Aug 19

What day is it again?

I’ve got … not a lot today. That’s a bad showing for a Tuesday, but it happens sometimes. Not every day is Tuesday! Though today is more like a Thursday. And tomorrow is going to be a day the Gregorian calendar doesn’t recognize in the summer time.

Plus, students are now back in town, with classes to begin next week, and that changes every dynamic, interaction and plan you can conceive. And that also effects every intersection, construction zone and every mode of locomotion the modern person can employ is also altered in ways big and subtle.

My source of fun today was going to be a haircut. And we love haircuts around here! There’s nothing better than going to the place and having to give your phone number, genome sequence and high school locker combination to get a little taken off the top. There’s nothing better than sitting in the most uncomfortable plastic chairs waiting for your turn in the big chair, wondering if you’ll get the person who’s feeling talkative or the person who’s already dreading doing the dishes tonight.

And if you don’t want to talk with me, that’s fine. It’s late in my day too. I’m happy to chat, but don’t feel you have to perform for me. We can just do what we’re both here for. Cut my hair straight. Except for this point-cut (I’m learning terms lately) around the wavy cowlick.

I don’t know if it would be in my top 10 trips, but if I did invent a time machine one of my excursions would be to go back to my early childhood to visit my mother when she put me on the wrong side of my head, thereby cursing this one part of my hair to a lifetime of weirdness. She meant well, of course, and probably just took the best advice available. So maybe I can get her to tell me where that idea came from. Then I could travel back a bit further, meet that person, and we could have a few words.

There must be some in-the-crib-and-playpen explanation for it. The scalp is fine. My follicles are perfect. But let it grow a bit and it becomes something just this side of a vexation. So these days I try to get in the barber’s chair before my hair gets so long that the feature becomes pronounced. And we talk about point cuts.

When, really, what I want to talk about is how my hair has so much more silver in it immediately after a haircut than just preceding the trimming of the ol’ mop. What are you doing to me?

That was going to be my fun, but then at the end of the work day I got a bit sweaty moving things from here to there. No man or woman who ever decided they wanted to work in other people’s hair on a daily basis thought “I hope, on some regular August day, someone who’s been in an overly warm building comes to me with sweat-matted hair.”

So I put that off until tomorrow and sat on the futon in my lovely bride’s home office and talked with her for a while. It was a better use of my early evening than anything else I could have thought up, I have no doubt. Then there was dinner off the grill, which is a very necessary thing, and then some cleaning, which is wholly unnecessary and never finished, and then laundry which was wholly necessary and, also, never finished.

I’m going to jump back into the 1930s before the night is finished. I’m still reading Frederick Lewis Allen’s Since Yesterday which has been on balance an entertaining read. I get why it is considered an informal history. I appreciate the distinction. And I don’t mind it at all. There are breezy points, but there is real data. There is real insight, but he finished the book before the last 1939 calendar was pulled down from every wall, which doesn’t allow for the true perspective of history. (But he had a gift for prescience, nevertheless.) There are a few more anecdotal setups than I’d prefer, but they do a nice job of setting his scenes.

I bought this for $1.99, as I do most things I download, and it was worth it. The Kindle app says I’m more than 70 percent through the book now, which means, despite a few more late night reading sessions, it is almost time to start wondering what I’ll read next. Maybe I should run a poll on social media. The wisdom of the aggregate to the rescue!

That’s a phrase no one has ever written on the Internet before. Sometimes you have the idea to Google phrases, just to see, and those series of letters and words have never been put together in that order. It can still happen.

Anyway, a few photos from the last few days, before I go way back in time or: I have them on my phone and I should do something with these …

This is a bowling alley we passed in Queens, and I love the signage. I’m not sure which I appreciate the most. It could be the general look, sure, but the notion of a 24-hour bowling alley is intriguing. (And affordable, it turns out.) Perhaps it is the slight kerning issues of the letters, but I only noticed that here and now. It could be this weird angle they expect us to swallow as we look at the pins:

What is the proper perspective a viewer must have in relation to the pins to see them lined up like that?

