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Island Life.

“If Once You Have Slept On An Island” by James Wyeth.

Last week a coworker moved to Cleveland, which would be a heck of a commute if it were Cleveland, Tennessee, but, no, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, which I’ve visited and thought was a pretty cool town. I visited the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I got to walk around the Botanical Garden while it was still under construction because I wandered in while the building crew was all out on a lunch break. It didn’t look like much at the time–there was a lot of plastic sheeting and plants in pots, but I’m sure it’s much nicer that they’ve finished it. Anyway I wished my coworker well and said “Don’t get lost backstage!” but that’s another story. And while I enjoyed my time in Cleveland I was there in the summer, and, nice as it was, I’m not sure it’s a place I’d want to live. I’ve checked the winter weather in Cleveland and I’m not sure I’d want to even visit in January or February.

The same day that we had a video farewell for the coworker headed to The Forest City a friend sent me an article about an island for sale. Most islands are out of my price range–I’ve checked–but this one seems like a bargain at just $339,000, which is actually doable based on the offers my wife and I have gotten for our house. It has a really nice four bedroom home already built on it and, being on an island, of course it has a spectacular view of the water. The downsides include the fact that Ducks Ledges Island island is only 1.5 acres, there’s no heat or running water, and, well, it’s an island on the ocean which means in a few years it’s likely going to be underwater. Literally. The home is built to withstand flooding but I’m not sure I’d want to stick around and find out how much flooding it can take.

It’s also in Maine. I’d mostly put this in the positive category. There are nice people in Maine, there’s a lot of fun stuff to do there, a lot of interesting wildlife–quite a bit of which shows up on the island–but it’s an area where the weather can get more than a little rough. The owner requires anyone interested to spend a night on the island, which sounds more like a setup for a Scooby Doo mystery than a real estate transaction, but it makes sense. The owner is saying caveat emptor up front and giving potential buyers a chance to suss out the caveats. I’d recommend staying overnight in the winter for anyone planning a permanent residence, but it sounds like even the current owner doesn’t stay there all year.

Also I suspect that if there’s no running water or heat the wifi is probably spotty at best which would make telecommuting difficult, so I’ll just stick closer to where there’s ice cream.

Ducks Ledges Island. Source: Insider

From The Sky.

The James Webb Space Telescope is big in the news right now but, in a funny coincidence, we had something fall from the sky in our backyard recently. At first I didn’t know what it was and I saw it coming from a long way away, drifting up over the house like a mutant cloud, dark but with hints of light, trailing a narrow black tail.

Then it came down in the driveway and I could see it had once been a balloon–a giant 2, I think, that had popped open somewhere up in the air before it came down to rest, still exhaling some of its precious helium–but not enough for me to suck in and make my voice sound funny. Why a 2? That’s a mystery in itself. A black number birthday would most likely be one that ended with a zero–forty being the big one, but it’s all downhill from there. Maybe it was for a goth kid’s 12th birthday.

Balloon escapes seem to happen all the time. There’s a party supply store I drive by occasionally and I’ve seen people struggling to get clusters of balloons into their cars and I’d like to help but even if it weren’t weird to have a stranger come up and offer to hold your balloons what could I do? There’s no easy way to manage a bundle of plastic or mylar sacks filled with lighter than air gas and, now that I think about it, I guess “balloons” is a better name because it would sound even worse to have a stranger come up and offer to hold your lighter than air sacks, but that’s another story.

I know some kids love to get balloons and then let go of them–go to any theme park on any day and you’re bound to see at least one balloon flying over the crowd–but I was a kid who held onto balloons and would take them home. I loved the film The Red Balloon which teachers at school or adults at church would have us watch on rainy days when we couldn’t go outside. I didn’t care that my balloons didn’t follow me. I was happy to fall asleep watching my balloon bob around on the ceiling, only to wake up to it wrinkled and sad on the floor.

