Stick ‘Em Up

OK, this thing is the everlasting balls.


It is called, succinctly, the Massage Gun, and it pretty much is what it says on the can. I think it probably evolved from a kludge job on a power chisel (stick “massage gun” into the YouTube search field and you will see what I mean), only instead of a chisel there is a hard rubber ball on the business end. It pummels your muscles with several zillion turbocharged percussions a minute, sounding and feeling, from the handle end, a lot like an electric hedge clipper. You literally see the flesh rippling out from the point of impact as if someone were dribbling a Superball off a dish of Jello.

So far, only the Minotaur and I can take this. Oh, and the Engineer, who is built for comfort not for speed and needs at least a four pound maul to get through to his muscles most days.

It was actually the Minotaur who tipped me off. He is a Masters competitor in Olympic lifting, with a string of records and a state Hall Of Fame to his credit, and lately I have been having to wale on him every blessed week because there’s a competition coming up. One day he described using a gadget like this — several companies are in the market now — at the power gym where he goes through his paces, starting with things like squatting five hundred pounds for triples. Oh yeah.

Someone had told him this product was the best bang for the buck. Well, as John Carter of Mars says so often in the books, with me, to think is to act. At least. to see this thing demonstrated on the website’s video was to click the Order button.

I’ve tried it on a half dozen clients and they all yelled something like “Uncle!” or “Christmas!” after around five seconds. Me. I put my feet up after a hard day’s work. brace that baby against the wads and knots of chronic pain that nothing else seems to reach in my thighs (in my business, the junkies become the dealers, and I’m having trouble finding capable dealers), and let it rip. The cats think it is a weird purring animal.

I think the LED over the percussion ball is a nice touch. Sort of like the laser sight on the Engineer’s cordless jigsaw that helps you make an exact cut, even though with this baby, you really have to go by feel. No one on this earth has a precision ass.




Viking’s Funeral

There’s no gentle way to lead into it. Torvald Einar Magnussen, the magnificent FloofViking, the most lovable complete dick ever to inhabit a feline body, has been welcomed into Valhalla.

I had been wanting to post something lately about the Miracle Kitty, as Dr. Cohn called him, a survivor who lived two and a half years past the rough life expectancy of cats who’ve been diagnosed with his kind of heart condition. He just was not having it. We were sure he was a goner twice, the right medication combination took shape, he accepted it every morning and evening with a stoic mien and a thought balloon that said “fuck you with extreme prejudice,” and kept on keeping on.


Torvald On Platform

2009 (probably) – 2018

Last night was no different. He took his pills, let me kiss his nose (a fairly reckless thing for me to do considering that he once nearly took my face off), ambled out to dig the night noises on the porch, and eventually allowed himself to be herded off to bedtime in the basement with his buddy Agatha, the only cat who can be around him without getting relentlessly chased, rassled, body-slammed, and in various ways battered in the style of a Klingon wedding night. He’d been jumping up in my lap nightly — kind of a new thing, so far as frequency — dicking Aggie out of the heatybed, scooting up and down stairs at a clip with his big, fuzzy, jodhpur-like caboose double-clocking, demanding kibble every few hours, obstructing the hall when my clients entered and demanding pettings, which usually led to the most pronounced elevator-butt reaction I’ve ever seen in a cat. Some of my clients I’ve had to block in a little extra time for so they could pet Torvald.

The Engineer went down to put out food in the morning as he always does — he’s the breakfast chef, I handle lunch — and, just when I was clambering out of bed, he bellowed my name.

The Engineer never bellows. He had found Torvald at the foot of his favorite cat tree, right next to the food dishes and water pan, lying on his side, already cold and stiff.

They told me, when his heart failure was detected, that he could die of pulmonary congestion, which he declined into and came back from twice; or that his kidneys could fail because of the medications that kept his heart going (which almost happened); or that I ought to be prepared for the possibility he would just keel over suddenly from an arrhythmia. I think he chose door number three.

We gave Aggie some food in the next room, by the little water fountain that we’d added to the menu when he had to start Lasix and needed to drink plenty. I had to look for a box big enough. He was about eleven pounds, not heavy for a Maine mix, but longer than you would think stretched out.

I called the place I’ve used before to arrange a Viking funeral. Cremation is Nordic, after all, though the burning ships are more of a Hollywood thing.  He may not have died with his sword in his hand, or whatever the feline equivalent might be, but he spent every day of his life in joyous battle with a world full of trees that needed to be shown who was boss (before I snookered him inside for good) and birds on a stick and catnip veterinarian toys (yes, they make those) and every other cat he ever encountered who wasn’t Aggie. Ragnar Lodbrok (which means Hairy Britches), at least as played by Borgnine here, would have saluted him as a brother.

