Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Cat Show

My niece, Elizabeth, was the last person to take Dave to a cat show, and I understand she spent the whole time trying to put distance between them. Among other transgressions Elizabeth reported, Dave had been especially attentive when an exhibitor proudly showed off her Sphynx cats--a thin, hairless, wrinkly variety. "Mmm," he purred, leaning in. "They look delicious."

Later at a display for a feral cat sanctuary, Dave had expressed interest in helping with the annual round-up, at which the cats were herded to a location where their health issues could be addressed and adoptions could be negotiated. Dave enthusiastically touted his expertise with a rope and brand, but admitted he preferred to work on his own, because he didn't like to be around a lot of cat people. Elizabeth has nothing further to report beyond this, because she was too busy backing away. But Dave himself says the woman was entirely unfazed, and offered to invite him for a private herding and grooming session. She even followed up with a post card.

This says a lot about Dave, and also a lot about cat people. Cat people are so besotted with their charges that they are incapable of even registering an unkindness said about them. And Dave is never more easily entertained than when he can locate a loose string on a complete stranger and yank on it. (He used to get punched a lot.) At the cat show, it appears that Dave had free rein to yank strings all day long. Elizabeth emphatically declined to accompany him this year. So it was my turn to take Dave to the cat show. I'd never been to one.

Here's what a cat show is: upwards of three hundred people who own very special cats box them up, along with their litter pans, and set them on long tables. Then they sit in front of their boxed kitties and eat giant portions of greasy food. In order to look at the kitties you need to peer over someone's lap through a pall of nachos and French fries. The atmosphere is fun, friendly, and fairly fragrant.

There isn't a normal cat in the group. Some of them are flat-out bunnies. There are little leopards and tiny tigers, there are dust mops, there are the aforementioned hairless, wrinkly Sphynxes, and then there are my favorites, the Abyssinians: thin, tubular types that are clearly in the weasel family.

Periodically the cats are unboxed and submitted to poking and prodding by a judge. I'm not privy to what exactly goes on here, but one category seems to be feline elasticity, tested by stretching the cat out in mid-air (Abyssinians being hands-down the stretchiest); and there is the all-important bunghole exam, in which the judge lifts each cat's tail briefly and inspects underneath. He or she then marks down some notes. My suspicion is that the bunghole test is strictly pass/fail.

Following Elizabeth's advice, I made fairly quick rounds of the exhibits, not pausing quite long enough for Dave to engage with anybody, but he insisted on visiting his delicious friends, the Sphynxes. So we located that quadrant, and requested that one or two be hauled out for a photograph. The proud owners happily obliged, and just when Dave was beginning to make yummy noises, an exhibitor retrieved a sweater for her quivering cat and bundled it against the chill. It looked familiar somehow, that little bald wrinkled head poking out of a soft pink sheath, but Dave was no longer interested in eating it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don't Play It, Sam

The press has pinned out another bit of laundry on the public line, and it's tawdry enough, by some people's standards. When Mayor Sam Adams came out and admitted he'd had sex with a boy of eighteen--and he quaintly claims to have waited until the boy had been eighteen for several hours--the town went nuts. Oh, it wasn't the sex, goodness no, it was the lying about it. That is problematic, for sure. If he'd lied about the sex, what else is there that he might be lying to us about?

Hard to say, but I think it's entirely plausible that if there is something else he's lying about, it's probably more sex. I consider it entirely possible that our new mayor has lived his very public life on the up-and-up and has nothing to apologize for or lie about except for sex. People lie about sex. They lie because they don't consider it anyone else's business, but they know there'll be hell to pay if it gets out, and it might not get out. That's substituting expediency for principle, which I don't generally approve of (on principle), but I find it difficult to get real worked up about it in these sorts of cases, because I tend to agree that it's nobody else's business, myself.

In this case, even if the mayor did have consensual sex with a grown man of eighteen, which is entirely legal, he still might want to lie about it. He may not want someone in his life to know. Or he may not want to bolster the public perception that gay men prey on children, and this was cutting it a little close. Or maybe the boy was really seventeen and eleven months. Do we really want to investigate this? Bring in DNA samples and carbon-date some underwear? Does first base count, or do we draw the line just outside the batter's box? Most public figures who are not Janet Reno have a little something going on they'd rather not talk about, and even Janet said she wishes she did.

Now if you really want to see me get exercised about a political scandal, it's going to have to be about money. Somebody is taking kickbacks or somebody is getting free house additions or somebody is steering contracts to his rich buddies--that I want to know about. That's because it's my money. This particular town seems to suffer a whole lot less from those sorts of shenanigans than many others do.

