Saturday, March 28, 2009

On The Freedom Trial

The religious police in Saudi Arabia have their hands full trying to make sure the sexes are kept apart. A couple of them recently broke their own rules by ducking into a female-only establishment to haul a miscreant out by her hair. And mistakes have been made, as when a man who was dropping off his wife had the crap beaten out of him by the police, allegedly for consorting with a woman he wasn't married to. But anybody could have made that mistake; the wife, dressed head to toe in a black abaya, did indeed look like another woman. Any other woman, actually.

So it's only natural that an officer of the law is bound to goof up from time to time, and it's no different here. That's why I was closely following the trial involving my friend Freedom Child, who was accusing the police of bad form (at least) when they hauled her off to jail six years ago. Not that I'm not grateful to the cops for getting her off the street, if only for a few hours. I've known Freedom for a few years. She is a dangerous and terrifying person. If you're a head of broccoli.

Actually, I'm still a little unclear why she was the object of their attentions in the first place, unless they were just on a routine middle-aged-hippie troll and hadn't bagged their limit. She had just gotten off public transportation at night and hopped on her bike for the three-block trip home, neglecting to turn on her light, and when the unmarked car sidled up beside and followed her, she got off and walked it on the sidewalk. She was a harmless fifty-one-year-old woman, walking a bicycle decorated with streamers and a giant butterfly, and while none of this would have vibrated my antennae, that is because I am not a highly trained police officer.

Still, other than the half-block trip without a bike light, they didn't have too much to go on, I wouldn't think. Not until they continued to creep alongside her without identifying themselves, asked her repeatedly what she was up to, got out of the car, followed her up to her own porch and poked at her until she hollered and pulled away, and bingo--there you have it--resisting arrest. They insist they didn't pull her hair; they just gave it a little tug. If anything, they just grabbed her hair, and it was Freedom who did the pulling. And they only did that so as not to break her arm, which (they testified) looked thin. If Freedom got out of her bike-light infraction without any broken bones, that's evidence of police restraint right there, I'd say. As far as hauling her downtown in handcuffs goes, well, as the chief of police points out, they like to bring people in who have no mug shot or fingerprints (see "harmless," above) so they can get a mug shot and fingerprints. For the record. Just in case. Then they sent her out into the night, about when the bars let out, assuming she could figure out how to get home in one piece.

I ride my bike at night frequently, and I always have a light on. Sometimes I get a little poky about replacing the battery, though, and my lights get a little dim. Maybe for that they could give me a little shove or a dope-slap or something and just drive me halfway to the station before they drop me off in the middle of the night.

But for sure I've never been booked or fingerprinted, so they're going to want to take care of that right away. The police can come over tonight if they wish; I won't be doing anything. That's probable cause to bring me in right there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Checking In With Grandma

I picked up some spectacles the other day. Kaiser mentioned I had $150 credit towards a new pair of glasses, so I thought I'd get some, and maybe have enough cash left over to get me some sort of random Procedure. I haven't bought glasses for a while. $150 doesn't even get halfway around your face.

I've worn contact lenses since I was a teenager. In the sixties, getting used to contacts was an ordeal of the first order. They were thick and rigid and putting them in was like dipping little hubcaps in hot sauce and stabbing them onto your eyeballs. An hour is about all you could stand of that, and you were expected to bump that up by fifteen-minute increments every day until you either went blind or nuts or got used to them. It was painful, but pain was no match for teenage vanity. The first time one of the hubcaps slid off my cornea and began to travel across my eye, I flew into a panic. Would it go all the way around and slice off the string that held my eyeball in? Ultimately, I got used to them, although if an eyelash wedged in underneath it could cause me to fall off the sidewalk, weeping.

