A Man Hears What He Wants to Hear

And disregards the rest.

So Paul says.

We are all cowards. Maybe it’s the biggest part of us. It seems like every decision we take. Every day and most of the minutes, we take our decisions based on calculations that reduce risk. Big decisions and small. 

We don’t quit our jobs to open the cigar shop we’ve dreamed of. We don’t make the paella–just bake a chicken breast and warm up some potatoes. We don’t go for that Masters because it’s too expensive. Don’t go to Italy for the summer because we need to pad the 401(k). Don’t ride the motorcycle because there are clouds. Etc. Et al. Every single decision is calculated. And societal conditioning and perhaps even human nature, in the insidious trade-off of survival versus living, pushes us towards the conservative choice. 99% of the time. 

I see it in my work too. Companies pay 50, 60, 100M dollars for new cutting-edge applications and then spend two years talking themselves out of bold steps.

We make decisions based on fear of failure. Of being embarrassed. Of damaging our reputation. Of being wrong. Of not fitting in. Of being singled out. 

We are all living the cautionary lives we have been programmed to live. Where are the Kurt Vonnegut’s to inspire us to our courage?

I’ve lived a fortunate life, and yet, sometimes it seems too much. 

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade

And he carries the reminders

of every glove that laid him down or cut him till he cried out

In his anger and his shame, “I am leaving, I am leaving”

But the fighter still remains

paul simon

I watched a movie on the plane called The Truffle Hunters. Simple and beautiful. A story about the lovely old tradition of bringing food to table. Old Italian men with dogs in the forest and well-dressed men making cash transactions at night in dark alleys. The prices change daily. The humidity and moisture change daily. A barren ground one day will yield culinary gold the next. Dogs are important in this tale–but so is tradition and instinct and perseverance and a love for the hunt.

There are respected territories but also greed. Dogs are poisoned. Heated arguments and negotiations, but also cooperation and camaraderie among peers.

The story was told in Italian with subtitles and shot with a lens that gave a nod to an older and more innocent time. One of the men was likely to outlive his beloved truffle dog and he worried over how to make sure his dog had a good life after he was gone.

At one point, a stranger offers to buy his dog. Offers a blank check. The old man says ‘come back tomorrow, bring one of your children. I will withdraw 50,000 Euros from the bank. Cash. And give it to you for one of your children‘. 

One of the old men is married and throughout the movie his wife is always worrying over him. Telling him to stop hunting at night. Calling out his name loudly over the hills at dusk–telling him to come home before dark. In the final scene, the old man, who is 87, sneaks out the window in the middle of the night like a teenager. He has planned ahead and his cane is there waiting for him and also the dog. 

The cinematogropahy work is excellent–the scenery haunting and beautiful.

A story of reflection and tradition and the stirring beauty of the mountains and of course, our love affair with dogs.

I find my love for Europe is as strong as ever. But my tolerance for travel wanes. I need to be close to my family now, so I am more realistic about the possibility of living in the old country again. Perhaps, but less likely now. Maybe just longer visits sometime soon.

We had a good trip–Brittany and I. Traveling together is not easy. Especially with me. I am a loner by nature and especially when traveling. But all went very well. We walked a lot. Stopped for coffees and beer and wine and food when the time was right. And had some good meals in the evenings. I caught up with Sjoerd and Onah and got re-acquainted with Bear.

There’s a war in Europe for the first time in a while. Of course we’re never far from war I guess. We violent and ignorant humans.

It’s interesting the relationship Americans have with war. We took this land by hard violence and greed. Since then, other than the attack on Pearl Harbor, our wars have fallen on other lands. Mostly thousands of miles away. After 9/11, a non state-sanctioned rogue attack by terrorists mostly from Saudi Arabia, we attacked two 3rd world countries. We stayed there for 20 years and by even the most conservative reckoning killed somewhere between 200,000 and 800,00 civilians. 

We are now rightfully outraged at the bombings in Ukraine. But most Americans simply ignore the terror we rained down on Iraq and Afghanistan for two decades. Our bombs missed their targets. We killed children. Old people. Innocent people. We killed hundreds of thousands and  maimed and displaced many more than that.  

So the images we now see on TV which enrage us, should remind us of our own ultra violent recent and distant past. We specialize in choosing to attack and kill in 3rd world countries. Nations who are mostly defenseless. Iraq. Afghanistan. Vietnam. Korea. One of our very last acts in Afghanistan was a drone attack on what we were told was a criminal mastermind. But the intelligence was wrong—we killed a family of 10. Mostly children. 

So our righteousness feels insincere and misplaced. We have not earned the moral high ground. None of this minimizes the sadness of the situation in Ukraine. The terror and pain of the dead and maimed and the refugees who must find a place to flee. But as a nation, we simply are not in a position to claim we are much better than anyone else.  

Some great rugby recently. France has won the 6 Nations in a clean sweep. I got to see a lot of the matches.

I’ve often claimed that I remember every rugby game I played. That probably, almost certainly, is not completely true. But it’s mostly true I think. Certainly true enough for me to keep saying it.

In the early morning hours, just before dawn, in that odd state where we sometimes seem to have the ability to shape our dream to our liking, I’m often rewarded with some time on the pitch. In the way of dreams, there is much that doesn’t make sense. But the trade off is that I am there. Relishing the intensity and thrill of battle.

It’s not lost on me that I can speak of battle in its harsh reality in one paragraph, but then metaphorically and longinglyin the next.

