Civil Discourse

A Facebook friend posted the other day about trying to watch Better Call Saul, the AMC prequel to Breaking Bad. He mentioned that he was trying, but found it pretty slow.

I started watching BB from the beginning, or maybe a couple of episodes in, so I’m pretty comfortable with the pace, the slow, Southwestern crawl under blue skies and stunning scenery. It feels normal, and I’m not sure if that’s just style or a reflection of New Mexico lifestyle; it just feels right to this Southwest émigré.

I watched the first season, 10 episodes, of Saul when it premiered, although it fell into the pit of downtime that we should be used to with cable and premium channel series. I like this format, the short seasons and the long wait for the next one, but sometimes outta sight, outta mind, y’know?

I’m all caught up on Saul now, and I’ve noticed something. There’s a fair amount of conversation in this series about civilians, just ordinary people who aren’t connected to a drug cartel or involved in any criminal activities. “Civilian” isn’t an unusual construct (I’m thinking it’s used in The Godfather, but I’m not interested in that particular rabbit hole at the moment), but it struck me as a great synonym. I want to use it more often.

I want to use civilian mostly because it helps tamp down my annoyance with people who aren’t interested in the same things I am. People who consistently misspell “you’re” or scatter stray apostrophes willy-nilly don’t jump out so much, and why should they? A lot of us grew up in a world where reading something meant that somebody wrote it, someone interested in making sure his or her point was taken and so took care (or someone took care) that it was grammatically correct and hopefully without much in the way of spelling errors.

Everyone writes these days, though, and labeling someone as illiterate or unschooled makes about as much sense as scanning their shopping lists for typos. It’s a different animal, and those folks who seem confused by contractions are just busy, I suspect, and casual about the whole thing. Civilians, in my words. Move on, people.

Same for politics. I listen to a Pod Save America, a political podcast by some former Obama people, young guys who came onboard in their 20s, and I noticed a while back that one of the guys is fond of saying, “D-trip.” As in, “Go to the D-trip site,” or “Over at the D-trip…” It took me a while to notice it because I got it.

“D-trip” is shorthand for “D triple C,” which is shorthand for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Not a mystery to me, because I’m not a civilian. I like this stuff. I wouldn’t expect random people to like it also, even if I think we’d be better off as a people to brush up a bit on our civics. This is inside baseball stuff and has nothing to do with intelligence or awareness or responsibility.

The more I think along these lines, the more I like civilian. Don’t care about baseball? Civilian. Don’t know anything about the canon of Joss Whedon? Civilian. Don’t like Stephen Sondheim? Civilian. Maybe uncivilized, but civilian.

I’m pretty sure it’s in The Godfather. The sensibility is, anyway. Don’t let civilians become collateral damage; that’s a line not to be crossed, and when it’s inevitably crossed it won’t end well. I take this seriously, then. Don’t get me started on baseball.

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So this happened.  Paine Field is a couple of miles from my house, and I’ve seen hundreds or more of these small planes fly over my head, not to mention the Boeing big boys. I’ve seen Air Force One, in fact, a couple of times. You think we don’t imagine this happening all the time? No one hurt, so we’ll just be thankful and wonder about the odds. And we’ll look at those planes a little differently from now on.

And this is neither here nor there, but I finally saw Arrival

It’s funny; I wrote about going to the movies last week. How I don’t go anymore, really, and Arrival is a good example. It sounded interesting when it came out, and I nagged my family a bit about going with me, but it never happened. Then, after it was released on home video, I repeated above nagging with no serious takers. It’s just hard to find the time, as fun as it might be.

It struck a nerve with my daughter, though. The combination of thought-provoking science fiction and motherhood guaranteed it, and while I might have just rented the film myself and watched eventually, I waited until my trip to Austin to catch it.

For someone who grew up with Slaughterhouse-5, the theme was familiar, which didn’t matter a bit; I thought it was pitch-perfect and original to boot. I was mostly amazed to see a female protagonist, and such a meaty role. I’ve always been a fan of Amy Adams, and I imagine she wanted this one badly. She isn’t anywhere close to having a slowdown in her career, but I can’t help thinking this was the role of a lifetime.

