Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Get Me Some Aggressive Morning Drizzle


Weather forecasts are crazy good now. Also, a little arrogant. Accuweather just cheerfully offered up the information that two months from today will be overcast and cool, with a possible afternoon thundershower. There's a lot you can find out. I can check the forecast on a minute-to-minute basis. I also like checking out weather in other places, which is how I discovered a San Francisco forecast for "aggressive morning drizzle." People think our own common winter prediction of "sun breaks" is funny. There's a pollen count. A mold index. There's--what's this? An outdoor pest forecast and an indoor pest forecast? Really?
 
Unless the Indoor Pest Forecast reads "moderate to high until the first day of school," this makes no sense to me. Can they see my ant invasions from space now? I can't bring myself to rule it out.
 
But it turns out they are making predictions based on such things as temperature and humidity and other factors that either favor certain pests or don't. Myself, I've never been able to associate any particular thing with when the ants go marching in. I think it's random. Depends on any given scout ant's perambulations and his personal degree of ant charisma.
 
As far as I'm concerned, if this is a measure of humidity and temperature and wind speed, you might just as well call it an Irascibility Index.
 
Indoor, but not a pest
The Indoor Pest Forecast became less of a mystery with the following notice: "The weather is favorable for a moderate level of indoor pest activity such as ants and cockroaches. Plan insect control products accordingly." At the bottom of the forecast in small letters it says "In partnership with SCJohnson and RAID." I guess you read the forecast to know when to line up your sprays and bombs. Otherwise they can stay under the sink and threaten visiting children. 

And the Outside Pest Forecast? That would make a lot of sense in Maine, where the vermin are unionized and punctual. In Maine, my sister used to get phone calls from her friends who lived 45 minutes away. (Everyone in Maine lives 45 minutes away from everyone else.) "Ayuh, black flies are in," they'd say. "Should be up your way by Thursday." Which means the Maine forecasters could use that hourly deal. 3pm, mosquito arrival in Waterville. Tomorrow, cloudy with a chance of Lyme ticks. Sunday morning, midges depart Brunswick for Deer Isle.

My collard greens
But that's mostly not what an outside pest forecast is about. There's a forecast for corn rootworm, black cutworm, corn earworm, alfalfa weevil, soybean aphid, and Western bean cutworm. There is a cucurbit downy mildew forecast. A Fusarium Head Blight prediction center. This is important for farmers looking to economize on poison purchases. I scan through these data bits with mild, but not personal concern, the way I read about monsoons in the Philippines or tornadoes in a trailer park. Until I came across the Blueberry Maggot.

There's a blueberry maggot?
 
Get SCJohnson on the line. My irascibility index is spiking.


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ode To Joy


The more I know, the less I know.

That's the way it's supposed to work. If you have a question that doesn't lead to way more questions, you're not doing it right.

Take this whole subject of birds. I don't feel like I know much about them, even though the average citizen knows even less. I've accumulated some knowledge. But even the birds I know on a personal level, the ones I've observed closely and avidly, are mysterious.

So I don't know what's been going on with Studley Windowson this year. But it hasn't been a normal year. Just as I think I've got him all figured out, he changes it up. Since I started keeping records a few years back, I've discovered he and Marge start flirting, building the mattress, and sending baby Windowsons down the production line on pretty much the exact same days each year, or they don't miss by much. And whatever I don't observe directly (their front door is inches from my window) I can intuit by the interest level Studley shows in mealworms. That is one fine hard-working bird and provider, and although he will happily consume three or so mealworms himself at a time all fall and winter, there comes a day he flies off with them instead, and that's when you know wooing has begun. The mealworm intake ramps up when Marge is on the nest and he brings her lunch. And when the little Windowson goobers poink out of their shells, he grabs a ride on the Mealworm Express. He's zippeting back and forth all day long from wherever we are to the nest, and even later on he waits to grab three at a whack before he takes off. He looks like a dang puffin, fully herringed.

2011, possibly young Studley
This year, though, I was confused. Seemed like things were going along fine, but he wasn't taking as many mealworms, and at least once I saw him take over twenty of them and stash them in a crape myrtle. Every time I thought he was on schedule, there'd be a pause.

When I trimmed Dave's hair and beard, I hung up a bag of it near the nest box. And although I thought I heard Marge hammering the mattress together at about the right time, I didn't see a lot of activity. Just as I decided they were nesting somewhere else, I'd see one or the other of them pop in and out again. Seemed like the thing was happening, but the day the babies should have pecked themselves out of their shells and started squeaking came and went.

Later I watched Studley go into the house empty-beaked and come out with a soggy worm. I saw that a few times. But well past when there should have been little Windowsons. It was almost as though he was using the nest box as a pantry.

2018, first year with bum foot
He was hanging out in the hibiscus with a younger model, but I think that was a kid from last year. The younger model is very interested in this mealworm thing, having observed Studley score plenty, but every time he got a little closer and looked like he might give it a whirl, Studley ran him off.

And he'd still come by for his own personal worms. Not every day, but pretty often. He looked skinny. He always looks like shit this time of year what with the molt and all, and skinny because he's worked his little wingies to the bone. But I finally concluded he did not have a family this year.

On August first, after a few days' absence, he stopped by the back porch for a few worms. Something made me note the date, which I'd never done before. Something was off. He came by August 2nd. And August 3rd. He hasn't been by since.

Most chickadees don't die of old age, they say. They can max out somewhere around eleven, but most make it only two or three years. Something gets them. I've seen how cautious Studley can be. He is constantly looking around. Hides from hawks. Hides from us, if he sees Tater Cat in our window. And he's got experience. Something nipped off part of his foot. Something took out his tail, last winter, although it grew back. It shows he's either good at this survival business, or just the opposite. One of the things I don't know.

And I don't know how old he is. I was checking back, and chickadees have been renting out the nest box every year since we put it up in 2011. I couldn't tell one from another until the year he hurt his foot. Which makes him at least four, and possibly eleven.

A few days ago, I took down the nest box. Didn't know what I'd find. And what I found was a complete new grass mattress, untrampled, with Dave's beard woven in, and with twelve unhatched eggs. Doesn't seem likely Studley was shooting blanks after all this time. Maybe his sweet Marge met an untimely end. I don't know if a chickadee can die of a broken heart.

I know I can't. I'm still here.



Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Aiming For The Tiny Scroll Hole

The author in control

I get stumped by computery stuff from time to time, sure, but it's a lot better than it used to be. Computers got better, and I got better too. Shoot, when I first started word-processing, entire documents used to vanish in the ether. One stray keystroke and all of a sudden text was going backwards and smacking into margins and puddling up and I don't know what-all. I had to summon the fairy children next door to fetch it back.

But now I've got that stuff mostly under control and I'm also familiar with the processes required to get the stuff out into the world.

That was hard at first, too. Back in 2008 when I tried to upload the essay that ultimately won the FieldReport contest, I couldn't make it go. I had to get my friend Magic Beth. My computer was a big dumb horse that munched grass and wouldn't move and it knew perfectly well that I didn't know what I was doing. Beth would come over and saddle up and pop a heel and snap a rein and the horse was all Oh, fine and then it would take right off.

But I've kind of got it down now. And I do try to get the stuff out into the world. You don't get as impressive a stack of rejection letters as I have by not sending stuff out.

Not that anyone's making it easy. Take Tin House, for instance. Tin House is a lovely and highly-regarded press that publishes about a half-dozen books a year, but that doesn't stop me from thinking mine should be one of them. Guess the hell what? They take submissions for non-fiction books two days a year. September 4th and September 5th. That's it.

So come the morning of September 4th, I jumped right on it. They use a form. Name, preferred pronouns (aw), overview, short bio, and your first chapter. Uploading your first chapter is a snap. You hit the button that says "Upload File" and it brings up a window with a list of everything on your desktop. You double-click the document you want and BOOP BOOP it gets sucked into the form. I do it all the time.

Not this time. This time everything on my desktop list is grayed out. That means you can't BOOP BOOP on it. I have no idea what I've done wrong, but I can't get my chapter into their form. They want it formatted as a Word document or a PDF, and my chapter is totally a Word document. I spanked it over from the Mac program myself. But it won't light up.

I never use PDF. I don't even know why there have to be so many formats. It's like screwdrivers. Just do flat-head and Phillips and be done with it. But no. As far as I can tell, PDF is this real old-fashioned-looking deal that comes spiral-bound and looks like someone scanned a printed book. I see no point in it at all. But just for the hell of it, I spanked my document over into a PDF, and then tried to upload it, and it lit right up and BOOP BOOP got sucked right into the form. So. Done!

