Saturday, December 31, 2011

Putting The Pieces Together

As it happens, I'm a quilter too.

I mention this because Nancy, who writes a quilting blog, sent an almost unprecedented number of her readers my way. A whole flock of quilters landed on Murrmurrs and pecked around, and I don't know if they knew what to expect. Mine is a work-a-day, all-purpose blog. I figure if I don't specialize in subject matter, I'll be harder for the trolls to pigeonhole. There are a lot of great bloggers out there writing about politics, or nature, or their cats. I'm more likely to write about the nature of cat poop and tie it in with politics. It's surprisingly easy to do that.

But quilters' blog-rolls run by the yard, and if you take a stroll through their material you realize just how much talent is out there--just how many people are stitching beauty together that makes you warm two ways. I make regular quilts. Mostly the old traditional patterns. It's addictive, watching these things come together under your hands.

The way Dave explains it, if anyone asks, is "Murr takes a bunch of perfectly good fabric and cuts it into little pieces and sews it back together again." Somehow this description seems wrong, but I can't find the flaw in it anywhere. It does make the process sound like a waste of time, but in a true waste of time you don't have a quilt afterwards. Just drool stains and the theme from "Gilligan's Island" in your head.

Anyway, quilting is no different than life. We'd all like to think we see the whole fabric, but in reality we are constantly slicing and dicing what we perceive and then stitching it back together in a way that makes sense to us. We select the evidence that fits our narrative and discard what doesn't. There are people who see in every encounter the likelihood of a personal attack, and set out pickets of rage and blame to hunker behind. My own narrative tends more toward loopy cheer, but neither perspective is made of whole cloth. Even in my garden, which is just nature diced and spliced, I will admire all the flowers and mentally edit out the bindweed until the day it takes over.

At some point in any quilting project I'll discover I've stitched something together backwards and I have to get my seam ripper and undo it. Worse, I'll have run off dozens of the mismatched pairs before I notice my mistake, and that's a lot of ripping. My current project consists of 48 large blocks, each of which is made up of twenty pieces, with a potential 765 ways to go wrong, requiring roughly--hold on, carry the one--three billion stitches to be ripped out. At one juncture, there were at least three incorrect ways to sew two blocks together. I know this because I went through all three, methodically, in order. And then just for good measure I sewed it the first wrong way all over again. Even Chance would have given me better odds of getting it right. And this stuff is easy. All you need to do is hold the pieces together and say "does this look right?" before sewing them together. Which I do. Unfortunately, the dominant loopy-cheer part of my brain always answers "yes indeedy! Why, that looks perfect." Even when it isn't. My brain values optimism over the truth.

This follows a disturbing trend. Whereas ten years ago this might happen once or twice during a single project, now it happens all the way through. That's what's different. My head is fast losing the ability to hang onto two ideas at once for more than three seconds. If I get up to answer the phone while I'm quilting, I won't get back to the machine for hours, because I'll forget that's what I was up to. This should worry me, but instead I find it funny. Because that's the way I like to stitch my reality together.

So it might take me longer than it used to, but eventually, after a lot of ripping, I always get my quilt put together right. I can see my own future, though, and it looks like my elderly friend Mrs. P. I'll ask Mrs. P how her niece is doing in law school, and Mrs. P will say it hardly even itches anymore. I'll say that sounds like good news, and she'll say if it was fine with the bishop, it was fine with her; and after all, what can you expect during strawberry season? And both of us will go off smiling, all our conversational needs met.

I'm approaching my own dotage with a big grin and an even bigger seam ripper, but I know sooner or later I'm going to get all the pieces of my reality sewn together wrong too, and I won't know it. It will look screwy, but I'll still be warm.

This simple, beautiful quilt pattern was created by Cindy Carter, who is kind enough to share. I liked it well enough that I'm going to make another one for myself, because I gave this one away. Thanks, Cindy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rebooting The Biffy

Kohler has developed a toilet that anticipates your every desire, because men simply do not spend enough time in the can as it is. It's called the Numi and it can be yours for around six thousand dollars. It has a remote control.

The seat and lid open and shut on command. An extendable cleansing wand can be summoned at the appropriate time from the back end of the toilet to rinse your target area, followed by a quick blow-dry, which is exactly half as much fun as it sounds. User presets allow individuals to customize their personal target area position. There is an iPod jack on the remote in case you prefer musical accompaniment, and it comes pre-loaded, like a new wallet with a photo, with John Fogerty's "Doo doo doo, looking out my back door." There are three flush options, Number One, Number Two, and Nelly Bar The Door. A pop-out hemorrhoid abrader, conditioner and a light comb-through are optional. And if you look carefully in the back left corner, you will find the toothpick and the little tiny scissors attachment.

What disturbs me is the remote control. Already there are way too many remote controls in this house. Nothing we have seems to operate with fewer than two. The television has one remote for changing channels but we have to find the other remote to lower the volume and you still have to walk over to it to turn it on or off. We also have a stash of orphaned remote controls that do not operate anything, as far as we can tell, but they're like mystery keys--we can't throw them away. Decades ago I picked up something advertised as a "Universal Remote" with which I hoped to be able to operate my stereo, my CD player, my TV, my video player, and everything else. It's possible I botched the electronic introductions required, but that sucker never did anything. Although I did not check the toilet seat. I may have misjudged the purpose of the Universal Remote, and if it turned up the spin on Venus, I didn't notice.

