I’m taking another break from blogging. I’ll be back in November, and with a story, too, if this goes well.

Today I want to salute my most loyal readers – those generous people who take the time to write comments no matter what stupid things I’ve said. Some of them write under more than one alias. I’m grateful to all of them, whatever name they choose. Here they are – and, because they are such a modest bunch, for the first time ever I will reveal their most impressive accomplishments!

Accused of Lurking: Invented Post-Its.

frostybooboo: Commercial fish farmer who tags his fish with Post-Its.

number9: Snowbird who splits her year between a yellow submarine and an octopus’ garden.

Ofelia: Master of the Brazilian freehand accordion.

seasidedave: International clam thief.

Sherry: Scared Kenny G so badly, he stopped using his last name.

thecorncobb: Sailed alone around the world in a balloon-rigged sloop.

Wm Seabrook: His Mad Men-style ad agency named the Euro, the TiVo, and the Yugo.

Thanks, everyone. Enjoy the rest of your summer, if you’re north of the Equator. If you’re not – bundle up!

Random Pick of the Day 1
Talking Heads, Fear of Music (1979)
Fear of Music has “Cities,” “Life During Wartime,” and “Heaven,” three of the best songs of the ’70s. This is an awesome album.

Particularly interesting are the final three tracks: “Animals,” “Electric Guitar,” and “Drugs.” They point toward the dark, strange band Talking Heads threatened to become. Even amid the darkness and the strangeness, however, you can count on David Byrne to stop making sense. For example, he’s angry that animals don’t help. “They’re never there when you need them,” he complains. Who does that bring to mind? I’m about to tell you!

Random Pick of the Day 2
Talking Heads, Little Creatures (1985)
This album disappointed me when it was released. I’d heard all this before. I admit, though, that I would’ve had trouble with anything released in the shadow of Stop Making Sense. Listening to this album 30 years later, I’ve changed my mind. It’s solid. But the most important thing about Little Creatures is that it’s the closest Talking Heads ever came to making a B-52s record.

You think The B-52s couldn’t create a song like “And She Was”? They did – it’s called “Roam.” You say The B-52s could never match “Stay Up Late,” a vaguely sinister song about a baby? How about “Quiche Lorraine,” a vaguely sinister song about a poodle? And what’s that line in “Creatures of Love”? “Well I’ve seen sex and I think it’s alright.” That’s great, David, but have you ever made love under a strobe light?

It would be wrong to say that Talking Heads are The B-52s with more words and funkier baselines. Wrong, but with some traces of truth. There are several points in the space-time continuum where these bands intersect.

True, their only IRL meeting, when David Byrne produced Mesopotamia, sucked. As much as I love the title song, I’m the first to admit that no one knows how to play it, not even the band that wrote it. And I think I know why: “Mesopotamia” is a slower version of “Cities.”

 

Prolog.

It was a dark and stormy day. Robert A. Heinlein, a man who could pour words onto a page as easy as turning a bucket upside-down, was stumped. He had a book to write, he had nothing in his head, and the cat was distracting him. It prowled the perimeter of the room, crying and poking under and around everything.

Rain splattered the windows. Heinlein’s wife, Ginny, entered this gloomy scene.

“What’s the matter with that damn cat?” the writer demanded.

Ginny calmly observed the cat and the weather and replied, “He’s looking for a door into summer.”

Heinlein jumped off the couch, sprinted to his typewriter, and pounded out a novel called The Door Into Summer.

It’s possible that my wife has said something like this to me, but either I wasn’t listening or I thought I knew better.

Act 1.

It was a hot and bright Massachusetts day. My 14-year-old nephew Jared and I were deep underground, studying the debris field that is my parents’ basement. What did we find? My door into summer:

1 The bats
With reproduction signatures burned into the wood from Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Bench, Rocky Colavito, and (in Magic Marker) my brother.

Not shown because it was back in Portland, the bat I did the most damage with, my Ernie Banks “Powerized”:

2c My turn at bat
Put me in, coach, I’m ready to bark!

