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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo did his time in the box yesterday afternoon.  These days, I go to confession on average about once a month or so.  (Unless, of course, I’ve been unusually naughty.  You know what a wild child Ol’ Robbo can be!  Whoa, Nellie!)

Kidding aside, I often feel a bit sheepish going in, because I usually don’t have all that much to say.  (I think my record penance – apart from my first confession when I swam the Tiber – is something like three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers.)  But I always end with a plea for forgiveness of all of my past sins, especially those that I don’t remember.

This is critical to me:  Ol’ Robbo doesn’t hold grudges or let the sun go down on his wrath.  This is a good thing, but the flip side is that I also tend to forget if I’ve done wrong by somebody else.  Even if I try to examine my conscience at the end of the day, I know that I’ll miss some of my own sinfulness.  After a while, I can feel these things building up, almost like mold or rust on my soul.  So the two alternatives are either carrying a notepad around and scribbling down all my bads in real time, which is insane, or else counting on God’s omniscience and mercy and my own sincerity when I add the catch-all.

I suspect that if I put all this to my Padre, he’d only laugh. But he’s the one who beats the drum so often about the importance of regular confession, so here I am, Father, with my sense of guilt present and ready for inspection!


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

No, no, not that Swamp.  I’m sure you’re all as exhausted of that wretched biznay as is Ol’ Robbo, and anyway, I try to take weekends off.

Instead, I mean the swamp I discovered the grounds of Port Swiller Manor to be when I went out to mow this morning.  The ground has never really dried out completely all summah, but we had so much rain this past week that it was mostly oozy mud under the grass.  I went ahead and mowed it anyway, even though I probably trenched things up a bit, especially in the shadier areas.  It needed it, and besides I may not have the opportunity next weekend.  Meanwhile, my never-mow neighbor is completely humped.  His lawn is up over a foot and a half now, but he has a riding mower (inherited from the previous occupant) that probably would sink out of sight if he tried to run it today.  (As a matter of fact, I now think the reason he hasn’t mown lately is that he finally managed to break the thing by running over something he shouldn’t have.  He’s pretty reckless when it comes to rocks and sticks.)

Meanwhile, a tad of color here and there in the trees, the first leaves are starting to fall, and the goldfinch are losing their summah coloring.  I also haven’t seen the hummingbirds in a week or two, and wonder if they’ve hightailed it out of Dodge already.

One of the half-whiskey barrels out front has reached the end times: Its metal bands have snapped and the slats are buckled at the breakpoint.  Mrs. R had already planted the fall mums, and we only need the thing to last us a month or two more, so I am thinking that maybe I can just bind it up with something for the time being.

“What will you use,” asked Mrs. R.

“I don’t know yet,” I replied, “But I promise I won’t try to duct-tape it.”

Mrs. R had the goodness to laugh heartily.

UPDATE:  In re the barrel, I went with a couple turns of manila rope.  It doesn’t especially stand out, and lends a subtle, rustic air.  (Mrs. R probably won’t like it, but too bad.)

Also, my neighbor must be a friend of the decanter, because he got out this evening and chopped back the savannah after all.

UPDATE DEUX:  Nope, hummingbird spotted this (Sunday) morning.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Long-time Friend of the Decanter, the lovely and talented Groovy Vic, mentioned Tom Hanks in a comment below.  By a singular coincidence, I see today that he’s set to play Fred “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” Rogers in an upcoming movie.


Ol’ Robbo thinks Hanks is a pretty decent actor, especially when he’s playing a Middle-American Everyman kind of character, so I suppose he’d do okay.

As for his subject? Well, we watched “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on a pretty regular basis in my misspent yoot, but we did so mostly to jeer it, egged on in this by the Mothe.  We’d speculate, for instance, about what was being done to Ol’ Fred behind the scenes to give him his King Friday voice.  We’d wonder what else Mr. McFeely, the Speedy Delivery guy, was carting about the neighborhood.  (And his name wrote its own jokes, of course.)  And Lady Aberlin was known as “Crunchy-Girl” to us because of her Lefty-looking face.

Although it happened long after we stopped watching, I recall the rumor that Rogers was dabbling in sex-education.  We therefore produced a little ditty that we imagined he might sing: “Everybody’s fancy/ Everybody’s fine/ You’ve got your thing/ and I’ve got mine!”

Good times.  Good times.

I believe the Mothe encouraged us in our mockery because she detested Rogers’ treacly pablum and feared any young lad who took it seriously would turn into a sniveling, easily-manipulated, gender-conflicted soy-boy.

Wise woman, my mother.



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Checking the mailbox this evening, Ol’ Robbo found four fliers from the County Election Board addressed, respectively, to Self, Mrs. Robbo, and the two Elder Gels.  The fliers contained information related to this November’s mid-term elections, including confirmation of our polling place and details on where, when, and how to pick up and send in absentee ballots.

The usual stuff, yes, but it was neat to hold the fliers in my hand and contemplate the fact that Port Swiller Manor is now a four-vote household.  (Youngest will be old enough to vote in 2020.)

Ironically, up until a week or two ago, I don’t think any of the ladies had all that much interest in this November.  Let’s just say that with all the recent Supreme Court nomination shenanigans, that attitude has changed.  Emphatically.  And probably not the way those responsible for said shenanigans would have liked.



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Over at Ace’s place this morning,**** one of the Moron Horde, in response to a link put up by Sefton in his Morning Report about some whizz-bang new piece of technology, commented, “I would say anything prefixed with the word ‘smart’ is bad news for individual liberty.”

I was impressed enough with this comment to scribble it down (in good, old-fashioned ink on a good, old-fashioned note pad), in part because I think there is much in it, and in part because it reminded me of a funny thing that happened just yesterday.

As far as the general validity of the comment goes, Ol’ Robbo is routinely horrified by “smart” technology such as Alexi and the various GPS driver-direction aids.******  (Self-driving cars are right out.)  I haven’t seen it myself because I don’t watch much teevee, but I read just recently about an Alexi ad in which I gather some new Dad asks Alexi for baby-care tips and at the end Alexi is complimented as being the “best” parent.  Hello?  And regular friends of the decanter will know Ol’ Robbo has long held the view that when Skynet goes active, one of its first moves will be to steer every GPS-dependent yo-yo driver straight into an ambush.  On a more serious note, I am continually conscious that every time I interact with “smart” technology and give it some piece of personal data, that data – however small – is being collected by whoever is behind said technology.  And you may make all the tinfoil hat jokes you want, but I don’t like it.

As to the funny thing, Ol’ Robbo got trapped in a meeting yesterday morning with half a dozen of his work colleagues.  Before we got down to the (completely useless) agenda, talk circled round to the new building currently under construction into which we will be moving some time next year.  (It’s going to be hell.  The offices, so I understand, are half the size of our current ones, my daily lunchtime walks will be at an end,  and I’m going to have to go back to using the Metro because its location will entail simply too much damned downtown driving.  On the other hand, the move will be enough to finally prod Ol’ Robbo into signing up for teleworking twice a week, so at least it’s got that going for it.)

Anyhoo, there was much cooing amongst my colleagues about all the sooper-smart whistles and bells with which the new digs will be equipped, especially the “eco-friendly” ones.  “Did you know?” said one of them, “The lighting in the new office will automatically brighten or dim….based on the amount of sunshine coming in through the windows?”

Oooooh…aaaaahh!” enthused the others (all wymminz) in that smug, self-satisfied, virtue-signaling tone that Ol’ Robbo can’t stand.

“That’s all well and good,” I replied, “But I hope the system has manual overrides.  I don’t mind considering suggestions from the technology around me, but I’ll be damned if I take orders from it.  I’m not quite ready to surrender my autonomy to robots or their overlords, however benevolent their alleged intent.”

It suddenly got awfully quiet.  As if Ol’ Robbo had farted in church.

“Well,” one of them eventually said, “You can always bring in a lamp if you think you need to.”

Lor’ lumme, stone the crows.


** Spot the reference.  Hint: “Blood…..blood…..”

**** I can’t linky to Ace’s place in the body of a post, although it’s in my blogroll and I hope all of you are regulars there.  The last couple times I’ve gone over there on my laptop, I’ve gotten this weird pop-up, complete with very loud audio, claiming to be from Microsoft.  The pitch is that there is something deathly wrong with my software, and that I need to call them right away with my credit card in hand so that they can fix it.  (The scam doesn’t affect my phone or work computer, perhaps because I only use them to read.)

****** Dumb technology, on the other hand, appeals deeply to Ol’ Robbo.  For instance, recently I’ve been thinking that it would be a really cool idea to come up with a tire that has a brightly-colored layer of rubber embedded in the tread.  When you start to see that color coming through, you know it’s time to buy new tires.  (They already do this with toothbrushes, so why not?)  I’ve been thinking about this again since the Elder Gels left for school and I can’t eyeball the tires on their cars anymore.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was delighted to see, upon returning to Port Swiller Manor this cool and rainy evening, that Mrs. R had removed all the summah annuals from the half whiskey barrels out front and substituted multi-colored clusters of chrysanthemums.  I don’t much care for mums in and of themselves, but I do love what they represent, namely the onset of my very favorite season of the year.

Coming inside in a cheerful mood, then, I found Mrs. R and Youngest lounging about in the mawster bedroom, spit-balling about possible college choices for the Gel.  After chatting with them for a few moments, I turned to Youngest and told her to scoot, as I wished to take a shower.

“Oh, just close the doors.  She won’t come in,” said Mrs. R.

Well, I figured that.  But we have French doors between the bedroom and our bathroom, and from certain angles….well, Robbo is pretty draconian when it comes to his Personal Space.

Grumbling, I began to gather clothes to change into after my ablutions.  For several minutes, I looked about for my favorite light pull-over, as the evening seemed to cry out for it.  Baffled in my search through my sweater shelves, I went back into the bedroom, only to discover that Mrs. R was wearing the thing herself.

“I got cold,” she explained.

“So,” I said, “I don’t get any privacy, and people are stealing my clothes.  What do I take from that?”

“It means you’re home,” said Mrs. R.  Youngest snorted in mirth.


Related to that, have friends of the decanter ever experienced that weird sensation where you’ve never heard of a term before and then you suddenly hear a bunch of references to it all at once?  For Ol’ Robbo, the term in question is “lawnmower parents”.  Until this weekend, it was completely unknown to me.  I’ve seen it half a dozen times from half a dozen different sources since then.

The Great Big Book Of Everything*** defines lawnmower parents thusly:

Parents who try to remove all the difficulties that their children might have to deal with:  She criticized lawnmower parents, who try to come in and literally smooth out an obstacle in a child’s path.

(If you ask Ol’ Robbo how this term is different from “helicopter parents“, I confess that I’d be stumped.  Apparently, though, there is some kind of subtle distinction.)

At any rate, this kind of behavior is one of the great current traps in parenting raising children, as far as Ol’ Robbo is concerned.  Of course you want your child to have the Good Things and be spared the Bad Things.  But that’s Emotion talking.  Reason points out that the world is full of Bad Things, that they are unavoidable, and that the Best Thing you can do for your child is to ensure that he or she has the equipment for dealing with them him or herself.  And nothing endows a kid with said skills-set better than good, old-fashioned experience.

I was thinking about this today, because both the Elder Gels called me to say hello, and in each conversation I heard horror stories about new college kidz who, confronted with their apparent first doses of adversity, freaked out and did very stupid, self-destructive things.

What a generation.

I also thought back to my own misspent yoot.  My parents were of the Silent Generation, and although they did everything they could to both pull themselves up and provide my siblings and me a better life, they hadn’t the least notion of exempting any of us from attendance at the School of Hard Knocks.

I remembered my time in Middle School (a horror for anybody).  In particular, I recall getting into a fight with a psychopathic kid who was trying to bully me in the bus line after school.  After he’d been at it for a bit, I hauled off and clocked him.  He was both bloodied and dumbfounded (I’d spent a lot of time doing landscaping work for the Old Gentleman and was somewhat stronger than anybody expected), but came back at me, and we mixed it up unto the long arm of the law descended and marched us off to see Mr. Roach (yes, really), the Assistant Principal.

This was 1978 in South Texas, and paddling was still a valid disciplinary action.  I got sent home with a note seeking permission for Mr. Roach to apply five of the best to my backside for fighting.

I showed the note to my parents and explained what happened.  They looked grave and said that although I had done the right thing in defending myself, rules were rules and I’d have to take the official consequences as well.  But I knew that they were proud of me, too.

How many modern lawnmower parents would take that stance?

The result?  Ol’ Robbo felt good about sticking up for himself and whupping that punk.  (The credit I gained amongst my classmates didn’t hurt much, either.)  As for the paddling? I knew my parents were right, and faced the consequences of my actions, well, like a Man.

Again, how many snowflake children of lawnmower parents would experience that kind of personal growth?

(In the end, though, I must confess that I only got one swat, while the punk got the Full Monty. This was even after Mr. Roach asked me if I would ever do it again.  I said that if some bastard started something, of course I’d defend myself, rules be damned.  I think he also appreciated my position – unofficially, of course.)


***If you had small younglings round about the turn of the Millennium, you probably get this reference.



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

My apologies to those two or three of you looking in vain for this week’s Saturday gardening and Sunday go-to-meeting posts, but the fact is that Ol’ Robbo was away for “families weekend” at Eldest’s school, which we felt we should attend since she’s a transfer this year even though she’s a junior.  (We also used it as an excuse to drag along Youngest in order to get her more focused on this whole college thing.)

All in all, in fact a very pleasant weekend.  Friday evening, we took the Gel and her three roommates out for pizza.  These roommates, who all lived together last year, have gone out of their way to make the Gel feel welcomed and included, so we felt it was the least we could do by way of saying thank-you.  (It turns out that one of the roommates spent last summah working at a restaurant on Lon Guyland owned by Mrs. R’s first cousin’s wife.  Howz about that for a small world!)

Saturday, we pretty much ignored all the “planned activities” that the school put on for the weekend.  Instead, the Gel just took us round the campus, showing us her apartment, the various buildings in which she takes classes, and the more interesting common areas.  We were done in an hour or two, so after grabbing some lunch and making the ritual pilgrimage to the campus bookstore, we all went back over to my brother’s house (where we were staying) and spent the afternoon watching collage football.  (My brother has kids at Virginia Tech, Clemson, and South Carolina, so this is a fairly serious matter for them.)

I’d say it was good to see the Gel, except that she was home just last weekend because of the hurricane.  But it was gratifying to see her happy in her new alma mater, and to get a bit closer peek at her life there.

Today, we slogged back home.  What a difference 24 hours makes! Yesterday, we trudged about in 90 degree heat under a clear, blazing sky.  Today, the temperature is around 60 degrees, and it’s raining steadily.  Fall is BACK, baybee!

We’ll be doing the same drill in a few weeks for Middle Gel (including again dragging along the Youngest).  Since she’s a freshman, we’re planning to actually do more of the planned stuff, which I think involves both a football game and a dinner.  But I’m sure the ritual visit to the campus bookstore will be included in the itinerary, too.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

This week Youngest Gel started evening swim practices in anticipation of her high school team getting under way in about a month or so.  (This will be her third year on the varsity, he mentioned gratuitously.)

As we drove home after I picked her up, she began talking about how lovely the moon was up in the sky in front of us.  This led to a discussion about sunlight and starlight, and eventually about how light travels.  (What was it Douglas Adams said? It travels so fast that it takes most civilizations thousands of years to realize that it travels at all?)

Eventually, I got round to reeling off what I remember of the speed of light: 12 million miles a minute; it takes about six minutes or so to travel from the Sun to Earth; measuring distances in space by light-years; etc.

“What is a light-year, anyway?” the Gel asked.

“Well,” I said, “It’s the distance light travels in one year.  Remember how I said 12 million miles a minute?  So multiply that by sixty to get miles per hour, then multiply that by twenty-four to get miles per day, and multiply that by three hundred sixty-five to get an approximation of the distance of a light year.  I don’t know the exact number, but I do know it’s awfully big.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her lips moving as she did a quick and dirty calculation in her head, her eyes steadily widening.

“Well, okay.  How far away are the stars, then?” she asked.

“That varies, of course, ” I replied.  “Alpha Centauri is our nearest neighbor at about two light-years’ distance.  On the other hand, Betelgeuse, the left shoulder of the constellation of Orion, is 500 light years off.  Others are at different distances, some very much farther than that.”

“Five hundred!” she exclaimed.  “Are you telling me that the light I see on Orion’s shoulder left it 500 years ago? Like when Columbus had just arrived in the Americas?”

“Yippers,” I said. “And for all we know, it could have gone supernova or even disappeared altogether any time between then and now and we wouldn’t even know it until the effects got here.”

The Gel huddled herself together, an awe-struck look on her face.

“This is seriously freaking me out,” she said.

Ol’ Robbo, for one, is glad that the Gel had this reaction.  Not only am I pleased at her grasp of the physical concepts (and math) involved, I also believe it demonstrates a proper sense of humility.

It’s also one that I happen to share.  When looking about God’s Creation, I can’t think of anything more humbling than contemplating interstellar distances (unless it’s geological time, another of my favorite things to noodle).

Oh, and obligatory (not because I like the movie – I don’t much – but because I often sing it in the shower and it’s also my chief reference for quick and dirty facts of this sort):


“Walking the Plank” by Howard Pyle

Avast, ye grog-swilling lubbers! And will ye be raising a glass to International Talk Like A Pirate Day, now? N’yar, indeed!


Sorry, I can’t keep up the accent very long.

In any event, it is quite fitting that, today of all days, Ol’ Robbo finished reading for the first time Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood. (The Penguin Classics edition features this Pyle painting on its cover.)

What fun! Nobody would ever mistake it for “literature”, but it’s a damned well-written adventure story, crisp, quick, and to the point.  And it is perfectly evident that Sabatini did his homework on nautical lore in general, and on the doings of the Dons, the Brethren of the Coast, and the other powers at play in the Caribbean Basin in the 1680’s in particular.  (The introduction to the Penguin edition by Gary Hoppenstand, once you get past all the P.C. virtue-signaling about Sabatini writing for a sexist, racist, homophobic, blah, blah, blah, market, has a fascinating discussion of how much historickal material the author pinched from the exploits of Henry Morgan.)  What one would call a “ripping good yarn” and well worth inclusion in my collection of similar historickal fiction by authors such as P.C. Wren, Rider Haggard, Conon-Doyle, Kipling, and George Macdonald Fraser.  (I don’t include Patrick O’Brian in this list, because in his case I would argue his writing does rise up to the level of “literature”.)

And because I knew it before I read the book, I can’t help referring here to the Errol Flynn movie of the same name.  Here, I was pleasantly surprised.  The movie simplifies the story considerably, but whoever wrote the screenplay was evidently a fan of the novel because they got the characters – appearance, mode of speech, and all – bang right.  Flynn is Blood.  Basil Rathbone is Levasseur. Even Lionel Atwill is Col. Bishop.  (I’d say the lovely and talented Olivia DeHavilland is Arabella Bishop, but as far as Ol’ Robbo is concerned, she can be whatever she wants, wherever she wants, and she’ll still get my stamp of approval.)

Anyhoo, in my recent book-buying outburst I also picked up Sabatini’s The Sea HawkI’ll tackle that one soon and am eager to also compare it to the corresponding Flynn movie, which features the unlovely but strangely attractive Flora Robson as Elizabeth I.  Should I be equally pleased, I will push on to other Sabatini works as well.

Oh, and because ITLAP Day is as good a time as any, may I just say here that Ol’ Robbo has never, ever, been able to make it all the way through any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies without dozing off?  S’true.

At any rate, Yo-Ho, ye scurvy dogs!


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

So am I to understand correctly that the fellah at the wheel of the Honda Pilot in front of me this afternoon was smart enough to attend UVA, Princeton, and Harvard, but not smart enough to realize that placing their respective college decals on the inside of a tinted rear window renders them nearly invisible? Inquiring minds want to know.

As the days start to draw in a bit, Ol’ Robbo is beginning to encounter again that dawn/dusk twilight phenomenon, the yo-yo who doesn’t think he has to turn on his headlights because he can see well enough without them.  (They come out in the rain and fog, too.)  How is it that such morons inevitably drive gray or dark blue cars?

The return to twilight driving also reminds me that half the dashboard lights in La Wrangler are burned out and that I can’t see my speedometer anymore.  I had the idea of replacing them myself last winter, and even went so far as to buy a new set, but after doing some on-line research, I concluded that this is a task which is probably just a wee bit beyond my limited auto mechanic skillz, and that perhaps I’d be better off just taking the new bulbs down to the corner gas station and asking them to switch them in.  (I don’t dare go to the dealership – Heaven only knows what other major issues they’d “find” if they got La Wrangler in their clutches again.  Last time I had her in to cure the “Death Wobble“, I’m pretty sure they deliberately sabotaged the rear differential, thus requiring me to bring her back and spend beaucoup more bucks to rebuild the damned thing.)


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September 2018