I’ve never stopped paying attention to what’s going in the world; I’ve been this way since I can remember. It probably was a reaction to tumultuous times when I was a kid, and then just a quirk or whatever of my personal psychology.

I just rarely engage the news these days. Some of that was just shock that Mr. Trump won the election in November, and my need to detach for a bit so I didn’t freak out. That changed eventually to curiosity, but I’ve never felt the need to toss in my pennies.

I’m also pretty comfortable with having my fingers on the cultural pulse, with plenty of caveats. I knew about sous-vide, for example, even if I had no particular interest or desire to check it out. I had to eat the result first.

So I’m aware of the 5:2 Diet, or whatever it’s called. Read an article this morning about it. I’m not interested in a diet, or losing weight, as weird as that feels, but I kept nodding my head anyway. It sounds like it’s not any more effective than anything else, and that motivation is really, always, the key. If I’ve got this program right, a couple of times a week with this plan you’re supposed to fast, or at least eat a fraction of a normal intake. The idea is that for some people, it might be easier to just restrict your diet severely for a day, then eat normally for three days, then another fast, and so on.

It’s all psychological, which is why I was nodding. The analogies create themselves. If you spend about 20 bucks a day, every day, and you want to save $35 a week, you could spend $15 a day and get there. Or you could spend your $20 five times a week and spend $2.50 on the other two days. Whatever floats your boat.

Studies show that this diet doesn’t work any better than others, which makes sense because they all work. We’re the ones who don’t.

I’ve been watching the scale for 40 years. What started out, when I was still a teenager, as vanity and an awareness that I could easily put on the pounds kept me coming back to those creeping numbers. It didn’t stop me from getting pretty fat, and I’m hesitant to call it obsession, only because that’s a clinical term and it can be horribly debilitating for some people.

And now, when vanity has cooled down to just a vague wish to be presentable and not embarrass myself, I’m in this weird, bizarro situation in which I still worry a little about weight but for exactly the opposite reason. A few pounds have gone away since January, not all that troubling and mostly because I was in an awkward place in terms of clothes. I’m around 165 pounds, down from 170, which is really, statistically, an ideal spot to end up, but I don’t care for my reflection that much. I look frail, to my eyes, or at least skinny. That’s vanity, too, but I’m not 20 years old and there are now other things to worry about. I don’t have wiggle room if I get sick and my appetite diminishes. I think about that a lot.

Just not as much as I think about planes. At least for the moment..

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I Sous-vide, Therefore I Eat

My daughter asked for my opinion a few weeks ago, a rare event just by itself. She was mulling over a birthday present for her husband, and she wondered if this was a great idea or maybe not:

If this doesn’t ring a bell, I understand. This is a sous-vide precision cooker, with the added bonus of having Bluetooth and wifi capabilities if that’s what rings your bell.

I’ve been aware of sous-vide as a sort of faddish cooking method, or that’s the way I saw it. I enjoy cooking, or at least a little, although recently it’s consisted mostly of me drumming up some sort of meal for my wife on long days. We’ve all become scavengers in this household, with our own schedules and preferences, which is fine but hardly efficient and certainly more expensive. I could do better, but I wasn’t much interested in new ways of doing it.

Sous-vide isn’t a fad, though. And it’s not new: Slow cooking is an old technique, and sous-vide is by definition slow cooking. And it’s a technique that was rediscovered half a century ago, now pretty widely in use by restaurants and caterers. You can read more about it if you’re interested, but the short version is pretty simple: Put your food in vacuum-sealed bags (or remove as much air as possible; this doesn’t affect the cooking so much as prevents spoilage if you’re making a bunch and planning on freezing or refrigerating), heat water to the temperature you want the food cooked to, maintain that temperature for a certain period of time, and end up with food that is perfect.

I imagine anyone who needs to cook for more than one knows about slow cooking; the crockpot has been around awhile. I also imagine most of us have at one time or another poached an egg or something else. Sous-vide is similar. The results aren’t.

The results made me a convert. I spent last week in Austin with my daughter, and she used that baby every day. Inexpensive beef became the best steak I’ve ever eaten. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, so tempting at the store and so unsatisfactory when I get around to actually cooking them (aside from battering and frying, which is fantastic, of course), were amazing.

