Random Thoughts at the Hospital

Random thoughts while wandering the corridors of East Jefferson General Hospital Wednesday.

First, nothing to worry about. I’m fine. Fit as a fiddle. Don’t need good thoughts or healing energy or prayer warriors or anything. None of those things would be rejected if offered, mind you, but they’re not needed. I’m fine. It’s just that I hadn’t been to the doctor in a couple of years, so when I did go in to see him last month he drove the point home by calling for a bunch of tests and inflicting some healthcare on me. THAT will show me! Today was the last of them.

2 – The words “Nuclear Medicine” are scary. Maybe it’s just the age I grew up in, with the Cold War and nuclear drills and all that. There’s something “mushroom cloudy” about “nuclear medicine,” reminiscent of Commando Cody or Flash Gordon or Zaphod Beeblebrox with his Kill-O-Zap ray gun. Instead, they should call it “Magic Medicine.” That’d be MUCH more calming. You could imagine Madam Pomfrey, the Hogwarts school nurse, doing whatever she does behind the scenes while you have your tests, and there’d always be plenty of chocolate. I’m writing a letter to the hospital board immediately.

3 – There was nothing to read while I was sitting in the cardiology waiting room. Nothing, that is, accept many copies of a magazine sized, 24-page pamphlet on “Advanced Prostate Cancer.” Had nothing to do with what anyone in cardiology was waiting for, you’d think it would be in urology or oncology, and maybe it was, I didn’t check. But it was the only thing to read, so I read it. It was – eye opening. My favorite line was the inspirational story of the guy who said the first step in fighting his case was “Own your cancer.” Well, I never knew you could rent it, but apparently that’s not a good deal. So yeah, OWN it.

4 – Most of the afternoon was taken up by a chemical stress test – which tricks your heart into thinking you’re running a marathon while you’re sitting in a chair. Not comfortable, but I suppose it feels better than actually running a marathon. It was actually unpleasant. And they took before and after pics of my heart. Unasnwered question – Did I win?

5 – The last thing of the day was the best – an echocariogram. For obvious reasons (one of which is my tendency to free associate) I always think an echocardiogram will somehow involve using bats to check my heart. There were no bats, but it was really interesting. I could see my heart pumping away, valves opening and closing, ventricles and atria filling and emptying. There’s also a Doppler effect, the chambers flash red or blue like the cop lights in your rearview mirror to indicate which way the blood is flowing. According to the technician, having blood flow through your heart beats the alternative.

6 – Tori was with me all day, or as close as the hospital would let her. For a lot of it she had to sit in the waiting room reading (she brought a book, no “Prostate Cancer” for her) while this went on. She used the time to learn how to turn off the oxygen and other medical gasses throughout the east wing of the hospital if that ever becomes  necessary. But she got to see the echocardiogram and was fascinated. *Could* I have done it without her? Probably. It was just a matter of sitting there letting people scrubs do things to me. But I wouldn’t want to, not in a million years. She’s there to support me and I’m there to support her. And now when I say my heart belongs to her, she knows that’s not an empty promise. There’s really one there. And it’s hers.

Anyway, that’s it. Unless I hear otherwise in the next week or so, I”m going to assume I’m fine. I’ll see you all eventually.
jb

First Rehearsal, That Was Fun

That was fun. Tuesday night was the first night of rehearsals for me and Max with the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans. It was the chorus’s first rehearsal of the year, aiming towards a performance of Haydn’s “The Creation” in the spring. I’ve never heard it before but, let me tell ya, it’s got some snappy passages.

I learned a lot. For one thing, I learned I’m no longer a tenor 2 for the purposes of choral singing. I’m a bass. And while I can’t read music, I’ve still got a pretty good ear and can find my place with the other basses fairly well. But I’m going to have to do a lot better and spend at least an hour or so every day working on it.

When I was in musicals at Albany Civic Theater I was usually the lead or support – because I wasn’t a good enough singer to sing in the chorus. The chorus has to be able to sing the music as written, and mediates the tempo between what the orchestra is playing and whatever the lead has taken it in his head to sing. Now I’m going to have to get good.

Also, the music director has very, VERY clear ideas of how each word will be pronounced. I hate to disappoint him in advance, but while I plan to get that eventually, pronouncing the words his way is way down my list, well below learning what the words are and what notes I’m supposed to sing.

The people are all really friendly, and happy to see some new faces. I looked around the room, then leaned over and told Max that at 21, he is less than a third of the average age in the room. I, on the other hand, turning 65 next month, am probably right about at the mean. Anyway, it was a start.

The Northwest’s Pirate Prom

Saturday evening the Northwest pirate community will hold the 10th annual Swashbucklers Ball, the pirate prom of the Northwest, in their filibuster finery. Once again, I will not be there.

It starts at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie. I thought about getting out there for it, but then I mapped it and learned it would be a 37-hour drive, which means I’ll have to leave for it yesterday at the latest, and really, I should probably leave earlier, like last Monday.

So there you are. I’m afraid I won’t make it.

They started holding the ball right after our family moved from Oregon to the Caribbean. I’m sure it was nothing personal. We moved out of the area, our friends threw a party. Just a coincidence, a matter of timing. Now, if we were to return to the Northwest and they suddenly stopped holding it – you know, hands in their pockets, idly kicking at stones, whistling, acting surprised and saying, “Pirate party? What pirate party?” then I might begin to wonder if I need a new deodorant or something.

But I kid!

Ideally, what I’d like to do is for me and Tori to just show up one year. Buy a couple of tickets, slip in and sit in a dark corner in the back, and watch. It’d be fun to see if anyone noticed.

That won’t be this year. The ball is being held this weekend – about a day and a half from when I post this. Too late to start planning now. But next year? The year after? Who knows. Keep a weather eye out, pirates. You never know who might show up.

In the meantime, to all me mates gathered Saturday at the Milwaukie, Oregon, Elks Lodge, friends and crewmates and all who are on the account, have a grand time and know we’ll be thinking of you.

Ol’ Chumbucket
Jan. 10, 2020

A Resolution to Be More Musical, Even if It Annoys People

jb in porkpie hate
The author wearing the porkpie hat he received for Christmas. What does this have to do with the subject? I like a hat that makes me look vaguely like an old jazz guy,

Let me cut straight to the chase, then if you’re at all interested you can read the build up to it.

My new year’s resolution is to get more music in my life. Not just listening to the radio or cuing up tunes on my music library, although no doubt I’ll do that, too. But I want to sing more, perform a bit, whatever it takes.

One of the things I’ll do to achieve that is to finish the pirate musical I started last year, and then the other. I’m also going to try out for a chorus next week. I have some other things in mind as well, but those are the two big ones to start with.

Now, here’s the story behind it, in many unrelated pieces.

The story started about 10 days before Christmas. Or in September. Or possibly in 1965.

Ten days before Christmas Tori and I went to see Max and the UNO choir join with the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans to perform Handel’s “Messiah.” (I didn’t mention that? Check this video.) It was really great, and to Tori’s chagrin, I found myself singing along to the parts I knew – and I surprised myself with how many there were.

It reminded me of when I was fourth grader at Christ the King School in Nashville and a member of the choir. There was some big to-do we sang at in the Nashville cathedral, something to do with the bishop. Maybe his birthday, or funeral, or installation. I don’t know and I’m not sure I ever did. Anyway, it was a big deal, a full mass, and we practiced like crazy for a couple of months under the tutelage of our choir director, Mr. Guertz, a German choir master who seemed to be at least 400 years old. I was pretty sure he’d known Bach personally. Anyway, we were pretty good, got a lot of compliments. It made an impression. I can still remember parts of the service we sang, although I doubt I could sing it now, my voice was significantly higher in those days.

My dad was a singer. He sang everywhere, all the time. Especially in the car. Any family trip was a singalong. When he retired he joined SPEBSQSA (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, now known as the Barbershop Harmony Society) and put as much time and energy into that as he had his professional career. He even wrote his chapter’s annual show once or twice, and wrote/edited the chapter newsletter for years until he died. God, he loved it.

So I grew up singing. Although, like dad, I can’t read music. Got a pretty good ear, but I can’t read.

In September I mentioned on Facebook that I needed some new vices. Tori and I had marked the 100th day since we’d quit smoking. (FYI, s of this writing we’ve marked 214.) I also have cut back on my coffee consumption, and we recently realized we don’t drink much anymore. We didn’t “quit drinking alcohol,” we just realized we hardly ever do anymore. So I need some vices. And my Facebook friends were very helpful. If by “Helpful” you mean mostly mocking.

Among the offerings were suggestions that I take up meth (a non-starter), knitting and/or crocheting, move back to the northwest “and ease into the CBD trade,” volunteer for some do-good group or agency, get a New York Times crossword puzzle book (I already have the NYTimes crossword a day calendar. Any more than that would lead to madness.) online gambling or becoming a regular at a casino poker table, or adopting several cats and posting daily photos of their antics. Oh, and someone suggested that to fill the time I used to spend smoking, I take up smoking. Still scratching my head over that.

Two of the suggestions, however, weren’t stupid. The first sounded odd at first blush, but hear me out. FB friend Steve Sanders said “Try writing poetry. It is highly addictive, horribly distracting, and you will never make a living doing it. The perfect vice.” Well, he’s close. As I said up above, I’m writing the book for a pirate musical. A friend is writing the music. With a little luck the first draft will be ready by late spring. So it isn’t exactly writing poetry – but I will be writing and thinking in rhythm and rhyme.
And my son Max suggested he could teach me to play guitar. So that’s gonna be on the agenda as well this winter. Oh, I don’t expect I’ll ever be much good at it, but I want to be able to pick up a guitar and tinker around, make a little noise that is recognizable as music, and please myself, if no one else.

That was September. Then this Christmas we saw “The Messiah,” and although it wasn’t a sing along, that’s what I did.

And Tori, afterwords said she wanted me to start singing again. I have a very special wife. She’s never been the, “Oh, behave yourself and be serious” type. She’s the “How do we make this work?” type, and often knows what I want better than I do myself. So we talked about different things I might try, and I agreed my resolution for the new year would be to find a way to get music back in my life. Then Max came home and said the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans, which he had just sung with, was holding auditions and he invited me to come try out with him.

So that’s what I’ve come up with so far, the musical, the chorus and maybe guitar.

At the front door of the Guitar Center there is a sign that says “We Sell the Best Feeling on Earth” and every time I see it I think, “They must all be virgins.”

But I’m willing to give it a shot and find out if they know something I don’t.

Give an Adventure this Christmas

Give the gift of adventure this holiday season. If your list contains someone who lovea a good sea yarn it’s not too late to order my young-adult swashbuckling novel “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” It’s the story of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy and runs away to sea to find and rescue her father, who has been captured by pirates.

You can order it through all the usual places, from Amazon to your local bookstore. Or if you want an autographed copy, go through my site at Big Cartel, and I’ll get one in the mail to you the next day.

Readers have said of “Chrissie” –

“If you like reading adventure tales, wry humor, or just books, chart a swift course for Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter. … John Baur’s first stab at young-adult fiction features top-notch characterization, breathtaking battle scenes, and as much plot as your favorite Rafael Sabatini and Hunger Games novels — combined.”

“Just finished Chrissie Warren! Wow what a journey! I laughed, I cried, and I can’t say I could enjoy anything more. This has to be among the top in my favorite pirate books. I’m so glad this amazing piece of literature found its was onto my bookshelf!”

“Fabulous. … I enjoyed it tremendously!”

For the autographed volumes go to the Big Cartel link here – http://tinyurl.com/nu5ajsz. And make sure when you check out that you use the “Notes to Seller” tab on the checkout page to tell me who you want the autograph made out to. Otherwise I’ll put a generic signature. The “Notes to Seller” tab is at the end of the payment section – not where I’d have put it, but they didn’t ask me.

And have a M-aaarrrrrr-y Christmas!

Just in Case

Max and I went out to the Bywater (the neighborhood between the Marigny and the Ninth Ward) last night to see a man about a guitar case. Turned out the case wouldn’t fit the Fender we got Max at the garage sale last month. Too bad, it was a solid case at a great price. So he still doesn’t have a case for the guitar, but it wasn’t a wasted trip. The guy was fascinating. We met him at his studio and it seemed like he knew most of the musicians who have ever played in town, had stories and advice.

The most interesting – and immediately useful – thing he said was about the case. It was a plastic shipping case, the kind you’d use if you were checking a guitar on a plane. Sturdy. Good locks. He said it had been used once – when the guitar had been shipped to him. There was no point in using it. A gig bag makes more sense when you’re playing clubs and bars all around town.

“Most venues don’t have anyplace to store a case,” he said. “There’s no place to put it. Use a gig bag and you can throw it in a corner, or under the drummer’s platform or anywhere out of the way.”

So that’s next on the list. Find a good gig bag.

A Walk(er) Down the Rabbit Hole

I had just finished my fourth adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” last night. I’ve adapted the novel as a four-person staged reading, as a straightforward stage play and, my favorite, a stage play about Dickens writing the story and how it changed him. I’m still really proud of that one.

The version I’m on now is for Tori’s drama class at T.H. Harris and it has its own challenges. Due to the way the show will be scheduled, it has to be really cut down. I mean, 20 to 30 minutes MAXIMUM. So when I say I’m finished, I really mean I’m finished with my first draft. I’ll probably have to chop it further.

But I learned something really interesting – well, interesting to me any way.

You know how, at the end, Scrooge tells the kid to to buy the prized turkey and the kid replies “WALK-er.”

I’ve never really paid much attention to it. Obviously Walker is Victorian era equivalent of “bullshit,” or at least “baloney.” But this time, after ignoring the word as I have in previous adaptations, I dug a little deeper and found myself going down the rabbit hole. Here’s what I found.

Yeah, Walker is exactly that – a mid-Victorian era expression of disbelief or dismay. But there’s more. Walker is only HALF the expression.

The full phrase is “Hookey Walker,” always written with initials capitalized, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, suggesting it might reference a person or place. It’s also occasionally used to mean “humbug,” (Scrooge’s favorite phrase,) as in, “That’s all Walker.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary there are a handful of explanations for where the phrase came from, none of them convincing.

So two things – first, I wanted to replace it in the text with something young kids today would recognize, so I asked the young kids assembled at my kitchen table for their weekly Dungeons and Dragons session. And after tossing out several suggestions, they came up with the winner. In this version, instead of the boy saying “WALK-er,” he’s going to say, “That’s whack.” Thank Chaz.

Second I want to bring Hookey Walker back. I’m going to change the name of one character in my work in progress to Hookey Walker. (Yeah, he’s an idiot.) And I’m going to start using the phrase in my day to day conversation. “Don’t give me that Hookey Walker!” “Did you hear the president’s latest rant? What a bunch of Hookey Walker.” And of course, “WALK-er.”

I also need a T-shirt, which will soon be available online, saying “Bring Back Hookey Walker.” And if anyone asks, “Who’s Hookey Walker?” I will be happy to explain.

It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day! A Pirate Goes to School

at Harris
Ol’ Chumbucket with students at T.H. Harris Middle School. Note the logo on their shirts – look like anyone you know?

Well THAT was fun!

First, a happy International Talk Like a Pirate to ye!!! “That time in September when sea dogs remember that grownups still know how to play!”

You’ve got the buckles! It’s time to swash ’em!

This morning I got up earlier than usual, put on me pirate garb, and headed out with Tori (who was also in full pirate) to her school, T.H. Harris Middle School. I don’t know who this Harris fella was, but the school mascot and logo is a pirate. I was there to greet some rather surprised kids getting off buses. They were still fairly groggy and not happy about being awake. I’m not sure whether, from their point of view, having a pirate bellowing at them as the stumbled into school was a good thing or a bad. Pirates are not quiet. (“We go to eleven,” as Cap’n Slappy says) so we got their day started off with a bang!

As we greeted kids coming off the bus, the school’s uniformed police officer came by, curious. I assured him, “No pirates here. Just a couple of ethically challenged merchant seamen.” I think we fooled him.

Then the bell rang and they all headed to class. I headed to the office, where a couple of girls were starting the morning announcements. I let them do the pledge of allegiance, then I took over!

The first announcement was for anyone who wanted to sign up for the football team. They were to see Coach something or other in room 201, and pick up an insurance form. I added that if they wanted to sign up for pillaging on the Spanish Main, they could see me after school down at the docks. No insurance form needed.

The next announcement was a reminder that it was T.H. Harris night at Canes (a local purveyor of fried chicken strips.) A fundraiser for the school.

“Aye! We”ll gather at Canes and scuttle ’em, taking the booty to … wait … What? Really? They’re tellin’ me we’re just gonna go there and buy chicken and some of the proceeds will go to the school. Well, that’s good too.”

Couple more announcements, then I explained Talk Like a Pirate Day and gave them the Five As, so they’d know what was going on during the day.

And then it was time to head home, leavin’ the rapscallions, scallawags and nippers to the tender mercies of their teachers. But the day had been a little different, a little surreal for them, and that’s always good.

Oh, I should mention that I wasn’t wearing me cutlasses this morning. I felt almost naked! But the school has a very strict “no weapons” policy. Now, a pirate’s not afraid of anything! We’ll stare down storms at sea, revel in the shot and shell of battle, hurl ourselves over the side to board a Spanish galleon.

But even pirates don’t want to get detention!

(Thanks to Tori Baur (Mad Sally,) Principal Hubbard, and the faculty, staff and students of T.H. Harris.)

Saturday Science – Our Visit to LIGO

The LIGO control room. These monitors – and more to the left and right plus the banks of monitors at the work stations – keep track of what's going inside the massive detector.
The LIGO control room. These monitors – and more to the left and right plus the banks of monitors at the work stations – keep track of what’s going inside the massive detector.

Tori and I spent Saturday afternoon touring LIGO. Let me explain.

We had been watching a series of science documentaries recently, geeking out over black holes and the like. There was one about gravity waves, which had been predicted by Einstein but which had never been observed, tiny ripples in space-time spreading across the universe from massive, unseen events.

Unseen, that is, until September 2015, when a gravity wave from an event that occurred about 130 million years ago, was detected.

And then they said the words that got our attention. The observation had been made by the two LIGOs, which had been painstakingly designed and built for that specific purpose – one in Hanford, Washington, and one in Livingston, Louisiana.

Quick check of the map – that was only an hour’s drive away! Quick check of the website – They have tours every third Saturday of the month!

The two LIGO tunnels – the second is visible in front of the tree line – converge on the main building, where a laser beam is split and sent shooting down both sides.
The two LIGO tunnels – the second is visible in front of the tree line – converge on the main building, where a laser beam is split and sent shooting down both sides.

LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravity-wave Observatory. It is comprised of two long tunnels – each two and a half miles long – at right angles to each other. They form a big L. Inside is a long vacuum pipe, the most complete vacuum in the country. A laser beam is split, shoots down both pipes and is reflected back, where it is recombined. If nothing interferes, the two beams arrive at exactly the same time and cancel each other out.

 

One of LIGO's two tunnels – two and a half miles long – stretches into the distance.
One of LIGO’s two tunnels – two and a half miles long – stretches into the distance.

But Einstein had suggested that if a gravity wave happens by at the speed of light, it would cause one of the pipelines to contract ever so slightly and the other to expand by the same minute amount. The laser beam would be briefly misaligned, and that would register on the sensors.