The only time I let a balloon go was when I tied a note to the string with my name and a little bit about me–I don’t remember what, exactly, and my address. “Please write back to me,” I wrote, with the urgency of an eight-year old. Then I let it go and watched it soar up and up and up until I couldn’t see it, and I imagined it sailing across states, maybe across the ocean, landing in the hands of another kid like me but different enough that we could share the strangeness of our lives.

No one ever wrote. But I did have a large black 2 come down in the driveway, and I shared it with a friend who texted back, “Are you wearing Crocs?”

I’ve learned to take the strangeness where I can find it.

Size Matters.

Asteroid 7335 (1989 JA), which made its closest pass by the Earth on May 27, 2022, has been described as being “the size of 350 giraffes”.

 

Asteroid 2017 VL2 which came within 70,000 miles of Earth on November 9, 2017, has been described as being “the size of a whale”.

 

Asteroid 2022 EB5 which landed in the North Atlantic between Norway and Iceland on March 14, 2022, has been described being “half the size of a giraffe”. And also “the size of a grand piano”.

 

Asteroid 2021 GT2, which, at its closest, was 2.2 million miles from Earth, has been described as being “the size of three blue whales”.

 

Asteroid 2022 KP3 passed by Earth at a distance of a little over eight hundred thousand miles the week of June 1st and was described as “the size of an average male giraffe”.

 

Asteroid 2022 NF, which passed just 56,000 miles from the Earth on July 7th was described as being “the size of a bus”.

 

Asteroid 2019 NW5, which will make its closest pass of around 3.5 million miles on July 18, 2022, has been described as “bigger than the Statue of Liberty”. And also “airliner-sized”. And “bus-sized”.

 

Asteroid 418135 (2008 AG33) at its closest was about two million miles form Earth on April 28th, 2022 was described as “the size of two Empire State Buildings”.

 

Asteroid 7335 (1989 JA) which passed the Earth at a distance of about four million miles on May 27, 2022 was described as being “the size of a small island”.

 

Asteroid 7482 (1994 PC1) which passed by Earth at a little less than two million miles on January, 18, 2022, was described as being “four times the size of the Eiffel Tower”.

 

Asteroid 2020 QG which came within just 1,830 miles of Earth on August 16, 2022, was described as “car-sized”.

 

Asteroid 2007 UY1 which passed Earth at around 3.3 million miles on February 8, 2022, was described as being “the size of the London Eye” and also “football-field sized”.

 

Asteroid 469219 (2016 HO3), also known as Kamoʻoalewa, discovered in 2016 at the University of Hawaii, remains at least 9.1 million miles from Earth as it orbits the Sun and has been described as “comparable in size to the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy or the Cinderella Castle in Disney World”.

 

The asteroid that hit the Earth, creating the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatán Peninsula, and wiped out the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago, has been described as “mountain-sized” and also “the size of San Francisco”.

And finally…

“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”–Douglas Adams

 

Seeing Double

I stopped at the library to drop off a book and when I got back to my car, which was a total round trip of about a hundred feet and less than a minute, it was locked. That’s funny, I thought. I don’t remember locking the car. Then I noticed there was a bottle of water in the center console. That’s really funny, I thought. I don’t remember having a bottle of water. Or some plastic flowers. Or a pink sweatshirt in the passenger seat.

Of course it wasn’t my car. I’d parked next to a completely identical blue Honda which, admittedly, isn’t that surprising. It is a little strange that I didn’t notice sooner, although I think I have a certain car blindness. I wouldn’t say that all cars look alike to me but I don’t exactly notice makes and models either. It’s why I’m terrified of witnessing an accident or a crime or something and being questioned about it.

“So you say you saw the bank robber get into a car and go west down 21st Avenue. What kind of car was he driving?”

“Well, it was…blue.”

