Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

wordless Wednesday

April 17, 2019

debauchery in Paris

April 16, 2019

If you follow me on Facebook, then you know that over the weekend my wife had traveled to St. Louis to visit our son and daughter-in-law, leaving me alone at home, unsupervised. And as you might imagine, I took this opportunity to get crazy.

Among my debauches was the sampling of more craft beers. (I’m still leaning toward the lagers, and some of the more “crafted” beers just aren’t enjoyable to me, but I figure I must do this for science, or something.) I also found a grocery store near my house that does carry the non-alcoholic beer I prefer at home.

But among the choices I made during my wild weekend was to check off an item on my bucket list. I decided to finally read an elusive short story in an elusive magazine! Which sounds easy but wasn’t.

A local writer here in Kansas City that I had admired for years, Charles Gusewelle, (whom I met a few times at writerly events in town, and whose “cabin” in the woods is in the same county as mine, and who is recently deceased) had written a story called “Horst Wessel”* that was published in The Paris Review, back in 1977. The story won a PR prize as well. I may be wrong, but I think it is the only piece of fiction he ever had published. (If anyone knows otherwise, let me know.) And I had wanted to read it for a long time, but finding it was not easy.

The Paris Review is not online, at least not the main publication from such a distant age, or if it is, it is not available to the great unwashed public who don’t subscribe, which would include me. So I began checking the libraries. My own library (I can call it “my own” since I pay my taxes) has a service that allows patrons to access online journals that might otherwise be behind a firewall paywall, and my hope was that I could find the edition that way. But though there are hundreds and hundreds of publications that are available to me by this mechanism (and why are so many of them business journals?), The Paris Review was not one of them. Nor did they ever subscribe to the physical publication. But I seemed to strike gold with the Kansas City Public Library, across the state line in Missouri. According to its online catalog, they do subscribe and even had the old edition from 1977.

And thus on Sunday, when the weather was beautiful and I might have taken the dogs for a walk in the park or done some much overdue yard work or even begun some sketchy work on the master bathroom remodel, I not only slept in (!) but I took myself all the way downtown, among the skyscrapers and one-way streets and homeless people and blowing trash in the heart of the city to the main branch of the KCPL. I arrived a little early and had to walk around the city a little as I waited for it to open, but then I took myself to the information desk and began my quest.

The librarian there must have misunderstood me, because she pointed me toward several print anthologies of the magazine that they had on their shelves. Once I cleared that up (and I think she was a little mystified by my actual request) I was quickly directed to the information desk on the third floor where the periodicals are kept. (I was among the first half dozen people to enter the library that day when the guards opened the doors, but when I got to the third floor, there were already at least that many people sitting at tables, busy with their work. It’s as though they had somehow been let in before the unwashed public was!)

The woman at the desk in periodicals listened to my request, got on her computer, and promptly told me that they not only did not carry The Paris Review but that they certainly would not have anything going back to the ancient days of 1977.

What was I to do? Believe the research I had done on my laptop in the comfort of my home in faraway suburbia, or trust the word of a professional librarian on her native ground?

I believed in myself.

The skeptical librarian directed me to file cabinets full of old periodicals on microfilm and said that if the publication was ever to be found, it would be there. And so I sauntered back there, deeper into the gorgeous library, where even more patrons were already ensconced, and began studying the alphabetized, typewritten labels on the drawers and drawers in the many cabinets. And there was The Paris Review. And there was 1977. And there was a small box with a role of microfilm in it that maybe, possibly held my quarry.

I took the box and ensconced myself before one of the microfilm readers (having flashbacks to my undergraduate days) and followed the instructions for threading the film through the machine. When I had that done, I turned it on, and the text on the film was displayed on the computer monitor before me. Very tiny text. With low contrast. And the page I was looking at only showed half of itself on the screen. There were many buttons on the screen I could select, including one to advance the film, which worked so well I skated past dozens of pages in mere seconds. There were also buttons I could push that would magnify the image, which didn’t work at all.