The Japanese are the originators of excessive toilet technology. They live in a jiggly country, and the illusion of being in control of something is dear to them. They also put a premium on personal cleanliness and are enamored of technology in general, and the overachieving toilet is the happy product of those attributes. Here in America, the very same factors coupled with a less rigorous educational system resulted in the invention of the plastic doggy tennis-ball thrower.

I'm not accustomed to having to feel stupid while on the toilet. The toilet is one area in which I usually have everything well in hand. I may have courted catastrophe on the way to the toilet, but once I'm there, I'm usually good to go. I know what to do, and an instruction manual would only depress me. The toilet is where I go to get away from that. It's just me, gravity, and a decent flapper valve. Sometimes things don't work out, but I never have the sense that my toilet is looking askance at me, or that I have disappointed a fleet of engineers. If something goes wrong, I want to be able to fix it with a plunger and a little bleach. I don't want to have to shut the whole thing down, wait thirty seconds, power it up again and cross my fingers. And I hoped to be years away from having to get a twenty-year-old to help me in the bathroom.

So I don't think I'm going to be buying a Kohler Numi. But I am inspired by the effort it took to trot this baby out to market, and I'm working on a little invention of my own. It's a bed pillow. It will have a revolving terrycloth drool strip and a built-in rapid eye movement detector that activates a subliminal recording. Mine will be set on Liam Neeson. In a kilt.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pootie's Christmas

We always got a balsam fir for Christmas, because Daddy thought those smelled the best, but even if we picked it up early, he leaned it up against the back porch to keep it cold and fresh until we put it up, which was never early. My parents were firm believers in moderation in all things, even though in some things, like swearing and spending money just because, they were more abstinent than moderate. It could have been put down to a Depression mentality at work, but I now believe that my father was a Wise Man who fully understood the damage that excess and extravagance can do to a kid and her ability to be joyful. So when the tree did come indoors, it was well freighted with anticipation. There was a routine. Daddy was in charge of making the thing stand upright, which took a lot of frowning and dagnabbiting, and then the light strings were laid out on the floor. There would be that moment of hope just before they were plugged in, dashed annually--another tradition--and then we'd unscrew the bulbs one by one until we found and replaced the culprit. Ornaments would be hung by all and later redistributed higher on the tree, and then we draped the tinsel on. Ours was a wrinkly tinsel family. The tinsel was gleaned and packed away every year. Dad put one modest string of light bulbs out on the porch and one modest electric candle in the window, and that was that. Every year I lobbied hard for extra lights, with the same result as I got begging for a dog or a house with a rec room. I didn't even know they made unwrinkly tinsel.

But our modest tree filled the bill for joy every year. Overdoing it would not have increased it. In fact, when it comes to joy, you get less bang for every successive buck, which I did not learn for a while. Christmas is famously for the children, and I was the last child, the one my mom charitably referred to as a "surprise," showing up at a time my folks might have preferred grandbabies. "You're what's keeping me young," Mom would tell me, although the exact opposite case could have been made, especially during my teenage years, but I took the charge seriously, and every year I mustered as much enthusiasm as I could credibly pull off. But each passing Christmas pushes us further away from our childhood, no matter how we try to hold on. Mom and Dad were faithful to our little traditions and that helped. That's why the first Christmas away from home has the potential for bleakness.

I got lucky. I spend my first Christmas away from home in Bavaria with friends, and there were stars and snow and castles and picturesque tipsy Germans and goose for dinner. We were studying abroad, and none of us roommates had much money, so we decorated our one house plant and bought each other  as many presents as we could manage without spending more than £2.50 all told. It was challenging and very, very fun, something that acquiring more money allows one to unlearn.

The next Christmas on my own was spent at a boyfriend's house and was a riot of excess. I'd never seen more gifts in my life, and that part seemed good, but we opened them on Christmas Eve, which was so wrong: abandoning Santa snaps the final bond. But you get over it.

When Dave and I moved in together, we got our first tree, without a lot to hang on it. Each year the tree got a little bigger and more crowded. One year I asked Dave if we could fit a grand piano in the house. He eyed a bearing wall thoughtfully and allowed as how we probably could if we had to. Oh goody, I said, because I just bought one. That Christmas I scavenged a large windblown branch from a fir tree and Dave stapled it flat to the wall that he now had to take down. He stapled harder and louder than might have been strictly necessary. We bought each other flat presents to lean up against the wall: books, record albums.

But Dave was often gone for holidays, working a shut-down boiler at a mill out of town. One year I bought a one-foot plastic tree and decorated it with tiny plastic hard-hats and a small cement mixer for the star, and I wrapped about twenty one-dollar items for him and his crew and mailed it all off. They had to guess which presents to pick. There was an airplane bottle of Jack Daniels and a similarly-shaped bottle of hair goo. There was a rolled-up porno magazine and another rolled-up Woman's Day. It was the most fun I'd had buying presents since Bavaria.

