I'll say right off that I take exception to the entire list of deadly sins. According to the Catholic Church, the seven deadly sins are Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Pride, Lust, Runniness and Gelatitude, and all of them come with a handbasket, but I'm not buying it. Gluttony, for example, has no business in there at all. At its heart, gluttony is a simple appreciation of bounty. A simple, grossly-extended appreciation. And, like auto-erotic asphyxiation, which did not not even make the list, it shouldn't be deadly at all, unless you're doing it wrong. To worsen matters, gluttony is drawn to sloth as naturally as a cat to a keyboard, and that's counted as a deadly sin as well. It's not fair. It's like if you drop a man in the street with a bullet to the head and get charged with littering on top of murder.
Besides, it's not as if any of us set out in life to be gluttons. We set out in life intending to partake of the wonders of high-fructose corn syrup that God, in a roundabout way, provided us, and suddenly we're one partially hydrogenated fat molecule over the line into immoderation. Distribute that very same intake over several days or weeks and no one has a problem with it. So fundamentally it's a time-management issue.
A Deadly Sin can be venial or mortal. It all depends on how enthusiastic you are. An activity can be considered venial if you're really sorry about it, but if you're not, you might as well grease up and staple yourself to a Republican--you're going down.
I'm not going to make a big defense of Envy or Pride, but Gluttony is sweet. Gluttony is joy. And that's the meat of the issue right there: everything's cool as long as you're not enjoying yourself. Lust, for instance: a certain amount of it really helps with fruitful multiplication. The church approves of fruitful multiplication, and wants it to be accomplished with just enough lust and no more. This, it seems to me, could put a guy in a bind, which is one way to go about it, I guess. Basically, the good life is defined as one without joy, which makes Hell redundant at worst.
I'm a fan of gluttony. A huge fan. Both my sainted husband and I are, but I worry that an inattentive angel might nab me and leave him alone. Dave is not sainted because he puts up with me. Putting up with me is a joy ride every second of the way. He is sainted because he feeds me. In my theology, the road to beatification is paved with tater tots. And in the course of going for his Murrthly reward, Dave puts out a lot of really good food, and we both eat it. But when I put away a big steak dinner, you can still see it on my person, like a rat in a snake. There it is, right there in the middle--you can just about make out the horns and hooves, and the jiggly bits are gravy.
Dave, who eats like a spring bear, has, at sixty, flossable abs, a taut neck, and a natural resting cholesterol of minus fifty pudge units. All that can be detected of his steak dinner is the drone of his metabolism kicking into overdrive and a gaseous exhaust. There is no evidence on his long, lean frame that he has ever hoovered anything. Apropos of nothing, murder is not one of the deadly sins.
"Not really. There is nothing in this world safer than a velociraptor I'm chunking a rock at." It's a fact. Nobody stands behind me in horseshoes without a helmet. I don't always let go in time. The velociraptor in question leapt straight up to the wall and sneered at me before vanishing. It was beautiful; even I could see that.
"I guess you're not a velociraptor person," he said. "I love them."
"I do too. I've got one myself. She stays inside. And there's nothing I like better than a good velociraptor video like the one where they're playing patty-cake. OMG."
"I'd never keep mine in. It's not fair to them. They want to be outside."
"Yes. They do. And I want to share a pint of ale and a blanket on the moors with Liam Neeson."
"They made me promise at the Humane Society that I'd keep my velociraptor indoors, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Hey, I'm doing them a favor. I gave him a home."
"And a yard. Two, counting mine," I said, flinging a velociraptor turd out of my pea patch. No one should stand next to me when I'm doing that. I don't always let go in time. "Thanks a heap. Hey. I'd be okay with the turds and all, but do you have any idea how many birds they destroy?"
"I don't like that," my neighbor admitted. "But they're only doing what comes naturally. It's not their fault."
