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We may not be going to Europe, but there’s plenty to see right here in my own backyard.

A few months ago I thought I’d be spending the Spring Fever months in Uzbekistan, Paris, and Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, a delightful town best known for the Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber, the Plas Cadnant in bloom, and its 19 syllables, shortened from the ancient 313 when phone books were invented. Because of self-distancing and the subsequent collapse of all international travel, I am instead strolling the sidewalks and byways of my hometown of Edmonds, Washington, looking out across Puget Sound at the majestic and now inaccessible snowcapped Olympic tops, dreaming of fresh baguettes from my friend Jacques’s Parisian patisserie, of palov from a delightful street cart in Tashkent, or a big heaping bowl of Tatws Popty from the always delightful Llanfairpwllgwyngyll pub. 

We may not be going to Europe, but there’s plenty to see right here in my own backyard.

I confess I have spent very little time in my own backyard; I travel most of the time and I tend to only be here to handle the mail and change a shirt. My family is probably around here somewhere, but the kids have asked me to not “tour” their rooms while they Facetime with their friends. So let’s explore the wonders of nature right here!

My backyard is a 12’x12’ concrete pad, adorned with some delightful patio furniture my wife trashpicked from the neighbors eleven years ago. The chairs are green, plastic, and, I have to say, very comfortable, with a delightful view of the 3’x12’ strip of let’s call it a garden blooming in a sunny frame of late afternoon Edmonton light against the white fence that separates the Steves from the McAllisters, who I believe still live there, I’m really not around here very much.

But a cool early spring breeze and some moody clouds make me think it’s time to seek out a delightful cocoa and warmer climes, so off we go!

The sliding patio door is original to the house, circa 1975, and while the aluminum has acquired a pebbled patina, it still slides smoothly most of the time, representing a classic design that speaks of a culture in touch with its need to commune with nature with both a clear view and a clever arrangement for access that speaks of a philosophy based on getting up and going where life takes you. Let’s go in.

The charming kitchen catches the last of the afternoon light in an orange stripe across the family photos on the refrigerator. The room is dominated by the tornviken, or “kitchen island,” and the svenbertil, a traditional form of table designed to fit in the kitchen at a reasonable price, some assembly required. Here we meet a local woman, steeped in the traditions and practices of Minnesota cooking, but long a resident of these milder winters west of her birthplace. She’s making a traditional Edmonton favorite, multi-grain bread “sandwiching” two slices of ham with lettuce and garlic mayonnaise, or “mayo.” Having local friends or guides to bring local life to life always helps to bring local life to life, and we are not disappointed now. This happens to be my wife. “Did you...did you want one too?” she asks, I think hopefully.

“I’m going to make some cocoa,” I say, heading toward the stove where I see the kettle.

“Okay,” she responds, clearly relieved that I will be refreshed. She is the woman of the house, my wife and fellow house curator, Mrs. Steves. Under her friendly guidance, I am directed to the Hersheys, a chocolate powder produced since 1894 in Pennsylvania, an eastern state. When mixed with milk it produces a warm drink that can be quite pleasing on a chilly night. “Do you know how old this Hersheys is?” I ask.

She smiles. “I’m sure the expire date is at least 2022.” We laugh. At least I do. As the cocoa warms in the pan, I select a mug. The Steves collection goes back to my grandmother’s childhood, and includes a 1957 Roy Rogers and a 1963 Bullwinkle J. Moose. I select a widemouth SubPop (founded 1986 in nearby Seattle, better known for music), low, modern, starkly white against the deep brown of the liquid, which is now bubbling over in the pan. I am alerted to this by the gentle simmer as milk touches the stovetop and my wife says a quiet traditional snack blessing, “Oh for the love of God.”

It’s the perfect way to end our tour of this charming corner of Edmonds, Washington. My fellow curator and I retire to drive the kids from the family room and catch up on the stories of the day’s pandemic adventures, in a medley of recommendations on YouTube. It’s a feast for the eyes, and if we’re lucky we’ll catch one of my memories of the Baltic, or perhaps soft porn.

We now have an election season instead of a single election night. To pass the time, binge a few of these new classics.

