Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Love Story: Tweet One

Who knows where a love story begins?

The best ones don't always start with the precision of Cupid's arrow. Some take time. And sometimes you can fall in love without even knowing someone's name. In this case, I had a name. But I wasn't sure who to attach it to.

Marge and Studley Windowson were more of a concept at first. True, I did have a pair of authentic chickadees and a house to put them in. But I didn't know if it was the same pair every spring. I didn't know which one was Marge and which one was Studley. I didn't even know how they knew. I think they just did what felt natural and then waited to see who the egg dropped out of. Strictly speaking, this is not the case. I read up: the female scouts the nest site and puts the mattress together while the male brings around snacks. So I knew who was who while Marge was hammering away in the nest box, but then as soon as they were both on a branch I was all befuddled again.

Fortunes change. Some years they blasted in with 5,000 bugs a day and baby birds came out. Some years they took off and left their eggs unloved. One year they were aced out by nuthatches. It's always something.

But then last year one of them showed up with a bum foot, and it turned out to be Studley. Brave Studley curled his swollen toes up in his belly feathers and devoted his days to supporting Marge any way he could think of. He parked on a nearby twig with his head swiveling for danger. He chased away smaller birds and hollered at the rest. When he came back this spring, with his missus, and minus two toes, I about lost my mind with joy. I wanted to take up trumpet. The cups are still rattling in the cupboards.

The trouble is, there's always trouble. It's harder to go from an egg to a journeyman bird than you might think. There are wasps. Mites. Other birds can't be trusted. Several of my neighbors are devoted to seeing that their cats can express their wild nature, and my yard is where they like to do it. And the tree that used to shade the Windowson residence has only a cowlick of leaves remaining. If the eggs don't get poached by a critter they could get poached, period. I learned how to reconstruct the nest box to keep it cool, but too late to avoid disturbing sweet Marge. Fortunately, it hasn't gotten hot yet.

But once the bug and grub train gets rolling, it'll be Grand Central around here. By the time the nestlings are about ready to fly away, Marge and Studley will be hauling in groceries about once a minute, dawn to dusk. You'll never see a stronger work ethic. Last year their brood failed. I wanted dearly to help.

"Mealworms," I told Dave, who reminds me of Studley.

We took off for the mealworm store.

What I wanted to do, I explained to the mealworm store lady, was crack the window open and dispense mealworms from my windowsill. I'm right there a couple feet away from the bird house. Maybe they'd even take them from my hand, I said, all fizzy with the possibility.  I once spent a half hour still as a statue with sunflower seeds in my hand and snagged two indelible seconds with a pine siskin. And of course I've had gray jays land on me. If you wear a suit made out of cereal, a gang of gray jays will strip you naked in nothing flat.

The mealworm store lady frowned. You don't want to attract scrub jays, she said. If you have a suet feeder on the other side of your house, you could hang a mealworm feeder underneath it and your chickadees will find it right away.

That felt less personal. But the image of a scrub jay slicing through the air with a fuzzy new nuthatch reopened a gash in my memory. I did not want to attract jays.

But I did buy the mealworms.

To be continued. This post and the next are dedicated to Julie Zickefoose and her wide-open heart.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

PPSD: Phantom Pee Spot Disorder

You know that feeling when you've sat down on a toilet seat and there was a little drop of something on it but you don't realize it until you stand up again and there's that little cool spot on your butt that you hope is water? Hold that thought.

I'm at the age where people complain they were never warned about this or that health issue. Actually, I'm way past that age, because a lot of it happens during menopause. Or perimenopause. In fact perimenopause is one of the things that people say no one told them about.

So in case no one told you about it, perimenopause refers to the years right before authentic menopause in which your body is just experimenting with how it would be if all your youth-enhancing hormones disappeared. So one day they'll drain out and the next week they'll surge back and be all What do you think about me now and you won't know whether to laugh, cry, or stab someone just because. "Nobody told me my periods would get heavier and more frequent," people complain, nor do they mention that from time to time you will be passing something that looks like a small damp rodent, or that you will develop new moles everywhere, and then plant whiskers on them like flags, or that you will be asked to cut down on sleeping for a few years because you can sleep when you're dead which by the way is coming right up too.