I ran upstairs with those bats and into daylight and started swinging. I guarantee you that if any baseball scout had seen me at that moment (or in 1971) he or she would’ve written me off as no prospect. I reluctantly pulled myself away from all this time-traveling and took Jared for a drive and a man-to-man talk.

Act 2.

For those of you who’ve read my previous dispatches from Massachusetts and who believe that my mother and father live in a wonderland of happy memories, here’s a little treasure I tripped over in the basement:

3 Toxic
As the platoon sergeant said in
Aliens: “Whatever happened here, I think we missed it.”

Act 3.

One night the microwave and the toaster oven went on strike. My brother-in-law Rick (a good man to have on tap) and I went in search of the fuse box, which has lurked quietly in the basement for decades.

4 Fuse box
This electrical showcase keeps the lights on, the water hot, and the Red Sox lukewarm.

The only fuse boxes I’m familiar with use circuit breakers with switches. Not this one. I thought, Hmm, glass fuses. Do they still make glass fuses? Where could I get one at this hour? Then I thought, Why am I thinking these thoughts? Whose house is this, anyway? A quick search turned up boxes of spare fuses that Dad had socked away when he and Mom bought the house in 1957.

5 1957 glass fuses
Our basement is just like the Smithsonian, with fewer lights and more mold.

Rick screwed in the 60-year-old replacement fuse and lo, Mom’s dinner from Meals on Wheels was soon hot and on the table and subject to the inspection of the cat.

Act 4.

Dad said, “I have to do something about my father’s books.”

My father’s father, my Grandpa Sam, died in 1974. Dad, because he was grieving, and because he’s a child of the Depression who must save everything, boxed up and brought home all of Grandpa’s books: his siddurim (daily prayer books), services for the High Holidays, Haggadahs for Passover, commentaries on the Torah, and Jewish cookbooks and cartoon books and a collection of photos from the Yiddish theater with funny captions.

6 Moyel
“Did somebody call for a
moyel?” Your clue: circumcision.

What to do with the unholy books was easy. I threw them in the recycling. What to do with the holy books was not. You can’t throw them in the recycling or the trash and you sure can’t stuff ’em in people’s socks for Christmas. The only thing you can do with these guys is bury them in a Jewish cemetery.

On each trip home, I aim for another small victory. It was my turn at bat.

Down in the basement again with a head lamp and a Geiger counter, I tracked the books to two columns of boxes against a wall. When I opened the boxes, I discovered that other objects had found homes with the Jew stuff. For example, the Time-Life series Outlaws of the Old West. Wooden spools without thread. The hull of my model of the battleship Massachusetts.

Next, I worked my connections. Though I haven’t lived in this community since Lizzie Borden failed her conflict-resolution class, I still knew one person at the temple. This lady quickly made the arrangements and the next morning I surrendered the books to a cheerful, bare-chested Elf who was mowing the cemetery lawn with a tractor. I suspect I’ve met this creature before, probably in Lothlórien.

The books I delivered will someday cushion the bed of a grave, which I think is a poetic end.

The Jewish cemetery rests on a hill overlooking a Catholic cemetery. I’m sure the Jews who reside there, many of whom grew up in the era of Father Coughlin, enjoy looking down on the Catholics. I wandered around in the sunshine and said hello to the people I once knew. At least this time I wasn’t the one who was underground.

Epilog.

The only advice I can give you for dealing with very old, failing parents is to share whatever joy you find and never lose your sense of humor. Also, watch where you step in all that clutter. Something might be waiting for you.

 

We just saw the third film in the reboot of my favorite TV series: Star Trek: Beyond. Once again, the plot was driven by a bitter middle-aged man who vows to make the universe run red with the blood of vengeance. Haven’t we had enough of this from Donald Trump?

I’m a middle-aged man, and there are things in my life I’m not happy about, but I don’t feel like making humanity pay for my unhappiness. In fact, it’s none of humanity’s business.

