This is the year that never ends…

…and it goes on and on, my friends. We’ve reached October, though, and that’s about all we can say or predict about that. We’ve reached October, and somehow the craziest months of the year may still be ahead of us. We need to stay careful, stay calm and respectful, and stay hopeful that this too shall pass, as have many past national and global crises.

Just finished a book (The Great Influenza, by John Barry) on the 1918 flu, and that was a scarier time than this. That flu just mowed down huge numbers, especially those in their prime between the ages of 20 and 35. And it was interesting to learn how it may have originated in a small town in Kansas (Haskell, I believe) and then spread from there to an Army camp and from there all over the world during the end of WWI. It was only called the Spanish flu because the Spanish press was not heavily censored like the press was in the U.S. and Great Britain and France and Germany, where war-time measures prioritized keeping up morale. So the world first became aware of the flu occurring in great numbers in Spain and then the name stuck. There’s a good a chance as any it could’ve been the Kansas-flu were it not for censorship.

Another lesson from the 1918 flu was that U.S. public health leaders and politicians made a point of downplaying the virus to avoid causing public panic. The censorship and rosy picture painted by leaders and the press eventually caused the public to completely distrust what they were hearing once the second wave of the flu hit with deadly consequences… which led to a worse fear and public panic about the disease.

Anyway, hopefully we are through the worst of it IF people continue to wear masks and socially distance and do what they can to limit infecting themselves and others. And a change in leadership in November would help too, putting the emphasis back on the science, on leading by example, on putting facts and truth over inane and wishful thinking.

So how do we pass the time for what could be a long fall and winter, trapped more and more indoors and more isolated from each other? I, for one, am dabbling in what could be a new hobby… only slightly less manly than mosaicry… wait for it… embroidery!! WHAT?? Come on, man!! I know, I know. But I was re-purposing some old Slip t-shirts into a sound-absorbing panel for the music room and I found the sewing that involved very calming, especially while listening to classic rock tunes (which I’ve taken about a 3-year break from, being outside the Greater Boston radio market for about that long). So then I was like, maybe I could make some sort of art out of sewing. Turns out there’s a name for that. I’m not talking about embroidering silly little flowers with the words Home Sweet Home underneath… I’m talking about art deco style fonts and patterns, stitched into the backs of old t-shirts re-purposed as blank canvas stretched across wooden frames. Huh? Who’s with me?? This could be the coolest thing since friendship bracelets.

It did lead to a good idea for the podcast that Paul and I are finding zero time to get off the ground. Our friendly aliens, Yuri and Guri, can communicate in various ways, but due to their society’s origin as a race of isolated and devoted monks, all formal messages to their commanders must be embroidered. Including urgent missives. “Quick, Yuri, tell the supreme commander our ship’s reactor core is on the verge of losing containment!” “I’m embroidering as fast as I can, Guri!!!” “What stitch are you using, the French knot??” “Damn it, Guri, you know I can’t straight-stitch to save my life!!” Cut to: a half-embroidered message in gorgeous font: “Help, the ship’s core is losi”

On rare evenings where the kids honor that old concept prior to all-remote schooling of a bedtime, I’ve moved on from 1970s films into the early 1980s. Can someone tell me why every urban movie scene from this era includes groups of men huddled around burning trashcans? I’m sure we can tie it directly to the systemic racism that we’re not supposed to teach federal employees about. I get it: white flight in the ’60s and ’70s, so in the ’80s we had to portray all the cities whites left behind as apocalyptic war zones. This is the time period our president is stuck in, by the way.

