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I keep utterly forgetting that today is Halloween.   No punkin’ yet carved.  No decorations.  No plans to walk any of the gels round the neighborhood.  No particular thoughts on ghosts, ghouls and goblins.  It’s as if all the recent storm-centered brouhaha has knocked the spirit of the day base over apex.

Not that I was ever much of an enthusiast to begin with, at least as far as “adult” celebrations go.   On the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed indulging in the sense – based on the all hallows tradition underlying the day – of the temporary suspension of the Rules and the blurring of the lines between the living and the dead.

Today?  As I say, not so much.   All I really want to do is get back on the regular track.


UPDATE:  Help me, Count Floyd! You’re my only hope!

Poking idly about the overflowing tables in the Port Swiller library during the recent storm, Robbo stumbled across a book he had not noticed before: True Prep: It’s A Whole New Old World by Lisa Birnbach.

Heaven knows how this book came to be in the Robbo collection.  I’d heard of it before, but never had any particular urge to buy it.  I can only suppose, judging from some suspicious looking tape marks on the binder, that Mrs. R picked it up at one of the library used book sales which she is fond of haunting.

Birnbach is, of course, the author of The Official Preppy Handbook, which came out in 1980.  This latest opus (from 2010) purports to be an updated version of that immensely popular tome (at least amongst potential imitators) describing [insert Robin Leach voice here] the lifestyles of the old guard power elite.

Well, Robbo spent about five minutes idly skimming through it, which is about all he needed to form his opinions.

In the first place, “It’s A Whole New Old World” is just about right.  A social scientist, I think, would be mighty interested in the way in which this book illustrates the change in the societal power structure (or at least its perception) over the past 30 years.  Gone are the last vestiges of the old, low-key, stuffy W.A.S.P. ethics, values and tastes.  Instead, the BoHo’s now are running the asylum.  One sees throughout a tone comprised of a militant progressivism; a strident “anything goes” family/social structure; naked political pandering; exhibitionism not just in consumption but in philanthropy, career and other areas; and, finally, crass commercialization.  There also is about it a certain edge absent from the previous edition, a feeling that failure to embrace the “new” orthodoxy will land you in a reeducation camp faster than you can say “visualize whirled peas”.

Birnbach herself seems to heartily approve of these changes.  You may judge for yourselves what ol’ Robbo’s opinion might be.

In the second place, the book’s various lists of “musts” are remarkably shallow and, at least where Robbo is any kind of judge, seem to have been thrown together without much consideration.  (Full disclosure: This may be true of the first book, too, but it must be 20 years since I last saw a copy.)  Take the list of “must” reads.  The only Evelyn Waugh work listed is Brideshead, which is hardly emblematic of the rest of his novels.  And do people of this sort actually not see the strong religious message of the book? Or do they just ignore it?  (Or do they just buy the book because Jeromy Irons was in the teevee show but never get round to reading it?)  And who among the young bohos reads Buckley’s God and Man at Yale these days?  The entry for Tom Wolfe includes some of his old essays, together with My Name Is Charlotte Simmons, probably the weakest of his novels to date.  There are no entries whatsoever for P.G. Wodehouse.

In the third place, I noticed something about the various schools discussed.  Despite the fact that there are actually fewer such entries than last time around, an entire page is devoted to singing the praises of Hamster-Squidney Hampton-Sydney College.  This really rayther astounded Robbo.  HSC, at least when I knew anything about it, while priding itself on preserving the concept of the Southern Gentleman, was also one of the last bastions of recalcitrant Confederate sympathizers left in the country.   This hardly seems to jibe with the solid blue tone of the rest of the book.  Either the school has changed entirely in the twenty-odd years since I knew anything about it, or there must be some other force at work here.

Which brings me to two related stories.

The first has to do with Birnbach.  If you still have your old, dog-eared copy of TOPH sitting in the basket in your downstairs loo, you will see that among the many schools profiled, no mention whatsoever is made of Washington & Lee University, Robbo’s grad school of record.  (This I do remember.)  You might think this omission odd, as Dubyanell seemed to have every quality necessary for inclusion among the “elite”:  Strong social traditions, a storied past (both Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveler are buried on campus), a reputation for heavy drinking, etc.  And many of its neighboring schools were mentioned:  HSC, Sweet Briar, Hollins, etc.  Well, the rumor that I heard some years later was that Birnbach was dating somebody in the Dubyanell administration (in the admissions office, I believe) whilst she was assembling that book.  The relationship apparently went south in a distinctly ugly manner.  Birnbach retaliated against the fellah by blackballing the school.  I’ve no idea whether this is true or not.  But I note that Dubyanell didn’t make the new book, either.  On the other hand, as I say, Squidney – its longtime rival – got a page all to itself.

