The Weight Deadens on Your Shoulders

Image: The Pooch, 12/26/2006-09/04/2017

[Image: The Pooch (12/26/2006-09/04/2017). Photo taken 8/21/2017. She was an unwilling photographic subject: if you held up a smartphone or camera in her direction — which you always wanted to do, you couldn’t help it — she’d turn her head aside, as here, while keeping a gimlet eye trained on you. She was a cute dog, often involved in cute activities, but the only way to document them was to shoot a bazillion shots and just pray that one would be suitable.]

No whiskey river Friday this week; I just cannot work up the enthusiasm.

The Pooch (that is to say, Sophie) died this past Monday morning, towards the tail end of a long weekend for all three of us. She was all right, and then she wasn’t.

Okay, true: she wasn’t “all right” healthwise — but then again, she never had been. Small dogs often have breathing problems of one sort or another. In The Pooch’s case, she had an issue called “collapsing trachea”: the windpipe over time slackens, just at a point where it bends. Eventually, it slackens enough to close up completely, with the expected results. One of the chief early symptoms of a collapsing trachea is occasional coughing, often in the form of so-called “reverse coughing”: it sounds sorta like a cough, sorta like a sneeze, and often has hints of a goose’s honk. So we knew, early on, that eventually the problem would take her.

(It’s not “treatable,” by the way. Oh, you can administer cover-ups like cough suppressants. Surgically, a couple of things can be done, to strengthen the trachea artificially. They all come with potential side-effects and, in some cases, the side-effects can be much, much worse than the condition itself. Even so, surgical options were out of the question for The Pooch: she was so small, and the risks bloomed proportionately.)

But knowing that something awful will happen seldom seems to fully prepare you for its, well, happening. The Missus and I have spent the week in a fog of crying jags triggered by nothing in particular except the weight of a new, awful, sudden vacancy. (I think today was the first time I’ve ever broken down while taking a shower, surrounded by nothing at all to remind me of her except, yes, that very vacancy.) We’ve lost other pets. And yes, we’ll come out of this grief eventually — but boy, this one has hit us hard.

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Name Time

'La Otra Navidad (The Other Christmas),' by Oiluj Samall Zeid on Flickr

[Image: “La Otra Navidad (The Other Christmas),” by Oiluj Samall Zeid; found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license. The site is a mausoleum in León, Spain, commemorating Republicans killed in the Spanish Civil War. Each nameplate represents one victim.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

[Interviewer Terry] Gross: I’d like you to read another poem from your book “Book of Longing.” And this is called “Titles.” Would you tell us when you wrote this?

[Leonard] Cohen: I’ve been writing it for a while. But I finished it last winter in Montreal. It’s a poem called “Titles.”

(Reading) I had the title Poet. And maybe I was one for a while. Also, the title Singer was kindly accorded me even though I could barely carry a tune. For many years, I was known as a Monk. I shaved my head and wore robes and got up very early. I hated everyone. But I acted generously. And no one found me out. My reputation as a Ladies’ Man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly through the 10,000 nights I spent alone. From a third-story window above the Parc du Portugal, I’ve watched the snow come down all day.

As usual, there’s no one here. There never is. Mercifully, the inner conversation is canceled by the white noise of winter. I am neither the mind, the intellect nor the silent voice within. That’s also canceled. And now, gentle reader, in what name — in whose name — do you come to idle with me in this luxurious and dwindling realms of aimless privacy?

(Leonard Cohen [source])


The secrets to living are these:
First, the past cannot be improved upon.
Acknowledge what was and move on.
Next, the future cannot be molded.
Then, why bother?
Last, nothing can ultimately be controlled;
Not the past, nor the future, nor the present.
Accept this moment as it is.
Honoring these three,
One lives without shackles.

(Wu Hsin [source])

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Real-Life Dialogue: Men Are from Illinois, Women Are from Manhattan Edition

[The setting: a Saturday morning at a suburban home in North Florida, USA. He has been experiencing back pain for a few days; she approaches him in the kitchen, question marks in her eyes.]

She: How’s your back?

He: Still not normal.

She: Where is it? What sort of pain is it?

[He has been expecting and preparing mentally for this line of questioning, but hasn’t quite nailed down his metaphors yet.]