Hope you all are recovering from the post-traumatic stress caused by the first (and now perhaps the last) presidential debate. I thought Biden did okay given the bullying performance he had to try and counter. Trump called the debate “fun” afterwards, which underlines how it’s all about him and, perhaps until his positive COVID test, all a game to him. I just can’t fathom how people can stomach this poor excuse for a human being as a president. He is the embodiment of “the ends justify the means,” and I’m hopeful that enough people in this country still care about doing things the right way, still value honesty and integrity over self-promotion and opportunism. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Until next time, stay healthy… and let’s try to stay positive, despite likely more chaos to come in the waning months of our worst year ever. I mean, at some point it will be 2021, right? We can count on the march of time! And then, once we’re through this pandemic… we can tackle climate change! Hurrah!! Or we can ask for a ride on Yuri and Guri’s spaceship. I’m embroidering my distress signal to them now.

Yours in peace,

Eric

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Endemic

Epidemic… pandemic… endemic. Seems like we’ll be living with COVID-19 for quite some time. Remember when we thought a four-week shutdown in March was a long time? I suppose every pandemic could be a bit different, but they do typically impact everyday life for more than one year, right? I just started a book on the 1918 flu and I’m sure I’ll be a bit depressed by the end about how much of history is repeating itself and how many lessons of the past we’ve collectively forgotten.

Couple that with the systemic racism we’re all suddenly grappling with, the “revelation” that this country was stolen and built upon the backs of enslaved people, and maybe the recognition that most societies across the globe vilify and mistreat “the other” — and maybe we need to come to the conclusion that we’re a deeply flawed species? Are our prejudices and selfishness more the results of our natural instincts or learned behavior? Probably a lot of both.

Anyway, some of us have come to the conclusion that we humans need some help. Some outside help. So to that end, whenever we can carve out some time between our jobs and what comes close to homeschooling our kids, a friend and I will be aiming to launch a podcast as sort of an S.O.S. to the stars, to any friendly alien life that might be passing by and willing to lend a hand, an ear, a tentacle, a gelatinous shoulder to cry on. I’ve shared some early drafts of scripts for this “Greetings, Earthlings” podcast previously in this blog. We turned those into podcasts at the blistering pace of 2-3 episodes over the past 2 years. But we’re playing the long game here. It might take 100 Earth years for our message to reach our alien saviors. Our little green friends may arrive too late to help us, it’s true… but have we humans ever been ones to count ourselves out? If there’s a sliver of a chance, a glimmer of a hope, than that’s all we need, no? To keep putting one foot in front of the other, to share your camera on your 1000th zoom call, to find a fresh mask to wear to the store.

So anyway, below is an all-text trailer for the podcast series. I think it holds some promise at least — that some sympathetic being out there in the cosmos will take notice and, if only to stop the production of one more episode, rush to our assistance.

