March 23, 2015. Postings will resume toward the end of each month, beginning in March. The postings will be observations and experiences during each month. February and March will follow, and then I plan to post each month.
On New Year’s Day, on the Home by the Highway Walk, a heavy-set woman stands in her front yard, talking with two middle-aged men in t-shirts and jeans sitting side by side on the front porch steps. It’s a bright, sunny day in the 50s. As I pass, an old yellow lab, lying comfortable in the sun, rouses himself to bark. The woman says, “Quit your barkin’! He has a right to pass by.” I greet the dog, “Hey, Bower,” say “Thanks to the woman, and wish everyone a Happy New Year.
I extend the Rachel’s Studio Walk so that I continue past the house which I imagine as Rachel’s studio, turn on the next black, and walk past a small tract of winter woods and down a residential street. I encounter a German shepherd kept in a run. He doesn’t like me. I cannot charm him with “Hey, Bower!” at least not yet. He keeps up an angry bark, and I notice that the hair on the scruff of his neck is raised. The owner comes out of the house to check that I’m not a threat or that I’m safe; I don’t know which. I greet him and he answers with a friendly, “Hello. How are you!” As I leave, for good measure, I look at the angry dog and say, “Hey, Bower. See you again.”
The Brigadoon Playground Walk goes through an upscale neighborhood, more upscale than I thought. I notice that behind a fence is a large swimming pool and a pool house adjoining, which I had not noticed walking in the opposite direction. On that walk is a garage I call BLARE because anytime I pass there is a radio playing a country-western station. Today an announcer says that Christmas is a state of mind, not a season. I wonder what state of mind and what season the commentator means.
A Telephone Call. A Good Tradition.
Toward the end of January, a friend telephoned me. “Do you know what I do with Christmas cards?” she asked? When I replied, “No,” she said that she put them into a box and in January she draws out one each day and prays for the person who sent the card. She follows the prayer with a phone call to says she loves them and cherishes their friendship. Today was my day. It made my day, yes.
At the Mormon Church
I am greeted at the door by Elder Standing and Elder Craun. They invite me to sit with them toward the front of the church. Because it is the first Sunday of the month, members are fasting. Part of the service is testimony from church members. There are glib and cute testimonies, statements of taught belief from children; several emotional testimonies from women, including one who “drove the devil out of her house the week before,” the devil being her son-in-law; and an extended testimony of how Mormon principles helped a man at his workplace.
There are three hymns, taken at a slower pace than indicated in the hymn book. One marked as “Spirited” is not. I enjoy singing the bass lines of the unfamiliar hymns with Elder Craun, beside whom I sit, who reads the lines confidently and with a good voice.
Communion is passed bread and water. I am able to participate.
There follows a class on baptism. It consists of taking turns reading paragraphs from well-written material and answering text questions about the ideas therein. There is not a lot of discussion, but I correct one woman’s view that every church requires a separate baptism.
After the class there is a men’s quorum, in which a document from Salt Lake City on free agency is read in the same manner as the material in the class. There is no discussion at this quorum, just a presentation of the concept.
I am impressed by the friendliness and sincerity of the practitioners and the welcoming atmosphere. These made my experience enjoyable.
At 9:15 in the morning, on the appointed date of the move of my piano to its new home, a church several blocks south on the same street as my house, a mover telephoned from the church.
“We’re here! How do we get in?”
“Where are you?” I asked.
“At the church. We’re here for the piano.”
“You have to come to my house to get the piano to deliver to the church.”
“Oh, my apologies, sir. We must of got the directions on our order sheet wrong. We’ll be there in a minute. You are on Fourth Street?”
“Yes, just continue north, through downtown.”
“We’ll be right there!”
A few minutes later there was another phone call.
“We can’t find you. We’re at the 400 block of North Fourth Street. Our GPS says there isn’t a 500 block. They don’t have anything after 400.”
“There is another block. Do you see the church on the corner and the street that crosses Fourth Street there? Just cross the at street and continue straight ahead. That’s the 500 block.”