But it’s not poaching, not really, and not all that slow. This fancy device heats the water and circulates it, keeping the temperature exactly the same. Preheat the water to the desired temperature (say, 129 degrees F. for perfectly medium-rare steak), clip the plastic bags with the food onto the side of a stockpot, and walk away. The food won’t overcook, and the cooker will even send you an alert on your phone when it’s ready (about an hour for those perfect steaks). Give the meat a quick sear for a minute on the stovetop if you want that nice crunch and you’re ready to go.

And it’s spectacular, honestly. The food gets cooked to the same temperature all the way through, edge to edge. Vegetables, desserts, eggs: You can pretty much cook anything. Call this an endorsement.

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Happy Accidents

I’ve never been particularly creative when it comes to visual stuff. I have no talent for drawing or painting, although with patience and the inclination I can produce a decent sketch. Then again, I imagine a lot of people can do the same thing. I’m unremarkable.

I’m comfortable with my own perceptions, and my own taste. I know what I like, and why I like it. I have several friends who are spectacular in this arena, including more than one who make a living at it.

Photography has always had an awkward place in the visual arts, at least in my mind. Nicéphore Niépce is generally considered the inventor of photography, and invention is what it was; it sprang from science, and innovations were shared between science and art. Louis Daguerre was a well-known theater designer before he started dabbling in this new medium, for example. Nearly 200 years ago.

Then there’s the universal nature of it. Everyone takes pictures, and of course now it’s just crazy. Wading through this swamp of captured moments can make my eyes glaze over, and sometimes the people who try the hardest produce the most pedestrian images. It’s tempting to intuit ability and talent because you’re interested, and look: You made a photograph. That must mean something.

I was very interested in photography when I was a kid; I even had a darkroom set-up, a closet where I filled bins with chemicals and made contact prints. I needed an enlarger and never got one, and eventually the interest moved on to things I actually had ability to do, not needing much in the way of equipment.

And equipment is big. Knowing what you have and how it works is at least half of photography, I suspect, and probably more. The creative sensibility can’t be learned or taught, or at least that’s what I’ve observed. I like to take pictures and share them; I don’t have a gift for it.

I spent the past week in Austin, just getting a booster shot of Bix, and while I took my share of pictures there was less of an imperative. Mostly I use my phone to capture moments I can send to my wife and my mother; I don’t even bring my DSLR anymore.

I compensate for what I lack in talent by taking a bazillion shots, along with some video in case there’s a screen capture I like. This is the seduction of digital photography; you can take as many as you like and hope for the best. It’s the only art form I can think of that can produce something special by accident. Not special the way a composer or writer or sculptor, etc., can have a happy accident of creativity; I’m talking about a guy with a phone, and a little boy.

So, we went to Ruby’s, a popular BBQ place in Austin that has a nice playground in the back. After some spectacular food, we took him out to play for a bit. He got on the big climbing toy and crawled into the slide tunnel thing while I waited at the bottom, ready to snap a picture just because I could.

So this was an accident.

I just snapped it and moved on. Later, liking it and wandering through filters, wondering if I could improve it a bit, I tried grayscale and this happened. It’s not a particularly high resolution, and obviously I didn’t make any adjustments in terms of aperture or shutter speed; I just pointed and clicked.

But I’m left with a nice reminder, and I think I’m going to print and hang it above my desk, where I can look up and remember. It’s about a boy, and it always is.

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There Are No Easy Pieces

Jack Nicholson is now an octogenarian, joining a club that makes me uneasy, if grateful. As I mentioned a few days ago, most of the film actors I watched with enthusiasm in my formative years are still with us. This is a curious phenomenon for me, the idea that famous people should never die; the apparent sorrow floating around social media when one of these folks passes rarely acknowledges that, you know. People who live into their eighth or ninth decades have done pretty well in terms of lifespan.

I say formative. I mean this in context; I was very interested in actors when I was a kid, much more as I reached my teenage years. That’s my excuse, anyway, for looking back and finding mostly men. I was looking to identify.

So there we are: Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood. All still here, and all now over 80 (this year, at any rate). All of them of my parents’ generation, stardom cresting when they were in their 30s.