Over the years the product became lighter and thinner and gas-permeable and altogether more bearable. I never went over to the soft variety. One day at a softball game, a towering fly came to me in right field. I yelled "I got it I got it I got it" and deftly snagged the ball with my eye socket. That got the runner to third and me to the emergency room, where the immediate task was retrieving my contact lens before my eye swelled shut so tight they'd have to send in a team of spelunkers. Do you know that the average emergency medical cabinet contains tiny little toilet plungers for just that purpose? The doctor pries your lids open and takes the little plunger and goes doink and there's your lens.

So there have always been difficulties with the contacts, but it's a pretty good system overall. After you turn forty, something needs to be done about the close-in vision, so instead of bifocals, they give you one lens for distance vision and one for reading. Your eyes and brain duke it out and finally work something out amongst themselves. But then after another fifteen years or so, you discover you're kind of an old lady and things dry up, including your eyeballs. Now the contacts are starting to get a little cranky. It's nothing like the hubcap debacle, but towards the end of the day they begin to feel a little like Ritz Bits, salty side down. This is when I decided it might be prudent to get a spare set of $150 glasses, maybe just for the evenings, and three hundred additional bucks later, I have some. They're tiny and light, with progressive trifocals, and they work amazingly well. I can see everything very clearly as long as I'm peering out of the correct part of the glasses, and soon I hope to have mapped out which parts work where. I haven't put my contacts back in, to my surprise, and may have just become a four-eyes again, after forty years.

It's not that I don't think I look dorky, but maybe I just don't care as much. I did take a quick glance in the mirror. That's where Grandma lives. I don't check in with her often, but maybe I'll start. She was a sweet-faced old lady.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Too Smart Car

My car got a recall notice the other day. There's something screwy with the seat belts. There's some little doo-dad in there that might cause the car to burst into flames in a front-end collision, is all. The possibility of getting into a wreck is vivid enough without tossing a fiery explosion into the scenario, so I took it in for the free fix.

This is my favorite of the four cars I've owned, even though the second one was a snazzy silver sports car. I drove that one around doing 50 on the highway. It went from zero to 60 in, well, at least twelve years, and we'll never really know. In retrospect, it probably wasn't a good match for my personality. This one, though, is off-the-charts adorable. It looks like a little red jellybean. There's not much to it; no power anything; even the windows are roll-downs, but I can reach them all from the driver's seat without lifting off the left cheek. Considered one way, it gets fabulous gas mileage--about two weeks to the gallon. But on the occasions I do drive, I find myself a bit disappointed in the mileage. It shouldn't take any more fuel than you'd need to power a honeybee. But the last time out, it didn't even crest 30 mpg. I suspect the car's brain is involved.

My last car, a thoroughly ordinary sedan, was the first car I owned that had a brain. And it was Abbie Normal. It was prone to automotive grand mal seizures at unpredictable moments. In between convulsions it was quite reliable. But intermittent reliability is, concept-wise, like occasional irregularity. It took two brain transplants to shape it up, and then an old guy in a station-wagon plowed into it, and later I drove it into a massive crater, and later yet the mechanic confiscated it so I wouldn't be driving it when the rear axle fell off. He wouldn't give it back. He's ethical. Then I got my sweet little jellybean.

The salesman told me to drive smoothly and consistently for the first thousand miles, after which point the car's brain would figure out some things about me and adjust itself accordingly, by magic. I should have realized then and there I'd be in trouble because when my possessions are allowed to have brains, then they are capable of standing in judgment of me, and I never come out good. I fear that's what happened this time too. I had gone about 1500 miles before someone noticed that I'd been driving in third gear the whole time. There are a lot of options on the gear shift, but one of them is "3-D." That's where I always put it. I guess I thought everything would look flat until I shifted there. In reality there are two options in that slot: third on the left and drive on the right, and I had been snugging it into third. So after a thousand miles my car learned something about me all right, and it wasn't flattering. Sure gets good mileage parked, though.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

To Form A More Fabulous Union

I've had occasion to revisit my earlier quandary about the raccoons and the possums. We used to have possums, now we have raccoons. I have a new theory as to why. Possibly the raccoons evicted the possums from the yard until they agree to quit hanging by the tail. Raccoons couldn't hang from their tails if they tried, but the very idea of it makes them all squirmy. From the raccoons' point of view, it simply can't be borne.