That business about being all crabby because your hormones are in flux is something people do tell you about, but it's not true. You're crabby because you're just about at the age when it will become obvious you married the wrong person or wasted thirty years at the wrong job, or had more kids than you needed or will ever use, or you realized you didn't follow your dreams because you never had any to begin with even though everyone assumed you should.

They don't always tell you about pre-perimenopause, which would be the thirty years before perimenopause. If you're lucky someone will have warned your nine-year-old self about periods but even so that first one is still going to come as a big surprise, and like as not people will have glossed over some of the nastier details in favor of something more hopeful like "You're becoming a woman." So even with the basics, you can't always count on a ton of good information.

And as long as we're about it, they don't tell you about how unpredictable your periods are going to be, especially the whiz-bang very last one that happens two years after the one before and one year after you've gotten rid of all the paraphernalia, as soon as your last hormone can detect you're wearing white pants.

They don't tell you anything about fibroid tumors and when they do, it's because you already have them, and then they tell you they're usually benign, although not always. They don't mention that they like to sit on your bladder like a big fibroid joke.

They don't mention the connection between laughter and laundry.

There's stuff men don't get warned about either. Like peni-pendular recession, or the effect of scrotal gravity on the hairline. Nobody ever talks about that, but those bow-legged old men with gigantic foreheads didn't come out of nowhere.

And so as a public service I offer all of these observations to those who might otherwise complain that no one ever told them about them, and add the following:

Sometimes your body gets just a big kick out of itself and makes shit up. Like suddenly developing a dime-sized portion of your left buttock that feels just a little colder than the surrounding acreage and every time you pull your pants up you think: did I just sit on a wet spot on the toilet? Five times a day you think that, for a couple weeks, and then you realize your own buttock is doing  that to you for no reason medical science will ever discover. There won't be a name for it, or a ribbon-color for it, or a foundation devoted to its cure.

So don't let that come as a surprise.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

All Bloom And Bluster


Truth be told, the foxglove population here has been demoralized for years. It started when the Echium "Mr. Happy" was brought home in his little four-inch pot and settled in the ground. Not much to look at, at first, but his tag was all braggadocio. He was going to be something, boy howdy. Ten-foot spike with impressive girth, like you've never seen.

Some of the foxgloves warned, darkly, that this was going to be trouble, and kept going on and on about this being one more northern foothold in the Californification of the garden, blah blah blah. But no one cared. Mr. Happy wasn't bothering anyone else. The annuals gabbled away as the one-season wonders they were. It's just a big ol' rosette, they said. The more the merrier, and all that.

But the foxgloves had been the dominant biennial flower spike of the region for a couple hundred years, and they had a more mature perspective. Nothing good could come of this. Have you no sense of heritage, they said? This is not normal, they said.

Pssh. The zinnias didn't care for all this gloom and doom, and, if they were to be honest, they thought the foxgloves could stand to be knocked down a peg. Don't worry about it, they nattered, unbearably cheerful as always.  No way he's going to make it through the winter. He's a flash in the pan.

The foxgloves began to relax. Mr. Happy was a buffoon, a joke. He's just an entertainer--he's not going to ascend to his bloom year. The foxgloves settled into proper dormancy for the winter confident that the upstart would be revealed to be the clown he was, come spring. But they had not counted on all the behind-the-scenes support from unknown benefactors. The plastic wrap. The light bulb.

And to their shock, the next spring, there he was, still among the living, and he quickly shot up into the sky, surpassing the foxgloves in height, girth, and glory, and proceeded to go on and on about himself all summer long. The annuals were impressed. Annuals are easily impressed.

The foxgloves conferred and came up with some proposals but nothing made it out of committee. It was infuriating, they thought. How could it not be obvious that Mr. Happy was an impostor, a bluffer, a fraud, nothing but a big-ass tower of bloom and bluster with no qualifications whatsoever? How could he be Number One? Why are the zinnias falling for this fool?