I don't know whether my mayor is going to be a good mayor or not, but I tend to trust him. One of the other quaint things about him is that he is a professional government guy. He has always been interested in how cities work and he's gotten in on the ground floor and devoted his entire adult life to civics, immersing himself in all the minutiae of policy and budget and planning so that--I assume--he actually does have a better idea than most of us do how to run a city. I admire that. People frequently claim a CEO is in a better position to operate things than a good-government guy, but I'll go with the die-hard wonk with a heart every time. So I don't particularly want to see this episode bring him down.

I just think that if we're going to be realistic, we should grow up and assume that most people have some things they'd just as soon not tell anyone, let alone tell everyone in a banner headline, and that 90% of those have to do with sex. And I think we should allow them to not tell anyone, and go about the business of steering the ship of state, or even rowing the dinghy of city. I tend to distrust the politicians who brandish their spouses and children at us, especially the ones who make a big point out of going after sexual minorities or talk a really pious morality game. Because they're the ones who are going to be playing winkie in the bathroom stall and stalking pages and banging the maid. I take that on faith, as it were.

Sam's got tremendous political instincts, I'll say that; if he really did hold off until this boy's eighteenth birthday, he was being pretty careful, and a little sweet and old-fashioned to boot. And when he finally came out with his apology, he did it on Inauguration Day, when, you know, there might have been something else to write about.

So it probably isn't fair of me to suggest it, but I still suspect that at least some of the uproar this time isn't really about the lying; it's about visualizing our openly gay mayor being openly gay. He was supposed to be it, not actually do it. I don't go in much for visualizing other people having sex, myself. Not even our handsome blue-eyed mayor. But I did see that photograph of the boy in question, and now I'm thinking of giving visualization a whirl. You all can do what you want.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I've figured out a fun way to irritate the bejeesus out of my mailman. I like John a lot, and he does a fine job, but I'm in a unique position to really pull his chain. I'm a recently retired letter carrier, quite obviously satisfied with my new status, and as such, I represent simultaneously everything John wants to be, and everything he isn't now. He's got two years to go until he's eligible to retire himself, and he can practically taste it. So whenever I see him, I listen sympathetically, head tilted, as he ticks off his complaints: the ice, the overtime, the big fat catalogs, the eensy-beensy political mailings that nobody wants, the Advo fliers that shed coupons with every gust of wind. I nod, brow furrowed, until he winds down; I belt my bathrobe a little tighter, peer up at the sky, and then I say: "Huh. Is this Tuesday?"

So last Monday I caught myself before I put out a letter to go, remembering it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and we weren't going to get a visit from John. Dave pointed out that being retired really takes a lot of the glory out of having a holiday. And just then, following some grand celestial script, our doorbell rings. There on our porch are three little girls, and what they have to say is: "um." They take turns saying "um" and twirl a little and scuff their feet and finally one of them launches off the verbal diving board and explains that, um, they were collecting food for the Oregon Food Bank. There were two motherly types out on the sidewalk with kiddie trailers packed with grocery bags, and another group of small children heading up the steps to my neighbor's house. I invited the girls in while I scoured the pantry for canned goods and wrote out a check. When they left, I overheard them reporting to Mom about the tuna and the check and a whole lot about our neat cat, who had trotted out to entertain while I scrounged.

That's what these children were doing on their holiday, a cold but brilliantly sunny day. The sun had to have been written into the screenplay along with the girls, as a metaphor for hope.

When I was about their age, I was very impressed by a Good Friday service at our church, because the sky had gotten extremely dark and menacing and at the most critical portion of the reading of the scriptures, there was a tremendous crack of thunder. In the self-centered manner of some six-year-olds and other religious people, I intuited the hand of God in this, imagining that it was thundering all over the planet on the anniversary of Our Saviour's death. I believed this in the face of all evidence to the contrary, not that I looked for any.

But Monday, on the eve of the inauguration of a new president, I found myself squinting into the rare winter sun, as my new young friends continued down the street, and imagining that it was sunny all over the world.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I incyst

Dave and I just came back from Kaiser, where he underwent a surgical procedure to evict a cyst from personal territory. The cyst was benign but uncomfortable. For Dave, that is; the cyst itself was probably snug as a bug. Everything seems to be okay so far. The entire admitting process was reassuring. A series of folks in scrubs came in to ask questions, one after the other, pretty much the same questions, all designed to make sure they had the right person on the gurney and were all planning to do the same thing in the same location. When you're operating in highly personal territory, you want everyone on the same page. So everyone who came in wanted Dave to tell them who he was, and they all got the same answer, even after they'd slipped the joy juice in his I.V. and he might have been inclined to claim he was the king of Siam. And they asked him the same question I get with every Kaiser visit: is there anyone at home you're afraid of? "Absolutely," Dave said solemnly, and the nurses glanced at me and burst out laughing. (Note to self: develop an edge.) Anyway, all personnel were professional and cheerful and calm, and there would have been no reason to feel anything but confidence except that Dave had already been in for this precise procedure four years ago.

After that one, there was plenty of discomfort and outright pain and it went on for weeks and weeks, until finally--not wanting to seem like a complainer--Dave called up his surgeon with a few questions. The surgeon was dismissive. He explained that he'd done this to that and so of course there was going to be some pain. Now Dave is not a whiny man, and doesn't care to have it implied that he is, and he does have a high tolerance for pain. I mean, he's not going to sit through a Michael Bolton concert or anything, but still. So he carried on best he could for a while and when there was still no relief, he insisted on an ultrasound to check things out.

The ultrasound technician said everything looked just fine. "Except for this cyst over here," he added, "but it's benign." "Benign" is all well and good, but "begone" was more what we were going for. It was as if the surgeon had plunged down to the murky depths, pried open an oyster, snapped it shut again, and come back up with the bends and the willies, and when asked where the pearl was, said: "Pearl?" It all seems so pointless. It's a lot of trouble for nothing. It's going to Paris for a Big Mac.

So this time we arrived wary and lawyered-up. Not really; we're not litigious sorts, but between the last surgery and this surgery, our nephew had passed the bar, and that should count for something. He mostly represents condo owners who are suing construction companies for shoddy workmanship, which is not particularly germane to this case. But still, going with him seems like a better bet than threatening someone with our niece, the Peace Corps worker.

The surgeon came out to the waiting room right after this last procedure to tell me that everything went well. That's what he told me four years ago, too. He sent us home with a bunch of bandages and a bucket of Oxycodone, but I should have asked for the pearl, too. The nurse in Recovery gave us instructions and supplies, and he also told me that I should be giving Dave foot-rubs, even though that's nowhere near the surgery site. Dave's home now, resting up, but our cat, Tater, with her unerring instinct for the exact square foot in the house she is least welcome, is sizing up his lap, tail twitching. If anyone needs me, I'll be a half mile down the street.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Slightly Above It All

It's been a few years since we've had a Hundred-Year Flood, so we're about due. No one's ruling one out this year. We're having no shortage of rainfall and some people are right up to their beanie baby collection in the stuff. That's the sort of thing that floats to the surface of the mud and the crud when someone's house floods, and that's when the television crews come in and take pictures. It always looks a right mess for sure, and no one likes to see someone lose everything. But some of it is hard to get real worked up about.

There are all sorts of ways to lose everything, and Dave and I are pretty well situated to avoid most of them. We don't get hurricanes or tornadoes. Our house is on a little high plateau so we're not going to have a flood or a mudslide. We don't have the kind of vegetation or topography that makes us prone to wildfire. We do have a pair of thriving burrito joints within a half a block and it's possible, what with the grease and all, they might go up in smoke some day. They also have rats out back, but that's not so much a disaster thing as it is a pestilence thing. Whatever it is the rats do, though, they pretty much do it under cover of darkness, like Dick Cheney, so if you choose to, you can pretend they're not there and not up to anything. The burritos are delicious. I don't know what the meat is, because the menu isn't in English, and it's probably just as well.

So I'm happy on my little plateau, because mudslides and the like give me the willies. Many of us who are ignorant of house construction tend to think of buildings as being solid and immutable, and when we look out at the scenery around us, we rather expect it to stay put also. I remember how utterly shocked I was when, once, at a teenage friend's house, a bunch of us were laughing and playing grab-ass and suddenly Elaine backed heavily into a wall and went right through the sheetrock. I didn't even know about sheetrock, and saw the walls as being solid and unyielding things, although if anything was going to be able to punch through a wall it would have been Elaine's rear end. But around here, lately, entire hills come loose and knock houses right off their pinnings and sometimes the houses slide right into other houses and so on, and then the whole neighborhood has to pack up and leave in case God was planning on picking up the spare.

What we do have, even here on our plateau, is the imminent likelihood of a catastrophic earthquake. Evidently we get one of those every five hundred years or so, and it's been about four hundred and ninety-eight since the last one. And it's supposed to be a doozy. Down in California, they have earthquakes as regular as garbage pick-ups, and some of them are pretty strong. But here, all that energy is building and building, unbeknownst to us, and getting ready to rear up and tip us into the ocean like a plate of peas. Meanwhile, we're not even jiggly. It's like what they say about mosquitoes: only the males make noise, and only the females bite, so if you're lying in bed at night and you don't hear anything, that's when you should worry. None of us can hear a thing. We're doomed.

I haven't made any plans for an afterlife. I've been busy. But I do plan to scurry under my piano when the big one hits. It's a seven and a half foot Yamaha grand with a hell of a bass, and it should hold its own pretty well if chunks start falling out of the ceiling. And if the whole thing comes crashing down on top of me, well, that's just the way death should sound.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I'm foggy about measurements. I can never remember how far a farthing can go, or how furry a furlong is. And now I've forgotten how many units are in a butt load.

This is important, because we are planning a party of sorts; a cheerful wake, really, a celebration of life, and we don't know how many people to expect. There's a core group of us who are putting this thing together. Dave and I volunteered our house and quite a bit of the cooking. Among the chores farmed out to others was organizing and keeping track of the RSVPs so we'd know how much to cook. Even though invitations were sent out with RSVP prominently printed on them, we didn't get much of a response. There's a whole group of people out there who can confidently go on and on about RSS and URL and ISP and HTML and whatnot, but when hit with an RSVP they go all stupid on you. It's as though it's in another language. Which it is, of course, so our friends put out a follow-up reminder which spelled out the obligation a little more clearly. Evidently this worked pretty well, because when we inquired about how many people were planning to show up, we got the following advisory: "Hang on to your hats, there's going to be a butt load of people coming."

Most places in the world have gone to the metric system, which is the most sensible system, but here in America we've stuck by our old measurements. Having custody of an archaic system makes us feel as though we're members of a special club. Foreigners might have trouble understanding it, which also thrills us, and we never go anywhere, so we don't have to feel dumb. There's just something satisfying about calculating your own height in units which once corresponded to the length of a portion of the King's anatomy--let's say his foot, to be on the safe side. And the tradition of using what are, at heart, entirely arbitrary units of measurement goes back to biblical times. Let us not forget how important it was for Noah to get his ark up to specifications, using the correct proportions of rods and cones, so there'd be room enough for the cubits. The cubits must have been the same sex, because you hardly ever see them anymore.

But back to the butt load of people who will be coming to our house. We need to rent plates and wine glasses, so I guess we can just go to the rental place and ask for a butt load of each; we can buy two butt loads of beer, and a half butt load of wine, and we should be good to go. We've got the place spiffed up pretty well, and even remembered to make sure there was plenty of toilet paper on hand. I don't know what made us think of that.

Our friend Tom, who passed on, was living in rural France with his dear wife Linda, who is still there, and who thus can't make it to the party in his honor. Among her other charms, she keeps a gracious home and hearth and would know just what to do if a butt load of people were to show up at her door. Although, in our defense, I think a metric butt load is a little smaller.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Colby's train

On a recent Saturday night, Dave and I had the honor of being invited to Linda and Pete's family Christmas party, even though we were not in that particular gene pool. The house sparkled. There were little lights everywhere, robotic Santas, greenery, candles, creches, figurines both holy and not, and, in short, the halls had the living hell decked out of them. There's a point at which such decoration is said to be overdone. Turns out that if you go a little past that point, it's all good again. I loved it. At our house, we hadn't even managed to put up a tree. We had Christmas dinner for twelve without bothering to locate so much as a sprig of holly. I adore Christmas and had always assumed that, when I retired, I would do it up fine, but instead I've discovered that I really prefer to visit it elsewhere and leave all that crap in boxes in the basement at home. I like to think of this as being efficient with my time, but there's probably a better name for it.

Linda and Pete's tree was set up on a round table, and a small train set encircled it, the choo-choo chugging gamely around three or four times a minute. The entire set-up was resting on the chin of a wide-eyed, four-year-old boy. Or so it seemed: his lower lip was planted firmly on the edge of the table, and his eyes followed the train around the tree, unblinking. He was not a remarkable boy in any way, save for his spiffy cowboy boots, which were on the wrong feet. "They're the only feet I have," he protested a little irritably, loathe to be drawn away from his vantage point an inch from the tracks. Later in the evening, the boots had been transposed, so someone must have been looking after him. He briefly volunteered his name as Colby, without taking eyes from the train or lip from the table.

The small house was fizzy with excited but well-behaved children, all apparently cousins of some stripe. Wrapped presents surrounded the tree, except for the space excavated by the train-watcher. After a few hours, what began to seem remarkable about him was the intensity of his devotion to the little train. He stopped it from time to time to add or subtract cars, and tinkered with the station-house. Then suddenly there was a derailment, and the panic was on. He tried to fix it, but was suspected of worsening things, and he was prevailed upon to fetch Uncle Petey, whose train it was. First thing, he ran up to Dave in a cold sweat. "Are you Uncle Petey?" he hollered, and repeated his question to most every male in sight, rocketing around the house. He flew into the kitchen and out the back door, his anxiety increasing by the minute.

"What child is this?" I asked Joe in the spirit of the season. Joe was sitting next to me, and had the most seniority in the family. "I don't think I've ever seen a kid so single-minded. Is he your grandson?"

Joe furrowed his brow. "I don't think so," he allowed after a while. "I think," --here he pointed at a young man hoovering fondue in the dining room--"I think that fellow there, before he made my daughter pregnant--well, they both did that together I guess--I think the kid comes with him. But I'm not sure. Well, it's complicated," he wound up. I asked around. Nobody knew who the hell the kid was.

Meanwhile, Uncle Petey had been summoned and was calmly making repairs to the tracks when Colby shot back into the room, his relief as profound as his panic. Everything was back in working order, and the lip was reinstalled on the table. Pete deflected my admiration of the decor to Linda. "She does it all," he said. "All I have to do is get the boxes out of the attic. And this isn't half of what she usually does. I left most of my track up there, too." I don't know why, but girls rarely show this kind of appreciation for a train set, though many boys carry it well into adulthood. We had bookends of railway fanaticism on display right here; Pete was comfortably into his sixties.

Linda wasn't sure who Colby belonged to, either. But it was a concern for her, because he was the only kid who didn't have a gift under the tree. Before long she'd corralled Pete and sent him up to the attic to get the box for the train set. It was spirited out to the shop and wrapped up and topped with a bow. Colby was going to leave with that train.

Finally the time came to pass out the gifts, and Colby was persuaded to the sofa and presented with his package. I told him he had to wait for all the gifts to be distributed to the other kids before he could open his. He gripped it fit to strangle, eyes darting to the train and back to his gift, clearly on the last thread of his abilitiy to hold on. Should he just start ripping? Go back and stick his lip on the table? Pee? What? Three seconds before he was set to detonate, the word came that the kids could open their presents. Ripping ensued. As soon as he saw sections of track behind the cellophane of the box, Colby started shrieking. 'I KNOWED IT! I KNOWED IT! I KNOWED IT!" he informed citizens several blocks away. There was a momentary look of horror when he saw the box contained only track, but Linda was there to prevent his untimely coronary. "You get the train that's under the tree," she explained. "You can take that home!" Colby vaulted over piles of wrapping paper and extracted the train, tracks and station in Olympic time, slotting it all into his box, and then clutched the box to his chest as though he was holding his heart in.

How in the world had he knowed it? It wasn't even knowable until about a half-hour before he opened it. Now, I'm a happy person. It's all a matter of not knowing what to expect, but being content with what I get. I think that's called sanity. But sanity's got nothing on Santa.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Remember your pants

Dave's childhood dentist was a butcher and a quack, and as a consequence Dave's teeth are mostly not original material. But only a few in the front are actually removable. We were headed out for a constitutional this morning when he remembered he should put them in. "Good idea," I agreed, and the next time I turned around, he had his teeth in, but wasn't wearing any pants. "I only have one rule, going forward," I told him. "We go out, you have your teeth in and your pants on."

Just as soon as words like that leave your mouth, you realize you have stepped over some kind of a line. You have entered new territory in your life. Things are going to be different from now on, and you might have to do some fancy stepping. It won't be for the faint of heart.

For Dave, the moment he became old happened a long time ago. He was pushing forty, or maybe had just started pulling it, and we had gotten our truck stuck in the snow in the driveway to our cabin. He fetched the square shovel and started trying to dig himself out enough that the back end wasn't hanging out into the road. He was a strong, tall man, and although there was a lot of snow to move, he seemed to me to be making fine progress. Just then a short convoy of Cherokees and Broncos and the like came up, unable to get by our pickup, and several young men hopped out to see what was happening. Dave leaned on the shovel for a moment while apologizing for blocking the road. "Here--let us get that for you, sir," the young men said, taking the shovel. It was the "sir" that blindsided Dave. Why, he was in his prime--or if not in his prime, at least prime-ish, or maybe more primate. That was it: for sure there was nothing about him that had ever gotten him called "sir" before. Dave stood by, spluttering a little, but neither of us could help but notice that the young men had the truck completely dug out in no time. They waved merrily, let fly with another "sir", and took off in their shiny red four-by-fours. Dave retreated to the cabin in a sullen silence and opened the first of a series of beers.

