Sep 23

Welcome the weekend

This is how parking works on the Rowan campus: You park. If you work there, you don’t have to pay for it. Which is a novel approach for some campuses, and more of them should look into it.

I would ride my bike to work more, but our house is a little too far away and no one wants to watch me sweat during a lecture. So I have to drive, which means I have to park, which means I have to get a parking permit. No problem.

This is how the parking permits work on the Rowan campus: You go online through a series of website links, with each click wondering why they didn’t send you to the third-party vendor site the first time. Eventually, you fill out some information asking about the color of your car and so on. You put in the mailing address and, eventually, the permit arrives. Mine arrived today, which will come in handy next week.

This was on the note inside the envelope.

Helpful stuff considering I had been looking for this in the mail and the return address sort of gave the game away about what might be inside the envelope.

The parking permit is a sticker. I prefer the hang tag style, as I am old school like that, but whatever puts me in a good spot with a relatively easy walk on campus, ya know? The only problem is they want you to put the sticker on a particular spot on your car. You can tell that from the instructions, the instructions found on that insert. But the instructions might leave you with the impression of having been edited by someone moonlighting in the assembly manual department of IKEA. They say put the sticker here, unless that spot is unavailable, in which case, put the sticker here. The way I’ve read the sentence, several times, it sounds like the two places are the same place. This is only a problem for people like the security guard hut in front of my parking lot and any people tasked with doing parking enforcement who are looking for these stickers, affixed to cars in one of two places, which are the same place.

This is only the second most first world problem of my beautiful Friday.

We had a bike ride today, and the weather was grand. Sunny, not windy. Mild enough so that you didn’t get a lot of sweat in your eyes. I’ve been getting dropped a lot lately, and I’d resigned myself to more of that. But it wasn’t too bad. My lovely bride stopped about a third of the way through the route to stretch her back out and I pressed on, knowing she’s particularly strong on the next segment and she’d catch me soon.

That road is 2.5 miles and she didn’t catch me, but I saw her over my shoulder as I turned left.

I divided the next 10 miles or so up into short segments in my head. “If I can make it to this overpass in front of her, then I’ll be able to stay out front until that next intersection.” So for 10 miles I rode as fast and as hard as I could, knowing she’d catch me just before the end, because she’s done that a few times.

And I made it over that overpass. I got to that next intersection. I put in a lot of effort over two sticky little hills and through another left turn. Here, I knew, was where she’d find me. And probably pass me like there was nothing to it. Only she didn’t. And then there’s one more left, and on that last mile she didn’t catch me.

Checked my phone, which I suppose your supposed to do, but, there’s a lot of information coming your way through your phone. Take this, for instance —

So I put the bike inside, changed my shoes, had the brilliant idea to grab a kitty carrier and drove back out to the scene of the cat.

We brought her home. She was young, hungry, angry, and desperate for pets. We didn’t take her inside, no need to mingle with our furballs. Called around for animal control, no answer. Called some vets, one of which told us to not call that animal control, but do call this one.

Eventually, we found a place where we could take this kitten to get the care and attention she needs. And, soon enough, some kid or some adult is going to all in love with that little face.

Our friend Sally Ann flew in for part of the weekend. The Yankee picked her up at the airport while I took a trip to the inconvenience center. I rearranged some things in the garage, picked some tomatoes and soon enough there we all were, reunited once again. We went to a nearby winery for dinner. The atmosphere is as causal as possible — there was a DJ tonight, and it was nothing but coffee house hipster vibe covers.

They make really good pizza, it turns out, and so we went for pizza. Except they only make pizza on Saturdays and Sundays. On Thursdays and Fridays they do shortbread.

Not as good as their pizza, but, still, a great way to welcome the weekend.

Aug 23

Is August too soon for ghost stories?

One of my former students, I learned yesterday, is beginning her new job as a reporter in Savannah. Great city, of course. The Yankee and I were married there. We visit often. And I’m excited for my young journalist friend. It should be a great market for her to start polishing her skills.

