Jul 20

Tigers, fireworks and back on campus, oh my!

We went to the nearby feline rescue this weekend. It was our first time out of the house for anything more than groceries or takeout or exercise since March. The place made at least a passing effort at taking everyone’s temperatures and masks were required. Smaller groups would be preferable, but they were limiting it to 10 people per tour.

It’s hard for people to stay out of each other’s way when they’re gazing in wonder.

Or just, you know, in general.

Anyway, our tour was supposed to last for 45 minutes, but it’s slow out there so our guide let us linger so everyone could get their national geographic photographs. We stayed on the property for just about 90 minutes. They have 150 or so cats they take care of — it’s a rescue and you heard some of the bizarre and some of the sad stories — and a few dozen of them were on display for the gawkers.

And it was a warm day, being July. So there was a lot of shade for the cats, which was nice to see and no doubt appreciated by the animals.

They’re a mixture of oblivious to people …

And oddly curious about you. In fact, they’ve probably seen more people than I have in the last few weeks. And they get their space, too. So it’s a happy little setup, as these things go.

And almost all of the tigers were interested in me.

This guy seemed to know it, and he was telling me RUN!

As in, “No, please, go. I feel the need to chase something down … ”

Here’s a thing you learn about tigers when you’re just a few feet away from them. All the sounds a house cat makes, a giant cat makes too, and they scale up. Just the sound of one of these massive things giving himself a bath gives one a lot to think about.

And the cats really liked me.

Almost all of them. Maybe it’s because I’m a Tiger. Maybe it was something I was wearing, or my animal magnetism, or that I’d slathered myself in chicken juice before we got there.

And, look, I don’t want to question the craftsmanship of a professional here, but when a tiger is casually walking directly toward you, you have a moment to think about the durability of a chainlink fence. There’s just enough time to hope that guy had a good day at the fence factory. No hassles at home, no aching joints, no in-law distractions or musings about his weekend on the lake. Just good, solid, earnest, pride in his work.

You don’t have enough time, though, to consider the plant that makes the nails, whether the second shift was on their game when they made the ones holding the fence against the wood. And, goodness knows when that wood was installed and it may be rotten already. You don’t have time to think about those things, or the team that assembled all of this here in 19Who Knows When.

You become keenly aware of the idea, percolating in your head and not yet verbalized, that all of this would merely slow down a properly motivated machine like this.

I liked how she was sneaking up on me from behind the maple tree. Completely fooled me.

There were two of these on our part of the tour today. Got a glimpse of one, and while I try to avoid the fence aesthetic, it couldn’t be helped here, and I hope you’ll overlook it. How beautiful is this creature?

Anyway, a warm day also allows for the indulgence of a cool bath. All of the tigers have giant plastic barrels. Those big heavy duty things that are in no way a simulation to tender human flesh because the barrels are much more sturdy. They are playthings. All of the barrels are destroyed.

The tigers don’t destroy their baths though. They’ve got this whole thing figured out.

“Wanna come in for a dip? It’s hot out.”

“But it’s so nice in here … ”

Thanks, tiger, but no thanks.

Fourth of July was even more subdued than normal. No big civic events. We almost saw the little parade one of the nearby neighborhoods runs. We rode through the route on our bikes twice. Just missed it both times. We were the beginning, and the end of the parade, then.

We had cheeseburgers and corn off the grill, and cheesecake out of the fridge. Everything was delightful.

The neighbors, who have been working on their ballistics and trajectories for several days now, put on quite the impressive display. Had to be the better part of a mortgage payment. Anyway, this isn’t how you properly record fireworks, of course, but this is how I always remember them, fuzzy and dreamy. ‬

There were just things exploding every which direction. And neighbors elsewhere were launching things from decks. Here’s to prevailing winds and sensible precautions and the good old American technique of eyeballing flammable projectiles. But the big show was still going on. And it went on and on.

