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And remember, kids,
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


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May 2013

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


All right, already. I know it’s May (just barely), and we sort of slid past April. There are two reasons, which I will explain. Briefly.

Number one is that my ability to walk seems to be fading fast. At the moment I can only sort of shuffle along unsteadily, and on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m about two clicks away from calling the Scooter Store. I’m kidding, of course. I’ll crawl across the floor before I do that. Anyway, that plus the really quite annoying now-constant pain in my legs has been very demoralizing and a major distraction.

I was also knocked a bit off course by the death of Annette Funicello, on whom I had a huge crush as a little kid, of the same sort of ms (primary progressive) that I have. She was, of course, in far worse shape than I am ever likely to get, but still, I was knocked a bit sideways. Here is a well-made (by CTV in Canada) three-part program on her struggles with ms. I admire her husband’s determination to help her, but I’m more than a little leery of the surgical procedures she underwent. The CCSVI procedure in particular is widely regarded by most ms experts as expensive and dangerous quackery.

Anyway, I used to walk faster than anyone I knew. When we lived in NYC, I walked like a typical New Yorker, zipping in and out of crowds on the sidewalk, stepping off the curb if necessary without a second thought. I’d mentally fume at the tourists in their Hard Rock t-shirts lumbering down Lexington Avenue six abreast at lunchtime (“Is that the Chrysler Building? The guide says that’s the Chrysler Building.”). I never actually said anything rude to such people, but one day a guy next to me addressed the herd blocking our way with a very loud “You people walk like you’re dead!” and a dozen New Yorkers in the vicinity started laughing and clapping.

So I really miss walking. And New York. The 4th floor walkup, not so much. But now I can walk on our road as slowly as I want and as wobbly as I am and only worry about being taken for a straggler by the coyotes. I saw one last week wearing what looked like a tattered Hard Rock t-shirt. Karma: It’s the Law.

Reason number two for the delay is that our dear little dog Pokey died last week of lymphoma, after going downhill for several months. Taking care of her in her last month was taxing but I’ll always be glad we did. She couldn’t manage the back steps any longer, so I had to carry her out and back in, and while she was nowhere as big as Brownie, our beloved dog who died last fall, Pokey was still about 30 lbs., which made every excursion an adventure in precarious balance. We kept her eating by cooking all sorts of people-food for her (she was partial to scrambled eggs and noodles), but eventually she could no longer stand much of the time and had difficulty swallowing food. So we fed her with a spoon and washed her with washcloths. She was still in there. She was still our little Pokey.

When Pokey wandered in 15 years ago (she followed Kathy home from a walk in the woods down by the old Ohio-Erie canal nearby), she had been neglected, abused, and apparently finally dumped in the frigid January woods. She looked like a dog built by a demented committee, maybe a cross between a corgi and a small pig, covered in a Harpo Marx wig of yellow curls topped off with an absurd feather-boa tail. We think she had recently given birth to puppies (the probable motive for her abandonment), who most likely had ended up in the icy canal.

Pokey in her chair, 2002

I had to keep Pokey in my office until she learned to tolerate cats, and I used to sit on the futon she slept on and tell her bedtime stories about a lucky little dog who’d never have to worry again. It must have worked, because once she felt at home, Pokey was the most relentlessly happy dog I’ve ever known — she’d literally jump up and down at the sight of the same old boring canned dog food in her bowl. Sadly, she had never learned to play as a puppy, so while Brownie chased Frisbees with manic energy, Pokey just wandered around the yard looking for things to eat in the tall grass. Indoors, she spent a typical evening wandering around the kitchen licking the floor and stealing … things …  from the cats’ litter box. Letting Pokey lick your face, or even your hand, was a very bad idea. A walk with Pokey meant stopping literally every few yards for her bathroom breaks; I used to joke that she was actually a purebred Shih Tzalot. Children and cats loved Pokey, though she seemed strangely oblivious to the cats and would walk right over them if they happened to be between her and food.

Pokey & Brownie; Pokey had already eaten her antlers.

She was a sweet, sweet little doggie who followed me from room to room and up and down stairs a dozen times a day. She was  happiest when I would sit on the top step of the stairs with my arm around her and sing her silly songs about Pokey-Dokey the Flying Dog, whereupon Brownie would race up the stairs and demand that we make room for her. By the time Brownie died, Pokey had survived heartworm, the loss of most of her teeth, partial blindness and near-total deafness. We were lucky to have her for so long — we never knew her exact age, and she may have been as old as 17 or 18 — and now, with both Brownie and Pokey gone, the house seems intolerably quiet. Every morning for fifteen years I’ve gone downstairs, put on water for coffee, and headed for the leashes hanging by the back door. I still start for the door before I remember.

So, anyway, that was my month. Tune in next time when I’ll tell you something interesting about Thomas Pynchon’s novel Vineland (seriously). In the meantime, please consider subscribing or just contributing. We have always been dependent on the kindness of youse guys.

And now, on with the show….

March 2013

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Spring is here, spring is here, life is skittles and life is beer, I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring, I do, don’t you? Of course you do.

So sayeth the Bard (Tom Lehrer), but it’s been a whole lot like January around here lately, which is to say gray, cold and bleak. Of course, this is Ohio. I’m sure it’s nicer where you are. Unless you’re also in Ohio, in which case, can you fetch me some cat food from the store? That incessant yowling on top of the cold gray bleakness is getting to me.

You know what’s funny? It’s 27 degrees out there, has been for a week, we just got three inches of snow, and the grass is growing. Big green clumps of grass. Take a hike, suckers. This year I’m gonna spray the lawn with Agent Orange and tell everybody Global Pattern Baldness is to blame.

