Feb 23

I’m not even sore

Happy Monday. And to make your Monday just a bit more tolerable, we’ll begin with the site’s most popular weekly feature, the weekly check in with the kitties. This weekend they have been quite the cuddle cats. That could be because the heater was, for some reason, turned off on Friday and it was midday Saturday, when it never got warm inside, before I noticed.

They’re also loving and needy little things, that’s a part of it, too. Last night, I wasn’t sure if they would let me go to sleep, for all of their “Pet me. Pet me. PETME,” demands.

In our house, there is a mid-grade residential carpet pad. And on that carpet pad sits a nice, low shag carpet. And on that carpet there’s a throw pillow. And on that pillow there’s a folded pair of jeans.

And that’s where Phoebe is choosing to nap.

What I love about this picture is that it demonstrates Poseidon’s ability to anticipate, and his understanding of the sun’s direction of travel. He’s not half in the shade, he’s waiting for the sun to come around.

That’s a smart cat move.

This was the weekend of going uphill. That’s not a metaphor. I was actually going uphill. Virtually uphill, anyway. It’s a silly thing, but there was a series on Zwift this weekend, a three stage showdown of some of the more demanding climbing routes. And since I am trying to ride all of the routes anyway, I figured, why not?

Friday evening I rode the first of the three stages, climbing 2,500 feet. Knowing what was to come, I was determined to take it easy on Friday. And I was largely successful with that, but I felt too good late and so I pushed a bit on that last climb. I have no idea how to preserve my energy over time. Most people don’t, I think, so that’s OK. I set two Strava PRs on Friday, celebrated by putting on the compression boots and got ready for Saturday.

Saturday, there was the Alpe du Zwift, the game’s (apparently realistic) take on the legendary Alpe d’Huez. This stage was harder, and it has 3,900 feet of climbing. I decided I was going to pace myself up that beyond category climb because Sunday’s route was even more demanding. So on the alpe I set seven Strava PRs, including taking more than seven minutes off my best time up the climb.

I’m no climber. Really, I’m not, but the progress is progressive. But my avatar looks great descending!

At least the switchbacks on the alpe actually provide a little relief on the ascent. No such help on Sunday, on the hardest route of the weekend, punctuated by a slow climb up the vaunted Ventoux.

Ventoux or d’Huez, which is harder? They’re both a big challenge. Ventoux has a bit more of a gradient, and it’s almost continual. Eight percent is the norm, and there’s a lot of 11 and 12 percent, and there’s no accelerating up that. Plus, leg fatigue is, of course, cumulative. The only thing Ventoux has going for it on this particular route was that the finish line came about two miles before the summit. Even abbreviated, the route had 3,953 of ascent, and Strava considers it another beyond category climb. I was pleased with the earlier finish, though. Long before that, I was hoping to just finish well.

It started out great. If you look to the right of this graphic, you can see where I am in the field. For a brief, brilliant, shining moment, I was at the front of the field, pushing on at 30 miles per hour.

When the climbing started, I fell away pretty quickly. I am not a climber.

But I was happy to finish in the top 50.

I was happy to finish 50th.

I was happy to finish.

After finishing all three stages of Rapha Rising, I believe 249th overall, I had another 10,400 feet of elevation gain in my legs over the last three days. (That’s a lot for me!) I earned a day off. My Zwift avatar earned some Rapha kit. The only time I will ever afford Rapha is when it’s free.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 76 routes down, 48 to go.

This is where I stopped reading last night. Willie Morris has spent four pages talking about riding around Texas with W. Lee O’Daniel. He’d been the governor of Texas from 1939 to 1941, running and governing in the all-too-familiar populist demagog style. He went to the U.S. Senate, beating LBJ in a special election, for the rest of the 1940s. Then he returned to private life, running a ranch in Fort Worth, and making money in real estate and insurance in Dallas. In the second half of the 1950s, he ran for governor again.

