Thursday, September 30, 2010

Come On, Arrest That Man!

I've been studying crazy people, ordinary people, people like you and me. Three times a year I sort through a few hundred court decisions that involve banks and choose about seventy to mention in an encyclopedia-like service called the Banking Law Digest.

One of the cases I couldn't discard involved a visually-impaired fellow named John who enjoyed visiting Ginger in her Philadelphia apartment. Ginger described herself as "an expert at providing personal, hands-on service to individual customers in private sessions at a set rate." In more than 34 sessions over 9 months, she was a great help to our anti-hero.

Then tragedy struck. With the help of his mother's better eyes, our friend reviewed his Discover card receipts and statements and discovered that on 11 occasions dear Ginger had overcharged him. He had thought he was paying between $350 and $700 for each therapy session, but she had tricked him into signing 10 receipts for $1,100 and one for $1,600. No problem with the other sessions, conceded John, although the judge footnoted a bit of concern: "The record does not reveal how one would know whether the events of any individual session...were worth $375 or $750. [John] is definite about one thing, though: [he] is not claiming...that [Ginger] breached a contract by failing to up to snuff...[and he] is not claiming that [her] technique did not justify her price."

No prude and no slouch, and feeling put-upon, John disputed the charges with his credit card company. Ginger produced the signed receipts, along with a copy of the contract John had signed -- for "yoga and pilates services." John sued Discover anyway. Why? Because Discover, he claimed, had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to consider his blindness when investigating his fraud claim.

Poor blind John. Philadelphia not being Las Vegas, the judge didn't look kindly on his walking into court to enforce a credit card contract he had violated by using his credit card to pay for illegal services. Besides, Discover offered a 24-7 telephone number designed to allow folks with vision impairments to check on their account charges.

"You're kidding me, aren't you?" asks Virginia. "He didn't really sue, did he?"

Twice. Not one to give up, he decided to "seek redress from Ginger directly" and hailed her into the Court of Common Pleas.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Practice for Fun

People sometimes ask if I still practice law.  Like practicing medicine, it may say something about humility.  If I answer "yes," I'm lying.  If I answer, "no," then it sounds as if I'm bragging -- "nope, finally got it figured out and don't need to 'practice' any more."

Then they ask if I still play piano (or violin).  The older I get, the more I like that question.  As a young person, it sounded child-like and immature.  Think of Picasso admiring the art of children.  I like the idea that musicians play.  What a wonderful profession or avocation!  It's play.  The key is to keep it play.

A local radio station's jazz announcer recently quoted Dr. Lonnie Smith, the Hammond B3 jazz organist, as having said, "It's not important how you play; what's important is how you feel."  I'm sure he didn't mean you shouldn't practice or play.   I doubt he meant you should practice how you feel.  Rather, you should play how you feel and feel when you play. 

"In opera, we got to play and act," says Virginia.  "I tried to keep work to the minimum, and practicing fun.  It became too much of a challenge."

She reminds me of the piano instructor I had in Chapel Hill, who once said, "I envy you.  Whenever you play piano, it's fun.  For me, it's always work."  Sorry, teach.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Another fellow ran into one of our trees yesterday.  This time, a new ghost hasn't moved in.  I heard a bump and thought one of the branches of our dying ash had fallen until I saw an angel running across the lawn.  She'd been sitting with a dying chicken.  I believe Friendly may have given her life so he might live. The rescue squad tilted the driver's seat and lifted him through the tail door of his SUV.

Some days I want to sell our motor vehicles and start walking everywhere.  Then I might not get up and go without carefully thinking things through.  A trip to town would take all day, with a plan and a map, and a credit card, just in case, for a motel, or I might trade some music-making for a little basement space.  For a moment, I envy New Yorkers and other city folks the convenience of things nearby.

Ride a bicycle?  Maybe, but I don't feel lucky with bikes.  Look at my right shoulder and you'll see what I mean.  Besides, tires go flat.  It seems easier to maintain my pair of feet.

