Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cheap Highs







            I just hit the “Latest Headlines” button on my default tool bar to discover that the first twelve news headlines, by actual count, all announce bad news on a spectrum from international catastrophe to crying shame.  Number thirteen is “Longest animal memory ‘in dolphins’,” which under the circumstances I grasp as good news only a little less momentous than the Second Coming—or at least the Relief of Lucknow.  I want to introduce a new tool bar button based in one of the old Anglican prayers—“All the Blessings of This Life”.

            For several days our weather has been magnificent—clear and fresh, warm but not hot.  Above all the sweet air has been blessedly dry.  Even through incipient cataracts the appearance of the big trees at the edge of the field behind us has something of the flavor of an old stereopticon card, with each green leaf sharply individuated and articulate.  I was taken back half a century to my reading of W├Âlfflin’s distinction between Ruysdael and Hobbema in his Principles of Art History—one of those life-changing books that, though not brought explicitly to mind for years on end, are as clearly among the blessings of this life as are dry air and oak leaves themselves.

            It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.  One of the local silver linings in the storm clouds attendant upon Hurricane Sandy is a residual lifetime supply of good firewood.  Last winter I did a certain amount of harvesting, sawing logs from fallen trees in the common ground into burnable lengths, and a neighbor gave me all the best parts of a severely damaged large oak tree she had to have felled in her back yard.  I have been splitting these the old-fashioned way, with wedges and sledge, then chopping them to convenient size by axe.  This takes me back in memory not fifty but sixty years to a world in which all domestic heating and cooking used wood-burning stoves.  Four big mounds of cut cordwood just beyond the stone wall have the place looking like a commercial New England wood lot.  Just think of the cozy January evenings we have in store.

            That the best things in life are free I learned at my mother’s knee.  Its codicil I had to learn on my own: some of the second best come from the Dollar Store.  I don’t like to shill for commercial products on this blog, but I must make an exception for White Rain’s “Cool Ocean Wave For Men”, which advertises itself as “Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash”—in short “An Invigorating Clean All in One Step”. 

            I love the multiplex product.  I well remember the night Joan and I joined the middle class.  It was in the autumn of 1963, and I had just received my first paycheck for my first real job.  We thought it was time to buy a bottle of wine, just like the big people.  We found a jug of something called “Guild Vino da Tavola”.  The label read thus: “This wine is delicious with red meat, chicken, fish, or pasta.  Serve at room temperature or chilled if you prefer.”

            Well, Ocean Wave is not unlike Guild Vino da Tavola in its hue.  It is a purply blue jizz of the consistency of grape jelly that didn’t quite jell.  It takes fourteen lines of very long words in very small type to list all chemicals in this concoction, and it is definitely one of the blessings of this life.  Naturally you cannot expect that something that cost a buck per quart will actually wash the chlorine out of my hair.  Once a week I try to accomplish that goal with something from the Seven-Dollar Store (alias CVS).

            For I begin most days with a serious swim at the old gymnasium on campus.  The vagaries of the summer shuttle schedule require me to walk a scant half mile to catch a six o’clock bus, which takes me most of the rest of the way.  Returning, I do the trip in reverse, walking the last half mile home.   Life doesn’t really get much better than this: walking through a sun-drenched early morning toward pineapple chunks or stewed prunes following a good swim, a close shave, and an indulgent shower with lavish applications of Cool Ocean Wave.  I cannot fathom why the experience never features in “Latest Headlines”.  It does seem to me to rank right up there with dolphin nmemonics.

 Lahore: the Shalamar

            My wonderful uncle John was a high-school dropout, but from an era when high-school dropouts were often better educated than today’s bachelors of arts.  He quoted poetry incessantly, one of his favorite collections being India’s Love Lyrics of “Laurence Hope” (Adela Nicolson).  One of these, a sort of Orientalist “Dear John” letter in verse, starts “Pale hands I loved beside the Shalamar…”  After an invigorating one-step clean with Cool Ocean Wave the human body retains for an hour or two the faintest aroma of pale hands beside the Shalamar—or is it a Levantine bagnio?  We heartily thank Thee—for all the blessings of this life!