Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  A regular pajama day here at Port Swiller Manor, as we’re expecting 5 to 8 inches of global warming over the course of the day in what will most likely be our most significant snowfall of the year.

However, ol’ Robbo is stocked up on wine, coffee and TP and “A Bridge Too Far” showed up in the mailbox just last evening, so it’s all good.

Ironically, the one person in teh family who is not happy about the snow is Teh Eldest Gel.  Normally, she adores school-cancelling weather.  However, at the moment she is within just a couple hours’ road work of receiving her provisional driver’s license and she really, really wants the thing.   This storm will probably keep her off the road at least until Saturday, and maybe even into early next week, and she’s not a-tall happy about it.

HA, ha!

Speaking of Teh Eldest, I continue to be impressed with her handling of the news about Sweet Briar going belly-up.   Heretofore, she has not always rolled with life’s punches very well and I was expecting some serious lashing out.  But, no.  After her initial shock she simply said, “Okay, what’s the next move?”  Also, we had a very good talk last evening about what she needs to do in terms of her present grades, tests, etc., now that she’s lost her legacy card.  I think she has a very good idea of how things stand.

Growing up I think she may be.

As for all that, we’re now turning our attention to smaller schools in Virginny and perhaps North Carolina.   We’ve already scheduled a trip to Roanoke College and are also planning to touch on Randolph Macon and Christopher Newport.   I was only joking when I said she should apply to Hampden-Sydney and then sue them when they refused her.

UPDATE:  Ugh! Checking voicemail just now, I came across one from the Sweet Briar admissions office canceling an overnight stay we had arranged for Teh Gel next month.  The poor woman could barely contain herself.  At least the faculty have a couple month’s warning, but I bet they’re chucking a lot of folks almost immediately.  Now I’m all angry again.

UPDATE DEUX:  Vixens Unite!  Looks like the alumnae are rallying to try and save SBC.  Nearly 400K raised in the first, what, 24 hours.  I was dubious about this when I first heard of it yesterday, but stranger things have happened.

sbc sealGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo’s world was rocked by the thunderbolt announcement this morning that Sweet Briar College is shutting its doors at the end of this academic year.  Done. Finito.  Seniors will graduate, undergrads will have to transfer elsewhere.

Many people first learned the news from a Facebook post.  The immediate, overwhelming reaction was that somebody must have hacked SBC’s account and be playing a cruel hoax, but apparently not.  According to the official release, the Board of Directors decided the school, despite holding a $94 million endowment, was rapidly running out of money.  Rather than trying to extend its life, they voted this past weekend just to put a bullet in their collective brainpan.

This is especially astonishing given that the school finished a massive renovation of its library literally within the past month.  And it was only a couple years ago that the athletic center was revamped and expanded.  So far as I know, there has been not a single note, not one, of such dire financial danger in anything made available to parents, students or alums up until this morning.  Nada. Zip.

One rumor I heard this evening was that there was some bad mismanagement of the school’s investment portfolio a few years back which has finally come to bite them in the behind.  But some commenters at this Forbes article smell a rat.  We shall see.

This is doubly sad for us.  As many friends of the decanter probably recall, Mrs. Robbo is a Sweet Briar alum.  (Indeed, we were married in the chapel there.)  So is Robbo’s sistah, as are several Port Swiller family godmothers.   And one of my oldest friends is on the faculty.  It’s bad enough for them. [UPDATE – I should mention that I also know a number of people, real and pixilated, who have daughters there.  My condolences to all of you.]

Worse, the Eldest Gel had been planning to apply early decision this fall and had really set her heart on following in her mother’s footsteps.  I haven’t spoken to her since the nooz came out.  She’s out with Mrs. Robbo right now, who is no doubt breaking it to her as gently as some P.F. Chang’s can make it.  [UPDATE DEUX: She took the news remarkably calmly.  Teenagers.  Go figure.]

Sigh.  Guess we’re looking at Hollins now.  At least while it’s still there.  [UPDATE TROIS:  She’s not interested. Looks like we’ll be doing the Spring Break college road show after all.]

UPDATE QUART:  There were conference calls Tuesday evening with the president of the board for alums and parents.  I understand they went very badly, as the fellah couldn’t understand why people are so angry and got very defensive.  Jerk.  Also, there is a rumor swirling around that the actual purpose of all the recent construction was not to make the school more competitive, but to make it a more attractive buy.  If so, this is bad.  Very bad.  Further, I’ve heard at least two people suggest that Liberty University, Jerry Falwell’s joint, might pick it up.   Falwell once famously referred to Sweet Briar girls as those “Harlots on the Hill”, so irony if this is true.


