As dusk began to fall on Jan. 10, 2001, Ray Patchey just wanted to get home to his family for his birthday dinner.
A lineman with Verizon, Patchey had been sent out to repair telephone lines following a snowstorm in rural Dutchess County, N.Y. Chilled to the bone, Patchey and another technician were just packing up to leave when the door to the nearby farmhouse swung open and a voice called out, “Don’t go, I’ve made some soup for you!”
Looking up, Patchey saw a Benedictine monk, clothed in traditional habit and sandals, standing in the doorway, and thought, “How can I say no?”
Little did he know that the monk was a best-selling cookbook author with legions of fans around the world. That bowl of soup, like so many others that Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette has shared with friends and strangers alike over the course of several decades while living mostly alone at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery, was just the beginning.
Now 82, Brother Victor is the author of some 18 books, half of which are cookbooks that have collectively sold in the millions and been translated into multiple languages, including French, Japanese and Dutch. Born in Lées-Athas, a village in southwestern France’s Pyrenees mountains, Brother Victor grew up eating food that was cooked in rhythm with the seasons, saying now: “There is nothing like the French way of cooking, and everyone I knew cooked well — my mother, my grandmother. Everything we ate, vegetables, cheese,
bread, was fresh and local.” Continue reading The Hidden Quaker Role in a Famous Catholic Monastery Cookbook “Empire”→
She told me out of the blue that she adores me. I was there, in a chair, listening; she was standing by the grandfather clock. She didn’t sing it but she said it clearly. This should answer any remaining questions. But Mister Malaise and Madam Miasma are ever on our trail, skulking in woodlands and meadows, waylaying the vulnerable, requiring us to drink discouragement and despair, and they got me a few days ago, two weeks after mitral valve replacement, walking tall in Transitional Care, transitioning back to normal life when I was hit (in the time it takes to tell it) by abject weakness, dizziness, nausea, and had to be locked up in hospital and tubes put in my arms for blood and antibiotics, and then released in a weakened semi-invalid state. It’s a lousy feeling. I look out at Minneapolis and imagine it’s Odessa, which it is not. I worry the Swiss banks will fail. Water mains will burst. Bacon will be banned, leaving us with vegan substitute
.The body wants to heal and it has felicitous intuitions how to go about doing it but meanwhile I ache and shuffle around like an old grampa and hike the hallways and work at maintaining a cheerful outlook (false). My wife is a worrier and when we promised to love and honor each other 27 years ago, diarrhea and vomiting weren’t mentioned in detail, so I walk carefully. Continue reading Garrison Keillor – Autumn is Coming: Prepare to Be Bold→
I’m at the keyboard, just finished what feels like a pretty good blog post. Pressing Return to upload it, I hear a strange noise on my left. That’s my foggy side, a fuzzy mist since the 2019 stroke. So I wheel around, to face the bookshelves against the wall with the good eye.
He’s standing there, in a solid charcoal gray robe, the piercing dark eyes, not even the hint of a smile, with a short black cape, topped by a black hood pulled tight around his face, but no long scythe in his hand.
I recognize him.
“The Seventh Seal,” I say. “I’m honored. I was afraid they’d send some murderous termagant from Agatha Christie.”
Does his non-smile twist a bit? I can’t tell, and try again. “Can I just finish this piece I’ve got here?” I nod at the screen. “It won’t take long. The working title is “War and Peace: The Sequel. I’m already on page four.“
The eye-roll is slight, but makes plain he’s heard this, and all the other stalling-for-time ad libs, likely hundreds of times. No, thousands.
I give up. “Okay,,” I say, “let me just do this limerick.” I type fast, despite shaky fingers:
When the Reaper comes, I won’t get sappy,
I’ll tell him, “Ok, make it snappy.”
And If he shows when I’m writing,
I won’t go down fighting,
Your best guess: I’ll be sorta happy.
Now my eyelids are heavy. I think I’ll just put my head down on the keyboard, facing the back window, with the shade pulled down, sunlight slanting through the blinds, as I’ve occasionally done before, and rest them a bit.
There’s a slight rustle behind me, and the last I remember is the touch of a finger on my shoulder . . . .
