Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Dodo Demographic

I have joined an exclusive club just by virtue of having lived long enough. No, Petunia, it's not the Colonoscopy Club. Okay, it is, but that's not what I was talking about. No, it's not the Better Check Your Drawers After You Sneeze Club. All right, I'm in that one too, but I meant something else. No no no, not the I have No Idea Where I Was Headed At The Beginning Of This Sentence Club, although, yes, I am a member. Where was I? Who are you? Shut up.

Phone book. I am in the I Am In The Phone Book Club. Someone just asked me the other day what my address was, and I dashed off that breezy response from yesteryear--"I'm in the book." The person querying had no idea what book I meant. And these days, that doesn't make her the stupid one. It no longer occurs to anyone to look up an address in the phone book. A long time ago, we had a fat phone book containing the white and yellow pages. Your mommy would put it on your chair so you could reach your strained peas. Then we got a fat white pages, and the yellow pages, which were even fatter, got their own book. Then the yellow pages whelped and three tubby tomes thunked onto the front porch every fall. It was getting unruly. But just when it seemed we'd have to reinforce the floor under the phone table, the books started to shrivel up. Our most recent white pages is so thin we use it to shim up the table leg. A guy in his deathbed could karate-chop it in two. Next year, we'll be skipping it across the pond. It's a tiny slice of America, it is, and I'm in it.

This makes the phone book not only a relic, but a reliable snapshot of a certain demographic. It's a demographic I'm proud to belong to, if only because shame is so pointless.

Another thing that's changed is that people call each other up now just to find out where they are. We used to know exactly where someone was when we dialed her number. [Dialed? Look it up, Petunia, I don't have all day.] When I called my friend, I knew she was lying on her bed, admiring her toenail polish and languidly twirling the cord on her Princess Phone. My parents were not so indulgent as to provide me with a bedroom phone, so I was in the kitchen with the phone cord bent around the corner, leaning up against the boomerang-spangled Formica countertop as far away from my parents' ears in the living room as I could stretch the cord. GPS, hell. We could pinpoint each other's locations within microns.

So this is The Book, this thing I'm dangling here between my thumb and forefinger, and I'm in it. If you want to know where I live and what my phone number is, this is where you might look. It's also a good place to locate your market, if you happen to have a lot of carbon paper or Jumbo Diapers to unload.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

To Boldly Go

I wasn't quite in Junior High when John Glenn, who lived across the street from the school, blasted into space, but I was like all children of the time who thrilled to the venture and the possibility of landing a man on the moon, and wondered how they went potty. Number Two was always number one in our minds, and it was hard to suppress visions of tumbling turds in the spacecraft and the possible variations on dodge-ball that might ensue. Well, we were children. Sadly, it doesn't get much more sophisticated when you grow up.
In fact it puts me in mind of a particular morning in the post office when the boss came on the intercom with an announcement. The sewer workers had the lines open right outside our building and there had been a request that we refrain from using the toilets to do anything important if we could possibly help it. Well, you haven't seen a group of workers pull together and strain for a common purpose like that in your life. Just the thought that someone would be in a position to admire our interpretive renditions of last night's burritos was enough to inspire a regular flotilla past the sewer workers, special delivery, flushed with pride.

Postal workers may well be a special subset of humanity, but everyone wonders how the astronauts cope. And it has proved vexing even for rocket scientists. Even Number One is troublesome. Each astronaut is equipped with his own funnel, in one of three sizes, the smallest of which, in the interest of maintaining morale, is called "large." Female astronauts would seem to be at a bit of a disadvantage, and that is indeed so, but they were marginally better off when it came to Number Two. My research reveals that the astronauts contemplating a boom-boom were required to use individual fecal bags which they taped to their buttocks and then ripped off. So hairlessness was to one's benefit. Shortly before I blacked out, I learned that the bags, once removed, required kneading.