It’s a poignant, bittersweet thing, Morris’ detailing of three days canvassing Texas in an air conditioned Cadillac. O’Daniel was aging, and he knew it. Morris saw him as an old man “trying to retrieve the past.” His constituency was aging, and he knew that too. Or they were dying off, and he could see it, in the dusty, small towns he visited. Not that he was the same draw as he’d been as a famous radio host back in ’38, but also, the makeup of the state had changed underfoot. Not because of him or in spite of him, just around him, a colorful character with much of the color washed away by time.

I say this every time I return to his work, but I love the way Morris writes.

Feb 23

The Girl Scout cookie story

It has been four days and I’m doing fine — well, my hair has been unruly and the days since have seemed longer, though no more productive, but I’m fine — so I may as well tell this story. The timing of this telling was inspired by a longtime friend. The story involves an old friend, and it goes like this.

I had some Girl Scout cookies on Saturday. I bought them from a friend’s daughter.

My friend Jeremy called and asked if he could bring his daughter to sell some cookies. We lived between Jeremy’s house and the grandparents and so it turns out that we offered her first real cookie selling experience. It was bitterly cold the day Sadie rang the doorbell. I invited her inside.

Remembering this was her first sell, I made a big point out of this. Sadie, you’ve been to our house before, and I’ve been to yours. Your mom and dad know us and we see each other a lot, and that’s why I’ve invited you in out of the cold. People you don’t know shouldn’t invite you in, and you shouldn’t go into their houses when selling Girl Scout cookies.

It seemed an important teaching opportunity.

The thing to know is that Jeremy has a dizzying, dry wit. Truly, you can catch him in the right moment and see his whole head and upper body making tiny circles while his mind simultaneously and instantly goes through a dozen textured, punned, historical, hipster jokes for any given moment, discarding the 11 inferior ones and offering the two best, one each pared for red meat or white. The man has a talent. And he can’t hold a candle to his wife. So their oldest kid, you see, has no choice but to be funny.

“Let me go ask my dad. For ‘safety.'”

She even threw in the air quotes, which, though she did not realize it, earned her a few extra boxes sold.

So she came in and we made our selections and the transaction was completed.

And the year, was 2014.

I had some of those cookies Saturday. They were the last from that order. (It seems important to always have some Thin Mints on hand, just in case.) This came up Saturday when I got some grief about not eating any of the cookies I ordered last year from my god-niece-in-law (just go with it). The Yankee said she wasn’t ordering me any extras because I hadn’t eaten any of last year’s (#StockpileMentality), to say nooooothing of that final 2014 box.

And you’re wondering what they were like, the 2014 cookies. The plastic sleeve was opened. No memory of that. But they’ve at least been in the freezer throughout, at least — though we did move once in the interim. They smelled of a bit of freezer burn. You could see a bit of freezer burn on them. They tasted exactly as Thin Mints should.

Maybe I’ll get around to eating the second 2014 sleeve in 2024.

Back to Willie Morris who, at this point in his memoir, has moved on from his small town on the Mississippi Delta to the University of Texas, where he would eventually become editor of the campus paper, and launch his incredible career.

This says a lot. And says, perhaps, even more, that we’re in much the samea place.

There’s another paragraph, nearby, where he talks about being invited, as a young college student, to join some grad students for dinner. In the interest of not putting the whole book here, I’ll summarize. He was overwhelmed by all of the books they owned, more than he’d ever seen in anyone’s home. Sure, he was the valedictorian, but small town Mississippi and all. He tells us it made him shy. He couldn’t talk, he was just staring at those books, wondering if they were for sale, or an exhibit.

It is a rare experience for certain young people to see great quantities of books in a private habitat for the first time, and to hear ideas talked about seriously in the off hours. Good God, they were doing it for pleasure, or so it seemed. The wife asked me what I wanted to do with myself when I graduated from college. “I want to be a writer,” I said, but not even thinking about it until the words were out; my reply surprised me most of all, but it was much more appropriate in those surroundings to have said that instead of “sports announcer,” which probably constituted my first choice. “What do you want to write about?” she persisted. “Just … things,” I said, turning red.