He: I don’t know — it’s hard to describe…

She: Try anyway.

He: It feels, well, wobbly. It’s like when you take a… a dozen Lincoln Logs, say, and they’re stacked end-to-end in a, like, a tower, and you’re trying not to let ’em topple but—

[She holds up the palm of her hand, stopping him.]

She: Wait.

He: But—

She: Wait. You need to use terms I can understand.

He: Such as—?

She: Well, say my martini glass is too full, up to the brim, and you’re carrying it to me while holding the base of the stem…

[A momentary pause, giving him time to recognize his confusion as such.]

He: [rolling his eyes] Yes. It’s exactly like that.

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Monday Senior Moment

[Video: selected scenes of beauty from an episode of Seinfeld]

I had an appointment for a routine visit to my doctor’s office in the morning. As with many doctors, I guess, every time you interact with the people at this office you’re expected to present proof of ID (driver’s license generally) and proof of medical coverage (Blue Cross/Shield, HMO card, whatever).

I figured I’d minimize the fumbling with my wallet while actually at the check-in counter, by getting the two cards out of my wallet in advance, and putting them in my shirt pocket. So before going inside, I pulled my wallet out of my hip pocket…

Like many men’s wallets, mine includes not just a cash compartment but multiple “slots” into which you can insert credit cards, various forms of ID, wallet photos (if anyone still carries them), and so on. And like many men — think George Costanza, as in the video above — I probably consider these little cubbies waaaay too convenient for our own good. (I think I finally threw out my Borders Rewards card last year. I’d held onto it because, well, the company may have gone under but You Never Know!)

Anyway, I do try to keep the wallet organized, roughly speaking. Of course, I’ve got the driver’s license in the only slot with a transparent plastic window (I don’t know why; everyone always asks me to remove the license from the wallet before they’ll inspect it). I’ve got a slot reserved for local-business discount cards. There’s one for my debit card and a couple of others which I use regularly, and of course one for credit cards. My Costco and Walgreen’s membership/discount cards are in a slot by themselves. And so on. The point being: I got the driver’s license out immediately, and then flipped to the slot where I keep my Blue Cross card.

Panic, confusion: my Blue Cross card was not in my wallet!

Mentally, I ran back through the last few days, picturing where I’d been, all the occasions on which I transferred the wallet from one pair of jeans to another, all those on which I’d handled the wallet at all. I went back weeks, and then months — just looking at moments when I might’ve handled my Blue Cross card. Had the pharmacist asked for it for some reason. (Answer: no.) The dentist? (Ditto.)

How the hell could I have lost my Blue Cross card?!?

And then I move on to consider the possibility that it had actually been removed by someone else, for some reason. Would there be some kind of… some kind of value to a health-insurance card? Maybe I was caught in some kind of not-very-sophisticated caper to steal expensive medical treatments — or prescriptions?!? — from a hospital or drugstore. Could I be arrested or otherwise held accountable for someone else’s use of the card? I couldn’t could I? And…

How the hell could I have lost my Blue Cross card?!?

All of that occurred mentally, as I said, within the space of about four to five seconds. In the meantime, I was rifling all the other compartments in my wallet: like, Jeezus, am I still carrying that goddam thing around? and like, Why do I have two discount cards from that department store?

I finally began to accept the inevitable. I was going to have to call The Missus to ask if for some arcane reason, she’d needed (and hence borrowed) my Blue Cross card — not a conversation I was looking forward to, because, well, (a) “Why would I have taken your Blue Cross card?” and (b) How the hell could I have lost my Blue Cross card?!?

And suppose — as was all but 100% certain — the Missus did not have my Blue Cross card. What then? Should I try to get the doctor’s staff to accept my status on a provisional basis? Maybe I could just breezily assert, “I don’t have my card with me but there’s no change since last visit” — head off the uncomfortable question (How the hell could you have lost your Blue Cross card?!?) before it even got asked.

Oh, I’ll tell you — I ran the gamut of four-letter words, sitting there in the car with the contents of my wallet scattered like autumn leaves around the front seats. No, really: How in the HELL

I looked down at my wallet. Actually, it wasn’t empty — I hadn’t bothered to look in that one slot because I wouldn’t possibly have put the Blue Cross card there, behind my debit card…

And then a moment later — patting my shirt pocket in satisfaction — I gathered up all my other cards and notes to myself and other wallet detritus, reloaded the ammo dump so to speak, and proceeded inside… having discovered my Blue Cross card right where really always keep it: in the slot behind my debit card.

