#NuthinSpecial

KnowingNuthin

snob
"I shake my dead in weary dread
when I sense a superior beside me."

Supremacy carries the certain scent of some internal sense of its own inferiority. Lording over another seems to leave the lorder looking a lot less lofty. Feeling special doesn't seem to be anything special, we've all experienced it, but that sense of being special serves like a museum piece, meant to be exclusively displayed on interior walls. Taking it outside disqualifies in ways nobody can convincingly say without appearing a contender as superior scold. It demonstrates a disagreeable neediness in the proclaimed possessor, a separation between heart and soul we all know signals a moldy mushiness within. It hardly seems to matter where the realm of superiority lies. Holier than thou seems more than slightly similar to smarter, richer, handsomer, and cliquier. Effeteness sleeps in its own lonely backstreet.

The effete sometimes gang up.

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BegEnding

Oroboros
"I hear autumn approaching."

I never come seeking closure, though sometimes closure seems to stalk me. It whispers, "The end draws near." It promises clarity but demands that I forfeit purpose, to exchange kinetic for static, questions for settled certainty. I never feel more alive than when first setting out. That first step seems the stuff of eternity, the last seems simply past. This book making makes for the strangest bedfellows, ones who sincerely want to share my scheming, who seem to need to somehow capture my soul, perhaps to sell it for something less permanent, like gold. I'm told that something called a market stands out there. Precisely where this chimera might lurk, I do not know. I do know that nobody could possibly show me where. It might exist in the great unmappable nowhere. Its presence scares me.

I come to the end of another season, one I began, like I start all seasons, with a purpose, indistinct as all proper newborn purposes should be.

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FakeNews

Bullshit1
"Simply swallowing seems to make me sick."

Our venerable New York Times seems to have come under harsh criticism for having published a glaring omission, a shortcoming that they reported shortly after publishing. The harshest critics complained that this little incident, and it really was, in the scope of everything, a microscopic error, proves a point they'd been trying to make forever, (Or did it just seem like forever?) that the mainstream (or, in their vernacular, "lame stream") media has always been untrustworthy. The critics scream (must they always scream?) "Fake News" again, but we're deaf to their frenzied exhortations. We know that the REAL Fake News outlets never report on their own shortcomings, so na-na-na-na-na-na!

Truth is, the venerable New York Times has never once published an edition that failed to include a few errors. It has likewise never published an edition that did not feature an A Section column entitled Corrections, where the editors fess up to their own shortcomings. It also publishes readers' letters, a disturbingly large percentage of which take umbrage with something the paper published. Hardly invulnerable to criticism, seeming to embrace it instead, this whipping boy of those who insist it deals exclusively in Fake News somehow manages to maintain the self esteem to publish, then publish again. Shameless!

Well, perhaps not completely shameless.

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PatTurns

PatTurns
"I already drive an autonomous car most of the time."

I'm reasonably confident that I'm not closely related to sheep because my coat has no wholesale market and because I'm a pickier eater. In spite of the inescapable fact that I'd much rather bleat than bleed, I consider myself a notch above the typical lamb on most cognitive scales. My will seems freer and my judgement somewhat more sound, but I still seem to spend much of my life on autopilot, not really observing, thinking, or choosing for myself. My vast body of experience easily convinces me that I might reasonably just go with the apparent flow without frequently intervening to change course. Once settled into a pattern, I tend to stay down in those reassuring ruts.

I suppose that I turn where I turn because I didn't get burned by going that way the last time.

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Messo-

messo
" …to feed the needs you never genuinely had …"

I'm wondering what to call the kind of illusory examples I seem to be drenched with in my media-saturated world. I catch on that I'm supposed to sincerely want whatever's being advertised, whatever's being described, yet I know the ad and the description might only be best understood as examples of studious omission, contextless impossibility devoid of externality, a terribly alluring NuthinMuch at all. Have I become so suggestible that I swallow these seductions without catching on that they're cardboard cut-outs without the cardboard? It seems so sometimes. I understand that they tug at my heart strings. I'm supposed to want and I even do, sometimes. Other times, my heart aches as if I should be wanting but simply cannot. Someone left a Post-it® sticker on my screen door yesterday which reported that many of my neighbors have been replacing their windows, and I might want to seriously consider replacing mine, offering discounts I cannot afford to pass up. I moved the sticker to the front of my garage refrigerator so it can remind me what I'm supposed to really be wanting whenever I fetch myself a cold beer.

What IS going on here?

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Spindly

spindly
"I'll notice what left us behind."

Late Summer has a broad belly but stands on Spindly legs. Spiders spin increasingly frantic and Spindly webs, seeking to secure more of the last of their weary prey and set their egg sacks away. Pumpkin fields feature more desiccated foliage than green. Foothills regain their usual buff beige as their velvet turns back into crunchy sandpaper again. The mid-days retain their brightness and their heat, but each day's celebration rolls up the sidewalks by seven and sleeps until almost seven the following morning. We still sleep with our windows wide open, but slip out from under covers to don a supplemental sweatshirt before dawn. Flannel moves a few spaces closer to the functioning end of the clothes closet, eyeing the lightweights ahead of them as if they were already gonners. I seriously consider wearing socks again, but stave off that siren's song for now. Their time will come too soon.

The produce stand started stocking squashes and pumpkins, elbowing aside full summer's contribution to the diet

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InSpite

InSpite
"Every completed one turned out just precisely how it was supposed to."

InSpite of the plan, which I'd carefully crafted during the days before starting the little project, my anticipations quickly went to Hell. This was in no way a surprise. I would and should have been much more surprised if they hadn't. My decades of experience crafting clever plans convinces me that they are most often conceived to fall apart. This doesn't excuse slipshod planning, for shortchanging the process limits the insights resulting from a southbound effort. If nothing much gets invested in how it's supposed to be, no Oh, Shit experience will result, and these spark the insight essential to actually completing any effort in a satisfying way. Only actual experience can temper the confidence motivating the beginning. Only insight can spawn whatever's actually needed to get the job done. It's a rule or something.

The spite emanating from these sorts of realizations could power the electric grid.

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Educationing

educationing
"In practice, we're all mostly making it up as we go along, …"

Surprisingly, I don't consider myself to be stupid. By many measures, though, I'm clearly not smart, certainly not THAT smart. In school, I learned that I was not smart, with this lesson repeatedly reinforced until it became almost the only learning I retained, which might mean that I was at least smart enough to learn that I wasn't smart. I've retained that foundational lesson through my entire adult life so far, reinforcing it through near constant repetition. For instance, Denver's close-in western suburbs feature several North/South arterials. I frequently use two of the most prominent ones, Kipling and Wadsworth, yet I can almost never remember either name. I know just where they are, but when The Muse asks me which route we're taking, I might hesitate a beat before replying that we're either taking the W or the J street. Unable to recall the precise name, I offer some lame placeholder instead. I'm forever calling Wadsworth Wordsworth, which seems like a workable-enough alternative. Numbered highways don't even get placeholders out of me. The ring freeway is either 730 or an unnamed entity, I cannot seem to retain its real designation. The highway between Golden and Boulder has no name as far as I'm concerned. I think it's ninety something, maybe seven. Yet I can usually navigate without overmuch trouble, the names hardly mattering in practice.

School taught me that I don't seem to store information in crisp little recoverable packets.

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Wall-tering

IMG_4347

" … nobody but the next painter to follow will ever see the subtle complex symmetry I somehow left behind."

Today's project, should I muster enough gumption to begin, will result in a repainted wall. It's an exterior, southeast-facing wall, angled and elevated, lightly weathered by a hailstorm over two years ago. I've prepped and repainted all the south-facing walls in the period since the insurance adjuster proposed hiring painters and I replied that I preferred to do my own painting, thank you. I spoke the truth, I really do prefer to do my own painting. I work at a pace that leaves me coming in second place behind any snails in the field, but I think of myself as someone who values quality above speed. I first excruciatingly evaluate the surface from several perspectives. I stand close, then move further away, building an ever-deepening understanding of the effort facing me. I imagine how I'll begin, what tangles I'll likely encounter, how much paint I might need, and what tools I might employ. This considering might take weeks, with me finding ample reason to dread in anticipation, which might encourage me to consider even more.

I know for sure that once I begin, the work will quickly become my obsession.

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Choosiness

choosiness
"Unsettling, isn't it?"

When I was a younger man, I experienced a great revelation. This hardly qualifies as a headline-grabber because great revelations seem the sole property of youth. Older folks continue to experience their share of revelations, but they only very rarely strike them (or anyone else) as particularly great. The notion that age brings greater wisdom beggars belief, as anyone paying attention as their grandparents, then their parents, entered old age. At some point, accumulated wisdom seems to pass backwards to the following generation, often without their permission or immediate recognition. Catching on to this transfer might be the final great revelation most experience, though this ordinarily appears as a genuine "Oh, Shit!" moment.

My great revelation whispered that it's all about choice.

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Winning

winning
"They will celebrate by ceasing further play …"

I explain that I've never been terribly competitive. The Muse objects to my self-characterization, reporting that I have gotten fairly fierce at the old Scrabble board sometimes. Perhaps, I reply, but how often do I play Scrabble? It's not like I make a habit of engaging in competitive 'games.' I find every other board game aptly named. They bore me. I never really learned to play cards, chess, or the lottery. I have twice entered casinos only to realize that I didn't have the first clue how to engage in any of the 'games' there before going to find a quiet place to read. I sense the rising tension in a late-inning close call baseball game, but I never quite lose the understanding that winning and losing never mean much. There's always tomorrow or next season or never lurking around the corner. Winning's more transitory than cloud, so I don't quite understand the roar of that crowd.

