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double entendre

hoochie-coochie 2

This song is really provocative, given its age. I first heard it in college; one of Holly’s art teachers had it on vinyl.

220px-Bessiesmith3Recorded by Bessie Smith, who was nicknamed “The Empress of the Blues,” Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s.

It employs the double entendre: the first meaning is rather prosaic while the second meaning is risqué. It is clear that on one level she is referring to a sugar bowl, but the second or hidden meaning refers to… well, I’ll leave that to you to figure out. This is not a sex education class.

Bessie Smith died in 1937 as a result of a car accident. She was only 43 years old.

Despite its off-color nature, I think it is an important song that any serious student of music history should know.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Bessie Smith performing “I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl”



connection to internet

It is good being reconnected with the outer world. I had a lot of emails to answer after my phone system was restored, and I was able to connect last night with the mother of one of our kids. I think I may have had a suggestion that she found valuable, but only time will tell. In any event, my phone call assured her that she is not alone and it was appreciated.

When the phone line goes down, I am reminded of how tenuous is my connection with people, even locals. A friend who lives only a dozen miles away had called several times the night before, and because the phone had appeared to him to have rung (it didn’t here), he had erroneously suspected that I was ignoring him. Had I not been able to walk to my neighbor’s (whose phone still worked), I would have been completely cut off, even from the phone company.

I dread the day that my phone line goes down for more than a day; the ensuing silence would at least be better than the navel-gazing that would probably follow without the intellectual inputs provided by the Internet.

Thank god for Wikipedia! I have a green-leather-bound Encyclopedia Britannica in storage, but I doubt that I will ever open it again.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Blondie performing “Hanging on the Telephone”


telephone line

telephone line

Ah, the joys of living on the frontier!

Yesterday afternoon Estrella Vista took a direct lightning strike and the Internet and dial tone on my phone were knocked out. Luckily I still had electric power after the strike because my electrical system is a completely separate system from the phone, connected only via wireless. If we had been hard-wired, who knows what else would have been fried?

I managed to get a call into the local phone company before the end of the day, and the customer service they offer is second-to-none. Plus, the phone repair man is a good friend of mine, so service was restored today faster than you might expect in the big cities.

Anyway. this is why I am posting so late. A minor bump in the road. It would have taken a bigger catastrophe than this to have upset my apple cart. I can’t always make such a claim. But yesterday I had no less than three media successes.

The first was receiving a Facebook “friend” request from a People magazine writer who I had told, in my last interaction with her, that we could not accommodate her request for an interview with one of our kids. Yet she apparently still wants to remain in touch. The second was receiving an email from a MSNBC writer, after I had questioned her treatment of another one of our kids. I thought my questioning of her had blown my friendship and any future opportunity of coverage. I had been quite depressed by the direction our relationship had taken, but the depression was dispelled by the email. The third was receiving a call from the parent of one of our kids, saying that he was interested in a film project proposed by a British filmmaker. Previously, I had predicted that the chances of the project moving forward were minimal to nil, so this news (as in the other two instances) represented a reversal of my negative expectations.

I am a big boy, and I have dealt with the media for years. The cause of parricides is a difficult one to put over. We are dependent on the media to maintain a high public profile, and traffic to this blogsite surges after every media exposure. I am accustomed to ups and downs with the media, but lately everything has seemed to turn to dust. Needless to say, it has been discouraging. Plus August, with its personal anniversaries, is always the worst month of the year for me. So yesterday’s advances were much-needed to keep my spirits up.

If I did not live in such a beautiful, peaceful place—if I did not have such wonderful, caring neighbors—I doubt that I could do this work. It’s that hard.

Yesterday I received a letter from the mother of one of our kids. Not that I am the best person to give advice, but I was the only person she could think of who could empathize with what she is experiencing—“since I have no one to talk to who can relate.” Since her son’s act, she said, “I had to move, I lost my job, my friends and family, I changed my name—and now I am alone with no friends—his sentence is my sentence.”

The act of juvenile parricide affects so many people besides just the child and the victim. It disrupts countless relationships. If invited, someone must attempt to be a positive influence within this often chaotic mix. Someone must accept the role of looking for the pony when all you can see is manure.

I guess that’s me.

Most times, the adults who participated in the family dysfunction that led to murder want nothing to do with me. Some, in fact, are quite hostile. But occasionally strong bonds are created between me and the adults involved, and I cherish these friendships.

