Nov. 23, 2020
A notification appears in a small box at the upper right corner of my computer screen
I am informed my daily average screen time is six hours, thirty-three minutes.
I close the box.
Quarantine continues to work its magic.
ME: I’m old, and feet have become important indicators in my dotage. I no longer hear well, so I look at feet. The feet reveal. The feet are like a window.
HER: Feet, you say? A window? Isn’t that pushing it, simile-wise? I pay more attention to dessert, to the possibility of pre diabetes, problems like that. I got a flu shot last week. I’m going in next week for the pneumonia vaccine. I wonder what the trash collection schedule is this week; I have some unusual things to discard.
ME: Not many old folks have attractive feet. I was at a gathering the other day where most of the people my age wore sandals. They discussed politics — all of them are liberals and aghast at the current state of affairs in the good ol’ US of A. They are all incredibly smart, you know. Just ask them, they’ll tell you so. But, they have their weaknesses.
Their feet, for example.
I looked at their feet. I was horrified. The discourse was boring, since everyone knew everything, and what everyone knew was the same. None of the feet were attractive, some were downright grotesque. I plotted an early departure from the gathering. The hostess provided an impressive array of snacks, trendy charcuterie and whatnot, and poured a couple of excellent wines, but I couldn’t enjoy them. Not with those feet in front of me. The libs with bad feet wanted to discuss the election earlier in the month, and remark on how anyone who didn’t agree with them, who didn’t vote for their guy, had to be educated because, after all, how could someone not agree if they aren’t ignorant? Everyone should agree. With me. Right?
I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t provide input. Too many ugly liberal feet. Bad nails, distorted phalanges, hammer toe — the results of jogging, long hikes in the “pristine” backcountry.
Had I not been subdued by the ugliness, I would have made piercing remarks about the roles of Papen and Strasser following the German federal election of 1932, and the unfortunate dismissal of Papen by you-know-who. But, I couldn’t do it. The feet. I was Kurtz, up Foot River.
HER: I want to repaint the front bathroom. The last owners painted the walls a dull green. The dull green is suited to art, if you want to hang a typical kind of art in a bathroom. Usually, this type of bathroom art has something to do with flowers, occasionally birds. You know, like those Audubon paintings, but not really Audubon, imitation Audubon, less-than skillfully rendered birds. It’s art you don’t look at for more than a second or two, because you’re busy with more important things. You take a major dose of a laxative an hour or so earlier, and you’re waiting for relief from a three-day problem. With me, the problem is caused by rice. Too much rice counters the positive effects of all the probiotics I take each day. It’s critical that I have complete and effortless evacuations. That’s why I want to remind you not to include rice in anything you cook for us. For at least a week. OK?
ME: Green, you say?
HER: Yep, green. A dark green, like the color of the walls in some of the galleries at the Prado. I’ve made a careful study of the color of museum walls over the years — at the Prado, the Met, LACMA, Pompidou, MoMA, D’Orsay, the Louvre. All of them. A lot of times, the wall color is more interesting than the art. Admit it: a lot of the stuff is crap. A whole lot of new art is crap. Maybe most of it.
ME: A lot of classical music is crap, some rap music is excellent.
HER: Some sandals are attractive, some aren’t.
ME: Most people shouldn’t wear sandals, surely not men. Not ever. Then, you have people who wear socks and sandals. That indicates a problem of another kind, probably an identifiable personality disorder. I need to go online to the Mayo Clinic’s “Personality Disorders — Symptoms and Causes” and do some research.
I’m going to stream all of Kubrick’s films as this quarantine continues, in order of their creation. I appreciate three of the later films, but I’m going to watch all of the films in his catalogue, one after another. It’s a matter of respect for the artist. For the art. Kubrick is no Audubon imitator, that’s for sure.
SHE: I’m concerned about being pre diabetic, what with my love of dessert. I haven’t been diagnosed by a medical professional, but I have a feeling about it. An intuition, you know? My great aunt had a hunch she had pancreatic cancer, that it had spread to her liver. She was right, and she died before anyone could travel to be with her when she was in hospice. I wanted to tell her I was sorry I doubted her. Never had the chance.
ME: I want to die in a hospice care situation, at home, with everyone who gathers around me required to wear shoes, no sandals allowed.
I believe there’s a strong argument to be made for hospice care for pets. Once the pure breed’s hips give out, and the dog develops terrible and ultimately fatal problems with its digestive system, why should it die drugged up and stretched out on a cold table at a veterinarian’s office, a load of blue time-to-stop goo pumped into a vein by an ill-educated office assistant? The dog should die at home, in its bed, drugged up, but drugged up at home. With its favorite toys nearby. It will know them by their smell.
When I’m drugged up, in hospice, at home, I want a stack of Jim Harrisons’ and MFK Fisher’s food writing on the nightstand next to my bed. I won’t be able to read at that point, but…the comfort, you know? And even though I won’t be able to eat it, I want a grilled cheese sandwich put next to my bed alongside the books. I’ll know it by its smell.
SHE: Will you know the books by their smell?
SHE: Did you know indigenous Asians once regarded western cheeses as spoiled milk and were repulsed by the smell, not to mention the thought of eating them? Well, they were right: cheese is spoiled milk and a lot of it smells pretty bad. Especially some of the cheeses you like. But, now, many Asians have adapted, and I read in Food and Wine that artisanal cheese makers flourish in and around Chengdu. Several Korean food stall favorites feature large amounts of processed cheese product. I think an ochre tint works well in a bathroom. Maybe a subdued yellow oxide. Those colors work well with bird prints. And, this reminds me: no more macaroni and cheese.