If we moved to town, the neighbors might not like our lawn full of vegetables, the chickens and goats.  The City Council might issue us a summons.  I might have to practice piano with the windows closed.

Oh, I nearly forgot.  Before we moved here, we lived in a city.  A neighbor sometimes mowed our lawn when he thought it was too long.  I read about a cool lawnmower today, human-powered, that reportedly is easier to push than a gasoline mower, for $250.  Maybe if I bought that, I'd mow our lawn instead of watching Karen or Adam, not that anyone's had to this year.  Rain is coming, the next 2 or 3 days.

"Like you'd really get rid of your cars," says Virginia.  "You're a big talker, but when it comes down to it, you're as addicted as the next guy."

I guess that's why I'm shaking.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I ran through butterfly colonies this morning.  Are they heading south?  I decided to sing louder than usual, hoping they'd hear me coming and escape my pounding feet.  Maybe instead of hearing, they felt the little earthquakes emanating from the landings of my great toe joints instead of heel strikes, which Born to Run persuaded me to try to avoid.

Speaking of earthquakes, I understand we (mankind) sometimes generate earthquakes when we disturb the interior of the earth, such as when we sink holes for geothermal power.  Not when we garden, I hope.

At a memorial service we attended last Sunday, one of the memorialists said she had noticed a butterfly flitting from one family member to another, a year ago when they had the funeral for family only, which reminded me of Nabakov (the author).  It might be fun someday to come back as a butterfly.  Please don't tread on me.

I must confess.  As a kid, I caught them in nets, stuck them in a jar with a cotton ball soaked in ether, then stuck pins through them so I could admire them through the glass-tops of wooden boxes.

"What would PETA say?" asks Virginia.

Ban butterfly nets.

I suppose I'll get a few butterflies on Sunday.  The Arrowhead Trio performs Hans Gal, 2:30, in a concert entitled "Trios by Trios," Unitarian Church, in downtown Lynchburg.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


My grandfather, in his memoir, We Two, Twice Twinned, divided his life into 20-year segments:  student; missionary; seminary president/teacher; and author.  Twenty years doesn't work for me.  After the child/student part, which ran closer to 25, practicing law filled 16-20 depending on how you figure it, and the current phase is now stretching toward 15.  Oops, I can't be that old, can I?

Maybe it's time to interview.  "Tell me about yourself."  Don't you hate that one?  A few minutes have passed since you shook hands and introduced yourself.  You've played the question and answer game about things your social brilliance noticed on the way in, such as soccer pictures or the interviewer's Mickey Mouse tie.  Now it's time to get serious.  Your research has informed you what the business is about, you have an idea what this person does, so now you want to show you're a good fit, probably not as his or her future boss even though, let's face it, that's the right idea.

"Where do you want to be in 5 (or 10) years?"  Ah, show me the door.  Two standard questions in a row are not a good sign, but let's make the best of it.  Maybe the guy/gal completely lacks creativity.  "Doing what I'm doing" is not going to cut it, even if it's true.  It is for me, so it's definitely not time to interview.

I'm not saying that in 5 years I want to be doing exactly what I'm doing now.  That's nonsensical.  Might as well die if that were the case, everything worth doing having been done.  No, I'm saying I think I'd be happy living on this farm, choosing how to use my time, with Karen choosing how to use hers, and Adam somewhere having fun making his choices.  Having a boss other than me isn't in the picture -- unless maybe I'm shooting a movie somewhere, rolling up my sleeves in a House or Senate office building, or, um, playing in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Right.

Dreams.  Do you know people who don't dream?  I do, but I'm not sure I believe them.  They must be aliens.  I enjoy both dreams and nightmares (go ahead and guess which of the above was which).
"I have a dream," says Virginia.

"Just one?" I ask.

"More important than all the rest," she says. "Like all of them, they're up to you."