Other than that year, every Christmas tree went up about the same way Dad's did, only Dave had a more emphatic vocabulary. Pootie showed up at Christmas in 1989. It was no accident. He no doubt had a scouting report that confirmed we had no spawn that might dilute our attention, and he moved in and began arranging things to his liking right off the bat. Pootie is, technically, a stuffed dog, and the fact that he generally gets his own way around here is a sign that we were wise not to have children. Pootie indicated he needed his own tree--fine, whatev--so one year we got him a small one, and he jammed it full of tasteful ornaments. His taste, sadly. There were basketball players and ceramic jock straps and a skinny Gumby-Santa and M&M lights and a star so garish that the nativity story had to be rewritten with the little lord Jesus's manger set up at a strip mall, attended by the Three Car Salesmen and a flock of possums. It's da Tannenbomb. Our own tree got smaller and smaller through the years and Pootie's got bigger until now all we get is Pootie's tree, and we don't have one at all. Because nobody wants to see what happens if the Poot doesn't have his Christmas.

After all, Christmas is for the children.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Calling On The Butter Fairy

Norway is suffering a killer butter shortage during the holiday season. This is tragic because Norwegian cuisine in its entirety uses only seven ingredients: butter, cream, flour, potatoes, sugar, codfish, and oven cleaner. And butter is the most important of these for a number of reasons. All dishes owe their structural integrity to butter, which keeps the flour molecules apart. Also, native Norwegians are genetically blessed with massive circulatory systems featuring arteries the size of road culverts, and butter keeps the blood from making knocking sounds as it ricochets through the tubes. Norwegians are stalwart people of sturdy temperament who are not apt to blow over in a stiff breeze, but they're rattled. Without butter the entire collective digestive system of Norway will founder and flake.

In spite of the limited number of ingredients, there is much variety in Norwegian cuisine. Lefse is produced with cream, butter, sugar, and potato. After it is rolled up with more butter and sugar, it is slightly crisp and beige. The potato substitutes for vegetables. Fattigman features more cream than butter but the loss is made up in deep-fat frying; it is somewhat more crisp and darker beige. Cardamom substitutes for vegetables. Krumkake, made of butter, sugar and flour, is beige and very crisp indeed, due to its being cooked on a special griddle. An ornate design stamped onto the krumkake from the griddle substitutes for vegetables. The much-prized gelatinous, soapy and light-beige lutefisk does not require much butter except at the table, where, in sufficient quantities, it masks the flavor of the oven cleaner. Nausea substitutes for vegetables.

In short, it should be possible to invent a cow attachment that could deliver 90% of Norway's culinary repertoire straight from the cow to the plate, but it does not exist, because Norwegian people are not lazy. What appears to be torpor is just a combination of inoffensiveness and deep satisfaction, and the satisfaction is because of the butter.

It was a perfect storm of political, economical, and natural events that produced the butter shortage in Norway.  Demand spiked due to the popularity of healthier low-carb diets wherein some of the potato is swapped out for butter. Climate change ushered in excessive dampness that demoralized the cows. And steep tariffs discouraged imports from butter-rich countries. With citizens willing to fork over up to $32 per pound of butter, a black market has arisen. Several butter smugglers have been apprehended crossing over from Sweden (of course, Sweden), but it's a slick operation. A suspected smuggling tunnel from Denmark was discovered only when it clogged up.

There is no butter shortage in the United States, but that's not my husband's fault. Dave came home a few weeks ago with a starter set of twenty-four pounds of butter and began his annual three-week round-the-clock production of almond roca, which he will distribute in decorative tins to good men and women the world over. Many who regret kicking Santa to the curb of childhood are now fervent about the Butter Fairy, and they anticipate his arrival with clenched capillaries. It's said that he's tall and he's stealthy and he creeps onto your porch like an embolism in the night. Believe it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Parasites In The House

Birds work their fannies off. That's why you hardly ever see a proper fanny on a bird. Especially during nesting season, they're up at the crack of dawn and spend the whole day going about the business of raising a family. There's nest construction, and defense, and music performance anxiety, and feeding their young. It's not easy.

Unless you're a cowbird.

Cowbirds are among the animals collectively referred to as "brood parasites," and they've figured out how to rig the system. Cowbirds roll out of bed when they feel like it and have sex with, you know, anyone, as long as it's probably another cowbird, and then the females go lay an egg in someone else's nest--someone who may have been working on that particular nest for a long time and had it just so. The cowbird egg may be bigger or more speckled or otherwise different from the eggs of the nest proprietor, and yet that proprietor will often incubate all the eggs, and then feed the cowbird when it hatches. Furthermore, the cowbird generally hatches first and starts kicking out the other eggs. The cowbird nestling is a giant mouth on bird legs. Any surviving original hatchlings wither in eclipse under its gaping maw, and the parent birds run themselves ragged trying to fill it up. The cowbirds prosper at the expense of the hard-working host birds, and their success depends on the host birds not noticing.

