The vagaries of memory…

Picking Concord grapes is one of my first vague childhood memories. There were friends of the family (distant relatives, maybe) living way the hell north in Erie. They had a house in town, an endless supply of Pez candy, and what now would be called a vintage Volkswagen van. Back then, in the early 1980s, it was just an old van, of course. It’s funny, the things we remember.

We’d go north to Erie in the fall. There was grape picking. I know my memory isn’t completely faulty on this because not long ago I saw the photographic evidence. I’d eat those damned Concord grapes until I got sick. Forty years later, if I don’t impose a touch of self-discipline, I’ll still eat those uniquely purple grapes to the point of making myself sick.

I’m convinced it’s these partially formed memories that are responsible for my ongoing love of grape soda, or candy, or anything flavored in that particular grape-y profile. 

My local Mennonite fruit stand had Concord’s by the quart basket this weekend. I didn’t clean them out, but I put a dent in their stock. They’re the kind of thing that have to be enjoyed in season so when they’re ready it’s a race to eat as many as possible. I’ve avoided making myself violently ill (so far), but boy I’m right there on the cusp… and I regret nothing – especially the memories.

Fall or: Embracing the worst season…

I hate that we’re losing a few minutes of daylight every day. The older I get, the less enamored I am with the onset of cold weather. Fall, as a season, doesn’t have much to recommend it. Even so, fall is a happy time of year. 

Aside from fresh apples, fall really only has one major factor in its favor – the fact that so many of my favorite living authors seem to have themselves plugged into a fall release schedule for their newest works. The first of many pre-orders has started hitting the streets and will be showing up on my doorstep in dribs and drabs between now and early December.

There aren’t many things I’d rather be doing than settling in with a good book and some spiked apple cider, so despite its other clear down sides, I’ll be firmly embracing the season’s slow descent into seemingly perpetual darkness.

A minor concession…

Today was the first of many concessions made to the changing season. Putting on jeans instead of shorts isn’t exactly abject surrender, but it does mark the day as the tipping point of the long slide into hibernation weather.

I’m ready for a bit of a break from schlepping hoses all over the yard, keeping the grass in check, and keeping up with the long list of other items on the summer maintenance list. Even though I’ve largely been home this summer, the indoor “stuff” always takes a back seat when it’s nice enough to be outside. With the extra traffic in here for the last six months it’s probably well past time to shift focus.

I’ll be in love with these days of coffee on the porch during these increasingly crisp morning… right up to the point where crisp gives way to cold. After that, of course, I’ll spend a few months pondering the virtue of those creatures that head south for the winter.

For now, I’ll appreciate the minor concessions… and hope that we catch a last few days of Indian summer in the coming weeks that will make such minor concessions briefly unnecessary.

The fall season…

There was an article this afternoon running on AP that blared the headline “TV cliffhanger: New season in jeopardy amid virus shutdown.” It turns out the fall season of network television is now officially in jeopardy. Which is definitely an issue if you are somehow involved in the entertainment industry.

Once upon a time, I’d have probably been in the ranks of the concerned. Fortunately, most of my favorite television is two decades old. If it does happen to be newer, it’s seasons and seasons deep into its run and there’s a better than average chance I either own copies of every episode or can fish them off the interwebs somewhere. Even if that weren’t the case, having fallen in love with Game of Thrones taught me that two years between seasons is a “perfectly reasonable” amount of time. 

The trouble with Coronavirus crippling the television industry, isn’t necessarily that so many shows might end up delayed or lost forever. The real nightmare scenario for TV in the Great Plague era is that these delays in scripted television may loose a new and terrible age of unscripted “reality” television upon the land. I can’t imagine any way to make contemporary television more irrelevant to my life than to cram even more Housewives of Wherever or Kardashians in Quarantine onto the airwaves. 

