’s just instinct.”

Maybe Cathleen is right. But I prefer to think that the cormorant was dreaming about flying.

It does my heart good to see things like this. Not very many things make me truly happy, now that I’m a sour old codger. Partner makes me happy, and once in a while Apollonia or Cathleen says something that makes me laugh.

But seeing that bird in imaginary flight made me happy. Sometimes small things – a flower, a tree, a bird – take us out of ourselves; they make us realize that life isn’t as difficult as it might be, and that sometimes there are moments of pure unconsidered joy.

Which brings me to Elinor Wylie.

Elinor’s poetry is mostly forgotten nowadays. She was active in the 1910s and 1920s, and died in 1929. She’s a minor poet, but (I think) an important one. I have bits and pieces of her verse rattling around in my head all the time.

This is the last stanza of her poem “As I Went Down by Havre de Grace”:

As I went out by Prettymarsh

I saw the mayflower under the leaves:

Life (I said) is rough and harsh

And fretted by a hundred griefs:

Yet were it more than I could face,

Who have faced out a hundred dooms,

Had I been born in any place

Where this small flower never blooms.


Botanizing

botanizing


In Tove Jansson’s Moomin books (which you should read, if you haven’t), there’s a character – a Hemulen, if that means anything to you – who collects stamps. He finally collects all of the stamps in the entire world. He despairs, because now his life has no purpose anymore. But then he realizes: he can start collecting plants instead! His life has meaning again!

I love plants. I don’t have a garden, which means I subsist on a few houseplants and a few office-grown things (which I’m very proud of, as they’ve grown extraordinarily). So, when I walk back and forth to work, I examine the gardens and yards and fields I pass by, and I identify the plants I know, and I puzzle over the ones I don’t know.

The one above, for example. What is it? Yellow vetch? Alfalfa?

Nope. I finally identified it. It’s Lotus corniculatus: bird’s-foot trefoil.

I walk by a field full of it every morning on my way to work. First I noticed them out of the corner of my eye, thinking I knew what they were. Then I took a closer look, and realized I wasn’t so sure.

I checked the leaves the other day, and now I’m sure. It’s L. corniculatus, all right.

Any day upon which I identify a strange plant is a good day. It gives my life a tiny bit of added meaning.

I think I must be a Hemulen.


Skunk hour

skunk hour


The Providence area is full of wildlife. I wrote about fisher cats not long ago, nasty weaselly things prowling down by the riverside. Foxes are being seen this summer all over the East Side (though I haven’t seen one yet, and I would love to, because I think they’re cute). Bunnies are everywhere. Ditto big ugly garbage-eating raccoons. Ditto possums, one of which hissed at me a few years ago when I passed it on the street.

 

 

And then there are skunks.

 

 

They’re always smaller than I think they’re going to be, like kittens. Their colors are lovely. But they’re alarming, for obvious reasons, or maybe just for one very obvious reason.

 

 

I can usually smell them when they’re in the neighborhood. Either I’m especially sensitive to their scent, or my rural upbringing makes me more aware of them. (Our old family dog back in the 1960s got sprayed more than once, and I can still hear him whining and crying in my mind.)

 

 

I was coming out of the local market one recent evening. It’s only about two blocks away from our apartment, and I have my choice of two routes home: a dull route that goes straight down the avenue, and another much more interesting sidewalk that winds up the hillside and is surrounded by shrubbery. I usually choose the winding sidewalk for the sake of aesthetics (even though I know that robbers and muggers are probably waiting among the shrubs to jump me), and so I did the other night.

 

 

But a young skinny guy was coming down the walk toward me, jabbering at me. I thought (charitably) that he was speaking on his Bluetooth, but then he approached me with an earnest look on his face. “There’s a skunk up there!” he exclaimed. “At the top of the path! He’s looking very – territorial!”

 

 

“Which way was he facing?” I said. “Toward you, or away from you?”

 

 

“Toward me,” he said. “But he wasn’t moving, and he had a determined look on his face.”

 

 

That was enough for me. I thanked Mr. Skinny Bicycle for saving me from a fate worse than death, and went home via the dull safe route.

 

 

Here are the last four stanzas of Robert Lowell’s great poem, “Skunk Hour”:

 

 

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind’s not right.