Mr. Happy is the greatest. Mr. Happy is the biggest. Mr. Happy is the best. How could anybody believe this crap? The foxgloves laid out the situation, hoping the truth would win the day. But nobody cared. Look at how all the bees made the shift, they said. Everybody's so busy. Mr. Happy is totally a job producer.

The foxgloves grumbled helplessly. Job producer, my plump pink petals, they said. Bees will work for nothing. Employment numbers don't mean anything  if everyone has to work five thousand blossoms a day just to make it.

And so on. Until this year.

It started with murmurings in the understory. Sharing of scuttlebutt. Botanical buzz. The first stirring of hope among the beleaguered foxglove community, and whispers that their long, yardular nightmare may be coming to an end. Mr. Happy's grandkids have arrived.

And what a motley crew they are. Pinko. Stubby. Knobbles. Slim Jim. Fuzzball. Who's your daddy, Mr. Happy? Hmm? Because there's a lot going on in this woodpile. Different sizes. Shapes. Colors.

The foxgloves want it to be known they have no trouble with a little color variation. But they have a feeling Mr. Happy's base doesn't see it the same way. Heh heh.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Your Secret's Safe With Portland Disposal And Recycling Company

The Oregon Supreme Court came down on the side of Liberty the other day, and meth cooks are jiggling their teeth loose celebrating.

They found in favor of a couple of methamphetamine dealers and threw out their convictions based on the notion that Oregonians have a right to expect privacy in the matter of the garbage they leave out on the curb. Because it's in an opaque bin with a lid on it, a universal sign for Not Yours, Mister Man.

Oddly enough, this conclusion is at odds with the big-boy Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., even though they're way fatter fans of Liberty when it comes to things like the freedom of corporations to purchase congressmen and things like that.

In the Oregon case, police were suspicious of the couple when their trailer kept blowing up and highly unattractive people were coming and going and Walter White's name was on the reserved parking space, so they had the garbage company hold out their garbage for inspection. Without a warrant. Which the court now says they should've had one of.

I'm a huge fan of this kind of decision. Big ACLU proponent, here. Unreasonable search and seizure is an important concept in a free country, but I draw the line somewhere the other side of my garbage. I do not, personally, feel I do have a right to privacy when it comes to my garbage. I'm throwing it out. That's why it's called garbage. If you don't want someone finding something in your trash can, go dump it in a restaurant dumpster like a grownup.

Maybe people should be required to go through our garbage. And I don't say that because I have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm deeply ashamed of mine, and you should be too. Everything in our garbage can is evidence of our failure to conduct our lives in a sustainable manner. We did buy all that packaging. We did dump that appliance that only worked for a year. We did own a plastic singing fish.

The Oregon Court says even the garbage company isn't allowed to look at your garbage. If your garbage man happens to notice a bunch of blood-stained bundles of meat that might plausibly be rearranged into a human being, he is expected to overlook it, and if it upsets him, he should've taken up typing. Because your private garbage is still your private garbage even though you've given it away.

The one dissenting justice thought this was nuts, and he said a garbage company should be able to take your garbage and "gift it to the police." I object to that too. Nobody ever needs to "gift" anybody anything, for Pete's sake, as long as the word "give" is still loitering around in the language. I'd be perfectly happy to instruction them about that later.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Color Of Money

Andrew Jackson is said to be one of Trump's favorite presidents. Dollars to donuts he can't name more than about ten of them altogether, and only boned up on Jackson when he learned that Obama wanted to have him replaced by Harriet Tubman on the twenty-dollar bill. Clearly this could not stand. Because Obama, number one. And number two, as Trump said upon seeing the proposed design, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posed ta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"

So Trump got someone to read him the Cliff's Notes on our seventh president, and he liked what he heard, and ordered his portrait hung in the Oval Office.

