Nov 23

‘On your yellow bucket seat’

Today was Copeland Cookie Day in my classes. (And so was Monday.) Dr. Gary Copeland was a professor of mine. He retired soon after my cohort, and he passed away not too long after that. He didn’t get enough time with his beloved grandchildren, and no one got enough time with a widely beloved man. He was a giant of a scholar, a sweet-hearted man who always did a lot for his students.

In one class, he’d bring cookies, put away the syllabus and talk about whatever seemed important: conferences, papers, dealing with colleagues. A lot of the most important things we learned came from that non-class.

Because of that, that’s why I have a Copeland Cookie Day. I bring in snacks, put aside the plans and, for a few minutes, we just talk about industry, courses, war stories, whatever.

After classes were over we went for a run. It was too late in the day for a run. It was too late, which made it too cold. So I only did a quick mile, but I did see this part of the far side of the sunset.

I need to find my running gloves. And start dressing better than shorts and a t-shirt. ‘Tis the season, and all. Only, I have no idea where my running gloves are. I knew where they were, in a drawer, right by the refrigerator. But that was in the old house. And that was in June, in the chaos of packing our stuff when the packers no-showed, and when it was the middle of summer when gloves weren’t exactly a priority.

Where are they now? No idea, but mother nature is a necessity.

Since we’re at the beginning of the month, let’s look at the year’s cycling graph.

The blue line represents mileage I would accrue if I road seven miles a day, a basically arbitrary number I picked at the beginning of the year when I started this spreadsheet. Seven miles, on average, seemed doable.

Then I added columns, and lines, for nine and 10 miles per day. That’s why those three lines are nice and steady, daily projections are consistent, steady, reassuring.

But that purple line, that’s the one that reflects my actual mileage.

As I say so often, I need to ride more. Tomorrow, then.

But tonight, we dive back into the Re-Listening project. I’m playing all of my old CDs in the car, and in the order in which I acquired them. Right now, we’re in the summer of of 2003, when Guster’s “Keep It Together,” their fourth studio album, was released.

This is the first Guster album where the Thunder God, Brian Rosenworcel, played on a drum kit rather than his legendary hand percussion.

A bunch of musician’s musicians — Ron Aniello, Ben Kweller, Joe Pisapia, Josh Rouse and more — appear on the record, which peaked at number 35 on the Billboard Top 200. Thirteen tracks, I like 12 of them, and I love 11 of them. It’s a record that comes up a lot for me, and so the flashes of memories span, well, two decades now.

This is the first track, which was a trippy departure to hear as the first sounds on the thing.

“Careful” was released as a single, and it went to number 30 on the charts.

This was the lead single, which the label released before the album. “Amsterdam” climbers to the 20 spot on the charts. The band said, and you could never tell if it was a joke, that they wrote this just to get the label to fund a trip to Amsterdam for the video.

I think it was a joke.

Someone told me that this song reminded them of me. All melancholy and what not. I’m not sure if she didn’t understand the song or the word melancholy. Apparently, all of the guest musicians were allowed to record one pass (and only one pass) on this song. They didn’t hear the song before they played, or told chords or instruments. I don’t understand how that would even work out, but it’s a triumph. And not about a melancholy me.

“Jesus on the Radio” is now a crowd favorite singalong. They usually do this on stage as unplugged as possible, and if you look around on YouTube tons of fan videos have been uploaded. It’s odd that the band hasn’t done more with that fervor, he said mischievously. Here’s a version with Pisapia (who toured as the fourth member for seven years) on banjo.

There is a high quality version on the “Guster on Ice” DVD, also featuring Pisapia.

Here’s a more recent version, from four or five years ago, long after Luke Reynolds joined the band.

And, as the O’Malley family proved, most anything in your kitchen can be a percussion instrument.

Not just the O’Malleys, but all of their musical fans cover it and record it and upload “Jesus on the Radio,” too. And a few years ago the band made a supercut, and somehow, despite the changes in tempo from version to version, it mostly works. Except for that one.

I could do this all day. And I usually do, on Jesus on the Radio day, March 16th. I actually have the t-shirt. It was a Christmas gift a few years back.

Here’s the title track.