"That's right. It's yours. Because you're letting them outside to do it. You thought, 'look at my sleek, agile, athletic, adorable little pet killing-machine from the Cretaceous! Let's let it out and see what it can rip up!' It's a big deal, man. Domestic velociraptors take a huge toll on the songbird population. It's not minor. You, and everyone who feels the way you do, are introducing a completely unnatural predator into a world that has no defense for it, just because you think they're cool-looking and entertaining and they need to express themselves, even if they do it with their teeth and on birds. That's cruel."
"Unnatural? They've been around forever. I've had vellies my whole life."
"You're twenty-five. You think money has always come out of the side of a building. You think Cheetohs are food. You think I want to look at your underwear."
My neighbor looked hurt. "You don't?"
"It's lovely," I said after a pause. "Listen. They haven't been here forever. They started out barely scraping by in a little patch of desert in the Middle East. Songbirds have evolved no defense against them whatsoever. Pet 'raptors like yours polish them off at a rate of nearly a billion a year."
"Maybe the birds need to learn to adapt."
"Well, they are adapting, if you mean they're transforming themselves into velociraptor turds. We can wait and see if natural selection leaves us with nothing but a crew of grossly overweight vultures, or we could exercise some control over our pets. Look. It's illegal to kill a migratory bird. You wouldn't think of popping out in the back yard with a shotgun, but if you cut loose a spring-loaded double-barrel velociraptor with fixed bayonets, I suppose that's all fine and dandy?" My voice was rising.
"You're crazy," he said, backing away.
"I have a refrigerator just for beer," I retorted. My neighbor followed me inside. Beer goes good with a scolding. With most things, really.
"Doesn't your vellie want to be outside?"
"She thought she did, at first, but amazingly enough it was raining sideways from a garden hose every time she stuck a foot out. Horrible velociraptor weather, it was. She's had a whole new outlook since then. Now she runs around the house stalking moths and lint balls and sunbeams. The only thing she's missing is the tiara. She's ecstatic. Watch her roll over for a belly rub." My velociraptor flipped over and rumbled with enthusiasm, rear legs pedaling through the air.
"See, they would have stayed there in the desert, just eking out a living in the shadows, creeping out the antique Mesopotamians, but when people started farming and storing grain, it was like opening up a rodent diner for them, and they started hanging out. Murdering birds is just something they do for a hobby. They didn't make it over to this country until my ancestors hauled them over in the Mayflower. Bird murder, smallpox, religion--we totally hit the trifecta with my people. Anyway, no reason we have to make it any worse than it is."
"Well--I never thought about it. Maybe my next velociraptor can stay indoors."
"Maybe this one, too, at least during nesting season. Think you can handle that for a month or so?"
My neighbor looked uncomfortable. "He'll be pretty annoying."
I bobbled my hands. "Annoying? Massacre. Annoying? Massacre. It's a puzzler, all right."
Dave strolled up as my neighbor shambled home.
"I see you're proselytizing again. You know, you keep this up and we won't have any friends left."
"Sure we will. We still have beer and a pickup truck. We'll never be lonely."
"Just because people learn about velociraptors being introduced predators, it doesn't mean they're going to change their ways."
"It might. I did."
"As I've had opportunity to observe several times a day, you're not normal. Nobody's going to change just because you ask them to. People don't change."
"I'm not so sure. Twenty years ago you never could have convinced me people would pick up iguanodon poop in a baggie, either."
It's coming up on Memorial Day, the day Portlanders traditionally begin to think about putting out their tomato starts in a few weeks, say, early June, which is our name for early July. At least the old-timers do. Newer immigrants have had their tomatoes out since the official date of the last expected frost, April 15th, and there they remain, precisely the same size a month and a half later, unchanged except for a morose aspect. By Memorial Day the plants will be overcome by gloom. Word might be getting out, however. Nurseries report a decline in tomato-start sales over the same period last year. Upon further analysis, it turns out that the people who believe they can grow a tomato before June in Portland are the very same people who believe the world will end on the 21st of May. We'll miss them.
