Wednesday, October 31, 2012

And You Can Walk On Balls

My first team
A lot of people get confused about major league baseball because it isn't the way they remember it. They think their city has a team, only to find that come spring the league has metastasized and their team is no longer there at all, but has become the Las Vegas Sequins or the Mississippi Girth, and they just can't bring themselves to care anymore. Or, like me, they are Red Sox fans and their team starts winning and they feel disoriented and off-balance.

So let's do a little history. Baseball is a very old game. It has been around since before time was invented and is distinguished to this day by the lack of a clock. Olden baseball players used to keep playing until the ball hit a badger or a wolverine and then everyone got to run at once. A somewhat later version called "stool-ball," though open-ended, tended to be quicker. There was only one pitcher, no one volunteered to catch, and the game was over as soon as the stool-ball was hit, until a new ball could be produced the next morning. By the mid-1500s, the game resembled modern baseball in many respects. The ball was set up on a tee and everyone got a chance to whack it off, but the bat was much more splintery and everyone complained about players scratching their balls.

Preparing the stool-ball
It wasn't until 1845 that things settled down with the Knickerbocker Rules which prohibited, among other things, gunning the ball at a runner's head (where the term "out" originated). Around this time the first uniforms were invented by the New York Knickerbockers, which led to a lot of team spirit if nothing else. Finally another team, the Manhattan Nine, invented different uniforms and it was game on, or would have been, if either team had wanted to ferry across the Hudson, which they didn't. So both teams stayed put and played with themselves.

By 1876 the National League came into being and waited around for the American League to show up in 1901 so they could finally play in the World Series. Everything ran smoothly from then on, with the team with the best record in the National League facing off against the Yankees.

There weren't any teams in the West at all until the Interstate Highway System led to the discovery of California in 1958 and two of the New York teams moved there. This began a new era of expansion until by 1962 each league had ten teams. By 1969 the leagues had been dingle-balled up by two more teams each and something had to be done. Each league developed East and West divisions and the playoff series was instituted. For the sake of nostalgia, the Cubs are still eliminated.

But more teams kept coming. Two more in 1977, two more after that in 1993, and a new structure had to be put in place with three divisions in each league. By 1995 the leagues had swelled to an unmanageable 28 teams and the divisions were further partitioned into committees and discussion groups. Also, the Wild Card was introduced to allow losing teams to scrap for a playoff spot, and in response to accusations that this ruined baseball, more wild cards were added. The joker soon followed.

Finally we had the system baseball teams enjoy today, where the season begins in April and the playoffs in late May. By early October, the winners of the previous year's playoffs have been determined, and later in the month, the current year's playoff series is suspended for a week so that they can play in the World Series. Playoffs resume in November. The Red Sox will not be in it.

Go, Girth!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Keeping It Up

Issa, of Alberta Coop Grocery
"Organic" is one of those words that picks up connotations like a co-op hippie picks up odors in the bulk spice aisle. It's a word you can brandish. Or scoff at. It's loaded. So let's review:

Organic does not mean "sort of brown and nubbly." It does not mean "smelling like patchouli oil." It does not mean "more expensive." Okay, it does, but only because someone else is picking up the tab for the cheap stuff, in fertilizer run-off,  groundwater contamination, antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and algae plumes. Most of all, it does not mean "associated with liberals."

Okay, it does.

But that's the nature of things that become buzzwords, however legitimate they may be. People start reacting to them without a lot of critical thought. For instance, I have a visceral and bad reaction to the phrase "family values," even though I think they are a good thing. Our own family values elevated Scrabble and backyard badminton and summer cookouts with colored aluminum tumblers full of lemonade and walking in the woods and rolling logs for salamanders and putting the salamanders back and replacing the logs and singing in the choir and eating at the same time every night and getting put to bed with a chapter of The Wind In The Willows. Also, we were supposed to get good grades and not be racists.

"Sustainability" is another buzzword you hear a lot lately, and it's one of my favorites.  Unfortunately, a lot of people hear someone going on about sustainability and all they conclude is "that person doesn't want me to ever have any fun." And that's simply not true. We sustainability people want everyone to have lots and lots of fun! Only with Scrabble sets and backyard badminton. We think that should be an easy transition from blasting an ATV all over the desert or gouging up a mountain trail with a motorbike. We like Scrabble. We think you will, too.

So "sustainability" is another one of those words that is beginning to provoke a backlash, especially among fans of unrestrained capitalism. But it shouldn't. It passes no judgment and chooses no sides.

All "unsustainable" means is: you can't keep it up. You might find a politician who will tell you he can keep it up forever, and even provide evidence on Twitter, but trust this: he can't.

There are all sorts of things that are not sustainable. For instance, suppose you get in on the front end of a Specklebutt Corgi boom. You buy a matched set of Specklebutt Corgis for $500 and pretty soon you have another eight Corgis to sell for $500 per, and willing buyers snap them up in hopes they can turn them around at $1000 a pop. This happy circumstance plays out for a few more generations and then the bottom drops out of the specklebutts, and a sorry spectacle it is, too. Corgis are unloaded for free with crate on Craigslist. It's unsustainable. It can't be kept up.

Or say someone finds a huge underground reservoir of prehistoric Corgis in a kibble cave. They are enormous. They are brought up topside a few at time where it is discovered that they have great value as draft animals with their short, massive limbs. Two of them can pull a train by themselves but their antique balls fall off in the modern atmosphere and they cannot reproduce. Nevertheless, prehistoric Corgi futures soar, and the animals are hauled up as fast as they can be hauled. The potential seems endless, but it is not. There are only so many of them. Eventually people will have to figure out how to do without ancient Corgi power, but in the meantime, trainers and Corgi-yoke manufacturers are pulling down solid wages and brokers are making a killing. There's no incentive, in an unrestrained market, to leave any of the proto-fidos down there. And why, the brokers ask, can't we just figure out what to do after we've run through all the dogs?

No reason at all, if we weren't going to be nose-deep in Corgi shit by then.

So when Mitt Romney says, as though this is a good thing, that he will do everything he can to get the last dog out of the ground, I'm going to vote as hard and as often as I can for his opponent. His position is not sustainable, economically or in any other way, and a grown-up would know that and plan ahead. I don't care what the man straps his own dog to.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Space Balls

Felix Baumgartner
So a man ballooned right up under the short skirts of space, jumped out, and plummeted back to the ground. If that sort of thing were easy, it would happen all the time. It would be raining bits of abusive-husband ash, lecherous-boss nuggets, and flaming assholes. But it's hard to do, especially if you're interested in returning the man in original condition. It takes plenty of courage, or some quality that stands in for courage. Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner just accomplished this feat, operating out of the Testicle Proving Ground in Roswell, New Mexico. He was wearing a miracle suit to protect him, a suit five years in the making, emblazoned with his sponsor's logo--Red Bull, the official energy drink of flaming assholes. He was encased in a space-age capsule tethered to a massive helium-filled balloon made of dry-cleaning bags, and on October 13th, 2012, he rose into the air, leaving his sobbing mother behind.

The risks were many. His goal was to reach the very top of the atmosphere at the edge of deep space, where all the blue runs out, a distance of about 24 miles. At 63,000 feet, the blood begins to boil. At 90,000 feet, the temperature is minus-90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is even colder than it would be in Centigrade, and that's without taking wind chill into account. Mr. Baumgartner stepped out of the capsule and shot back to earth. He probably lightened his load right off the bat, unless he took care of that before he left. And he succeeded in one of his goals, which was to surpass the speed of sound. His screams began arriving several minutes after he did. It's hard to imagine anyone having more guts than Felix.

But. It turns out that human blood does not actually boil at 63,000 feet, because if it did, the smaller bones in the skeleton would be al dente by 100,000 feet, and the human would stick to the ceiling of the atmosphere, but he doesn't. He comes right back down. The skin and muscles and other standard wrappings keep the lid on the pot, as it were, although the blood might fizz up a little. Still, it's hard to imagine a braver man than Felix.
Joe Kittinger

But. The other reason we know what happens to a guy's blood at 63,000 feet is that some other guy did this exact same thing fifty years ago, pre-Gatorade, let alone Red Bull, only he went up in a handbasket wearing tin foil and a snug hat. Joe Kittinger was one of the stout pioneers of the space program, and he was testing the proposition that someone who fell out of a spaceship, in those early days before the door latch was perfected, might be returned safely to ground. Joe was not fearless. He had claustrophobia, but apparently was okay with heights. These were the heady first days of discovery, and much was not known. They learned things bit by bit, using such means as setting astronauts on fire. In a test flight, Mr. Kittinger stepped out of the balloon, and the first parachute to unfurl--a stabilizer, designed to keep him from going into a spin, which is only fun for the first few seconds--promptly wrapped around his neck and rendered him unconscious.