But what the hell?

Turns out the form was looking for all the DOC files on my desktop and it didn't light any up because I don't have any, because that format got retired fourteen years ago. DOC and DOCX are both Word formats but DOCX has been the norm since 2007. My computer doesn't even recognize it. So for once the fault is with the submission form and not me. When they asked for DOC and PDF documents, they were giving us writers a choice. We could create a big thick PDF document on spiral-bound 8.5x11 bond paper and shove it over the transom. Or we could do a Word doc from the last century on parchment rolled into a scroll and poked through their tiny scroll hole.

I hope my chapter made a nice satisfying whump when it sailed over the transom.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

A Sucker For Suckers


Well, I won't get too far into it. Let's just say that someone on Facebook is highly offended by the promotion of the deadly COVID vaccine, and also toxic masking, and you can tell she's serious because of all the capital letters. And:

"I will never go to a hospital as it's wholly unnecessary.
I do not trust man or medicine, I trust myself and God."

Well, she sounds like she has things well in hand. I don't think she's very old, so that helps with the health thing. She goes on to say she's survived plenty of viruses already, and people die of many other things every day, that's how life goes, and doggone it, I'm guessing that--except for a clear tendency toward hysteria--she's probably in good shape so far. So I don't want to be the one to tell her God is planning to take her out.

But it did get me to thinking about how many perspectives there are on taking care of oneself. Take my sister Margaret, for instance.

I don't want to describe Margaret as "medically fragile" because, despite her economy of stature, whe was one stout-hearted, robust, fully-realized human being. She lived as big as anyone ever has. Let's call her "medically"...hmm...let's see..."screwed."
 
She looked everywhere for an answer to her many and varied and ever-evolving pains, not to mention her mortality, which might have been more of an immediate concern to her than it is to most people. She had a number of beliefs that I would call "woo-woo" but I certainly had no interest in arguing about them. Whatever worked for Margaret was A-Okay with me. She definitely had a strong suspicion she had lived before, and might live in some form again, especially when some guru examined her aura and told her she had had polio as a youngster in the 1800s. Or something like that.
 
I guess that offered hope for a better throw of the dice the next time, although two consecutive lives with polio didn't seem that auspicious to me. For the current incarnation, she tended to approach her own suffering by adjusting her expectations and spiritual outlook. Mind over mutter, and all that.
 
So it was no particular surprise to me the day she demonstrated her new theory about mosquitoes. Dave and I were visiting her in Maine and the density of voracious bugs was appalling. Margaret held her arm out and a mosquito landed on it. "Go ahead, honey," she purred to the mosquito, "take whatever you need." And we watched as the mosquito sank her proboscis into Margaret's arm, for a good long while, and then drew it back out and plumply flew away. Margaret explained that remaining calm, revering all life, and allowing the good bug to do what it wanted to do, unmolested, would result in no welt and no itching.

So maybe. But at the time we were out on the shore being blitzed by the little assholes. I was plenty horrified by the onslaught, but when Dave saw the swarm coming--it blotted out the sun--he flew into panic mode. If mosquitoes are motorcyclists, Dave is their Sturgis rally. It was about to get gruesome in a hurry. While Margaret refined her temperament to include hospitality to mosquitoes, Dave took off running. The man could cover a lot of ground in a hurry. The car was parked a half mile away and a couple minutes later we could hear the door slam. Hell, we could hear the sound of mosquitoes in pursuit smashing themselves against the windows. And when we caught up to him, he was busy in the car sending as many mosquitoes as he could to their next lives.

I can't remember if we checked Margaret's arm in the aftermath. I do remember the first time someone offered Dave a couple Benadryls after a particularly harrowing attack. We were eating dinner and Dave was visibly swelling up and audibly anxious about how much worse he would be the next day. But he took the Benadryl. Next thing we knew his forehead was in the mashed potatoes and no one had the heart to remove him from his dinner. He slept for ten hours and woke up unscathed. That's not God, baby doll. That's Benadryl.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Storm The Motte!


There I was, reading an excellent analysis of the Afghanistan situation, and everything was going along swimmingly until all of a sudden out of nowhere the author wrote:

"They say they're just decrying the way we left; but of course, this is the motte, not the bailey."

And everything went blank for a moment with the little spinny-wheel going around in my brain while it was buffering, and when I came to, my only thought was: Well. That's certainly putting the sparch before the batson, isn't it?

I will admit I'm not a real educated person, herein defined as someone who has learned at least as much as I have, but retained it all. I'm not good at retention. This keeps me from being mired in guilt and regret, but it also means I've looked up "hegemony" so many times the internet just falls open to that page now.

But now I'm stranded in the middle of the article feeling stupid. It's like that time when the guy on Jeopardy answered an obscure question with "Who is the Venerable Bede, Alex?" and I'm all Whut? and sure enough half my friends already knew about ol' V.B. I figured motte-and-bailey would be the same sort of thing.

So it was with some relief that I discovered that the Motte And Bailey Doctrine was coined only about fifteen years ago. It describes certain kinds of argument that are currently in use, mainly by shitty people. It comes from the motte-and-bailey castle design from the 12th century, in which a bailey (a desirable piece of land) is defended by a stone tower on a motte (a raised earthen mound) and surrounded by a ditch or other impediment to attackers. When pressed, the people can leave the bailey and hole up in the tower on the motte and defend themselves, but nobody wants to live in the stinky old tower, and as soon as the enemy gives up they run back out to the bailey.

In the case of an argument, the bailey is the philosophical position that the arguer wants to promote, often something wacko or repugnant, and the motte is a more easily supported contention that might preoccupy the opponent and make her hem and haw while the arguer runs triumphantly back to the bailey of his original wacko position.

Let's take an example from (I swear on my mother's little box of ashes) an actual meme I recently ran across. Evidently the Hammer of God is coming down. The Lord will go to the covert deep places where the "deep state" hides, and they will be visited by thunder, by unending earthquakes, and roaring noises that instill dread and foreboding beyond measure. They will experience bizarre storms and tempests. Devouring fires will rise from nowhere and chase them out of their holes. No doubt about it, the Deep State is in massive trouble with the Lord and we will know it when He steps on Antarctica and gives it a 7.7 earthquake. And if you do not hear about it, it's because the Deep State runs the earthquake reporting sites and does not want to draw attention to Antarctica.

Holy shit!

In this case, the bailey is that the Deep State exists and is in hiding in Antarctica and you can't believe anything the government says but the Lord's justice will prevail.

But as soon as you raise that annoying skeptical liberal eyebrow, the arguer runs for the more defensible motte. "Historically, the promise of power has always attracted a share of people bent on corruption," he says, and while you're willing to concede that point, you flounder a little trying to figure out which to explain first: how government works, or what causes earthquakes, or who benefits from conspiracy theories about the Deep State. You're basically baffled, and buffering, and meanwhile your enemy has reoccupied the bailey and planted the flag of triumph.

Don't let it happen. Screw the seemingly reasonable bait argument. Storm the motte!
 
That's my pleeg anyway, but you can follow your own furb.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Cool, Calm, And Collected



It was a time of innocence. April, 2020. We were checking the latest advice from the CDC; it kept changing, as was to be expected in an unfolding epidemic as experts sought to unravel the means and circumstances of transmission. I made cotton face masks and bought hand sanitizer and worried about bicyclist-breath and whether six feet was enough distance to keep from my fellow potential virus hosts. It was obviously going to be a long haul.

Dave and I were walking home, wearing our cotton masks (his matched his shirt, which can happen if the lady of the house made both the shirt and the mask). An old man was approaching us. He never said a word. But suddenly he looked up and started clawing at his own bare face, and spitting, and glaring. Was he ill? Should we do something?
 
He veered off and kept walking and tossing his arm back at us as if he were throwing out trash, clearly, now, with hostile intent. Dave and I looked at each other, mystified. Could he possibly be upset at our face masks? That was too far-fetched to be true. Maybe he was psychotic. It was puzzling.

A time of innocence.

Now, of course, we know that unthinkable numbers of people are incensed that anyone wears a mask per expert guidance in the face of a public health emergency. Who imagine themselves victims of tyranny and oppression, in a world not lacking examples of actual tyranny and oppression. It's nuts. It's depressing. What is the antidote to the Grumpy Old Man?

Why, I'll tell you.

It's young people. Dave and I have been collecting them for years. Today's young people are the nicest, kindest, smartest, most earnest people you'll ever want to meet. They've been taught from an early age to consider other people's feelings, to go out of their way to not offend, to keep track of preferred pronouns and respect tribal identities. They are fucking adorable.
 
Dave and I don't always come off so well in this group. We're still bantering with the snide remarks and dark humor we were raised on, and don't recognize how offensive we now sound until we get that perplexed, concerned look (are they ill? Should we do something?). But they always give us another chance. They allow themselves to be collected.

So it was nothing new the other evening when the back door opened and in walked a young man who was even taller, thinner, and furrier than Dave. "I'm Ben," he said. "I was coming down the alley and your husband here invited me in." Hi Ben, want a beer? Ben thought he might. He was supposed to meet a friend, but not for another fifteen minutes.

I was making dinner. This was one of those dinners that is supposed to take 22 minutes to make, which it does if your prep cook is your friend Scott, who can turn a whole garden into dice in the time it takes you to scratch your butt. No Scott, though. I was looking at an hour, minimum.

"Do you have another cutting board, and a sharp knife?" Ben asked. I did.

And Ben sat at our kitchen counter and de-kerneled four ears of corn, chopped three zucchinis and a turnip, sliced green beans, stacked a cone of cilantro, and presented it all in five neat heaps of geometric perfection while I labored over an onion and a hand of ginger. Then he was sorry, but he had to go see his friend. It was nice meeting us, he said. We exchanged contact info. Soon an email landed in my box. Please note the effort made to avoid referring to Dave and me as old:
 
It was a pleasure meeting yall and spending that time together. As I age, I get more insight and perspective from those born before me...I'd honestly love to prepare dinner with yall again.
 
A dorable. The Bens of this world, and I've found there is no shortage around here, are the antidote to the Grumpy Old Men of every age. I hope he does feel free to pop by again.
 
I think I could get him to clean our kitchen. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

A Routine Screening


Ever since COVID, I've gotten a lot of my health care through the internet. The doctor will see me now, as long as I have a camera on my laptop. I get phone appointments. I type messages and order drugs and promptly get messages and drugs back. My medical care has become mostly digital. I'm not complaining--it's actually pretty slick.

Sure, some of my medical care was kind of digital before, but as far as I know they can't yet stick their fingers in you through your computer. But I'm older now and my need to have fingers stuck in me has waned. The parts that used to be thus probed have retired, or declined in some other way, or possibly nobody really cares about them as much anymore, because they can't get into as much mischief. 

So at this point most of my complaints can be resolved without me getting out of my chair. I can take a photo of a festering sore and upload it to my dermatologist and I'm pretty sure he likes it better that way, too. I used to go in person and show him my festering sore, and he'd wince at some quarter-inch patch and take care of it, and then say "Was there anything else you wanted me to check?" That always threw me for a loop. Yes. Fuck. You're a dermatologist, and it took me three months to get an appointment with you. Look at my entire body--that's why I brought it with me. It's not that big, and I can't see half of it. If you need to shove anything to the side to see underneath, you go ahead on.
 
The rest of my Medical Care Team is stellar. You can do so much online! Yesterday I decided to book my mammogram. I picked a date and time and then it said "Almost there! First, just a couple questions."

"A couple," in my book, is two.
 
They wanted to know if I've had a mastectomy. Breast implants. If I needed an interpreter. Was hard of hearing. Needed a wheelchair. Was afraid of anybody at home. Could enable my device camera. Was doing anything Saturday night. Liked long walks on the beach. By the time I got to the SUBMIT button, I wasn't sure I wanted to.
 
But I did, and then the site complained I'd left something blank that was required. It was the box that said "What would you like to have addressed in this visit?"
 
I'd left it blank because it was a mammogram appointment. It should be painfully obvious what I wanted addressed. I wondered: if I typed in that I wanted my chakras aligned, or my portfolio rebalanced, would it allow me to go on to the next step? Probably. Instead I typed in "I would like my breasts addressed. You may call them Lefty and Junior. Don't mix them up--they're not the same, they just live together."
 
Apparently that did the trick. SUBMIT.
 
That's when it occurred to me. The latest in online medicine! I've put on a few pounds. Already my laptop is mostly on my lap, but some of my lap-adjacent portions are now encroaching on the trackpad, and tacking toward the keyboard. I'm not super proud of this. But it made me think: could I just shlorp my jugs onto the laptop and slam the screen down and get a reading?
 
I gave it some thought and abandoned the idea. I might be able to get a good picture of Junior. For Lefty, I'm going to need a bigger laptop.