Monthly Archives: November 2019

Quicksand Fever

I fret.

It’s my medium.

I work with fret like potters work with clay.

It’s my gift.

I can fret about anything. If you give me a stack of $100 bills, I will fret about which way the bills are turned. What if they stick together? What if a strong wind blows? How am I gonna get change?

I’ve learned to live with it and laugh at it…and that’s good because I’ve fretted since my childhood. I was a fret savant.

I was raised on 50’s and 60’s TV. I fretted when Spin and Marty went to summer camp. I fretted when skinny Frankie Avalon tried to keep up with all those big surfers when it was clear that Annette coulda taken him two falls outta three. I even fretted about Mr. Peabody’s “Way-Back Machine.” That thing didn’t look safe.

As I grew older, such “objets du angst” proved silly.

Quicksand, for example, has not proven to be near the ubiquitous hazard that TV westerns predicted it would be. It’s good to know Chloe the Pup and I can wander the neighborhood with impunity.

One of the most worrisome fears of my youth was falling into the hands of the Communists. I had read accounts of how the Soviet government snatched their innocent citizens off the streets, held sham investigations and trials, and whisked the hapless victims off to insane asylums or Siberia…or both. My dad and my teachers and Walter Cronkite assured me it was so.

Gulp!

I was also assured by those same people that it couldn’t happen in America. Any nascent wanderlust in me was subdued a bit. But as long as I maintained my citizenship, voted like a banshee, and kept my feet in the Land-Where-We-Do-What’s-Right, there was no need to fret.

Whew!

But wait.

Wait……

…………………………………………………………………..…wait…………

Now we have a president who asks a former Soviet country to investigate American citizens.

I think I’ll be asking my grass-cutting guy to survey the back yard for quicksand next spring.

Steinbeck and Screens

When people I meet learn;

  • That at my mom’s urging, I was reading before I started school;
  • My first job was as a clerk in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library;
  • I’ve collected books since I was fifteen;
  • With Janie’s permission, a loan from a friend, a thoughtful and caring set of plans from another friend, and a year of formidable building skills from yet another friend, I built a library. I built a library…pht-t-t-t. I wrote checks, said “GO,” kept out of the way, and admired the work – that’s what I did;

They get the point that books are uber-important to me.

Often, I will then get the question; “What’s your favorite book?”

Often I will cheat on the answer; “Today, my favorite book is actually two books by John Steinbeck; CANNERY ROW and SWEET THURSDAY.” It’s not really cheating. The two books tell one story about Steinbeck’s friend, Doc Ricketts. The books have all the basic food groups; Monterey, homeless men living a mostly gleeful life in abandoned corrugated tubes, a whorehouse, a frog hunt, a seer who inspires sunsets instead of the other way around, a Chinese storekeeper who cheats at chess, beer milk shakes, octopi, and Suzy driving a stick shift.

It also has a classic Steinbeck line that, to me, goes far to explain the current toxicity of our political life.

“Men seem to be born with a debt they can never pay no matter how hard they try. It piles up ahead of them. Man owes something to man. If he ignores the debt it poisons him…”

I wonder if our current addiction to screens and our hunger and demand for complete access to all things at all times for no sacrifice of effort and treasure, is simply a path to distraction…and perhaps eventual destruction. We distract ourselves constantly to keep from acknowledging our debt to our species and other species for that matter. We substitute knowing things quickly for knowing things well…and then we do the same for the people we meet.

I’m gonna do better…

…and perhaps slower.

I’m certainly gonna vote…

…and I’m gonna vote in a way that pays at least a little of that debt I owe to all species.

Now, if tomorrow I’m asked about my favorite book, my answer might be THE STORY OF DR. DOLITTLE by Hugh Lofting.

I can’t explain it.

It’s the way I roll.

Turn Yer Radio On

I was eleven years old when I first started falling asleep to the radio. I still do whenever possible.

<<<< “Post #1 — One o’clock and all is well.” The call rang out in the dark. A twenty-something Union prison guard in Western Kentucky was listening and questioning the wisdom of leaving New York for this blue uniform and a nocturnal duty of vigilance over tattered Southern wretches. Still, it was reassuring to hear of the continued existence and thriving of Post #1. He scanned his portion of the prison ground for anomalies and finding none answered; “Post #2 – One o’clock and all is well.” He assumed Post #3 would be similarly comforted…hell, those Southern boys might like to hear a pleasant word as well. >>>>

In 1962, when I was eleven, it was my battery-powered cigarette-pack-sized transistor radio tucked under my pillow, ideally tuned in to a late night baseball game from the West Coast between my hallowed Reds and the despised Dodgers or haughty Giants. To drift off to Waite Hoyt’s description of Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson battling Maury Wills and Sandy Koufax, or Willie Mays and Juan Marichal was bliss. If the Reds weren’t available, the local overnight disc jockey, Tom Kimball on WVLK touting “Nighthawk Specials” at Columbia Steakhouse and a mélange of pre-Beatles rock was a pretty good Plan B for a pretty good night’s sleep.

A half-century later, not much has changed.

<<<< About two miles from our home, a train whistle rewards our summer-open bedroom window with long, long moan that croons; “We’re out here travelin’, workin’, carryin’ on…don’t you worry none…we’re here…all’s well.” >>>>

Each night, I pessimistically set my clock radio to play the radio for two hours. Then I proceed to become comatose in about two minutes. I try to find a live sporting event first, then classical music or jazz, then settle for any music or live programming.

It has to be live programming.

Television won’t do the job. Television is visual and I find it hard to fall asleep when my eyes are open. Go figger.

Recorded music won’t do. There’s no currently awake mind behind.

Live programming…that’s the ticket.

Why?

<<<< Sirens pass, shrieking. Hospital helicopters wop and chop overhead. Each heralds an urgent problem. Each assures that responders are responding; “All’s not well, but we’re on it!” >>>>

I think my need goes back to 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the fall of 1962, Nikita Khrushchev got the neighborly idea of putting Russian missiles in Cuba, ninety miles away from the Florida Keys. Jack Kennedy realized quickly that missiles in Cuba threatened to sharply amplify the hazards of a determined Duval Street Crawl beyond a drunken face plant on a Key West sidewalk, a night in the Key West slammer, and your name on page two of the Key West newspaper. The hazards could logically portend an end to Western Civilization which, hard as it is for my acquaintances in the Keys to believe, involves bigger issues than a cold beer (or five) and a well-done conch fritter (one is enough). Kennedy ordered a naval blockade to intercept a missile-laden Russian ship headed for Cuba.

The whole country felt a spasm of fear. A nuclear conflagration seemed eminent.

<<<< My dog farts in bed and sighs. All is well and evidently well-fed. >>>>

My sixth grade class at Yates Elementary were schooled the day after the blockade was announced in the intricacies of “duck and cover.” We knelt in the school’s halls with our heads down and covered by our hands.

But I had seen images of Hiroshima.

I didn’t raise a ruckus in school about our atomic training, but I was silently and forlornly convinced that “duck and cover” wasn’t gonna cut it.

No, Lexington’s best hope was in the fact that there was no military reason to nuke it. I found a soupçon of solace in that, though it would be a few more years before I knew what “soupçon” or “solace” meant.

But I still fretted about the rest of the world. If the random angry world powers ignored Lexington but obliterated themselves, how would I know?

On the radio!

All’s well…