We thought we'd taken care of the Spring Ant Influx a few months ago. The regular army showed up every day for about a month and we batted them back with Windex until they gave up and went home, clean and shiny. All was quiet on the Northwestern Front for a few weeks and then they got modern. No longer are they sending out a battalion and risking mass obliteration. A grain of oatmeal, a stray fruit smear, even swatted fly meat, each will accumulate a score of ants within fifteen minutes of deposition. Their communications technology is sophisticated. The little buggers are now dropping formic acid and forming flash mobs.
But I don't have any garden slugs. I've got a hosta buffet out there for them and no one has showed up. You're supposed to dispatch slugs with beer, but I don't like to share. Slugs and ants are pretty much the entire pest roster out here. We don't have many mosquitoes, gnats, ticks, Republicans, or black flies. And other people in town are complaining about the slugs, so I know they're around. So I got to thinking:
Whereas: We have ants.
Whereas: We don't have slugs.
Therefore: The ants must have creeped out the slugs.
I felt pretty confident about this conclusion. I do have a vestigial science degree and I understand how reasoning works, because I've seen it in the outside world. For instance:
Whereas: Barack Obama is black.
Whereas: I want to mine coal without regard to environmental or human health consequences.
Therefore: Voters should be required to show photo I.D. at the polls.
I can see no fallacy in this conclusion, unless you count the logical one. But when you're practicing home science, you need to be open to new evidence that may alter your conclusions. And that's what we found on a walk the other day. There was a large old tree in the parking strip. And it was covered with a foot-wide column of slime to a height of twelve feet, where the trunk tipped out over the sidewalk. I know what has happened here. A slug orgy has happened here. Our common garden slugs mate while suspended on a string of slime. They need to get high enough to be able to hang off something, and they're well hung. Each slug has his or her own giant diaphanous sky-blue penis which it wraps around its mate's and they remain in this position, twirling lasciviously, for hours. They are having way more fun than you ever thought of having. And the huge amount of slime on this tree indicates a multi-slug event, similar to what we used to call, in college, "spring break." I marveled at the amount of goo that each slug had to emit to reach those heights. "They're teenagers," Dave explained.
So because I now have new evidence, I have revised my conclusion. I now believe I don't have any slugs in my yard because the party is somewhere else this year, and the ants have nothing to do with it. Someone might also want to re-think the other conclusion, above.
Whereas: Barack Obama is president.
Whereas: I want to mine coal without regard to environmental or human health consequences.
Therefore: Gay marriage is a threat to the fabric of our civilization.
When you work for the post office, you learn that there are a number of things parcels can do that are not optimal. They can tinkle. They can tick. And then they can exude. Long before we were required to receive instruction on suspicious packaging (by which we were helpfully informed that "protruding wires" are something of a red flag), we had our own instincts about exuding parcels. You get a package addressed to the biology lab at the University, and it's damp and squishy, you're going to quarantine it in the back of your Jeep like it's a snoozing wolverine. You just are.
I was not especially concerned the day I took custody of a small box that appeared to be leaking sand from a rip in the bottom corner, until I noticed that the return address was a crematorium. Some PR issues are best left to Management, I rarely say, but did in this case. Protocol requires the box to be taped up and mummified in plastic with a form apology:
"The US Postal Service cares about your mail. Unfortunately, the use of mechanized equipment as well as the hiring of Stevie "Stone Hands" Whipmeier in the parcel section sometimes results in damage to a mail item. Please accept our sincere apology for the mishandling of [NAME OF DECEDENT], some of whom can be picked up at our facility during regular business hours, because our janitorial staff Larry is still in the parking lot doing a doobie. Please bring this notice, a Ziploc bag, and a Dustbuster. We care."
I never personally delivered a limp weasel, but there were things. It used to be fairly common to see coconuts coming through the mail stream, all decked out with stamps and a Hawaii postmark. People are tickled by the notion that they can mail an unswathed coconut, and they inflict them on their friends when they go on vacation. I'd knock on the door and hand it to the recipient, who'd holler over his shoulder "Jesus Johnson, Edith, your brother Harold went and sent us a giant nut," and shake his head. It's not the sort of thing you throw away, so on the mantle it would go, stamps facing attractively forward, where eventually the grandchildren, who have grown up with it and watched Grandma dust it, have to keep it because no one wants to throw out Grandpa's big nut.
