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.

Jan 23

The spring term begins, and here’s a lot of other stuff

A new semester began today. A new semester is underway. I am counting them on the access panel in my office. Each trident marks a semester. There’s a lot of memories and successful students in each. I wonder what sort of successes we’ll pack in the newest addition.

That’s a lot of semesters!

Had a nice bike ride on Saturday. One of our friends joined us on Zwift and that made us fast. Somehow I had 13 mile splits averaging 28+ mph. That’s just silly.

And while I was working hard trying to keep up, I had this idea …

Now I can capture videos of my virtual rides! Aren’t you thrilled?

Anyway, I got in 36 miles on Saturday. I didn’t ride yesterday, but I should have, so I did a quick 20 miles immediately after work, today.

More importantly, it is time for the most popular feature on the site. It’s time to check in with the kitties. (They had a busy day napping and cuddling yesterday, by the way.)

Here’s Phoebe, beating up one of her toys. Grab it in your front paws and kick it into submission by your back paws. Excellent strategy, for the most part. And it looks cute, but those little feet and claws will give you a beating!

It was a poor substitute for her favorite spring, which has been lost for a few days. I found it last night. She chased it around and under a chair. I rescued it for her. We started talking about mimicking it with other springs, maybe it has the right number of loops or something. While we wondering about that, she promptly lost it again. No idea where it is, as of this writing.

I know where it isn’t. Poseidon is, very helpfully, looking for it as well. He tells us it isn’t in the dryer.

Every day I open a thing — a closet, a cabinet, the refrigerator or some other appliance — and then close it. Then I open it and close it again, just to make sure that guy didn’t sneak in while I blinked.

It isn’t that I blink slow, but he moves fast.

I’m trying a new thing. I’m closing tabs. (I know! Crazy, right? Next you’ll find me cleaning out under sinks and vacuuming beneath bookcases … )

Anyway, there are a lot of tabs open in my browser(s). I bet you might have a similar problem. Some of them have been open for ages, and ages. Rather than lose them altogether, I am bookmarking some and closing them. (Novel!) And others should be shared, and then closed. So here we are. Today’s contenders.

The Deep Sea Is Filled with Treasure, but It Comes at a Price:

“We believe we see the world as it is,” she writes. “We don’t. We see the world as we need to see it to make our existence possible.”

The same goes for fish. Only the top layers of the oceans are illuminated. The “sunlight zone” extends down about seven hundred feet, the “twilight zone” down another twenty-six hundred feet. Below that — in the “midnight zone,” the “abyssal zone,” and the “hadal zone” — there’s only blackness, and the light created by life itself. In this vast darkness, so many species have mastered the art of bioluminescence that Widder estimates they constitute a “majority of the creatures on the planet.” The first time she descended into the deep in an armored diving suit called a wasp, she was overwhelmed by the display. “This was a light extravaganza unlike anything I could have imagined,” she writes. “Afterwards, when asked to describe what I had seen, I blurted, ‘It’s like the Fourth of July down there!'”

Bioluminescent creatures produce light via chemical reaction. They synthesize luciferins, compounds that, in the presence of certain enzymes, known as luciferases, oxidize and give off photons. The trick is useful enough that bioluminescence has evolved independently some fifty times. Eyes, too, have evolved independently about fifty times, in creatures as diverse as flies, flatworms, and frogs. But, Widder points out, “there is one remarkable distinction.” All animals’ eyes employ the same basic strategy to convert light to sensation, using proteins called opsins. In the case of bioluminescence, different groups of organisms produce very different luciferins, meaning that each has invented its own way to shine.


Scales, like Widder, worries that the bottom of the ocean will be wrecked before many of the most marvelous creatures living there are even identified. “The frontier story has always been one of destruction and loss,” she writes. “It is naïve to assume that the process would play out any differently in the deep.” Indeed, she argues, the depths are particularly ill-suited to disturbance because, owing to a scarcity of food, creatures tend to grow and reproduce extremely slowly. “Vital habitat is created by corals and sponges that live for millennia,” she writes.

And if we’re going to learn anything — we’re not, but if we were gonna — it ought to be that there’s an interconnectedness to all of this that is fragile, and important. Even among all of those different zones.

