Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Flockin' Fiber Festival

Ruth wanted to know if I wanted to go to the Flock and Fiber Festival, and I thought, sure, why not? I had to get the car out to go to the flockin' grocery store anyway. So off we went.

The Flock and Fiber Festival, on the Canby fairgrounds, was a celebration of wool. There haven't been so many people spinning in place since Woodstock. There must have been a good hundred people sitting about spinning fleece, including one woman who was spinning while plucking fuzz from a slowly diminishing rabbit. It was a particularly dramatic demonstration of source-to-end product, with rabbit socks being knitted right next door. Technically speaking, of course, rabbits do not bear wool so much as a sleek acrylic blend.

In fact, virtually everything involved in the production of fiber products was on display here, from the animals they shear to the tools of production to the products themselves to books written by my very sister. The only thing missing was a diorama of my closet, where tiny shrunken sweaters go to be perforated by moths. That would have closed the circle.

There was a barn filled with highly decorative sheep and goats; just to see them was to be struck by the bounty of products that might be made of them. Mittens, scarves. Sweaters. Sausage. Maria, my massage therapist.
The most active ones were in a small pen against which
someone had unwisely leaned what had once been a nice leather satchel. Mostly, they were very well behaved, perhaps due to the proximity of the sausage booth. Many of the animals were in competition for ribbons, and I assumed there would be a frenzy of goat-sprucing or sheep-fluffing going on, but it was not the case. You just had to lead them out there with whatever they'd rolled in still on them. In some cases, with whatever had rolled out of them still on them. Consumer alert: steer clear of the fleeces that come with their own novelty sweater buttons.

My companion Ruth has her own weaving studio. Scores of looms are set up in one room, and they look from a distance like naked upright pianos. One large one with foot pedals could have been a pipe organ. She can go in there any time she wants and make music out of wool, because she knows how.

I don't know how, so my wallet is in no particular danger at the Flock and Fiber Festival. Someone was selling salted filberts (sold!) but mostly people stayed true to theme. There would have been no reason for me to come back the next day, but I did. Because when I die, I want it carved on my gravestone that I never missed an opportunity to see a duck-herding demonstration.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Murmuration Rumination

I guess we're not supposed to like starlings, because they are an introduced species that has edged out the natives and caused a lot of destruction, like white people. Some fellow brought a bunch to Central Park in New York City in 1890, because he had the romantic notion that he would introduce all the critters mentioned in Shakespeare to America. America would have been so much better off if he'd just fired off a check to the local theater company, but that's show business. He was not entirely successful in his efforts, or we'd be seeing a lot more fairies around here. I guess we should be grateful he was not a Mary Shelley fan.

But I like starlings, and not just because a group of them is called a murmuration. They're natty, interesting and have great voices. It's not cool to say it, but some white people are, too.

A good murmuration is something to see. It's always great to watch a flock of birds wheel and turn in unison, and by the time starlings gang up in the range of a kabillion or so, they put on quite the show. They bloom and squirt and pop across the sky like the innards of God's lava lamp. It doesn't seem possible that they don't run into each other, at least a few of them, but they are as well coordinated as if they were a single organism.

I do know why they don't run into each other. It's because they haven't yet assembled at their annual holiday party. That convenes on a single day in December, right here in our yard. They all know when it is; a raft of them will sit up on the neighbor's roof, and another flotilla will land on our roof, and a third batch will take over the big cedar, and they sit there for a while checking each other out. This is because they don't have the technology to send an E-vite, which would allow them to decide if it was worth their while going, depending on who else had signed up. Instead, they have to occupy the roofs and trees and work it out for themselves.

Then, though, they all fly over to our grape vine in a huge mass and the party begins. We don't harvest our grapes, and by this time they have begun to ferment on the vine. The starlings begin to chatter and chirp, and whistle and click, and hang around the punch bowl, each one wearing a spangly holiday sweater. After a bit, the whistling and clicking gets louder and louder, and restraint is thrown to the winds. Things are said that probably shouldn't be said. "I heard Frank and Irma over there talking about stealing a new nest box." "No, you di'n't!" Whistley whistley,clickety clickety. Jerry "Second-Brood" Calhoun does his siren imitation, Babs lets out a shriek, and Connie starts in on that crazy laugh that sounds like a horse going off.
Things really begin to go off the rails then. They pair up and head to the corners of the trellis, trying to sit on each other's laps, forgetting, in their gaiety, that they do not have laps. Then they pitch over and fall into the garden in bunches. The neighborhood cats find this behavior so alarming that they stay well away, heads carefully turned aside, licking their paws in nervousness.

The cats won't be having their own holiday party until much later, after dark, as soon as we've all finally dropped off to sleep.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays From The Drabnitz's

Merry Christmas! It's been "another" jolly year for the Drabnitz's!

So many blessings! Little Megan is all grown up now, it seems like only yesterday she was lifting her little frock above her head in the choir loft! Ha! Ha! She has always had that knack for entertainment and we know she'll go far. She still enjoys her job down at the Boom Boom Room, and in October they moved her right up to the main stage. We didn't think we could be prouder, but then she was able to "pull a few strings" and get her sister Becka a job there too. They've always been poles apart, Megan is our little athlete and Becka loves cheese. But we hear the "sister" act is a big hit and both girls seem to be rolling in cash. In these uncertain economic times we are grateful they have found their niche. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Little Dickie is doing well, isn't he special? you will remember all those shows he used to put on in the back yard, so no surprise he's grown up to be the star in the Wally Shore Chevrolet production of South Pacific!!! We've had the whole troupe over here for a sleepover in the rec room, he has always had the nicest friends.

