Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

AN EVENTFUL WEEKEND

Twenty years ago today, Dee and I were in Boston, depositing Elder Daughter at what would be her new home for the next four years: Boston University.

We had done the obligatory College Search Trip, E.D. and I, the previous summer, visiting several schools in the Northeast. But it was pretty clear from the get-go that she was interested in one college, and one college only, from the moment her feet touched ground on campus - and that college was Boston University. And so that is where she decided to go.

The intervening year - Senior Year! - passed all too quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to transport our daughter and her Critical Belongings to Boston.

Logistics were a bit tricky, since we were living in Houston at the time - a Gawd-awfully long distance away by any surface transportation. Fortunately, since E.D. would be living in a dormitory, there was no need to schlep furniture. We would simply pack whatever miscellaneous clothing and supplies she would need in boxes and ship it up there by UPS, freeing us to fly without a monumental amount of checked baggage.

What we didn’t plan on was a UPS strike. Ah, well. The stuff got there eventually.

It was an eventful weekend, what with our scurrying about and helping to get our daughter situated in her new digs. Still there was more: It was Dee’s birthday.

And then came the shocking news from England about the tragic accidental death of Princess Diana.

The United Kingdom and the remnants of its Empire mourned... and we Americans mourned with them. It was a sad coda to what had started out as a fairy-tale story, one that had gradually developed darker tones as the years passed. Ah, well. Sic transit gloria mundi.

But our concerns were more immediate. We had a birthday to celebrate! And we had the bittersweet task of getting our firstborn settled in to her dormitory room, ready to begin her independent adult life. It was a bittersweet day.

I’ve written about that day before, and yet I can still conjure up the emotions I felt back then, a peculiar stew of joy, agitation, horror, grief, excitement, and unabated love. What else can you expect from an eventful weekend?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A HOLE IN THE SKY


The total eclipse of 21 August 2017, photographed in Englewood, TN by Yours Truly. Several prominences are visible on the right limb of the Sun: these could be seen as red flashes by the unaided eye.

...Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there’s only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart...
 - Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

...I’m being followed by a moon shadow
Moon shadow, moon shadow...
- Cat Stevens, “Moon Shadow”

...Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun...
- Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain”

...Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the Sun
 Oh, but Mama, that’s where the fun is
- Bruce Springsteen, “Blinded by the Light”

There was a small crowd of us gathered together in front of Eric the Blade’s Tennessee compound to see an event some of us had been anticipating eagerly for years. I speak, of course, of the total solar eclipse of 21 August 2017, the one christened by the Newsertainment Media as “The Great American Eclipse,” a blackout of the Sun that would cross the entire width of the continental United States. Meanwhile, the parts of the Lower 48 that did not see totality would at least experience a partial eclipse.

Partial solar eclipses aren’t that uncommon, as it happens, but the difference between even a 99% partial eclipse and The Full Monty is, well, all the difference. The first is interesting; the second, utterly mind-boggling. For that reason, I had been looking forward to this day for over ten years, ever since I learned that the path of totality would be just a short drive north of Chez Elisson. Even better, the centerline of that path would sweep through Tennessee, passing just a couple of miles north of Eric and Fiona’s place. It would be hard to find a better excuse for a blogmeet.

Dee and I arrived early, as did K-9 and Red, his elusive (and lovely) bride. Sunday night, Tommy and Shyam stopped by, and in the wee hours of the morning, the Mistress of Sarcasm cruised in after having dropped Erica and The Other Elisson off at the infamous Red Roof Inn. And on Monday - Eclipse Day! - we were greeted by Eric’s Sainted Mother and her friend Barb.

Everyone was well provisioned with the requisite eclipse glasses, with Tommy and Shyam having brought a couple of colanders as well. (Colanders, aside from being a Dubious Fashion Accessory, have small holes that cast interesting diffraction patterns during the partial phases of an eclipse.)


Totality Ridiculous: Dee and I sport the latest eclipsy fashions. Eclipse Glasses and Colanders protect against both eyeball-sizzling solar radiation and Mysterious Chemtrailz ’n’ Kozmik Rays! 