6 Ways to Keep Your Gmail Storage Free and Under 15GB:

Unlike some services (looking at you, iCloud), Gmail is pretty lenient with its free tier. You get 15GB of storage between Gmail and Google Drive, and for many people, it’s good enough. But a lot of people have been using Gmail for a decade or more now, and it’s not hard to accumulate 15GB of data over that kind of timespan.

Once you do hit the 15GB cap, you won’t be able to add files to Google Drive, and eventually, emails won’t hit your Gmail inbox. If you’ve been finding it harder and harder to avoid paying Google for more storage, here are some of the best ways to quickly free up space.

It is a slide show, but it is one of the more useful slideshows, if you’re in a space saving mode.

There. One of my phone browsers is now down to 43 tabs. It is good to make progress.

And we continue making progress in the Re-Listening project. I’m playing all of my CDs in my car. In order, that is. Not all at once. That’d be … noisy.

But some of it would sound good! That’s why I’m listening to them individually and, here, I’m just writing a few notes. These aren’t reviews, but just for fun and filler, he said 1,075 words into this post. Anyway, this installment is a greatest hits, and it seems weird, somehow, to go on and on about a record that was full of charting hits.

So let’s get to it quickly, then. Greatest Hits and their massive success aside, some of these Tears for Fears tracks were juuuuust a tiny bit before my time, initially. Oh, the big ones I know well, and you do too! But there was a sense of achievement in discovering new-to-me and thoughtful and quality Tears for Fears songs. “Woman in Chains” peaked at 36 on the Billboard Hot 100. Lovely song.

“Mad World” was not a hit in the 1980s, which was why I listened to it for the first time in 1996-or-so, but it did get some spins in 2004, reaching number 30 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and topped the Adult Alternative Songs chart. Then it landed in a video game commercial, was the subject of a few successful covers and appeared on a game show. It’s become something of a standard filler, I guess?

“Laid So Low” was the single off the actual greatest hits. And, sure, it was released in 1992, but this is quintessential 1980s. It was a top 20 Euro hit, settled in the top 40 in Canada and elsewhere. The song was a top 20 hit in the UK, France, Italy and Poland; a top 40 hit in Canada, Germany and the Netherlands; and reached the top 10 on the US Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Curt Smith wasn’t in the band at the time, so that song was a Roland Orzabal special. He kept the band name active during the rest of the 1990s, but 30 million unit sales means you get back together, eventually. After nine years of silence, they started talking, playing and writing together again.

The Tipping Point” was a project that took seven years to produce, but it came out to good reviews in 2001 and made the top 10 in a lot of national charts, including the U.S. It also hit number one on the US Billboard’s Top Alternative Albums, Top Rock Albums and Top Album Sales charts.

Not bad for two guys climbing into their 60s, he said, hopefully, from halfway through his 40s.

Dec 22

Did you figure it out?

I told you yesterday, dear reader, that we were taking a trip. I left it to you to guess where we were. Are. We are there now. Here. We are here now. Where is here?

Here’s a hint.

We were on a run around the fountain, just a little two-mile shakeout. And I found this in the cement. Seemed a good bit of advice. I’m glad someone put it somewhere with a bit of semi-permanence.

This sidewalk could persist for 80 years, which is a nice long time to leave a message. I wonder how long it has been there already.

We stopped in a pub for a snack, and we found some very good shaker glasses.

Might need to get a set of those. (I had the Swedish meat balls. They were tasty.)

Also, we spent part of the afternoon with our old friend, Andre, who has come over for a mini-vacation of his own. But, first, he had to finish up his week, hard-working, persevering sort that he is.

There are other friends, not pictured, here as well. But where are we?

There’s two hints in the images above, and this is your final hint. Tomorrow we’re running what is billed as “The South’s Toughest Bridge Run.” so this is your last chance.

Got it yet?

We’re in Savannah, where we took our first trip, where we got married, where we return to as often as we can. Where, tomorrow, we have that run.

(Omelette for breakfast, calzone for dinner, walked seven miles today before a sunny 10K tomorrow. What could go wrong?)