Onward. Gosharootie, lookie there! It’s March, which means that it’s National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. I have recently been informed that March was picked to be MS month because they both begin with “M.” Apparently I shoulda/woulda figured this out on my own were it not for my creeping enfeebleation, which [pausing for breath] I am told I may choose to blame on my very own MS but which is more likely actually due to my addiction to chocolate doughnuts and pizza. Whatever. Anyway, you should all donate to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society because they do real work and fund real research (as opposed to simply “raising awareness”). The official MS color, by the way, is orange, which is kinda yucky and reminiscent of traffic cones, but far enough from pink that they probably won’t get sued.

So, anyway, here’s the March issue. Have fun, send me some questions, dagnabbit, and if the mood strikes you, please consider subscribing. Every month around this time I nervously check my PayPal balance to see if our hosting charges will squeak through on the first of the month, and at the moment that is far from certain. Operators are standing by. Act now!

And now, on with the show…

February 2013 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Way to go, Downton Abbey. Your show’s been staggering around on crutches since Matthew stood up from his wheelchair, and you blithely kick them away. This has not gone over well with either viewers or critics, quelle freakin’ surprise. The best analysis I’ve read (I’ve lost the source, sorry) is that the writers, having trod the well-worn path forged by Jane Austen, et al., had reached the point where Austen and the gang usually stopped, i.e., the happy ending/wedding.

But Fellowes & Co. forged bravely on, realizing too late they hadn’t a clue as to a proper plot beyond thwarted love, and wound up wandering in circles, spinning ludicrous subplots that went nowhere, and sporadically killing people. Literally in circles. Seriously, that’s the third maid canned for inappropriate romantic behavior, Daisy has unwanted suitors stacked up like incoming flights at LaGuardia, and why can’t poor Lady Edith get a boyfriend who isn’t a simpering wooden weirdo on wheels? (“Yes, you’re right, I am actually married … but my wife is in an asylum because she watched this show.”)

And now they’ve done away with arguably the most appealing character (Lady Sybil) and Matthew, who Slate dubbed “the Magical Middle-Class Guy,” the audience proxy and primary pivot in the arc of the show. Well done, chaps. That leaves Daisy the dramatic elbow room she’s always lacked, and the path is greased for another chapter in the treacle-sodden adventures of Bates and Anna. Perhaps they can open a Thomas Kincaide poster shop in town. But hey, no harm, no foul. Most of the audience probably shows up primarily to admire the furnishings and fantasize about how nice they’d be to their servants, so the fewer yammering actors in the way, the better. Not for nothing is PBS selling replica tiaras.

Yes, I know that Jessica Brown-Findlay and Dan Stevens, playing Lady Sybil and Matthew Crawley, both declined to renew their contracts. But either Dan Stevens should have been replaced (it is a soap opera, after all, and that’s how soap operas handle such moments), or the entire series should have been rolled up and ended. But is life without Molesly, Little Jimmy, Thomas, et al., really necessary? Bewitched replaced Darrin and went on for another three years. It’s not too late to patch things up for next season. Why not go Full Gonzo and hire Charlie Sheen?

While we wait to see what lies in store for our plucky band, I recommend these two spirited and well done parodies made by the BBC back in 2011: Uptown Downstairs Abbey Part One and Part Two.

Oh well. It occurred to me the other day that if I ever won the lottery I’d probably watch a lot more TV. I see online discussions and I’m amazed that perfectly normal, intelligent people can actually DVR and watch 19 series episodes every week and be devoted fans of shows I’ve never heard of. But when you work at home, you really never leave the office, so there’s always a nagging feeling you should be doing something productive, which makes it difficult to really relax and veg out.

I’m also reluctant to watch any new series because I seem to cast a hex on whatever I decide to like and — bam — it’s immediately cancelled. Carnivale on HBO, The Event on NBC (I think), some weird thing about aliens in Florida a few years ago, and Last Resort on ABC have all fallen prey to my baleful interest. I started watching Law & Order UK on BBC America a while back, and in the third episode I saw they offed a major cast member. Seemed like a warning. Disheartening, to say the least.

For the moment, anyway, we’ve been watching The Americans on FX (an awful channel, judging from the ads they run), which centers on two KGB sleeper spies operating as a married couple with children in the suburbs of Washington in the early 1980s. The series was dreamed up by an ex-CIA agent and is predictably implausible, but does have some nice touches, such as a sly allusion to Soviet numbers stations and a plot involving an umbrella with a deadly tip, clearly modeled on the 1978 murder of Georgi Markov by Bulgarian and/or KGB agents in London. Note to the production designers, however: I seriously doubt that the Soviet embassy in DC in the 1980s actually decorated its walls with Bolshevik recruiting posters. But you can make up for that by showing the spies’ kids watching Rocky and Bullwinkle outwitting Boris and Natasha. Moose and squirrel forever!

OCD Update: OK, now we have our early 80s anti-hero crouched in the woods with a 21st century mini Maglight LED flashlight in his mouth, using what appears to be an early 2000s Kenwood transceiver and a small UHF Yagi antenna to communicate with somebody, hopefully somebody close by. Fifteen miles maybe, Moscow not so much. BTW gang, if you’re looking for authentic 1980s tech gear, eBay is full of it.

Here are some goats expressing their opinions.

As always, your support is deeply appreciated, which is to say that I spend every day obsessively scanning my incoming mail for those “You have a new subscriber” PayPal messages that keep us in peanut butter and cat food. So please consider subscribing.  And now, on with the show…