Saturday, March 03, 2018

New Zealand photos

Absent the intervention of the irascible internet demons who plague me, I will post pictures and possible commentary on my trip to NZ, updating it as we go - I hope every few days. It is going to be a 3 week whirlwind, so I will have to do it at night when I have time. If I fail, well, won't be the first time.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

See you in church and other stuff I say that someone else said first

I have been told by a few people - enough Thoreau. Okay - for a while. But, as that great American hero, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, used to say - "Now here's something we hope you'll really like":

See you in church.

The following section is written in Runyonese:

I am speaking with a friend on the phone. We are getting up to saying goodbye, and he says to me, "Now you say your favorite line."
"What is that?" I am asking.
"You know."
"'May I have another piece of pie?'"
"See you in church?"
"This is it."
I do not figure this particular friend would notice that when I say goodbye to someone, "See you in church," is what comes out of my mouth. I know a lot of people know it, but I do not think he is one of them. He is not that type to notice something like this. I am not remembering that I ever say it to him. But, apparently, I say it a lot.

It is roughly 27 years earlier. I am raising my evalovin' daughter. Sometimes we watch videotapes. She loves Shirley Temple movies. I do not want to spend a lot of time on who Shirley Temple is. If you do not know, you can google it. In short, she is a child actress in the 1930s and 1940s, cute as a button, smart as a whip and brave as a lion, to use up my quota of cliches for the day. She is the star in a lot of films playing a girl in peril, often at the hands of her own family. She is usually portraying an orphan. She is so famous that she is considered for the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, although it is probably never as close as she and her mother hope as she is not a progidy for her pipes but for her inflection and overall adorableness. Probably her most famous movie is Heidi (1937) and after that Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). She retires from movies in 1949, but does a little television in the late '50s and '60s (thank you IMDB), tap dancing her way to heaven in 2014 at age 95, no doubt accompanied by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who has come down to earth to guide her upstairs to the pearly gates.

Just as Shirley Temple, the child, cannot get enough of The Wizard of Oz books, my daughter cannot get enough of Shirley Temple, the child actress. My kid has curly blondish hair as a young girl and resembles Shirley a little. But, I do not think this is the attraction. I never see her pretending to be Shirley. She just thinks they are great movies as does her evalovin' father. At least the few I see are. I can not myself believe that I will sit there and watch them over and over with her, but I really enjoy them too.

In Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Shirley plays an orphan with a singing talent. When her Uncle Harry, played by the great William Demarest, most famous for the role of Uncle Charlie on My Three Sons, thinks he cannot make money off of her, as she is faking not being able to sing, he drops her off at Aunt Miranda's house. Miranda is much nicer, but not the showbiz type. Harry is kind of a ne'er do well, and a bit lacking in morals, though not entirely evil. His wife, Melba, is just a bitch. When Harry leaves the house after handing Rebecca over, he turns to everyone and says -- "See you folks in church."

This may not seem like the funniest line in the world to you, but, when Henry says it, he is being sarcastic, because you know you are not about to run into Henry in church on a Sunday morning when he is likely sleeping it off. As he steps out on the porch, he trods on a loose plank, which rises up and hits him square in the face. Hysterical. Cannot see it enough.

Anyway, one day, I am leaving someone, or maybe saying good-bye on the telephone - the melon that contains my brain will not release the exact circumstances, and I say, "See you in church." Or maybe "See you folks in church," like Uncle Henry did. I find it very funny, because you are not about to see me in church either. It occurs to me that I say this to many people over the last 26 or 27 years. I am not a big fan of tag or catch-lines, though writing this, I realize I have a few. I remember thinking that I hate the character in the movie It's a Wonderful Life who goes around saying "hee haw" all the time. I cannot imagine why anyone would enjoy something like that, but I will be damned if I do not do it too.

Well, I try to stop, but it does not work. I say it over and over and over and over. I can not stop. I try several times. But, I say it even to judges, if I am not careful, and other times where being colloquial is a little out of place. I am not saying this is alarming or that it harms me or others in any particular way, but occasionally I am a little concerned that people will find it tedious (other than my evalovin' girlfriend, who finds everything I do tedious and rarely funny).

But, people say it back to me so often and others just laugh. People now say it to me as much as I say it to them. One friend sends emails to me ending with "SYIC." Some kids find it hysterical and cannot wait to say it to me before I say it. I may be wrong, but I think most people like it (except my evalovin' gf, who . . . ).

I am not the evalovin' creator of the phrase. I tell people this, but they are not listening. The writer is likely Don Ettlinger and/or Karl Tunberg, who write the screenplay for Rebecca . . . or Kate Douglas Wiggin, who is the writer of the original novel, may they all rest in piece. I am not planning on losing a Sunday researching this. I just find it funny and adopt it. Now, I'm known by it, at least by some people. Apparently, even by people who I would not think would ever notice.

And that is that.

Piece of cake

I think I was 25 when I first visited Europe. I was a backpacker and stayed in hostels or really cheap hotels. But, when I went to Sweden I found myself suddenly alluring to women, which, trust me, has never happened before outside of my evalovin' noggin. You can release your breath and take the look of disgust off your face as I don't plan on describing any of it. It had to be the dark hair - relative to the Swedes - and an American thing, because I've met other men who've gone there and experienced something similar. I don't know if this is still going on there, but it was a rather well-known effect when I was younger, and in fact, a religious studies professor (you read that right) in college actually advised all the young men in my class to go to Sweden before they married. Imagine a professor saying that today. Poof, he'd be gone. I realize all this background isn't really necessary for the story, but it just felt good to reminisce about it and I guess I wanted to say it out loud because pretty much nobody is looking now and memories are sweet. Anyway . . .

I was walking down the road after a romantic encounter with my backpack and a car suddenly stopped. A young woman, maybe a few years younger than me, made her ex-boyfriend stop the car to pick me up. Yes, it sounds like a movie, only the protagonist in real movie would look more like Cary Grant, but that was exactly what happened. I ended up spending a few days with her and her friends (her former boyfriend was not at all put out), all roughly around my age, and most of whom spoke English to one degree or another, which they had learned mostly from tv. The first night we were sitting around in their living room and they were asking me questions about Americans and I was asking them about topless Swedish women (I did say I was about 25). At some point, in response to something or other, I blurted out, "piece of cake." In other words, "it's easy." Well, let me tell you, Robin Williams or Richard Pryor would have been happy to get this response. They were literally (not the "literally" which means figuratively, but the one that means - they actually did that) falling out of their seats. "Piece of cake," they kept repeating. And they repeated it for the next four days until I left. It's a purely American expression. I've learned a bit about it since then but decided not to bore you with its derivation except to say a wonderfully amusing poet I grew up on - Ogden Nash, figures into it. They even taught me to say it in Swedish, which I never forgot, although I do not know how to spell it - something like "en bate calkye."

I have always said that if "piece of cake" became an expression in Sweden, it was solely due to my having blurted it out over there. Of course, how would I ever know if it happened? Well, skip ahead to just last year, about 33 years later. I had recently started communicating again with a friend in Sweden I had met on my next trip to Europe a year or so later to the former Yugoslavia, but had lost touch with for decades. I wrote her my "piece of cake" story. She wrote back that it had become an expression there but in English - not Swedish. If I could find the card she wrote, I'd quote from it, but, I delayed 2 weeks posting this while I looked and absorbed snarls from my evalovin' gf that if I'd just straighten up I could find things.

Now, shut up, I already know what you are thinking. I can't know for sure that I am actually responsible for people saying "piece of cake" in English in Sweden. But, it does seem strange to me that I always thought it would catch on there and it did. They did not have the expression when I visited and do now. Maybe I'm not responsible. Could be they all got it from a movie or a tv show. I'm going to assume I am the reason because it makes me feel good and who does it hurt? Let me have it. It's not like I'm claiming to have cured cancer.

And that is that.


I notice I also say evalovin' a lot. Maybe I write it more than I say it. I usually append it to my girlfriend of 8 million years - as in, "my evalovin' gf," who I sometimes write about here due to her felicity with mangling metaphors. But, sometimes I use it for other things and people.

