Saturday, August 20, 2016

Just Put Me In A Speedo And Call Me Steele Johnson

Ah, the Olympics! The very greatest athletes in the world are on display, flipping, diving, taking a stand against gravity, poinking flea-like into the air, and being named Steele Johnson. It's impossible to watch all this human glory and not wonder: which of these events would I, personally, least suck at?

So many choices here. Track and Field is altogether out of the question. The starter pistol alone is likely to make me shit my pants and run in the wrong direction, which would suck. My only value to the team would be in the payoffs from off-track betting, where I'd produce a sturdy cash flow in the over-under for how many times I'd be lapped before I keel over at, if not beyond, the finish line. Even worse would be the power events. Your shot put, your discus, your javelin--all those things the athlete tries to get as far away from himself as possible? Not my sport. We learned this in softball when I'd run down a ball at the fence and pivot and give it everything I had, and it would ploop a lazy arc in the air and thunk down in center field. Not only do I have linguini where my muscles are supposed to be, but also I'm a little fuddled about the letting-go part. There's no guarantee the objects I'm throwing aren't going to land behind me. None whatsoever, Dave would agree--he's the one with the imprint of the pipe wrench in his forehead. I've taken out my own teammates at horseshoes. For sheer entertainment value, watch that audience reaction when I spin with a discus! The second time.

Ordinarily you'd expect I'd be even worse at the swimming events, due to my inability to swim, but in reality I'm an all-around threat, competing equally well in the 50-meter freestyle, the 200-meter flappy-insect, and the thrash-and-sink. I can stand at the edge of the pool and wobble my arms like nobody's business. And I am unsurpassed at that bit at the end of the race, where you cling to the floaty ropes and breathe hard and grab onto the person in the next lane. It's only the middle parts where I struggle.

Similarly, I show some promise in beach volleyball, because I've had so much experience sticking my butt out, tugging at my underwear, and falling over.

That leaves gymnastics, where my lack of height works in my favor, if we ignore the hooter factor. Floor exercises are not likely to be a strong point. I have occasionally been able to complete 1/8th of a flip, which is remarkable given my three-inch vertical leap. Unfortunately, it is not distinguishable, from a spectator's viewpoint, from a face plant.

Which brings us inexorably to my best event. Yes: the balance beam. The balance beam is four inches wide and I am statistically certain to fall off a city sidewalk several times a year. I will be routinely awarded degree-of-difficulty points just for walking from one end to the other, due to my handicap (lack of ability). I will have a premature dismount just standing on the end of the beam doing the swishy ballet moves with my arms. And I will totally stick the landing. Not necessarily on my feet, but I don't roll far.

I'm not aspiring to gold, anyway. I don't want to fall off any podium higher than the bronze.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Avoiding The Damp Spot

Sometimes I sit by a stream and wonder why it keeps going. Shouldn't it be possible to see the end of it? Shouldn't it be possible to watch the end of the stream go by, with a little floopity noise, and leave dust in its wake? After all, it happened to the mighty Colorado River, which now slouches along and gets dwindly and peters out into a damp spot miles from the ocean.

Which is not a great development. A couple years ago someone stood on a nice bridge across the Sandy River on Mt. Hood and must have noticed that the river was missing, and leaned on the railing to contemplate its goneness. It had just hidden behind a jumble of ice, and when that broke through, the river turned back on, bigger and deeper than ever, and took the whole bridge, and the unfortunate hiker, with it. He was found a couple miles downstream, and not in operating condition.

Similarly, I am led to understand that if you're contemplating the ocean, with its endless tide rolling in, and it suddenly disappears, you should run like bloody hell, uphill.

Well, this is practical advice. But I think about disappearing streams more often than most. Because I have been putting out this seemingly endless stream of crap here on Murrmurrs for over seven years without missing a single Wednesday or Saturday, and I still get in a panic about it. I rarely write to a deadline or anything: I have a stash. But I still understand that if I do not resupply my stash with an average of two a week, that stream is going to turn into a damp spot. I feel great if I write two a week, giddy if I write three, and there's a big shadow over me if I only manage one. Oh no, I think. It's over.

It's not that I worry my muse will go on strike. I don't have a muse. I have a running conversation going in my head in which at least one participant is funny. And I trip across headlines like "Non-Profit Collecting Used Bras To Send To Developing Countries." Then it's just a matter of sitting down and transcribing the conversation. But sometimes that doesn't happen. Sometimes there's nothing in there at all. Just the whisper of tumbling lint, same as Pootie.