Fortunately the car I briefly tried to get into didn’t have an alarm which would have been embarrassing. Car alarms seem to have fallen out of fashion after a time when they seemed to be everywhere and annoying everybody. And the driver wasn’t around, or at least they didn’t notice or say anything, although we probably could have had a good laugh about the fact that we were each driving identical cars, probably purchased in the same year, and even though Honda isn’t paying me I still feel I should say they’re amazingly dependable and run forever. We bought the one we’ve got now in 2019 to replace one we purchased in 1999—even on the same day, exactly twenty years earlier—and if we’d just replaced the fuel pump on the 1999 one it might still be running now.

Having realized my mistake I walked over to my car and got in and that’s when I saw that there was a bottle of water in the center console. Which I still don’t remember putting there.

Something Sweet.

I’d dropped the car off at a chain repair place for some maintenance and told them I’d wait the few hours. Then I went to the McDonald’s next door because of course there was a McDonald’s next door—it was one of those bland shopping clusters you’ll find just about everywhere. 
I ordered one of their frozen coffee beverages. 
“The machine’s broken,” the woman at the register told me, because of course it was. Ice cream machines at every McDonald’s everywhere are broken. Then she said, “but I’ll make up something sweet for you.”
A few minutes later she’d made up a tall concoction of coffee, cream, and caramel syrup and only charged me for a small regular coffee drink.
 
I went for a walk, amused by the contrast of the bland shopping area and the standardization of everything and my custom coffee drink. 
Then I saw the base of a street lamp decorated with what looked like a lotus design. Or maybe it was just a flower. Either way someone had added a little individual flair to something that was dull and standard. 
They didn’t do it for me—I’m not sure they had anyone In mind since it’s not a place where people walk normally—but I appreciated that someone had done something sweet.

The Secret’s Out.

Source: Wikipedia

For some reason of all the films that made the summer of 1982 feel like on where I practically lived in movie theaters the one that’s stuck with me the most is The Secret Of NIMH, which came out in July of that year. I saw it twice that summer, which wasn’t unusual—this was before we had VCRs, and, in fact, just before the arrival of cable TV, and even after cable and VCRs became part of our lives I’d still frequently see a movie first with my parents or alone then go back with my friends. The second time I saw The Secret of NIMH was also a special free screening arranged by the local schools. Maybe this was because it was based on the Newbery Medal-winning novel by Robert C. O’Brien, Mrs. Frisby & The Rats Of NIMH.

I hadn’t read the book but my friend John, who went with me the second time, had, so I asked him what he thought of it.

“I hated it,” he said flatly.

I felt bad about this, as though I were somehow responsible. Yes, I thought it was a great movie and I told him how much I enjoyed it, but since it was free and every kid in my school packed the theater he probably would have gone anyway. I was so taken aback by his response I didn’t think to ask him why he hated it, but then I read the book, which I’d been meaning to do anyway, and I understood.

For the most part the book and movie tell the same story, although the name of Mrs. Frisby had to be changed to Brisby to avoid confusion with flying plastic discs: she’s a field mouse whose husband has been killed by the farmer’s cat. It’s early spring and she’s about to move her family to their summer home. The farmer plows over their winter home every spring, but her youngest son Timmy is sick from a spider bite and can’t be moved. With the help of a friendly crow named Jeremy she visits The Great Owl who tells her to go to the rats that live in the farm’s rosebush. When she does she learns her husband and the rats were the subject of experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, that enhanced them physically and mentally. Her husband helped the rats escape and they’ve built an elaborate underground city, stealing electricity from the farm. Their husband continued helping the rats by drugging the farmer’s cat. She offers to do the same so the rats can come and move her home to a spot safe from the plow. She’s caught in the act by one of the farmer’s children and overhears that people from NIMH are coming to gas the farm’s rats. She escapes, the rats move her home, the rats, who were uncomfortable with stealing, set off to build an independent civilization, and Timmy gets better.

The movie was produced and directed by animator Don Bluth, who, along with fifty other animators, left Disney in 1979 in protest over declining animation quality. And The Secret Of NIMH really does have some excellent animation. Character movements are smooth, there are realistic-looking people and animals, there are water effects, lighting effects, and reflections. The color palette is broad and vivid. And they didn’t hold back making Mrs. Brisby’s meeting with The Great Owl, voiced by John Carradine, serious nightmare-fuel, or change the fact that in the story death is ever-present. This wasn’t a condescending kids’ show made to sell us fluffy toys.