I’d been outside in the car for fifteen minutes. But boy, am I smart: I didn’t have to fumble with my wallet at all!

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Weekend Music Break/What’s in a Song: Various Artists, “The Skye Boat Song”

[Video: opening title sequence from the Outlander television series]

The Missus and I have been watching, with pleasure, the Starz TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels. The pleasure is personal, since we both know Ms. Gabaldon. (As we have since her first drafts of individual paragraphs in what would become the first of the book series, twenty-five years ago.)

And the pleasure is also aesthetic, I guess you could say — of particular interest, today, the music.

When I first heard the Outlander theme song, I was dazzled — the lyrics, melody, arrangement, and accompanying visuals during the open credits: all seemed of a piece. Mysterious, mystical, wistful… all those adjectives that I thought to apply as well to (say) the closing title theme in The Return of the King.

Here are the lyrics:

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye…

It fits the story, sorta-kinda, and features a disappearing lass, and lots of rich imagery. (Outlander‘s protagonist is a 1940s-era British nurse who falls through a sort of temporal discontinuity into the Scotland of the 1740s.) From the start, I — grammar nerd alert! — liked about the theme that the lyricist used the first-person singular pronoun for those end-rhymes… exactly as s/he should have.

But then during the season finale episode, one thing suddenly grated on me. They hadn’t used “I” consistently perfectly. Last line of the middle stanza: see it? a subjective me. ARGH. You lazy bastards, I thought. And you were doing so well

As one does, over the next day or two I looked to the Internets for support from others outraged by such minutiae.

…and, um, well… I was wrong. (Sorta-kinda.)

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Real-Life Dialogue: The Inscrutable Double-X Chromosome Edition

Real-Life Dialogue[The setting: a comfortable suburban home in North Florida, USA, on an August weekend in 2014. She is sitting in the living room, her laptop computer open; He is walking through the living room on some mission or another, in one direction or another.]

She: Oh, these people.

He: Hmm? What people?

[He stops to look over Her shoulder. On-screen is a publicity still from a current television mini-series, based on a hugely popular novel of romance and time travel. The photo depicts an early moment in the romantic relationship between a twentieth-century English woman, Claire, and an eighteenth-century Scotsman named Jamie. Claire is tending Jamie’s battle wounds. Jamie is sitting quietly, looking at Claire, and of course wearing a kilt.]

He: Nice picture of them.

She: Yes. I’m just saying, you should read some of the comments on it.

He: Such as?

She: Like this one. [She points.] “Those knees. *SWOON*” [She laughs.]

He: Er, uh… Wait. Women swoon over men’s knees? They even notice them?

She: You’d be surprised what women notice.

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Potpourri, June 18th (2014 edition)

JES, circa 19955 maybe?[Latest in the apparently annual June 18 tradition, of (as I said last year) commenting about whatever the heck I want to…]

Ongoing genre confusion: As a rule, readers of fiction tend to latch onto a favorite sort of fiction, to the exclusion of others. They may or may not read “literary” fiction, or that large, unclassifiable body of titles called “mainstream” — but they often return to mysteries, say, or romance, or fantasy, or science fiction, especially for “escape” purposes. They also do not in general read one or more of the other categories.

Which can be a problem, for certain writers anyhow:

Agents, publishers and retailers need to know how to optimize their pitches for a book. Readers who prefer a certain kind of SF, for instance, might be put off by a book cover featuring a man and woman dressed in gauzy lavender; a horror or Western fan, visiting Amazon or the bookstore or library for the umpteenth time, will tend to return to the same genre-based sections, over and over.

So you’ve got to know how to classify your fiction (which comes down to: you’ve got to know your audience, whether they’re book professionals or not).

