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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, autumn proceeds apace here in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor. As I look about me, the trees are increasingly dappled with patches of yellow, orange, and brown, and it’s cool enough to lounge comfortably in a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt.

All the Gels are home now for the long weekend, although I’ve only seen them briefly and not all together at the same time. When the younger two aren’t sleeping, they’ve been visiting with Mrs. R’s parents, who happen to have stopped in this weekend on their migration back to Flardah. (Ol’ Robbo currently is banned from their presence because I’m not fully jabbed yet.) But I get ’em all together for dinner this evening. I b’lieve this is the first time it actually feels out of the ordinary to have a full house again.

I never thought to see an article in praise of Breezewood, PA, but here it is. I get what it says about the place being an important waypoint and praising the folks who have stuck it out there (unlike somebody like Kevin Williamson, I’m really not a snob), but that doesn’t change the fact that the stretch between the traffic light at the end of I-70 and the ramps for the Turnpike is one of the ugliest places I know, both in terms of extended truck-stop architecture and bottleneck traffic. (Is there even a downtown? A community somewhere off the strip? I’ve never looked.) And there is such a sense of relief headed southbound once one gets through it that I’m always overcome by the urge to floor it even though the speed limit is only 55 mph. Many, many other folks feel the same way. (The Pennsylvania State Police have been feasting on them for years and years now.)

Speaking of such, I heard a good one recently: In order to pass the Murrland driver’s license test, you have to cross over into Virginia and cause an accident. (It’s funny because it’s true! And actually, Youngest told it to me. She has learned well.)

On a completely different note, Ol’ Robbo recently got the urge to read Moby Dick. (Technically I should say “reread” because I think I had to do so in high school but don’t remember much.) Specifically, I want to understand why it’s considered a classic of American lit. So far, I’m pleasantly surprised by Melville’s occasional outbursts of very playful language, which make me chuckle, and being such an old paper sea-dog from my many years of reading Patrick O’Brian puts me in good stead to follow the maritime workings easily and enjoyably. But my overarching feeling is that what the fellah really needed was an editor armed with a baseball bat. Jumping about outrageously from first to third-person narrative; inserting almost play-like interludes; impossibly intricate run-on sentences; careering wildly off on tangents; and occasional bouts of existential navel-gazing which I have to admit at least aren’t as bad as Thoreau. As Eldest put it, just tell the damned story! I’ve got the Norton Critical Series edition (hand-annotated at some points by the Mothe for some reason), which is jammed with analyses, criticisms, and commentary (plus some droll footnotes pointing out places where Melville cheated on his research), so I’ll probably plow through all that stuff, too.

And now that I reread that paragraph, I see I’m doing it, too. He tasks me!

Whelp, I suppose that’s enough for now. This is a random, not a rant, so I won’t get into a “Wither History In The Reign Of The Neo-Jacobins” discussion of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea this year.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that what actually put Moby Dick into my tiny little brain was re-watching “Major League” the other evening as a sort of wake for the now-disappeared Cleveland Indians. Those of you familiar with the fillum will recall that Tom Berringer reads a comic-book form of the story in order to try and convince Renee Russo that he’s matured. It was his line, referring to the comic, that “this happen to be a classic of American literature” that got Ol’ Robbo wondering why, exactly, the original is so considered.

I have learned over time to simply run with these free associations when they crop up. Seldom am I disappointed.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Nobody, not even my mother, knew what my father’s personal relationship with God was. But of the Old Gentleman’s opinion of organized religion, there was no doubt. In my younger day, he would go on periodic tears about its backwardness and blindness, and almost invariably end up sneering about theology being nothing more than “sitting around arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.” (In the end, he became a regular attendee at the little Episcopal chapel on the island where he and the Mothe spent their final years, and even served on the vestry. I tweaked him about this once and he just mumbled something about “being social”. Uh, huh.)

Anyhoo, I recall a conversation we had one day in the early 80’s. Pope St. John Paul II had just restated the Church’s stance on what are delicately termed “reproductive freedoms” and was getting savaged for it by the press. After listening to a radio nooz report, the Old Gentleman said, “The Pope needs to get with the times!”

Now Ol’ Robbo was only in high school at the time and was not exactly a regular church-goer, and it would be another 25-odd years before I myself swam the Tiber, but even then I thought this was wrong.