The first gravity wave detected was caused by a pair of black holes colliding. Last week they detected a black hole swallowing a neutron star.

And not too long ago they hit the trifecta – detecting the collision of two neutron stars, an event that was also observed by gamma ray detectors and visual telescopes. In fact, LIGO detected the event first and immediately flooded the wires with a report of what they thought they had and where astronomers should point their instruments. And sure enough, there was a bright new object in that part of the sky.

The “control room” is filled with computer monitors, walls full of them and banks of them on the desks. And all of them are monitoring conditions inside the tunnels. They don’t show what’s being detected, because it happens so fast a human observer wouldn’t see anything. Instead the system records all the data and if an anomaly shows up it lets the humans know.

There are three such detectors in the world – the two LIGOs, 3,000 miles apart, run by a consortium led by Cal Tech, and a third, VIRGO, outside Pisa, Italy, run by a European science consortium. They share data and analysis and between them they act like the three legs of a GPS system, allowing scientists to determine where in the great vast universe the event took place.

What’s the point? I mean, seriously, what difference does it make? Decades went into designing and building the detectors – to what end? Well, it proves another part of Einstein’s theory, it helps us understand how the universe is built and how it works. Knowing things is better than not knowing them.

It also emphasizes how damn big the universe is. LIGO had been shut down for a while to tweak the system and improve its sensitivity. It is now detecting gravity waves coming from farther out than ever before, at a rate of almost one a day! There’s a lot going on out there. The universe is a big, violent place.

The Livingston facility also had a nice visitor center with plenty of hands-on science for kids, all of them hammering home lessons on light and sounds waves and kinetic energy. It was a fun afternoon of …

SCIENCE!

Prepare to be Boarded and Pass the Guacamole

Who discovered guacamole?

A pirate.

I’m tired of hearing that avocados are some sort of millennial food. That the hipsters somehow discovered avocados and invented eating it. So, rather than point to how long I’ve eaten avocados and the sort of things I eat them with, I’ll just say this.

The first English-language recipe for what could be considered “guacamole” was recorded by a pirate in 1679.

British-born William Dampier has been described as “a pirate of exquisite mind.” He became a pirate before he set off on a voyage of discovery that eventually made him the first person to circumnavigate the globe three times. And in his travels (he was the first European to explore Australia) his picked up a few things.

The following couple of paragraphs are from an article on Atlas Obscura. The whole thing is interesting except for the parts that kind of turn your stomach a little.

“Dampier began a life of piracy in 1679 in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. Orphaned in his late teens, Dampier set sail for the Caribbean and fell into a twentysomething job scramble. Seeing no future in logging or sugar plantations, he was sucked into the burgeoning realm of New World raiding, beginning what would be the first of his record-breaking three circumnavigations.

“In the Bay of Panama, Dampier wrote of a fruit ‘as big as a large lemon … [with] skin [like] black bark, and pretty smooth.’ Lacking distinct flavor, he wrote, the ripened fruit was “mixed with sugar and lime juice and beaten together [on] a plate.” This was likely the English language’s very first recipe for guacamole. Later, in the Philippines, Dampier noted of young mangoes that locals “cut them in two pieces and pickled them with salt and vinegar, in which they put some cloves of garlic.” This was the English language’s first recipe for mango chutney. His use of the terms “chopsticks,” “barbecue,” “cashew,” “kumquat,” “tortilla,” and “soy sauce” were also the first of their kind.

For my taste, Dampier’s recipe for guacamole sounds a bit bland. I like tomato, onion and peppers (salsa) in mine, along with the lemon, which keeps it from turning brown.

There are other notes in the story that aren’t quite so appetizing. He had a fondness for manatee, especially baby manatees that were still suckling. He also really liked a serving of flamingo tongues. And – no surprise – sea turtles.

But putting aside differences in dietary habits and what constitutes “food,” Dampier is a fascinating character. And he discovered guacamole for the European world, for which we all owe him a debt of gratitude. And don’t say pirates never did anything that contributed to society.