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seven elevenGreetings, my fellow port swillers!  And happy Feast of the Overpriced Convenience Store!

Sorry about the dearth of posties this week – it may be that ol’ Robbo’s brain has passed into the doldrums as it so often does this time of year.  At any rate, here are a few odds and ends to make up for it.

♦  I took advantage of a day off from work today to get an early start on my weekend yard work, my main task being to slap a coat of wood sealant on the inside surfaces of the porch posts.  (The outer surfaces are faced by some kind of weatherproof poly stuff but the other three are bare PTL.  They’ve been up for almost a year now and are nice and seasoned.)  For about 30 seconds or so I flirted with the idea of maybe staining them, but at the last regained my sanity and went with a clear sealant with a light gloss instead.   It turned out to be a much easier and faster job than I had originally feared, as I found I could easily get around the railing and other edges without all that tedious taping up biznay.

♦   While I was going about my task, I noticed something I had not known before:  A woodchuck will climb a chicken wire fence if it’s feeling greedy enough.

♦  The middle gel sang at a funeral down the Cathedral this morning for a woman whose son had himself been a chorister there many years ago and thought it would be a fitting thing for her, if any of the current crop were available and interested.  About a week ago, therefore, a request for volunteers went out and the gel, being the kind of gel she is, stepped up along with two or three others.  They sang Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire.  I thought the gesture was really very, very sweet.

♦  One of Mrs. Robbo’s nieces is flying down from Baahston on Monday to spend a week with us and see the sights.  Yesterday, Mrs. R’s sistah sent her a copy of the gel’s plane ticket, on which Mrs. R noticed that her sistah had paid for two checked bags.  Mrs. R immediately got on the phone and said, “Look, I don’t do checked bags.  We’ve got a washing machine and, in an emergency, the gel can borrow whatever she might need from my lot.  Carry-on only.”  I thought that very amusing.

♦  Speaking of gels, within the past month or two, I have heard several very different women in very different geographical locations using the phrase, “get her big girl pants on” or “get her big girl britches on”.  Is this a thing?  It must have some common source, but I work so hard to disassociate myself from pop “culchah” that I just don’t know what this might be.

♦  And speaking of hearing things, one of the most chilling things I’ve heard in recent memory was a colleague of mine down the office this week using the expression “Brave New World” without irony.   Telephone call for Gods of the Copybook Headings.  Will the Gods of the Copybook Headings please pick up the white courtesy phone.  Thank you.

♦  Finally, speaking of Kipling, I am deep into P.C. Wren’s Beau Geste for the very first time.  I won’t review it here since I’m not done but I will say that I’m enjoying it very, very much.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Independence Day!

Ol’ Robbo has so far celebrated the country’s birthday today by getting up at the crack of dawn to nip out to southwestern Pennsylvania to retrieve the younger gels from their summah camp.

On the way home this afternoon, cresting the various heights of the Allegheny, Blue Ridge and Catoctin ranges, we could actually see Hurricane Arthur on the far eastern horizon, a solid bank of cloud with smaller, darker strata scudding around its edges and that incredibly vibrant blue sky above which, I read somewhere, has something to do with the enormous amounts of ozone that a hurricane flings into the upper atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the wind has been whipping out of the northwest all day – straight toward the thing.  One could almost see the air being dragged in by that enormous low pressure vacuum.  These macro moments always give ol’ Robbo a bit of a shiver.

Just thought I’d share.

Anyhoo, I am now taking a break with the help of Dr. Pimm before I set about getting ready to grill burgers and dogs for a few friends we’re having over to Port Swiller Manor.  I gather the idea is for some of us to go on over to the local high school to see our municipal fireworks display afterward.   I hope all y’all have an equally festive day today!


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo took advantage of today’s gorgeous weather to finally get out and clean up the raspberry canes, which, after suffering a fair bit from the cold and snow this past winter, are having what in sports would be called a rebuilding year.

As I pulled out dead canes and uprooted weeds, I found myself thinking about a remark the M-i-L made to Mrs. Robbo last week when the in-laws came to visit Port Swiller Manor on their annual spring migration north.  Apparently, she took a look at the front of the house and said, “Has Robbo given up on landscaping, then?”


As a matter of fact, there was some justification for such a remark.  As it happens, this year’s project will be to replace the front sidewalk and to put in a new planting bed along the front of the house, while at the same time putting in some new drains to help stem the flash floods we get from the downpours around here which have played merry hell with the current bed.  Given that most of the current bushes (a set of ancient, declining azaleas) and flowers are going to be torn out within the next week or two, I don’t see any real point in wasting any energy on trying to keep up with it all.

But still, this is something of a tender subject to me.

Having occupied Port Swiller Manor for nearly 14 years now, I’ve come to recognize that my efforts at gardening really constitute more of a rear-guard delaying action against the encroaching jungle than anything else.   But then again, there’s only me to do it, and given the lack of time, money and professional reinforcements (unlike some people – which see above, I don’t happen to have the luxury of a truck full of Salvadorans showing up twice a week to help me out), I think I do a tolerable job at least keeping things neat.

Plus, when I do manage to pull something off –  a good blooming on the climbing rose or the peonies, a garden absolutely full of butterflies flittering around the Buddleia at midsummer, a successful installation of trellis and jasmine – I have the satisfaction of knowing it was the result of my own effort, and not of some hired pros.

I’d much rather engage in honest, if humble and only modestly successful cultivation than live in a showplace and pay off somebody else to look after it.




Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It probably says something about ol’ Robbo’s time and station in life that today’s excitement was the deposit of a large dumpster on the driveway of Port Swiller Manor.

We’re taking out the old swing set and tree house this weekend, as they are both rotting and the gels have long outgrown them anyway, so we decided to go whole hog and get rid of a large chunk of the flotsam and jetsam that has accumulated round ye olde demesne over the years.

I’ve just spent an hour or two in the garage, getting my exercise hurling large chunks of wood, old bags of grout, broken gardening tools and the like into the maw.  We’ll probably spend the better part of the next couple days filling the thing to the Plimsoll Mark.   What is it that makes chucking on this scale so much fun?

It occurs to me, though, after reading about the kybosh the EPA is planning to put on the utilities, that we might be better off hoarding all that wood against the coming winter instead.   I actually heard some flak on NPR this morning arguing that higher electricity costs are good for the economy because people won’t use as much energy.

Figure out the logic behind that one if you can.

I suppose that when fixed-income granny can’t afford to heat her place under the new regime, we can remind her that she’s always got thoughts of Mother Gaia to keep her warm.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

In what may be a compositional first here, ol’ Robbo is writing the first draft of this post by hand as he sits in the sports bar in Concourse E of the Charlotte airport on Friday afternoon, loitering around waiting for his flight home.  [Ed. note - Updates and commentary on this draft will appear throughout thusly.]  

On the one hand, a cacophony of mindless thump-thumpa is breaking from the speakers directly over my head.  (Why on earth would anybody think people would want to get blasted like this in an airport, where they’re most likely already thoroughly browned off?)  On the other, I’ve got a nice G&T in front of me which I’m nursing for all its worth, much to the annoyance of the waitpersonserver guy hovering in the middle distance (who I’ll bet went with the most expensive brand of gin because I didn’t specify otherwise.) [Update:  He didn't, in fact.]  So here we are.

This may sound terribly pretentious of me (moi?) but it’s nonetheless true:  I have very little regular personal contact with mass culture – including the MSM – except when I’m on one of these little biznay jaunts.  So every time I find myself with no choice but to read Useless Today or watch CNN, I am gob-smacked anew at the pablum with which they saturate print and airwaves  If Gerber were to develop a line of easy-to-digest propaganda, this is what it would look and sound like.  And I am downright terrified by the idea that this is where most people voters get their so-called information.

Speaking of which, having nothing better to do last evening after finishing my prep for today’s work (I forgot my book this trip – Waugh’s Black Mischief; probably just as well not to be caught in public with it), I found myself flopped on my hotel bed staring at the Weather Channel’s Scary Stormz Special.  TWC recently resolved a contract dispute with one of their main carriers (DirecTV, I believe) by promising, among other things, to cut back on the “reality” shows that have become such a major part of their prime-time line up and focusing, instead, on …you know…weather.  I dunno if this was some kind of subversive payback, but I sat through an hour of Jim “Mimbo” Cantore hovering over his Scary Stormz radar and sounding the alarum for one midwestern county after another in painstaking repetition and detail.  After a while, it became clear that things were fast settling down, but ol’ Jim kept plugging away nonetheless.  “Look out, St. Louis, rain is coming for ye! RAINNNN!!!”  The message from TWC seemed to be, “Okay, you want weather?  We got your weather right here, pal!”  [By the bye, anyone remember that TWC reporter from back in the 90's who often appeared to be several fathoms below the surface when he did his show?  I can't think of his name now, but he was a lot more entertaining than Cantore.]

Oh, and for some reason, even though I was camped in the wilds of the Carolinas, the locals on the 8′s kept running current conditions and forecast for Southern California.  Carolina…California..  Whatevs.  (Actually, there was a country song a few years back called “Heads, Carolina – Tails, California”.  Jo Dee Messina, I think?)

Speaking of hotels, it really really bothers me that Marriott considers it necessary to attach printed instructions to the shower knob.  (Seriously: 1) Pull handle; 2) Point to hot or cold as desired.)  My guess would be that if someone is too dense to figure out the workings themselves, the odds that such instructions are going to be of any use to them are pretty slim.

Ain’t I awful.  Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…..

Well, my flights out and back this time involve Dulles instead of National, much to my chagrin.  (US Air used to have numerous Airbus A320 runs between National and Charlotte, but I think they lost a bunch of routes as part of the big recent merger with American.  In any event, the only flights seemingly available now are a bunch of extremely grungy little Canadair regional jets staffed with the dregs.  Downbound the other day, the cabin was served by two of the most emaciated “stewards” I have ever seen in my life.  Any friends of the decanter old and nerdy enough to remember the short-lived teevee series from the late 70′s “Flying High”?  Connie Sellecca, you know.  I’m afraid those days are long gone, my friends.  [Coming back, one of the "lady"  flight attendants had shoulders like a linebacker, not that there's anything wrong with that.]

Aaaaaanyway, I’ve seen my share of airports over the last few years and I must say that Dulles is the ugliest and most impersonal of them all by a very wide margin.  It’s metastasized out of all recognition from what it used to be, and has lost any positive character it ever had.  I always feel like I’m going in and out of Sing-Sing.  Oh, and message to WMATA:  If you think that extending the metro all the way to Dulles from downtown Dee Cee is a potential money-maker, I’ve got some shares in a turnkey jackalope ranching operation I’d like to discuss with you.

Well, anyhoo, it’ll be good to get home, even though by the time I actually type this up and you read it, it’ll be after the fact.  [As it happens, my homecoming coincided with not one but two of the port swiller loos losing battles with certain unnamed persons who don't seem to understand that there are certain, em, hygienic products that CANNOT be flushed.  Grrrrrrrr…..]

Speaking of hearth and home, it appears this weekend is Mother’s Day.  How do I know?  Because I got an email from Mrs. R this morning thanking me for the Mother’s Day flowers I sent her.   Considering I hadn’t done anything of the sort, I was a bit apprehensive about what this might mean.  A hint?  A sneaky rival?  The gels?  (Naw, not the gels.)  For one wild instant, I considered a bluffing response, but at the last second common sense prevailed and I manfully admitted I had no idea what she was talking about.

As it turns out, my candor was rewarded:  She admitted that she had, in fact, just bought a large rose bush at the farmer’s market, that she far, far preferred it to a bunch of cut flowers and that my “gift” to her was to plant it for her this weekend.   So Mrs. R gets a (hopefully) long-term present and ol’ Robbo gets to thumb his nose at the FTD/Zales/Hallmark Sentimentality-Industrial Complex Shakedown Racket.

Everybody wins.  [As a matter of fact, we find the thing looks very nice in a pot at the top of the stairs to the porch.  Additionally, there is virtually no chance the damned deer will climb the stairs to get at it.]

Whelp, I suppose I had ought to shuffle off and find my gate.  It’s been surprisingly easy to slap down these thoughts, despite the thump-thumpa.  The G&T (okay, it was a double) certainly helps.  I could get used to this Writer’s Life.  (In fact, the only literary ambition I’ve ever held was to somehow become my generation’s Tom Wolfe.)  I only hope I can read my scrawlings when I come to transcribe my rambling into pixelated form.  [Indeed, I can quite easily.  My handwriting here seems to be much better than it usually is down the office.]

Update:  Sitting at the gate, I’m looking at a security door with a sign on it reading, “DOOR IS ALARMED”.  This amuses me.  Door (in C3PO voice): “Oh, dear.  Oh, dear.  What is all this? You’re not authorized?  Surely, you’re not going to open me?  This is all R-2′s fault!  Somebody help me! Pleeease!!!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, Robbo’s beloved Nats have called a temporary halt to their battle against the Dodgers of Los Angelese this evening due to rain.  Port Swiller Manor is located some miles to the north-northwest of Nats Park and teh rain is moving south-southeast.  If what’s happening here at the moment is any indication, this delay is going to last well beyond Robbo’s work night bed-a-bye time, so I’ve pretty much written off getting to enjoy any of the game.  Instead, I’ll put on some Johann Georg Neruda trio sonatas, top off the ol’ glass, and give you some random.

♦  CD Observation I:  I am pretty sure the middle gel filches some of my classickal musick collection from time to time, as several favorite disks have gone missing and I can’t imagine anyone else in the household (including the cats) having any use for them.  (I know for a fact that she has appropriated and, in one way or another, destroyed most of my Mozart opera DVD’s.)  On the one hand, I object because of the nuisance when I wish to listen to them.  On the other, well, how can I….

♦   CD Observation II:  This afternoon on FB, I mentioned that I thought Monty Python’s record version of their “Piranha Brothers” sketch was superior to the one they did for teevee.  (This I attribute to the high quality of their voice-acting and the lack of distraction from a studio audience.)  On further reflection, I think this is true of a number of their sketches – the “Cheese Shop” and the whole “Spanish Inquisition” sequence come to mind, but the standard is far from universal.  Some of their material works best on stage, some on film, some on record.  I still haven’t pinned down the exact formula to explain this.

♦  On the literary front, I’ve been trying for some days to write a review of Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World, a piece of Catholic dystopic sci-fy set in the 21st Century that tells of the appearance in a Humanist-Marxist Brave New World of the anti-Christ and the build up to Armageddon.  Words fail me.  Suffice to say that this is about the most terrifying book I’ve read in a very, very long time, as much because of its plausibility and prescience (it was published in 1907) as anything else.

♦  Also on the literary front, as I seem to do just after every Easter, I’ve started in on the novels of Evelyn Waugh again.  So far I’ve polished off Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies.  The latter is perhaps my least favorite of Mr. Woo’s output because of its sledge-hammer brand of satire, but I must admit that I enjoyed it more this time around than ever before.

♦  I mention below that Mrs. R and teh gels were out this weekend giving a lick o’ paint to the back yard fence.  Meanwhile, Ol’ Robbo was busy with early season mowing and trimming.   One side of the back fence at Port Swiller Manor is occupied by a hedge of wisteria.  As I worked around it, I couldn’t help noticing yet again how deliberately said wisteria seems to reach out and make a grab for one’s power tools.  Indeed, they seem to have  a singular genius for getting tangled up in the throttle control and causing the machine to start screaming.  Clever, that.  I don’t know what the neighbors made, had they witnessed it, of the scene in which Robbo pulled violently away from the hedge, yanking on his mower and yelling, “Gerrouto’it! Let go! Let GO, you bastard!”

♦  Speaking of such things, I can’t help noticing that after our long, cold and late winter, many of teh plants in ol’ Robbo’s garden seem….confused.  They’re  all beginning to come up and leaf out, but way late and seemingly in a very hesitant manner, as if they’re not sure exactly what’s going on and would, if sufficiently spooked, go right back to dormancy.   I blame Algore for this.

♦  This past Friday, after complications too tedious to recount, ol’ Robbo finally got the emissions test done on La Wrangler and submitted her re-reregistration bumf online.  Although I printed out a temporary registration certificate, her plates still carry April ’14 tags which are, of course, now past due.  I am hoping that a cop pulls me over just so I can whip out my proof of re-registration and, Jerry Seinfeld-like, say, “Ooooh, I don’t think so!”

♦  Ol’ Robbo voted (absentee) in some sort of local community center board election the other day for the father of one of the youngest gel’s best friends.  I was perfectly happy to help the fellah out, but as I filled out the ballot, I couldn’t help thinking how repugnant the idea of running for any kind of office, however small,  is to me.  On my FB profile, where it asks my political affiliation, I quote the condensed version of William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous sentiment:  “If nominated, I will not run.  If elected, I will not serve.”  To me, Peej O’Rourke nicely sums up all politicks in his formula, “Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit. A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty— their power and privilege— to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by … politicians.”

No, thankee.  I’ve my next life to consider.

Well, enough for one evening, I think.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, it’s a bit late on Sunday night for ol’ Robbo to start bloaviating on most of the alarums and excursions that he has encountered over the last few days.  Instead, I’ll focus on a single observation:  Yesterday, Mrs. R had all three gels plus an additional couple friends…..voluntarily helping her to paint the backyard fence at Port Swiller Manor.  Did a pretty fair job, too.

If that isn’t a sign of the impending Apocalypse, damme if I know what is……

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  You can get your minds out of the gutter right now because I mean dirty as in garden dirt.

Those of you following the continuing saga of my effort to landscape the back porch at Port Swiller Manor will be pleased to know that I got the jasmine planted this morning.  I also put up all but a few small cross-pieces of the lattice on which said jasmine hopefully will climb.  Indeed, I am now so confident that Spring is really, truly, finally here that I also dragged out the patio furniture and the lawn hammock, and am going to throw caution to the wind and run out this afternoon to pick up a couple of clematis that I also plan to put on part of the lattice.