All this was ameliorated with the invention of the space toilet. The main problem with the process of elimination in space is, um, separation. I had not properly appreciated the role of gravity in disconnecting ourselves from our waste materials. I had always thought we bring a certain amount of pressure to bear, especially sometimes, but it actually takes the entire mass of the planet to finish the job. Lacking that, we can remain attached to our effluent. It does shine a new light on Neil Armstrong's famous moonwalk, already a cheerful, bouncy affair, which would only be jollied up by a set of dancing dingleberries, don't you think? Fortunately, our astronauts do not need to float about the space stations trailing a string of sausages. All that is required is some negative pressure, a.k.a. suction. Negative pressure for the separation of urine from men is no doubt a finely calibrated thing. Too little, no separation; too much, no urine. They probably tested for months.

Merging a toilet with a vacuum was fraught at first. Four out of five astronauts were unhappy with the beater bar. And maneuvering to the toilet in space takes practice. Flatulence can send an astronaut tumbling through the air; if they're anything like Dave, it could even lead to head injuries. The toilet itself is a hole only four inches wide, and positioning is vital. The astronaut must center himself and clamp himself down with handles over the thighs (see "flatulence," above). The fecal matter is stored in a cylinder with what is called "unlimited storage capacity," which is another name for space. It is periodically expelled from the craft and eventually returns to earth, where what doesn't burn out during re-entry--and who among us hasn't experienced that--rains down mainly on the offices of Fox News, which has the most efficient dispersal mechanism.

The collected urine, on the other hand, is purified to the point of being potable, a process that led directly to the invention of Tang.

All of this required a lot of testing before it was put into place. The only place to test weightlessness on earth is the Vomit Comet, an airplane that in the course of a steep parabolic flight pattern delivers the sensation of weightlessness for about 25 seconds. In order to test their toilet, NASA needed to come up with volunteers who could pop a doot in that amount of time.

No one in our household will be solicited, I know that. The second the Vomit Comet takes off I will have suffered a premature evacuation. And Dave, who prides himself on his abilities in this department and loves thrill rides to boot, will be turned away at the door when they see him lumbering up with a stack of magazines.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's All Mice Under The Fridge

If you should happen to be caring for our cat Tater, and she starts yowling at the fridge, she's not asking for a treat. She has lost a toy mouse under there, and she would be much obliged if you got down on your hands and knees and swept underneath with a yardstick. She'll show you where the yardstick is.

This was a truth-in-advertising cat. When we first saw her at the Humane Society, she was the only animated object in a glass room full of snoozing cats. She had one arm stretched out under the door and was trying to stab herself a toy mouse a few inches out of range. We slid the mouse back under the door and she dribbled it madly through the room, occasionally lighting up a resting cat like a ball in a pinball machine.

"That one's lively," we said in approval, deeply underestimating the virtues of torpor in a cat.

I've heard that cats sleep an average of 90% of the time. Put Tater in a room with nine dead cats and we've nailed the average.

Tater is always on the move. She has a dozen fuzzy rattle-mice, a ball of feathers, a stuffed kiwi with which she has a love-disembowel relationship, a robotic bug, several golf balls and, in a pinch, stray Mentos. These she will swat and bat at until she has whacked every one of them under the fridge. It takes her about five minutes.

"We should get another dozen mice," I suggested at the beginning, but Dave pointed out that that would delay the inevitable by at most another five minutes. He dropped to his knees and fetched the yardstick.

Recently, however, she has begun to whine at the fridge even when there is nothing under there. "That's not how it works, Tater," Dave keeps trying to explain to her. "You have to put something in the bank to get something back out."

She's not getting it. She's like any other child growing up in an ATM world. When I was small I got my own passbook at the bank, and once a month Daddy and I would walk down and put in some percentage of my minuscule allowance. The teller would mark it in pen in my passbook along with the new total. I always knew how much I had in the bank, and never suspected that I could get it back out. When credit cards came out, I understood about real money. Never paid a finance charge in forty years.