I get it.  Unless I get cracking real soon, I'm going to be either seeking an extension or hauling the old stove up the mountainside.  On the other hand, maybe I'll finish composing that trio for the Arrowheads.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Today reminds me of the Friday of Dink's funeral.  Dink died young, after believing and living the motto, "take care of your luxuries and your necessities will take care of themselves."  His wife had many happy memories because that philosophy worked well for them.

After the ceremony, I went to my office, on the fourth floor of a building in downtown Baltimore.  I stepped from the elevator and felt as if I'd entered a twilight zone.  Sunlight from the windows around the periphery cast shadows on an eerie quiet.  Someone was saving money on ceiling lighting.  From each desk glowed a blank computer screen.  I searched for an explanation.  In the biggest corner office, a pile of shredded paper formed a pyramid in the middle of a large conference table.  Closer inspection revealed "Pay," "to the order," ".00," "First," "Group," and unintelligible partial squiggles.  Friday normally was payday.  Not this time.

I had arrived too late for another funeral.  I mourned alone, until the elevator bell and a security guard yelled, "What are you doing here?"  He suggested I gather my things and leave.

"What then?" asks Virginia.

I complied.  It was 1985 and I was lucky.  I found my next job within a couple months.

Monday, September 20, 2010


"This unique product is not a luxury - it is a necessity wherever you store or use your valuable instrument. The German-made VENTA Airwasher not only humidifies the air as needed (it will not over humidify), but filters the air from smoke, dust, pollen and odors. It works without filters through the process of cold evaporation - no white dust! Backed by a 10-year limited warranty."

I realize salespeople need to sell their products to make a living, but exaggerations turn me off by tainting the entire experience.  Of all the other things they say, I begin to wonder what I can believe.

When a lawyer does it, I figure he's advocating his client's position.  Same with a politician.  So why do I want more from a salesperson?

"Because you're inconsistent, wishy-washy, and completely unrealistic," says Virginia. "Do you really believe 'truth' exists?"

Karen just handed me a wine cooler made of home-made wine and bought grape juice.  That's the truth.  Am I likely to live longer if I drink 1 to 3 glasses of an alcohol-laced drink every day (than if I don't)?  Maybe.  Who paid for that latest study?

"What bothers me most are the sound bites," says Virginia.  "Some of them sound so good and roll right off the tongue." 

Yes, if you have a good memory, you're a Rain Man.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Water bottles, check.  Cellphone (I'll be alone), check.  Camera, check.  Belt tightened.  All right, let's go.
Off into the green canopy, 11 miles up, with no vehicles for the first 5 miles, guaranteed.

Uh-oh.  Someone's been busy sawing since the last time I ran past.
This is Arnold's Valley.  Our house is hard to find.
Phew! Those first 5 miles weren't easy, took about an hour, all up.  There, around the bend, is Parker's Gap Road.  No traffic today.
A side trip to Apple Orchard Falls?  Maybe next time.
Today.  Hey Larry, remember this spot when we ran up here 5 months ago?  Probably not.  Here's another clue.
Same spot, 5 months ago.
Heading North on the Appalachian Trail, anyone?  Climb these steps and read the sign.
"Are we there yet?" asks Virginia.

Nope, we still have a couple miles to go, and another 500 feet up.
Now we're close.  There's the golf ball.
Turnaround!  We made it.  It's downhill from here.
Finally, time to rest.  Great weather, great run.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our Ordinary Kitchen

Welcome to our ordinary kitchen.  What's going on today?  I'm making iced tea, which is when the thought struck me and I began to look around.
Karen baked some very tasty baguettes, from sourdough starter that, last night, made me wonder if something had hidden somewhere and died in our kitchen.
On the left, hung a few days ago on the chair to dry, waits a cheese bag that drained the whey from the farmhouse cheddar Karen squeezed tight in the cheese press on the right.
Here's the cheese, almost ready to be coated with red wax from the makeshift double-boiler on the right, which saves our good pots and pans from a messy clean-up job.  Behind, see the black baguette pan.