He then goes on to talk about going to the library later that night, promising himself to read every important book that had ever been written, but not even knowing where to begin.

I know the feeling, Willie, I know the feeling.

Later, after studying at Oxford, and then coming back to take over as the editor of The Texas Observer:

Some things will be good for a long, long time. Like how you deal with hacks and, also, my appreciation for Willie Morris’ writing. And Girl Scout cookies.

Feb 23

I want a Montezuma University Medical College t-shirt

Sorry for the abrupt Friday post. I was apparently tired. That night I went to bed early, feel asleep reading and slept the whole night through. I woke at an, well a normal time for a Saturday morning, I guess. But that meant 12 full hours of sleep. Felt great on Saturday! So good that I was still awake at 4 a.m.

Ahh, the biorhythms.

Bookies are now taking action on when I’ll wear down this week.

Let’s start off with the reason why you showed up on Monday, the site’s most popular weekly feature, the check in on the kitties.

We’ve had some periodic morning sun, lately. And whatever the number of times is required to make something a habit for a cat has been met.

Now, they are waiting, each day, in this spot. The sun isn’t always poking through the clouds, but they’re here on this carpet, on spec. Roll back the curtains, people, there might be some sunlight.

Being cats, Phoebe and Poseidon will lounge in it indulgently as long as they can.

So the cats are doing well. Their biggest news is that Poe got in a scuffle with his sister and she marked his nose pretty good. It’s healing well, which is good. His pink nose is a big part of his charm.

Though I did not ride on Friday because, ya know, sleep, I’d like to think I made up for it a bit.
I got in 40 miles on Saturday. I had six Strava PRs, including two climbing segments which I will never be able to equal. Mostly because I was chasing my lovely bride.

We took another ride on Sunday, and I ticked 33 more miles into my legs. It was slower, but steady, I guess. Never felt like I could accelerate. Couldn’t drop The Yankee, but I surely did try. Somehow I took 6:09 off my best time up a cat 2 climb. I am not a climber. Even though Zwift gave me the polka dot jersey on Saturday.

And then, the weirdest thing happened this evening. I decided to spin out an easy recovery ride. Then I forgot about the recovery part, I guess. I set three more Strava PRs, and took 1:26 off another climb.

So it is shaping up to be an interesting year on the bike, I suppose. Or a perfectly average year, who even knows.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 66 routes down, 58 to go.

(If you’re following that little tidbit, you might have noticed that the math has changed here. Turns out I was using a slightly outdated route list. Four new routes were added since last November, so there’s your mathematical inconsistency. This list is accurate, until Zwift adds the Scotland routes in March. Basically, there’s plenty still to do, hopefully most of it before I take the bike off the trainer and start riding exclusively outside again.)

The hardest part of having a couple hundred books waiting to be read is trying to decide which interesting thing to choose next. I solved that problem yesterday. Instead of grabbing one book, I selected the next three. And I’m starting with the great Willie Morris and his memoir, North Toward Home.

There aren’t many memoirs that appeal to me for a variety of reasons. But Willie Morris, above talking about one of his ancestors, is in a different category. If I could write like anyone the boy from Yazoo City, Mississippi would be on the very short list.

This is a third edition of his memoir, the first run was in 1967. The language can be problematic, particularly in these early stages of the book. The kid that would become a not-quite-singular progressive voice from the South grew up in those small towns and visit those hollers and delta swamp lands and live it before he could wrestle with desegregation and coming of age in a time of deep and lasting change. We’ll get to that later in the book, I’m sure. First, there are rich memoir moments, like the nearly universal nature of the southern church experience. There was much nodding along. Two generations later, and a state to the east, there are many similarities.

And, here, his first time in a Catholic church.

I recall my first visit to a Catholic church, but not as clearly as all of that. The story goes like this.

