Category Archives: Junesboy

The Gadget Queen & the Dangling Conversation

I think it was about ten years ago.

Janie, the Gadget Queen, came home with a new ornament for the Christmas tree and began to install it. Three days and two outside independent contractors later, it was hung, swingin’ on an artificial pre-lit branch, hard-wired, synced, registered to vote, and fully protected by warranty from all annoying phone calls. It was a porcelain mouse with a porcelain top hat and porcelain conductor’s baton sitting in rabid anticipation on an open porcelain songbook. The sucker must weigh five pounds. When it dangles on its branch, the whole tree leans into a non-existent wind.

A protocol was soon established.

  1. I enter the living room and say in the most natural and un-sheepish voice I can muster; “Hello, Mr. Christmas.”
  2. The ornament answers with an enthusiasm I cannot fathom; “Well, hello to you! If you’d like to see what I can do, just say; ‘Play a carol’ or ‘Lights on.’”
  3. I quickly and meekly say; “Lights on.” Mr. Christmas’s renditions of traditional Christmas carols are harsh betrayals of the spirit of the season that rival those of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the 101 Mantovani Strings. They are to be avoided.
  4. The tree instantly blazes with pre-lit illumination and Mr. Christmas chirps; “Ta Da-a-a-h! If you’d like me to do anything else, simply say; ‘Hello, Mr. Christmas.’”
  5. Then I slide under my electrically heated throw (a Janie gadget), with my synced morning paper (an electronic facsimile of the Lexington Herald-Leader downloaded on my Kindle…another Janie discovery), with my cuppa coffee Janie programmed the night before on yet another whiz-bang contraption she found. I ponder the subtle differences from memories of my first thirty years on the planet…and ponder a few choice suggestions for Mr. Christmas as to what else he might do.

But…

…to be honest…

…I kinda like the guy…

…mostly because of the amusing soliloquies he inspires from Janie.

If, perchance, Janie arrives in Mr. Christmas’s sphere of influence before I, she sings out; “Hello, Mr. Christmas!” to no effect. She then repeats the magic phrase into a silence. She then croons seductively; “Hello-o-o, Mr. Christmas…” Nothing. She barks it, shouts it, drawls it, accents it (British, Irish, Scottish), translates it (French, Spanish, Greek, Urdu, Latin-Classic and Pig). Nothing works. It is entertaining at first and then becomes triumphant when I call from the next room; “Hello, Mr. Christmas”, and the arboreal firmament shimmers and Janie simmers.

To quote that great motivator of men, Strother Martin; “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

This surreal reality show has unfolded now for ten years.

I hope it continues as long as he doesn’t play carols.

The Urge for Going

With apologies and thanks to Joni Mitchell and Michel LeGrand…

“I’d like to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so,

But she’s got the urge to going so I guess she’ll have to go…”  –Joni Mitchell.

I walked through our small back yard yesterday and I felt the urge for going. The day lilies are of course long gone. The knock-out roses are finally bowing to the inevitable. My playpen of cleome, bronze fennel, autumn sedum, shiso, and spiderwort has hunkered down, hoping to be overlooked by the random angry gods of Winter.

“…summertime was falling down and Winter was closing in

Now the warriors of Winter…they gave a cold triumphant shout,

And all that stays is dying and all that lives is getting out.” –Mitchell.

I’ve bitterly raked the leaves from the birches next door. I’ve chopped the spent estival splendors. I’ve shut down the pond’s fountain/birdbath. The bewildered frogs have retreated to the sleepy, frigid depths. The myriad tadpoles are struggling to fathom their first frost and consider the question of mortality for the first time. They’ve got the urge for going, but don’t where to go. I have no assurances to offer them: it’s my first winter with pollywogs myself.

The hummingbirds have fled like the fickle, mesmerizing, gypsy, bouncing dots that they are. They’ve got the urge for going and they’re gone.

The trumpet-vine hedge is embarrassed by its nakedness; bare vines overreaching the sky annexed to become a Casbah-like warren for tiny wintering birds. The arrogant trumpet has got the urge for going but has roots…and responsibilities. Where would those tiny birds find their hygge?

“When the sun turns traitor cold

And all trees are shivering in a naked row,

I get the urge for going, but I never seem to go.” – Mitchell.

Why? I suppose I could.

Michel LeGrand offers an answer;

“Beneath the deepest snows the secret of the rose

Is merely that it knows you must believe in Spring.