We were men. Every Saturday we went out and played the game. We played with as much bravery and integrity as we could muster. We were desperate for that first touch of the ball. That first contact. We wanted a hard hit early to bring the game to us completely.

We tackled. Got tackled. We passed and kicked. We plotted to create space and opportunity–to take the ball at pace, even while ensuring our own defense. A missed tackle meant someone else had to now take up that slack.

It’s possible in a rugby game to almost become hypnotized. To become so completely in a zone that everything that is not rugby fades to a slight remembrance. We are focused on our opposite number. Our teammates. Our position on the field. The pace and intensity and who has the momentum. Who of our teammates might be struggling and needs a watchful eye. Who of the opposition is weak and vulnerable and might provide opportunity. 

Back to Boston.

I’ve finally finished ‘Caste’. Isabella WIlkerson is a powerful force. A truly gifted researcher and writer. One of many amazing African American writers who are teaching us the true history of our nation rather than the sunshine and apple pie version we were taught in school. 

Now I am reading ‘9 Mile Wolves‘ by Rick Bass. Actually, it’s a re-read. I read it many years ago. It’s the same book that turned me on to Bass. A great modern western writer in the caliber of Harrison and Doig and Stegner. And John Muir and Edward Abbey. Okay. Not quite to Stegner level. But he’s good. 

I’ve had people say they don’t like to re-read books because there is so much out there yet to be read. But I don’t mind. Just as I don’t listen to a favorite song once and then put the album on the shelf never to see light again. I re-visit my favorite scotches and bourbons weekly. I stare at the same paintings in wonder and very often the story I see there is different than the time before. So books can be different when read at different periods of our lives. Why am I justifying.

I read ‘A Sand County Almanac‘ at least once every three years or so.

Black Dog Ridge has been enormously frustrating. Don’t get me started. The excuses companies come up with now for not being able to deliver their products on the promised date. COVID is two years into our lives now. Yet Andersen Windows and Home Depot can’t seem to predict within 8 months when my windows will be done. They originally said 60 – 90 days and are now saying 9 months. WTF?

If I was that bad at my job I would fire myself. Perhaps even kill myself in an elaborate Hara Kiri ritual with a Japanese long sword to acknowledge my shame. The reason for my window delay? Color. Apparently the pigment used to mix the color Terratone can be only obtained from the horns of a rare species of Ukrainian mountain goat. And due to COVID and the war, those goats are now elusive.

I made that shit up. What in the hell could possibly be the reason why it takes 9 months to mix the paint of terratone to apply to the vinyl windows? Seriously. It’s just fucking different pigments man. 

On Monday, I can find out if another color can be delivered more quickly. Apparently even being 6 months late on a customer order is not enough to action Andersen employees to work weekends.

Lowe’s has graciously offered to solve my window problem–they can deliver a similar set of windows in 63 days. For exactly twice the price.

Anyway. Don’t get me started. As these things go, and as most everyone knows, building a house takes twice as long and costs twice as much as it would if we lived in a world that wasn’t mostly inhabited by dummies. But dummies also need to be allowed to exist I suppose. Which means their impact is felt in our lives and projects.

I ordered flooring for the house. 1,600 square feet of 5″ white pine boards, 3/4″ thick. Sturdy mountain flooring with a yuppie-inspired ‘latte’ paint scheme to give it some character. White pine alone, as we all know, is boring. 

I brought flooring from Grabers, just down the road from my house. It is an Amish operation and these gentle people know how to run a business. They are direct and honest. Unsettlingly so. They are without humor and if they enjoy even a moment of a day, they hide that joy so skillfully that it appears to us as nonchalance.

This particular tribe of Amish has foregone the more rigorous interpretation of their religion, which forbids power tools and equipment, and embraced technology. Imagine long-dress and bonnet wearing women walking around with head sets; young, handsome, strong men with wide brimmed hats and sparse beards using PC’s and phones and forklifts. Religion wrought practical. 

My bonneted sales lady was Edna. Of course it was. She was sweet as honey and talked about 1/3 the pace of normal speech and articulated every single sound of every single letter. It was endearing as fuck. Edna was 100% business. Just for fun I tried to put a little sunshine on her, but she was immune. I made some nice jokes and while she was pleasant and cheerful and tolerant, a smile never came. Once I saw the barest hint of her lip tilt and a little sparkle in her eye, but that was so slight that perhaps I imagined it.

It’s an impressive operation. Nothing fancy at all, but superbly efficient. A truthful buying experience. Thanks Edna and Papa Graber too.

There’s a new rogue group of road warriors filling the hotel bars at night. Traveling nurses. COVID has altered the employment landscape. Nurse shortages massively expanded the business of flying in nurses for long 4-day shifts each week. My hotel is full of them. They know the bartenders by name and the bartenders know their drinks. Nurses have learned their worth–and learned how to pit one hospital against another. Most are making more than double what they made when they worked in their hometowns.

Good for them. Everyone else in health care has their hand out, why not the nurses. Many of them are older. Their kids are out of the house. And they seem to enjoy the freedom of being on the road. Let pappa take care of his own damn self for a change. They seem to be living their best lives.

I saw on CNN airport monitor that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is in the hospital. Every liberal in the country is thinking  the same thing. ‘Please let him die. Please let him die‘.

Alas. It seems only to be a cold. 

No more news of note.

Humbly submitted.

Robert Myres – Portneuf Valley Rugby Football Club, Flyhalf (ret.)

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