Today is John Lennon’s birthday. One half of the greatest songwriting teams in the history of music would have turned 78 today, if he had not been felled by a lunatic’s bullet and had survived the ravages of early old age.
78 is an interesting number with a distinctive musical element to it, for those of us of a particular age. When I was growing up, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were standing, alone and unchallenged, at the absolute pinnacle of popular music, we had a phonograph that had four speeds — 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 — so you could change the revolutions per minute of the turntable depending on the kind of record you were playing. My parents actually had some old swing era records that played at 78 rpm, but of course the Beatles singles were 45s, and the Beatles albums, where the band really broke through the barriers surrounding popular music and changed music forever, were played at 33 1/3. We played those Beatles records over and over, and even though I’ve heard every song more than a thousand times — no exaggeration — they all still sound as fresh and great as they did when I first heard them on an AM radio.
I never understood why turntables had variable speeds and why different records were recorded to be played at different speeds — but still, even today, 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 remain almost mystical musical numbers for me. I really would have liked for John Lennon to have made it to 78; unfortunately, he never had the chance to make it to 45.
What’s the best way to avoid being laid low by the flu bug as we head into flu season? It might be that getting out of town is more effective than getting a flu shot.
A recent study has concluded that big cities have longer, “more vicious” flu seasons. One of the researchers in the study explained: “Larger cities have more organized movement patterns, and these patterns connect pockets of high population density together.” The density factor is significant given how flu is transmitted. As the researcher noted: “Flu spreads from person to person by virus-bearing moisture droplets that an infected person exhales or coughs or sneezes out. This creates what you can think of as a moving cloud of risk around an infected individual.”
“A moving cloud of risk around an infected individual,” eh? Make you want to go sit on the bus or the subway with a bunch of potentially sick strangers, doesn’t it?
None of this is a surprise to anyone who’s had kids, because it’s just the “preschool effect” writ large. Once your kids go to preschool and are exposed to a bunch of other germy, sniffling rugrats, you suddenly notice that everybody in the family, including you, is sicker than they’ve ever been before. Preschool undoubtedly helps to build up the immune system of children, because it is a living testament to the communicability of every different kind of cold, contagion, and virus. Cities, and particularly mass transit settings in cities, are like one big preschool, where that “moving cloud of risk around an infected individual” is a lot more likely to find you.
Last winter’s flu season was a particularly savage one, and is estimated to have caused 80,000 deaths and a record number of hospitalizations. If you want to avoid the bug this year, you might just want to get the heck out of town.
When you have a special, private place that you especially enjoy, it’s a wonderful thing. For me, one of those special places is our snug, screened-in back porch on a weekend morning. It’s a great place to sit and drink coffee and chat, with the sounds of the neighborhood in the background.
Some years ago we got a dreamcatcher in connection with our nephew’s wedding, and we hung it from the back porch ceiling, close by the screen. It’s one of the things that makes the back porch special. On breezy days it twists lazily to and fro, and on absolutely calm days — like today — it’s delicate construction is framed against the blue sky outside, and you can admire its spidery beauty.
Traditionally, Native Americans hung dreamcatchers over special places, like cradles, as a form of protection against evil spirits. It’s a good thing to have in your own special place. In fact, these days, who couldn’t use a dreamcatcher?
Last night I slept very soundly, with lots of dreaming to keep my brain occupied while my body recharged. I don’t remember what my dreams were — I almost never do — but I do remember thinking, as I was dreaming, that these dreams were very entertaining.
When I awoke, I thought about what a marvelous thing dreams are. One second you are observing and participating in a curious, often inexplicable place where anything can happen at any moment and storylines can casually shift and twist and morph without it seeming at all unusual. Then, after you awaken, your experiences in dreamland vanish in the blink of an eye and you’re back in the actual world where the laws of physics and basic linear reality once again hold sway. Sure, you can have terrifying nightmares that give you the creeps even after you awake, but for the most part dreams are pleasant enough — nonsensical and crazy, to be sure, but non-threatening.
I found myself wondering whether my parents ever explained the process of dreaming to me. I don’t remember whether they ever did, and I don’t remember explaining dreams to our kids, either. Every mammal seems to dream — anybody who’s seen dogs run in their sleep knows that — and I remember watching our newborn boys’ eye movements as they slept in their cribs, knowing that they were dreaming and wondering what in the world infants could possibly be dreaming about. By the time they were old enough to have developed the language skills needed to have a meaningful conversation about it, they had been sleeping and dreaming for years and had long since grasped the difference between dreamland and real life. I suppose that’s why we never had a talk about the process of dreaming, as opposed to trying to interpret individual dreams. Perhaps dreaming is so basic and reflexive for mammals, and humans, that it is understood on an intuitive level, with no explanation required.
We’ve been working on the lower yard this week. It was totally overgrown, with weeds that were knee high in some spots and a bunch of spindly chokecherry trees blocking the visibility of the huge granite outcroppings and the nifty birch tree growing out of a crack in the rocks.
We wanted to see what the yard looked like with the overgrowth cut back and the chokecherries chopped down. Fortunately, Russell is skilled with a weedwhacker — a great invention if there ever was one — and I can manage a saw and clippers. Together we tackled the jungle-like growth, and after a few days of cutting, sawing, clipping, and raking we cleared away the underbrush and ended up with a lower yard that is neater, cleaner, and (in my view, at least) a lot more visually appealing. The before picture is above, and the after picture is below.
Incidentally, yard work like this also makes you feel like you’ve really earned that cold beer at the end of the day.
The Tribe is playing the Red Sox in a day game today, so Russell and I decided to head down to Boston and catch a game at Fenway — the iconic ballpark where all of the greats have played. It’s pretty cool to be here, and if you’re a baseball fan who knows the history of the game, it doesn’t get any better than a game at Fenway or Wrigley Field.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a dog in the house, so spending a few days with Russell and his pooch Betty means getting reacquainted with notions of, well, doggedness around the house. Like having the feeling that you’re being watched and turning around to find that, sure enough, two dogs eyes are gazing fixedly at you like what you’re doing is the most fascinating thing in the world. It’s unnerving until you get used to it.
I forgot about dogs being an ever-present audience. When I finished washing the dishes and saw that Betty was still there, staring, I felt like giving her the old soft shoe and a quick bow.