Also, they’ve got a blog. And it seems like the first post they wrote was Why a Bowling Center Is the Perfect Date for Valentine‚Äôs Day:

2. Gives Opportunities for Getting to Know One Another

For those in newer relationships, bowling offers the perfect opportunity for really getting to know one another. It puts you in an environment you may not be used to and causes you to interact in a competitive yet friendly way. This may help you uncover a new side of your partner or even show off a different side of your own personality.

Can she pick up that split? Does he shake off a gutter ball? Or will he yell ridiculous things to demonstrate his triumphant victory over wax, reactive resin and maple?

So I’m hooked. I learned how to throw a hook, but I couldn’t do it today. I don’t think I’ve even been bowling since the Bush administration.

This isn’t a bush, but it is leafy!

I’ve loved variegated leaves since the moment I learned the term, and this English ivy is no exception. I don’t even think it is supposed to be where I found it, but it works.

It probably hasn’t been mysterious, for a long time, what causes variegation. But it was a mystery to me. And then I looked it up one day. I always wish I hadn’t bothered. The answer wasn’t enthralling and the mystery was gone.

Here’s one you never hope goes away:

Sure, the students can come back, but you always hope the summer, and its symbols, stay forever. Otherwise, you’re just left with a Tuesday.

Aug 19

They specifically said they wouldn’t play Freebird

When we started making our plans for last weekend my wife asked her parents what they would like to do during our visit. It was their weekend. Big birthdays, so we thought they should make the plans. We went to a wonderful little Italian restaurant on Friday night. On Saturday night, we went to a rock ‘n’ roll show.

This is a band called Long River Jam. The guitarist and lead singer works with my mother-in-law on a church program she runs. He’s a musical therapist, among other things, and he has this bband. Turns out the in-laws go see them fairly often at this apple orchard farm where they played this weekend. Did I mention we were celebrating two of those big, round number birthdays, and we were doing it at a rock ‘n’ roll show?

Sure, they played the Violent Femmes. The farm was selling their cider and baking you pizzas. They’d brought in a food truck that was selling not-bad downstate New York barbecue. There was a petting zoo, and the kids were running around having a great time. It was a great family atmosphere. And the band was putting out some great atmosphere. Here’s the more-or-less full set list:

Xs and Os – Elle King
Isn’t She Lovely – Stevie Wonder
Dancing in the dark – Bruce Springsteen
Harder to Breathe – Maroon 5
Hard to Handle – Otis Redding (But in the style of Black Crowes)
Hand in My Pocket – Alanis Morisette
Hurts so good – John Mellencamp
Santeria – Sublime
She Moves in Mysterious Way – U2
Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
In the Name of Love – U2
It’s Beautiful Day – U2
Semi Charmed Life – Third Eye Blind
With a Little Help From My Friends – Beatles
Locked Out of My Heaven – Bruno Mars
Sweet Child o’ Mine – Guns ‘n’ Roses
Lookin’ Out My Back Door – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Oye Como Va – Santana

Because nothing says family like cults, massacres, political assassinations and crystal meth, he laughed, in his distinctly Gen X way, during the first set. To be perfectly honest, though, the band was doing a great job turning an oversized patio into a party.

And can I just tell you? The little kids, who danced most of the night away, really liked Hard to Handle.

Here are the in-laws, enjoying the show as the band plays just in the background:

During the break, my father-in-law said the second set wasn’t as strong. They come to see their friend in the band so much they know the setlist. But he changed his mind because of some new material and improving play. Here’s the second set:

Love Shack – B-52s
I Wanna Dance with Somebody – Whitney Houston
Let’s Hear it For the Boy – Deniece Williams
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
I Will Walk 500 Miles – The Proclaimers
Valerie – Amy Winehouse
Good Lovin – The Rascals
Authority Song – John Mellencamp
I Want You Back – Jackson 5
Summer of 69 – Bryan Adams
Time of my Life – Jennifer Warnes/Bill Medley
Another One Bites the Dust – Queen
Magic Carpet Ride – Steppenwolf
Blister in the Sun – Violent Femmes
The Joker – Steve Miller Band
Last Dance with Mary Jane – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Country Roads – John Denver
Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison

It was right around Jackson 5 that we started giving him a hard time about his second set pronouncement. And then, of course, they had to put in Dirty Dancing, and so we did all the Dirty Dancing bits. All of them. Most of them successfully.