So in a world of snow, of things that come and go,

Where what you think you know you can’t be certain of,

You must believe in Spring…

And love.”

Last night, actually this morning, I awoke at 3:45. I crept out to the cold-compromised backyard, by the amphibian-befuddled pond. The sky was brilliant and clear. I shuffled back to bed and awakened Janie. She rolled out of bed and rolled into a blanket. We and our devoted star-gazing pup Chloe stood, huddled in the cold to see the lunar eclipse.

It was fine.

I suspect I will always have the urge to flee the dark and the cold, but I will never go.

I have a standing appointment with Spring…

…and love.

Feel So Near

Dougie MacLean tells of an island in Scotland; small, barren, isolated to th

e lack-o-mercies of the winds.

<<< You’ll find me sitting at this table with my friend Finn and my friend John…we may take a glass together. The whisky makes it all so clear. I feel so near to the howling of the wind – feel so near to the crashing of the waves – feel so near to the flowers in the field – feel so near. >>>

Janie and I live in a green bubble, mostly sheltered from crashings and howlings, yet the song resonates.

I farm a lot these days.

That’s a joke that only Janie and I know.

Sorry.

I dead-head and seasonally prune roses. I think it helps.

I whack and wreak violence on the trumpet vine. I think it helps.

I water the petunias, begonias, bougainvillea, impatiens, and coleus. I know that helps.

I kneel and crawl and claw at pyramid-scheme grasses that try to drain the resource bank accounts of Janie’s day-lilies.

I croon encouragement to the robust efforts of the cleome, sedum, shiso, and bronze fennel gifted to me by Becky Johnson. I keenly feel that responsibility.

I harvest and return the errant game balls of various sizes that have evaded the best efforts of the six-year-old that lives behind us. Sometimes I launch a sphere towards the youngster’s goal. Calipari has not yet called.

Yes, I farm, but far from diligently.

What I do diligently is take plentiful breaks. The kitten (a sworn but un-diligent killer of critters that stumble into her maw) and I sit, still and attentive.

Cardinals scold. Frogs croak, bark, and squeak. Sirens wail. Cicadas ratchet. Hummers whir-r-r. Copters whirl.

We feel so near…

<<< The old man looks out to the island. He says this place is endless here. There’s no real distance here to mention… There’s no distance to the spirits of the living – no distance to spirits of the dead.

I feel so near to the howling of the wind – feel so near to the crashing of the waves – feel so near to the flowers in the field – feel so near. >>>

I feel so near.

Sh-h-h-h-h.

Wanted: Tree Planters

It doesn’t take long to plant a tree, but after you’ve done it, you’ll have a goodly wait till you get the full benefit of what you’ve planted. When I was in my twenties and thirties I planted trees and shrubs. Then I sat back and waited.

I had time.

Planting trees was a selfish act. It was for me.

I had time.

Now…maybe not so much time.

I planted trees where I could see the result.

I had time.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

I had time.

Now…maybe…

I’ve visited places that people gush about; Arizona, Alaska, Mexico… I liked ‘em, but there were few trees and of few varieties. I missed my trees.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

Hollies, tupelos, dogwoods, chincopin oaks, ginkgos, maples, magnolias, spruce, birches…

I cherish them all.

Planting trees was a selfish act.

Now, at this certain age, I know planting trees is for the pleasure of others. I will still plant them. They still fill me with hope for what will come. It is still a selfish act.

A year ago, I saw hooligans and terrorists rampaging in our nation’s capitol.

I didn’t see any tree planters.

Tree planters have hope.

Hope planters…that’s what I really meant to say.

Meal-Planning in the Time of the Cholera

… or a kind of compulsory tailgating.

I’m gonna steal this term from my friend Tyler Madison. He used to live quite near to Commonwealth Stadium (as do Janie and I). During home football games, we get barricaded by game traffic and can’t easily leave the house. This mostly pleasant imprisonment initiates a scouring of the pantry for sustenance. Sometimes the results are, shall we say…creative?

These internal foraging skills have served us in good stead during this year of “sheltering at home” (euphemism for “occasionally being too lazy to go out”).

Hunting and gathering in the wilds of the kitchen cabinets…

Tonight we were, shall we say…fortunate?

Janie had recently made a Trader Joe’s run. With demonic glee, she announced the night’s menu;

  • Asparagus Risotto.
  • Misto alla Griglia (Marinated Grilled Eggplant & Zucchini)
  • Garlic Naan (Indian Bread)

Wow.

