Saturday, January 20, 2018

In The Clutch

Dad taught me how to drive a stick. Or at least he set out to. I'm not sure the entire learning process was completed on his watch. I got my learner's permit a few minutes after I became old enough to qualify, and learned to drive on his 1968 Volvo. It was his first automatic car, so all I had to do was locate what I needed on the PRNDL and then try to keep everything between the road stripes. Later he picked up an authentic VW camper with a stick shift and decided I should learn to drive that too. It's hard to understand why a man would sign up for such a chore, but he believed strongly that people should be taught things. I don't remember driving it through the city but at some point he headed me to a freeway on-ramp and told me to go go go.

That part was really noisy. There's nothing natural about using a clutch. There's a fine ballet involved between the clutch and the gas pedal and you just have to keep whacketing away at it until they agree to a proper pas de deux. There was a tremendous racket as I chugged down the ramp, the sound of years being ground off my father's life, and finally I staggered into traffic at a lurchy 30mph, lucked into fourth gear as cars careened around me, and everything settled down. I can only imagine that my father thought the freeway was a good place to practice shifting because you only had to do it once. At any rate, this was the new Beltway around Washington, D.C., and I'm not at all sure how many loops I did before Dad came to, but eventually we got back off again. I can't remember how we got home.

The time it all finally clicked was freshman year in college when I got a ride from a friend and I asked if I could try driving the stick. He said okay. There was no good reason for him to do that except he wanted to get into my pants. That transmission squawked holy hell for a few rocky miles and then I kind of got the hang of it, and we negotiated the rest of the deal later.

All of which comes to mind because I recently read that the clutch is one of the things that is likely to disappear altogether in the not too distant future. You mention manual transmission these days and people think it's what happens when you sneeze into your hands. And I've been surprised to learn that most kids nowadays have no idea how to operate a clutch. They don't have to know, of course.

The spiffy new truck.
Unless they want to borrow our truck. We're on our second truck now, a ratty 1986 Ford, and it's popular in our neighborhood because if you want to make a dump run or haul in a couple yards of cow poop you don't want to mess up your own sweet ride. This still seems spiffy enough to us. Our first truck was a heroic and massively ugly 1969 International Harvester with power nothing. It was hell to steer, and it wasn't that easy to shift, either. There was nothing tight about the gearshift. You'd start it in second, unless you were trying to pull a house off its foundation, and by the time you were farting around in the massive neutral territory trying to find fourth, there was always a chance you'd find reverse first. So trepidation was a constant companion. This meant you might veer into the oncoming lane a bit while you were shifting, but it wasn't too dangerous, because anyone seeing this truck headed their way was already as far over as he could get. No one was going to win a jousting match with our Cornbinder.

But now I live in a brave new world in which I must beg store clerks to talk slower, and ask mere children how to operate my whizbangs and disentangle my interwebs. I feel like an aged immigrant fresh off the tuna boat, gaping at skyscrapers in dread. So I'm kind of chuffed about the manual transmission thing. Sure, you can borrow my truck to get that sofa you saw on craigslist. You can drive a stick, right?

Oh, watch that fresh young face crumple in embarrassment!

Aww, that's okay. I'll drive you. Hop in. And I start 'er up, and stomp that clutch, and ease 'er into gear and say Okay, where to, Cupcake?

Oh yes. I'm going to call them Cupcake.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

It's Being Looked At

It hardly seems fair, but I guess now, on the list of things you must not do after your first trimester of pregnancy, we can add "being gazed at by Braco." Braco is a healer. A healer who gazes. At you. Not one on one, so much, but at special Gazing Events with lots of other people in attendance. People show up from miles around to attend Braco's gazing sessions and a whole lot of them report feeling better about things.

Braco himself does not claim to be a healer, and says at best he is a conduit for healing energy that comes from somewhere else, most likely the sun. Remarkably, attendees at a gazing Braco performed from the top of the Sun pyramid in Mexico reported seeing a circle of white surrounding the sun afterwards, which might have been a refraction of the sun's light off the tiny ice crystals in high, thin cirrus clouds but might also have totally been a personal how-do-you-do from one star to another; there's simply no way of knowing.