This generation thinks the fridge dispenses fuzzy mice at the drop of a yardstick.

Tater's back at the fridge, yowling. It can climb up your nerves. "Potato Brewster," Dave says, highly annoyed, "there is nothing under there."

"Let me try," I say.

"Think of it like the Social Security System, Tater," I explain. "If no one is putting anything in, there is nothing to draw out." Tater does not blink. She is correctly skeptical. People are still drawing stuff out. The fact is, I don't understand it either. I take another tack.

"It's like my brain, Tater," I tried. "I spent all those years putting education in it, and over the years I've pulled out facts and ideas until now there's nothing left. If I don't put in something new, there will be nothing to withdraw. The alcohol doesn't count." Tater stared at me, then at the fridge.

"Look at me, Tater. I used to know the Krebs Cycle and I could explain the Uncertainty Principle and I could read Mme. Bovary in the original French. Now the only thing in my brain is Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. That's it."

Tater stared at the fridge, then at me. Mouse. Mouse. Mouse. Mouse.

"Oh, what the hell," I thought, reaching for the yardstick. Maybe we'll get lucky with the fridge. I know there's a beer in there.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sniff This

Drug enforcement agents in the United States are peeved at Guyana for allowing cocaine shipments onto flights originating in their country. Officials at JFK airport in New York were incensed to find a suitcase from Guyana packed with fifty pounds of pure cocaine, but what did they expect? There's a surcharge for over fifty pounds.

The Guyana airport is currently patrolled by a trio of drug-sniffing dogs, two of them elderly and one with a bit more spark, but all three have proven nearly useless in detecting drugs. The trainers in charge of the dogs have complained that their task is hampered by the government's refusal to share (supply, rather) any cocaine for training purposes. This means each dog must be trained to learn the smells of everything that is not cocaine, and then to alert at any unknown smell. This is a long process and the result is a fully trained canine corps so decrepit they are rarely moved to lift their muzzles off the linoleum. A test dog ("Zippo") who was allowed to sniff cocaine in training proved too bouncy to be reliable, although he seemed to be getting an awful lot done.

There are many uses for dogs in the sniffing world. They run the gamut from the famous bloodhound cadaver-dogs that go on search missions, to your friendly neighborhood menstruation-pointers, but there is also quite a bit of promise in the field of dogs that sniff people who aren't dead yet. With training, some dogs have been shown to be preternaturally effective in picking out people with cancer, even the ones who do not have moles shaped like Milk Bones. Rates top 99% in the detection of some forms of cancer, such as lung. The dogs are even able to detect breast cancer 88% of the time, with a low number of false positives, a record that is far better than that of mammograms. Given the discomfort many women report when they are having their breasts slammed into wafers by a mammogram machine, researchers are encouraged. Dr. Preston Pulpit of the Institute of Sadistic Medicine has proposed that a compromise protocol might be reached by pinning women in place with the mammogram machine and then bringing in the sniffer dogs. The radiology crew, widely reported as overworked and cranky, is enthusiastic.

But back to airports. Even a work crew of frail Guyanan dogs should probably have been able to detect the shipment of human heads that was, sadly, discovered instead by a remarkably loud employee of Southwest Airlines. There was nothing unusual about heads being shipped, airline officials tell us, although they were not satisfied with the package labeling. Some people have been startled by the notion that they may have shared airplane space with a crateful of heads, but this is not a concern of mine. I'm fine with anything that doesn't use up too much of the armrest.

My problem is that the number of heads, originally reported as "a whole bunch," was later revised to be "between forty and sixty." What, were they rolling around? Was it that hard to get a good count? Come on, people. These ain't grapes. Slap a post-it on every tenth head and let's strive for a little accuracy. If we're going to go to the trouble to check off the anatomical donor box on our driver's licenses, you owe us a decent head count.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Land Of Linda

How can you tell you're on vacation when you're already retired? One way is to travel in the Land of Linda. My friend Linda is a woman of unusual buoyancy. It's not that she's been untouched by sorrow, but she is always finely attuned to delight. This is a magnificent planet we're clinging to the skin of, with many rewards for anyone with good wonder receptors. Linda's are top-notch. If your own are undeveloped or vestigial, you're well advised to hitch up to Linda's wagon and wait for marvels.

Linda learns as much as she can, which helps, but some of her powers may be genetic. It is her father Gerry who owned up to arranging for our phenomenal weather on a recent trip to Cape Cod. Per his instructions, Hurricane Earl slouched off shore after a mild rinse-and-scrub, dropping off  some spare birds. Cape Cod itself is the afterthought of a glacier, a beckoning finger in the Boston harbor with shiny Provincetown at the fingernail position. Four of us (including the wildly entertaining Sara and Kelly) ventured in, and the house Linda rented on our behalf was a five-minute walk from the ocean and came complete with filled bird feeders. Our first night there, I poked my head out towards the sky for a nanosecond and a meteor pierced the Milky Way. None followed, but that one gleamed like a pin in the map of Linda Land. It was time for adventure, time to load images onto our retinas for future dreams.

"That dragonfly over there is carrying off a hummingbird," Linda remarked from the Adirondack chair, and sure enough something with the silhouette of a winged golf ball zipped by. I did not and still do not know that dragonflies have hummingbird-carrying capability, but there is a whole world of wonders out there, more than you can jam in your head in a lifetime, and isn't ignorance a wonder in itself? The kind you're aware of, at least. Why, at any moment you can hope to be enlightened about some microfact or other that can take the top of your head off. I live for those moments.

Sitting in an Adirondack with a cup of coffee as the morning light fingers through the trees, I begin to dial in my own wonder receptors. Traffic is heavy in the commute to the bird feeders, and as time warbles on, layers of life-sounds sort themselves out. A Ford Intrusion bellows by, dull as money, but in its rowdy wake, the splendid planet reasserts itself.

A small wedge of that splendor is available to anyone willing to pay attention, and another wafer to anyone willing to pay for binoculars. The heads of hummingbirds ripple with their sipping tongues. Life, death, tragedy and romance play out under a single leaf. It occurs to me, as my personal clamor subsides and gives way to the natural music, that meteors are slicing through the sunny sky right then and there, joining the list of marvels outside my narrow perception. I register a scant movement in my periphery and turn, and the forest begins to extrude hadrosaurs. One, two, three hadrosaurs leak out into the meadow in search of cracked corn--thank you, Linda--and resolve, upon further review, into turkeys, readily identifiable from the construction-paper versions we made in first grade, but the size of furniture. They are followed by ten more junior models and then they evaporate into the woods again.

It is possible, if enough attention is paid, to disappear oneself, to become so trivial that the movements of the planet affirm their truer natures: the sun no longer appears to climb in the sky, but we tilt towards it, yearning towards sunset, swinging around until it seems certain we will drop off the bottom at night's edge. But that is not what happens at sunset. Linda is in charge, and Linda finds for us a murmuration of starlings. Yes, she does. Hundreds of thousands of starlings bloop and roll in the sky just at sunset, roiling above an ocean of mercury and a pyramid of sand, and then, in seconds, they all drop to the earth and disappear. The ground before us is now invisibly feathered, and Linda has remembered the Proseco, too. What is she planning for the next day?

Not so much. Whales appear, but even through powerful binoculars they are just commas on the horizon. But soon enough, they are drawn to Linda and pull towards shore for an extended synchro performance, tails aloft and flippers slapping. I could not be peeled away for another forty-five minutes, but Linda is inquiring whether we might need to see Provincetown, just around the bend. Nothing about it seems likely to best the whales, starlings, dragonflies and hadrosaurs, and we are comfortable leaving it among the many things we may never see.

Nearby there is a monument to my forebears, who lurched over in the belly of a wooden tub called the Mayflower. After a two-month journey, they were urped ashore around here and, while no doubt relieved, were insufficiently delighted by the prospects and sailed on. They didn't have Linda, though.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Grave Matter

There's a scandal brewing over at Arlington Cemetery, with the Army reporting an unacceptable number of burial errors. Not the kind that involves burying soldiers who are not entirely dead, which tends to resolve itself in a few hours. This is a matter of mislabeled, unmarked or improperly marked graves. And this is a scandal because, as anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of zombies knows, we like to know where our dead people are at all times.

We go to great lengths to assure this, and always have, going back to the earliest days when some people marked the spot with an entire pyramid. Nowadays we mostly use stones and plaques and plastic petunias and teddy bears, but it's the same concept.

It's more important to some people than others. My siblings and I buried our parents somewhere in Bozeman, Montana, after first reducing them to an economical shoebox size, per their instructions. I visit each of them several times a day but in thirty years I've never made the trip to the Bozeman cemetery, and I don't think they mind. The shoebox size takes up less space. We did the same thing with my sister, who would never have taken up much space anyway. Her ashes were turned into the soil of her bodacious vegetable garden, where she spent some of her best time, and now--I snuck a peek a year later--she is marked by a massive bean plant. I go back and forth on whether to tell the current homeowners why their vegetables are so big.

It did always strike me as an odd use of the scenery to plant people full-length in rows and rows, even though I enjoy walking in cemeteries. How is it we haven't run out of room? Apparently in many locations we have, and have taken to stacking up. They won't do it to people who are just a little dead, but the deader you are, I guess the less you mind.

Another way of taking up less space is to save only the head, which is standard procedure in cryogenically frozen people. I find the thought of preserving my head horrifying and would never consider it, unless maybe I'd had some work done. These people have arranged for this treatment beforehand in the hope that they can be revived when whatever killed them is cured, and they're okay with coming back as what can only be termed an extreme quadriplegic. One of these outfits dropped the ball a while back and accidentally thawed someone out, then refroze him, and his still-limbed relatives are hoppin' mad about it. But what if they come up with a cure for cancer and still haven't conquered freezer burn?

The problems at Arlington stemmed from the conversion of the records from paper to digital. They're lucky they only misrecorded some names. If I'd been in charge of the project they'd have to change the name of Arlington Cemetery to The Blue Screen Of Death. Still, I guess it's a horrible thing to go to all the trouble of visiting a loved one and trimming up the grass and putting out a jar of peonies only to find out that the target bones of your affection are several yards away. It's like voting for the Clear Skies Act and discovering it was really the Polluters' Preservation Initiative all along.

The whole matter becomes even more complicated if you're not sure if someone's even dead or not, which can happen if they watched a lot of TV. Not too long ago, the folks in Japan were out looking for their officially-oldest man and when they knocked at his door, they were turned away repeatedly by relatives who did not want to disturb his rest. It turns out he was already thirty years past disturbing, tucked into his bed with a blanket over his mummified remains. If people are old enough, they don't look much different from mummies, but still. You'd think his relatives would have noticed something when they tried to get him to sign the deposit slips for all those pension checks.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Straight Talk With Leviticus Primrod

In the wake of the finding by Judge Vaughn Walker that California's Proposition 8, outlawing gay marriage, is unconstitutional, we have heard from a number of aggrieved organizations and individuals, none more aggrieved than Leviticus Primrod, chairman of the limited-rights advocacy group the Institute Of Minding Everybody Else's Business For Them. Although Mr. Primrod had a tightly packed schedule, he agreed to an interview:

MB: So what's the deal?

LP: We are dedicated to seeing that civil rights are not extended to Sodomite-Americans.

MB: But if two men---

LP: That's just gross.

MB: All right. But how is that your business?