Just a taste of the quality animation. Source: imgur

The problem is the movie tries to compress far too much into its 82-minute runtime. It doesn’t take much to understand why Mrs. Brisby wants to save her son, but in the book Timmy is more developed as a character. He’s clever and quiet, although also a storyteller who protects the younger mice, so he provides a contrast to his brother who’s strong and aggressive. The idea that intellect and imagination are just as valuable as strength, even in the hardscrabble world of a field mouse, gets lost in the movie where Timmy spends so much time sick in bed and has so few lines he might as well already be dead.

Then there’s the matter of the rats’ transformation in NIMH. In the book the rat leader Nicodemus tells Mrs. Frisby a lengthy story that could be a movie in itself of how they were captured, caged, and given injections, then taught to read. He tells her how they excelled but kept it a secret from their captors and how they eventually got to the farm’s rosebush. It’s almost Flowers For Algernon but from the mouse’s perspective. In the movie they’re given an injection and, in a trippy sequence, they’re magically transformed into sentient, literate super-rats.

In the book the rats’ lair has hallways and meeting rooms, but the film makes it strange, filled with multi-colored lights and twisting passageways. The unique look actually makes sense. Rats aren’t human so their civilization would look different. However Nicodemus, their leader, is changed from a rat like the others to a frail, raspy-voiced wizard who writes with glowing ink, makes objects levitate, and can summon up visions in a large ball by waving his staff.

The presence of magic in the film is the biggest divergence from the book, and it’s really what ruins the story. In the book the rats move Mrs. Frisby’s home with elaborate engineering. In the movie their apparatus is sabotaged by a conspiratorial rat named Jenner who also murders Nicodemus, Mrs. Brisby’s home sinks into the mud, there’s no explanation for how Timmy and the other children who are inside survive, and then Mrs. Brisby magically levitates her home with the help of a magical amulet Nicodemus gave her.

Bluth said he wanted to share his beliefs about the power of faith but this rewrite seemed more like an excuse to show off more elaborate effects and increase the drama of the ending.

I’m not opposed to remakes or even reboots, and plans for a new version of The Secret Of NIMH have floated around for years. It would possibly be redone as a miniseries, which makes sense—there’s too much story for even a long movie. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in actually doing it, though, and maybe that’s just as well. The book stands very well on its own, and while the movie has its weaknesses it also has equal strengths, including some necessary comic relief from Dom DeLuise as Jeremy the crow. For me there’s a certain amount of nostalgia attached to it but, watching it critically, as an adult, I can see the bad and good in it. I no longer love it. But I don’t hate it.

Merrily We Roll Along.

Source: Gifer

Seeing a roller rink in Stranger Things 4 really took me back. Of course Stranger Things has always been drenched in nostalgia–I first started watching it not long after its first release when a friend texted me and said, “You’ve got to watch this–it’s your childhood!” and he was right as far as kids sitting around in a basement playing D&D. We never did save the world, but then we also never wasted a milkshake on a cruel and thoughtless prank either.

There was a reriod in my early teens when it seemed like I was at the Brentwood Skate Center two or three times a week, probably because I was there two or three times a week. There were special school nights and it was a popular place for birthdays of pretty much every kid I knew. In spite of that I was never a very good skater. I spent most of my time in the cluster of video games next to the rink–I was a master of Q*Bert and if I ran out of quarters or just needed a break I’d slowly make my way around the rink, holding onto the wall. The only time I ever really made any speed around the rink was one night when I was about to go and I’d turned in my skates. Kevin, who was still on skates, grabbed my coat and rolled away with it and I found the fastest way around a roller skating rink is in sneakers.

