May 23

Sitting around the table

We drove all afternoon and into the evening on Friday. We got to my mom’s just in time for dinner, barbecue that we’d picked up in Nashville. The three of us sat at the kitchen table and spooned out brisket and sides and had a wonderful and tasty time of it.

Saturday felt like a good day to sleep in, but my shoulders didn’t feel like sleeping in. I’d lay on one side for a while, get a bit achy, roll over to the other side, get a bit achy, and repeat. But with all of that extra time, from the not sleeping in, I pestered my mom to give me things to do to help her around the house. She doesn’t like to give me things to do, because I’ve come to visit her and not to work, but then she likes the help. Also, having had a full lifetime of learning how, I am good at good-naturedly pestering my mother.

So I vacuumed the pool. Then I shimmied up a tall ladder to change a light bulb. After that we upgraded her security system.

She had some homemade chicken salad, which I requested, and bought our dinner. The way I see it, I was working for my food. Also it kept her from having to do a few things and cemented my status as The Best Child.

Sunday morning we went to church with my grandfather. The sign on the outside says the church dates back to 1939, which is a fairly decent amount of time for that hill and holler. Some of my grandfather’s people have lived up there since the state was a territory, so the church is half as old as the roots. I’ve written about this before. My great-grandfather gave the land to the church. He and his wife attended faithfully.

He led the singing, he offered prayers, he oversaw the Lord’s Supper and he helped run the business side of things. When we were visited, he and I would walk back down the street to his home. We raced the rest of the family, who took the car back. This was a big event for a little boy. Sometimes we won. But, always, my great-grandfather was game for the race, even when we started going a bit slower. Their son-in-law, my great-uncle, is an elder there today. There are still relatives from three different sides of my family tree that attend there.

It’s also getting grayer and thinner. My lovely bride and I were probably the second youngest people there. But they are lovely and inviting people. Always have been. I’ve visited there my entire life. I am a decades-long visitor.

A few years ago they went to a multimedia format for sermons. The preacher can point to his right and show you verses and illustrations from a PowerPoint or a Presi. This is nothing new, but it still amuses me to see it in this particular place. Occasionally they’d put a song on the screen, something that wasn’t in the hymnal. It’s odd, to me, when that happens. The songbook is an important part of everything.

Yesterday, you couldn’t help but notice the three cameras in the back of the building. This tiny little country church is streaming to the web. Someone writes them, my grandfather said, from another country. This tiny little, graying, country church is going global.

The preacher, a man who’s preached for 50-plus years, surely, mentioned the URL at the end of his sermon.

They’re still working on embedding those videos, though.

Today we chatted with a friend in Germany, giving him all of the best Memorial Day wishes, but as a joke. He’s active duty and it aggravates him to no end when people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as they often do. I was going to let it go this year, but then we heard a DJ in Nashville on Friday make the error, so then I had to incorporate that into the joke.

He’s going to be retired in the next year or two, but I’m sure we’ll still be sending him fake cards on the wrong days. At least he knows they are fake and in a properly sarcastic spirit.

If he wasn’t overseas we’d have invited him over for lunch. We had burgers and ribs and my grandfather came over, so we played dominos. Here’s my partner, ready to score all of the points.

Over the last four or five years, maybe, my grandfather has been teaching us. That sounds like it takes a long time and that we’re lousy students, but it’s a couple of games a trip, so our progress is uneven. My grandfather and my mom are a team, The Yankee and I are a team. They usually win. There’s no end to his joy at trouncing the college kids. And that is what they often do. All this education, we struggle counting dots. Two years ago, as a gag gift I received my own set of dominos and, to his eternal delight, a little solar powered calculator. We still win about the same amount, despite having the opportunity to practice. And, despite that opportunity, I am still very slow, because I am counting and doing math and trying to remember the rules and see the larger strategies and so on.

We win one or two here or there. The goal is to get to 500 points. He’s doing this math, two or three levels of it, really, in his head. My mother is crunching the numbers in her head. I am pointing at dots and mouthing words, “26, 27, 28 … ” For a good long while this amused him. Now, I think, he just wishes I would get better at it and hurry up and put down my bone so he can score 35 points with a simple flick of his wrist. Probably he’s going to put a time limit on me. That might not be a bad idea, actually.

I am the butt of a lot of jokes while we are playing dominos, but I earn them, and I own them. Once, he sent me a video of him counting dots, fiddling with his dominos, dropping them on the table, counting more dots. It wasn’t trash talk, it was trash gesturing. Without saying a word, he deconstructed my entire game, such as it is. He was completely absorbed in the tiles in his hand, and he only looked up at the camera at the very end, to smile. How can you not love that? Plus, my being the punchline makes him laugh, which is one of the all time best things.

Occasionally things break our way in the game, and we’ll win a hand. Today, for the first time ever I think, we won two games in a row. Also, late in one hand I found myself understanding the dominos that were still in play. I may have to count the dots, but I am learning to count tiles.

I resolved to get my dominos and start practicing even more.

May 23

Can I interest you in some perfectly-priced accessories?

The day passed slowly, but quickly. Warm, but mild. Bright, but indoors. Quietly but … no, it was actually quiet. Quite quiet.

Yesterday we bumped into our neighbors and they invited us to spend the evening on their lovely patio, which we did tonight. We talked work and kids and vacations and accidents. They are delightful and humorous.

Somehow we got on the subject of wardrobes. He is a retail professor and knows a thing or two about a thing or two. And so we found ourselves chatting about french cuffs and cufflinks. She brought out some links of her grandfathers. And of course I had to say I’ve just been making my own.

He was interested in this, and then I tried to describe the process. Finally, I just went over and brought some out to show off, including this batch I made in June 2021.

He likes them. Loves them. Wants to make them and mass produce them. We’re talking unit price and creation time and source materials and I find all of this amusing. He also came up with a price point. It’s mildly funny hearing someone plan out a business from something you do with idle hands. The best part was that she went inside to fetch this or that, and when she came back out he was still going on about it. As she came back outside I said, “He’s still talking about those cufflinks.”

Because she knows her husband, without pause or reservation or even condemnation, she said “I know. And he will all night.”

And, basically, he did.

I fully expect he’ll have the business model all nailed down this time next week.

At least I hope so. And, like all of my wildest ideas, may it make a mint. Or at least a cut of the profits my neighbor makes.

OK people, when we wrap up this post we’ll be officially, and momentarily, caught up in the Re-Listening project. This is the one where I’m playing all the old CDs in my car, in the order in which I acquired the disc. It has been a big week, because I was once again well behind in this content-padding trip down memory lane. Yesterday’s installment was from Guster, and today’s feature is from … Guster!

This was September or October of 1999. “Lost and Gone Forever.” I know that because their third studio album came out that September, and we saw them in October. I had the clever idea to put the ticket with the liner notes in my CD book, and it is still there today. Brian Rosenworcel broke his kit in Nashville the night before. I know this because he wrote about it.

This song isn’t from that performance, being from 2016 and in Boston, but in 1999, at Five Points South Music Hall in Birmingham, this was the first song we heard.

For a decade, between 1994 and 2003, that was a terrific venue. I saw a lot of good shows there, including my first live Guster performance. Two college friends and I went. One of them is still a social media friend. I wonder if she remembers this show. It was a long time ago.

Again, different performance, but this was the second song in that show, and track 5 on “Lost and Gone Forever.”

This was the fourth tune from our concert, wonderful then as it is beautiful now.

I don’t recall the songs from the show, which took place on a Wednesday night, but I did discover a site that, somehow and for some reason, publishes setlists. They even estimate the length of the show, which has to be wrong, but they don’t list the other acts. I think The Push Stars opened for them.

Anyway, the record finished 1999 at 169 on the Billboard Top 200. They played eight of the 11 tracks that evening, including the single “Fa Fa,” which, for my money, is perhaps the weakest song in the band’s entire catalog. It peaked at 26 on the Top 40.

If I recall correctly, the guy that produced this record was on the early part of the tour, playing bass. If you read into the show notes link above — and you did, didn’t you? — you find out the guy hadn’t played a bass in years. Spare a thought for someone who is in a rhythm section with the Thunder God.

On this listen, as is so often the case on this fantastic record, “I Spy” really stands out.

Guster is a great band (and a great show each time I’ve seen them, catch ’em if you can), and “Lost and Gone Forever” is a a terrific record. Having two of their discs back-to-back is a wonderful treat. And, somehow, the Re-Listening project is just getting better and better.