It's hard to imagine how a little mama warbler would mistake this pituitary case for one of its own, but sometimes things sneak up on you in life, especially if you're busy, and you can find yourself in a situation without knowing how you got there. Especially if it's all you can do to fend for yourself and your family. Even among humans, it's not uncommon to trudge through your work-a-day world and suddenly wake up in mid-life and discover you have a gigantic, speckled ass. And divorce is too expensive.

Or, it could be that the host bird is just programmed to be nice. I haven't forgotten the time Dave came home from the tavern towing a pert young blonde and said, just before falling into a fast, flatulent sleep, "this is Denise. Talk to her. She's been hitchhiking up I-5 from California and she thinks she'll be safe because she has an angel on her shoulder."

So I talked to little Denise and informed her she wasn't going anywhere, she was staying right here with us until she found a safe place to live and renounced her invisible angel, and that was that. And that was that. She stayed for a few days, then a few more days, and on into months, eating my food, wearing my clothes, wrecking my bike, periodically offering to whip up some "peanut butter and spices on crackers," all the while keeping up a bright soprano patter of thought-free conversation until we had to kill her, with no angelic intervention, and it was a tremendous waste of effort and resources, although the new concrete patio was nice.

At any rate, this situation obviously benefits the cowbirds, who are free to go about hoovering bugs to their big fat hearts' content, since they don't have to do any of the work of maintaining a domicile and child-rearing. It is of no benefit at all to the host birds. Why do they let such a thing happen? Well, cowbirds are stealthy.

They scout out host nests while they're being constructed, and squat in them when they know the nest builders are hard at work collecting materials. The day before they plan to drop an egg, they'll come by and kick out one of the host eggs. They plant one of their own in among the others. Then they quit making payments into the host birds' pension funds and tell them they're better off investing their own money, even though they aren't. Meanwhile they raid the pension funds for executive bonuses, and finally they explain the whole defined-benefit pension fund thing is not sustainable, what with their raiding and all, and go after the union birds' pensions too, because their success is ruining their narrative.

They lay a lot of eggs and deposit one each in nests all over the territory, taking advantage of the new lenient bankruptcy laws to restructure corporations, and use the Net Operating Loss Deduction to avoid any taxes at all, while allowing them to borrow money to raid other nests and close some down and sell off the assets, thus transferring all the risk from stockholders to individual taxpayers. Then tax reform encourages them to move factories abroad and escape federal income tax. By the time they pressure Congress to repeal the Glass Seagull Act, there is nothing to stop the cowbird from getting fatter and fatter at the expense of the host birds' own nestlings. The cowbird profits handsomely no matter what befalls the birds that work so hard on their behalf.

You have to wonder if such a scheme is sustainable, of course.  If the host birds cannot learn to recognize a fat cowbird squatting in their own nests, they may not survive, and the cowbirds will no longer be able to profit from all of their work. And some species have indeed learned to defend themselves against the cowbirds. What the cowbird does, however, is plant eggs widely and indiscriminately. The American brown-headed cowbird has been observed to parasitize the nests of 220 species. Even if the whole operation falls apart some day, they'll have had a mighty nice run.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Giving Kaiser The Finger

Dave's middle finger just blew up. It had always been knobby since the day he mishandled a line drive and smashed the last knuckle to bits. But although that injury ended any career he might have had as a pianist, his finger has more or less behaved itself through the years. Until a few weeks ago. That's when, for no reason, it started to swell up. It got huge and round and pink on the end. It looked like--well, it looked like he might be able to make a good living with it in the, uh, personal services field.

And it hurt. I could tell only because after the third day or so he casually mentioned that he was going to walk over to the emergency room with it. That means Kaiser.

We have Kaiser insurance because that's what I had all those years and I liked it. Dave was always on Blue Cross and thought the world of it, but after we retired I had the better deal. It would cost significantly more to keep the Blue Cross. And all that stuff about Kaiser taking out the wrong kidney or sawing off the wrong leg, well, that hardly ever happened.

But Dave doesn't like Kaiser. He doesn't like how it takes a while to get an appointment (although that only applies to routine appointments, and urgent matters are handled expeditiously). He doesn't like that you have to go through a gatekeeper to get anything done. He doesn't think you should have to see your internist to be referred to Dermatology when lichens are growing on your face. He thinks you should just be able to walk into Dermatology and point at yourself.

Basically, Dave is pissy about Kaiser. And there's no reason to be. They've always done right by him, unless you count that time he had to get a big cyst drilled out of his testicle and they did an excavation and then he had to sit on an ice block for like three months and pop Vicodin like Tic-Tacs to keep from blacking out and finally he went back and said he really thought he should be feeling better by now, and could someone take a look? And someone did, and said everything looked just fine, implying he was a big whiner, except for that big cyst in his testicle, and maybe he should think about having it drilled out. So they drilled it out again, and did a thorougher job of it, and he was only out the two co-pays and a lost half-year  of happiness, or so, but still he brings it up.

