Straw Hat

I went to the Goodwill to look for a hat to wear in this scene I am in. The call sheet said “straw hat” and I can’t say any more because I signed an NDA.  I have something at the country house, a big dark brown wide-brimmed rough weave hat I wear when I cut grass sometimes. I bought it when I was doing a lot of gardening.  A ball cap is really not as good as a big hat when you are working outside in the sun. You are a lot cooler under a big hat.  I think anyway. I am not really a hat wearer, that is about the only time I wear one. I only have two ballcaps, both of them the same, white caps with UMSL on them, one in the city house and one in the country house. Sometimes in the winter I might wear one, otherwise my head covering is a hoodie I wear under a winter coat.

But the scene calls for a straw hat and I the call sheet came while I was in the city and am not going to spend more in gas than a new hat cost to get mine from the country. After the Goodwill I went to a Walmart. The producer was sort of confused when I told her I had been to a Walmart and they didn’t have one. There was actually one for 30 bucks, an ugly unfinished looking thing with the straw sticking willy-nilly off the brim. Clearly a hat a young man buys to drink beer in on a float trip or at an outdoor concert. The kind of thing a wife might mention in telling a story about how she met her husband, “and he was drunker than shit and wearing this stupid straw hat but I thought he was cute, and 20 years later, here we are.” I am not getting paid for being in this movie and there is no wardrobe budget, so I didn’t buy the ugly thing that I would only wear one time.

Years ago I had a super cheap straw fedora that grocery stores sell in the spring for $6. I used to wear it all the time until I caught my reflection one time and realized how stupid I looked. You put a snap-brim hat or a tuxedo on lots of Italian guys and they look like mafioso. It is crazy. I have some pictures of my grandparent’s wedding in the 1920s, a sepia thing near a hundred years old now and my PapaGrande is not intimidating, but one of his brothers standing right behind him looks like a cold vicious dago hitman. He was a great guy too, but the pictures of him in a tux are frightening. 

I will find something on the way to the shoot tomorrow. I called a couple of places, a Bucheiht’s and a Rural King. Somebody will have something.

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I bought a copy of The Postman Always Rings Twice while at the Goodwill. It was a popular book a generation ago. That is a great thing about the Goodwill book section; I come across stuff I would not have normally sought out, it takes my reading in interesting places. I just finished I Am Legend, a novella by a guy named Richard Matheson. Most of his stuff is horror/Sci-Fi sort of stuff from the 50s and 60s. I got it because Will Smith made a movie of the same name a while back. The movie was only very loosely based on the book and ended with hope, where the book was more final. I liked the book ending better. This guy Matheson wrote screenplays and for TV and he wrote the episode for Twilight Zone with a pre-Star Trek Willian Shatner that was the single most terrifying thing I saw in my single digit years. “”Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and in black and white it did give me nightmares. Very scary. 

There were quite a few classics, mostly together but I gathered some of them on a shelf for a picture. So many great books! One and two bucks apiece. I always want to buy them, but I won’t store tons of books anymore. There are always more than I am going to be able to get to and libraries make more sense for a heavy reader. The classics are all online now, and most everything else too – with a library card. I do like a physical book better, but that may have to change as time goes along.

I haven’t read The Poisonwood Bible or Under the Volcano or the Sparks book and probably won’t at this point. I have a copy of The Known World at home and plan to get to it.

Wingnuts

When Joe lifted the extractor from the bed of the truck he felt a sharp burning snick of pain in his right elbow and had to shift it to his left hand as he carried it into the corner hardware store. Inside the conservative talk radio droned and there was the familiar oil and plastic and fertilizer smell he had expected. Jim at the counter couldn’t readily place the nature of the extractor, the light stainless steel cylinder not registering as anything he knew about. He looked expectantly to Joe. Joe placed it on one of the stools that lined the customer side of the counter.

“This is a honey extractor, and when I cleaned it up after last season I took the wingnuts that hold this in place,” Joe showed him the bolts sticking through the bar across the top that held the rotating framework down against the extractor, “and put them somewhere safe. I did such a good job of keeping them safe I couldn’t find them this year.”

Jim laughed, “Put them somewhere safe. I have never heard of that happening to anyone before, I mean, I never did anything like that.” and grinned at Joe and felt the threaded end of the bolt.

“You are laughing with me Jim, not at me, right?”

“Yeah sure, with you, probably a five sixteenth” still laughing as he went to the bank of trays with the hundred different nuts and bolts and washers alongside the counter. He quickly located and opened a tray and fished out two wingnuts. “Here, try these.”

Joe threaded one on the bolt but it caught before it screwed the bar tight to the extractor.

“No, they have to tighten down so this doesn’t move at all.”

“Must be metric then, I don’t think I have any metric wingnuts.”

“How about just regular nuts? I would just have to use a wrench to tighten them down, it ain’t but once a year.” Joe handed the wingnuts back to Jim.

“Yeah, that will be 8 millimeters, you want some washers with that too?”