When the jasmine first appeared on my doorstep early last month, I was caught short for something in which to root them temporarily, so grabbed a handful of clay pots that I’ve had lying around forever.  Clay isn’t like plastic – if you want to get something back out, you can’t simply turn a clay pot over and squeeze and shake it a bit.  No, the only practical thing to do if you want to keep the soil and root integrity is to break the clay.  Whacking the pot on its side with the edge of a shovel works just fine.  It’s also, well, fun.

Beware the sharp edges of the shards, however.  I got my hand on one of these.  I also managed to cut my thumb again with the saw as I was shaping the last lattice panel to put up.  Split the nail this time, too.  I can’t recall a project that has involved so much spilling of my own blood as this one has.  Ah, well, it’s worth it.

In other garden news, regular friends of the decanter will be familiar with Robbo’s annual rant about the skimpiness of his forsythia blooms.  I thought I had this problem licked last year because I had positively razed the hedge down to about a foot and got a pretty decent burst of new growth (on which forsythia flowers).  Nope, it’s still the same feeble yield, maybe even feebler.  Well, as I say, I’ve tried pruning.  I’ve also tried feeding.  It was only recently that I suddenly had a flash:  Those bushes must be a good 20 or 30 years old.  Maybe they’re just…..worn out.  Plant age too, you know.

Finally, it looks like this is the year I’m going to have to bite the bullet and reseed the lawn.  Aside from the parts the construction crew tore up last summah working on the porch, the rest is getting too sparse and weed-infested even for me to ignore anymore.  I’ve never tried reseeding before and I must say that I’m not much looking forward to the prospect.

Going to be a busy spring.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Those of you keeping track of Robbo’s latest home improvement project will be interested to know that I spent the better part of the day today cutting, fitting and screwing in lattice panels. A glass of wine with those of you who gave advice – I used two inch wood screws spaced about a foot or so apart and pre-drilled the lattice.  The end result looks and feels quite solid, even with the strong winds we had today.   I’m not actually done yet, as the charge in my drill ran down and I had to come to a stopping point in time to get to the store for dins food, but I’m a good two-thirds/three-quarters of the way through, and as far as the construction goes I feel I could plant my jasmine tomorrow if I really wanted to.  (I can’t, as a matter of fact, because as soon as I’m done with noon Mass I have to take teh youngest gel off to a make-up softball game.  I’m also not yet convinced we’re completely out of the frost zone.  But never mind.)

I should note that I was aided and abetted by teh Middle Gel, whose primary task was to “hold things”.  This is an old joke in my family.  When my brother and I were lads, the Old Gentleman used to put us to work in the yard practically every weekend.  Somehow the meme developed that he only really wanted the company and that our tasks actually consisted of nothing more than “holding things”.  The phrase eventually entered the family lexicon.

As a matter of fact, he worked us like serfs: clearing rocks; digging flower beds; filling flower beds; hauling brush, firewood, stones and railroad ties; laying sod; weeding; mowing; planting; watering – you name it.   We hated every minute of it, in part because the work was often back-breaking, the weather beastly hot and the menace perpetual that the next thing we picked up would have either a snake or a scorpion lurking under it, but mostly because we felt it monstrously unfair that Sistah somehow always got away with not having to contribute to the cause.  (She was nominally supposed to help teh Mothe with indoor tasks, but we knew perfectly well that she in fact spent most of the time skulking in her room listening to Adam Ant records – and let her try denying it.)

Anyhoo, teh Gel was, in fact, immensely useful in her task of, er, holding things – the panels, to be specific.  It is physically impossible to brace a 4×8 panel up against beams and at the same time screw it in, so I literally could not have done the job without her.  My plan, in all fairness, is to draft teh Youngest Gel to help me with the rest.

There were no real mishaps today, either in terms of mistakes or accidents.  The closest I came was when I nicked the end of my thumb with my handsaw.  Anyone who has ever met teh Gel will readily assert that she is one of the sweetest and most sympathetic of souls.  What those who don’t live with her everyday may miss is that she can be startlingly phlegmatic and deadpan at times.  So when she noticed that I had cut myself, she simply said, “I see you’re getting blood all over everything.”

What could I do but reply equally coolly, “Yeah, I know.”

Anyhoo, a good day.  I’ve been feeling a bit in the dumps the last few weeks and this was just the tonic – fresh air and exercise and a plan working out- that I think I needed.  Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to grill a large steak on the bar-b and to get ready for an evening of watching my beloved Nats (hopefully) taking their first win off the Braves.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

If you had told ol’ Robbo last fall that he’d be shoveling snow off the Port Swiller Manor driveway on March 30, he’d have said you were crazy.

And yet,  here we are.

Damn you, Algore! 

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