But, by some miracle, we've arrived at this point with this post, which is my 800th. And I have to remind myself that just this last spring I sat on the porch with a beer, next to a piece of dog shit, and realized I could write a whole blog post about sitting next to a piece of dog shit. It's officially time to quit worrying about it all. We can worry about quality control, but that's it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Remembering A Cheshire Girl

This time of year, late June, they start before five in the morning. The dawn chorus is full on, but the bird that wakes me up is the crow that thunks down on the gutter over my head. He's a brand new guy. He goes off bleating every few seconds until his mom or dad comes by to jam something down his maw, and then makes with a sort of strangled honky noise and pauses to swallow and then goes right back to bleating again. Something similar is happening in every tree. It's nesting season, and everywhere you hear the piping and squeaking and beebling of new life.

It's a strange time to die, but that's what my friend Tamara did. It shouldn't have come as a surprise, I suppose. She got fake cancer years ago. Went in to the doctor for a routine checkup and came out with an unsolicited cancer diagnosis, and not one of your better ones. She got a port installed for chemo that maybe interfered with her tennis backhand but other than that she had no symptoms. For years. She referred to her cancer, when she bothered to do so at all, in the same way you'd talk about your neighbor who keeps parking crooked in your shared driveway. Slightly raised eyebrow and a shrug.

Jesus! Smart as hell, that one. Tamara was one of the smartest, funniest people I know, and my standards are high. Her face comes easily to mind when I close my eyes. Floats right up there like a big "yes" on a Magic Eight-Ball. So this is as good a time as any to mention how beautiful Tamara was. It's one of the first things you think of, because she had the kind of beauty anyone could agree on. If it was a blessing at all, it was probably a mixed one. Sometimes people blame a person for her own beauty, and how it makes them feel. But she had it nonetheless, and the part I can't forget is her smile. Often as not she highlighted it with impossible, arrest-me red lipstick, and she totally pulled it off, by the way. But the remarkable thing about her smile is that I do not know what her face looked like without it. I do not. She had that lightness.

Hard to say why. Hers was, by all accounts, the kind of upbringing you have to recover from, but that's what she did. The smart and the funny helped. Somehow she sifted through the fundamentalism and falsehoods and burdens and weights on the soul, and abandoned them one by one, and pulled herself steadily toward health. She wasted no time. Oh, the occasional whiskey-for-breakfast kind of wasting time, sure, or the read-all-day-in-bed kind, you bet. But she didn't squander a minute of life on regret, or shame, or self-pity, or guilt, or worry, or taking offense--none of those things that keep most of us mired in self-doubt and distraction. She blamed nobody, including herself. No ma'am: she was moving ever onward.

So it's a shock, this sudden lack of onwardness.

What else is there to report? The gardens? Fashion? Political engagement? Volunteerism? Sure, all that. But really: the food. Oh my god how that woman loved food. Most people claim to, but most women don't tuck into it headfirst by the platterful without feeling the need to apologize. Which, she knew instinctively, was a waste of time. And since she loved eating so much, she learned to cook like St. Peter's sous-chef. She loved to eat, and loved to laugh, and snorted right out loud when she laughed, and really, all that needs to be said about Tamara is that she was admitted to the emergency room on two separate occasions for snorting pasta while eating and laughing. Top that, timid ones.

It was only six months ago that her fake cancer suddenly stood up and stomped on her gut to get her attention, and then she couldn't eat real food anymore. Another person might have despaired but she just adjusted her lifetime aspirations to being able to get one nice piece of sushi down. She started to dwindle. Only the packaging, not the prize inside. She lost a bunch of weight, admitted to pain if you asked her directly, but otherwise just stayed funny and smart, per usual. Maybe it's easier if you don't have a habit of blame, or even a God to blame things on. You move onward, to the end we all share. You don't waste time.

I guess for people like her the most that is likely to be claimed for her soul is that it's now free to mingle in the spiritual plane. I won't say it. I'm not comforted. I want my Tamara undiluted.

So that's that--Tamara is gone. But I know exactly what she left behind. I can sense it whenever a chance joy settles over me, and I can see it, too, if I shut my eyes. Something sweet and bright, in arrest-me red, stretching wide across the sky.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Edit Yourself

Expertly edited photo
One of the things I had in common with my mom is an aversion to having my picture taken. That's probably because of the other things I had in common with my mom--we're both cut out of the same plain cloth and maybe too sensitive to how it's draping. But I've gotten over it. Once I started this here blog, I knew it needed illustrations so people aren't forced to read too many words in a row. So I ended up putting a lot of pictures of myself in it. I'd rather put in pictures of Pootie, but we can't always get Wardrobe to pick up the phone.

Which means there aren't too many secrets anymore. Everyone knows my eyebrows went AWOL and one of them got taken over by a mole and my entire neck region is experiencing boom times, and never mind the bust. And there's other stuff--stuff I wasn't even aware of. "Are you flexing?" Dave asked recently, and impertinently, when he snapped a photo of me in a Rosy the Riveter pose. Yes. Of course I'm flexing. But then I see the picture, and there it is: apparently I do not own a bicep. Not even after all those 16-ounce curls.

Well! Good news! No one ever has to look bad anymore, because there's Photoshop. You can twiddle with your photographs all you want and no one ever has to know until you actually show up at the reunion. It's a miracle. It's even better than the stock dummy editing features that come with your computer. Those are the ones that allow you to fuzz out blemishes and stuff. You have to fuzz them out in circular increments, so that you end up looking like the victim of a benign fungal infection, but that's still better than reality, am I right? But with Photoshop, you can go way past fuzz, and introduce alien features, such as Scarlett Johanneson.

"You should definitely get into Photoshop," a friend told me early on, speculating generously about my skill set. I looked into it. Right away there was trouble.  Evidently Photoshop is a Raster Graphics Editor, and I was already going as rast as I was comfortable with. It got worse.

Bitmaps are involved, in case you need little tiny directions. But the main protocol involved layers. Lots and lots of layers, clear layers overlaying each other. You could have text on one layer and pictures on another layer. You could have your own face on a layer and particularly desirable segments of Lauren Bacall on another, and eventually you get them all stacked up square and jam them together. (One tutorial referred to this as "compositing" multiple images. I don't know if they meant "composing" or "composting" but either way you get mulch.) The number of layers, it says, is limited only by your computer's memory. But that is not true.  Your own memory can cause you to generate an unwieldy number of layers because you don't know where any of the previous ones went.

There are tools, but you won't remember where you put them down. There's an eyedropper, but it makes your layer blink. There's a magic wand, but that's not as slick as you'd like either. Nothing about the process seemed likely to come easily to me. But I do not despair.

Because I am the Master of the Workaround. Behold my skills, and be amazed.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Old And Stupid

I'd seen the man before. Eighty, maybe; he'd figured out where the card catalog had been banished, off in a corner behind the Circulation Desk, but now the card catalog was altogether missing, and he was in line at the desk, seething. The nice woman escorted him over to the table and set him up in front of a computer monitor, and walked him through the basics, kindly, with one hand on his shoulder, and when she finally left, he poked away for a few minutes, with every keystroke bringing up new and ever more irrelevant screens he was helpless to dismiss, until finally he stood up as straight as he could and walked out of the library for good, carrying a little chunk of my heart.

Nobody likes to feel old, or stupid. Not even old stupid people like it.

I preferred the card catalog myself, but somehow I was able to loop a lasso over the new technology when it first arrived, and even though most of the time I'm flapping in the wind behind the technology as it races ahead, I'm still holding on. It was infuriating at first. The computer screen seemed like a big bright sign flashing "you're dumb" over and over at me, but when I finally quit protesting and said "you're ugly" back at it, things got easier.

It's just that when you've lived a long time it seems like you should know more than other people. That's supposed to be the deal. And instead you know less.

Doesn't even have to be something as important as unlocking the key to the world's knowledge. I can't even unlock the key to my little portion of fossil fuel. Sometimes years go by without my having to pump my own gas, because it's illegal here. And when I do, I want signage. There's never signage. Do I put a card in? Or is this one of those places I have to go into the little chips 'n' pepperoni store and throw down a twenty before the pump even flickers on? I need a PIN, really? I need to see a guy in a little booth? What? Just put out a sign. I can follow instructions. How come everybody else knows what to do? And they do. So when their pump isn't working, they know to move to a different pump, and not just sit there festering and assuming they're the idiot. They've got confidence. They've got self-esteem.

They've got gas.

But food should be easy. We went into a restaurant the other day, and, finding no sign saying otherwise, we wandered to a table, sat, and waited. And waited. Oh? Nobody comes by? Okay. We go to the bar and there's a menu posted up high, and a bunch of stuff coming out of the kitchen. There are two bartenders. At some point we get aggressive enough to bark out a beer order, and then ask another customer how he got food. He pointed to a small knot of people bunched up at the bar. You order at the bar, he said. Right there? we said. Under the sign that says "Do Not Form A Line?" What do we do if there are people in front of us? Aspire to randomness?

"That's just supposed to be ironic," he said.


One sign in the whole damn establishment and it's supposed to be ironic. How am I expected to know that? My new friend shrugs and glances around at a restaurant jammed with young, happy, eating people who all knew that, who were effortlessly surfing layers of meaning.

"It's a little meta," he added helpfully.

I'd stay, but it's time to hitch up the buckboard and git on home. Pound grain. Slaughter the goose.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

And She Eats Children

Not to toot my own horn or anything, Petunia, but I knew you were icky a long time ago. Way back when your husband was getting his knob polished in the Oval Office--why did he need to drop his worm in another pond, I asked myself? And then you just stood by him, with no self-respect at all, and showed your daughter, and, really, all our children, that there is no consequence for bad behavior; you stood by your man out of sheer unbridled ambition. Or possibly you loved him, I don't know, but you could have left, although that would have broken up the family; the point is either way you didn't care about your very own child; every single thing you could have done was wrong, and you know what? At the very least that shows poor judgment, to get into a predicament like that. Still, I didn't write you off then.

But shoot, honey. What about all those people you killed? Honestly, I can live with that, and if they're friends of yours they probably had it coming. It's just that smirk that rankles, that sense of entitlement, that "I can murder my best friend but you can't" sort of thing. That's off-putting, sugar.

And you've been so slippery on gay rights. We're supposed to believe your thoughts on the subject "evolved?" Get real. Everyone else in the country was completely on board with gay marriage twenty years ago. A person should be able to take everything she believes at age fifteen right to the grave without changing a thing, if she's an honest person.

So about those emails. Sure, the deleted ones weren't important. We believe you, honey. You were just setting up Bunko Night with Angela Merkel, and getting that cookie recipe from the CEO of Goldman-Sachs. But don't tell us you can't prove it. We all know where they are. They're right there in the itty bitty trash can at the corner of your screen. I'm giving you a pass on this one because you're, you know, old.

But how are we supposed to feel about the super secret three-way Asian trade deal you negotiated? Yeah, we read all about that on Facebook, and on a lefty's page, too. Finland gets to ship polar bear scrotums to China, China sends supple Asian boys to the Kremlin for the Putin Games, and Finland gets a new, metered oil pipeline from the Arctic Sea across Russia and Mongolia and emptying directly into the Sea of Japan--all in exchange for you being guaranteed three speeches a year to the Heikkinen-Smirnov-Wong Benevolent Association at five mil a whack. Thought we wouldn't find out about that, huh?

So you tried to divert our attention. You promised to build a wall between the financial sector and the banking sector and make the Koch brothers pay for it, but, you know? We got the Kochs on the phone and they said they didn't think they would, so what's the plan? Face it, Puddin'. You're blowing smoke.

Fighting for our children, my fanny. We keep hearing how much you love children, but what people need to realize is you love them breaded and fried, and when you talk about saving children, you're talking about in Tupperware. And between us gals, I've been fine with that all along; there's a case to be made that we have too many people in the world, and the most pragmatic and efficient way of approaching the problem is to eat them when they're still small and tender, but darling? Your cleaning lady told Breitbart News last week that you leave the refrigerator door open for minutes at a time while you're checking out the leftovers, and I'm sorry, call me an energy nazi, but that is totally it. That's where I draw the line.

Saturday, July 30, 2016


You know those things in your sidebar that say stuff like "PLASTIC SURGEONS DON'T WANT YOU TO SEE THIS ONE SIMPLE TRICK FOR LOOKING TEN, TWENTY, EVEN EIGHTY YEARS YOUNGER"? I don't usually click on them. But this one drew me in. It said "Do you ever wonder if your time to shine could be behind you?"

If anything behind me is shining, I want to know about it.

Turns out it was a message from an authentic, self-renowned plastic surgeon, and he had some amazing news. He said there are not one but two factors making people look older--and most people are unaware of the second one!

I'm even dumber. I got the first one wrong. (I was thinking "age.")

But no! The first one people think of is "wrinkles." And the second, and more mysterious and devastating one, is Gravity. And this here fellow says there's something you can do about it. NASA's going to shit their pants.

I actually was aware of the gravity thing, myself. Some of my body parts that used to be on a strict no-miscegenation policy are now intimately acquainted. If my breasts sag any more I'm going to be able to snap nylon stockings onto them. But what can be done about gravity? I read on eagerly, imagining myself bobbing attractively in the air like a Macy's balloon.

The good doctor went on to assert that most of us think people are looking at our faces, when in fact a full 57% of what they see is the neck. Well he lost me there. That's bullshit. If anyone is looking at me at all, they're getting at least 80% neck. I have a small head but a huge neck. It's like a big bag of pudding. My head and neck look like a Macadamia nut wearing a hoop skirt. Whenever the nut nods, the skirt sashays.

Even though my new plastic surgeon friend had lost credibility, I continued to read nearly all the way to the end. Turns out he's hawking some kind of anti-gravity cream. It's fancy. It's European. And it's less expensive than plastic surgery. Maybe not a lot less, but less.

In principle, I'm in. But I'm going on the cheap. I'm going to get a tub of Vaseline, and then I'm going to rub it on your eyeglasses.