I'm basing this hypothesis on the news today that Vermont is all in an uproar again over gay marriage. They've had legal civil unions there for nine years, and evidently a whole lot of Vermonters haven't gotten used to it. Maybe they don't get out much. This week the state is considering a bill that would allow same-sex marriage. Protesters are converging on the Capitol with signs reading "Marriage--A Mother And Father For Every Child." When Dave and I got married, we were unaware that procreation was required. It isn't something we'd had in mind. At first, people asked us when we were going to have children. That line of inquiry started to peter out when we told them we'd been to a genetic counselor and found out that there was just too much risk the child would end up something like us. And no one asked us anymore after Dave started explaining that you couldn't make babies with spit. Aaany-hoo.

I guess we'll have to forgo travel to Vermont in case they snatch back our marriage license for lack of spawn. I've never really understood all this uproar. It's truly baffling. Somehow I get the idea that folks think same-sex marriages are so attractive that their children will be vacuumed right up into one, emerging with good taste and a lively sense of humor, and then where will we be? But it isn't catching. (It's a gift.) In the article, it is explained that opponents of same-sex marriage believe it will "render men and women interchangeable." Well, that clears it up. It's a real concern. Right there in Vermont, a young fellow was recently fined for shooting a doe illegally. He went to a considerable amount of trouble to drill and fasten a rack of antlers to it with lag bolts and epoxy, and tried to pass it off as a buck. So you can see people aren't making this stuff up; they see it every day.

Still, it all makes me a little cranky. I'm assuming that all the people who feel this way will eventually wander to the ends of the earth and fall off, and the rest of us will have our nicely spinning planet to ourselves. As to the possums, as far as I'm concerned, they can come back any time. I don't care how they're hanging.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rest In Pieces

A fin whale beached itself near Florence, Oregon the other day. That hardly ever works out for the whale, and it didn't this time. There's always a lot of speculation over the health, physical and mental, of a stranded whale; what could cause it to heave up on shore? Was it itchy, or morose? Fin whales, being equipped with baleen, eat nothing but small fry and crustaceans, but I've been around long enough to know that sometimes it's the appetizers that will do you in. You get into enough krill, and you just want to go lie down for a while. I'm that way with bean dip.

There was the customary quandary of how you get rid of such a massive dead thing. People are always drawn to these scenes, although I would venture that none of those attracted have ever picked meat out of a mess of crab and discarded the shells into the kitchen wastebasket on a hot July day, thinking it will be okay just overnight. There was talk of towing the whale out to sea, burying it in place, or just leaving it. What there was no talk of was the solution that a very bright person came up with in 1970 when the same thing happened in the same area.

That very bright person, a demolitions expert from the highway division--let's call him Sparky--reasoned that if a beached whale was set with enough charges to blast it into smithereens, the gulls would carry it away before it hit the ground. If you've ever gutted a fish while on the ocean and tossed the bits you didn't want into the air, you have found that this is exactly what happens. So it was a very elegant solution from nearly every angle except reality. You can be an expert in a lot of things, but no one is an expert in everything. In this case, the engineer in question was sadly underinformed about the bodily integrity of the whale. What you think should happen is not necessarily what happens.

Sparky spiked the whale with explosives. The gulls were in attendance in force. So, unfortunately for Sparky, were the news media. The whale was duly detonated, and instead of vaporized whale shrapnel raining down upon the land, pieces of blubber the size of Volkswagens went airborne and came down upon the citizens and infrastructure of Florence. One chunk came down and cratered a car. Nobody, today, is willing to say it was a fluke.

The entire event was so implausible that, for a time, it entered into the realm of urban mythology, until it was clawed back into its rightful slot in history by those who had been, after all, witnesses. Sort of like the Holocaust.