I could do this with the whole album, but I’ll wrap it up with a version of “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,” a thoroughly underrated song when it gets going, and, here, with symphonic accompaniment.

You will discover, about three minutes in, why the Thunder God is so named. It’s one of the few times on that particular record when he went back to his roots. (As I recall he was basically learning how to play a drum kit while they produced this record, partly to change the sound of the record, but, I think, also to give his hands something of a break.) Also, in the second half of that version, the brass, and certain of the strings make it sound absolutely triumphant. I wish they hadn’t come into the song until then.

I have the T-shirt featur that song too. I guess I should finally buy a Guster Is For Lovers shirt, to solidify my OG cred.

Original Guster cred, that is. I go back to the spring of 1997, when Guster Is For Lovers was one of the two things they sold.

Nov 23

There are a lot of plants

We had a garbage can out back full of leaves and pine needles. The wind caught the lid this morning and ripped it away from the can. I just happened to see it right after this happened, so I spent a few minutes cleaning that up. Putting the leaf bag in a different can, one that will be disposed of later this week. But we’d crammed that first can with so many leaves that I had to use a tool to pry the bag out. The bottom of the can smelled, for some reason, like root beer.

While I watered the plants the mail came. In the mail were two little indoor plant lights I’d ordered for the winter time. We have outdoor plants, but I can’t bring them indoors because cats will eat them. So they’re going into the basement. The plants, I mean, not the cats. The cats are kept out of the basement, which means they time their sprints perfectly to make it through the basement door.

So I strung up the two lights in the rafters. There seems to be one place where I can hang them and plug them in. It’s perfectly placed in the basement. I brought in four plastic lawn chairs, carried the plants down and put them on the chairs and turned on the plant lights. Surely the system will get refined as we go forward. I have to come up with a good way to water the plants, keeping the water in the pots and not on the floor, for example, and I want to put those lights on a timer.

Here’s the previous owner’s quirky decision that appeared in that plant-moving process. On the front porch they left a plant, a golden leaved pineapple sage, which is quite lovely. (You can just see a part of that plant in the photo below.) It sits in a container that is designed to straddle a handrail. They drilled the container into the handrail. It did not come off the handrail today, that frustrating little container holding the lovely, stemy, leafy thing, which is showing off brilliant little red flowers right now.

It’ll dip below freezing tonight. If the plant survives this little cold snap I’ll break out the drill.

That is a sentence that does not appear in any search engines.

Across the way, the neighbor’s tree is putting on a show. It’s a great view from the front door, and the picture window, which the cats are now enjoying.

Underneath that tree is the guy’s daughter’s toys. Right in the middle, little outdoor princess sets and the all weather tea table sort of thing. When she’s there, she’s out there. And when she’s not there, the play sets are: an imagination in progress.

It must be a magical time for a little girl that plays outside all the time. The grass in her yard is a rich, nitrogen-filled green, and now there’s a brilliant yellow carpet of leaves that she gets to dance and flit around on.

He mows his lawn a lot, but it seems like he’s leaving the leaves down. Maybe for pictures, or waiting to get them all, or just because she enjoys them, I don’t know. But it looks nice. Mostly because they’re not our leaves.

We’ll have plenty.

We went across the river this evening. As a perk from our recent hang with Gritty …

… he gave us tickets to a hockey game. Flyers hosted the Sabres. Both teams entered the contest 9-4. I know, it turns out, only very little about hockey. This is my fourth NHL game, on top of a slightly larger collection of minor league games. It’s not a sport I watch on TV, so I don’t know much. But I do know this: if you’ve got twice as many shots and you’re winning three quarters of the face offs, you should probably shoot more if you don’t want to lose 5-2.

And that’s what the Flyers did tonight. “Just shoot it!” must be the hockey equivalent of “Run the dang ball!” And “Just shoot it!” was uttered by pretty much everyone in the seats surrounding the rink.

The Flyers scored in the first 50 seconds and then halfway through the first period. Everyone should have gotten up, gone to their cars and headed for home right then.

Also, the man sitting in the row in front of us ordered cotton candy for his kids.

Nine dollars. Nine dollars for a stick of spun sugar!

Maybe I should buy a cotton candy maker. Tow it around, playing music like the ice cream trucks. I’ll only charge $8 a stick.