The day before yesterday I learned another former student has just begun a job reporting at NBC in Chicago. Her third stop in the business is number three in the Nielsen rankings. Only New York and Los Angeles are bigger markets, of course. In the media, the dues paying a young employee does sometimes means starting in smaller newsrooms, or in smaller markets, or both. Over time the successful worker bee moves up the ladder. Courtney, who is now in Chicago, started in market 138, moved to 35 and is now in market number three. To make it that high, that early in her career is a testament to my innate ability to her incredible talent and superior networking skills. Success stories are successful for a reason, and I’m always so proud to see my friends continue their success.

I keep a map of where my former students are. They’ve spread out across the country, of course. But I know, from my map, that four of them are working in Chicago. A few are working abroad. The problem is that I’ve been doing this long enough that inevitability some people fall off my radar. I only catch so much on LinkedIn. (I updated four of those map locations last night, for example.) So please keep me updated with your success stories, my friends.

Someone I met 15 years ago in my first year on campus went out into the world, and then law school, and is now teaching classes at a law school. That’s the one that aged me.

Today’s errands put a few new lines on my face too, I’m sure of it. I took the garbage to the garbage taking place, because, again, no one picks up garbage in this neighborhood. Despite two companies which pick up garbage in the neighborhood. I have witnessed it and taken photographic proof. Monday, a truck stopped at the house across the street. A gentleman stepped off and grabbed our neighbors’ discarded materials and drove off to … wherever garbage trucks go when they’re through on your street.

We had a little chat with our neighbor yesterday. A wonderfully pleasant and cheerful man. The sort that knows everyone, and talks about them like they’re all old friends, and you are too. I should have asked him about the garbage truck. Probably he owned the company, or the person that does owes him some not insubstantial favor.

Anyway, in and out at the convenience center, as it is locally called. And, except for the location, it is convenient. Of course, if that isn’t too convenient, or at least upwind, that’s OK, too.

From there I went to the Tractor Supply to inquire about peach baskets. They have no tractors, a thin selection of supplies, and no peach baskets. The woman I spoke with there suggested I go to the Coal and Ice, which is a local hardware store that has kept it’s name, if not it’s original products. The Coal and Ice does not carry peach baskets. (I wonder if I can make a gag of renaming that store everything they don’t have. This would be unfair, it’s a small store. And it would become a long gag pretty quickly. For example, so far it would be the Coal and Ice, and Digital Deadbolt, Sliding Glass Door Lock and Peach Basket. They do carry, however, weather stripping for basement doors. I have to be fair about this inventory gag I won’t pursue.)

A nice lady at the Coal and Ice suggested a farm market. Produce stands on the side of the road. That was, actually, my next option. They’re ubiquitous, and that’s lovely. But most of them are all stocked and sold on an honor system, which is charming. I needed to talk with someone, but no dice.

So I set out for a distant grocery store to buy Milo’s. They did not have Milo’s. So I visited a sister store to try my luck again. I think maybe the delivery guy has been under the weather or something, because I went oh-for-two. I need that driver to get back on the road, quickly.

My next stop was a Lowe’s, but on the way there I ran across a place called Bloomer’s Garden Center. A big, sprawling, someone-has-to-water-all-of-these-plants-daily place. A place with a water garden wing, and another bird sanctuary wing. Everything smelled of rich nitrogen soil. These people are in the business of selling things to people who want to grow things. The woman there had no idea about peach baskets. I think they must appear from the very air.

So I went to Lowe’s. I looked there for peach baskets. No luck, of course, because that’s a pretty small, and obviously obscure, item for a box store. I did get two garbage cans, because see above, and a spool of weed eater string. You could purchase this in spools of one or three. I had the three-spool pack in my hand, considered my traditional weed eater habits and opted for the smaller, less expensive version. Rolled my two garbage cans to the self-checkout, and then out to the car.

Next to the Lowe’s there was a Dollar Tree. I walked in there. No peach baskets. But I did find small plastic baskets that are about the proper size, have a big breathable basket type pattern and a convenient handle. I got six of them. Paid eight bucks, which is probably close to how much gas I’ve spent on that search today.

Picked up some Chick-fil-A for a very late lunch and then drove it the 20-some minutes back to the house. Whereupon I learned that one of the two garbage cans I picked up … doesn’t have a lid.