This doesn’t surprise me, and shouldn’t; I can add. More poignant for me is the realization that strikes from time to time, which is that in 10 years these people will be gone. Perhaps not on to their reward, but most likely missing from screens near you. Hackman is already retired, and Hoffman seems eager to work but finding less and less out there, I’m guessing.

Redford was my favorite, I think, due to Butch Cassidy; I took my first date to see Jeremiah Johnson, when I was 14. I’m Facebook friends with that girl, which I guess is not a big story but still feels weird.

My wife and I have been talking about this lately. We saw Willie Nelson last summer because it’s Willie Nelson, and because it won’t be all that much longer. We’re now checking out James Taylor tour dates near us.

But I think Nicholson gets the nod, at least in terms of his impact and the number of his films I’ve seen. Redford already had some visibility and was working a lot when he was cast in Butch; Hoffman’s big break, The Graduate, was too mature for my young eyes, as was Beatty’s Bonnie and Clyde.

So was Easy Rider, but I managed to catch Five Easy Pieces and The Last Detail before succumbing to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I took another date, this during my senior year in high school, and I remember her commenting afterwards that she thought it was the best movie she’d ever seen. It was hard to argue.

So, yeah. Jack is 80. I’m getting closer to 60. All of this makes sense, as strange as it feels. And as I find myself wishing for just one more performance, I’m aware of the imperative that’s always been there but feels a bit more immediate. I’d pay to see that, in other words, and hope I get the chance.

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Graying Out

Every 3-4 years, eyeballing it but probably close to correct, I write a semi-screed about nostalgia. Sentimentality about the past is right in my wheelhouse, but it’s personal for me. And about me, mostly.

What annoys me when I come across it is nostalgia that offers no context and delivers cheap comparisons. Lots of us can look back through rose-colored glasses on our own lives, but I’m talking about a particular form of truth twisting, a time-specific chauvinism that focuses mostly on other people and how they’re spoiling everything. And usually they’re young people, who take the brunt of all this judgment.

My kids are young people. I’m a little protective, maybe.

And a big part of this surely is a desire to stay current, to understand how we got to where we are and, by the way, understanding where we are in the first place.

This isn’t sustainable, I know. Moore’s law alone suggests that technology has always been outracing an individual’s ability to evolve along with it, and technology is driving the car here. It’s actually driving the actual car, come to think of it. At some point, most of us will have to accept that we just aren’t going to keep up.

I’m something of a generational chauvinist myself, although not really in the sense that my cohort had to make special sacrifices and were shaped by events. Mostly I think of us as being awfully lucky.

We were, too. People born after 1955 never had their life trajectories altered by compulsory military service, never had to take that into consideration when looking forward (even if it might have been a good idea for some of us).

We entered the job market at roughly the same time as ubiquitous computing did, and as rapid as technologic advances came we were able to keep up, or at least those of us with the interest and that particular kind of work.

We never had to straddle the two eras in popular music. We were teenagers during the golden era of 1970s filmmaking, and by the time we were old enough to sneak into mature movies, it seemed more a rite of passage than an evolution of the art. The most significant political moment of our young lives wasn’t an assassination or an unpopular war; it was the resignation of a president, a confirmation that the system worked the way it was supposed to. Lucky.

But time will always catch you, and keeping up with change will eventually focus more on blood pressure and degrading joints, not messaging apps. The rise of contemporary folklore isn’t the fault of young people; it seems mostly due to older folks who for whatever reason decided to believe everything they read, and pass it along on Facebook. Including a lot of those good ol’ days posts.


I wrote a column this week about some of the issues involved in the United Airlines incident, and tossed out a stray comment toward the end about vertical video (i.e., the video from smart phones not turned sideways). I don’t have strong feelings on the subject and don’t see how it would make a difference, anyway; I just hate having to edit it together with regular, widescreen video, and I assume TV news editors hate it, too.

But someone who apparently is interested if not passionate about the subject, enough to scrape the ‘nets for that one comment in a small newspaper, linked to it and me on Twitter. For a second, then, I felt out of touch, yelling at those pesky kids with their vertical video to get off my lawn.