The last gasp…

Under last night’s onslaught of sub-freezing weather the last of the summer’s potted plants gave up the ghost. It was dollied through the back gate and unceremoniously dumped in the woods at dusk without even the courtesy of a shallow grave. I feel like I should have done more to mark the indisputable passing of warm weather for the year. That was the last gasp of the summer that was – and Casa de Jeff is now fully winterized and rigged for the coming unpleasantness.

Between inhabiting a world that’s only lit during business hours and the arrival of Thanksgiving in a few days, it’s just another in a long string of reminders that we’ll soon be hunkered down till spring. It’s not quite the Starving Time, but it’s frankly as close as I have any interesting in getting.

I regret the (temporary) dying of the light. I’ll even miss the yard work for the next few months. There’s something about freezing your ass off blowing snow that’s just not nearly as satisfying to me as keeping a well trimmed yard.

Regularly scheduled broadcast…

With the heavy lifting of last week over, I’m fairly certain that we’re now returning to your regularly scheduled broadcasts around here. Mercifully, the coming week will largely be about administrative minutia and doctoring up the aftermath to make sure everyone comes out looking good. Being a master bureaucrat of long experience, thats the kind of work I can churn out all day long without calling on too much brain power. It’s for the best really, because I’m still not sure how deep reserve of that I have, even after the long weekend of making no decision more challenging than when to eat and what to watch.

Our great bureaucracy is in the midst of that magical time of year when just about everyone’s thoughts are turning to the two month “holiday season,” those eight or nine weeks of the year between Veteran’s Day and New Years that are punctuated by 4 federal holidays and everyone trying to burn off the last of their use-or-lose vacation time. It’s not quite a “slow” season, as the beast always needs fed, but the pace does ease – if only because at any time it’s likely one or more of the people you need to talk to to get anything accomplished will be elsewhere.

In no way should that be interpreted as a complaint. In fact I’m counting on the schedule taking a few stutter steps if I’m ever going to catch up on email and all the other stuff I’ve been largely ignoring over the last few weeks. When I was last at my desk, the unread message count stood somewhere around 300+. If Thursday and Friday kept up the pace, I could have a personal best 500 messages waiting for me to read, file, delete, or continue to ignore indefinitely.

While in an of itself that all seems pretty bad, I can tell you this is the least angst-filled Sunday night I’ve passed in quite some time. I’m counting it as a win.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Fall foliage. I live in the woods… but not the deep woods. That’s a plan for the future. After a couple of days of wind and rain I’m reminded that I have neighbors. For the first time since mid-May I’m starting to see them again. Well, not “them” exactly, but certainly their houses. I’m deeply happy with my little plot of land, but at this time of year I’d be ok with another hundred yards – or maybe a few more miles – of trees between me and the next guy.

2. Rain is the new snow. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen any rain to speak of. I know it must be a frightening and unnatural experience for everyone. I know this because for the last two days everyone has driven like there was eight inches of new-fallen snow on the roads. If nothing else, it has served to reinforce my long-held belief that most people are idiots. As usual, though, it’s probably all my fault for having even the lowest of expectations of my the average man on the street.

3. Draftees. As the American Army, the most decisive fighting force ever fielded in history, is drawing itself down to the pre-World War II levels, the Russian president is drafting an extra 150,000 of his citizens into military service. Let that sink in for a minute. In terms of troops in active service, that will put Russia within spitting distance of parity in manpower. Figure in their increased pace of modernization and the simple fact that they don’t have to move their personnel across an ocean to get at many of the world’s current “areas of interest,” and in my humble opinion, this brave new world of our is going to look very familiar… almost like the one we left in the early 1990s. Talk about back to the future.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pumpkin Spice. I have no understanding at all of the obsession with making everything pumpkin spice flavored. In all my long years the only thing I’ve ever wanted to taste like pumpkin is Thanksgiving pie. Coffee, cookies, doughnuts, scented trash bags, english muffins, beer… all things that are fine in their “usual” flavors. I’ll be pleased when this fetish of the moment passes… except then there will be some new flavor to obsess over. Be on the lookout for eggplant parm yogurt, coming soon to a grocer near you.

