Papal bull

December 3, 2022

If you live long enough, despite the flu’s best efforts, you’re bound to learn something.

Knights in white satin.

For instance, in my ignorance, I always thought that the phrase “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out” was of comparatively recent coinage. It sounds like something U.S. Col. John “Nits Make Lice” Chivington might have said at the Sand Creek Massacre. Or maybe Lt. Col. Allen “Islam is Not a Religion” West while torturing a captive in Iraq.

But according to Charles P. Pierce, who recently took note of a New Republic piece on a fondness among the right-wing intelligentsia for the good old days of medieval Catholicism and other European niceties — “Constitutionalism, Enlightenment rationality, religious freedom, and republicanism are out. European aristocracy, crusading holy orders, and mysticism are in,” — writes Graham Gallagher — the phrase has its roots in the 13th-century papal crusade against the Cathars in southern France.

Here’s Charlie:

Back in those days, of course, Roman Catholicism had armies and its temporal power was unsurpassed. Theological disputes were conducted at the point of a sword. The crusade against the Cathars in the south of France killed more than a million people, many of whom died simply because of where they lived. It was this latter sanctified savagery that gave us the infamous battle plan explained by Arnaud Amalric, a Cistercian monk and the official ambassador from Rome to the armies arrayed against the Cathars. Before the crusaders massacred almost everyone in the town of Beziers, Amalric is reputed to have said, “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

And you thought it was an inconvenience when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling, brandishing their Watchtowers. Just wait until a flying squad of these new warrior monks rings your bell. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that the intellectual heirs of these ring-kissing brigands might not be fans of Tom Lehrer.

Tower of flowers

December 1, 2022

What a thoughtful gesture.

Isn’t this lovely? Herself found it waiting for her when she returned to the Lab after her mother’s passing.

And you thought the military-industrial complex didn’t have a heart.

Well, actually, it probably doesn’t. But many of its core components do, and I doff my Rivendell cycling cap to them.

Bugged

November 29, 2022

Tea and oatmeal. Yum, yum. Maybe not.

Have you ever noticed that when you get sick, there’s no restorative food in the house, especially if you feel like maybe you could eat a little sumpin’-sumpin’?

If you’ve caught a stomach bug and have trouble keeping air down, as was the case the last time I fell ill in November 2019, you have all manner of delicious items rotting in the fridge because you dassn’t even think about food or it’s back to The Big White Telephone for another call to your old pal Ralph. Or worse.

But if it’s a case of Snotlocker Surprise, like the one Herself fetched back from Maryland via flying aluminum test tube, the cupboards are practically guaranteed to be bare.

I thought I had dodged this particular bullet, but nope. Shortly after the sis-in-law flew home I was hacking in harmony with Herself, thankful that the gals had loaded up on Kleenex during a trip to Costco and sleeping — well, “not sleeping” would be more accurate — in the spare room.

The Boss is past it now, it seems, and has toddled off to work. But I’m stuck here, making “Andromeda Strain” noises, slurping cups of hot tea, and wishing I had made a pot of chicken soup instead of turkey chili, which is pretty much it for medicinal purposes around here unless you count the bottle of Herradura Silver tequila hidden away behind the breadmaker, which I do not. I don’t think there’s a lick of chicken in there.

In case you’re wondering, given the events of the past couple of weeks, yes, indeed, I did take a COVID test and it was negativo, as we say south of the border. This means exactly jack shit, of course, but I’m going with it because this bug feels familiar. It has caught me between grocery trips before.

It’s nobody’s business but the Turk’s

November 26, 2022

I ain’t opening that door. I’ve seen “Poltergeist.”

Miss Mia Sopaipilla was being a pill as I performed my coffee ritual this morning, so after a couple sips to get the motor running I figured I’d best tend to the litter boxes.