Yet I do not characterize myself as a loser, either.

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Inconspicuous

inconspicuous
" … enable each of us to make choices which could leave us stepping a little more lightly as we conspicuously stomp around our Eden"

A hundred and twenty years ago, early economist Thorstein Veblen published his The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions. The book reads almost as if it were parody, like any great work of economic theory should. He noted a strong correlation in the US between what he labeled Conspicuous Consumption and status. The higher the status, the more one would willingly pay. He noted that the old 'buy cheap, sell dear' ability said to underpin capitalism was not evident among major capitalists. Quite the opposite. Maintaining status required public profligacy. He provided numerous examples, several aimed at what we now call Elite Institutions, universities that built and maintained terribly expensive Gothic enclaves. As with anyone audacious enough to commit this sort of public truth, he was eventually blackballed out of academe. He died a decidedly inconspicuous death while living in an empty shipping crate which was situated just off Sand Hill Road, where Silicon Valley's venture capitalists now maintain offices, overlooking Stanford University's gothic enclave in Palo Alto. He'd reportedly adopted a pet skunk, the only remaining company he managed to maintain through his declining popularity.

Judging by the number of McMansions and McEstates dotting the Front Range around my more humble abode, conspicuous consumption has not diminished in popularity over the intervening years.

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CityOfScolds

scold
"I propose starting with me."

I live in a CityOfScolds. Any stranger will most likely receive a cold reception. Any neighbor might get burned. Judges seem to always be on duty to notice should anyone stray from somebody's straight and narrow, and it never seems to take much to be accused of stepping over some line, especially the ones only the judge ever knew were drawn. Such constant vigilance never was the cost of anything but sure and certain humiliation and ever hardening feelings, for we're all little kids stranded in big people bodies, mistaken for omniscient when only innocently faking it through. I seem certain to offend you as you seem equally certain to offend me. I feel well-justified in calling that foul, in exhibiting my very best scowl for you, though you always seem to me to be a tad too picky with me. Maybe that dog barking really should be prosecuted as the Federal case your reaction seems to indicate that it should be. Maybe my innocent inquiry broke every tenet ever known for propriety. Maybe your piety stands more than head and shoulders above mine. We each seem to have gone into the business of failing (flaying) to fix the recent past, aghast.

We behave as if we were each justifiably offended by each others' presence. We endlessly inconvenience each other.

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Smell0Vision

smellovision
"When well-produced fantasy becomes the new reality,
what does the viewer become?"

I do not know how deeply television has influenced me. It might be that it's in the nature of TV that no viewer could ever know how deeply it influences them. What I experienced as a passive watching, though, seems to have been a more complicated interaction than I sensed. I know that in my youth, I would have chosen TV over almost any other activity, even if, as was often the case, "nothing was on." I became a fairly indiscriminate consumer, relatively indifferent to the actual content and much more intent upon experiencing that zoned-out state. Before sex, drugs, and rock and roll, TV was there. More importantly, I was eventually, always there for TV.

My folks kept their TV on every waking hour. Mornings brought The Today Show mumbling behind their morning routine. It seemed to be their morning routine.

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HotGreen

HotGreen
"Eat to excess whatever's in season."

This statement encapsulates my personal produce philosophy. I will probably shun any fruit or vegetable until I find fresh and local, but when I find fresh and local, I turn into a genuine glutton. The Muse and I share this guiding philosophy. Winters force us into crouched, defensive positions where we somehow subsist upon root veg and obscure members of the cabbage family. Sure, we could score asparagus from Peru and blueberries from New Zealand, but we'll shun those carbon-clad choices. We'd really rather starve. Spring and Summer, though, find us enthusiastically frequenting the family produce market where The Old Man drives to the other side of the state twice each week to bring back truckloads of whatever's presently in season. We dutifully buy then eat to excess whatever's fresh each week. No produce better exemplifies this philosophy in action than the audacious HotGreen Chile.

No, I do not mean Jalapeño, that seemingly ubiquitous pretender pepper, the Wonder® Bread of hot chiles. I find the Jalapeño uneatable, mean heat accompanied by the flavor of muddy lawn.

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Reating

reating
"Neither exclusively a reader nor a writer, …"

I read a lot more than I write. Reading's how I fill my writing hopper, not so much with fresh ideas, but with inspirations. I read like an interior designer surveys paint samples, not to copy anything, but to remind myself of the possibilities prose holds. I am susceptible to subconsciously replicating whatever I'm reading, so I carefully choose what I read. I've developed a ruthlessness when it comes to finishing a book or a piece of writing. If it ain't going nowhere, I won't go there with it. When asked what I do for a living, I catch myself mute. "You mean, what do I do for money?" I reply. "Nothing." I read and write instead, mostly read; Reating.

Reating isn't the most lucrative occupation. It's only necessary, which gives it its only defensible attribute.

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HomingAgain

homing
"I'm a pigeon, for sure, but not entirely one of the Homing variety."

Scientists say that it's an instinct, an irrepressible urge to return home, so they refer to it as The Homing Instinct. This label contributes nothing to my understanding of the phenomenon, though I personally experience it when returning from some travel. As the scenery becomes increasingly familiar, I start feeling like my old self again, my traveling self sliding back onto the back shelf next to where my suitcase lies between excursions. I'm a fine traveler, able to smoothly adapt to a wide range of different environments. Within a half hour of arriving, I will have located some place where I can reliably score my morning decaf and a serviceable slice of bread. I've packed methodically, so everything I might need stays ready to hand, whatever the brand name on the side of that night's hotel. I grow used to the simplicity of the traveling life, a single bag carrying all my necessities. My guitar case hogging more than its fair share of space. My knapsack haphazardly stuffed wherever it finally fits. That's it, my entire traveling kit. I'm able to carry it all in one trip in from the car.

Home presents a wholly different sort of challenge.

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Driven

Driven1
"I'm cautious as if my fate were not under my own control."

I think that it's safe for me to assert that fewer than ten percent of the people driving cars are competent drivers. This assertion isn't just my snarkier side finding a platform for whining, but the result of careful observation and recent deep immersion into my fellow drivers' behaviors out there on the open road. experienced a remarkable sampling of my fellow drivers' skill, as well as my own. It's shockingly poor, but I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I do not consider myself to be any more a competent driver than I consider myself to be a competent writer or cook. As Dirty Harry long ago observed, a man's gotta know his limitations. Because I judge myself a somewhat less than skilled driver, I lack the confidence I consider essential to drive like any self respecting maniac might. The Muse insists that I drive like an old Italian woman, only lacking a few pounds and that ubiquitous black dress from fully qualifying. I do drive safely, which seems to drive my fellow drivers to distraction.

I carry my personal ethical underpinning. I never exceed the speed limit, except when passing another driver who has clearly demonstrated their inability to maintain that limit.

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APerfectDay

APerfectDay


"APerfectDay, the memory of which will likely never, ever go away."

I awaken before four feeling perfectly rested just before the alarm breaks silence. I clean myself up for the day before sitting to consider just what sort of day it might become. I decide upon APerfectDay, one for which the memory will likely never go away. We plan upon driving up and over Lolo Pass, as fine a piece of road as exists anywhere, two hundred plus miles of two lane Federal highway alongside the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers. It will be the last day of this year's August, hot, dry, and windless, and we will sleep many miles east of where I'm just then waking up. I grab my knapsack and head out just before five, looking to refuel The Schooner, find a block of ice to keep cold through the long driving days between here and Genesee our ZipLock® quarts of frozen wild black currents we'd picked when we passed through the weekend before. I easily find both before heading for the old Main Street Starbucks and the front window table where I've written dozens of stories over the years. The counter clerk already knows what I'm going to order, the same thing I always order, a large (I will not say, "Venti" for anybody) decaf in a china cup. She surprises me by not asking me if it's okay if she has to give me a pour-over. Maybe they've brewed ahead in anticipation of my arrival. Perfect!

I write, by which I mean to say that words come to me, a prose poem to the end of harvest.

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ReSeeding

Reseeding
" … evenings would have turned to frost and the sky would have become that most remarkable blue."

Want follows excess. The Muse and I climb up and over White Pass, a low route through the mighty Cascades, moving through late summer fields showing the tail end of seasonal excess. Vine maple and alder hold the passage of July's brutal heat in their desiccating foliage. Wheat harvested, stubble fields stand like old men with their pale bellies showing beneath too-tight tee shirts. We drive beneath cool covering cloud until we reach the pinnacle, where the sky opens wider than a clown's mouth in a dentist's chair. High dry hills watch us pass, heading home(s), through our home country one last time, a short stop where our hearts live before heading on to our most current temporary mailing address.

Excess follows want. Our decade of exile taught us more than we ever wanted to learn, thank heavens.

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ChickenLittle&TheBigChicken

BigChicken
"The sky is not falling, nor likely to."