So I’ll go back there tomorrow.

We went on a bike ride early this evening and it was obvious almost right away that I had no legs. My lovely bride waited on me twice, but finally I waved her on. No need for her to slow down if I can’t speed up. This is a training ride for her, anyway.

I just turned mine into a scenic experience. Here’s today’s barn by bike.

The last four miles on this route are uphill, which is to say, have a gentle, gradual slow ascent. There’s nothing bigger than a roller, but you gain the same 70 feet a few times over and over. Also, I was developing a soft rear wheel. I titled the ride “Slow leak, Slower legs.”

Tomorrow’s ride will be a bit better. But I have to allow for a few minutes to swap out that tube. Some first world problems feel insulting even to the concept of the first world problems meme.

For dinner, we took some of these tomatoes from the backyard …

And some of these peaches from the front yard …

And mixed them with some things we purchased at a nearby grocery store to make a tasty little peach salsa.

It complimented everything nicely, but the cilantro and the onion muted the peaches just a bit. Anyway, we’ll have plenty more opportunities to try this concept. We might also soon be eating peaches as an entree. I mean, aside from breakfast and midday snacks.

And I have those baskets now, so we’re now important produce power players, locally speaking.

I have started tracking down the local historical markers. New county, new goals and all of that. I found a site that lists 115 markers in this county, so there’s a ton of easy content!

This is the second installment. You can find them all under this brand new blog category, We Learn Wednesdays. What will we learn about today?

This is a place called Seven Stars. Built in 1762 by a man named Peter Lauterbach, it is architecturally significant, and there are important bits of social and military history inside those brick walls as well. The side features Flemish patterned brickwork, which was once a common thing here, and will come up again in a later post. In this case, the pattern carries the initials “P-L-E” for Peter and Elizabeth Lauterbach.

Their son John Louderback changed his name and lived in the tavern during the Revolutionary War. The British came through and raided the tavern, looking for him. He had a price on his head because he was thought to be giving food to the Americans. Louderback and his family hid in the woods. And, a few years later, he marched with a unit out of Pennsylvania. Earlier he’d served under Casimir Pulaski.

Peter, the father, died in 1780. John lived to see the country independent, and died in 1802. His mother lived until at least 1806, which is where historians find her name on a church roll. She also voted in 1800, presumably because of the property she held, inherited from her husband or otherwise. During that period, depending on where you were, it is estimated that between seven and 25 percent of the tallied votes were cast by women. (A state law that was billed as progressive at the time disenfranchised women and Blacks in 1807.)

Seven Stars has a lot of ghost stories attached to it, as well. In the early 20th century, the residents claimed seeing figures on horseback riding up to the tavern window, that small one to the left of the door, which was where people got their orders. Someone is said to have seen a ghostly figure checking on a baby. Supposedly Peter roams the ground looking for valuables he buried during the Revolution. Another spirit is said to be a spy for the British who found his end at the end of a rope in the attic. A Halloween-type site says loud footsteps and scuffle sounds can sometimes be heard in the attic. A pirate is thought to be a frequent haunter, as well. Be as skeptical as you like, but someone also needs to go camp out and see if the ghostly ghosts and their ghostly horses trot up to the tavern window.

It is now a private residence.

In the center of town you’ll find this wonderful bit of signage. There’s a lot going on there, because, for a small town, a lot has gone on there.

I’m sure we’ll pick up on some of those themes again in future installments. For now, here’s the door to that bank, which is still standing, sturdy and beautiful as ever.

Some day, I’ll go back and photograph the whole of the building. When I was there for this, it was small-town rush hour, and people have to get where people want to go.

(Update: A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to improve on the shot. Here’s the First National Bank.)

Which is what you should do, right now. Go to the next place. But come back here tomorrow. There’s going to be a lot more fun to discuss here tomorrow.

May 23

Sitting around the table

We drove all afternoon and into the evening on Friday. We got to my mom’s just in time for dinner, barbecue that we’d picked up in Nashville. The three of us sat at the kitchen table and spooned out brisket and sides and had a wonderful and tasty time of it.