“Surely,” I said, “the Pope’s responsibility is to protect the orthodox teachings of the Church from fads and fashions, and to take a mighty close look at anything calling itself ‘reform’ or ‘transformation’ or ‘going forward’ to make sure that there isn’t a wolf lurking under such sheep’s clothing.” (I didn’t put it exactly in those words, but that was the sense of it.)

The Old Gentleman waived my point away dismissively.

I bring this up in light of this Synody Synod of Synodicious Synoditiness which has just opened up in Rome, because I’m hearing and reading those buzzwords again and cannot dismiss all of it as a simple matter of poor translation or media wish-casting. Too many people whose opinions I respect, including my own Padre, are signaling either openly or otherwise that trouble is coming, possibly really big trouble, and that it’s coming not from outside HMC but from within.

As near as I can tell, the push seems to be to take the Church post-modern, to eliminate as much of the antiquated icky-poo as possible, and to start over at Year One worshiping the “god” inside each of us, meaning ourselves. (Did I get that right?) And even if the Synodic Synod of Synodical Synodipity produces only modest change in and of itself, there are plenty of those who eagerly will run with the “spirit” of the thing to cause all sorts of damage and mischief, much as was done in the case of Vatican II.

I was talking with my old pal Father M (who used to blog over at Pater Paterium), not about this Synodiffic Synod of Synodical Synodapalooza, but about the general direction of things under Father Bergoglio. He counseled patience, saying, “a fat pope is always followed by a thin pope”. (Where do I mail in my vote for Cardinal Sarah?) I also remind myself that Jesus specifically promised to Peter that not even the gates of hell would prevail against the Church.

Since it’s all out of my hands anyway, I suppose all I can do is pray, sit tight, and see what happens.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Following up on a discussion of sammich meats downstream from here, I tossed a can of Spam into the cart when I went grocery shopping this past weekend.

As I mentioned in the comments to the previous post, Spam and Spaghettio’s seemed to be the go-to dinner of my misspent yoot when my parents were going out. Looking back, I assume the ‘rents figured (not unreasonably) that even the most handless of babysitters could serve these up without either poisoning my siblings and me, or else burning the house down.

The other thing I mentioned was the curious fact that while I recalled the fact of eating Spam, I had no memory of the taste of eating Spam. This made me a wee bit apprehensive to try it again after all these years: What if it was really revolting, after all?

Well, I just fried up some slices and clapped them into a sammich with some Kraft American Cheese-Type Processed Food Substance (which I thought fitting – or would Velveeta have been better?), and I can now report that the reason I don’t remember the taste….is that it really doesn’t taste like much of anything at all. Vaguely hammish, vaguely baconny (I cooked it pretty crispy), and a good deal saltier than I recall, but that’s pretty much it.

I suppose that it would make a reasonable sammich foundation if one had a lot of extra condiments to pile on top, but condiments are supposed to enhance the character of the underlying meat, not cover for a lack thereof.

I’ve enough left in the can for another Spammich tomorrow, but having satisfied my curiosity, I don’t feel compelled to buy any more.

Still, there you have it.

**Spot the reference.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Eldest Gel has decided to revisit her Tolkien. (I can’t remember the last time I saw her or her sisters reading for the pure pleasure of it, so this pleases me greatly.)

Although she decided to go back and start with The Hobbit, she seems to be trying to piece together what she remembers from the other books and tie them into the story as she goes along. Yesterday she asked me, “What exactly are Wizards, again?”

Well, she’s not a little girl anymore but a full-fledged adult, so it hardly seemed fitting to fob her off with “Oh, they’re very wise beings with magical powers.” So I told her briefly and off the top of my head about Tolkien’s Creation story. I mentioned Eru, the Valar, the Maiar, and the history of their battle against the dark forces of the fallen Melkor (including Sauron) for control of Arda, and how Gandalf and the other Wizards were a set of Maiar who took bodily form and went into the world to carry on this battle.

The look that crept over her face as I rattled this off was, well, incredulous.

“You are such a nerd!” she said.

What was it Billy Shakespeare said about serpent’s teeth and thankless childs?

Ol’ Robbo might agree that he deserves getting tarred with that epithet were he to bring up the subject on his own, but she asked! She asked!


UPDATE: Heh. Having finished The Hobbit, Eldest said, “Tolkien took two pages to describe the Battle of Five Armies. How the hell did Peter Jackson stretch that out to an entire feature-length movie?”

That’s my gel! Indeed, my very first substantive blog post from back in the very first days of the Llamas (coming up on 18 years ago, now) was a satirical damnation of Jackson and all his works.

And, by the bye, rereading that post just now, two things come to mind. First, Eldest, who I’m pretty certain has not read it, spotted the same flaw. Second, rereading it after all this time, like flipping through an old photo album, fills me with a sort of melancholic blend of fondness and regret over what it was like to be young and full of fresh ideas.

Good times, my fellow port swillers. Good times.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo stumbled across “The Paper Chase” (1973) on TCM last evening. I’d never actually seen the movie before but I was a big fan of the teevee series back in my yoot and would be a liar if I said it didn’t have any impact on my own decision to go to law school.

The movie is kind of awful in its early-70’s look and feel but, like the teevee series, does get some things right about the life of a newbie law student. (At least as it still was 30-odd years ago. My eldest niece is a 1L this year and I’ll be curious to pick her brain about what they’re teaching the kidz these days when I see her at Thanksgiving.)

One of the things that made me smile was when Mr. Haaaart mused about the division of his classmates into categories. There were those who hoped to sneak through class un-noticed and uncalled. There were those fully prepared for a Socratic cross-examination but who kept quiet until called. There were those who volunteered answers and wrangled with the profs. (Mr. Haaaart wanted to be one of the third category.)

At least in my own experience, this was perfectly correct. The vast majority of us fell into the second category. A few lunatics and misfits would show up unprepared, to be occasionally caught and humiliated.*** Then there were the go-getters.

Ol’ Robbo went to a very small school. (I think my class graduated something like 114 altogether.) This meant that everybody knew everybody. Collegiality was strongly encouraged while cut-throat competitiveness was frowned upon. In class, this manifested itself in a game called Asshole Bingo. Somebody would print up and distribute bingo cards with class-member names instead of numbers. If during class somebody volunteered an answer or opinion, you checked off their name on your card. If you got a complete row, in order to win you had to volunteer yourself and somehow incorporate the word “bingo” into your comments.

It proved to be quite entertaining.

There was in particular a trio of students known as the “Three Amigos”. They were far and away the worst of the classroom show-boaters and pretty generally disliked, not just because of their hyper-aggressiveness but also because as often as not it was so useless. (One of them picked a fight with a prof’s bail hearing hypo over whether a Learjet had the range to fly from Roanoke, Virginny to Rio without stopping to refuel. Another got into a spat with a different prof over the correct pronunciation of “gaol”. The third had come from a career in local teevee news and posed every question as if she were Sam Donaldson trying to catch out President Reagan in a lie.) If you managed to get a card with all of their names on it, you knew you would coast to victory.

Good times. Good times.

***This happened to Ol’ Robbo exactly once. My first year crim pro professor was a legendary Socratic terror. Nonetheless, I gave into temptation and went on a Mardi Gras barhop instead of prepping. Sure enough, he skinned me properly next morning. I’d had a feeling it would happen and said so several times over the course of the evening. To this day I’m convinced one of his upper class students overheard me and tipped him off. (As I say, everybody knew everybody. A real fishbowl.)

Burying the lede UPDATE: I forgot to mention that, substantively, “Paper Chase” tracked very closely with my own experience of contract law class. In fact, the very first case we noobies faced was the “Hairy Hand” case, Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114, 146 (S.P. N.H. 1929).**** Fellah contracts with a surgeon to graft some of his chest skin on to his burnt hand. The graft sprouts hair. Hy-larity ensues. Looking back now, it strikes Ol’ Robbo that this is something of a screwball to serve up to innocents looking to master the basic concepts of offer, acceptance, and consideration, but what do I know? But I bring it up mostly because I’m reasonably sure this same case came up early on in teh “Paper Chase” series, and that I recall being delighted by this fact when I got my first assignment in skool.

No, I’m not a nerd. Shut up.

BTB, I pulled my contracts textbook to look this up. Prolly the first time I cracked it in 30-mumble years. I always bought used textbooks. Skimming back through it, damme if I can tell which were my own annotations and notes, and which were those that came with it when I bought it.

****The Blue Book Nazis can go to hell.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It occurs to Ol’ Robbo that it’s been a long while since he posted random bits from the Before Times here. Perhaps it’s a good idea to pick up the habit again before they’re disappeared forever.

Today is the anniversary of the birth, in 1754, of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, surely one of the most unjustly-maligned figures in popular culture. Even many of those who have never seen “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935) nor heard of Charles Laughton have the idea in their heads that Bligh was an unhinged tyrant. Well, he wasn’t. A disciplinarian, yes. A man with a temper, yes. Perhaps not endowed with what are now known as “communication skills”, yes. But an unhinged tyrant? No. And he was a damned good sailor, too.

Not too long ago, Ol’ Robbo re-watched “The Bounty” (1984), with Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Mel Gibson as Christian. It does a much better job of probing into the actual causes of the Mutiny. (And as an aside, Patrick O’Brian also deals very well with Bligh in the Aubrey/Maturin novel Desolation Island, discussing not only the Mutiny itself and Bligh’s remarkable voyage after being cast adrift, but also the reasons for the rebellion against him by the local cabal of grifters when he was Governor of Australia.)

Funny enough, though, I prefer the older movie as a movie: Laughton plays Bligh as a cartoon villain, but he’s so much fun to watch that I am able to swallow my outraged historickal sensibilities. On the other hand, the more recent film comes over as rayther flat to me, despite its attention to period detail and gorgeous cinematography. Go figure.

UPDATE: Oh, if you’re interested in a real historickal lunatic who had no biznay commanding a ship, read up on the mutiny of the crew of H.M.S. Hermione in 1797 against Captain Hugh Pigot. Dudley Pope’s The Black Ship is an excellent source for this.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

WordPress doesn’t time-stamp my posties, so I will tell you myself that it’s about four ack-emma as I type this. We had a wicked pissah of a lightning storm come through the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor about an hour ago, courtesy of what remains of Hurricane Ida, and I simply can’t get back to sleep. So, then…….

What I wrote below about perhaps finally finding the mystery crack in the garage causing my basement study to flood? Fuggedaboutit. Even now the study floor is covered in water and the automatic pump is churning industriously. Grrrrr…..

Which reminds me of a long-standing question: We’ve lived in this house for nearly twenty-one years now. To say that I know all if its quirks and, ah, weaknesses is to put it mildly. So when we come to sell eventually, assuming Ol’ Robbo is still above ground, morally speaking exactly how much of this knowledge am I obliged to disclose to potential buyers? I put this to Mrs. R the other day and she takes a strict caveat emptor approach, but I wonder……

Speaking of such things, I also noted recently the death of the Port Swiller Manor washing machine. The replacement arrives this Saturday. A friend has offered to let us run loads at her house if needed, but we’re trying to avoid this. When Mrs. R asked if my boxer drawer would hold out, I replied, “It’ll be a damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw”. I’m not sure the Iron Duke would appreciate my appropriation, but I got a chuckle out of it.

Somewhat at random, yesterday Ol’ Robbo plucked from his library shelf Alec Guinness’s memoir A Positively Final Appearance. (I have a small collection of books of reminiscence by such stage giants as Olivier, Gielgud, et al. Ol’ Robbo was bitten by the theatre bug a long time ago and never quite got over it.) I may or may not have read it before, I cannot recollect. In any event, as much as I like Guinness, I do wish he had not been so churlish about his Star Wars fandom. I understand his frustration that such silliness should have overshadowed his other far-more substantial achievements, but he was just an entertainer, after all, and Obi-Wan did put a substantial amount of coin in his pocket, so………

By the bye, I like to think that Alan Rickman’s character in “Galaxy Quest” is as much, or more, of a nod to Guinness as it is to Leonard Nimoy. Certainly there are better grounds for such bitterness. (I mean, Shakespeare versus “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”. You be the judge.)

And incidentally, if I had to pick a favorite Guinness movie role, I’d probably have to go with Professor Marcus from “The Ladykillers”.

Well, I won’t bore you friends of the decanter with an obscure ** spot the quote riddle. I put up the title to mark the fact that this is September 1st and we can now begin to see that summah has done its worst and will do so no more. As I started out quoting Wellington, surely it’s fitting to finish up quoting Churchill: “This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.” (Well, it doesn’t work completely, but it’s now five ack emma, so forget it, I’m rolling.***)

***Okay, you can spot that reference.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yeppers, looks like the next couple days are going to be the hottest of the year in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor. The air is starting to stink, too. Ol’ Robbo got an unaccustomed Full Monty lung’s worth of it yesterday when he went into town, but it’s starting to build up out here in the ‘burbs, too.

Last evening we got another ten-cent-win-in-the-lottery storm. Tremendous amounts of thunder all round but not enough actual rain here to wet the driveway under the trees. I may be paranoid, but this is beginning to become a thing. My old father was sometimes jokingly referred to as “Dr. Drought” because it seemed everywhere he went the rains would dry up. Is it possible his spirit decided to drop in for a visit?

The junk Youngest plans to take back to school with her is beginning to pile up by the front door. I’ve already started trying to explain that the laws of physics don’t care what she wants, if it doesn’t all fit in her car, it doesn’t all fit. Period.

Ol’ Robbo has managed to edge out of that trip, by the bye. Mrs. R is going to ride shotgun and fly back. I made sure nobody was looking before I did my end zone sack dance over that little diplomatic success.

Well, that’s about it. A couple more days and Ol’ Robbo gets his rest and relaxation. I b’lieve this will be my first gen-u-ine two week summah vacation since, oh, about 2004. In the meantime, I’ve got to concentrate… concentrate…concentrate. I’ve got to concentrate… concentrate… concentrate… Hello?… hello… hello… Echo… echo… echo… Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon… Manny Mota… Mota… Mota…***

***I shouldn’t even have to say it….

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Following up on the “Bloom County” remark I made in the last post and commentary from friends of the decanter, this morning I found myself stumbling across another BC strip in which Bill the Cat eats Snoopy.

I can only assume that Berke Breathed is trying to generate (or regenerate) an audience.

I was a yuge fan of BC back in the day, of course, and was as sad as anyone else when it ran out of steam. (I knew “Outland”, the feeble successor strip, was doomed from the start.) I confess, however, that I pretty much lost track of all of that some time in the early 2000’s.

I gather that Breathed has recently tried jump-starting BC again. I also gather, however, that he’s gone….funny. (I haven’t seen it myself, but I hear tell that Steve Dallas is no longer exactly a “Broads, Buicks, and Buckley” kinda guy. I’ll pass.)

The weird thing is that I only know any of this biznay of BC cross-pollinating with bygone comic strip glory because it’s started showing up in my FacePlant feed. If I’d ever “liked” a BC strip in the past, I certainly don’t remember it. (Perhaps Bob from NSA thought I might appreciate it and flagged it for me.)

Anyhoo, I just thought I’d mention it.

Speaking of which, did I ever relate here the fact that my high school Latin teacher was a college classmate of Breathed’s? Truth: When BC really took off in the early 80’s, he told us all about Breathed’s undergrad strip “Academia Waltz”, samples of which I never saw until they appeared in an anthology years later.

(They went to the University of Texas, by the bye, which is why I learned Latin with a Texas accent. “Say-ul way-tay, dis-kip-uhl-lee!”)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The schadenfreude Ol’ Robbo is seeing (and, admittedly, enjoying) on the innerwebz over the U.S. wimminz soccer team unexpectedly getting hammered by the Swedes yesterday*** reminds me that there are, in fact, Olympic Games going on.


Although keenly excited by the Games when I was a younker, I gave up on them when NBC took over the coverage in the mid-80’s and switched from actually, you know, showing the competition to wall-to-wall “human interest” stories. Bag that.****

My favorite “coverage” moment was the Miracle On Ice at Lake Placid in 1980. For reasons which I do not recollect, ABC tape-delayed showing the Game itself, but was carrying on with live coverage beforehand. The announcers were attempting to be poker-faced, but people in the background were running about in joyous frenzy, so no matter how hard the network tried to maintain the suspense, we already knew Something Big had happened.

Good times.

***I actually don’t doubt that they’ll come back and take the Gold because that’s the Narrative.

****I’m sure there are alternate sources where I could find more pristine competition coverage, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t care enough to bother looking for them.


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October 2021