Nov 22

A lament

He was the fastest person I knew as a kid. I guess he had to be. David threw his hands at the ground, ferocious, like the rest of him, but his feet fairly well glided over the grass. We met on the soccer pitch, played together for several years. He was the first person I ever met who learned how to get better at things with relentless practice. I remember more about our friendship than I do his soccer. But I remember this. We were a good team for a while and once we came across a better team that had a superlative striker. Our told him to mark him all night. David gulped, and set out to do it. And for 90 minutes that other dude did nothing against us.

That’s a youth soccer story and so it’s as real as it is meaningless, but that, in some small way, tells the story of David.

He grew up loved, but hard. His mother loved him, but doted on him, but she did that to all of us. His younger brother loved him, too, well, as much as a middle kid could. His two younger sisters worshipped the ground he walked on.

When he was 13, David saved a woman’s life. Got to a car crash and put a tourniquet on a woman before she bled out. Thirteen. I mean, really.

His father was a hard man. He was a Vietnam veteran, a chimney sweep, by trade. A man who knew about scraping out his way, and never afraid of the work. His was a big, strong personality and all that comes with that, for better and worse. David, even as a child, had his own big, strong personality, and some of you know what that might turn into. But his dad had his positive traits. He took his kids to work, took me with him too, and taught us all about spending a day in the sun. We built scaffolding, hauled up bricks, mixed and lifted mortar and tore down scaffolding and it was all probably something you couldn’t do with kids today. David’s dad, though, for a hard man, was generally a fair man. He demanded a lot of that boy, and so the two of them had their struggles, and sometimes I was the tiniest distraction or escape or whatever, and that was good. David was a deep sensitive kid, and it was obvious even among other kids.

That’s David, in the Yankees cap. This was at one of my birthday parties. He found a knife, cleaned it up, made me a sheath by hand. It was the cheapest, best, most thoughtful gift.

When David spent the weekend with me we’d go to the mall or the movies or do some other suburban sort of thing. When I spent the weekend with David, we’d spend the day wondering around downtown.

We moved in different directions, as people do. Different high schools, but stayed in touch. I went off to college and his family moved out of town. Not far, but just far enough. The last time we spent together we went camping, which was David’s natural environment. If there wasn’t a target to shoot at, or a fire to build or a tent raise, he’d find one. It was Christmas time. We had two or three tents and David, his younger brother and I went out in the too-cold and, being older, we tasked his brother with keeping the fire burning all night. Not too long after I woke up the next morning we heard him from over the next hill, “Hey guys! The pond’s froze over!”

No kidding, kid. Where’s my fire? But that was OK. We probably called him some names, but then we laughed about it. David and his brother figured it out, as brothers, the lucky ones, do.

Some time after that, David joined the Army. Became a paratrooper and made sergeant. He went to Iraq and worked on dismantling IEDs, or some such.

When he took off the fatigues he signed on as a security contractor. That’s when we found one another again, online. He was working in Afghanistan at the time. We had some pleasant chats. He was a soulful kid and a thoughtful man. And that sort of work just seemed perfect for him.

He’d met someone, got married, and was splitting time between assignments in troubled nations and at home in the States and at his other home in the Philippines. He loved it there. There was a lot of untouched countryside where he was, and he spent several chats telling me all about it. It felt a little like he had finally been able to tap into this calmness that was always in him that he didn’t know how to call upon.

A few years ago, not too long after his first kid was born, his father died. Then his mother-in-law died, pretty soon after. Last night I found a picture of David and his father, and his father his holding one of David’s kids and he’s looking down with this sense of peace and relief that I never saw in the man. He and his dad figured it out, too, and that was a blessing.

I saw that picture last night because I thought to look him up to see the latest, only to find out that my old friend, David, died at the very end of last year. His wife had died a few months before. They are survived by two little kids and some grieving siblings and probably a lot of friends. David was the sort that made them last, even if they got frayed or distanced around the globe.

He saved a woman’s life when he was 13 years old. He knew how to take in the moment, work hard at it, and make it happen, and I think he used that sort of force in some way or another most all of his life.

The Christmas before last I learned of a very distant great-great-aunt who had died, when I saw her marker at the cemetery. Had I learned of it at the time it would have been of the “Oh, that’s too bad. Her poor husband, her kids and grandkids … ” sort of reaction. Distant, as I say. I was sad because there was no one left on that side of the family that thought to tell me.