 


A car radio bleats,
“Love, O careless Love. . . .” I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat. . . .
I myself am hell;
nobody’s here–

 


only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

 


I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air–
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.


 

The pleasures of the elderly

pleasures of the elderly


“Did you see ‘Scaramouche’ on Turner Classic the other night?” I asked Apollonia the other day.

“What? Yeah, I think I switched past it,” she said. “Who was that? Rory Calhoun?”

“Nah,” I said. “Stewart Granger.”

We both laughed. “Same thing,” she said.

“I’ll say,” I said. “I think they were the same person. Maybe he was Rory Calhoun on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, and Stewart Granger on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.”

Now we were both laughing like idiots.

Off in the corner there was a table of younger staff members, listening to us. They stared at us as if we were patients in an asylum. We were aware of them. But we kept laughing. No, more than that: we laughed even harder because they were staring at us.

Questions:

  • Does any of the above make any sense to you?
  • Do you know who Rory Calhoun was, or Stewart Granger?
  • Does “Turner Classic” mean anything to you?

It’s a habit of the elderly to mumble and cackle over the past. But this is a game we elderly people like to play: making reference to things that happened long before the other people in the room were born. It’s a way of getting even with those young people, with their music and their slang and their television programs that we’ve never heard of, and their texting jargon that we still haven’t quite figured out.

This is one of the great pleasures of the elderly: to make younger people uncomfortable.


Too much garbage

garbage


Recently our office converted to a recycling scheme, and we require our staff to separate their recyclables from their non-recyclables. Most of them do it; some don’t. This shocks me. Don’t they care? Don’t they understand?

 

 

That’s one issue. Then there’s the issue of the volume of the garbage we produce.

 

 

Partner and I, between the two of us, produce at least three or four thirteen-gallon bags of garbage per week.  What is it? Newspapers. Food waste.  Food containers and boxes. Wrapping paper. Plastic bottles. Junk mail. Waste tissues, and paper towels, and napkins. I took a bag out to the garbage this evening, and it weighed at least ten pounds, and it was maybe two days’ worth of kitchen garbage.

 

 

Partner and I aren’t doing this on purpose, I swear. Nothing is going into the garbage that we can reuse or repurpose. I try to do everything I can to reduce waste. I minimize wrapping. We take our own reusable bags to the grocery store. I buy perfectly normal groceries.

 

 

And yet we’re producing garbage like hooligans.

 

 

What the hell’s wrong with us?


The art of the tummler

art of the tummler


Partner and I were down on Cape Cod a few weeks ago, and we ate at our favorite restaurant, Captain Parker’s in West Yarmouth. The bar is always crowded with locals (always a good sign), and the dining room is always crowded with tourists like us (also a good sign), and the seafood is excellent.

 

 

I recognized our waiter on sight, as he’s waited on us before. He was a big cheerful guy, who worked the room like an expert; he chatted us up, wanted to know if we were golfers (which flattered us both, as we’re not golfers by a long shot); he got involved in a long conversation at a neighboring table about a recent Red Sox game; he jollied up the nearby birthday-party table by wanting to know where everyone was from, and pretended to know terrible stories about people from those towns.

 

 

He was, in short, a tummler.

 

 

From Dictionary.com:

 

 

tummler [toom-ler]: noun

  1. 1.     A male entertainer as formerly employed by resorts in the Catskill Mountains, who combined the duties of a comedian, activities director, and master of ceremonies, and whose responsibility was to keep the guests amused throughout their stay.
  2. 2.     Any lively, prankish, or mischievous man.

Origin: 1930-35 Yiddish tumler, one who makes a racket.

 

 

Many of the comedians of my childhood – Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Phil Silvers – worked as tummlers early in their careers. Most of the big Catskills resorts have closed down since those days, of course. But the personality type (see definition #2 above) will go on forever.

 

 

Our friend at Captain Parker’s is a good tummler: friendly, amiable, and with a excellent sense of when to stop.

 

 

Some tummlers, however, do not have this nice awareness of their role. They think of themselves as the lives of the party, and end up being – well – obnoxious.

 

 

I think we all know a few of these. They’re noisy, and they never let up.

 

 

We like an occasional dose of Jerry Lewis or Milton Berle. We don’t want to live with them.


 

%d bloggers like this: