— From EF —

You can taste a little of the summer
My grandma’s put it all in jars.


 Greg Brown Jr.’s low slow gravelly voice makes you wait a bit before he finally comes out with “jars.” It’s worth waiting for.

Today I canned a dozen jars of tomato sauce from the odd heirloom variety I raise, Polish Linguisa. They’re big and meaty and long, kind of like Romas on steroids. And they’re really fun to skin. Sixty seconds in the boiling water, another minute in the cold water, cut off the stem cap, grab it by the tail, and squeeze. Floop, the whole scarlet thing pops out of its jacket. Just as much fun as shooting watermelon seeds. Remember when watermelons had seeds?

Greg’s grandma canned a lot of stuff. Me, not so much, but I love having that tomato sauce, applesauce, and plum butter through the year. We have a funny little space we call the Dwarf Closet under the stairs up to the bedroom. It has a little half-high hobbit door, complete with doorknob and hinges, and if I do a very controlled duck-walk, I can go in without barking the top of my backbone. It stays pretty cool all year around, so it’s our version of a root cellar. I have cartons of jars and a bin of garlic and some more bins of dried apple slices. It’s a nice place.

When I was a kid in northwest Indiana, we had a storm cellar where the canned jars lived, and I was scared to death of it. It was tucked back in a corner of the basement and reeked of damp and spiders. I was already spooked by the time I got to the bottom of the stairs, because that’s where the well-water pressure tank was, and for years and years I had nightmares where that thing would explode. You had to go past it and take a 180, pull open a heavy door, and turn on a dim hanging bulb.

I can’t remember what-all might have been on those shelves, because my mom wasn’t really into that (the fact that the pressure cooker might explode didn’t make canning more friendly), but there were probably green beans, maybe corn and tomatoes. I only liked that stuff fresh out of the dirt. We went down there a few times when a tornado was coming, which didn’t exactly enhance its warm and friendly aspect.

So I really appreciated Greg Brown lending me his grandma. Later he sings, “You bet, grandma, as sure as you’re born, I’ll take some more potatoes and a thunderstorm.” I really, really liked those Great Lakes thunderstorms, all wham and flash and ozone, and I miss them out here in Sebastopol. I actually got a rousing good one at Jo’s home in Italy, and viewing it from within two-foot-thick stone walls was an added attraction.

All of which is to say, even though it hit 93 degrees today, fall is on its way and it’s sweet to see summer’s ruby bounty headed for the Dwarf Cellar. We may set the alarm Tuesday night and drive out to the ocean shore to watch the “blood moon” eclipse. Three years ago we did that, enhancing it with Weinberg symphonies and a snifter of Jameson. All hail the chances to see Mama work her wonders, be they red jars or red moons.

 — From the Fool —

I had a good gig last week being the entertaining fool for a bunch of fat cats. They were nice fat cats, being that they paid me. I caught a lot of conversation while they were chowing down, so I wasn’t sure how my fool act would go over.

Seems like they were arguing over which world problem to solve first. One wanted to solve Israel, one thought there were good deals to be got in Palestine. They all thought we should stick it to Putin, but somebody said Russians still had missiles, which put a damper on it. In theory a war was good for business, but not if we lost the Financial District.

A lotta disagreement over whether cutting off heads was okay or not. I guess there was some consensus that it’s okay if you were just trying to keep people in line but not with a fanatical grin. It seemed like Syria could solve itself since the people would all be dead. One guy with a big nose and little pin eyes said maybe Ebola would wipe out AIDS. Look on the bright side, he said.

They talked about election fraud and global warming and genital mutilation and refugees and slavery and toxic waste and the death of the planet and lots of other investment opportunities. It got pretty hot, but they liked the dessert. Strawberry cheesecake.

For my act, I told some fat-cat jokes, which being good sports they dug, and then did my juggling act and pretended to swallow a worm. That went over big.

 — From CB —

Killing is pretty simple in the movies. The main question is who’s going to get killed in the shoot-out, and how big a splatter it makes. The hero might not want to pull the trigger, but when he does he’s as cool about it as a sociopath or my grandma wringing the head off a chicken. Just a job that’s gotta be done.

And in Shakespeare, killing is mostly triumphant. Even the introspective Hamlet, killing Polonius, quips, “I’ll lug the guts into the neighbor room.” Macbeth is consumed with guilt, of course, but so extreme that it becomes an obsession greater than ambition. Much more subtle is the effect on Edgar in King Lear.

Defending his blind father, he kills Oswald; he causes his father’s heart attack at revealing himself; and he slays his half-brother in the climactic confrontation.

My sense is that he’s deeply affected by this parade of mortality, amplified by the deaths of Lear, Cordelia, Goneril and Regan, and Kent’s declaration of imminent demise. Of Oswald, he merely says, “I’m only sorry he had no other death’s-man.” With Edmund he hardly has words of love, yet the heart of his response is “Let’s exchange forgiveness…” And the very fact that he reports the nature of Gloucester’s death implies a sense of responsibility that his intention (“Why I thus trifle with his despair is done to cure it”) has not cured it.

He’s not a bookish Hamlet fresh from the university; he’s had the training at arms of the ruling nobility. But I see him as never having killed before. And so this is the path to the most down-beat “inaugural address” in Shakespeare. Order is restored, but at the cost of the end of hope. Edgar is a broken man, now charged with a heavy burden.

The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say;
The oldest hath borne most, we that are young,
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.


A bummer if you’re looking for uplift. But for me it’s an inspiration that a storyteller has had the courage to abandon the comforting fiction that wrongs will be righted by a battle or a well-choreographed duel and to tell the plain truth about the politics of life. If we’re to find a happy ending, better it be not in fiction but in reality.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2014

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