And then the popup showed up.

I’ve always been pretty snotty about computer security, manifested by more than a few obnoxious conversations with people who didn’t deserve it, and it’s not much different these days. I just tend to keep my mouth shut more often than not. I’m not going to save the world.

But if someone says they’ve been “hacked,” when really someone is spoofing their name or otherwise doing something they can’t prevent without going off the grid completely, I usually roll my eyes and move on.

And if they talk about suspecting they have a virus, I assume they’re just old. There are plenty of bad players out there, and bad code, but I figure it’s either malware or just ignorance of how the modern personal computer actually works. Even if it’s an actual virus, I assume it comes from ignorance about security (file that under the believe everything they read commentary above).

I’ve always been a skeptic, never really trusted anything when it comes to people and computing and good intentions. As far as I know, I’ve encountered one virus in nearly 30 years of personal computing, and that was a dumb VBA macro that a client sent me in a Word document. It wasn’t designed to do anything particularly malevolent, and I caught it right away. I don’t trust but verify; I just don’t trust, and it’s served me well.

Yesterday I started getting this popup on my desktop, a pretty unsophisticated one; it looked pretty much like something designed 20 years ago, and it said something appearing benign, like “A new system setting has been changed; download version 1.20.” Somehow malware had snuck in, annoying and hard to figure out.

A virus scan showed nothing. A malware scan came up with some false-positives, all of them from quarantined malware that another piece of software had waylaid and isolated in the background. My internet connection seems to drop a couple of times a day for a couple of seconds, only noticed when there’s a flash of buffering on a video or my weather widget goes blank, and this I chalk up to a 9-year-old router. My task manager showed nothing suspicious running.

This is also a fairly new build, with an operating system coming right out of the box, and I assumed that System Restore was enabled by default when, it turns out, that’s not the case, so I had no way to turn back the clock other than to roll everything back to day #1. All for a stupid popup that appeared a few times a day. I stewed a little but it really didn’t affect me.

It was my son, looking over my shoulder, who suggested the eventual answer. It was a simple Rainmeter script (Rainmeter is an easy-on-the-CPU skin that shows me weather and system widgets, as below) with, in fact, just an update. I unplugged my Ethernet cable and clicked on the popup, which of course couldn’t connect but showed me the URL. Problem solved.

Rainmeter widgets


Except for the nagging thought that I jumped to sinister conclusions without considering the alternative, which was minor but it still worries me. I don’t want to be that guy. I may be anyway. I start complaining about the kids these days, stop reading. If I tell you that I drank from water hoses and rode my bike all day without a helmet and never glanced at a screen (I note that the average American watched about 7 hours of television daily when I was growing up), understand that I’m a lost cause.

And viruses? I’ll get a flu shot. Life’s way too short.

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The Week That Was

That’s what it feels like, anyway. It wasn’t just five straight days of driving to church, which for us is a little more involved than most, given that we live 30 miles away. Driving is the easy part.

It comes with the territory, her busyness becoming mine and then there’s just the fact that I’m all in when it comes to this week, always have been. I did some explaining to new members recently, trying to explain how, for me, going through the three days and then Easter morning is a spiritual discipline. It’s not unlike a meditation routine, or a prayer life, or exercise for that matter: I do it not because I wallow in each discrete moment, but because I know I’ll feel better for having done it, and that the benefits linger long past spring.

Or that’s what I think. From choir practice on Wednesday night through the last hallelujah Sunday morning, I went on a little journey. And now I prepare for a quick trip to see my daughter and a boy who seems almost completely transformed from the pictures and the FaceTime visits, sprinting into boyhood. I’m ready.


I lost a reader on Easter morning, not unexpected but sad all the same. Dennis Hughes was a Presbyterian minister and teacher/mentor/friend to my wife, his name bouncing around this house for years. He played a big role in her ordination five years ago, but then it was always a big role.

He was also a reader of mine, occasionally sending an email when he read a column that resonated. He was kind and enthusiastic in all things, and a few weeks ago I mailed him a copy of Learning to Walk, which he seemed eager to read.

From the ordination. Dennis is wearing the white alb and red sash.