I do the best I can. But sometimes, like yesterday when the phone was down, I can’t do what I want. Last night I forgot and picked up the phone to dial up the kid’s mother and there was no dial tone. It will have to keep until tonight.


Groove of the Day

Listen to the Electric Light Orchestra performing “Telephone Line”


quid pro quo

denzell washington

Anyone who has seen the 2004 film Man on Fire will remember the phrase, “I will give you her life. For your life.” Bodyguard Creasy (Denzel Washington) is negotiating with kidnapper Daniel (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) for the return of his young charge Lupita (Dakota Fanning). By sacrificing himself, Creasy redeems the little girl and saves her life.

Creasy was dying anyway, but in turning himself over to Daniel’s criminal gang and winning Lupita’s freedom, his death assumes new meaning, whereas it would otherwise have been only a statistic.

darren-wilson-16x9Last night I was thinking of the fate that likely awaits Darren Wilson, the police officer who executed Michael Brown on August 9 and set off a series of racial riots in Ferguson MO, which continue to this date. Despite the fact that Brown had reportedly stolen some cigarillos prior to his shooting, he was unarmed and said by witnesses to be surrendering to police. Wilson shot him six times, twice in the head. The case has become so high-profile and outraged so many people from so many places and from all segments of the political spectrum, regardless of the outcome, it is likely that Wilson’s eventual fate will satisfy no one.

He has come to symbolize the use of excessive force and the dangers of placing military equipment in the hands of local police. These are big issues that will likely not be satisfactorily addressed in Ferguson or any other local community.

As in this instance, there is plenty of wrongdoing on everybody’s part. Brown was wrong… he has been depicted as a thief, after all. Wilson was wrong… he has been depicted as a murderer and a racist. And the system is unlikely to sort it out and apportion guilt in a way that will do anything but make the situation worse.

Unless someone does something creative, that is. I say that there should be consequences for a policeman’s abuse of power. I say there should be consequences for a young man’s transgressions against the shopkeeper, though not as extreme as the taking of a life for a theft of under ten bucks. Someone should do something that will defuse the rioting and restore balance to the situation. I say something must be done to get people thinking about what has happened and make forgiveness possible on all sides.

I say that if a cop murders an unarmed person who the cop should have been protecting, the system must give up someone whose life has been lost to an overly-harsh, unfair punishment. Maybe the two cases are unrelated, maybe the jurisdictions are totally different, maybe the two cases don’t neatly restore balance. But the system isn’t fair, anyway.

One of our kids is serving a 99-year sentence in Texas for the murder of his father, which is arguably justifiable. Maybe Brown’s senseless death could buy back the kid’s life. But yes, I know the world doesn’t work that way. It seems to heap one injustice atop another. Yet maybe things could be put right in Missouri. If a search were done in that jurisdiction, I’m sure a young person who has been deprived of a future by our unjust system could be identified there. Quid pro quo. It’s only fair.

A life for a life.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Lisa Gerrard performing music from the final scene of “Man On Fire”


the magic ring, again

Holly at the Old Hacienda

Today is my 42nd wedding anniversary and we are nearing the 21st anniversary of Holly’s death. Looked at this way, I have been grieving her loss for as long as we were married, give or take a few weeks. But Holly and I first met five years before we were married and began dating a year later. So we are nearing a half century since we have been a part of one another’s lives.

Far from being inconsolable, I still believe myself to be in relationship with her. We have a son together, and I speak with him at least once a week on the phone. He has never gotten over his mother’s death, and his sense of loss feeds mine. But more than that, I still consider my relationship with his mother to be present-tense rather than something from the buried past. She is still an active presence in my life of which I am reminded constantly.

If any proof is needed to demonstrate that Holly still exerts an influence on the lives of those of us who loved her, I offer this true story which first appeared in this blog four years ago, and at over 3,500 views, it has become the fourth most-popular post in the Wandervogel Diary. Forgive me for repeating myself, but we have many new readers and visitors to the Diary since the story first appeared, and it is truly remarkable and not to be missed.

Truth is truly stranger than fiction…


It had been a little over a month since Holly’s last surgery. When the surgeons saw how widespread the cancer was, they closed her up without removing anything. Nothing more to be done, they said.

Holly refused to speak of it for weeks on end. As more time passed, the more this unspoken thing became an intrusive presence between us. We needed to discuss her approaching death—soon—but I had no idea how to broach the subject.