I didn't make "evalovin'" up any more than I did "see you in church." I think I got evalovin' from a long dead writer who, for all I know, may have known Shirley Temple personally, as he wrote the short story upon which was based a movie she starred in- Little Miss Marker. Maybe he got it from somewhere else.

The writer, Damon Runyon, was a colorful and talented character. He was actually a sports writer who is often credited with changing the way baseball was covered, by writing more about the athletes than the athletics, and is in both the baseball and boxing Halls of Fame as a writer. But, he also wrote light-hearted and engaging short stories about gangsters and wannabes, the most famous of which, The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, became the blockbuster musical, Guys and Dolls.

Actually, until an editor dropped his first name in a by-line one day and a typo changed his last name, he was just plain Alfred Damon Runyan, which sounds more like your middle-aged neighbor with a paunch who exposes his rear end when he bends down to get the paper every morning (which my evalovin' gf falsely accuses me of relentlessly - how dare she). But, Damon - his mother's maiden and his middle name - ran with a fast crowd, was a gambler, a drinker (until he gave it up) and smoker whose best friend, Otto Berman, was actually gunned down along with his boss, Dutch Schultz - about as nasty a gangster as there was at the time.

I don't think Runyon wrote any novels, just short stories, which you can get in collections. Not too many people read him anymore, but they should because everything he wrote was original and fun. He had his own literary style called Runyonese, which Wikipedia describes as: "a mixture of formal speech and colorful slang, almost always in present tense, and always devoid of contractions."  I expect someone other than the Wiki writer came up with that analysis, but there's no cite.  Read the See you in church segment above again to see what I mean, although I do not have his ear for colorful slang. And if you've ever seen "Guys and Dolls," (and I hope so, on account it is the greatest musical ever made) you've heard it too. This is my favorite bit from the story, which was used in the movie and spoken by Marlon Brando as Guy Masterson, fairly similar to the way Runyon originally wrote it:

"On the day when I left home to make my way in the world, my daddy took me to one side. “Son,” my daddy says to me: I am sorry I am not able to bankroll you to a very large start, but not having the necessary lettuce to get you rolling, instead I’m going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you’re going to wind up with an ear full of cider.”

Runyon gave Jim Braddock the moniker "Cinderella Man" and his "Hooray Henry," became a name in Britain given to describe a certain type of bloke - Donald Trump would now fit the description. In any event, Runyon liked to describe women, in particular, as "ever loving." I liked it, adopted it as evalovin', which I'm sure I saw somewhere else. I can find no sign of it on the internet (feel free to try and report if you have a link) - but it may have also been partially derived from a Marvel Comics character, Ben Grimm from The Fantastic 4, aka The Thing, who was a Runyonesque character if there ever was one, although he said "ever lovin', which is not exactly the same. I feel pretty sure, actually positive, that I read the form "evalovin'" somewhere, but can't remember where. I just like it.

And that is that.


Along time ago I also started saying and writing "righteo," to people. I know exactly where I got that from. The great cartoon character Felix the Cat used to say it. I remember Felix from my early childhood. I probably saw re-runs because Wikipedia tells me it ended in 1961 when I was two. I don't remember why Felix would say "righteo," but I use it when I want to express emphatic agreement with something either unimportant or which really doesn't call for a response.

"See you later," someone might write. And I'll respond - "Righteo!" Or "Can you handle that for me?" "Righteo!"

Felix had a magic bag of tricks from which he could pull out all kinds of things:
Unless you are 5 years old, skip to the end of that for when Felix says "Righteo!" I try to use the same intonation when I say it, even though it must seem bizarre to anyone not familiar with Felix.

Occasionally I will say "I know - I'll use my magic bag of tricks," or something like that in Felix's voice too. I wish I had a magic bag of tricks. They definitely came in handy for Felix.

As with "see you in church," I don't know why I like to say "righteo" either. I just do.

And that is that.

No worries

Unlike "See you in church" or "righteo," there is probably a reason I so often write "no worries" to people in response to any suggestion that there might be some small thing to worry about, either because I did someone a favor they are concerned about or they will have to get back to me later after doing whatever it is that they have to do - really just about anything that might incur worry.

The "reason" would seem to be my own dislike of people worrying over small things, particularly if I'm even tangentially involved. So, I worry about people worrying, which is maybe the same thing. I don't have to tell you I didn't invent this expression, but, I do notice when I write it to someone else, they often start writing it back. Something about the expression that makes it pleasant to use.

Back in the day, I used to say "Hakunah matata," which as anyone who ever saw The Lion King knows, basically means "no worries" too. According to Wikipedia, it technically means something like "there are no problems present here." As the song goes, however, "♪It means no worries for the rest of your days.♬" The musical notation is mine, but the words are from some brilliant Disney composers - Elton John and Tim Rice.

I just listened to that a couple of times to that, just for old times sake. Still good. 

And that's that.

See you in church.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Walden Three

Still here. My computer was broken for a while so I'm a little late with my self-imposed tasks here. I actually finished this post at the beginning of Jan. Actually, I wrote two of them, but I can't get the pictures to post on the bird journal. That's right - I kept a bird journal and it was frigging exciting. That post was supposed to come before this one. While I figure that out, here's something completely different (cartoon watchers about my age will note the plagiarism):

Two modern critics of Thoreau's Walden first:

"Granted, it is sometimes difficult to deal with society. Few things will thwart your plans to live deliberately faster than those messy, confounding surprises known as other people. Likewise, few things will thwart your absolute autonomy faster than governance, and not only when the government is unjust; every law is a parameter, a constraint on what we might otherwise do. Teen-agers, too, strain and squirm against any checks on their liberty. But the mature position, and the one at the heart of the American democracy, seeks a balance between the individual and the society. Thoreau lived out that complicated balance; the pity is that he forsook it, together with all fellow-feeling, in “Walden.” And yet we made a classic of the book, and a moral paragon of its author—a man whose deepest desire and signature act was to turn his back on the rest of us." Kathryn Schulz, October 19, 2015

"And he himself is difficult. To my mind the better question to ask about Thoreau isn’t why we love him, because most of us don’t. Most of us ignore him, and a large number of those who pay him any mind seem to loathe him, or find him ridiculous. At the high school where I once taught American literature, Walden is no longer on the syllabus, nor is Gatsby, for that matter, and although the sample-size is unscientific, as best I can recall, not one of the adolescent New Yorkers I forced Walden on cottoned to it. The better question, or at least the harder one for me, is why it is that ever since his untimely death in 1862 we’ve been having this same argument. Saint or fraud, idol or arrogant prick: why do we seem to need him to be one or the other?" Donovan Hohn - New Republic, October 21, 2015

My sophisticated answer to Schulz and Hohn is "Yeah, well, I love him." Sure, he and a friend almost accidentally burned their town, Concord, down once. And maybe some who knew him thought he was smug, self-righteous and inconsistent -- as if Plato, Jesus, likely the two quoted authors and, probably all of us haven't been accused of those things at one time or another. He was also, at turns, joyous, a wonderful friend and family member, determined, pragmatic and scientific, outspoken against oppression and an apostle of freedom and nature. He wrote very consistently. But he wrote a lot, pretty much every day as an adult, and that means sometimes he was inconsistent. It is easy to criticize, and easier still to criticize the opinions of those who bare their souls, as Thoreau did. I tried to raise my daughter to understand that people usually judge you according to their own interests and insecurities and not to give it undue consideration. I actually think she got it, which is very satisfying to me as a parent. Thoreau did his best to live by it, but, you don't have to read much of him to know it is impossible to avoid entirely. If he could fail at it, I don't feel bad about it either. 

The question shouldn't be whether kids know who Thoreau was today or if he is read anymore. The questions are 1) whether he was a remarkable writer and 2) whether those kids and the rest of us live in a better world to some degree because of him - whether we know him or not. He had the same faults, insecurities and worries as does all humanity. Ms. Schultz is wrong that his deepest desire was to turn his back on people - who did she think he was writing for? But, he also had enough good qualities and accomplishments for five of us and like most people in this world, was largely misunderstood by everyone else. I've defended and criticized him before several times, but that's not today's mission - it's just to give you some of the best of Walden.