The town was founded by a coal man, a Methodist and a Democrat, in 1886. Henry DeBardeleben was the ward of one of the state’s first industrialists, and inherited, or otherwise acquired, much of his assets. The quintessential New South industrialist, DeBardeleben decided to create a town near the booming Birmingham to exploit the local iron and steel resources and their dirty, important, industries. One of his sons continued the family trade, becoming a coal magnate in the first half of the 20th century, but he was an Episcopalian and a Republican. So the DeBardeleben name is important in that region, but the second generation German immigrant’s neighbors, the Italian and Irish immigrants, were the ones that built the first local Catholic church.

There was a 50-room hotel, which first appeared at the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1884. For 10 years after DeBardeleben bought it and had it moved to his new city. He lived there for a time, in the hotel, the former headquarters of Mexico’s delegation to the World’s Fair, on the 10 acre lot. The railroad marked one border, a local creek tributary, today little more than an oversized and running drainage ditch, marked another. For 10 years the Montezuma was a hotel, for three more it was Montezuma University Medical College, then it burned, in 1899. That’s where the first Catholic church in the area held their services. Today there’s a pharmacy, a closed foundry and low income housing in the hotel’s footprint.

Just before the fire, the church got their own land from the city, a choice spot, just in the direction the city would grow and thrive for the next few generations. They built a frame school building, then replaced it in 1912 with a modern brick building, the first of its kind around, and there they thrived for decades.

I went to mass there once with an elementary school friend and his family. My friend was the oldest kid. He had a brother and a sister. Both of his parents were educators. They had the first remote control I ever saw. We were friends until I changed schools in the 5th grade, and eventually grew apart. But he’s still there, working in medicine or some such. I wonder if he still goes to mass. The parish he grew up in was a full, ornate building. I remember the colors being rich and dark low, and growing lighter as you looked toward the ceiling. I am sure the room was smaller than my memory. There were the solemn processions, the costumed finery, the purification and sanctification of the incense, the call and answer, both joyous and monotone. All of it different. All of it interesting. None of it mine.

The church stayed in that spot until it burned in 1989. A century between fires. They still have a convent on that block. There’s a halfway house and a law firm there, too. The local board of education is across the side street. Across the way today there’s the “Opportunity Center,” and the Homeless Education Program.

The church built their new parish four miles away, again, in the direction where the city was still (somewhat, somehow) growing. Last Christmas they celebrated 30 years there. I bet I’m the only person who has found a vague, passing, unintentional, similarity between the Montezuma and their current building.

I’ve been to one or two other Catholic services elsewhere. I saw Catholics before a mass praying for Pope John Paul as he lay dying. I even watched mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Those last two I can remember clearly, but I was an adult by then.

I think that’s the problem I’d have writing a memoir, and the pure genius of Willie Morris. Look at all he gives us in a half of a paragraph. Look at the space I filled up in 600 or so words.

Also, there’s the issue of memory.

Feb 23

1,000 breezy words

Is it just me or is everyone lately wiped out by Thursday? It wasn’t always this way. There must be some corner of Reddit where I can find the best and most reasonable theories.

I’m not searching for them on Reddit, or anywhere else, but someone is writing about it somewhere. Most of these ideas are nonsense, but someone is going to accidentally stumble on the cause. Fox Mulder will read about it, but by the time he gets back to his computer to follow up, “They” will have removed the thread entirely.

The 10th (in 2016) and 11th (in 2018) seasons of X-Files aside, that show will come back around for a relaunch in another decade or so. It won’t be nearly as believable or as charming or as well-received in the next go around. Given what goes on in the open, and what is imagined online, these days, the atmosphere will be all wrong. The original 1993-2001 run may as well have been from another age entirely. Maybe it was.

Someone could write scholarly works on this.

Oh, look.

Did the x-files prime us for the QAnon era?
Deceive, inveigle, obfuscate: Post-structuralism and the staggered retirement of Fox Mulder
The paranoid style for sale: Conspiracy entrepreneurs, marketplace bots, and surveillance capitalism
The truth is everywhere: Reconceptualizing far-right conspiracy theories in the Information Age
9/11 and its aftermaths: Threats of invasion

The papers continue, the quality might vary. Sometimes, I think, we’re just trying to shoehorn things in between reality and pop culture, but that’s for actual sociologists to worry over at the downtown hotel at their next conference, forgetting, there was always something fun about turning the lights off and watching Mulder and Scully wrestle with faith, science, monsters and conspiracy. The point is, things and times change. That how we watch things has changed probably plays into it too.