The story I wanted to read may have been on this roll of film, but I wasn’t going to find it with the resources I had (chiefly my own ineptitude). So I returned to the information desk and asked the other librarian now there if there were some incantations I needed to recite to get the machine to behave. She walked back with me (deep in the gorgeous library) and confessed that she barely knew how to operate the machines. (I suspect she hadn’t been born at the time I was an undergrad.) But she stood before the machine and manually moved the camera part to better center the page on the screen. Then she manually turned the spool that fed the film across the lens to advance the pages in a more useable manner. And purely by coincidence, there was the name Gusewelle at the bottom of several pages. I was there!

The type was tiny and low contrast, so it was a chore to read it, but I had been wanting to do this for years, so I was undaunted.

The story was about a man who traveled on business, often to quite remote places, and how he generally had some health crisis wherever he went. In this case, it was an infected tooth that needed attending. And the cosmic forces arrayed against him to get this done were massive and comical. It wasn’t the story I was expecting, but it was a good story, full of wincing laughs.

I might have hung out at the (gorgeous) library longer, but I was paying for parking (downtown parking prices!), so I left and then paid the ransom on my truck. Not bad since it was in the quest for knowledge. Here’s the front of the parking garage for the library:

I’m glad I took the time and trouble to find the story and read it. I felt virtuous about my willingness to do this and about using the old school resources (still) available at the library. (The cosmic forces arrayed against me were not nearly as massive or comical.) And to celebrate my virtuousness, I took myself out for an early dinner where I sampled another craft beer. (A hefewiezen that I didn’t much like.)

__________

*Horst Wessel was an actual historical figure: a Nazi brownshirt and Stormtrooper whose murder turned him into a Nazi martyr. I’m not clear why Gusewelle would title his comical story (and character?) after this man.

bits and pieces

April 12, 2019

When I stepped out of my house yesterday morning at 4:30 to let the dogs out, it was 74 degrees. By the end of the day the temperature had plummeted thirty degrees, with an overnight low forecasted at 33 degrees.

I could say “Don’t ever change, Kansas City!” Or I could say “Don’t ever change Kansas City!” Knowing the difference could save your life.*

__________

I received a rejection for my submitted story “Icarus” yesterday. I must confess that I was actually not disappointed by this. The publication was one I’d never heard of, and I suppose I was responding to a specific, themed call. But I’ve been thinking lately that I should maybe start aiming for more noted publications. Is this presumptuous? Arrogant? I’m not really sure what those publications are, though several of my writer friends list their credentials on their blogs, and they include some seemingly lofty bylines.

I also suspect that such “lofty” publications don’t need to resort to calls for submissions to attract quality work. In fact, I read a bit about the acceptance ethos at The Paris Review (quite legitimately lofty) and apparently they pretty much only take pieces that they have solicited. According to the article, they’d only accepted one over-the-transom submission in ten years! So far, that hasn’t happened to me. Still, just as with training for a marathon, you have to build a base.

__________

Here’s a random photo selection from my huge collection:

That’s my current truck, named The Prolechariot by my clever son. When I bought it, more than a decade ago, I had a contest (on my old blog, Roundrock Journal) and the winner would get a package of powdered sugar donuts. There were some good suggestions, but Prolechariot seemed to resonate best with me. The beast is now eleven years old, and I have yet to break 100,000 miles on it even though it takes me to and from Roundrock frequently.

__________

If you’re a follower of my Facebook page, you’ll know that I’ve been posting photos of various beers I have been drinking lately. One of those writer friends I mentioned has written a book called Stuff Every Beer Snob Should Know, which I’ve read cover to cover. I grew up in St. Louis and came of age in the days when you could cross the river to Illinois and buy beer at a fresh and foolish 19 years old. Thus I was raised on Anheuser-Busch products, or Big Bru as it and its kind are often called. Her book is beginning to wean me from this, and my nearly daily posts on Facebook are my attempts to show that I am making an effort.

__________

I’m a bachelor this weekend. My wife has taken a four-day trip to St. Louis to stay with our son and daughter-in-law (but no grands, yet). They’ll be doing a 5K at the botanical garden there. My own wild debauchery will likely include haunting the aisles of several used bookstores and maybe buying myself some shirts. Also, yard work. Such hedonism will likely exhaust me. And, of course, there are the dogs I must tend to.