Just wow.

Be still my bleating tummy.

I have a couple of thoughts about this roster of edibles.

  1. Tonight’s meal is comprised 100% of delicacies I had never heard of much less eaten until
  1. I was deep into my twenties. Growing up, my dad considered a meal pretty much complete as long as it contained pork chops, brown beans, and fried potatoes. You could add more if you wished, but those dishes were basic sustenance.
  2. It would not have surprised me to find that this meal was accompanied by a disclaimer; “No animals were hurt or destroyed by this meal”.

Now, all that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the feast.

I am a lucky guy.

Frogs and Dogs

I posted a picture of the knot of frogs that inhabits our little pond. That’s what a group of frogs is called. I’m inordinately proud to know that.

I like the frogs.

One night recently, our wonder pup, Chloe, cornered the largest frog who had wandered a few feet away from the safety of the water. I had to intercede and provide the frog with a corridor to safety. There was a hop, a dive, and a splash – all was well. Chloe gave me a glare that screamed; “I don’t know you anymore.”

I like the dog, too.

The frog was being a frog; venturesome and stupid.

The dog was being a dog; a gleeful hunter.

Let them be what they are. Value them for what they are.

Sure they have their limitations, but as frogs and dogs, they’re jes’ fine.

Those limitations however, as charming as they are, are limitations. They prevent me from asking/hiring/electing them to be something other than frogs and dogs. For example, I believe Chloe’s penchant for chasing squirrels would make her unsuitable for driving my car and the frog’s constantly damp condition would render it unwise to assign electrical repair needs to him/her.

Nor would I nominate or elect either of them to be President.

But…as dogs and frogs…I like ‘em jes’ fine.

Christmas Whackers

I got tools for Christmas.

I’m sorry. I shoulda warned you before I said that. You might have been standing in a place where it’s hazardous to faint.

But it’s true.

My personal foundations are shaken. I’m questioning every tenet by which I’ve navigated the years. How has it come to this? Tools…and all the expectations and assumptions that accompany them…given to me…whose past attempted claims to the adjective “handy” were usually rebuffed and ridiculed with cause decent, and alas….

Janie gave me tools for Christmas.

She has followed and encouraged my perennial struggle to rein in the sly and raging ambitions of the trumpet vine under which we live. She understands my frustration when the vine soars high above my reach and threatens to initiate unholy congress with the overhead wires that power our house and allow our home to communicate with the rest of the planet. She knows of my aesthetic dissatisfaction with the ugly dead arm of a high branch on our 40-year-old dogwood. She senses my fear that the lower branches of the tupelos out front are scaring the strollers in our neighborhood.

Thanks to her, I now have new armaments to aid my battle.

I now have a wicked, 12-inch tree handsaw with apocalyptic teeth that devours with utter disdain bark, pith, pulp, and small student vehicles parked illegally.

I now have an extension that will allow me to clip twigs and branches from another area code.

Great…I think.

Chloe, the pup of wonder, worries that, these new weapons in my hands might lead to the wrong limbs being severed.

Janie coos “You missed one there, cowboy.”

I’m a lucky guy.

Whackers for Christmas.

Ouch.

I Could Not Be Happier

Today I was driving through a beautiful neighborhood on a sunny, 70-degree day in Lexington. The trees were autumnally spectacular. I was on my way to a spacious outdoor courtyard to meet a half dozen geezer theatre friends for a socially distanced brunch. I have worked and played and laughed with this group for over 250 years combined. We used to meet with some regularity until covid drove us into our burrows. This was to be our first assemblage in eight months.

I could not be happier…I thought.

Then the phone rang.

It was the wife of one of the geezers, herself a friend of more decades than it would be polite to specify.

“Rodge! Tell my husband to turn on his phone!”

“Julieanne, is something wrong?”

“Just tell him to turn on his damn phone! Biden won! He won! They just called Pennsylvania!!”

I hung up and drove on. The phone dinged with a text. It was from my wife, Janie; an emoji of a champagne bottle launching its cork.

I arrived at the brunch, ridiculed my occasionally Luddite friend for walking around with a useless phone in his pocket, and announced the electoral headline in spontaneous duet with our hostess as she emerged from the house having just learned the same news. Champagne flowed and flowery toasts were deployed. Old friends were reunited. Old stories were told again. Our laughter rocked the world.