This was the fourth of five finales. They had a good time, and many of the neighbors approved. It was festive when there were few festive things taking place out of sensible precaution. How he managed to keep the really big explosions out of the woods that were just feet away is a mystery.

And, to his credit, they stopped promptly at 10:30. It’s a decent gesture and makes sense. He had to get up early the next morning to clean the debris.

(He did not.)

Back to work today. It’s my first time working in the building since mid-March, 116 days for me. Everything else has been work-from-home, which we are both fortunate enough to be able to do. I’ll be back off and on campus sporadically for a while, in the hopes of having a semester. And then, if things go according to plan, we’ll have an oddly structured semester. A lot of things have to go right for that, however, and while that is the plan and the hope, it’s easy to be skeptical about it.

But! Yet! We are still a considerable ways removed. It is impossible to say from this vantage point what our reality will be in August, September and October. Why would you want that sort of certainty in your daily routine, anyway?

So today, we moved furniture. Large rooms will stay the same size, but their capacities are considerably reduced. Our commons, which would seat 50 something is down to 17. Our largest classroom has a fire code of 72, or thereabouts. It has a covid code of 21. Our standard sized rooms will seat eight plus an instructor. It’s going to be a strange school year, to say the very, very least.

So after this morning’s bike ride I got cleaned up, donned a mask went to campus and got sweaty again flipping tables and stacking chairs. When this comes up I like to smile and say “This is why I went to college. And grad school!”

Also, today, Harvard went entirely online. And the U.S. government said “If your school goes entirely online and you’re an international student, you must go home.” It’s going to be a strange, sad school year. We’re going to be a hybrid institution. I’ll be doing a lot of my work from home, and I am incredibly fortunate in this respect. That’s been a lesson for a lot of us this year, hasn’t it? You can be both in a fortunate situation and still not in an ideal situation.

But tigers!

Jun 20

And here’s how we start another week

Here’s a shot from a weekend bike ride. This was just after a turnaround spot, just after I got passed and dropped for the rest of the ride. I was well and truly put away for the rest of the day. I saw her here, caught one more glimpse and then rode alone for 40 more minutes.

Some days she’s too fast, and some days I’m too slow. And I wasn’t even moving terribly slowly during this ride, which could only mean that she was moving quite fast indeed. Fortunately, I don’t mind riding alone.

She wasn’t on this road, which invites you to slow down and enjoy the narrow lane because it is a continual, slow incline for just under two miles. But it pays you off with a nice reverse S-turn, just after this photo, that I was in no way capable of enjoying.

So I spent the rest of the little climb thinking “The last time I was here, I could really race up this road.” So I guess I’ll need to try this again some day soon and try to give it a little more effort.

You know who gives the perfect amount of effort, every time? Phoebe. She’s got this whole thing figured out.

She also likes to take naps in blankets. She gets in them herself, usually completely hidden, but on this given evening she poked her head out to make a Phoebe wrap. Look at those little freckles on her cute nose.

Poseidon, in his natural water habitat.

You know how you can dissuade cats from doing things with a water bottle? If I shot Poseidon he just looks up at you. “What?” But he’s discriminating about it. He’ll wait until water is coming out of the sink at the proper rate before he sticks his head down there to have a sip. He also likes the shower.

And basically everywhere you don’t want him to be. This is a jump-on-the-kitchen-counter-and-over-to-the-fridge-and-in move. He can do faster than I can write it, much faster than you can read it.

He’ll turn around and find some plastic to chew before you can figure out how he got there. And, like all cats, he’s quite talented at increasing his mass by 40 percent and making each joint uniquely inflexible on demand.

Like he’s been in quarantine or something.

It should be an interesting week ahead. I have a fun podcast on tap tomorrow. And we have a three-day weekend ahead. Maybe, instead of sitting in the home-office I’ll spend Friday lingering around the library downstairs. Fortunately I have a few days to figure out what my holiday plans might be. There are no fireworks, but the signs say a nearby neighborhood parade is still in the works. For now.

