Saturday, September 29, 2012

It Keeps Going Up

Known Universe Segment, With Helium
Turns out we have a giant underground Helium Reserve in Texas. I wouldn't have thought we needed one, since I hear helium is the second-most abundant element in the known universe. It also seems unnecessary to use the term "known universe" in a sentence. You don't make statements like "there are barely a hundred Northern hairy-nosed wombats left in the world, as far as we know, although we're not ruling out that there are other worlds out there made entirely out of Northern hairy-nosed wombats." That second bit just doesn't need to be said. Just talk about the stuff you know.

Particle physicists, though, talk like that all the time. They like to distinguish between the "known universe" and all the other ones we don't know, but have suspicions about. "There might be a universe tucked right alongside of this one like the little tissue paper inside a wedding invitation," one particle physicist will say, "but we don't know how to prove it."

"Unless we can find snorbits," the other particle physicist says. "Or evidence of snorbits."

Possible Snorbit
"Snorbits would totally prove the existence of the tissue-paper universe," agrees the first, and everyone does a bunch of math, and then they all go off to develop giant underground particle accelerators meant to discover the frumigated, sidelong, or common yellow snorbit, or its poop. Then they go to parties with other particle physicists, because no one else ever invites them.

But let's just leave them be, and go back to helium being the second most-abundant element in the universe, which we're going to go ahead and call The Universe. Why would we need a repository? Well, it turns out that most of the universe is a really long drive from here. And here, we don't have all that much helium. So we have a repository in Texas. Great place for one. In Texas, where the official position is that global warming is a hoax, they've had a horrible long drought and have had to drill deeper and deeper for antique groundwater, and the rock layers they're pulling the water out of are beginning to collapse. Judiciously placed helium caves could well keep things propped up on the surface so that everybody's bowling balls still roll regular.

The Helium Reserve was set up in 1949, and until the Helium Stewardship Act was passed recently, it was set to shut down soon, but now they're allowed to sell helium beyond 2015. This, says the bill's sponsor, will prevent disruption of the helium supply, and if it were shut down, it would distort the helium market, possibly giving it mouse ears. I'm not sure how running through our reserves of a limited resource is going to stabilize anything, but that seems to be the way we officially roll.

Like many of you, I assumed we could recycle our helium just by retrieving all the balloons that are bumping along the crusty layer of satellite shrapnel and other space debris on our planet ceiling, but we can't, because it's too far away and they aren't actually there. The helium has floated off into the known universe where they don't really need any more, and the balloons have fallen back to earth where they are eagerly ingested by sea birds and turtles, who mistake them for jellyfish, at their peril. Party balloons are pretty much the least important use for helium, after things like MRIs and snorbit research. Maybe, given that helium prices are going nowhere but up, we could all learn to settle for unambitious balloonery, instead of squandering our helium on remote turtle murder devices. 'Kay?

Much obliged to reader Kendra Nissley for alerting me to the helium shortage.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Still Ambulatory, Thank You

Extra friendly.
Dave and I like to tromp mountains. Lately the hikers we meet have seemed extra friendly. We happened on a young couple recently who were Pacific Crest through-hikers, and they couldn't stop smiling at us. Later I realized why. Oh look, Jason! Old people! They're adorable, and so ambulatory!

For years I've come upon those wonderful old ladies on the trail myself, with their sensible haircuts, sun hats, wrinkled brown knees, and walking-sticks, and I've thought: I hope I can be that cool some day. I hope I don't spend too much time mourning my waning youth.

Thank you all very much for pointing it out, and right you are: my youth is all waned out already. So how pathetic is it to cling to advanced middle age? It's not like I haven't always known that I didn't have it in me to forestall any of this. I haven't even worn makeup since I was sixteen. I'd never be able to justify cosmetic surgery, with the world in the shape it's in and so many in need. Beer, sure. Surgery, no.