*Spot the reference

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Recently, ol’ Robbo has been making his way through the extra features of the Netflix copy of “Young Frankenstein“, one of my perpetual favorites.  Among said extras are a set of outtakes, a feature that, should ol’ Robbo ever become Emperor of the World, would be mandatory for all movie distributions.

Anyhoo, while watching said outtakes, I was again reminded of one of Robbo’s Iron Rules:  There is nothing, nothing, funnier than watching people trying not to laugh.  I don’t know why, but there it is.

Now, I will go out on a limb here, reputation-wise, to support my assertion.  One of Robbo’s guilty pleasures is the movie “Porky’s“.  Not because of the T&A.  Not because of the crudity.  Instead, because the people who put this movie together get this Rule.  I give you, as Exhibit A, the scene in the principal’s office (back-story probably not required):

There are several more such scenes, equally crude I’ll allow, but also as effective.

As I say, I don’t know why this sort of thing is teh funny.  All I know is that, well, it is.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening (this morning, really), ol’ Robbo had a dream in which he was peeling a cantaloup on the back porch of Port Swiller Manor.  (I don’t know why.  It had skin like layers of an onion, with all kinds of elaborate patterns.)  At some point, I accidentally dropped the peeler over the rail, so I scurried down the stairs to fetch it.

At the bottom of the stairs, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a garden.  It was green and lush and all the plants were loaded down heavily with flower buds.  “Wow,” I thought, “Spring came and I didn’t even notice it!”

And then, as they say, I woke up.

Sigh.  More snow and freezing rain this morning.

The good news is that we actually are entering that transitional period in which the weather in these parts turns psychotic.  (March doesn’t come in like a lion, it comes in like Norman Bates.)  The high’s supposed to hit 60 mid week before dropping back down into the mid 30’s by next weekend.

It’s been such a cold winter ’round here that I am growing increasingly dubious about whether a lot of perennials I put in last spring made it through.  I’ll be especially crabby if my so-called cold-tolerant jasmine perished.

Washington-Nationals1Those friends of the decanter who are of the better sort are well aware that Spring Training is well underway and that it’s just about a month now until Opening Day.  Ol’ Robbo. Can’t. Wait.

I won’t go into a detailed analysis of my beloved Nationals in this post, except to say that I believe we are fielding a very, very strong team this year and have our best shot yet of making it deep into the post-season, perhaps even going All The Way.  (N.B. to the baseball gods – I said “perhaps”!)  As far as solid predictions go, I will state that I believe we will take 95+ games and win the Division pretty handily, especially as the Braves and the Phils are both in flame-out mode this season, while the Mets and the Fish are still building.

No, the thing I wanted to highlight here was the appearance of Danny Espinosa when he arrived in camp.  Danny is, and always has been, an excellent fielding second baseman but a mediocre (at best) switch-hitting batter.  This year, fighting for a bench position, he has finally agreed to stop trying to hit lefty, and to concentrate on his right-handed swing.  He also pledged to devote a great deal of training time to his swing mechanics.  To mark his resolve, he showed up looking like this:

espinosa stache

All I can say in response is to paraphrase Wash:  “Man walks down the street in that ‘stash, people know he’s not afraid of anything.”

Anyhoo, in all seriousness, I wish Danny the best of luck.  For all the heartburn he’s caused me at the plate, I still like him a lot.

And with that, what else is there to say except


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter will recall that I posted earlier this week about going up to Harrisburg, PA to check out a used Honda CR-V with an eye to giving teh Eldest Gel her first set of wheels?   Well since then things have proceeded with rayther alarming speed, the upshot being that said car was delivered to the Port Swiller Manor driveway this morning.

I’ve never bought a car this way before – first online, then via email and phone, and a signing at our kitchen table that took maybe twenty minutes, tops.  Never set foot on the lot.  Never met the sales rep in person.   Very strange but pleasant experience because I’ve always loathed the old method of car-buying.

I mentioned this to the gel and her only response was, “Welcome to the 21st Century….Daaad!!”


Anyhoo, you can imagine how excited she is.  You can also imagine how much leverage ol’ Robbo is going to get out of this.  “Want those keys to stay in your hands?  Then don’t cross me.”  Indeed, she’s even readily agreed to get a job in order to pay for gas and to chip in on the insurance.

major_gowan_rat_basilGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

As is her habit from time to time, teh Eldest Gel approached me this evening with a piece of trivia she had picked up somewhere, namely, that there’s  a new theory floating about that Asian gerbils were responsible for the bubonic plague that ravaged Medieval Europe, not rats.

This was intriguing enough to ol’ Robbo’s scattershot brain that I had to look it up.  Turns out she’s right:

“What we are suggesting is that it was gerbils in Central Asia and the bacterium in gerbils that eventually came to Europe,” Stenseth says. The scientists used climate records to check their theory, and they found a tentative link. When the climate in Asia was good, gerbils are thought to have thrived; but when it went bad, the population crashed. And about 15 years after each boom and bust, a plague outbreak erupted in Europe. The theory is that fleas carrying plague jumped from dead gerbils to pack animals and human traders, who then brought it to European cities. The research team’s results appear in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Of course, rats are still disgusting creatures.  (The jury is still out on Siberian hamsters.)

This reminds me of something:  The Left attaches all sorts of moral opprobrium to the introduction of small-pox and other diseases by Europeans to the Americas, where said diseases devastated indigenous populations who had no immunity to them.  The tone, if not the explicit argument, is that the Europeans did it on purpose as part of their eeeeevil genocidal strategy.  Have you ever, ever, heard a single similar argument made with respect to the introduction of the plague to European populations from the East and the Middle East?

No, neither have I.

But then again, consistency is hardz.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Wednesday!

Just a little something for the Middle Gel.  It’s become something of a (bad) joke between us:

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  As noted below, ol’ Robbo is back from his latest travels.  A few random thoughts, firstly travel-related:

♦   Going through airport security, I was submitted both times to the full TSA Grope Special.  In each instance, they claimed that they needed to check out something on the front of my pants picked up by the body scan.   Hey, Einsteins!  It’s called a “fly” and it’s made of metal!  (Either that or the rosary I always carry in my pocket is radioactive and left some kind of signature after I pulled it out.)  Baysterds didn’t even give me flowers or buy me breakfast afterwards.

♦   Perhaps in my bemusement over getting an unexpected hand in my crotch, or perhaps because I hadn’t yet had any coffee, on my way out Wednesday morning I managed to lose my driver’s license going through security at Reagan National.  Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this loss until I got to the car rental counter at my final destination.   Not being able to get a car proved to be a nuisance, but at least one that I was able to work round via taxis and bumming rides from people.

♦   The good news is that the airport folks not only found my license, they also called about it and then mailed it to me with a very polite cover letter.  I got it back this evening.

♦  By the bye, Ol’ Robbo has resolved that he is never again going to fly on Ash Wednesday with the expectation that he will get to Mass at the other end.  Even when I plan it all out in advance, I’m so frazzled by the time I arrive that I just can’t make myself do it, especially, as noted above, when I don’t have wheels of my own.

♦  Oddly enough, in all my years this was the first time I’ve ever flown Southwest.  I must say that their open-seat boarding policy confused me mightily at first.  On further consideration, it still doesn’t make that much sense to me:  All the early boarders naturally are going to take up the aisle and window seats.  When the tail of the line (the despised “Group C”) comes on board, there’s still going to be a lot of confusion and aisle-crowding as they seek to insert themselves into the middle seats.  I don’t see how this is superior to assigned seating with more controlled boarding groups.   (Oh, and I put Southwest’s policy of offering to put you among the “Group A” borders for an extra fee at the same contemptible level as Disney’s policy of letting you pay more to jump to the head of the ride line.)

♦  Oh, and this trip was to Texas, where regular friends of the decanter know ol’ Robbo spent the bulk of his misspent yoot.  It’s remarkable how much at ease you can put a Texan of a certain age you’re interviewing by saying, “Oh, sure I remember Cody Carlson from high school!  He was just a year ahead of me!”

And a few non-travel thoughts:

♦  Remember when we were all told that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” and that we should “Question Authority”?  Me, too.  Good times, good times.  I certainly prefer it to “Shut your whore mouthes, you rubes!”

♦  Per my previous dose of random below,  teh youngest gel got her braces slapped on today.  I have to admit that I can barely suppress my amusement at the way all her “s’s” have transmogrified into “th’s”.   And the Middle Gel, who got hers off last fall, evidently couldn’t suppress her urge to taunt her younger sister over what’s in store for her the next two years.

♦   Meanwhile, it looks as if Mrs. R and I are headed up to Harrisburg, PA this weekend to check out a used Honda CR-V for the Eldest.  It’s two years old, single owner, 30K miles, clean bill of health, moderate whistles and bells, balance of extended warranty and a pretty reasonable price.