This is the 14th installment of We Learn Wednesdays. I’ve been riding my bike across the county looking at all of the local historical markers. A bike is an ideal way to undertake a project like this; you see new stuff, you learn new things. All of it that you don’t discover at the speed of a car. Counting today’s discoveries I have listed 32 of the 115 markers found in the Historical Marker Database.

This is a VFW memorial, a new one. It replaces a 1952 marker that shows up on the database. Google Street View’s last visit, sometime in November of last year, shows an empty patch of grass in this little triangle. But we have a nice, handsome display, standing new and proud on a main road in a small town.

On the back, two small markers.

You wonder where the old markers went. Hopefully in a proud spot in homes or offices.

Also at this site, you’ll find an anchor.

There are no details on it here. It was painted black when it was last on display.

And this gun, the Quick Firing 6-pounder, a 57 mm anti-tank gun. The British and the Americans used it in in the second half of World War 2. The Americans called it the 57 mm Gun M1.

It went into service in 1942 and the Americans used it until the end of the war, but by then the limitations of this weapon were on display. It had to be towed, and some wanted self-propelled weapons. There were also other guns in the field, and probably some on the drawing board. Plus there were fewer tanks to shoot at late in the war.

The British used it, too. And so did the Russians, and the Free French. Other nations used it in the years after. Apparently you can still find it in service in parts of South America. Modern cannoneers like it today because you can still find supplies for it. Some 36,000 of these were made during the war. I wonder how many of those 80-year-old pieces are on display in little towns like this.

In next week’s installment of We Learn Wednesday, we’ll discover a quiet little park for no particular reason. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Nov 23

Happy Halloween

I dressed as … me. Early in the day I had a Texas shirt on. Now I am wearing a Maryland shirt. I dressed as four percent of the United States. No one asked me, but I have categories for Halloween costumes. I would obviously fit in the not-wearing-a-costume category. Sometimes that one is also labeled the forgot-entirely category, or the “What do I have sitting around that I can justify as a lame costume?” category. I think costumes are for children, but at the same time, I don’t begrudge adults who have a lot of fun with it. (Some people have more than one costume and I admire how they spend their abundant free time.) Enjoy yourself, I say. But, if you’re over 15, leave the candy for the kids.

It’s a hard line approach i have to Halloween, let me tell you.

Much of today was doing busy personal work. Things like reorganizing my wallet with newly activated cards. Important work like watching half-hour long training videos for work. Valuable stuff like planning Thursday’s classes.

Much of that was a great casting about today. Rending this and gnashing that. But finally, here late in the evening, it all started to come together. Which means I will tomorrow have to lay things out a with a little more definition.

Other things today … lessee. A few, a tiny few, yard things, for it was overcast and damp and cold. And then I walked around delivering mail. Our carrier had a rough day of it yesterday. Three things for neighbors two houses up the street one direction landed in our box, and a magazine destined for someone two houses the other direction landed in our box. So I had to walk those things to the appropriate places.

Then the Canada geese flew overhead.

They were heading southeast by my reckoning, never a bad direction to go.

I also put a card in the mail today, all a part of the now regular test to see if things will arrive in anything approaching a timely fashion. When it came down to a post-2016-post-2020-post-everything, not many people, really, thought the mail would be the everyday thing that lost its reliability. It makes sense if you’re paying attention to the Postal Service, a big concern with many, and big, problems — but who pays attention to the Postal Service?

I am overdue in returning to the Re-Listening project. And we need to do some catching up, lest we fall behind like the postal service. Remember, if you can recall back that far in reading here, that the Re-Listening project is the one where I am listening to all of my old CDs, in the order of my acquisition. And I’m writing about it here to share some music and the occasional memory. These aren’t reviews, but they are fun little trips down memory lane.


I’ve somehow accumulated some of the less pleasant associations with this record, so I’m not going to dwell on that here. The music was good, so I guess i played it a lot, and there it was in the background, or the foreground, when things happened. As will happen. But, when I played “Waiting for My Rocket to Come” the other day, I was pleased with how well most of it still holds up.

Jason Mraz’s debut was released in 2002, and someone burned a copy of it for me sometime in 2003. (Or maybe I burned it from a library copy. It’s impossible to say, and it doesn’t matter. It sold 500,000 copies by the end of that and has since been certified platinum. There was the hit single, a top 40 introduction to all of us.