August in Tennessee can be a blast furnace, and Eclipse Day was no exception. We could almost feel our faces sizzle as we took brief peeks at the Sun through our eclipse glasses, waiting for the first chip of moonshadow to appear. It did, and we all watched the slow progression of partiality, the Sun’s weirdly obese crescent gradually looking more and more like some sort of astronomical Pac-Man and then becoming the thinnest of slivers. Even so, it was too brilliant to gaze upon without those nearly opaque eclipse glasses.

As the eclipse progressed, we all could see diffraction patterns take shape in shadows cast by the leaves, an array of crescents. Even Tommy’s colander could throw a skein of crescents across the driveway.





It was Eric who first noticed the cicadas, who had begun thrumming as though it were twilight. And, we realized, it was twilight. The Moon’s shadow was rushing toward us, a dusky umbrous darkening of the Western sky.

Then, suddenly, totality.


It got plenty dark for a couple of minutes.

The last brilliant sliver of sunlight vanished and the eclipsed Sun appeared in all its magnificence: a jet-black disc surrounded by the pearly solar corona. It was like nothing so much as a glowing hole in the sky. And the corona! White it was, bluish at the edges, with barely discernible reddish flickers appearing intermittently at the edge of the Moon’s ebon surface. It was a sight for which I had waited all my lifetime.

We watched, jaws agape. And then, as the all-too-brief time window closed, we could see dawn approaching... out of the west. In a twinkling it was over, and the cicadas ceased their song.

It had been awesome in the truest sense of the word, a rare glimpse of a near-miraculous phenomenon. And being able to share the experience with Dee, the Mistress of Sarcasm, my brother, and a handful of good friends? Priceless.


Composite photograph of the eclipse as it progressed from partial to total. Don’t let those thin crescents fool you: Even the thinnest sliver of unobstructed Sun was too brilliant to look at without eye protection.

I can now check “See a total solar eclipse” off my bucket list. But there’s another one coming down the pike in seven years (8 April 2024) and it’ll be a doozie, with totality lasting about four and a half minutes. The centerline of totality will pass almost right over Kerrville, Texas; just a hair west of Cleveland, Ohio; right over Buffalo and Rochester, New York; and will touch the northernmost tip of Prince Edward Island. Plan ahead!


Big Jack sez, “Hey, did I miss something?

Monday, August 28, 2017

GEORGE’S RAFT: A 100-WORD STORY

George was a pirate, but he wasn’t a very good pirate.

He had, somehow, managed to get himself marooned on an island. That’s standard pirate fare, except his island was in the middle of one of the largest cities in North America.

There were several cats on hand, and George briefly considered lashing them together to make a raft. But after pondering this idea, he thought better of it. Even a bad pirate, he thought, wasn’t that stupid.

Who will be eaten first? he wondered. Him, or the cats?

At least he had plenty of Jack around. Damn that Harrrhvey!

[Lashed together to honor the king of 100-word stories, Laurence Simon, and his creation: George, the not-very-good pirate. About a dozen years ago, Lair inspired me to begin writing my own 100-word stories, all of which are conveniently accessible both here and at my old blog. He’s dealing with Hurricane Harvey right now, and we hope he won’t have to lash his cats together to make a raft.]

Monday, August 21, 2017

THE UNFORTUNATE AND SHORT-LIVED ROMANCE OF MR.CHARLES BEVIS

Charles Bevis was a Man of Means, and of exceeding Taste;
And when it came to Courtship, he refused to act in Haste.

He would interview all Prospects, making all Requirements known,
Because he was particular about she whom he’d take Home.

One Day a Lady caught his Eye who answered all his Questions,
And winked at him with just the slightest Hint of warm Suggestion.

On bended Knee his Troth he pled; she happily accepted.
The Nuptials followed: Off to bed, but not there to be slepted.

For full three Nights and full three Days, with Passion quite romantic,
They made Love every Minute with a Pace exceeding frantic.

Then Nature called (as Nature must) unto good Mr. Bevis,
Who told his bride, “We must confide, it’s time that we relieve us.”

And going to the “Little Room” where stood the white-glazed Throne,
Our Mr. Bevis sat right down and made himself at Home.

But when for Paper-Roll he reached, his Fundament for dabbing,
’Twas then with pain-wracked Voice he screeched, as though he’d felt a Stabbing!

“Vile Wench!” he shrieked, “Avaunt! Away! I’ll sue you for Divorce!
And if you do not leave at once, I’ll throw you out by Force!”