Now, a few hours later, a more realistic scene: The Fair Wendy peeps in at dusk, and finds me slid off the chair, crumpled on the floor. She shrieks, but knows what to do: checks for breath and a pulse, then grabs her phone and dials the long-agreed magic number: 911.
Soon an EMT driver barges in, no siren, but red and blue lights flashing in the hall behind him and across the front of the house. He touches nothing until a cop arrives.
The officer checks me and the room: no signs of forced entry, struggle, blood, gunshot, stabbing or choke wounds. No empty pill bottle, or handwritten farewell note among the many visible papers.
Looks like natural causes. An everyday, no-drama demise: the local TV van slides past our neighborhood, seeking a video-friendly scene, maybe with crime scene tape, better a wrecked car that has a bullet-pocked windshield.
Soon I’m zipped up and out of there. Wendy is left to deal with the shock. And in an hour or two, what’s left of me is on the brink of Gehenna, or rather Greensboro, like a COSTCO chicken facing the Rotisserie of No Return.
“Seventeen hundred,” said Fred. He works for a sizable cremation/funeral service in central North Carolina.
That’s degrees, not dollars. (This is seriously hot: the typical kitchen oven tops out at about 500.) But $1700 is not a lot to pay for a cremation funeral. The rungs on the guilt- and grief-driven spending ladder into the Valley of the Shadow go both ways, deeper than your pockets, and higher than your credit limit,
Now at my other end, $1700 is also a price one can beat. And I was under orders to beat it. The Fair Wendy, who is younger and expected to outlast me, told me flat out, “Chuck, It’s your jobto call the funeral place. I don’t want to have to deal with that stuff when you’re dead.”
I could relate. She has agreed to handle my estate, which will be peanuts money-wise, but complicated by my being a writer, with copyrights and such. That’s enough.
Besides, we’re Quakers, with this complex notion we call Simplicity. It was once very stern about death —as a saying goes, “No pomp in any circumstance.”
I’ve visited the Quaker burial ground on Nantucket Island, which for more than a century was a thriving, prosperous Quaker center. The burial ground is a big, uneven grassy expanse, mown but not landscaped, within a low weathered gray rail fence. It’s reliably said to be seeded with the bones of several thousand Friends, rich and poor, devout and nominal.
There’s only a scattering of markers in it, maybe several dozen, planted by renegade relatives who defied the local elders to know where some of their kin were placed. It’s not a gloomy spot, but thought-provoking: a silent Quaker homily on the true human equality, all ultimately alike under the skin, and under the ground.
So I told Fred plainly that I wanted the low end, and had googled “economical cremation” to find it, and him. Although behind him one wall was lined with shelves of colorful burial urns that ran as much as $300, he didn’t skip a beat or apply any pressure.
The most basic package, he said, includes picking me up, and doing the paperwork for an official state-stamped certificate — in North Carolina, you can stop breathing whenever you like, but you’re not officially dead til the state in its un-elizabethan majesty issues you a properly stamped certificate saying so, and that will likely take weeks, and cost $10 a copy, please.)
In the meantime, however, you do get your Ticket to Ride the Rotisserie of No Return (and you won’t care), where the 1700 degrees deliver a quick and permanent weight loss program guaranteed to leave only 4 to 8 pounds of ground bone and ash to be scooped out and poured into a clear plastic bag, dropped into that fliptop black container, snug in that sturdy cardboard box, ready for pickup in a couple days. (Hmmm. Only a day or two, with actually just a handful of hours on the Rotisserie? Maybe that 1700 degree part is not really Hell, but only Purgatory. Well, that’s okay— I was raised Catholic, and shortening our time in Purgatory was a serious thing then.)
But ”What?” I said to Fred. “Just four to eight pounds at the end? But I’m more than two hundred and—“
Fred cut me off. “Fat all goes up the chimney,” he said. “We do cases of people at 300, 400 pounds, even more, no problem.”
I eyeballed the black plastic box with what looked like a flip-top lid, noting that it was on a shelf opposite the gaudy pricey urns. I didn’t mind its plainness. But, all (that’s left of) me will fit in that little space?