I could not be happier…………I thought.

But there was something missing.

At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Then I thought back to election night, 2016.

I went to bed that election night stunned and morose. The momentum and the arithmetic was undeniable: Donald Trump was gonna win.

Janie had already gone to bed. I didn’t wake her with the news.

The next morning, as she learned the result, I watched the subsequent waves of incredulity, indignation, sadness, fear, and finally anger.

“What do we do to fix this?”

We were together for the bad news.

We should be together for the good news.

I excused myself from my jolly brunch brotherhood and headed home.

Janie met me at the door. There was a hug and a kiss. Champagne flowed and the toast, though not flowery, was precise and jubilant; “Now we can begin.”

I could not be happier…………………………this time I know.

A Ghost of Canine Past

Dogs.

We don’t deserve ‘em.

And we can’t forget ‘em.

Before Chloe, the Queen of Facial Debris, bounded, crashed, shook like Southern California, and howled like a banshee into our lives, there was a predecessor. She left us before this blog commenced. That’s not fair. She should be part of this foolishness.

Please indulge me.

Lilly was a pup of many, mostly odd, parts. From the racing stripe on her nose to the tightly curled tail and in between with the bow legs, bat ears, and a galaxy of speckles – the ingredients invited the constant query; “What kind of dog is she?” Our answer would vary. “She’s a pan-mixian” or “She’s a custom blend”. You get the idea. The answer was simpler when it was just Janie and me and Lilly in the room and the question was posed; “She’s a good dog.” It was a true answer and one that accurately summed the total of Lil’s aspirations.

She was a dog of several titles. She was the Princess-of-Providence-Road, the Bane-of-Lawn-Care-Trailers, the “Great Speckled Pup” (she would roll her eyes in embarrassment) and of course to every child just learning to speak she was the Cute-Little-Doggie (she really hated that one). She even had a stage name, Miss Lillian Smackerbutt, though the actual stage career never materialized – the world’s loss there.

I was lucky enough to be with her at magical times.

One afternoon I unleashed her on the old rugby field at UK and stood amazed as she turned that grassy meadow into the Bonneville Salt Flats. I swear I heard a sonic boom. She was so very fast and so very pleased with herself.

I was with her on many of her epic vole hunts, including the day she made one fly over six feet up in the air. It gave the poor vole a moment of stratospheric (for a vole) glory before it plunged to its doom.

Lil and I had a never-resolved 15-year debate on the subject of what constituted “food” and what was “non-food”. She was radically more liberal and inclusive than I on the subject.

She had strong cinematic opinions (her avocation) and a complete and total devotion to Janie (her official occupation).

I could write a book.

But it’s simpler than that.

She was a good dog and a better friend.

Mission accomplished.

Pandemic Ponderings

Janie and I take Covid-19 seriously.

We are of the “most-vulnerable” contingent because of age. That’s worrisome.

My mom ditto, but she’s an obstinate cuss who won’t let just anybody into her house, especially someone named “Coronavirus.” (I can hear her now; “I don’t know anyone named that…what kind of name IS that? …mutter, mutter, mutter…”)

Janie and I light up green every night, order our groceries for pickup, wear our masks (made by Janie, of course), tip the food delivery folks, and pine to see our friends.

We also watch Governor Andy Beshear’s daily update…every day.

Every day.

We’re proud of our state for responding with vigor to the challenges of sheltering-at-home. We’re pleased the response seems to have reduced (so far) the damage other states and countries have suffered.

I’m not ashamed to admit I weep for our fatalities and I cheer for our recoveries.

I now practice sign language. That alone makes me a better person.

These sessions with Governor Andy are useful and inspirational. I applaud the local TV stations for carrying them in their entirety.

One night, I was arrested by three things Gov. Beshear said.

  • “The truth is always the best answer.” – I think I first learned this at about the age of three under direct interrogation from my parents. Practicing it has produced the best results ever since.
  • “We need to do better.” – There has never been a day in my life when this has not been true. Not one…but I still hope.
  • “This is our chance.” – Damn straight! Our chance to be exceptional. Our chance to show some justifiable pride. Our chance to value and sustain all of our neighbors; red, blue, white, black, young, old, left, right, east, or west. Our chance. Our neighbors. All of ‘em.

These are all part of my growing up in Kentucky.

Why would I not be moved by them now?

Why did I not expect to hear any of them from our then-current president?

We will get through this.

We will get through this…together.

Ourselves.