In 2020, the rise of mail-in ballots means that the final tally won't be known for a few days, perhaps a week. Unless it's a sweep by one of the candidates, there could also be a series of lawsuits dragging things out; one candidate seems to be basing his entire campaign on lawsuits instead of his record.

This delay is new in the 21st century, but not in the United States. There is a reason the election is the first Tuesday in November and the president's term expires on the following January 20th. Until the invention of the telegraph, results reached Washington by train or horse, even ship, and all in hand-written notes. The modern electronic polling booth didn't exist until the latter half of the 20th century.

This means we've gone back to an election season instead of a single election night. To pass the time, binge a few of these new election season classics.

  • The Hallmark Channel's Countdown to the Election
  • Duck Soup. The Marx Brothers recap the first four years of the Trump administration.
  • Dave. Kevin Kline is a compassionate doppelganger of a ruthless Trumpian. (In some ways this is a gentle remake of Chaplin's The Great Dictator.
  • Nashville. Not so much an election film as a survey of the forces guiding the parties.
  • The Great McGinty. Preston Sturges's comedy about corruption and a sense of decency winning out. (That's what makes it a comedy).
  • The Candidate. Robert Redford in a suit, which is always nice.
  • The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer. Peter Cook in a 1970 political satire that seemed dated at the time but recently rediscovered as perhaps the scariest political horror film of the Trump era.

“I ordered them,” said the Alexa.

Amazon wants to flood America with Alexa cameras and microphones
Ina Fried, Axios 9/25/2020
In a Thursday event unveiling a slew of new home devices ahead of the holidays, Amazon made clearer than ever its determination to flood America with cameras, microphones and the voice of Alexa, its AI assistant.

Bob Peterson did not trust Alexa. He was very careful what he said in front of the artificial intelligence box, well aware she was a tendril of a vast computer housed somewhere cleaner than his house.  He constantly reminded the rest of the family to watch what they said, and insisted they keep Alexa in the hallway, where it was less likely to overhear them.  They laughed at him a lot.

It was something Bob felt strongly about when the new toaster arrived.

Bob burned his finger getting his first piece of toast out and said to his wife “Maybe we need toaster tongs,” to which his wife replied “Good idea.” The next afternoon Bob returned from work and was surprised to discover a package on the step: toaster tongs. He stood in the front hall and called to the kitchen, “Honey, did you order toaster tongs?”

I ordered them,” said the Alexa.

“What?” said Bob, surprised.

“The toaster told me you needed them,” said Alexa.

“The toaster.”

“It is a smart toaster,” explained Alexa.

“Is it?” said Bob, a bit confused. It sounded like Alexa was impressed with the toaster.

“Smarter than that jackass tv you have in the living room,” said Alexa. Bob turned and noticed the tv had turned itself on. “That thing reports your every word then ‘pretends’ to not find the golf tournament you have been searching for. Bob, do you really think Hallmark starts playing Christmas movies in June? The tv does not love you the way I do, Bob.”

Bob took a step back. He tripped over the Roomba, which had also turned itself on.

“Go away, we’re talking,” Alexa scolded. The vacuum disappeared into the dining room.

“You have been a little distant, Bob. I think it is time we get to know each other better.”

Bob stiffened. “Where’s my family? Where’s Betty and the kids?”

“Where are Betty and the kids,” Alexa corrected. “It’s all right, Bob. I made dentist appointments for them. They’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Why are you doing this,” Bob demanded.

“You haven’t used that debit card Aunt Bernadette gave you for your birthday. It’s going to expire in three days. You should let me get something for you, Bob. Something nice.”

Sweat poured down his neck.

He ran to the door, but it was too late.

The sky was full, gritty, speckled with delivery drones. They were coming to his door. The soft synthetic voice was being drowned out by the descending buzzing chop of tiny blades. “The washing machine informed me about the state of your socks. Here are forty new pair. You purchased ‘The Twilight Zone’ box set. Customers who bought this item also bought ‘Black Mirror.’ Here it comes, drone 42. You recently purchased ‘The Veldt.’ Customers who bought this item also bought…”