books


3
Oct 22

Back to work

Back to work today. Catching up on meetings and the things I couldn’t do while working from home last week. Some things are virtual, some things you just need to be there. Fortunately, everyone has been understanding and most gracious with my absence last week. Family comes first, and that’s a nice perk.

I’ve worked places where that wasn’t the case.

I’d say this has been a great chance to slow down, except that everything seems to have sped up. But on Friday The Yankee’s mom came to town to see about her daughter and help out. That was a big morale boost. And this weekend she worked through those early days of surgical recovery. She’s also a week-on from the big crash, and so, on balance, she’s starting to move better.

On Sunday afternoon we all even took a walk.

When I got to the office I saw that the Poplars Building, which we’ve been documenting in this space since August, is now all gone.

They took that second half in a week. But you should see all the rubble that’s out of our view there. Maybe we can take a look at that this week.

Also, the leaves have started turning. Something about them seems off this year. Subdued somehow. Maybe I just caught it in poor light at the wrong time of day, and early in the turn.

There will be a few more days of opportunity to poorly demonstrate the leaf turn. I’m sure I’ll try.

I started, oh, almost two weeks ago now, reading Andrew Ritchie‘s Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer. I’m about 20 percent of the way through it now, but the beginning sets the stage. Late-19th century, a young black man rides a bicycle as well as anyone at the peak of American interest in cycling, both as a pastime, but also the sport.

“The fastest humans on earth.” Crazy, but it’s worth reminding ourselves to think in those terms.

Taylor was from Indianapolis, he’d moved with a mentor/employer to Massachusetts, and he’d signed with the League of American Wheelmen, the sport’s governing body of the time. He was 17 or 18 here.

Within the next year he’d be a world champion, and a world record holder.

He was, in fact, the first African-American world champion, of any sport. He died nearly penniless. He’s been all but forgotten outside of his adopted Worcester, Massachusetts, and some vibrant-and-growing cycling groups. Major Taylor will have a renaissance, you can just put your ear to the wind and feel it coming, on your left. His is an intriguing story.


19
Sep 22

Rocket ship emoji

The hill of truth. It isn’t much of a hill, and what little there is is basically behind the photographer at this point, but for some reason getting over and around that curve tell you a lot about a ride.

Of course it was two-thirds of the way through my Saturday morning ride. All of its truths had been laid bare already. It was a slow start, as rides often are, and the burst off the first little roller wasn’t as sharp or as long as it usually is. The sprint I’ve been tinkering with, one long straight road that takes you from one neighbor to another, I didn’t even try. And then she ran off and left me.

I only saw her again after one of the turnaround points. And that is what happens when you have no legs on a 30-mile ride. You get dropped.

I can enjoy it. This was the biggest mileage week for me in the last few months. Not a lot, but plenty for the moment.

Maybe I can find more miles this week, or the week after.

Let’s do the weekly check-in with the kitties. They’re both doing great, thanks for asking. Phoebe spent a bit of time last night hanging out in the entertainment center for some reason.

Poseidon was more than happy to take a nap in the fuzzy blanket. When they cover their eyes like this I assume they are embarrassed about something going on around them. The only question is, by whom?

Probably his sister.

Finished the Thomas Cahill book, this evening. The barbarians invaded Rome. It all slipped away, slowly, then suddenly. Eventually literacy gained a foothold in Ireland. And then came Patrick, Columcille, and Colombanus.

It’s a light popular reading. So there’s not a lot of depth, but if you were looking for an entry-point into an important period of Irish history, this is a reasonable start. The book ends with this downer.

There are almost 8 billion of us now, last time I counted, so that at least gives us plenty of permutations and possibilities. And, if that somehow doesn’t work, there are always emojis.


14
Sep 22

A musical catchup

I am woefully overdue on an update to the re-listening project. I am working through all of my old CDs in the car, repeating a project I did a few years ago. I didn’t write about it then, but using it as a bit of content now. And you’re along for the ride. What you’ll read today aren’t reviews, but maybe a few highlights or memories.

And the re-listening project is strictly chronological, which is to say the order in which I bought all of these things. My discs crosses genres and periods in a haphazard way and there’s no large theme. It is, a whimsy as so much of music should be.

If you watched any MTV in the fall of 1995 or the spring of 1996, you saw Seven Mary Three. That is, most assuredly, how I discovered the guys from Florida. Their label debut, “American Standard” was rapidly surging toward platinum status and Jason Ross was screaming in everyone’s ear. And if that strikes a familiar cord, then you remember “Cumbersome” and “Waters Edge” and some of those last dying blooms of Gen X angst. (Or were these the first roars from the millenials? Hard to know.)