So are these films an expression of angst by the middle-aged men who write them? Or, if they’re written by younger men, are these films an attack on their fathers? There’s a lot of male stuff here. To quote an illustrious film critic well-versed in gender issues: “What is going on?”

I don’t know. But I know this: A woman will become president of the United States before Paramount allows a woman to write a Star Trek movie.

Sad.

Random Pan of the Day
Supertramp, Breakfast in America (1979)

I’m so pissed off by Star Trek I don’t feel like making anything a Pick.

Some of the songs on Breakfast in America are pleasant; they could’ve been dashed off by John or Paul while they were down with the flu. Supertramp’s big bad insanely sentimental epic, “Take the Long Way Home,” offers a cascade of ooooohs and aaaaahs around the 4:17 mark. I guess this is where they eased themselves into the hot tub.

Breakfast in America has one of the iconic album jackets of the 1970s. Keep the jacket and recycle the record.

Random Pan of the Day
Depeche Mode, Depeche Mode 101 (1989)
I’m still pissed.

A live album where the songs don’t budge a centimeter from the studio versions. Sorry, boys, but a concert is more than a crowd screaming with joy because you blew up a firecracker. AC/DC would’ve fired a cannon out of a bagpipe.

Random Pan of the Day
Mugstar, anything
Contemporary English prog rockers who go on. And on and on. The Doors in “The End” said everything Mugstar is still stumbling over 40 years later. However, Mugstar has a talent for song names. Two examples: “European Nihilism” and “Children of the Gravy.”

 

The first estate sale I ever went to was in the 1970s, on a farm in Massachusetts. The parents had grown very old and moved to another home, or perhaps the afterlife. The children didn’t want anything inside the farmhouse or the barn, including stacks of 78 rpm records. They were stiff enough to throw and fragile enough to explode when Moe broke one over Curly’s head.

My folks had a turntable that could play 78s, but I didn’t want any of these platters.

There was a lot of religious music, such as “How Great Thou Art,” which I guessed was about God and not Reggie Jackson or Carl Yastrzemski.

There was the jazz of the 1920s and ’30s – by the artists who knew how to whiten up black music to keep you from getting overexcited. One name that sticks in my mind is Kay Kyser, “The Ol’ Professor of Swing,” and his College of Musical Knowledge. If he were alive today, Mr. Kyser wouldn’t be churning out international club bangers. He’d probably be music director for Coldplay.

And there were corrals of cowboy songs, including this haunting epic that was playing on a wind-up Victrola when I walked in:

He rides all night, just roundin’ up the cattle
On a $5 dollar horse, and a $60 saddle

This has been true for almost all the estate sales and garage sales (my late, beloved Uncle Morrie called them “tag sales”) I went to in the following years. The families kept all the music I wanted. Why were they so mean? They left behind only divas, Christmas songs, still more cowboys, and the lyricism of the Celts. (The Romans kicked the Celts all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, but today the Romans are gone and the Celts have conquered the world behind an army of PR flaks.)

But in these great times, people are surrendering their lives to Google and abandoning music in physical forms. Now I’m returning from a Saturday morning of browsing with dozens of dirt-cheap CDs to try, and don’t neg me for buying CDs. I have plenty of competition. At one recent sale I went to, as I arrived a dude departed with the four-disc The Story of the Clash. The seller probably gave it to him just to get rid of it. It’s not fair.

I recently found several hours of classical music. I won’t keep it all, but it was all interesting.

Felix Mendelssohn
Symphonies No. 3 ‘Scottish’ & No. 4 ‘Italian’
San Francisco Symphony
Herbert Blomstedt, Conductor
1993

I like Mendelssohn because he’s always crouched on the window ledge of hysteria. Even in his quietest moments, he’s never more than three minutes away from flying off the handle.