The record peaked at 55 on the US Billboard 200. And it climbed all the way to number two on the US Heatseekers Albums chart. Only Finch, a post-hardcore emo band I don’t recall at all, kept it from the top spot that May. I wonder what I was doing in May of 2003.

It seems like you should remember the yesterdays that were only two decades ago, he digressed.

It’s an impressive record. Tracks four, five and six are so distinct and different from one another, that you can forget he’s a young guy here, and that this is his first record.

Though, I’ll grant you, “Curbside Prophet” feels pretty dated 20 years on.

Mraz had all kind of success after his debut. His third record hit number three on the chart and was certified four times platinum. His fourth made it to number two, and spawned another top 10 hit. At least two more records made the top ten on the albums chart. He’s also won two Grammy awards. Most of which I had no idea about. But one other album should show up later in the Re-Listening Project.

It will probably happen before he goes on tour again. If you want to see Jason Mraz live it looks like you’ll have to wait until next summer.

Up next is Diana Krall’s sixth studio album. I picked it up because I knew some people would like it, and because it was another opportunity to add a little complexity to the collection. This is a jazz and bossa nova tribute record with a lot of great standards. All of which Johnny Mercer has to show up. And, sure enough, here’s the Johnny Mercer track.

This one proves the critics’ point. Diana Krall is almost a singular pianist and an incredibly accomplished singer. But it all gets swallowed up by string arrangements.

Yes, there’s a Hoagy Carmichael number. Actually, a Carmichael and Jane Brown Thompson number. And there’s a story. Carmichael wrote the music, inspired by a poem palmed to him anonymously while he was back visiting IU. The poem said J.B. Carmichael put the initials on the sheet music, but it took more than a decade to solve the mystery. Jane Brown Thompson died the night before the song was introduced on radio by Dick Powell.

That story made it onto an episode of “Telephone Time” a mid-1950s anthology drama series. Wouldn’t you know it, that episode of “Telephone Time” is one of the few that haven’t been uploaded to YouTube.

The title track is a Burt Bacharach standard.

The album topped the Canadian charts, won a Juno and a Grammy. Also, she’s wearing nice shoes in the cover photo.

Diana Krall is still performing. And if you want to fly south, like those geese, you can catch her touring in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia all this month.

In the Re-Listening Project installment, Thursday probably, we will once again discover how Guster is for Lovers.

Oct 23

Bikes and barns and books

Have you been enjoying Catober? Sadly it comes to an end this week. Cats are feted around here all year, but tomorrow is the last official day of Catober. Don’t worry, the kitties have some bonus photos planned for you. As ever, they like the spotlight. Which is why, next week, we’ll return to the regular Monday cat updates.

If you somehow missed some of this year’s Catober, click that link and scroll backward. There are five years of Catober photos with Phoebe and Poseidon to scroll through. Five years. Doesn’t seem like that should be the case. Time flies when you’re counting purr cycles.

Sorry, I had to hold a cat for 25 minutes, where was I?

Oh, yes. This was the weekend of the big weather change. Warm on Friday. Warmer on Saturday. Overcast today. Overcast and warmer tomorrow. We’ll be in the 50s on Tuesday. Next week, I think, is when we adjust the clocks, and we’ll all just get used to doing things on a different schedule until February and March, when the days start getting noticeably longer again. That’s fine, I suppose. There’s a lot to do indoors. But there are things to do outdoors, as well.

I have to bring in seven plants and set up a livable arrangement for them in the basement. We have to figure out how to protect a fig tree. What other fall maintenance needs to happen? And so on.

Also, there’s work, of course. My Monday class will have a midterm next week, so tonight’s class will be about preparing for that. And, in all of my classes, we’re now preparing for the big deep breath that will begin the last six weeks of the term. And while I’m wrapping up that fig tree — that’s what you do, I’m told, you wrap up a fig tree — I’ll be beginning to think about next semester’s classes.

It’s a pleasant enough cycle, the ebb and flow of the academic calendar. One week leads to the next and the next and then you’re thinking about the next semester, thinking about two terms at once. You’re only forever hoping you can make it be pleasant and effective enough for the people around you.

