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Because no blood for oil.  Or something.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has a gardening question for fellow friends of teh decanter.

As most of said FotD probably know, we are in the midst of adding a screened porch to teh backside of Port Swiller Manor.  Said porch is elevated a floor above ground level since the Manor is built on a hillside.   Therefore, I am faced with the problem of what to do with the half-dozen wooden columns that stick up out of teh turf supporting said porch.

And, for general reference, the front faces north-east and gets, at best, something about five or six hours of sun light in teh summah months.

One part of me said to cover teh space over with camilla or ligustrum.   But while this would cover up teh knock knees of teh porch, it also would effectively block out all the windows in the basement, thus rendering said basement into a bat cave.

Teh other part said to put some kind of climber or shrub on teh columns, allowing it to fill out in a way as to screen the area beneath without cutting it off completely.   Oh, and without teh deer glomming it back to its roots.   The three candidates that rattled into my mind were jasmine, honeysuckle and crepe myrtle.

Frankly, I would prefer vine to tree,  So there’s that.   I think I’d also prefer jasmine to honeysuckle, for no other reason than personal bias.

I guess my question is:  Has any friend of teh decanter dealt with such an issue?  Does anyone have something to say, good or bad, about any of my choices?  Or maybe can you suggest something else?

Inquiring Robbos want to know….



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

No, you didn’t read that title wrong.   Miss Cyrus’ outburst teh other evening at whatever the Hollywood shindig was (and which I will not dignify with a description here) actually proved beneficial at Port Swiller Manor.

You see, I was lounging in the Port Swiller library, working my way through the Peej O’Rourke cycle (which I do every couple years) when teh eldest (now 15 y.o.) gel suddenly appeared, quivering with indignation.

“DAD!” she exclaimed, “Have you heard about what Miley Cyrus did?!! And on tee-vee!! And on a show that was supposed to be “teen-appropriate”!  I mean, what is that?!!”

Oh, ol’ Robbo knows what to do with a hanging curve ball left out over the plate.

“Yes, sweetie,”I replied lazily, “I’ve read about all that.  All I can say is that, disgusting as it was, I’m not the slightest bit surprised.”

“WHAT?” she answered, nearly hitting the ceiling with fury.

“Oh, yes,” I said, “Defining deviancy downward and all that.  Let me explain….”

And I talked about the cult of celebrity.  And I talked about self-consuming decadent hedonism.  And I talked about Feminism and its reduction of sex to mere self-gratification.  And I talked about lowering bars and Miley’s efforts to top “Lady Gaga” and the latter’s efforts to top “Madonna”, and so on and so on.   I touched on all the “reality” and “talent” shows that seem to be so popular, but which, so far as I gather, seem to be focused primarily on people determined to make fools of themselves so long as such foolishness gets them in teh spotlight.  I even managed to slip in references to Sodom and Gomorrah and teh pure evil of secular humanism.  And to put the cap on it, I was able to point out that the traditional values regarding dignity, self worth and sexuality, based of old-fashioned Judeo-Christianity and assumed as a matter of course twenty or thirty years ago, and which Mrs. R and I have tried to instill in teh gels, recently have become downright counter-cultural.   Indeed, I noted my semi-joking belief that sooner or later men in trench-coats and ear-pieces are going to appear at the door of Port Swiller Manor in the middle of the night and invite ol’ Robbo to go for a ride……

Now, I’ve bloviated on such topics to teh gels many a time and oft before.  Usually, all I’ve gotten for my effort has been a roll of the eyes and some muttered comment about crazy old Dad living in the 18th Century.  What I have Miss Cyrus to thank for here is that this time, teh gel actually listened to my rant.

As Washington Nationals’ tee-vee play-by-play guy Bob Carpenter likes to say when a Nat hits a dinger, “See!  You! Later!!

Sigh,” she finally said.  “Why did I have to be born in such awful times?”

“Just chance,” I said, “And they are, indeed, awful.  But be thankful for your birth,  play the hand you’re dealt, and try to live by what you know is right.  Why do you suppose I ignore so much of the trash around us?  Truth always remains Truth, whether it’s popular or not.”

“Um,” she replied meditatively.

Given her usual responses to my didactic efforts, I call that a win.

And speaking of such, I also opined that Miss Cyrus’ motive in making an ass of herself on stage had something to do with promoting her latest album.   I have not verified this independently, but the eldest gel informs me that there has not been any spike in downloads of the big song on said album since Miss Cyrus’ outburst.

As I say, I don’t know if this is true, but I like to think that Miss Cyrus’s excesses and the evident backlash against them suggest that the pendulum has finally peaked in its arc and is getting ready to swing in the other direction.  Lawd Almighty, I certainly hope so.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has noticed of late that certain producers of SUV’s are now offering some kind of New and Improved Technology® whereby, assuming your hands are full, all you need to do in order to get the back hatch open is kick some kind of sensor underneath the chassis, causing said hatch to swing upward.

Frankly, this puzzles me.

Let’s assume first that the car is locked, say in a parking lot somewhere.   On the one hand, surely the technology doesn’t permit any random thug to shove his toes under the back bumper and pop the hatch?  On the other hand, if you have to fish in your pockets to get out your keys to unlock the car before you apply the foot, well, don’t you already have a hand free anyway?

Well, okay.  Then let’s assume the car is unlocked, say in your garage or driveway.  Um, if you’re home already, what’s to stop you opening the hatch before you fill up your arms with parcels or bags or coolers or whatever it is?

Frankly, I’m puzzled.

Either I’m missing some critical piece of the math here, or else the auto industry is trying to foist a useless technology on a gullible publick.  (And using it as an excuse to up the purchase price.)

Friends of the decanter probably know which way I’m leaning…..

UPDATE:   Yes, I seem to have missed the math.  From teh  comments, I gather that the technology involves some kind of radio-frequency device that one keeps about one’s person and that teh car “reads” when one is near, after which said car activates its various electronic thingies, including the foot sensor that was the object of my initial snark.

Eh, so I made a fool of myself to the two or three friends of the decanter who still drop by, rambling on about a non-existent issue.   On teh other hand, I will say that when SkyNet initiates its primary function and all those fob-enabled vehicles start eating their owners (“Fob? Nom…Nom…Nom…), I’m simply going to insert my good, old-fashioned key into my good, old-fashioned Wrangler and head for teh hills.   I may even laugh….

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, the Middle Gel left this morning for choir camp somewhere down around Richmond, thus kicking off the O-fficial Port Swiller Manor academic year.  (Regular classes resume after Labor Day for all three gels. 10th, 8th and 6th grades, respectively.  Yikes.)  If I may borrow a hoary cliché, where in Heaven’s name did the summah go?  For that matter, where did the entire past year go?  I know I’m starting to get a bit older and I also know that we had more than the usual number of alarums and excursions this past twelve months, but I simply cannot remember another one that blew by so very quickly.

Speaking of summah,  either Heat Miser got furloughed under the Sequester or else AlGore has taken up residence in the vicinity, because this year has been for the most part absolutely delightful in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor.

Also speaking of summah, as in “boys of”,  I can’t help noticing that Robbo’s beloved Nats are on a 5-game winning streak.  As Ace likes to say, is this a thing?  Because I think it might be a thing.   I won’t even touch the playoff math here, but instead just wanted to say how nice it is to see the guys playing the way we know they can.  Also to say, of course, GO, NATS!!!

And finally, speaking of team chemistry, we have not yet found it among the feline population here at teh Manor.  The two new kittehs, even though they were from separate litters, get along like Damon and Pythias.  However, the elder cat has decided she absolutely hates the pair of them and will attack if not watched.   I’m not quite sure what to do about this.  If the younglings were a bit bigger, I’d simply let them fight it out until a balance is struck, but as it is they’re really too small to defend themselves.   Just what ol’ Robbo needs – more female squabbling.

Well, off to Mass.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo had another one of his patented weirdo dreams last evening.  Since they seem to be popular reading among regular friends of the decanter, I thought I would pass it along.

In it, I found myself in the front hall of the parental house I in which I spent the majority of my misspent yoot down in Texas.  This time, however, it was my house and I was interviewing a fellah who had come to mow the lawn.  He was a tall, slick, smiling man.  Although all I wanted was to have the grass cut, he wouldn’t stop telling me all the other things I really ought to have done, both inside and outside.

Finally, I managed to bustle him out the door, smiling somewhat less than he had been before.   But as he left, I suddenly remembered that there was some particular patch of grass that, for some reason or other, I didn’t want cut.  I started to walk round the side of the house in order to catch him up, but by this time he was on one of those three-wheeled motorcycles that are becoming fashionable and was already well along a dirt road that seemed to run into the back yard.

I started walking up the road and suddenly realized just how large the yard was – acres and acres stretching away in every direction and, for some reason, a lot of cars parked around a gate up ahead of me.

I noticed some other things, too, including a long wire fence along the side of the dirt road and several untended garden plots of which I had no recollection.  I found myself looking forward to planting the gardens during the next growing season.

Finally, I turned and looked at the side of the house.   The basement (we didn’t actually have one in our real house) was open to the outside through a curved, brick-lined entrance that gave it a kind of grotto look.  “Oh, no,” I thought, “There might be bees.”  But then I remembered that the passage from the basement to the rest of the house had been sealed up from the inside so felt that there now wasn’t a problem.

I then looked at the upper floor and beheld attached to teh wall a road sign that said “I-190 This Exit” with an arrow.  (I-190 is the interstate that runs out of O’Hare and links up with the highway system around the western side of Chicago.  A couple years ago I had a case out in western Illinois and whenever I drove to Peoria or Moline from Chi I always started on this road.  Why it should remain in my braims now, I really couldn’t say.)

Finally, I topped a little swell in the path and looked out again at the yard.  It occurred to me then that I had completely forgotten why I didn’t want that particular patch mown.  In fact, I could see the patch in front of me – rayther tall grass and a few weeds – and it certainly looked ripe for the cutting.  I couldn’t see the lawn guy anymore anyway.

“Oh, to hell with it,” I said to myself and started to turn back.

And then, as they say, I woke up.

I suppose all this had something to do with the ongoing construction work at Port Swiller Manor, a job estimated back at the beginning of June to take about six weeks, but with which they still aren’t done, although they’re now close enough to finished that we were able to have dinner out on the new porch last evening.  All I know is that the day when the port-swiller driveway no longer sports a Port-O-John is going to be a red-letter one ’round here.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo managed to polish off three books during his week of summah hols, all of which were new to me.  I pass on my snap, heavily-condensed reviews for what they’re worth.

The first two books are by that long-time favorite of mine, George MacDonald Fraser.  Regular friends of the decanter will recall that ol’ Robbo often has praised Fraser’s hy-larious yet informative Victorian romps in his Flashman series,¹ as well as his equally entertaining yet more profound recollections of his own WWII service in Quartered Safe Out Here and the McAuslan stories.  What I might not have made clear in these past accolades was Fraser’s extensive involvement with the movie industry.  Among other things, he wrote the screenplay for the hugely entertaining early 70’s films, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers.  He also wrote the Bond film Octopussy and was involved in both Force Ten from Navarone and the rayther dull Ah-nold movie Red Sonja.

Anyhoo, this week I read two of Fraser’s more Hollywood-centric books, The Light’s On At Signpost and The Hollywood History of the World.   TLOAS is an interesting sort of fin-de-sicle piece, combining insider-baseball stories of the film world with Fraser’s rayther jaundiced view of the state of Western Civilisation in the early 2000’s.   The former are fun peeks into an alien culchah.  The latter drip with bitterness.   Indeed, I have to confess that some of them are even too strong for me, the prime example being Fraser’s opinion that Jesus, based on his ability to eject the money-changers from the Temple, evidently was a hulking, burly fellah and that he probably faked his death on teh Cross and merely returned instead of being resurrected.   I revel in his bashing of Tony Blair and New Labour, but this sort of thing goes too far for me.  Oh, and speaking of the McAuslan stories, this book finally discloses the real story of Wee Wullie and why the Colonel was so protective of him.  I must say that in this case, truth was far more astounding than fiction.  God bless.

THHOTW is a straight-forward appreciation of the various stages of development of Western Civilisation and Hollywood’s treatment of same.   We go from Biblical Times to the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance to the British Empire to the American West to the 20th Century.   I had thought that Fraser’s book would be devoted primarily to What Hollywood Got Wrong, largely in terms of dialogue, costume, props and the like.  There is plenty of this, but Fraser not only also points out what teh films got Right, he goes beyond this question to examine how Hollywood captured what we think about these various periods, what we cherish and what we revile.  In the last section, he shakes his head at the gratuitous violence glorified in gangster and vigilante movies, from Edward G. Robinson up through Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.  (Oddly, there is no mention of The Godfather and its progeny.)  The book was published in 1988, before the rise of the current crop of slasher/horror movies.  What Fraser would have made of, for example,  a successful franchise concerning a psychopath who forces people to saw off their own limbs in order to escape him, I shudder to think.

I suppose my only puzzled objection to the second book is the fact that, in the section on the British Empire, no mention whatsoever is made of The Man Who Would Be King.  Fraser is, if nothing else, an admirer of Kipling, and I’m astounded that he didn’t at least give a nod to this particular film.

T’other book I read was Rooster:  The Life And Times Of The Real Rooster Cogburn, the Man Who Inspired ‘True Grit’ by Brett Cogburn (great-grandson of said Rooster).  I’d say that you probably need to be a real Clinton Portis junkie (and is this a bad thing?) to enjoy this one.    The “real” Rooster turns out to have been a moonshiner in the mountains of Arkansas southeast of Fort Smith in the 1880’s who  did time for the murder of a deputy U.S. Marshall bent on breaking up his distilling operations.  I dunno if it’s fair to say that the real Rooster inspired Portis’s creation, but it is absolutely certain that the author’s researches led him right through the Cogburn family history, as well as those of other contemporary local events and persons.   There are just too many names and occurrences in common between the actual history and the novel for such to be otherwise.   But as I say, I’m not sure anyone would be particularly interested if they weren’t already fans of True Grit.   (By the bye, the Mothe insists that this book is THE authentic American novel, compared to which Twain’s Huck Finn is a load of sentimentalist twaddle.  I’m inclined to agree.)

So there you go.  I recommend any and all of these books.   But then again, you know your host.  Cum grano salis, indeed.

1  Just as an aside in re Flashy,  I become increasingly intrigued by what Fraser would have done with him in the American Civil War, had he lived long enough to write that particular section of the Flashman Papers.   There are enough hints in teh other books that I have resolved, the next time I go through ’em, to jot down every scrap of information I can find about what Fraser had in mind in re story arc.  Would it be completely presumptuous of me to attempt to write such a novel myself?  Probably.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, Ol’ Robbo is home from summah vac.

On the one hand, I’ve nothing much to blog about re said vac, it being pretty much as advertised in teh post below.

On teh other hand, I haven’t been near teh innertoobs, a teevee or a noozpaper in a week, so I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on and therefore won’t offer my two cents on current events.   (I will, however, pass on this FWIW:  Coming around I-495 outside of Bahston yesterday,  I observed a young woman on an overpass holding up an “Impeach Obama” sign and waving at the traffic flowing by underneath.  Just sayin’.)

So my immediate post-vac blogging comes down to this:  I couldn’t help noticing on my travels the increasing prevalence of the electronic distance/time indicators.  You know, the signs that read something like, “Exit 18 – 15 miles/15 minutes.”

These signs are patently absurd.   I don’t know how their owners go about reaching these determinations, but I can tell you it shore ain’t got anything to do with actual observation.

Take the example above, a fairly typical one.  It’s obviously based on the assumption that traffic is flowing normally.  It’s also (even to an English major like me) based on a formula dictating  that normal traffic flows at 60 m.p.h.  Pfft!  All as I have to say to that is God help anyone fool enough to travel at 60 on I-95 and who cares about his rear bumper.   The average speed on that particular artery is something closer to 80.   (And even when I was doing 85, I was getting passed.  Goddam Murrland drivers!)

On the other hand, when there’s been an accident or especially bad congestion, such signs are even more useless.   Traffic sorts itself out not according to time and distance forumlae, but in fits and starts.   Again, as experience of the Mass Pike demonstrates, unless you’re staffed up with stopwatch-armed spotters, you’re basically only guessing.

My advice to the various state highway departments?  Chuck attempts at precision E.T.A.’s.  Instead, when programming your digital displays, ask yourselves:  What would Chico Marx do?

Normal Traffic:  Eh, At-sah pretty good.

Heavy Traffic:  Well, you gonna be late.

Serious Congestion:  Eh, at-sah no good.  You gonna be a-real late.

Gridlock:  At-sah mattah for you!  Ask me? Get out and walk!

Road closure?  A Harpo look-alike comes out, slashes your tires and sticks peanuts up your tailpipe.  Honk! Honk!

Hey, not only would it be more efficient or informative than the current useless system,  it would be good for a laugh, too.




UPDATE:  Sorry for being so abrupt with teh original post.  Blame Apple.  Yes, this is an original pic of mine of teh cove on Casco Bay, Maine down the cliff from our house.   I plan to spend the next week sitting on the deck above said cove, breathing the sea air, gazing idly at the lobstah boats and sailing craft out on teh water,  chin-wagging with teh Mothe over the same sort of thing I typically post here, imbibing multiple adult beverages, perhaps dipping into Robbo’s vacation reading list and yet, doing absolutely nothing…..

The math on this is not so hard as you might think.  See you on teh other side.  Toodle-pip!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Speaking of “content” as I did in the post below, I had a dream last night that I was on the phone with Ulysses S. Grant.  Our mothers had arranged a play-date for us in which I was to take him on a walking tour of the upper Shenandoah Valley, and I had called in order to finalize the arrangements.   As I spoke, I was strolling about a small cement culvert in the middle of a series of fields and woods, thinking that it actually was the Shenandoah River.

The strange (well, the other strange) part of it was that Grant was very tight-lipped, but at the same time I couldn’t get him off the phone.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  We, I’m really looking forward to this walk.

Grant:  Yep.


Me:  Um, well, I guess you’ll be wanting to get ready….

Grant:  Mmp.


Me:  Yes, well, I really need to get some studying done before then, so…..

Grant:  Ah.

*More crickets*

I didn’t want to just hang up on him because it would have been rude.  At the same time, he just wouldn’t take the hint to ring off.

I awoke without resolving this stalemate.  Lord knows what it might mean.


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August 2013