“Sure, that would probably be a good idea.” Jim went back to the trays and soon found the nuts and handed them to Joe. Joe put the washers on the bolts, threaded the nuts onto them and they screwed easily all the way down. He tightened them as well as he could by hand and checked to see that the framework rotated easily. 

“What do I owe you?”

Behind the counter Jim scanned something and tapped a few keys at his register. 

“Can you afford eighty six cents?”

“I think so and I won’t even tell anyone else you laughed at me,” said Joe as he handed Jim a dollar. “Hold onto the change till the next time, would you?”

“Sure, and when you get your honey, I might be interested in some.”

“I’ll tell the wife, she handles the business side of things,” Joe said, “see you next time.” He picked up the extractor and headed to the door. Outside the air was clear and Joe laughed again as he put the extractor back in the bed of the truck.

Jack’s Way

Jack moved the bishop with the ring finger and pinkie of his left hand. They weren’t using a clock so the extra time to pick up and place the pieces was of no matter, but the inefficiency irked Joe. He said nothing. It was enough to keep Jack focused on the game, to insert another idea would add complication. Jack planted the bishop on the D6 square awkwardly transferring control to his right index finger to hold it in place as he considered the move. This irked Joe as well, he had told Jack repeatedly they were in learning mode and not playing mode and touch move was not in effect.

“Jack, are you sure you want to put that bishop on D6? You are not going to be able to move that D7 pawn and that light-squared bishop is going to take forever to get out. Are you sure you want to do that?”

Jack considered and his long lean face dropped even lower between his thin shoulders, “Well, if I don’t put the bishop there, if you move that pawn up I won’t be able to defend it later.”

“Not up, chess language.”

“Uh, D2 to D4.”

“Good, or push the D pawn, and yes, I will probably play D4, but is the bishop the best way to defend that?”

Jack considered. Joe waited and then Jack’s head tilted a little and his eyes glided right and Joe knew his attention had gone that way as well.

“Chess, Jack,” Jack’s gaze came back to the board and Joe could almost see him slowly puzzle the position from the beginning. 

“Well, this might not be the best move but I can’t see another way so I am going to make it.”

Joe relented and pushed the D pawn. He would crush Jack here and in the post game analysis they would go over the move and he would explain the trapped bishop. Jack would not forget, but might have to repeat the same mistake several times before he did not make it again. It was his way.

Living in the Moment

I have an 21st century epistolary relationship with my friend Tommy. We text. I met him during the Searching for Bobby Fischer chess resurgence in the 90s. Chess in America needs  a spark, there are always going to be hardcore players, those whose mental capabilities run towards puzzles and games and the like, but trends in American chess have a lot to do with popular culture. I learned to play when Fischer challenged for the World Title in the 70s and came back to chess when the book and movie came out. Online chess and this pandemic and now The Queen’s Gambit have created another chess surge. Lots of kids are beginning their chess journey. Tommy and I played at the Crestwood Chess Club, (now gone) when he was eight and I was in my thirties. He was quite a good chess player for his age. After a couple months at the club I was not too much of a challenge for him. If he had been a brat, losing to him would have stung, but he really was a great kid. I left chess after four or five years and went back to drinking beer and chasing women and he went on to High School and he passed out of my life for a time.

Many years later the internet has allowed us to reconnect. We text all the time but have yet to get together though we are both in the St Louis area. Our subject matter has mostly to do with literature and writing and grand philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. We haven’t got everything completely figured out yet. He is married with children and teaches at a local university. I think our relationship very important, the sharing of ideas means a lot to me. He was a terrific kid and has become a good man. I like him a great deal.

Lately we have been trying to pin down the meaning of life and have been stuck a bit on the ideas about truth and morality. I would be a nihilist except for biology. He may or may not believe in a “god” or ordering force in the universe but he would like to have a truth to fall back on. He does not like the idea of an empty abyss of nothing. Neither do I, but what can you do? I think our species will one day pass away, and our earth swallowed by our exploding sun and for all intents and purposes it will be as if we never existed. While we are here though, we are human, a specific thing, and part of a complex social group, a framework. Biology trumps nihilism. We have a purpose within a framework. If the framework has no purpose that is of no matter. We have meaning within the framework. My thinking anyway.

I have been reading James Suzman’s book Affluence without Abundance about Hunter Gatherer culture in Namibia, searching for an example of what a human in a pre-history more natural state might have thought about this life. I just started the book and he has not addressed that idea completely yet, it may not really be the focus of the work. Already though, Suzman has impressed me with the idea that the HG culture is about living in the present, not so much goal oriented but do enough as needed and go with the flow. Kinda like Baloo the Bear. Seems plausible that such a life would be enjoyable.

Lots of time in the firehouse was like living in the moment. The days were not about what had to be produced or accomplished, but rather whatever emergency came up. Sometimes it was just hanging out with a bunch of guys.  In the early part of my career that was enough, later it was not, but I am a product of a goal oriented society, it may be I am unable to live in the moment. It was fun for a time, like living in a movie. I am glad for the memories, even if they are not all good. Towards the end though, it was like being locked up, the moments burdensome.

