Daffy Duck

Ms. J. K. Rowling has given us the the idea of the Patronus: the ghostly animal that comes jumping out to protect you when you’re in trouble.

I have never had any doubt about mine.

My spirit animal, my Patronus, is an angry greedy little black duck who often gets his beak shot off.

I grew up with Warner Brothers cartoons; I couldn’t get enough of them. Since many of them were made in the 1930s and 1940s, I was often puzzled by the cultural references (and still haven’t worked some of them out), but I could tell that they were smart and witty and clever – in an adult way – far more than their competitors at Disney or Hanna-Barbera or MGM.

I loved Bugs Bunny, of course. I had a stuffed Bugs Bunny that talked when you pulled his string. He said things like “I like you!” and “I’m sleepy” and (naturally) “What’s up, doc?” I cherished him and took him to bed with me every night.

But my favorite cartoons were the ones with Daffy Duck.

Daffy is lazy, and not very honest. He is vindictive. He goes into futile rages. Sometimes he’s so angry that he’s speechless. He schemes, but his schemes aren’t very well constructed. He tries very hard to be sophisticated, and he fails every time. He almost always says the wrong thing. He is easily defeated.

But he always comes popping back up. He’s indefatigable. He might close his eyes for a moment and take a deep breath, but he always comes back for more. He fails, but he keeps trying.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is me in a nutshell.

I’m a greedy little coward, and I often fail, but I just keep going and going.

My procedure


Momma went to the hospital last week.



Let me tell you all about it.



I’ve told you that I have kidney stones. Well, I had accompanying symptoms that worried my doctor (and were scaring the bejeezus out of me), and since I have a family history of cancer, they scheduled me for an exploratory – um – procedure.



I call it a “procedure” to be polite.  Think of it this way: there’s really only one good way to look into a person’s bladder. It involves something like a Krazy Straw, inserted into the most inconvenient place possible.



Luckily, I was under anaesthesia at the time.



I had this done at Kent County Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island, and I tell you Rhode Islanders who may be reading this: you should be heading to Kent Hospital for pretty much everything. Every single staff member was wonderful to me, and the care was first-rate. They were having dog-therapy day when we arrived, and there was a huge mutt the size of a Shetland pony coming down the corridor toward us when we first arrived, and Partner was immediately entranced. (Sadly, the dogs go off-shift at 3:00 pm.)



I have never been under complete anesthesia before. It was charming. I felt a kind of coldness in my arm, and heard the anesthesiologist telling me to “breathe deeply,” and – well, that was that.



The recovery room was also wonderful. There was another man my age who’d had something unpleasant done to him, and an older woman ditto. I was the least traumatized patient, and the staff were very kind to me as a result, because I was easy to deal with. (I was a lamb, actually. I’d been napping all day in preparation, and I was terribly dehydrated, so I was as weak as a kitten. They could have knocked me out with a wet Kleenex.)



Before the “procedure,” they made the mistake of giving me the binder that had my whole patient history in it. So I read it. Terrific. I find that I had “good hygiene” and appeared to be “well-groomed.” Naturally!



Also I have an abnormal T-wave in my EKG, and an enlarged left ventricle (I think I knew that), and – get this! – an ischemia.



I will hold this over Partner’s head for the rest of his life. Our favorite episode of “The King of Queens” involves Doug’s father-in-law, the unbearable Arthur Spooner (played by Jerry Stiller), having an ischemia, which sends him into conniptions whenever he’s frightened.



Nobody had better frighten me from now on. I might go into cardiac arrest.



Running to school


Back to school, kids!



My walk to work takes me past the University’s day-care center, around the time when parents are dropping their children off in the morning: lots of noisy kids, parents driving, parents walking. I like the walking parents and children best; they’re almost always holding hands, which is very sweet.



A few years ago, I saw a father and daughter walking hand in hand toward the center, when all at once the little girl saw someone she knew – some friends, maybe – and let go of her father’s hand, and started running toward the school, excited to join the fun.



How long has it been since you were excited enough about something to run toward it?



Ah well, ho hum. It’s part of the magic of childhood.



We outgrow it.



(Sadly enough.)



Rhode Island: the best place in the world to live


I was listening to one of those endless radio talk shows the other day while riding the University shuttle. The topic was: Is Rhode Island a good place to live? “Of course it is,” one of the participants said. “It’s great. I’m glad I live here. I mean, my god, the beaches are great!”



“That’s it?” another participant said.



“Well,” the first participant said, “there’s a lot of culture here, and music, and – um – beaches –“



“You know,” Participant Number Two said, “I’ve been hearing that for years. Culture? Probably you want Boston or New York. Music, probably LA or Seattle or New York. Beaches? You know, I would have said Hawaii.”



“But still!” Number One said. “It’s great for so many reasons!”



“Like the beaches?” said Number Two in a bored voice.



And on like that for some time.



I didn’t know what to think when I first moved to Rhode Island. I remember walking downtown on a cloudy weekend in early September 1978, and frankly the place looked like WWII Dresden: bombed-out and dismal. There were (and are) bright cheerful bits of architecture, and lovely bits of history, but much of the city is urban/gray/utilitarian.



There have been (many) ups and downs since then. Downtown (we call it “Downcity”) keeps getting “revived,” and then gets “revived” again. We are between revivals right now. There are a few positive signs: the Arcade, one of the oldest and most historic buildings downtown, is getting another facelift. (This is its third facelift in thirty years. Maybe this one will do the trick.)