***Begin Trailer for Greetings, Earthlings! the Alien Podcast***

Yuri and Guri are talent scouts sent from Meeporp, the central casting planet for the Milky Way. They have been assigned to our solar system to help prepare any intelligent life they find for an upcoming Your Galaxy’s Got Talent competition. The stakes are high, for not only are galaxies competing for the talent show’s top prize (4 days and 3 nights traveling by ethereal plane to the magnetic fields of Zanzibar, where cosmic rays infuse your consciousness with contentment), they are also trying to avoid the consequences of coming in last place, which immediately puts your galaxy on an “extraneous” list and susceptible to elimination at the whims of our universal overlords, the Kardashicons.
Yuri and Guri are searching for bright spots among the creatures of Earth, trying to figure out if any of the life could be classified as “intelligent.”
Their search for talent is itself a show… a video podcast about the making of the Your Galaxy’s Got Talent event that happens every 10 light years across the universe. The rest of the universe finds the search for intelligent life amusing, especially when the search is fruitless. Humans are fast becoming the universe’s favorite punchline, thanks to the discoveries of Yuri and Guri.
Yuri and Guri are nearly omniscient (except for lapses due to repeated photon blasts to the frontal lobe), and they can travel through time. They use time travel to enjoy their favorite method of cooking, which is to assemble a meal’s ingredients into a small boat, push it out to sea, and then time travel to the point in time when the sea brings the boat back to the same spot, usually after a great passage of time. The sun and briny air of the sea have a way of cooking that can’t be beat. It is slow cooking to the extreme.
Yuri and Guri can also travel through the dimensions beyond time as well: the 5th dimension being intuition, the 6th being ventriloquism (although that’s difficult to get right), and the 7th being Taylor Swift.
Yuri and Guri have been trying to help Earth along for the talent show by offering some of their natural talent — for example, when they go to the bathroom they’ve produced the works of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Radiohead.
They are concerned that other, smaller aliens have already gotten to Earth and are sabotaging their efforts. Humans are hiding in their homes for some reason and skipping choir practice. They figure out the microscopic beings are not aliens but actually a new and fairly lethal Coronavirus, and so they try to offer some antiviral tips such as going hairless, wearing spacesuits, and, of course, cooking in boats.
They marvel at first at how we’ve domesticated one of the more feared animals in the universe, the dog. But then they see how humans tend to every need of the dog, including picking up its poop and letting it pee all over street signs. And so they realize it is dogs who have enslaved humans. Still, dogs can’t sing worth a lick, so they’re still interested in grooming some humans for the talent show.
So stay tuned for the show more than half the galaxy is buzzing and beeping about, Greetings, Earthlings!
***End Trailer***
It’s a bit long for a trailer, I know. We can edit it down in post.
Anyway, most importantly, I hope you and your loved ones are all healthy and staying safe. Seems like we’ve got a long, socially distant year ahead of us still… but at least compared to 1918 we have more ways of connecting and keeping in touch. Until next time, I’m yours contemplating what an alien sock puppet should look like.
-Eric
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Gimme shelter in place

“And now… welcome to your local news at 6 with your anchors, Jim Walker and Cynthia Stout… who DID take the garbage out… Marv Kopalsky with the up-to-the-minute weather forecast and Gio Baldini on sports… all starting right now.”

**Theme music swells, fades out, lights come up on a startled looking newscaster**

JW: BAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

CS: Aaaahhhhhh!!

JW: Wooaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!

CS: AAAAhhhh!! Why are we screaming, Jim?!!

JW: Do you have to ask, Cynthia??? The end is here!!!!

CS: Is this about the American Legion being ordered to close its doors?

JW: Where will I go after this, Cynthia??? Home????

CS: That’s the idea, Jim.

JW: It’s a death sentence, is what it is.

CS: Well, I’m sure your wife and family will be happy to hear that.

JW: Oh, they don’t watch this station.

CS: Are we going to get to today’s top stories?

JW: (mimicking) Are we going to get to today’s top stories?

CS: All right, Jim, that’s not very mature. Please pull yourself together. You’re a pillar of the community. You host the station’s New Year’s Eve special. You run your own charity.

JW: I’ve socked the charity funds away in an offshore account and I’m leaving tomorrow.

CS: All flights have been cancelled, Jim, and you’ve just admitted to fraud on live TV.

JW: What are you, my mother?!?! Can’t you see nothing matters anymore?? We can drop the charade already!

CS: Jim, you said all of these same things when Cody Parkey missed that kick two years ago ending the Bears’ season.

JW: That was hyperbole then! This is real now! I don’t care. You all are on your own, Chicago. Walker out!!

**Jim strides off set with a bloodshot stare**

CS: Ok… well… I apologize for that, everyone. Please understand that Jim’s actions do not represent the opinions of the rest of us here at WGN… we remain committed to giving you all of the bad news right up until the bitter end. And… I’m hearing from my producer in my ear here that Jim has just been spotted sobbing in his car. Don’t worry everyone. This happens about once or twice per year. We’ll send someone to do a wellness check soon.

And scene.