__________

*Or this blog might.

famous for its regressive politics

April 1, 2019

In the third-person bios I provide on those rare occasions when a journal publishes one of my humble stories I say that I live “near Kansas City” (but escape to my Ozark cabin whenever I get the chance).

As you may know if you’ve read this blog long enuf, I grew up in St. Louis, as did my wife, and our four children were born there. I moved my young family to where we are now (30+ years ago) to take a job. When we were looking for a home, our first priority was to get into the best school district. And that’s how we landed on the Kansas side of the state line that Kansas City abuts. (Note: the Kansas City you’ve heard of is probably the one in Missouri, though there is one in Kansas as well, and there’s a North Kansas City that is also in Missouri.) Yes, I live in vanilla suburbia, but it was a fine place to raise children (who have all since escaped to live very different lives). The “problem” is that our home was/is in Kansas, which is famous for its regressive politics. (And spoken by someone who originally comes from Missouri, that’s a serious jibe! Though the recent Blue Wave did make some deep inroads!)

All of this is by way of explaining what is happening in Kansas today. As of April 1, 2019, the grocery stores can now sell “full-strength” beer. Before today, we had to settle for 3.2 percent grocery store beer or carry ourselves to unseemly package liquor stores to get the hard stuff. (And when I first moved here, you could not get an alcoholic drink at a restaurant unless you went to and were a member of dedicated supper clubs that had permits for such debauchery. True story!) You might think that someone who grew up in St. Louis (where Big Bru was a major employer) would be rejoicing at this, but that’s not really the case. And despite the kindly efforts of someone whose name might be something like Yellowstone, I have never developed a taste for craft beers (and I have tried!).

The thing is, I’ve drifted from the true faith and now actually prefer to drink non-alcoholic beer. Sure, I can drink a “full-strength” beer at a restaurant. More than one even. And alcohol-containing beer can sometimes be found in my refrigerator, but given my druthers,* I will supply myself with non-alcoholic beer.

And there’s the rub. For some reason, in the middle of March, all of the grocery stores pulled ALL of the 3.2 beer from their coolers. The shelves were either left empty or they were filled with bottled water. I suppose that was a Puritanical requirement of the law change for some reason, but in that time I could not find my non-alcoholic beer. Certainly the unseemly package liquor stores didn’t carry it. Why would they? I even went across the state line to Missouri to find it, but the grocery stores there didn’t carry it either.

And so the new alcoholic era begins today in Kansas. It remains to be seen whether or not I’ll be able to find my non-alcoholic beer in this embarrassment of riches.

*”druthers” is a curious, regional contraction of “would rather.”

bits and pieces ~ cypress edition

February 27, 2019

We have two cypress trees in our back yard. One was put in (at our request) by the landscaper hired by the builder (30+ years ago) and the other I plugged in the ground a few years later myself. For the most part, they have thrived (though one suffers a little from crowding by nearby trees), and I have even taken some of their offspring out to my Ozark woods to plant. One is doing especially well there by the pond.

But the combination of cypress trees and long-haired dogs does present a problem for anyone hoping to keep a relatively clean house. Cypress leaves are feathery things with many leaflets on them. In the fall especially, but every season of the year, the dogs bring them in on their fur and then they fall out (or get tugged out by me or my wife), the leaflets break off, and their accumulation begins in the corners of the rooms. Worse, though, are the “cones” that the cypress trees produce. These are spherical, a little smaller than a golf ball, and are not much of a nuisance in that state. But they break into smaller, sharp pieces and get wedged in the pads of the dogs feet. Not only will the dogs bring them in the house this way (and then leave them here and there for my bare-footed self to step on), but they often hurt the dogs, who limp and chew at their feet until one of their humans can dig around and find the offending bit.

I did not know this, but apparently cypress trees are like oak trees in the production of their cones. After an especially prolific year, they apparently will lay off from producing cones the following year. Oaks will do this with acorns. It seems that the resources and effort required to produce an abundant crop of acorns (and I guess cones) exhausts both the trees and the ground/immediate growing conditions. Thus the fallow year. And I understand that wildlife populations will wax and wane based on this cycle as well.