On his ultimate flight, he noticed a bit of a rip in his glove on the way up, considered aborting, and then, in words straight out of the space-pioneer handbook, he bellowed "oh, well" into the waning atmosphere and continued up to an altitude of 107,800 feet. By this time his hand had swelled up to the proportions of a Macy's float and he had to complete his descent with one hand tucked into the opposite armpit.

But. His blood did not boil. He survived his death-defying leap, went on to fly 483 missions in Vietnam, was shot down, and was taken prisoner in Hanoi, where he told his captors that they didn't particularly scare him. And I'm thinking they didn't.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Due to the same archaic niceties that lead us to refer, inexplicably, to the "Honorable Justice Clarence Thomas" or to Mitch McConnell as the "distinguished Senator from Kentucky," I am now known, in a certain small circle, as "Reverend Murr." In a sensible world, I would be "Irreverend Murr" at best. Nevertheless I take this as a great honor bestowed upon me by my neighbors Beth and Dean, and also the internet. Beth and Dean wanted to get married and, for reasons known only to them, mine was the name they came up with when casting about for an officiant. They trusted me to come up with suitable oratory for the occasion. Did they know what they were getting into?

"Just don't mention poop," Beth said.

They knew.

There were several outfits willing to ordain me as a minister with no muss, fuss, or money, and I selected the sturdy Universal Life Church, hoping it would allow me to pretend to sell insurance, too. The Universal Life Church has been up and running for over fifty years. They're not big on dogma, and neither am I. The Church believes in "the rights of all practice their religious they Christian, Jew, Gentile, Agnostic, Atheist, Buddhist, Shinto, Pagan, Wiccan, Druid, or even Dignity Catholics."

So it's the Holy Church of Whatever.

The state of Oregon is fine with all this. The state of Oregon does not have the resources or desire to probe officiants for holiness. So I'm not sure why the state of Oregon even cares if an officiant is a legally ordained minister or justice of the peace. Seems like it could be anybody. The mailman, say.

Because when it comes to matters of God, I am officially without opinion. I am an Apatheist. I don't believe, or not believe, or wonder. I just don't care. When presented with a slather of splendors from duck dicks to spittlebug farts, I'm all "ooo! Ooo!" not "author,  author."

None of this bothers Beth and Dean. Beth and Dean are grownups in love, and they know what they're doing, and it's just a small step beyond their mature regard and devotion for each other into the state of Wholly Matrimony. If Oregon is fine with my contribution to this event, that's all we need.

Super profile pic.
So God didn't make it into any of the vows or pronouncements, either, by intelligent design. No one associated with the wedding believes this is a miscalculation. God is busy. Not busy busy, just busy the way all the rest of us are. He joined Facebook on August 6, 2010, and probably hasn't gotten much done since. So far he's gotten 3,332,975 "likes," which is a lot, but not nearly as many as Eminem has. Someone has posted on His page that "God needs a 'love' button. Click 'like' if you agree."

Shoot, everybody needs a love button. I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

Anyway, Facebook isn't having it, and that's why there is also no "love with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind" button either.

Meanwhile, the foremost saint in my pantheon, Mark Twain, has only 397,294 "likes." If I and the Church of Whatever have any influence, those numbers are going straight up.

Congratulations, Beth and Dean.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thanks Again!

Hey Cousin!

Great time over at your house the other night! Sorry about Little Earl. Kids! They're so curious at that age. And clumsy? I don't need to tell you! LOL!!!

