thinking of this and that on st. stephen’s day

Today is St. Stephen’s Day, the 26th of December. All I know about Stephen is that he was stoned to death for blasphemy—which seems an unlikely entry on the résumé for a saint. I’m sure at one point I must have known who did the stoning and what the blasphemy was, but it all escapes me now. It couldn’t have been very spectacular blaspheming, though, if they turned the day after Christmas into his feast day.

St. Stephen’s day is the day on which the events described in the Christmas carol about Good King Wenceslas took place. You know the carol—Wenceslas sees a ‘poor man’ out in the snow ‘gathering winter fuel.’ He has a page gather some meat, some wine and some pine logs (why waste good hardwoods on a peasant?) and ‘forth they went together’ to make sure the peasant didn’t go to bed hungry that night. I’ve no evidence to support this, but I’d bet my paycheck (if I had a paycheck) that the page carried the food items and the peasant ended up toting the pine logs. Wenceslas might have carried the corkscrew.

It wasn’t just a coincidence, by the way, that this happened on the Feast of Stephen (assuming, of course, the carol is based on an actual event—it’s not as if there’s anybody out there fact-checking Christmas carols). Christmas was the day set aside for exchanging gifts with equals; Stephen’s Day was for giving gifts to people who were below your social station. It’s the original re-gifting day.

Although he may have been good, Wenceslas was never really a king. He was merely the Duke of Bohemia—which isn’t a bad gig in itself, but it’s hardly in the same league as king. It wasn’t until after he died that Otto, the Holy Roman Emperor, granted Wenceslas the honorary title of rex justus—a ‘righteous king.’ Like St. Stephen, Duke Wenceslas was also a martyr. He was murdered by his brother Boleslav as he returned home from church one day. Anybody who’s ever had an older brother—especially who can do no wrong—will understand the impulse.

I suppose it could be said Wenceslas had the last laugh. After all, nobody ever wrote a carol about good king Boleslav. In fact, he is known in history as Boreslav the Cruel. I suppose murdering your brother is something of a disqualification when it comes to being selected as a subject for a Christmas carol. Still, my guess is that given a choice, Wenceslas would have preferred spending a few more years leading his page around Bohemia delivering foodstuffs to random peasants over having grubby school kids singing about him down the centuries during the holiday season.

Pretty good carol, though.

still talking

It was 34 degrees Fahrenheit when I gave into the fool notion to take a walk yesterday. I decided to visit the chunk of curbing. It’s been over a year since I first came across it—a small, displaced bit of asphalt curbing around which somebody had tied a length of red PVC wire fashioned into a sort of carrying handle. The bit of curbing had been toted a short distance from its original location—though I’ve no idea why anybody would do such a thing. It made absolutely no sense at all. That, of course, was its appeal.

After discovering it, I returned periodically to the site (an old, deteriorating parking lot that once surrounded a supermarket, but now surrounds the grassy field where the supermarket used to be) to look at and ponder the meaning of the chunk of curbing and the wire. It attracted attention from other folks as well. I never saw them, but the chunk of curbing was moved on at least one occasion.

Since I tend to over-think almost everything (apart from my behavior) I developed the conceit that I was engaged in a sort of ongoing conversation with the chunk of curbing. I looked forward to seeing it, which I realize sounds completely unhinged. But there it is. I’d developed a peculiar fondness for a bit of molded asphalt.

On my last visit—back in October—I noticed somebody had tried to move it again, and the red PVC wire had completely snapped. The chunk of curbing and the red PVC wire were no longer connected. I fully expected the next I visited the lot, the wind would have swept the PVC wire away. The conversation seemed to be over.

But I was wrong.

As you can see, the red PVC wire is still there. Totally divorced from the chunk of curbing, but it’s still there. I’ve no idea why; we’ve had serious wind storms—storms powerful enough to knock down trees. And yet there it is, splayed out slightly differently than before but in what appears to be the exact same spot. The original chunk of curbing, along with a companion chunk that appeared some months ago, seem to have moved again—which is entirely inexplicable and illogical. But against all expectations, the wire and the curbing are still there.

I find that reassuring. I guess the conversation isn’t over yet. I’ll visit again in a few weeks and see what I can see.

i got your sign of weakness right here

I declare, living in Iowa during primary season is a trial. It seems I can’t go half an hour without hearing Rick Perry’s smug voice proclaiming “Some liberals say faith is a sign of weakness.”

You know what’s a sign of weakness? Making shit up, then suggesting you’re bold for standing up against a claim nobody made—that’s a sign of weakness. It’s also a sign of staggering douche-baggery.

Rick Perry concludes that particular advert by saying “I’m not ashamed to talk about my faith.” Dude, maybe you should be. On account of I think you must have skipped that chunk of the Bible that goes: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

It doesn’t read I was in prison, and ye came unto me and gave me a lethal injection.

I’m not a Christian, and I’m a tad uncomfortable judging another person’s Christianity. But I’m completely comfortable judging somebody’s hypocrisy and douche-baggery. And no amount of smirking proclamations of faith can cover up Rick Perry’s hypocrisy and douche-baggery.

looking at puddles

Yesterday was one of those cold, windy, wet, altogether miserable days. It snowed, and the snow turned to sleet, and the sleet turned to rain, and the wind blew hard enough in some of the narrow streets that at times the snow/sleet/rain was actually flew upwards.

So I went for a walk. Partly because it was Thursday and I belong to a group of folks who traditionally walk on Thursdays. But I’d have gone for a walk regardless of the day, because the snow/sleet/rain layered enough wetness on the streets and sidewalks to make them reflective. Even better, we’ve reached that time of year when it starts getting dark early—which is a thing I both love and hate.

It casts a gloomy pall over the world. Despite having watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (most of them more than once), I’m not generally a fan of the dark and the foreboding and the brooding. But it’s a condition that makes for great visuals.

There’s a tipping point, of course—especially when it comes to puddles. Like most folks who’ve picked up a camera, I’m intrigued by puddles. But a puddle that’s too big lacks mystery. It just becomes a reflective surface. But a puddle that’s patchy, that’s barely there, that’s unpredictably disrupted by the contours of the surface—that’s the puddle for me. That’s a puddle with character.

That’s a puddle that will get me outside despite the snow/sleet/rain, and despite the wind and despite all rational thought.

Some day, when all my other projects are finished and I’m casting around for something to do, I’ll develop a taxonomy of puddles. A systematic classification of puddles based on the similarities and dissimilarities of their morphological features.

But no, of course I’ll never do that. I don’t really want to think systematically about puddles. I just want to look at them. I just want to walk around in the gloomy half-light of early evening, freezing my aging ass off in the snow/sleet/rain and look at puddles.