2. “Small Government” Conservatives. My friends on the extreme right wing like to say they’re the party of small government. That’s great, except it’s not really true. You can’t really be in favor of small government but still want a government big enough to regulate what services are or aren’t available from healthcare providers. Small government means just that – it’s less intrusive, less regulatory, and less concerned with what legal activities its citizens engage in. A believer in small government is concerned with maximizing personal liberty and limiting how much influence that government has on our day to day lives. My read on most of our dearly beloved members of Congress who claim the mantle of “small government” are really just busybody prudes who think the universe needs to behave exactly as they want it to. I’m sure there’s a name for that but it sure as hell isn’t small government.

3. Apple. God love them. They rolled out a lot of slick looking new kit yesterday. Much of it immediately landed on my want list, but I didn’t see anything that fills the gap as a “must have” bit of equipment. I’m leaning towards upgrading to the 6S+ to get more phone real estate, especially after seeing them in use “in the wild” for a year. And while the new features, most notably the upgraded camera, look like something I’d get mileage from, I’m decidedly underwhelmed at the prospect of getting up at 3AM Saturday morning to drop in an order at full retail price (since AT&T insists I’m seven months away from upgrade eligibility). We’ll see.

Prized possession…

Among the most prized possessions is a two inch by two inch chip of concrete. Its multi-hued layers of spray paint on one side contrast starkly to the dirty gray pebbled other. It’s altogether fitting that the two sides are so different. This small piece of otherwise unimpressive construction material bore witness to one of the 20th century’s great follies when it was a part of a much larger engineering project – the wall in Berlin that once stood as the most visible possible reminder of the long cold war between east and west.

It was brought back not long after the wall’s demise by a friend of the family. With all the audacity an 11 year old could muster, I asked if I could have it and he graciously said yes. Wherever I’ve traveled from then until now it’s always the piece given pride of place – a reminder of the monumental stupidity that can and does grip the world and those who would lead it.

Ultimately that wall came down not because of permission from Moscow or brave decisions on the part of the East German government, but because thousands of people showed up at the gates demanding passage from east to west and there they stayed refusing to take no for an answer. Sure, political conditions were just right for such bravery in late 1989, but ultimately it was the people who showed up demanding their freedom who overwhelmed the wall.

Twenty five years ago tonight, we watched live pictures from Berlin of sights no one every really expected to see. Within a year Germany was reunified. In little more than two, the mighty Soviet Union itself would cease to exist. The end of that long nightmare didn’t start in Berlin, but it was there when we all knew, really knew, for the first time that its ending was in sight.

My little piece of the wall may be worth next to nothing in dollars and cents. If I ever find this joint on fire with time to save just one thing someone reading this post will find me on their doorstep with nothing more than a little chunk of concrete in my hand because to me it’s worth far more than its weight in gold.

In the rigging…

I’ve been out of sorts for the better part of the last month. I know that’s coming through loud and clear in my writing (and my lack of writing for that matter). Even my OCD has taken a bit of a holiday as I let things pile up around me. Few of you have ever been in my home, but take my word for it that finding things out of place is an extraordinary rarity. I end every fall with some kind of minor funk, so it’s not unusual or unexpected at least. Top that off with a couple of other issues and let’s just make the blanket statement that October and November this year have been particularly unkind. I wouldn’t say I’ve been a wreck, but I’ve definitely been way, way off my game.

But a funny thing happened at 6:43 AM yesterday morning. Not “haha” funny, but still. That’s when I felt my confidence return. I don’t mean a little bit. I’m talking about physically feeling it pour back into me like it was dumped out of a bucket. And then it was just there; like it has always been in the past.

I don’t know where it went, or what brought it back, but for the first time in longer than I want to admit, I’m feeling like myself again. I’ve got a smirk in my lips, a glint in my eyes, and more than a few sarcastic comments on my tongue. As it should be when all is right with the world.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the rigging nailing my colours to the mast.