Well, so it goes. Yet there’s one more step: what to do with the ashes? Many people keep their fancy urns on display, a family heirloom. Hmmmm. Others have themselves scattered; that skips the expenses of an actual burial, which involves dealing with cemeteries and grave markers or headstones. Fred emphasized he was not in those businesses, but knew them well and had many useful money-saving tips to offer (above all, crank up your search engine and shop smart.) As for me, I’d like for the box to be planted, and maybe have a somewhat simple marker, being a somewhat renegade Quaker. (Not too renegade, I hope there will also be a party, and will be sorry to miss it.
But that’s for another day. Now, I told Fred, I was ready to deal. The actual transaction for this, what is called a “pre-need” arrangement, was that I wrote the $795 check to an insurance company, which will actually pay Fred’s crematorium when the time comes.
But what if I hang around for some years? (After all, I mostly feel okay now, with no terminal diagnoses hanging over me, and was doing this mainly so I could quit nagging myself about it.)
The insurance company was way ahead of me here. The policy came with an ALL-CAPS “No Inflation” guarantee, rather a timely fillip. If Fred’s crematorium emporium charges twice as much when the call comes for me, the insurance company will cover the difference.
So: in one day I beat the funeral racket, stopped inflation, and eased the mind of The Fair Wendy to boot.
And had some interesting dreams. When I jerked awake, the keyboard rubbing against my cheek, the first thing that came to mind was another limerick:
When I go, let me go in simplicity.
With oppression and war less complicity.
So the man in all black
On the day he comes back
May find in me a certain felicity.
Now imagine that you are both the son of a man running for president and a lawyer and lobbyist accustomed to mixing with powerful people and doing business overseas premised on your proximity to those powerful people, and that you are in the throes of a divorce and a midlife catastrophe brought on by the early death of your older brother and that, in your distortion field of grief, on a hell-bent drug-and-alcohol binge, you have been making even more horrible choices, taking up with your brother’s widow and, while in considerable financial debt, hiring prostitutes and zoning out with camgirls and staying awake for days at a time on crack cocaine and generally hurting everyone in your life who is trying to help you with your cruel and idiotic behavior.
And imagine that, in the middle of all of this, you lose control of 217 gigabytes of your personal data: videos in which you have sex; videos in which you smoke crack; bleary-eyed selfies; selfies that document your in-progress dental work; your bank statements; your Venmo transactions; your business emails; your toxic rants at family members; analysis from your psychiatrist; your porn searches; your Social Security number; explicit photos of the many women passing through your bedrooms, photos of your kids, of your father, of life and death, despair and boredom.
Imagine revealing this kaleidoscopic archive of all your different selves to anyone else. Now imagine it’s not just anyone but the same political opposition that has already sought to destroy your father’s candidacy by improperly pressuring a foreign leader to offer up dirt about your (sketchy, for sure) business dealings. Imagine, in a country with toxic and broken politics, how explosive this collection of data might appear to your enemies in the days leading up to a presidential election, and how valuable it might become after their defeat, as they seek to overturn and then undermine the results. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call this nebulous cloud of data a “laptop.”
The first thing you need to understand about the Hunter Biden laptop, though, is that it’s not a laptop. The FBI reportedly took possession of the original — at least if you accept the version of events promoted by those who have distributed the data, which Hunter Biden and his lawyers don’t — and all we have now are copies of copies. When it first publicly surfaced, 20 days before the 2020 election, the authenticity of the material was doubted to the degree that Twitter and Facebook effectively banned the story from legitimate political discourse. Since then, mainstream news organizations, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have come to verify that at least some of the information contained in the cache is authentic.
It is hard to think of a single living individual who has experienced as total an annihilation of digital privacy since our devices became extensions of our consciousness. A suite of executives and thousands of employees were victimized by the Sony hack. In the iCloud hack known as “the Fappening,” nude photos of dozens of celebrities ended up on Reddit and 4chan. The 2016 hack of DNC servers and John Podesta’s Gmail exposed the private communications of a major political party. But in terms of the vastness of the data breach, the narrowness of its target, and its capacity to be deployed as a political weapon, none of those compare to the exposure of Hunter Biden’s entire virtual life.
Hidden inside the laptop, according to those (almost exclusively on the right) who have reviewed the data or who trust the word of those who claim they have, is a corruption scandal that implicates not just Hunter but other members of the Biden family, including the president. The laptop details Hunter’s involvement with a Ukrainian natural-gas producer that paid him millions of dollars to serve on its board — the relationship at the center of Donald Trump’s first impeachment. It shows how a Chinese energy company directed millions of dollars in consulting fees to Hunter and his uncle. It reveals White House meetings and slush-fund dinners and wheeling and dealing, from Romania to Monte Carlo to Cafe Milano. Most important, these people claim the laptop contains proof that, despite his denials, Joe Biden — allegedly referred to in emails as “the big guy” — was fully aware of, and looking to profit from, his son’s business activities.
The most serious allegations remain unproved. The White House has whistled past the issue, with ritual “no comments” on the occasions it is questioned about matters related to the laptop. (In response to a request from New York, a White House spokesperson said, “You can say the White House declined to comment for the story.”) Without a counterargument from the White House or the Biden family, and with mainstream political reporters only now trying to catch up to the tabloid coverage and the ideologically motivated actors who have been advancing the story, Democrats in Washington simply don’t know what to say. There has been no penalty for silence while they’ve been in power, just the vague assumption that it does seem like there’s something to the story, if only anyone credible would bother to check it out.
But the present stalemate, in which one side treats the subject with polite indifference while the other side foments and fundraises off it, is unsustainable. Maybe it will be broken by the Justice Department, which is reported to be conducting a wide-ranging criminal investigation into Hunter Biden, examining whether he violated various tax, money-laundering, and lobbying-disclosure laws. In July, CNN reported that the Justice Department had “debated the strength of the case for months,” as it faced an unofficial September deadline to file charges ahead of the midterm election. Biden paid off a large tax liability with the help of a loan from an entertainment attorney (one of at least three lawyers on his team) in an apparent attempt to head off a potential indictment.
Even if the DOJ doesn’t bring charges against Hunter, Republicans may gain control of at least one chamber of Congress — and, with it, subpoena power — in November. If they do, they have vowed to start their own investigations, which would lead to months or years of manufactured drama. (The laptop has already been entered into the Congressional Recordon a motion by Florida Republican Matt Gaetz.)
When you look at it as merely a political object, the laptop may not seem all that remarkable. But the implications of what happened to Hunter Biden go far beyond politics. Whether or not he turns out to be the perpetrator of a crime, he is certainly the victim of a violation — an invasion of privacy that is staggering in its totality. Even the people who are responsible for disseminating the laptop admit that, on a human level, what happened to Hunter is horrifying. “A lot of stuff I do, I don’t feel great about,” says one of them, Steve Bannon. “But we’re in a war.”
[NOTE: there’s about 10,000 more words of this story, much more than would fit here. It detais among otherthe many copies and alterations that have been made to the purported laptop, and the manic marathon of rightwing efforts to get it into the center of public attention. They see it as the keystone of a Trumpist tower of scandal that, some believe, would fall on and bury Joe Biden.
But the chain of custody and the handling of its files are likely to be a nightmare for actual prosecutors (and a billing goldmine for defense attorneys). One evidence specialist said the laptop hard drive was like a crime scene which police had left littered with burger wrappers. Not a good look in a real court.
But meantime, we’ll close with the article’s last glimpse of Hunter, post-rehab, married again, parenting a toddler and keeping busy with a seemingly very profitable business selling his original paintings and other artwork.
Hunter Biden, a hot-selling artist?
Well, why not? Picasso was a dissolute scoundrel too; among other greats who filled up canvases. And Gauguin, as the The New York Times art critic pointed out, was a stockbroker. If you don’t believe Biden’s work is real, join the club . . . .
New York: As for Hunter, the oldest living child of the president now resides in Malibu, at the top of a hill, in a place of sublime beauty. He lives in a sunlit home of modest size and modern style. The Secret Service, ever hovering, has a house next door.
[NOTE: The three paintings here were part of Biden’s one-man show in New York City last year.]
