Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

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Location: Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States

Friday, July 30, 2010

Remembering Herman

He didn't want a funeral; he wanted a party

My colleague Herman Jottman died back in June in a car crash. His close friends and family had a very quiet funeral shortly afterward, but they wanted the public commemoration of his death to be delayed a while.

This evening was the celebration, and a celebration it was. His companion, Nina, said he didn't want a funeral – he wanted a party. And I agree. I knew Herman as a colleague for the entire 12 years I worked at the community college from when I hired on until his death. He had a great sense of humor, and he loved a good joke. He enjoyed socializing after-hours, and we kept saying we ought to get together more often, but it never happened.

At work, he and Nina were both colleagues; at the campus where I do most of my teaching, my cubicle is between his and hers. It was always fun interacting with the two of them.

After his death, I learned things about Herman that I wish I had known before. For example, I knew that he was an outdoorsy sort, but I didn't learn the extent until I read his obituary – he was an avid backpacker and adventure traveler, and he had climbed all of Colorado's fourteeners. And, for a while, he had worked in Los Alamos.

At the celebration, I learned even more. I learned how extensive his outdoor adventuring had been, how he had been to the Himalayas, and how once in Europe, he had fallen off a mountain and broken his neck, but had pulled his tent around him for warmth and been rescued the next day. I learned that he was also an avid photographer, mostly taking pictures of nature, although he also had some delicious art photos of his second ex-wife.

Herman was a practical joker, I already knew, but I heard about jokes he had pulled, such as making a gift of a Noam Chomsky t-shirt to a colleague who wasn't a Chomsky fan, in such a way that the recipient of the shirt didn't realize Herman was joking. I heard about how, shortly after he had worked in Los Alamos and had relocated to Albuquerque, he was a fan of a particular Albuquerque pizza place, and he would get pizza from there and hustle it up to Los Alamos so his friends could enjoy it. I heard about how he was fond of "anything with a two-stroke engine" – including chain saws, which were a particular favorite of his.

Later, I was talking with Nina, and she and I agreed that this ought to be an annual event, the Herman Jottmann Annual CNM Faculty Party, complete with chain saw competitions. Yeah, that would be good.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In Memory of Richard Dittmar

Yee-Haw!


Yee-haw!

All right, let's try it again, Yee-haw!

Now, again, with feeling, Yee-haw!

OK, that's better.

Everybody who sailed with Richard, whether on the same boat or on another boat at the same regatta, knows yee-haw. It was his signature line.

He could use it in many ways. If conditions were brisk, knocking his boat down in ways that only a low-budget, water-ballasted, non-racing boat could ever demonstrate, his "yee-haw" was one of excitement. In a drifter, where even the fast boats were barely moving, and his boat wasn't really moving at all, the "yee-haw" was full of irony. He could shape "yee-haw" to whatever emotion he wanted to express.

Irony can also describe the way he got into sailing. He was an insurance salesman, and his idea was that he could join the sailing club, and then he would be rubbing elbows with all sorts of well-to-do yachtsmen, and then he could sell them insurance. He didn't realize until after he joined the Rio Grande Sailing Club that its membership did not contain the sorts of customers he envisioned – we have a whole lot of working stiffs, middle-management types, unemployed and underemployed people who sail because it's something to do, and a sizeable number of other insurance people. I don't know that he ever sold any one of us a policy.

But he did discover that he loved sailing. And he learned to do it well. He had a Hunter 26, a boat designed to be comfortable and affordable to middle-class Americans, but not designed for high performance. In spite of having a low-performance boat, he entered races, and he managed to do well. He learned the ways of the fickle winds on Elephant Butte Lake, and on occasion, he even put the higher-performance boats to shame.

In recent years, he did buy himself a true racing boat, an International Etchells, but his declining health prevented him from realizing its potential – if he could get the sort of performance he did out of the Hunter, there is no telling what he could have done with the Etchells if he had had the chance.

Unfortunately, that was not to be.

Yee-haw, Richard, wherever you are.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Poetry Corner: Tom Lehrer

One more echo from the class reunion

I grew up in an extremely odd place. In many ways, it was like a military base, since just about everybody there came from someplace else, and to a certain extent, it was metaphorically distant from the surrounding communities. Many areas are not open to the public, and even away from the lab, what was formerly military-base-style housing is readily visible in many parts of the town.

But then, there were other ways in which it was not so much like a military base. For one thing, the place has, I have been told, the highest per capita ratio of PhDs of any community in the world. For a while, there was a Nobel physics laureate living across the street from me. The high school's football and basketball teams were perpetually struggling, but our chess team, soccer team, and band always brought home the trophies. The graduating class prior to mine had 11 National Merit finalists, which seems impressive until one learns that my own graduating class had 36.

I am talking, of course, about Los Alamos.

Once upon a time, the satirist/songwriter Tom Lehrer worked at Los Alamos. As he had previously done at Harvard, he ended up writing a song about the place, in the style of a classic cowboy ballad: "The Wild West is Where I Want to Be." This song is soon to be given new life, as the Los Alamos barbershop group, of which my dad is a member, is preparing a barbershop version of it – Lehrer himself has given permission to create the new arrangement and might – just maybe – show up at the performance of the premiere.

Here is Lehrer's own introduction to the piece, and its lyrics, courtesy of sing365.com:

The Wild West Is Where I Want To Be Lyrics
Artist(Band):
Tom Lehrer

Now if I may indulge in a bit of personal history, a few years ago I worked for a while at the Los Alamos scientific laboratory in New Mexico. I had a job there as a spy. No, I guess you know that the staff out there at that time was composed almost exclusively of spies... of one persuasion or another. And, while I was out there, I came to realize how much the Wild West had changed since the good old days of Wyatt Earp and Home on the Range, and here then is a modern cowboy ballad commemorating that delightful metamorphosis called The Wild West Is Where I Wanna Be.

Along the trail you'll find me lopin'
Where the spaces are wide open,
In the land of the old A.E.C. (yea-hah!)
Where the scenery's attractive,
And the air is radioactive,
Oh, the wild west is where I wanna be.

Mid the sagebrush and the cactus,
I'll watch the fellas practice
Droppin' bombs through the clean desert breeze.
I'll have on my sombrero,
And of course I'll wear a pair o'
Levis over my lead B.V.D.'s.

Ah will leave the city's rush,
Leave the fancy and the plush,
Leave the snow and leave the slush
And the crowds.
Ah will seek the desert's hush,
Where the scenery is lush,
How I long to see the mush-
room clouds.

'Mid the yuccas and the thistles
I'll watch the guided missiles,
While the old F.B.I. watches me. (yea-hah!)
Yes, I'll soon make my appearance
(Soon as I can get my clearance),
'Cause the wild west is where I wanna be.

Now I need to get back to grading those papers …

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fifth anniversary ... one day late

Oops, almost forgot ...

July 14, 2010, marked the fifth anniversary of this blog. I had meant to create an elaborate post with a retrospective of the best of the past five years, but, well, that isn't happening. I've been buried under piles of papers to grade for so long that I don't even remember what it's like not to have all these papers that always have to be graded in far less time than is available.

And of course, I still haven't posted the final recap of the waterbloggers' food tour, either, so there's that unfinished business hanging over my head.

OK, here's an idea: Those of you who have been watching this blog for a long time, nominate your favorite posts from the past five years. Once I have time to come up for air, I'll nominate a few of my own as well.

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