Hypothetical love-hate and jelly

Alternative historical timelines are hot in fiction. What if the South had won the Civil War and slavery never ended? What if Lee Harvey Oswald missed? Of these books, some receive acclaim. Others deserve all the ridicule they get. Weighty topics require strong and considerate writers.

After learning earlier this month of a certain name’s existence (in the Times, no less), if I had to write alternative history, I would need to tackle a devastating question. What if Lori’s name had been Peanut Butter?

Peanut butter, my mortal enemy!

I’m not allergic to it. I just hate it. I’ve always hated it. Like I hate no other food on the planet. As the Dallas Cowboys are to sports for me, peanut butter is to food. What if I’d fallen for a girl — a girl who upon having any other name would be my destiny — but she were named Peanut Butter?

Go because I never would

The new issue of Wired briefly visits the Skylodge capsules, rentable glass rooms strapped to a sheer cliff 1,200-feet above Peru’s Sacred Valley.  You climb the cliff to reach the rooms — iron rungs have been punched into the rock face — and then Zipline down the next day. There are some conveniences. While you’re up there, a guide stays in another pod and brings you dinner and wine. And there’s a bathroom in the pod.

But the bathroom has a glass floor, and maybe by now you grasp the terror of the experience. I’ve been thinking about it for two days now. In the pod, would you have your best sleep ever or your worst? Best argument for best sleep of your life: You have spent the day climbing a huge cliff ladder, including the parts where it turns sideways, and you no longer have to climb that ladder anymore. Best argument for worst sleep of your life: You have spent the day climbing a huge cliff ladder, including the parts were it turns sideways, and now you are attempting to sleep in a glass pod strapped to the side of the cliff. “We felt completely safe,” the Wired writer says of herself and her husband. Maybe they are more fearless than you. Or maybe today’s the day it all comes down.

Either way, the experience sounds amazing, and I would love to do it. Would I actually? Unlikely. Before we chose Italy for our honeymoon, I ruled out several places in the Caribbean just because of their mosquitos, and that was before Zika became a thing. I don’t need the hassle. Also, as much as I like the zipline-ropes adventure courses around the D.C. area, they strike me as smaller adventures than a Peruvian cliff might provide.

But — you, my friend. You should go. Take pictures. Tell me how it was. Tell me about your night of cliff-face sleep and the dreams you had.

Patrick brings you the beats

Friend Melissa emails this screenshot and says, “Something to tell me?”

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I am not responsible for this techno track, nor how its hook never arrives. Below, please enjoy the song. If you were a club person and heard it in a club, you would likely keep dancing. But I think you’d want something just a little more, like a guest appearance from Kylie Minogue, a French rapper or a Warner Brothers character. I do love that font on the name, though. Strong and strangely mysterious.

Best of all, this song leads me into the world of cover art from artists who flee the musical indignity of their last names and just go by “Patrick.”

A small sampling, each linked to listening:







Let us meet Mama de Lama

I read every page of every issue of my college alumni magazine.

This habit comes in part from a bit of obsessive tendency in the collection-oriented part of my brain, I’m sure. The close-in contexts of life, the general discouragement of society, the spiritual-over-physical aspects of faith, and whatever good arguments my mom used to get me to trash a growing magazine collection I kept as a child — the world hasn’t yet seen eBay bidding wars for early issues of Sports Illustrated for Kids, thankfully — have diffused for me how such a tendency might play out with physical things. I worry at times that whatever synapse this is could romp one day in the throes of dementia.

But I take hope in the fact this desire appears in elements of my clean-up work as well, both at home and work. Clean-up, I need to emphasize/disclose, implying a tidying, reduction of known objects or finishing of work begun, not cleaning as in dusting, scrubbing and vacuuming. Cleaning, I wish! (And my wife wishes, and my parents before her.) Kay Ryan’s “The Will to Divest” is one of my favorite poems because it feels kindred. She writes of personal reduction, “Action creates / a taste / for itself.”

I think I read every page of every issue of the alumni magazine also, though, because here is a collection of zooms-down on a zoom-up, zoom-down universe, encompassing both the billion-dollar macro and the intensely personal, in which I’ve had an unique experience and subsequent life but only known a fraction of others’ similar times. At its best moments, the alumni magazine zooms you down in a way that reminds you simultaneously of how big and small its world is.

Like, in the most recent issue, a brief obituary for Sonia de Lama.

When Mrs. de Lama immigrated to Chicago from Cuba in 1955, she did not speak English. She took night classes and earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees while raising two small children.

After receiving her doctorate in romance languages from Northwestern, Mrs. de Lama began a 32-year career as a popular Spanish professor at the City Colleges of Chicago. She served as president of the Chicago chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese and was recognized as university-level Teacher of the Year by the organization in 1990.

She also taught Spanish lessons for reporters at the Chicago Tribune, where her son, George ’79, was managing editor. The reporters affectionately called her “Mama de Lama.”

The Tribune has a good, longer obituary for Mama de Lama.