I got punked this week. Well, I might have actually punked myself. I read this finely-written article which a trusted source had posted. I found the arguments provocative and convincing. The piece maintained that steady voice I've grown to trust. It turned out to be complete bullshit, especially engineered to punk people like me. You see, I'm at root a BigChicken. I am not generally confident or particularly assertive. I keep a low profile, over-thinking my way through issues. I'm more likely to check twice before believing any house is really on fire. I might be more concerned about over-reacting than I am about missing any BIG news. I'm no ChickenLittle. My sky has never fallen so far. I feel no compelling need to incite any passionate reaction. I'm more observer than activist.

Some people, though, have gone into the business of inciting passionate reactions.

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MillingAroundTown

MillingAroundTown
"Everyone knew that those logs rafts would never come back …"

The Muse and I will just be staying two nights in the crappy hotel on the edge of the bordering forest. I dutifully slink out to find a Starbucks in the morning since the hotel's internet service can't quite seem to recognize my laptop as a valid user. I don't mind. I usually slink out wherever we stay, unable to keep myself locked away early in a day. My eye seems drawn to the down and out, those who justifiable feel left out; though, as The Muse confided, we seem to have landed on the more fortunate side of our towering Continental Divide. I carry no good advice for anyone trapped on the opposite side, good fortune visited us, and my empathy buys nobody nuthin except for perhaps an insignificant reassurance for myself as I wander through. I did not grow up here, a place seemingly founded to provide a decent back story for anyone fortunate enough to escape. Every Western Washington mill town seemed to have been founded upon this same principle.

Hell if it is the state capitol, it failed to shed its grittier roots.

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LeftOut

catlestout

"I almost always will have left myself out when I discover, too late, that I've been left out overnight again."

Before our cats left us, they taught us that leaving them out overnight amounted to the greatest sin we could ever commit in their eyes. This did not happen very often and, to my mind, usually resulted from them being just that much too clever for us. I thought that they'd outsmarted themselves of hogging more than their share of the matrimonial bed and of sharing our overnight body warmth, that they'd lost more than we ever sensed that we'd lost. We'd stretch out into what usually amounted to already occupied territory and accept that additional space without in the moment imagining that the space represented a greater absence. The next morning, opening the door to fetch the newspaper, a grey or ginger blur would slip past me and I'd realize the crime I'd committed. I'd offer the obligatory kitty treats in apology and steel myself for a few hours of glowering stares, for I'd left one of the cats outside overnight where coyotes or owls could have spirited them away. They might have initiated the slip, but I had failed to catch it. The resulting sin got chalked up on my side of the grand ledger and I could never adequately atone.

Anyone who, like me, could never really decide upon what they wanted to be when they finally grew up, carries a sense of having been LeftOut of something.

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Ghosties

sleazeattle
"It still terrifies me today."

Some places seem permanently haunted. No subsequent contradictory experience ever erases the spookiness of these places. Once jarred, forever barred from comfortable coexistence. Seattle, or Sleazeattle, as I used to call it when I lived here, serves as that place for me. The prospect of revisiting it raised my hackles. The two days before we crossed the Cascades, I caught myself dreading our next destination, even though nearly fifty years now separate me from those times. It was always a cold city, one seemingly still struggling to outgrow its sorry start. The great fire of 1889 seemed to just encourage those who'd grown accustomed to walking its soggy board sidewalks. They built skyscrapers on unpromising fill and kept growing until it began to strangle itself with its own traffic. Hillsides held huge houses overlooking a smoky port. Slums subsumed its Southern third. It was every bit as segregated as Atlanta or Chicago or Boston. It was and remains a distinctly odd place.

Walking this morning through the Pike Place Market before opening time, I find it still just as unpromising as it ever seemed.

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ImPerfection

ImPerfection
"Dreams come true in the same way that plumb gets achieved, through artful deception."

If I look a little harder, I might glimpse sublime ImPerfection. Peaches quite naturally seem to avoid perfection, the better-shaped ones always turn out to be not quite ripe, the slightly bruised, juicer, tastier. From a slight distance, every item on offer at the Farmers' Market seems perfection incarnate. Step up to the counter and I see a thousand little reasons to turn and walk away. Maybe television has so poisoned my eye to expect every object to have been staged, properly backlit and artfully arranged, that I struggle to recognize as good as anything ever gets, which ain't perfect. I could stomp around in a continual state of learned indignation, gathering complaints and festering them into grudges, as if I had been cheated out of some birthright. The GrandOther discovers a worm in the ear of corn she's shucking. Some of the ears appear, once shed of their silk, as if they could have used some serious orthodonture work. We'll slightly unfocused our eyes as we eat, trading taste for appearance. Up close, nobody can see whether those kernels line up straight, anyway.

A little too hot or just a smidgen too cold. A little early or a little late. My world stands in approximate space where nothing exactly fits together.

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CurrantAffairs

CurrantAffairs
"It's no skin off anyone else's back when they hold as secret lore what almost nobody even cares about anymore."

Most everyone living in this region holds a few deep, dark secrets. Among the very most closely guarded, the knowledge of where to forage the best wild edibles. One can tell if they've been accepted into a family if they're entrusted with the location of the most reliable morel patch, huckleberry field, or trout stream. Outsiders need not apply, as if to keep this essential portion of deeply local identity safe from Californication. These special places were invariably originally simply stumbled upon by some fortunate forebear, who sealed his lips just as soon as he realized his great luck. Visitors hear stories, of course, tales of pick-up loads of morels, but they believe them to be mere legend or braggadocio, and so quickly discount them. This perfectly natural disbelief further insulates these Elysian Fields from further discovery and serves as a near perfect defense against outsider intrusion.

The older families refer to themselves as hillbillies.

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Poemtry

Poemtry
"The true purpose and ultimate significance can only ever come later."

Another birthday comes and another poem needs writing. Long tradition demands it. Had I never become the sort of cheap bastard who steadfastly refused to purchase presents, I might be off the hook. Instead, I chose the cheaper on the speculation that it might be good, better than the obvious alternatives. "Better for whom?," I ask as I start the annual stare down with another perfectly blank screen, hoping it might blink first. Tabula Rasa seems no great challenge for me. I dream of great inspiration visiting before simply settling in. A garden to weed, a lawn to mow, every routine chore could devolve into a simple bore, though each could become so much more. This pedestrian transformation knows no How To how, a curious emergent property, perhaps, of never knowing how. I simply must begin.

I imagine my dearest friend and I still don't know.

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SetList

setlist
"Crazy begets crazy. How else could any love last?"

After writing songs for more than half a century, I've yet to manage to maintain a half-decent Setlist. I most often grab rather blindly when The Muse insists that I perform a short set after one of our suppers. I quite often forget a chord progression or reverse important lyrics to render pitiful my performance. I then return my trusty D-18 to its coffin-like case and set about embarrassingly studying my shoes. Having written a tune hardly qualifies me to perform that tune, and even someone with my experience still needs to practice, practice, practice, even if I never really expect to make it to Carnegie Hall. I well-understand that I really should play every day, but I do not and have not, seemingly wasting my talent. In recent weeks, though, I've begun to play a bit more, fueled by a particularly embarrassing attempt to play just a single song for visiting friends. We all managed to change the subject, but that belly-flop really stung.

Any performer mostly performs for an audience of one, comprised of the most critical observer in the universe, so practicing easily becomes an exercise in serial self abuse.

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Onward

Onward
" … I've come somewhat closer to understanding the expansive rules governing the playing of the Infinite Game."

In his Finite and Infinite Games, author James Carse parsed the world into two games: Finite and Infinite. He characterized Finite Games as those played for the purpose of achieving something, typically winning. We engage in Infinite Games for the purpose of positioning ourselves to continue play. I've long thought of my life as a form of infinite play, and not simply because I seem so danged determined to not accomplishing anything. Finite games lost their allure when I started wondering why they were even engaged in. What's decided when two sports teams go head to head? Many thing, but little of any real consequence, I concluded. Mostly, they demonstrate fealty to a set of rules governing play, the occasional bean ball notwithstanding. They agree to limit their behaviors to that small subset covered by Hoyle, then sort of pretend to battle for a win. Infinite games tend toward the much less dramatic.

The Muse and I woke up this morning to face day ten of a twenty-some day road trip.

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DisTopia

DisTopia
" … whatever home this world once extended is melting away around me."

Live long enough and your world will have have turned into a DisTopia, the seeming opposite of what you'd hoped it would become. A 70,000 population home town will have mushroomed into a cool quarter million plus. The bordering verdant farmland, so picturesque and quaint, will have sprouted endless identical anonymous suburbs. Backroads will have become four lanes. Favorite haunts will have evaporated, leaving haunted replacements. Solid bedrock will have turned to sand. Your former mastery of your world will have become about as negotiable as leftover Hungarian Florint change, a pocketful of excess weight in the front of your favorite backpack. 'Tiz the way of this world, it seems, to lose whatever once sustained us.

This newer world doesn't feel half as brave as the old one seemed.

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TheOldPlace

PleasantStreet
"New owners are raising their kids within those elegantly crooked rooms and quirky yards …"

By the time I'd grown up enough to move away, I knew every square inch of that short acre. I even knew what lay beneath the landscaping, having scraped, crawled over, or cultivated every corner. I knew that the back forty, as we called the yard behind the garage, lay atop an old creek channel, and so the soil was deeply plated with ovoid rock that drained much too easily. The side yard had been planted over an ancient septic pit. The grass grew much lusher there. Dandelion and plantain favored every inch of the property and required continual scrutiny and counteraction throughout the growing season. We used to spread coal ash clinkers along the driveway in the wintertime. I'd personally dug out the bed alongside the driveway innumerable times, always finding a few half-petrified cherry pits from a tree we'd cut down decades before. I'd fill an old metal wash tub to overflowing with weeds, unwanted roots, and the Silver Maple's helicopter seeds.