Oh, in the window, the bottles in which the base of the cheese -- goat's milk -- is stored.
Enough of the chief cook and bottlewasher, let's move back to my territory.  Our friend, Susan, brought us such a tasty Ambrosia melon, I had to think ahead.
"What's on the left?" asks Virginia.

Perhaps she means the red coffee container, which we've converted into either a goat/chicken scrap collector or a temporary compost bin.  Or, the antique custard glass?  That's where we put the wax we peel off the cheese we eat.  Who says we can't use it again?
Hey, who put that in here?  It's a basket of garlic, which broke into cloves because I waited too long to dig them up.
Aw, come on.  Must you remind me?  This spud is lonely because I've abandoned its siblings underground.  I must remember to dig them up before the rainy season arrives (when, the next millennium?).
There now, the future of the Ambrosia melon has joined the Georgia Candy Roaster.  A gardener always has ladies in waiting.

"Definitely," says Virginia.  "It's an ordinary kitchen."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Word Deflation

Some writers have been comparing the length of the health care reform and financial reform bills to the statutes that were passed long ago, such as the Glass-Steagall Act, which were much shorter.  I think they're comparing apples and oranges.  That doesn't mean I favor the trend.

I'll call it word deflation.  It's been going on since the alphabet was created.  Remember the monks who toiled on illuminated manuscripts?  A printed word was worth a fortune in those days.  Only the wealthy owned books.  Then came Gutenberg's printing press.  Years later, when I took my first job after law school, we read typeset galley proofs, word for word.  A year after that, my secretary at First Virginia Banks took dictation with shorthand and used carbon paper and white-out to paint over typing mistakes.  Within 8 years, all of us in the Citi were learning DOS -- before long, WordPerfect, then Word.

With each iteration, a word lost value, to the point where today almost any 10-year old has probably sent more letters (emails) than my grandmother wrote in her entire lifetime.  There's an example.  Thirty years ago, I probably wouldn't have typed "entire lifetime."  The word "lifetime" says the same thing, without risking a mistake and a minute fussing with whiteout.

Yes, I've heard of Twitter.  I applaud Twitter.  It could force us to choose words more carefully. It's an anomaly, or is it?

"Got it," says Virginia.  "What's your point?"

I think it could be interesting to compare today's legislation with yesteryear's.  What do the additional words do?

In a related vein, let's compare regulations written 50 years ago to those written today.  I believe that now there's a tendency to say the same thing several times, in slightly different ways, and to throw in words in an attempt to make perfectly clear what's already clear from the context.  Maybe I'll begin to keep track of the "worst" examples I come across so I can share them with you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


This morning, "uh-oh" brought me out of my focus on recent regulatory changes.
Someone had forgotten to fasten the chain on one of the gates to our goat-donkey paddock, so Karen had to coax these guys back home.

This evening, as we strolled through the field you see in the picture beyond the donkeys, we enjoyed this view to the West.
When we reached the James River, it reminded me of Mirror Lake, in New Zealand, on the South Island, which reflects Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.
"Why go on vacation?" asks Virginia.

Right.  We live on vacation.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Take a Whiff

When I was in elementary school, we crawled under our desks when our teacher announced an air raid drill, our hands clutched around our heads and necks.  "Duck and cover!"

Around that time, too, I vaguely remember a school nurse promising it wouldn't hurt before she pricked the skin on my left arm, just below the shoulder.  I didn't believe her -- or why would she say it? -- but she was right.  Later, my lesion itched but it didn't turn big and ugly like those of some classmates.  The scar that remains marks me as a baby boomer.  Later, I remember going with my family to our local elementary school three times, to take a sugar cube version of the vaccine.  Maybe one was Salk and the other Sabin, or maybe the sugar cube version was for something other than smallpox.  Who remembers?