“How will we know your house?”
“The number is on the mailbox.”
“My apologies, sir. That block is not on our GPS. We’ll be right there.”
A few minutes later, another phone call.
“We’re outside your house. Do you want us to come in the back or the front?”
“You’re not at my house.”
“I think we are sir, The number on the mailbox says 506.”
“You are on South Fourth Street. Turn around, go past the church where you are delivering the piano, go through downtown and go down to 506. Don’t pay any attention to your GPS.”
“Oh, my apologies, sir. We programmed the number and ended up here.”
“That’s all right. You’re on the right street. Just turn around.”
“We’ll be right there!”
“I’ll be here waiting.”
Soon they drove into my driveway. The younger mover was tall and thin; the older was short and heavy. Tall entered to take away the piano bench while Heavy grumbled about putting a ramp on the three steps that led from the sidewalk up to the front porch. Both came into the living room. Tall asked Heavy, “Should we wrap it up here?” Heavy answered, “No we’ll wrap in in the truck.”
“Shouldn’t you wrap it here to protect it from banging up against the furniture, wall, doorway, porch sides?”
“No, sir, it will be fine until we get it in the truck.”
I lost heart and went to my study.
The doorbell rang. It was Tall. “Well, it’s loaded up. We’ll take it to the church now. Here’s the paper work.”
I was getting grumpy. I looked at the papers. I said, “I don’t need this. I didn’t hire you. Give it to the church secretary so that they can pay you.”
“Oh, my apologies, sir. Well, have a good day.”
“You, too. You know how to get to the church?”
“Sure do, sir! Thanks.”
“Good luck, then.”
And thus ended an experience with the Doofus Duo.
At a Mexican Restaurant in Another City.
I am directed to a table in a room shared by a couple eating quietly and two women sitting side by side in a booth across the room from my table. The women are drunk, very drunk, and loud. They exhaust the encyclopedia of profanity, often using a familiar obscenity in the phrase “Are you _____ kidding me!” As I look over the menu, they order another round of drinks.
They become even louder. One of them laughs and says, “You FARTED! You’re the kind of girlfriend I’ve been lookin’ for, someone I can sit with and laugh and drink and fart!”
The beloved farter tells the story of a woman who confronted her with a comparison of when she was younger. “I told her that when she was younger she was a shit stain on the hay in a barn.” They laugh and laugh.
I am able to tune out most of the other pieces of conversation by listening to the Mexican music being broadcast; perhaps someone told them to speak quieter.
I enjoy the food nevertheless, and become determined that I time my leaving before theirs. I do not want to be driving in the same parking lot when they are leaving in their car or truck or whatever they are driving.
Concert. Jeremy Denk, Piano. Duke University, Baldwin Auditorium
I looked forward to this concert, for I enjoyed Denk’s eloquent essay in The New Yorker, “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” about learning to play piano. I noticed that in the book of essays, Best American Essays, 2014, it won a mention in a list of notable essays.
His playing was excellent, as one would expect, and I particularly enjoyed the programming. Each half began with an eighteenth century piece, Hayden’s Sonata in C Major, Hob.XVI:50, and Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, K.511, respectively.
In the first half, Denk alternated short pieces from two books of On the Overgrown Path by Leos Janacek with short pieces by Franz Schubert. The pieces were paired by rhythmic or tonal similarities and played as a large group. The familiar Schubert pieces, compared and contrasted by the Janacek pieces, made for interesting listening, especially in that the familiar Schubert pieces were heard in a new light; that of Janacek, who wrote about a century after Schubert.
In the second half, Denk played with brilliance and flair one of my favorite pieces, Carnival, Op. 9 by Schumann.
One of the encores was part of the Alcott movement from Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata. I had not heard any piano work by Ives performed live, and I greatly appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to do so.