Anyway I'm just writing to thank you for the Marionberry-Blueberry pie recipe. Best. Pie. Ever! I couldn't find any marionberries, but I did get plenty of blackberries from over there behind the sewage treatment plant--SO juicy. And I thought I'd go ahead and substitute huckleberries for the blueberries, because I picked a bunch a few weeks ago. Not the sweet blue ones, the red ones. Nobody ever picks those for some reason, that's why I was able to get so many. They'll put a pucker on you, that's for sure. I like them in my pancakes, they're like little tartness bombs going off. You put a mess of red huckleberries in your pancakes, and man, it makes you appreciate the pancake that much more! The parts in between the huckleberries. Anyhoo.

So I really don't know what you mean by "two dry pints berries." What's a dry pint, anyway? I mashed up the blackberries real good and sopped them up between a bunch of paper towels, so I hope that was good enough. Didn't bother with the huckleberries, they're already like little BBs.  Did you really mean to say "juice of two lemons?" That's a lot of lemons. I guess it makes sense if you've got sweet berries, but I got to thinking, I thought, Marly June? Maybe your berries aren't really sweet so much as they're a little ornery. So I put in Kraft caramels instead. And that yummy crust? So I didn't actually have as much butter on hand as you called for. I thought we had some Crisco, but we must have gone through that the night Earl came home from his convention. Uh oh! Did I type that out loud? Ha ha!

Anyhoo. So the crust called for two eggs, and mine were only large, which as you know is the smallest size they come in, so I thought, Marly June? You might just as well put in three, and since I didn't have as much butter as I needed I put in a fourth just for bulk. I must say the dough came out kind of soupy, not that I'm blaming you or anything, LOL! So I had to put in a little more flour until it stiffened up. Unfortunately I ran out of flour before I'd gotten it where I thought it should be, so I threw in some garden lime, and then that puppy just stood right up and barked.

I'm such a silly goose, though, you know me, I didn't even notice that the recipe was enough to make "two thick ten-inch pies," and my pans are all nine inches. And just between you and me, not that your pie wasn't the Best. Pie. Ever!, but I'm not all that big on thick pies since the volcanic cobbler incident. The kitchen never really was right after that one. We just left the oven door open for a few nights and let the mice take care of the worst of it. So then I had this terrific idea: why not make one really big thin pie? Since I had all the filling and crust made up. So I "did the math." I love that expression! What I mean is I kind of guesstimated with my hands what two thick ten-inch pies put together would look like, except thinner, and then I hunted around for a pan. That's when I got my big inspiration. Garbage can lid! I know, right?

I had to roll the dough on the floor, because it wouldn't fit on my cutting board, but it transferred like a dream. First time I've ever regretted getting that shag carpet, but we could all use more fiber, Earl especially. LOL! Slid in the berry filling, and the tapioca for thickener--oh, I didn't have quite enough tapioca, and I was a little worried about that, the last thing I want is for the juice to gang up and lurch out like before, so I just laid in a couple dryer sheets in the middle to give it some structure, and we were good to go. Well! I'll bet you can see what comes next. Sure enough, the garbage can lid was just a little bigger than my oven, but only by a couple inches, it was so close. I don't mind telling you I was miffed, but I'm not going to be outsmarted by a giant thin pie. I closed the oven door as much as it would go and then tented it around the edges with tinfoil. Wallah!

Well, the tinfoil didn't work all that well and the oven never really did get up to temperature. I checked it every hour for a while but it was taking its own sweet time baking up, and man but the kitchen got hot! Ha ha! We decided to just mix up a bucket of margaritas and wait it out on the patio. You know, we could argue the rest of our lives whose turn it was to check the pie, but the important thing is we did wake up because of how chilly it got, and also the sirens.

Anyhoo. Little Earl is thrilled that we're camping in the back yard now. The things he finds and drags into that tent! LOL! And I just want to thank you so much for the recipe. I'm sure that pie is going to wear real well and last us a good number of years, even more if we can get it re-soled. Dinner at our place next time? Just say the word!


Marly June

Thanks to John D. for the recipe. Really. Best. Pie. Ever.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Starter Baby

A lot has changed in the baby-raising business since I was inadvertently conceived and hatched. We still have Gerber Baby Food. Same baby on the label, too. But when our Borrowable House Baby showed up the other day with Gerber's Strained Risotto In Cream Sauce, I knew we had turned a corner. We used to just have strained fruit, or strained macerated meat flecks in a Crisco binder. Now the shelf at the store contains Strained Coq au Vin and Organic Mandarin Duck and you can strip off a flyer with recommended juice box pairings. Reportedly, incidence of infant food-splattering has come way down, but there has been a pronounced uptick in the misuse of the salad fork.