A Scene ensued. His weeping Bride took neither Hat nor Pin,
A swift and shocking Consequence for her most heinous Sin -

For ev’ryone of Quality knows one essential Fact:
The Paper on the Toilet-Roll goes Front, and never Back!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A STORY, SAD BUT NEVERTHELESS TRUE

Here’s a story that, in some respects, hearkens back to the Good Old Days of crapblogging.

Crapblogging has fallen on hard times, methinks. For that matter, blogging has fallen on hard times. Rather than having to maintain a blog and earn a readership in the wilds of the open Internet, people waste spend most of their time on Farcebook, where their communications are visible to a self-selected audience. Since - in theory, at least - your Farcebook friends (”ffriends“) know who you are, nobody wants to describe details of personal excretory experiences quite the way they did on the semi-anonymous platform of a blog.

Hell, the word “blog” sounds like an excretory experience.

On Farcebook, one tends to be more circumspect. Which is why I’m writing this on my blog. Which I will most likely link to my Farcebook page, so who am I kidding, anyway?

Anyway, this is a true story, and it is more an observation on just how damned inconsiderate people can be in the Age of Portable Electronica than it is a crapblogging post...

We begin in one of the local eateries, where Dee and I are meeting a friend of long standing - technically, the daughter of a friend of long standing - for lunch. And as we wait for said friend to arrive, I hear the Call of Nature. It is not a subtle whisper: rather, it is a clarion call of the sort that requires immediate attention.

I carefully make my way to an all-too-distant restroom, only to discover that the sole stall is occupied. OK, I can handle this. I’ve got muscles in all the right places.

A few minutes go by, and I am becoming, ah, err, a bit impatient. And that’s when I hear the bippity-boop of a smartphone coming from the stall.

Son of a bitch!

I wait another minute. Bippity-boop!

And now I do something I have never had to do in all the years I have walked the planet. I knock on the stall door. Once. Twice.

“Oh, sorry!” And now the stall’s occupant scrambles to, as they say, finish the job.

My comment? “Thanks - another minute and I might have had to shit in the urinal.”

These fucking kids and their smartphones, am I right?

A COSMIC GET-TOGETHER


Moon and Sun.

These two Cosmic Objects are due to have a rendezvous in less than two weeks, an event I’ve been looking forward to for over a decade.

It is a rendezvous that depends mightily on your point of view. The Sun is about 93 million miles from the Earth - just the right distance to allow water to exist in its three most useful phases. The Moon is roughly 238,900 miles away, so it is nowhere near the Sun. But by a happy coincidence, the Moon, thanks to its closer distance and smaller size, occupies almost exactly the same angle of view from our Earthbound perspective... just enough to cover the solar disc without obscuring its corona.

It means that total solar eclipses are fleeting and rare phenomena. You have to be in the exact right place to see one, and its duration will usually be less than two minutes as the Moon’s seventy mile-wide shadow speeds across the Earth’s surface at hundreds of miles per hour like a dark finger tracing a path along a map.

We’re hoping to be right in the middle of that shadow.

Eclipses can be predicted with absolute certainty; the motions of the celestial spheres follow immutable laws. The weather, however, is another matter. Let’s hope and pray for a sunny day!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

THIS IS A TEST


Here comes the Sun.

This is just a test... of my ND100000 filter, which allows me to photograph the Sun’s disk. (Even with this much neutral density, I’m still using 1/4000 second at f22, ISO 100.)

Twenty days from today, I’m hoping to see that disk dwindle down to a crescent... and then to disappear, as the Moon’s shadow sweeps across Tennessee.

Pray for good weather, Esteemed Readers.

WHEN POP GOT DROPPED: A 100-WORD STORY

Eric “Pop” Tartz was a fixture in his small town, where he was especially loved by the local children.

He was a man of regular habits, not all of them respectable. Mornings, you could catch him getting toasted at Ernie’s Breakfast Bar.

Pop was a crusty fellow, but people who knew him would say that beneath his dry exterior lay a sweet, melty heart. Detractors, on the other hand, called him tasteless.

Tasteless? Maybe… but he must have had dark secrets. One day his body was discovered at the Breakfast Bar, bitten nearly in half.

Someone had had him iced.