Saturday, July 4, 2015

Red, White, Blue, and Dust-Colored


So they're going to redesign the Postal Vehicles again. Probably a good idea. Mail carriers deliver mostly packages now and their vehicles are set up to deliver antique letter mail from twenty years ago. But they used to change the vehicles every now and then just to rattle the crew.

I personally preferred the ones we started with in the '70s. They were little right-hand-drive Jeeps and you could reach everything you needed from the front seat without dislodging a butt cheek. Each one had its own idiosyncrasies. If you were a lowly sub, you'd get to choose something particularly quirky from the bottom tier of the fleet. It took a certain amount of mental agility to switch from the one with the window that wouldn't go down to the one where you had to stand on the gas and the brake at the same time to modulate your speed. I hadn't been working there too long before the day I tried to save time by sliding open my door as I was coasting up to a stop, and it slid clear off its rails and cartwheeled down the street behind me. Fortunately no bystanders got decapitated but I do remember looking in my rear-view mirror and thinking: even without a decapitation event, this isn't ideal. I could probably get in trouble for this. But I backed up, hauled the door off the pavement, and stuck it back on the rails good as new, making a mental note that Jeep 998 is the one where you have to be careful of the door, and if I had a choice, I'd try to get the one where the engine didn't turn off even when you took the key all the way out. Because that one had a stellar emergency brake.

A tidy bunch
Big change after the first couple years. The Jeeps were repainted WHITE red and blue from the former BLUE red and white. The extra paint gave the rivets a little more integrity. We got used to the white. Everyone liked to use Route 532's Jeep because the carrier, a neat dresser with aviator shades and a lounge-lizard beard, had it tricked out with wall-to-wall carpeting. For me, it didn't make up for the cigar stench or the fug from the pine-tree deodorizer.

The Jeeps were troublesome but entirely too useful and soon enough we had them all swapped out for Ford Pintos. The big hump running down the middle for the power train proved to be a pain in the ass to arrange mail trays around, but worse, Pintos were already famous for blowing up whenever someone tapped them on the rear bumper, which is probably why the Postal Service got them cheap. And whenever we drove them up to a stop sign, we could hear an ocean of fuel sloshing back and forth underneath us like an ominous tide. It was like straddling a low-tech rocket. For the first time, we had three-point seat belts, too, so we wouldn't be able to bail out immediately when we were set on fire. Nobody missed them when they were towed away.

A few forgettable station wagons (K-Car? Aerostar?) were trundled out and abandoned and then they
came up with the first vehicle specifically designed for us, and not whacked together out of an existing fleet with extra trays bolted on. The LLV was supposed to last for twenty years, and maybe it would under the care of someone who had purchased it for personal use, but the best of us sought only to keep the daily damage to a minimum. The LLV required actual training to operate. It was an opaque box. There would be no looking over your shoulder to back up. Instead, it was decked out with dozens of mirrors on all corners, some of which were aimed at other mirrors so that you could make out what you were about to back into, as long as you knew which mirror to check and as long as it wasn't raining; and some of the mirrors were purely there for extra jazz. Most of us were never sure if we were looking at traffic coming up on our left, traffic behind us, or a video of little toy cars. We each had half-day training on the LLVs and were pronounced good to go as soon as we could drive five minutes without crushing an orange cone.

Within a few months all the predictable problems were solved by a new edict from Management that we were no longer allowed to put our vehicles in reverse. This meant we couldn't get in or out of the garage. The edict was altered slightly so that you could put your vehicle in reverse if no one was watching, but if you hit something, it was totally your fault because they warned you.

These are the vehicles that are being phased out now. The new ones will allow you to stand up in the back and have lots of room for packages. The mirror situation probably won't have improved. If you have to track the trajectory of your sliding door as it goes sailing down the street now, you're probably out of luck.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Getting To Know You


In a number of states it is now an official position that you should get to know your fetus before you have it evicted. And that is why it has been suggested that a doctor should conduct an ultrasound of the fetus and describe it in detail to you. Democrats, in general, don't see the point of this, although actually they do. So there have been other suggestions.

Taking a page from the elections department, where hanging chads are examined by a member of each major party, some legislatures are proposing that a Democrat and a Republican should be in attendance during the ultrasound, since it is assumed that a woman who has already had to get used to having one extraneous being in the room is not going to mind a committee.

The Republican doctor will begin by remarking on the length of the fetus's fingers, and exclaim that he has the hands of a violinist.

The Democratic doctor will point out that this is also a good attribute for a pickpocket, and that in any case the Republicans have eliminated funding for music education in the schools, leaving the accordion, drum kit, and boom box as the only choices readily available to children.

The Republican will say that although the little tiny soul is not actually visible in the ultrasound, probably because it is being blocked by the elbow, it is most assuredly there and has been since before the blastocyst stage.
4. Little tiny soul

The Democrat will note that the image is cloudy and there is no feasible scientific way of determining for certain whether or not the fetus is already on the path to becoming a meth dealer, but there is no way to rule it out, either.

The Republican will comment that the child with all its perfect components parts (listed) will, if given the chance, be born into the Land of the Free.

The Democrat will say, clearing his throat, he doesn't know about Free, but it costs $241,000 on average to raise a child to adulthood, adding, however, that it is not at all unusual these days for that adult child to remain in the basement playing video games, whacking off, and getting Cheeto dust all over the furniture until he is well into his forties.

The plan has been implemented on a trial basis in a number of counties in Texas resulting, in every case, in bloodshed or the threat thereof, with the unarmed Democrat considered to be at a distinct disadvantage.

As a result, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a.k.a. Notorious RBG) weighed in on the issue, proposing that the single Republican doctor should indeed be the only one in attendance, just as soon as he finishes reading Where The Wild Things Are to a million frozen embryos.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Morpheus Had A Pillow-Top

You've probably heard of the Sleep Number bed. You can dial in your own level of comfort for your side of the bed depending on your personal doughiness quotient and the current mood of your spine. You get your own weirdly specific number. It's a miracle. With just a twist of a dial, it virtually eliminates divorce.

We have such a product because as a species, we've evolved into princesses. It wasn't that long ago people had to hole up in a cave to crash, after relieving some mammal of its hide. We didn't sit around. We did stuff, and we got tired and went to sleep when the sun did. We didn't lie awake at night wondering if we were going to run out of money.

Actually, there is some evidence that ancient humans did make a bed. They've found one in Africa that was 77,000 years old. It was a big pile of grasses. They're sure it was for a human and not a prehistoric giant hamster because it still had the tag that says do not remove under penalty of law and hamsters are known for having that criminal bent.

Beds got fancy at various points in history, especially if you happened to be a pharaoh or the King of France. But your average American bed in the 1700s was very small, as was your average American, and accommodated most of the family. If company showed up, you jammed them in there too. It was all armpits and stinky feet but nobody complained much.

My Uncle Cliff used to tell me how happy he was the day, once a year, the mattress ticking got fresh straw. The old straw would have stiffened up after assuming the shape of the occupant's lumps and bulges, and by the end of the year a youngster might have outgrown his own bed's personal topography. But if you're a kid dry-farming wheat and seeing a herd of dairy cows through the North Dakota winters, you're way too tough for a Sleep Number bed. You're not princess material at all. New straw was just about as good as it gets.

When we went on vacations, Dad always insisted on checking out the motel bed before he forked over the $16 for the room. It was his opinion that mattresses should be hard. I think that was because he preferred to stay put and not tip into the middle, and soft mattresses always got saucer-shaped. At home he and mommy had a double bed and switched to twin beds pretty soon after I (a very late addition) came on the scene. There might have been a connection.

I don't think I'd ever slept in a king size bed until I met Dave, and never mind how soon after I met Dave. It was a revelation. The other person might as well have been in the next county. Years later I encountered my first pillow-top mattress, and suddenly even Dave's big old mattress was obsolete.

