Attention whore

attention whore


Way back in the 1990s, my mother had her own adventure with cancer. Along the way, she managed to get herself dehydrated, and ended up in the hospital. To my surprise and that of my siblings, she seemed to love the experience. “I call the nurses ‘the girls,'”she told me over the phone. “They are so sweet to me. They know I’m not supposed to have coffee, but oh, I wanted it so much, and one of them brought me a little cup of coffee, and – oh, Loren! – it was so good! And I asked her for one more little cup, and she brought it for me, and – oh, Loren! – it was so good!”

 

I listened to this story with a thin-lipped expression. Later I repeated it to my sister Susan, who grimaced. “I know,” she said. “The nurses fell for it. Mom can be so damned cute when she wants to be. But you just wait: once the nurses catch on, it won’t be so much fun for Mom any longer.”

 

Which, in fact, happened a day or two later. “I don’t know what happened all of a sudden,” my mother groused on the phone. “The nurses don’t seem to pay attention anymore. Sometimes I press the call switch and it’s a couple of minutes before anyone shows up. It’s like a whole new staff. I can’t wait to go home.”

 

This whole thing seemed very strange to me. Mom was normally the soul of staunch individualism; she lived all by herself at the end of a dead-end road, and most days she didn’t see a living soul. Why should it be so much fun for her to be the center of attention all of a sudden –
Aha.

 

She finally had center stage with a whole retinue dancing around her, and she was loving it.

 

She had become an attention whore.

 

Flash forward to the other day. I’m in recovery, which means I spend days at home alone watching TCM and waiting for the mail. So then I have a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor says, “You could use some fluids. We can give them to you today, in the chemo ward – ”

 

I nearly knocked her down, I was so eager to get to that chemo ward.

 

“Chemo ward” doesn’t sound appealing, but it’s nicer and more comfortable than you think. The chairs are all recliners. There’s a TV in every little nook. There are chairs for visitors. The nurses are funny and make light conversation as they poke and prod you and stick needles into you. Snacks and beverages and warm blankets are available upon demand. In short, the staff waits on you hand and foot.

 

Does this sound familiar?

 

Ah, but I learned from my mother’s experience. Her mistake was that she overdid it.

 

I will not overdo it.

 

I have another fluids day soon, back in the chemo ward with those nice kind attentive nurses. I hope I can maintain my composure.

 

I don’t want the girls to know what an attention whore I am.


 

Guitar

guitar


I was pillaging through my stacks of books at home when I found a neat little collection of folk songs edited by Tom Glazer. It’s got all the classics – “Crawdad” (which I know as “Froggy Went a-Courting” and also (because of a 1940s MGM cartoon) as “Crambone,” as well as “Barbara Allen,” and “Shenandoah” – as well as some I’d never heard of, like “The Dodger” (with lyrics like “The lover is a dodger / he’ll hug you and he’ll kiss you / but look out girls, he’s a-telling you a lie”).

These are great tunes, simple and straightforward. Some are no doubt European (as “I Know Where I’m Going,” which I only knew before as the Scottish-flavored theme song of a movie of the same name starring Deborah Kerr and Roger Livesey); others are more Americanish (is that a word? If not, it is now), as in “The Midnight Special.” And there are some others, weirdly cheerful, that might have come from anywhere, like “The Sow’s Got The Measles (And She Died Last Spring).”

But, best of all, this book has an appendix called “The Beginner Folk-Guitarist.”

If you are as old as me, you will remember that there was a time in the late 1950s / early 1960s during which folk songs and folk singing were Hot Stuff. Groups like the Kingston Trio were all over the radio, singing sweet harmony to the accompaniment of acoustic guitars. Everyone played and sang in those days. A lot of early rock-and-roll singers and guitarists came out of that era. (Donovan, anyone?)

But I never learned to play the guitar.

Tom Glazer, in fifteen short pages, makes it look easy. He gives you the fingering for sixteen chords, and describes three ways to strum. And that’s it.

Me for that!

I just saw a commercial for the Guitar Center in which they show a $29 ukulele, and similarly low-priced acoustic guitars. Can you imagine how very irritating I might become if I could strum a few silly chords?

Let’s go for it.

All together now:

 

 

Oh, Froggy went a-courtin’, and he did ride, crambone . . . .


 

Westerns

westerns


I was born into a shit-kickin’ family. My father’s parents were Eastern Washington farmers, and my sister Susan married into a local dairy family, and – well, what more do you need?