My younger brother had a special name for the kids who received the honor of wearing orange straps across their chests and monitoring hall traffic at the beginning of the school day -- "hall-buh-doodies."  I don't remember what they did, but some of them seemed to think they were miniature policemen.

I'm remembering these things not because it's September, which is when school resumed when I was a kid, but because I smell the first day of school.  It's in the air.  I realize for most kids around here, the first day of school was 3 weeks ago, but I didn't smell it then.

"How many smells can a human smell?" asks Virginia.

10,000?  100,000,000?  Who really knows?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ten Questions

My publisher asked me to submit 10 questions folks should be asking about the financial reform bill (Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act).

"Drop it," says Virginia.  "No one wants to read about that."

I know.  I wasn't going to write about that.  Here are my 10 questions.

1.  So you raised turkeys for 5 1/2 months.  Where are they now?  -- In our freezer.

2.  You didn't!  How could you?  I thought they were pets.  -- They were never pets.

3.  But, what did it feel like?  -- Not good.  I'm glad it's over.

4.  Are you glad you did it?  -- Yes, it was an important experience.  It brought into focus what's really behind those neat meat counter packages that mislead us into forgetting what we're buying.

5.  I don't want to get that close.  Must I?  -- No, that's totally up to you, but don't tell me I'm heartless or I'll tell you a thing or two.

6.  Do you think your frozen packages had a better life than those in the meat counters?  -- Yes, definitely.  They lived in a pasture under the sun, free to run around and eat bugs, worms, crabapples and other things.  They even got hugs once in a while.

7.  Right, like turkeys care.  They don't, do they?  -- I have no idea, but I care.  (And if I ever come back as a turkey, I definitely don't want to be packed in a factory with 50,000 others so tightly I can hardly move.)

8.  I hate to come back to this, but what was it like watching them die?  -- No fun.  I held their feet tightly, hoping my touch might help them through it, sort of like holding hands.

9.  Did you do the deed?  -- Actually no, although I might as well have since my eating caused it.  A friend of ours with experience in Africa accepted the honor.

10.  Will you be raising turkeys next year?  -- Maybe, but definitely not as many as the 19 we did this year.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Ain't No Conehead!

This is Witty, our eldest buck.
"Why is his face and beard yellowish brown?" says Virginia.

Dear woman, have you no sense of decency?
You probably can't see the rain that's spraying from his raincloud, but that's what he's catching in his mouth.  Some gets on his beard and on you, if you get close.  This time of year, when the does return to their 21-day heat cycles (sort of like global warming on a small scale), he gets frustrated because they're two fences away.  He snorts and stinks more than usual and bounces around enough to make a man wonder if that's what he looks like, downright embarrassing.

So much for caprine passion.  Now for an update on mine.

The October (horticultural) beans I planted and surrounded with the yellow fence are coming along nicely, unbothered by the birds that hassle the rest of my seedlings.
This is the time of year for these guys.  We always seem to have a bunch that don't ripen before the first frost.
Likewise, our sweet peppers.  Fortunately they taste good any size.
Today I transplanted my pomegranates, some of which were nearly root-bound.
Here's Olga, who seems to be shrinking rather than growing, and her guardian Boxerplants, Lex and Rosie, who now are as old as Adam's first dog, Casey, was when it died of cancer.
Talking about pets, here's our smartest turkey, who decided it was time to cozy up to Karen.
Do you think she watched Karen working on her latest project this morning?
"I ain't no conehead," she squawked.

Friday, September 10, 2010


I remember when my parents' washer died.  I'd call it "our washer" except when I moved out, I discovered it wasn't "our house" any more.  Like Adam's room upstairs.  It's still Adam's room, but the next time he comes home from school he's going to notice some changes.  The furniture has been rearranged and some new stuff has joined the picture, including my Kurzweil keyboard.  I'm having trouble resisting the view from his front window, so the things that make up my fairly mobile "office" may end up there soon.  I'm reminded of the time I thought "my things" could take up space in my parents' shed forever.  They asked me to take them to my house.

