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6
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!


1
Jul 20

New month, old paper

Here’s video from dinner the other night, because I uploaded it and never shared it. And because we needed something colorful here.

Doesn’t hurt that it was quite tasty, either.

Anyway, not much here right now, so we go back, back, back in time. This is 105 years ago, 1915. Let us see what was going on around here.

Newspaper design was not going on, that is for sure. This is a four-page rag, and it was a slow week in a sleepy town and we’re going to get into all of the news and, this time, ignore the society pages altogether. I am inclined to think there was the editor, the typesetter and, otherwise, the old Evening World was a slim operation. There’s not a lot of unique local stuff to see. Let’s see what there is to see, though.

Do not go fast. Charley Stevens, who doesn’t pop up in a lot of search engines today, is warning you. You’re supposed to do 10 miles per hour, and no more. Ten miles to the hour, excuse me. Town squares are fascinating features. It looked exactly like this in 1915. It looked nothing like this in 1915.

This is the editor of the other paper in town. And this is a big description about an out-of-town trip. And this has to be an inside joke or something. Also, this is on the front page.

No one was in trouble. Grover Lazelle messed around got a triple-double. It was a good day.

This seems impressive. Remember, it was four years before Dwight Eisenhower’s transcontinental Army movement. His caravan covered 3,242 miles through 11 states in 62 days, an average of 52 miles per day, going from Maryland to California. Ol’ Willie Curry did the hardest part coming the other direction.

Ike lost two days in Nebraska. Curry apparently lost two tires over the whole trip.

There’s a big block of text about the fireworks you couldn’t buy anymore, and an editorial bit about the stuff you can buy. Some stories, it seems, never change. But to get SAFE AND SANE you had to be unsafe and insane, right?

Someone surely looked at the mangled hand of some kid the year or two before and said, “Y’all. This is insane.” Then there was legislation, and the marketplace kicked in to high gear. And, sure, stuff got safer, and more refined over time, thank goodness, but some of the stuff you couldn’t use anymore, by 1915, even, sounds kind of awesome? And terrifying?

Finally, this news update is brought to you by this advertisement. You figure Mr. Man, sitting there at his desk, let his eyes drift over the society mentions and saw that and thought, “You know, I haven’t had any look keeping the books all week … ” It’s easy to think he put two and two together there, but, you know.

It went on for two more paragraphs, but given what we know of the digestive habits of the time, surely this is all anyone need read. Sentanel, despite the unfortunate spelling, stayed an operating concern until at least the 1930s, but you don’t see much of it after that. I guess their job was done.

And so is mine, for now. Tomorrow … I’ll have something or other for you here. You’ll see!


26
Jun 20

750 quick words on Trek

I’ve lately been idly listening to Star Trek while doing other things. Today we met the Klingons for the first time again, which means we’re on episode 26, a third of the way through the run of the original series … and it’s just about ready to get good, I guess. They had a narrow window through which to reach out and impact the world, when you think about it.

The third season is almost universally panned, the first 10 or 12 episodes of the series have a few interesting moments, but once you remember that this is the series that bred continuity into the zeitgeist, it was woefully inconsistent. And that’s even after allowing for the production values of the day and the new genre they were helping to pioneer. It’s all over the place.

This is how you met the universe’s running baddies on a Thursday in mid-March of 1967:

And the next week, this episode plays itself out. Kirk and Spock beam down to head off the enemy threat. The locals aren’t bothered at all and perceive no threat. (It’s an allegory, you see.) The threat appears, and John Colicos is warm and real and full and does a lot with a little, to be honest. Now the good guys are trying to blend in with the locals to subvert the threat. This goes poorly, and Spock told you so, what with his cool calculations and his odds.

There’s a fanfic out there somewhere that reveals he was just making up numbers, and, when confronted by this charge, he runs away crying. There has to be. After all, one of the dramatic devices they routinely revisit is Spock telling everyone who will listen just how bad the odds are. And, of course, they emerge from the problem relatively unscathed, minus a few red shirts. No one ever calls him on this. Ever.

So Kirk and Spock, having failed to talk the backward and humble-looking Organians into coming under their protection, try to take matters into their own hands, but then then Organians stop all of this by making both the Federation members and the Klingons hot. Ow!

Because, I guess, having people mimic a warm stove eye was as inexpensive a special effect as the show runners could pull off.

