Saturday, January 16, 2021

Eeek! Communists!


Poor Debbie Lesko! Some mean people wanted to keep the Republican congresswoman from Arizona from bringing her gun into the Capitol. She is outraged. We don't know what kind of scene she makes at the airport, but in the Capitol, where she and her colleagues are routinely kettled for the convenience of armed mobs, she's stamping her little feet. "We now live in Pelosi's Communist America!" she tweeted thunderously. Yes, you can tweet thunderously.

Ah, that old chestnut! It brings me back. When I was a kid that's what you called other kids on the playground if you wanted to rile 'em up. They were commies! Specifically, dirty commies. Just like Miss Debbie, we didn't know what we meant by it. It was another word for asshole. 

So Miss Debbie doesn't really mean "Communist" when she complains about being detained at a metal detector. What she's really hopped up about is governmental overreach. Authoritarians are the worst, unless they're Russians or North Koreans or some other repressive, crushing regime that we kind of admire, right, Miss Debbie? Authoritarianism is awesome if God's on your side.

"Communist" is just one of those big-basket words that scoops up many different people indiscriminately. It's a broad brush. It's like calling all Republicans "Nazis," when a lot of them are just self-dealing assholes.

I like to keep an ear open for the language being used to perpetuate the plutocracy. It evolves. For four years now "socialist" has been the slur of choice, but now we're hearing more about communists. Hardly anyone can define the terms, but that's irrelevant. Every now and then you will hear someone elucidate what is so awful about being a socialist, and it usually comes down to "they want to take all your hard-earned money and give it to the lazy people."

Sounds bad! But weirdly, they are fantasizing something entirely different from having all their hard-earned wages, pensions, and benefits taken and given to the indolent rich, which is what has actually happened over the last forty years. Someone should look into that.

In any case, I have a lot of commerce with the motley Left Wing and can report that very few of us consider ourselves socialists. There are a few socialists, and an anarchist/anti-capitalist contingent, but the vast bulk of us would align with Democratic Socialism, which aims to maintain a market system but strip it of its worst excesses and failures. A bit more like Eisenhower's America, in other words, without all the racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia and...well, we'd like to polish things up a bit, and try to save the planet in the bargain. It's not really scary at all. Make everyone's lives a little better, without making the billionaires' lives worse. Because above a certain income, you shouldn't be able to notice how rich you are. You can drown your soul in a bathtub of money just as easily as in an ocean of it, after all.

There's a lot not to like about our current economic system, in which profit for some is sacred and the true costs of it are paid by the rest of us. Let's look at the results. Our planet may soon become uninhabitable. Extinctions are accelerating. Our resources have been stripped and turned into cash for the few. Legions of us are impoverished, homeless, sick. Entire populations all over the world are on the move for their very survival.

We would like to not be ruined by medical expenses. We would like to not be ruined by fossil fuel consumption. We would like clean water and a range of basic services. We would like to support small farmers. We would also like maybe some bullet trains, please.

"Communist America!" Poor Miss Debbie doesn't mean anything by it, not really. She's just using it as a phony label to instruct the masses who they're supposed to hate. You fling that word out enough and it fails to mean anything at all--it's just a stain in the brain that will hopefully remind you what Debbie wants you to do in the voting booth.

What she doesn't want you to do is think.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

I Have Cash

 
This is all true.

My Uncle Bill was unusual in a number of ways. The ways that pertain to this story are: he was quite poor. His meager savings went chiefly to alcohol. And he was old.

So when he showed up in Montana to attend my father's funeral, there were a number of things about being in a small middle-class home he wasn't accustomed to. And when he asked my mom if he could make a long-distance call from her phone, she smiled him into the kitchen,  introduced him to the wall phone with the curly cord, and returned to the living room with the rest of us. None of us could make sense of the ensuing clinky noises coming from the kitchen and when we went in to investigate, there was Uncle Bill with a big pile of quarters trying to find someplace in the phone to stick them, and dropping them on the floor.

It's just an extreme version of that old common experience of waiting in a long grocery line behind an old woman who springs into action only after the clerk rings up the total, and then she begins to root through her purse for her checkbook, while eyes roll all the way back in the line. Old people!

And now that I are one, it's all just as embarrassing as my younger self might have guessed.

All righty then! Hand the clerk your credit card to run through the machine zzzip-clank. No? I run it myself? On that little box? How? Oh. The little slot along the side? I just slide it through there? Okay. Which way?

The side with the magnetic stripe goes this direction. No, the other direction. See, there's a picture of it right there. Right there. There. Here, let me help you.
 
I begin to squint at the machine every time to make out the picture of the card with the stripe so I'll be ready but for some reason it's never as clear as you'd think. And then the slot disappears altogether. I hover at the side of the little machine and frown.
 
No, here, you just stick the card in the bottom and it will read the smart chip. At the bottom. No, the other way. Just shove it in. A little farther. Here, let me help you.
 
Then I get accustomed to that but there's always a holdup. You have to push enter. The green button. Okay. Then sign. Sign? With what? You can use your finger. That doesn't look anything like my signature though! That's okay. It is? Okay. Thank you.
 
Then I get accustomed to that and I try to get in and out expeditiously but the machine isn't responding. You have to put in your phone number. I do? Okay. And then hit enter. The green button. Oh! Ha ha! Of course. Whoops! Okay thank you, see you next week! Ma'am? Ma'am? Don't forget your card. Whoops! Thanks! And also, it wants to know how you want your receipt. How do I want my receipt? Yes, paper or email? Or no receipt? Oh. No receipt, I guess. Bye!
 
As I make my exit the clerk laboriously twists around the machine and hits an appropriate button for me to end the transaction.
 
The next time nothing is working. Can't even find the slot. Just tap it, the clerk says. I tap the machine with my finger. No, the card. Tap it with the card. Where? Just...the clerk reaches around the machine for my card and taps it and hands it back. Or you could just use your phone.
 
Oh honey. I'm pretty sure I couldn't.
 
Did you know eye-rolling is audible if there are enough people in line? It sounds like the window shades rolling up in the old cartoons. Flap-flap-flap. Listen. I'm sorry. Nobody's sorrier than I am that I am now that dumb old person. But it will happen to you. I have no idea what form it will take, but it will happen to you.
 
Shamwowa? Could you come out here? My thing has arrived but the stupid drone won't drop it until I pay for it. How do I do that?
 
Oh, Grandma. We've been over this. You just think at it. You just think your full name really hard followed by your PUTZ number.
 
I did that.
 
This time don't think about an elephant. It's a security step. If you think about an elephant it won't release. You're doing it again. Here, let me.
 
Shamwowa glances into the sky and the package floats down. Grandma snatches it off the delivery port and huffs away, red-faced.
 
When the multiple duplicate charges generated by her flatulence show up on the invoice, she can always get Shamwowa to straighten it out. 
 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Revolting


I really don't enjoy this.

What I want to do is publish the post I already had scheduled for today. Old fart meets credit-card reader, and hilarity ensues. I want to explain why spider bites are usually on your fanny because spiders object to being sat on. I'd like to tell you that my new shampoo smells like Pine-Sol and now I get out of the shower wondering if I've been scrubbing the toilet bowl with my head.

But I can't, because we can't go three days in this country without a lunacy grenade going off. We're all collateral damage, and the shrapnel is by now lodged in all of our hearts, and half of us are trying to pluck it out and half are happy to let it fester.
 
Nearly half cannot comprehend losing an election, because everyone they knew voted the same way they did. They cannot visualize their opposition, even though they've been mocking us for four years. Did they, too, believe we were fictional bots?
 
And some of them answered the call, when the call came. They were standing by, an army ready for their leader to deploy. Still, it was shocking. At first it almost looked like men were gaining the Capitol by scaling its walls, but surely that can't be--walls keep people out. Don't they?
 
But no, there they were, a faction of fat fascist fucks playing dress-up, and no, I'm not fat-shaming; I'm merely describing; they are shaming themselves. Just look at those fat white fucks. Where is Lorena Bobbitt? Get her on the phone.

These are described as "mostly white males," although that is a nod to their tattoos: this group is all about white power, and meanwhile, while we fantasize about where they can jam their rebel flags, Black power is alive and well a few states to the south, extracting the monkey wrench from the gears of the Senate with grace and peace. This is a day for the books.

But no sooner do we all bear witness than the Mostly-White-Males' operating system begins planting new seeds of deceit and broadcasting them into the soft spongy soil of the brainwashed: Antifa did this awful thing. That we totally approve of.
 

Sure. Those are definitely anti-fascists dolled up in raccoon underpants and traitor's flags. But it has come to this, that if I read a headline about vandals leaving a severed pig's head at Nancy Pelosi's house, I do not immediately know what group is responsible. Because the radicalized left and right occupy much of the same territory, where the politics of confrontation erases civility, and defense of freedom erodes freedom, and war is proclaimed the path to peace.
 
I do not equate the two. Neither by extent, or intent. I understand that the left musters in the cause of justice, and the right in the cause of a toddler's notion of liberty. But I have seen both sides attack an assault-weapon ban for the same reason: the need to fight our own government. I'm horrified to hear it from the right. It breaks my heart to hear it from the left.
 
After a while, the soldiers at the fringes start to look the same. Rage is its own fuel. Fury is all-consuming, and obliterates reason and dissent. Can it be quarantined? Set up a tournament, a jousting match. Duels: penises at ten paces. Make it ten inches, they still won't touch each other. Make it pay-per-view, and we can buy ourselves some nice health care, reparations, solar panels for all.

As for the shameless architect of our ruin, I do not want to see him harmed. I do not want to see him hanging upside-down in the town square. I wish to see him escorted into a court of law and delivered without ceremony to a secure location, wearing horizontal stripes and as long a necktie as he wants.

 



Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Adventures In Service Providination

 
We have crappy TV service. There's nothing on, although there is a whole lot of it, and even the remote control is tragic. If you accidentally hit the wrong button there's hell to pay to get the TV screen back in the proper corral, and it's easy to hit the wrong button because you have to hold the remote over your head to make anything go. Also? We can't turn the TV off without getting off our asses and walking over to it, and what century is this, anyway? What are we, acrobats?

But we don't want to change it, because we do not like change.

CenturyLink made us change anyway. They said they're no longer offering our crappy TV service and we should look over their many fine alternatives. Really, there's nothing I like better than calling a Service Provider on the phone, because I so rarely have anything to do for any given four-hour period. 

The fine choices boiled down to having a dish bolted onto our house, which we reject on aesthetic grounds, and ATT. ATT wanted twenty bucks up front to get the ball rolling and that took a couple hours because something went wrong with the nice lady's computer and it kept ralphing up my credit card. The nice lady was distraught and whimpery, because, I believe, she is accustomed to being screamed at, and I kept reassuring her that I was fine. I was so happy that she spoke English that I wanted to luxuriate in the experience. I don't want to be that person who complains about people with accents, but I admit to a strong preference for it in my Service Providers. Anyway I told her I could happily listen to her all day long, and then I did.

I could have walked a twenty over to their office faster. It was my idea, ultimately, to plug in my landline and try to get the transaction through that way, and it took me a while to find the cord. It has been unplugged for four years although we still pay for it because evidently taking the landline out of the Internet-TV-Phone Bundle doesn't make it cheaper. Basically, our landline is serving as packaging twine for our Bundle. I plugged the old workhorse in, the very same lady called me back on it, and we were in business.

Then all I had to do was wait for a new device to thud onto my front porch and plug it in, plus they were going to send over a Service Technician. I wasn't clear what the Service Technician was going to do, but I said okay. "Okay," the nice lady said, brightly, clearly relieved that ATT had my credit card number now, "how does Tuesday work for you?"

Quite well, thank you.

"And what time of day is good for you?"

This, as it turns out, is a little Service Provider joke. They are howling in the break room.

"Anytime after nine would be fine."

"All right, we'll set you up for Tuesday, with a Service Window between 9am and 5pm."

"That's some window," I said.

"But no later than 7:15," she continued.

At this point I am laughing myself snotty. I'm not sure the nice lady is used to that, but I think she wanted to keep the conversation going so she didn't have to talk to someone mean.

The service window between nine and five but no later than 7:15 reminds me of our newspaper service. When The Oregonian went digital, they offered a sort of hybrid deal: they would deliver papers some days, and the other days would be digital only. They trumpeted this change as "Newspapers Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, with a bonus paper on Saturday!" Awesome! It's not like we went from seven papers down to four; we get a bonus! Whoever in Marketing came up with that probably still gets a bonus just thinking about it.

Anyway, the "no later than 7:15" Service Window proved to be a bust. Tuesday came and went with no Service Technician. Two days later I got another call explaining that the technician never made it to my house but they'd be happy to send one out Monday if I wanted. Sure! When?

She had a window between nine and five. But no later than 7:15. I can't wait. Actually, I can.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

I Need An App

A number of states that don't include mine are offering a free phone app to help you know how terrified you should be that you've been exposed to COVID-19. And if you have been, you can choose to take proper precautions such as isolating yourself or hiding in the closet sucking your thumb or beginning to take the precautions you hadn't bothered with before, or something. I'm not sure what I'd do with the information. I'd prefer something more immediate like a live warning system that you're about to get too close to an infected person. Something along the lines of that exploding dye packet that they put in the ransom money.

I mean, they used to do that in the olden days. They used to put big pustules or black boils on people, and if they could do that in medieval times, why can't they do it now? Now they have germy teenagers that look totally normal and although it's always a good idea to avoid those people anyway, it can't always be managed, especially if you want a pizza delivered.

I'm not terribly worried on a daily basis because I do take precautions. I assume that anyone I meet is riddled with disease. My favorites are the sneezy people who wave their hands in a friendly manner and holler that it's just a cold. Pardon me? If you have a cold, you have swapped snot with somebody in some way. You have. If you've been doing this pandemic right, you shouldn't have Sniffle One.

Because I can be exceptionally dense, I had to read several paragraphs about the app before I figured out how it works. As everyone who is not me knows, it works because it is assumed your phone is adhered to your body at all times. Apparently, that is a reasonable assumption. I'm the only person who says things like "Call me in the afternoon, I should be home by two," and I don't get how weird that sounds until I get the puzzled look.

As far as the Big Eye In The Sky is concerned, I have been sitting on my kitchen counter for days.

I also fail to remember that most people use their phones for way more than communicating with people. That's just about all I can do on mine. They say it's "smart," but that's just so as not to damage its self-esteem. Every time I try to download an app it tells me it's way too small to have such a big app shoved into it, and I should consider unloading something first, even though there's nothing in it. It's just a bulimic little piece of shit, is what it is. As a consequence I have learned to live without most of the life-simplifiers that litter our brainscape. I'll still walk a few miles to a store and find out it doesn't carry what I want and say Thanks Anyway and walk home again, and feel no sense of betrayal. Other people wave their phones in the air and get the nearest pizza paid for and dropped by drone through the sunroof while they're still driving. They check their blood pressure and then they check their portfolio and then probably their blood pressure again, and meanwhile I don't even check to see if anyone called once I get home, which is where my phone is, probably.

Nevertheless, the same people who are afraid Bill Gates wants to microchip them with a vaccine have a phone pocket sewn into their pajamas and don't think a thing of it. Everyone from the FBI to Walmart knows where they are. And I'm definitely not letting my phone go out and get sneezed on by all those other phones. I don't know where they've been.

But somebody does.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Starting Over, Over And Over

It's funny how we wait for the New Year to start fresh when a new year could start at any moment. People across the world don't even agree on when a new year starts. If you're Julius Caesar you could just randomly decide to shove it up a couple months. Even the time of day is an arbitrary convention. We start a day at midnight but we used to start it at noon and there's really nothing wrong with 3:18 either. Beer-thirty is as precise as we get around here, and even that has been creeping earlier and earlier during the pandemic.

But people do love the idea of a clean sheet to write on. We want to be able to count down to a moment everything can change. Back in the dark ages when I used to write longhand on a legal pad, I had entire paragraphs squashed into the margins and circles around things with arrows pointing to where they really ought to go and cross-outs and underlined bits in boxes tagged with their ultimate destinations, and then I'd sort it all out on a typewriter when I was done. A clean sheet meant little to me. All my stuff was on the marked-up sheet. I wanted every word of it and I could rassle it into shape later. I feel that way about life too. I'm not going to start over; I want to pull all those good bits out of the margins and figure out what order they go in, and what I should cross out, and there's always room to come up with more.

Still, you get a year everyone agrees is truly a crappy year, we're all ready to crumple up the paper and pitch it at the can, and maybe set fire to it first. So that's what we're going to do. Now what?

That's when we really need to pay attention to the truth: that a new year starts every second. And that's good news, because a lot can happen in a second.

I got the only Christmas gift I'd specifically asked for. I wanted to be able to feed Studley a Christmas worm. He doesn't show up every day. But on Christmas morning that angel came in from on high and chikketed at me from the window, and popped around to the back door for his worm. Studley Windowson was special to me even before he demonstrated that he knew me personally and was willing to land on me (and my friends) for larvae. That was because I could pick him out from all the other chickadees. The others are every bit as worthy, but only Studley is missing two toes on his left foot. And caring about Studley leads to caring about his kids, and his food, and the native plants his food lives on, and his whole, world-wide web.

Meet Dot
Last week I was looking at lesser goldfinches on the feeder. They're flockers. Six years ago I didn't even know they were a thing, and now I recognize them as among my most common visitors. I know the sounds they make and I know how incessantly and adorably they make them. The other day I noticed one of them had a white spot on her head. I didn't know if someone had pooped on her--I mean, that has to happen sometimes, right?--so I paid attention later, and sure enough, she kept coming by, and it's definitely part of her feathers. Dot! Now I can pick Dot out of a big chirpety bundle of birds. I can tell how she approaches the feeder a little differently, and which azalea branch she favors. I have a new bird to care about. I can care about Dot, and thus even more about the rest of her flock, and second by second my caring can expand until it fills up the whole world. It starts somewhere.

In one second, a boy soprano can lift the top of your head off and send it to the stars. In one second, as you wait out the exquisite tension before a chord resolves, you can feel that ache pulled right through your heart and come out clean on the other side. In one second, you can really notice a bird. You can love any little thing. And then you know how to love the whole world. And that will cause you to change your life faster than any resolution will. 

We can all do it together. We can start anytime.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Tavern At The End Of The Street



We measure things in lifetimes, and not necessarily long ones. Even a five-year-old talks about things she's known her whole life. It's hard to take the long view, if you're a human, which is why we're sucking up all the fossil fuel as fast as we can just in case we wreck our climate beyond redemption later. It's just the way we are.

Right down on the corner, there used to be a terrific little restaurant called Bernie's Southern Bistro, with a faithful staff and a friendly outdoor patio, and if you wanted to get your blood congealed to bacon-grease consistency, this was just the place to do it. Hush puppies, blackened catfish, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles...you could get a salad. A "Fat Boy Salad." Everyone loved the place and now it's gone.

The owners of the building had renovations in mind. So for a couple years now it's been accumulating layers of graffiti, and finally now it's being stripped to the rafters. Plenty of young people talk about the old Bernie's as though it were a Portland institution, and for a short lifetime, if you're twenty, it was. But before it was Bernie's it was the Chez What? before the Chez What? moved down the street and then folded.

And before that, back when the street ambience ran more to plywood and iron window bars, it was Johnny's Jar Room, noted--although not widely--for serving beer in Mason jars. And before that it was the Homestead Tavern. It was the Homestead when we moved in 42 years ago. Our dog Boomer used to waltz in there for a bowl of Heidelberg and the barkeep would call us up to fetch her back. Boomer didn't smoke but if she had she could've done it right at the bar. Stuff changes.



Naturally, like everyone else, we figured that was all there was to know about 2904 NE Alberta Street, because history begins with us. But that was before the siding was removed, revealing a spiffy Coca-Cola mural dating from 1948. The owners had no idea it was there but it can't be saved on account of the high lead content of the paint. The nanny state doesn't allow unabated lead because it could lead to lower intelligence in children who might then grow up to believe wearing face-masks in a pandemic is sissified or treasonous, and we can't have that. Below the Coca-Cola mural was BILLY ROWE'S in gigantic lettering. As it turns out, Billy Rowe and his wife Doris owned the tavern in 1943, despite being Mormons, although God smote them for it years later, when they both died in a head-on crash. The churchly allegiance of the oncoming vehicle's driver is unknown.
I guess it was Duke's tavern after that, and no one seems to know when the mural was sided over, even though it happened well within Dave's lifetime and he grew up ten blocks away. We forget. We forget. It's just the way we are.

Now, before the new fa├žade goes up, we can see the massive old planks of the building, presumably original, dating back to 1922, when the streetcar ran through. But squint harder at those planks and you can see what really came before: old-growth Douglas fir forest, home to life in crazy abundance, razed and ruined not that many lifetimes ago, never to return. We forget. We forget.