Now I have a bed with serious acreage and plenty of cool spots to roll into. The pillow-top is stuffed with camellia petals and sustainably harvested unicorn belly fur, the layers interspersed with endorphins and air collected from just above a puppy's head. I love it.

Best of all, the covering is dimpled so even if my tiara comes loose, it won't roll too far.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Naked Came The Trilobite


Ten trekkers climbed the highest peak in Malaysia, took their clothes off, and snapped photographs of themselves, thus pissing off the mountain to the degree that, after thinking about it for a few weeks, it let fly with a fat earthquake. Four of the trekkers were fingered and detained and the remainder has apparently fled the country to points unknown, putting nerves on edge at the margins of tectonic plates worldwide.

The trekkers themselves have mocked Malaysian authorities who have accused them of causing the earthquake, but they're on shaky ground. I myself once climbed our state's highest peak in the company of a young man who stripped down to his hiking boots for photographs at the very top, in full view of Mt. St. Helens, and two days later that mountain shot off some thousand-plus feet of elevation. Coincidence?

In that case, and also in the case of the Malaysian visitors, the climbers' motivation was the same: they were expressing their sense of freedom, they were getting closer to nature, and they were young enough to be pretty goddamn proud of how they looked.

There's a good record of evidence that public indecency has a direct causative effect on earth movements, so much so that we can conclude with confidence that if there is an earthquake anywhere, somebody somewhere was probably naked. Similarly, it is also true that such events always happen in threes, given enough time, after which we start counting over. There is some disagreement on the issue in scientific circles, although scientists can generally be discounted because of their habit of writing snotty personal emails. However, they do make a good point that there used to be a lot more tectonic activity when the world was younger, long before humans were invented, and even longer before pants were invented. Still, the science is young, and it is expected to be years before we can devise methods of verifying episodes of naughtiness among trilobites.

Vagaries of climate can similarly be traced to untoward human activities, as was recently noted in the California legislature, when an assemblywoman declared that the terrible drought was caused by God's wrath over abortion. And there might be something to it. I once voted for a presidential candidate who merely favored abortion rights, and I not only didn't get my man, but we ended up with some weird massive war. There was a Dick hanging out then too.

And whereas I am certain that the trekkers in Malaysia did somewhat tardily cause the earthquake, I'm not so quick to maintain that the mountain was pissed off. Could have been it was just excited. I'd have to see the photos.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Cisgendered, And It Feels So Good

Me and Uncle Bill
So it was a couple weeks ago I first saw someone refer to herself as "cisgendered" and had the usual reaction ("what now?"), and the prediction, made to Dave, that although I'd never seen this word before, I would now see it several times within the next week. Actually, I saw it twice more that same day.

I looked it up, of course. I don't mean to be disrespectful with the "what now" reaction, but there is a rather large range of ways of being human, and more and more words all the time to slice the human experience into its component wafers, and it can be a little overwhelming for those of us who still routinely leave one ingredient out of a five-ingredient pie.

"Cisgendered," a new coinage, refers to the state of feeling pretty much like the sex everybody always thought you were. In other words, "reg'lar." And at first it would seem one didn't really need a term like that, but, of course, the point is to drive home awareness of the existence of other ways of being. Which (the awareness) is a good thing. "I'm cisgendered, and you're transgendered" is thus a replacement for the more common thought "I'm a man, and you're just weird." It's a little like if we started calling ourselves "colored" so as to become more mindful that some people are albinos.

I probably got an introduction to the concept of transsexuality earlier than most in my generation. Nobody used to talk about it as much as we do now, but I learned I had a transsexual aunt when I was sixteen. I never had trouble accepting that there were people who did not feel any allegiance to the sex they were told they were, because clearly that was the case, but I didn't quite understand it, either. And not because I felt so strongly that I was a girl, but because I didn't.

I kind of don't care, either way.

I certainly never felt like a boy. But I also had no interest in the sort of things girls were expected to do, or be. Pink horrified me. I was not a tomboy, or at least not a good one. Couldn't throw a ball. Couldn't get too far up a tree. I did like catching frogs, but I'd never have tried to frighten anyone with one (out of consideration for the frog). I had a huge collection of stuffed animals and every single one of them was a boy, except for one that was handed down--a bear with a rubber face and eyelashes painted on--"Mrs. Teddybear." Mrs. Teddybear was the least interesting animal I had. I loved my own mommy but the prospects for females seemed dull.

When I tried to imagine what it felt like to be a girl, whether "in a boy's body" or not, I couldn't come up with much. Even now, if I were to prioritize a list of adjectives that described me, my sex would come pretty far down the list, and I'd put it in just to help you recognize me at the airport.

Maybe my confusion is because I'm so very cisgendered, but I don't know. I tend to see my life as an adventure with a frame of mortality around it, full of opportunities to create and to revel in Creation, and the suit I get to wear for the ride feels irrelevant.

There's a flap now over Bruce Jenner's transformation to Caitlyn and in particular his introduction in a high-glamor shot. (I did find myself thinking: what 65-year-old woman is named "Caitlyn?" What's wrong with "Debby?") I used to be put off by done-up women, myself. Forty years ago a friend put it this way: "I don't like female impersonators, and I don't care what sex they are." I thought that was cute, but it's not really true. I think male female impersonators are a lot of fun.

So it's fine for Caitlyn, and all the rest of the hair-dying, skin-slathering, Spanx-wearing, made-up women in high heels out there. I just don't really get it.

I would, just once, like to be able to put on a nice blouse and skirt and have the right shoes for the outfit, all at the same time. Just once.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Go For A Ride?


They set up a traveling amusement park on the waterfront for the Rose Festival season. After it's broken down and packed away, the city crews have to spend several months trying to resuscitate the turf, but this is considered a worthwhile public expense for the peace of mind of having had all those scary teenagers and smelly people penned inside a cyclone fence for a few weeks. We walked by it the other day. Dave looked wistfully at The Big Sling. It's an expensive ride for a two-minute thrill but it's probably quite the thrill. It's the one where they slingshot you straight up into the stratosphere at three times the speed of projectile vomiting. I'd try it with Dave but I have an aversion to sustained really loud noises, and it doesn't help if they're coming from me. I still don't like them.

When I think about it, I can't remember a single time I have been flooded with adrenaline that I enjoyed.  I don't even like to be dampened with adrenaline. Every last experience from singing solo to being followed in a dark alley to roller coasters has been a horror. But Dave has recently expressed an interest in doing an amusement-park tour in California. In fact, he wants to go to Disneyland.

Already there's a little adrenaline spike involved here. Disney was not allowed in our home when I was growing up. My father had a thing about Walt Disney and when the Wonderful World of Disney came on the TV, even though it was in living color, not that that mattered on our TV, we couldn't watch it. I didn't know why at the time, but as an adult I read that old Waltster was appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee, calling out people for being Communists, and that, right there, would have been enough to keep Mickey Mouse out of our house. As far as I knew, our television didn't even work on Sunday nights until Ed Sullivan came on. Ratting on people to Joe McCarthy? For an unrepentant liberal man raising a family, that was plenty enough to get you the boot. No Disney; No Mission Impossible (covert interference in other country's affairs is repugnant); no Hogan's Heroes (Nazis aren't funny). So even though Daddy has been dead for 35 years, there's a little illicit thrill to be had by even thinking of going to the Happiest Place On Earth.

But that's enough thrill for me. Dave likes the kind of rides that get your viscera going hard in one direction, and their contents in another altogether. The kind that repeatedly lead you to believe YOU'RE ABOUT TO DIE but ha ha! you don't. Does the Little Mermaid run a waterboarding concession? I'm not interested, so Dave thinks I'll be a sorry amusement-park companion for him. I don't see why he can't flip  himself silly on the Diarrheaton while I cling carefully to the edge of a slowly-spinning teacup, and we go have a beer afterwards and compare notes. But evidently there is great joy to be had in terrifying me right out of clean underpants, and I would be denying him that joy. "Just try it," he's going to wheedle, for hours, and eventually I will cave, and I will hate every blasted second of it, and he will be unable to stop smiling.

Meanwhile Disney has just hit the news by firing a bunch of their higher-tech employees. They were eased out as a squadron of workers from India was eased in, under a government program that awards visas to foreigners that are more skilled than our own workforce. Of course, the replaced workers had to spend three months training their replacements to make sure they could do their jobs at least as well, so there's some question about whether their skills were really lacking, but my goodness, the immigrants work a lot cheaper, and it turns out you can put a price tag on that.

"I guess your dad was right," Dave said, after I showed him the article. We're liberals too, so we'll probably have to settle for the second happiest place on earth. As long as it has a roller coaster, please sweet Jesus a teacup ride, and beer, we'll make do.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Can We See A Show Of Bands?


Last week Dave and I walked downtown to catch the Rose Festival Parade, as usual. Our timing was a little off. When we ambled up to the route, we saw that we had already missed some of it. But there were chairs set up right on the street, courtesy a hotel, and no one was in them, so we sat comfortably in the shade, feeling lucky, just in time to see a high school marching band come blatting by. Up. Town. Funk you up. Uptown funk you up. If that doesn't bounce you in your cushy hotel folding chair, you need to get your bouncer re-strung.

This is my favorite part of the Rose Parade--all the high school marching bands. Everything about them. The uniforms that fail to make them identical: the clarinetist marching around inside his uniform just trying to touch cloth; behind him a uniform completely stuffed with trumpeter. The brass. The drums. The sheer bravery of the outgunned piccolo section. It makes me cry. If any of the bands rips into Stars and Stripes Forever, I fall apart completely. I can't remember seeing any parades when I was a kid, and I was never in a band or orchestra. So I guess I'm nostalgic for a past I didn't even have. Probably most of us are.

We settled in. Horses prancing by with flowers heaped on their butts, as fine a metaphor for overcoming adversity as I can imagine. A group of ladies from a foreign land doing swirly dances in diaphanous costumes. Bagpipers with knobby knees. A teeny tiny ladybug float that must have represented a budget shortfall in the city of Washougal. The Budweiser Clydesdales, which halted for a few minutes, casting about for people to stomp into salsa. The annoying announcer lady on the stand warning us to stay out of their way, just before she climbed down to have her picture taken in front of them. More swirly costumes. And then, a magnificent troupe of choreographed--what the hell? Street washing machines?

We missed practically the whole dang parade.

We missed the One More Time Around Marching Band, the old farts that maybe slap a rose on their antique high-school instruments and play Louie Louie to the very limit of their lungs for three miles. We missed every single float bigger than a ladybug. We missed the Rose Festival Court, although they've really been missing for years.

Used to be a thing. Every high school had a princess, and a nod was given to those who had a decent grade point average or a lofty personal goal and consideration for mankind, but they were all cute and sweet and decent, and we followed their selections in the paper, and picked favorites, and noted with approval their chaste matching outfits, and their trips to the nursing homes, and the coronation of the Queen the night before the parade. Then all those activities became suspect, and a greater effort was made to include girls who relied a little harder on their Inner Beauty, and then the whole princess idea became so civically embarrassing that they just nominated them in the dark of night and issued them matching T-shirts and jammed them onto a float and gave one of them a tiara but didn't tell anyone about it, and nobody cares anymore. Missed them too.

But I can close my eyes and imagine the rest, the best. The high school marching bands from Wilson, from Beaverton, from Battle Ground, from all around, resplendent in polyester, kept apart sonically by wedges of floats and classic cars and llamas, but carrying the day, a glory in brass, a resounding pair of Louies bobbing above a sea of Uptown Funk. Don't believe me, just watch.