And so last fall was the fallow year for our two cypress trees. I didn’t see a single cone high in the branches or on the ground, the dogs have had no complaints, and I’m not stepping on them in the house. It’s easy to get complacent about this, to forget that nature is going to keep to its cycles regardless of my memory or desire.

On the few occasions we’ve had a tree trimmer out, they have always gravitated to the larger of the two cypress in the backyard, certain that it was why they were called out. Obviously, they seem to think, removing that is why they were summoned. “Too close to your house,” they assert. Or “clogging your gutters with droppings.” And then they are surprised when we say no, we love this tree that shades our house in the summer and provides shelter for birds and squirrels and visual interest from our bedroom window in the winter. We did have some lower branches removed that were rubbing on the roof and in a mostly futile attempt to get more sunlight to reach the ground so we could grow some grass, but the tree remains.

I know I’m right (I just have to prove it)

February 18, 2019

This is detail from the painting A Lazy Fisherman by John Gadsby Chapman. It was painted in 1844 and currently hangs in the Nelson Atkins Museum here in Kansas City. One critic at the time described this as “laziness personified” though Chapman’s goal was more to depict a historical sense, a past and pastime that was already on its way out.

Directly across the gallery, not thirty feet away, is a painting that contains this detail:

This is from the painting Fishing on the Mississippi by George Caleb Bingham, and it was painted in 1851, just seven years after the Chapman. Bingham made a name for himself by depicting western politics and river life, as well as portraits of many prominent Missourians of his day.

I’ve seen these two paintings scores of times, but it was only recently that I saw something peculiar about them. In both paintings, the fisherman (or boy) has a hole in the right shoulder of his shirt. Mere coincidence?

Look again, though, and you’ll see a similar pose, a similar hat, a similar moon face, similar ear lobes, and even a similar almost melancholy look. More than coincidence, I think.

I suspect that Bingham either knew Chapman or knew this work in particular and deliberately portrayed the same fisherman now older (but with the same shirt, only more yellowed and tattered). I suspect that Bingham intended his fisherman to be the boy grown up. (Granted, seven years doesn’t account for the older man’s apparent age difference, but still!)

A friend of mine is a docent at the museum, and though he doesn’t know the specifics of these two paintings, he says that works are often hung so that they have “conversations” between them. In this case, you can look at one and literally turn around and look at the other.

So now I feel a compulsion to confirm that Bingham had done what I think he did. I’m no art scholar, but the Museum does have an impressive library (which I’ve used in the past), and I’ll bet I could find what I’m looking for there.

Everyone needs a hobby, right?

the pounding in my head

February 13, 2019

What a day to be home sick from work!

We’ve had a leak in the roof above our master bathroom (sounds so pretentious when I say “master bathroom”), mostly around a very old skylight, for a long time. Twice we’ve had crews go up there and caulk all around it, and once we had the skylight totally replaced. But still it leaked.

So after getting some estimates to remove and seal the skylight and address whatever other watery concerns there may be up there (the skylight is/was on a flat roof that adjoins the house so there is a nice, long joint where leaks have occurred), and blanching at the cost, we finally bit the bullet and signed a contract to get the problem solved once and for all.

And today, my sick day home from work, is the day that the roofers are here, banging on the roof above the next room over. And banging. Our little dog, Queequeg, is terrified by all of this and is sticking close to me or my wife. I’m sitting at my desk, thinking that a long stretch of uninterrupted time before my computer might be productive. But it’s hard to concentrate.

Once we get this leak resolved — once we’re convinced that it is resolved — our next insane expense is to repair/remodel the master bathroom, and not just the stained ceiling, but the old and crusty fixtures and the carpeting (who puts carpeting in a bathroom?) that has been moldering on the floor for three decades. We’ll also put in a new ceiling light to replace the daylight lost to the sealed-over skylight.

And then, if this leak really is resolved, I’m going to talk to the crew to see what they can do about leaky dams down in the Ozarks.