For the past six or eight months, I’ve been enjoying writing something SF-ish — one long story and one (yet incomplete) novel, as of today. It’s real science fiction: adventures in space, technology, and time. But it also falls squarely into the mystery genre. Furthermore, and maybe worse, it falls into a particular mystery sub-genre. If you know the old Thin Man films, from the 1930s and ’40s, you’ll have the right idea: a charming, sophisticated, and (I hope) funny husband-and-wife team solve crimes which may involve blackmail, murder, and so on… but not crimes of the grisly action-packed thriller sort.

Oh, no: I didn’t even come close to inventing the mystery/SF blended genre, as even a fairly simple Google search will tell you. But modern readers — and the people charged with getting books to them — tend to have edgier tastes. “Nick and Nora Charles in space” does not seem a tagline likely to draw many readers.

…Sigh. It’s hard enough to write without worrying about all this. It’s one of the dilemmas which drive people to self-publishing: I’ll write whatever I want, they say, and I won’t waste time trying to win over professional go-betweens like editors and booksellers. Readers like good books, regardless of genre!

But I don’t really believe genre doesn’t matter, do I? Do I?

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Midweek Music Break: The Rockin’ Rebels, “Wild Weekend”

'Wild Weekend,' by The Rebels (no 'Rockin'')Back in 2007, I started a Valentine’s Day tradition for The Missus. (Like many/most such things, it didn’t become a tradition until the third time around.) It’s not a big deal — just something in the Things I Do category: I work up a mix CD for her.

All of these CDs share a common series title, which is something of an in-joke between us (and so not shared here). Each year’s CD, furthermore, has its own theme, usually based on the title of the first or last song on the disc; the songs are selected because the theme plays a major role in their title, source, context, lyrics… whatever. I usually start coming up with possible themes during the preceding fall. I forget most of these preliminary ideas, but pretty much have the final one selected by sometime in January. The master list of possibles — dozens of songs — gets put together by the first week of February. And from then on, it’s a matter of whittling things down so they fit onto one side of a disc — roughly 21 or 22 songs, of about an hour’s total length —  in a sequence which both makes sense and sounds right.

All of which may sound wonderfully romantic.

But in fact, by the time I’ve spent a few hours during that last marathon through the full list I start to get a little tired, tired and bored and punchy. I start to grab at and cling to songs because they’re “interesting” to me, or (worse) “funny” to me — but not necessarily to her. Alas, in a few cases these songs have made it into the final cut. But I do fight this impulse (the expression “Kill your darlings,” y’know, doesn’t refer only to editing your own writing). Some of the oddest songs end up on the last-minute cutting-room floor.

Today’s selection here at RAMH was one of the oddballs culled from this year’s mix.

It never became a Monster Hit; I think the highest it went on the charts was around #7 or #8. Written by a trio of high-school students in the late 1950s, it was first released in 1960 — on a label owned by Tom Shannon, the DJ who first set words to it as a theme song for his Buffalo (NY) radio program.

A couple of odd things in the above photo: First, most obviously, there’s no Rockin’ in the group’s name. They came up with that “enhancement” to avoid possible problems with another band called The Rebels, fronted by Duane Eddy. Second, the “Todaro-Shannon” credited as the song’s writers were, respectively, the guy who owned the studio where the band first did their recording, and — yes — the DJ.

I’d never known the song had even commercial lyrics until seeing The Rebels’ Wikipedia article, which lists one version (maybe the original jingle) like this:

Tommy Shannon Show
KB Radio
Great times, news and weather
This is the place where things get better
On the…… Tom Shannon Show
KB radio…

Nevertheless, by the time the song finally took off, the lyrics were gone. (The first time I heard it was on an album which also introduced me to “96 Teardrops,” by ? and the Mysterians. I covered that song in a post here, in 2009.)

[Below, click Play button to begin Wild Weekend. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:18 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“Wild Weekend” was recast as (no kidding) “Wild Weekend Cha-Cha,” which appeared on the flip side of later releases of the 45rpm record. You can hear that version over on YouTube. It was also given real lyrics in the 1980s by NRBQ — one of those long-lived bands (like the Dead, or Phish) with a devoted following, and possibly worthy of multiple blog posts in its own right. Their version was slightly retitled to “It’s a Wild Weekend,” and NRBQ uses no saxophones, but otherwise, yeah, it’s the same song:

[Below, click Play button to begin It’s a Wild Weekend. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:30 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


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Midweek Thought Break: Venetian Blinds, and How You Know How to Close Them

Venetian blinds w/wand controlWe’ve got Venetian blinds on most of the windows in our house. Depending on a given window’s age, you open and close its blinds using either a traditional drawstring-and-pulley arrangement, or one of those long rods (the preferred term, apparently, is wands) which hang down the (usually) left side. Twist the wand in one direction, the blinds open; in the other direction, they close.