May 23

Oh, the laughs we had today

I’ve been working on cleaning up the ol’ email. I use my inboxes as To Do lists, so the email count there never gets too high. Right now there are 20 emails in my inbox and that, to me, is too high.

The other side of the coin is that there are folders aplenty. And sometimes those need to be cleaned out, too. Anyway, today I was able to wipe out the last of the old communiques from a no-longer important folder. This was the graphic Google rewarded me with.

I’ve deleted the label name to protect the innocent, but seeing that … that was a good feeling.

And it was worth a giggle. But not the biggest giggle of the day. But you’d need several anecdotes worth of backstory and 71 words to be able to properly appreciate that one.

After all of that email fun, and other paperwork fun, I got out for a nice little bike ride this evening. It was an easy hour, just 17 miles and change before the dark clouds threatened.

More urgent was the absence of any legs. This, I told myself, was just one more ride to try to feel better in the hardest gears. It was the regular roads, but the third ride in the last six days, after a week or so being off the bike. Just — huff– getting — wheeze — my legs back.

It was an almost perfect ride, though. There are presently four criteria in this category of bike rides. First, it has to either feel super easy or incredibly hard. Second, no matter which of the first, I have to be able to exit the bike at the end with grace and ease. Third, my shoes stay in the clips for the entire ride, meaning I never have to put my foot on the ground. And, fourth, no close passes.

The first did not happen, because the sensations were mediocre throughout. I almost got the second one — but since the first criteria wasn’t satisfied, it doesn’t count, not really. The third one did happen. My feet stayed in the pedals the entire ride. And the fourth criteria was almost met, but for a truck just near the end of the route. Thanks, black pickup truck.

So, really, about one-and-a-half of the criteria were met.

We were trying to recruit, via text message, a colleague and friend to a particular cause this evening. It’s a poli sci, comm theory guy, but he might be professionally miscast. He’s an outdoors man, a keen student of nature. And now he is very much interested in, among other ecological things, the health of the insect world.

Like most serendipitously random conversations that can tolerate puns, I drove the initial joke of insect biodiversity in the media straight into the ground.

My lovely bride? She knows who she married.

We’re still trying to make up ground on the Re-Listening project. I’m listening to all of my old CDs in order, of course. That’s not the part where I’m behind. I’m behind in needlessly writing about it here for content filler — and embedded videos. So let’s get to it.

We’re in early 1999, contextually, listening to Duncan Sheik’s second record, the 1998 release, “Humming.” He’d gotten accidentally famous on his debut record, which “Barely Breathing” helped drive to gold record status, earned a Grammy nomination and stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a year. I vaguely recall an interview once where he talked about playing small clubs this week, and then giant theaters the next. I’ve always thought, on the basis of nothing more than that interview, I’ve always thought that this release was a deliberate choice to go the other way. Less obvious pop, more introspective art.

That’s the first track. The album title, I’m pretty sure comes out of these lyrics after the bridge. You’re also listening to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which makes several appearances throughout the record.

Atlantic Records released this one as a single.

Didn’t really register on the charts, but it got him a guest slot on Beverly Hills, 90210.

This was the second single, and part of why I think choices were made on this record. Also, why couldn’t they get John Cusack in for this video?

Probably I’ve mentioned this before, but two lifetimes ago when I was a reporter and on the air everyday, I decided to replace vocal exercises with a few musicians. Duncan Sheik was one of those. And, for a time, this record was one of those things I played in my car a lot at 3:30 a.m. on my way to work.

I just rubbed my face, hard, at that memory. Evening typing “3:30 a.m.” made me tired. The point, though, memories of being ultra-sleep deprived aside, the vocal work Duncan Sheik does always impresses me. The man’s still got it, too. I ran across this cover a year or two ago.

These days, he’s not working as a touring musician, but he’s produced a lot of others’ work. There’s a lot of theater credits under his name — he won a Tony in 2007 — and you can find his music is all over movies and TV, as well. He won a Grammy the very next year.

He’ll appear in the Re-Listening project once or twice more, too. And he’s got about five more albums I don’t own, besides. And so I’ll add those to the list, too.

Up next on the list, musically speaking, another staple of the 1990s alt rock scene. But, first, the weekend!

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.