Anyway, this was the place where grunge and the pure rock of that era intersected. It was right-place, right-talent, right-A&R-staff, right time. And we’re going to hear more from 7M3 in due time. So as not to overburden you, dear friend, here are just three songs. All of these diverge from the over-the-top intensity of their singles, but also hinted at where they were going.

They evolved in interesting ways, releasing seven studio albums and one live record. I have at least four of them.

The math doesn’t make a lot of sense in this song. So I’ve decided it is hyperbole, which lets me just get back to enjoying the song. Which is good, because it’s a great little rock tune.

I’m pretty sure I bought this CD because of my roommate. He loved this song. I can still see us riding around in his pickup pumping this through the old worn speakers in the dashboard.

I don’t know if it is a false memory, but I can just seem him banging out the drums on his steering wheel, with that big perfect smile on his face. He was a good guy, and I always think about him a lot when I hear this record.

And to really shake things up, the next disc in my first CD book was “A Kind of Magic.” This was Queen’s 12th studio record, a quasi-soundtrack to the first Highlander movie. If you think there are a lot of things going on in that sentence, you are correct. Any number of them might be quirky on their own, but in this combination, they make for something totally weird.

It was an immediate and huge hit in the UK. Stayed on the charts there for more than a year, spawned four hit singles. This record peaked at 46 in the United States, but was a top 10 in Argentinia, Austria, Finland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and West Germany. And, yes, we’re going with quasi-soundtrack. No official soundtrack was produced for Highlander. Six out of nine songs on the album appeared in the film, although all of them in different forms.

If you remember that movie, though, (and how could you not!?!?!?) this song also became the love theme.

That was a hit single, and one of the better ones. This was not released as a single, but is integral to the movie. And also, shows off Queen’s serious musicianship, punctuated by weird movie interjections.

I am pretty sure I picked up this CD at one of the radio stations I worked at. And I’m pretty sure two songs are the reasons why. “Princes of the Universe” became the movie theme and later, a modified version was the theme of the TV spinoff. Also, Brian May is really bending some strings here.

And while this was a quasi-soundtrack for Highlander, I learned about this song from the Iron Eagle movie, which was released the year before. And, somehow, it got tacked on to both movies. This is an open-road, windows down song, and it still evokes that feeling all these many (many) years later.

It has big allusions to Martin Luther King, Jr., and I did not know until just now that it was a Roger Taylor song.

{{{Fried chicken!}}}

(That part always ruined it for me, though.)

And so we move from the UK to Arizona, for another band I discovered because of moderate rotation on MTV.

People that didn’t take the time to get into The Refreshments probably thought this was a novelty act, or a splash in the pan. But let me tell you, Roger Clyne has chops. And some soul. The Refreshments put out one more record together, got disgusted with the big labels, split up and did some other things. Clyne and P.H. Naffah have another Arizona-based band these days, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, and they have 13 albums out and a huge party-band following. But, for now, a little bit more about “Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy.”

I must have picked this up late in the spring of 1996. I stayed at college. Everyone I knew at the time went off to work or home or wherever they went. But to my freshman way of thinking, if you’re paying rent, you may as well be there. If you’re there you may as well be taking classes. So I took classes. (Made the dean’s list that summer.)

And I listened to this record A LOT.

I don’t know what made the narrative structure work so well on me, but it surely did. Straightforward themes, you could see yourself in some of these dusty roles. And you can belt out the choruses with abandon if no one is around all summer.

What’s great about this record, to me, is that I feel exactly the same today about each of these songs as I did 26 years ago. They all still sit just as they should in my ears.

Maybe it was because I really took the time with this record in one hot, slow summer, and they were writing about the hot, slow world in Arizona and Mexico and added just enough wanderlust.

Also, there’s weird doses of humor mixed in everywhere. And if I had to describe the first half of college in one phrase, I could do far worse than saying “It was weird doses of humor.”

Anyway, The Refreshments were great. Another one of those bands I never had the chance to see live, but one day The Peacemakers will be nearby, and I’ll be there. It will be a glass-raising party.

I had one more musical addition. Some label sent me a maxi single of a band they were pushing. It was a hit in southern California, I guess. But they never caught on elsewhere. And the tracks just weren’t good. I made the mistake of googling the band. They managed to put out two records. And at least one of the former members is still in music. His website told me he composes stuff for games and a few movies and slot machines these days. He looked happy. He referred to his band in a nice way. Took the wind out of my sails about being critical of his old work. (I mean, how would I feel? And you certainly could.) So we’ll end the musical exploration here for now.

I’m about to wrap up Cahill’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization. I will, that is, if I stop nodding off. (This is a function of going to bed too late, not being interested in what I’m reading. I need to start turning pages earlier in the evening once again, especially for good stuff. And this is a nice book. We’re getting close to it, and while these last sections have defied excerpting, this part is telling. After the fall of Rome, when surviving was the most important thing a person could do in Europe, not “reading” or “writing.”