They did Country Roads with this cool Caribbean island swagger, and then on the last chorus really sped things up. That would have been enough, but they actually played an encore. Cover band encores are always good.

Of course by then it was late into the evening, and the guitarist we know had to go take his girlfriend to the airport for a 3:30 a.m. flight, so I didn’t get to ask, but I’m guessing the CCR and Van Morrison were some of the first songs someone in the band played.

Two other quick videos from the weekend. Here are some beautiful flowers I saw Sunday morning:

And this is a Purdue ad at the airport. “We’re a terrific university in a wide range of area, but did you know we’ve been to the moon?” Honestly, they probably have to resist the temptation to use this in all of their promotional material:

Anyway, it was another great weekend, which is why I’ve dragged it into Tuesday. If there’s a lesson to be learned it is to get yourself some in-laws who are kids at heart. They’ll always be ready to have a good time with you.

Aug 19

The Twenties, Thirties and the turn of the century

I’m reading Frederick Lewis Allen’s Since Yesterday, which covers the span of the 1930s.

It is a popular history, which is to say that it was both a bestseller and written immediately at the conclusion of that most tumultuous time. History has its way of revealing itself in its own time, and Allen nods at that often. The Harper’s Magazine editor and historian just didn’t know yet how some of the things churning up to speed in the late 30s were going to work out yet. How could he? But this was what Allen did, he wrote recent and popular history. It is well thought out, grounded in contemporaneous research and commentary and is easily digestible.

The fun part is, that while his previous book on the Roaring Twenties was a smash success and he sat down to figure out his next effort, it had to be about the Great Depression. And while he was living it as he wrote it, you and I can still hear the echoes. This part sounds familiar to me, for example:

Back in 1880, only 25 percent of American farms had been run by tenants. Slowly the percentage had increased; now, during the Depression, it reached 42. The growth of tenantry caused many misgivings, for not only did it shame the fine old Jeffersonian ideal of individual landholding — an ideal in which most Americans firmly believed — but it had other disadvantages. Tenants were not likely to put down roots, did not feel a full sense of responsibility for the land and equipment they used, were likely to let it deteriorate, and in general were less substantial citizens than those farmers who had a permanent share in the community. In 1935, less than two-thirds of the tenant farmers in the United States had occupied their present land for more than one year! In the words of Charles and Mary Beard, “Tenants wandered from farm to farm, from landlord to landlord, from region to region, on foot, in battered wagons, or in dilapidated automobiles, commonly dragging families with them, usually to conditions lower in the scale of living than those from which they had fled.

The Beards were historians who, among other things, wrote The Rise of American Civilization and a seven-volume History of the United States. Allen uses their quote so he can dribble down into how things got to be that way. Why be attached to anything? And how could you be, if this was what life offered you?

In certain parts of the South and Southwest this trend toward making a mechanized business of farming took a form even more sinister in the eyes of those who believed in the Jeffersonian tradition. In these districts farm tenancy was becoming merely a way station on the road to farm industrialism. The tenants themselves were being eliminated.


How easy for an owner of farm property, when the government offered him a check for reducing his acreage in production, to throw out some of his tenants or sharecroppers, buy a tractor with the check, and run his farm mechanically with the aid of hired labor — not the sort of year-round hired labor which the old-time “hired man” had represented, but labor engaged only by the day when there happened to be work to be done! During the nineteen-thirties large numbers of renters and sharecroppers, both black and white, were being displaced in the South … In the areas where large-scale cotton farming with the aid of machinery was practicable, tenants were expelled right and left.

Large-scale tractor operations were reshaping farming that was a step or two about subsistence growth into the business and industry of Agriculture, a sort of sequel to 19th century industrialism. But then what?

Where did the displaced tenants go? Into the towns, some of them. In many rural areas, census figures showed an increased town population and simultaneously a depopulated countryside. Said the man at a gas station in a Texas town, “This relief is ruining the town. They come in from the country to get on relief.” Some of them got jobs running tractors on other farms at $1.25 a day. Some went on to California: out of farming as a settled way of life into farming as big business dependent on a large, mobile supply of labor.

He wondered how far the trend would go. Would there be giant farm corporations, controlled from cities, putting smaller farms out of business? He wasn’t far off.