Jun 20

Mondays always have the worst titles, don’t they?

It’s Monday again, and welcome back to the part of the week in which we work on things. We’re still doing that. The emails are flying, the Slack channels are a-flurry. The video chats continue apace.

I had a two-hour student chat on Friday, and what’s more, the students are the one that asked for the meeting.

Hanging out with students is always fun, even when they are work meetings. Some students, when everyone was still living under a more restrictive lockdown, invited me to a few social video chats. That was kind of them. They are thoughtful and fun. And it was great to hear from them, see how they were doing, and to make them laugh. I became the butt of a lot jokes in those chats. It was worth it. Anyway, the video chats on Friday were about work. And going forward there will be more of those as we try to implement the things that will be our normal routines for the fall.

Normal. Routine. Aren’t those some concepts?

I suppose some people have routines that won’t change over much. And all of us will get used to the new rigors and routines soon enough. I’ve had the good fortune to be in my share of meetings to discuss what the new routines will be. The long and the short of it is that it will be odd getting there, weird getting used to it, and then a slow inconvenience we’ll work through.

But that’s what you do. You work through it. We’ll all have it to work through, all of us, in some way or another. We may as well do it with a smile. A smile that no one can see beneath a mask. Better learn to smile with your eyes.

Did you know you can smile with your whole body? When I used to do costume character work, in high school and college, you couldn’t help but to smile for pictures under that big helmet. Pretty quickly you noticed. After some time you manage to stop smiling under the headgear. But then you realized, or if you’re like me, you had to be told, to smile anyway. It comes through in the photos, in your posture, in your attitude. So you may as well smile.

By the way, when I smile, my eyes get small. So if you see me squinting, just know.

Here’s a routine, the cats!

Phoebe has a ‘You shall not pass!’ mentality in the hallway. It’s an effect roadblock. She slows you down by her cuteness, and you’re thrown off your game by a sudden urge to rub that belly.

It’s an even more effective obstacle when she does it on the stair landing. You’ve got to turn to the right, maybe you want to avoid a step, but there’s also this furry little thing.

I’m not clear at all how that’s comfortable, but that’s a cat’s posture for you.

Poseidon got interested in the camera lens.

And he’s always interested in this stovetop cover. I built this to keep the cats off the stove. Now they just sit on this thing. And, apparently, they’ll sit on it anywhere.

I’d moved the cover to another part of the countertop to clean the actual stovetop, and he’ll apparently sit on it wherever. So that was, one supposes, a good Saturday project.

Speaking of Saturday, we went for a walk through the woods, and we ran across a spotted fawn that was completely unconcerned by us. Mom was off looking for a snack and then she came back, saw us and we all stayed a respectful distance from one another.

Saturday was our anniversary, too. We spent most of the day reading through old tweets that our friends wrote that established the precise timeline of events. We looked at the menu for our wedding dinner, the eye is still drawn directly to the typo all these years later, and looked through our wedding photos and the honeymoon book. We made ourselves a crab dinner to celebrate, since we aren’t going out to eat. We listened to Sam Cooke and Al Green while we cracked shells. For a day, it was delightful.

This was right after the ceremony. We got married outdoors, under a canopy, in one of the hottest places in the country on the hottest day of the year. The heat index was 127. I was wearing summer wool. There is no such thing as summer wool. My bride looked beautiful:

(Still does!) After the ceremony was complete and we walked back up the aisle we walked inside a building. The first things she said as we began our marriage were “Oh thank goodness, air conditioning!”

For an anniversary, it should have been a more elaborate day. But, for an anniversary, revisiting the day was also perfect.

Jun 20

Here’s a question

Well, hello there, and welcome to the new week. Do we still mark those as units of time? Should we? I say we just stick with days and years, and every other Mondays. Vote for me, 2020, because I’m going to cut the number of Mondays in half. And if you vote for me twice I’ll have the mandate necessary to double your Fridays.