The Sun-Times, despite an ad-covered page design (most sad, the template can’t render a proper byline), surprises with a better one. Former Trib editor Ann Marie Lipinski tells her once-competitor about de Lama, “She had an expressive, silky voice and listening to her speak — whether conjugating Spanish verbs or sharing stories of life in Cuba — was its own joy.”

Four spring poems, for such a spring

1. “A Quiet Life” by Baron Wormser (a great name), via Lori.

What a person desires in life
is a properly boiled egg.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.

2. “Prayer” by Keetje Kuipers (also a great name), also via Lori.

Perhaps as a child you had the chicken pox
and your mother, to soothe you in your fever
or to help you fall asleep, came into your room
and read to you from some favorite book,
Charlotte’s Web or Little House on the Prairie,
a long story that she quietly took you through
until your eyes became magnets for your shuttering
lids and she saw your breathing go slow. And then

3. “Nothing” by Ken Mikolowski. Twelve words, six lines long. Ink like dust and ashes to dust and ashes. The poem barely enters the page and your brain before it departs, and a title is rarely more fitting. Life is quick, so embrace what you love while you can.

4. “The Amnesty” by Caroline Bird. I’ve posted this poem here before. But the lines hit me squarely when they first came through my feeds amid all of our wedding planning. How squarely? Years ago, I met a train-jumper — his preferred term versus hobo — who told me with some pride how a wooden board at a construction job the previous week had fallen and smacked him right in the middle of his face. That squarely. I tweeted the poem the morning of our wedding because I couldn’t say much more than it does. “My love / equips me.”

Reading upon waking is never dull

In the NYT morning email, for a moment I saw “hippopotamus.”

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What the hippopotamus can do for the nature of memory! One second, the memory is sitting quietly in a chair, minding its own business, attempting to retrieve or relive past experiences. The next second, a one-and-a-half ton slippery tank of a mammal is flying into the room, tromping and mashing its giant feet and head and rear all up in your brain’s business, wearing a tutu (cartoons must be believed), turning the chair into toothpicks — shreds of toothpicks! — but successfully finding your past experiences, as any good hippopotamus does.

The obituary for Dr. Corkin is very worth reading, by the way. An amazing scientist, her lifelong subject was a man to whom she had to reintroduce herself every time she entered the room. Says the Times, “Henry Molaison — known in published reports as H.M., to protect his privacy — was a modest, middle-aged former motor repairman who had lost the ability to form new memories after having two slivers of his brain removed to treat severe seizures when he was 27.”

Hopefully, a scientist will one day study why the brain guesses at words at certain times and not others. Why “hippocampus”? Why not “pinpoint,” “contributions” or “retrieving”? Was “hippocampus” more rare in its spelling or construction? Or just in use, compared to the others? And why wrong reads upon waking up and not going to bed? Does this happen to everyone, only some people or just me?

Is a hippopotamus in the brain just more fun to imagine? Do our brains joke with us? Previously in this blog, the “Coves at Round Mountain” housing development became the mystery-filled “Caves at Rock Mountain.” Are we joking to ourselves, subconsciously recognizing our most relaxed time of the day? We fight to fall asleep, but we are powerless against waking. Why not make the best of it?

‘Loose and nervous rhythm’

Her line is exquisite in its loose and nervous rhythm; she can create movement with what, out of context, would be a meaningless squiggle; she can suggest by a few doodles a storm-clouded sky or the hidden recesses of a candlelit room.

The Times Literary Supplement some years ago, as quoted in the paper’s recent obituary of the original illustrator of Paddington Bear, Peggy Fortnum.

There’s more wonderful — and wonderfully human — obit writing in those pages today, in “Charles S. Hirsch, New York’s Chief Medical Examiner on 9/11, Dies at 79.”

On good temmmates

From a passage this winter about squash partners, within a long-read about taking up serious squash in middle age. I know nothing about squash but a decent amount about teammates and a little about age.

To play your very best, to make a Houdini-like escape from impossible conditions, you need a partner who handcuffs you and stuffs you in a mail sack, then hurls it into the river. He should also keep his mouth mostly shut, except to say “Nice shot.” The box you’re both in is too small—twenty-one feet wide by thirty-two feet deep—and the necessary do-si-do-ing too close to admit anyone who blocks or bickers. When you find a solid partner, you settle into an oppositional symbiosis, where you improve by trying to crush each other.

‘Feels like the jukebox at a segregated luncheonette’

Belatedly — this tab got lost on the far left edge of my browser tabs for a month — I love how the Times used an entire spot in its “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going” package to rip apart the musically sacrilegious, height-of-cultural-approbation Charlie Puth-Meghan Trainor duet, Marvin Gaye, deeply deserving of destruction.

You may think you’ve never heard “Marvin Gaye,” but it’s possible you just haven’t listened to it. It’s a song that tends to register via alternate senses, a clamminess on the nape of your neck or a cloying taste, like children’s cough syrup, in the back of your mouth. … If you type “Marvin Gaye Let’s Get It On” into a search field, you’ll most likely first find Trainor and Puth, who insisted on the comparison and will now suffer by it. “Marvin Gaye” feels like the jukebox at a segregated luncheonette; it is sex performed at someone, and with your clothes on.