Walden; or, Life in the Woods, arguably Thoreau's greatest work and certainly his most famous, details a little over his two years in a cabin in the woods on the shores of Lake Walden, in Concord, Massachusetts. It was published in 1854. In 1948, B. F. Skinner, a psychologist, published Walden Two, a novel about a utopian community based, in part, on Thoreau's book. Google it if you want more details about him (don't bother reading it, in my opinion - I did it for you). I just derived the title to the post from his book and feel the need to tell you. 

But, this post is neither a memoir, like Walden, or a novel, like Walden Two, but is carved out from my collection of verbatim quotes I've typed out from Walden, a book I often have had open on a table the way Thoreau had Homer open. I've taken what I have thought were its most interesting tidbits and then roughly cut it in half (for your sake, not mine). Why do I love him so much? Maybe because I find myself more often in agreement with him (though often not) than with other writers/philosophers or recognize my own life journey in what he wrote. Maybe it is because he writes so well, that I'd admire him if I disagreed with everything he wrote in the same way I love Wagner's music though he was a despicable cuss. Definitely not because I was named (in part, at least) for him. 

I made his quotes larger than my comments, so, God-forbid, you don't confuse them and I bolded the most famous bits of his. My priceless and irreplaceable comments that will no doubt have Henry David spinning in his grave, are also in italics:

I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. I agree with the proposition that everything original we write is at least minimally autobiographical. If nothing else, it is telling of our interests or aspirations. There's no reason to leave out the "I think" when writing, except, if you prefer, stylistically. But, even then, people kid themselves in believing that by leaving out "I think," it is somehow not their opinion.This blog mine is subtitled What I am Thinking About, and I make no pretension it is anything else.

The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captured any monster or finished any labor. They have no friend Iolaus to burn with a hot iron the root of the hydra’s head, but as soon as one head is crushed, two spring up. The neighbors he speaks of were mostly farmers and he thought they worked too hard for too little satisfaction. I am not against hard work or achievements (although my evalovin' gf would be rolling on the floor laughing if she read that).My life is very easy because advancement and achievement has been sought after by many people, most often in search of profit, over centuries and I and many others have access to the fruits of it. But, I am against mindless work we do not enjoy that we do to buy things we don't really need and which too many people try to substitute for virtue or happiness. Although my own work decisions earn me some criticism (there is praise too, but rarely ever in public) I just stopped accepting one day that I must work away as hard as I could at something I didn't want to do so much, simply because it had been my chosen profession and it is customary where I live to do so until one is wealthy enough (or supported enough by someone else) to stop. I wish I had come to this conclusion younger. There's time for both in life and I did choose the responsibility of working full time while raising my daughter over more free time until she was in college. Even Thoreau worked at various jobs, like helping with his family's pencil business, surveying and generally handy-man jobs. It was a necessity for him, though between his family and the Emersons, he never really lacked for a place to stay or something to eat. Thoreau did not live long. I have often said to my leading friendly critic that I hope I die young, so he will be forced to acknowledge that I had a good plan after all. Relax, I'm kidding him, though if I live long and don't win lotto, my plan will not likely seem such a good idea to most people. I guess I will find out what I think when I get there.

Aside from the above, just saying that Michael Hurst's fiery and fun-loving performance as Hercules' friend Iolaus in Hercules: The Legendary Adventures in the 1990s tv show filmed in New Zealand was better than the mythological character probably deserved. Hurst was the best part of that hokey, ridiculous, but fun show.


Granted that the majority are able at last either to own or hire the modern house with all its improvements. While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was so easy to create noblemen and kings. And if the civilized man's pursuits are no worthier than the savage's, if he is employed the greater part of his life in obtaining gross necessaries and comforts merely, why should he have a better dwelling than the former? (the italics are his). 

I think the answer to that question is that enlightenment values and the continuous improvement of science and technology over time has provided the better dwelling and most everything else -- including the general morality of the men who inhabit these houses. It has been shown recently on what I think are pretty solid arguments, that on the whole, we live in a far more peaceful, more successful world than we have ever before in history despite the horrors and sad lives that still exist for many people. Perhaps we are worthier, whatever our faults, and maybe living in modern houses with all of its conveniences has helped.


Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate. . . .The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. Is resignation confirmed desperation? Maybe, but maybe it is also a very good thing. I'd rather have someone who resigns himself to his work to someone beating himself up because he made wrong choices and not doing anything. It all comes down to the circumstances. But, Thoreau is not wrong either. Many people I know seek conformance to custom or some attachment over happiness. Some, maybe most or all, are desperate and resigned. This is not the post to discuss whether they choose it or are predisposed to it. For myself, I believe my better qualities are chosen, worked on while young until they became habit, and hung onto thereafter. I said "I believe." Could be wrong.


It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however, ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. What old people say you cannot do you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new. Old people did not know enough once, perchance, to fetch fresh fuel to keep the fire a-going; new people put a little dry wood under a pot, and are whirled round the globe with the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the phrase is. Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living. Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than they were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose. Here is life, and experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that this my Mentors said nothing about. I am much less cynical than Mr. Thoreau about experience. He seems to think he is purely original and that the experience of others brought nothing of note to him. He was original and to some degree unique, but not purely - hardly so. In fact, he had the benefit of not only a Harvard education, which even then was something, read others omnivorously, and had the example and mentoring of Mr. Emerson, who he slavishly imitated before outgrowing. He benefitted from all of this enormously. In fact, though he surpassed him in my view, no Emerson, likely no Thoreau in the manner we know him. But, still, he is not entirely wrong either. More people do things because it is the custom or habit of others to do so. I have repeatedly found throughout my life that when I did something because it made sense to me, but diverged from convention, that others found it provocative and difficult to understand. Even where they saw good results, many just wanted me to do what everyone else did. And I've often noted to friends that though I conform to 99 plus percent of life's customary behaviors, that 1% drives people crazy. I would reform Thoreau this way - "Listen to your elders, but think." 


Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor. When you experience modern conveniences from birth, as many of us do in our age, all the comforts of home from heat to refrigerators to the internet, they sure don't seem like luxuries. We are desperate not to lose them. Even when I went to live in an old rural town in Virginia, I still didn't want to give those things up and I don't feel any less wise for it. I tried during my own time away to somewhat lessen my need for them, and it is not easy. A few of Thoreau's friends tried to live a "paleo" existence and failed miserably. At another time Thoreau commented that a man was foolish not to utilize the technology of his time. He was much wiser then. Besides, that was then and this was now. We still have problems in this world. But, compared to when and where Thoreau lived, the lives of most people today is much easier and probably far fewer are working their fingers to the bone just to stay afloat. We need to be prepared to do without our dispensable luxuries, and I am sometimes sorry for those who mistake them for happiness, but I doubt much that anyone would be more willing to give them up today - even their hi-def tvs - than they were in his time, whether they are poorer and have one tv, or wealthier and have a warehouse full.

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. That all sounds very impressive, but frankly, most philosophers I've read, and that's not a few, didn't pass the laugh test after a chapter or so, and often didn't last even that long. To be a philosopher is simply to speculate about the essence of things. I'm not knocking it. I love philosophy. But, I take what I like from each of them and happily leave out the rest.


To anticipate, not the sunrise and the dawn merely, but, if possible, Nature herself! How many mornings, summer and winter, before yet any neighbor was stirring about his business, have I been about mine! No doubt, many of my townsmen have met me returning from this enterprise, farmers starting for Boston in the twilight, or woodchoppers going to their work. My sleep issue (or lack thereof) is among my greatest afflictions, but, it has also given me the benefit of experiencing many sunrises and to see cities when most everyone else was asleep. It has also allowed me to read a lot more than I otherwise could have. But, this is a silver lining. Give me a choice, most days I'd rather I could sleep longer. 