I picture him walking into Valhalla with that rolling lope that somehow took up all the center of a room or a whole door from side to side, as the drinking song becomes ragged and pauses, giving the don’t-try-it stare to the dogs under the tables, and demanding chow and a good fight, in whatever order.


First Visit To The House

New Year Pose

I Now Own The House


Also, Fuck Your Guitar, This Is Mine Now

Every cat you ever own, I always say, is the best cat in the world.

Torvald Einar Magnussen, he who can vanquish Thor, the first, the son of greatness, forgive my Latin: Ave atque vale.



The Avocadoes Of Indifference

Bear with me. That was the title of a short play in three acts, meant to be performed during the 55-minute duration of a class period, which I cranked out in the waning days of my senior year in high school — Yorktown High, if anyone cares, in Arlington, Virginia, 1971. I was sixteen.

The plot barely returns to me. There were stock college characters like the chubby guy who drinks a lot. There was an ill-starred romance involving a couple who had mistakenly used Crest instead of contraceptive jelly with a diaphragm and so she was knocked up and he was panicky and they were trying to strategize (it was a couple years before Roe v. Wade), and she had a pet parakeet named Mr. Bumby, who was represented by a covered cage and the cast’s reactions to an imaginary escaped bird who shat on them at the conclusion of the second act, and there was campus activism planned in the third.

At the moment that the war protest became a fracas our heroes retreated from the clash point, but for whatever reason, because I was being snarky and socially conscious all at once, one of our posse who was tall and buff but couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag entered in fatigues wearing a legacy Army helmet from some past generation of his family and sporting a toy rifle, and voices off shouted “Bang” as virtually every cast member in the production fell to the ground, shot, by the peacekeeping National Guard. Because Kent State, if you remember?

I wasn’t even that much of a firebrand. I had never stood on a protest line. (That happened later, with the Hyde Amendment,) I just knew at the rough age of consent in my state that something was fucked, very fucked, about a point in history where kids saying we don’t want to die don’t send us to die don’t send our friends to die was greeted with the killing breath of National Guard rifles.

A few years later a book was published with the title “Don’t Shoot — We Are Your Children!” The New York Times uttered a rather patronizing review, commenting on the extremism of Jerry Rubin and the drug habits of some of the young people profiled. Bleh.

Don’t shoot.

Here we are in 2018 and the children are both shooting and being shot. But also the adults. Both ends. It just seems to take the young uns, who’ve grown up doing active shooter drills, to stand up and say hey, it stops here, and also we can now VOTE.

Pushback is predictable. The National Review scorned one of the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting for “inserting himself” into the firearms debate, as if he had a fucking choice.

Don’t shoot, we are your children.

Don’t shoot, we are you and you are we.

America needs to come to the end of its love affair with the thing that goes bang. A hundred Indians bite the dust, right? Well it’s 2018 and we’re all out of Indians, who didn’t ask for it in the first place, and it’s us. It’s some asshole with a grievance and access to a killing machine and it’s us. I think twice about going to movies. It needs to stop.

Bye to the avocadoes of indifference. Welcome anyone who seriously, earnestly gives a shit. I’ve gone all political here. I can’t help it. I’m past clever belles lettres and cat stories, though there will be more of those; I just can’t deal blithely with my nation any more.

Do what you can, American readers, to support the people marching on March 24.


Rhymes With Orange (II)

My father — he’s been dead ten years and more now, and for most of the twenty-seven before that he was swanning around saying “I have no daughter” when people asked — complicated story — well, families suck, but he was a man who could tell a story, which redeems a lot. He played the French Horn in The United States Army Band, or TUSAB, an acronym which was stenciled on everything in sight at the Fort Myer band auditorium, puzzling me in my childhood when I was often dragged along on quick missions on base. Everything on base was either dingy light yellow, battleship grey, or brown, wavy linoleum. It’s much spiffier now, but these were the days of clapboard “temporary” buildings” that had been temping along since the end of the war.

I guess you could call my father a veteran. He never saw even the back end of a battlefield, having bad eyes and flat feet, the dead last of cohorts to be deployed, and in his abortive memoir of the war years, he described his ohmigodIdontwanttogetmyassshotoff moment of truth when he sent home for his horn to try out for the camp band. He had observed that troops shipped in and troops shipped out, but the band stayed. It worked. And he became a military bandsman for life, playing the last honors for countless veterans laid to rest in Arlington, playing for President Kennedy’s funeral while I huddled at home with a bad flu, tearfully watching everything on a tiny black and white screen. He gave his respect where it was deserved. Where it was not, he found… ways of expressing himself.

