Off the Top of My Head

August 2. Why these tain't even close to dog days yet! If you want hot, y'all wanted to be here in February of Aught-Seven. It was so hot the jalapeños and habaneros were lookin fer shade. Only thing hotter was the bull ridin' at the Rodeo. This ain't hot. I was jus thinkin about puttin on a flannel shirt. Jeez, you Yankees. Bitchin about hot when you live someplace that could freeze the nose off a polar bear.

Personal Milestone Reached.

I just saw the back of my head for the first time in a long time, and my hair can now officially be described as scruffy.

I've been waiting a long time to be able to say that. Hooray to me!

Time, Gentlemen

I've mentioned before how my sense of time is changing during the current uncertain times (puts dollar in overworked cliche jar). Well, it's not just me. Courtesy of Austin Kleon and his son, we now have a name for the phenomenon. Back here in Chateau Isolation, trash pickup starts our week–it's the only thing that occurs with any regularity in the outside world.

Sunday is almost as remarkable because the mailman (sorry, letter carrier) doesn't come. But it's tough to set your clock or calendar based on something that doesn't happen. So it doesn't really count, at least in a useful way. I mean you don't sit here and say, What, what didn't just happen?

Reading Poetry

I've been reading a fair amount of Charles Bukowski's poetry recently (e-book sale). When he's good, he's inspiring and insightful. When he's bad, well, there's a reason the book was on sale. But even then, as an aspiring poetry writer, he's still inspirational. I can write better than that, I think.

The book demonstrates a problem that lots of writers have, especially prolific writers. They publish what they think is good, and have lots of subpar work (at least for them). Once they die, family and editors come rushing in to monetize whatever remains, things that the author didn't see as worthy of consideration for publication when they were alive because it sucked. The heirs pull things out of trash cans and rush to the presses. The book I'm reading now was collected and printed long after Bukowski's death. Thus, the uneven quality of the poetry–a few brilliant pieces mired in acres of dreck.

But that's not what I wanted to write about. I was cruising merrily along, when I suddenly ran into–an asterisk. The hair on my neck stood up. I was suddenly thrust back into college, where a line of poetry just wasn't real if it didn't have at least one footneote reference attached.

And I hated it. I wonder if that's one of the reasons I disliked poetry so much. It was disruptive, a distraction. Poetry is supposed to convey an emotional experience or tell a story. It's tough to do that if a reader is balancing a book on his/her fingertips to mark the poem and the footnote explanations. Plus, it was just a lot of work.

I wonder if that extra, unrewarding work is why many people (including me) dislike poetry and shy away from reading it, and why poetry is (comparatively) unappreciated today.      top


It's not true that nobody supports the President's proposal to delay the election. Procrastinators Anonymous is totally in favor of it.

So what if 2020 isn't the worst year ever?

I've been seeing a small run of2020 is the worst and Can't we just jump ahead to Halloween? complaints on Facebook. They're matched by the same comments on the news, talk shows, etc., etc.

Why? Right now, I'm more affected by the Houston-like heat and humidity than by the COVID-19 shutdowns and lockdowns and the woes of extroverts suffering because their favorite bar or restaurant is closed.

There's a real good chance that 2020 isn't the worst year. Maybe it was 2012. Or 1999. Or 1863. epends on who's doing the measuring, and what the scale is. Or maybe the worst year will be 2023. Or 2035. Our problem is devising a measure that coers everyone and everything.

The Ultimate Pessimist predicts 2020 won't even make it to the top 10 of bad years.      top

But it worked, I'll bet.

Headline in Newsweek: Grocery Store Owner Set His Business On Fire To Kill Coronavirus Germs.

Putting on the Pundit Hat

First, my qualifications to engage in punditry: Absolutely none. Like most pundits, I have no license, no training, or any qualifications beyond being willing to flap my face and create gentle breezes when I talk. I may even be brain dead. But still, I get to punditize because I paid somebody money to have a website. So off we go!

America has a long history of believing in a streak of independence, self-reliance and rugged frontiersman as core quality in the American makeup. We have the image of the frontiersman, the cowboy, intrepid pilgrims crossing stormy seas in tiny boats to be free. The high point of this whole thought process hits its high point in Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self Reliance, followed by Henry David Thoreau's Walden, which describes his 26 months living alone in a small self-constructed dwelling.

Except it's not quite as true as it used to be. You could make the case that Americans haven't had the chance to be rugged, self-sufficient individuals since the closing of the American Frontier, and people were able to provide their own food, build their own homes, and do other things that kept them independent. In most of the country, urbanization and industrialization made total self-reliance a dream. Advancements in science and medicine make our ability to take care of ourselves less and less a reality. Globalization makes self-sufficiency even less likely. We probably don't know where our food and medicine comes from (hint: it's someplace else).

So when people insist on their right to not wear a face mask in a store, or gather in large groups, because freedom, they're not keeping up. They can't function, or even survive, without complicated transportation systems, to say nothing of medical systems, educational systems, mass manufacturing, and all the other systems that make things work.

So that's what the fight is about. Unfortunately, the self reliant lost a hundred years ago. They may push people around for a while, but they will lose.

Random Note about Thoreau and total independence: Thoreau's shack was built on land owned by his parents. One of his major activities wa figuring out how much money he spent, down to how much each nail cost. He spent lots of time carrying on long conversations with what he called natural philosophers. Plus, I've heard that, once a week, he took his laundry home for his mom to wash. In Thoreau's time, it was called self-reliance. Today, we call it college.      top


Toni Morrison on writing.

Fred the Flower

Hard to believe Fred's been around for nearly ten years.

Fred discovers something about nature.