Finding that my fellow-citizens were not likely to offer me any room in the courthouse, or any curacy or living anywhere else, but I must shift for myself, I turned my face more exclusively than ever to the woods, where I was better known.  I determined to go into business at once, and not wait to acquire the usual capital, using such slender means as I had already got. My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles; to be hindered from accomplishing which for want of a little common sense, a little enterprise and business talent, appeared not so sad as foolish. I admit, I am not entirely sure what the entire paragraph, obviously an analogy, means, especially given that awkward last sentence. But, I do know it is how I felt when I moved from suburban New York to rural Virginia. All I can do is try to phrase it for myself and leave out that dratted last sentence - Finding that my fellow surbanites were commonly tied to some goals which I understood but did not find particularly alluring, I turned my face to the rural borders, where I felt more at home. On the other hand, I wasn't about to give up the internet or hvac either.


No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience. . . It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes. Could you, in such a case, tell surely of any company of civilized men which belonged to the most respected class? There came a time when I realized that almost all my heroes of the past were known for their ill attention to clothing. If I have none of their abilities or their accomplishments, I have that in common with them.


Even in our democratic New England towns the accidental possession of wealth, and its manifestation in dress and equipage alone, obtain for the possessor almost universal respect. So strong a hold has wealth in our society in our evaluation of others, and so common does that theme seem to me in all times and places that I have studied, that I am not sure it is not somehow programmed into the hardware of all of us, including myself, or so early primed in the software, as to seem like the former.  


It is desirable that a man be clad so simply that he can lay his hands on himself in the dark, and that he live in all respects so compactly and preparedly, that, if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety. From the excellent crime drama, Heat: "A guy told me one time, 'Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.' " (De Niro's character to Pacino's). I cannot say I am a fanatic about this, but, whenever I find myself attached to material things, I accept it, but feel it is a loss in a spiritual sense.

I suppose, if we suffer a cataclysm that negates all or most of our technology, then Walden (and those suddenly foresighted survivalists) will seem very, very wise.


The head monkey at Paris put on a traveler’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same. Not much commentary is necessary. Excepting some hyperbole as to "all," I agree.


Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new. And it is done with no sense of foolishness or shame.


In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high. This is one of the most frequently quoted statements from Walden and generally good advice for mankind. "In the long run" covers all those random events where it doesn't appear to be true.


If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the condition of man—and I think that it is, though only the wise improve their advantages—it must be shown that it has produced better dwellings without making them more costly; and the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. I'm sure Thoreau wished he could have convinced his fellow men of this. I do frequently enough to think it is some guiding purpose in my life. 


When I think of the benefactors of the race, whom we have apotheosized as messengers from heaven, bearers of divine gifts to man, I do not see in my mind any retinue at their heels, any carload of fashionable furniture. When I think of this point, the extra large extra fancy schmancy tvs come first to mind. Why the deep desire to own bigger and better when we were always satisfied before when we owned the last state of the art model? Still, so powerful is this drive, that those who own lesser models than available would find themselves without satisfied visitors, though everyone would have been delighted with it ten years earlier. I'm not sure that all benefactors of the "race" (I think he means mankind) did without the comforts and technologies of their time, though perhaps less so than the rest of us. And given that he lived the far greater part of his life in his parents' or others' homes, and Walden was a short experiment . . . . 


But lo! Man has become a tool of his tools. No doubt. Why I say all the time to my evalovin' gf "the cell phone is mine; I'm not its." Nor will I live my life to satisfy conventional determinations of material need I don't personally feel necessary. I felt this way when I owned a house, which served a purpose of raising my daughter. Soon after she was off to college I quit my job and sold it. I don't regret it. Sometimes freedom comes with having stuff, sometimes from not.


If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse is that I brag for humanity rather than for myself; and my shortcomings and inconsistencies do not affect the truth of my statement. I think I know what he is talking about here. Some people can't bear listening to someone else's "wisdom," (or advice or stories) particularly though, when they agree! - they are too fearful that acknowledging it means they are somehow the lesser or that the speaker thinks they have the upper hand - and that is unbearable to them. And that's pretty much what he was doing throughout Walden. Giving to posterity what he then saw as wisdom. And some people, like the two I quoted at the beginning of this post, do not like it. On the other hand, he might just be boastful.


When I have met an immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all—looking like an enormous wen which had grown out of the nape of his neck—I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry.  A feeling which still rings especially true to me. One day, living in Va., an elderly man I knew said to me, "David, I have never made more than $26,000 in any one year. And I know a lot of wealthy people. I'm pretty sure I'm happier than any of them." I can't read minds, but my observation was that it was to a large degree true.


A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil. I know what he means, but it is also possible to take almost all wisdom too far. What seemed like wisdom or "good" can easily become obsession - one of the lessons of The Lord of the Rings. You can moderate yourself if you have enough motivation and sometimes we take gifts from others simply to be gracious. He could have taken the mat. It would have made her feel good and wouldn't have hurt him much.


When formerly I was looking about to see what I could do for a living, some sad experience in conforming to the wishes of friends being fresh in my mind to tax my ingenuity, I thought often and seriously of picking huckleberries; that surely I could do, and its small profits might suffice—for my greatest skill has been to want but little—so little capital it required so little distraction from my wonted moods, I foolishly thought. Before I ever read Thoreau, I was in a high school class where every other person was an "honors club" student (note: after I entered Junior High I was soon thrown out of every honors class I had been put in). The teacher, who was the honors club's mentor went around asking each of us what we wanted to do for a living. It went like this - "Smith?" "I'd like to be a doctor."  "Jones?" "A lawyer."  "Johnson?" "Accountant."  "Wallberg?" An astronaut."  "Eisenberg?" "Uhhhh. I think I'd like to pick oranges." That's pretty close to verbatim. I remember the conversation but not whether I was serious or not. How I ended up a lawyer? My mother and ex-wife's talked me into taking the LSATs and I had nothing else going on . . . but that's a story for another day. It may not have been my best decision, but it definitely has been an easier life than if I had chosen to pick oranges. Actually, I also remember my mother telling me that she knew I wasn't interested in money, but I should try to do something for a living I loved. It was good advice, but I neither understood it nor took it. A regret, but perhaps one it was inevitable I'd have.


The laborer’s day ends with the going down of the sun, and he is then free to devote himself to his chosen pursuit, independent of his labor; but his employer, who speculates from month to month, has no respite from one end of the year to the other. It would probably be hard to be a day laborer and survive in our very expensive world. But, I found a way to be a day lawyer of sorts and I like it much better than 9-5. I have no talent for making money - I know some people money comes to like duck-bill platypuses to kiwis (I just made that up - it has no real meaning, and I don't know if dbp's like kiwis -  but you get it) and I'm sure someone else could do what I do in my meandering way and yet be rich anyway. I'll settle for having a lot of free time and being happy, but I wouldn't mind the extra money a bit either.


In short, I am convinced, both by faith an experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely; as the pursuits of the simpler nations are still the sports of the more artificial. It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do. He's right in the sense that while we are young enough and healthy we can, but, he's seems lost in this idea that those who live in more primitive societies had it better than we do. As far as we can tell, if you live in an industrialized nation at least, you probably have it a lot better than anyone else ever did. It is the reason people flock here and to Western Europe, but we don't flock to Chad. I think I say to someone, if not almost every day, then certainly every week - we are not just the luckiest people in the world; we are the luckiest people in the history of the world! That's in all History! In all the World! 


I would not have anyone adopt my mode of living on any account; for, besides that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead. Sage advice. But, it is a good idea to tag "everything in moderation" onto most other advice. You cannot be unconventional, or march to your own drummer, about everything all the time. That way leads alienation, hardship and maybe even death. And, there are people, maybe most people, who feel the connection to their world in imitating their parents and whatever group they identify with. It is hard to have a culture without it - probably impossible. 


I would not stand between any man and his genius; and to him who does this work, which I decline, with his whole heart and soul and life, I would say, Persevere, even if the world call it doing evil, as it is most likely they will. He should know that the whole world will call it evil or stupid, just because someone's different. But, different doesn't mean its good or bad. I have given the same advice quoted above to a number of people (although, I say it in normal English). Some have wanted to be who they were, but did not have the strength to overcome their parents' expected disapproval, and others did do so, and in a few cases, thanking me profusely. Really, all I did was be someone to give them permission to do what they wanted to do in the first place.


Be sure that you give the poor the aid they most need, though it be your example which leaves them far behind. If you give money, spend yourself with it, and do not merely abandon it to them. . . There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. 