What can I say about Big Dick! Just as ornery as ever, he can go all day without saying two words, but like he says, Lurleen, he says, you talk enough for both of us. Ha! He was able to buy himself that backhoe he always wanted this year, he calls it an investment, but just between you and I, it's more like his toy! He's still working hard, lots of times doesn't even get home until the middle of the night, and then he's got that thing clanking away in the back yard, good thing we live in the boonies! but guess what? its working out for me after all, he has been pouring concrete back there bit by bit, and in a few months I'll finally have me that patio I've been bugging him about! LOL!!!! Plus he's taken over doing all the laundry around here. I am so lucky!

And that leaves our littlest, Timmy, that's our little scientist. He's still awful quiet, but maybe that's a blessing too, ha! He always used to like to take things apart, and we worried he didn't seem to have many friends, but like I was just saying, some kids are just different from the get-go, aren't they? Anyway he's always just been so darn interested in the natural world, What makes this go? What's inside of that? You never know just where that little mind is going, now he's taken over the shed for his little dissection projects. He can keep it now! Ha! Ha! Mark my words, that boy is going to make some big news some day...

Some of you might remember Dick's brother Dwayne Ray, he's been away for a few years, but now we're so pleased to have him back for Christmas this year...he's staying with us in the
basement for a little while until he gets back on his feet again. Luckily he's not supposed to move too far away, so Timmy will have a chance to get reacquainted with his good old Uncle Dee again. He always doted on the boy so!

The only sad note all year was the loss of our sweet Scamp, who just plumb disappeared one day, and then right after so did his littermate and constant companion Bozo. We were heartbroken, and Timmy especially has been after us for a new puppy, so maybe Santa will have a surprise for him under the Christmas Tree! Ha! Ha!

Well that about wraps it up, from the whole Drabnitz clan to all of you, have a great holiday and maybe we'll see you in the new year! Can you believe it's almost 2010 already? We still have cans of beans left over from the Y2K thing!!! Ha! Ha!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stamping Our Feet And Demanding Our Cake

The leaders of the world have come and gone and we're still getting nowhere with this global-warming business, and I totally blame Rudolph.

Here in Portland, we've had this big uproar over a large neon sign downtown. There's a white stag on it from back when it was owned by the White Stag clothing company. At some point, someone plonked a red bulb on its nose for the Christmas season. People loved it; they went all gooey inside over it. When the sign changed hands, the new owners were prevailed upon to keep the stag, even though they sold china, just so Portland could still have its nose. I mean, folks were getting upset. This was messing with tradition. The stag stayed. Then a few years later the sign changed hands again and holy hell broke loose over the possibility that the stag would be lost. A city commissioner, taking a break from that tiresome schools-funding issue, proposed that the city buy the sign for $65,000 just so that Portland might never suffer a lack of seasonally adorned deer. Because it's always been there.

Well, actually, the stag dates to 1969, when it replaced a White Satin sugar sign. I still remember the fuss when the china people bought the sign. Perhaps I'm in denial, but I find it sort of annoying that anything could be thought of as a sacrosanct tradition that isn't even as old as I am. But that's the nature of people. We believe in our traditions so strongly that we'll eat stuff we don't even like as long as it's traditional. Norwegians scarf down lutefisk at Christmas as though it didn't taste like something a crab would spit out. They say they like it, but they couldn't possibly mean it.

Even a child as young as three is capable of claiming traditions, stamping her feet and insisting on the same birthday cake she's had her whole life. Our perspective tends to be limited by our own experience entirely. The actual song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, for instance, is older than me by four years, so that's a solid tradition. Because--write this down--history began when I was born.

That's where the global warming comes in. We are either faced with the likelihood of a man-made cataclysmic change in climate which can only be averted by a serious global application of political will, or it's all a bunch of hooey concocted by a conspiracy of 99% of the world's scientists who don't think they could get a grant otherwise.
That is the view promoted by James Inhofe (R), a petroleum-based senator from Oklahoma, who reminds us that just a couple weeks ago we were all complaining about how chilly it was. In other words, this is just another he-said, everybody-else-in-the-world said situation. And if so, who should we believe?

Here's an even better question. Why would scientifically illiterate people bet the ranch--all the ranches--that the world's scientists are collectively goofing on us?

We living things are all bundles of stored energy, although just between you and me, some of us are dimmer than others. But let's say we pile up mountains of organic material, just like us and maybe several continent-sized expanses of swamp; say we do that for thousands and thousands of years, and then say we press it into a concentrated sludge for a hundred million more years. Now, what say we then suck it up and set it all on fire in a few decades. Why wouldn't we think this might have an effect on the atmospheric status quo?

Why, because all we know is that for our entire lives--forever, in other words--we've been able to get in our cars and roar off to the grocery store five blocks away and buy a banana that grew halfway around the planet. It's natural. Isn't it? Two hundred years after Lewis and Clark, we stand in line preparing to take a cross-country trip that will last six hours and whine about having to take our shoes off. In fifty years, some kid will be waiting inside the human teleporter and he'll smack the side and say "Come onnnn." That's how we are. We have no concept of how unusual fossil fuel is and how special our tiny sliver of history is. Nope. All of this is totally normal. Not only that, but it's our birthright. If we were not meant to sit around in shorts and a tube top watching TV in the middle of the winter, God wouldn't have put all that oil and coal out there for us.