As for the washer, they didn't rush off to Lowe's to buy a new one, not because there wasn't any Lowes (there wasn't) but because they had to save money first.  It seemed like a long time to me, I was just a kid earning about 4 bucks a week delivering the Toledo Blade except when its staff went on strike.  Perhaps I missed my steady income, but I remember enjoying the vacation more than anything, like being able to waste time sleeping until 7 or 8 on weekend mornings.  Once when I complained about having to get up so early, my dad settled me down with, "you shouldn't worry about that at your age; if you get tired you can take a nap."  Nap?  What was that?  I might spend an afternoon lying on my bed, but most likely I'd have an open book and a bag of fresh applesauce donuts bought for 60 cents a baker's dozen at the downtown bakery, which hasn't been there for a long time.  Now we have to make our own.

Sometimes I regret not pretending that we had to save for things like washers and dryers.  Our son probably figured our credit card drew from a bottomless pit because we paid it off every month and used the frequent flyer miles to visit places like San Antonio, which I discovered on a business trip, back in the late 80s when Texas real estate dipped in value.  Think I'm kidding? The past couple years talking heads have been insisting the current financial crisis was caused in part because real estate values fell, something that had never happened before.  I went down to San Antonio to help with some litigation involving badly appraised loan collateral.  One house had a hole in the yard, partly dug by a swimming pool contractor who must have not have realized the owner wanted a pool liner.  I had returned home with rave reviews about the Riverwalk.

"You're rambling," says Virginia.

Sometimes I like to ramble.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who's on First?

"Who's on first?" I think that may have been the best advice the Arrowhead Trio received when we attended the Garth Newel chamber music weekend this past Spring.  Each trio member always needs to know "who's on first" -- whose part is most important (or equally as important) at any moment.

So we've been taking apart Hans Gal's Piano Trio.  One exercise was to play the piece through, a theme at a time.  That is, each person was allowed to play his part only if it was one of the themes or a significant part of a theme.

Being the pianist, I have a distinct advantage in understanding a piece, because I have all the parts in front of me.  I have two staves with my part, and above those staves are two more -- one with the clarinet part and the other with the violin part.  As I play, I can watch all the lines move, as well as hear them.  The scores for the other players are only one staff each.  The next time we start working on a new piece, I'm going to give each of them a copy of my score so they can study it as I do.

"Do you know what that makes you?" asks Virginia.

"No, what?" I say.

"A better page turner," she says.

She's right.  I have to turn my pages a lot more often than they do.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Burning

So you're itching to burn the Koran?

"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." (Matthew 7:12).

"I seem to remember some famous person said those words," says Virginia.

If you want others to burn the Bible, go ahead and burn the Koran.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Do you know what your wife or husband does?  Could you fill in if she or he were absent?  Sorry singles, you've got a leg up on this one and may want to wait for another blog posting.

In our home, Karen and I have divided the chores in a way that seems to work without giving it much thought (at least, I haven't).  One of our elder friends accuses us of reversed roles, which makes us feel special but isn't quite true because Karen does what I don't want to do, which is what men have been arranging for years, and I like to think Karen thinks I do what she doesn't want to do, which is what women have been arranging for years.

She cooks, cleans house, chases the toilets when they run, repairs lighting fixtures, fixes leaking pipes, mows the lawn, weed-eats, scrapes and repaints, rehangs doors, blah-blah-blah.  If you've been to her blog, you know how handy she is.

Meanwhile, I sit around and read and write, practice piano, run, play in the gardens, try to fill the basement kitchen with vegetables and some fruits for the winter, and do a little stock and bond watching.  Oh heck, you've been to my blog, I don't have to tell you what a girlie slough-off I am.

Anyway, what prompted this to-do was our receipt today of a check in the mail.  A few months ago, Karen's doctor prescribed a pill regime that cost $308.31 at a local pharmacy.  Karen gave me the receipt and I sent it off to our health insurance company with a cover letter.  That's why we received the check today, for $308.31.