Braco (pronounced Braht-zo) was born Josip Grbavac in a vowel-poor region of Croatia, and was aware of his power to channel the Unknown Infinity early on, although he went ahead and got a degree in Economics just in case. He met and was mentored by an older healer, Ivica Provic (pronounced Shlotz-kaputz), who had also shown signs of being special early in life, when, as he reported, a little piece of the sun entered his left leg and traveled through his body to his groins. This had troubled him for years until he had a vision of a boy with a big injection who came to inject him. After that he met the young man he renamed Braco, and they really hit it off. Ivica was an economist too, if you can imagine that! He had had more than one near-death experience before having the all-the-way one, to which poor Braco had the misfortune of being the sole witness. Ivica, who never wore less than a kilogram of gold, uncharacteristically removed all his jewelry and his wallet and was then swept away by a rogue wave. Unfortunately for him, his pal Braco did not discover his own healing powers until a day or two later.

At first he trained his Giving Gaze on individuals but too many people clamored for a gazing, and now he gazes only at big groups. He charges eight dollars for a ten-minute session, or four dollars an eyeball if you buy both, which is a pretty good deal, considering a plumber won't show up for less than a hundred bucks. He attracts very large crowds because a lot of people have something wrong with them. In addition to barring women past their first trimesters (when hormones make them skeptical and grouchy), he does not allow people under the age of 18 to attend, due to the intensity of the energy, and also they might fidget and make fart noises. He does allow live streaming of his gaze for free. (In fact, he's live-streaming today through the 18th.)

Also, and only at the sessions, his trademark jewelry is available for purchase, such as his double-sided thirteen-point gold-and-diamond sun pendants at $470 a pop.

All the healing gaze you need.
All he does is gaze, and as a writer, I find this his greatest power. There are approximately eight thousand ways in English to describe a look, from glimpsing or glancing to peering and staring, and eyes can drill, and cut to the side, and flash, and drop, and be cast down or askance, and be daggers or gimlets, or what have you, and in spite of the sheer poundage of eye-related pages in the thesaurus, by the time you're a quarter of the way through your novel you have completely run out of them. Try to sneak one in you've already used in chapter one and your readers will hate you for it. They will roll their eyes. They can do that more than once, but you can't. Maybe it's easier in Croatian.

Because Braco has lots of books for sale. Also DVDs. Just with the gaze. The audio versions didn't get any traction.

Hat tip to Pat Lichen for introducing me to Braco, whom she discovered the standard way, by finding his card while rummaging though an old box in church.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Serving Mammon

All over the world, and for much of history, women have tried to avoid getting pregnant, and often sought to abort if they did, even at risk of their own lives. In modern times, wherever abortion has been legal, abortions rarely resulted in their deaths. I do not know if making abortion legal results in more abortions. But it's very clear that legal, available, and affordable birth control results in a lot fewer abortions. It's not even debatable. Statistics bear that out.

Nevertheless every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan's has instituted the so-called "global gag rule" withdrawing aid to any organization providing reproductive healthcare that includes abortion, or even alludes to abortion as an option. This has a large impact on the provision of birth control and invariably leads to more abortion. The current Republican administration has gone many steps further and has withdrawn money for all charitable aid services, if the organization that provides them does not denounce abortion. Mortality from malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, and other diseases is expected to spike. That is what it means, now, to be pro-life.

An adviser for the administration's new policy issued a strange rationale. She said "The Trump Administration, and most of America, doesn't believe that taxpayer funding ought to go to abortion. And it certainly shouldn't go to nations that generally are very, very pro-life, which is true all across Africa. The cultural imperialism that exists at the heart of this idea, that they can't be happy unless they have abortion like we do, is outrageous."

Cultural imperialism. This is not a phrase she came up with off the top of her head. This is calculated propaganda straight from a think tank.  The idea is to rip a page from the left-wing playbook, mark it up a bit, and toss it back. We lefties hate imperialism. We're always going on and on about countries forcing themselves on other countries. We're anti-colonial. We find it deplorable to blast our way into another culture and replace it with our own.

We are so shocked by the audacity of the phrase in this context that we splutter and falter. There are so many things wrong with this that we don't even know where to start objecting. That's the point, of course.

We're stuck with this counterproductive policy because those in power are not especially interested in reducing the number of abortions. They are interested in claiming their place in a holy war, marching into battle with the brightest banners and the loudest trumpets, a battle in which abortion is the greatest of sins but war is a perfectly honorable way to murder people. Many of us liberals are puzzled by the willingness of some self-described Christians to overlook or even reward reprehensible moral behavior in their candidates--let alone their worship of mammon--but we are making the mistake of imagining their doctrine stems from the Gospels, from the Sermon on the Mount. From Jesus. And it doesn't. It comes from Revelation. And according to Revelation, Christians are headed toward a final, cataclysmic battle for the human soul, and the sides we choose will mean our salvation, or not; so we'll follow that godly anti-abortionist, anti-gay leader straight to the gates of Hell, and it doesn't matter how many people we kill along the way, as long as they're post-fetal. All we need is righteous fervor and enough sacrificial Muslims.

With a few exceptions, the leaders themselves don't care about these issues. They're in it for themselves. The President himself almost certainly doesn't care about abortion--I'd be astonished if he hasn't paid for more than one himself--but he knows a good lever when he sees one, and many people can be maneuvered into voting for plutocrats as long as they swear allegiance to the right hot issues. Millions of single-issue voters will flock to their side if they claim to be anti-abortion, or pro-gun. But make no mistake, they're on their own side. They're fine with war. They'll make one out of whatever they have at hand.

That is why Iraq was selected to be bombed into smithereens after 9/11. Iraq was irrelevant but handy. Over a half million Iraqi citizens perished and those that survived lost their livelihoods as the United States, having manufactured deliberate chaos, privatized industry and opened up the country to piracy by multinational corporations. Billions were made and funneled off to private hands as our conquering armies smoothed the way to installing unfettered capitalism, which was the main goal all along. Quite a caper for a party that disapproves of "cultural imperialism." Iraqi society predictably disintegrated into factions, many of them now stoutly anti-American. And on and on it goes. Our leaders still profess to be against terrorism, but they're not. That's something they can use. Peace is the enemy of profit.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ready, Set, Hunker!

North Dakota, 1939
Populations affected by the recent polar vortex bomb cyclone have been advised to unhunker carefully, as scientists and other liberals are warning of worse to come. As noted elsewhere, the latest arctic blast was particularly widespread, with sleet grenades reported as far south as Texas, and experts caution the public to remain wary of exploding residual land mines loaded with frozen ass shards.

Another big blow is forecast, but nobody is expected to enjoy it. This year's Nor'easters are predicted to be more than usually violent and may degenerate into widespread rioting and looting. It is recommended that those who must venture outdoors obtain a Sou'wester fitted with a retractable awning and a portable laser weapon system. This may offer limited protection against the anticipated storm of frozen-off testicles, some up to three inches in diameter, which are anticipated to pile up in drifts up to two feet in unsheltered areas; after their initial deposition, these are not expected to be a hazard to the public until the first thaw.

In the West, expect atmospheric rivers to surpass flood stage, although insurance industry estimates of damage to structures, initially predicted to be high, should ease after mudslides of biblical proportions obliterate all evidence of previous habitation.

Elsewhere, expect generalized pestilence and intermittent outbursts of contagion as legacy zombie viruses newly released from melting permafrost begin to migrate down a low pressure trough. Poxy pockets with periods of pus are possible, and storm systems previously ferrying a cargo of locusts from sub-Saharan Africa are now likely to pick up massive mutated futuristic death crickets as well. Shingles is another possibility, although it will be restricted to just one hemisphere at a time.

Not all is lost: there is some hope that snow accumulations in Florida will raise the elevation sufficient to withstand rising sea levels, at least until next summer. Nothing, however, is expected to dislodge the persistent system of climate-change denial which invariably forms an obstinate gyre anywhere money meets greed.

Extreme drought in some areas has become so entrenched, however, that estimates of its duration are now being revised several months back in time, to achieve proper direness. Officials of the Pirates' Mutual Benefit Association recommend that the remaining molecules of water be captured in small plastic bottles and distributed to those in need at a 10,000% markup. This should supply continued funding to maintain misinformation sites well into the future, although even now the truth has  been unable to withstand the stubborn high pressure area parked over the Petroleum Institute.

Climate scientists peevishly remind us that recent extreme cold weather events do not mean the climate is not warming, but that climate warming should result in localized weather phenomena that will be ever crappier. If you had crappy weather before, you are now looking at a shit blizzard. Doots of doom are headed your way.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, where we have been accustomed to quite moderate weather conditions, we have been warned that the climate should become even more moderate, eventually reaching maximal averageness. In some localized areas such as Portland, a typical resident might be able to get by wearing the same stinky hoodie every day of the year, and don't think he won't.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

And A Happy Epiphany To You

I never know if we're going to get a Christmas tree at all. It's up to Pootie, and sometimes he plays his cards pretty close to the vest. This year I really thought we were going to get away with no tree. That would have been fine with me. We've stripped Christmas way down. I've gone from making a dozen presents, at 15-60 hours labor per each, to Nobody Gets Presents. I've got my time spent on Christmas cards down from about fifty hours to about fifteen. Now we put on carols for a couple days and eat extra chocolate and one year we had a special beer at ten o'clock Christmas morning, and that's about it.

Besides, if we averaged last year's tree with No Tree, it would come out to a normal-sized tree. Last year's tree was five feet taller than our ceiling. Other people, standard-issue people who are neither too tall to see what's on the bottom shelf nor too short to change the light bulb, might think that means the tree didn't fit, but we're accustomed to making things work around here. We're not a matched set, ourselves.

The only thing our trees have in common is us. We've had tiny little ones and great big ones and once we stapled a huge branch to the wall. We don't have what you'd call a tradition. Not like my niece Elizabeth. Elizabeth's mom always put up the tree on Christmas Eve and not a minute earlier, and they'd spend the evening decorating it. It was big and fat. You'd just sort of push the ornaments into it. She had gobs of antique ornaments. I think it was because her own dad was an admiral and lived all over the world, and maybe he had dirt on some oligarchs. So maybe some of the ornaments started out as hair pins for the Romanov girls. Or were made by Currier for Ives. Or lived in Mata Hari's navel. I don't know. They're fancy. They'd decorate until bedtime and then Elizabeth would wake up at two in the morning and come down and open all her presents and that's where the grownups would find her come daylight, sitting happily in a mound of wrapping paper and toys without a single regret. And now the ornaments have all been passed down to her, and she continues the big fat Christmas Eve tree tradition.

Meanwhile, across town, Dave kept asking if Pootie wanted a tree this year, and I kept saying hell if I know why don't you ask him, and sure enough, finally, late on Christmas Eve, Dave let on that Pootie did want a tree after all, now that it was 33 degrees, dark, and raining sideways. You'd think you could get a bargain in those conditions, but no. Evidently, there was a Christmas Tree shortage this year. I'm not sure how that happens, inasmuch as almost everybody knows when to expect Christmas, but it did. And we're in a Christmas Tree producing state. That's what we got: trees and hops and hazelnuts. It beats coal.

But we did find a great tree. Might be my favorite tree of all time. Charlie Brown passed it up. It's got about six branches on it, and it's about a foot wide. It's no bigger than the portion of last year's tree that stretched along the ceiling. "Twenty bucks," the tree guy said, and I said Really? And he said "Yup, twenty bucks," and I said Reeeeeally? And he said, "Yeah, it's a Doug Fir, twenty bucks," and I said "It's a noble," and he said "Yeah, that's right, twenty bucks," and I said "Dave, pay the man." It's the Art Of The Deal for Democrats.

It IS a noble fir. My favorite kind. They're stout and sparse. You can hang bowling balls from them and they don't even shrug. We stuck it in a concrete block and jammed a towel around it, and Pootie and Dave did the decorating with Pootie's own ornament collection, which owes more to the Dollar Store than the Romanovs.

I do know it comes down on Epiphany. Epiphany is the day on the religious calendar commemorating the moment Mary told Joseph that she didn't care what else he was planning to do, the damn tree was coming down now. I guess it came to her all of a sudden.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Nothing More Than Feelings

I like to check multiple weather forecasts, and haven't noticed that one is more reliable than another, although I admit to a fondness for the one that says things like "Rain beginning in 27 minutes." I like that level of audacity in a field known for its shruggers and wafflers. Sometimes it's even right. What I don't like is when the forecast tells me what the weather will feel like. I'm supposed to be in charge of that.

It's going to be 39 degrees tomorrow, but it's going to "feel like" 34. Says who? Who's out there who knows how much clothing I plan to wear or whether I'll even roll out of bed? It's presumptuous. They've got all sorts of data and they want to show off. They've got the temperature, the dew point, and the wind speed. They toss all those in the bucket along with some salt and algorithms. Algorithms are little tiny tornados used for stirring. And then out comes the "RealFeel" statistic. It's annoying.

Because I want to figure that out for myself. I want to read that it's going to be 39 degrees with wind gusts up to 30mph and a light fog. That's plenty vivid. I can work it out from there.

Modern weather people would ruin the trip to Grandfather's. Over the river and through the woods to Grandfather's house we go! That's a lot of nice useful information. I can see the horse, I can see the sleigh, I can hear the jingle bells and feel the powdery snow bursting out of the evergreens. Modern weather people would stick Gramps's address in Google Maps and hit "get directions." Sure, you'll get there. But if Grandma hands you a TV dinner it would serve you right. [Children: a TV dinner is a dinner you eat while watching TV. Um, TV is something that lived in a big box and had shows in it, and if you weren't there to watch them that was that. They weren't coming back.]

So I'm worried about the "feels like." It seems like a short walk from there to your whole house deciding how to dress you. Already I've bought a winter coat that, according to the tag, is good down to a freakishly specific minus-four degrees Fahrenheit. There are probably coats for every increment on the thermometer. Soon enough that mouthy little Alexa is going to check the weather app five minutes before you get up and consult with your coffee machine and and a drone is going to drop you a nice outfit on your bed in your favorite colors, as determined by what your retinas flick to in the popup ads.

Which means you will never be uncomfortable again. But discomfort gives your soul needed texture. It expands your range of happiness. Witness the whininess of people who are momentarily forced out of their 72-degree air-conditioned comfort zone. Their capacity for joy is all shrunk up.

We were plenty happy when we were little, because we didn't have control over much of anything. The snow would come down, and Mommy would stuff us into our little snow suits and boots after making sure to drain us first and out we'd go. We didn't even notice we were cold because we were busy building a snow bear. Later we'd come inside and pull off our slushy socks and stick our feet up against the heat register until they itched from chilblains. Does the weather forecaster know the state of our boots? Does he know whether we're going to build a snow bear?

Worse, now there's no room for hyperbole. You can't come in the house hoo-boying and stamping your feet and tell someone the wind picked up a load of tiny ice daggers and drove them through the gap in your muffler and now your neck whistles because of all the little holes punched through it. Or that you know your ass froze off over at 33rd and Sumner because you heard it clank onto the pavement. Someone will just make a little frowny face and look at his phone and say, "Well it feels like 34."


It just seems like I should have more of a say in it, somehow. But after all, even when we went to Grandfather's house, the horse knew the way to carry the sleigh, so maybe it was always an illusion.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Missing Buttons: Out With The Old

"Ten Things You Should Throw Away Right Now."

Sure! I'll click on that. I'll click on that because throwing things away is of personal theoretical interest to me. I'll click on that because I have too much stuff and it feels like a burden. In fact if you come to my house and admire something on my shelves I'll probably give it to you. No, not that thing, but maybe a different thing. I'll click on that because it's almost like really doing something, such as, for instance, throwing something away. I'll click on that because I have laundry to fold and email to answer.

I'll click on that even if it turns out not to be a nice enumerated list I can skim in a half a minute, one through ten, on one page. I'll click on that even it if turns out to be a slide show with the next-slide arrows buried halfway down the page past the first scroll in a muddle of ads and pop-ups that have to be swatted away.

I'll click on it because there might be a good point or two to be made that I hadn't thought of. I'll click on it because my life isn't dwindling away fast enough and if there's no more time to waste, I should find some, and waste it.

"Ten Things You Should Throw Away Right Now." Click.

All righty then. All the stuff on my refrigerator should go. Yeah, there's a point to that, but some of the infants displayed on our fridge aren't out of college yet, and they're not really taking up space. Number two: throw out your old cosmetics. Way ahead of you. Number three: ditch that box of buttons. Say what?

This list has officially lost all credibility. Why in the world would I get rid of my button box? Well, they explain, the odds of your ever needing any of those buttons are vanishingly small; you'll toss out your clothing before it needs a spare button, and the button you need isn't in that box anyway, and the box is taking up space. They have no idea what a button box is for. A button box represents the slim but enticing possibility that you will one day have the exact right thing that you need, yes, but that is the least of its powers. If you slip your hand in a button box you will feel the silky liquid movement of solid objects, all the wealth of coins without the stain of lucre: buttons are the tangible currency of an attentive soul. You can dip your fingers in the buttons and they'll tumble and slide around you like friendly minnows. Your own four-year-old self is in that box and you can visit her with your wrinkled hand any time you want.

What? This is our beer refrigerator.
Number four: Throw away your mattress. The hell! My mattress and I are an item. But, they explain urgently, your average mattress has ten pound of your dead skin cells in it.

So? I was done with those.

Evidently you not only have ten pounds of your dead skin cells in your mattress, but you have a legion of mites that feast on your dead skin cells, and although they will not do anything to you, the entire prospect should fill you with revulsion and a sharp urge to buy a new mattress, according to Mattress! Mattress! Mattress!

Also, puts in Extreme Mattresses Plus, it's not really ten pounds of dead skin cells, but more like double the weight of the original mattress. Mattress Universe suggests something in the middle range, but contributes a magnified photograph of a mite. You should throw out your mattress, is the point.

The hell. If my mattress is full of my deciduous portions and mites are going to town on my former self, that just makes me feel like a good hostess. Have a ball in there, and try to keep it down after ten p.m.

I still have laundry to fold and email to answer, but there's a limit. I'm clicking off. I may be missing a few buttons, but I'm not about to give them away.