He tries to dodge the paparazzi, not always successfully. He looks different today, at 52, than the man on the laptop. His face is fuller. His teeth, once rotting and crooked, have been restored to gleaming condition by a Manhattan cosmetic dentist (at a cost of $69,977, according to records cited in Laptop From Hell).
He has given up practicing law as he awaits a long-delayed decision from the U.S. Attorney in Delaware, who has continued the probe of his finances. He spends his days making art in his garage. Last year, he had shows in New York and Los Angeles. (Several pieces sold at a reported price of $75,000 each to undisclosed buyers.) He follows the work of the researchers closely. At first he thought Trump’s defeat might provide a definite end point to his troubles, that his father’s adversaries might move on to other obsessions. Like so many Americans, he has since learned his hopes were misguided.
He deals with his violation in his own way. He paints still lifes of flowers; portraits of Catholic martyrs; paintings of birds done in alcohol ink, which creates a ghostly effect. In one series, according to someone who has seen them, Biden has made a number of self-portraits, based on the photos in the tabloids, the ones that show him in the depths of his despair. . . .
A study published in the journal Nature last month about something called “bridging social capital” elicited many no-duhs on social media. The study’s big takeaway was that when the poor get a chance to meet the wealthier among us, they have a greater chance at succeeding. It is beyond obvious, many have noted, that good connections increase the odds of getting a good job.
But as someone who jumped classes, from living below the poverty line to solidly middle class, I can shed some light on the numbers. Being around the better-off didn’t just forge connections that would lead to employment opportunities. It taught me something more crucial: how to act like I belonged in the first place.
There was only one catch: I would have to stop acting poor, which meant polishing aspects of myself that would prevent those friendships from sticking. Smoothing those edges paid dividends, but at the uncomfortable cost of erasing parts of myself. To create a better life, I had to mask the outward signs of a chaotic home life, troubled self-esteem and the mental health effects of growing up for stretches without even basic amenities. Everyone’s history, painful or not, is intertwined with who they are.
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is dropping more hints about a potential run for governor in 2024. And, if elected, he says he’d work to keep science and history out of some elementary school classrooms. He says he’d also seek to eliminate the State Board of Education, end abortion and work to prevent transgender people from serving in the military.
In a forthcoming memoir, Robinson explains how he drew his views from a wide range of life experiences, beginning with a troubled upbringing and a violent father. Little did he know that a fiery 2018 speech about gun rights at a Greensboro City Council meeting would set him on a journey to become the state’s top Republican executive office holder and first Black lieutenant governor.
It was a week of crazy change, a couple of big wallops, and here I am still standing, head bowed but marching forward. An ace ophthalmologist broke the news that my dimming eyesight is the result of glaucoma, which makes me grateful that I’m 80 because if I were young this would be very bad news but at my age I can see a way around it.
And on the same day, the University of Michigan found out that its prized Galileo manuscript is a fake, in which Galileo noted his observations of Jupiter, which led him to challenge 17th-century dogma that the universe revolves around Earth, which made him a heretic — it’s the work of a 20th-century forger — which means (Yes!) that the universe does revolve around Earth and that FBI agents attempting to distract the nation from the Galileo hoax planted top-secret papers at Mar-a-Lago in hopes of unseating the one truly elected (by a landslide) president, Mr. Trump, who is the center of the center of the universe.
If you step outside and look at the night sky, you see clearly that indeed we are the center. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a loser.
The glaucoma news was definitive and I was glad to have it. No need to sit in more ophthalmologists’ chairs, chin on the chinrest, looking at the doctor’s earlobe as he or she peers through the scope into my dilated eyeball — I have the answer: I am (very) slowly going blind. So look to the future and make the best of the deal.
I never was a sight-seer. I know too many amateur photographers who compulsively take pictures of dewy meadows, sunsets, sunrises, wildlife, birds, more birds, and they bring out portfolios of pictures and you’re required to glance at each one and sigh — well, they don’t pass their portfolios to a blind man. He is free of it.