Fortnightly T-Shirts

Sometimes it's a mug, sometimes a meme, sometimes it's funny. But the price is always right.

T-shirts you just can't buy.


Poetry Corner

Saturday Morning Poem

Number 25 in the series.



left an empty yogurt container

in the fridge.

It was probably me.

I fear

a dramatic decline

in the quality of life.

Perhaps toast

with cream cheese and jam

will provide a fix.

So much work, though.






Big Think has some thought-provoking articles.

New comic I'm following: Eric Scott's 1 and done.

My brother-in-law Harvey's academic-politics cartoon: SNAF-U

My sister Mary Pat's blog: LaBrea Rambles.

Suzanne's blog: The Tabard Inn.

Austin Kleon's blog.

More quirky cartoons at The Oatmeal.

Last Week


July 26. We finally had a break in the weather–a little rain, and today's temperature got only to 89°. When I went outside, I debated going back inside to get a jacket.

Glass Containing Liquid, Revisited

A while back, so far I can't remember when, I wrote about the old glass half-full/half-empty conundrum. I think I bumped up against the perfect solution, which is to go back to the glass's previous state. If it was empty, it's now half-full. If it was full, it's now half-empty. A neat solution, and if I was smart, I would leave it there. But we all know better than that, don't we? To wit:

Half empty or half full?
  • To an optimist, the glass is half-full. To the pessimist, it's half empty.
  • To the fatalist, it doesn't matter–we're all going to die sometime anyway.
  • For an environmentalist, the liquid most likely contains industrial runoff and carcinogens.
  • An egotist would say, I didn't ask for anything to drink..
  • An Irishman, when asked if the glass is half-empty or half-full, would reply, Why would ye be askin' now?
  • An entrepreneur would say, There's an opportunity there.
  • A chemist would say the glass is full, half with a gas and half with a liquid.
  • An efficiency expert would declare we had excess capacity that must be utilized.
  • A marketer would say that the liquid really should come in more colors.
  • A pedant would say, I think it's actually 52 percent full.
  • A realist would drink it.
  • And you, my patient reader, would say, I don't care. Get on to something fun.


Last night, the local PBS station showed Chariots of Fire. I didn't watch. If I want to see people running in slow motion, I'll watch reruns of Lee Majors in The Six Million Dollar Man.

Belle & The Mr.

I'm writing this on the front porch, holding a clipboard at an 85° angle above the cat who is lying on my lap. If I want to get an any writing done this is the option. Otherwise I'm reduced to mono-tasking as a cat mattress. She would prefer that I scratch her head and provide my undivided attention. In fact, she just now reached up to remind me that I'm doing something of which she does not approve and that I should pay attention to what's important.

I'm back, after some head scratching (Belle's, not mine.).

I mention all this cat stuff because it's nearly the first anniversary of the passing of The Mr., a remarkable cat. We got The Mr. and Belle as kittens at the same time from a local at rescue facility. I had a long piece a year ago and now I'm taking this space to mention that Belle is a pretty remarkable cat, too. She lived in the Mr.'s shadow, but since his passing has asserted herself. She's very affectionate, bossy (or at least very assertive), but has, somewhat surprisingly, picked up a number of The Mr.'s duties, including alarm clock. One unique talent she has is, when she's not on my lap, knowing just before I get up, either jumping up on my lap or, if she's in another room, running in and escorting me to where I'm going.

So a shout-out to Belle! I'd give her a high-five, but the last time I tried that, it was very painful. Plus, I got one of those looks that only cats can deliver. Cats do not suffer fools gladly, which is to say, not at all.

Today's Earworm

Black is black/I want my baby back
I give it three AAARAUGH!'s.

Quiet Revisionism

The closest historical marker to our home in Norfolk was for Father Ryan's Home. It was mostly hidden in a welter of power lines, traffic signals and signal control boxes, trees, and the general hubbub of a very busy intersection. I apparently never got close enough to read it. I always thought it had something to do with a Catholic orphanage for boys in the post-Civil War period.

Fr. Ryan's marker. Both are deceased.

When I'm wrong, well, I go big. The marker actually commemorated the boyhood home of Father Abram Ryan, who became noted as the beloved poet-priest of the Confederacy, I found out when checking historical markers for another project. The language on the marker reads On Chapel Street, south of this point, stood the home of Father Abram J. Ryan, beloved poet of the Confederacy. 'But their memories e'er shall remain for us and their names, bright names, without stain for us: /the glory they won shall not wane for us.
In legend and lay our heroes in gray shall for ever live over again for us.

To see the real deal, I decided to wander back to look at the marker again. It is gone. There are four choices–a) the city decided to relocate the marker closer to Chapel Street, which is south of an intersection three miles away. Granted, it is to the south, but for the sake of accuracy, a good idea. b) the city took it down to clean it up some (it was looking a little tatty) c) Since Father Ryan was neither a priest nor a poet when he lived in Norfolk, somebody decided it was a case of basking in reflected glory, a common enough problem in small to mid-sized cities, which often will point out the exact spot in December 1973 that William Shatner got off the interstate to get gas and a snack, and so removed the sign. Or d) I suspect that since there were some recent discussions here about the role of statuary and other monuments to the Confederacy, that it might be time to clean up some of the recognitions, since they just took down the big Johnny Reb statue downtown.

I'll check to see if other Confederate Civil War markers have come down (Camp Talbot, the southern defensive battlements), too. But as far as Father Ryan is concerned, I'm kind of torn. On the one hand, I can understand (and encourage) removing a marker for a known Confederate sympathizer and anti-abolitionist. On the other hand, I doubt if there are many historical markers erected to poets, especially sentimentally bad ones.

TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that strike my fancy. © 2003-2020, John McCarthy

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