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Egg-cellent.

My wife and I get local eggs from a friend of hers with a farm. It’s a bit out of town but chickens have been allowed within Nashville’s city limits since 2014—and chickens only. Roosters are definitely not allowed but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard crowing once or twice in certain areas so either some people have roosters or are doing a pretty good imitation of one at six in the morning, which, now that I think about it, wouldn’t be that surprising. Hey, Nashville attracts some weird people or, in my case, produces them, but that’s another story.

The variety of eggs we get reminds me that a few years ago a young woman who worked at the same place I do and who lived in my neighborhood started riding the same bus as me and we’d walk part of the way home together. It was kind of nice sharing the trip with someone else. I learned she was originally from Athens, Georgia, and I’m still not sure if I committed a faux pas by saying, “I love the B-52s!” but I think we bonded over the fact that it’s another southern city that produces its own kind of weirdness.

She also told me about her chickens. She was one of the first in the area to get a chicken permit and had her own backyard coop and seven different chickens of various breeds, each with their own distinct personality. She made having backyard chickens sound like so much fun I was tempted to talk my wife into getting some of our own but there were also some problems. She’d had twelve but lost five to predators, probably foxen, although we also have coyotes and raccoons in the area. There was also the mess and the coop needed regular cleaning.

“And then there are the eggs,” she said, sighing. “Sometimes I so many eggs I get sick of them. I’ve tried every possible recipe for eggs I can find. The other night I made deviled eggs just for something different and my husband ate most of them in one sitting.”

Actually that sounded pretty good to me. At every family gathering and potluck I’ve been to someone brings a plate of deviled eggs and I have to remind myself not to eat all of them. That’s not weird, right?  

 

Play On.

Who invented playgrounds and why? It’s an interesting question because they’re a fairly modern development, basically created in response to growing urban populations and the need to keep kids off the streets. Although before the rise of automobiles streets were usually crowded they were still used by horse-drawn carts and, most kids being short, they weren’t always easy to spot and could get run over. While the first playgrounds attached to schools were created in Germany in the 1840s, the idea of child psychologist Friedrich Fröbel, the first play area for kids that wasn’t part of a school was opened in Manchester, England, in 1859.

While that much is known I can’t find anything about who had the idea for that first playground. It was probably a collective idea, though, and, kids being kids, they probably staked out their own territory even in areas that didn’t have a designated play area. I grew up reading John D. Fitzgerald’s Great Brain books, set in small-town Utah in the late 19th century, and one recurring spot for adventures was a vacant lot the kids were allowed to use as long as they kept it clear of trash and weeds.

Looking at contemporary playgrounds I’m a little amazed and a little jealous of how they’ve changed just in my lifetime. The playground at my first school had a collection of all-metal jungle gyms in various configurations and they were fun to play on but they also got hot in the sun. I also remember the day I was sitting at the very top of the tallest one, a squarish rectangular contraption painted bright orange, when I slipped and fell. Most playgrounds now are covered with soft material but in those days it was gravel and often crinoid fossils. I think I blacked out for a moment and I remember moaning, trying to get my breath, but, aside from a few scrapes, I was okay after a few minutes and climbed right back up.

That brings me to how I’ve heard people say, some sarcastically and some, I think, seriously, that modern playground equipment is too safe, and that all the hot metal and sharp edges and rocks toughened us up. I’m pretty sure those who are so cavalier about safety aren’t thinking about their own kids, or may not have kids at all. Anyway here’s an interesting fact: an early advocate of playgrounds in the United States was Teddy Roosevelt. Yes, the archetypal tough guy and Rough Rider believed kids needed a safe place to play. I’m sure he had his critics who felt that giving kids playgrounds was coddling them and that back in their day they were toughened up by having to play in the street.

A Three Hour Tour.

When I heard about a riverboat getting stuck on a sandbar my first thought was, It could be worse. Sure, I doubt it was a pleasant experience but they were always within sight of land and it seems to have been a pretty easy rescue. And I had a worse experience on a riverboat once. I was with my cousin Kevin.

I wanted to like Kevin, really. We weren’t that far apart in age and we both liked science fiction and I was pretty easygoing and could find something positive about most people, but Kevin complained about everything, and he had no filter. We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years and when my aunt and uncle and cousins came to visit the first thing Kevin said to me when I went up to say hello he said, “Wow, you’ve really grown. The last time I saw you you were a short, dumpy little kid. I hope you’re not as annoying as you used to be.” So our visit was off to a terrific start. Then he complained about lunch, that the tuna fish didn’t have relish in it, that we had corn chips instead of tortilla chips. He complained that there was nothing to do in my neighborhood. He complained that I stayed up too late and got up too early, except for the night when I went to bed early and then he complained about that. We went to a pizza place I liked. He took one bite of the pizza and told me there was a pizza place where he lived that was better, but I knew that if we’d visited him and gone to that pizza place he’d find something to complain about. The only thing that did make him happy was that we had an Intellivision game console and he and I actually spent some happy time together playing video games, but my parents put strict time limits on the game use and he complained about that. Not to my parents, though. I was the lucky one who got to hear all his complaints. Then, a little over halfway through the visit, although it seemed longer, the Intellivision broke and if you guessed that he complained about that give yourself ten bonus points.

I suggested we go see Gremlins which was out that summer. He told me he’d read the book and it was “really stupid” so he had no interest in seeing the movie.

“Maybe the movie’s different,” I suggested, trying really hard to sound cheerful.

“The movie’s exactly like the book,” he said. Then he had to complain that we only had crunchy peanut butter and he liked the creamy kind. I had a new pocketknife at the time and I seriously thought about jabbing it into his neck but the only thing that stopped me is I didn’t want to damage it.

My parents had booked a ride on the General Jackson riverboat and, as far as I know, my aunt and uncle enjoyed it, and I got a kick out of it too. There wasn’t much for kids to do but I had fun just walking around and exploring it. Or I would have if Kevin hadn’t followed me around the entire time complaining about how boring it was and the river looked terrible and there was a small waterfall off the starboard side that I thought looked pretty cool but he wouldn’t shut up about how pathetic it was. I was seriously tempted to throw him overboard but I knew getting away from him wouldn’t be that easy and I didn’t want to listen to him complain about the rescue.

Pushing Boundaries.

Manuscript of Les 120 Journées de Sodome by the Marquis de Sade. Source: The Guardian

When a friend sent me a news item that a handwritten manuscript by the Marquis de Sade has been returned to France and said, “When I saw this I thought of you” I wanted to say, “Gee, thanks,” but I knew what he meant. Maybe I knew a little too well what he meant. In college I went through a phase of reading everything I could find by and about Sade. I even read a paper on his work to a local chapter of the Samuel Johnson Society. After I was done the members took me out to dinner and the vice president laughed as she paid my bill, saying, “It’s so funny that I’m sponsoring scholarship of the Marquis de Sade.”

I’m not sure I really got across just what a terrible person he was, or how terrible his writings are, but that was my fault. I wasn’t into his kinks—he’s the source of the term “sadism” after all—but I was enthralled by just how extreme his works were. He covered subjects I didn’t think people in the 18th century even thought about, much less wrote about. He took the idea of “natural man”, unfettered by the laws and standards of civilization, that Rousseau wrote about and Voltaire parodied, to its extremes, asking, what does absolute freedom look like? How much he did personally isn’t clear–he was smart enough not to put too much of his personal life to paper, at least in prison, or maybe but he did but a lot of his work was burned after his death. I’m pretty tolerant of what consenting adults do among themselves but he didn’t seem to care about consent, or limit himself to adults. He beat several prostitutes, was accused of poisoning some with what he probably thought was an aphrodisiac, abducted his sister-in-law, and tried to molest some peasant children. Being a nobleman he might have gotten away with all that too in pre-revolutionary France, but he had a wealthy mother-in-law. His own family was aristocratic but bankrupt and his mother-in-law used money to keep him locked up for various reasons including blasphemy. It didn’t help that some of his exploits got enough public attention that authorities felt compelled to act, and, after the revolution, he still represented the excesses of the aristocracy to many and that Napoleon ordered him arrested for some of his published books.

Anyway there’s no book of his that tries to answer the question of absolute freedom as much as the one that’s just been returned to France: Les 120 Journées de Sodome ou l’école du libertinage. He wrote it, and several other works, while imprisoned in the Bastille. Some of those works he published but Sodom, written in tiny letters on a scroll more than twenty feet long, he kept hidden in his cell. It was unpublishable, maybe even unprintable—at least at the time, and part of me wonders if it should have stayed that way.