Earlier Murr, with Linda
I suspected that the transition from reasonably presentable middle-age to saggy old batdom would be a painful replay of the anxiety of adolescence, when I allotted ungodly amounts of time to my hair and strove to come up with a passable wardrobe on a Lerner's budget. As it turns out, time does not march in rhythm: it lurches and staggers. One day your face is baby-butt smooth, and the next morning you have sprouted an inch-long bristle borrowed from the snout of a boar. I was just forty when I first noticed my neck wobble. It was a Tuesday. I sturdied it up, jutting my chin toward the mirror, until the vision was forgotten, only to find my cat entertaining herself by sitting in my lap and batting my neck back and forth that very night. Most people get a little more time for their denial. Things really started to slide after that. I made my accommodations as I had to, but I didn't feel gracious about it. Something, I felt, needed to be done, but old hippie girls don't have a lot of tools in their kits. When our outside age doesn't match our inside age, there's nothing we can do. We're not even allowed to mourn. We've got the baggy cotton dress and a well-rehearsed look of faux serenity, and that's about it.

Then, quite recently, I turned my attention to other things for a couple weeks--weeding, writing, writhmetic--and then I glanced in the mirror as I was stepping into the shower and FWOMP: there it was. Certifiable, unmistakable, readily identifiable old-lady's body, right there. Textbook case. Little draperies hanging off the armpits, muscle tone out the window, dimples in a doughy shoulder, and pleats of flesh dangling like flounders under the shoulder-blades. Meanwhile, around front, the balloons on the parade stand were now hanging off the platform like bunting. It was riveting. It was such a sudden and complete transition that I couldn't even take it personally. I'd seen it before, on Senior Day in the shower at the Y, on old women who had already traveled beyond the trivial concerns of vanity. And there it was in my very own bathroom mirror. I was actually able to regard it with something like affection, mentally accessorizing with a sun hat and walking-stick.

Well, that's over with, I thought, and was left with only a few questions: how much value should be given to physical beauty in our modern culture? How important is it to face one's own mortality? And, where does the Michelin Man buy his pants?
When all else fails, keep your arms in the air.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Sir Larry" Might Have Worked

Mr. Cameron's Larry
Big news. The British Prime Minister's cat, Larry, was spotted recently posing with a dangling rodent at the door of 10 Downing Street, thus fulfilling the destiny for which he had been chosen many months before. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, had hoped that his new cat Larry would contend with the mouse problem in his residence, which leads to a number of questions: why was Larry posted outside to get mice? Who cares about outdoor mice? Does the Prime Minister have a silo in need of protection? You wouldn't see the royal family getting all het up about outdoor mice, unless there was some way they could breed tiny beagles to send after them. You can take one look at Queen Elizabeth and you can tell she isn't going to fall apart if a mouse runs over her pumps. Not her daughter Anne, either. Prince Charles, maybe. And the second question: who the hell is David Cameron? Didn't they just have another Prime Minister? I thought I knew this stuff. As an American, I'm not expected to keep up. I don't even have to pass a civics test on my own country. But I did make an effort, and for extra credit I even learned the correct pronunciation of his name in his native tongue, thanks to the BBC broadcasts on public radio: Tony Bleah. Now all of a sudden we need a David Cameron? Can't anything stay the same for five minutes? It's as bad as Canada. Canada once had a perfectly good prime minister, or premier, or prefect, or whatever they call them: Pierre Trudeau. Sure, that was a hundred years ago, but what's the point of swapping them out all the time? They've got a new one now, and none of my northern friends are happy with him, which troubles me. How hard can it be? It's Canada. Keep the snow plowed, take regular reports from the Moose Registry and the Maple Ministry, and the rest of it you can phone in.

Anyway, Larry the cat finally came up with a mouse after six months on duty. I guess if you absolutely must put your cat outdoors, and I hope none of you do, it's just as well he's a crappy hunter. I could have predicted he wouldn't have been an all-star. It's the name. My first cat's name was also Larry. And Larry was no mouser. She was a pretty good mother, though. No, she didn't have kittens, but she could take down moths like nobody's business, as long as they kept beaning themselves on the light bulb and she had all night to do it. And like any good Mother, she'd eat the moths, which must have been like snacking on a tiny dryer sheet.