I’ve said it before: Providence (and, by extension, all of Rhode Island) is a big ugly dog. You love it even though it slobbers all over you. In fact, you love it because it slobbers all over you.



Also, there are those beaches.


Neil Armstrong


Neil Armstrong, the quietest celebrity in modern memory, died last weekend at 82. He was a household name, but a very private man, I knew him through books about the space program, especially “Carrying the Fire,” the wonderful autobiographical / historical book written by Apollo 13 crew member Michael Collins.



You can tell in photos how guarded Armstrong was; even when smiling, there’s a sort of veil over his eyes.  In my favorite photo (at the head of this article), taken by one of his Apollo 11 crewmates, Armstrong actually looks exhilarated, and open, and exhausted, and happy.



I’d ask if you remember that evening in July 1969 when Armstrong first stepped onto the moon’s surface, but I remind myself that many of you are too young for that; it would be like you asking me if I remembered when the Confederates started firing on Fort Sumter.



But I remember it. We’d just come home from a day trip to my Grandma Boitano’s house. I was twelve years old. I remember sitting in our living room in the twilight, watching the spectacle on television – a man on the moon! – and then getting up to look out the picture window at the moon (which I remember as being maybe six days old, a little less than first quarter). I remember thinking: There are human beings up there right now.



And I got a little shiver.



Memory is tricky. I go online now, and check myself. What was the phase of the moon on July 20, 1969?


Six days after new.



I actually remembered my childhood accurately.






Armstrong’s family has asked that, “next time you see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”



I think that’s lovely.



And we have to keep the moon in its place, after all, as the following clip (featuring Tina Fey and Buzz Aldrin) demonstrates:





Rest in peace, Neil.


Finding a new (alternate) fragrance


I keep a bottle of cologne in the office, for emergencies. I had an emergency the other day: I had a doctor’s appointment (my doctor’s office is right across the street from my office), and I forgot to put on cologne that morning.



I don’t want to offend my doctor, do I?



My emergency cologne is L’Occitane’s “Eau des Vanilliers,” which is a not-very-good follow-up to their original “Vanille.” “Vanille” smelled like natural vanilla extract, and brought back memories of Christmas baking sessions. “Eau des Vanilliers” is harsher, and smells (to me) like vanilla mixed with butane.



But I am shocked at how much people like it.



“You smell good,” Apollonia said that day. “Better than usual, anyway.”



Toby sniffed at it and smiled. “It’s very ladylike,” he said.



I’ve written before about smelling like food. It is a surefire way to make friends; people love you if you smell like anything edible. (Creepy, isn’t it?) And I don’t mind smelling ladylike. I remember a study some years ago in which men were asked what scents they preferred, and they all said things like musk and cedar, but when they were actually asked to evaluate scents, they preferred the same floral scents that women preferred.


So there.



My preferred scent is “L’Occitan,” by L’Occitane. (Yes, I know.) It is lavender, with cedar, and burnt wood, and nutmeg, and black pepper. It is dark and interesting.



But you can’t wear the same thing every day.



I went to the fragrance kiosk in the Providence Place Mall a few weeks ago, and I asked the stupidest possible question: “What do you recommend?”



Naturally the salesman brought out lots of mid-price and high-price stuff. Some were okay. One had – I kid you not – no smell at all; I tried it twice and couldn’t detect anything. (Maybe my nose is configured incorrectly.) Finally I settled on a high-end Paco Rabanne scent, in a perfectly lovely bottle, with notes of grapefruit and rose and blood orange. (I didn’t get these from the salesman; I looked them up in basenotes.com later.)



It is a nice change from my other scent, and makes a pleasant alternative.



Then I discover from Tab (my coworker) and Al (my student assistant) that they don’t even wear something every day!



See, I assume that I stink, and that I need assistance in this area.



I will continue to assume this, until I am sure that it’s not true.



So if you smell pepper / nutmeg / burnt wood, or blood oranges /grapefruit / rose,  in your vicinity anytime soon, you can be reasonable sure that it’s me.


The Darlingtonia preserve


In 2005, on one of our trips to the Pacific Northwest, Partner and I were running up and down the Oregon coast: Lincoln City, Yachats, Florence. 



On our way to Florence I noticed an odd sign pointing to a DARLINGTONIA PRESERVE.  The name rang a very faint bell, but I couldn’t quite place it, and I suggested that we stop.



I am so glad we did.



It is a small park which serves as a natural preserve for a rare local plant, the Darlingtonia californica, aka the cobra lily.



Darlingtonia is a carnivorous plant resembling the pitcher plant.  Its body is a cup of water, topped by a cobra-like hood.  Insects blunder inside and fall into the water to drown; the hood helps keeps them inside if they try to escape.



Once they’re dead, Darlingtonia californica eats them up, slowly, by dissolving them and absorbing their delicious little bodies.



Bloodthirsty, I know. But the plants were gorgeous, and you have never seen so many together in one place in your life.  They were shining bright green in the fitful Oregon summer sunlight, hundreds of them in their damp little peat bog, humming to themselves, waiting for the little buggies to arrive for lunch.



Plants are remarkable.  We animals have always had an advantage over plants, seemingly; we move faster, anyway. But plants are sneaky and malevolent. Some are poisonous, like nightshade and datura and pokeweed. Some sting and burn, like nettles and poison ivy. Some are beautiful and dangerous, like the foxglove. Some can gash the hell out of you, like the cholla cactus. Some of them can poison the ground beneath themselves, so that nothing else can grow (many conifers do this).



But all of them, just like Darlingtonia californica, are beautiful in the sunshine.



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