On July 2nd, 1789, Sade started screaming from his window that the prisoners were being murdered and the people should rise up and free them. He was taken out and moved to the Charenton asylum where he’d spend the rest of his life. Twelve days later French revolutionaries would storm the Bastille. I don’t think there’s any evidence Sade had anything to do with that, and I doubt he did ; the prison had become a symbol of the monarchy and a raving nobleman probably didn’t get much sympathy. Sade thought his manuscript was destroyed in the attack ; in fact it was found and passed through various collectors.

As fascinated—even charmed—as I was by Sade Sodom was a hard book o get through. Like all his works the plot, if you can even call it that, is pretty simple : four noblemen, a duke, a bishop, a judge, and a banker spend five months in a remote castle where they rape and abuse each other’s wives and children while being entertained with tales of increasing sexual depravity by four prostitutes. The whole thing ends with a murderous orgy, the noblemen marry the prostitutes, having killed their own wives and children, and return to their respectable lives. It sounds almost like satire, and Sade definitely intended it as an attack on the nobility, but even his notes—he didn’t finish the book and most of it is a rough outline—are so detailed it seems like he took real pleasure from what he was supposedly condemning.

It’s a book that pushes boundaries, and it’s so full of rape, torture, and murder I had to skip parts of it, and it really broke any romantic notions I had of him. He could be charming both in life and in his writing but in both he also had a very, very dark side. And his philosophy has some major weaknesses. Sade was interested in defining freedom but his idea of freedom was limited to men of a certain social class; almost everyone else was disposable. When the French Revolution happened he claimed to support it but really, I think, just hoped to be freed from the asylum. He also wanted to return to his luxurious castle and the life he’d enjoyed before prison—he never directed his hatred of the nobility toward himself; when he could get away with a crime he was proud, when he couldn’t it was someone else’s fault, which is ironic for a guy who wrote so scathingly about hypocrisy.

The Marquis de Sade is less famous for who he really was than what he represents—freedom, especially sexual freedom—but who he really was, and what he wrote, raises complicated questions about what freedom means and what its limits should be. So I’m glad Les 120 Journées de Sodome now belongs to the French government. They can keep it.

As Long As The Sun Shines.

Source: imgur.com

So after I wrote about the boneheaded plan to blow up southern California’s desert as a way of building a speedier alternative to Route 66 I read about something that’s actually an amazingly good idea: solar canopies over parking lots. Back in April an IKEA store in Baltimore put solar panels over its parking lot, and the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the city of Santa Cruz have put solar canopies over parking lots too.

It’s one of those so-simple-it’s-smart kind of ideas. The solar panels can generate electricity and they can provide shade at the same time, and if you’ve ever had to hoof it over a parking lot on a hot day, or even a cold day when the sun is out, you know how warm the pavement can get. And hot pavement adds to climate change so cooling that down even a little and capturing some of the energy seems like a really good idea.

Solar canopies can provide energy for the stores that use them, including the lights in the parking lot, or, with the rise of electric cars, they can power charging stations. And imagine some of the otherwise unused space on the roofs of parking garages helping power the lights, ticket booths, and gates on the floors below.

I know a lot more is needed than just putting up the canopies—there’s wiring that’s needed and solar panels obviously don’t work all the time, but still there are a lot of benefits.

And here’s a funny thought: solar power is nuclear power. The source just happens to be a relatively safe 93 million miles away.

It’s A Bird.

Source: Netflix, Atypical

The following post is completely 100% spoiler free regarding the Netflix show Atypical. Seriously, you’ll get more spoilers from the Season 4 trailer than you will from a few brief remarks I’ll make about the show’s premise.

Atypical is focused on Sam, a young man on the autism spectrum, his younger sister Casey, his parents, his best friend and coworker Zahid, and his girlfriend (although there’s some trouble getting there) Paige.

Even though it’s a comedy Sam’s autism isn’t treated as a joke—although his occasional bluntness does give the show some of its funnier moments and, okay, here’s a small spoiler: one of the show’s most popular lines is when Sam excitedly tells his parents, “I got a hand job in an igloo!” But really the show gives every character their own quirks and difficulties dealing with the world around them. Sam may be the main character but the real point is that  everyone’s atypical.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about is a scene in Season 4, Episode 1, in which Casey is out for a run. She’s gone through some major changes of her own, particularly in season 3, and is struggling with how to talk to her father. She stops in front of a street painting of a bird.