TheOldPlace passed out of the family after my father passed.

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ReUniting

reuniting
"A few of these people will always be my friend."

Who did you grow up to be? Probably just who you always were before. I sincerely doubt if any of us ever grow up. Most of us tend to outgrow some of our more troubling tendencies, but most often by some form of out growth rather than by growing much taller than the least of them. Fifty years later, one might manifest a more reliably consistent version of their earlier self without really growing up much. We seem to remain the same kids imbedded within ever bigger people's bodies, still growing into who we probably always were. I speak of we when you probably suspect that I mean 'I', for I can't really know how it must be for you. If you sincerely feel as though you grew up, I say, "God Bless You," and "How did you do that?"

A fiftieth reunion of a high school graduating class comes only once, never to be repeated again. It comes at a reliably inconvenient time,

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Payshunce

payshunsh
"Maybe I can simultaneously like it AND lump it for a change."

Payshunce might be the sole necessary skill of modern life. The faster everything goes, the more everything seems to need to spool up before actually accomplishing anything. The Schooner wants to warm up before we zoot off. The laptop decides when I just want to quickly check something to not simply wake up but to desperately need a full restart, complete with demands for a half-dozen Pastwords I cannot remember in that moment of duress. Traffic moves more slowly than advertised, especially when a few drivers choose to go all Formula One on everybody and thereby slow down the overall flow. Queues naturally slow as they lengthen. It's apparently their nature. Your order won't come up until well after that fleeting wave of hunger has left the building.

One learns Payshunce by having it beaten into them, often at one's own hand.

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PoeTayToe

potato
"This pony ride's over and done."

Yes, Idaho license plates still proclaim Famous Potatoes, and quite properly so, for Idaho remains famous for its potatoes which, I guess, also renders their potatoes famous for being from Idaho. Fame works like this. The most popular category of famous people has always been Famous For Being Famous, with television celebrities topping this species. Fame must be a critical part of potato marketing, for in the East, Maine plays the Famous For Growing Potatoes Card and further West, Grant County in my native Washington state insists that they raise more potatoes than any other county in the country. Making a fuss seems necessary when dealing in a natively bland commodity. Nobody's license plate proudly proclaims Famous Tomatoes or Noteworthy Cabbage. Only the homely old potato holds this distinction: LPF, License Plate Famous.

In Idaho's specific case, the fame seems well-deserved.

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Stranging

Stranging
"He freely floats without ever coming close to feeling free."

Stranging should be considered one of the higher forms of art. It could not qualify as a science, for initial conditions inevitably evade scrutiny or systematic analysis. Strangers show up lost and build out from there, taking whatever presents itself, substance generally unknown and likely unknowable. I was blessed with the ability to feel disoriented even when staring at a properly-oriented and obviously accurate map, because North just doesn't always feel like North to me, and my feelings tend to rule. How I feel about a strange place hardly ever influences that place, though, so I wander off in wrong directions whichever way I go. I convene an argument in my head, my feet dishearteningly heading off in what will very likely turn out to be the wrong direction while my head mumbles dissent without even convincing himself. My head will chastise itself, but no argument will resolve the controversy. I might well find my way there and back again, but only by fortunate accident.

Had I tried to be a frontiersman, I would have been one of those whose bones—their story untold but nonetheless obvious—Later Arrivers find mouldering beneath an ancient cottonwood.

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Ghosting

ghosting
"We're West if, indeed, we're anywhere at all."

The Schooner runs quiet as a ghost. Inside, The Muse and I listen to old jazz, Gene Krupa pounding away on his jungle drums through Bennie Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing. We could be front row center at that famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, flopping to feral rhythms. Just outside, a wonderland passes by around us, with high mountain wildflowers punctuating our smooth passage. We quite literally bop through Steamboat and out onto the great basin country beyond, a landscape defined by uplifts, which naturally lift up our spirits, and spirits we seem to become. A town out there is defined as any relatively wide spot featuring a sign. Several of these exhibit no clear signs of life, but they apparently warrant a sign anyway. A scrappy ex-building or two might show where once some enterprising entrepreneur made a go of something, but the cafe sign seems permanently faded and the gas pumps have gone missing. I suspect that most of these "places" have become ghost towns now.

I think it only fitting that we flit between ghost towns out here because we seem to pass as ghosts, too.

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Guesting

guesting
"You're stuck with each other for the duration, at least try to enjoy the dance."

We're all guests here. Neither of us, none of us, have real dominion over the birds in the sky or the beasts in the field, we're stewards. Guesting entails a temporary sharing of a semi-sacred stewardship, with the guest's responsibilities no less or more sacred than their host's. They co-habitate for a spell, the host providing space for the guest to fill. A good guest will fill that thoughtfully-provided space without sucking all of the air out of the rest of the place. They'll appreciate the room, though it's never the best in the house. They will have explicitly explained their preferences and limitations before arriving. Most importantly, the guest should be present, genuinely there, for their presence will serve as their greatest gift to their host and to themselves, so show up on time for meals and limit the appeals for special handling. You represent the Big Door Prize of your stay, but never the Daddy Bear, Mommy Bear, Baby Bear, or Goldilocks. This isn't a fairy tale.

If you find yourself in desperate need of toilet paper or a plunger, speak right up; everyone's been there.

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Power

PowerButton
"it's the superpower I hold rather than the one I'm unlikely to ever possess."

I was yesterday listening to Alan Lightman's audio book In Praise of Wasting Time while mowing the lawn. He told a story from his youth about when he finally connected with a pitch in a Little League ball game. He reported that this was his first experience of power, and felt great surprise that he, a decidedly non-athletic nerd, might also be a powerful person. Later in life, he said that he looked back on that time whenever he faced daunting challenges, convinced deep down that because he had once demonstrated personal power, that he remained a powerful person at root, and so would most likely overcome whatever difficulty he faced.

I think many (if not most) of us do not carry a similar conviction.

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CumpKnee

cumpknee
" … genuine affection might be the only good reason to ever host any houseguest."

A buzz overtakes the place a week before they arrive as if the isolation pod can't quite believe it's about to become a social hub. CumpKnee's coming. The Villa will receive a thorough scrubbing, which means that I will scrub and vacuum and The Muse will dust, I long ago having lost my belief in particles too tiny for visual verification. I crawl the kitchen, utility room, and the garage hall floors, scrubbing as I go. I'll displace chairs and tables to dust mop and vacuum up all those odd bits the houseplants exhale all over the place. I unmake beds and the washing machine finally puts in a full day's work. I remake beds with fresh-smelling linen and rework the guest bath (my bath when no guests are around) and move my detritus into The Muse's bath, a so-called Master Bath within which I am not entirely welcome. I scrutinize the larder and perform an unusually picky shop, selecting stuff necessary to satisfy our guest's stated preferences.

I've become unembarrassed to ask after a prospective guest's preferences and prejudices.

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PreCrastination

precrastination
"I don't seize my days as much as they seem to seize me …"

I must have been born before my time. This world was no more ready for my arrival than I was ready to meet up with it. The world seems to have been playing catch-up since the day I was born. I've tried slowing down, honestly I have, but the world seems dedicated to tailing me, leaving me to cut the sea ice to ease its weary way. I don't mind. I'm uncertain if I could follow tail lights even if I'd ever found any out in front of me. A few years after I've lost interest in what was once a new phenomenon for me, here comes the world just waking up to that item's existence. The fabulously fresh by then seems simply old hat, for I'm off in some newly uncharted direction, making most of it up as I go along.

I have my traditions.

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Service

service
"Best Wishes! Your Customer."

My car dealer treats my like a duke. I'm there for an oil change and I'm greeted with a servile deference ordinarily reserved for visiting royalty. I ain't royalty and I ain't on no diplomatic mission. I came for my twenty four thousand mile service. Nothing more. I am nobody's "Sir." Please do not mind your Ps and Qs with me. Gimme a little shit, please, and I'll give you some in return, then we might hold some chance of connecting, of forming a relationship. Your best behavior seems wasted on me and could not possibly be any less appropriate to this situation. Treat me with less pomp and more attention to the circumstances. I'm unimpressed with that box of fresh doughnuts, which, by the way, seems most interesting to your sales associates, who have formed a steady if stealthy stream through the Customer Waiting Area since I arrived. That TV suspended above me seems more threatening than entertaining, distracting me from my reading. Nobody else's watching it, either.

Service has been earning a bad reputation for decades.

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ShootingStar

shootingStar

"I inch my way along in near total darkness beneath barely pinpricks of light."

Some nights, I wander through dark rooms, refusing to turn on any lights as if testing my muscle memory. I tell myself that I don't want to awaken The Muse, as if any force in this universe could wake up The Muse once she's down, but I feel genuinely comforted by my resulting blindness. I'm also trying to preserve my night sight for what I might find when I peer up into the sky. The neighbor's illegal upward-facing lights try to blind me from this reassuring night as I find a seat and peer up through the ambient evening air. Stars seem to congregate up here, with the occasional satellite floating across the plane. A ShootingStar streaks across before me, there then gone in an instant, more a blink of an experience than an actual one.