She was darn near hopeless with mice. I've got nothing against mice as a species but I'd rather they stayed outdoors. Unfortunately, we do get a share of them inside during the winter, and they particularly like to hang out in the dishwasher. Our dishwasher mice, our maggot pies, and our flair for expressive gastric disturbances have all done a fine job of thinning out our chronic guest infestations, but we still have the mice. When I'd discover a mouse in the dishwasher, I'd get Larry over to have a look. She was all over it. One mouse confined to a two-foot box and Larry still couldn't nab it.

What she would do was lock her nose onto the last place she saw a mouse, say, behind the refrigerator, and then there was no unlocking her. Mice could roar by her butt like they were on the way to the Sturgis Rally and she would not remove her nose from the refrigerator. Pull her away and try to fling her in the direction of an actual mobile mouse and she'd hit the floor and snap back to her previous position like she was spring-loaded. People aren't any different. Tell a bunch of people that some immigrant or a union guy is making off with all the money they deserved to have themselves, and they'll snap their noses right behind that refrigerator looking for the straw man for years on end, all the while the fat cats are siphoning off their jobs and their pensions and their benefits right behind their backs.

My Larry had patio privileges as an old lady.
So what I'm saying is, Larry is not a good name for a cat, if you want it to be a mouser.

I guess what happens in other places that are not America is you have a parliamentary system, and you get to vote for an entire gang, and then the gang gets in office and its leader gets to be Prime Minister. That's also the system we have in our house. Dave and I can vote as hard as we want, but we're outnumbered by the mice. The mice always win. Their prime minister can do a pirouette for a half hour on the flatware rack, but his term is safe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In God We Bluster

I have it on good authority that what America needs is jobs, jobs, jobs. And Mitt Romney knows where they are, are, are, but it's kind of a secret. So it's probably true, although I would argue that not just any jobs jobs jobs will do. For instance, we could totally employ a huge number of people to hand-dig us a mass grave that we can then all jump in, but that doesn't make it a good idea. Not even if Exxon Mobil and Arch Coal say it is. They've been mistaken about things before.

So one reason to vote for Romney is because he knows where the jobs jobs jobs are, and he has a plan for the economy. To wit, he, for one, is not going to tamper with the little bumpy bits on our coins. He is not only not going to remove God from our money, he is going to make sure He is right on the faces and not on the edges. This is big. I can almost feel the engine of commerce rumbling back to life. God has, of course, been on our coins even during the great recession, but He's got to be breathing a sigh of relief knowing His real estate isn't about to be yanked out from under Him. God didn't move into the paper-currency neighborhood until 1957. At that time, I was four years old and not all that productive, but sure enough ten years later I was pulling down fifty cents an hour for babysitting, so I know it works.

It's certainly a timely declaration of policy, because those coins have been carrying God around for over seventy years now, and He could slip off at any time. He's also parked in the Pledge of Allegiance and has resisted attempts to pry Him out. So far.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 as a spare and sprightly little number, just something to dash off before your 'rithmetic drills, and it has gotten good and baubled up ever since, with one outfit after another hanging more and more trinkets off of it. By the time I learned it, it had gotten pudgy enough to require long pauses to prop it up with. Many people think that there is nothing about a simple statement that can't be improved by larding it up with more words. So the original "I pledge allegiance to my flag" became "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America" because someone fretted that little immigrant Irish kids might get confused over which specific flag required their loyalty. And later, in my lifetime, someone pasted in "under God" after the "one nation" part, in order to clear up any confusion that we were godless commies, which we by God were not. Well then. Now we've got a pledge stout enough to puff out the little chests we laid our little ten-year-old hands on. We didn't used to lay our hands on our chests, but times change. When Francis Bellamy got the ball rolling, schoolchildren raised their arms straight out toward the flag, palms down, but that little salute got the heave-ho in 1942 after Adolf Hitler ruined it, and the little hyphen mustache, for all eternity.

Theodore Roosevelt objected to putting God on our coins because  he thought, with some biblical justification, that it was sacrilegious to put the name of God on money, but modern Republicans recognize that it just makes money that much easier to worship. In God We Trust has thus become the official motto of the United States, replacing E Pluribus Unum (pluribus being Latin for "the 99%").

