Here we are in February with Valentine’s Day close at hand. That’s yet another day for me to get into trouble. In our family that day follows in close proximity December birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s, and then soon Easter and other special occasions. It’s tough to stay ahead of the game. The potential is always there for big time difficulties -- please don’t be terribly surprised by a call asking if you have an extra cot and available space in the garage…
Actually, there is a quickly upcoming day that is a real cause for celebration: pitchers and catchers report to spring training next week. How neat is that? The day seems especially inviting because tomorrow we are forecast to be in the midst of a winter storm advisory that cautions against ice, snow, and high winds Even now, the wind gauge on my fine new weather station – a gift from my daughter Karen – is spinning rapidly, so that forecast may well come to pass. A few years ago she gave me a weather vane with a camel figure at the top (a camel plays a key role in a family story – you don’t want to hear it). The camel is currently doing 360s in the wind. Surely, though, spring can’t be too far away.
A bit of nonsense: I just read a note that mentioned that February 2nd, Groundhog Day/Super Bowl Sunday, was what is called a global palindrome -- the first time in 909 years that the date was the same when read either forwards or backwards. It was February 2, 2020 or 02/02/2020 in both MM/DD/YYYY and DD/MM/YYYY format. It will be the only time that it occurs this century. Where else are you going to get information like this?
Monday, February 3rd was “The Day the Music Died” – Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper.” J.P. Richardson, were killed in a plane crash. For those of us “of a certain age,” Buddy Holly was a special favorite. They just don’t make music like that anymore. (Younger generations might well say “Thank goodness” – I do understand.)
The annual meeting of our HOA group was a week ago. One of the attendees mentioned that it had been one year since my term as HOA president ended and noted that I had not been impeached during my time in office. Fortunately, that was true. We finished with major projects completed and money left in the budget. Clearly, those things would disqualify me for political office.
A Christmas gift from my sister was a book about the WWII British code breakers at Bletchley Park. (The group that deciphered the Germans’ enigma machine code operations.) Much of the book is devoted to describing how the code breakers were chosen; their backgrounds, the tests they were given, etc. Many, as you might suspect, were chess players (although Alan Turing, the leader and resident genius, was only a casual player). Some had mathematical/statistical backgrounds. Many were crossword puzzle devotees. The tests involved crossword puzzles, Morse code exercises in which words and letters were transposed, letter code substitutions, etc. Several of the actual tests are included in the book. All were timed – e.g., 12 minutes to complete a ridiculously difficult crossword puzzle. On some of the puzzles, I felt fortunate to get one or two items correct. I think Vicki gave it to me just as a source of embarrassment. I’m pretty sure I would not have qualified as a code breaker.
Top Fiction Books:
After last month’s list of 2019’s top non-fiction works, some have asked for a list of the year’s top fiction works. The following books were the most frequently cited by various sources.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Nine short stories explore the consequences of time travel.
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. Two young girls disappear in the remoteness of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The novel unfolds in overlapping stories about people affected by the girls’ disappearance.
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. A gifted high school debate star, a faithless, slick talking, chameleon character who subjects challengers to a fire hose barrage of ideas, is cast as a symbol of the demise of civil discourse and a national lack of belief.
Lost Children Archive by Victoria Liuselli. Generally about the crisis of children crossing borders, facing death, being deported unaccompanied. A specific story tells about a woman trying to help an immigrant find her daughters who have gone missing while trying to cross the border.
The Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Berry. Two Irish gangster anti-heroes await with unforeseen consequences the arrival of a woman at a desolate ferry terminal in Spain.
Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li. A mother in “communication” with her soon after losing him to suicide.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. A Vietnamese boy growing up in Connecticut with his mother and grandmother, both survivors of the Vietnam War. The boy overcomes various traumas by finding solace in books and writing.
I’m still waiting for a copy of a poetry anthology that has a small verse of mine in it. The projected publishing date was “early 2020.” We’ll see. No further news either on a small magazine that was due to be published by a local university. Don’t know if they decided against publishing the magazine, ran out of funding, or simply changed their minds about a story. Unfortunately -- as I long ago discovered when I started to write a bit for publication – all of those things are fairly common occurrences
I am still working (not as consistently as I should) on the third and final book in the “In the Shadows of Victory” series about unsung military leaders in each of the nation’s conflicts. This last book will cover the time from the onset of the Cold War to the present day. The chapter on Vietnam is taking an inordinate amount of time. There have been various interruptions and for whatever reason the words have at times seemed harder to come by. Even now, fifty plus years later, so many aspects of the war remain controversial. At the moment, I am working on a segment titled “The Dissenters” about officers who during the course of the war risked their careers and reputations to, in the vernacular of the present day, “speak truth to power” by challenging the way the war was being fought. The present intention is to tell the story of four officers and do so in a condensed segment of a larger chapter on Vietnam. Some have suggested that the subject matter and the extent of the research might lend themselves to a full-length manuscript treatment. One more thing, I suppose, to think about in what has already been a most difficult process to work through. Even when the book is eventually done, if ever that occurs, there remains the challenge of finding a publisher for it. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the British-American company that published the first two books has chosen to focus its efforts for the foreseeable future on World War II material and retrospectives.
I lieu of the usual great poems (“pomes” as we say in Nebraska) you might enjoy a few puns – guaranteed to elicit groans – originally sent to me by AF friend Curt Higuchi
Ban pre-shredded cheese
Make America grate again.
Crushing pop cans is
In search of fresh vegetable puns
Tried to grab the fog
Lastly – so appropriate what with primaries et al underway:
The problem with political jokes
They sometimes get elected. .
Best wishes to all. For those “up north,” stay warm!