Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The One-Butt Kitchen

Before and after!
No tour of my old house in Arlington would be complete without a visit to the kitchen, which was big enough to hold a canister of homemade cookies, and always did.

To get there, you hang a left off the tiny living room and angle through the tiny dining room until it squirts you out into the kitchen. In a house of small rooms with no sensible flow to them, the kitchen stood out for crampedness and weird design. For instance, the back door, basement door, and closet door all opened out into each other. If you found yourself in the closet, you should just stay there. (It's a classic 'Fifties sentiment.)

My folks did a remodel in 1960. I have photos of our kitchen "before" and "after," and although my mom was probably pleased with it, there wasn't much difference. There's a new Formica countertop with boomerang spangles in the "new" kitchen, with, I think, a matching table. The cabinets were replaced with something smoother. There was a regular-size refrigerator with rounded corners and Arthur Godfrey lived in the melamine radio on top of it.

Back then, they didn't even make fridges the size that people can't live without now. If you opened up our fridge you'd have found cheese, eggs, and milk. (Modern children don't even know where milk comes from! It comes from the man in the little hat who lives downstate and leaves it by the back door every Saturday.) You might also have found a few other items such as a lemon-shaped container that says "RealLemon" in order to distinguish it from real lemons, which we didn't have any of. The freezer had ice cube trays and bags of frozen vegetables. Take out one of the frozen green bean bags and a couple cans of Campbell's soup and you've got supper.

New dishwasher
But now, of course, there's a stainless steel stove and granite countertops and a stainless steel refrigerator that could shelter a polar bear. They must have given up on the little breakfast table because there's no way all this stuff fits in that little kitchen. Most disturbing of all, the new refrigerator is to the right when you enter the kitchen. And I cannot for the life of me come up with what used to be there. I only ate breakfast in that room every day for sixteen years and I can't remember for sure what was on that wall.

Old dishwasher
Probably another counter and cabinets. I have the dimmest recollection that I would stand on a counter over there to reach the highest shelf and get a little nip off Dad's Taylor Sherry bottle. He had a glass of sherry once a year and, I assumed, never noticed the theft. Alcohol was another thing, like a rec room, that other kids' houses had but not ours. As a result, the first time I got schnockered, I was at the Cellar Door in D.C., at least three years underage, to see Laura Nyro, and I ordered sherry, because I didn't know the name of anything else. My parents simply refused to prepare me for adult life. I think that's the takeaway here.

But I have one legacy. I still like Formica. I like it better than granite. When my beer glass comes down on the counter, which it does often, I don't want it to go CLANK. That might not be what my parents had in mind, but there you go.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

That Old House

In 1976, Mom and Dad sold the house I grew up in. They'd originally bought it for about what you'd pay to put some carpet in it now, and sold it for $60,000. That astonished them, and they didn't give much thought to the fact that it sold in the first half hour. According to Redfin, it's now worth around a million. I was back in Arlington, Virginia fifteen years after I'd left and I stopped by. I put on my most disarming face and knocked. A couple came to the door, and I explained my heritage, and peered hopefully between them, because they were standing side by side, arms linked and shoulders pressed against the door frame. "I guess you can look at the back yard," one of them said, reluctantly, and followed me back there to monitor.

Well that was disappointing, but that's what comes of having your crummy old house be in a currently hot location and worth a lot of money: Republicans buy it. I assume. I won't say anything else about Republicans this time, except that it strikes me that they are fearful people as a whole.

Then it occurred to me recently that if the place had ever been up for sale there might be a slide show of it online, and guess the hell what? There was! There were thirty photos of it looking every bit the way I remember it! Nobody ever added to it or "opened it up." Which means it's still a little house with itty bitty rooms jammed in and no sense of flow.

The front door still gives into the living room. In the photos, which were presumably designed to put the place in its best light, it is clear there is no room for today's furniture. Everyone in our family was fun-sized, and consequently we had little sofas and chairs. If you put in one of those modern big-ass sofas and stuck your feet out, nobody could get by. I suspect the furniture depicted belonged to the seller, because if you were going to stage it professionally you might not want to stick an enormous TV on the diagonal in the corner to demonstrate how much room there isn't. To get a similar effect, they could have put my current piano in the living room with the narrow end extending into the dining room, and set up bar stools and place settings around it.

Daddy and I are in the enormous-TV corner.
This house is palatial, from the perspective of a modern urban tent dweller in a median strip. Or an immigrant or refugee. Or of any human alive in the front end of the twentieth century, or the million years preceding that. But utterly inadequate for a teenager in the 'Sixties. Teenagers are not known for broad perspectives.

If my friends came over, the front door would open into that living room, where my tiny Mom and tiny Dad would be sitting in their tiny chairs, and still taking up most of the room. And they wouldn't leave. In their defense, there was nowhere else to sit. And so we mostly crowded around cross-legged on the floor and minded our language. It was not an ideal situation, socially.

Because we did not have the rec room that thoughtful, loving parents would provide. Ohh! The rec room! A whole basement all shined up with fresh linoleum and a bar and pretend wood paneling and a big ol' stereo and ash trays and sprawlable furniture! Cue the celestial choirs! We had nuclear bombs and Civil Rights marches and assassinations and war and all of it would have gone down so much easier if only we had had a rec room. Amazing things happened in rec rooms, where parents never materialized. The moon landing. Wholesome socializing. Loud music. Drinking. Drugs. The televised draft lottery. Making out. Actual sex. Oh, my parents were cruel, cruel.

A million bucks. They're calling it two full baths now. None on the main floor, still, but upstairs there's a tiny one. Tall people sat on the toilet sideways. The sink is now a vanity but I don't know how they get the door open. And they have in fact redone the toilet in the basement. They have opened that up, at least, into Dad's old darkroom, and there's a shower and everything. It used to be a little hole in the corner with a funky toilet and cracked sink, cinderblock walls with guard spiders and the occasional bat, and one photography magazine on the floor. Dad didn't subscribe to any photo magazines, so this was an anomaly. If you picked it up, it sprang open to a page with artful black-and-white nudes. I think he thought he was the only one who used that toilet, and Mom certainly didn't, but unfortunately for him, he taught us to like spiders, the naughty boy.

When I lived there, there was a massive bed of bearded irises, my Dad's favorite, and a compost pile and another flowerbed and vegetables and five large maple trees. Now there is a daylily, because they're hard to kill, and a lawn. Dollars to donuts the people who live there now pay someone to mow it. Yeah, we know who they voted for.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Meet My Tweetheart: Studley D. D. D. Windowson

I have mealworms. Let the seduction begin.

I have mealworms, two industrious chickadees, and a box of beebling baby birds at the goober stage, all ready to assemble. Marge and Studley Windowson did find the mealworm stash near the suet feeder on the other side of the house, or someone else did, but still I yearned for intimacy. I did not want to attract scrub jays. I gave it some thought. The mealworm store lady probably couldn't guess how much time and care I was willing to devote to this project. I cracked open the window close to the birdhouse. When I was certain only my chickadees were around, I eased a worm out onto the windowsill. Nothing happened. But when I turned my head for a moment--okay, I went to the toity--it was gone.

The next day I edged my palm out onto the sill with a mealworm in it. Studley definitely saw it. Studley definitely wanted it. He made feints at my hand, hovering. Then he landed on the sill, weighed his responsibilities against his fear, stabbed at the worm and rocketed off like he'd swatted a tiger's nose on a dare. A half hour later he was landing on my finger. Then on Dave's finger. On two hearts at once.

They say there are wormholes in space-time. Portals to other universes. I was already smitten, but it wasn't until the next day that my entire soul tipped into that gravity well. I was outside weeding and stood up to stretch, and there came a flibbet of wingbeats, and there was Studley, on a twig eight inches from my face. He tilted his head, back and forth, sent me one bright black eye, then the other. And I fell through the mealwormhole into Studley's world.

I wasn't anywhere near his window. And I was wearing a hat. But he knew me. Had he been looking at me for years, even as I was looking at him? He's paying attention, that's for sure. Dave stands in the garden with his hands relaxed at his sides and a small grown bird tucks into the cup of his fingers. I get out of my car and a bird lights up the closest branch, and dips over to my hand, his feet as important and small as punctuation. He doesn't weigh any more than a held breath.

Marge hasn't taken the plunge. That's okay. I worry about habituating Studs to people, although he's only stalking Dave and me, but he did land on neighbor Anna's teacup. It's white, just like the ramekin I carry mealworms around in. Maybe it's because I've zoomed in on so many photos of Studley, but even now, when I see him through the window, he seems larger than he really is. Substantial, even. He's not. He wouldn't tip a scale with a peanut in the other pan. He is a tiny, tiny bird. But he's smart.

He's damn smart. He's probably known me for years before discovering I'm useful. When I'm too slow to get him a worm, he knocks the hat off my ramekin and helps himself. He goes off to a branch to subdue it for a baby's gullet, whap whap whap. When we call it a day and go inside, he figures out where we are in the house and hovers at that window.

He knows when beer-thirty is.

I know what he likes me for. But is it love?

I want to get this right.

The sober voices say all love is self-interest. The sober voices are measured in their assessment. They manage risk. Keep their own hearts on a short lead, safe from disappointment.

I choose headlong.

Because I don't know just where a love story begins. But maybe love is the name of the charged ether that joins our worlds. I do know I've got the trust of the smartest, bravest, most valiant chickadee in the whole world, a world that can be frantic, and grabby, and barren. Does he feel a lift in his little gray chest when he sees me? Does he love me too? It might not matter. I've got enough love for both of us.

Pin lovingly fashioned by Amy Weisbrot, amyweisbrot@gmail.com



Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Love Story: Tweet One

Who knows where a love story begins?

The best ones don't always start with the precision of Cupid's arrow. Some take time. And sometimes you can fall in love without even knowing someone's name. In this case, I had a name. But I wasn't sure who to attach it to.

Marge and Studley Windowson were more of a concept at first. True, I did have a pair of authentic chickadees and a house to put them in. But I didn't know if it was the same pair every spring. I didn't know which one was Marge and which one was Studley. I didn't even know how they knew. I think they just did what felt natural and then waited to see who the egg dropped out of. Strictly speaking, this is not the case. I read up: the female scouts the nest site and puts the mattress together while the male brings around snacks. So I knew who was who while Marge was hammering away in the nest box, but then as soon as they were both on a branch I was all befuddled again.

Fortunes change. Some years they blasted in with 5,000 bugs a day and baby birds came out. Some years they took off and left their eggs unloved. One year they were aced out by nuthatches. It's always something.

But then last year one of them showed up with a bum foot, and it turned out to be Studley. Brave Studley curled his swollen toes up in his belly feathers and devoted his days to supporting Marge any way he could think of. He parked on a nearby twig with his head swiveling for danger. He chased away smaller birds and hollered at the rest. When he came back this spring, with his missus, and minus two toes, I about lost my mind with joy. I wanted to take up trumpet. The cups are still rattling in the cupboards.

The trouble is, there's always trouble. It's harder to go from an egg to a journeyman bird than you might think. There are wasps. Mites. Other birds can't be trusted. Several of my neighbors are devoted to seeing that their cats can express their wild nature, and my yard is where they like to do it. And the tree that used to shade the Windowson residence has only a cowlick of leaves remaining. If the eggs don't get poached by a critter they could get poached, period. I learned how to reconstruct the nest box to keep it cool, but too late to avoid disturbing sweet Marge. Fortunately, it hasn't gotten hot yet.

But once the bug and grub train gets rolling, it'll be Grand Central around here. By the time the nestlings are about ready to fly away, Marge and Studley will be hauling in groceries about once a minute, dawn to dusk. You'll never see a stronger work ethic. Last year their brood failed. I wanted dearly to help.

"Mealworms," I told Dave, who reminds me of Studley.

We took off for the mealworm store.

What I wanted to do, I explained to the mealworm store lady, was crack the window open and dispense mealworms from my windowsill. I'm right there a couple feet away from the bird house. Maybe they'd even take them from my hand, I said, all fizzy with the possibility.  I once spent a half hour still as a statue with sunflower seeds in my hand and snagged two indelible seconds with a pine siskin. And of course I've had gray jays land on me. If you wear a suit made out of cereal, a gang of gray jays will strip you naked in nothing flat.

The mealworm store lady frowned. You don't want to attract scrub jays, she said. If you have a suet feeder on the other side of your house, you could hang a mealworm feeder underneath it and your chickadees will find it right away.

That felt less personal. But the image of a scrub jay slicing through the air with a fuzzy new nuthatch reopened a gash in my memory. I did not want to attract jays.

But I did buy the mealworms.

To be continued. This post and the next are dedicated to Julie Zickefoose and her wide-open heart.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

PPSD: Phantom Pee Spot Disorder

You know that feeling when you've sat down on a toilet seat and there was a little drop of something on it but you don't realize it until you stand up again and there's that little cool spot on your butt that you hope is water? Hold that thought.

I'm at the age where people complain they were never warned about this or that health issue. Actually, I'm way past that age, because a lot of it happens during menopause. Or perimenopause. In fact perimenopause is one of the things that people say no one told them about.

So in case no one told you about it, perimenopause refers to the years right before authentic menopause in which your body is just experimenting with how it would be if all your youth-enhancing hormones disappeared. So one day they'll drain out and the next week they'll surge back and be all What do you think about me now and you won't know whether to laugh, cry, or stab someone just because. "Nobody told me my periods would get heavier and more frequent," people complain, nor do they mention that from time to time you will be passing something that looks like a small damp rodent, or that you will develop new moles everywhere, and then plant whiskers on them like flags, or that you will be asked to cut down on sleeping for a few years because you can sleep when you're dead which by the way is coming right up too.

That business about being all crabby because your hormones are in flux is something people do tell you about, but it's not true. You're crabby because you're just about at the age when it will become obvious you married the wrong person or wasted thirty years at the wrong job, or had more kids than you needed or will ever use, or you realized you didn't follow your dreams because you never had any to begin with even though everyone assumed you should.

They don't always tell you about pre-perimenopause, which would be the thirty years before perimenopause. If you're lucky someone will have warned your nine-year-old self about periods but even so that first one is still going to come as a big surprise, and like as not people will have glossed over some of the nastier details in favor of something more hopeful like "You're becoming a woman." So even with the basics, you can't always count on a ton of good information.

And as long as we're about it, they don't tell you about how unpredictable your periods are going to be, especially the whiz-bang very last one that happens two years after the one before and one year after you've gotten rid of all the paraphernalia, as soon as your last hormone can detect you're wearing white pants.

They don't tell you anything about fibroid tumors and when they do, it's because you already have them, and then they tell you they're usually benign, although not always. They don't mention that they like to sit on your bladder like a big fibroid joke.

They don't mention the connection between laughter and laundry.

There's stuff men don't get warned about either. Like peni-pendular recession, or the effect of scrotal gravity on the hairline. Nobody ever talks about that, but those bow-legged old men with gigantic foreheads didn't come out of nowhere.

And so as a public service I offer all of these observations to those who might otherwise complain that no one ever told them about them, and add the following:

Sometimes your body gets just a big kick out of itself and makes shit up. Like suddenly developing a dime-sized portion of your left buttock that feels just a little colder than the surrounding acreage and every time you pull your pants up you think: did I just sit on a wet spot on the toilet? Five times a day you think that, for a couple weeks, and then you realize your own buttock is doing  that to you for no reason medical science will ever discover. There won't be a name for it, or a ribbon-color for it, or a foundation devoted to its cure.

So don't let that come as a surprise.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

All Bloom And Bluster


Truth be told, the foxglove population here has been demoralized for years. It started when the Echium "Mr. Happy" was brought home in his little four-inch pot and settled in the ground. Not much to look at, at first, but his tag was all braggadocio. He was going to be something, boy howdy. Ten-foot spike with impressive girth, like you've never seen.

Some of the foxgloves warned, darkly, that this was going to be trouble, and kept going on and on about this being one more northern foothold in the Californification of the garden, blah blah blah. But no one cared. Mr. Happy wasn't bothering anyone else. The annuals gabbled away as the one-season wonders they were. It's just a big ol' rosette, they said. The more the merrier, and all that.

But the foxgloves had been the dominant biennial flower spike of the region for a couple hundred years, and they had a more mature perspective. Nothing good could come of this. Have you no sense of heritage, they said? This is not normal, they said.

Pssh. The zinnias didn't care for all this gloom and doom, and, if they were to be honest, they thought the foxgloves could stand to be knocked down a peg. Don't worry about it, they nattered, unbearably cheerful as always.  No way he's going to make it through the winter. He's a flash in the pan.

The foxgloves began to relax. Mr. Happy was a buffoon, a joke. He's just an entertainer--he's not going to ascend to his bloom year. The foxgloves settled into proper dormancy for the winter confident that the upstart would be revealed to be the clown he was, come spring. But they had not counted on all the behind-the-scenes support from unknown benefactors. The plastic wrap. The light bulb.

And to their shock, the next spring, there he was, still among the living, and he quickly shot up into the sky, surpassing the foxgloves in height, girth, and glory, and proceeded to go on and on about himself all summer long. The annuals were impressed. Annuals are easily impressed.

The foxgloves conferred and came up with some proposals but nothing made it out of committee. It was infuriating, they thought. How could it not be obvious that Mr. Happy was an impostor, a bluffer, a fraud, nothing but a big-ass tower of bloom and bluster with no qualifications whatsoever? How could he be Number One? Why are the zinnias falling for this fool?

Mr. Happy is the greatest. Mr. Happy is the biggest. Mr. Happy is the best. How could anybody believe this crap? The foxgloves laid out the situation, hoping the truth would win the day. But nobody cared. Look at how all the bees made the shift, they said. Everybody's so busy. Mr. Happy is totally a job producer.

The foxgloves grumbled helplessly. Job producer, my plump pink petals, they said. Bees will work for nothing. Employment numbers don't mean anything  if everyone has to work five thousand blossoms a day just to make it.

And so on. Until this year.

It started with murmurings in the understory. Sharing of scuttlebutt. Botanical buzz. The first stirring of hope among the beleaguered foxglove community, and whispers that their long, yardular nightmare may be coming to an end. Mr. Happy's grandkids have arrived.

And what a motley crew they are. Pinko. Stubby. Knobbles. Slim Jim. Fuzzball. Who's your daddy, Mr. Happy? Hmm? Because there's a lot going on in this woodpile. Different sizes. Shapes. Colors.

The foxgloves want it to be known they have no trouble with a little color variation. But they have a feeling Mr. Happy's base doesn't see it the same way. Heh heh.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Your Secret's Safe With Portland Disposal And Recycling Company

The Oregon Supreme Court came down on the side of Liberty the other day, and meth cooks are jiggling their teeth loose celebrating.

They found in favor of a couple of methamphetamine dealers and threw out their convictions based on the notion that Oregonians have a right to expect privacy in the matter of the garbage they leave out on the curb. Because it's in an opaque bin with a lid on it, a universal sign for Not Yours, Mister Man.

Oddly enough, this conclusion is at odds with the big-boy Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., even though they're way fatter fans of Liberty when it comes to things like the freedom of corporations to purchase congressmen and things like that.

In the Oregon case, police were suspicious of the couple when their trailer kept blowing up and highly unattractive people were coming and going and Walter White's name was on the reserved parking space, so they had the garbage company hold out their garbage for inspection. Without a warrant. Which the court now says they should've had one of.

I'm a huge fan of this kind of decision. Big ACLU proponent, here. Unreasonable search and seizure is an important concept in a free country, but I draw the line somewhere the other side of my garbage. I do not, personally, feel I do have a right to privacy when it comes to my garbage. I'm throwing it out. That's why it's called garbage. If you don't want someone finding something in your trash can, go dump it in a restaurant dumpster like a grownup.

Maybe people should be required to go through our garbage. And I don't say that because I have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm deeply ashamed of mine, and you should be too. Everything in our garbage can is evidence of our failure to conduct our lives in a sustainable manner. We did buy all that packaging. We did dump that appliance that only worked for a year. We did own a plastic singing fish.

The Oregon Court says even the garbage company isn't allowed to look at your garbage. If your garbage man happens to notice a bunch of blood-stained bundles of meat that might plausibly be rearranged into a human being, he is expected to overlook it, and if it upsets him, he should've taken up typing. Because your private garbage is still your private garbage even though you've given it away.

The one dissenting justice thought this was nuts, and he said a garbage company should be able to take your garbage and "gift it to the police." I object to that too. Nobody ever needs to "gift" anybody anything, for Pete's sake, as long as the word "give" is still loitering around in the language. I'd be perfectly happy to instruction them about that later.