Now in retirement my wife tells me I don’t have to do much of anything I don’t want to. However both Tommy and I feel a pull to something more, something larger than the day to day requirements. We talk about it. It helps me to have him around. He has children so he does not have the same kind of options that I do. Despite all his responsibilities he is able to read and write as much as I do. His is an impressive intellect and his ability with languages is amazing. I am going to try to weave some of the philosophy we discuss into my writing. He was the one that taught me the Tennyson quote from Ulysses that resonates so strongly lately; 

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.”

The “strove with Gods” I understand as a certain accomplishment, sort of Tennyson speaking to the purpose of his writing. Tommy can give a lot of great quotes like this, he knows stuff. Discussing things with him helps me describe what I am thinking. Even to be able to describe these things is important, work of noble note is not achieved by simply living moment to moment. I guess I have rejected the Hunter Gatherer philosophy.

More Book Stuff

I like to stop at the Goodwills around St Louis. I breeze the clothing aisle looking for sharp creases on higher end cotton button down shirts and then go through the books looking for anything at all. I skip the pots and pans. I have a full collection of stainless steel Revere Ware™ at my city and country houses purchased over the years at three to five bucks a pot. Standardized sizes. I will probably not need anymore kitchen stuff for the rest of my life. That is interesting to me.

Books though, that is another thing. I have about three feet of books on a shelf here in the city. I get rid of any more than that. I might have half a dozen signed books – things acquaintances have written and autographed copies and so on, but I no longer store books I don’t think I will read again. I complain about my memory failing, but I can read a book and 20 years later when I pick it up I can still recall big chunks of it. Not always, but often enough that re-reading books needs a longer break in years than I might have left in my life, so hanging on to a literal ton of the musty smelling things is not happening. You can find an amazing amount of public domain stuff online as well, though I prefer an actual paper and ink book in a larger format than a small paperback. Still, with two library systems close, I can find anything I want. The Goodwill books are like a buck so what the heck. Sometimes the finds take my reading in a direction I might not have gone. That is good I think. 

I have come across some real finds over the years. Classics I see on a regular basis. To my sensibility they are sadly pristine in condition, most seem never to have been read. Recently I found copies of Madame Bovary and Oh Pioneers. I had read neither and I found them both delightful, the stories rich but simple and the characters well described and strong. Both copies were near perfect. I read them and sent the Bovary to a friend and dropped the Pioneers in my library book drop. I don’t know what they do with those books, they may catalog them and put them on the shelves or they may sell them later in one of those big sales. I hope someone gets use of them, most classics that I get around to reading are very much worth the trouble. 

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I just finished News of the World. I liked it fine. It was a simple quest story set just after the American Civil war about a german child stolen by the Indians and raised in their culture that has to be returned to her blood relatives. A very short book, it was written in a sparse sort of way but had some good characters. I will probably rent the movie this weekend. It is on to The Razor’s Edge, by Maugham. I read a Murakami recently and he mentioned it so I thought I might try it, the reviews are excellent. I read Of Human Bondage as a teen for the obvious prurient reasons, but recall nothing verbatim. I would bet if I took up a copy I would recall much, that is how I am wired.

I might take a reading break though and write more. I have read 65 books of my 75 pledged in the Goodreads challenge for 2021. Actually, this year’s challenge has been quite a bit more enjoyable than last year’s. I have treated the reading as a bit of an apprenticeship as there can be no better writing teacher, I think, than good books. I will try to focus on writing now.

I had a rant of another 1000 words here that was just crap. But hey, recognizing the crap is an important part of the process. I edited it out.

Fates and Furies

“The more life you had, the more the base expanded, so that the wounds and treasons that were nearly imperceptible when they happened stretched like tiny dots on a balloon slowly blown up. A speck on the slender child grows into a gross deformity in the adult, inescapable, ragged at the edges.”*

Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff

You know, I enjoyed Groff’s book quite a bit. I thought it one of the best I have read all year. That is saying something as I have read quite a bit this year and tried to read important work as well. The writing was outstanding, her language is rich and there are pauses and breaks in the sentence structure that I found to be refreshing. There was more french than I needed but it wasn’t annoying or anything.

My friend Tommy said she had been accused of being pretentious. I thought her not pretentious, but simply she was so immersed in the arts and classics it flowed out of her like water from a faucet, that she wasn’t putting on airs. I told Tommy, “the common folk might find her pretentious, I do not.”

Tommy said “well you can’t please the masses, but it was caviar to the general.” I was like, “uh, sure.” Later when I looked it up I laughed. 

It is on to either The Razor’s Edge or News of the World. The first was referenced in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and the second suggested by a professor I stay in contact with 2 years graduated from college now. 

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* I liked this quote, it was well written and the description made you picture it in your mind. Clearly from the hand of a skilled writer. I disagree with the quote though. I think that injuries to a “slender child” can be permanent. I don’t think they have to completely devastate the adult. Lots of folk come from rough circumstances and see things that they should not see, but don’t always become some absurdity as they grow up. Some do of course, but the life of any human has dots and specks.