So we just had another episode requiring a lot of shoveling at the cabin, and Dave came through like a champ, methodically removing about a thousand cubic feet of snow. He hasn't lost any height, and he's still plenty strong for a 58-year-old man, but he does have a frozen shoulder and a few other complaints. "You can never find a whippersnapper when you need one," he observed, leaning on his shovel and recalling an earlier time. By cracky, he's right.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Cow tongues and cow farts

By tradition, we like to spend New Year's Eve with our best friends, who live sixty miles south of us now. This year we thought it would be right festive to rendezvous at our little Forest Service cabin on the slope of Mt. Hood, an hour away. It's at relatively low elevation and doesn't usually get a heap of unmanageable precipitation, but what with all the cow flatulence and car flatulence over the last century, our weather has come up with some fresh ideas. We thought it was best to phone ahead and see how much snow we'd have to slog through before committing ourselves. Great news! The roads were plowed, even our forest service road had had some recent acquaintance with a front-end loader, and our informant guessed we had about six inches of snow on the ground. All systems were Go.

We arrived first and got right up to the beginning of our long driveway, and that was that. There were six inches of snow on the ground, but you had to dig down three or four feet to get to them. Dave commenced shoveling out enough of the driveway to accommodate two pickup trucks, ours and a good one, and I stomped my way to the cabin with provisions. I made a mental note to buy a sled and tow rope, just as I did the last time, but my mental notes are Post-Its in the wind. Every third step or so was crotch deep. It was astoundingly laborious. Fortunately, I had unearthed a snow suit from my closet that hadn't seen service since the eighties. It was rad. The pants were pleated in the front and the jacket had shoulder pads and nothing, at this moment, ever looked finer. We brought three full-size coolers full of food plus a case of beer. Our friends arrived with a matching contribution, plus a case of wine, plus a just-in-case case of wine. (We planned to stay two days, and we are not dainty.) They also brought their German Shepherd puppy, Bear. Guess what he did in the woods?

We were nearly two hours getting everything into the cabin, and we built a fire in the woodstove. (By tradition, there's a power failure, but the electricity came on, so we had to postpone that a day--a memorable evening of candlelight, salami, a nice Cabernet and Jiffy Pop.) Then it was time to turn the water on. By tradition, there is some kind of plumbing disaster, sometimes ghastly enough to send us back home whimpering, so this was a tense moment. We did have to drag out the hair dryer on a long cord and apply it to the spigot, but quite soon the ice chunks began to rattle and the pipes to gurgle and all was well with the world. K. and I had taken up positions in the bathroom to monitor the progress, and sure enough the water was running in the sink there too; we could hardly believe our good fortune, so K. got down on her hands and knees just to make sure nothing was spraying out underneath. That would be the precise point at which the incoming flow blasted out the valve and nailed her with a jet of water with the force of a light saber, pinning her against the far wall like an insect. Dave didn't correctly interpret the bloodcurdling scream so it took another minute to get the water turned off. He and S. spent the next half hour sealing off the cold water tap. That would be by tradition, too.

The woodstove had only gotten the place up to thirty-five degrees, but with all the hauling and what-not it seemed downright balmy to those of us who hadn't been cut nearly in two with a spear of ice water. We filled up the fridge and chiseled out an auxiliary one in the snow outside the front door for the remainder: a cow's tongue, a corned beef brisket, cabbage, bread, ice cream, fruit, potatoes, peppers, pie, cheese, mushrooms, cookies, filberts, pistachios, chips, artichoke dip, pepper bacon, waffle mix, berries, candy, and a stack of butter. The stove continued to crank and the baseboard did its feeble best, and in six hours, we were all just as comfortable as we would have been if we'd never left home. As evening fell, we peered out the window, plump and snug as marmots in a den, contemplating how to put a shine on our winter coats. We started with the brisket.

The four of us reemerged Friday, thicker and glossier, and pawed our way out to the highway. It was sunny, snowy, and rainy, and floods and mudslides were romping all over the road. I blame the cows, and everybody's car but mine.