Also common were boxes of crickets, destined for the house of a pet owner. LIVE CRICKETS, it would proclaim hopefully on the side of the box, and we'd cross our fingers and tip it a little, whereupon it would emit a dry, cascading sound like wood chips. You have to deliver it anyway. Maybe, you hope, the recipient owns a crippled snake.
Or chicks. Chicks would come through the mail, always, luckily, chirping, and at eight in the morning it seemed like the jolliest thing ever, and we'd stow the box in our Jeeps and drive off humming. Ha ha! we'd think, as they chirped in the back. What a fun day this will be! But the chicks never went to anyone at the front end of the route. By the time five hours of chirping has gone by, we are one frying pan and a bottle of sweet-n-sour sauce away from committing a grave postal infraction.
But in my 31 years of service, nothing exuding from the mail ever seemed as significant a hazard as what exuded from the mail carriers. Mail carriers are given a uniform allowance every year with which they can acquire everything they might reasonably be expected to need, but there is a certain subset of carriers who simply refuse to pick up a new shirt. The uniforms aren't even bad-looking. They're a decent color, they're permanent-press, and with a minimum of care, they are quite presentable. They won't wrinkle unless you sleep in them, crunched up on the sewer grate in front of the liquor store. If you wear the same shirt every day for three or four years, the friction of the newsprint and magazines against the tension provided by the beer belly turns the midsection of the shirt a sort of sickly, kitchen-compost green. Have you ever seen a mailman wearing a greenish, wrinkled uniform shirt? Yes, you have. We still do not know why this subset of mailmen does not avail itself of the generous uniform allowance every year, but it is probably hard-wired in their DNA, on the same chromosome that makes it so difficult to take up a collection for a retirement present or funeral bouquet.
But no discussion of exudation is complete without Gary. Gary would periodically say "oh, pardon me" for no discernible reason, and when we asked him why he said that, just before the reason wafted down the aisle, he'd say "because I'm a polite guy." Which was true. In a sense.
I'm not sure we would even notice an over-expired weasel.
Nowadays, when you go to the post office to mail a parcel, they'll ask you if there's anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous in there, but long ago, they didn't care what you had as long as it didn't exude anything. You could slap an address tag around the neck of a dead weasel, and it was good to go, even it if exceeded a uniform thickness of 1/4 inch, which some of your dead mammals will, depending on the circumstances of their demise.
The specific instructions said you could enter such an item as post "as long as no liquid is likely to exude." That in itself is a testament to a faith in our communal institutions that we, cynical and suspicious as we have become, no longer have. Me, I look at an expired ferret, say, and I think: "here is something from which, at some point, liquid is likely to exude." But in times not long gone, people could look at the same weasel and think: "shoot, it'll make it in time."
Of course, back then, you had a pretty good chance of seeing your weasel all the way to its destination before any exuding happened. People were in charge of it. Someone would fling the weasel into a bin for your city, someone in your city would re-fling it into the bin for your neighborhood, your carrier would satchel it up, and just like that, bip bam boom, there would be your deceased weasel lined up all neat in your mailbox, wrapped in a Time magazine, with a soap coupon between its lips.
Stuff happened from time to time but it was a good system, entrusting the mail to people. Even certifiably [what is the word? Ah yes] stupid people could be entrusted to see the mail to its correct destination--I've seen them do it. The only trouble with people, in fact, was their tendency to want pay and medical insurance and frippery like that, and so giant sorting machines the size of football fields were developed to replace the regrettably high number of humans. Now, some robotic arm slaps the wrong barcode on a weasel and before you know it he's looping around the country growing more unattractive by the nanosecond. And the three or four people left in the system now have to allocate a portion of their workdays to apologizing to customers.
We still have an Exudation policy at the post office. We're agin it. Ever since 9/11, whenever an employee noticed a mail item that appeared to be exuding in any way, we were to immediately step away from it and call our HazMat trained employee, Big Mary. Big Mary would come to the fore and invert a plastic mail tub over the exuding item, run a few yards of yellow caution tape around the periphery, and call the local firemen, who were really cute. It was a pretty good system.
But I still think it's sad that we live in an era where evil people are moved to send suspicious white powder through the mail, resulting in the very real danger of a company powdered-donut ban, and when you can't even count on Priority Service to deliver a maggot-free ferret.