Saturday felt like a good day to sleep in, but my shoulders didn’t feel like sleeping in. I’d lay on one side for a while, get a bit achy, roll over to the other side, get a bit achy, and repeat. But with all of that extra time, from the not sleeping in, I pestered my mom to give me things to do to help her around the house. She doesn’t like to give me things to do, because I’ve come to visit her and not to work, but then she likes the help. Also, having had a full lifetime of learning how, I am good at good-naturedly pestering my mother.

So I vacuumed the pool. Then I shimmied up a tall ladder to change a light bulb. After that we upgraded her security system.

She had some homemade chicken salad, which I requested, and bought our dinner. The way I see it, I was working for my food. Also it kept her from having to do a few things and cemented my status as The Best Child.

Sunday morning we went to church with my grandfather. The sign on the outside says the church dates back to 1939, which is a fairly decent amount of time for that hill and holler. Some of my grandfather’s people have lived up there since the state was a territory, so the church is half as old as the roots. I’ve written about this before. My great-grandfather gave the land to the church. He and his wife attended faithfully.

He led the singing, he offered prayers, he oversaw the Lord’s Supper and he helped run the business side of things. When we were visited, he and I would walk back down the street to his home. We raced the rest of the family, who took the car back. This was a big event for a little boy. Sometimes we won. But, always, my great-grandfather was game for the race, even when we started going a bit slower. Their son-in-law, my great-uncle, is an elder there today. There are still relatives from three different sides of my family tree that attend there.

It’s also getting grayer and thinner. My lovely bride and I were probably the second youngest people there. But they are lovely and inviting people. Always have been. I’ve visited there my entire life. I am a decades-long visitor.

A few years ago they went to a multimedia format for sermons. The preacher can point to his right and show you verses and illustrations from a PowerPoint or a Presi. This is nothing new, but it still amuses me to see it in this particular place. Occasionally they’d put a song on the screen, something that wasn’t in the hymnal. It’s odd, to me, when that happens. The songbook is an important part of everything.

Yesterday, you couldn’t help but notice the three cameras in the back of the building. This tiny little country church is streaming to the web. Someone writes them, my grandfather said, from another country. This tiny little, graying, country church is going global.

The preacher, a man who’s preached for 50-plus years, surely, mentioned the URL at the end of his sermon.

They’re still working on embedding those videos, though.

Today we chatted with a friend in Germany, giving him all of the best Memorial Day wishes, but as a joke. He’s active duty and it aggravates him to no end when people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as they often do. I was going to let it go this year, but then we heard a DJ in Nashville on Friday make the error, so then I had to incorporate that into the joke.

He’s going to be retired in the next year or two, but I’m sure we’ll still be sending him fake cards on the wrong days. At least he knows they are fake and in a properly sarcastic spirit.

If he wasn’t overseas we’d have invited him over for lunch. We had burgers and ribs and my grandfather came over, so we played dominos. Here’s my partner, ready to score all of the points.

Over the last four or five years, maybe, my grandfather has been teaching us. That sounds like it takes a long time and that we’re lousy students, but it’s a couple of games a trip, so our progress is uneven. My grandfather and my mom are a team, The Yankee and I are a team. They usually win. There’s no end to his joy at trouncing the college kids. And that is what they often do. All this education, we struggle counting dots. Two years ago, as a gag gift I received my own set of dominos and, to his eternal delight, a little solar powered calculator. We still win about the same amount, despite having the opportunity to practice. And, despite that opportunity, I am still very slow, because I am counting and doing math and trying to remember the rules and see the larger strategies and so on.

We win one or two here or there. The goal is to get to 500 points. He’s doing this math, two or three levels of it, really, in his head. My mother is crunching the numbers in her head. I am pointing at dots and mouthing words, “26, 27, 28 … ” For a good long while this amused him. Now, I think, he just wishes I would get better at it and hurry up and put down my bone so he can score 35 points with a simple flick of his wrist. Probably he’s going to put a time limit on me. That might not be a bad idea, actually.

I am the butt of a lot of jokes while we are playing dominos, but I earn them, and I own them. Once, he sent me a video of him counting dots, fiddling with his dominos, dropping them on the table, counting more dots. It wasn’t trash talk, it was trash gesturing. Without saying a word, he deconstructed my entire game, such as it is. He was completely absorbed in the tiles in his hand, and he only looked up at the camera at the very end, to smile. How can you not love that? Plus, my being the punchline makes him laugh, which is one of the all time best things.