Nothing says "summer" like a tomato. They are born of heat; their very flavor recalls barbecues and beer, muffin-tops, shot-off fingers and the disturbance of the peace. Here in the Willamette Valley, too, even the smell of a tomato is evocative. We bite into its luscious flesh, seeds and juice streaming down our chins, and close our eyes--it speaks to us. It says "five minutes before winter." It says "time to put the studded tires on." There's nothing like it. We quiver with anticipation as they begin to blush during the World Series. Tomatoes are Red Sox fans, too.
It would be swell to have them ripen a little earlier, and plenty of people try to make it happen. Heat is the key. We throw everything we have at it: black mats and heating pads and the Wall O' Water and hair dryers and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, just upriver. Even the neighborhood cats get in on the action, rumpling up the soil and depositing something warm, but it's no use. We plant varieties like Early November Girl or Beefmaybe, anything advertising a ripening time of 65 days or better, and they're as good as their word. The problem, of course, is that the 65 days are not necessarily consecutive.
There's even talk of giving them a little boost with artificial growth hormones, but that's a chancy proposition. No one wants a repeat of the recent exploding watermelon fiasco; on the other hand, their use in chickens did jumpstart the nugget industry.
We're a sweet and silly bunch, we Portland tomato growers, a group that is all too easy to make fun of, but I salute this cadre of groundless optimists, disdaining the easy pleasures of this modern world and looking forward to our dubious harvest. We plant--yea, even unto the end of the driveway, with prayer, faith, reverence, and a little lime and eggshells, and bless our gullible hearts, we patiently await the rapture. Bacon and lettuce at the ready.
Dave snores. It's not so bad. Mostly it's just one big chainsaw outburst after a nice six- or seven-minute interval during which he does not breathe at all. It's called sleep apnea, and it wouldn't be a problem except for that danger of death thing. There's supposed to be a significant increase of mortality among people with sleep apnea, although no one mentions that dying in your sleep is pretty much the ideal way of going about it, and besides, how do they know the apnea got them? If they just notice people die after they haven't breathed in a while, that could be dang near anything. Anyway, right after I diagnosed this condition off the internet, and put in ten or fifteen years of nagging, Dave went in for a sleep study. He was worried about it because he has trouble sleeping and he couldn't imagine that being wired up in a strange bed was going to be conducive to dropping off. But it wasn't a problem. They just drugged him right up and out he went. He concluded that the reason he had trouble sleeping was no one had given him the cool drugs before, and thought that should solve the whole thing, but they weren't going for it. Surprisingly enough, they also decided he didn't have apnea, or at least badly.
So now I'm putting what I thought was apnea in the same category as Other Odd Metabolic Metrics Of Dave. For instance, he has a pulse of around seventy beats an hour, his cholesterol is below zero (he eats so much butter the fatty deposits slide right out of his bloodstream), his blood pressure indicates his circulatory system is more of a puddle, and he requires little oxygen while sleeping, shutting down like a frog in ice. At any rate, I've quit worrying about the snoring. It was never as impressive as that other noise he makes from time to time while asleep, a high-pitched high-decibel ripping volcanic blast that causes regiments to leap out of bed and stand at attention, and wood-chippers and leaf-blowers to revere him as a god. I am, as regular readers know, far too much of a lady to divulge the source of this phenomenon, but it is world-class.
He claims I snore, too, enough to ripple wallpaper and make the shades go up and down and change the channels on the TV in the next room, but he is given to hyperbole. My main problem while asleep is that I am a fountain of drool. I wake up several times a night to discover the lower half of my face has gone slack, sprung its elastic and sprawled over the pillow. And since I am primarily a stomach-sleeper, this means I am waking up with one cheek and nostril in the Atlantic Ocean. I roll to the other side and plant the other cheek in the Pacific. There's no escaping it.