So… what a week.¬†Welcome to my world, world. Since becoming a full-time telecommuter and moving from the East coast to this vast, flat expanse known as the Midwest, I’ve pretty much been self-isolating and leaving home only for essentials for the past 2.5 years. That’s not completely true, as I’ve socialized occasionally with neighbors, fallen in with different groups of ultimate frisbee enthusiasts, and started a band, which is now on an indefinite hiatus due to the new shelter-in-place order by our Governor. We’ve already been sheltering in place, basically, for the past week. The kids had a bit of online learning organized by their teachers each day, but next week is their Spring Break and then the schools will be closed for at least a week and a half after that… probably much longer. So this is our new reality for what, the next 6-8 weeks?

We are VERY lucky though — can’t even start to utter one complaint really. We have a lot of space (hashtag Midwest), we have our health as far as we know, and we have the peace of mind of having stable employment… again, as far as we can tell for now. It’s hard to even start thinking about how many people are going to lose their jobs and businesses after a 1-3 month shutdown. Maybe federal and state and local government support can save some businesses, which can re-open when it’s safe to do so. And maybe the many unemployed or under-employed can return to their jobs at that point, with enough financial supports in the meantime to pull through okay… but that can only be accomplished by competent public administration, right? We need people who know what they are doing making decisions, not people just shooting from the hip.

This crisis is exposing and will continue to expose the self-serving leaders that exist, those who do not have the public good as their primary interest. That’s why you volunteer to work in government — to help people. If you volunteered for some other reason, you will be exposed sooner or later. Unfortunately this current exposure may lead to needless deaths. I can’t fathom what these rich, insider-trading senators and self-important White House officials are thinking except that they simply think they are somehow better and more important than everyone else. The fact that they think that makes them a lesser person than just about all of the rest of us. Those of us who work long hours for modest pay, teaching kids, taking care of the elderly, fighting our wars, policing our streets, comforting the sick, cutting our hair, cleaning our houses, picking our produce, bagging our groceries… could go on and on. I guess people have always equated money and privilege and lineage with self-worth, but those aren’t the values of modern democracies. We believe, I thought, in equal opportunity and a level playing field. Too many in the executive branch and in Congress right now do not seem to agree with that.

Anyway, it’s very sad what’s about to happen to so many people and so many families here and across the globe. Hopefully the stay-at-home orders and social distancing will dramatically slow the spread and reduce the fatalities. It’s a minor sacrifice to make — giving up your weekend plans and your socializing for a month or two — if that saves people’s lives. We can finally get to those projects we’ve never had time for before. Haven’t you always thought you could paint like Jackson Pollock? (Dodging barrage of paint brushes from art critics) Write stream of consciousness like Kerouac? (Dodging old typewriters thrown by literary professors) Record songs like Billie Eilish? (Music critics shrug and agree)

On the bright side, this global shutdown is just in time for Earth month! In fact, I’ve seen many suggest that this is the Earth self-regulating and saving itself. You don’t mess with Mother Earth. She’s got an answer for you, humans. Hopefully it’s a stern warning from our mother and not too much worse.

Anyway, hope you and yours are all healthy. Heed the orders and stay away from people outside your household, as hard as that will be. We are a creative and inventive species, and I think we’ll find ways to connect and be together even while apart. I heard about some new Netflix groups thing where you can remotely watch movies together with your friends and hear and see each other at the same time? That sounds excellent. Pick a bad movie — you know, of the Fast and Furious variety — and just Mystery Science Theater it. Maybe you can record those sessions too, for later viewing pleasure.

Until next time, stay safe and maybe clean up your room for once, huh?

-Eric

 

 

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Dispatch from the Front

With the pandemic approaching us with the inevitably of a stadium “wave”, we await with similar trepidation for the moment it shall fall upon us. That moment came earlier today for yours truly, who learned that an elderly couple in my town has been diagnosed with the dreaded Covid-19. Immediately I started reviewing how my own activities overlap with those of the septuagenarians in my community: Continue reading