What I also remember is getting to the Brentwood Skate Center in the first place. It wasn’t far from where I lived and most of the adults who took us knew where it was, but, for some reason, one night my friend Tim’s father was the only adult available who could take us. Tim’s father was a gruff, serious guy who prided himself on knowing everything, especially directions. He had a ball compass mounted on his car’s dashboard and would, on long trips, lecture us on navigating by the position of the sun even though most of the time he was driving us at night.

It must have irritated him to have to say, “All right, boys, I don’t know where this place is so you’ll have to tell me where to turn.”

This was not a problem for me. I may not have been great on skates but I could find my way around and, as we approached the final stretch, I said to him, “Take the second left, the one past the interstate.”

“What?” he snapped. I think he’d been adjusting his compass.

“The second left,” I said, but I couldn’t get out “past the interstate.” He’d already taken the first left and was headed onto the interstate.  

Because the Brentwood Skate Center is a large building with not much else around it’s easy to see from the interstate, and, as we went by, Tim’s father said, “Well, there it is, how the hell do I get to it?” Then he started muttering about damn kids and how we didn’t know how to navigate by the position of the sun. He figured out his mistake, turned around, and went back, taking the correct turn.

In the end we were only about twenty minutes late, which was fine because, when Tim’s father came to pick us up to take us home, he was twenty minutes late. I suspect it’s because by that time the sun had set.  

Good Humor Man.

Source: Twitter

Let’s get the obvious part out of the way first: that isn’t good advertising or bad advertising. It’s absolutely brilliant advertising from Punch & Judy’s Ice Cream Parlor, a chain that was found around the western United States in the 1940s and ’50s.. A friend sent me that because he knew I’d find it funny, but the surprise for both of us—the metaphorical cherry on top—was that it brought back my early love of Daniel Pinkwater’s books and gave me some insight into his inspiration for a funny detail in his book The Magic Moscow.

I first learned about Pinkwater from the show Cover To Cover in which host John Robbins would talk about a book and also draw scenes from it. I loved that show and tried to find and read every book that was featured. And Robbins raved about Daniel Pinkwater when he talked about Lizard Music. So of course I got it from the library and tried to read it, but didn’t make it past the first couple of chapters. I still wanted to like Pinkwater so I tried The Hoboken Chicken Emergency next and didn’t make it past a few pages. I was baffled by how weird they were even though I was pretty weird myself. Up until then almost every book I’d been given to read had some message, or, if it was meant to be funny, it spelled out that it was a funny book. Pinkwater’s humor is best described as deadpan surrealism.

Then I got The Magic Moscow for Christmas and, after stopping and starting over half a dozen times, I finally got through it and had a breakthrough. I reread it then went back and tore through Lizard Music and The Hoboken Chicken Emergency and Fat Men From Space and every other Pinkwater book I could find.

The Magic Moscow is about a guy named Steve who takes over an ice cream parlor and adds health food to the menu, which he then brings together in one dish:

The Moron’s Delight is one of Steve’s specialties. It has six flavors of ice cream – two scoops of each – a banana, a carrot, three kinds of syrup, whole roasted peanuts, a slice of Swiss cheese, a radish, yogurt, wheat germ, and a kosher pickle. It is served in a shoebox lined with plastic wrap. Steve considers it a health-food dessert.

I stumbled over that at first. Why was it a “moron’s delight”? And Steve, who’s a bit weird, really considers it a special treat, even serving one to his hero, a retired TV detective, and making another for the detective’s dog, an Alaskan Malamute. But then, as with all things Pinkwater, I finally realized it was just funny and to go with it, never knowing, never needing to know, really, that there was a real world inspiration.

And there was a valuable lesson in all those Pinkwater books I read: be yourself even if–no, especially if–you’re weird.

Anyway it’s a Fourth of July weekend and I think I’ll celebrate with some ice cream. Maybe I’ll make a Moron’s Delight.

Climate Change.

One day the rain just stops. A day goes by, a few days, then a week, then more weeks. You notice that the grass is getting brittle and dry and the ground is rock hard. Then the grass turns the color of sand and even the air seems brittle with the dryness of it. The weather reports become numbingly uniform: sunny every day. Reports of record-breaking temperatures become repetitive. Something in the back of your mind says that this is wrong, but the heat saps any energy you might have for thinking about it.

