Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Buzzin' Cousins

The other day I tried imagining I was a fly, and I was reasonably successful, but that was because I didn't read up on them first. They have some admirable qualities but the whole package is kind of a deal-breaker. There are lots of kinds of flies, but I was thinking of the house fly, as distinguished from the, um, field fly. They seem sort of tidy and delicate. They have that reputation of being dirty because they land in stuff we don't approve of and track it in on their feet, but their feet are so little. It hardly seems they could bring in enough of a bacterial quorum to whomp up a good disease.  I guess they do, though, from time to time.

And they have that cute little mouth doodad. No nasty teeth or anything. It's just a little wand with a sponge on the end of it, and they dab it into their food. How bad could that be? Well, turns out they can't eat solid food, so if they want to get anything down, they have to soften it up by spitting or vomiting on it first.  I do not know if poop is soft enough that they don't need to throw up on it, but I certainly would.

Each female house fly shoots out about five hundred eggs in a lifetime, which is pretty good considering they only live two to four weeks. They lay them in batches of seventy-five or so. They only mate one time and then they store the sperm, because they don't really have a concept of "funky." Female house flies, it is interesting to note, can be told from male house flies because there's a lot more space between their eyes. The males' eyes are practically touching. Which invites, it seems to me, speculation about their intellect.

The eggs are laid somewhere moist where the ensuing maggots will have plenty to eat. Mud or poop does nicely, and so does a recently deceased animal, or a living sheep butt. I know about the sheep butt because that's where I once saw one of my most memorable patches of maggots. Our friend Scott's sheep, Einstein, presented one day with a thoroughly revolting condition in the uh-oh region, and it required a regimen of care that would turn any rancher into a tomato farmer. I couldn't even wear wool for a long time.

An article I read said the main problems with house flies are that they spread disease on their tiny feet and they're annoying. I find the second complaint a little precious. After all, the reason house flies have been associated with people for so long is that we are an excellent source of poop and garbage, so who's judging? But it is true: for something that does not bite us, they're pretty annoying. Even the winter ones (some do hibernate in lieu of dropping dead), which are so slow and logy you could swat them with an on-line newspaper, are annoying. And all they do is buzz dully and fly hither and yon to no purpose and aspire to light while pointlessly banging around on the windowsill.

I think they remind us of us.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Enjoying The Living Crap

It had been one of the first warm days of spring, and I was preparing to enjoy the living crap out of a few simple elements: a gentle breeze, a nice IPA, and a seat on the warm concrete front steps, just in the last perfect patch of sunlight. Earlier, it had been too hot; if I moved into the shade, one foot over, not quite warm enough. Friendly people walked by, neighbors waved. I'm not much of a sunshine person but I do love it when the sun warms you just enough and no more. The beer was splendid.

Just one thing was a little off. I smelled dog poop. And I am not a fan.

I hardly ever smell dog poop. By some miracle the entire society has changed over the last three decades such that people keep their dogs on little strings and bag up their poop. All this was basically unthinkable until not that long ago. There used to be dog poop everywhere.  Your neighbor's dog poop was in your yard and your dog's poop was in your neighbor's yard. Kids rolled around in it. It was chiggers and dog poop all day long.

"You look comfortable," my neighbor hollered, and I raised my beer, and said "Except I smell dog poop."

"NO!" she said, horrified. "Are you sure it isn't raccoon?"

Horrified, she was, I tell you. She's decades younger, and that's how much things have changed. Anyway, I was sure. I do have a poop field guide, but I didn't need to check it. It smelled like my childhood: honeysuckle, Pixie Sticks, thunderstorm ozone, and dog poop.

I checked my shoes. Clean. Some time in the 'nineties, my employer quit offering plain-soled shoes for our postal uniforms. You could only get the real grippy kind with a bunch of topography on the bottom. I hated them. I hated them because of St. Clair Street. There was one block of St. Clair that had a bunch of apartments, all pavement and parking lots and no dirt or greenery. And because this is Portland, and dog ownership is required by law, that meant there were two hundred dogs in that one block. Mostly little ones. Their devoted owners stuffed them in their purses with the makeup and the packet of tissues, walked outside, extracted them and set them on the sidewalk until they produced a pellet, just like popping a Pez. Probably 95% of these good people bagged the poop, but that still left a major raft of turdlets on the pavement. All I had to do is glance at the letters in my hand for one second and it was squish city. My plain-soled shoes could be depoopulated with one or two good scrapes on the curb, but the grippy ones with the waffle soles would get all mortared up. You had to lean up against the apartment building and turn on the spigot and use a stick to get it off. It took minutes and you still had to finish up with the indoor-outdoor carpeting at the apartment door.