Go figure.

Speaking of Squidney,  I may have mentioned this anecdote before.  Prior to coming to the Great Commonwealth of Virginny for school, Mrs. R was pure Long Island/Connecticut and knew next to nothing about Southerners.  The story goes (this was before we met) that one night, she and a group of her Sweet Briar friends road-tripped down to Farmville to engage in merriment with the local scholarly gentlemen.  Eventually, a bunch of them wound up in some good ol’ boy’s dorm room.  She tells me it had the requisite huge rebel flag hanging on one wall, along with various other books and odds and ends dedicated to the War of Northern Aggression.  At some point, the conversation came  around to that War, with the fellahs arguing about what would have happened had Stonewall survived Chancellorsville, if Longstreet had flanked Round Top on the right and other might-have-beens.  Mrs. R sat for some time in puzzlement over all this and then finally blurted out in an innocent tone,  “I just don’t understand why you guys keep talking about the war so much.  I mean, y’all lost!”

Apparently, this produced an absolutely dumbfounded silence amongst the other revelers.

How Mrs. R escaped campus, I do not know.   Chivalry not quite dead, I suppose.

I do know that she never went back.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, I would say overall that the Family Robbo was spared too much trouble from Hurricane Sandy.  (Nothing at all compared to those poor people farther up the coast in Joisey and Noo Yawk who seem to have got absolutely hammered.)  A lot of wind, at times fairly fierce.  A lot of rain.  That curiously dampened thunder that accompanies strong gales.  A few branches and limbs down in the yard.  The power out for a little over twenty-four hours.  Eh.  Really, El Derecho was far worse this past summah when it came to call.  (I’ve a theory that all the damage it did actually lessened Sandy’s effects by culling out a lot of weaker timber.)

There is a great difference of opinion within the Family Robbo on what constitutes the proper response to an extended loss of power from bad weather.  Robbo, perhaps because he’s the only male, perhaps because he comes from a somewhat more stoic background, is of the belief that when it is cold and rainy out one should simply put on more clothes, bank up the ol’ fire, pour another glass of the crayture and hunker down with a good book.  (I went on a Charles Portis bender, reading yesterday his Escape Velocity for the first time and rereading his Norwood and True Grit for about the tenth each.)

Mrs. Robbo is of a different mind.  Her response is to light out for some place with an indoor pool and room service.   (I helpfully point out that this won’t do her much good in preparing for the Big One when there is no convenient nearby Marriott and we’re having to haul and boil buckets of water from the nearest source a half mile away.  She replies that she doesn’t care.)

The upshot is that I had Port Swiller Manor to myself last night and I duly snugged down in the library and followed the above-described programme.  (The power actually cut back in around eleven, but by then it really didn’t matter.)

I woke up some time in the wee hours from a truly bizarre dream (something about an illicit flirtation, the sabotage of a regatta by black-clad villains, a sudden inability to walk down stairs and losing my jeep in a parking lot) to hear the house adjusting itself to thirty-six hours of buffeting wind, soaking rain and seesawing internal temperature.  Lying there listening to an unfamiliar series of creaks, snaps and pops, I began to worry casually about structural integrity, wondering what actions I might take if the sound of groaning wood suddenly turned out to be the prelude to a wardrobe or bedstead crashing down through the ceiling.  (You laugh, but the house is 40 years old and ours is the second family to grow up in it.   When the gels are all on the loose upstairs, the place shakes and shudders as if a herd of mastodon had taken up residence.)

Concern about ceilings falling in always reminds me of my first adult house, which was one in which I had an apartment the last two years of law school in Metro-Lex.  I had the upstairs back.  Another student had the downstairs back.  The front, upstairs and down, was reserved for the landlady’s mother, who came down from Vermont for the winters.  The mother had the most vicious dog, which she kept tethered to the side of the house during the day and which always lunged slavering at me when I came or went.  Like Frau Dressler’s goat in Waugh’s Scoop, I knew that sooner or later it would break free.  The dog knew it, too.  Fortunately, the time he did get loose, I happened to be safely indoors.