I had two nice bike rides this weekend. Friday, I shared a video from the ride, a reverse version of the regular lunchtime route. It was a good video, you should watch.

One part of the route takes you out to the river. There, you can see the Phragmites, an invasive plant that is trying to choke out more beneficial marsh plants.

Right there, it looks like they are winning. But I’m no coastal ecologist or botanist. At least they look nice.

Here’s one of the trees in the neighborhood, in Friday’s full glory.

Leaf blowers will be in full rapture by this time next week, I’m sure.

On Saturday I took a longer ride. This was a 51-mile ride to the other end of the county — hunting for historical markers for a future post — that ended at a state park. Of course there’s a video.

I saw some good barns on the ride down.

Picture book quality stuff, really, in a picturesque farming landscape. It’s quite lovely, really, as you can tell from the video.

Down at the state park, which sits where the pine barrens and hardwood forests meet, there’s a diverse ecology, at least 50 species of trees, more than 180 species of birds and …

The markers I wanted to find were in the state park — a place with a long and complex history. The first Europeans came into the area in the 1740s, but there’s plenty of evidence of Lenape habitation before that. In 1796, Lemuel Parvin dammed the Muddy Run stream to power a sawmill, thus creating a lake, named after him, and the future state park, that also shares his name. Turns out he’s buried in a cemetery I went right on Saturday, not too far away. In 1930, the state bought the acreage to make a park. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed much of that park, which, in 1943, was a summer camp for the children of interned Japanese Americans. The next year it was a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers captured in Africa, and in the 1950s it was refugee housing for Kalmyks.

The first marker was easy to find, and right where it should have been. After some time, longer than I’d anticipated, I found the second marker almost by chance. It was, really, my last guess, because the day was getting late.

I only had to ride about 20 miles back under fading daylight. I changed my route … OK, I took a wrong turn … but it worked out better. Better, clearer roads, broader shoulders. And just seven or eight miles from the house it finally got dark. I had to turn on my headlight. Took a roundabout, turned on the headlight and pedaled straight up a clean, broad-shouldered highway for five miles, through town just after it got properly dark.

It’s OK, though, because there’s only three miles or so more to go. Country-dark, but good roads. And look at the quality of this light.

The battery died on the last mile or so, which was disappointing and a bit of a surprise. It just went dark, and right before a little downhill where gravel gathers. I was able to get it back on for a few seconds, to navigate that stretch. And then finished the ride in quite and darkness. OK, by the oddly spaced streetlights and neighbors’ porch lights. It was great.

I bought new batteries for the bike light yesterday.

And I finally got around to finishing Eudora Welty’s memoir, which I’ve been sitting on since August. One Writer’s Beginnings (1984) is the only thing of hers I’ve ever read. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but she’s a really fine writer. This third section, the last part of series of lectures she delivered at Harvard before turning them into this book, is the lesser of the three, but only because the first two parts were so charming and strong.

Throughout, she talked about her bygone days, and a great deal of this section is about her parents, her beloved father, a captain of the insurance industry who died far too young, her mother who lived, as Eudora said, with grief as her guiding emotion. These were two people who came from Ohio and West Virginia, got married and moved to Mississippi as an adventure and had three children. Eudora grew up the oldest of three surviving children, but she was writing all of this in her seventies, when she was the last of her siblings. (One of her brothers served in the Pacific during World War 2. They were an insurance man and an architect by trade.) There’s a reverence and profound introspection involved with that much time and perspective, and all of her endearment. She talks about the characters she’s written, how they aren’t the people she knows, but how they are sometimes inspired by people she’s met. No less a scribe than Robert Penn Warren teased his way through this, through the beauty and difficulty of human relationships in Welty’s writing, in his famous love and separateness review. That was in 1944, and by then she was well on the path to literary success: having people disagree and/or find infinite layers of nuance to your themes. What, then, could I add to the larger, impressive body of work of a critically important author?

I’m glad I read this memoir. And though I don’t read a lot of her, if you like human themes, fiction or old Mississippi, you should start dogearing some pages today.

Oct 23

Just a bike video

Beautiful day, pleasant ride, and some half decent footage. I can think of no better way to celebrate the weekend.

Happy weekend to you, too!