So our current whale was dug into the sands with minor ceremony. It's a shame. I fear that people will be less inclined to come up with creative solutions to our problems when faced with the possibility of personal humiliation. And we'll just have to come up with some other way of dealing with Rush Limbaugh.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Flapping Away

The best guests don't want you to go to any trouble on their account. Our local birds are terrific in that regard. They don't want any fuss made over them, gosh no. The moment I see the first hummingbird of the season, I roar inside and excavate my hummingbird feeder from the back of the closet, scrub it good, boil up the sugar water, cool it, pour it, and hang the feeder up, and the hummers eye it suspiciously from the next yard over and watch it fill up with ants. After a couple weeks I pour out the ant syrup and put the feeder away until next year. It's sort of a routine.

We have about four kinds of birds. We have scrub jays, who like to take mice up to the roof and bash their heads against the gutter. It's unnerving. We have crows, every one of them, I think, deaf. We have starlings. And we have little brown jobs.

Dave went to some trouble to build in a chickadee house in the decorative top to the raspberry posts. He looked it up in the internets and drilled the right hole size and measured the right drop to the floor and put in a clean-out door in the back and everything. The crows across the street yowled "Whaat? Whaat? Whaat?" The chickadees lined up on a branch in the neighbor's yard and had themselves a bitchfest. "As if," the first one said. "Warbler hole," sneered the second. "Totally," sniped the third, and the fourth one was all, "Whatever." The house has been available for six years now. It's still pristine.

We bought a small coral-bark maple, twigs aflame, that came with a hummingbird nest already in it. I put up a tiny sign, facing the sky, "AVAILABLE. Alberta Arts District Cutie. Move-in Ready." No takers. I planted a host of flowers said to be irresistible to birds of various sorts. They perched in the neighbors' yards and admired the hell out of them from there. I got a really good pair of binoculars. Most people are better birders than I am. It's hard to get a good look at them when they're flapping away that fast. When I finally draw a bead, I commit it to memory: four inches. White eye stripe. Gray breast. Pointy beak. Got it! This is what my friends in Maine call a "wobbla!" I run inside for the field guide, and although there are five hundred wobblas therein, my carefully observed bird is not among them. Now, did it have buffy yellow feet? Whitish undertail coverts? I have absolutely no recollection. There are only about four things you can even notice on a four-inch bird, and I've missed three of them. I will the next time, too.

I've set up a little room upstairs just for writing. The main attraction is Dave has agreed not to go in it. But also there is a tree right outside the windows, its branches nearly scraping the house. It's full of birds. We went to the bird store and bought a nice thistle sock and some nice thistle seeds and a nice block of suet and we hung them up nice and close so I could get a good look. It wasn't that much trouble. Word got out instantly. I haven't seen bird one in that tree since.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Next, A Moose Head

Electronic devices have topped the list of preferred gifts for normal American males for years now, and for years Dave has asked for an elephant's-foot wastebasket for Christmas. You can draw any conclusion from that that you wish, including that Dave is an antique or possibly deceased British gentleman from the Raj era given to monocles, pipe-smoking and imperialism. Or, he is not normal. As you prefer. It's all the same to me.

But a while back I decided the only way to get him to quit asking for such a revolting item would be to make him one. First step is to look it up online, and sure enough, there is such a thing as a wastebasket made of a sawed-off elephant's foot, and there is no effort made to pretty it up. Anyone who has one of these objects in his possession is seriously depraved, and no mistake. I know there is a tendency towards hyperbole these days, days in which failing to strap a bike helmet on your child constitutes abuse, and meat is murder; but I will state here unequivocally that elephant's-foot wastebaskets are way worse than eating a hamburger.