And we feel it is somehow our due that, after another terrific scare, the nose on the White Stag sign lit up once again this year according to sacred tradition, right on time, a week before Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Pile Of Doe

The bad neighbors have been evicted and they're gone, yes indeedy spank the Lord and praise my fanny they're gone, and now, as I gaze on the detritus left behind, I've become more contemplative about the nature of neighborliness. It's a liberal thing. I mean, I never went over there with a plate of cookies or anything. By the same token, they never offered me any of their crack. But they never actually set anything on fire, and they were real quiet until noon most days. It could have been worse.

As it is in Pennsylvania's N. Buffalo township, for instance, where the neighbors of Mr. Randy Good are pondering their next move. Mr. Good has a contract with the township to scoop up all the dead deer on the highway and haul them to the landfill, and what with one thing and another, he's been stacking them in his back yard instead, where about two hundred of them are piled ten feet deep, before settling. Even in cold weather, this has had a deleterious effect on the atmosphere, and the neighbors have taken to burning candles in order to deal with it. Candles, torches, whatever.

I don't think this is sanctioned official procedure. In the post office, they frowned on us letter carriers taking our work home, especially those of us with garages or basements. But even for those mailmen who did get involved in home mail storage, the storage system itself would not have been a nuisance to the immediate neighbors. Anything of an olfactory nature was more likely to be emanating from the mailman himself. It's a whole different kettle of fish with deer.

Apparently, you can compost dead animals as though they were turnips, and in some locales, that's what they've taken to doing. It works the same way as yard debris, and involves a large enough pile to really heat up, some water and a means of turning the heap. Mr. Good might well have had a successful composting program going there eventually. He would have needed something to turn his pile with, a source of water and enough roadkill to really get it cooking, which would probably take several more weeks of collection, by which time, of course, he would have discovered himself murdered.

The whole scenario puts me in mind of a dreadful incident from many years ago right here in Oregon. In 1986, Sheridan poultry farmer Larry Mohler lost 26,000 chickens at once during a heat wave when the fans in the coop broke down. It was a tragedy all around, but Mr. Mohler did the right thing and plowed his chickens under right away with a front-end loader. All was quiet for a few days until the bacteria in the chickens' guts kicked in, digesting tissues and producing gas. According to eyewitnesses, the very dirt itself began to rumble ominously and bubble up and then all at once the chickens, all 26,000 of them, just blew sky-high. "It looked like a little Mt. St. Helens out there," Mr. Mohler mourned, as well he might. I know I was moved to tears when I pictured it. And what is a poor chicken farmer to do under the circumstances?

Credit my co-worker, John Curry, for the answer. "Put a sign out on the highway," he said. "Chicken Nuggets. You Pick."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Music Of The Spheres

So I had my first colonoscopy right on schedule a few years back, and evidently I passed it with flying colors. Lord knows something passed with flying colors. And now they've started asking me to take more of a personal hand in my routine testing. This is why I was sent home from Kaiser with a small envelope containing everything I would need to collect my own stool sample and send it through the mail. I'm always getting shit in the mail, so it's sort of a novelty to send some back.

The thing is, this is one of those areas I've always preferred to leave to others. Maybe it's because I've never been a mom or a janitor, and I have been a baby--but if someone has to deal with what lands in the toilet, I'd rather it were someone else. The colonoscopy, for instance, didn't require all that much of me. My only role was the night before, and that wasn't really any big deal. You just do what comes naturally, only louder and with more pep. Once you've gotten to the clinic and have your gown on, your part is pretty much over with. In my case, I did come to, at some point towards the end of the procedure, and was able to watch some of the goings-on on a TV monitor and recognize what I was looking at. But I could tell I wasn't entirely back to normal because normal people do not blow "Oklahoma!" out their ass in a crowded hospital corridor. I recognized the opening note right away, and I discovered that if I exercised a little sphincter control--I believe trumpeters refer to that as "embouchure"--I was able to replicate the tune pretty well. I held onto the "O!" for as long as I could, and by the time the wind came sweepin' down the plain, I'd like to think I had everybody's attention.

The home stool sample kit comes with instructions that are pure literature:

Unfold and put the large collection tissue paper inside the toilet bowl on top of the water. (Don't use the small absorption pad included in the return envelope--you'll need that for something else later.)
Gripping! See how that keeps you on the edge of your seat? It's a page-turner.

Have a bowel movement so that the stool (feces) falls on top of the collection paper.

The paper takes up the entire interior of the toilet bowl. If you miss it, you were way too close to the edge of your seat.

Take a sample of your stool (feces) before it touches the water.

Fortunately, they don't mean in mid-flight. But frankly, seeing your stool plated up like an entree and twirling a spoon in it sort of cancels out the entire beauty of having indoor plumbing. The instructions go on to say you can flush, and to ("please") wipe off the sample bottle if some sample has gotten on the outside. As a former mailman, I can endorse that request.

Dave got a kit at the same time I did, but he's just practicing for now. He's doubtful about the collection tissue paper and is pretty sure he can sink it in one shot. I think he can, too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

One Hundred Cheers Of Jollitude

Grab yourself a little piece of that cake over there, and make sure you have a glass of champagne. This here is my 100th post in Murrmurrs! No one is surpriseder than I am. When I started, I would have sworn I didn't have a hundred ideas, total, lifetime. But here we are. My head is jammed full of stuff. As Dave likes to point out, it's really dense in there.

