Another Musical Dialogue

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

The genesis for the essay below dates way back to May 2003, when I had a brief email dialogue with a disc jockey in Dallas. At that time, I didn’t have Internet access on my computer at home here in West Texas; I was using one of the computers at Sul Ross State University to write emails and posts for a previous blog. Since I didn’t have my own Internet service available for music appreciation, I was limited to my small collection of LP’s and the local radio station. All that was played on the radio was country & western and golden oldies. I like classical C&W but not the modern stuff, and I also like many of the old pop hits; but I would have preferred for the broadcasts to be dominated by classical music. Fat chance!
The radio station piped in its music (and national/state news) from Dallas. (By the way, the Dallas station has long since replaced its music format with right wing news and talk shows.) After several months of listening, I noticed that there was a lot of repetition; the same songs were played almost every day. I knew more old records were available, particularly at a shop on Garland Road called “Collectors Records”. I decided the Dallas station could use a little coaching from Bob Litton, so I emailed the disc jockey, Bud Buschardt.
In my first email, I mentioned “Collectors Records” to him and suggested he shop a little there. He replied that he knew of the store and in fact had helped the owner establish his inventory.
I also suggested about half a dozen titles to him, emphasizing the Carpenters’ “I Know I Need To Be In Love”, probably my most favorite of all, which I conceded might not be played much because it is a slight “downer”. Bud replied that he could not recall ever hearing Karen Carpenter’s song, that all the station’s music has to be tested in “focus groups”, and that “if it’s a “downer’, we wouldn’t play it because we have to keep all our music upbeat.”
I began to mull over the “downer” question and felt I had to write something about it, if for no other reason than my own amusement…and possibly Bud’s. I don’t know if it amused him or not, since he didn’t reply to my final email, repeated below with some slight editing in the interest of clarity and fullness.