Kaiser emergency is only about six miles from home so he walked over there and went through the door, finger first, so as to get the most attention. The first person to attend to it was concerned. She handed him the Pain Scale sheet, with its Graduated Grimace illustration of pain levels, from a slight wince to a rictus of agony. "On this scale of one to ten, how do you rate your pain?" Bad question to ask Dave. If Dave had posed for the illustrations on the one-to-ten scale of pain, the face would have looked exactly the same for all ten levels, and then in number eleven there would be big X's over his eyes. Dave drew a breath and delivered a treatise about the subjectivity of the perception of pain and the impossibility of determining anything useful from such an exercise when there was such a wide range in the abilities of people to withstand discomfort, and what is a pain threshold, anyway, is it something empirically measurable or does it reflect a level of stoicism or--let's be honest--strength of character that has become sadly lacking in this pampered modern world wherein happiness is considered an entitlement?

She told him that maybe he could go home and take a couple of Tylenol and see how it goes.

After several days on antibiotics...
"Nine," Dave said.

So then stuff started happening right away. He was diagnosed with cellulitis, an infection so dangerous that there was a possibility of gangrene, brain fever, unsightliness, and several versions of death, and he had antibiotics introduced intravenously and someone lanced a tub of pus out of it and he was sent home with more antibiotics and Vicodin. Took one of them, too.

It's looking a lot better now, not that it will fit between the black keys. I'm proud of him for going in, and I'm proud of Kaiser for doing such a good job, not that you'll hear that from Dave. He's the perfect man for me. I need a man with a high tolerance for pain. I hope the swelling doesn't go down too much.

Happy birthday, big guy. You'll always be my old man.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Margaret Day!

It's the Most Underful Time.....of the year! With your panties all shreddy and holes in your teddy but be of good's the Most Underful Time...of the year! Oh my goodness, International Day Of Margaret is almost upon us! And just in time, too, wedged in that crotch between Thanksgiving and Christmas when we could all use a lift. There is no more frabjous holiday!

It's been obvious for some time that there would have to be a special holiday in Margaret's honor, and I don't say this just because I was lucky enough to be her sister. Everyone who knew her feels the same way. She was the fire we warmed ourselves at. She was all trumpet-toots and confetti, an entire marching band in size-five sneakers. She was a bright red Skittle in the sofa cushions, she was a parrot crashing a crow convention. Rrraawwwwk! That was her shriek of delight. Delight at the world, delight at life, delight in your very company. Margaret's was the primal shriek of joy, and lordy, could she let it rip.

It's easy to love someone who thinks you're a better person than you really are, especially if she allows you to grow into her opinion. "This changed my life," she'd pronounce, all gratitude and exuberance, and she could have been referring to a new support pillow, a jar-opener, a portable carrier for her oxygen tank. Oh, we lined up ten deep to help change her life, we did. She didn't run out of friends, she ran out of air. The world has had a creak in its spin ever since. If friends could keep someone alive, she'd be here now. Since she's not, there has to be a Margaret Day. That much is clear: but what form should it take?

Maybe it wasn't a coincidence that after my sister eased off the planet, we had solar panels installed. Something needs to be able to take energy out of thin air and bring it inside, and if we can't have Margaret, we have to make do. It's a poor substitute, but there are similarities. Both work better in the sunlight. Both are hot. Both make me deeply ashamed of my underwear.

The solar panels are indirect about it. They come with a read-out on the computer showing our hourly energy production, in smug green, vs. our consumption, in accusatory red. The red line rolls in hills and valleys until we turn on the clothes dryer, and that produces a scarlet spike sharp enough to impale the toolbar. It was no longer possible to ignore the energy waste, and we started hanging our clothes on a line, including my underwear, the condition of which used to be known only to me and God, but now also our neighbors and anyone walking down the alley.

"Rrraawwwk! What is this?" my sister once said, scandalized, plucking something out of the dryer that had started out life as a pair of panties. I had nothing to say in my defense. The frayed cotton hung in tatters from a few anchor points on the elastic. Worse, all of my panties were in the same seedy state.

"This is outrageous," she said, riffling through my laundry. "What does this say about you as a person?"

"Um," I said, struggling. "That I'm not having an affair?"

Looking in my underwear drawer, it is impossible to imagine what it would take to send a pair of my panties to the dumpster.  When we had a puppy, she would find my underwear in the hamper, which is what we called the area on the floor next to the bed, and carefully chew out the entire business section. I wouldn't notice until I cleaned them and pulled them on again and a little breeze would inform me that the only part missing was the part that mattered most, and even then I hesitated throwing them away, if the elastic still looked okay. I'm not proud of this.

A while ago, probably when I was supposed to be doing my taxes, I got a notion to turn the panty and sock drawers upside down and do a thorough purge. The socks weren't any better. Even after the ones with holes in the heels are eliminated, we're hard pressed to get any two alike to pair up; they seem to have gotten their instructions from some obscure chapter in Leviticus. Margaret once told me that our niece's underwear was equally disreputable, and yet that niece feels comfortable informing me that I need to update my style. "Yours are granny panties," she says, which just goes to show. They are not. They are French Cut, entirely different. If you want to see granny panties, you should have seen my own mother's, of voluminous silk with cuffs in place of leg elastic. We used to rig them up over the picnic table on hot days for the shade. Granny panties, my adequately-covered ass.