My wife loves fine art. I don’t. Andy Warhol exposed the art world for the sham it am and who needs it? When I gain my blindness, I’ll accompany her to the Met and I’ll wait in the coffee shop and overhear young women discussing their relationships. Mark Rothko is an empty shell compared to women’s descriptions of their partners. They know more about humanity than Van Gogh ever guessed at.
I’ve always preferred music and conversation to the visual arts. Dance is a bore, all the extensions and twirling and dippy-hippy moves. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lakeis all you need to know, and Mahler’s Fourth and the Brandenburgs and some Chopin. Listen to them in the dark and you feel the emotional force full-strength.
My new career, beginning now, is octogenarian stand-up performance and I look forward to the day — in ten years, maybe twenty — when I walk onstage wearing black glasses, carrying a cane, and feel a wave of sympathy from the crowd and I sing:
The blind man stood in the road and cried,
Crying, O Lord, show me the way to go home.
The song is so heartfelt, people get teary-eyed and no longer do they see a white man of privilege, they see a fellow sinner in trouble, and when I have them on the verge of anguish, I go into my storytelling. Homer was a blind man who gave us the Iliad and the Odyssey and in his honor, I shall proclaim:
Speak, Memory, of myself the hero,
Lost time and again, at sea, confused,
Blinded by reckless ambition, and now,
I the wanderer have, by loss of sight,
Regained my memory and found my way
Home to my wife.
It’s a great opening. I’ll tell of my own history — I’m 80, I’ve got buckets of it — and recite poems and sing and when needed go into some blind-man jokes, many of them dirty. A sighted man couldn’t tell them, he’d be lynched, strung up, only a blind man can tell them, so I will.
Blindness is an opportunity, not a problem. Other writers give readings; I don’t. I have no paper, I let memory speak and it does and I’m amazed at what it recalls. My Crandall ancestors were driven out of the colonies in 1776 by my wife’s ancestors, the Spencers and Holmans and Griswolds, and my grandpa James Crandall came to Minnesota where his descendants crossed paths with my wife’s Holmans, and ancient enmity was buried and I fell in love with the family that stole our silverware and drove us to Canada.
So when my blindness is complete, so long as the sun keeps going around the Earth, I’ll be the greatest glaucomedian of all time. You read it here first.
[NOTE: When I bought a house in 2012, the market here was way down and I got a good price. Now it’s up, and I get a steady stream of phone calls, text messages and mailers urging me to sell it, for much more. The inquiries are often “personalized,” signed Ted or Sue, to make them seem like individuals. But I know better: big companies are behind them, scarfing up houses by the thousands, seeking to turn them into rentals priced at rates that I — or other non-wealthy folks, old or young — couldn’t possibly afford.
I’m not going anywhere, until the Reaper shows up in his long black limo. But I can’t take it with me. Then what happens to the house and the ‘hood? Here’s a look at the companies with big plans for us . . . .]
Survival Reading: What Private Equity Firms Are & How They Operate
Private equity is seemingly inescapable. From housing to hospitals and fisheries to fast food, equity investors have acquired a host of businesses in recent decades. Private equity firms control more than $6 trillion in assets in the U.S. But what makes them different from any other type of investor putting their money into a business?
Private equity investors — typified by firms like Bain Capital, Apollo Global Management, TPG, KKR and Blackstone — are different from venture capitalists, who provide a cash infusion to small startups and hope they blossom into the next Facebook. Nor are they stock traders making split-second decisions to buy or sell shares in public companies. Rather, private equity funds aim to take control of a business for a relatively short time, restructure it and resell the company at a profit.
For the past few months, France has been gripped by the mystery of the Dijon mustard shortage.
The sharp pale-yellow condiment, a French household staple, has all but disappeared from the country’s supermarket shelves. When scarce deliveries arrive, some shops resort to rationing purchases to a single pot per person. On social media, amateur cooks swap ideas for an alternative ingredient to Dijon mustard in order to prepare vinaigrette, mayonnaise, or steak tartare, a French dish made of raw meat also seasoned with egg yolk and capers.
The sauce has a long history. In Dijon, the capital of Burgundy and home to the mustard that bears its name, the craft of the moutardier dates back to 1634. Yet even in this town, pots of the stuff are near-impossible to find.