Category Archives: Musings

The Garden of Gardner

On a recent visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I found myself drawn to the center courtyard, an enclosed space with water, plants, and a skylight 4 stories up. It’s one of my favorite places to escape in the cold winter weather. Isabella designed the garden and building with the Renaissance palaces of Venice in mind, and also incorporated numerous architectural fragments from European Gothic and Renaissance structures.

In previous visits I looked at the garden for a little while and headed the other rooms and three floors of artistic treasures of paintings, furniture, tapestries, ancient statues, and more.

But in this visit I decided to just stay near the garden and try to see everything I could in it. To look at it in a way I never have. Sort of in a meditative way, where you actually see the object, not the imagery and thoughts your mind thinks of when you look at it.

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I don’t know how successful I actually was, but I periodically moved from seat to seat slowly making my way around it, to see it from different perspectives. I was also trying not to photo bomb all the young women who were taking selfies and then photographing each other on the stone bench with the garden in the background. One young woman spent so much time fussing with and flicking her long blond hair in preparation, I started to wonder if Vogue was doing a photo shoot. It made me feel wise and superior — oh look at those vain, young ones — as I leaned in slightly toward them to see if I could make them take a photo of themselves at an awkward angle to keep me out of the frame. Ah, youth. So fun to mess with.

There was a lot to see, and even though I spent about an hour and a half looking from the different angles, the details just kept coming–there was no way to see it all.

On the other side of the garden I found a book about it. It’s set out on the bench, so you can learn a little more. It said that most of the garden statues were of powerful women and goddesses, like Athena and even Medusa — death by snakes is pretty powerful. It teasingly mentions that Odysseus is tucked in the corner (I never did see him), and then the booked asked if that was Isabella making a statement about the power of women. Heck yeah! Her wealth and presumably a husband who was a good partner allowed her the independent life she led. So, yeah, I’m going with strong chicks in the garden for $500, Alex.

Then I noticed that the flowers in the book looked very different from the current flowers I was looking at — mostly white, which is a color I was getting all too much of outside. There were pages describing the careful attention to changing flowers for the seasons, spring, summer, fall — and all the elaborate cultivation of “warm” purples and oranges and yellows. Strangely they didn’t mention any elaborate preparations for winter, when the visitors are at their most color deprived.

Then in my little Zen experiment of being calm and really “seeing,”  I started to feel ripped off. In fact one passage said they start these long hanging orange flowers called nasturtiums with seeds in June and then grow them for 9 months, like a baby, until they are 15 ft long. There were pictures of the flowers hanging two and three stories from the gothic windows along the sides of the garden. Suddenly I’m counting 9 months after June — wait a minute. That’s right now. Where the heck are my pretty orange cascading nasturtiums? All I get is bunches of cold white flowers? There were a handful of pretty flowering maples in the back, which remind me of my beloved Memere, who grew them, but still. Mostly white flowers.

Where are my pretty, “warm,” colorful flowers?

I might as well have been flicking my gray/brown wavy hair and taking a selfie with all of the “wisdom” I was feeling right then.

Then the book explained what the big stone box was that I was sitting next to:

grapes

Because of all the grapes along the top, and because it is a good-sized box, I thought it was maybe used for crushing grapes to make wine. Can’t you see Lucy and Ethel stomping around in there? What? I’m a child of the 70s and 80s. Plus all the carved people are either looking at each other, or trying to grab their neighbor’s beautifully carved buttocks while also gazing at the other neighbor’s accurately carved naughty bits. Usually alcohol is involved in these situations.

However, the little book that taunted me with pretty flowers informed me it’s a sarcophagus. As in coffin. Excuse me, the Farnese Sarcophagus. According to the website:

‘The Farnese Sarcophagus is one of the most important works of art in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Its glorious images of cavorting satyrs and maenads has inspired generations of artists, collectors, conservators, and viewers.

This large, rectangular marble coffin was created in the area of Rome in the late Severan period, around 225 AD. The occupants of the monument are unknown, since the lid was lost or destroyed. It was rediscovered in Tivoli in about 1535 and its beauty inspired Renaissance artists.”

So, what do I know? I looked, and with my I Love Lucy education, made a really wrong guess. How can we ever really know what old things mean to the people who made them, 1,800 years ago?

We can’t. All you can do is be quiet and look as best you can. And try to not to photo bomb the young ones’ pictures.

 

 

Lights Out

I’m renting an amazing apartment in the Boston neighborhood of my dreams and feel like I won the lottery. It’s in an old building and as my friend who I’m renting from likes to say, there are no straight lines in this place. That’s what living in Boston means, with its 100+ year-old housing stock. All those kids living in the high-rise luxury apartments springing up in Boston like a toxic algae bloom have no idea what they are missing. I guess as the youngest child of four, I’m used to adapting to people and things that are bigger than me.

Unsecured doors swing open on their own, the bathroom door is loose and the closet door across from it door sticks. That doesn’t bother me a bit.

Then I encountered the light fixtures, which I believe predate my friend’s ownership (at least I hope so, or I may find myself knocking the toxic algae bloom door. Love you, landlord!)

It started with lights going out in the kitchen — fancy track lighting spotlights. Fancy to me because my idea of lighting is 40, 60, or 100 watts, and if you’re really getting crazy, use a 3-way bulb. I have tall ceilings, which I love, so, OK, I took out the tall step ladder Lora left for me, thank goodness. There are 3 little lights, and they don’t screw in, and they are flush to the fixture, so there is nothing to hold on to to get them out. Lora said there was a little rubber suction cup to pull them out. Um, OK. I couldn’t find that, but I like to think I’m pretty resourceful, so I thought I’d use a sticky ball of duct tape, which works only on the bulbs coming out. Putting them in, not so much because they get hot instantaneously, and then it just makes a melted mess and the bulb gets junked up. It took some coordination, what with being at the top of a ladder and reaching up awkwardly, but when I finally got it loose, I see the bulb has these two prongs you have to push in and twist to lock in, high up on a ladder in the middle of the kitchen. I’m not really looking forward to that part, but first things first.

You have to get your mitts on replacements.

It took a couple of stores to find the right bulbs. And then it took a couple of tries to get that first one in. I’m trying to match up the prongs into the holes and then twist it to lock it in, which sounds simple, except I’m on top of a ladder and can’t see anything. Just blindly stabbing the thing in there, hoping for the best. It finally feels like it snaps in. Great!

So when the second one went out a few weeks later, I thought I was ready. I had the bulbs, had some duct tape, had some experience. Not so fast, girlie. The second one wouldn’t go in. Or rather, felt like it was going in, only for me to climb down the ladder, turn it on and see it not light, or flutter on and off from being loose. I went from calm to a hot, sweating, swearing mess in about 10 seconds, which as you know, makes these tasks much easier. Sweating and swearing while teetering on top of  a ladder is not a good look for me, so I let that bulb stay out for a few days. Off course it’s the one pointed at where I cook,so my annoyance won out. It took another couple of tries, and it’s still isn’t clicked in quite right, but whatever. I moved on.

A few months later the living room overhead light bulb went out. It looks like an ordinary overhead light. I climb up the ladder, unscrew the glass bowl and discover more of these pronged light bulbs. Seriously? What is this, like the Betamax version of light bulbs? What the hell is wrong with plain screw in light bulbs? I gave a pass on the track lighting, because it’s seems like a fancy kind of lighting, which naturally requires extra things like suction cups and prongs. Fine. But an overhead light? With regular sized bulbs? Prongs? Really? Who even sells these things? Even more puzzling, it was one of those swirly tube bulbs — you know the ones that cost 10 bucks a piece and came out at a time when we’d only ever paid like $1 or $2 and the electric companies were giving us all discounts to buy them. Save energy, shine your environmental hero halo! Only to discover now that they are filled with mercury! Oops! Hey, don’t throw those away! True they did last longer, but you still have to get rid of them somehow. So not only did I need a light bulb with prongs, I had to hope they still make the non-swirly kind.

Light bulb people! Why do you feel the need to make a different kind of bottom for a light bulb? Just make the top more efficient and without mercury? Just focus on that, OK?

OK. Again, I had to make a couple of trips to different stores to find  a replacement. The young man who helped me, who most likely was born around the time these stupid swirly light bulbs were invented, gets a gold star for customer service,  because I went all “crabby old lady” on him. What with the prongs and the mercury swirl. He was appropriately sympathetic, in part because he only had one kind of replacement. I had no idea if it was the right wattage, I didn’t have a choice. That’s the other thing with these fancy/weird bulbs; they have no wattage or markings of any kind on the bulb or metal. So you can’t order them online, because you only have a picture to compare to, and guess what: size does matter. And, what, one wattage fits all? Or you know it’s not going to last on the market so why bother?

OK, I bought two bulbs for $20 bucks and change from the nice young man who did not judge me to my face. The package says they will last 10 years. Yeah, right, just in time for them not to be made anymore. I went back up the ladder and anticipated a prong wrestling match like the track lights in the kitchen. But lo, it’s amazing what leverage and easy access can do. It was in!

Phew, OK.

Not even a month later the dining room ceiling light bulb goes out. Ha! You can’t fool me twice. I’m ready with my pronged, efficient, non-mercury filled light bulb. Come at me bro! I get to the top of the ladder, unscrew the bowl, and there it is, laughing at me.

A conventional screw in bulb.

Screw the bowl back in, down the ladder, put the prong bulb away and fish out a conventional bulb. Back up the ladder. OK, done. Whatever.

Not even a few weeks later, a bedroom ceiling light bulb blew out. I’m really starting to hate all these ceiling lights and make a promise to myself to only use the floor lamps.

I climb up the ladder, but I’m not really paying attention. I mean, I have prong bulbs and I have conventional bulbs. What else could possibly be in a traditional-looking ceiling light fixture? I unscrew the bowl, which by the way is becoming a major pain in the butt. All these lights have pull chains and you can’t get the bowl off the chain, so you have to hold the bowl, while your taking out or putting in the bulb.

But I digress.

And what do you think I found behind light bulb door number 3? Three small lights, apparently called “torpedo candelabra” bulbs, and two of them were out. I thought of a few things I wanted to torpedo. Sigh. At least they have conventional screw bottoms.

Another trip to the hardware store, with bulbs in hand, and I was only  a little grumpy with the young worker. At least these bulbs seem more available. And the prongs taught me to be happy with the screw in version.

So the only light left to change is the bathroom light/fan set up. I’m going to stop using that thing tout suite. 

Photo Credit: Beautiful Halo: Ha, good luck replacing lights in that sucker.

Quilt Trading

Although I don’t have a comforter, I own 2 store-bought blankets, one of which is the infamous, 70’s polyester indestructible f***ing pink blanket, reserved for outdoor movies at the Hatch Shell in Boston. The other is a more conventional cotton number that is on my bed, but before you start a gofundme for blankets, know that I am not bereft of warmth, and that I don’t need to depend on my occasional night hot flashes. What have served as my blankets and bedspreads (do people even use that word any more?) and, yes, comforters?

Quilts. Specifically, ones made by my grandmother and my mother. Most of them are at least 30 years old, but there are a few younger ones. At least one, what we used to call a car blanket, is older than me. You put it in the back of the station wagon to pad the four kids rolling around back there unbuckled on long car rides. Then we pulled over on the side of the road to eat bark in caves. Go ahead and laugh, I’m still alive and use it as a picnic and beach blanket.

My Memere passed away in 1994, and my mom is now 88 and has Alzheimer’s and has lost a lot of her sewing ability. But I still have their quilts, and by proxy pieces of their happiest moments. As a kid my Memere made us summer quilts and winter quilts. When I was a teenager, she took requests, and I asked for with one with horses, which I still have. I received a larger one as a wedding present (it’s the one on the far right in the top photo). The marriage dissolved at the 20-year mark, but the quilt is still around — a little worn in places, but it still works and still has the tiny stitches Memere lovingly sewed all those years ago. Then my mom picked up the quilting bug, and so I have a smaller fun quilt she made that folds into a pillow for those trips to see movies at the Hatch Shell. She made it after coming with us a few times when she visited. She was so excited to find the pattern. It’s a perfect annex to the pink blanket, and more recently has started to serve as a warm place to sit in my wood floor for meditation. Then when her grandson came along, she showered him with several baby quilts and then a quilt for his “big boy” bed. As a teen, he got another quilt with colors he picked  himself.

My mom found a bunch of quilt tops Memere never finished, so she started on those. Those are amazing twofers because they have the stitches and love of both. My favorite is made up of Memere’s handkerchiefs. Back in the day no respectable lady was without a handkerchief. She had many of all designs — scalloped edges, birds, flowers, and even states. After I divorced, I changed out my wedding quilt for the handkerchief one. When I moved last year, I noticed that some of the delicate handkerchiefs had holes and were worn. I told my mom, and she still had some of Memere’s handkerchiefs and sent them to me in the mail.

My preferred fiber arts activity is crocheting, which Memere also did; despite my rich legacy, sewing for me is a utilitarian skill — buttons and small holes primarily. For a good year, I looked at the quilt and then looked at the replacement handkerchiefs, felt fear in my heart and then picked up a book or the remote and told myself I’d tackle it another day. So many tiny stitches all in perfect straight lines or perfect curves! So many tiny stitches. I liked the idea of adding my stitches, but I also didn’t want poor Memere to roll in her grave when they came out all big and uneven. My mom continued to encourage me and tell me it didn’t have to be perfect, which is easy to say for people who make perfect stitches. I knew she was right, though, so I started asking her about the steps, and what I had to do. Finally, I took a deep breath and dove in. The easier part was removing the damaged handkerchiefs. A seam ripper and several episodes of Modern Family are all you really need and are quite cathartic. A little more challenging was picking new handkerchiefs, placing and pinning them and sewing around the edges. I started that last winter and just recently finished. I bought some time by declaring the summer too hot to work on a big quilt that has to be spread on your lap.

I rested on my laurels a bit, but those darn seasons keep coming and soon it was winter again, and I had to stare down the barrel of the actual quilting — this is the free-form thread that either follows the along with the pattern of the fabric or can just be an outline of an object like a heart. Unlike the stitches around the border of the handkerchief, which are not the focus of the quilt and can hide on the sidelines, the quilting itself is like the front and center cheerleader, at the top of the pyramid, doing a split. Did I mention I favor crocheting? But my mom kept telling me to not worry and just put the stitches anywhere and have fun. I told her I might even use bright, colored thread, just for kicks. She was delighted. On this snowy Presidents Day I took the plunge — making the initial “L” for mom and Memere’s names (Lorette and Lumina), and then I’ll spell out Memere and Mom. Wish me luck (you can already see “Memere” ain’t gonna fit in that space)!

quilting

So while the handkerchief quilt is being repaired, I put my old wedding quilt back on the bed, but it too was fraying and in a way that is not as easily repaired — “easy”! Ha! While I have a decent quantity of quilts, only those 2 fit on my queen bed. Just buy one, you might say, and I might say, after all this time, I’ve been spoiled and am a handmade quilt snob. I’m not putting any mass production quilt on my bed — it might give me hives — or heaven help us a “comforter,” which is hot and heavy, and not in a good way. What can I say? I’m a delicate snowflake flower.

Then I thought of my aunt who caught the quilting bug and does beautiful machine quilting. She laughingly declares she doesn’t have the patience for hand quilting, and after quilting the letters “L” and “M” today, I am totally in her camp. In our little quilting world, machine quilting is on the edge of blasphemous, but I’ve seen her work, and it’s stunning. I also love her passion and that she is carrying on the tradition in her own way. I thought I might commission a quilt from her.

Before I could though, my sister said she had a quilt that mom made that never really fit on her bed, and that it was actually making her sad because of mom’s decline. Was I interested? She sent me a picture.

It was perfect. It’s my mother’s Quilting Opus — made of 56 squares that feature a different quilt pattern, with fabulous names like log cabin, bear’s paw, crazy house, and windmill. So the quilt made its way to me — no hives, just gorgeous, artistic comfort.

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And the trading doesn’t stop there. My brother has a few decorative quilts my mom made to hang on the wall, and when I moved to my current apartment, he gave me one that he didn’t have room for. I’m still deciding on the perfect spot. I’m sure as we reconfigure our homes and lives, we’ll continue to trade, swap, and share the quilts.

In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of crazy quilting to do.

Photo: Left to right, my sister’s weding quilt, the handkerchief quilt, and my wedding quilt.