He got moved around to two more bases before the war ended — the last one in Georgia, commanded by a generally despised officer named Braun who had, the rumor went, been sent back from the European theater for vague “inhumane” behavior. According to my dad, he was a stuck up little martinet, fond of Draconian penalties, who relished little more than the regularly performed base “pass in review” — when the infantry had to march in formation past the reviewing stand, saluting as they went, metronomed into line by the base band playing a march as they, too, strode by. Base personnel speculated that a little Nazi had rubbed off on him.

There were tuba players in the band, of course, and they were friends with my father; there is a freemasonry among all musicians but a distinct one among brass players, who seem to share a crude, mutinous sense of humor. I think it is because of the farting noises that you invariably make while trying to learn the right way of getting a sound out of a brass instrument. (Note for what it is worth: I learned to play the oboe.) If you don’t have the inner eleven-year-old that remains capable of laughing hysterically at this kind of noise all your life, you may not be a brass section candidate.

Somewhere along the line, someone coined a cantrip on the notes so-so-so-so-la-ti-do-re-mi, mi, re, do! with the potted German everybody-talk lyric: “Was ist die Farbe, dem Pferdenscheiss? Braun, braun, braun!” [What’s the color of horse-shit? Brown, brown, brown!] It went around the base rapidly, as such things do in time of war when people need to blow off steam and frustration at being dragged off the farm or out of the family store, or just ward off fear of deployment.

Thereafter, every time the band passed in front of Colonel Braun on the reviewing stand, no matter what march was being played, the tuba section on a high sign would play that melody. History does not record whether the CO ever noticed, for all anyone knows he was tone deaf, but people felt better.

I understand the current denizen of the Oval wants a big ass military parade across Memorial Bridge, with tanks and things — never mind that it’s ready to fall into the Potomac — and down Pennsylvania Avenue.

I suppose you don’t really need a rhyme for orange. Or oh-rang-eh as it would be in German. Just a suitably disgusting substance. Any ideas? Slime mold? Metamucil? I’m almost ready to call up my dad on the Ouija board.

Tosca And The Golden Retriever Puppy

Or, I Am Never Going To See Bryn

We bought the tickets as soon as the season came out. For those who aren’t slavish followers of this blog, well, I have a giant fan crush on Bryn Terfel, the Welsh baritone who has made the province of operatic bad boys his domain. (“Bad Boys” is actually the title of a CD he cut, whose tracks range from Verdi to Sondheim.) He was the Hot Wotan of the first Ring Cycle I ever followed in toto, bringing a lower abdominal thrum to the usually soporific and didactic matter that Wagner gave to his “head god, and a crashing bore” [Dame Anna Russell]. Wotan is recycled Schopenhauer, mostly. Bryn made him romantic and, as a father sentencing his best loved daughter to common humanity, heartbreaking. (The by-play in their earlier scenes was globus hystericus to someone who once imagined she had a father’s love and learned otherwise.) The idea of him doing Scarpia — the blow-molded, double acting bastard operagoers love to hate — was slam-dunk irresistible.

And then some sort of shit hit the fan. I’m not sure in what order. Only, Bryn backed out, citing vocal fatigue, which a singer has to take seriously; then the soprano jumped ship; maybe before or after that, Jonas Kaufman, who is always and forever getting the vapors, abdicated the romantic tenor lead Mario Cavaradossi; last but not least, the Met ejected James Levine, who ferfrigsake back in the 80s my connections at the New England Conservatory and the Met knew all about him cornholing little boys and paying off their parents but somehow it took that long for the Met management to tweak on it. Whatever.

So I almost said to the Engineer, Give the tickets away. Glad I didn’t. If I couldn’t have Bryn, Željko Lučić was not at all shabby. I am doomed to see a good singing actor as Rigoletto and then see him in my very next Tosca (starting with Cornell MacNeil, who may have inaugurated the quill pen thing, of which more later).  Lučić’s Rigoletto — he testified that he had been told to play the scathing court fool as Don Rickles, but had no idea what was meant — totally did not suck. His Scarpia was dire, all too believable, full of baritone engine vibration, and imbued with the smugness of a man who has been getting his way for long enough that he takes it for granted.