I set a deadline—April 29th, the first day of Laguz, the water-rune. On the runic calendar, Laguz is directly opposite Hagal, the rune generally associated with death. It seemed an appropriate day. It was also on April 29, 1987 that my father had died.

Yet, April 28, 1993 had arrived, and I still had no idea how I was going to start the conversation with Holly. I drove through downtown Minneapolis, thinking about this problem. To my right appeared an open parking space. It was directly in front of a building where I made regular visits. A friend, Cheryl Rydmark, had her goldsmith studio there. I was particularly drawn to Cheryl at this time because she had been most generous with her art and friendship through Holly’s long struggle with the cancer. Cheryl is as much a priestess as an artist. Her aesthetic has much in common with ancient rings and amulets. When Holly’s cancer was first diagnosed, she gave Holly a gold necklace which, she had hoped, might help Holly to heal. The parking space seemed to be waiting for me. It was an end-space, so I didn’t even have to parallel-park. I just pulled in. It was like an open door.

I walked to the entrance of Cheryl’s building. Before I could pull on the door handle, the door swung open as a young woman with a backpack came out. She held the door open for me.

As I approached the elevator, the door opened before I could push the button. A delivery man stepped off as I stepped on. Interesting coincidences, I thought, as the elevator made its slow ascent.

I stepped off the elevator and looked down the hall to the fire-door and the flight of stairs leading to Cheryl’s studio. By the fire-door was an Asian lady, a member of the building’s maintenance staff, sweeping the floor.

Walking down the hall I thought: “If that woman opens that door for me, then something’s really going on here.” As if on cue, the woman opened the door. She wedged it open with a worn wooden triangle and walked away. I climbed the stairs, more amazed with every step.

“Cheryl, what is this?” I asked, just a few minutes into our conversation. I loved to browse the tops of her workbenches, where Cheryl and her assistants had their tiny sculptural projects in various stages of development and manufacture. I held up a silver ring for Cheryl to see.

It had water waves all around the band and a nautilus shell as its crown. “It’s a prototype,” Cheryl said. “I made that to test my design before I cast the final ring in gold.”

“This may be exactly what I came here for,” I said. “Would you be willing to make one for Holly?” and I told her why.

“Of course,” Cheryl answered without hesitation.

This exquisite ring would be a perfect way to get Holly to think about death and what must lie beyond. Embodying a sacred proportional mean in its design (which can be used to make a spiral) the nautilus shell is an ancient symbol of eternity. I hoped that its symbolism would assure Holly that she—and we—would continue on.

Cheryl let me borrow the silver prototype so I would have something to give Holly the next day. By tradition, the fortnight of Laguz begins at noon, and I wanted to give the ring to Holly in the morning when she awoke.

At first, Holly didn’t like the idea of the ring. She knew exactly what I was trying to accomplish through this gift. She wanted to delay acknowledging the inevitable as long as possible. Yet, a couple days later, having promised Holly she could pick out any other ring or piece of jewelry she might prefer, we visited Cheryl’s workshop to measure Holly’s ring finger and place our order.

After looking over every possible alternative, in the end Holly chose the nautilus ring. It would be made of gold, and Holly picked out a deep blue sapphire stone to be set in the center of the shell. Blue had always been her favorite color.

“I love my ring,” Holly told me three months later. “I love you for giving it to me,” she whispered. We sat silently for a while, holding hands. Holly seemed at last to be at peace with her fate.

After she died in September, I gave that ring to her best friend Kathe Murphy. This is where Kathe’s voice must tell the rest of the story:

I wear Holly’s gold ring. I treasure it. Her husband gave it to me after she died. Although she had managed life with Multiple Sclerosis for 15 years, she died after two years with Ovarian Cancer. She was incredible, an amazing miracle woman. Nothing stopped her. She adopted a son and started her dream business while “physically challenged” with MS.

Holly and I were the kind of friends that few ever have. We knew it. We knew how to make each other laugh until we cried. When she died, I realized that no one knew her like I did. Who could she talk to about her husband but me? Who could she talk to about her parents, but me? Her sickness. Her funeral.

Holly had very thin fingers, smaller even than mine, and this gold ring was too small for either of my ring fingers, so I had it made into a pinky ring. Besides, it does look like it could be a wedding ring—an 18 karat gold band especially made for her by her husband when she was sick. It was designed to represent the different forms that water takes symbolizing the different forms that spirit takes. The seashell on the ring holds a tiny dark sapphire. It is a beautiful little ring and reminds me daily of my best friend.