So that probably takes care of infant fussiness. In my day, parents used to like to tell their kids to quit crying or they'd give 'em something to cry about, but maybe they should have just given them Risotto. I'm told I was not a fussy baby, and it was probably just because I really loved Gerber's Strained Apricots. I liked them so well that I wanted them to be included in my school lunches. Mom was a nice woman and she decanted the Strained Apricots into a different container so that my classmates would assume it was applesauce.  I was at an age before kids started being real dicks to each other, but it was thought that bringing in a Gerber's jar might have put me in some social peril. The other thing in my lunch (in a brown bag, until I got the Quickdraw McGraw lunch box) was a peanut-butter and butter sandwich on Mom's homemade white bread, wrapped in wax paper with hospital corners. Same wax paper as today: Cut-Rite. It works well enough. Not as well as plastic wrap, but we made up for it with cleaner oceans.

Our Borrowable House Baby also has some nifty accoutrements, including a sippy-cup that does not appear to leak at all, even if you hurl it. Like a lot of other improvements, this one may have a downside, in that the child may not develop the dexterity to drive his mother around the bend like we used to. My own mother was just about unflappable. I know, because I was always trying to get her to flap, and never really succeeded until I was a teenager and had better ammunition. I am told I was spanked at least once a day for some unspecified two-year period of my life, but I only remember about three occasions, because I totally had the rest of them coming. The spankings only quit when they ceased to have an effect.

These days spanking is out of the picture. Even parents who make their own natural baby food and use natural wipes and natural diapers and natural foods and natural detergents will not lift a hand against their child, even though it's the most natural thing in the world to swat a two-year-old.  They're probably right, I don't know. I wonder. My dog Boomer had two puppies and she was attentive and loving for weeks and weeks and then one day she shut down the milk station and when they came after her making nuisances of themselves, she turned right around and snapped at them. With her teeth. Two or three days later they were model citizens. I never saw her reasoning or having any prolonged discussions with them. She never once said "we're going to go over to the food dish now. Do you want to hop or do you want to scamper?"

The new baby is Dave's and my Starter Baby. Yes, we're very old to be having a Starter Baby, but we didn't have to whomp this one up  ourselves. He was whomped up elsewhere and gets wiped down and carted over here for petting. True, his father and his aunt were made available to us as youngsters about thirty years ago, but we were drunk and didn't always notice. This one, we're paying attention. Still, there was no guarantee we were going to like him a whole lot. Babies make us nervous. We're both youngest children, which means our parents were tired and made do with hitching us to the clothesline when we were little, and when we were big they gave up on the curfews and settled for trying to get us to throw up at someone else's house before we staggered home. Our siblings had to help take care of us and we didn't have to take care of anything. If we'd had a baby we might have wrapped it up and stapled it to the carpet near a bowl of milk. So we needed a Starter Baby to ease us in, like a kid needs the gentle pony at the horse-barn, and this boy is it. Every dang thing in his life makes him happy. There was a five-minute squall when he briefly set himself on fire with the birthday cake, but it was surprise as much as anything, and then after that he thought the blister was interesting. He's being beautifully brought up, but I would imagine his disposition is a genetic gift. Either that, or it's the risotto.

Imagine! This is my four-hundredth post. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Greeting Meter Readers With Heat

Our little mountain cabin isn't all that remote, but it has its archaic charms. No internet. No cell phone service. Electricity we have, but not so steadily as to feel like we're entitled. A tidy fellow in a dapper cap comes by our back door in his buggy and drops off neat parcels of electricity in brown paper and twine, and he can't make it if the weather's bad or his horse throws a shoe. So when we saw the meter reader for the first time the other day, we had to chat.