I have noticed that The Missus and I have different preferences, conscious or otherwise, about closed blinds — preferences in the way they slant: down into the house, or down to the outside. Actually, my preferences differ from room to room, even window to window. The Missus, for her part, seems to always choose the “slanting down and in” option. If you survey the house’s windows by walking from room to room, you’ll see some closed blinds tilting up, and some tilting down. This means that in order to open them, the direction in which to twist the wand depends on who closed them. (You are following this, right?)

I’d noticed that preference a long time ago. As it happens, I’ve got conscious reasons for my preference — can’t speak for The Missus — but the preference isn’t a strong one. (Mostly, I don’t know if my reasons actually make sense or are just the product of an easily distracted imagination.)

Until the last week or so, though, I’d never wondered about the wands. But there I was in front of a window, my left hand on the wand, and I was turning it to open (or close) the blinds, and I suddenly, well, noticed I was doing it. And I said to myself: Huh. How’d I know to do that?

I’d never wondered about The Opening (or Closing) Twist: how do we know which way to turn the wand? Is this a special form of whatzit, muscle memory? (I don’t think so, because there’s a little cognitive switch which has to flip before the muscles take over.) It’s gotta be a learned behavior — can’t imagine our ancestors ever needing the particular skill, right? — and the consequences of getting it wrong aren’t great in any case. (Get it backwards? Oh. Just twist in the other direction.) What interested me at the moment was that I’d surely closed these things thousands of times… and never had to stop and consider — like, “Hmm, which way should I twist this thing for the desired effect?”

Look at the image above. I bet if I asked you to close those blinds so they slant down and in, you’d know which way to twist the wand, wouldn’t you? How did you know to do that?


Aside: We fairly recently got new “French doors” to the back deck. Their glass (like the glass on the regular windows) is double-paned. However, on the French doors, the panes are separated not by a tiny bit of insulating dead air, but by, oh, maybe a full centimeter or two. Sandwiched between these panes are built-in Venetian blinds, which open and close using a sliding switch at the top of the door: push it to the left to tilt the blinds in one direction, to the right otherwise. (You raise and lower the blinds with a sliding switch on the right side of the pane.) This sliding-switch thing still trips me up every now and then; I always have to stop to think which way to push it to open/close the blinds in the direction I want.

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Real-Life Dialogue: Mistimed Fantasias Edition

Real-Life Dialogue[The scene: a suburban home in North Florida, USA, during one of the wettest summers on record. The weather forecast for the next thirty-six hours calls for heavy rain, up to ten inches. Because the area right outside the front door tends to accumulate water even in normal rainfall, He has finally decided to tackle the problem head-on; He has left work early on this hot, humid Friday to come home and dig a small trench to draw the expected water away. For Her part, She has been off all day, thanks to Her employer’s “Flex Friday” summer policy. He gets home, changes into shabby clothes, heads outdoors. When He comes back inside at last, She is in the living room, reading, a colorful alcoholic beverage in generously proportioned stemware on the table beside Her.]

He: Think I’m going to take a shower.

She: [smiling] Good idea.

[He gathers fresh clothing and heads to the bathroom. While undressing for the shower, He notes the shirt which he has just removed is practically dripping with perspiration. As He showers, He thinks of how She looked just now, in loose houseclothes, drink alongside, smile on Her face, long legs exposed and propped up on the ottoman… He has what might be called An Idea. He finishes showering, dresses, and goes to the living room. In His hands He carries the shirt He’d worn while digging the trench. He brandishes it.]

He: My shirt.

She: Yes?

He: [gently waves shirt in air to share its perfume] Well?

She: What?

He: I thought women were turned on by male perspiration.

She: [with a not altogether inscrutable look, involving exaggerated use of eyebrows] Uh, well, no.

He: [visibly slumping] Oh.

[He trudges to laundry pile, and prepares to face the weekend in earnest.]

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