I’ve lost it twice, the first time not for long. I had literally washed it off my hand while doing the dishes and found it on the kitchen floor. The second time I noticed the ring was missing was during the funeral of another friend of mine.

My first thought was that Phyllis was with Holly, and that they were watching me together from the wonderful other side. But on this side, my heart was sinking. I had lost this little material thing that meant so much to me. I had to find it! I would retrace the steps of my day and revisit every place where I could have possibly washed the ring off my hand again.

The first place I looked was in the used hand towels in the girls’ room at the Elks Club, where Phyllis’ “Life Celebration” service had taken place. People must have thought I was crazed, because I was. I left word with the manager that I had lost my precious gold ring.

The second stop was back at my house. Again, I checked the kitchen floor. Not there. Nor in the bathroom or anywhere in the bedroom. I even stripped the bed and shook out the covers. Nowhere.

It was late Tuesday afternoon, and I had gone to work that morning, I could have lost the ring in one of the waste baskets. But Tuesdays and Fridays are trash days, and everything from the building had already been put in the dumpster for pickup the following Monday. If the ring was in the dumpster, I could look the next day.

After placing a personals newspaper ad (“REWARD–LOST GOLD RING”) the next day, I climbed up and peered into the building’s dumpster. My I-have-an-important-meeting work clothes stopped me from jumping into the dumpster then and there. Besides, it was only Wednesday and I had five days to carefully weed through the dumpster’s contents before the garbage was hauled away on Monday.

Friday night I had supper with friends who knew about my lost ring and understood the Holly connection. I told them I was convinced at this point that the missing ring was in the dumpster. If I didn’t look for it the next day, I said, I would regret it forever.

My friends fired up. They volunteered to don wet suits and gloves and help me “dumpster dive” in the morning. They even called my answering machine with a reminder to set my alarm for our morning dive.

Before reading myself to sleep that night, I searched for the ring again in my dark blue bedding—just as I had the previous three nights.

Sometime between two and three in the morning, I was awakened by a soft voice that whispered in my ear: “Open your hand; the ring is there.”

At first I didn’t move. I struggled to just open my eyes. Then I opened my hand—and the ring was there!


Kathe said she slipped the ring onto her little finger, but had trouble getting back to sleep. She was perplexed by how the ring found its way into her hand as she slept. She told me the ring seemed to glow slightly in the dark.

Kathe seemed surprised that I was so quick to believe her story. She is down-to-earth and even skeptical in most things. Kathe doesn’t drink much or take drugs. She is a businesswoman and homeowner. A taxpayer. She probably even pays her bills on time.

If Kathe says something happened, it did.

I believe that ring is infused with an energy we cannot explain. Amulets and other magical devices, as I understand them, collect energies as a prism collects light, and focuses these energies into a narrow beam of power. Human experiences of the most intense nature were indeed focused in that ring. There is also the weird coincidence of all those opened doors at the ring’s inception, as well as the profound meaning attached to the ring by Holly and those of us who love her. I am convinced that this remarkable story would never have happened had it not been initiated in accordance with my observance of the runic year.

In this instance I fumbled into an important discovery of what life might be like if one were able to permanently inhabit a natural and sacred space defined by runic measures. How much more might be possible if a spiritual community were to combine its individuals’ efforts to find their pathways with the Runic Compass?

Many years ago I lived in rural East Africa, where a belief in magic is mainstream. The stories one hears about the effectiveness of magical cures for illness convinced me that, contrary to the view that all magic is superstition and to be dismissed, magic has real power in the bush. There it is a coherent system for understanding time, the universe, and the role of human beings in the natural order. With so many people believing in this system and contributing their energies to it, the people in effect “manufacture” the magic.

In heeding the underlying design of the runic year and observing the first day of Laguz, in working with a gifted and spiritual artist, in allowing the symbolism of the ring to help Holly find peace with her passage, I believe we tapped into a pure aspect of the universal energies of the runes and in the end, created a magic ring.

My subsequent experiences with April 29th have been similarly remarkable. On that day in 1994, my mother called me to tell me she was dying. The following year, at an impromptu lunch on that date, a mentor told me his cancer had gone into his bones, the equivalent of a death sentence. Thus, in my experience the first day of Laguz has shown a tendency to present harbingers of death.