Unplugged

I took a few days off to go to Conway,  NH, and I knew there wouldn’t be WiFi. Conway is not that remote — it’s a popular summer and winter vacation spot, so I wasn’t expecting that the cell signal would be nearly non-existent. I took most social media off my phone after the Cheeto flea made it a collage of constant nastiness, so I was pretty smug and confident that I would be fine without service. And I was for the most part. Texting was kind of maddening. Suddenly one bar would appear and my phone would buzz with texts coming in. I’d read them, and just as I would try to respond, the service would go down again. Nothing was very urgent, except to make sure a few key people knew I had spotty service and not to wait for my answer.

It did make me realize how much I do check texts and email, and so I was surprised at how freeing it was to not have to answer. To just leave it alone. For a few days, I had no idea what was going on in the world, and all I had to contemplate was the fire place, and these beautiful scenes on a couple of hikes.

Well, that and relearn how to use a map instead of Siri.

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Diana’s Bath

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Champney Falls

I’m back and checking the phone too much, but I’m going to try to put it down for a few hours on a regular basis. Now I just need a fireplace.

You Stink

In the snowflake state of Massachusetts, we legalized medicinal marijuana in 2012, and recreational marijuana in 2016. Although, I guess now we’re professionally calling it “cannabis,” and if you are a recreational user, “weed” or 420. My teen has informed me only old farts like me still call it “pot.” Whatever you call it, it’s not really my thing. The one time I tried it as a teenager, it made me laugh so hard, I annoyed myself. I didn’t like the untethered feeling it gave me, and as I was floating around, I remember thinking, god, who is laughing so much, and why doesn’t she shut up? Then I realized it was me. This was followed by a very intense case of the munchies, where mass quantities of chips were consumed. I have always had a slow metabolism. I could barely afford that level of eating then, never mind now.

Be that as it may, I have no feelings either way about other people who partake, except for one. Your habit smells like skunk. It really does. Maybe you don’t smell it because as you puff away on that weird kazoo thing, you’re leaving the potent, smelly molecules behind you. But I come along, minutes or hours later and it stinks like skunk — it’s not really clear how long the smell sticks around because when I get a big whiff of skunk, I have yet to see anyone actually smoking. It’s kind of maddening. I get hit with the intense smell, and I whip my head  around, to see if I can either 1) go in the opposite direction of you, or 2) grab that kazoo thing you are using to smoke it and throw it dramatically in the street so it will get run over.

But no. The weed is like a cloak of invisibility for you, while I have to smell skunk for several blocks. It didn’t always smell so bad. It always a distinct smell, but whatever it is they are cooking now, that crap is more intense. Look, the cars have had to lessen their smelly exhaust, and cigarette smokers have been pretty much run off, so let’s not take an olfactory step back, OK?

It’s not just me who smells skunk. My friend who was a big pot head (there I said it) in college asked where the skunk was as we were walking down the Boston street. You’d think she’d know. While it’s true you can sometimes smell skunks in urban neighborhoods as they root about in the trash, they tend not to hang out on main Boston thoroughfares.

So please, cannabis users, can you please smoke or vape or whatever at home? Or if you must do it while you are walking around in public, can’t you buy edibles at those new fancy dispensaries? Although I’m just judgey enough to point out that I’d have to drink my wine from a paper bag, so you, what, don’t have to look at me imbibing? Well, I shouldn’t have to smell you partaking. Just saying.

I and all of those with noses thank you for your consideration. Cuz, seriously. You stink.

 

Nod to Elton John: This Blog Has No Title

I’ve been sitting here trying to find a pithy title to this blog. And then Elton John’s song popped in my head:  This Song Has No Title.   When I say popped, I mean up from the recesses of my adolescent brain. I haven’t thought about this song in years, but the album it’s on, Yellow Brick Road, is part of the soundtrack of my youth — it was etched into me before I understood music could do that. It was my sister’s album, and she listened to it a lot. And I loved the double album artwork, so I as I gazed at it and read the lyrics, I listened to it when she wasn’t there. As I listened to the song just now, after at least 40 years, I air pianoed in all the right places. It seems relevant still:

“And each day I learn just a little bit more
I don’t know why but I do know what for
If we’re all going somewhere let’s get there soon
Oh this song’s got no title just words and a tune”

I’m stalling. I’ve been taking a class called “White People Challenging Racism: Moving from Talk to Action,” and just so there is no misunderstanding, we’re against racism and are looking at our white privilege. The way it’s worded and in today’s Cheeto flea world, I want to confirm that it doesn’t mean we are challenging the legitimacy of racism. So all you MAGA people, move up or move on back. Preferably get a clue, but that’s probably not gonna happen. And Black folks, we’re trying to work out our white junk so we can be better allies to you and make sure our baggage fits in the overhead compartment.