LP: We make it our business. We're always thinking of the greater good, not focusing on narrow self-interest. It's called "outreach."

MB: It says here in your brochure that "a life-long union between one man and one woman is the only good environment in which to raise a child." Scientists such as those in the American Psychological Association do not agree.

LP: That's elitist science, science promoted by a non-representative and tiny segment of the population, the highly educated people. We have our own science. We perform thought experiments. That's what Einstein did--you may have heard of him.

MB: I have. He was a member of the highly educated elite. You can't have it both ways.

LP: Please. Don't say "both ways." Or "member." That's offensive.

MB: Einstein also dealt with facts.

LP: Facts are fungible things.

MB: What does "fungible" mean?

LP: [short silence] It has something to do with mushrooms. We select only the finest facts, and we work tirelessly to ensure there is darkness and plenty of suitable...substrate...for them to flourish in.

MB: All right. Einstein did indeed conduct thought experiments. For instance, he imagined a person in an elevator resting on the ground and another person in an elevator accelerating in space.

LP: Precisely. We here at the IMEEBFT have conducted numerous thought experiments in which we imagine ourselves in an elevator with a Sodomite-American. We have done this over and over, and we get the same result every time. Consistency: this is how we know our conclusions are sound.

MB: Really?

LP: We perform thought experiments all the time. It thoroughly creeps us out, and also makes us feel funny in the tummy. Every time. We can't stop thinking about it.

MB: And this is the thought experiment that leads you to endorse discrimination.

LP: Listen. It only makes sense that two gay men cannot be trusted to raise an adopted child. What if it's a boy? That child is in danger.

MB: Is your daughter in any danger from you?

LP: [short silence] Spare the rod, spoil the child.

MB: So if it is in society's interest to restrict child-rearing to one man and one woman in a life-long union, are you planning to agitate for making divorce illegal?

LP: That would be the ideal, yes. But there are competing interests at stake, namely a man's God-given right to dump the bitch if she gets fat or mouthy.

MB: Indeed. I have noticed that you rarely refer to lesbians. Do they figure in any of your thought experiments?

LP: [shudders] Never. I do not care to dwell on women who are too fat or mouthy to land a man.

MB: But that's not...

LP: Now, if they're hot...I've seen some--some films of a documentary nature. I have to give them one thumb up. Way up.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Am I Blue?

It's been recommended that hospital patients be issued flesh-colored gowns so that it would be easier to tell if they (the patients) turned blue or yellow later, which would be medically significant. This idea would never have occurred to me, for the same reason I would never have thought to inject my head with botulism poison just to see what happens. I'm not creative.

Most people have problems with hospital gowns. My problem is not what they expose, but that they're sly about it. Even in my dreams, I don't feel embarrassed until the moment I recognize that no one else in the House of Pancakes is naked. I'm fine up till then. But in the setting of the doctor's office, when he or she peels back portions of your get-up as needed and then pats everything back in place again, it feels more like a strip-tease. I'd be less embarrassed if we dispensed with the gown altogether. Especially at the gynecologist's office, where there doesn't seem to be much point in modesty at all.

One time my gynecologist rolled in the door and asked me if I minded if a few students came in to observe the proceedings. She was pretty familiar with my sense of humor and thought I might be fine with that, and I was. In fact, it sort of reminded me of my twenties. But then the students filed in and pressed themselves up against the far wall in obvious discomfort. My doctor invited them to come look at this or that, and to a man, they had the same look a four-year-old gets when he's being boosted up to the casket to give Grandma one last kiss. I didn't start out embarrassed; I caught it from the students.

Anyway, the issue with the standard hospital gowns is that they tend to be blue or green and a change in skin color is not as noticeable as it might be if the gowns matched the patient's (original) skin color. It's probably true. I know that never once have I been in for a check-up and had the doctor say, "didn't you used to be pinkish?" So maybe the gown throws them off. If the colors weren't problematic enough, lots of them come in some sort of pattern meant to be cheerful. And I have to admit: with the right plaid, I can't tell a Norwegian from a Pakistani.