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Simple things

Eric_26thBirthdayBulgaria

Just a quick note inspired by this picture I came across from my 26th birthday. Stationed in a small Bulgarian village, I was joined by a couple of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers (including my future wife, Karen, not pictured), who brought a much-missed American delicacy (peanut butter) and used that to frost a homemade birthday cake. Frosting wasn’t readily available. Neither were birthday cake candles, apparently. That cake you see on the table in front of me fed us for an entire weekend. No, but I’m reminded of how simple and yet functional and fulfilling my existence was there. Was I bothered by the tiny fridge, the glorified hot plate, or the sink a mere two feet off the ground? No. Was I bothered by those brown and orange polka-dot curtains? Hardly. These material things were unimportant when I could wake up each day with a sense that I was doing something important for an idea bigger than myself: namely the peaceful understanding and cross-cultural exchange between the people of two distant countries. In our daily work and interactions we were proving to ourselves and those around us that people are people, with the same basic needs, desires, senses of humor, love for music, art, or nature and so on. It was an idealism that we got to put into practice and live every single day. And for that experience I’m extremely grateful. Twas a happy birthday! And I guess being 26 didn’t hurt either.

Anyway, just a nostalgic note from the 46-year-old me…

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Mid Continental Drift

Fellow humans,

Another decade yawns before us, a blank slate of possibility, a future waiting to be writ, if only we don’t run out of ink. I just recently revisited A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a mostly uninterested Isaac (although I caught him laughing numerous times), and the extra-terrestrial perspective on Earth rings true to our times, when we might be better off getting kidnapped by aliens and trying our luck somewhere else. Continue reading

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Our Lady of the Floating Disc

We first had this name idea for our ultimate frisbee group when we were playing on Sunday mornings back in Sharon, MA — a tongue-in-cheek homage to the Catholic worship some members were foregoing in favor of a higher calling: that of the great outdoors, the odor of freshly cut grass, the burst of energy in a sudden sprint, the silent, magical whirring of a floating disc. Now that I’m playing as much as four times per week with a near cult-like group of ultimate frisbee enthusiasts here in Chicagoland, where you can’t drive 10 blocks without passing an “Our Lady of…” house of worship, I felt compelled to produce a series of Our Lady of the Floating Disc images, taking various Virgin Mary icons and placing an official-weight 175 gram frisbee behind her head as the halo (see example below). These will soon be transcribed onto t-shirts, stickers, and frisbees and marketed to athletic heathens such as myself. Continue reading

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First White House of the Confederacy

Howdy sirs and madams,

I hope that this missive finds you well and at a time when you can spare a few moments for a tale of wit and whimsy, if I should be so bold as to claim I’m capable of both. Earlier this week yours truly found himself with the good fortune of boarding not one but two planes bound for the South — first to Atlanta for a connecting flight to Montgomery, Alabama, where I would be attending a project site visit for work. Continue reading

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Greetings Earthlings, Ep. 3 intro

Y: Greetings, Earthlings, and welcome to yet another episode of the podcast that all the Rivulets of the Ringthorn galaxies are talking about: well I just said it… Greeting Earthlings.

G: Did you say another episode? Isn’t this our first?

Y: Not now, Guree. You see, this new program of ours is rocketing up the ranks of interstellar podcasts, in the comedy genre of course, although to be fair we are benefiting from the, how do you call it on Earth, the “rubberneck” phenomenon of beings not being able to look away from some calamity or another, and so the attention of the universe has suddenly shifted with much amusement to your little ball of rock and water and gases…

G: Oh how primitive! What a throwback!! Is it Tuesday??

Y: Yes, whereas on the Earthian markets our podcast can be found only in the categories of science and philosophy and warfare, for some reason. I assure you, we do come in peace. Continue reading

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Greetings, Earthlings Ep. 1 – Opening Monologue

Y: Bleepings, Bloopings, bleep blop boop boop. Bleep blark blonk boink, bink bok bleek boing…

G: Blink-leek?

Y: Blark?

G: Is this better?

Y: Oh seriously, did you not have the translator turned on? How embarrassing.

G: How positively human of us, right, Yuree? “To err is human,” as we’ve heard them say? Continue reading

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