And I want to talk about it, but it’s messing with my head, making me look for words, which for a writer is like being a carpenter without wood. I’m angry, sad, puzzled, tired, exposed, struggling. Where the hell is the wood?

I’m a good white person. I need you to know that, and that’s part of the problem, see? This isn’t about good white person = non-racist. I can be a good person and still have racist ideas and thoughts and assumptions. And I’m squirming and struggling against the idea like one of Pepe Le Pew’s victims. I had the great fortune of having a best friend in college who let me into her Black world. I am an empathetic person by nature. I got it, I believed it when she told me how life was for her being Black. We analyzed when she was a new lawyer at a big Boston firm. Was the interaction because she Black? a woman? Low lawyer on the ladder?

I grew up working class, from immigrants. First generation on one side, 2nd on the other. College was a goal, not a given. I worked all during college, two of those years about 30 hours a week. I graduated with tons of loans, worked in nonprofits — a professional who was not out to make money, but a difference. I did not own property until I was 37. It was in an affordable, but less desirable Boston-area town. My then husband and I didn’t have parents who could give us a down payment, so we took the money out from our 403Bs.

I know white privilege exists on a systemic level. I can’t have listened to a Black person’s experience and doubted it. Ah, so comfy, from my “less privileged” place. I didn’t have money or social standing. I’m good, I’m cool, right? I’m not like those clueless rich white people. Am I?

I defer to my alter ego Blanche, because she likes to laugh at me when I’m being stupid. She sits at the bar drinking gin and taking long contemplative drags on her ciggies.

Blanchesmoking

Poor, Blanche. She just fell off her stool, she’s laughing so hard. Luckily, she’s a tough bird. She’ll be OK. Plus, she likes laughing at me, so she wants nothing better than to get on that stool and in position for my next misstep.

Blanche says, “You’re white, girlie. Hide behind your ‘working class, immigrant’ shield all you want. The fact is, no one has followed your sorry ass in a store, even when you had no money to spend. No one ever thought at work that you were only there because of affirmative action. Once they meet you, your coffee slurping may annoy them, but that’s just being a bad office mate. You uncomfortable? That’s sounds about right.”

Blanch takes a long drag on her ciggie and looks me in the eye as she stubs it out, “You ain’t perfect, babe, let it ride. I’ll stop laughing when you talk sense.” She downs her shot and slams it on the bar. “Or not,” her smokey, throaty laugh echoes in stale air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Exposure: Same as It Ever Was

I was a big fan of Northern Exposure (1990-1995). My all-time favorite episode centers on main character half-Native Alaskan Ed and his insecurity — which is embodied in a little green man representing Low Self-Esteem, who lives with different types of other personal demons in a makeshift camp. He shows up unexpectedly to sabotage Ed when he tries to ask a girl out or help a patient in his apprentice shaman practice. In another episode, Ed goes back to the camp to fight his patient’s demon, External Validation. Of course, that demon lives in a fancy trailer, has an expensive car, and is dressed like a GQ model. I always the loved the idea of reducing your insecurities, which sometimes seem like big intractable monsters, to an annoying person you can laugh at and who lives with a lot of other dysfunctional, annoying people in a camp. You wouldn’t let that person have power over you, would you?

When I realized the show aired nearly 30 years ago, (WTF?), I thought I should try to rewatch the episode to make sure I remembered it correctly. I mean that could never happen, right?

If you are a fan, I’m sorry to say no one is streaming it right now. From what I could find out, it’s a music rights thing, which seems to hold back a lot of good shows. Don’t get me started. A few years back I wanted to rewatch the Ken Burns documentary, “Eyes on the Prize,” on the Civil Rights movement, but it wasn’t available … because of the music rights. Even now, it’s not widely available. Dear music industry, they paid you to use the music before, it’s not like they stole it. Just figure it out!