Someone out there has compiled some of the original shots next to the 2009 remastering, which is what I’m watching on Netflix. This is a fine and fun bit of side-by-side video.

Note how George Takei is playing Sulu when they first come under attack. Note how Colicos is almost licking his lips, “A shame, Capitan. It would have been glorious.” It’s a moment at the end of the episode that’s so beautifully, rhythmically paced that it sets the whole mood for the ever-changing archenemy-cum-tense-ally. It’s a shame it took 30 years to get him back into the franchise.

And, too, note how not every update is a good one. Specifically, when the humble Organians return to their natural form. In the original it is a brilliant white light. In the reworked version they take on the lighting effects of a bad rave.

It was good for it’s time, this episode, I’m sure. It’s hailed as a classic, and it holds an 8.6 rating on IMDb. But today its interest is purely historic. This one sequence goes a long way toward guiding the rest of the entire franchise:

It also sets up the biggest plot hole in the entire Trek universe. If the energy beings abhor conflict and can stop it this quickly, the Federation should have drawn any number of enemies to this planet, playing this out over and over, creating new allies across the quadrant. Or the galaxy. Or whatever they called it that week. (They were really loose with the language in the early days. It’s amazing that fans found it in their hearts to forgive the show for that.)

Also, this episode figures into one of the big musical hits of the late 1980s.

And a segue like that lets us wrap this up with our favorite game, The Passage of Time. That episode originally aired in 1967. That song was a hit in 1988. We’re (much) farther removed from that song than they were from that episode.

Within the franchise, the time between us and the debut of Deep Space Nine is greater than the time between the Deep Space Nine’s beginning and the episode above. Deep Space Nine debuted in 1993.

Remember, this was an allegory then, but what is it today?


22
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.


12
Jun 20

Beware hyphenated beverages, and television tropes

After the meetings were done and the work completed, it was time for a bike ride. We took the usual Friday route, and today that meant about 42 miles. I rode it very fast, which means decidedly average.

After the second stop sign I caught a break in traffic and decided to see how long I could stay out front. So I looked over my shoulder for the next 36 miles. But my shoulder and my wheel stayed clean.

I knew if “I make it to there, I can stay out front until … ” and then I did, which meant I had to keep reshaping those observations. “OK, if I can make it to the climb … ” and then I did, so I did that four or five times and I found myself shooting for the place where she caught me last week. At which point she was well back and I thought I might stay out front the entire way, if traffic would cooperate. So then I had to ride harder to be sure. And that’s how I stayed out front the entire way, which never happens. Turns out my legs felt tired, but it was a pretty good ride. And The Yankee didn’t have her best ride. That’s what it takes to stay ahead of her. (She’s very fast.)

Sometimes, you can say it all in 280 characters.

But why stop with one 280-character style tweet when you own a domain where you can throw another 1,450 characters and 322 more words on it?

They made a movie based on the television show a few years ago. I understand it was very bad. I listened to some people complaining about that, another part of their childhood ruined, basically, before saying “It isn’t like the show was high art … ” and everyone had to agree.

I call it the Yoo-hoo phenomenon. You remember that drink. It was so good.

It isn’t good at all.

This used to be the Chocolate Soldier phenomenon, but that drink disappeared before the turn of the century — and not a single soul outside the creation of the product noticed — but Yoo-hoo, somehow, survives.

Point is, things that you thought were great when you were a kid are probably not good at all. And after you get over watching GTOs jump over every ravine that doesn’t exist in south Georgia, and realizing that it always seems to be infrastructure week in Hazzard County, there’s not a lot to the show.

I’d like to see the Amazon metrics, is what I’m saying. How many people are streaming that show, at this point? It is, I would imagine, a vanishingly small number. Also, it’s disappeared before, only to quietly return, so what do I know? What does this Time author of 2015 who decided to re-watch the pilot episode know? (Update: A week later, it’s still there, but a bit harder to find. And you can still by t-shirts or fake rustic tin sizes featuring the car. There are also 66 purchase options for Yoo-hoo.)

In more ways than one, The Dukes of Hazzard are a chocolate-flavored drink. It’s not milk; it’s barely a chocolate. People that endured the Dukes because the kids loved it could have said the same thing, then. And who among all of us are streaming shows like that now?

Go try that Yoo-hoo. Next time you’re out, pick one up, buy it, shake it, slam it. You’ll see.