I would not subtract anything from the praise that is due to philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives and works are a blessing to mankind. I do not value chiefly a man’s uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and leaves. . . His goodness must not be a partial and transitory act, but a constant superfluity, which costs him nothing and of which he is unconscious. . . We should impart our courage, and not our despair, our health and ease, and not our disease, and take care that this does not spread by contagion. . . .


Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor, but endeavor to become one of the worthies of the world.
I often found Thoreau's views on poverty and charity perplexing. I still have not figured it out and I'm not sure he was all that square on it. But, he basically said that he was all for it, just didn't feel he had any talent for it. At the same time, giving money as charity could be counter-productive. Better to give by example and by living a righteous life. My summary seems insufficient to me, but it's the best I can do. And then remember, he would be the most vocal and foremost, at least where he lived, to verbally condemn slavery and the killing of John Brown and risked his own neck in participating in the underground railroad. Whether that's called charity or heroic, it was sticking his neck out for others, because it was also illegal.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” I don't think that I can make that clearer or improve on it in any way. I'll only add, I don't think we need to go live in the woods to accomplish it. But, access to the woods helps me.

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million, count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail. I try to follow this every day. A few things are important to me. Let everyone else focus on the many. 


No wonder Alexander carried the Iliad with him on his expeditions in a precious casket. A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read by actually breathed from all human lips; not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be cared out of the breath of life itself. The symbol of an ancient man’s thought becomes a modern man’s speech. Two thousand summers have imparted to the monuments of Grecian literature, as to her marbles, only a mature golden and autumnal tint, for they have carried their own serene and celestial atmosphere into all lands to protect them against the corrosion of time. Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind. . . .  Exactly.


I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theater, that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It was a drama of many scenes and without an end. If we were always indeed getting our living, and regulating our lives according to the last and best mode we had learned, we should never be troubled with ennui. Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour. . . . To be honest, after reading quite a bit of him, I am not sure if this was not sour grapes, at least to some degree. Thoreau read the accounts of travelers who did go abroad voraciously. He did not do so much of it himself, certainly not in comparison to Emerson or others, but certainly more than most people he knew. But, he made so much of the world around him, he more than made up for it. I read this about Bruce Lee once, who liked to compare people to a stone that needed to be chipped away. The speaker noted, that most people could chip away as much as they liked, there was no Bruce Lee beneath it. I'd say the same for Thoreau.


I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish without falling a little in self-respect. I have tried it again and again. I have skill at it, and, like many of my fellows, a certain instinct for it, which revives from time to time, but always when I have done I feel that it would have been better if I had not fished. I think that I do not mistake. It is a faint intimation, yet so are the first streaks of morning. . . . Unlike hunting on land, which I have a deep personal aversion too, I can't help believing that I would find fishing wonderfully relaxing, if I could only get past personally killing an animal (I learned later in life to kill insects - sometimes - that invaded the home or tried to eat me). I'm not criticizing others though who hunt or fish. I myself have been responsible for a holocaust of chickens and hooved animals killed by others on my account. When I was a wee laddie in summer camp my bunk was taken fishing by a ranger. I did not want to go, but as I was 9, they weren't going to leave me alone all day (although, I would have been fine - already at that age, I was leaving the bunk before dawn and spending hours by myself before others arose). On the boat, the other kids were having the time of their lives fishing. The ranger explained to me that the fish did not feel pain (that had to be a crock) and said we would throw them back after we caught them. I gave in and took a rod. Like the others, I caught a fish. Only one fish of those we caught died - the one I caught. It's almost a half century later and I still regret it. 


The wasps came by thousands to my lodge in October, as to winter quarters, and settled on my windows within and on the walls overhead, sometimes deterring visitors from entering. Each morning, when they were numbed with cold, I swept some of them out, but I did not trouble myself much to get rid of them; I even felt complimented by their regarding my house as a desirable shelter. They never molested me seriously, though they bedded with me; and they gradually disappeared, into what crevices I do not know, avoiding winter and unspeakable cold. When I was a slightly older lad, perhaps 10 years later, I was actually married and my wife and I lived in a half of a railroad flat. Outside one window was a paper wasp hive. It was huge and I loved watching the inhabitants at work. One day I came home and my landlord was spraying it, killing them. He suggested that I take the huge oval nest and shellac it. I brought it into the house, still regretting their death. A few were still on the outside of the dome, caught while working like citizens of Pompeii. I decided it would be funny if my wife came home and found the nest inside while I was out with  friend buying shellac. So, I left it there on the floor. While in the store, I suddenly came to my senses. No may in the world was I capable of doing this - I had almost failed shop in high school. So, we went back home to throw it out. Opening the door, some movement caught my eye. The wasps were not dead. In fact, a few were crawling slowly to the others and it seemed waking them. I asked my friend to help me. Let's just say he declined. I went in, got a hefty bag, and snuck up on it before quickly wrapping it up. Now I was complicit. Thoreau's wasps fared better than mine. Still, it was an adventure.


Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose? A living dog is better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can? Let everyone mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made. One of those things everyone should learn when young. Unfortunately, in my experience, anyway, not many are taught it. I can tell you that my mother raised all of her children to be individuals and independent - I'm pretty sure she regretted that deeply as she got older. 


Why should we be in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. And this even more so. Some people never learn it and many resent those who do. There is a powerful pull to fitting in and maybe for most people it is most satisfying. As always to his simplicity, simplicity, simplicity I'd add balance, balance, balance.


No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at last as the truth. This alone wears well. For the most part, we are not where we are, but in a false position. Through an infirmity of our natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence are in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult to get out. In sane moments we regard only the facts, the case that is. Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe. . . . I do agree, but how do we know it is the truth and not what just appears to be so. Man lives on one set of myths or another and can never know for sure if he has accidentally hit on some truth. But, he sure can think he has.


However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault finder will find fault even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.  The town’s poor seem to me often to live the most independent lives of any. Maybe they are simply great enough to receive without misgiving. Most think that they are above being supported by the town; but it oftener happens that they are not above supporting themselves by dishonest means, which should be more disreputable. Cultivate property like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do not want society. If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me. . . Do not seek so anxiously to be developed, to subject yourself to many influences to be played on; it is all dissipation. Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. The shadows of poverty and meanness gather around us, “and lo! Creation widens to our view.”  . . . It is life near the bone where it is sweetest. You are defended from being a trifler. No man loses ever on a lower level by magnanimity on a higher. Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul. This seems like such good advice but very contrary to human nature. Would one of those poor not choose wealth if handed to them in the midst of their glorious independence. Even Thoreau spent little time on the pond, two years plus a little, and as we know, was within easy walking distance to his family home. And it was his parent's home he lived at most of his life, or for some few years with the Emersons and elsewhere. StilI, I think he believed these things, as I do. But, it is too much to expect us to fight human nature. We can aspire to need less luxury, to want more of things which are otherwise spiritually or intellectually enriching. And we can feed ourselves with it. But, in our most ambitious endeavors along these lines, "aspire" is an important word, failure must be humorously accepted and moderation is the key. 


Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable cold as the ices. I thought that there was no need of ice to freeze them. They talked to me of the age of the wine and the fame of the vintage, which they had not got, and could not buy. The style, the house and grounds and “entertainment” pass for nothing with me. I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I called on him. Can't I have the love, money, fame (not so much fame) and the truth too? I wouldn't complain. 


End of Exceprts

I can't say that's Walden in a nutshell, because it is really just the more philosophical parts that interest me most and I culled out. There are other aspects of it, and many stories about his neighbors, human and otherwise, the pond and the woods themselves. It is easy to see the faults the writers at the beginning of this post find in him. It seems to me that probably many things that Thoreau thought were not so good - might be very good. But, I'm not sure we can expect a 19th century man to think like a 21st century man. Or visa versa - though we have the benefit of hindsight and his voluminous writings. I doubt were he alive today and of like mine, he would shun air conditioning or Nobel Prize money.