Back to the annoyance at hand — Northern Exposure. A revival is being discussed, but I don’t need to see them 30 years later. Although maybe that will get the ball rolling on streaming the original. I did find my favorite episode online on a somewhat sketchily named website called “The Internet Archive.” I started getting a lot of weird spam afterward, but I’m sure that’s a coincidence or just the Russians poking around. The really important thing was that not only was the episode as I remembered, it was even better — great writing, interesting and quirky characters, and tackling themes that are still relevant, which is kinda cool and kinda depressing. This shit is still not fixed, people.

The premise is that a new doctor Joel Fleischman from NYC needs to work for 3 years in a rural area to forgive his medical school loans. He gets assigned to the tiny Alaskan town of Cicely. But this show became so much more than its “fish out of water” premise. As soon as I discovered the episodes online, they were taken down. However, this is one of those rare times being old school is useful. I still own a DVD player and have a library card. Three cheers for libraries! I borrowed 5 seasons from them, and since they were missing season 6, I bought it, and donated it after I watched it. It was the least I could do.

I had too much fun watching to take a lot of notes on all the great moments, so here are a few highlights that reminded me fiction can be an excellent place to work out some of these tough topics.

Chris and Bernard Stevens

chris and bernanrd

The episodes featuring white philosopher-DJ Chris and his Black half-brother Bernard (pictured above) are really good. They meet by accident and are so alike in so many ways, which mystifies them because they grew up in two different families, in two separate states. They share a birthday and only saw their dad every other year on their birthday. Turns out their dad was a traveling salesman who had 2 different families. In a stereotype buster, Chris’s family is completely dysfunctional and he spent time in jail for theft, while Bernard’s family was functional middle class, and he is an accountant.

The Bernard and Chris episodes tackle a number of aspects of racism, but my favorite was when Chris lost his voice, sort of a career killer for a DJ. Maurice owns the station, is the town’s founder, local blowhard, bigot, and is always scheming how to get his town on the map. Before he even knows if Chris’s voice will return, he asks Bernard if he would consider replacing his brother — they have a similar speaking style and philosophical musings. Bernard calmly tells Maurice he is a racist and a bigot, and enumerates many examples of Maurice’s dismissive and insulting behavior. He also calls Maurice out for not even waiting to see if Chris will get better. Bernard pauses and lets Maurice sweat a bit and shift uncomfortably.  Then Bernard says, “But yeah, I’ll consider your offer.” Chris gets better.

Maggie O’Connell and Jane Harris

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In another episode, Maggie the bush pilot has an argument with the new teacher, Jane (pictured above), a former military aerial tanker pilot, who says women shouldn’t fly in combat. Maggie, an unapologetic feminist is incensed that another woman — especially a fellow pilot — could say women don’t have the emotional fortitude to fly combat. They have several rounds of very heated discussions, with neither giving an inch. Finally, Maggie realizes that just because they are both women doesn’t mean they will agree on everything. She decides to apologize, and they agree to disagree. What a concept. Could we have more of that please? You know, anytime one of the 51% of white women who voted for Trump want to apologize, I’ll do my best to accept it.

Adam, Town Hermit

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Adam (pictured above), a recurring character, is a barefoot paranoid curmudgeon hermit, who is also a classically trained chef, and may or may not be a pathological liar. Because his character is so on the social fringe, he gets to make a lot of social commentary. A stand out episode that caught my attentions talks about entitlement. He points out that the constitution does not say we’re entitled to be happy; we’re only guaranteed the pursuit of happiness. Which, of course, in our country most often applies to the white people, who are also often the most confused about this, thinking they are actually entitled to happiness. Go unpack that, and I’ll meet you back here in a couple of months.

Maurice Minnifield

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And then there was this scene, which sucker-punched me. Chris is afraid of needles, but Maurice (pictured above) ignores it and forces him to give blood during the annual drive because he bet $1,000 that Cicely would collect more blood than the rival, neighboring town. He’d lost the bet the previous year and was humiliated at the annual Tundra Sons Lunch (Think Alaskan male version of the Daughters of the American Revolution). Maurice, a driven ex-astronaut, is the pinnacle of a successful businessman, and he sputters with all of the outrage of a privileged white man obsessed with winning, “If they [the rival town] pledge 500 pints, we’ll do 501. Then we’ll see who’s smiling at the Tundra’s Son Lunch!”

To which Chris responds, deadpan: “And we wonder what makes America so great, huh?”

Yeah. That.