Birds are a subtle but recurring theme throughout Atypical. Sam is fascinated with Antarctica and especially penguins. He draws penguins and when stressed repeats the four penguin species: “Adélie, Chinstrap, Emperor, Gentoo,” a habit some of the others pick up on.

The bird Casey sees obviously isn’t a penguin. In fact it may not be a real bird at all. The point is that, as the scene pivots back and forth between Casey’s face it’s clear she’s making a decision. What significance does the bird have for her? Why does seeing it help? None of that is clear. It’s a really short scene—less than a minute, just long enough to let us see it and to see that Casey is making a decision, and the payoff doesn’t come until later, almost at the very end of the episode. It’s unusual in any TV show, but especially a lighthearted comedy, to have a scene that’s so ambiguous, even vague, and—but I love that the producers trust the audience enough to do something so atypical.

Rejected Writing Prompts.

The moisturizer didn’t start working until several applications later.

 

Why aren’t amino acids called “amateur teins”?

 

It wasn’t apropos—it was the propos.

 

Things used to turn on a dime. With inflation they turn on a dollar.

 

Nothing had changed. So had everything.

 

How much power does it take for your phone to warn you the battery is low?

 

Creaky door in a full house on a summer afternoon—no big deal.

Creaky door in an empty house in the middle of the night in late fall or early winter—utterly terrifying.

Creaky door in an empty house in the middle of the night in summer—hey, might as well check it out, it’s not like you have to get dressed or anything.

 

Opening dialogue:

“How can we get people to come to the event?”

“I could give out samples of my wine cake.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

“Oh, it’s not what it sounds like. It’s soaked in vodka!”

 

The dessert known as a Baked Alaska in the United States is called a Norwegian Omelet in France.

 

One-hundred and eighty minutes later we realized it had been three hours.

 

Do cowboys ever pretend they’re 7-year olds?

 

Was “Bingo” the name of the dog or the farmer?

 

Did telegram messengers use stationery bikes?

 

I’ve never run a Marathon but one summer I did work as a clerk at one of their gas stations.

 

You don’t meet a lot of women with “Jr.” after their name.

 

We chose the Czech airport for reasons that were purely Prague-matic.

 

My life was influenced by the Greek philosopher Mediocrites.

 

Why is there lemonade but no grapefruitade, kumquatade, or banananade?

 

Opening dialogue:

“They really treat you like family at this restaurant!”

“Here’s your bill, and as soon as you’re done you can start washing the dishes.”

 

In the end the salmon was a red herring.

 

Ray Bradbury said, “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” Prove him wrong.

Fallout.

Source: Giphy

It’s hard to believe that scientists and engineers in the United States once considered using nuclear explosions to build new highways. Then again I look at the amount of blasting that must have been done to carve roads through rocky areas and it’s not that hard to believe that in the early days of the atomic era everyone was looking for a way to use the weapons that had devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki to build something beneficial, and the proposal was optimistically named Project Plowshare, from the Biblical book of Isaiah, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares…neither shall they learn war any more,” although the idea was to create a national defense network that would bypass the popular but slow Route 66.

And again all this was first proposed in 1963, eighteen years after the atomic bombs that ended World War II were dropped, and scientists had a pretty good idea by that time that, unlike traditional explosives, nuclear weapons have long-lasting and pretty unpleasant side effects, and they’d be detonating bombs with a total yield about one-hundred and fifteen times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima just eleven miles north of Route 66. While I can’t say exactly how terrible the after-effects would have been I think most of us can agree that they wouldn’t have been good. The lingering contamination from an attempt to make a bypass could have made the whole area impassable. And I say most of us because this a serious plan that would only finally be abandoned in 1975, two years after I-40 would finally unite the California towns of Barstow and Needles. It seems to have only been dropped because of logistics and not because cooler heads prevailed over warheads.

Even though atomic bombs were never used there would be fallout. The town of Amboy, which thrived as a major stop along Route 66 , went into decline. Its major historic attraction, Roy’s Motel and Cafe, has been closed, in spite of attempts to revive it, since 2005.

Several years ago my wife and I passed through Needles as we took I-40 on a trip to California’s coast. A friend from northern California who’d been through there before called it “godawful Needles” but we were struck by the stark beauty of the desert. Something that comes to mind when I read about Project Plowshare is that deserts may look empty but all that barrenness hides complex ecosystems. It’s not just people who would have been affected by a series of nuclear explosions. Maybe we can’t really know just what the extent of the damage would have been and maybe we’re better off not knowing.

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