I suppose the most impressive thing we’ve learned here is how quickly that could happen, over the span of time. Just a few generations of collapsing societies and economies and oncoming hordes and it was almost all gone. Makes you wonder a bit about what it will be the next time.

And, even worse, I must now start to wonder, even as I finish this book, what I’ll read next. (So many good options. Only so many I can read all at once.)


25
Aug 22

I didn’t know Derdriu and Noisiu either

I sat on the porch for too long this evening, enjoying the stillness of the air. That pushed the rest of the day a little further into the night. Get cleaned up, play with the cats, have a bite to eat, and so on until, finally, it was late and dark by the time I got around to watering the flowers.

I did that in the darkness, because we don’t have lights right over the flowers. Easy enough, though, especially in the dark. Give the spigot a half crank, make sure the sprayer is on mist and then move back and forth a lot. The sound lets you know if you’re on target. I was thinking about different types of leaves and the sound the water makes on them. I was thinking of how this wouldn’t happen to me:

Watering plants, with a gardening hose, being a terribly suspicious activity and all that.

Watering his neighbor’s plants.

The charges against the pastor were rightfully dropped. Seems fairly perverse that they were filed to begin with.

Let’s check in on the Poplars Building, the one too wild to tame, too tough to implode, too slow to be scrapped to death. The cleanup continues on the ground. No tearing down of what’s left of the building today. (Maybe they found the room Elvis stayed in?) Elvis stayed there.

And people know that. It is a remarkable thing for here. It is remarked upon. That’s something to hang your hat on, one supposes. Of course, there’s also a statue honoring the future birth of a fictional war criminal. (The war criminal joke is one of the best in Star Trek. It’s a reliable chuckle. That we have people who put a bust up for a character that’ll be born in 2336? That’s hysterical. There are layers to this, the tongue-in-cheek joke, the get-a-life joke and, finally, this-is-a-remarkable-thing?)

I read this in Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization this evening. It’s one part of a poem in the “Táin Bó Cúailnge,” an epic of Irish mythology. Noisiu was killed by a jealous king, and is lamented by Derdriu. “Though for you the times are sweet with pipers and with trumpeters …”

The whole of it is merely excerpted here by Cahill, and I’ve done it an even greater injustice, but if you pull it out and let it stand on it’s own, it’s just as heartrending as the rest of the lament.

A bit later, he gets to Patricius, the fifth-century missionary and bishop in Ireland, the “Apostle of Ireland,” St. Patrick. The first two paragraphs here, they are drive-by sociology, dangerous and liberating, and good enough for a book that I’ll read.

Fragments of a great papyrus.

The next time I need to name something portentous, that’s on the shortlist.


24
Aug 22

Same same

This was Wednesday, which felt like Thursday, because I thought Tuesday was Wednesday. When I finally came to grips with that and adjusted for chagrin, it made the entire day feel like … Tuesday. Which, just great.

But at least Thursday, tomorrow, will seem a surprise. Even if today, and yesterday, just seemed a repeat. A repeat of every other repeated day that repeats itself. I had one meeting that was more deja vu than meeting, another that was much the same. The same things were resolved as the time(s) before.

I’m even watching the same shows. It’s a weird loop out of time, a long running loop with no end possible. And it’s only a Wednesday. Of August.

There’s one brief moment where my bike points west in the morning, and the sun has cleared the trees and there’s nothing in the road and the pavement is clean and I can take a shadow selfie.

In the evening as I ride back to the house I see different shadows. I’ve been meaning to take a different sort of picture here for some time now, but this one seemed to work in a different kind of way. I like the lines. They, too, repeat.

In between, at the office, the view of the destruction of the Poplars Building shows two good days of scraping. Not sure where the now familiar big orange has been moved to. Maybe there was a more pressing job, or they just moved it out of sight.

But there are some smaller, and no less impressive, heavy machinery tools out there rearranging the debris. I’m hoping they get to that elevator shaft or service core, or whatever it is, soon. In my imagination it’ll crumble like potato chips, or take an intricate and futuristic solution. These are the only possibilities I can picture. It’s empty and air, or a re-discovery of something impossibly strong from the mid-20th century table of elements. The rest is more of the same.

Back to Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization. In the third section he’s finally got to Ireland. And after a very light summary of ancient Celtic texts (which read as hilarious, in parts) Cahill quotes Lord Kenneth Clark’s documentary, Civilisation.

So that’s a 1996 pop history book quoting a 1969 BBC2 series. Still resonates. Maybe they were onto something. Or, perhaps, we haven’t found a better understanding. How could we? We’re in the same paradigm.