I have this theory about Scarpia — the dreaded police chief of Rome whose word can send a man to the gallows and for whom, as Cavaradossi says, the confessor and the hangman are his procurers. I say he is a commoner. I speculate that, “Barone” Scarpia notwithstanding, he came from humble, even from despised peasantry — reference Anakin Skywalker for people whose fictive milieu is more modern —  and that one of the grim joys of his life is wielding the power of life and death over the nobility. The text yields tantalizing tells.  “Carnefice,” mocks the tortured but defiant Cavaradossi — repeating the word for emphasis — meaning “hangman,” a job not typically given to the upper class. Archly, earlier in the scene, Scarpia requires Cavaradossi’s attendance,  saying “Introducete il cavaliere”: “Bring in the gentleman.” Cavaradossi is a kinda witless, idealistic, well off member of a sort of creative class, working as a painter in the Church of Sant’ Andrea for sure, but also the owner of a secluded villa with all kinds of grounds, if you listen to his arias about snogging with Tosca therein. A bit young for that not to be inherited. And Scarpia: you sense him enjoying the harvest of Tosca, the fiery artiste,  only so much more because she is the favorite of the Queen. These are the passions of an arriviste, a man with something to prove.

But whatever. It was Cavaradossi who stole the show, which is a funny thing to say about a tenor lead, but I have always found the character a giant snore. He is noble, he loves Tosca, he gambles and loses his life, he should be a romantic blockbuster, but I’ve always found him a stiff, the kind of preux chevalier that we are told we ought to idealize zzzzzz. Bad-boy Scarpia always got my sidelong glance instead. Then along comes Grigolo, pawing over the soprano like the boyfriend who used to forget my parents were in the room, and most delightfully, bouncing up and down during the intermission interviews like a Golden Retriever puppy, extolling the idealism that goads Cavaradossi to tell the escaped political prisoner “I will save your ass!” and volunteering to continue the conversation after time’s-up you-have-to-prep-Act-II because “I am fine! It’s only Tosca!” At the curtain call I was half convinced he was going to leap down and possibly crowd surf his way through the orchestra pit. Watch this one.

Yoncheva was the Tosca — at long last — who really came across as a naive, sweet, vulnerable but brave kid versus a narcissistic high-maintenance diva, and the Met found its feet again after a grotesque production full of crass crap like lingerie-clad bimbos and statue-snogging. Does every opera production owe us a resurrection of the original time period? Not necessarily, but this one should be labeled “Welcome Back.”

But I still need to see Bryn before I die. There’s a Vienna Opera recording, and bits from Britain, but it’s not the Met live. Exophthalmic expressions notwithstanding, and the weird costume and signature fuck ’em Bryn hairdo: just listen to the oil and glycerine:

Oh. I said I’d get back to the quill pen. A bit of stage business. Scarpia writes a safe-conduct note for Tosca and her lover as exchange for her submission to him — all in vocal silence, over a slow orchestral vamp — and approaching her to collect his part of the bargain, runs the feather along her bare neck and shoulder, to her visible shudder. It looks like the schtick has been retired, but MacNeil did it and so did Diaz, to Renata Scotto, whose eyes widened in rivalry to Terfel’s here. Brr. Love dem bad boys.







Kissing Your Ass Goodbye

When I was a gradeschooler — a little precocious, so that I turned eight in the fourth grade — they handed out babycrap-brown pamphlets in school engrossed with the logo of the Civil Defense department. The illustrations, creepily like the happy family line drawings in some magazine ads for condiments or appliances, depicted a white suburban nuclear family digging a fallout shelter, stocking it with supplies, assembling a chemical toilet, and all the other activities that would supposedly help people survive a nuclear attack. There was no allusion to what one would experience once it was possible to come out of the fallout shelter, or what people in congested city centers with tall buildings and no subways were supposed to do.

In class, we were instructed in the duck and cover. You were to get down under your desk, if the air raid siren alerted to an imminent strike, hunker with your head between your knees, and remain there until an all clear if one came; after a while some of us became limber enough to kiss our asses goodbye, had we been introduced to that concept.

Lacking the phrase, however, I kind of knew that was the likely outcome. I have always lived in the suburbs of Washington, DC, a pleasant hour’s walk from the White House (at least for a serious walker), and the time a squirrel committed actinic seppuku on the transformer at the end of my family’s driveway, flooding my bedroom with noise and flash, I was prone on the floor before I could think: I always expected the first strike to be right here. The day we were instructed to time our walks home so that teachers would know whether to retain us in the school building or send us home to die with our families, I went full eyeroll and caught the usual ride that was a daily arrangement at the end of parental errands. It pissed off the teacher. Tough.