No matter how I might peer then, another ShootingStar will not cross my path.

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MovingOn

movingon
" …we drag that home along with us wherever we might get off to."

Out here on the edge of the West, or, as the sign over Golden Colorado's Washington Street insists, Where The West Begins, we enjoy a long tradition of MovingOn. The original inhabitants were nomadic, moving between locations as seasons suggested. Later arrivals showed up after MovingOn from some previous place, many of them nth sons without inheritance to hold them closer to home. Many of those MovedOn to somewhere else when the silver petered out, or moved into a different occupation than hard rock mining. We seem to live in temporary digs, acceptable until whatever passes for silver in our lives peters out. Westerners hold a long tradition of abandoning their past in favor of a more promising or less continually disappointing future. My own forebears rolled those big dice, came West, and somehow survived the transplants. Anyone might think that we're, as a result of this heritage, a fickle people, driving with one foot continually in the ditch, always ready, willing, and able to jump ship. Anyone would be wrong.

MovingOn the Nth time still brings all the anxiety of that first time.

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Thinking and Praying about Thoughts and Prayers

thoughtsandprayers
"Mutually Reassured Delusion absolves everyone."

I've been Thinking and Praying about Thoughts and Prayers, a solipsistic activity which extends no further than my eyebrows and no deeper than my neckline. It's a genuine echo chamber in there, with thoughts chasing prayers, then prayers chasing thoughts until the distinctions between them degrade into an oily, waxy substance that hardly flows at all. I seem more stuck now, mired in self-reference. Had I the wisdom of any second-rate god, I might have resolved this conundrum by now, but the more I think and the more I pray, the more I seem compelled to pray and the less productive my thinking seems to become. I feel like a genuine recursive mess, hoping to produce something useful, perhaps a solution, but at this point, I'd settle for a second-rate resolution. Negotiating the first SALT treaty could not have been as difficult as dealing with the damned gun lobby, and that involved uniformed Russians! And, as every school kid learned in the fifties, you can always trust a communist to be a communist, but even then, they agreed to reduce their weapons in exchange for us agreeing to reduce ours.

Sometimes, something like a Christian comity emerges between two avowed enemies, a mutual back-scratch; an 'I will if you will' agreement.

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Lib'ral

lib'ral
"It's not that we can never go home again, but that we can ONLY go home again …"

We live in a Lib'ral Democracy, yet I struggle to define just what Lib'ral means. Maybe you do, too, especially if you self-identify as a conservative or a radical. The term has been under constant attack from conservatives, radicals, and those who can't quite grok the idea of any form of governance reliant upon emergence as its central organizing principle. Yet in the nearly two hundred years since its emergence, liberalism has utterly transformed the world I inhabit from one which could not imagine what we merely take for granted today. Authoritarianism, which was pretty much the sole form of governance known to the world before, continues to assault what the vast majority of us consider our birthright, but it only has dominion to defend itself against liberalism's subtle but much stronger power. Plodding and painstaking, the Lib'ral seeks to reduce the net suffering in this world, and has succeeded beyond any of its original champions wildest dreams. This is a continuing contest between endless ebb and flow and periodic gush, and though those floodwaters seem overwhelming and permanent, they chose the long-term inevitably losing side.

Unlike you, I suspect, I've been keeping my political head down since the current incumbent stumbled into office a few million popular votes shy of a mandate.

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Health

Health
"Too much scrutiny spoils the soup."

I shrink whenever I enter a Health Food Store. I doubt many of the claims I see advertised there. I came not for salvation, but for non-hydrogenated peanut butter and cheap walnuts. I've never quite qualified as a food faddist, though I might come close to being considered a foodist. I subscribe to Michael Pollin's suggestion that I do eat food, though not too much, and mostly plants. I was raised adjacent to an Adventist community filled with proudly healthy pallid-skinned people who looked like warmed over death and lived to extremely ripe old ages. I've joined food co-ops where I rubbed shoulders with every form of eater known to man, always slipping between the queues to find the cheap but good enough stuff hidden in the bulk section there. I retain a lifelong membership in the Gluten Appreciation Society, an Adele Davis-inspired love of organ meats, and a natural aversion to all soda drinks, especially those touted as especially good for me. I believe Vitamin Water® a scam, whether it is or not, and try hard to avoid the latest recommendations regarding diet. I follow a turn of the twentieth century recipe for cooking beans.

I eat to excess whatever's in season.

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SunflowerSeason

SunflowerSeason
" …a glorious season progressing a scant fortnight per step."

In theory, a season should last about three months. In practice, a season's duration varies considerably depending upon location. Somewhere in middle America and perhaps Slovakia, spring lasts three months, everywhere else, it persists longer or less. Should one manage to stay in the same place they grew up in for the rest of their life, one would instinctively sense when a season changed. The rest of us fumble with the obvious differences between what the calendar insists and what we're experiencing outside. Here along the Colorado Rockies' Foothills, to this recent transplant, seasons seem to unpredictably lead and lag. Winter weather will probably infringe upon both autumn and spring, sometimes even summer. Even summer, though, near the middle of its advertised presence, varies from day to day, even hour to hour, leading me to propose that the traditional notion of three month seasons might have never been terribly germane. Seasons seem conveniently subdivided into better-suited sets.

Two short weeks ago, Sweetgrass Season reigned; now, SunflowerSeason.

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UnderThinking

existential
" … with meaningful insights struggling to be seen, much less appreciated, …"

I was going to write about OverThinking today, but I discovered that I'd already written about that three years ago. I caught myself in one of those rumination loops common to my practice. Prior considering will have only rarely settled anything. I believe that I could infinitely consider any topic and still fail to stumble upon much of a conclusion. Conclusions, I tell myself, seem over-rated, anyway. If I am because I think, as Descartes so proudly proclaimed, thinking might serve as a precondition to my even being here. Should I ever stop, Descartes might predict that I'd simply disappear. Not that my disappearing would necessarily set back civilization even an angry inch. Thinking serves as one of those activities which somehow survives without ever having acquired a cogent definition of itself. In that respect, thinking and I might be fraternal twins. I spend most of every day in my head, thinking, as the presumption goes, but perhaps not OverThinking so much as UnderThinking there.

UnderThinking seems an art, for its purpose couldn't possibly be simple representation.

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Rooms

huge-house-plans-with-second-floor-huge-homes-pinterest-floors-plans-love-house-plans
"It was memorable for a reason nobody could explain …"

Bradford and Hillary Keeney speak of Rooms. Should I feel constrained in the present room, I might simply move to a larger room, one capable of properly containing me. Likewise, should a room feel too roomy, I might move to a room more suited to my size. Bradford and Hillary speak metaphorically, of course, but I've been feeling overly unconstrained lately, as if my present room were considerably larger than necessary, than appropriate for my present endeavors. I feel as though I cannot fill the rooms I enter these days, as if each one had been designed to contain a larger person, a much larger personality than I bring to my game, for I hold humbled aspirations now. I no longer aspire to achieve greater things, but lately acknowledge that my accomplished achievements might well mark the high water mark of my career and my life. I understand and accept that our universe continually expands, but I find this a poor excuse to mimic it. I ain't no universe.

Or, rather, I ain't no large-infinity universe.

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EarlyMorning

EarlyMorning

"I will have in EarlyMorning warmed up the bed for him to wallow around in …"

The diners and coffee shops seem to fill with geezers first. Later, the driven corporate types trickle in, thinking that they've seized another day, only to find the territory already settled by second-cup sipping self-satisfied retirees, hard-core unemployables, and maybe a writer or two, those for whom EarlyMorning offers their sole refuge. Nobody watches them rise. Nobody's even trying to catch them along their way. They will become increasingly invisible throughout the following day. They have little left to aspire after, having found their eigenvalue, though they find great fulfillment acknowledging that they once again managed to beat that lucky old sun at his own eternal game.

Not even the magpies hear him rise.

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Downtime

Downtime
"The Muse ultimately makes this call."

I will never suspect. I might have noticed a creeping lethargy, a budding indifference, a blooming I Just Don't Care attitude, but I will not suspect that I might have contracted a bug of any sort. In my mind, one can only properly declare illness for a) a runny nose, b) runny bowels, c) sore throat, d) fever, and/or e) a broken bone; basically the same list of acceptable excuses for missing a day in elementary school. Dizzy disorientation falls well north of any threshold under which I can legally claim myself to be under any weather, since I consider it a part of what passes for my usual countenance. I get confused sometimes, as a normal part of my continuing inquiries. The Muse notices, investigates, then declares me out of the game. "There's a bug going around," she says, and I crumble into bed.

I have never made it a habit to schedule personal downtime.

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Deadheading

deadheading
"Gardening demands a certain heartlessness."

Gardening demands a certain heartlessness. It ain't all tender nurturing, but also involves a studied brutality: pruning, plucking, trimming, and the curiously-named Deadheading. No, Deadheading has nothing to do with a popular musical group from the sixties, but involves removing spent blossoms and their bud tips to encourage fresh blooming. Deadheading prolongs the purpose of planting the flowers, extending the blooming season beyond what it would otherwise have been. It's picky work, likely to damage the plant should it be clumsily performed. It tries the patience of even the more contemplative gardeners, insisting upon an extended level of focus almost orthogonal to quietly enjoying blossoming flowers.

I water our petunia planters every couple of days through midsummer.