 * * * * * *
Hi Bud,
¶A phrase in our recent email dialogue — “”probably a little bit too much of a downer” — settled in my brain, germinated into a theme, and now demands hatching. Two qualities in my character predetermined such an event: a lifelong tendency to melancholia, and a compulsion to analyze everything to death. I will write it, and you have the choice of reading it or not.
¶Actually, I fib slightly when implying that the subject of the psychology of popular music only recently occurred to me; I have considered the matter almost every time I have heard a popular song, and even some classical pieces, over the past quarter-century. Perhaps I should go back even further, and I might if we eliminate the philosophical plane. For, in my early teens I know I reacted very negatively to songs I considered silly, such as Eddie Fisher’s “O Mein Papa” and Frankie Laine’s “Cry of the Wild Goose”. On the other hand, during the high school years, I would put my ear to the radio and turn up the volume to listen to Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and Bill Doggett’s “Honkytonk”. However, these were all hormonal reactions, not discriminating ones. I never questioned whether any of the songs should have been recorded or aired.
¶Perhaps it was while I was at the university that I was first alerted to individuals’ clashing emotional responses to music. I was sitting in the student center at SMU listening to a song I had played on the jukebox — Henry Mancini’s “Dreamsville” (from the TV show “Peter Gunn”) — when a couple of coeds in a booth across the room reacted, one of them complaining, “Why did anybody play that depressing song?” I was surprised but didn’t say anything. I had never considered “Dreamsville” depressing — slow certainly, as most piano bar jazz songs are, but not depressing.
¶Also during my university years, I learned about Plato’s — and the Spartans’ notion that all music other than marches should be forbidden. I never liked marches, excepting the “Entry of the Guests” from Richard Wagner’s Tannhauser and his “Prelude to Act II of Die Meistersinger.  The idea that anyone would want to ban love songs and other non-martial music was worrisome.
¶I am much older now, and my blood has cooled quite a bit, so, when I hear young people driving with their car windows open and their radios blaring incomprehensible songs, I have to remind myself of the days when my sap was running strong and I had my head up against the radio. Also, I listen more attentively to the lyrics now (if I can understand them), and many of them strike me as not only silly but downright harmful.
¶As examples, I will cite the lines “Anyway you want me, that’s how I will be” (Elvis Presley) and “I would sell my very soul and not regret it” (Perry Como). I have met a few people over the years who were willing to submit themselves to their lovers’ designs, and I felt sorry for them. As for the Como bit, I can’t enjoy any of his songs anymore after hearing “It’s Impossible”.  One day, I was sitting at the bar in a small Dallas pub when a woman (one of the regulars) at the other end of the bar happened to mention that she liked “It’s Impossible” very much.
¶“How can you say that, Nancy?” I exclaimed. “This guy’s saying he would sell his soul and not regret it, all for some love interest. Your soul is your personhood.”
¶Another regular (man) sitting near me said, “It’s just a song, Bob.”
¶Since then, I’ve noted the effect a song has on me as I listen to it, and I have come up with some interesting insights in the process. (At least I consider them insights.)
¶The most pertinent insight here is that the words alone do not necessarily make a song depressing. Sometimes, in fact, what on the surface might seem like a “downer” can be belied to a degree by the music. I think such is the case with George Jones’ “The Race Is On” and, to a lesser extent, with Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (naturally)”, where the tempo is fast—mimicking a horse race— in the first instance and lilting in the second. Moreover, parts of each song are rendered amusing — to my temperament even comical — by the lyrics:
“And here comes pride up the backstretch/Heartaches are goin’ to the inside/My tears are holdin’ back/They’re tryin’ not to fall.”
and, from “Alone Again”:
“Left standing in the lurch at a church/ where folks were saying, ‘My god, that’s tough/ she stood him up/ no point in us remaining.”
Another song where the humor of the lyrics counteracts the supposedly melancholy theme of the song is Kris Kristopherson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down (from a hangover)”:
“ I woke up Sunday morning/With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt/And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad/So I had one more for dessert/Then I fumbled in my closet through my clothes/And found my cleanest dirty shirt.”
The old C&W songwriters were really good at sensuously humorous lyrics.
¶Before I depart from C&W, I want to say a little about a couple of my favorites, which in their narratives are “sad” songs yet arouse only admiration in me: ” Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” and Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil”. Both of these are true poems! Being a Texan, I have lived through enough summers, with the heat waves rising off the railroad tracks, to pick up on the sensual evocation of a southern country June in “Ode”. I love its detailed, sensual imagery. Of course, it’s the story of two lovers with a dark secret (presumably an abortion) which leads to the suicide of one and the anticipated suicide of the other, but their secret is perhaps too secret to involve me; and, after all, it is a ballad — a ballad in the tradition of “Edward” and “Barbara Allen”. They’re always tragic but tragic at a safe distance.
¶‟Long Black Veil” is balladic, too, in a different manner: it’s slower, deeper, more masculine, if you will. The words are very simple, almost all of one or two syllables; and the lines follow one another inevitably, rather like the better poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Of course, the story is supposed to be tragic; but I don’t get involved with it in that way because, had I been the defendant, I would have told the judge that “I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife”. No hanging for love for me.
¶There are a few songs I would consider as genuinely touching the depressive nerve but which don’t go all the way because the protagonists are aware of a broader picture. One of these is Frank Sinatra’s “Cycles”. The singer acknowledges that he has been through more rough times than he would have liked “…but so have many others”. He recognizes that life is made up of cycles (“first there’s laughter then there’s tears”). He knows he’ll be able to sing a happy song again…sometime…‟just don’t ask me now”. So we know this guy’s in a bad spot, but he’s not knocked unconscious by it. It’s a moody song, a philosophical song, but not a particularly depressing one.
¶A song roughly similar to Sinatra’s is “You Gave Me A Mountain” by Elvis. Man! Everything happens to this poor chap! The whole closet of woes has been dumped on him. But that’s just it. So many bad things happen to him throughout his life — from his mother dying while giving him birth to his wife running away with his only child — that I am too overwhelmed with his long list of troubles to really empathize. It’s just too preposterous.
¶Now we come to my favorite pop song of all time: The Carpenters’ “I Know I Need To Be In Love”. (It was reportedly Karen Carpenter’s favorite, too.) Here again the singer-subject knows her down mood is not an untraversable chasm. She knows that the means of crossing over it lies within herself.
“I know I need to be in love;
I know I’ve wasted too much time;
I know I ask perfection of a quite imperfect world
a fool enough to think that’s what I’ll find.”
Nevertheless, the danger is there and it’s real:
“Wide awake at four AM without a friend in sight,
hanging on a hope that I’m all right.”
She’s in a dark moment emotionally, and there’s no one available to talk her out of it…except herself. She has sufficient self-awareness to pull herself together. The tension lies in the question of whether she will do it. I have been in that condition many times myself, so the lyrics ring very true to my ears. It is because they so well articulate my own self-criticisms that, instead of depressing me, they hearten me.
¶Well, Bud, that’s the end of my little essay on “downer” music. I hope you read it and get something out of it. As for me, the little egg that’s been pestering me has finally hatched.
Best regards,
Bob

Finis

Spiritual Journey Resumed

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

 I want to make it clear from the outset that the ideas expressed in what follows are my own. Sure, some of them might resonate of past writers, for I cannot claim that any of my ideas are original; to do so would be patently absurd. After all, I am seventy-seven years old, I have read much during the past decades, and I have no photographic memory which might enable me to cite sources for every sentence. I have read theological and mystical works from the Hebrew, Greek and Chinese traditions, much of which has certainly affected my thought. Nonetheless, I feel impelled to indite here what I now consider my own perceptions and insights, regardless of how hand-me-down they might seem.
¶Incidentally, I will be committing a modern sin by reverting to the old practice of using masculine pronouns even when I am referring to all persons, regardless of gender. When I began writing this essay I used the forms “(s)he” and “him/her”, but it looked so sloppy and distracting that I changed them. My apologies if the changes offend any readers.

I. Religion and Spirituality
¶I doubt that many educated readers will fail to recognize the differences between religion and spirituality without my having to underline them. Still, for the sake of clarity I will here note the most salient contrasts.
¶Essentially, religion involves an established system of beliefs accompanied by a corpus of sacred writings dictating theological and moral dogma. It, naturally then, requires a community of adherents — people who consider it worthwhile, at least for the sake of companionship or fellow-feeling — to accept the dogma and rituals which have accrued around their religion.
¶Spirituality is more individualistic, although the spiritual seeker will not necessarily reject communion with another after “enlightenment”. Still, he most likely will be conscious of the differing tangential and ephemeral qualities of such contacts; for, like fingerprints and snowflakes, each person’s spiritual journey is unique and cannot be matched, either favorably or unfavorably, with another’s. Also, while the seeker might use the spiritual writings (particularly, biographies) of esteemed theologians, both ancient and modern, as guides, succorers, and encouragers of his own sojourn, he must still face a long, dim and paradoxical path with no assurance of a positive and final conclusion. For him there is no dogma or ritual, although he probably will cling to some of the moral teachings learned in earlier years under the tutelage of some religious teachers, notably the very general “Golden Rule”.
¶I am not going any further with profiling religionists, or in any great depth with the spiritual seekers. However, the bulk of this essay will be about the seekers’ paths in general. Essentially, it will be based upon my own search for teleological meaning.

II. The Idea of God
¶If we hold onto the concepts of “meaning” and “purpose” in life, we usually start our search with the idea of a personal god: I did. Despite multiple mystical experiences, however, I found it difficult to reconcile what I learned from those events and reading with a personal god as generally conceived (a sort of abstract Santa Claus). What was truly odd about my searching, though, was that I felt more inclined to give up the noun than the verb: my charisms led me to accept the personal relating while eschewing the personhood of my deity. Most Christians are theologically educated enough to be aware that their god is depicted as having three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Over the lengthy period of my spiritual growth I came to the realization that the “Father” was too abstract for me to recognize; the “Son” (Jesus) was too human in his ambivalence and longing for definition from others; but the Holy Spirit, although invisible and silent, was frequently present to me.
¶Some might insist that the Holy Spirit is always present; I cannot dispute that, nor do I even want to, but I can claim only that what I call the Holy Spirit has made its presence known to me at certain times through charismatic events. Something was tugging at me, nudging me forward, and rewarding me from time to time with provocative insights or charisms. Every time I tried to attach such experiences onto a “higher power” of any shape or form the whole effort fell from my mind and shattered; there were too many unfathomable paradoxes with which to contend. I decided to let the personal god go, let Him do his own thing and I would do mine. If our enterprises met and joined occasionally, then so be it; I wasn’t going to fight against such junctures, but neither was I going to push for them; for there are times when the Holy Spirit, when he is concerned about my situation, seems to have a different goal in mind than I do, and there are times when I doubt that he is even interested.
¶I do not deny that I am exceedingly curious about what I perceive as an inchoate aether with weight to it of some sort and seemingly some secretive intelligence within it. Such had to be there for any sort of “nudging” to occur. Now some exertion is required to keep myself from trying to impose a humanlike form onto the aether. Yes, there is something “out there” or “within me” that yearns for and pushes for meaning. No point in denying it.

III. Answering the Atheists
¶Several prominent cosmologists and other scientists have postulated that, since everything about us and about Nature can be explained without the god premise, there is no need for a First Cause: god. The Idea of God is irrelevant, they claim. I am perfectly willing to accept their postulate — for them — but I do not see why it should affect me any more than the declarations of the preachers in their descriptions of God should affect me. If they do not experience the supra-natural, then that is a “truth” for the scientists.
¶Actually, there still remain some important aspects of Nature which baffle the scientists, the most significant being “Dark Matter”, an invisible substance that occupies all the space between the objects we can see. British logician Bertrand Russell took umbrage at his favorite student, the German logician Ludwig Wittgenstein, when the latter claimed that his studies had led him to conclude that there is a point at which symbolic logic cannot answer our questions, a mystical point.
¶For their part, the preachers never tackle the subject of Jesus’s injunction to put out your eye if it sins, or his advocating love of enemies on one occasion and enjoining his disciples to carry swords on another day. Nor do they satisfactorily answer the question of why the “Trinity” does not constitute polytheism and why statues of Jesus and Mary are not idols. The story of Jesus was written by several different people and then complicated by a multitude of annotators during the following centuries. It’s a muddy amalgam from which many of us have chosen to “cherry-pick” what we will believe. Whether we use those sources or not, we still have to evolve or design our own religion or our own spirituality.
¶Really, I prefer to leave God out of any discussion of scientific research or how we treat each other. Yet I try to understand the relationship between me and the Presence (a term I prefer to “Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”). I think I have researched the Presence too much, intellectualized Him nearly into oblivion. The Presence, I believe, prefers feeling over thinking. He seems removed from me now, and I yearn for his return; I don’t need to understand Him; I need to feel Him. If only I can restrain myself from trying to understand our relationship and how He performed the little miracles I have experienced . That’s hard.

Finis

Paean to the Sun

©2017 By Bob Litton

Glad to seeya, Fireball,
as you bring a new day —
it’s what I count on — the morn —
thus I take you for a given!
I always assume I’ll view the next.
They say I came from you
as a blown-off cinder
long before I had a name.

Like a smothering mother
you hover around too long
sometimes, drying the grass
and the streams to death
and wrinkling my skin.
Yet I need your radiance
absorbed to keep my bones
from breaking —
which has more value,
the bones or the skin?

On a grander note, I like
the way you light up the horizon —
both at dawn and at dusk —
when the clouds become canvases,
and your beams transform
into pastel palettes, enough — almost —
to refute the atheists.
No one but God, I’ve heard it said,
can paint a sunset.

                       Finis

Ingredients for Painful, Wasteful Conversations

©2017 By Bob Litton

Quandary over a visit

¶A former drinkin’ buddy and his wife, from Austin, are planning to be here next Frtday for a brief visit before they continue on to Nevada. We’ll share a supper together.
¶I must confess to a deepening sense of trepidation. You see, my friend is a Republican, while I generally vote for Democratic candidates. I have voted a slightly split ticket — back many years ago — when our two major parties’ offerings more nearly favored “Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee”. In those years, not knowing much about some of the statewide candidates, I relied on what they submitted as positions and qualifications to the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization whose main purpose was to encourage all citizens to participate in the electoral process. On a few occasions, the Republican candidate seemed to me to be more qualified. I don’t know if my friend ever voted for a Democrat.
¶As most North Americans are aware by now, our body politic has become more polarized over the past several decades: I would say since Ronald Reagan was first elected president. The polarization has intensified since Barach Obama’s and then The Creature’s (I can’t endure writing his name) elections. Now many of us cannot even discuss national politics civilly; and we often carelessly refer to those who voted opposite to us as “idiots”, “half-wits” or “numb-skulls”. (That is what is called the ad hominem argument or approach: attacking the person rather than the issue.) I’m not a professional historian; but, from the little I have read about our horrendously bloody Civil War, I believe our current dialectical dilemma parallels what happened back in the 1850s and 1860s, when fathers broke contact with sons and brothers shot at each other.
¶Over the past couple of weeks, I have pondered the options left to me when I meet my friend and his wife at a local Chinese restaurant. I would like to restrict our conversation to reminiscences of the years when we two university students went bar-hopping and of the adventures we had. However, that avenue is barred by the fact that my friends had not even met each other yet, much less become each other’s spouse; the wife would effectively be left out of the conversation, and that wouldn’t do.
¶We could talk about their continuing their journey after leaving Alpine. I wrote above that their destination is Nevada, but I am only assuming that on the basis of an email conversation we had a couple of months ago when he said they intend to go there so he could learn how to handle an AR-15 rifle. My fur bristled when I read that, and we had a brief email debate about whether an AR-15 had any use other than slaughtering people. It was a civil debate: How could it be anything else through emails? If we renew the topic at the restaurant, though, we might lose our control and resort to blows (or he might pull out his AR-15); and neither of us is any longer physically fit enough to engage in fisticuffs.
¶Perhaps I’ll end up just taking along a few poems to read at the supper table. No telling what kind of reaction that will arouse. But, regardless of what I do that night, here I will vent my political rage.

* * * * * *

Why we no longer can civilly argue

¶Valid exceptions can be pointed out regarding what I will say here. Exceptions can be made to virtually every generalization; that is an eternal fact of life. Still, such a case should not inhibit us from generalizing when the move is justifiable within the context of whatever subject we are discussing. And we should be prepared to respond with some specifics whenever our generalizations are challenged. This is one of the problems we encounter when trying to engage in any “civil” discussion about politics or religion.
¶I think that is why religion and politics are tacitly verboten in U.S. bars — in West Texas bars anyway. All you are likely to see on the TV’s in the taverns are athletic events, and all you are likely to hear is country-and-western music, either piped-in from the Internet or on a juke box. Nevertheless, last Friday I had an interesting conversation about politics in a local bar with a woman of about half my age whom I had seen there before but never met. I don’t recall how we managed to get on the topic, but we soon discovered that our attitudes were consonant, so we had no problem continuing our conversation without bristling. However, that, too, was a problem because, as I pointed out to her, we were “preaching to the choir”.
¶‟I should be talking about this with someone who doesn’t agree with me,” I said.
¶‟But they are in such a thick shell that they won’t listen to you,” she replied.
¶‟I know, so I am quiet and the bile builds up.”
¶Several of the national politicians, from Obama on down, have said we must try to regain civil discourse; but I am too affected by our situation to maintain my mental equilibrium; I am prone to fumble my facts or exaggerate my assertions when I get that way. And all of us humans, I believe, are too impatient with calm, deliberative, clearly reasoned argument to tolerate it for even a short period. We resort to “talking over” our interlocutor and wandering off in a huff, muttering epithets.

* * * * * *

The Creature in the White House

¶What my new acquaintance and I had been discussing, as you have probably discerned by now, was the Creature in the White House, which is what I prefer to call the being who can be found there when it’s time to sign illiterate Executive Orders in a photo op tableau. (Again, I cannot stand to write his name.) I read one newspaper article this morning that said the Creature left for his Mar-a-Lago mansion — which he has dubbed his “Winter White House” — shortly after signing one of those documents Friday or Saturday.
¶Reports from Politico, CNN and the Washington Post indicate that each of the Creature’s weekend jaunts to his southern castle costs U.S. taxpayers about $3 million dollars and he has made three trips there so far this year. The WP cited a tweet from Bruce Bartlett, a former aide to Ronald Reagan, who reportedly said that the Creature is on track to spend $1 billion in four years vacationing at Mar-a-Lago and housing his wife in New York City. The media report that protecting the wife and son in New York City is adding $1 million a day to the national bill. Back when the Creature was only the Republican nominee, the report was that the protection and traffic control in downtown Manhattan was costing the City $500,000. I don’t know if that $500,000 is part of the $1 million now cited by the national media or a separate expense item. I do know that many New Yorkers are not happy about their being held responsible for paying the bill; nor are the citizens of Palm Beach County, Florida, happy about their having to fork up part of the payment for hosting the Creature and his minions.
¶And all of this is being spotlighted at a time when it could not be more topical, for now the Congress and the American public have been flabbergasted by the Creature’s national budget proposal, which decimates many social, scientific, and arts programs in order to build a wall to nowhere and a wasteful military. Again, according to the WP article I read (March 18), the Congress could fund the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness for three years if the Creature had just stayed in the White House these past three months. The Creature’s PR aides and congressional henchmen are shuffling the budget proposal around like a pea shell during TV interviews, claiming we shouldn’t judge it yet because it’s only one leg of a three-legged stool (the other two legs will appear sometime in the future).
¶I wrote three letters to President Obama during his eight years in the White House. He, or perhaps one of his aides, replied to the first two, above his signature. I was not surprised that he did not reply to my third letter, because the election was over, he was about to move out and had a lot of last-minute business to attend to, and had solicited comments on his presidency from voters all around the country. The likelihood of his responding to all those letters was minimal.
¶But one paragraph of that third letter, dated Dec. 23, 2016, is pertinent here:

I know you have urged the citizenry not to despair but to remain hopeful, optimistic, and to give your successor a chance to do his best for the country. But what I have seen in the media the past few weeks indicates that is just not going to happen. The only possibly positive future I can foresee is one of these two scenarios, neither of which is initially positive: (1) your successor will be blocked by Congress or the Supreme Court from remaining in office because he will refuse to dispose of his enterprises, or because investigative reporting will reveal that he is guilty of some felony; (2) our government will collapse from the weight of the structure being eaten away by the worms your successor has nominated to “direct” its various departments. So, I am not optimistic, I am not hopeful, and the only thing I can even faintly wish for is that one of those two scenarios happens as soon as possible.

¶It is because I have begun to realize that only the second of the two scenarios described in my letter is likely to happen — because of the polarization and self-delusion of Congress — that I have returned to my blog posting. I don’t enjoy writing polemics, but I am an American who once loved my country. My country is being disemboweled and in other ways is being destroyed by a maniac in the White House, supported by a depressingly large number of other Americans. How can one love a pile of wreckage? I had to ventilate.

Finis

P.S. I don’t know if or when I will return to this blog. Take my word for what you think it’s worth.

­­

Goodbye

parkingmeter

“Time Expired” at Harry’s Tinaja (“watering hole”)> Photo Credit: Lindsey Fletcher

Goodbye!

Mama’s Medicine Cabinet

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

 

syrup-of-pepsinad

Image Source:  antiquebottlesglassplus.com

¶Yeah, I know “Mothers’ Day” is still more than three months away, but I might abandon this blog before May 14 and there are still a few things about my mother that I want to record.
¶Mama was in some ways acutely alert to health matters and in other ways indifferent to them. I remember when I was hardly more than a toddler she took me to be examined by Dr. Fred S. Brooksaler (1901-73), a Dallas pediatrician who later became a professor of pediatrics at Southwestern Medical School in that city and who is still remembered there by an endowed professorship in his name .
¶Once, Dr. Brooksaler performed an in-office operation on my neck just below one ear, but what he removed I do not recall, if indeed I ever heard him say. I liked him a lot because he gave me a little toy every time I visited him.
¶One of the medicines Dr. Brooksaler prescribed for some forgotten ailment was a roll of flat, circular, chewable lozenges that tasted like candy. I liked the flavor, naturally, but Mama said I could take one only after a meal. I had a very broad concept of “meal” in those days, so one day while Mama was away I ate a couple of saltine crackers and then chewed one of the “medicinal candies”. Then I repeated the process from saltines to medicine two or three more times. Later, as I was walking down a sidewalk a few blocks from our apartment, I became violently ill. Fortunately, a lady sitting on her porch across the street noticed me and came over to take me to her porch, where she provided whatever aid she could, not knowing what was wrong. Obviously, I survived.
¶Mama also had me examined and fitted for eyeglasses, although she probably did so at the elementary school’s bidding. They were wire-rimmed glasses, which I hated. (That was back in the days before the Beatles, when “granny glasses” weren’t yet “cool”.)  I refused to wear them one spring while I was staying with an uncle down in the Rio Grande Valley. After I got sick at school one day, the nurse concluded it was because I hadn’t been wearing my lenses, so I had to dig them out of the sandy loam of the grapefruit orchard where I had buried them and don them from then on.
¶I don’t recall Mama ever taking me to a dentist’s office, and now I don’t understand that. Dentists are, in my experience, the least expensive of health care providers. How my teeth managed to stay in good condition until age thirty-five (when I underwent a periodontal operation)  I’ll never understand. I sure miss those three gold-crowned molars I gave up last year because of all the suckers I used to poke into my mouth.
¶Now to the medicines I started out to discuss.
¶First, there was the Campho-Phenique which was a regular staple in Mama’s medicine cabinet. I often enough required its application because I spent hours on end running around barefoot in the neighborhood lawns, which were the chiggers’ habitat. I haven’t had a chigger bite since I was little, yet, in my earlier adult years, I used to stroll or sit on friends’ lawns or in area parks where the grass was plentiful enough. Nary a bite! Are chiggers extinct? I just can’t believe that!
¶Also in Mama’s cabinet one could find a jar of Mentholatum or VaporRub. These salves were developed in the 1890s and are still used today to aid breathing while a person has a cold or cough. Recent research has indicated that the salve doesn’t actually improve breathing but that its camphor aroma fools the brain into thinking that it does. (What’s the difference?) It ordinarily is applied to the chest and the back. The ill person inhales the cool camphor smell, which has an odor that I like. However, since the positive effect is supposed to be derived from breathing, I fail to understand how applying the salve to one’s back is going to be effective. Anyway, when I was a child Mama applied it to my chest many a time.
¶Another antique medicine was Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin. Many benefits from its intake were claimed back in late 19th century when it was developed, as can be seen from this quote from a 1904 ad in the “St. Louis Republic”: “The manufacturers claim that the remedy will relieve any case of Indigestion; cure any case of Constipation; remove the cause of Headache, Biliousness, Dizziness, Foul Breath, Sour Stomach and Flatulency; and dispel Colds, Fevers, and Ills caused by bad digestion, torpid liver, and sluggish bowels.”
¶In 1906, Congress created the Food and Drug Administration to investigate exaggerated and fraudulent claims by patent medicine makers, including Caldwell’s company. Digger Odell’s website Bottlebooks.com, reports that, despite the federal government’s actions, Dr. Caldwell’s Medicine was still misleading the public about the worthiness of its product. This no doubt was accomplished by well-placed donations and lobbying.  With the owners making millions each year they would have been a formidable opponent for the government lawyers. So much so that the product was made continuously from 1889 until 1985.” So, about all that is left of Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin are collectible antique bottles and ads. Oh well, I sure did like the taste of that stuff, containing as it did pepsin, one of the ingredients that now goes into Pepsi-Ćola.
¶That pretty much concludes my inventory of Mama’s medicine cabinet. She remained a devotee of patent nostrums, although she used doctors and hospitals whenever she figured they were needed. She even enrolled in a night course once to become a licensed vocational nurse but never completed it. However, she did occasionally tend to bed-ridden folks. When her final days came she complained about spending them away from home — in a hospital. “Bobby,” she said to me then, “why are they doing this to me? They’re going against nature.”

Finis

Solitaire and Christmas films

yukon-solitaire-large

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶You have my permission to skip this post. Just realize all the while that you probably will have missed something that someday might have helped you significantly.

Where’s the queen of hearts?

¶I have a confession to make in my cyberspatial confessional. I’m addicted to the Internet game “Yukon Solitaire”. It could be worse, I guess, if I had a smartphone. I saw on the Internet today that many Americans are addicted to that device, which I don’t have; just have a cheap old flip-phone. I tried a smartphone a year ago, but it didn’t respond to my fingers accurately enough, had a bunch of apps that I couldn’t afford to use, and ran out of juice too quickly.
¶But back to the solitaire. I know what many well-meaning folks will say: “Be happy! Playing solitaire can keep your brain rejuvenated! Keep you from becoming senile.”
¶That well may be, but I view playing the stupid game a major waste of time. I could be writing the “Great American Novel” or drawing masterpieces. Instead, I gaze at my monitor’s screen and try to determine if there is some magic strategy for attaining the “perfect win”. And that’s what I actually call it: “the perfect win”. It’s when I can get all the cards in their proper columns and complete down to at least the number “3” cards. Of course it is quite possible (and usual) to win when I’ve had to move several lower cards up to the top, but that’s just a “win”, not a “perfect win”.
¶I must admit that, besides the supposed benefit of keeping my brain active, playing “Yukon Solitaire” has revealed to me some interesting facts of life and facets of my personality. Probably the profoundest fact is that losing is as important an element of playing Yukon Solitaire — or, for that matter, any game — as winning. If I won every game or even several games in a row, boredom would quickly descend upon me. Of course, the opposite is also true: whenever I lose too many games sequentially I become frustrated and irritated and I resolve (for a day) to give up the game. But then that old lust to play returns and there I am before the computer again.
¶A year or so ago, I heard on one of the NPR talk shows a woman who had written a book (or maybe it was just an article) about how people can learn much about their own psyches from playing “Scrabble®”. I played that game only once, many years ago, and it bored me so much I never ventured into it again, so I didn’t listen very long to the radio conversation. However, I did attend enough to gather that it must be possible, indeed, to discover a lot about one’s personality and perhaps even improve it by playing Scrabble® and other such games.
¶Another thing I learned about the Yukon Solitaire game is that the outcome is not as much a matter of chance as in the original solitaire game. The player can calculate odds of moving certain cards as opposed to moving others at times when mutually excludable options exist. Also, one can begin to gauge which rows demand more attention because, if too neglected, they contain too many uncovered cards near the game’s end. Naturally, those rows tend to be the last three. Yet another insight is noticing that one’s odds of winning are proportional to the balance of red and black cards at the opening.
¶I could go on with my insights, but I don’t want to tempt my readers to try the game; for it truly is addictive, and I don’t want to be responsible for your fall.

* * * * * *

O Merry…Merry…something or other

¶While I’m still in the confessional, I guess I might as well admit to having spent a bunch of hours over several weeks in November and December watching Hallmark Channel’s massive array of Christmas romance movies. Even beyond the twelve days of Christmas.
¶It was all part of my attempt — only slightly successful — to escape the pall of gloom that fell over me and millions of my fellow citizens following the November 8 election. I was trying to avoid the news programs, which, in my case, is very difficult because I am something of a news and political junkie. I’m only a nominal Christian: a fellow who no longer attends a church and does not adhere to the Apostle’s Creed. Nor have I paid much attention to Christmas in decades. But this time I wanted to escape into some kind of cheery mythical world. And I found a bunch of that in several of those movies. Of course some were rather saccharine, but others were worth the viewing.
¶When one watches a series of films all pretty much about the same motif, one picks up on common elements. Two of the most common themes in the Hallmark Christmas movies are (1) the Scrooge theme, and (2) the real Santa theme. If you have seen the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street”, you might recall that it contained both themes.
¶I am using “the Scrooge theme” rather broadly here, meaning that the storyline presents a case of a person who loved Christmas as a child but, due to some unfortunate experience in the past, now either denigrates or ignores it. The protagonist is not a “Scrooge” in the sense of being selfish or inhumane, although some might be business executives more intent on making money than on sharing cheerful hours with others. One, for instance, was the story of a developer who wanted to convert a building that, on one floor, had housed a music therapy center. In another, rather preposterous story — even by fictional standards — the reindeer Dancer is too ill to fly on Christmas Eve — so Mrs. Claus sends the North Pole’s handler in cognito to buy a replacement at a reindeer farm; when the farm’s owner declines to sell, she orders the handler to steal a reindeer. (Don’t be concerned: Mrs. Claus finally recognizes her fault and the whole situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.) In yet another, a Christmas tree farmer is about to lose his place because, due to bad weather, his crops have not sold well during the past two years, and the banker is set to foreclose on him; but he is saved by the story’s heroine, a marketing executive from New York who creates a “brand” campaign for his trees and drafts the farmer’s daughter and his friends to promote them countywide.
¶By far the most fascinating of the stories, however, is the fantasy tale of a nurse in 1945 who has not heard from her soldier husband. She worries that he is possibly a war fatality. After a few early scenes in which she reveals her charitable good nature, the nurse drives home during a blizzard and runs off the road into a ditch. After she crawls out of the ditch she stumbles through the snow to storage building, climbs through a window, and falls asleep. In the morning she goes to a local police station for help, but on the way she doesn’t recognize any of the vehicles on the road. During her interview with the police, they suspect that she has suffered some brain damage. Eventually, she comes to realize that she is in the 21st century, not the 20th. The police chief takes her home to spend Christmas with him and his family, and to further examine her to see is she is mentally off or perhaps is playing a confidence game. Through some ingenious detective work, the policeman concludes that she really has time-traveled; and the problem now is how to get her back to 1945.
¶I won’t take up the necessary time or space to explain it all, but the nurse’s situation involves a comet that passed by Earth in December 1945 and is scheduled to also pass it this December. So that policeman and the community — which has come to appreciate her because she has reminded them of their long forgotten customs of caroling and hanging Christmas lights on the town gazebo — accompany her to the storage building. She goes inside; and, after the crowd watches the comet pass overhead, they open the door to find she is no longer there. The last scene in the movie is of her shoveling the packed snow from in front of her car and her husband, in uniform and a duffel bag over his shoulder, showing up to help her.
¶Yeah, pretty far out but still heart-warming.
¶And now I, too, am back in the real world. Alas!

Finis

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