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 . . . .