I invited Dave to join the purge party. "We can do this once a year, in honor of Margaret," I said. "Great," he said. "In fact, we should do that on her birthday." Genius! That gave me eight more months to say goodbye to my underwear.

But Advent is upon us, it's nearly Margaret Eve, and I'm excited. Mark your calendars: International Day Of Margaret is Tuesday, December 13th. The carols have begun. Rrraawwwk The Herald Angels Sing. Little Drummer Boyshorts. The Christmas Thong. Panty Claus Is Coming To Town. Ding Dong Merrily On Thigh. Lo, How The Rosy Bloomers. O Holey Night. It's time to upend those drawers, cast out the old, and tug up the new! Let's hoist a pair of skivvies To Margaret! To Margaret, and the dawn of a fresh and stretchy new year!

If the new stuff doesn't work out, Boxer Day is right around the corner.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Bum Bum: An Improctical Solution

A woman in Florida nearly died after having her buttocks pumped full of cement by a transgender woman posing as a doctor, which is going to do nothing to advance the cause of trans acceptance, even though the vast majority of transgendered people I know would never think of doing such a thing.

I'm okay with my own heinie. It hasn't fallen yet, at least, which is something I'm told they can do. I don't know if it happens all at once. I don't know if you're just standing at the bus stop one day and all of a sudden there's a little sliding sssshlorp sound and whump your fanny is hanging off your hipbones like mud flaps. In my experience these things tend to creep up on you. And I don't look at my own butt all that often, so it could be I am mistaken in my rosy assessment. I remember looking at some woman with bingo wings once and telling Dave, "psst... let me know when my armpit skin starts to swing around like that," because, I don't know, maybe then I'd start lifting weights or something, and he said "" Well, shit.

Anyway, the woman in question was not trying to restore the popo of youth. She was still young. She was thirty years old, old enough to have learned some priorities in life, but way younger than the age most people start thinking they could use some concrete in the caboose. Maybe she was a little on the flat side, and thought with a little enhancement she could be just like J. Lo. After all, she already had the crappy marriage. And a friend of a friend's cousin said she knew this transgender almost-a-doctor who worked miracles with simple injections of cement, mineral oil and super glue, and what more do you need to know? There is evidently a whole underground industry devoted to this pursuit, featuring something called a "plumping party." Which sounds benign enough. We used to have plumping parties years ago, only we used beer and pizza, and didn't focus so exclusively on the patootie.

There's a reason they put them in the back. It's God's way of saving you a little grief, but some people are not meant to be saved. The plumping parties are outside of the medical realm and not regulated in any way, so you have to be careful. Caveat emptor, as they say, which is Latin for "don't turn your back on someone with a huge syringe and too much enthusiasm." Sure, going to a strange transgender woman's house to get cement plugged in your ass always sounds like a good idea, but there are things to consider. Do they offer anything in the way of follow-up care? Someone needs to watch where you sit while it's setting up. If you squeeze yourself into a box, not only will you be able to sit on your ass, but somebody else could, too. Spend too much time on a toilet right after plumping, and your heinie will indeed be the object of fascination, but not in a good way. Also, you're probably going to need someone to take you to the emergency room.

A nice firm set of buttocks is a good thing. I had one, once. Back in the day, we didn't have the benefit of modern cement injections, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way, by bicycling from New Jersey to San Francisco. By the time I hit the left coast, I could crack walnuts with my ass. I took that ass to Portland and introduced it and myself to Dave, in possibly the most egregious case of false advertising ever. Within a couple months my keister had reverted to its natural state of quivering tapioca, but Dave stuck around and even married me seven years later, in case it ever came back. He's still waiting.

The woman in Florida found the process of cement injection excruciating, and the attending plumpologist was persuaded to quit before she was quite done. She sealed up the injection site with super glue and sent the patient away to become violently ill somewhere else. Caveat emptor, people. If you've got the wrong person administering super glue to your ass, you could end up with a whole different sort of plumping, and you're not going to like it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

On The Edge Of Hall's Hill

A while back, I opened the Sunday paper to find a little sidebar with the headline "this week in the Civil War." It was startling. That's the kind of news you get when you get into bed backwards and oversleep, I guess.

My first cup of coffee clarified that this was to be a retrospective series recapping the events of the Civil War 150 years ago. I'm really looking forward to it, because I don't know much about it. I had no interest in history at all when I was a kid.

I knew what history was. It was a record of things that happened to white people. Other colors of people didn't write anything down. They may have had better memories. Also, it was stuff that happened Before Murr. Most everything B.M. held no interest for me. There was a large war that had happened in the decade before I was born and it might as well have been the Crusades as far as I was concerned. The only time history was fun for me was when we could go to Williamsburg, Virginia, and stick my sister in leg stocks.