I didn't always drool. It started on a specific day, the day I had my lower wisdom teeth sawed out of my face at age sixteen. Dr. Mengele recommended I press tea bags to my gums if the bleeding was a problem, but I was unable to fit that many tea bags in my mouth. The bleeding went on undiminished for a good four days, during which time my digestive system had time to come up with a new plan for the hours I was asleep, and drooling was a central component. This became the default plan, and I probably can't undo it without duct-taping my mouth shut, and that makes me nervous. Sure as shit, some rapist would pick that night to pop by.
It's not a minor amount, either. I lose a pound every night, and it's a pound of drool. There's enough DNA there to connect me to fifty years of felonious activity. If I die and enough people decide they miss Murrmurrs and want to bring me back, this is the first place they should look for cloning material. It won't even be dry yet.
A local woman is suing a tanning salon for allowing her naked body to be seen by passersby on the sidewalk. In its defense, the salon points out that there is a teeny little sign in the room indicating she might want to lower the blinds. The woman stated that she naturally assumed, when she walked into the room and began to take off her clothes, that the large plate-glass window to the sidewalk was one-way glass. One would think she would have been tipped off by the bleachers set up street-side and the popcorn concession. Also the area set aside for the biology class field trip, where they hoped to observe the leatherization process.
These should have been red flags for the tanner, but we are dealing with someone who is willing to pay thirteen bucks a session to get a nice even start to the cancer season.
Lots of time and money is spent to remodel skin tones in this country. Michael Jackson may have spent the most, when he came down with a particularly virulent form of mythical impetigo and had no recourse but to try to get the patches to coalesce. He and the tanners have in common an urge to acquire an even skin tone, whatever the cost, as long as it isn't the original even skin tone.
I suppose I could do it too, but I don't like to part with cash for items not related to food and alcohol. If I did want an even skin tone, it would be difficult to choose which of the dozens of colors already in evidence on my body to go with. As it is, the best I can do is take an average.
Some of the spots need looking at. I developed an odd bump on my arm that stuck around long enough for me to make an appointment with my dermatologist. He was two months out, of course, and the bump had finally disappeared by the time the appointment rolled around, but I kept it anyway, because I believe it cheers up my dermatologist to stare at my skin. Then he gets out his freeze spray and kills portions of it more or less at random. I always try to get him to remove the mole on my eyebrow but he won't do it, even when I tell him it's getting bigger. The first time I said that, he put dots around it with a Sharpie and took a Polaroid of it so as to be able to get a baseline measurement of my veracity. He did not remove the ink, or remind me to, and I went around the rest of the day with bright punctuation around my mole in case anyone missed it. Dermatologists get a huge kick out of themselves. This last time I reported it had gotten so large that you could see the movement of the elbows of the alien life-form it contained, but he still put it down as a cosmetic procedure, not covered by insurance. My mole was so delighted by this that it petitioned the city for basic infrastructure and drew up plans for expansion. My dermatologist is correct; I have had this mole all my life, but I know it didn't used to cast a shadow.
Other things change too. In the last ten years various segments of my body have decided, all on their own, to change color and texture, and you've got to admire that kind of initiative. In fact, I'm festooned with dots and lesions. I've got perfect camouflage for hiding naked in a vat of Skittles, should the need arise. I know they make pots of face spackle in any shade I might desire, but I don't plan to invest in any. My plan is to just stick with what I've got and then sue people for staring.
I'm informed that every little girl wants to be a princess and have a fairy-tale wedding, so it must be true, even though I don't recall thinking about my wedding at all as a child, and only wanted a puppy, and was scandalized when that girl in my fourth-grade class wearing the pink tulle frothy princess outfit won Best Halloween Costume even though I had a neat flannel leopard suit that I had not yet peed in. I might have been unclear about the whole marriage thing at that age anyway. I remember thinking how lucky I was that my parents found each other because the pool of Brewsters is so small. It didn't occur to me that my mother would have started out with a whole 'nother name and toss it aside like yesterday's paper.
I assumed I'd be married some day because that's what happened to everybody, but I didn't spend any time thinking about the particulars. As I got older and passed through the hippie filter, I abandoned the idea of marriage altogether. Then I married a man who also assumed he would never marry--that's one of the things we had in common. I picked him out of thousands, which was possible back in that sliver of time between the advent of birth control and HIV. Actually, we snapped each other up off the bargain table. Neither one of us looked like a good deal at the time, but we gave each other a good seven-year test run, and had gotten used to the rough bits. We gave it a shot.
That was 27 years ago. Our wedding, miraculously, was much like the royal affair the world has just witnessed. I wore white; that was a fairy tale right there. Dave rented a tux and didn't change into his "Just Murred" tee-shirt for hours. There weren't a lot of hats, but Patty from the Hourglass Tavern did wear her dress sweats. The crowd heavily favored postal employees and bricklayers, which just about defines "common folk." The mood was ebullient and the vows were punctuated by the popping of beer cans among those who had brought their own to tide them over until the kegs were tapped at 2 p.m.
We soon had four kegs of beer going in the back of our 1969 International Harvester pickup with the ice blown in. Festivities included volleyball, and the "sack toss," wherein people took turns trying to lob a rubber-banded bundle of mail into a standing mail sack, and William and Kate would have done that too if they'd thought of it. We also had a race between two postal employees in which the starter pistol was replaced by an M-80, which was so loud that the contestants froze paralyzed on the starting line. Even with all the money gambled on the outcome, and even though mailmen were involved, nobody had predicted "none" as the winner.
The woman who was in charge of the venue--let's call her Adolph--had assured us that it was ours till midnight, if need be, but she personally had bet on us being out of there by four o'clock, and took some pains to see that happen, directing that all our food be wrapped up and taken away, not realizing that this group wasn't going to leave until the beer was gone. That indirectly led to the most striking resemblance between our wedding and the royal do: the attendance of a uniformed regiment. Somewhere around ten p.m., Adolph seized my arm and declared, furious, that one of my guests had just flashed her, and that the party was over. This didn't seem to be beyond the realm of possibility, but the event she was referring to was somewhat less dramatic. She had shut down the restroom in the hopes that that would make people go home, and was busy hanging up a sign when Leroy, who was next in line for the throne, showed up. "This toilet is broken," she informed him, and he informed her that he was a contractor (do NOT mess with a blue-collar crowd) and could maybe fix it; whereupon he gave it a test flush, everything looked just fine, and he said (again) he was now going to use the toilet, and she could watch if she really wanted to. She must have, because she reported back to me immediately.
Anyway, it wasn't long after that than a contingent of Portland's finest arrived with lights flashing (a theme) and encouraged everyone to leave, and Dave and I repaired to the honeymoon suite at the Marriott with a couple of our wedding gifts: a platter of chocolate Grand Marnier strawberries and a dab of cocaine. We were royally hammered. A good time was had, if not remembered, by all.
The world cheered, got drunk, rolled its eyes, and blew things up this week at the news that Osama bin Laden may or may not have been killed by U.S. special forces or somebody else in a firefight involving helicopters rumored in any case to be black. He was killed along with, in back of, or near a woman whom he was using as a shield, or just using, who may have been a wife, a whole different wife, or a direct descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Mr. bin Laden is most often associated with the destruction of the twin towers in New York City, operating with trusted colleagues of his own for the glory of Allah, or with the corporate overlords of U.S. industry in conjunction with the ruling regime in Washington bent on control of oil-producing countries, using either fuel-laden aircraft or controlled demolition devices and missiles. His body was identified using DNA "evidence," quickly denounced as fraudulent on its face by young-Earth believers, and phantom photographs. Reports persist that he is still at large, singing and swiveling his hips, and holed up in a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan, inside the Pakistan border, or in a secret bunker in Washington D.C. playing cribbage with Vince Foster. Opinion varies, but most agree with skeptics who have debunked the grainy images of bin Laden holding a current newspaper while stepping out of the Apollo moon lander, who point out that the wires in the original faked photographs are still visible.
Putative President Obama, in what is widely seen as a ploy to deflect attention from his possible Muslim faith, speaking either alone at a microphone or with the aid of instructions funneled to him via brain implants by his own handlers in Africa where he may or may not have been born fifty years ago, made the announcement at the White House while a crowd gathered outside on a grassy knoll. Elements of the vast right-wing conspiracy were uncharacteristically silent, fueling suspicion that they are in fact a clever shadow organization for the world-wide consortium of Jewish bankers. Meanwhile, a small but vocal contingent in Roswell, New Mexico deplored the news as an attempt to divert attention from the real threat.
All is on the up and up, according to administration spokesman J. Edgar Piltdown who, fingering a magnetic bracelet, snorting powdered tiger penis and anticipating an excellent evening, assured the press that God is on our side, in a rare point of agreement with the Muslim brotherhood, although the descriptions and location of the Almighty vary, and He has once again declined to comment. Most other Washington insiders are content to take Obama at his word, except for Justice Thomas, who has his doubts. Confirmation of the official version of events is not expected until a tally of tweets and chain emails is complete and an analysis is made of exclamation-point density. Polls show Americans are reassured that the story has been vetted by a guy who used to bowl with General Petraeus's manicurist's husband. Mr. bin Laden's body, or the like, has indeed been buried at sea, which is either warming due to human activity, or isn't.
They've got this genetic test they can do now so you can find out if your child is likely to excel in athletics. This test is particularly useful if your own observational skills are meager. They look for some kind of gene marker for speed and springiness. You can swab the inside of your child's cheek and send in the DNA to the testing lab and for $160 they'll let you know if he's got potential for zip and is just being lazy, or if you should plan to spend the next eighteen years rolling him over on the sofa to prevent sores.
I suppose this kind of information helps parents with their day-to-day child micromanagement. With one tissue-culture they can find out if they should be pushing the soccer drills and saving up for a genuine Rumanian coach, or just buy the kid a clarinet and hope for something better next time.
My parents would have had it easy collecting my DNA, because I move slow and drool. But it would have been a giant waste of time. Testing me for athletic prowess would be like thumping a bowling ball for ripeness. I've never had any skills. If I were ever to excel in an Olympics, it would have to be a special one just for me, featuring trudge-scotch, stationary jumprope, tether-feather, and Red Light Red Light. One thing that was probably a plus for my mother was that she only needed to check on my whereabouts every half hour or so, because I couldn't have gotten far.
It was awful in grade school. Every day at recess the two kids who usually got to be captains chose their teams, and it always got down to me and the kid with flippers. I didn't feel bad for myself. I had no part of my self-worth tied up in sports ability, but I felt sorry for the captains. I wouldn't have picked me either. They'd stand there, shifting their weight from foot to foot, all anguished, and finally one would say "oh, I guess I'll take him," and the flippered kid would hitch on over, and the remaining captain would close his eyes in resignation.
I was exciting to watch in softball games, although it put the coach on edge. If I was on second base, there was always the possibility the batter would lap me before I made it home, and technically you're not supposed to score the fourth run before the third. I read an article about the genetic differences between good athletes and us more torpid specimens, and took some comfort in it. It turns out that muscles are made up of slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers. "So the sprinters naturally have a greater proportion of quick-twitch muscle strands," I read to Dave. He looked at me and said, eschewing the minced word, "you don't have any of those."
He has plenty. He runs bases like he's an electron, and it's a good thing, too, because the boy has a mouth on him. I, on the other hand, have had to develop my powers of ingratiation. Pokiness helps hone a sense of humor. You might be just as mean and opinionated as the next guy, but if you can manage to be adorable about it, people let you get away with stuff.
So I can't see my parents shelling out for a genetic test for athletic ability. I can see them watching me execute a crumpled cartwheel or throwing a ball at my own feet and thinking: maybe she can draw.