Even when he was running for president he weighed in on the issue, and while declaring Harriet Tubman a very fine woman, he thought she could just as easily dress up one of your lesser currencies, such as the Malawian kwacha. He said the whole idea of evicting Jackson from the twenty was a matter of pure political correctness, which is what people like him call correctness.

It is, however, a fine idea, and inspiring to many. Harriet Tubman was an exceptionally brave woman who was instrumental in establishing the Underground Railroad after she herself fled slavery. Jackson's reputation, on the other hand, has suffered a bit because he offends the delicate sensibilities of moderns who have been engaged in "rewriting" history, or stripping the propaganda out of it. And many of these people look askance at his enthusiastic embrace of slavery and his role in driving Native Americans out of their homeland on the so-called Trail of Tears so white people could take it. Slavery, extermination. Stuff like that.

Freakin' snowflakes ruin everything.

Trump, on the other hand, relates to Andrew Jackson, whom he regards, now that someone has whittled his Wikipedia entry down to 140 characters, as a populist tilting against the elites. There are resemblances. Jackson was said to be easily offended and something of a bully. He dabbled in real estate, dealing in particular with claims that had been set aside for the Cherokee and Chickasaw. He may have owned more than 300 slaves in his life and was not known for treating them well, advertising at one point that should any of them escape and be caught, he would offer "ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred." Clarifying later whilst on the stump, which was probably an actual stump, he said "Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay. Just knock the hell--I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise."

There are differences. Jackson was the only president who ever retired the national debt.

At any rate, we'll have to wait to see Harriet on our money. As Secretary of the Treasury and head pirate Steve Mnuchin put it, there's no way they can redesign the twenty before about 2028. It's just too complicated to do that and also work on other Treasury priorities, such as stripping consumer protections and rolling back financial market regulations, at the same time. Simply impossible. Makes Kennedy's moon shot gambit look like a stroll in the Rose Garden. "It is my responsibility now to focus on what is the issue of counterfeiting and the security features," Mnuchin said, by which he means "Trump said there ain't gonna be a nigger on the twenty while he's still President."

Where'd all those dogs come from?


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The CHIRP! Of Love Is In His Face

This is a fact. Dave has a history of being dive-bombed by birds. There are many reasons this could happen, but the primary one is that birds are shitty judges of character. Dave is not a threat to birds. Any bird should be able to read it in his face, but apparently his face is too far off the ground for their comfort. I can walk right next to him and they'll go for his head every time.

But until this week, we'd never seen him get threatened by a hummingbird.

Our local Anna's hummingbirds do an awesome courtship display that involves flying up to the stratosphere and then arrowing down at warp speed, pulling up a the last second before *splat*, and then zooming back up again. Moreover, there is a tremendous CHIRP! sound right there at the bottom end of the flight, coming in fact from the bottom end of the bird. Quite recognizable. Whenever we hear it, we look straight up to locate the aerobat and watch him do it again. He pulls out of his dive right at about eye level from a prospective mate, who is observing from a twig. It's attention-getting.

This time we heard the CHIRP! just off Dave's shoulder. And--we checked--there was no female hummingbird in sight. We stood still. We waited. And sure enough, a half minute later, that hummingbird swooped down within a foot of Dave's left ear.

He was impressed, but not enough to have sex with a hummer.

So we don't know what was going on. It felt threatening.  It felt like the bird was trying to chase Dave off, not get Dave off. But who knows? Either Dave looks like another male threatening his territory, in which case we would assume it would fly straight at his hat, and not do a courtship display. Or, he finds Dave very attractive, and he would like to have three seconds of sweet hummingbird bliss on some suitable orifice, several of which come to mind.

Because as far as I know, male hummingbirds do not defend the nest. They have nothing to do with the nest. They defend their own territory of flowers and hope to entice a girl into their territory and chase off rivals and go to considerable trouble for that three-second wham-bam and then it's Sayonara, Sis, and good luck with the kids. So although other kinds of birds might try to discourage Dave from getting near their nests, the male hummer has gotten all he wants out of the relationship and is back to looking out for Number One.

That leaves attraction as the only other possibility. Something about Dave appeals to a male Anna's hummingbird. The male makes that tremendous noise during his courtship display with just his tail feathers and maybe he senses a kindred spirit in Dave.

All alone and feeling blue, and green, and yellow, and...
But the ability to make remarkable noises from your tail end isn't much to go on in a relationship. Sure, it worked for us, but we're a special case.

We should ask Anna. It's her hummingbird. Anna Masséna, the Duchess of Rivoli, was probably pretty hot. At least she was all the rage in the ornithological community. Her husband, the Duke of Rivoli, was an amateur ornithologist, which is to say he had an enormous dead bird collection. John James Audubon took a fancy to her too, but it was another ornithologist who thought to name the hummingbird after her. Audubon was probably doing this long involved courtship thing and making a gigantic bird painting for her, and then René-Primivère Lesson swoops in all CHIRP! and says "Ma chérie, I give you zees hummingbaird." No one knows what the Duke of Rivoli was doing all this time, but apparently not defending his territory.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

They Shoot Out The Lip

[by DonkeyHotie]
Mike Pence is upset. "Throughout most of American history, it's been pretty easy to call yourself Christian," he said. "It didn't even occur to people that you might be mocked or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible." He's right about that. Shoot, you used to be able to quote the Bible in support of slaveholding and killing the savages and nobody'd even bat an eye. That's how comfortable you can be when you're completely surrounded by people just like yourself, and you can do that by subjugating and exterminating the others.

I don't know. Maybe it takes being a non-Christian to notice how thoroughly saturated this country is in Christianity, where Jesus engineers touchdowns and is called upon to approve of war and discrimination, but if you really feel under attack, so be it. It does strike me as being over-delicate, although, as a practicing liberal, I have trained myself to take other people at their word when they feel oppressed or offended.

I understand. Being ridiculed is miserable. It's not like being kicked to death for being gay, or having a bull's-eye put on you for being a Muslim  or a refugee, or having your children kidnapped at the border, or having bombs dropped on you, but it stings. It stings.

So I'm here to assure you that I don't care what fool thing you believe. You could invent a planet to retire to, or make plans to shake Jesus's hand in the sky. In fact, you could bind up the creation myths of prehistoric goatherds and the hallucinations of schizophrenics and the edicts of tyrants, drop it a few dozen times, sweep it back up in no order and staple it together and tell me it's the word of God, and I won't mock you to your face.

I'm not a Christian, which I think is still legal. But it doesn't matter to me what you believe, unless it actually affects me, or other people, or unless I think it's evil, a word you don't own, and which I still get to use. Mr. Pence, you say that many people who espouse tolerance--you mean liberals--are often the least tolerant of Christian values. Not really, Mr. Pence. We love the Jesus values. Just not the values of intolerance.

You see, Mr. Pence, anyone can call himself a Christian.

It's possible to defy Jesus's teaching in every respect and still consider yourself a good Christian. There are good Christians who build homes for the poor. There are good Christians who murder doctors. There are good Christians who collect and control wives. There are good Christians who feed the hungry. There are good Christians who stand on street corners and hand gays the bus schedule to hell. There are even good Christians who endorse bombing the crap out of Palestinians just to hasten the End Times and catch the early flight to the Rapture. Who decides who's a good Christian? As far as I can tell, you get to decide for yourself.

Good people have some things in common, but being Christian isn't one of them. Some of them are Christians and some of them are atheists. Some of them have abortions and some of them vote for socialists. Some of them have the habit of prayer and some swear like sailors. Good people's hearts tilt toward kindness; they're not quick to judge. They can imagine circumstances different from their own. They aim for peace. They build bridges and tear down walls. They are generous. They do not demonize groups; they recognize individuals. They can imagine another's suffering as their own. To the degree possible, they live without fear.

Good people strive to not hurt others. They do this by recognizing other people as essentially like themselves, and so they can imagine what the hurt is like. It's a Golden Rule thing. Give it a shot, Mr. Pence.