"Are you suggesting I wouldn't think of submitting that claim?" asks Virginia.

Maybe.  I almost forgot.  I understand many spouses feel stranded for a while after their spouses disappear.  Many of us have a tendency to do our chores without telling the other what we've done.  While Karen and I typically go about our days fairly independent of each other, we both delight in taking a few moments almost every day to show the other what we've done. 

Too busy?  I understand.  I almost forgot to tell Karen about that check.  Somewhere around here -- now where did I put them? -- are instructions about some of the things I do, just in case.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Annual Buena Vista Labor Day Parade

My cellphone buzzed about 8 this morning as I ran past the Arrowhead Lodge mailbox.  That's where we can usually count on a signal.  I was on my way to my daily meeting.  Yes, even I have meetings on Labor Day, no rest for the weary.  Otherwise, I'll never have my part in the Hans Gal Piano Trio anywhere close to ready by the Arrowhead Trio's concert on September 26.

The phone message went something like this:  "Hello, this is Ms. X. You wondered if it would be all right to drive your car in the parade today.  Sure, come join us."

Mine was a wrong number, but it got me thinking.  Maybe next year I'll show up -- in a solar-powered battery mobile, with a few signs, including:

"Who is James Pannabecker?"
"Drink Goat Milk"
"Victory Gardens"
"Make Your Own Cheese"
"Write and Mulch"
"Make Music, Not War" (to quote the bumper sticker of Rockbridge Music)
"Let Donkeys Vote"

"Don't forget 'Who's Virginia?'" says Virginia.

I thought of that, but this is a political parade.  The governor and at least one senator were there.  If I start showing up every year, begin to establish a reputation and a following, perhaps when I'm 95, after most of the witnesses to my checkered past are out of commission, I could run for Congress.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

National Bird

If I were Peeping Tommy (see blog entry of Sept. 3), I would have been very pleased this morning.  As my Brooks Adrenalines treaded the Greenlea Bridge, my eyes spied something unusual resting on a power line high above the James River.  I ran a few more paces, then turned back for another look at what normally would have been a dove or pigeon.  This one had a solid white head (not one to squeeze).  It watched me out of the corner of an eye while I simply stared (no manners, this human).  After a few minutes, I dialed Karen's number to report the sighting.  She said she'd bring the camera and scurried car-ward.  No use. The bald eagle spread its wings after a noisy truck lumbered past.  I called off the photo staff support.  Sorry, no pic today.

Meanwhile, down in the bushes, Mr. and Mrs. Bentley....just kidding.  The bushes and the river played a quiet prelude to what was certain to become a rush of water traffic for this last summer holiday of the year.  An hour later, my chain saw melody interrupted the peaceful morning, quickly punished and silenced by a nut gone missing (not me; one of the two used to tighten the chain).  I seem to be having difficulty becoming one with firewood harvesting this year.  Om, Om.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Room with a View

Karen blogged about my river today, so I will, too.
That's a view of the James River from our master bedroom.

"I don't think so," says Virginia.  "It's too wide."

Mamma Mia, that's Capri!  Jerry, are you back there?  You put in the wrong slide.  Getting and keeping a good staff is hard these days. 

"Jerry quit yesterday," says Virginia.  "He got a better offer."

I thought he wanted an internship, so I offered him one.

"Yeh, well, he found a paying job," says Virginia.
"Good grief," says Virginia.  "That looks like a scene from La Boheme.  You can't see anything outside the window, certainly not the river."

Shoot, she's right.  That would be Opossum Run.  Where's the new intern?
I give up. Go ahead, imagine the James River, in one of the mirrors if you like.  Or come visit us.  We take all of our visitors to our private peninsula, where Karen and I hung out this afternoon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Peeping Tommy

Mom says I'm the worst peeping tom in the world.  Every morning I roll up the blind on my bedroom window and search for the first bird I can find -- any kind of bird -- in the winter, maybe a red-headed woodpecker, a robin in the spring, a junco in late fall.  If I'm lucky, I'll spy a blue heron or a bald eagle down by the river.