So here we are. Today in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer writes, somewhat chidingly, that Americans are “shrugging towards Doomsday,” aware that nuclear war is more likely than it’s been in decades but simply going on with their lives as if everything were normal. I don’t know how to respond to his tone; what, exactly, are we supposed to be doing? Spilling into the streets to protest? Not a bad idea, only thousands of people are doing that already, not, granted, solely or even primarily about nuclear war but certainly about xenophobia, toxic nationalism and ugly-Americanism. Working to elect a Congress that will put curbs on a puerile President who tweets about the size of his button? Check, but the election isn’t for ten more months. I don’t know what we can do about Korea’s leadership from where we stand, but it’s sobering to think everything could be shot to hell essentially because of two men with power complexes and narcissistic indifference to the entire rest of the world. Whatever, I refuse to dig a hole in my back yard and stockpile supplies in the idiotic delusion that anyone would want to survive a nuclear strike, aside from which, if there were more than a few hits, the whole world would succumb to nuclear winter anyway.

Arguably, more people ought to be thinking about the horror implicit in the state of the world generally and America’s current leadership specifically, and considerably less about the Kardashians, or Tide Pods. I just don’t know whether outcry would even be heard over the uproar that already is the 24-hour news cycle. Though our news outlets could help. If CNN can schedule talking heads for long quarter-hours about Rand Paul getting the shit kicked out of him or the latest gossamer scrap of rumor floating up from the Mueller investigation, they could spend some time on what a nuclear conflict could mean. The media have woken people up before. Maybe I’m a little unusual and other people aren’t thinking: what if I do survive, what then? Will my partner be at work or will we have a chance to say goodbye? Should I try to find a suicide pill so I won’t have to see what the world is likely to become? Maybe other people didn’t read the memoirs of the people who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I did, when I was ten, and I didn’t get an honest night’s sleep for a year.

But if, on a day to day basis, anyone has a better idea of what a private citizen can do, other than going to the gym and doing the wash and reading the best books and taking care of our pets, oh, and trying to stay limber enough to kiss our asses goodbye, please throw it out there.


A New Year’s Visit From Spain

I should have put this on the stereo. Well, you always think of these things later.

A bit before Christmas, I got a call from someone who wanted to know if I was home to take a delivery that day. Fortunately, working from my house, I am generally home to take deliveries, although Federal Express has a stunning track record of arriving in my absence when there is a package that needs to be signed for. (I think FedEx and I are going to end up in the MMA ring eventually, after the month’s supply of cat food that someone stole off my front steps because the deliveryman couldn’t be arsed to put it inside the porch as directed; then there was the sixty pound crate of kitty litter that blocked me in when I tried to leave the house… but I digress.)

So I answered the door a bit after seven in the evening, and there was Vanessa, looking about twelve (I noticed more and more that everyone looks about twelve), holding out a beribboned gift bag containing two bottles and telling me that it was a gift from… well, from the miraculous Az.

(Click that link. You know you want to.)

See, Az is one-half the reason I am even on here still after nearly ten years. No one has heard from Stiletto, the blogger who tempted me onto WordPress, in a dog’s age, but it was Az who caught my attention on the also defunct blog of one Frontier Former Editor, a journalist and aviation fan who pun-wrestled me to a draw in a contest with a World War II Luftwaffe theme. There she was, represented by a blog icon of a black kitty — her familiar of blessed memory, Azar — kibitzing and well, a kitty, and the rest is history.

Since then I’ve gotten me a live-in Engineer who’s a culinary genius, and she’s built an astounding business leading travelers around the tapas bars of Seville, and become a dear-God certified sherry educator, meaning that when I asked what we should eat with the sleek twin bottles of Palo Cortado and Manzanilla, I got an e-mail screed that took me three days to read through at leisure. And will have to go back to.

So here is what we had for New Year’s Eve:


For the Manzanilla, Marcona almonds, spiralized vegetable bird’s nests, and marinated olives;

For the Palo Cortado, deviled eggs, mushrooms stuffed with herbed (out of my front yard) goat cheese laced with port, vermouth sec and garlic.

Everything else at random. The Brussels sprouts were best with the Palo Cortado. Yes, Brussels sprouts are edible.

We ate divinely and re-watched the hilarious and wonderful Man from U.N.C.L.E. remake and entered the New Year with, nearly, hope. Because I have had Post-Trump Stress Disorder for over a year and it has been hard to hope, this night’s experience was not small.

And not least, it convinces me that whatever anyone else says about the Internet for good or ill, the Web ranks as one of the Machineries of Joy so termed by Ray Bradbury in a short story published when I was ten; an invention of human cleverness that can connect the lonely, exalt the spirit, expand the human family and its reach into the cosmos.

I believe it is the golden Azahar’s birthday tomorrow, or where she is, today. I raise my glass. Full of Oloroso, which she taught me about last year.

Bis hundert zwanzig.

And because I can’t go for five minutes without thinking about opera, here’s Manzanilla in music: