Western Civilization

 

Masha Gessen: We moved to Boston, not the smiliest city in this country.

Tyler Cowen: Quite the contrary.

 

Summer brought me to Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, and Washington state, and I was once again reminded how much more pleasant people are when they’re not in the Northeast.

I was chatting [see? Even he’s nicer – ed.] with the lady at the counter of the estimable Kilgore Books in Denver when she asked me what Massachusetts was like. I said I supposed it was fine, but that I was wearied by the winters and by – how shall I put this – the sense that, generally speaking, residents of the Commonwealth are not overly preoccupied with excluding discourtesy from daily interaction.

A few days beforehand I’d been in Chicago, at (the estimable) Myopic Books. I’d asked where the Music section was, and was directed there by the clerk. A few minutes later she came over because she just wanted to make sure I knew the section started on another bookshelf. Afterwards I walked up the road to a brewpub and ordered a pilsner. The bartender said they were out, so I asked for an IPA instead. When I was paying the check, she told me that she’d been mistaken – they’d actually had pilsner – and she insisted I not pay for my beer.

Now, I’m not saying either would never have occurred in Boston. But neither is it unimaginable that in Boston such interactions would proceed to threats of injury.

It was in Port Orchard, Washington, however, that I had my most curious exchange.

I’d gone out there to put the old man next to his brother. It was my first big trip solo with the girls, and my packing job persistently revealed omissions. So I found myself in a 7-Eleven buying hair elastics. And the cashier asked:

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Greetings

 

There’s also a much-loved tradition of using our landing lights to greet fellow pilots in the world’s most remote skies, where we might cruise for hours without seeing another aircraft. Then, perhaps from 40 miles away or more, we spot the strobe lights of an aircraft approaching at a different altitude. I reach up and flash our landing lights and the other aircraft’s pilots do the same – one of the small, silent courtesies exchanged by pilots who will never know each other, high above the sleeping world.

– “View from the Cockpit,” Mark Vanhoenacker, Financial Times, April 10, 2019

 

I find this among the loveliest of images. It also reminds me of an early morning this past winter.

I’d taken the dog out for a walk, and there was quite a bit of snow on the ground. We were walking down the bike path, all alone. After a while I saw a solitary figure in the distance. As I approached, he began to wildly wave his arms. Gentle Reader, I confess the uncharity of my reaction: just my luck, I thought, to encounter the local lunatic.

Turns out he was trying to warn me that a snowplow was advancing behind me. I stepped to the side and the driver rolled down his window. I figured he was going to say something pithy about having flouted Darwinism; instead he showed me pictures of his dogs.

Well, folks, I’m going to take a break. Be well. Flash your landing lights and I will too.

 

Thanks

 

The first business day after the old man’s death saw me spending a lot of time on the phone. I kind of hate talking on the phone to begin with, so to clear my head I took Roosevelt out for a walk.

While in the park he started furiously pawing at something in the grass. Upon continuing the walk he would not use his right forepaw; apparently he got stung by whatever he was after.

This naturally occurred at the aphelion of our walk, and I had to carry the damn dog home, where thence he vomited throughout the day. I found his timing poor.

A few nights later, standing in the kitchen, I had a terrible realization: not only would I have to cook my dinner, I would then have to eat what I cooked. So I called a local BBQ restaurant, placed an order, and set out along with Roosevelt.

Exiting with my meal, I saw him raptly sitting at attention, focused on a man eating at one of the outdoor tables. The man asked if he could share some of his brisket with my dog, adding that his late dog had liked it very much.

“Sure,” I said, but also warned that Rosie was a generally ungrateful SOB.

“Aren’t most of us?” the man replied. I thought this wasn’t bad at all for weeknight curbside philosophy.

Accordingly, I wish to record that I have received many kindnesses this summer, and I am indeed grateful. Thank you.

Well, that’s certainly enough of that. The lodestars of this blog are Irreverence & Irrelevance, and, Gentle Reader, we’ll be back to that in short order.

 

Gone till September

 

I see you cryin’ but, Gentle Reader, I can’t stay. I’m going to write some other stuff for a while.

In the meantime:

1) What has four letters and fills your mailbox? That’s right, m-a-i-l! Oh. You were thinking something else? In that case, William Schaff can fix that. I can’t tell you how reliably cheering it is to receive mail like this:

 

2) Put on your cleanest dirty shirt and check out Sunday Morning Sidewalk, hosted by the estimable flightjkt. If you ain’t listening, you better be in church.

 

3) You may be astonished to learn that I occasionally exercise. In fact, in April I ran – well, to be accurate, artlessly lumbered – the James Joyce Ramble, surely one of the loveliest road races out there.

I was distressed to get an email shortly thereafter from the founder, saying that the race is broke and its future in doubt.

We hope to be a part of this mortal coil on April 28, 2019 for Ramble year 36 and perhaps you can help us with that. If you think your company’s marketing VP, advertising executive or eccentric uncle who runs a hedge fund might entertain a conversation about being a Ramble partner, please have them or you call me. [jjramble at gmail dot com]

Obviously, if I had the means, I’d underwrite it personally, asking only that the name be changed to the Pete and James Joyce Ramble. But my readership undoubtably includes those of fabulous wealth. Do partner up, eh?

Happy summer, folks. -PBS

 

Stultiloquies

 

1. I Am (Not) the Cosmos

The United States basked in the glory of a total eclipse on Monday, as the moon’s shadow swept from the rocky beaches of Oregon to the marshes of South Carolina.

The New York Times, August 21, 2017

The eclipse occurred while Twins 1&2 were in my care. I’d considered taking them out to see it, but – for, you see, when you fail to plan, you plan to fail – had neglected to obtain the necessary equipment. (I did briefly think about just telling them not to look up at the sun, but even I could sense this was exceptional stupidity.)

At the last moment, though, I thought “Good heavens, Peter, you teach science, and this is a marvel you and your children should witness,” so I piled them in the car and drove to meet a colleague who’d kindly issued an invitation and had extra eyewear.

I’m real glad I don’t have to – at least in this lifetime – look Carl Sagan in the eye and explain this next bit, but, through a sequence of events, instead of the eclipse we three watched the The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature.

This was the ladies’ first visit to a cinema. Twin 2 was enchanted, and her joyful laughter cheered me muchly. I’m biased and all, but it’s worthy of the Voyager records (her laugh, not the movie).

 

2. I May Not Mean To, But I Do

A friend and I were discussing things that are broadly overrated. I nominated peanut butter, New Order, and social engagements that fall before cocktail hour.

This is a subject for another post – indeed, it shall consume an entire chapter of my manifesto – but you know what else is way overrated?

Communication.

 

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Looney Tunes

 

 

Imagine if you could write something beautiful, only to do so you had to make each A on the keyboard a B, and each B a C. Or rather, the A a Z, and the B an E.

Why not just… Well, you see my question.

I’ve been picking up the acoustic guitar again, and have been seriously disheartened by the number of songs I want to learn that have alternate tunings. Isn’t playing the damn thing difficult enough already? I mean, yeah: I’ll see you a Drop D if it gets me the Cinnamon Girl, but DADGAD? SHEESH.

 

Scandalous!

I bought Twin 1 a guitar at a yard sale for a couple of bucks. She was particularly enamored because it’s purple, her favorite color. (I know. I choose my battles.) She’d been making noise – while making noise – that it was missing some strings, so I took her to a local music shop to buy new ones.

Now, Gentle Reader, before we continue, you must know the abiding passion of my life: it is to have others perform tasks for me. And granted, there’s a lot of competition for your indignance these days, but surely this store’s stringing fee will purchase some of it:

 

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Signal Values

Every once in a while you see a sign that takes you quite aback.

Maybe that last one on the list wouldn’t sound so ominous if it weren’t in a building that looks like this:

I was going to write something smart-alecky about how I hoped the Commission could see its way to concluding that women are citizens too, but after looking it up I hereby endorse it: http://www.mass.gov/women/

Note: This ghastly building is into the bargain called the Government Service Center, a name whose tripartite blandness worryingly recalls Idi Amin’s State Research Bureau.

 

***

The above sign made me think of one of the more disturbing signs I’ve ever seen. I saw it seven summers ago driving from Seattle to Boston. These were the happy days before a smartphone established permanent residency in my pocket, so it’s recorded in my notebook:

 

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