And, definitely no rice!
November 30, 2020
A notification appears in a small box at the upper right corner of my computer screen
I am informed my daily average screen time — the time my computer is linked with the Internet — is six hours, fifty-eight minutes.
I close the box.
The algorithm wields its hammer.
Algo decides which online videos I’ll watch today.
During the morning hours: videos produced by the World Rock’N’Roll Confederation, an organization governing “all the aspects of Acrobatic Rock’n’Roll and Boogie Woogie sports.”
Until Algo shoves the videos through the tube, I have no idea these activities are sports.
After three hours glued to the screen, and mesmerized, I am a convert, a fan. An added bonus is the increasing dominance of the Boogie Woogie Main Class Arena by dancers of Scandinavian origin. Swedes and Finns are kicking ass, dominating the field — for the first time since the Finns defeated the troops of the Soviet Union at the Battle of Suomussalmi in 1940.
Who can watch the Swedes, Jonathan Jaug and Emma Danielsson, without pausing the video to regain his or her composure? Not me, that’s for sure.
I get even more excited when I envision Emma at the stove, preparing kottbullar while wearing only a tiny apron emblazoned with the image of the bright blue and yellow Swedish flag, and a pair of snappy Capezio black 2.5 inch Character dance shoes on her incredibly delicate dancin’ feet.
Viktor and Wilma Edlund demand attention as well. They seem to be the kind of folks who love lingonberries. My people. I enjoy much the same fantasy involving Wilma as I do with Emma, with the exception that Wilma is busy in the kitchen preparing lefse and lutefisk.
I have big hopes for the dancers from the homeland of my paternal ancestors, and the Swedes are cruising, until a fucking Norwegian takes a shit on the smorgasbord, putting a damper on my AM entertainment.
Sondre Olsen-Bye and his Russian partner Tanya Georgievska come through in the home stretch to take the world championship with a spectacular performance in the finals. I try my best to mitigate the shock with a fantasy involving Tanya and the preparation of a mess of shashlik, but to no avail.
I am crushed. Algo takes me to the only remedy: tango competition videos from Argentina.
I find one, tune it in, Algo has the wheel.
I watch tango videos until noon, and realize that the tangoettes surely smell much like the women who pilot the Emirates Airbus 380 from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne.
I wonder if any of the dancers knows how to cook a credible Milanesa a Caballo?
Algo decides my afternoon will be taken up by videos of Scottish pipe bands as they perform ceremonial duties at sites throughout the United Kingdom
Back in the ’90’s I wrote a newspaper column in which I revealed that Satan decided to invent a musical instrument and, when the bagpipes were not hideous enough, he created the banjo.
I received angry letters and e-mails from both bagpipe fans and banjo nerds for weeks after the column was printed. Two of the missives were formed with letters cut from magazine ads. The envelopes did not include return addresses.
The authors were not happy. I was thrilled, since it gave me a chance to reply in print and state that few things are more obnoxious than middle-class white folks pretending to be hillbillies and playing bluegrass music. This brought enraged members of the Birkenstock Brigade out in force.
Now, I admit: the spectacle of the massed pipe bands at the Gordon Barracks stirs the heart of the Scot thrice removed. My maternal grandfather’s parents were Scottish-Irish, the products of a fine blend of clansfolk and Viking raiders, descendants of the Gallowglass and redshanks who made their ways to Ireland in the 16th century to fight alongside the buanadha. The redshanks’ bagpipes were played to strike fear into enemies on the battlefields, but to the ears of the Gallowglass they were the equal of the harps of heaven. The bagpipes were also played at weddings, christenings, and funerals. There was a passel o’bag squeezin’ going on.
So, despite my snarky remarks in the column, I kinda like bagpipes, the instrument’s ancestor brought to the Isles from the Middle East by Roman invaders. I genuinely do not like the banjo, with the exception of those times it is in the care of Bela Fleck, and Bela is in his jazzier mood.
Algo guesses I like bagpipes. How, I don’t know.
So, I watch videos of bagpipe bands.
They remind my of my childhood.
I am ten years old when I’m taken by my grandmother to watch a tattoo performed by the pipe band of The Black Watch. I sit on the edge of my seat, captivated by the spectacle. I imagine myself as the tall chap at the front of the formation, the muscular fellow wearing a kilt, my black uniform coat heavy with an array of medals, a tall bearskin hat atop my head. I direct the corps with a huge phallic symbol, a long pole topped with a gold knob.
Algo knows this.
Algo also knows my maternal grandmother was a staunch Brit, so I receive a video of the Horse Guards Parade at the Ceremony of Beating of Retreat, in London. This resonates as well, since the Black Watch was partnered at the tattoo those many years ago by the band of the Coldstream Guards.
Inspirational and satisfying stuff, I must say.
To cap the afternoon, Algo delivers a series of videos of the Irish Guards marching on The Mall, headed for the palace. The damned wolfhounds are spectacular. It nearly brings tears to my eyes.
I remind myself: Stiff upper lip, and all.
I also remind myself that my distant ancestors on my father’s side of the family were Vikings. They made sport of the native Scots and Irish. And ate the wolfhounds.