And, though Walden is his most famous work, it is not the only thing he wrote. His primary work was his almost endless journals, which are worth a lot of time to read as they were to make. I have only a couple of small collections from them. One day, if my vast wealth is maintained and the right price comes around, I will purchase the lot.

Which will likely lead to a longer post.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Holiday Spectacular 2017

It is once again time for my holiday spectacular. Seems like it happens every year. My self-imposed rules are that I can't decide what to write about until I start writing and let it just happen. Also, it has to be 

The New Miss Malaprop entries of the year:

Usually I do these under their own title, but, I felt like putting them here this year. The New Miss Malaprop is the pseudonym for my evalovin' girlfriend of 27 years, aka, my "25 to life sentence," "the warden," my "ball and chainsaw," my "insignificant other" (which, she co-opted from me) and my "girlfuhrer." She has a tendency to say interesting things, not on purpose, where she mixes metaphors and names with spectacular results. It is its own kind of unconscious genius and is my favorite thing about her.

Here's my best from this year along with seasonal photos, just because:

We were in San Antonio, home of the world famous Alamo, which is now a ruin. Our hotel was literally across the street from it. We were walking past it, stopped in to check about a tour she wanted to take for the conference she was running (why she was down there). We passed by a sign for Crockett Street, not surprisingly, right next to the Alamo.

Miss Malaprop: That's Crockett Street.
David: Do you know who that's named for?
MM: Jiminy Crockett?
D: No, no, no - you can't possibly think that's right.
MM: Who then?
D: I can't. I just can't.

Later that day, after she took the Alamo tour –

D: Do you know who Crockett is now?
MM: Yes. Davey Crockett. He died at the Alamo.
D: With?
MM: Travis and Bowie.
D: Do you know what Bowie invented?
MM: Oh, I know this – some kind of weapon.
D: The bow. . . .
MM: Bow and arrow?
D: Yes. Exactly. He must have been really old.

It was once pointed out to me by my friend, Mike, that these conversations almost all have the same pattern. He was right, but they are also all somewhat different.  

Recently, driving, we were discussing someone who had ignored her:

MM: "What am I? Chopped Wood?"

See what she did there? This is what I mean by unconscious genius. You can say, "What am I, wood?" or "What am I, chopped liver?" And, you definitely can chop wood. But, there's no expression, "What am I, chopped wood?" Until now.

Then there was the time she told me her boss's son was going to "Satan Hall College." It's not really in Hell, unless that's what you think of New Jersey.

About her friend, who was having a drink - "She’s unwhining." I would think that would actually apply to when she was done whining. 

Good thing I write these down as fast as I can, because otherwise I forget. I would have forgotten this one-

On May 22, 2017 a terrorist attack occurred at a pop rock concert in England during the Ariana Grande concert.

D: "Did you see that someone set off a bomb at an Ariana Grande concert in Britain?”
MM: “Well no one likes her.”
D: “I’m sure that’s why they did it.”


Here's one that makes some kind of sense to me, though completely wrong: "I worked like an ass all day." (yes, instead of - "I worked my ass off all day").

The following one, I just don't know what to say about it. We were driving, as we are when many of these come out, because that's when we are captive audiences and, if she's not texting or on facebook, we talk:

D: Why are you pushing the ABC button on the radio?
MM: Those are your four choices of stations.
D: Four? You count four there?
MM: Sure. A is 1, B 2, C - oh, three.

Seriously, how hard is it to count to three? On the same ride:

MM: How big was your wife’s engagement ring? (1977).
D: I think point 67 carats?
MM: It was less than half a carat?
D: Really?
MM: More than a carat?
D: How did you get through life without knowing decimals?
MM: Oh, more than half a carat then.
D: Well, that’s the last choice, so yeah.

Obviously, math is a specialty. That's it. There will be more. It's one reason we can't break up.


Book and Talk of the year.

If you've read my blog just a few times and don't get that I'm an obsessive reader, you probably have a reading comprehension problem. It is my favorite activity that you can talk about in public.

Some years though I have trouble finding a book I really love. This year there was a hand's down favorite, a new biography of Henry David Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls. I've written about Thoreau many times here* and I'd probably say that he is my all-time favorite non-fiction writer. I actually went to hear the author speak at the J. P. Morgan Museum and Library in NYC, where some Thoreau materials are kept. That was one of my personal highlights of the year too.

*One of the most viewed posts I ever wrote (no. 3, according to Google) is Death Match: Socrates v. Thoreau – 3/28/10, but others about him include Thoreau meets me - 7/31/08, Thoreau and the test of innocence – 10/26/13 and Thoreau – The end of innocence – 1/28/14. 

I went by myself, mostly because I don't know anyone, who lives near me at least, who would want to go to something like that. Also, I rarely get to discuss Thoreau with anyone, and thought there was a small chance of it. And other than occasionally a few friends and family on the phone - some of whom are among the few people in the world who actually read this stuff, I rarely talk about anything even mildly intellectual. Who does? Even when I am speaking with friends who like the same type of things I do it is very easy to get lost in the entertainment world or football. I think that's why I was so excited listening to her talk about Thoreau that I would say I was in a state of elation.

I had been waiting all of my life for a great biography of someone I thought was the best pure prose writer in America's history. I've read quite a few books about him and they range from boring to okay. After listening to Ms. Walls speak, I bought a copy of the book and got on the line to have her sign it. Once in a blue moon I will buy a book to get it signed for someone else, but I have never, if I recall correctly, done it for myself. I just wanted to talk to her about Thoreau for at least a minute. I stood on line about a half hour reading as I approached the front of the line and became increasingly excited as I got nearer. The opening chapter was wonderful. As I stood though, I noticed that there was a nerdy looking watcher/bodyguard of sorts, who wouldn't let anyone talk with her for more than a few minutes. So, I started to think of how to cram in what I wanted to say as I approached. I was almost the last person and I was sure she must also have been exhausted.

When I got to the front of the line I started talking. I gave some thought to the fact that she was the expert and should really talk to us, but I didn't observe that happening with other people that much. Plus, what would she say? She had already given her talk and she couldn't have anything personal to say to us. In any event, she was very gracious and listened intently to me as she had the others. I told her that my mother had named me David Henry after Thoreau (it was the order of his real name - although technically, I was also named after my Aunt Henrietta) and I told her, summing up in a couple of sentences, something I had realized about a sentence he had written which showed me how deep his scholarship was. She responded to that point herself. I also told her how I had waited for her book my whole life (okay - my adult life, but you really don't have a lot of time up there) and she gave me a puzzled look. I probably blurted out a few other things about my admiration for him too at high speed and felt very emotional. Actually, I felt that way since I got there. I don't live in academia and it was all of a sudden, intellectual stimulation. One of the reasons I write this stupid blog for 11 years now is to occasionally talk about the things that really interest me. I'm not sure my excitement didn't creep through too much (Ms. Walls, if I creeped you out - I apologize - I was just so happy to be there).

I read the book in a few days. It was as good as it seemed to me at first blush. For many people who even know who Thoreau was, and think of him as a guy who lived by a pond, that was two years of his life.  Thoreau's time on earth was very full, exciting and though certainly too short for the rest of us, yet so filled with life it was as if he lived several years. Moreover, though it has become a fixture of the story of his life that he never traveled much, and that is true compared to many then famous people, he probably traveled much more than most of his neighbors - if not very far - and I suspect they saw him as an adventurer of sorts. He did go to Canada, Maine, Minnesota, lived briefly in New York City and walked everywhere he wanted in Massachusetts.

Because I have read so much about him, I did not expect to learn much. Though no event covered was quite new to me, I did learn quite a bit, mostly about his college life at Harvard, his family and also how involved they and he were in abolition - including taking part in transporting escaped slaves, his scientific work, his interest in and writings about Indians (though I presume filled with misinformation), much about his many friends and acquaintances and also about Concord itself.

I don't know if I can recommend it to anyone who doesn't love Thoreau already - you should read Walden and Civil Disobedience first, although Life without Principle is my favorite of his works, but I celebrate him, this book and Ms. Walls here in this Holiday Spectacular.

Top ten most memorable hikes:

Holiday spectaculars are made for top ten lists. I've done quite a few lists over the years and honestly, I don't remember most of them. If I repeat any, so be it, and it is likely my order has changed.