Occasionally things break our way in the game, and we’ll win a hand. Today, for the first time ever I think, we won two games in a row. Also, late in one hand I found myself understanding the dominos that were still in play. I may have to count the dots, but I am learning to count tiles.

I resolved to get my dominos and start practicing even more.

May 23

Can I interest you in some perfectly-priced accessories?

The day passed slowly, but quickly. Warm, but mild. Bright, but indoors. Quietly but … no, it was actually quiet. Quite quiet.

Yesterday we bumped into our neighbors and they invited us to spend the evening on their lovely patio, which we did tonight. We talked work and kids and vacations and accidents. They are delightful and humorous.

Somehow we got on the subject of wardrobes. He is a retail professor and knows a thing or two about a thing or two. And so we found ourselves chatting about french cuffs and cufflinks. She brought out some links of her grandfathers. And of course I had to say I’ve just been making my own.

He was interested in this, and then I tried to describe the process. Finally, I just went over and brought some out to show off, including this batch I made in June 2021.

He likes them. Loves them. Wants to make them and mass produce them. We’re talking unit price and creation time and source materials and I find all of this amusing. He also came up with a price point. It’s mildly funny hearing someone plan out a business from something you do with idle hands. The best part was that she went inside to fetch this or that, and when she came back out he was still going on about it. As she came back outside I said, “He’s still talking about those cufflinks.”

Because she knows her husband, without pause or reservation or even condemnation, she said “I know. And he will all night.”

And, basically, he did.

I fully expect he’ll have the business model all nailed down this time next week.

At least I hope so. And, like all of my wildest ideas, may it make a mint. Or at least a cut of the profits my neighbor makes.

OK people, when we wrap up this post we’ll be officially, and momentarily, caught up in the Re-Listening project. This is the one where I’m playing all the old CDs in my car, in the order in which I acquired the disc. It has been a big week, because I was once again well behind in this content-padding trip down memory lane. Yesterday’s installment was from Guster, and today’s feature is from … Guster!

This was September or October of 1999. “Lost and Gone Forever.” I know that because their third studio album came out that September, and we saw them in October. I had the clever idea to put the ticket with the liner notes in my CD book, and it is still there today. Brian Rosenworcel broke his kit in Nashville the night before. I know this because he wrote about it.

This song isn’t from that performance, being from 2016 and in Boston, but in 1999, at Five Points South Music Hall in Birmingham, this was the first song we heard.

For a decade, between 1994 and 2003, that was a terrific venue. I saw a lot of good shows there, including my first live Guster performance. Two college friends and I went. One of them is still a social media friend. I wonder if she remembers this show. It was a long time ago.

Again, different performance, but this was the second song in that show, and track 5 on “Lost and Gone Forever.”

This was the fourth tune from our concert, wonderful then as it is beautiful now.

I don’t recall the songs from the show, which took place on a Wednesday night, but I did discover a site that, somehow and for some reason, publishes setlists. They even estimate the length of the show, which has to be wrong, but they don’t list the other acts. I think The Push Stars opened for them.

Anyway, the record finished 1999 at 169 on the Billboard Top 200. They played eight of the 11 tracks that evening, including the single “Fa Fa,” which, for my money, is perhaps the weakest song in the band’s entire catalog. It peaked at 26 on the Top 40.

If I recall correctly, the guy that produced this record was on the early part of the tour, playing bass. If you read into the show notes link above — and you did, didn’t you? — you find out the guy hadn’t played a bass in years. Spare a thought for someone who is in a rhythm section with the Thunder God.

On this listen, as is so often the case on this fantastic record, “I Spy” really stands out.

Guster is a great band (and a great show each time I’ve seen them, catch ’em if you can), and “Lost and Gone Forever” is a a terrific record. Having two of their discs back-to-back is a wonderful treat. And, somehow, the Re-Listening project is just getting better and better.