At any rate, the main feature of my apartment, which was really quite nice as far as graduate digs went, was a living room of maybe 12 or 15 feet square.  The floor sagged so severely in the middle that unless the furniture was arranged just right to counterbalance the effect, one could get quite seasick just looking at it.  For myself, I generally tried to tiptoe whenever in that room.  I sometimes wonder whether it eventually fell through, maybe ruptured by some other student dancing in frustration over some assignment from the Groot Monster, Slamming Sammy, Phembo, Timmy Tax, “Papa” Brion, the Lash or Punchin’ Judy.  The last time I took a dekko at an overhead view of it on Google Earth, it looked as if the place had been worked on, possibly renovated, so perhaps it finally happened.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Just stepped in to the intertoobs to have a dekko at the latest forecast.  Right now (about 1:15 pm), it’s been raining hard/gently all day and teh wind is at times a bit gusty, but so far nothing to, er, post about.  However, the latest nooz is now saying that Sandy is getting stronger and we can expect hurricane-force gusts in the Port Swiller Manor neighborhood later on this afternoon and tonight.

We’ll see.

By the bye, it looks like things are genuinely awful up the coast from us.   I hope that all friends of the decanter affected in any way by the storm are snugged down and safe.

In the meantime, let me ask this:  Why the hell aren’t phone chargers interchangeable?  I mean, the thing is just a wire that runs from the outlet into the side of the cell/blackberry/iWhatever and sends a current of electricity from the former to the latter….How complicated does it need to be? “Compatibility”?  If the plug fits the port, why is this even an issue?

On the one hand, Port Swiller Manor is like something out of Snakes on a Plane: I’m constantly tripping over the damned things.  On the other, there has been bitter and non-stop civil war over the past twenty four hours as the gels fight over them, each proclaiming in loud voice that one of the others “took her charger – the only one she can possibly uuuuuuuse!!!”.


I mentioned to the Mothe the other day that our emergency back up plan in case we run out of food is first eat the cats, then eat the children.  I’m increasingly of the opinion that her suggestion that we reverse this order of consumption is a pretty good one.

 Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, we’re just about ready to go here.  The sky is already overcast and the wind is starting to gust up a bit, but it looks like things will start to really fall apart later on tonight and tomorrow.

I’ll probably be away from teh blog for a few days since I confidently expect the power to go out.  In the interim, I’ll leave you with a question to ponder that Mrs. R and I were discussing last evening:

We were talking about all the advances in forecasting and preparation that have been made over the years and all the lives and property that had been saved as a result.  Following on, Mrs. R said, “What I wonder about is the development of technology to control or stop hurricanes.  Wouldn’t that be even better?”

I thought about it for a few moments. “No,” I said, “I think that actually would be a bad idea.”

Mrs. R registered surprise.

“Hurricanes are part of the natural order,” I explained. “The way they impact on and interact with other forces of nature is both complicated and important and probably produces as many benefits as detriments.  It’s one thing for us to do everything we can to protect ourselves from their obvious destructive tendencies when they strike us, but it’s something else entirely, too close to playing God, to try and keep them from happening in the first place.  To me, that’s messing about with things beyond our reach and who knows what the unforeseen results might be.”

Also, although I didn’t raise the point in our discussion, there is the political element.  Somebody or other, I forget who, once said that the ultimate totalitarian pipe-dream was to outlaw bad weather.  I believe there’s a great deal in this.

So what do you think?

Keeping glued to the forecasts today reminded me of an old childhood memory that comes back every time a hurricane is in the news of once watching one of those big star/multiple story line disaster films so much in vogue in the early 70’s.  The only part of it that stuck in my mind was of an estranged married couple in a small boat who somehow get trapped in the eye of the storm.  They were able to keep pace with the storm’s movement until they eventually ran out of gas.  With the tailing wall cloud bearing down on them, they reconciled and prepared to go to Davy Jones’ Locker together.  At the last instance, a submarine surfaced and rescued them.

What made the scene stick in my mind was the coo-el effect (for the time) of the storm sweeping in on them.

Well, thanks to these here intertoobs, when I thought of it this time I was able to fill in the gaps in my memory.  The film I was thinking of was a 1974 made-for-teevee flick called (unexpectedly!) “Hurricane”.  The couple I was thinking of were played by Larry Hagman and Jessica Walter.

According to the cast list, Martin Milner of “Adam-12” was also in the film, as were Will Geer and Patrick Duffy, just in case you find yourself playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  And if you don’t remember “Adam-12”, then you and I are definitely of different generations.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, Port Swiller Manor is about as locked down as can be reasonably expected now: drain-clogging leaves raked away, small projectile-potential objects taken in, the larder well stocked with adult beverages and things that can be cooked on a gas range during the inevitable power outage, fireplace primed.  Bring. It. On.

As a matter of fact, from the change in tone in some of the coverage in the past 24 hours, I’ve a sneaking suspicion ol’ Sandy is wandering farther north after all, and all we’re going to get round here is enough wind and rain to make the Monday/Tuesday commute extremely unpleasant but not cancel-worthy.   Oh, well.

Interestingly, at least among the meteorologickal sites that I read it would seem that the prognosticators are aware that some of the steam is starting to  leak from their hoopla balloons and are getting a tad defensive about it.  In fact, I quote: DO NOT BE FOOLED!

.I suppose they have to do that.  I used to assume cynically that it was just about ratings and prestige, but after those Italian geophysicists got handed criminal liability for failing to predict an earthquake, I can’t help wondering if at the back of its collective mind the forecasting community doesn’t want to give some ambulance-chasing vampire any funny ideas in case it accidentally lowballs things.

UPDATE: DOOOOOM back on track! Best case scenario for us now is sustained winds 25-45 mph Monday afternoon and Tuesday with gusts up to 60 mph and 3-6 inches of rain.  Frankly, that’s enough excitement for me.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Friday to you all!

Ol’ Robbo is feeling summat drained this morning after a big dose of teh busy this week and would have given a significant sum of money for a half-way decent excuse to roll over and go straight back to sleep.  No dice, of course.  Like young Frederick, I am the slave of duty.

Of course, the big news ’round here is the approach of Hurricane Sandy, now dubbed Frankenstorm.  The latest helping of DOOOOOOOM!! is showing an ever-increasing chance of landfall in Delaware/southern Joisey.  Not to buy into the traditional Dee Cee panic response to adverse weather, but such a strike would actually be pretty bad news for the environs of Port Swiller Manor, especially if the storm hooks hard left.  The last big one to come through was Isabel in 2003, which knocked down a fair number of trees and cut the power for three or four days.  Our meteorologickal friends are starting to tingle over this one in terms of its potential unprecedented low pressure, but it’s still uncertain just how blowsy it’s likely to get and whether it will have lesser or greater impact.

Not that there’s much to do one way or the other except to stock up on the essentials: toilet paper, matches, adult beverages, etc.   I think I’ll probably bring in the bird feeders, flag and hammock tomorrow, too.

The irony is that the past couple days have been absolutely lovely – balmy, hazy, spectacular sunrises and sunsets and a waxing moon hanging in the heavens.  It’s no wonder that back in the day before advanced satellite imagery people used to get so completely bushwhacked by oncoming storms.  If you didn’t know better, you’d never suspect one was inbound.

Changing the subject, Our Maximum Leader had a very nice postie yesterday on the fact that it was both St. Crispen’s Day (and therefore also the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt), and also the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava.   Had he further mentioned that it was the anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, he’d have pulled off a nifty hat-trick.   I champion his post because I continue to believe that “kings and battles” history matters.  Sure, it’s both useful and interesting to study general socioeconomic trends and developments, and yes, there is a place for learning so-called “bottom up” history about the day to day life of “the marginalized” (although that seems usually to be used for purposes of grievance-mongering), but when it comes down to it, it is people like Henry V, Lord Raglan and Bull Halsey who have the greatest immediate impact on the course of things.   The young people ought to be learning these things first.  There’s plenty of time for getting into the weeds later on.

So says Robbo the Pedant.

Speaking of which, I was reading this article about “pushy parents” which basically rediscovers the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.   I think the biggest challenge I’ve had to face as a father is to recognize that self-motivation a) is the only thing that really propels a kid and b) that it’s about a 90% function of nature and only a 10% function of nurture.   The practical upshot is that these days I am content more to encourage than to press (although there is still plenty of that, to be sure), and am better able to resist the temptation to beat myself or them over the head when I don’t feel they’re living up to their potential.

Speaking of “father”, that’s what the youngest gel has taken to calling me in a low drawl when she’s feeling snippy.  I can resist the urge to beat over the head pretty well.  Fingers around throat? Well, sometimes that’s a different matter…..

UPDATE: Oh, I knew what else I wanted to mention.  Regular friends of the decanter may recall my musing a week or two ago that I really needed to start exercising again regularly? Well, touching wood, I’ve somehow managed to fit that into the schedule, developing a regular pattern of 35-45 minute spins on the elliptical.  Unlike in past years, this time around I’m increasing the resistance while slowing down the pace and working to make sure my heart-rate stays within visiting distance of the optimal for my age instead of red-lining it.  The fact that I am getting some real geeky pleasure out of this is convincing proof to me that I am truly starting to age.  I suppose I’ll be saying enthusiastic things about fiber intake before I know it…..