Nevertheless, some people still get upset about God being all over our money and our pledge, but a ruling in the sixties held that these practices were protected as "acts of ceremonial deism," which means that the rote repetition of the whole business has rendered it insignificant from a religious standpoint. Which is true: atheists still feel the prick of the word every time, like a splinter under the skin, but no one else really hears it anymore. So, legally, it is a meaningless enterprise that Romney is defending so fervently.

But times, as noted before, change, and the threat of commies has been superseded by multiple threats, from Islamists to scientists, so the pledge may be due for another implant:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, the real one who created the whole world and the sky and everything six thousand years ago and just try to get your other gods to pull off something like that, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, as long as you have photo ID.

Holy shit.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

And So Flaky, Too

It's pie season around here again and I'm gathering all my ingredients, but I usually run out of something. Flour, patience. You come up short a half cup of patience and it's liable to make all your pies damp, scabby and airborne. It probably doesn't help with the patience supply that it's election season, but unless I make all my pies in January of an odd-numbered year I'm just going to have to soldier on. I am writing this post in advance of actually putting the pies together, because afterwards I will be drinking strenuously, which affects my computer screen.

I bake all my pies and freeze them. Some people freeze them unbaked. I didn't know which was better so I Googled it. The first eight articles that came up contradicted each other. The only thing they all agree on is that the pies are good in the freezer for "up to four months." I have eaten pies that have been in the freezer for three years. They tasted great. Know why? They're pie. I am already pre-aggravated because I'm about to start making pie, and I find it aggravating that there's no consensus on this. If any of you have any great tips on freezing pies, keep them to yourself.

There are several pie crust recipes I've been known to use, the tastiest of which is Mary Ann's famous hazelnut crust, which I use exclusively for the huckleberry pies on account of their preciousness. It takes hours to pick enough fish-egg-sized berries for one pie in a good year, and this is not a good year. Mary Ann and I went up to the mountain to pick and ended up lurching across ravines and through stickery bush patches just because we thought we saw a bush with three berries on it the size of mouse eyes. We put in five hours and I think I'll have enough for a single pie if I don't filter out the fir needles, spiders, and deer poop. The good news is, that means I only need to roll out two hazelnut crusts this year. You can seriously run down your serenity stash with a hazelnut crust.

So, for the other pies, I've decided to go with good ol' Mom's pie crust recipe. It, at least, gets me in a good mood to begin with. It's typed on a yellowed piece of notebook paper and pasted into my recipe book. Mom typed five thousand words a minute and, most years, didn't get her first typo until mid-May. So there are no typos in this recipe. It's called "Foolproof Piecrust," which is more alarming to me than reassuring. With a mind for provenance, Mom typed at the top "From Woman's Day 11/74" and "Bobbie sent it to me." From this I conclude it isn't her original pie crust recipe from my childhood, but I won't know the difference, because I was a picky eater and never tried  her pie. I didn't think I'd like it because it didn't look like cake. When I finally ate Mom's apple pie as an adult, I wondered if a person could eat retroactive pie.

Foolproof Piecrust is made with vegetable shortening. So it's easier to make now because of one of the great modern inventions: Crisco in stick form. When I first started making pie, I'd have to come up with 3/4 cups shortening by filling a measuring cup with 1/4 cup water and blobbing in spoonfuls of Crisco  until the water comes up to the one-cup mark, then pouring out the water. This was how it was taught to me in Home Ec (for you young people, this is the course in which you learn how to make a gingham apron, a cheeseball, and how to apply makeup, but you still won't know how to make an ashtray or an end table). It results in slimy hands, watery shortening, and another slice out of your serenity, and it still won't be accurately measured. The Crisco sticks eliminate all that. They come in individual plastic tubs that will swirl around in the ocean for millions of years, but I never said I was a perfect liberal.

It also calls for a large egg. I have never seen a recipe that calls for any other size egg. And I never have known whether they want an egg graded Large or if they want a large egg. After all, there are Extra Large and Jumbo eggs, and those are really large. Today, it doesn't matter. I only have a Medium egg, so  in it goes. Already I am challenging the Foolproof part. And I resent it. Why should the success of my pies have to depend on the embouchure of a chicken sphincter?