I recently began to be interested in American history because I was writing a novel that took place B.M. and felt the need to be more up-to-date on it, if it is possible to be up-to-date on history. The Civil War period baffled me. But I paid greater attention to the Ken Burns film when it was reprised. In the last fifteen minutes of the documentary I was surprised to hear that one of the generals had led his men up Hall's Hill. I know Hall's Hill! I had no idea it had historical cachet. Robert E. Lee I knew, because he had a famous highway named after him that I grew up a block away from. And Hall's Hill was just around the corner, down Lee Highway. Hall's Hill was where we kept all our colored folk in Arlington, Virginia in the fifties. Al's Bar and Grill was at the top end where you could see it and there was never any reason to go down any of the other streets.

Northern Virginia is more cosmopolitan than the rest of Virginia: I don't remember seeing any helpful signs on the drinking fountains to let you know what color water you were dealing with. Mostly we did without that sort of thing, because we had all the colored people bunched up in Hall's Hill all neat and tidy, and all we had to do then was zone things around it. So there was a colored school, and there were the Regular schools, and that was that. You were assigned based on your address alone, and it worked out just fine without anybody having to spell anything out. Sometimes there were slip-ups. I do remember we couldn't get into the Overlee swimming pool because our house was stuck like a scab on the edge of Hall's Hill and we were zoned out. They didn't want any black kids in the Overlee pool in case they made the water turn color, but that was silly--all the kids did that at one time or another.

Anyway, I did some checking, and it turns out Hall's Hill was the first place they established for freed slaves right at the end of the Civil War, and their descendants stayed put for a good hundred years. They didn't start leaking out until just about the time I went away to college, and I haven't been back. That's not why, though.

It's interesting both to learn and live through history. It affects us. For instance, I never really learned how to swim. I imagine other people suffered even greater consequences.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Forced To Curl

I don't remember many dark moments in my childhood. Mom was a pleasant, smiling, patient woman in a calico dress and apron who smelled like bread baking, and at least once a day she would give me a big hug and call me her sweetie-pie sugar-plum honey-dumplin' puddin'-head, all in a row like that so she wouldn't forget any of it, and she sang You Are My Sunshine to me, and let me lick the beaters, and once I'd been lulled into a position of complete trust for seven years, she pinned me down in the kitchen and gave me a Toni. It burned and smelled like curls and cancer and nothing in my life had prepared me for my mother trying to fry off my head. My straight hair was unceremoniously abbreviated every couple months, and Mom evicted it from my forehead every morning by raking an all-day Barrette Of Death across my scalp, but I'd gotten used to that. The problem, as she saw it, was that I wasn't enough like Shirley Temple. There was never a chance I'd be able to tap-dance, either. Even when I tried to skip, it just looked like my knees had the hiccups.

The Toni was horrible. It didn't last long, but I was mortified. I wasn't interested in anything girly. I died a little inside whenever Old Man Balderson next door called me "young lady," which he always did, thinking himself nice. I briefly owned a single neglected doll, a gift from a distant aunt who didn't know me well, but that was it; I played with stuffed animals and real frogs and salamanders. That awful Halloween when the girl in the pink princess outfit got a prize for Prettiest, it struck me as an outrage of cosmic proportions. Just the idea that "prettiest" should be a category was wrong. What kind of mixed-up world was this?

Clothing was strictly utilitarian. In fourth grade, I picked out a drab blue school dress that I liked well enough, and my parents did too, so they bought the exact same dress in brown also, and that plus the Bluebird outfit was it for the year. It would still be several years before I recognized that the two dresses, and I, were totally inadequate. Kids today are much more advanced, and pick up on humiliation at a much earlier age. A stroll through any girls' department these days will reveal aisles of unrelieved pink froth and Spandex, and your only choice is spangles or not so many spangles. And apparently they like it. I would have died.

So I guess my aversions made me a tomboy, except that I couldn't run, climb, throw, fish, or do anything else in the tomboy canon except fall down, scrape skin off myself, and feel squirmy in my Sunday best. I was a happy little girl, Mommy's sugar plum, and I was fine just the way I was. Until I got to junior high school, and learned that I was not fine just the way I was. In fact, I wouldn't do at all. There would have to be some big changes made. When cheese goes through the grater, it all comes out the same way, and if I didn't want to be a little autistic cheese molding on the back shelf, I would have to press into that metal, even if it hurt.

I hesitated at the door to adulthood, as though it held a gibbet. I was only eleven, but I could see my future clear as a teardrop: to step forward was to step away from my authentic self. It was going to take guile, and trickery, and concealment, and a little more money than I had. One day I blurted out to the prettiest and nicest girl in school that I didn't want to grow up, and she said she didn't either. But I didn't want to have to do it. I just had to do it.

I wasn't very good at it. Fortunately a few years later the flower-child era was ushered in to match my budget, and I got by on jeans and work shirts and too much eye-makeup, which my parents did not approve of. They thought it made me seem like a whore, but it didn't. It was the sex that did that. The makeup did look dreadful. I only have eight eyelashes and it takes a herd of mascara to get them to show up. Plus, my eyes are tiny and set too close together, which is not what you really want to draw attention to. There was always the option of painting the outside corners to show where my eyes should be, but the effect is much like what the City gets when it spray-paints around the little potholes it doesn't have enough money to fill in yet.

I carved out a tiny social niche and had just enough self-assurance by my senior year to recognize the opportunity to quit wearing makeup when I went off to college. Women think they look like hell without makeup, and they do, if you're used to seeing them in it and they show up without it one day, but if they never wear it they look just fine. So I went to college scrubbed up clean and haven't used any cosmetics since. I have to date saved $132,000 in spurned makeup, enough to have bought every child in Bolivia a heifer, but I spent it on beer instead.

The best thing is, I can see my authentic self again from here. It's a little scuffed up, but it's coming into view.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Big Dick--that's what he likes to be called--ushered the New Guy into the Situation Creation Room.

"Welcome to Operation Peg-Leg, the home of the R's. Everybody, this is the New Guy."

"Arrrr," everybody said, raising a hooked finger. The New Guy smiled. "So this is where the magic happens," he said, tentatively hooking his finger in response.

Big Dick swept his hand over the room. "As you can see, we're grouped into our constituencies--you've got your gun groups over there, your religious, etc., etc.," he said. A pair of Log Cabin Republicans waved from the most remote corner, behind a sneeze guard. "You're just in time to have a look at the latest material." Everyone turned to the big screen.

President Obama was speaking into a nest of microphones with an inner-city elementary school in the background. "We must make sure all our children, wherever they live, are given the attention they need to succeed, rich or poor, rural, or urban."

The New Guy frowned. "I don't know. That doesn't give us much to work with. It's hard to argue with. And he looks presidential."

The gang chuckled. "Show us some of that magic, Charlie," one said. Charlie poked away at a computer while the gang brought the New Guy up to date. "Ta-da," Charlie said, after a few minutes. The news clip was replayed.

Obama frowned into the microphones. "We must make...all our children...where...att-urban," he said. The New Guy's mouth dropped open.

"Whoa. Really? That's incredible. But it's all choppy. He looks like he's jerking around. Who's going to buy that?"

"'Jerking around,' or 'looking shifty?'" Big Dick said, slapping the New Guy on the back. "And hear this: there is nothing that can't be sold. Right, boys?"

"Arrrr," the boys agreed.

"Still," the New Guy said. "That doesn't seem fair."

Everyone in the room burst out laughing. "Oh my god, he's adorable," came a voice behind the sneeze guard, earning quelling stares all around.

"Don't be a child," Big Dick said. "Life is not fair. Look. We knocked down wages everywhere by shifting jobs out of the country, and we put the savings into our own pockets, and got the people to think it's the fault of the last two union workers left. And once we finish off the unions, there will be nothing to keep wages from hitting bottom. We invented credit derivatives and other things even we don't understand and sucked all the money out of the housing market, and got the people to think we need to get regulators off our back. We're sitting on the biggest pile of money since God hit the lottery and we got the people to think we shouldn't pay taxes, in case we start creating jobs, even though we've done just the opposite. And you want fair?"

"It's not that. But this--" the New Guy pointed at the screen--"it's not really true, is it? I mean, can we say that?"

"You want truth or you want the money? Can't have both. But don't worry. No one needs to tell a lie here. All we do is air the controversy on Fox. 'Some say Obama wants to make our children wear a turban. Sources in the White House are silent on the issue. If Obama truly does not have plans to compel our children to wear a turban, why has he not issued a forceful denial?' Like that. We can get three days out of that, easy. Then we send it over to our viral e-mail department."

"And that will do the trick?" the New Guy said, watching the new tape in a loop. As it became more familiar, the President was indeed starting to look more shifty than spastic. His eyes snapped back and forth. He didn't look trustworthy at all.

"Count on it. Between the erosion of critical thinking we've achieved by weakening our public schools and the deadening influence of reality TV, we've got over half the population unable to put together a coherent sentence. But they can click on 'forward' like nobody's business."

"That's the part I was wondering about, actually. I can see how we're driving the pro-life people to vote for us, and the anti-gay--sorry, guys--"

Sheepish grins and shrugs could be made out from behind the sneeze guard.

"--but how are we supposed to pick up the folks who are so dumb they can't even be bothered to go to the polls?"

"Everybody's got something that'll light a fire under them. And it's our job here to figure out what it is. Oh look--new grist for the milll," Big Dick said, turning back to the screen. Obama was speaking into a nest of microphones, the seal of the President majestic behind him.

"Make no mistake: we will swiftly institute a strong response to attacks by those intent on jihad on any of our friends and allies, including Turkey."

Charlie grinned and went to work. Members of the viral e-mail department looked over his shoulder, and then burst out laughing.

To: all

Its not enough for the Obamacrats to confiscate our guns and make us drive tiny underpowered cars and force us to wait ten months for heart surgery under little squiggly light bulbs. Hes really gone to far this time, take a look at the video if you can stand it, its right there in front of us, but the lamestream media dont want you to see it:


Forward this to everyone you know!