Play. Dunsinane by David Greig, The Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theater of Scotland, performed at Chapel Hill, NC
The play is a sequel of sorts to Macbeth. The program notes make much of the parallels in the English forces in Scotland with those of the United Sates in Afghanistan. The idea that the English cannot grasp the culture of Scotland is told with interesting events and scenes. My favorite parts are the role of the cagey and scheming Lady Macbeth and the grumblings of the English soldiers about Scotland’s landscape and weather. I enjoyed the staging, especially the stylistic blocking of actions.
Notes on Two Operas, Broadcast Live from the Metropolitan Opera.
The Merry Widow. Renee Fleming, in the title role, sang her arias, especially “Vilia” with great beauty. My favorite part was the scenes at Chez Maxim, with the Belle Époque can-can dances. Tales of Hoffman. A writer is saved from the destructive love of several women, in part by the character of The Four Villains, played with determination and purpose by Thomas Hampson. The sets are memorable in their distortion and dream quality.
Notes on Movies from Netflix.
“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.” I like westerns, and this one is particularly interesting in that we learn late in the film who really shot Valence. There are convincing characterizations of the mild-mannered hero, the chillingly evil villain, and the cowardly sheriff. The film contains the classic quotation: “When fact becomes legend, record the legend.”
“The Time Machine.” The movie is much better than the novel because it makes more substantial the events in the discovery of how the time machine works. It’s a good adventure story and projects the dystopia of the future well.
“The Lady Vanishes.” The film is an understated, elegantly done mystery, set on a train journey. There are convincing character portrayals and a good and logical solution.
Notes on Movies Nominated for Best Picture.
“Bird Man” is a hard film, about hard lives. It blends fantasy with reality, and questions meaning in life. The lives of the characters are marked by smoking, hard drinking, sexual excess, violent behavior, lack of propriety. It contrasts acting on Broadway and in Hollywood. It questions the possibility of healing broken relationships.
“Whiplash.” The title is the name of a jazz tune. It features an abusive teacher, who greatly overestimates and overvalues his cruel techniques in instruction.
“Imitation Game” is set during World War II and concerns breaking German spy codes. It gives one much to think about in espionage, even that personally directed at the genius who developed the machine, the prototype of our computers, to break the codes considered “unbreakable.”
“American Sniper” is a relevant film for today, a pro-war and an anti-war movie with an ironic ending that raises the questions of the cost of war on soldiers and our society.
Notes on Reading. Fiction.
Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore. Mariner, 1979. We experience the lives of those who live on barges on the Thames River. Their homes are leaky, as are their lives, and we read their stories with interest and sympathy. The book won the Booker Award.
H. G. Wells, The Time Machine. (1895) Today the scientific details of time travel and the operations of the machine are jejune. There are, however, excellent descriptions of the imaginary future and interesting discussions among the inventor and his friends.
Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. People have vanished. Some think they have done so because the rapture has occurred. The novel explores what happens to some of those left behind. Some try for normalcy; others join cult-like organizations. The book is satiric of the contemporary foibles of our culture and of our behaviors.
Notes on Reading. Nonfiction.
William Powers, New Slow City. New World Library, 2014. The book is an account of the author and his wife’s downsizing, deposing 80% of their possessions, and moving to a 340-square foot apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City in order to discover the pleasures of living simply there. Much of the book, though, is about the author’s complicating his life by taking a part-time job and attending international conferences abroad. The tone turns dark toward the end of to book, when a woman is raped in the neighborhood and the author and his wife must come to terms with the darker side of urban life. I liked best the descriptions of the city, and I wished for more of them. The most engaging part was the description of Hurricane Sandy; the least engaging was the author’s ruminations about sociological theories.
Hal Crowther, An Infuriating American: The Incendiary Arts of H. L. Mencken. University of Iowa Press, 2014. The six essays on the life and times of Mencken are interesting, but I would find them even more interesting if I had read Mencken. The book gives perspectives on his life, attitudes, and times, but I was not inspired, as the result of reading it, to pursue the reading of the works of this remarkable curmudgeon.
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