The Foolproof Piecrust claims to make enough crust for 2-1/2 to 3 double-crust pies. Mom typed this at the bottom:

"Mommie's notes: I probably roll mine extra thin, but I get enough for five double-crust pies." Holy shit, Mom.

The only reason a person could successfully roll out and transfer pie crust thin enough to read the directions through is that that person is pure of heart and full of goodness. I'll never be able to do it. But thanks, Mom, for reminding me every year why I loved you so much.

September 7 would have been my mommy's 99th birthday. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The End Of The Road

There are only a few reliable ways to tell the childish from the mature. One way used to be whether or not you wet your pants, but overmaturity has sort of erased that distinction. So we're left with whether or not you look forward to bedtime. And whether you read all the comics in the funny pages.

When I was little, the comics section was the only thing I read in the paper. On Sundays I'd sprawl out on the floor with the full-color version. I hit every strip. Even Rex Morgan and Mary Worth and Apartment 3-G. Some of them were antiques even then, like Gasoline Alley. There was a little bald boy named Henry who spent most of his time spying pies on the windowsill, using hyphens to do it with. There was the Phantom, especially appealing on Sundays when his suit was revealed to be purple. There was also a Fun Page where you could draw the dog, or the man with the pipe, and send it in somewhere with your name and age, and you could win something, but I determined that contest to be fraudulent when I didn't win, twice. I don't suppose any of it did me any harm, though even as a little girl I absorbed the difference between Beetle Bailey's unfortunate Miss Blips, named after her inadequate titties, and Miss Buxley. It was easy enough to see what kind of woman you were supposed to want to be.

Somewhere along the line as an adult I recognized that every time I read Family Circus, a little part of me died. It was worse than just the feeling of having wasted five seconds of my life. It was as if it had taken a little divot out of my spirit. I no sooner read the caption than I felt regret. Not a lot, but a lifetime of tiny regret pangs, all added up, can lodge inside you something terrible. It's the spiritual equivalent of that low-level inflammation that is said to lead to heart failure. That time I spend reading Family Circus could have been spent staring blankly into space. Where a bird could have popped by. Or even an imaginary internal bird.

So I decided to take it off my roster. Already I wasn't reading every single comic strip. I had to train my eyes not to drift over to Family Circus, but muscle memory kept tripping me up. Half the time I'd forget and slide over and read the caption and lose another little soul divot. Finally I ingrained my new habit.

"Peanuts" still makes the cut. It was pretty reliable through the years, although the fact that it has been in reruns since 2000 and I never remember any of them from before is probably not a good sign. Still, it's inoffensive and gives the occasional chuckle, except when any of Snoopy's brothers are in it. You see a cactus in Peanuts, you're better off moving on down the page, but you never do. You just absorb that little disappointment and move on.

There have been many fine strips in my lifetime but four of them stand above the rest: Pogo, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and now, Cul de Sac. Nobody ever did anything like The Far Side before Gary Larson did it. Now everyone tries. One of the imitators, Close To Home, not only misses wide every time with the caption but is so poorly drawn that it leaves little stains on your retinas, and you have to scrub them out by reading Cul de Sac.

The reason I was not permanently damaged by the lesson of Miss Blips and Miss Buxley is that I was Alice, Alice in Cul de Sac, all along. Cul de Sac is coming to an end this month, because its creator is ill and can no longer keep it up. Dick Cheney is still clacking along with pig parts and machinery, but Richard Thompson is on the decline. A tree falls in the forest and it's just as likely the wrong person will be walking under it as the right one. There may be such a thing as justice in the world, but if so, it's something we've constructed. The universe has nothing to say about it.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Out Texting In Their Field

Great technological breakthrough in the field of, um, fields, wherein cows can now be fitted with a device that allows them to text their human caretakers, and it's just like you'd think: you can't imagine ever using such a thing, but once you have it, you're texting like crazy. A similar device is being used in sheep herds so that the sheep can advise the shepherd of marauding wolves and the like. This allows a degree of remote shepherding that really wasn't possible before. Shepherd gets a text that a wolf is in the fold and he can arrange for a horn blast to scare the wolf away, theoretically, although in practice if he manages to scare the wolf he is likely to find his entire herd with their feet up in the air in a slick of panic diarrhea. Shepherds who cannot afford to buy a good sheepdog especially are interested in the texting technology. Although one might think that texting devices for a good-size herd might run into some serious money, it turns out that you only really need to outfit one sheep, and the rest pretty much go along with what he says.