There’s one in the guest bathroom’s tub and another in the spare room where we contain Mia’s restless nature at night. This two-holer setup is a relic of the Before-Time, when we had two cats. Field Marshal Turkish von Turkenstein (commander, 1st Feline Home Defense Regiment) insisted upon having his own personal latrine, and one feels obliged to give a 16-pound cat pretty much anything he deems mission-critical.

I dealt with the tub box first, and yep, it had seen action overnight. Then I headed for the spare room and noticed the door was closed.

Well, hell, I thought. No wonder Mia was pitching a bitch. She was locked out of her quarters. So I opened the door, gave that litter box a cursory inspection, and … it had been used too.

So I cleaned that one up, hauled what had become a sizable bag of feline exhaust outside to the trash, came back inside and asked Herself, “Why’d you close the door to Mia’s room?”

“I didn’t close the door,” she sez to me she sez.

“Well, I sure didn’t,” sez I.

A moment of silence.

“Mother?” she inquires, glancing around.

No reply.

I doubt it was Herself the Elder. She was never much of an eater, and while she had a great head of hair she wasn’t a furry, barring the occasional chin whisker. Plus, I don’t think her shade could squeeze into that litter box, which has a lid on it. It would have been undignified, even in extremis.

When Turks attack.

No, I’m inclined to suspect the Turk. My old comrade had an interesting sense of humor that encompassed leaping at you from hidey-holes, flashing the bathroom lights at us the night he died, and triggering a hallway smoke detector that requires a stepladder to reach as I was rehabbing a broken ankle.

Now there was a cat who found a loo with a lid to be an awful tight fit. He had to poke his blue-eyed brain-box out of the one we kept downstairs in Bibleburg. We called his bathroom breaks “driving the Turkentank.”

When you gotta go, you gotta go, they say. But if you’ve gone, do you gotta come back? If you do, leave the door open, or at least crack a window. Maybe light a match. I’m trying to enjoy my coffee here.

The Commander inspects his (purely defensive) chemical-weapons stockpile.

The fast, and the feast

November 24, 2022

Top o’ the world, ma!

“When out of sorts, walk a hundred miles,” wrote Jim Harrison.

I only managed a hair over six miles, but then I’m not a lionized poet, author, and screenwriter describing the perambulations of Doug Peacock in “The Fast,” written for Smart magazine and collected in “Just Before Dark.” I’m just a retired free-range rumormonger who felt a tad frazzled after a week of backwash from the abrupt departure of Herself the Elder.

She was not my mother, and I am spastic in financial matters weightier than a crisp Jackson in the wallet, so with sister-in-law Beth in town to backstop Herself I felt my place was in the kitchen, feeding the women to keep their strength up as they rassled various fiscal and familial alligators. I think Jimbo would’ve approved.

I baked, sliced, toasted, and buttered bread; scrambled eggs and cooked oatmeal; sliced apples and assembled sandwiches; and made turkey chili with red kidney beans, a more substantial chicken posole verde, pasta with a mildly spicy sauce of tomatoes, garlic, onion, chile, and black olives, and spread the leftover sauce onto prefab shells for pizza.

Not exactly the labors of Heracles. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. I’d have done most of this cookery anyway, just over a longer period of time. But with Herself fetching a head cold home from her visit to Maryland, and Beth occupying the spare room we use to confine Miss Mia Sopaipilla at night, what sleep I’ve been able to scrape together between cookery, cleanup, coughs, and meows has been less than restful.

When yesterday proved to be a beautiful day, I decided to get outdoors for a while. But with the brain firing erratically trail running seemed iffy and cycling positively suicidal.

Looking west from the corner of trails 365 and 365A.

So instead I grabbed my hickory stick and took a two-and-a-half-hour skull-flushing stroll along the hem of the Sandias to the edge of the Cibola wilderness and back again.

The universe mostly accommodated my desire for relaxation, solitude, peace, and quiet, perhaps with an assist from the Albuquerque Police Department.

The APD is disbanding its Open Space Unit, dispersing its four officers and one sergeant to the mean streets of The Duck! City, and giving police service aides the responsibility for locking and unlocking trailhead gates.