He’d been living with cancer for years, and he drifted toward the end of his days here with joy and serenity, apparently, but then. That was Dennis.


Jason Ford is a friend of my daughter, from college, and his story is familiar if still floating in the rarefied air of those who manage to capture lightning in a bottle. He parlayed talent, education, and an idea into an Austin-based start-up, which he eventually sold for a boatload of money.

And he just wrote a remarkable piece about what he thinks about all this. If you feel hackles rising, maybe read it again.

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Baking Day

Summer is when we like things not to break. If they do, they will most likely stay broken. Summers are relaxing but frugal here.

Last summer, then, the heating element in our oven starting malfunctioning. Only half of it seemed to be heating up, and it tended to stay on after the oven was turned off. None of this is good.

Replacing the element was easy, but there was apparently a short in the wiring or some other issue that is above my pay grade. Sometimes you need an expert. And sometimes you don’t want to spend the money.

On the positive side, my wife has always had affection for toaster ovens, for some reason, and we have a nice one, roomy and with convection cooking. We figured we could manage in the summer with that; the stovetop still worked fine, and it’s not the time of year when we’d spend a lot of time baking and just using the oven for what ovens are good at.

And it turned out that we could manage just fine, even when summer went away. Add that countertop oven to the microwave, slow cooker, and stovetop and you can cook pretty much anything, especially for three people or less. There’s a rotisserie* and everything.

There’s a lesson here, I think, necessity being the mother of many children, although in all honesty I think we mostly just forgot about the big oven. It comes up from time to time.

This is one of those times, actually. I’ve got several loaves of bread to bake this week, which is no problem at all, but also a few dozen cookies. Size matters here only because I can only manage to bake a dozen at a time, so it’s a little more work and twice the time.

On the other hand, these cookies are for church, and we’ve got a couple of sizeable ovens in the church kitchen. I could bake them all at once, assuming enough cookie sheets, and I might just do that. Easier, and walking into a church at dusk that reeks of chocolate chip cookies is not a bad way to do a Vigil, I think. Not bad at all.

The Vigil table from last year.















*Spelled that all on my own.

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Occam and his stupid razor

I asked my son yesterday if he’d ever heard a tech person talk about rebooting something, such as a modem, and suggest unplugging the power cord from the device and the outlet. He said he had, so I didn’t feel dumb, but it still makes no sense. Probably just doubling down on the process, although it’s perfectly plausible that I just don’t understand enough about physics and electronics.

The point was, my Amazon Echo has been a little buggy lately, dropping in and out of wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, and the other day it just stopped connecting to my PC. I rarely use the Echo for any of its intended purposes; mostly I just use it as a Bluetooth speaker. And now, with my new rig and certain issues about the sound card and this particular motherboard, it was my only speaker. I have a pair of wireless headphones that use a USB transmitter, which work just fine, but I’m less inclined toward headphones these days. I need a speaker.

Sidebar: If you type “speaker” enough, you realize what a strange, primitive word that is. Like “movie,” we say it without recognizing the silliness.

Reviewing the situation, then, I decided to go through a process, step by step. Turn off and turn on. Reset the device. Forget the device and re-pair. And so on, everything I could think of. No luck.

And I was fighting logic, which would note that the speaker connected to my phone without problems, suggesting that it wasn’t the Echo at all. Although I did remove my Bluetooth dongle and plug it back in.

See, I don’t need tech support, even if such a thing were available; I could probably find a way to contact Amazon support and talk to someone, but I assume they’d just walk me through every step I took. And this, again, seemed to be a PC issue, not an Echo one.

I ended up jerryrigging a speaker system, which sounded fine, and figured it was just something that would resolve or just wouldn’t work anymore. Later on, though, when I moved to put my computer to sleep, I saw an “Update and Shut Down” option. I took that, which seemed to be a small update, and went out and mowed the lawn.

Turning the PC back on afterward, I noticed that it was hitting the disk drive and remembered that I’d stuck a disk in there to see what was on it and never took it out. I couldn’t figure out how that could be affecting Bluetooth, but it was the only thing different about my setup. I took the disk out and tried to re-pair the speaker. Bingo.

Except. I’d just gotten an update.