May 23

Oh, the laughs we had today

I’ve been working on cleaning up the ol’ email. I use my inboxes as To Do lists, so the email count there never gets too high. Right now there are 20 emails in my inbox and that, to me, is too high.

The other side of the coin is that there are folders aplenty. And sometimes those need to be cleaned out, too. Anyway, today I was able to wipe out the last of the old communiques from a no-longer important folder. This was the graphic Google rewarded me with.

I’ve deleted the label name to protect the innocent, but seeing that … that was a good feeling.

And it was worth a giggle. But not the biggest giggle of the day. But you’d need several anecdotes worth of backstory and 71 words to be able to properly appreciate that one.

After all of that email fun, and other paperwork fun, I got out for a nice little bike ride this evening. It was an easy hour, just 17 miles and change before the dark clouds threatened.

More urgent was the absence of any legs. This, I told myself, was just one more ride to try to feel better in the hardest gears. It was the regular roads, but the third ride in the last six days, after a week or so being off the bike. Just — huff– getting — wheeze — my legs back.

It was an almost perfect ride, though. There are presently four criteria in this category of bike rides. First, it has to either feel super easy or incredibly hard. Second, no matter which of the first, I have to be able to exit the bike at the end with grace and ease. Third, my shoes stay in the clips for the entire ride, meaning I never have to put my foot on the ground. And, fourth, no close passes.

The first did not happen, because the sensations were mediocre throughout. I almost got the second one — but since the first criteria wasn’t satisfied, it doesn’t count, not really. The third one did happen. My feet stayed in the pedals the entire ride. And the fourth criteria was almost met, but for a truck just near the end of the route. Thanks, black pickup truck.

So, really, about one-and-a-half of the criteria were met.

We were trying to recruit, via text message, a colleague and friend to a particular cause this evening. It’s a poli sci, comm theory guy, but he might be professionally miscast. He’s an outdoors man, a keen student of nature. And now he is very much interested in, among other ecological things, the health of the insect world.

Like most serendipitously random conversations that can tolerate puns, I drove the initial joke of insect biodiversity in the media straight into the ground.

My lovely bride? She knows who she married.

We’re still trying to make up ground on the Re-Listening project. I’m listening to all of my old CDs in order, of course. That’s not the part where I’m behind. I’m behind in needlessly writing about it here for content filler — and embedded videos. So let’s get to it.

We’re in early 1999, contextually, listening to Duncan Sheik’s second record, the 1998 release, “Humming.” He’d gotten accidentally famous on his debut record, which “Barely Breathing” helped drive to gold record status, earned a Grammy nomination and stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a year. I vaguely recall an interview once where he talked about playing small clubs this week, and then giant theaters the next. I’ve always thought, on the basis of nothing more than that interview, I’ve always thought that this release was a deliberate choice to go the other way. Less obvious pop, more introspective art.

That’s the first track. The album title, I’m pretty sure comes out of these lyrics after the bridge. You’re also listening to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which makes several appearances throughout the record.

Atlantic Records released this one as a single.

Didn’t really register on the charts, but it got him a guest slot on Beverly Hills, 90210.

This was the second single, and part of why I think choices were made on this record. Also, why couldn’t they get John Cusack in for this video?

Probably I’ve mentioned this before, but two lifetimes ago when I was a reporter and on the air everyday, I decided to replace vocal exercises with a few musicians. Duncan Sheik was one of those. And, for a time, this record was one of those things I played in my car a lot at 3:30 a.m. on my way to work.

I just rubbed my face, hard, at that memory. Evening typing “3:30 a.m.” made me tired. The point, though, memories of being ultra-sleep deprived aside, the vocal work Duncan Sheik does always impresses me. The man’s still got it, too. I ran across this cover a year or two ago.

These days, he’s not working as a touring musician, but he’s produced a lot of others’ work. There’s a lot of theater credits under his name — he won a Tony in 2007 — and you can find his music is all over movies and TV, as well. He won a Grammy the very next year.

He’ll appear in the Re-Listening project once or twice more, too. And he’s got about five more albums I don’t own, besides. And so I’ll add those to the list, too.

Up next on the list, musically speaking, another staple of the 1990s alt rock scene. But, first, the weekend!