Tater and Mr. Greenjeans. Note fishing line.
The cows are capable of transmitting texts concerning their general health and the state of their fertility, allowing the caretaker to get quite a bit more rest (see "fanny farmer"). The ability of cows to text had been thought to be years away. There's a lot of stuff that needs to be overcome for animals to get any good at texting. Hooves, for instance.

Our cat Tater might well be interested in anything that would make communication easier. She thinks she lives with The Stupids. Every day she asks for the exact same thing and half the time we act like we don't know what she's talking about. She would like to play with Mr. Greenjeans. Mr. Greenjeans is one of several rattle-mice she plays with (along with Orange Slice, Goldie, and Professor Plum), only Mr. Greenjeans is attached to a stick with fishing line and we can cast it back and forth for her to stalk and catch. Generally speaking she gives him a good pounce right off the bat and then after that it's all stalking. There you are, flinging the little green mouse back and forth for twenty minutes, and she's all hunkered down watching him. From the human standpoint, there's not a lot of reward, and so she doesn't get to play it as often as she wants to, which is every minute.

The previous cat, (Saint) Larry, was such a stellar citizen that I was able to overlook her main fault, which is that she wasn't near as particular as we were about where she took a dump. She would drop a deuce in the litter box if she happened to be walking across it when the urge struck, but otherwise she'd just plant a dookie any old where. She wasn't trying to make a point. It was just that, as far as she was concerned, the problem was solved when the doot made the exit. So when Tater came along, and right away went down to the basement and found the litter box and put something in it, we gathered around and praised her to the high heavens like she was a five-year-old we were trying to insert some self-esteem into. "Way to GO!" we said, and she looked at us like, "how else do you go?" Tater has no problem with self-esteem.

But we would like her to be able to express herself in a different manner. She is very fond of us, Dave especially, and when she gets really worked up about that, she likes to gnaw on our foreheads. She's never spindled anyone, but the object of her affection could at any time be in for a bit of a denting. Our communication about this has gone nowhere. "Quit biting!" we say, and she says, "I am not biting. I am loving you very much with my teeth."

So it would be pretty cool if we could set her up with some kind of texting device so she could address us more appropriately. It wouldn't be too difficult. We could  have it preset to fire off with "I would like to play with Mr. Greenjeans now," and she could stomp on it all day long. Because she has little feet.

Which was a problem for the cows, at first, on account of the hooves. The breakthrough in bovine communication came when someone realized they only needed to set up the device with two giant keys, "M" and "O," and then it was Katie bar the door.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Have Spurs, Will Word-Process

I'm working on a novel y'all are going to be required to buy someday, and all of a sudden something screwy happens with my computer. It's a sad old Dell that sits off by itself and isn't allowed to play on the internet, and from time to time it just expresses itself as only a Word machine can. Previously, when I came to the end of a paragraph, I hit "enter" to make it go to the next line. Now it goes one space forward instead. To get it to the next line, I have to hit enter twice, which will make it skip a line, and then I have to hit the backspace button. This just started up for no reason. End of paragraph, enter-enter-backspace. Not too tricky, but not ideal.

I'm not as annoyed at this as I could be, because when I was coming up I used to have to do things like type a period and backspace and shift-apostrophe just to whomp up an exclamation point, and I didn't feel put out about it at all. Actual exclamation point keys were a computer development and led to exclamation-point abuse among some users, and you know who you are. Anyway, it might have seemed like a burden, but at least I didn't have to pluck a goose and dry a sheep like my parents did just to write something down, and they were happy they didn't need to chisel granite.

Still, after a while I got to thinking I really shouldn't have to enter-enter-backspace every time I want a new paragraph, and so I went about fixing it, by which I mean I called Beth next door. "Sounds like a formatting issue," she said. I'm familiar with the term. In fact I had already set up a format in which there was no extra space between paragraphs, and there was a five-point indent to start out. That format had just been obliterated by my machine, which elected to institute the "because I can, nanner nanner" format on its own. Or possibly there was a fatal combination wherein I hit some shortcut button while the cat walked across the function keys, but in any case, I didn't know how to undo it.