Anyway, the poop was not on my shoes, but it was real close. Because I have a scientific mind, I found it by following some flies. It was right by the steps, about a yard away. So.

I really, really wanted to enjoy my seat in the sun with the beer and the nice passing people. I could have gotten a shovel and dug it in, or bagged it and put it in the trash, but half the point of being there was to be there, and not be somewhere else, doing some other thing.

The scientific term for this is "lazy." I looked at the flies. They seemed happy. I thought: let's try something. Tastes differ. The flies clearly like the smell of dog poop. What if I were to quit wrinkling up my nose, and become a fly, and imagine I like it too? I've always been credited with having a good imagination. The world is filled with annoying things, and we must do what we can, and then let the rest go. I leaned back. I owed it to myself, to the world, and to the sainted brewers of Ninkasi Total Domination India Pale Ale to give it a try. It had not been a high-capacity dog.

It worked. It took a second beer, but it worked.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

There Goes The Neighborhood!

Resin in beak!
Well, the nuthatches are definitely a going concern. Things look a lot different than when the chickadees, Marge and Studley Windowson, were in the birdhouse. They just poked grass and stuff in there and neatened it all up and planted petunias in the front and kept the lawn trimmed, but these guys are a flat mess. I had no idea.

When it looked like the nuthatches were going to take over the lease, I read up on them to see if anything would be much different, other than that they'd be producing tiny invisible nuthatches instead of tiny invisible chickadees. One of the things I read that seemed a little exotic was that they might be inclined to daub pine resin around their nest-box hole. They might bring the resin in their beaks, or they might even use a tool, a piece of bark or a mortar trowel or something, to smear it around. The male is in charge of goobering up the outside of the hole and the female works on the inside. "It is thought," the literature says dubiously, "that this is meant to deter predators." In other words, no one's really sure why they do it. Presumably the nuthatches themselves avoid the sticky resin by shooting straight through the hole on the wing.

Toes rearranged for hanging upside-down
Of course, Marge and Studley could and did fly straight through the hole too, so it wouldn't deter chickadees. So the nuthatches have to be on their aggressive, territorial toes. And they are.  I thought the Windowsons were plenty protective of their house. Anyone flying anywhere near it got a good scolding, and no mistake. Nobody likes to be dee-dee-deed at by a feathered golf ball. But the nuthatches are way more ferocious. They're complete assholes about their territory, in fact. They no sooner spot a strange bird in the vicinity than they're diving right at it. They will even chase off hummingbirds, and hummingbirds don't take guff off of nobody. They'll spindle you as soon as look at you. They will poke you a new cloaca. But doggoned if they don't hit the road when the nuthatches come bombing in.

Business end of a male nuthatch
While I was reading up on nuthatches, I still wasn't sure we'd scored any. They were interested, but not committed. And supposedly it was quite rare for them to use a house instead of a tree cavity. But there is at least one advantage. If the hole in the tree is big enough for a nest but the entrance hole is too sprawly for proper security, they'll haul in mud and enshrinken it. So our birdhouse had exactly the right size hole (nuthatch diameter + a quarter inch) and they didn't have to do any masonry. That's a savings right there.

And then we saw it: pine resin coming in! The male was hanging outside the box by one toenail and smooshing resin on the outside of the hole, just like he'd read his own Wikipedia entry. This seemed serious. It's sticky stuff and not something you'd necessarily want on your own personal beak if you were planning to eat, unless you were driven. He'd schmear it around and then go to a nearby twig to try to scrape off the excess.

I was thrilled. Then, over the course of a few weeks, they brought in more and more resin, and the sun melted it so it ran all over the outside of the box, and every time one of them exited they dragged nesting material out, and it dangled from their toes like stuck toilet paper. Pieces of fluff and fur and bark strips are hanging out of the hole, dripping with resin. It looks like hell. The chickadees did everything but neatly line up plastic flamingoes and solar lights on the walkway. These guys were of a completely different school. They've got a broken-down washing machine on the front porch and a dead car in the yard and plastic toys and beer cans. They's slovenly.

There's so much resin on the place that I fear for the hatchlings. I never did witness the chickadee puppies' maiden flights, but if these little guys don't get a really good jump, they're going to end up glued to the side of the house. Nuthatches On A Stick.  It will look like carnival food for hawks. I can't bear to watch.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Big Fat Baby Heads

According to impeccable sources on the social media, baby horses are born with squishy hooves out of deference to their mothers. I did not know that. I knew fawns are not born with a full rack of antlers and baby rhinoceroses pop out with just a starter nubbin for a horn. This is only polite. Any other arrangement would work only if the baby deer or rhinoceros were both carnivorous and cannibalistic, which they are not. If you're going to be a regulation mammal with a future, it pays to be nice to your mom.

In many cases it seems that mom is not necessarily nice to you, but a lot of times it's the tough love that's going to see you through. Wildebeest mamas make a point of dropping kids in the middle of the herd and the little guys had best be up and moving in a hurry, but that's good. Wildebeests that are born on the margins become lion snacks. (Gnuggets.) Giraffe mamas do not lie down to give birth; their kids plummet from above and their mamas squint down at the slick heap of spots and bones and say "Don't make me come down there." But it works. The kids have to stand up tall and take some responsibility, because that's where the milk is.

Anyway, it turns out the little horses' hooves are all soft and weird and look like asparagus spears. As soon as they hit air they harden up. Humans make allowances too. Those giant human baby heads are made of movable plates that can deform quite a bit during the birth process, such that some children's skulls come out looking like zucchini, and settle out into a socially acceptable shape later on their own time. I, myself, was less than six pounds at birth with a head the size of a tennis ball, including the fuzz, and for that reason my mommy loved me very much, although it's possible I didn't need to be that considerate, since she assured me she was completely knocked out for the event. At any rate, human babies make quite a few adjustments out of pure thoughtfulness and that is why the human birth process is such a snap.

Pardon me? No, I haven't given birth myself, why do you ask? I wasn't interested in being pregnant because I thought it would ruin my line.

That line being: "We decided not to have children because the genetic counselor said there was too great a risk they would turn out something like us."

I did have the opportunity, but I determined I was not mature enough for parenthood, and have spent the rest of my life proving it. There is, I'm sure you have noticed, quite a range of attitudes women take toward fetuses, and mine is "when I want your opinion, I'll give it to you." Yeah, I would have been that kind of mommy.

Thanks to you, I'm over halfway to my fundraising goal for the Portland Audubon Birdathon! If you'd like to help, please visit my pledge page. Yay!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Home Of The Whopper

The employees of a Phoenix Wendy's restaurant were recently tricked into smashing their own windows. A prankster posing as a fireman called them up and told them a dangerous buildup of gas had been detected inside the building and that they must immediately run outside and break all their windows to let it dissipate.

People have no trouble believing that someone could call them on the phone and tell them that something really scary is right inside there with them, and, even though it's invisible--especially because it's invisible--it could kill them. And that the thing to do is destroy everything.

If there's one lesson to be learned, it's that firemen really can't be trusted. And people who look and sound like firemen should be regarded with suspicion, too. In fact if they ever catch these guys, it would be a good idea to kill their entire families, so they think twice the next time. And if your house is on fire, you should call a barista. But you should never ignore your fearful feelings. That would be a YUGE mistake. Yuge. I guarantee you that.

You'd think this sort of trick would be a one-time deal, but no. This has happened several times. The prankster originally just wanted to stir some stuff up, for fun, just to see what he could get away with. But then all his buddies told him how awesome it was, dude, and how awesome he was, and before you know it he's thinking, watch this. I'm going to get ALL the people to smash their windows for no reason, and then I'll run for President, because I'm just that awesome.

It's well known that people are not logical about what scares them. That is why people read text messages on their phones while driving, but are afraid of sharing a restroom with a woman who has suspiciously large hands. That's why people are pretty sure they can tell if someone might be carrying explosives in his underpants just by his facial hair and the shape of his nose.

If you live in a country where your cities have been bombed into powder and your friends have been murdered and you just pulled your bleeding baby out of the rubble and you don't have enough food or water or a home anymore and you're desperate enough to float the whole family in a bathtub across the sea, you've probably got good reason to be scared. If you're scared of those very same people applying for citizenship in the Home Of The Brave? Not so much.

It's ridiculous. I know I would never smash a window if someone told me there was a dangerous buildup of gas in my building. I wouldn't take the time. I'd run like hell. Maybe I'd lock the bathroom doors first, just in case there was a tranny in there. Because that's where they hang out. Odds are a lot of innocent people would be blown up before they were done wiping, but at least the rest of us would be safe.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cheeping In

Yes, it's Birdathon time again at Portland Audubon, and we all know what that means. That means I am going to be begging you and you and other complete strangers for money, even though nothing makes me squirmier in this whole wide world. I'm typing away here with my shoulders bunched up under my ears and my face all puckery. I hate asking you for money. I'd give anything to not ask you for money. I'd even give money. In fact, I will.

I hate asking you for money even though I bought, every year, all those boxes of Thin Mints you kept at your work station with the cash envelope on the Honor System (bully for you), and doesn't anybody's kid have to go door to door anymore by themselves like I did when I was a Bluebird selling salted peanuts? Now the little darlings aren't allowed off their own front porch, and for that I thank you, and here's an extra twenty bucks, hold the cookies.

And did I not buy hundreds of pepperoni sticks over the years for your kid's soccer team even though I don't like pepperoni sticks and they only use them for fundraisers because they never get any worse? I did.

Yes I will sponsor your girls for the Jog-A-Thon so they can get band uniforms, and I'll buy holiday wrapping paper from your son too so he can go to camp, but I'm folding up like a glued wallet if he shows me that list of stupid magazines again this year, I swear to God, oh, all right, I'll order one, but don't send the magazine.

And of course I chipped in for that poor beagle that had to be glued to a skateboard, so he could have therapy for his depression because his name was "Reginald" but everyone kept calling him "Stumpy;" and I also chipped in for the litter of Siamese kittens who were born joined at the ankles so you could open them like a fan, even though I was pretty sure I could have taken care of it myself in fifteen minutes with a nail clipper and electrical tape.

You say your cousin didn't make it through the birth of her third set of quintuplets? That IS sad, and sure, I'll poke in some change to help send the brood to private school, since you're shaking that jar at me, Mrs. Grocery Clerk Lady. Although I do think that those kids in particular might benefit from being around kids who are different from them.

And might I remind you that I did kick in for your Kickstarter campaign to develop a prototype combination sofa/refrigerator/toilet, even though I had my suspicions from the start that you might have underestimated the ambition it would require to see it through.

What's that you say? You've survived Cancer of the Entire Body and you're going to go on a hundred-mile plod in the pelting hail until your stigmata open up, all for cancer research? Cancer? Isn't that, like, kind of cheating, fundraiser-wise? Isn't that a little hard to compete with for the rare public fundraiser dollar? If all I've got is "I'm in perfect health and I'm going to spend a whole day going to pretty places and looking at pretty birds and I'd like you to give me money so Audubon can patch up some busted sparrows?" Sparrows can get cancer too, you know, at least I think they can. And besides, one of the really important things Audubon does is help introduce kids--your little soccer player, those Girl Scouts, the wrapping paper boy, and the dead lady's set of fifteen--to the outdoors and educate them about the natural world so that they have a chance of growing up and voting right.

You'll see how important that is, real soon.

If you're so inclined, please trot over to my Birdathon Pledge Page and cheep in to sponsor me. Maybe I'll have some extra wordage over there for entertainment. You never know. Thanks! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Free To Pee, You And Me

We were talking to an acquaintance the other day, and right there between the weather and the price of gas, he up and declares that people using public restrooms should be either male or female, and nothing in between. His supporting argument was that anything else ain't right. It's possible I misunderstood, but it seems he feels very strongly that whoever might be in a public restroom checking out his junk should be All Man. Well, okay.

I sort of get it. The Bits Allocation of people sharing a restroom with me has always been very high on my list of concerns, just under women wearing white hijabs after Labor Day.

He went on to clarify that once a guy has actually had his dick cut off, he can then use the ladies' restroom. I am assuming that the lopping of the dick indicates sincerity.

Seeing our apoplectic looks, he invited us to explain to him why he's wrong, but I suspected insincerity. In any case, I had things to do, and taking someone all the way back to his early education and starting over seemed like it was going to cut into my weeding time.

He'd be right at home in North Carolina, where transgendered or transitioning citizens have been cordially invited to cut down on their fluid intake. I do not know, or care, how many such people I have shared a restroom with, or thought to wonder what they were doing there. I always assume they have to pee.

There is an upside to the North Carolina Moron Protection Act, or whatever it's called. It's a job creator. Now there will have to be an employee stationed at each public restroom as a Crotch Inspector. If you're currently unemployed in North Carolina, you should look into openings in Crotch Inspection, which is, coincidentally, a job description. Me, I'm more creeped out by sharing a restroom with someone who wants to be a Crotch Inspector, but that's the price you pay for freedom from the heebie-jeebies. The downside, of course, is that there will have to be a whole new layer of government to oversee the Crotch Inspection Force.

"Not so," our friend insists. "Government doesn't do anything efficiently. It can be privately run, or an all-volunteer citizen force."

I suppose. There are already plenty of private citizens who charge themselves with making sure people's sex conforms to one or the other of the Big Two. Here in the blue states, we call those people Assholes. Speaking of openings.

But if you're going to have legislation like this, you'll have to have enforcement. And that means that in the less clear-cut cases there's going to have to be some kind of internal probe. That's your Long Arm Of The Law, right there.