The fact that part of my motivation is seeing all the young honeys out jogging in Rock Creek Park every morning and evening might also say something about my age….

And finally, speaking of saying, it is very frustrating to have to keep my politickal opinions to myself during this election season.  I intend to release them after it’s all over and done with and the dust settles.  All I can say now is that if they sound like a lot of post hoc told-ya-so fabrications, they won’t be anything different from what I’ve been saying in private for some time now.  The Mothe will, I am sure, back me up as a witness on this.

A recent homework matter in which ol’ Robbo assisted has put back in his braims a question about the proper pronunciation of the word “Byzantine”.  Not that the question had anything directly to do with the assignment itself.  Rayther, discussing the subject matter simply reminded me of it.

You see, I’ve always placed the accent on the first syllable and gone with a short “i” sound for the “y”.  Thus, BIZ-n-teen.

However, I was watching a program on the subject some time back in which the commentator kept putting the emphasis on the second syllable, as well as making the “y” a long “i”.  Thus, Bye-ZAN-teen.

I must say that I thought the fellah’s pronunciation of the word to be rayther clumsy and frankly ridiculous.  On the other hand, he was both a) a Brit and b) an Oxbridge professor of some sort,  so who am I to argue.

A look at Merriam-Webster gives both pronunciations, although the commentator’s seems to be a secondary or tertiary option.  Is this choice more common across the Pond?  Or was he just being pretentious?

(Of course, when speaking of the City of Byzantium¹ itself, a subject that comes up surprisingly often in my conversations, I also accent the second syllable.  But that’s necessitated by the addition of the fourth syllable.  Try saying the name with the accent on “By” and see where that gets you.)

So that’s that.  The only reason I bring it up at all is that the commentator’s pronunciation still seems strange to me.  Who am I to argue, did I ask?  Why, I’m Robbo the Port Swiller, that’s who!  (Often inaccurate, but always definitive!)

¹  It occurs to me to try and rework the lyrics to “Istanbul” to go one name change previous.  (“Constantinople was Byzantium/ Now it’s Constantinople not Byzantium/ Been a long time gone Byzantium/ Now it’s ‘Perial delight on a moonlit night.”)  There’s probably some classickal geek cred there but it doesn’t seem to scan very well.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I see that our meteorological friends are beginning to go into their traditional St. Vitus’ dance over the approach of Hurricane Sandy to the East Coast, alternately clamoring over the impending doooooom bearing down on the major metropolitan areas and then backing off and telling us all not to panic.

I shrug.  Nobody yet seems to be suggesting a direct hit on the environs of Port Swiller Manor, so I expect the most we’ll see out of it is a bit of breeze and rain, perhaps just enough to give Virginny Power an excuse for cutting off the lights.  Unlike this summah’s visit by El Derecho, from which we lost power for four days, at least if it happens again the house won’t turn into a sauna this time.

The advent of Sandy from the southeast and the approach of a strong cold front from the northwest are also bringing up reminiscences of the great “Perfect Storm” of October 1991.  Now it’s a very curious thing, but I was just out of school and starting my pretend legal career when that storm hit.  I like to think that I was keeping reasonably up to date and well informed about current events at the time, and yet I have no recollection whatsoever of having actually heard or read anything about the storm as it happened.  When Sebastian Junger’s book and George Clooney’s moovie on the subject first appeared, my initial reaction was, “Huh? Where was I?”

Granted I was living in Charlottesville a couple hundred miles off the coast at the time so was not really affected by the storm itself, and granted I was distracted by trying to eek out a living in my first ratty job while also getting engaged to Mrs. R, but it still puzzles me that I should have so completely missed out on what has since come to be such a notorious “weather event”.  Is it possible that all the hoopla was of the post hoc manufactured variety?

Anyhoo, whatever happens with Sandy apparently will happen early next week.  We shall see, but at this point I don’t feel any pressing need to start hording toilet paper.

UPPITTYDATE:  DOOOOOOOM!!  The latest forecast suggests that Sandy might slam headfirst into the Delmarva Peninsula, which could make things pretty sticky round here.  Reminds me of that exchange from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum:

Pseudolus (to Hysterium):  Calm yourself! I’ll tell you when it’s time to panic!

Miles Gloriosus (menacingly):  I smell mischief here…

Pseudolus:  It’s time.

To the paper-products aisle!

UPPITTYDATE DEUX:  75% Chance of a direct or indirect hit on Port Swiller Manor.  DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!


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October 2012