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Exes

exes
"My first wife will forever have the flu on our honeymoon and my second will always have a cold."

My first wife had the flu for our honeymoon. My second caught a cold. My third wife caught nothing except me, an infection for which there might not be any effective cure, thank heavens. My first marriage ended after I'd fallen in love and turned into a giddy and somewhat irresponsible seventeen year old at thirty-five, my first and most significant mid-life crisis. My second marriage ended after I told a terrible lie. Accused of carrying on an affair I had not engaged in, I admitted to it after realizing that I could never convince anyone, who's identity so utterly depended upon me being such a cad, that she'd just imagined my infidelity. She despised my kids, anyway, which meant in my mind that she deeply despised me. Neither of these disconnects ever got talked out, for each was beyond words to explain. My first wife insisted that we go see a marriage counsellor, but refused to go back a second time when she discovered that the counsellor wouldn't take sides. I continued seeing her and still speak with her today. She's served as my fair witness and refuses to take pay because she insists that I'm an interesting case. My second wife just asked that I thereafter think of her as dead.

While both relations became beyond words as they moved into their ex- states, conversations continued in my head.

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TheSummerOf1969

summer-1969-lt-blue-prints

"I guess I would have swallowed most anything then, and likely did."

If you weren't there, you're unlikely to believe a word I say describing that time. TheSummerOf1969 seems in the future now, an idyllic upcoming state those of us who were there briefly glimpsed as we sped by. No, I'm not suggesting that everything was rosy then. I lived under the clear and always-present threat that I would be drafted to fight in a meaningless war half way around the globe. My hometown remained securely in the clutches of an entrenched plutocracy. But I'd somehow survived the gulag that was my high school and I really felt as though I was at least ninety percent upside. I had nothing to regret yet. I had not yet fallen hopelessly in love. I had close friends in high places, and while I didn't share their obsession with getting high, I found their presence nonetheless elevating. We fancied ourselves radical and were frantically growing our hair to prove it. Our future was finally now!

The world today isn't painted in the same alluring hues.

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BeaLonging

sunlitcloudtop
"The curtain hardly falls before another fist cloud boils up into the last of any day's sunlight."

The drenching rain comes in the third act, once the set-up drama just about ends. Some small overlap seems necessary for a smooth transition, but the drenching foreshadows the end. The credits will roll over driveways and ditches draining away the final residue and the standing water starting to seep into soil hardly thirsty by then. I might not even stay up for the final acts, since I prefer the dramatic lead-up much more than the down falling denouement. I appreciate the moisture, but worship the thunder and the lightning.

I saw what first appeared to be tall sails slipping above low clouds already in sunset's shadow.

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Fambly

fambly
"We think of ourselves as something really quite special, …"

My birth family seemed obsessed with visiting each other. We never once went on a vacation that wasn't primarily focused upon visiting family. We'd arrive and the Brownies would come out and the photographing commenced, lining up the cousins in stair step order, the sisters in mirror proximity, the in-laws as if they were genuine brothers. We also rarely stayed in motels, for there was always some family we could drop in on for at least one night when we were in transit. I suspect that we sometimes came as somewhat of a shock when, near sundown, we'd happen to be near Chico and call ahead to my mom's uncle to announce that the seven of us would be there around suppertime, but we were never once turned away, because we were Fambly.

This was my birth family's experience.

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SumMorning

SumMorning
" … because I'm already there."

A velvet curtain covered the windows overnight, so thin and permeable that the light breeze could squeeze right through its intricate weave. Morning light slipped through, too, as if the curtain's velvet has expanded to texturize the entire atmosphere. The sunrise screamed through the muffling haze that this would become one of the hotter days, but then, before the paper came, before I could rouse my upside-down American flag on it's stand, the land reclined in perfect ambience. Yesterday's extremes seemed at that early hour a bad dream, though even those extremes hardly blunted my seasonal enthusiasm. We wait through nine or ten months of disparagement for mornings just like this one, mornings which seem to last forever before seeming simply fleeting.

The flower garden's finally as fine as it's going to get, with experiment and old reliable doing their best to please.

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KeepingUp

KeepingUp
"I understand that I'm only marginally worthy of the fruits of their efforts."

I try to keep up, honest I do. I scan the morning news. I do avoid broadcast news, though. Trump's election broke my decades-long addiction to NPR. (Interns seem to have overthrown genuine journalists on NPR. I can tell because they elevate the end of every statement into a question, an annoying affectation.) The fact that it's on the tube chased me away from most televised news, though The Muse and I will sometimes watch the PBS Newshour on a Friday evening just to finish off the week; besides there's nothing else on at that hour. The various nightly newscasts, thoughtfully aired in late afternoon when we're still nose to grindstone, seem as over-produced as any campy Broadway musical. The cable alternatives have priced themselves out of our reach. We unprogrammed our remote's access to our local Faux station, but they never very convincingly pretended to be very interested in broadcasting news. They're a shameless, transparent propaganda distributor. I wonder how they keep their FCC license, or would wonder if I didn't know who was running the FCC these days.

As near as I can determine, anything our President touts as fake news is the God's honest truth news and whatever he touts as honest news is absolutely fake.

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Metalogue

metalogue1

" … a snake chasing his own tail,
still deeply uncertain what he might do should he ever finally catch up to it."

Prose comes in many forms: dialogue, monologue, diatribe, lecture, and scold, to name but a scant few of the more frequently encountered types. Fiction and non-fiction hardly stand as distinctive designations, each more dependent upon the author's intention than any pervasively factual foundation. Historical fiction can and does sometimes seem to better represent a period than does scrupulously fact-based history. Commentary takes many forms, and so might be accurately described as a meta-form, one not beholding to any standard classification. Much prose follows subtle rules that if they were ever written down, I haven't found the source document delineating them yet. To speak of these underlying forms seems to require violating those underlying forms, to go meta or mina to them, for speaking of a form seems to require sidestepping the form itself, which might subtly prohibit self-reference as a premise for employing it. My personal ethic to avoid telling people what to do cannot be conveyed by telling people not to tell people what to do, and this highlights the paradoxical territory speaking of underlying forms traverses.

People have been after me to classify my own writing, which I've always found to be a challenge. I can more easily declare what it's not than what it might be.

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Righting

righting
"Perhaps I might be an author after all."

I earlier this morning finished copyediting a manuscript I "finished" ten months ago. Copyediting and writing seem antithetical to each other, like shining the brass has almost nothing in common with building a ship from scratch, but the overall effort's uncompleted until somebody polishes that brass. I find this work to be, well, real work, unlike writing, which doesn't usually feel very much like work to me anymore. Furthermore, it feels like picky work, the sort that demands close attention without really paying for it. I'd read each piece before, even scrupulously copyediting them, though I'd never read through the whole work as if I were reading a whole work, which provided a unique experience for me to read something I'd written as if I was a scrupulous reader rather than the proud and slightly defensive author.

I felt surprisingly pleased with this author's work.

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Sturm und Drang

strumunddrang
"An old saying insists that Sturm und Drang signifies nothing"

I am not a man given to emotional outbursts. I hail from a placid valley where a summer day might passive-aggressively scorch but only rarely degrade into fearful vengeance. Colorado's Front Range experiences a different midsummer normal. Here, a July day's temperature routinely ranges forty degrees or more between sunrise and sunset, heating quickly as morning progresses before monsoonal moisture erupts. The fabled hiss of summer lawns by mid afternoon might routinely transform into brisk then fierce wind followed by first distant thunder, then terrifyingly close lightning, then drenching rain. Colorado's summer weather has serious mood lability issues, and one can reasonably expect it to turn unreasonable with little warning.

It's Texas' fault, a reasonable if slightly unfair attribution.

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ComingOfAge

Coming-of-Age
"I expect to continue ComingOfAge until my accumulated age catches up to me,
not until I finally catch up with my age. "

I'm supposed to attend my fiftieth high school reunion in a few weeks, and this event has me ruminating. I was ComingOfAge when I graduated, not yet eighteen and emotionally unprepared to accept that I'd grown up. In fact I had not then completed growing up and cannot yet admit to having finished that labor, for ComingOfAge seems an asymptotic activity, one which never fully completes its mission. I seem to have been chasing the chimera of maturity for as long as I can remember, always pursuing a mythical stable next state which seems to have always been replaced with yet another looming ascension as I grew nearer to it. I remember never having quite grown up into feeling like a fully-qualified high school student when graduation came along, just like I never quite satisfied my aspiration to feel as though I fit into my Junior High School class before graduating from there. Ditto with my grade school and preschool experiences, and ditto to every role I've attempted to assume so far.

I've grown to question whether anyone ever comes of age.

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Calculess

carbon-footprint-1
"I might be damned whatever tradeoff I choose."

'They' say that the size of my personal carbon footprint depends upon the tradeoffs I resolve, a series of this or that choices. Many of the choices come cloaked, relying upon me to be alert and aware and present enough to realize in a narrow moment that I'm supposed to be making a choice there. Like most everyone, I live much more automatically than this prescription relies upon me living. I only rarely think twice and even less often ruminate much on whatever choice I've already made, each completed action a sunk cost more than a lesson truly learned. Most of my carbon emissions result from me flipping a bloodless switch. Even so,I know myself to be a serial carbon emitter of the first order in spite (and sometimes because) of my deeply held concern about our precious climate. I'm good as far as that goes, but I'm fairly certain that it's not nearly good enough to matter.