Evidently it’s in our DNA. My brother Leonard worked in grocery stores his whole life, and yet he talks like Walter Brennan. He was, for a fact, born on my parents’ farm, during a brief period in their early married life during which they were farming, but still!
Anyway, everyone in my family loves Westerns, and the whole Old West folklore thing. (When Leonard found out I was doing our family history, he drawled: “Are we descended from any horse thieves?” Evidently that would have been perfectly delicious. The reality – some Polish peasants, some Italian peasants, some English hooligans and riffraff – just isn’t colorful enough, in a six-guns-and-Randolph-Scott way.)

Every once in a while I try to reassociate myself with my Boot Hill roots and watch a few Westerns on TMC. Sometimes they’re harmless enough that they sort of wash over me. But – you know? – a lot of them – most of them – just aren’t very good.

(Disclaimer: Yes, I know that there are some classics, like “Cimarron” and “Stagecoach” and “Red River.” I have seen at least ten minutes of each of these – more of “Cimarron,” because it has Irene Dunne in it – and they are all lovely. I stick by my original point, however. Read on:)

  • Westerns are all depressingly similar. I will spare you a recitation of plot points, cliches, situations, etc. I will only say that I recently fell asleep during a Jimmy Stewart western, woke up about ninety minutes later during another Jimmy Stewart Western, and was uncertain for a few minutes if it was the same movie.
  • They certainly save money on costumes and sets. I’m sure there was a kind of Studio Western Kit, containing things like 1) one chuck wagon 2) three dance hall girl dresses 3) two fancy saddles 4) one fancy lamp with a fringed shade, for indoor / city-slicker  / bawdy house scenes.
  • Scenery. Magnificent, right? HDTV has killed that illusion. In Movie #2 the other day, J. Stewart and company were riding along a dangerous mountain ridge with all kinds of mountains and forests and valleys in the distance, except that, um, no they weren’t. The foreground was perfectly clear and in focus; the scenic background looked like Jackson Pollock’s hick cousin Vernton Pollock had blooped and blopped together some green and blue and white paint to produce Western Background #14.

And so forth.

I am sure, as we say, that for people who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing that they like. I like all kinds of silly / stupid / sub-par things, especially in the movie category. (Next time you hear me warbling on about how wonderful “Shack Out On 101” is, give me a real hard whack on the back of my head.) But, bafflingly, I was born without the mental toolkit required to make sense of these verkakte Westerns, even though genetically I should be right in there with my relatives.

Sigh.

Okay. Now: anybody want to see “Shack Out On 101” one more time?


Alphonse Allais

alphonse allais


I was avid to visit the town of Honfleur, up on the damp coast of Normandy, when Partner and I visited France in 2012, because one of my favorite composers – Erik Satie – was born there. (I should note that, to paraphrase Lily Tomlin, Satie left Honfleur as soon as he realized where he was.)

 

 

Honfleur is a dour little fishing port with boggy streets and old sad-looking houses. Satie’s childhood home has been converted into a very neato little museum, good enough to be featured by Rick Steves on his excellent European travel TV show, but once you’ve seen the museum – as Partner and I quickly realized – you’ve seen the shank of the town, and the best thing you can do is bid Honfleur a modest au revoir.

 
Except that one little detail caught my attention: a life-sized plastic cow in the visitor center, with a bande dessinee painted on the side. (Two Rick Steves-type comments: Normandy is a farm region, so the cow motif is everywhere, and Partner begs me to remind everyone that the restroom in the Honfleur visitor center was the most toxically horrible he ever came across in Europe.) Anyway, the comic strip on the side of the cow depicted Erik Satie and Honfleur’s other favorite son, humorist Alphonse Allais, grabbing one another’s chin and singing a little children’s song. Then one slaps the other on the cheek, very hard (I have no idea if this is part of the children’s song or not) and runs away, leaving the other in tears. I was so baffled by this that I don’t even remember which one does the slapping and which one runs away.

 

 

This led me to Alphonse Allais, whose “oeuvres anthumes” I purchased on an appropriately soggy day in Paris about a week later. (“Anthumes” is meant to be a cute parallel to “posthumes,” meaning “posthumous” – see, I bought the stuff he published while he was still alive, get it?) It turns out that Allais was an essayist / journalist / humorist in a way that no longer really much exists. (If you can imagine the New York Times’s Gail Collins without the politics, or “CBS Sunday Morning”‘s Bill Geist without the peripatetic folksiness, you’ve almost got it.) Allais created characters and situations and wrote about them for a page or two. Generally there’s a punch line. If the characters or the situations amused Allais, he revisited them.

 

 

 

He was, in a word, a feuilletonist.

 

 
Do they exist in American literature? Did they ever? Most assuredly. It was a late 19th / early 20th-century thing to be and do. Mencken was a feuilletonist, as were Don Marquis and H. Allen Smith and Harry Golden. See? You haven’t been reading those guys recently, have you? But it’s not because they’re not entertaining or that they don’t write well; it’s only that the style has fallen out of fashion.