I do not profess to understand it fully at this time, but I do know that these experiences suggest it is possible to walk in a zone where the physical and spiritual worlds meet, where one can be supported by the waves of energy in the universe rather than fighting them. It is a zone where the past is preparation for a positive future, where intuition and foresight are reliable, and where creativity is the order of the day everyday.


Here I go, repeating myself again. I have posted this song before, but it always reignites memories for me of tearfully dancing with Holly when we learned her death from cancer was inevitable.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Leon Redbone performing “Breeze”


waiting for the train

waiting for the train


Groove of the Day

Listen to Peggy Lee performing “Waiting for the Train to Come In”



How Ferguson created an opening for a liberal-libertarian alliance
The right and the left agree on one thing: turning American suburbs into war zones is a bad idea
by Ryan Cooper, The Week
August 15, 2014

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, blew up into a major international story this week, with scenes that could have come out of a war-torn country in the Middle East. Police firing tear gas and explosives at unarmed protesters. Journalists arrested and being gassed. Mine-resistant vehicles prowling the streets. In line with my article from yesterday, I’m calling it “police goonification.”

The nation has been given an up-close look at the transformation of American police departments in the wake of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which resulted in counterterrorism legislation and weapons surpluses that dumped tons of military equipment in the laps of your local finest. This has raised the prospect of a liberal-libertarian alliance on reforming police practice, which is just the latest example of the two camps coming together on certain issues. Here’s Greg Sargent:

“From time to time, we get fleeting glimpses into the possibility of a left-right alliance on issues where the preoccupations of civil liberties progressives and libertarian conservatives intersect: The surprising bipartisan alliance to defund NSA surveillance; the demand for more transparency into Obama’s drone program; the increasing chatter on drug war and sentencing reform.

“The police killing of Michael Brown potentially offers another area of left-right agreement, as it has focused national attention on the over-militarization of our police forces, particularly in the wake of days of standoffs between protestors and heavily armed police.”

On a congressional level, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote a solid op-ed decrying police militarization and bemoaning the justice system’s wildly disproportionate incarceration of black Americans. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) has proposed a bill to discontinue the Pentagon program that hands out heavily subsidized military equipment to local police, even to small towns like Ferguson. Both the Gun Owners of America and the ACLU have expressed support for the bill.

The two sides do not line up perfectly. Rand Paul framed the problem as being one of “big government.” But the police shooting tear gas were local cops. Last night’s protests were by all accounts dramatically calmer, almost celebratory, after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) stepped in and dismissed local law enforcement, putting Captain Ron Johnson of the state patrol in charge.

It’s also worth remembering that Jim Crow thrived under decentralized authority. State and local governments were the centers of the most entrenched racism, and thus centralized federal power was key to breaking down American apartheid. That’s not to say that the federal government can’t also create racist policy (it definitely can). It is to say that the simplistic “big government = bad” slogan so favored by libertarians and conservatives is hardly the magic decoder ring to preventing police from killing yet another unarmed black kid.

However, there are reasons to be a bit optimistic as well. Since the days of Richard Nixon, conservatives could be relied on to blindly support the police no matter the circumstances. But crime is way, way down from the late ’60s and ’70s, weakening the appeal of “tough-on-crime” macho posturing. And despite some despicable statements from whites in a town neighboring Ferguson, I think it’s fair to say that the political utility of racism is much diminished as well.

As a result, for the first time in decades, rank-and-file conservatives find themselves at odds over police brutality. Even Red State editor Erick Erickson, of all people, wrote today that the police may have gone too far. All of this bodes well for a liberal-libertarian reform effort.

Furthermore, in this particular instance federal policy (the aforementioned Pentagon equipment bonanza) is indeed a major factor behind police goonification, so we can forgive Rand Paul some sloganeering if we can scrap that particular policy.

The biggest question, then, is whether this sort of bipartisan effort will get sucked into the left-right hate vortex. In this respect, President Obama may have been wise to avoid any sort of vigorous comment on reform. His statement on Ferguson yesterday could have been much stronger, but staying out of it may be the right move on a political level. If reform becomes strongly identified with Obama then it will become instantly radioactive on the right, and therefore doomed. (Of course, this all assumes Obama actually supports reform, which he may not.)

So while I’m not getting my hopes up, with a bit of luck there is a real chance for de-goonification policy. Police turning the suburbs into war zones may be too much, even for this country.


Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.



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