This one is autobiographical. I am also going to New Zealand next year and I suspect this list will need to be updated. I do not count plain sightseeing as a hike unless I walked at least an hour and tromping around cities don't count, even though I'm not sure why. Has to be in nature.

1. The Grand Canyon. I went down only a little bit on account of the three little kids with us and walked as far as I could manage around the rim. I watched at dawn and dusk in front of our cabin, the oldest one still standing there, sitting on the ledge. It may be the most beautiful place I've ever been.

2. Apple Orchard Falls. The trailhead was about 20 minutes by car from where I lived in Virginia.
It was a roughly 2 hours walk up at my snail's pace. I met very few people in my town who ever went up it (just as I, a Long Islander, have never been to the Statue of Liberty). It was a beautiful, stream edged, forest covered walk, although tiring, and it ends at a waterfall much smaller, but higher than Niagara. You can sit on a deck admiring it as it roars beneath you on its way down. In the approximate 4 1/2 years I lived there, I probably hiked it 30 or 40 times. Oddly, I don't really like my photographs of it all that much. But, I do my photos of the trail on the way up and down. Here's one:

3.  Big Basin Redwoods State Park. - I was in my twenties when I spent 4 days with my friend Peter and his hiking club among the redwoods. Let's just say they were much more experienced and prepared for a four day hike than I was. But, it was a great experience despite the blisters, rashes and other pains (including Peter - I'm pretty sure it was the only argument we ever had in the 47 years I know him, though it didn't last long. He was amazed at how little I knew about camping and I had it up to here with his condescension about it). There are a number of redwood forests and I had to write Peter and ask him the name.

4. Cinque Terre. My evalovin' girlfriend and I went to Italy in I believe 1997 with another couple. It was an awesome trip. We stayed one day/night at Cinque Terre, literally "five towns," which at that time were not connected by roads, but only by train and long hiking trails between the villages, which were very rural themselves. Some had no flush toilets. We hiked between two of the villages on little trails. At one point it was probably two feet wide along a cliff side and at some spots it would have been easy to fall down a much too steep tree filled slope. ("Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?"*) I'm sure I have pictures somewhere, but not digitalized.

*Give yourself a point if you know which character said that.

5. Piscia di GalloCorsica. Spent two weeks in Corsica with my 25 to life sentence. It is one of my favorite European trips. I even loved the food, French-Italian, which is rare for me. Though she had just broken a foot a week or so before, she's kind of a phenom physically and heals from injuries, including breaks, like a mutant. We climbed up 2 hours through beautiful woods on a rock-strewn path, to come out at a stunning waterfall where a couple of much more physically gifted people than we were, were climbing. As usual, she was much better than me going uphill, but terrified coming down - which is just funny to see.

6. Cascades National Recreational Trail.  About an hour and a half from where I lived in Virginia; there is, literally, an award winning trail, set out there by nature but partially designed by man. Every turn is beautiful and then you come out at a big waterfall that the adventurous can walk or swim right up to (although, the water is friggin' cold). One time I went at dawn so I could be sure to swim by myself. It was an incredible experience to be alone in a pool at the base of a roaring waterfall in the midst of dramatic scenery - but did I say it was cold? Jeeeeesus! Unless you take cold showers in the winter, you have no idea.

7. Mount Marcy - I believe I was 19 when I made this trip also with the very same Peter, who has hiked all over the country. Marcy is the highest peak in New York. At 5343 feet, it is also the highest mountain I have ever climbed. Peter had failed to climb it on two previous attempts when his family members broke down. I was young and healthy, still had tons of endurance despite my sleeplessness and it was about 6-7 years prior to my left leg going blooey. I didn't think I'd have any problems going to the top. Wrong. The first day ended at a beautiful brook, where there were some open lean-tos to sleep in. A couple of Canadians joined us. Unfortunately for me, I was about as unprepared equipment-wise as you can be. It was September and while it was warm enough at the base, it snowed where we slept. While Peter slept the night through in his winter bag, I rubbed my legs all night in my Spring bag, listening to the Canadians snore. It was really rough. Zero sleep was not going to work, especially during a two day hike. When Peter woke and made breakfast, I crawled into his warm bag and slept a few minutes. I tried on my clothes to find that they were frozen stiff and I could not lower my arms because the sleeves were frozen stiff. I told a disappointed Peter that I was sorry, but I had to go back down. He led and I followed. After a half hour I said, "Peter, are you sure we are going the right way to get down." He explained we had to go up a bit to find the trail down. Well, I was sleepy, so it sort of made sense. Another half hour later I screamed - "Goddamn it, you are taking me up, you bastard!" Yup. He just decided he wasn't going to fail again. But, by then I was awake and loving it. We got to the top, clawed our way up the last icy peak yards and somehow got back down that slab of ice alive (the incredible stupidity of us and other people doing this now astounds me as an old guy). A black and white photograph of me at the bottom, alive but disheveled, is my insignificant other's favorite picture of me and might be the only picture of me I've ever displayed here.

Sleeplessness aside, or maybe partially because of it, it was a great trip.

8. Austria. I drove to a glacier (I don't remember the name) and just started walking - in the snow. It was summer and I wasn't dressed warm, so I was more than a little cold. And no one else was there, though there were skiing facilities, so it was a solitary long and freezing walk in spectacular scenery. Oh, also, I either didn't remember to bring my camera or can't remember where I put the pictures. Actually, I have the vaguest memory of a photograph somewhere in my unsorted boxes somewhere but, if it exists and I recall it at all, I think it was mostly white. This was far from my longest hike due to the temperature and my summer attire, but I did the best I could and what I saw was wonderful.

9. Ireland - The Great Cow Battle of 2003. 2003, also the year of the great power outage in the northeast of the U.S.  I learned about it from my 16 year old daughter, who I had left in charge of the house, when I called home. But, in the future 2003 should be known as the year of the Great Cow Battle. Ireland was another wonderful trip, although I was literally sick with the worst cold I have ever had (it also lasted for all 2 weeks while I was there and then another 2 1/2 weeks after I got home). Ireland is so pretty even being sick couldn't ruin it. One day we were in County Kerry (you know, it could have been Dingle - I'm not sure now), on the West Coast of the island. We were staying at an inn on a farm. I decided I'd like to take a walk down to the water. The innkeeper told me where to go. I had to walk until I got to the gate, open it, go in and just keep walking straight until I hit water. Sounds easy. She said there were cows in there, but don't worry about them, she said, because they are more afraid of you than you are of them. Okay, I said, and away I went. The scenery, even the view from the shore there wasn't that memorable, but the hike was.

After I got through the gate, I started walking. I noticed a herd of cows in the distance. They noticed me and started walking in my direction. You wouldn't think so, but cows can walk faster than people. They got closer and closer even though I walked faster and faster. Finally, I got to a small rise, and turned around. I kept walking faster and faster still as they followed me - what the hell was going on here? Finally, close enough to make it without getting trampled, I ran to the gate and got out just before they came up to it and put their noses through. What kind of bovines from hell were these? Carnivores going to exact revenge for my 40 years of eating beef? I went back to the inn and told the owner what happened. She laughed. She said they are just curious and can't hurt me. Hah! In fact, she said, wave your arms and they will run for their lives. At that point, my evalovin' ball and chainsaw was up and decided to join me. The innkeeper gave us a big walking stick. We walked back to the gate where those hell-cows were waiting for us. She waved the stick and as one their eyes grew big and then one of them screamed "Rrrrrrrrr-uuuuuuuu-nnnnnn!!!!!!" (in Cowese, of course, it sounded like "moooooooo"). And they ran. Now I was shaking my fist at them and screaming, "You want a piece of me, you  cowards?" (did you get the pun?)