This changing of the guard isn’t supposed to happen until February 2023. But maybe someone missed the memo, because the three parking lots I passed on my hike were locked up tight and as a consequence the foothills trails were mostly empty. I took a small water bottle and my own sweet time and thought not at all about food.

This afternoon the sisters are taking a break from estate management and eBaying to whip up a raspberry cobbler. Once that’s squared away Beth will prepare lobster tails, I’ll tackle the salmon, spuds, and asparagus, and Herself may or may not do a small green salad. It’s been a long week, and she’s still not 100 percent. We’re all tired. So it goes.

If you observe the holiday, or even if you don’t, give your loved ones a little more gravy on their taters, maybe a bigger slice of pie. A little sugar, don’t you know. Don’t forget to raise a glass to any empty seats around the table.

“Salmon? Did someone mention salmon?”

A friendly gesture

November 24, 2022

We’re taking out the garbage, but we’ll be back later for some observations and a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat (if Officer Obie doesn’t get us en route).

While you wait, walk into the shrink, wherever you are, and sing a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant.”

R.I.P., Mary Pigeon

November 20, 2022

Heather, Beth, Mary, and Shannon in 2004.

Herself the Elder, a.k.a. Mary Gaye (Kerr) Pigeon, went west on Thursday in Albuquerque. She was 89.

Born in 1933 on a farm in East Texas, the youngest of 10 children, Mary raised three girls of her own and spent a quarter-century working for Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Her father, B Kerr, was a sharecropper. Her mother, Mary M. Kerr, was a homemaker.

Mary attended schools in Nacogdoches and Abilene, graduating from Abilene High School in 1951. Afterward she studied at Massey Business College in Nacogdoches.

In 1958 she married Robert Pigeon of Ontonagon, Mich.

Their first child, Beth, was born in 1960 in College Station, Texas. Shannon (Herself) was born a year later in Nacogdoches. And Heather was born in Frederick, Md., in 1962, after the family moved east so Robert could take a position with the Atomic Energy Commission.

With all three children in school, Mary went to work. In Frederick, she took a job with the First Baptist Church. When the family relocated to Oak Ridge in 1980, Mary signed on with the First Presbyterian Church.

Two years later, the couple divorced. Her ex eventually remarried, but Mary never did.

In 1992, Mary began working at ORAU, in a temporary position. It proved anything but. By the time she retired 23 years later — at the age of 82 — she was the executive assistant to a vice president in health communication. Mary loved that job and was proud of her accomplishments at ORAU.

Armed with quick wit and sharp tongue, Mary did not suffer fools gladly. But she had a lighter touch with animals, particularly cats, and supported the Helping Paws Animal Network of Oak Ridge.

She devoured mysteries on her Kindle, especially Susan Wittig Albert stories. Other pastimes included crossword puzzles, dining out, shopping, spending time with family and her wide circle of friends, and binge-watching episodes of “The Big Bang Theory.”

Beth, Mary and Shannon share a giggle in The Duck! City circa July 2021.

In her later years Mary wanted to be closer to her daughters, moving first to an apartment in Palm Bay, Fla., near Beth, and then to assisted living in Albuquerque, near Shannon.

She arrived in The Duck! City just as the novel coronavirus began triggering lockdowns in elder-care facilities, and endured quarantines in tiny rooms, conversations with loved ones through closed windows and/or over the phone, vaccinations, and masking, all piled atop the traditional indignities of advancing old age.

In her final year, with restrictions lifting, Mary was able to rejoin the wider world, enjoying in-person visits with family and friends, getting her hair and nails done, shopping, and going out for meals.

Shortly after her 89th birthday, COVID finally found her. It did not keep her long.

Survivors include Beth and Darren Morgan of Woodsboro, Md.; Shannon and Patrick O’Grady of Albuquerque; and Heather and Bill White of Smyrna, Tenn.; two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.

No services are planned. Come spring, Mary will return to East Texas, where memory took her in her final days.

Out out out!

November 16, 2022

They said they wanted to get everyone outside. Turns out they just wanted them out of the building.

Well, Outside Etc. is at it again, driving an additional 12 percent of its staff into the vast publishing wilderness.

Newspapers and magazines made it possible for a wastrel like Your Humble Narrator to earn a meager living and even have a bit of fun while doing it. But at times it seemed that half the job was keeping one step in front of the headsman.

I got laid off once and frequently fled under my own steam upon hearing the thin keening of file upon blade. Oh, it’s not good here. How about over there? Or there? After a half century of this I managed to coast across the finish line more or less intact, albeit with two flats and a broken chain.

Lucky doesn’t even begin to describe it. I could’ve been broomed off the course and into the tumbril at any point, and plenty of spectators and competitors would have cheered as the ax finally fell.

It was and remains a rough old road. Betimes I miss it. But not often.

“Information wants to be free,” someone once said. Not someone who actually collects and distributes the information, of course. But plenty of their customers feel that way, even as they insist on being paid for their own labor.

I haven’t “joined” Outside Etc. for the same reason I don’t watch “sports” on the TV. I’d rather be doing something than reading about it, listening to it, or watching it.

Hell, I didn’t even want to work for Outside Etc. Not once I’d seen the contract. And they were proposing to pay me, not the other way around.

Maybe some things just don’t scale up well. I think I grasp the general concept — build a one-stop shop for all your sweaty fun — but it struck me as sort of a Spandex Ballet, some anonymous cable company with a thousand channels I didn’t want to watch.

It sucks to get the heave-ho. And I know a few of those heaved, and also ho’d. But some of them will stagger away from that crumbling tower of babble to build something a little homier, maybe more like the corner bike shop instead of the sporting-goods section in Sprawlmart. The rumblings are already out there, in forums, on Substack, even Twitter (though this last may be about like shouting “Fire!” in Hell).

Who knows? Without all those grandiose schemes weighing them down, Outside Etc.’s refugees might just find a living in it. And maybe a bit of fun, too.

Leaf me alone

November 15, 2022

The autumn took the rest, but they won’t take me.

No, it’s not the last leaf on the tree. But it doesn’t have a lot of company.

A cold snap this week brought us a soupçon of snow and temps in the 20s, a superfluous reminder that mid-November is not always shorts weather, even in The Duck! City.

Speaking of truths that should be self-evident, The New York Times has a piece this morning explaining that calling elections rigged and their results fake probably isn’t the best way to drive your base to the polling place.

Casting doubt on the legitimacy of elections might be an effective tool for galvanizing true believers to participate in a primary — or, at its origins, to storm the U.S. Capitol in order to overturn a losing result. But it can be a lousy strategy when it comes to the paramount mission of any political campaign: to get the most votes.

“If you tell people that voting is hard, or voter fraud is rampant, or elections are rigged, it doesn’t make people more likely to participate,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonpartisan group that works with election officials to bolster trust and efficiency in voting. “Why would you want to play a game you thought was rigged?”

Plenty of people already think that their vote carries no weight, makes no difference. Maybe they’re blue voters in a red state — hey, been there, done that — or vice versa.

But when you make voting more difficult than it needs to be, tell the electorate that their ballots might get shitcanned to Area 51 by the Illuminati, and just generally waffle-stomp your own dingus into a thin paste, well … this doesn’t exactly encourage folks to take a seat at the table and ante up.

And if you don’t play, you can’t win.

On a related note, turnout might trend upward if some parties fielded candidates long on defensible policy and work ethic rather than screeching psycho knucklefuckers, pistol-packing “Red Dawn” wanna-bes, and vengeful bored man-babies.

Some movies you only need to watch once. Sequel not required.

The buck(et) stops … where?

November 11, 2022

The safety was off on KFC Germany’s semiautomatic content-creation process.

Nothing says “Kristallnacht” like a bucket of extra-crispy. In whose army were you a colonel, sir?