He agreed it was good to be seen. He'd expected his job to come to an end a year earlier, because they were going over to the digital metering and no longer required personal monitors. Almost all of the meter readers had lost their jobs in the county, except in the remote areas where they hadn't put in the digital meters because the satellites wouldn't be able to find them. As a liberal, I thought that it was a shame that a decent job was being sacrificed to technology yet again, but on the other hand it made sense to modern-up the metering system. It's a big deal, the electrical grid. Used to be the electric company could tell how much power you used in a month, and that was that. They sprayed out power all over the region and let it settle out on its own, then charged you for how much you were able to suck up. Now, with the smart meters, they can tell when you're using it and when you're not, and can make wiser decisions about divvying up the power packets, so they don't waste as much. The enhanced data will help mitigate demands on the increasingly strained power grid, and possibly prevent overloads. I'm sorry for the meter guy, but it makes a lot of sense.

Here. But not in Texas. In Texas, a digital electrical meter is seen for what it is: a threat to personal liberty. Personal freedom is something Texans hold dear, from back in the days when a man could go out and collect debts with a bullet and scrub the territory of Indians and dang near kill off all the bison just because, and nothing's changed to this day, except there are about three hundred million more of us, which thins out the liberty a bit.  Anyway, people are upset. Some damn little socialist in power-company overalls comes in to replace someone's old meter in Texas, he's liable to meet up with the business end of a gun. Many Texans believe their arguments are sharpened up consider'ble with a gun, and it sort of helps make up for that whole education deficit.

Thelma Taormina at the ready
"This is Texas," affronted citizen Thelma Taormina thundered at a recent public hearing. "We have rights to choose what appliances we want in our home." Damn right, sister, that's exactly what our troops are Over There fighting for. The Fondling Fathers said it right in the Degradation of Independence, when they said it was self-evident that Amana's created equal, but if you want a Maytag or a GE instead, why, that's your right as an American. Boo-yah! You want to have five freezers going with the doors open all day long, why, you go ahead on, and if you need something to run them all with, you can by-God go out and slay some electricity yourself. Lookit Junior. Killed him a watt when he was only three. Hell yeah.

Many fear that the smart technology might allow government agencies to monitor their whereabouts and activities. Norman Throckwit was so incensed by the intrusion upon his privacy afforded by the smart meters that he organized a Texans Against Smart Things page on Facebook, where he later noted he was enjoying funnel cake at the state fair.

"Government has no right to spy on us," agreed Dolly Mortimer in the comment thread, just before updating her status with a photo of her and Juney Sue making duck lips at Walmart at 3:14pm, where she was stocking up for a two-week vacation at the beach, details to follow.

Ms. Taormina is not the only concerned citizen in Texas who has greeted the meter installer with a gun, and good for her. If you don't exercise your second-amendment rights by threatening a utility worker, you might as well not have them.

Want to be on the back cover of my book? The first Murrmurrs collection is coming out soon, and Mark Twain isn’t answering his phone, so I’ve got some space available for blurbs. Trousering Your Weasel will include my usual stuff and blather, but nothing overtly political, and it will be illustrated with my own drawings. So have some fun and send your pithy and entertaining bon mots to me at I can’t guarantee I’ll use a single one. But I’d sure like to see what you come up with. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ah, Naustalgia

It wasn't until I got a scanner and began trying to immortalize old photos from my youth that I realized just how degraded many of them are. The black and white ones were amazing. I have albums full of black and white photographs that are only like an inch square and the scanner reveals details I never knew were there. I have a photo of my Dad and me playing recorders and I'd always wondered why he had the leather case for the recorder on his chest. It turns out it was his tie.

But the color ones were awful. Clothing deteriorated into pock-marked pools of color. Faces oranged up. Discrete areas of the photos ran together like sauces on a plate. From any archival standpoint, they were a disaster.

But now, thanks to the Instagram app, you can take a brand-spanking-new photograph and crud it up right off the bat. I'm at a loss to understand why you would want to do this, but evidently, there is a market for nostalgia for times you haven't even lived through.

I probably should be able to get this; we've been able to put a sepia-tone on photos for years, and it does look pretty cool. But not all old brown photographs are sepia-toned. My mom's old pics from the farm are not sepia-toned. That was North Dakota during the Dust Bowl, and those are full-color shots.

Still, it seems stupid. Why not develop an app, I thought maliciously, that will paste scratchy sounds over perfectly good music? Ahem. The VinylLove app is already doing it. The app will scour your tunes and put them in mandatory album order, so you have to listen to the crappy songs to get to the good ones, just like the old days, and it will layer random static noise over all of them. With luck, the next version will introduce skips. Well, why stop there, if we're going retro? Develop a game depicting the album cover on the screen and use your manual dexterity to roll seeds off of it while retaining your weed.