Look, I'd take public transportation if it was available, but it's not.

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SlackerDay

fistclouds
"Aren't we all?"

The Muse and I become more insistent than actually obsessive come Saturday morning. We both know what we'll do. Beyond the age when we're obligated to attend any juvenile soccer games, we understand that Saturday morning's reserved far in advance for restocking the larder. This routine repeats itself without becoming ever the same each time, for as the seasons progress, different necessities emerge. In January, our go-to family-run produce stand's closed for the season, so we're relegated to picking through the less discerning supermarket's variety. In high July, though, that stand's finally wide-open, past the Saturdays when they offered the choice between onions and potatoes or both.

Asparagus was finished last week, other than that pencil dick, past season stuff that could be credibly hollowed out and fitted with a graphite core and used for scribbling.

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MuseGone

DCConventionCenter
"Those boundary conditions and the rhythm they encourage make my work possible."

The Muse is off galavanting this week. Part of her job involves galavanting, traveling off to conduct business somewhere else. She's done enough of this over the past decade that this week she was named Grand PooBah for Life by the Marriott Hotel Chain. This guarantees that she receives special service, a steep discount, room upgrades, and free high speed internet for life at every Marriott-owned property in the world. She almost always travels alone, leaving me to tend fort while she forays off into hostile territory. Our little fort hardly needs tending, save for watering the plants, so my schedule opens waaaaay up during these absences. Her away schedule allows for two brief check-in periods each day, one while she wends her way to her first morning meeting and another as she wends her way back to her upgraded room and high speed internet service at the end of another over-long day.

These check-ins usually find us with little news.

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SweetGrassSeason

sweetgrass
"Do not speak of yesterday or tomorrow today."

The hard luck farmers and harder luck miners who originally founded Denver were probably pretty much ready to head back to from wherever they'd come after that first hard winter and disappointing spring, until a couple of scant weeks into summer and SweetGrassSeason kicked in. Up until then, the region had meted out one humiliation after another. False springs had taunted their cabin fever. Heavy snow had isolated and humbled them. The foreshortened fall before had surrendered too quickly into an early blizzard. I imagine them forlorn with a nagging spouse questioning again just what had seemed so promising about here. But then SweetGrassSeason arrived.

The sky had been cranky, mustering up quick tempestuous thunder carrying torrential rain and hail every damned afternoon.

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StayingUp

stayingUp2
"I prefer to think of eternity not as some pearly-gated community …"

When I was about eight years old, I enjoyed no higher privilege than one I created for myself. I'd head for bed at the prescribed hour, feign almost immediate sleep until the bed check passed, then pull my bread-loaf sized radio under the covers with me and listen in to a live broadcast from The Big Y, a turnaround point on the long Main Street drag frequented by high school kids out dragging the gut. The program featured popular music punctuated with news alerts. One unforgettable night, the DJ announced the escape of a kinkajou from a traveling circus. Several nights, someone had escaped from the state penitentiary up on the hill at the far end of thirteenth street. I laid there, warmed by the radio's etherial glow, feeling as though I was situated near the center of the universe. I fell asleep satisfied sometime in the uncountable early morning hours.

A few years later, I took an early morning paper route and over the following several years, transferred that StayingUp reflex into a GettingUp one, finding them both equally satisfying, for both provided that bounded solitude I seemed to crave.

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SigjawPuzzle

sigjaw
"I'm more of a tape the box together sort of guy …"

I've put this puzzle back together scores of times. Each time, the age-worn pieces fit together a little differently. My memory holds an impressionistic representation of what the finished picture should be, mostly composed of reanimated routines snugging within old familiars, but it never seems to end up just as I remembered it being before. Each completion an off iteration of whatever had come before. Leaving crumbles the puzzle into constituent pieces, throwing them haphazardly into a box half Scotch® taped together, cover photo faded and worn. Returning pulls that box back out of the game cupboard to lay out those pieces for reassembly, tedious but necessary effort. One cannot stay away for ever and one can never return to find the SigJawPuzzle already completed.

It might not matter where I begin.

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Lagging

WoolyWilly
" … creating a self-portrait on a Wooly Willy canvas … "

I confided to The Muse that I probably should not be out. We both felt delicate, me having risen at 3am in the guest bed, having no recollection of how I had gotten myself there. The Muse, a reliable last riser, was already up. The laundry was done by seven. We'd gone out shopping at five thirty, aware that we'd left the larder bare when we'd departed for Europe two weeks before. When we arrived at the supermarket, neither of us could think of anything we needed to buy. We returned with a gallon of milk, a quart of yogurt, and a dozen eggs, all of which would remain untouched by the end of that day.

"Where are you going?" The Muse asked as I blew past the exit I had intended to take.

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Pavements

cobblestone-09
"Those weaned on concrete should struggle to absorb it all."

The flight paths into and out of Denver International Airport have not yet been paved, as evidenced by the routine insistence by every pilot of every arriving and departing flight that cabin service be either suspended three quarters of an hour before landing or delayed for a similar period after takeoff. These departures and arrivals prove to be white knuckle affairs for everyone except the flight crew, and even they give their seat belts an extra snugging tug. I find myself anxiously anticipating every departure and every return before finally submitting to the necessity of experiencing this ordeal, though I don't like or appreciate a minute of these adventures.

In the US, pavements tend toward the uniformly boring.

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RulesOfTheRoad

RulesOfTheRoad
"We expect ourselves to behave like the fully functioning adults we know ourselves to be …"

The Muse and I have traveled plenty. We're not genuine World-class travelers, but we've managed to make our way anyway. Our relationship began during a period of rather intense business travel, which we always managed, in the spirit of any fresh relationship, to make into net pleasurable excursions. A week in Winston-Salem rivaled a week in Rome, for we were younger then and so deeply in love. We learned our ropes, our RulesOfTheRoad under perhaps the most positive conditions. We learned not to take much of anything that happens very personally, for grudgy effects could sour an otherwise delightful experience. Stuff happens, inconveniences conspire, it's nothing more than their nature, but we never agreed to become pawns to their conniving games and always managed to have a vote in every outcome. We noticed early on that some people seem to travel for the pure aggravation it provides in their lives. Listening to their travel stories seemed like listening to a particularly vengeful prosecutor talking himself into filing a viscous bill of particulars. Flights arrived late. Hotel reservations lost. Dinners uneatable. Of course these minor distractions happen to everyone who deigns to move beyond the secure confines of home, but none of them amount to the stuff anyone should aspire to make into a Federal case. We early on decided that these amounted to nothing much more than plot twists and need not ever very deeply influence the quality of any outcome. So we arrived hours later than planned? We call this sort of occurrence a So What?.

We do have a few rather hard and fast rules which we intend to help ensure domestic tranquility.

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Traveling

traveling
"I expect my shadow to continue to surprise me whenever I chance to see it."

"They" say that travel broadens one. If it does, it accomplishes this end by successively narrowing perspective. From the row twenty-two aisle seat on the transatlantic flight to the semi-private compartment on a Central European train through Slovakia, remarkably tiny spaces contain most of traveling. The broadening, more a smearing, actually, must come from switching out these spaces over relatively short periods of time. Travel from Budapest to Prague involves witnessing a few foreshortened hours of quickly shifting vistas through farmland, picturesque villages about the size of a photograph of them, and through tiny train stations before finally slow-crawling into the massive train yard in Prague. Likewise, walking those old cobbled Prague streets provides no more than the narrowest perspective on the place at any one time. A walk might take one through a half-dozen remarkably narrow passages where one can't see more than a few meters ahead or behind them self. Even the view from the Prague Castle parapet provides less perspective than I might catch from our deck back home. Yet, near the end of an excursion, ten or twelve days in, I feel as though I can see much more broadly than I could from my deck back home.

We spent a few days in a genuinely tiny apartment in Budapest which featured a view clear across a narrow street.

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BurrLynn

BurrLynn
"Nuthin-particularly-special, but plenty and enough."

Berlin feels more like an extended suburb than a world capitol. It stretches from horizon to horizon to horizon to horizon, hardly rising from the horizontal plane. It clearly ain't no New York, Paris, London, Prague, Vienna, or Rome. It's looks like more of a Gary, Indiana sort of place with a few canals and a small river thrown in. It once, like many other capital cities, aspired to become the capital of the world, though by aspect alone, it hardly could have ever realistically consummated that romance. It fell, hard, dividing itself instead, a cautionary tale for any place defensively lusting after becoming some place more special than they were. It holds few treasures and more cold memories than any similarly-sized space on earth.

The more affluent neighborhoods have populated their sidewalks, making them appear no different from any other yuppie enclave anywhere in the world.

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Good&Lost

Good&Lost
"We can always choose to get bad and lost without really choosing anything."

Neither The Muse nor I seem to be immune from getting lost. Even assisted by GPS and the almost always available GoogleMaps app, we still get lost. We can't credibly blame these occurrences on the mapping software because it's just software and therefore eminently fallible. We can't always blame ourselves, either, and not only because blaming never found anything. In order for blaming to find anything, it would have to reverse the ineffable forward flow of time, which would be an unrealistically heavy lift for anybody. Blaming suggests just going back for a do-over, but there's never any going back and therefore no do-over possible. Getting lost seems an inescapable element of living and probably not that much of a problem, anyway, though it certainly seems like the problem it isn't.

I figure that getting lost serves as a force leveler, protecting me from getting what my mother would call "too big of a head."

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GrandEntrances

GrandEntrance
"We will have no opportunity to remake that first impression with another GrandEntrance."

The Romans perfected this schtick. Following some victory in Gaul or equally far-flung place, a triumphant general would ride ahead of his legions into Rome with much heraldry and trumpet-blowing. Employing the photographic technology of the time, the celebration would then be painstakingly carved into a bas relief and cemented into a city wall. An arch might be constructed over the following century or two, ensuring that this victory would live long in the citizens' memory. Today, some nerd schlumps off a long train ride to insist that he doesn't need a cab or a tram or even a subway ride. He and his lovely wife will instead drag their roller-bags through the middle of town during the height of the evening strolling hour. A lasting impression will remain, but mostly in the minds of those pulling those bags over dispassionate cobblestone. Finally arriving sweaty and breathless at their hotel, they receive the dispassionate attention of a distracted night clerk before proceeding without trumpetry to their room where they will leave a temporary bas relief of their exhaustion in the bedcovers when they rise the next morning.

The Muse and I have produced a considerable history of making GrandEntrances such as the latter.

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ClearingOut

clearout
" … open to discovering fresh futures."

At some point near the end of the first reel or the beginning of the second, the desperadoes would have done about as much damage as they could, given that a posse was at that very minute closing in on them. One of the bad guys, not necessarily the leader, would stand a little taller in his saddle and proclaim, "Let's clear out, boys!" Amid general disarray, then, the desperadoes would depart. I'm thinking about the notion of ClearingOut this morning, as The Muse and I pack up to head on toward our next destination. The refrigerator's emptied and swabbed out. Counters clean. All but the last load of garbage already sits in the bottom of the bin. The bathroom's returned to its original state, our bag's packed, and I'm an hour ahead of our scheduled departure time.

In my home life, I clear out about once a year, usually as spring threatens to cast a scornful light upon accumulated remaining winter sloth, but I never clear out to this degree except when moving.

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SlightSeeing

"The world-weary traveler just wants to go back home again."

Tourist can become a difficult role to fulfill. It might appear from the outside looking at, that the tourist lives the Life of Riley: chauffeured in an air conditioned bus, put up at tour rates in first class hotels, sumptuously fed on local specialties at every stop, but the non-stop services can leave the traveller feeling done for. When does he get to decide anything? That tour guide with the gaudy pink umbrella she insists upon waving around like she's rallying troops around the flag seems to take a tad too much sense of authority from her role. The bus drivers maintain their steely-eyed gazes. Rumor has it that they're all retired Special Forces with ice water running through their veins. The fellow travelers, too, can wear on a man's patience, capable of moving no faster than a reluctant donkey, a man only rarely manages to hit his stride so he shuffles along with increasing ennui.

After a few days surveying the legacies of several century's worth of royalty, another set of crown jewels resembles nothing more than a sale display counter at Macy's.

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Hunglish

atable
"I feel like a temporary illusion here."

Walk down any street in Europe and your eye will catch some familiar words displayed on shop fronts. Typically between two words clearly in the local language, a prominent English word appears. Much in the way that a French word in an English advertisement catches the eye and imparts a certain cache even when I don't understand the meaning of the word, I suppose English in a French or Hungarian business name sets that shop apart, perhaps a smidge above, its competitors. Some of the words seem necessary. I mean what besides Burger Bar would one name a burger bar in Budapest? Pizza's pizza the world 'round. The Chinese fast food joint in our Obuda neighborhood declares CHINESEFASTFOOD beside a Hungarian phrase I suspect translates into CHINESEFASTFOOD, so why the concatenated English version? It seems that all Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai places in Budapest prominently feature English on their signs. Are these places there to serve English-speaking visitors, or does this encoding hold special meaning for the locals, too?

Menus rarely feature even a hint of English.

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You'reUp

Jean-Baptiste_Marie_Pierre_-The Rape of Europe
"The differences seem overwhelmingly superficial …"

Wherever I go, I find essentially the same old thing: people going about living their lives according to remarkably similar patterns. Different places offer different challenges for their inhabitants, but local adaptations aside, humans seem remarkably consistent in their manner of living. Some favor rice for breakfast, while others swear by strudel, while still others insist upon ham and eggs, each difference more superficial than substantial, for each rises hungry and proceeds to satisfy that hunger by relatively convenient means, largely relying upon local availability to determine preference. Some think ham and eggs unconscionable. Waffle House patrons would pass on the opportunity to choose any weird breakfast choices. (Cough, cough)

These superficialities attract much attention, though.

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FakingStock

FakingStock
"The results prove nourishing anyway."

During the earliest days of summer, a man's thoughts inexorably turn toward produce. The cherries are in, dark, firm, and glorious. Small rose-blushed apricots cannot be resisted without committing one of those sins of omission that at least one of the more vengeful gods will eventually get you for. The garlic's young, the parsley root, ancient, the celery so fresh that the root needs no peeling and the greens scent everything they touch. Though The Muse and I stroll through the Grand Market on the alien side of the Just Visiting line, I finally cannot resist. That little apartment we're staying in must have something like a stock pot, mustn't it? I could conceivably buy a small amount of braising beef, a slice of that extra fine-grained pork belly fat, and a turkey carcass with which to concoct a decent stock. It would't be very much like any of the many stocks I've seen described by fine chefs, but it might work just fine for some NuthinSpecial someone like me.

I groan our way home on the tram, my shoulders bowing beneath the accumulated weight of just a little of this and a little of that.

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DisOrientation

disorientation
" … it's just sometimes sorely needed."

Eventually, even the better-behaved gods tire of omniscience, which can become quite pedestrian even if one takes care to avoid constantly lording the ability over everyone else. It's a tricky balance, because omniscience isn't one of those senses anyone can deliberately turn off. It comes unbidden, filling in any threatening cluelessness before it can sting. But this sort of cluing in carries a sting of its own, eventually accumulating to just beyond the Dull Throb level. Then, even the most cultured god needs a break. "How about a vacation?", the ever-helpful omniscience asks, further amplifying the need for the god to take a vacation by merely asking the question. "Where to?", the god quietly wonders. "Someplace where your omniscience can take a well-deserved rest," a beleaguered omniscience wheezes.

There, the language should violate every principle of written and spoken communication.

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TravelingWithAHat

IMG_4172
" … at least in his own dazzled eyes, he looks absolutely marvelous."

Let's imagine that you're a gentleman of a certain age and that you're traveling. It's a common sight anywhere that tourists gather to see a gentlemen, even one wearing Oompa-Loompa cargo shorts, wearing a cap, a ball cap or a long-brimmed fisherman's cap featuring a Velcro® tightening strap around back. This casual headgear has become ubiquitous and hardly elevates a gentleman beyond the status of gardener, not that gardening's an ungentlemanly occupation. But when strolling the promenades of, let's say, Paris, what gentleman aspires to exude the presence of a rose trimmer or, excuse the expression, a Weedeater® operator? Few, I deign. A gentleman properly wishes at these times of promenade, to appear every bit the gentleman he probably wishes he actually was but knows himself to not be. These times demand a proper chapeau, perhaps a finely-woven palm Panama fedora, and finely-woven Panama fedoras are by nature fragile things.

When I bought mine, I asked the clerk if it was one of those Panamas I'd seen advertised as capable of being rolled up and stuffed in odd corners. He paled at my mention.

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Leifing

Leif
"One never brings the refrigerator along on a camping trip."

I'm thinking that I probably won't get away with packing light for our two week swat around Europe. The intentions start predictably pure. I targeted the smallest bag in the place and declared that one as mine this trip. You see, I'm a proud veteran of several campaigns, each of which was punctuated with logistical challenges. Schlepping oversized and overstuffed roller bags up three sweaty flights of unforgiving concrete out to street level in Rome, where the roller bags first encountered cobblestone, then dragging them toward our lodgings like they were cranky children overdue for their naps. Wrestling workshop leftovers through three bus and two train transfers following a session in a rural corner of The Low Countries to save a hundred euros cab fare. Failing to successfully stuff too much baggage into a car barely larger than the typical box store shopping cart. I've had my bruises and strained back muscles brought on by the idea that I somehow needed to take a tad too much of home along when traveling. I thought I might choose differently this time. Fat chance!

Cheap flights mean excessive bag fees, which means everyone tries to carry their doghouse onboard.

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CustomerCaring

shoeshine
"These so-called systems all seem jury-rigged to me."

The Muse ordered some makeup online … This declaration does not sound like the opening sentence of a gripping NYTimes bestselling potboiler. It hardly seems noteworthy. Everyone orders stuff online. Some people hardly exist outside of their Amazon Prime® account. I rarely order anything online because the hostile user interfaces scare me off. Every provider uses essentially the same sequence of screens to capture an order, and I reliably lose my way about halfway through these series. I understand that the underlying design must have been rigorously tested for utility, but they do not work for me. I always have to interrupt the process. I probably forgot my Pastword. I enter my credit card information incorrectly and cannot figure out how to correct the error. I inadvertently ordered multiples thanks to a hyperactive Buy button. Whatever the reason, if I don't just abandon the effort, I have to call the Customer Care line and speak to someone in Bangalore about correcting the mistake.

The Muse, however, quickly consummated her transaction.

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