This was the reality for a lot of people. In my family there was some of this, but they also lived and worked and farmed under the ever-growing shadow of the TVA. It brought electricity. It brought jobs. It brought the government into private business in a way not yet seen. Ultimately it brought a degree of prosperity heretofore unknown to an economically depressed region.

This was where my family called home. Some parts of my family tree go back to when it was a territory, not a state. Some of the earliest ones were trading with the Native Americans, before they were imprisoned and shipped west. Recently we found the ferry crossing where my mom’s dad’s dad’s ancestral line came into the state.

Reading this made me think of my mom’s dad’s mom. I have written here about my great-grandmother, Flavil, before. She was in a rural one-room school as a student one year, and the next year she was the teacher in that same school. Her new students were her former classmates. Some of them were older than her. And when it was time for the crops to come in, they all went home and took care of it. She talks about being a sharecropper in her memoir.

She was apparently named after a prolific hymn-writer, and preacher, Flavil Hall. It’s an Irish name: golden haired youth. Near the end of his own life Hall gather a collection of essays and columns he’d written in various magazines and journals and sermons he’d delivered and published them in a book he called Pearls of Grace and Glory. It’s not one of those books you can easily have shipped over from Amazon, today, but someone had a copy or found a copy and gave it to my mother, and she loaned it to me. Among the collection of published pieces there is a section on people who are named after him. Quite a few people were inspired enough by him to borrow his name, it seems. Somehow he came into possession of, and published, a letter my great-grandmother wrote to her parents just before she moved out.

To Mother and Father:

There are so many things I’ve wanted to tell you both, but tears always prevented my talking. First, let me thank both of you for the many, many things you have done for me, which I know I can never re-pay. I feel I have probably repaid the expenses of my rearing, but I know I can never repay the suffering and trouble I have caused. Only God knows how much I appreciate the many things that I can’t repay.

I have come to many cross-road difficulties before, when I knew not which way to go, but this is the greatest I have ever experienced — one that I have worried more over than anything that has ever crossed my life. There is a period in the life of every one when he really wants to begin a home of his own. It is only natural. God so intended it. I suppose every one has to make this decision some time in life, but I really don’t believe it has ever caused any one so much worry and so many tears as it has me. I have lain awake many hours when the rest of you were asleep, podering and crying over the matter. … I have always loved you both and home so much that it seems almost impossible for me to part with you. The nearer the time comes the worse it hurts me. I really don’t believe there has ever been any one who loved his mother and father any more, if as much, as I do you. I fear when I am gone your love will gradually diminish. Do you think it possible to still always love me as you do now, as as you do the other children?

I wanted so bad, and tried so hard to help get the house completed, so you could have a peaceful, happy, comfortable home in which to spend the evening of life, after your hard battle of work and toil, caused by us children …

Again let me express my gratitude and appreciation to you for the many kind deeds you have done for me, for home, clothing, and food. And most of all for your love, for that was what prompted you to “bring me up in the way I should go, and when I am old I shall not depart from it.” What I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to you.

Remember and love me just as the same little girl, and let me have your prayers, for I am just the same.

There’s also a photo of her as a 15-year-old in that preacher’s book. The photo might be blurry and the transfer wasn’t especially clean. It’s that same little girl, but it’s hard to discern much more than that.

It’s difficult to think of your great-grandparents at these ages, or writing letters to their parents, or causing so much grief for them. Maybe it’s just a failure of my imagination. I knew the quiet, old woman and she’ll always be that person to me. But there’s always more, my imagination or not. There’s no imagining this: the roaring part of the Roaring Twenties were just about to end, even in the dirt poor South, when she wrote that letter. My great-grandmother had been courted by two young men. One she liked, but her father didn’t approve. The other, she said, really liked her but it wasn’t an especially mutual feeling.

She decided to write them each a loving letter and mail them in the wrong envelopes to see which one of the boys quit visiting first.

Her conscience though, she wrote in her memoir, got the better of her.

“I could never endure seeing Kelsie with some other girl.”

