Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Circle Chirp

We have two crickets in our yard, and they are at the five-foot level of our raspberry canes. We can hear them, but we haven't seen them. Many people, including myself until about a week ago, believe they chirp by rubbing their legs together. In my defense, I would add that I have been able to use the word "stridulate" in a sentence for decades. But they don't use their legs. They use a pair of wings. The upper part of one wing is stroked against the nubbly part of another wing. It's the males making the noise. They're hoping to attract females, in theory, but they also attract parasitic flies that lay eggs on them and the fly maggots eventually eat their way out of the cricket, to its lasting detriment. So it isn't the grandest plan. I think we can safely conclude that the crickets chirp because they really, really like to. In fact, a young male cricket can sit in his bedroom and stroke his wings all night long.

Our crickets are likely to be Snowy Tree Crickets. And those are pale, if not precisely snowy, and probably hard to see against the raspberry leaves. Usually one of our crickets gets the show going at nightfall. The second one pops in a little later, but they chirp in unison. That's totally normal. If we had more than two crickets, they'd sit in a circle and go off all at once. Our second cricket has a slightly higher-pitched chirp. I assume his instrument is a little smaller.

The Snowy Tree Cricket chirp rate is related to the ambient temperature and can be predicted, it says here, using a simple formula expressed in Dolbear's Law. Well, I never heard of Mr. Dolbear and, not that I'm a libertarian or anything, I thought his law was on the unnecessary side. And who was this fellow whose only contribution of note was a cricket chirp temperature predictor? Well!

Mr. Amos Dolbear in fact invented the telephone eleven years before Alexander Graham Bell. And he invented the wireless radio years before Marconi. And the only thing he couldn't do was get his patents to stick. A full plan for a remote-control color HD television set was recently discovered in an 1888 file of his marked "what the hell." So Mr. Dolbear was a very clever man, and yet all we have left of him now is this cricket thing. It would be like if you invented sliced bread and later the Internet, and a hundred years from now nobody's even heard of you except for your Law of Peonies ("the bloom period of peonies is directly correlated with the incidence of hail"). It's sad, is what I'm saying.

And now, thanks to Mr. Dolbear, we can tell what the temperature is by how fast a young cricket is chirping, but we still can't make him stop. Even if we tell him "you keep doing that, and flies are going to burst out of your abdomen," he'll still do it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Call Is Very Important To Them

I've told you about my internet service provider Spiretech before. You call them up and someone answers on the first ringy-dingy. They fix what's wrong. Twice they even had me bring in my computer--they're right in town--and decontaminated it for free and got its vaccinations up to date.

But the best they can do for me is DSL through the phone company, and not the fast kind, either. It's way better than dial-up of course but there are problems. More and more my computer acts like it's taken in a bolus of data and it can't swallow. I really need an internet service with a bigger esophagus.

So I was ripe for the picking when I got a cold call from the phone company offering me super duper fiber based speed-of-light internet service, and if I signed up today they'd throw in extra fiber, and vitamins and minerals and TV. And candy through the mail slot. I signed up. I hated to do it. Poor old Spiretech. They've been so good to me. And now I'd have to change my email address and probably about a thousand usernames. On the plus side, I'd be able to send Comcast packing for my TV connection. Everybody hates Comcast.

We shook over the phone, the salesman and I, and he promised to send an installer by on October 16th and email me a raft of information about what I'd agreed to, and that was that. And that was two weeks ago. And no email. I did scrawl a confirmation number on an envelope I managed to not recycle. So today I called up and asked for my information. Well!

The hold music was peppy. There was a boogie-woogie element to it that I approved of. I waited only a couple minutes and then got a guy who knew a guy and I got put on hold again so he could connect me to the guy he knew.

That guy was popular, all right. He didn't come to the phone for another ten minutes, during which time I was able to ascertain that the boogie-woogie element was but one segment in a medley that included a Europop offering that got old quick. "Logan," once he showed up, had a nice voice that appeared to originate in this country. So that was innovative. We talked. He had to put me on hold to check my status.