Of course, the hospital would have to stock up on a lot of flesh tones. Even Crayola abandoned its "flesh" crayon in 1962, admitting it didn't cover all the bases. (It didn't even cover one base. No healthy person in history has ever been the color of a "flesh" crayon. True to theme, Crayola renamed the crayon "peach," because no peach has ever been that color either. They might as well have named it "avocado.") There has also been talk of using flesh-colored sheets. If the patient is well matched to both gown and linens, he should disappear entirely. He might not get proper attention, but at least we'd know he was not cyanotic or jaundiced.

There are other possibilities. Dots wouldn't work; they'd confuse the dermatology department. And we'd probably want to stay away from a hound's-tooth. The patient could sit abandoned for hours, with all medical personnel assuming he's already been checked.

A jungle print is another possibility. Except if the patient were to develop monkeys flying out his ass, the doctor might not catch it.

But how about a nice vertical stripe? As a diagnostic tool, vertical stripes would be invaluable. The next time the patient came in, if the stripes were going horizontal, the doctor would know to check for heart attack, pulmonary embolism or other forms of death.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Get Thee To A Flummery

Give me a man with a long reach, size-13 stompin' boots, and a high threshold of pain, and I'll give you a blackberry pie. I won't do it for less.

Western Oregon has a climate exquisitely suited for readers, writers and blackberries, but the blackberries are the most successful. One of the easiest ways to spot a newcomer is if she spots a sprig of what she hopes is a blackberry vine in her back yard and gets all excited. "You don't want that," I explain as forcefully as I can, which is to say with a spade and a canister of napalm.
Oh, but they do want that. And so every year, in exchange for permission to exterminate the sprig, I take the newcomers out to a spot--any spot--out of town where the blackberries romp and gallop over the landscape like radio hosts talking over a reasonable man. You can find acres of them in any direction. If they are allowed to root in the neighborhood, however, it is a matter of a few weeks before they have vaulted the fences and arched over your house. You'll be putting in one last comment on your Facebook page, oblivious to the creeping darkness, and that will be that: it's 9-1-1, and send in the goats.

According to the OSU Agriculture Extension Service, there are two thornless varieties. They are located in Sasquatch's back yard under a thick mulch of leprechaun poo. The rest of them are violent and sneaky and no fun to pick, but they can be tamed into a delectable pie, and every year I haul out the buckets and tell Dave to suit up and off we go. The juice gets all over everything, but it does mask the blood.

It was only this year, as we played the par-three eensy-beensy golf course at McMenamin's Edgefield Manor, a sprawling brewery and resort guarded by attack blackberries, that it came to us how to make Operation Pie more enjoyable. The par-three is the only course I'm allowed to play on, because I can't count high enough to play the others. Each hole is encircled by a blather of blackberries which are chopped back on the hour by the grounds crew, and community-minded citizens from all over plant their golf balls in them in preparation for the winter ball harvest. Because of the aforementioned high threshold of pain, we usually come off the course with a few more balls than we came with, but it never occurred to us until this year that we could come for the blackberries.

The establishment is fine with the idea. You, little man or woman, are no threat to their incidental blackberry crop. Neither is your army. Not even if you're a goat. You may pick all day from clumps of berries at a comfortable shoulder height, if you wish, and then you can have a beer. And then you can go home and make pies.

Blackberries are found in a number of items, including cobblers, pandowdies, slumps, grunts and flummeries. (They are particularly prevalent in bear grunts.) Pies are my choice, even though pie dough tests my own threshold of pain. There are only five ingredients in a pie filling; my tradition is to leave one of them out. That is what the slits in the top crust are for: you slide the butter pats through them.

At least now the picking part has gotten easier. Just drive on up to Edgefield, and whatever you do, don't park too close to the berries.