 

 

Allais had the famous dry Norman sense of humor, the “pince-sans-rire” (“pinch without laughing” – basically, “tell a joke all the way to the punch line, but tell it so seriously and drily that no one is sure if you’re joking or not.” Isn’t French neat to be able to put all of that in three words?) Satie used pince-sans-rire all the time in his music, writing pieces of fantaisiste music with titles like “Dried Embryos,” and ending them with long strings of Beethovian tonic-dominant-tonic chords.

 

 

Allais needs to be translated for a modern American readership.

 

 

Now who could do something like that?

 

 

Hmm.


Resolutions 2014

resolutions 2014

 

If you want to know how I feel about New Year’s resolutions in general, please see the above illustration. “Foo” says it all.

 

 

But I love the idea of resolutions. What could be nicer than making a fresh start? Suddenly “next year” becomes “this year,” and we have an entire nice expanse of time before us, like a yardful of untrodden snow.

 

 

So let’s make us some resolutions!

 

 

1)    Stop complaining. Foo. No chance.

2)    Be healthy. Easier said than done, but there’s no way 2014 could be worse than 2013 from a health point of view. If I can manage to keep my organs from actually dropping out of my body this year, I will be doing okay

3)    Appreciate the good things more. This might actually be doable. Today’s bitterly cold in Providence, for example, but the sky is a lovely blue. Why not appreciate the lovely blue sky, even while cursing the weather?

4)    Maximize the love in the world. As a deeply flawed person, it amazes me that people actually like me, and I try whenever I can to return the favor. I already tell Partner several times a day how much I love him. I am also lucky enough to have friends – Patricia and Apollonia – whom I truly love, and who express their love for me in various oddball ways. I have always appreciated this, and after my illness I appreciate it even more.

5)    Work on the family history. This has been going on for over twenty years; I leave it and come back to it, mostly assembling records and keeping track of marriages and deaths. It’s fun and instructional, which brings me back to it, and incredibly tedious, which drives me away again.

6)    Practice my ukulele chords. Every day. I promise.

 

 

 

And finally:

 

 

7)    Be a better person.

 

 

Foo.


 

DIY religion

diy religion


Back during chemotherapy, while I was lounging in my recliner imbibing toxins through a tube in my arm and Partner was watching “Let’s Make A Deal” on the retractable TV, a young hospital chaplain named Meredith came around to check on our spiritual needs. We politely let her know that we were all set, thanks very much, but she (like chaplains through the ages) was stubborn enough to chat with us for a while. She complimented us on being such a close couple, and quoted something I’d heard once before about “for better and for worse.” She left before she became too obnoxious, so I liked her. “Did you notice,” I said to Partner after she left, “that she never quite mentioned any one religion? Very non-committal and non-denominational.”

“I like that,” Partner said. “I could get behind a religion like that.”
“I think,” I said,” that there is a religion like that.”
So, a few weeks later, we both got ourselves ordained as ministers in the Universal Life Church.
Ordination is free; you need only provide name and email address. For a couple of bucks, they will send you gewgaws like a wallet card and an ordination certificate and a press pass (evidently for when I’m interviewing the Metropolitan of Constantinople). After that, you need only follow the church’s one dictum, which is “do only that which is right.” (They further define that you must peacefully determine what’s right in every case; no gunplay and no rassling allowed.)
Partner and I are both obnoxiously pleased about this. We are both in the process of determining the dogmas of our new church. Mine is going to involve wearing a lot of pink and purple. (I determined peacefully that I like both, and why not? Also, pink and purple are both perfectly nice devotional colors; look at the candles in any Advent wreath if you don’t believe me.) I will use a lot of multidenominational texts involving silence. (Examples: “Let all the earth keep silence before the Lord,” from Habakkuk in the Jewish Bible; “Sky says nothing,” from the Analects of Confucius; “The way that can be spoken of is not the true way,” from the Tao Te Ching; and maybe also “That which we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence,” the last line of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.) My services will begin with maybe a piece of music, the reading of a text like one of the above, and then a kind of community silent meditation, the way the Society of Friends does it.
Also, did I mention the pink and purple?
Religion should be fun. It should be participatory, and it should be meaningful to the people who participate. If they crave mystery, well, life is crammed full of mysteries; meditate on a few of those. And if they crave certainty, there are lots of those too. Just think about them quietly, would you?
Partner has thought about his church too. He wants it to welcome all comers, and he would allow them to worship any god they please, and intends to forbid proselytizing.

 

(I hope it also involves hats. Partner and I both look good in hats, and I hope he and I can lead some ecumenical programs down the road, once we’ve established ourselves as pillars of our respective faiths.)


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 . . . .


 

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