And that status was that I hadn't gotten an email because someone (else) put my order in wrong, and he wasn't sure if anyone was really coming out on October 16th or not. Did I remember what I'd signed up for? Well, I thought it was the whole works. Did I remember how much I was supposed to pay? Not really. All that was supposed to be in the confirmation email. Logan didn't know what I was getting, or when I was getting it. He suggested we start over. Fine! But before he could start over, he needed to make sure my other order was not merely dead but really most sincerely dead, so that my orders wouldn't trip over each other on the way to my house. He put me on hold.

Really, the boogie-woogie element wasn't that great. I mean, all boogie-woogie is just fine, but the bridge was lame, and the refrain was totally derivative. The segue was a complete rip-off from the Doobie Brothers. They should sue.

Logan checked in periodically to see if I was still there, and I was. Because my cell phone keeps track of such things, I noted that I had now been on the phone for 64 minutes. You don't give up. It's the Vietnam War syndrome. We've already lost 50,000 of our boys, and it would be a dishonor to their memory if we didn't sacrifice a few more platoons.

Logan came back on. "Mary? Are you there?" I'm here! I shouted into the phone, like a trapped coal miner. Can you hear me?

Apparently not. The hold music was off, and I heard random clicking from his keyboard, and also the entire conversation of the woman working next to him. She just had her toenails done. I know! But sometime you just got to do things just for you own self, am I right?

Logan came back on every two minutes or so to see if I was still there, but he didn't answer when I bellowed back. It was clear he could not hear me. I began to consider hanging up. I thought back: was this phone call being recorded for quality purposes? I sincerely hoped so. I didn't remember. That would have been--check the phone--79 minutes ago. Then the phone went dead.

A few seconds later my land line rang. It was Logan, clever dude. He was pretty sure he'd gotten to the bottom of the problem. So we were going to start over. Next Tuesday.

"Is that when you're sending someone out to hook me up?"

No. He'd call me next Tuesday to place the order. I didn't ask why we couldn't do it now. I was too happy we weren't going to do it now. I'm going to send Logan a Christmas fruitcake, I'm so grateful we aren't doing it now.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Patriots of Yorktown

Note eyebrows

I'm sorry I couldn't make it to the high school reunion--you all seemed to have such a good time catching up. Some of you have been kind enough to email me and ask what I've been up to for the past 45 years. So let's see. As many of you may recall, I wanted to be a writer. I was young, and didn't realize that isn't a thing. Also, you're supposed to write what you know, and I didn't know anything. And the things I was starting to learn were not things I wanted to write about as long as my mother was alive. So it took me a little time to find my calling.

I went off to college intending to be a psychology major, only I'd figured out psychology was pretty much bullshit by the time Mom and Dad dropped me off at the campus. So I threw myself into the liberal arts, until I took my first science class and realized my mistake. In four years I'd ricocheted into a biology degree and then scored an exceptionally low-paying job in my field by wearing a low-cut dress to the interview. I spent two years torturing about a billion white mice in ways you don't want to know about for chump change and then I moved across the country just for the hell of it and eked out rent and beer money doing Art. Which means I was like any other kid coming to Portland, Oregon today, except that back then we could afford rent.

By this time I discovered that a surprising number of my college classmates, who by all appearances were carefree hippies like myself with majors such as Comparative Religious Holograms and Medieval Basketry, had quietly gone off to get law degrees and were pulling down six figures and didn't have furniture made out of cinderblocks and planks. This troubled me for a while until I satisfied myself they were miserable, and by then I was taking my first steps toward my dream job. I became a drunken mailman for fifteen years. After that I was merely a moderately lit-up mailman for another sixteen years. And all of it was in service to the great plan, and culminated in the job I'd been meaning to have my whole life: retired mailman who enjoys a good beer or two.

That pretty much covers the picture. There was probably other stuff in there, but I don't remember it. For instance, I don't know precisely when my eyebrows went away. I'm as curious about that as anyone.

But that's just hair under the bridge. Now I'm old enough to have perspective instead of eyebrows. There's no shortcut to perspective: it takes time. Perspective is what allows you to be happy maintaining a weight that horrified you when you first approached it from the other direction. Thanks! You all look great too.

And with perspective and seasoning, I get to be a writer after all, so it all worked out. Plus I never had to be a whore about it. I'm the pure kind of writer. The unpaid kind.