We have a house next door to us that we bought and set up as a hothouse for talent. We stock it with smart young people and ingratiate ourselves in various ways hoping to maintain a ready supply of tech wizards and, eventually, butt-wipers for our dotage, because we did not have the foresight to spawn on our own. It's worked out really well so far. Beth might be a little older than some we've cultivated. She's only about fifteen years younger than I am, but that's a whole generation in some of the red states. And Beth was the one who taught me the only thing about computer repair that I ever remember, which is that the machine is a lying sack of shit and you shouldn't believe anything it says for one second. One time when I was working on something really important, I started getting an error message accompanied by the dreaded Windows Chord of Doom, and I was frantic by the time Beth breezed in with her characteristic cool. She tried the same thing I did and got the same error message. "Bullshit," she said, and did it again. And again. And the fifth time the machine said "oh, all right" and did her bidding. So now I know that you need to saddle up and sit tall and give 'er a little kick with the heel or the damn thing will try to scrape you off on a low branch every time. Never show fear.

Anyway the issue resolved itself as mysteriously as it had appeared, and I called Beth off the duty. It's still nice to know she's standing by. She's really smart. She's so smart she'll probably be out of the place before we need our butts wiped.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Eeny Meeny Miney NO

When I was a kid, a lot of things didn't make sense, or didn't seem fair. When we were choosing who would be "it," by applying the eeny meeny miney moe protocol, some flicker in my brain told me that there should have been a strict mathematical principle involved that would predetermine the result. At the least I should have been able to figure out that any eeny meeny contest with only two people in it will always go to the meeny person, or that with three people it will always land on the eeny person. Yet somehow the result was always a mystery to me until the very end, because I was too distracted by the concept of catching a turkey by the toe to puzzle it out. Could you call them "toes," exactly? And wouldn't that be really hard?

In the "not fair" category was the infuriatingly arbitrary non-game "Mother May I," in which the designated autocrat in charge could tell her favorite to take three giant steps, and could tell everyone else to take baby steps, and that was that, no matter how polite you were. This was an added unfairness on top of the unfairness that I had never been, and still am not, able to take a giant step.

And many things didn't make sense. I was pretty young when I heard a rumor that people could come in different colors. I had been familiar with black and white, even realizing that it was an approximation--for instance, "white" referred to the shade represented by the single crayon called "flesh"--and I more or less accepted "red" although the red people in question were at best reddish, but when mom said there were yellow people too, I was very excited. I guess I bugged her about it for days. I was visualizing a tribe of proto-Simpsons. Finally mom found a suitable example and quietly pointed him out to me, and we both learned something. I learned that adults made weird and subtle distinctions, and mom learned how to make her child bellow "but MOM, he's not YELLOW" on a crowded sidewalk.

Other things were just plain dumb. We used to do this thing where you'd pluck a buttercup, that small yellow shiny flower, and hold it under your friend's chin. If it reflected yellow, it meant she loved butter. Well. That was dumb, for two reasons. We were a low-budget margarine family, and only bought two sticks of butter a year, for the adults to indulge in on high holy days. I thought real butter tasted strange and icky (I got over it), and I couldn't see why anyone would take the word of a buttercup over my own. Two, it wasn't much of a conclusion. The buttercup reflected yellow under everyone's chin. The whole exercise seemed pointless. We kept doing it, though, because it felt kind of good to have someone tickle your chin with a flower.

It was only recently it occurred to me that the point of the exercise was to weed out dark people. Just because everyone in my neighborhood reflected buttercups didn't mean it was universal. I am going to be very quiet about this revelation because I don't want the Republican Party to start going after the voter fraud we don't have any of with mandatory buttercup testing at the polls. It's bad enough that someone who is not even your mother can keep you from taking giant steps in this world.

And I realized something about that eeny-meeny-miney-moe turkey, too. My parents may have had very good reasons for keeping the "nigger" out. But most people don't.