Subscription postcards: Floating, whaling, and ruminating

Postcard collage showing an introduction to floating

Hey Bridget — I just drove into Portland from Seattle about a week ago in a 17-foot U-Haul truck with bad steering and a transmission that whined in first gear and squealed in second. Now I’m at my friend Tom’s house at a weekly get-together called Stringband. It’s a group of seven or eight folks who show up in Tom’s living room and play acoustic covers of folk tunes and old standards. There’s a banjo and a guitar and a mandolin and a one-string bass made out of a trashcan and broomstick and et cetera. A little while earlier they played “Drift Away” — you know the song, “Give me a beat, boys, free my soul, I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.” One winter back when I was living in Iowa I walked down to the river while listening to Democracy Now and the music break on that episode was “Drift Away”. It was cold and overcast and snowy and the river was iced over, and also now that I think about it maybe the song was “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” … Anyway, the point is —

Actually I have no idea what the point is. A lot of my stories don’t go any deeper than “things remind me of other things”. Which is pretty much the only way I know how to understand the world; I remember as a kid being fascinated by the idea that every word in the dictionary was defined by other words in the dictionary that were in turn defined by yet other words in the dictionary.

Anyway. When I moved away from Iowa I took a fully loaded 30-foot truck to Seattle. Now I’m moving my stuff in a 17-foot truck. Which means that my life is now 13 feet of stuff more simple.

Postcard showing a bear on a toilet

Hey Steve — Greetings from Stringband! It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m at Tom’s house. Everyone is singing songs and being merry, and I’m sitting at the dinner table wondering how you get a bear to pose on a toilet for a novelty photo. The world is laden with mystery, Steve, and sometimes it is healthy and productive and necessary to ponder these mysteries. But sometimes it is counterproductive and isolating. “Ponder wisely and ruminate not,” says the man imagining Yogi the Bear mounting his porcelain throne.

Postcard collage about mountains and whaling and the Pacific Northwest

Hello Andrew! I grew up in Iowa, far from the ocean, but the natural history museum at the local university was lucky enough to have a whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. It was an old skeleton, from back when whaling occupied a place in our culture that was as important to cable-knit sweater wearing Cape Codians as the Macarena was to everybody in the 1990s. No one could imagine life without it. But time went on.

We used to use whale oil in automatic transmission fluid. But the TV show Flipper changed American minds about sea mammals, and in 1971 the United States banned the importation of sperm whale oil. Soon thereafter American automakers began using entirely non-cetacean friction modifiers in their automatic transmission fluid. The 20th Century was a good one. It was the century when we stopped putting whale juice in our cars.

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