♦  Braces and another car, all in the same week.  Siiiigh.  I suppose I could set up as a cocaine wholesaler.  Or perhaps run guns.

♦  Of course, we’re now in Lent.  I plan to do a considerable amount of new reading, and have already started in on a series of sermons by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, recently recommended to me by a member of a Catholic FB group where I like to hang out.   However, while I am delving into the serious stuff, I am also permitting myself to take breaks with lighter reading fare, so long as it has some Christian-based theme or sensibility.  As a practical matter, this means the fiction of Chesterton and C.S. Lewis.  At the moment, I am running through the former’s Father Brown mysteries.

Guinnes Father BrownI have the ability sometimes when reading to hear in my mind specific voices for specific characters.  In the case of Father Brown, I derive infinite satisfaction from imagining his voice (and his appearance and movements) to be that of Sir Alec Guinness.  I’ve never actually seen his portrayal of the padre, but it is evident, almost obvious to me that he was absolutely perfect for the part.  (Without looking it up, I recall reading somewhere that his work on this project was one of the key factors behind Guinness’s swim across the Tiber.)

♦  Finally, my latest Star Trek: TOS comment (which may be the last until after Easter):  The Corbomite Maneuver.   A classic.  First totally space-based episode.  First battle of wits between ship’s commanders.  First gratuitous shirtless Jim Kirk shot.  And to this day my brother and I refer to adult beverages as “tranya”.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo is back from his most recent travels safe and sound and has some choice vignettes about them to relay to you friends of the decanter in the near future.  First, however, I must do a bit of gratuitous Proud Papa-ing.*

As regular friends of the decanter know, teh Middle Gel is a chorister at the Washington National Cathedral, now in the middle of her third year and her first as a senior chorister.

Last night saw the debut of the Cathedral Choir at Carnegie Hall in New York.  Today’s NYTimes gives this review.   First, the players:

For these works, Mr. [Julian] Wachner, who is also a composer, assembled some 300 performers: the excellent Choir of Trinity Wall Street; the Trinity Youth Chorus; the Washington Chorus, an award-winning ensemble that Mr. Wachner also directs; the Boy and Girl Choristers of Washington National Cathedral Choir; and Novus NY, the Trinity Wall Street’s contemporary music orchestra, its ranks fortified for this demanding concert with extra players.

 The pertinent meat re the choral work goes thusly:

For sheer terror in music, however, not much matches the most intense moments of [Alberto] Ginastera’s passion, which put all the evening’s performers onstage. Like the Bach passions, this one has a solo Evangelist who tells the story, not in recitative, as Bach does, but in Gregorian chant. (Thomas McCargar sang the Evangelist here, along with Geoffrey Silver as Pilate and Judas, and Scott Allen Jarrett as Jesus.)

Those who know Ginastera, who died in 1983 at 67, only from his earlier South American nationalist style work may be stunned to hear this passion, essentially a 12-tone score of gnashing dissonance and multilayered complexity. Yet much of the harmonic language sounds lushly chromatic, in an Expressionist vein. The piece’s most audacious element is its shrieking cinematic realism. Sometimes the choirs speak and sputter the lines; sometimes the music breaks into free-for-all bouts of hysteria.

Mr. Wachner led a viscerally dramatic performance. With this concert he signaled that next year, the centennial of Ginastera, Trinity Wall Street will present an extensive survey of the composer’s works. Adventure and ambition go hand in hand at Trinity Wall Street.

For what it’s worth, teh Middle Gel, who is, after all, ol’ Robbo’s child, despised the piece, which they also performed last week at a gala at the OAS for the strategic benefit of exposure to Big Shots at the Kennedy Center and the Washington Performing Arts Society.  Although I would much rayther see her take the Emma Kirkby route, and have long thought that she was born to sing Susanna, all I could do was to remind her that Show-Biz often demands the performing of personally distasteful works and to point out that there are very, very few 15 year olds (or anyone else for that matter) who can boast that they’ve played Carnegie Hall.

Anyhoo, as noted, ol’ Robbo is one seriously proud papa.


* I hope that regular friends of the decanter will know by now that ol’ Robbo does not stick on side and that his enthusiasms for the successes of his progeny are genuinely heart-felt.

UPDATE:  Teh Gel, who reads this blog even before the pixels dry, came in just now to correct me on one point:  Teh Choristers did not perform this Carnegie Hall piece at the OAS last week, but instead served up some Mendelssohn there.   Sounds to me like the OAS johnnies caught themselves a break!

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