So my great-grandparents got married in 1927. She was attending college and teaching. My great-grandfather was also a teacher, or would at least become one by the time of the 1930 Census. In 1940 he operated a mercantile. But in that first year of their marriage, she once told me, she was laid low with tuberculosis. Right after that came The Great Depression. Sounds like a rough way to start your family. She said she never found out why her father disproved of the man who would become her husband, but they had three kids and eight grandkids. Somewhere around becoming a mother and a grandmother she was a sales manager, ran an electronics store and became a secretary. In her memoir, which she wrote in 1980 at around age 75, she says that was work she always wanted to do.

Really, she should have written that book later, or at least included an addendum. She still had a few fantastic stories to tell.

I just found one of those “Remember Our Town When” groups on Facebook. It seems that my great-grandmother, in the year 2000 took part in a re-dedication of a World War I memorial at the local high school. She read In Flanders Fields. And, according to that post, she had read the same poem 75 years before at the original dedication. (She loved poetry.)

UPDATE: A few days after writing all of this, I dug up this picture and wanted to include it here.

She lived to 98, a full life in the 20th century in the Deep South. Imagine all that she had seen in those years.

I’m reading about it in Allen’s book, from a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned room. Maybe she knew anecdotes like this one herself:

Jul 19

Vintage chocolate

Here’s another one of those troubled members of the floral community, the ne’er do well that never does … well. The layabout. The deadbeat. The do-nothing. The idler, loafer, lounger. The hibiscus aridus:

Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds like ’em. And you can find them as far away as South Africa. Again, I found this one in the back parking lot of a little building almost half a world away from there. Needless to say, it has a wide range, which is impressive for such a malingerer, the shirker, slacker and slouch.

Or perhaps I’m being too harsh. Maybe that plant is doing what it is supposed to, being colorful and charming and contributing to the local ecology and all, but suppose it’s just hiding a bit of curbside garbage can holder?

Don’t you think it could be doing more than that?

I was given a candy bar today. It was pretty good:

The big celebration starts in a few more weeks. I’ve been wondering for almost three years how you celebrate something that’s 200 years old. What’s the appropriate sequence of events to mark such a big birthday of an important, and yet inanimate, institution? And all this time, the answer should have been obvious: milk chocolate.

You’d think a 200-year-old candy bar wouldn’t taste so fresh. Or maybe you’d be surprised that a 19th century chocolatier would be so prescient as to make such a treat. You wonder how far into the future his vision might have gone, and exactly where he warehoused those delicious things.

We enjoyed a little bike ride this evening:

We tried a new road, a partially tree-covered, split lane number. Nice houses, no traffic, a place to take a deep breath, or a hard pull. It was a good ride, not fast, but it felt strong, in my legs I mean. Didn’t even bother my foot, which has been a mild bother to me since April. But progress! Which makes sense, you know, at the end of July.

The solution, as ever, is to ride more.

Jul 19

More underwater stuff on the site

Have you seen the home page of my site today? I updated it. Just go to W-W-W dot KennySmith dot Org to see some pretty new imagery on the front page. And then come back here, of course. We’ll wait.

(This’ll take about 30 seconds, but go at your own pace. I’m good.)


Welcome back, then. And since you’re already here, you’ve likely already seen the good stuff from our dive trip, and if not, kindly click on that “Roatan” link above the post’s title. In addition to all of that wonderment, I had a lot of fun making these little social media promotional bits from the extra dive footage we shot.

This little number comes from an ill-timed photo burst. Sometimes it is challenging to figure out what the GoPro is doing underwater. We plugged the card into a computer later and saw a huge sequence of photographs of nothing in particular and this little thing was born:

When I say footage we shot it, I mean what my lovely wife shot. She was happy snapping away with the camera, and I was happy inhaling a tank of air much too quickly while watching the world go by. Probably 97 percent of the photos and videos we brought back are things she shot. Oh, I’d point out things not in her line of sight from time to time, and I edited all the things you’ve seen go on my site the last few weeks, but she captured almost all of it. She’s excellent at being talented.

Of course I had to get a few of her here and there. And I can’t take just one photograph. While she’s mugging for the camera, I’m firing off multiples, and that led to this fun little gif:

At least 20 people clicked through from those tweets, so it was worth it.

Also, my Photoshop and video editing software are presently loaded up with other spare and recycled clips that I’ll use for … something or another.