You should have a purpose in mind when starting a blog: to educate, to chronicle, perhaps to provoke. My goal is to cause a leakage of bodily fluids in my readership. If I can make you have to change your underwear or wipe something off your screen, I'm happy. That's where the cake and champagne come in. Everything reminds me of something else, and there's usually no more than one or two degrees of separation before you hit funny. So I think of something, and that makes me think of something else, and that makes me think of something else, and if I can remember what I started with--by no means a sure thing--why, I'm off and running.

I wrote my first post on December 27th, 2008, and my second a day later, and the Blogger template made it look real purty so I went ahead and told both of my friends, and then I settled into a comfortable twice-a-week schedule. Now, there's a lot of information out there about having a successful blog, and one thing everyone agrees on is that you should post at least three times a week. Call me a crank, but my thought is that no one will look at a blog three or more times a week unless it's entertaining. I searched my heart and decided I could only be funny twice a week, and you don't even want to be around me those other days.

Actually, I'm fun to be around slightly more often than twice a week. I began to accumulate blog posts which I confine to a little kennel on my computer. I have a pack of at least fifteen of them ready to let loose. At any given time a few will be under construction, and about three of them will be told to go to their crates until they funny up a little more. I worry when I put out a post that I think is pretty funny but not very funny. I always think: well, there goes my audience. Same thing applies when I put in one with a political or religious theme, which I seem unable to prevent myself from doing. "That one will drive people away," I fret, but then I think: No. My readers are smart and delightful and agree with me on every last thing. Right? Right?

But even though I have a group of posts just yipping to be let out, I decided not to increase the output to three times a week. That would be more pressure than a retired and, frankly, slothful person should be expected to bear. Especially one who isn't getting paid.

That getting-paid thing has been an eye-opener. I started the blog to develop an audience, which you need before anyone will publish your book. I'd still like to get a book published, but I discovered that having an audience was most of what I wanted. It's almost as if my readers are the people standing in the forest with their ears peeled, and I'm the tree that falls down. If they weren't there, would I make a sound? I'm not at all sure that I would. So you people are drawing out my work, and that energizes me and makes me very happy, for which I thank you all.

Wherever you came from. I haven't hit the big time, but I do have more readers than I have friends, so something's going on. Now, a person could conceivably trip over my site just by Googling the right thing. For instance, if you type in "ferret snot," I'm right there in the number-one position out of 400,000 hits. (Dave Barry is number three, people.) Most of my readers live in Oregon, which tells me they're my friends or their friends. But a goodly percentage, when I dig into it, are birders. This means my friend Julie Zickefoose sent them. Which brings up another thing:

I didn't know much about the so-called blogosphere before I began bobbing around in it. But here's one thing I found out: it's got friends. I now have friends I've never met, but friends they are. My head says "those are just names on a screen," but my heart, a much better judge of such things, has already brought over a bottle of wine, checked out the fridge, and curled up under an afghan on the sofa. It's the real thing.

Regular readers will have learned a lot about me. I'm muddle-headed, I tip over a lot, and I live with a cat and a large man, both of whom are total goofs. I like beer and flowers and salamanders, I'm a big chubby liberal, and I'm probably going to hell. That's me in a nutshell.

I always thought I'd be a writer. I wrote a lot of bad poetry in school and some exceptionally bad fiction. After that, I didn't write much of anything for over thirty years. They say that you need to live a little to have something to write about, and I think that's true. What did thirty years of living prepare me to write about? Poop.

I checked back, and at least eighteen of my posts are either about poop or mention poop (in passing). I've written about lizard poop, and bat poop, and raccoon poop, and sandhill crane poop. Possum poop, people poop and the poop of the potoroo. Hamster doots. Quark shit, for crap's sakes. I don't know what this says about me, but I will report that my poop posts get a lot of commentary. However, the post that got the most comments of all was about erections. That says a lot about you.

Here's a little primer about comments, for those of you not in the know. You can click on the little "comments" line at the end of every post and put in a comment. It will ask you how you want to be known, and you can be anonymous. But if you wanted to create a Google account, and have your name and picture and everything right there, I'm here to tell you that it's free and easy and no one seems to hound you about anything afterwards, so go for it. Also, if you want to send a particular post to somebody, you can click on "share this." I won't stop you. If you want to email all your friends about Murrmurrs, I will encourage you while blushing at the same time, which is all the multitasking I can handle without tipping over. If you want to put a link to Murrmurrs on your Facebook page, I will lick your feet and bake cookies.

Thank you all for coming. In the spirit of the season, Post #101 will be about poop.

Here are a few of my favorite posts, excavated from the archives, which you can find at the left:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Beagle Too Far

If we are to address a challenge as daunting as global warming, it will require unprecedented political will. It will require unflagging energy and dedication and determination from the grass roots on up. And we've got that, people, we do. Unfortunately it's being used to fight gay marriage, but at least we've got it.

I'm not sure why people get so fervent about stuff like this, but I have been trying to put myself in the shoes of the righteous to gain that understanding. I am doing that because I am a liberal, and that's what we do. We try to understand, to empathize, to see all sides, and that, my friends, is why we never get anything done.

But my exercise proved fruitful when I realize how similar the anti-gay-marriage sentiment is to my own aversion to the Humane Society, an outfit that is only growing in strength and power. Now this is an entity with an agenda. They don't try to hide it, either; it's right there on their website for all the world to see. And I will do everything in my power to expose the Humane Society for what it is and what it hopes to accomplish, because if they are allowed to thrive, they're going to force me to adopt a beagle, and I don't want to adopt a beagle. Once they make everyone adopt a beagle, there will be beagle drool everywhere, and there will be no
putting the rabbit back in the hat. Oh, I can hear the beagle advocates now, insisting that beagles don't drool as much as other dogs, which may be true, but it doesn't make it right. And it would be one thing if they just drooled in the privacy of their own crates, but I shouldn't have to see it.

Worse, if we let this go too far, our children will think beagle adoption is just fine and dandy, just another choice. I don't want this for your children, and I don't want it for my children either, if I had any, which I don't, because I was unclear about that being the whole point of heterosexuals getting married, and now it's too late, and here I am with a bunch of legal benefits and no one to help me with my computer. But don't tell me I have a phobia. I do not fear beagles. It's just that some people are born with beagles, some achieve beagles, and others have beagles thrust upon them, and that's where I draw the line, right there. As long as I have freedom of speech and a vote to my name, I will fight against beagle-thrusting.
The more I think about it, the more I see the logic behind maintaining marriage inequality. Still, I can't get behind the movement. I'd like to feel that fire in my heart, but I'm hampered by, oh--my life experiences, friendships, the evidence before my own eyes--you know, "reality," which is just another burden that liberals suffer under. So I do my best to advance the cause of full civil rights for gays, because nothing in my experience speaks against their right
to marry, raise children, grow gradually more annoyed at each other over little foibles they were willing to overlook in the courting phase, drift apart emotionally and eventually divorce, just like regular people.

And I believe I hold the key to resolving this issue. There is a growing movement among fundamentalist Christians to further the cause of Zionism, arming and aiding Israel so that--true to prophecy--Armageddon will arrive as soon as possible, and true believers can be vacuumed up to Heaven and get their personal show on the road. Since
the same factions probably believe that tolerance of homosexuality also portends the end of the world, I believe we can persuade them to encourage gays in every way they can, including supplying them with marriage certificates and surface-to-air missiles. This will hasten the End Days, the time that the world will be purged of religious fundamentalists, and those of us left behind can get on with our lives. I hope they rapture the beagles, too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Without A Thong

The day before I bought my first washer and dryer, Dave explained why he never minded going to the Laundromat. "There are always a lot of women in there," he said. "And a whole lot of them are completely out of underwear."

They are marvelously convenient appliances, but I'm well aware that the dryer is an energy hog. So when it was stupid-hot this summer, and I was already pissy about it, I realized I would be damned if I was going to turn it on. I whined about wanting a clothesline to Dave, and whined and whined and stamped my feet, and he got out a rope and strung it up outside. Probably for the clothes.

It was grand. I found a bag of clothespins, my actual childhood clothespins, and I happily began to string up a load of wash. The rope wasn't really long enough, but by the time I'd gotten to the end of it, in a hot wind that could only have come from Hell or California, the first items were bone dry and ready to peel off. I loved the whole process. I loved how the towels came off stiff. It reminded me of my youth. Mom used a wringer in the basement, and then the clothes went outside to dry. There was a big mulberry tree in the neighbor's yard with plump purple fruit. Dad liked it because it attracted birds. Mom hated it because it attracted birds. I remember how she used to dry the white sheets and iron them before folding them up just so. Her kids all learned to bake bread like she did, but sheet-ironing died with her generation. I can't even fold sheets. I'm a wadder.

So I thought our array of drying clothes was rather jolly, but Dave was a little less fervent.
"Great," he muttered, "there are all our tighty-whities and granny panties flapping out there for all the world to see."

Honey. Ain't no one in the neighborhood going to be surprised at our tighty-whities and granny panties. They've assumed them for years.

"Am I on Craig's list? Can I see a copy?" Granny panties.

"The computer needs more memory. I keep forgetting where I put my files." Tighty-whities.

"I don't mind if the neighbors have a little party every now and then, but Jeesus Peezus, it's eight-thirty." Granny panties.

"Look at that guy walking around with his ass hanging out of his pants. Hey buddy! Ever heard of a belt?" Tighty-whities.

"Four bucks for a cup of coffee? Are they kidding me?" Granny panties.

"I must have gone ten miles without seeing a pay phone. I don't know what they expect people to do." Tighty-whities.

"Could you come in here and do that pingy thing with our computer? It keeps freezing up no matter how hard I click on it." Granny panties.

"Have you seen my, oh, what the hell is that, you know, my..."
"That thing, that thing that you do that thing with, starts with a G..."
"Pipe wrench?" Tighty-whities and granny panties.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nearly Beloved

Even when I was little, I read the obituaries. The Washington Post used to print some that started out with a one-word sentence: "Suddenly." Those were the ones I was looking for. They pushed every mortal button I had. A child does not even want to think about "suddenly." But I couldn't look away. I never saw one that started out "Gradually," although that probably applied at least as often.

When I first began reading the obituary column in The Oregonian, most of the information was contributed by family and edited for clarity. Among the things I noticed right away is that people in North Dakota come here to die. Nearly one in ten people who show up in our obituary column were born in North Dakota. Inasmuch as there are only three or four hundred people living in North Dakota, this is a striking statistic. In North Dakota, where the phrase "he bought the farm" means he bought an actual farm, the phrase "he moved to Oregon" must have a sinister connotation. "Shame about Ole," they'd say at the coffee shop, "he was doing poorly all winter, and then he finally moved to Oregon."

The format of our local paper's obituaries has changed from time to time over the years, and recently, in a very wise marketing move, they have been stripped down to the very basics: name, birth, death, occupation, survivors, and details of disposition. It wouldn't matter if you'd lived to be a hundred or died in your first week; your obituary is the same length. There's your slid-out date, your keeled-over date, and the points in between put as tersely as possible. Alexander Graham Bell. March 3, 1847 - August 22, 1922. Al was in communications. There you have it.

If you're a recently deceased person, there are only two ways to get any ink in the Oregonian. One is to have signed up for one of your fussier religions. A recent example starts out normal and then hits its stride in the third line: "Colleen is survived by her daughters Eileen, Patricia, Mary Claire, Mary Celeste, Mary Elizabeth, Mary Margaret, Mary Mary, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, and her sons, Francis X., Patrick, Dominic, Ryan and Thomas." Picking up speed by line four, we are informed that "Visitation will be from 10am to 5pm Friday, Oct. 30th, in Boswell's Funeral Parlor, and again from noon to six on the following Saturday, followed by the recitation of the rosary, a funeral mass in the chapel, bingo in the basement, a reception in the Valley View Memorial Park and committal in the adjoining mausoleum." This is an obituary with legs. The entire thing shoved some poor Methodist all the way down to the bottom of the page up against a cremation ad.

The other way, and here's where the marketing comes in, is to have your survivors write a proper obituary and pay for it at the rate of $48.50 an inch. I've taken the liberty of jotting down a few thoughts for my own obituary out of consideration for my survivors, and also out of dread that someone will memorialize me using a misplaced apostrophe.

Suddenly. Murr "Tinkles" Brewster succumbed on the eve of her 100th submission attempt to "New Yorker" magazine after a long and cowardly battle with hypochondria.

Right up until the day of the unfortunate paper-shredder incident, Murr was notable for frequent declarations of groundless optimism. Her sunny affirmations in the face of adversity inspired many a person to want to rip her lips off, and indeed, nothing really rotten ever seemed to happen to her. She is universally credited by her many annoyed friends and acquaintances with skewing the curve of fortune, to the detriment of everyone else.

Per Ms. Brewster's request, her julienned remains will be dipped in cheese, boxed up and sent to all the major publishing houses in New York City. The bonier bits will be added to the soil in the tomato patch in a last-ditch attempt to thwart blossom-end rot, and the entire bed mulched with the manuscripts of her two unpublished books, The Gronk Chronicles and Miss Delivery: A Postal-Mortem. This will either produce a perfect tomato or it won't, and either way, she doesn't need to hear about it.

Murr is survived by nearly six cases of beer after a recent trip to Costco, so in addition to the spontaneous celebrations that have already sprung up all over town, the official event will be at her house. We expect to have the door pried open by three; reminiscences and toasts should be wrapping up by 3:10, and looting can begin any time after that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


There are many woes in the world. There is war and violence, sickness, starvation, love lost or mislaid. Here is what passes for woe in my world: I lack the discipline to park my fanny on a piano bench long enough to learn the music I love. "I wish I could get into some kind of routine, like I had when I was still taking lessons," I pouted to Dave, who nodded, while he flipped the contents of a saute pan. He is a saute-pan artiste.

Dave gave it some thought. "I have an idea," he said. "Why don't you sit down at the piano every night while I'm making your dinner?" Two things sprang to mind. One, this would totally work. Two, I may be the luckiest person in the whole world.

Over the next week, a kinship began to develop between Schumann and garlic frying in butter. It is the smell and soundtrack of rapture. It's no great thing that I feel gratitude a dozen times a day. It would disgrace me if I didn't. Fortune has billowed over me my whole life, none of it earned. It's not that I don't deserve it. It's that no one ever does.

I should, with good health, be able to devote myself to learning the entire Schumann canon, in the time given to me by a respectable pension from the Postal Service. There are those who would say that I earned that time with my thirty-two years of work, and in a small, unimportant way, I have. But the world is full of people who have worked harder and done greater things who will never have the particular freedom I've been afforded.

Garlic in butter. They say the sense of smell hangs right next to our memories in a closet in the brain. There is someone who was dear to my heart who never caught a decent break in her life. She lived the whole of it with pain and struggled to remain hopeful, and scavenged all her luck from an abundance of both hardship and friendship, never failing to find the flecks of gold in her pan of black sand. She did not deserve her luck any more than I do mine.

When I paint a landscape, sometimes I pull out a thin line of violet behind my backlit tree or glowing rock formation. It grates against the warmth of the subject and vibrates life into it. My violet line is as thin and sharp as grief, and grief is what shines behind something wonderful that was given and is now gone. I feel that edge of violet shimmering behind me sometimes and am thankful for
how much I've had and lost. I have done nothing to earn the abundance in my life, and the only thing I can say in my defense is that I am grateful, all the time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Assault And Badgery

In news from Florida, a homeless man was arrested after he stuffed a ferret in his pants and ran from a pet store.

Although ferret abduction is still relatively rare, store personnel had been on the alert after a Sarasota Petco lost its entire hamster supply inside a pair of cargo pants, although in that case the thief was arrested in short order after police were able to follow a trail of hamster doots all the way to his home. The ferret felon was apprehended in the parking lot of the pet store by an alert teenager, who suffered facial injuries when the thief whipped the ferret out of his pants and brandished it at the young man. The ability to quick-draw a ferret is quite a specialized one, law enforcement officials say, and they theorize that the perpetrator had probably practiced the move (called "weaseling out" in ferret-smuggling circles) before. The assault resulted in an additional charge of ferret-wielding on top of the original theft.

In modern times we have become complacent about this sort of threat. The old stoat-totin' days of the wild, wild West are, after all, long gone. Nevertheless there has been a rise in bat-wielding gangs, and a Montana woman recently suffered a severe nibbling at the hands of a miscreant carrying a concealed pika.

Sociologists contacted for this story agree that a predisposition towards pants-ferreting is observed early in life, with ants as the gateway animal, progressing over time to a series of small rodents and ultimately to your larger vertebrates.

It is difficult to say with certainty what the abductor had in mind. The stolen ferret was valued at $129, but authorities do not believe that a fenced hot ferret would fetch enough
on the street to justify the considerable risk involved with trousering a weasel. Moreover, it does not seem to be the sort of crime that would go unnoticed. It is this last observation that may hold the key to the matter. A man with a ferret in his trousers may indeed be noticed, but he is rarely approached and questioned. In fact, studies show that test subjects with small mammals in their britches have a distinctly repellent effect on bystanders. The working conjecture in law enforcement is that a homeless man thus equipped would, nine times out of ten, be able to board a bus without paying fare, as well as getting an entire bench seat to himself.

In related news, the Obama administration today denied allegations by the group "Gophers, Guts And Glory" that it plans to confiscate weasels used for personal defense. "Jeez Louise," Mr. Obama was heard to say off-mike, whereupon a spokesman for the President assured correspondents for Fox News that he was not angry, nor taking a tone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Do You Like Them Apples? Part Two

You will recall from a previous post that my Dell computer with Windows Vista has been hit by a comet and all my data are either cowering inside or have become glassified. Only a professional will be able to tell. Meanwhile, I have some decisions to make.

I posed the Mac vs. PC dilemma on my Facebook page and was soon mobbed by Mac evangelists. They were so effusive and seductive that I felt I could fling myself onto them and crowd-surf all the way to the Apple store. Then a few of my most trusted friends dared to challenge the dogma. "It's your antivirus software that causes most of the problems," one said. "I haven't used it on my PC for years." This may be true, but this is from a man who can see trouble coming and whack it off at the knees. Some of the sites we've been known to visit could give us a virus, never mind the computer. Glory hole? Sounds uplifting. Camel toes? Cute! Must see!

This friend loves to tinker about with this and that on a computer, and I'm happy for him. But everything I try to do in the way of maintenance or trouble-shooting feels like a battery of IQ tests, each one presenting new evidence of personal dunderheadedness. I don't need this aggravation. I held onto my SAT scores for decades to defend myself against those who would cast nasturtiums on my intelligence, until I finally realized that anyone looking at those scores today would invariably blurt out, "Good lord, woman, what happened to you?" And I would reply, as I often must: I have no idea.

Same man enjoys manually updating his PC, but I emphatically do not. My PC is a total bitch about updates. I slap the reminders off the screen ("Poo," I say) until they begin forming a posse on my taskbar, and then, resigned, I go to the site for my update. That's when the trouble begins. There is no "update." There is an entire menu of updates, and service packs, and patches, and it wants me to choose which ones to download. And that is what I'll do, just as soon as I get off the phone with NASA about their Hubble parameters.

It's worse than Jiffy Lube. You pull in there, and there's just a whirlwind of activity, with scrubbed mechanics barking efficiently at each other from all around and underneath your car. Ultimately someone comes forth with a list of things he thinks you should do. "Your drabnitz lining is getting a little worn [here he's holding out a damp carcass of some kind for my examination], and we can replace that for $19.95. We've tightened up your splagnuts but you could use a new furtle filter, $24.95. It's about time to top up your humours and rotate your radio buttons, and we're showing you're overdue for your ten-point farkling system inspection." This goes on for a while.

I always bend over the list, furrow my brow and tilt my head in an imitation of intelligence, and then pick out two or three of the suggestions completely at random. Just on principle, I'm not going for the full boat. If my furtle filter strands me on a dark country road, so be it. I do not have a clue.

Same scenario at the Microsoft site. Confronted with a plague of packs, patches and updates, I hurl mental darts at the screen and elect to download this or that. But we're not done. It wants to know where I want my download to go. I know where I'd like it to go--wherethesundontshine.exe--but that's never an option. So I click on their default setting, and that's the last I'll see of that download. If I ever stumble upon its location, it will be sitting back with its feet up smoking cigars with Dick Cheney.

I admire people like my friends who navigate serenely about the innards of their computers. And some day, assuming there is such a thing as reincarnation, I will be that person. For now, though, I am cleaning off my desk for the arrival of a new iMac. It's sleek, it's slim, it's fully automatic, it doesn't need the protective undercoating, and it comes with everything but heated seats. And Windows.


It's here. It's got a screen the size of a pillowcase, and the Mac boys dug into my old PC with a forceps and vise grips and pried out all my files. It's fast, it's quiet, it's limber, it took a picture of me and my cat Tater just for fun, and I'm thinking about letting it do my laundry. Also, my seat is heating up.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How Do You Like Them Apples? Part One

My computer is not demure. It rumbles and farts and belches and sometimes it revs up like an airplane. You get used to it. Recently, though, it began to snicker. "I know something you don't know," it rattled, which seemed likely enough. I didn't press the issue.

The computer was not original to me, but was only a few months old and lightly used when it passed to me after a death in the family. At first I thought it might be haunted, but eventually I realized it was probably just the Windows Vista. Periodically it would get the vapors. It would be mincing right along and then suddenly it would collapse on the divan and fan itself. "My, my," it would sigh, urping just a little, then "Lordy, lordy," one leg dangling languid off the side, a pale hand fluttering at its bosom. You could tell it to fetch you a tray of juleps all you wanted to, but there was no hurrying it off the couch. And then several times a day it would freeze solid just for the pure hell of it. I responded to this by clicking on everything in sight until the cursor itself seized up, and then there was nothing to do but sit back and give it the stink-eye until it came to again, presenting me with a visibly thick stack of windows representing everything I'd clicked on. I'd have to hack through these until I uncovered my original thought.

For many years I was drawn to and repelled by my computers. "Do this, and go find that," I'd tell them, and they'd roll their eyes at me and say, "God, you're stupid." Which I found irritating and irrefutable. My neighbor Beth was one of the first to help me get over this. I had her over to figure out something I was doing wrong, and she sat down, relaxed, wielding my mouse with self-assurance. It promptly served up the same error message I had gotten, which she dispatched with a dismissive "poo" and tried the same thing over again. Again with the error message, once more with the "poo," and repeat, four, maybe five times, until finally the machine rolled over and did as it was told. Ah! So it's like riding a horse, and you just have to let it know who's in charge? I can try that. Of course, I can't ride a horse.

Al Einstein said that was the definition of insanity--doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. But he didn't have a PC.

After Beth showed me how to flick an error message away, I was more relaxed, but I still found the thing annoying. I'd send it off to find a simple file, and it would rattle and gurgle and cogitate away, but it never found anything. Instead of being irritated that the machine was smarter than me, I realized it was worse than that. It was just as dumb as me.

So the other day when it began snickering and acting up, I ignored it. The screen had come up dark as twilight and swallowed my cursor. I dealt with this in the usual way, which could be replicated with one forearm on the keyboard, and then I shut it down. You've got all night to think about what you've done, I said. The next day a screen came up with a scolding tone to it, and I ignored that too. Later the twilight fell again. I shut it down. I yanked it back to life. "Poo," I told it.

Soon comes a night when I'm very busy at a mindless but addictive game that ruins my posture, strains my neck and is so bad for my eyes that little mah-jongg images have been seared into my retinas. I'm leaning into the screen and POOM! The whole thing blows up and goes black, sudden as the Voice of God, who sounded a lot like my optometrist. My game was gone. So were my photos and address book and a number of other things I haven't thought of yet. It was very, very dead, and there was nothing left to do but look up "doornail" in the dictionary.

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Staying Up For The Game

The World Series got me in front of a TV again, which is good, because I'd been falling behind in my pharmaceutical ad consumption. I can't always tell what the pharmaceuticals do, but that doesn't mean I don't need them. I loved the one a few years back about the little blue pill you can take that sharpens up your athletic ability. Before the pill, the fellow couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a football, but afterwards, man, he was just poking that baby right through the center of a swinging tire, just drilling it, wham wham wham. Hell of a pill.

So they have to mention all the side effects, too, which is how we've all learned that four hours is about the limit for having an erection, after which you should see your doctor. I don't think they mean eighteen-year-olds, who should see somebody else. The first hour of the erection is the one you're interested in, the second and third hours are for display purposes only, and then you're just sort of counting down the last hour with your doctor on speed dial. Of course, you're not going to be able to just pop in on your doctor, so you'll have to go to the emergency room. I'm thinking there is probably a way to make a grand entrance into the ER that will get you right at the head of the line and into a private room in front of the gunshot wounds and heart attacks.

They don't say what the doctor is going to do about it. The problem, as I see it, is that there is too much blood in one place, and it needs to be encouraged to go somewhere it's in short supply, such as the brain. The four-hour erection happens when the brain feels neglected and goes into a complete pout. "Don't bother sending any of that blood back up here," the brain sniffs. "I still have no idea what you were talking about with that betting system that's guaranteed to beat the casino. As far as I'm concerned, you're on your own, Big Boy, and God forbid you should read me a little Jane Austen once in a while."

I personally do not have much of a grip on the concept of the four-hour erection. I got my windshield wipers stuck in the "up" position once, and it just turned out to be a matter of loosening the nuts. But I do remember a particularly obstreperous Jeep from my early days as a letter carrier that might shed some light on this condition. It was hell getting that Jeep to start. You had to pump it for a half hour. Once it finally got going, it had an idle set to about 8,000 RPMs, and you drove it standing on the brake. Darn thing wouldn't shut off, either. You could turn it off, take the key out, walk away, and it would still be going when you came back five minutes later. What we figured out how to do was to cut the engine when it was still in drive, stomp on the gas, and then it would backfire like mad and shudder to a halt. It's worth a shot for the four-hour erection, too. So that's cut it, stomp on it and plug up your ears. I'm pretty confident about this suggestion because it's not my penis.

There's a lot of good free advice on those ads about when you should see your doctor. I generally keep my own counsel. I had some little totally unauthorized thing growing inside of me at one point that was supposed to be harmless, but which had begun to slouch against my bladder to the point that--under certain conditions--it sort of clamped down on my urine flow. I was on the horn about that to my doctor right away, and mentioned the problem, right after asking if Crestor, Spiriva, Prevacid, Levitra, Rituxan, Aredium, Actonel or Evista was right for me. She told me that it was probably all right as long as urine was still coming out, but if it shut off completely, I should get in to the hospital right away. No, really? Let me jot that down.