Yes, that means I'm free.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oh Brother, Why Art Thou?

So suppose you kind-of sort-of invite somebody into your house, expecting him to act right, but he turns out to be a big slovenly dude that never so much as gets his own dirty dishes as far as the sink and he never once does anything you ask him to do and all he does is take up space and whine about shit and just about the time you've been able to pretend he's not there he cuts loose with a big grotesque belch and a fart? That dude? He's living here. And if you decide to give him a chance and ask him to do something really small like take out the garbage for once? And he clears his throat and makes some kind of noncommittal noise like he's planning to get around to it sometime and you more or less give up on him but then right in the middle of the night he starts banging the garbage cans around and scaring the shit out of you, and even after all that when you check in the morning he's still left half the garbage behind? Hate that dude.

We needed a new printer, we really did, but this one is all Boris when what we really wanted was something along the lines of a Timmy. Sucker is totally the size of an apartment refrigerator. We've parked it next to a sophisticated computer but it has learned no manners at all. Originally, it would print out pages if you asked nicely. It has a scan button that doesn't do anything, and a fax button that does nothing but print out endless status reports on the faxes it won't send. Generally, if you ask it nicely to print something, it makes a bunch of noise, sucks in a piece of paper, poops it partway out about a quarter-printed, and then squeals and clicks for a while before shutting down entirely. I've learned to leave it alone because every now and then, say, at midnight, when you're concentrating on your writing, it will abruptly fire up again and spit out your page, and sometimes it's even the whole page, and not just the quarter it had already printed.

A few weeks ago it refused, as usual, to print something, and informed me that I was out of black ink. I opened it up, replaced the black cartridge like a big girl, and hit "print," and it said now I was out of yellow ink. I replaced the yellow cartridge, and then it said "did you replace the yellow?" and I said yes and it said "but I didn't feel anything. Do it again." So I did it again. And again. And again. And then I went to the Googles and found the most wonderful piece of advice. It involves black electrical tape--the same tape you use to fix your car's check-engine light. And it worked. And then it said I was also out of cyan ink. And I taped that sucker too. And hit print, and it fired right up and started printing. Printed a half-page of something I'd wanted three weeks ago that no longer showed up in the queue, but it seemed like progress.

Then my sophisticated computer got super sludgy. I did a little research and determined that I needed more memory. Like, duh. So, with complete confidence, I went into the Mac store and asked the nice man to put in some memory. I explained it to him. I explained that I'd checked the Utilities Application and the Activity Monitor and the little pie-circle that should have a lot of green had NO green and was mostly yellow instead. "Let's have a look," he said, as though my logic were worthless, and sure enough, in his house, everything ran like a dream and my little pie-circle was three-quarters green. Huh.

"You've got plenty of memory," he said, and asked me if I had any peripherals. Is that something that goes with onion dip? No, he said. Things that plug into the computer. Oh. Modem. Router. Solar panel monitor.

"Printer?" he asked. No, I said. It's wireless.

So I brought my resurrected computer home and plugged it in, and when I was set to stick in the last of the leftover USB cords, I noticed that it went to the printer after all. The bastard. I left it out. The computer is running fine.

But I have all the tools I need to fix the damn printer now. I have electrical tape. I have a splitting maul.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bringing In The Big Guns

The chairman of the search committee pulled on the intern's elbow. "Is that all you got for us?"

"Not at all, sir. But there's nobody tougher, or brighter," the intern whispered. "Frankly, we think he's the strongest candidate."

"I'm very comfortable with him, personally. He's got gravitas. He's our kind of guy," the chairman said. "I just don't know how he's going to play."

The committee in charge of coming up with viable alternatives to Donald Trump had been working hard to find candidates with similar qualities that resonated with the base, but who might be expected to better toe the party line. On paper, Foghorn Leghorn appeared to foot the bill.


Mr. Leghorn was, to the chairman's horror, pointing at Ben Carson.

"No, it can work," the intern insisted. "This gives Mr. Carson someone to push against. He didn't do that well on the vaccine question; he came across sort of wobbly."

"THAT'S A JOKE, AH SAY, THAT'S A JOKE, SON," Mr. Leghorn continued.

Mr. Carson shrugged and looked off to the side. "I'm sure he meant it as a joke," he said, his voice trailing off.

"No wonder he doesn't believe in evolution," the intern said, under his breath.

The chairman frowned. Things had not been going well. In spite of the splendid work of the Fiction Faction, there had been one setback after another. They no sooner had painted a picture of Benghazi on a cliff than the Democrats charged right through it, and the Republicans pancaked themselves on it. What they needed to do now was concentrate on personality rather than issues. He studied the new prospect. "I don't know. I can see the attack ads now: Foghorn Leghorn is just a big chicken. Got anyone else? Someone a little tougher? And don't even think of bringing Scott Walker back. Even I don't think facing down the citizens of Wisconsin is like taking it to ISIS."

The next candidate strutted in carrying a shotgun.

"That's more like it," the chairman said. "Sir, what do you say: you ready to fight some Democrats?"

"That wascawwy Hiwwawy! I hate that tweachewous miscweant!"

The intern tore up an index card. "Next."

In came Yosemite Sam, pistols blazing.

"Now we're talking. Good sir, tell me. What is your plan to stop Obamacare?"

Mr. Sam whacked at the air. "When I say WHOA, I mean WHOA!"

"Right?" the intern whispered. "I mean, that is so totally our plan."

"I don't know. I'm not sure a cowboy is the way to go if we're going to woo back the Latino vote."

"Are we still trying to do that? Because..."

"I'm just saying. Where's Quick Draw McGraw? Doesn't he have a burro friend or something?"

"Baba Looey. But he has an accent. That's probably taking it too far. And besides, what I think we really need to do is appeal to more women. And with that in mind, sir, I'd like to present one more candidate. He's pro-gun, he's courteous, and he's devoted his life to saving women. Gentlemen of the committee, I give you..." The intern swept out his arm and a man in a snappy uniform came in on a horse. Backwards, but on a horse.

"I like it, I like it...I like what you're going for, here. But--Dudley Do-Right? Isn't he Canadian?"

"Pssh. He's whatever we need him to be. Delores, sweetheart? Bring in the Fiction Faction boys. We're going to need a new back-story."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Damnedest Thing

I'm going to tell you about something. It's the damnedest thing. Most people probably don't even think it's the damnedest thing, because they've gotten used to it, and I'm sorry for them. They've gone way past being thrilled with the orange in the Christmas stocking and are all the way up to being bored to tears with the mound of whizbang toys under the tree. But this is the damnedest thing.

Not all that long ago if you had a baby, nobody knew about it except the folks in your cave, or the next farmstead over. Maybe some of your family took off for the hinterlands years ago and you're lucky if you ever get a letter, scrawled out by candlelight and stuck hopefully in a passing saddlebag. You might not even want to write to them about your new baby because by the time they
get the letter it could have been taken by the yellow fever, or one of the other colored fevers.

Even at the time I was born, and for quite a few decades after, people had to wait for the baby to hit air before anyone knew a thing about it. First thing anyone said, including the woman who'd been harboring it all those months, was "what is it?" Like maybe it could have been a badger or a hamster or something. Oh, some busybody might have made pronouncements about the nature of the baby in utero by dangling a threaded needle over it, and declaring it was a boy if it swung in a straight line, or a girl if it swung in a circle, but that's totally in Ouija territory, and just as accurate. Mom would send out a batch of pastel greeting cards to her home-town friends with a big-eyed baby painted on the front and "It's a girl!" or "It's a boy!" printed inside, and the closer family members would get a black and white photograph tucked inside too, of a squinty and irritable-looking critter that in no way resembled the adorable infant on the front.

Yes, every now and then, but not that often, the question "what is it?" would be answered with a rumpled smile and a quirked eyebrow, because the answer was complicated and not that clear, and the infant would be handed back to the doctor with the instruction to "make it regular," and there would be decisions and incisions, and maybe everything would work out, but not always. Hallmark failed to produce cards that proclaimed "We don't know what it is!" But maybe they do now. Things is diff'rent.

Still, when I was born, mail service was quick and cheap, and Grandma and the relatives could rely on getting updates throughout the year and maybe another photograph at Christmas, but nobody expected to be kept apprised of all the details. That is how a child who would be over the moon to receive a stuffed animal, any stuffed animal, kept getting dolls and sweater sets from the aunts. Not enough information. But that's just the way it was.

These days, there is nothing on this planet that doesn't fit in our pockets. Not for Dave and me--we're back'ards. We're not as smart as our phones and we get back at them by leaving them behind most of the time. We live in a constant state of underinformation that would quake a younger soul. But let me tell you about this thing. 

There we are on a mountain. We've hiked eight miles in from the nearest road. We're peering over a ledge into a ravine at a river that threads all the way down from a glacier in a mighty peak, and there's a tweedling coming out of Dave's shorts, and it is a photo of our niece and her brand new baby, her beautiful much-anticipated much hoped-for actual baby girl, in pixels shot through the ether from a thousand miles away and reassembled in Dave's phone in the wilderness, and we burst into tears at all the beauty, and all I'm saying is no matter what you think, that is the damnedest thing. It is.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Boxing Tater

Some people refuse to be put in a box. And by "people" I mean cats. And by "some" I mean our cat, Tater.

Most people have no trouble whatsoever being put in boxes. They'll put themselves in their own boxes and label them so you don't even need to look inside to see who's there. They'll advertise themselves on their car bumpers and put Confederate flags on their license plates and kittens on their checkbooks. They'll carefully curate their Facebook personae by linking to politically charged sites and engaging in snide commentary with strangers, or praise the Lord a few dozen times a day for every little thang, or demonstrate their vulnerability by insulating themselves with pictures of adorable animals. They willingly provide access to all of their buttons and display them to the entire world. Push here, they say. You'll see what makes me squeak. We need only a glance and we know what box to put them in.

Not cats, so much. Your standard government-issue cat is going to be fine with putting herself in, say, a cardboard box. Don't you try it, though.

Tater is a relatively biddable cat, as they go. She has rubber caps on her claws, because she persists in waging war on upholstery, but not on us. But try to jam her in a box? Good luck with that.

A cat's social behavior and tendency to write its own rules has been formed through thousands of years of knowing that nobody wants to eat cat meat. Your normal cat will have predictable responses to stimuli.  If you pull on her tail, she will double back and try to staple you with her face. Not Tater cat. If Tater is heading in a direction you strenuously do not want her to go, and you grab her tail--an evolutionary relic from some Labrador Retriever in her personal woodpile--she will continue in her preferred direction, at a slightly reduced clip, towing you on your belly, if need be. She is a sturdy cat.

Similarly, if you want to put a normal cat in a crate, you approach her from behind and grobble the back of her neck like her own kitty mama did when she was wee. This move is designed to strip the obstrepory right out of a cat. A neck-grobbled cat will fold up into damp laundry before your eyes. She can then be lowered into an upended crate with no fuss. There's some kind of instinctual thing that happens to cats that are properly squoze at the back of the neck. It's like the knee-jerk reflex. It's a guarantee.

You come up on Tater from behind with a big, capable, muscular hand like (for instance) Dave's and grobble her by the back of the neck, and none of that happens. She may have been snoozing like a bag of pudding but all of a sudden she develops discrete body parts and every one of them is sticking straight out. She looks like an opinionated starfish. It takes two of us to jam her in the crate and it always seems like we're going to snap something important off. And that she might be fine with that.

Sturdy cat, that one.

We don't do this to take her to the veterinarian. Lord no! This cat does not need a vet. If she were any healthier we'd never get anything done. We do this to take her to the cabin. There were problems with just putting her in the car and hoping she didn't insinuate herself under the brake pedal. We thought she'd be better off boxed up.

And we do this because we truly believe she'll feel better if she's in our cabin for three days sleeping on the ratty sofa next to us than if she were left home alone with a bucket of kibble, sleeping on a ratty recliner, one that was just fine before she and her predecessor ratted it all up. We think she likes us that much. We're right about that, too. She does not have the luxury or burden of thoughts about the future, so we have them for her. As far into the future as she gets is: am I being boxed up? And am I about to be boxed up? And when she is, that's when she earns her nickname.

The Tatrix.