You’ve seen flimsier campaign platforms.

Anyway, so we’re on a Monday, and this is when we check in with the kitties. They’re doing great. Phoebe has become a big fan of climbing into this blanket for her evening naps.

Poseidon … well, he’s had a lot to say recently.

He’s always chattering on about something or other.

We went for a bike ride today, a simple little 19-miler to start the week. It was over familiar roads, and on one road I’ve only been on once before, last fall. There was a little spot on that road last autumn that was all but perfect. The leaf turn was just right. The sun was at a good angle. The leaves on the ground were brushed away in a pleasant display.

I was shooting video that day, a fine choice for the perfect peak day of fall riding. I tried that road that day simply as a curiosity. For three years it had been a fork to the right, always seen, never imagined. But the road sign there makes no sense for the area, so it became important to try the road. And that’s how it ought to work. New roads should be discovered by experience, not by maps.

A screen capture of the video became a photo for the top banner of the blog. Perhaps you’ve seen it on the site before. It looks like this:

Today it looked a lot like that, too, but much, much greener. A woman at the house closest to that spot was working in her yard, and a little boy was playing in the garden. It all seemed almost as perfect, so that road is two-for-two.

I don’t have video of it, because the little hill was hurting me today, which is also perfect. I’m sure I’ll be back on that road, though, and I’ll get another shot to show it’s greener state. The only question is, do you take the special right and make it routine? Or do you leave it rightly special?

Something to think about over the next few rides, for sure.

Jun 20

Go faster on Mondays

Phoebe is guarding my office door for me. She’s my new hire in the Keep Poseidon Out, 2020 campaign.

Poseidon, meanwhile, is trying to gain entrance by being sneaky.

It’s a real cat and homo sapiens sort of game.

We had a bike ride this evening, one of our regular routes, as it was a light and easy sort of day. Leave the neighborhood, breeze through another one, take three stop signs and then some long open stretches featuring a few turns and one turnaround and then one respectable hill. After that you hang a right and work through a stop sign and then over two hills, a few more turns and then back to the house. And, at the end of it, it came down to 48 seconds. If I’d worked a bit harder and found a way to drop 48 seconds off the total time my average speed would have gone up a tick.

You can’t do anything about that after you’re back inside and looking at the data. It’s hardly worth kicking yourself over, but after you’ve caught your breath and had some electrolytes and you’re not sitting in the saddle you find yourself thinking “Forty-eight seconds. I could surely have mustered that from somewhere.”

Getting to that next, higher number would mean nothing. I was two-tenths off of it today. Big deal! Two-tenths faster and I’m still traveling at average speed, over largely favorable terrain that I ride constantly. But it would have felt satisfying.

Here’s the thing of this ride. Somewhere along the way I lost The Yankee’s wheel. It was one of those days when she was stronger than me and I love those days because I have to work like a maniac to try to get back on and sometimes I do. Sometimes I have to use all the little tricks I know to do it, diving through corners and doing ridiculous super-tucks and going uphill in all the wrong gears and so on. But, sometimes, I can get back on terms with her pace. I had to do that in this ride. I’m not exactly sure how I came uncoupled, but you look down and you look up and it’s happened and that’s the way some rides go.

You smile at that because if, like today, like there’s an effort in you then you have to try. I had that today so I tried that today and so I watched her for several miles moving at her own fine pace a quarter-mile, a half-mile up the road, while I was yo-yoing and sucking air and then surging and ebbing until, finally, I realized that the next little bit of topography favored my ride. And I did catch her, right at the end. I was riding hard, but I think I could have ridden just a little bit more.

Forty-eight seconds. Really, that’s time I should have ticked off at the front of the ride, when you’re still behaving casually. But you don’t think of that over electrolytes, either, just that you could.

You could. That’s something special about a bicycle. There’s always the feeling of you could.

Trick is moving that from inside the house to on the road. And doing it from the start.