On your way home from work each night you start counting the number of neighbors who are watering their yards, the ones who stand out because their grass is a patch of emerald in a sea of buff and sepia. You get wicked ideas about sneaking into their yards and cutting their hoses with a pair of garden shears in the middle of the night. Maybe they’ll pay a fine for using so much water.

Maybe you should think about xeriscaping, but this isn’t the desert. The rain will come back eventually, won’t it?

Desiccated tree branches fall in the yard. No need to move them just yet. The lawnmower sits in the garage, its small reservoir of fuel sending out a slow stream of fumes.

One morning you notice a spider hanging in her web next to your house. She’s brown and white speckled with big yellow dots on her abdomen. You saw her early in the spring, just like you watched her mother, her grandmother, and a whole line of her great-grandmothers going back several years.

The lack of rain affects everything up and down the food chain, and you haven’t seen as many rabbits, snakes, or even squirrels as usual. This spider, like you, is not native to North America; her ancestors probably came with yours, around three centuries ago. She’s nocturnal so it’s strange that she’s still out on a sunny morning when the temperature is already higher than it would be at noon in a normal year.

You fill a birdbath in the backyard. You fill another in the front yard. You watch cardinals, bluejays, even a sleek-headed crow dip their beaks in it. You watch squirrels come to drink then flip the birdbath over. It’s only a few minutes before you go to put it back and refill it but the ground is already dry.

You have a side bed of morning glories and other small plants. After the sun goes down you turn the nozzle on the hose to “mist” and you realize you can’t remember the last time you heard a tree frog. They always sing in the dark after it rains.

Wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even tsunamis are all horrible, often tragic events that come in suddenly, sometimes with no warning, or not enough warning, but then they disappear, often as quickly as they came. Flood and tsunamis recede, wildfires burn out all their fuel or, hopefully, are stopped, and tornadoes just spin themselves out.

A drought is a tragedy in slow motion.

One day it will rain again and when it does it will be terrible, the water overflowing the earth unprepared to hold it.

Line ‘Em Up.

Source: Secrets Of The Universe

Unfortunately I slept through the great planetary alignment of 2022, or maybe fortunately because missing sleep can really throw me off, and also we live in a neighborhood with a lot of trees so I miss some opportunities to witness celestial events unless they happen in the winter, unless they’re due east in which case my view is blocked by woods, or if they’re almost directly overhead, or if I get up and drive somewhere with a low horizon and low light pollution, which is getting harder with each passing year.

Of course I do have a couple of astronomy apps on my iPad that allow me to see what’s in the sky regardless of what’s in the way which is why sometimes I’ll stand in the den and point it straight up at the ceiling and when my wife asks what I’m doing I can say, “Looking at Uranus,” but that’s another story.

In other words circumstances would have to line up in just the right way for me to see the great planetary alignment, but I’m okay with that. I remember when I was in second grade and there was supposed to be a solar eclipse that, while not total, would still be partly visible over Nashville. Of course it was cloudy that day. I’ve witnessed other eclipses since then, including the total one of 2017.

I’ve seen multiple lunar eclipses, most because I specifically planned my schedule around being somewhere where I could see them, and I’ve even gotten up in the middle of the night just to watch some.

One year my wife and I got up in the middle of the night and drove out to a farm where we watched the Perseid meteor shower which was supposed to be spectacular that year, and, lucky for us, it was. I’ve also seen meteors I wasn’t looking for; my eyes just happened to be in the right direction at the right time.

And then, Sunday afternoon, I fell asleep in front of the TV, because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before in spite of not getting up to see the great planetary alignment, with the Science Channel on, and I woke up just in time to hear an astronomer say, “Astronomy is a very serendipitous science!”

We can predict the movements of the planets—the next big one will happen September 8, 2040, but sometimes the best events are the ones that can’t be predicted.

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