They never got into this Thursday thing, though, which leads me to conclude …

See how easy that is?

Talking with my mother this evening, she asked what I was reading right now. Threw me for a complete loop. Why I was in a loop threw me for a second loop. Now I am dizzy, loopy even.

I don’t know when I was asked that last, but it’s good, right? It makes sense for my mom to ask; she’s seldom seen me without a book or three since she taught me to read.

I’m going to start asking people what they’re reading. It’s a far more interesting question than what they do — though I have an effective strategy that can make for lively conversation, for the answerer — and more useful than asking someone how they’ve been. Maybe that’s just how I’ll start conversations now. By way of greeting, “What are you reading?”

The only problem is if the question catches someone off guard. Got me, tonight. I couldn’t even remember what was on my nightstand.

What I’m reading, and I hope to wrap this up soon, is an autobiography of Mr. Spock. It is titled The Autobiography of Mr. Spock. This was a gift from my mother-in-law, who always has a book or three ready for me. (A few years ago a friend of hers was ready to clean out a bunch of books from his personal library and she grabbed them by the armful for me, just in case. Many of them are now on my bookshelves.) If you asked me how I’ve lately been getting my books the answer is “I see a Kindle sale, or I see my mother-in-law and now look at these almost 200 books waiting to be read …”

But, first, Mr. Spock.

When I got this, this Christmas, I misread the title as a biography. That’s interesting, I thought, a biography of a beloved fictional character. This should fill in some holes. But, being an autobiography, it is written in the first person of a fictional character. Not a novel idea, by any means, but calling it an autobiography of a fictional character, that’s kinda different, for me at least.

And how about the authors that take that on? Writing such a beloved character as that? Bold strokes, Una McCormack and David A. Goodman. McCormack’s got 40 titles on Amazon, all sci-fi, most from very popular franchises, at least two autobiographies — the other is of the war criminal Kathryn Janeway. Goodman, similarly, has two dozen books on the site, all sci-fi, and has another autobiography, of Jean-Luc Picard, there.

Spock is writing this to Picard. Here are two brief portions, the first one centered around The Search fo Spock — so, 40-year-old spoiler, I guess.

And, in this passage, Spock is referencing events that took place during The Undiscovered Country — so, 30-year-old spoiler alert. (Thirty years? Geeze.)

McCormack and Goodman have this job of fleshing out what we see on screen, for a character metaphorically torn between two worlds, and making that seem reasonable. Instead of inventing too much new Vulcan culture, they continue the theme of the character trying to learn and reconcile both of his cultures. In his voice, and with more time than a sequence in the second-act of an episode, or without having to worry about cinematic beats, it works. The Valeris part comes up a few times.

Understated in the films, with the exception of one bit of exposition, is Spock’s ideological disagreement with Kirk, but the book gives it a few more passes.

It’s in the prime universe, if that matters. Post-Reunification, timeline-wise, meant to exist somewhere in or around the time of the Picard series.

I’ve yet to watch any of the Picard series. It’s on my list. I just can’t bring myself to start it. Sometimes, when I start a thing, I’m just that much closer to the conclusion. Varied reception of that series aside, it is always ongoing, until I start it.

There’s some pop-psychology on Reddit, or real scholarship, elsewhere, about that phenomenon, too.

Jan 23

Is this January? Today did not feel like January …

Wow, what a day. This wasn’t January, but it was. The high reached 54 and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The highlight of the day, then, was the day. I even went outside for four minutes to walk around two buildings and take this photo. Things like this need documentation.

The Library of Congress and the Internet Archive will surely be along shortly to document the moment. And they should. Sunny and 54 degrees! In January!

I finished this book this evening. (I skimmed about the second half of it.)