This organizing principle makes Mendelssohn’s music perfect for Hollywood. I immediately recognized the ‘Italian’ symphony. I didn’t recognize the ‘Scottish’ symphony, and frankly there’s nothing about it that suggests my homeland.

But the four movements of the ‘Scottish’ made me think of cannonballs and wooden ships, sword fights, and midnight chases on horseback. My guess is that this music saw plenty of action in the movie soundtracks of the 1930s and ’40s – the way you can’t have a battle in space without ripping off or riffing on some section of Beethoven’s Fifth.

Maurice Ravel
Odyssey
Philadelphia Orchestra
Eugene Ormandy, Conductor
1990

S’up, ladies! Maurice “Love Gun” Ravel is in the house. His ‘Bolero’ was once synonymous with sex. This disc has other tracks, but why listen to them? Would you buy The Baha Men: The Ultimate Collection for anything other than “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

Bolero is actually a type of dance music, but Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ is THE bolero for those of you who wait all year for the World Naked Bike Ride. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s reading will wake up your mama and turn your lamp down low.

Wynton Marsalis
The London Concert
Joseph Haydn, Leopold Mozart (Wolfgang’s dad), Johann Friedrich Fasch, Johann Nepomuk Hummel (who invented those ceramic figures no one wants to inherit)
English Chamber Orchestra
Raymond Leppard, Conductor
1994

Wynton Marsalis plays the trumpet like a clear day on Mount Rainier. I don’t know how anyone can persuade such exquisite sounds to leave their home in heaven.

In The London Concert, Marsalis gives us four trumpet concertos from classical music’s “Classical” all-classics classic period. (If they can rename birds and fish, they really should rename that zone between “Baroque” and “Romantic.”)

This is not a particularly challenging lineup – you could play most of this stuff with the whistle of a steam locomotive – but Marsalis has the skills to detonate each of them.

Ottorino “MC Run Pain” Respighi
Symphonic Poems: Roman Festivals, Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Enrique Bátiz, Conductor
1991

Ottorino Respighi was born in Bologna in 1879 and lived long enough to embrace the Russians who disrupted classical music. He was trained by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the man who drove Rasputin into madness with ‘Flight of the Bumblebee.’ When Igor Stravinsky’s ‘The Rites of Spring’ had its infamous premiere in Paris in 1913, Respighi was sitting in the front row with two supermodels. When the riot erupted after the performance, Otto threw the first chair.

Respighi’s ‘Symphonic Poems’ starts in promising fashion with his death-metal vision of a typical Roman festival. Scholars have confirmed that there are aluminum baseball bats in the string section. I was stoked, but the rest of this disc is either an uninteresting cacophony or so quiet I can’t tell if we’re taking a nap or listening to The Cowboy Junkies.

No more perambulating through the secondary music market for me for a while – I’m off to Antique Parent Land! I’ll return in a week or two with a few words about jazz. Until then – stop hitting each other with those 78s!

 

Last week, we celebrated my birthday (the best day of the year) by taking our lucky dog Lucky on his first hike: Lookout Mountain!

Steve Lucky Mt Hood 070316
Left to right: Run-DMSteve, Lucky, Mount Hood

Lucky enjoyed being out in the wild. You’d think he was an animal or something. At midday we rested in the shade, with a view of Mount Jefferson to the south and Hood to the west. To the north was Adams and, breaching a stream of clouds like a dolphin, the snowy fin of Rainier.

Fear of a Trump planet
Fear of a Trump planet.

That night we celebrated my birthday with pizza, ice cream, and Acana Free-Run Poultry Formula kibble.

I didn’t throw a party for myself this year, but we did go to a party last night. It was called a Friender Blender. The idea was to mix as many strangers as possible and see what happens. This could easily have turned into a fender bender, especially since I knew beforehand that Special D and I would be way older than the rest of the crowd. For backup we brought along another couple from our rapidly deflating age group.

When we lived in Boise, there was a local home repair business with the slogan, “Your problem is no problem!” We always thought that was confrontational. My problems are my problems, OK? Well, my worries were no worries. It was an interesting party with people who are poster children for the Pacific Northwest. I can’t do justice to them all so I’ll just mention a few.

Our hands-down favorite was the woman who ghostwrites online dating profiles. When she embarked on this career path, most of her clients were men. Now most are women. Bonus: Years ago, she married her teenage sweetheart and has never done any online dating. I’m not sure she’s done any dating.

The ghostwriter brought a friend who’d tried out for the Portland Thorns women’s soccer team. (Football to you foreigners.) Though she was only in her late 20s, she was older than most of the other women trying out. Join the club, kid, this isn’t going to stop.

Then there was the lady who had published a coloring book about animal penises. Ducks! OMG. Who buys this kind of thing about things?

I overheard this conversation:

Playwright: I’m living in a great place now. My housemates are really friendly.
Tattooed graphic designer: That’s cool.
Playwright: Yeah, it’s better than the cokeheads I was living with. I was just back to visit and I can’t believe I fucking lived there.

We were all supposed to make name tags with a secret on it. One guy wrote, “I downloaded Pokémon today.” Pokéman and I had a clash of generations:

Me: Isn’t Pokémon like 20 years old?
Pokéman: I know, right?

I eventually discovered that Pokémon is 20 years old and that my new acquaintance was right at the front of the line for Opening Day of Pokémon Go hunting season. He thought I was marveling at the franchise’s longevity. I thought I was saying WTF. You can excuse me for knowing what was going on. I am old and I know nothing until I see it in Reader’s Digest.

Shortly before we left, one of the co-hosts asked me, “Have you done something different with your head?” I think she meant my hair, or maybe I have a new dent.

But you know something, I am doing something different with my head. As I begin this new year of my life, I’m trying to see the world and my place in it differently. I’m trying to think and act differently. I have some ideas…but they don’t involve coloring books or Pokémon.

Ducks! OMG.

A few thoughts on the Church of Latter-Day Rolling Stones
People stop me on the street and ask: “Run-DMSteve! There are 1000s of Stones albums. What should I do?” The first thing you should do is pay me for writing this blog. What? No? OK.

As Ross Perot, the first Donald Trump, used to say, “Pretty simple, really!” The last good Stones album was Some Girls in 1978. (Frankly, Donna Summer’s Bad Girls is better.) You could stop right there. The Stones showed some spark on their next two outings, Emotional Rescue (1980) and Tattoo You (1981), sort of like a batting champion who coughs up a couple of seasons in the .270s before slipping into the abyss.

Athletes retire, but the Stones just keep going. What do you do with all these latter-day records? Ignore all except these:

Steel Wheels
1989
Nothing on this album is any good except for “Rock and a Hard Place” and “Sad Sad Sad,” and that’s because those two could’ve come from Some Girls. This is the challenge facing any popular band that has lived into old age: competing against yourself. In the past 30 years, I’ve liked the Stones best when they’ve resurrected their first 20.

Voodoo Lounge
1994
No shortage of ideas here, most of them bad. But on Voodoo Lounge they do more experimenting than they have since Exile on Main Street.

“You Got Me Rocking” and “I Go Wild” sound like the old them; “I Go Wild” is a slo-mo “When the Whip Comes Down” or something off Exile. The new them (“Moon Is Up,” “Out of Tears”) is not my thing.

I give the Stones credit for trying new stuff. But if The Rolling Stones of 1974 had heard The Rolling Stones of 1994 recording “Sweethearts Together,” they would’ve jumped in a chippie van and run themselves over.

A Bigger Bang
2005
If the Stones of today are at their best when they remind you of yesterday, this record quietly delivers. It’s not innovative; it’s polite; it rocks. Sometimes they even sound like Bruce Springsteen on The River. But the big bluesy “Back of My Hand” takes us right back to Beggars Banquet. Not bad for a band that released its first record 41 years before this one!

 

This week I asked myself why I try to elicit laughter in a country where you can buy a gun and massacre whomever you don’t like. Blacks, whites, gays, straights, cops, children. Don’t like ’em? Kill ’em. It must be a popular system because we’re nowhere near changing it.

What is the point?

I can’t make guns and bullets vanish. I can’t make different races see each other with respect and without fear. I can’t prevent police officers from being murdered in the line of duty. I can’t defend every nightclub, even the ones that insist on playing A Flock of Seagulls on ’80s Night. I can’t protect schoolchildren – though I’d hope that if an armed maniac appeared in the doorway of my chess club, I’d have the guts to throw myself over the kids or at least hit the bastard with a bag full of pawns.

What is the point?

There is a point. Each of us has a point. The one that applies to me was clearly made in the film Galaxy Quest.

If you’ve started laughing…please keep laughing.

Lt. Tawny Madison, who has spent the movie repeating everything the computer says even though everyone else on the bridge understands everything the computer says, tells Capt. Taggart: “I have one job on this lousy ship. It’s stupid, but I’m gonna do it!”

I have one job on Planet Earth. It’s stupid, but I’m gonna do it.

I’m back. And I’ll see you over the next few days as we recap my Birthday on the Mount, learn the secret link between garage sales and classical music, spin some cool jazz tracks, and gargle with the two most depressing albums of the 21st century.

What is the point? Despite all the shit we’ve lived through this week in the United States, I try to hold in my heart this lesson from the writers Bob Thiele and George David Weiss:

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

 

 

You wouldn’t think that a man who fought U-boats and savage storms at sea would name his cats Kitty and Kat, but he did. About 15 years ago, when a stray cat showed up, a female who resembled Kitty (or maybe Kat), the man adopted the stray and named her Junior. That was my father-in-law, who died in March 2011. When Dad wasn’t piloting cruise ships into port or saving stranded freighters in a hurricane, he moved in a cloud of animals.

Junior made herself right at home, taking long naps with this retired sea captain and patroling the property, which overlooked a Florida beach. Every evening for years, Dad put dog food out for the raccoons who lived in the dunes. Once through binoculars, from the safety of the second floor of the house, I watched as the raccoons tucked into their dinner while Junior sat just off to the side. I guess she was there to remind them who their daddy was.

Junior, Dad’s last pet, died a few days ago. He’d been living with my sister-in-law Terry and her husband, Jim, since 2011. Here’s what Terry wrote to the family:

Junior turned either 20 or 21 this past December. Most of the time since we got her she stayed in a separate bedroom and we put a baby gate up in the hall so she could watch the comings and goings of the household. About 3 months ago she lost so much weight that she was able to get through the gate bars. Then about a month ago she started gaining weight, interacted with the dogs and other cats and we thought she had bounced back. Then two days ago she became listless and stopped using the litter box altogether.

You could really tell Junior was Dad’s cat. She did what she damn well wanted to. In the last few days she took up sleeping by the water bowl that Gibbs [one of their dogs] uses, and even though he is 80 pounds she scared the hell out of him, kinda like Dad, little guy who scared the hell out of people.

We were discussing last night that we were going to have to confine Junior either out on the porch or in her room since she no longer used the litter box. Apparently she didn’t think that was a good idea so she decided to check out on her terms.

Thinking tonight about my father-in-law and other people I’ve lost, I’m reminded that we die in pieces rather than all at once. You don’t go for good until the last person who remembers your voice, your laugh, and all the dumb things you did together goes too. Technology has further scrambled the end of life. You can be bereft of life, resting in peace, and still be active on Facebook. On LinkedIn, I’m connected to three people who I know have fallen off the perch.

And then there are the pets we leave behind. I’m sorry to hear that Dad’s last pet has rung down the curtain. But if there’s an afterlife, Dad must be happy about how well Terry and Jim took care of her. I know I am. And I don’t even like cats.

RIP, dear Junior. You were sleeping beside Dad when he died. Thank you for standing that last watch.