One night I concocted a plan involving ceramic elephant toenails and batting and fabric and flour paste and a lot of criss-crossing with dental floss to simulate wrinkles, with the intention of removing the floss once the fabric was dry. It beats staying awake worrying about your finances, although it's just as effective from an insomnia point of view. Once I got the toenails back from the kiln, it was going to have to be a quick operation so as to achieve full wrinkle while the foot was still wet. You never know how these things are going to work out until you try: as the old saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing fancy to toss your toilet-paper tube in. Well, it didn't work so well. I couldn't keep the fabric straight, and it tended to wrinkle up on its own, so I changed gears and went with that, only it took more and more fabric, until finally I had about forty bucks invested in cotton elephant skin. If I'd had to take down a real elephant, though, I'm sure it would have cost a lot more, even if I sold off the other three wastebaskets.

Dave ain't right, but he ain't bad, either, and he probably envisioned the wastebasket as the perfect accessory for his beloved bathroom, which he designed himself with wainscoting and dentil molding and nickel-plated faucets and a marble floor and an art collection. He spends an awful lot of time in there and it pleases him to have fancy surroundings, even if all he's doing is the same thing England did to India.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Packet Droppings

My computer started to sludge up a few days ago. I did the same thing I do with my other relationships: I pretended it was all in my imagination and everything would be fine the next day. It was sludgier the next day. I had a poke at downloading updates and subjecting my anti-virus program to disciplinary action, but the sludge remained. It took me a day and a half to get my rat photo sucked up into the blog, and it wasn't that great a photo. I don't like my own blog judging me. I shut the whole machine down and sent it to its room. Wait till your father gets home, I said. I was peeved.

One of the worst months of my life was spent dealing with an internet service provider when I couldn't get any mail to go to or fro, which is really about all I was asking it to do. Every day off for a month I was on the phone to my new friends in India (Victoria and Alexander, I believe they said), who spent hours emptying my computer until it was cleaner than a colonoscopy patient. Then they filled it back up with jellybeans and joy and pronounced it healed, and hung up, and I tried to send an email, and I got the same error window (accompanied by an orchestral chord of doom that, to this day, will send me to my knees), and then I burst into tears. How I could be made so miserable with technology I had managed to live without for forty years? That's when friend told me about a local ISP, They are so local I can see them without a passport--I mean, they're right over there--and when I call them up, I get two ringy-dingies and then, bam, a human being comes on the line. And it's usually a human being with a mass of monitors and such in front of him and a calm voice and the ability to see what's inside my computer and possibly my very soul. Then we all get in the balloon and fly back to Kansas. No, they really exist.

So when my computer pouted and refrained from even sending email this morning, I called up my friends at SpireTech. Got Jaysen on the second ring. He never laughs at me except in the right places. He got to work right away and determined that I had 25,408 errors. That's a lot even for me. Furthermore--he informed me with a gratifying tone of awe--I was dropping packets like crazy. Why, I was at a layer two packet loss. It was like I was picking up a packet and then dropping it right away, picking up another packet and dropping it, he explained. I thought I felt something. I used to have an old guy on my mail route who dropped packets in every way you can think of. His brain had thinned out alarmingly, for one thing; but also, when I gave him his mail, before I learned to put a rubber band on it, he would drop one letter, drop another in the act of picking it up, bend over and pick that one up, drop another, and so on and so forth, until he'd done a complete circle and was back at the mailboxes. Then he'd look for more mail. If he could have done this starting at his apartment door, he'd have had an easier time finding his way home, which had gotten to be an issue.

"So this is bad, these 25,000 errors and the severe packet droppings?" I asked Jaysen. He said it wasn't good. This actually made me feel better, that someone in a remote location was able to document that I was truly sludgy and not just whiny. He got my DSL provider, Qwest, on the line, and we had ourselves a jolly little three-way for a while, during which Jason advocated for me and even tried to spank the Qwest fellow right through the phone on my behalf, but the Qwest fellow was a friend of Victoria's and Alexander's and just as unflappable. I tried crawling under the table and messing with the wires with the cat on my back, and then I tried with the cat on my modem. I believe we left off with the solution that someone from the phone company was going to come out and knock squirrels off my lines, and then we'd see. The main point, as I see it, is it isn't my fault.