Remarkable Journeys of the Second World War isn’t that good. The author interviews people who took part in the war. They’re all British subjects, and their lives and roles varied. Here’s a POW, there’s a nurse, a merchant seaman, member of the Home Guard, and so on. Their stories are theirs, and some of them are riveting, as you might expect. But the author, she gets in the way of those stories with her own narrative. It gets redundant.

There comes a point when you pass through respect to enamored that feels disingenuous.

I bought it for $1.99, so it’s fine. That I skimmed a book is the thing here. Couldn’t tell you the last time I did that.

The last chapter were short stories written by her grandfather, who was a POW from the Royal Air Force, they were all worth reading. The author discovered, and published, his memoir. That I’d read much more closely.

Next up on the Re-Listening Project, where we’re just making recollections through the old CDs played, in order, in the car, is the first Van Halen greatest hits. “Best Of – Volume I” has most of the songs you’d expect for a greatest hits, was rumored to be the reason that Sammy Hagar left the band, brought David Lee Roth, briefly, back into the fold and, ultimately set the stage for Gary Cherone’s brief time fronting the band. And, honestly, somewhere in all of that was when I got worn out by Van Halen.

I remember this well. It was the fall of 1996. School was busy in more ways than one. This was spinning a lot on the drive in to campus from Gentilly. Sunny days, warm skies, a hilariously mediocre football team but, otherwise, everything was ascendant. Michael Jordan and the Bulls were on the way to building the second three-peat. I was helping quiz my roommate, who would, the next month, rise to brilliant national prominence. I believe I was doing music shifts at the radio station, and I managed to be a lot of other places, too. Ahh, the energy and vitality of youth. And, also, David Lee Roth.

I am older now than he was then, so there’s that. (And he was born in Bloomington, apparently? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that.)

Anyway, the first Van Halen cassette I bought was “OU812” so I missed the Roth years. To me, the band was Van Haggar. Further, I am of the not-at-all-consequential-and-yet-controversial opinion that Alex van Halen is a terrific drummer, but Michael Anthony was the secret ingredient to the whole thing. A greatest hits disc got me most of the songs I’d need from the early days, which was perfect. I’m in no way a Van Halen completist.

It seems weird to write a great deal in this space about a now decades old greatest hits compilation. Instead, let’s briefly touch on one of the news from this …. now decades old release. This one, the last ever recorded with the original lineup, is quite good.

No video was ever made, creative differences apparently, but this was a radio hit. They topped the US Rock Chart for six weeks, the third time Van Halen did that with Roth; it was the band’s 14th number one, overall.

This greatest hits came, for me, with an inescapable realization, way back then, and I can’t not think of it today. For an act featuring one of the greatest commercial guitar players of all time, the late, great Eddie Van Halen put a lot of synth in his music.

The one that came to mind this morning, listening to this song: charismatic as he is, and before you could wave it away as his being a rock star, what was Roth like as a teenager?

Next up is Counting Crows’ second studio album, which was released two weeks prior to the Van Halen greatest hits. But this is the order I bought them in, and I shuffled through them at about an equal pace this time through. I have most of the Counting Crows catalog, but I just grew out of it, as all of us should. Time and place and all. (But I’m committed to this gimmick and the records get a lot better. Soon, I think.)

For some reason I always think of driving in Opelika when this song comes on. There must have been some restaurant or store or something that was involved. Maybe it’s a memory from juco classes the next summer. There’s an overpass, and too many decibels, and that’s the memory.

This one always seemed relatable, somehow. Who can say why? That’s what you get when you listen to emo pop rock in the free time of your teens or early 20s.

I always wondered how much of what Adam Duritz wrote and performed was real or in the character. It seems a dangerous thing to put yourself forward to profit from whatever happens next in your personal life. But I like to think this one is more real than not. There’s some wry humor here. Also, I think it is, in pretty much every way, the most lasting track on the record for me.

Also, it is, I think, just about the earliest possible namecheck for Ben Folds. I own no Ben Folds, but I did see him the next year.

Next time we check in on the Re-Listening project, we’ll have a soundtrack. It’ll be a … breezy one.