So yes, I like to look for peepers, but that's not what she means.  She's referring to the first morning I watched old Mrs. Moon.  It's not her real name.  I call her that because she wears a dress when she works in her garden.  She leans way over to pick green beans or strawberries or whatever, and when she does, well, let me just say she often forgets to wear underwear.

One morning, looking for my bird, I saw a flash in Mrs. Moon's second story window. I turned my binoculars and found her spectacles reflecting the sunrise.  At first I thought she was watching me.  Then I realized she was looking down and over, toward the river.  I followed her gaze.

Running through the bushes were Mr. and Mrs. Bentley, our other neighbors, playing hide-and-seek, shouting and laughing.  They must have left Johnny asleep in his crib.  I glanced at my clock.  I guess they figured it was safe to run around naked at six-zero-zero.

When I told Mom what I had seen, she smiled and said, "Don't tell your father."  I'm sure Dad wouldn't want to go swimming that early.

They do it almost every morning.  Mrs. Moon watches, like a lifeguard.  When it's cold or rainy, they rush back and hop into their hot tub and I think I see steam on Mrs. Moon's glasses.

I see other things, too, things I'm not supposed to mention. Farmer Donald lets his bull loose on the other side of the river every fall, and in the summer Mrs. Moon's granddaughter comes to visit for a couple weeks.  My brother, Joe, looks forward to that.  They're teenagers, but they still like to play in the treehouse they say the old lady's forgotten.  Too bad, because they scare away all the birds.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Baldee, the Imposter

The nicest thing about being bald is you don't need to shower for days.  Why is that nice?  I like taking showers.  If you go camping where there are no showers -- like a 10-day canoe trip into Algonquin Park -- your hair doesn't feel greasy, scraggly and in need of a wash.  If you don't want to, you don't need to dip your head in the cold lake waters with the rest of you. 

I'm not bald, but I have been, and could be again.  So could you.

Another nice thing is a couple days after the initial shave, the nubs feel nice.  Some other people like the feel of them, so the baldee gets a double benefit.

It's an experience worth experiencing.  Until I shaved my head, I didn't realize what a good insulator hair is. A bald head feels the warmth of an overhead light.  It also fails to soften the sting of a low ceiling above a basement stairway. Wait-staff might give you special attention.  When that happened, I felt like an imposter.

On a training run through Roanoke, the window of a passing van rolled down and out came a ballcap. "Try this on, baldee," yelled my benefactor.  I couldn't tell if he was teasing me or concerned about the beating sun.  Someone must have paid good money for that cap at a Hard Rock Cafe.  That was the second time.  The first time I ran a few track laps with a bald stranger in Salisbury.  Before he left, he ran to his car and tossed me a cap that matched his own.  "We bald guys need to stick together," he said.

Again, I felt like an imposter, which for me is not unusual.  Here I am, supposedly a banking expert, and I haven't been in the bowels of a bank in nearly 20 years.  Or a violinist.  My fiddle has been resting in the corner since our May Day concert.

"Me, too," says Virginia.  "I'm supposed to be developing character, and nothing much has happened in months."

She's right.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Today's news:

Jilted, a doctor gets stuck and dies after she climbs down the chimney in the house of her on-again, off-again boyfriend.  How was she going to squeeze through the damper?  What did she think about after she got stuck?  Did she still believe in Santa Claus?

A fellow's suicide attempt fails after he falls 49 floors onto cushions in the back seat of a car.  He couldn't walk away because both legs were broken.  Now what?

A friend once told me he doesn't read fiction.  I don't believe it.  As time passes, inaccuracies in each story will come out.  Nonfiction becomes fiction.  Fiction becomes nonfiction.

What is real is the passion that caused each story, the anger, the hurt, the disappointment.

What can we do to help someone who feels so terrible?