Last year, I learned that the woman who taught me how to be a mascot died of cancer in 2019.

This spring, I learned my college roommate died in early 2020. He was a success at everything, except maybe for picking a roommate. I think I frustrated him endlessly, but for two years he was a big brother to me, and I admired most everything about him. We hadn’t been close in ages, but I loved that guy.

This summer, I read that a former student of mine died last fall. It seemed she never seemed to perfectly fit in at a school where perfectly fitting in was criminally important. She had a spark and a vitality, though, that never let that be a problem. She moved to New York and lived one of her dreams, but it was all too short. She was 34.

Finding out things well after the fact brings up its own peculiar sort of helplessness.

Two bike rides this weekend. Twenty-five under-caloried miles on Saturday. I just looked at the scenery on Zwift. There’s neon signs on the stores in the middle of the desert. And the “neon” moves. And when the “neon” is off on most of the signs you can see the other neon “tubes.” They could do a lot more with this setup, but they do an awful lot with this setup. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to notice things like that, but I want to now.

Saturday’s favorite sign was this pig. He waves at you as you go by.

I did a humble little 20-mile ride yesterday. Just wasn’t feeling any of it, but I’ll get back to it this week. I did notice, though, the stars dotting the nightscape, the snow-covered mountains and how the mountains held the clouds around them, as mountains often do.

I closed my eyes for the last five miles. I wanted to see how close I could get to the goal, just from counting the pedal strokes, without watching the graphics.

I made it to within one-tenth of a mile. Which, over five miles, means I should be fairly proud of my counting skills, or fairly disturbed by the amount of time I’ve spent on that particular gear in Zwift, to know the math as I do.

Tomorrow, there will be no neon, no mountains, no pedal strokes. Tomorrow I have to try a run.

Oct 22

Just in time: the weekend

A busy week is over, a slow and peaceful weekend has been ordered and is now en route. You can track the package through late Sunday night.

My contribution to the cause today was this. I produced one more video we’ll send out to new students in the next few weeks. That’s four of these videos in the last three days. Now the videos are being edited. The videos, I am happy to say, were left in capable hands.

I’ve had a student work on these. She’s quite talented and I’m pleased that she’s taken on the role of being the project editor. Now I can just give her a few notes and, later, all of the credit for this effort.

We were shooting here yesterday, care to guess?

(Click to embiggen.)

Otherwise, today was fall break for students. So, even though I was working, it was a relatively quiet day. Just what I ordered. (You bet I tracked that package.) I think, though, I’ve hit various different stages in the last three weeks.

The Yankee crashed on Sept. 22nd and a week later had surgery. It was that day, after a week of very little sleep, when real, determined exhaustion set in.

The next day, her mother arrived and a little sleep happened in that second week, which helped a bit. Her mother left after a week. We were fortunate to have her here. Spirits were lifted and I returned to something akin to the normal Merely Very Tired.

Her friend, Anne, came to help this week. That’s been huge. She has basically taken over running the dinner show. Her help with the big and little things where she’s cheerfully pitched in this week was a game changer. I don’t know how to properly express my gratitude when she heads home tomorrow.

My lovely bride has now firmly entered recovery mood. A good surgery, time, good bones, her fitness, beginning physical therapy and Anne willing it to happen has probably done that. She is on schedule, but it’s a slow recovery and it isn’t easy. On top of everything else, she’s also pretty tired. Every time she moves at night she wakes up.

As for me, my circadian rhythm is such that I’d almost rather stay up all night than have a night’s sleep punctuated and interrupted by waking up. We spent two weeks waking up for medicine and I still wake up hearing her move most of the time.

So, in the middle of this week, an incredible sort of fatigue set in. I guess three weeks is the current limit of my first-stage endurance. (This is after the regular day-to-day stress, her bike crash earlier this summer, two other surgeries within the last year, the pandemic and whatever else … )

I stopped protesting about having help with dinner and only meekly protested when she beat me to the dishes last night.

So, after a semi-demanding week — and it should be fairly said that my bosses have been sympathetic and understanding about all of this — I am looking forward to staring mutely at the maple tree.

I’m hoping that, next week, she can finally get a full night of rest. Four weeks removed from the last one, she’s surely due. I might be, too.