Dad on the left. This photo is 100 years old.
There's a new app called Square that allows you to pay for things using your phone, but there's no reason not to add an old-school version. If it's a Friday night, you can try to pay for something, but it won't go through until Monday after ten a.m., when the screen would depict, for fifteen minutes, an image of the butt of the person in front of you in line at the bank.

Your gigantic HD flat-screen TV will wink out at midnight and leave you with nothing but a fading star, the National Anthem, and a reason to go to bed already.

Your GPS system can quit giving you directions and instead recite a Burma-Shave poem, tell you to pull over to the side of the road and then send little puffs of blue smoke out from under your hood.

Shoot. You want nostalgia? You could have a Whiny App that would detect any sign of petulance on your part, and then give you something to cry about.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To Burn Brighter

Same perp,  same bookcase, 15 years earlier
"Parents do their children no favors," my father once said, speaking in complete sentences as was his affectation, "when they protect them from the consequences of their own actions." As far as I know, mine didn't protect me from the consequences of mine, in spite of which I made it into my twenties. If there were consequences to be suffered, I was expected to suffer them. For instance, when I came home at age sixteen drunker than ten lords, pinballing off the walls of the staircase and into my room, with a brief stop at the bookcase I knocked over on the landing, where I scooped the books back into the furniture while trying to get them to quiet down, I was awakened promptly a few hours later and packed off to the bus stop for my summer job. I was a slow study on the alcohol lessons, but in thirty-one years at the post office I never once called in hung over, and not because I never was.

That's why it seemed sort of elegant and clean when a gentleman recently jumped off a monorail and into a tiger's cage at the Bronx Zoo. You've got your action, and you've got your consequence. His leap was deliberate. He admired wild animals, and he had expressed a desire to be "one with the tiger." He very nearly got his wish to be one with the tiger, for at least as long as it takes a tiger to process him and crank him out the rear end, say, a couple days. But zoo personnel intervened long enough to extract the fellow.

The tiger had to have been cheered up. It really doesn't matter how many bouncy-balls you throw into a tiger cage, he's not going to burn as bright as he would in the wild. Still, it was something. The tiger toy that projected itself over the fence and into his pen was damaged. He broke his shoulder and a hip when he landed in the enclosure, which was one consequence, and probably saved his life, because he didn't act like proper prey. The tiger just dragged him around by the foot for a while to get some spark back in him before he could feel comfortable pouncing.

One of the problems I think we're having as a species is that we've gotten powerful enough to push our consequences so far away from our actions that we can't make them out anymore. Not that long ago a simple task might take ten of us all day, fueled by porridge. Now we jam a plug into the wall and pull out the mighty Columbia River in an instant. Or, elsewhere, a thousand years'-worth of photosynthesis, all mashed down neat. We use all that power to grind coffee beans that grew on the other side of the globe and we think nothing of it.

We think our food comes from the grocery store. We think our water comes from the faucet, and we think it always will. People used to wrap up in blankets when they were cold. Now we pop over the ocean to go lie in the sun for a couple weeks.

That's how entitled we think we are. During the Democratic Convention, a group of undecided voters was polled for reaction after the President's speech. One fellow was peeved. "I didn't hear anything about what he'd do about gas prices," he whined. "And is he going to make us buy those squiggly light bulbs?" This was a man bobbing around in a bewildering sea in which nothing was connected to anything else, and he was adrift at the mercy of flotsam and jetsam he couldn't begin to identify.

But what if all our consequences could be hitched back up to our actions? What if every time we pulled our clothes out of the dryer, a dead salmon flopped out? What if every time we drove to the big-box store, our garden browned and withered on the spot? What if all our plastic shit came with a dead albatross packed right in? What if every time we hopped on a jet plane we had to land in a hurricane? What if every time the moneyed class staked us to an unsustainable energy future, the water crept ever closer to our noses?

I think most of us might make some wiser decisions. Not everybody, of course. There's a tiger-jumper in every crowd. But I'd never vote for one.