You see? Was it the disk, or some bug in Windows that the update fixed?

Not that this is a problem; I’m just glad the speaker is back. It’s just become one of those we’ll never know moments, and I hate those.

Except. I have a son, who actually is pretty good when it comes to logic, not to mention motherboards, and he had an answer, which sounds obvious but you had to be there.

“Put the disk back in.”

Maybe. And maybe tempting fate is a game for the young. I think I’ll pass.

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Looking Back, Ahead

It’s not like I’m unaware that the club is shrinking. The entertainers of my childhood, meaning the entertainers of my parents and, by osmosis and lack of options, me, are almost all gone.

The ones that came up via radio, carrying with them the aroma of vaudeville and a hint of the 19th century, Jack Benny and George Burns and Bob Hope and Henny Youngman and so on, are long gone. So are Sinatra and Crosby and Dino and Sammy; the entire Rat Pack, Danny Ocean and all. By whatever grace seems to fall on certain celebrities, the big screen icons of my era are in large part still around: Eastwood, Redford, Nicholson, Hoffman, Hackman. And that weird longevity that seems to bless brilliant comic minds, or even just good comic ones, is still in effect with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, and Dick Van Dyke engaged and in some cases busy, well into their 80s and 90s.

And so we come to Don Rickles, may he rest in peace. He had a good, long run, a career that was taking off before I was born and never seemed to crest, just persist. For a bona fide headliner, he was a show biz second banana and seemed pretty comfortable with that, his friendships with Sinatra and Newhart understood as hierarchal and his spot nailed down. He was the court jester of famous people, and he seemed to relish the role.

I just never got Rickles, and it puzzles me. Even dumping the hagiography that happens whenever someone of his stature passes, people whose opinions I trust on these things have always had glowing things to say about Don Rickles.

Me? Never saw it, and I saw everything. I was fascinated by comedians, particularly the ones whose timing had that preternatural feel, like watching Ken Griffey, Jr. swing the bat. From W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers through Pryor and David Brenner and on, I knew their stuff. And I didn’t get Rickles’ stuff. I understood it. I just didn’t get it, and he never made me laugh.

So what’s up with that? Dunno. I have my share of odd tastes and strange things make me laugh; I just couldn’t get onboard with this guy. And it has to be me, not him.


I was brought up in a cultural Christian environment, by which I mean we celebrated Christmas in the usual way. I went to Sunday school for a year or so, and had a few other church experiences, but negligible.
Easter Sunday was another that we marked, and now it just baffles me. Objectively, I get it, absolutely. There’s nothing like an Easter egg hunt, or the candy, or spring taking off and pushing hope like a door-to-door salesman.

I just can’t relate to that these days, for good reasons. I’ve been married to a church musician and now minister for a long time, and this is Super Bowl week. Four services to be prepared, sermons to be written, music to be arranged. Holy Week for us is just hanging on and immersing ourselves at the same time.

On my side of the aisle, I just have to bake, learn a pretty simple song on the guitar to help out a couple of our musicians, and write a take on the creation story to deliver on Saturday at our Vigil.
Lots of churches do this. Lots don’t. Especially with the schism that’s always existed in the Presbyterian church, the Calvin wing and the Knox wing, you might find nothing particularly liturgical happening in one church and our crazy week in another. Ours, that is, anyway.

These are The Three Nights: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil. Easter Vigil is an ancient tradition that only was rediscovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it can take different forms, but the way we do it has to be the most fun. Theologically, the deed is done; the rock has already been moved away in our minds. We tell our oldest stories: Creation, Noah, Jonah, Isaiah, etc., and give ourselves free rein to explore creative ways to tell them. It can last a couple of hours, sometimes longer, and always ends with the Lord’s Supper and then a feast of Easter goodness, with a big focus on chocolate. You gotta have chocolate at the Vigil.

All of these nights are infused with joy at some point, gently on Maundy Thursday, muted on Good Friday but still there, awakening at the Vigil and erupting the next morning. If you do it, and approach it in the right way, or at least this has been my experience, it can carry you a long way.

As can chocolate. You really need it to make all this work. I don’t quite understand this, either, but you do.

(My wife talking about The Three Nights and her journey)

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