Sunday, March 31 2013
After the Sunday morning coffee ritual, Gretchen went off to walk dogs at the Ulster County SPCA while I cleaned up the kitchen for the first time since we got back from Silver Spring. Passover season brings with it its own kinds of kitchen chaos: half-eaten boxes of matzah, half-used cans of tomato paste, and crumbs of Daiya vegan cheese (those last two from the making of matzah pizzas). When the kitchen cleanup job is a big one, I usually make sure to queue up a podcast to listen to as I work. Normally I broadcast it from my computer using an available FM frequency, which means that I cannot interact with the broadcast as I listen to it (except to turn it off or change the audio volume). For this reason, I am sometimes forced to listen to programming that wouldn't normally interest me (such as the backstory about the recording of a famous jazz album or a review of a new Tony-award-winning Broadway musical). I view this as a feature, not a bug, because it's all too easy in today's world to surround myself only with things that interest me deeply, which is not a path to a well-rounded awareness of the world.
The podcast I'd queued up was the latest episode of James Howard Kunstler's podcast, the Kunstlercast. I'd read his latest blog post while down in Silver Spring and was aware that he was recovering from impromptu heart bypass surgery, so I wasn't sure that he'd even have new material. (The production values of his podcasts have gone downhill since he started producing them without the help of his younger colleague Duncan Crary, though the content has been as good as it's ever been.) By the time I'd gotten my headphones on and tuned into the correct frequency, the voice coming from the podcast sounded strange. It was clearly James Howard Kunstler affecting a faux cockney accent as he read a long dreary monologue about something called "sucking stones." Kunstler's character was carrying a bunch of stones in his pockets that he enjoyed (for whatever reason) sucking, and he wanted to be sure to suck them all without ever sucking any one stone twice in a row before beginning anew on sucking them all over again. To keep track of the stones and make sure none were sucked twice in a row, the character devised a system of transferring them between pockets. All the tiresome the details of how the stones were to be transferred were included in the monologue; to my ear it sounded like trying to write a complicated computer program using either a Turing Machine or some early computer (such as a PDP-8 or an 8048 microcontroller) lacking much in the way of registers or stacks. The only time my brain has ever cycled through such horrifyingly repetitive quasi-math has been in fever dreams. It was a painful thing to listen to, and it was made all the more so by a complete absence of narrative leavening from any mention (however tangential) of anything else in the character's life. Had I had some control of the playback, I would have completely skipped this podcast, but I was washing dishes and didn't want to have to run off to the laboratory, so I was a captive audience.
Though Kunstler never once identified the author of the monologue that he read, there was something familiar to the claustrophobic mental torture I experienced just listening to it; I was reminded of the two hours I'd spent watching a local theatre production of Waiting for Godot. Might this monologue about sucking stones also be by Samuel Beckett? So after the dishes were washed, I googled "sucking stones" and soon discovered that my suspicions were correct. It was gratifying to realize that I'd actually picked something up from the dreadful experience of Waiting for Godot, if only it was an ability to recognize things as prototypically Beckettian.
This evening Gretchen and I had dinner in Woodstock at the Garden Café with a gentleman named Dayl and his wife. Dayl runs a tiny press that just published Gretchen's book Kind, a collection of poems about humankind's relationship with nature. For whatever reason I was mostly bored during dinner, partly because the food was sort of boring and partly because I didn't drink any alcohol. (Though the bean soup, as always, was delicious.)
It was the first reasonably-warm evening of Spring, and, accompanied by rain, it brought out the toads in great numbers. As I drove home on Dug Hill Road, these were the first amphibians I'd seen in 2013. They were jubilant as they hopped across the wet asphalt of Dug Hill Road (and I did my best to avoid running over them).
Running low on booze in the laboratory, tonight I opened a jar of Shine On Georgia Moon moonshine given to us by our friend Paul (the guy who owns a large church in the Rondout and who'd been with us when we'd seen Waiting for Godot). I've had this brand of moonshine in the past, and it's not actually very good. There's a reason whiskey is aged in oak barrels; without that aging, it can taste a bit like poison. The jar I opened tonight was particularly harsh, having a flavor that reminded me of the ink from a ballpoint pen. I added ice and suffered through it, but I'll probably end up using the rest of it as an industrial solvent.
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