Wish I knew that would happen before she was with me. I don't have a great picture from that walk in Ireland, but I do from a national park a few days earlier, during a hike which should really make the list too:

10. Kew Gardens, London. This was during my first trip out of the country, which I wrote about in Knock down, drag out vacation ("Knock down") on 11/18/10.  This walk was one of the least dramatic events of that trip. It was 1985. I was still 25 as it was early June.  Despite my injury (you'll have to read the other post) I decided to go to Kew Gardens and walk around. I took the train most of the way and started walking. Along the way, I picked up an old woman who also was walking to the Gardens. I can't remember her name, but she was in her 70s. During our walk, she told me about her life, all of which I've long forgotten. But, I do remember it was her goal to take the Concorde jet to America. Her doctors forbid it because of her heart condition, but she didn't care. She was going to do it anyway one day. I don't know if she did, or if she went, if it killed her - the fear of which was why her doctors were against it. I doubt it happened because I think we would have heard about it.

On the way there, she asked me to stop at the home of her friend, Delia Somethingorother, who, when a young beauty, was a minor film star in America.  I looked her up when I got back to home, pre-internet, and sure enough, she was in the movies, though star would be stretching it. At the time, of course, Delia was 70 something too, but told me about her career. Finally, my new friend and I walked the rest of the way and I spend 2 or so hours walking around probably the prettiest park I'd ever been in during my young life. Those Brits have feng shui down pat. If you read Knock down, you understand why I don't have a lot of pictures. I'm pretty sure only one picture I took came out and it was of Kew Gardens. But, not a good one and I am sure it is in a box somewhere. I think I took it before my camera was destroyed - I think I had to have - but it looked like I took it on the cloudiest day in history. You are not missing anything.

More: That's the top ten list, although now I feel oddly guilty that I am giving short shrift to some incredible hikes I've taken in other places and it's dawning on me how many I've gone on in my life (for an essentially lazy guy, I've walked a lot). Many of these were spectacular too, and this is a Holiday Spectacular. So . . .

My evalovin' gf and I did a 7 1/2 hour hike in Sedona with one stunning view after another.

We walked up the mountain at the Mohonk Mountain House, which I think I've visited 3 times now, could be 4, and toured the stunning autumn grounds and when we got up by the hotel went on a fascinating walk under mountain ledges, up ladders and through a little hole called the lemon squeeze to get to the top with a view of the surrounding valleys.

In Greece my friends and I hiked down a steep rocky decline to Preveli Beach for 45 minutes and that evening took 1 1/2 hours to get up again to quench our thirst at the world's best situated fresh orange juice truck. I've hiked through cacti and junipers near Phoenix in Tonto National Forest all alone when I started thinking a little too much about mountain lions and turned back after an hour even knowing that one wouldn't likely attack a full grown male (it was also ridiculously hot), and I nearly passed out in over 100 degree heat after hiking up and down Camelback Mountain near Scottsdale - though it was still early morning. I took a couple of hikes in the snow with Don in Montana near his cabin - this is a strange picture -

but it is Montana, and very recently I walked most of the entire Riverwalk in San Antonio - though it was in a city technically, I think it is unique and faux-natural enough to call a hike.

I don't know how many hikes I took when I was living in Virginia, but it had to be over 100 times, mostly in the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Parks, on or around the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway, a few even in the snow. Once up the highest mountain in the Va. Blue Ridge, a couple of times up to the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. I'm sure I hiked the trail at The Natural Bridge trail 40 or 50 times alone because my first summer there I did it almost every day.

I've been over the tail end of Long Island's Greenbelt Trail at The Bluff overlooking Long Island Sound too many times to count (one year alone I probably went a few dozen times). And who knows how many times I've hiked around Stump Pond in a local park; it takes 4 hours to do the whole thing - for me at least.

In Portugal I took a hike up a beachside mountain which was so steep, I couldn't go straight down again and had to walk a couple of miles out of the way through a dry ravine, wondering the whole way what wild animals lived there?

Me, my gf, my daughter and her then boyfriend (now my son-in-law) hiked in Zion and Bryce Canyons National Parks which were almost as stunning as the Grand Canyon. 

My gf and I also took several long hikes in Canyon de Chelly in Northern Arizona with its bright red cliffs and blueish green shrubs, which though not quite as spectacular as those other canyons, was still really wonderful(we camped out 4 days, long enough to know it's probably the last time). To the left is the beautiful Spider Rock.

We also took a long walk on the south coast of Crete, which I'm not sure counts as we were walking to and fro a neighboring beach, but it was over a mountain, so maybe it does (count it, don't count it - who cares? It was beautiful).

These should all be in a top ten.  Actually, feeling very lucky right now thinking about this and that's what Xmas is all about (it's not, but you can say that about almost anything and Christmas and some people will nod and say, "yes, yes.")

Revisiting the top twenty holiday (mostly Xmas) songs

I've done this list before, but it needed redoing. I have a new favorite Xmas song.

1. Game of Bells. This is a medley by a French trio called L.E.J. The music supposedly comes from  the theme of Game of Thrones (I take their word for it as I've never heard it myself). Listen to this one. I'd say it was already a classic except, no one has ever mentioned it to me before. It makes my list for the first time.

2. Hallelujah. How do you explain this? I never heard this song until last year after I made my last Xmas music favorites list. When I tell that to most people who listen to music, they can't believe it. Even though I rarely listen to music on the radio when driving or at home, I do listen at Xmas time and you'd think I'd know it. It's by Leonard Cohen, who coincidentally died last year just as I was learning about his song. Since I first heard it last year, I've  listened to it dozens of times. It is not technically a Xmas song, but it is played a lot at this time of year, which makes it a holiday song. Also on my list for the first time.
3. All I want for Xmas is you. Not the Mariah Carey song, but Vince Vaughn and the Vandals one hit wonder. Formerly, my number one.
4. Baby it's cold outside. There are blithering idiots in this world who think this song is about date rape. Actually, it was written by the great Frank Loesser ("Guys and Dolls") for his wife and they would sing it at parties together. She was, I read, furious when he sold it a few years later. For some reason I haven't been able to uncover, people think the famous Johnny Mercer/Margaret Whiting version was done by Doris Day and Bing Crosby, who never recorded it. You can even find recordings online that wrongly attributes it to them. There are many covers, but the Whiting/Mercer version is still my favorite.
5. Let it Snow. I have met a lot of people who prefer Dean to Frank. But, this one song is especially joyous and perfect. There are no other versions that can even touch it. The lyrics were written by the immortal Sammy Cahn, who was nominated for 32 major awards (I counted myself - mostly Oscars, and he won a bunch), while he and one of his writing partners, Jule Styne, were in the desert. 
6. Cool Yule. This song, written by Steve Allen (yes, that Steve Allen). That wouldn't be that surprising if you knew he was also a successful composer before The Tonight Show. He even won a Grammy (with Ray Brown) for a jazz piece (Gravy Waltz), which honestly wasn't that good, if you ask me. Cool Yule was first performed by Louis Armstrong and it is still the one to listen to. It makes my list for the first time.
7. Joy to the World. Obviously, obviously, obviously - the Whitney Houston version. I've said it before. Despite how good Mariah was, Whitney was the greatest pure female singer of her generation.
8.  Snoopy and the Red Baron. The Royal Guardsman. Still brings a tear to my eye after all these years when they sing - "Or was it the bells below?"
9. Pachobel's Canon. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Actually, I am cramming their three big Xmas songs into 8-10, sort of a tie, because it's my blog and I want to.
10. Tie. Christmas Eve. Trans-Siberian Orchestra.TSO was actually a progressive rock band who made themselves famous with Christmas music. Their founder, Paul O'Neill, was previously a producer for a number of well-known bands, including Aerosmith. He died earlier this year, but the band goes on.
10. Tie. Siberian Sleigh Ride. TSO.
11.   Linus and Lucy (from a Charlie Brown Christmas – I think of it as a Christmas song)
12.   Frosty the Snow Man (Jimmy Durante)
13.   Home for the Holidays (Perry Como)
14.   Christmas (Maria Carey)15.   Put one foot in front of the other (Fred Astaire)
16.   Ave Maria (Andrea Bocelli)
17.   It’s the most wonderful time of the year (Andy Williams)
18.   Winter Wonderland (Eurythmics)
19.   Santa Baby (Marilyn Monroe and also Daniela Andrade – more on her below)
20.   Zat you, Santa Claus? (Louis Armstrong)

That's it for the year. Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah.                                         Happy New Year.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .