Friends

…and I don’t mean the TV show and I don’t mean Quakers.

A blogger I follow recently referred to me as a friend (and I agree). That got me to thinking. That, and a visit out of the blue last night.

My daughter has “Internet friends” all over the world; people they have never met in the flesh, but many they have met face-to-face via FaceTime, so we know they are who they say they are (as much as we know that about anybody, but that’s another story).

That reality had always been foreign to me until I started blogging. Now I have people all over the country whom I would call friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, though we have never been face-to-face even on FaceTime.

My best friend R from my ten years in California appeared out of the blue last night. I got a FaceTime request from an unknown number. I declined it and said “Who are you?” He was an hour and a half away and passing through. We had a great walk and talk in the park a few blocks from my house. We stayed several feet apart. He got back in the RV and disappeared. I walked home for dinner.

Three of us (R and F and I) used to get in hot water together regularly in the Bay Area. I mean that literally. We would go to a hot tub place, sit in the tub together and talk, then continue the talk over dinner. (Truth be told, I’m more of a sauna guy, but hey, this was California;) We asked each other the kinds of questions that made us think and feel and know each other and ourselves more deeply than usual.

R and I once drove 50 miles to a jazz concert. We argued economics (or discussed passionately) for most of the drive and part of dinner. We heard and saw a great concert, then continued the discussion on the drive home and sitting parked in front of my house for too long. As I walked into the house I realized I had just learned something about love. I had spent my formative years (18 to 30) in a close-knit community, where we agreed on most things and our disagreements were, in the grand scheme of things, pretty small. Now I was having a disagreement that was pretty big; but I realized that I could disagree about an idea and love the person speaking it.

This is a friend to whom, when I am gone, I think I may be invisible. We have had no contact in over ten years. But when we are together, he is here 100%. He is fully present – so I don’t begrudge him the fact that he is fully present somewhere else with someone else when I am 2000 miles away.

Those years from 18-30 were present in our talk. The park contains a memorial to an old friend. We had a community of interlocking organizations and friendships. (See previous post and reference to the New Nation – building a new society in the shell of the old.) I initially knew Orly through an organization I worked for, People’s Office. We were a community center providing some of the services that the internet provides now. If you needed someone to fix your plumbing, Orly was the guy, and we had his number at our fingertips. Need to get bailed out of jail? Find out what’s happening in town tonight? Need to get your car fixed at the Co-op Garage? Having a bad acid trip? We could help you. If you had a problem we hadn’t run across before, we’d find a way to help you. Several organizations got their start that way.

Later Orly apprenticed to the electrician who wired the co-op when we got a new building. That electrician happened to have a PhD, but he’d put himself through school as an electrician and liked it. It was only years later that he worked as a psychotherapist, using that degree. Working at the neighborhood grocery co-op, I knew pretty much everybody (and what they ate), and they knew me. S liked to work Sunday mornings so she could see who came in together to pick up bagels and the New York Times. She thus knew the neighborhood gossip first. It was that kind of town.

Moving back after ten years in California, my re-introduction to the community was Orly’s funeral. He died during a heat wave just after I moved back. We had a canoe funeral procession down the river. His flower-filled canoe was towed between two others. We rounded the bend out of the river and into the lake, pulled up on shore at the park, and had a big potluck. It seems that everyone I knew was there. I was home. Orly and the canoe are memorialized on a plaque on a park bench right where the river flows into the lake (where we took the walk back at the beginning of this post). That park is also home to the Marquette Waterfront Festival, with which we welcome each summer (the weekend that school gets out).

So there are that kind of friends, too. Those whose lives weave in and out of our own for years. Those we may never know well, but who make our lives richer anyway. Those we have a deep connection with somewhere along the way, but not forever, but they are still part of that fabric. Then there are friends like the half-fast cycling club, folks I’ve ridden with for 10-45 years. Sometimes a bike ride is the best place to talk.

A song from the Women’s Movement of the 1970s. I couldn’t find a recording by the writer, Ginni Clemmens (without buying the whole album). She was a Chicago folksinger in the 60s and a stalwart of women’s music in the 70s. She died in 2003 on Maui.

You may have noticed that I refer to living people only by an initial and dead people by name. I guess dead people can’t defend themselves and living people may not want to be identified here, so I don’t name them without consent, and I don’t tend to contact them to ask for consent.

John Prine

Our one and only president has accused healthcare workers of stealing PPE (personal protective equipment), such as masks.

I confess, Mr President. Current precautions (subject to change) at my place of work require me to wear a mask (plain surgical mask, not N95) with all patients, and a face shield over that to protect it so I can use the mask indefinitely unless I see a patient actually in isolation, in which case I am to discard the mask but clean the face shield. For known COVID-19 patients we use a fit-tested N-95 mask or a PAPR (powered air-purifying respirator).

As a result, I used one mask last week, as well as one face shield. I have cleaned the face shield more times than I can count, so I’ll confess I’ve also used some Cavi-Wipes, alcohol wipes, and Purell. Oh, I stored the mask and shield over the weekend and will use them again this week. There are several thousand other employees in the same hospital who are equally guilty. In fact, one of my co-workers replaced the elastic band on his face shield because it wore out, so he will confess to using a foot of Coban.

(Image from 3M)

So in one little ol’ midwestern hospital we used maybe 10,000 pieces of PPE more than in a normal week. Gee, Mr President, do ya think it’s possible that there is a legitimate reason hospitals are using 10 times more PPE than usual? If we used to use it for, say one in 50 patients, and now we use it for every patient, maybe a ten-fold increase means we are actually conserving equipment. [ed. note: these numbers are seat-of-the-pants estimates.]

John Prine has been intubated and ventilated for COVID-19. Having survived two cancers (including a lung), he may be too tough for this virus. Prine demonstrated more genius in his first album than most of us do in a lifetime. I still remember the first time I heard that record, at the apartment of a co-worker after a meeting in 1971. I thought I had a crush on her at the time, but it might have been John Prine instead.

The album opens with “Illegal Smile” – “it seemed like total silence was the only friend I had.”

If that wasn’t good enough, he followed with “Spanish Pipedream”, in whch he told us to “blow up the TV…”

He showed more insight into our neglect of the elderly than a man of 25 had any right to in “Hello in There” – “You know that old trees just go stronger and old rivers grow wilder every day. But old people just grow lonesome waiting for someone to say ‘Hello in there, hello.'”

“Sam Stone” told the story of a man returning from Viet Nam with PTSD and a monkey on his back: “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes…”

“Paradise” told the story of Prine’s parents’ childhood home, now an open mine – “‘And Daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River, where paradise lay.’ ‘Well I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking – Mr Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.'”

I could go through the whole album this way – every one a gem, including “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore”. Instead, I’ll leave you with “Angel from Montgomery”, also recorded by Bonnie Raitt (speaking of crushes), and here as a duet.

As of this writing, Prine’s family says his condition is stable.

A bike club I ride with just deleted a few weeks’ worth of rides from their website. Another club posted their rides but urged people to start at different times and ride in different directions. Our “safer-at-home” order allows outdoor exercise, though not in groups.

It was one of those days. No matter which way I turned, and I rode in a loop, I never seemed to have a tailwind. It was a headwind or headwindier. The spring peepers were not practicing Social Distancing. They seem to get loud right around maple surgaring weather.

There also seemed to be a lot more cars out than I’ve seen in a while. The number of new cases of COVID-19 has leveled off in the past few days around here. That is not say we’ve turned the corner. The number of total cases is not decreasing or even leveling off. The number of new cases added each day has, at least for the past few days, leveled off. That appears to say that staying home is working. Keep it up. Go listen to the rest of the John Prine album.

Oh yeah – I sent in my absentee ballot today. Remember to vote.

A Tale of Two Sundays

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. When I went to bed the last Saturday night in April, it was snowing. I awoke to fresh snow for my Sunday morning ride. We rode east (a rarity in these parts – folks generally ride any other direction – though there are some great places to ride to the east). The sun was bright, the air was crisp. I had just the right mix of clothing, though a few times I wished I hadn’t left the shoe covers behind.

Pre-ride snow removal April 28

Tulips and irises were peeking out through the snow. Trees were beginning to bloom; the greens stark against the new-fallen snow. By noon the snow had melted in all except the deepest shadows. We followed the ride with a concert by the Choral Arts Society Chorale. The concert was “Water: A Celebration in Song“, and included works from the 16th to the 21st century, from multiple continents, and featured a newly-commissioned work. The 2018-19 “Go Big Read” for the university this year is “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” and copies were provided to concert-goers. Keep an eye on this group if you’re in or around Madison WI. Concerts are built around social justice themes (the last one was immigration). They are thematically linked and musically diverse.

The first Sunday in May dawned bright and clear, with the temperature rising through the 60s already by 8 AM. Morning came early, as I had heard and seen Mahler’s 8th Symphony (“The Symphony of a Thousand“) the night before. The work got its nickname from the number of musicians involved. This presentation featured a mere 500 including an enlarged symphony orchestra and three choral groups. Five hundred musicians (including a magnificent organ) make for a spectacular sound. The day was especially long, as I had worked from 6 AM – 1:30 PM and gone to a retirement party after that. The party was for the retirement of the long-time director of one of the great day care centers in the world, Red Caboose, featured in the 1998 book “The Goodbye Window” by Harriet Brown. (Disclosure: Both of my kids went to Red Caboose and are in the book. I was once the treasurer.)

But as for the ride: I arrived at the meet-up point with the sky darkening and the wind rising. It looked like a squall that would blow through quickly. After standing around waiting for that to happen, we headed out. The sky was getting lighter but the wind stronger. About ten minutes into the ride it began to sprinkle lightly. It rained just enough to make the sun’s warmth welcome when it reappeared, and to make us look like Saturday’s Kentucky Derby riders, splattered with mud – but I didn’t have spare goggles to toss aside when it got hard to see. By noon it was warm enough to remove my jacket.

The week between rides meant the alfalfa and grasses were now a brilliant green. The delicate spring green of blooming trees (including maples and willows) made a stunning contrast with the deeper greens of the grasses and the browns of the dormant cornfields. By the end of the ride the sky was a brilliant blue and, when I got home, the laundry I’d hung out before the ride was dry.

So I was lying about the worst of times. While one ride included snow and the other rain, both were great rides. And today I set up my espresso machine and brewed my first espresso, after an hour-long meditation in an MRI machine.

First espresso

Now it’s official!

When do you know it’s spring? The first robin? The snow finally gone? The first flowers?

It’s the first Wednesday night post-ride potluck and the first rhubarb pie!IMG_0099IMG_0100IMG_0101IMG_0102IMG_0103

From a disk of dough to a finished pie! I left out the empty pan; the last step. Missing from this year’s ride was Half-fast Dave’s famous asparagus. Dave owns a vineyard but also has one of the bigger asparagus patches around. He makes a mighty tasty asparagus with garlic, cayenne, and soy sauce. Alas, he has retired from Wednesday night rides.

The weekly rides start at the beginning of April, but the peak of the season starts now! Enough light for longer rides, warm enough to eat outside afterward.

The final climb to food!

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One rider’s idea of a recovery meal:

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Time for the early risers to head home and rest up for the Blessing of the Bikes. If the rain holds off, it seems a blessing before a 4300 mile ride can’t hurt.