There was a sweet feature in the paper about a married couple in their nineties. Carol Graeber is in hospice. Melvin Graeber's next door in assisted living, and visits her every day. He calls her "my baby" and she calls him "my boy." There's a photo of him kissing her as she lies in her bed. I had the same exact reaction as everyone else did. (1) They are adorable, and (2) eww. Wrinkly-lip kisses.
Dave and I go for walks holding hands. I think younger people out there look at our gray hair and relaxed skin and think we're adorable, too. There's something about affectionate old people that twists the part of the heart that longs for connection. We make assumptions in their favor. But are they still together out of devotion, or cussedness? Are they holding hands because they're in love, or because it makes it harder to take a swing? This is where the Graebers nailed it. They were both in agreement: the last thirty-five years of their marriage have been wonderful, but the first twenty-five years were touch and go. That's what they said.
If the young people do think we're old, they're just seeing things a little more clearly than we are. We're still looking at the world out of eighteen-year-old eyes and holding to our end of the contract by staying forever young, and wondering why the Devil didn't get the memo. Deterioration shocks us. Memory betrays us. We never saw it coming.
The love part is easy. I married a man who welcomed me with a blast on a bugle whenever I came home from work. Who tells me I only have to eat three carrot sticks, but slides in a replacement whenever I take one off my plate. Who is man enough to admit it when I get off a better fart than he does. Who has been telling me I'm beautiful long after it ceased to apply. Who has already made sure everything I'll ever need or want is on hand and running smoothly, and has done it so quietly and reliably that I probably don't even recognize the half of it.
Who can be irritable and anxious. Who can give in to despair. Who might have had a little drinking problem. His wife had one, too. His wife, who is amusing but self-centered. Who is more than willing to let someone else do the grunt work. Who can be dismissive and rude.
That's the real beautiful thing about a long relationship. Not that two people have lived a life of sunsets and chocolate and honeysuckle. But that they have learned to trust that their worst will be tolerated long enough for their best to emerge. That the gnarly bits as well as the rosy goodness will still be greeted by a bugle at the door.
Yesterday Dave and I celebrated our 29th anniversary. Some of those years were touch and go, but most of them have been wonderful. I've signed on for the rest. The best.
You know how someone can be really attractive, but then you realize they think they are too, and it turns you off? Happened that way with the Flax shirts. I'm in the store and all the prettiest shirts were from Flax Design. I checked the tags. That's when I saw the extra tag on each one, and boy, were they into themselves. "I AM BEAUTIFUL JUST THE WAY I AM," said one. "I LOVE MY BODY, I LOVE ALL OF MYSELF," said another. That's a lot of yapping going on for something you just planned to throw on for the sake of decency. Like there isn't enough self-promotion going on in the world.
First thing I do when I get a shirt, anyway, is to rip the tag out of the neck. It's just a little kernel of irksomeness. I also cannot tolerate a crumb in my sheets, which will keep me awake until I evict it. I've been referred to more than once in this house as a "princess," without any of the finer connotations. One could say I don't show any signs of having been born of pioneer stock, but I'd be fine with wrangling an obstreperous mule or keeping rattlesnakes off the chilluns. Ain't none of them dames had to contend with tags inside their homespun.
A little information is all well and good. Mostly we do know how to wash our garments, and mostly we can tell what size they are, and only certain kinds of people care to know who made them.
There is such a thing as printing the information right on the fabric so as to avoid tags at all. That is a big selling point for the underwear Michael Jordan used to wear in those ads that kept me watching sports on TV. I think he was hawking the underwear. I would have bought a fur-lined battery-operated set of Croatian encyclopedias from Michael Jordan if he came to the door in his underwear.
I got a shirt once that had a tag made of burlap, folded over, with extra bits stitched onto it in horsehair. That one had to be nuked out. It was a flannel shirt, and must have been going for a rugged theme. Why stop there? Why not stitch on a little baggie of wasps? My recent purchases from Columbia Sportswear are more humane. There's something printed on the neck fabric so you can tell front from back, but the tags are on the side seam toward the bottom. They're huge, but they're made out of butterfly breath. I can't feel them at all. Flax Designs should be moving in that direction. If they add just a little length to the tag, they could swing it around to the front and tack it to the shoulder like a pageant queen sash. "Miss Overweening Self-Confidence," it could say. "At Least My Shirt Likes Me," it means.
I am at a loss to understand what kind of person who needs a little boost of self-esteem could actually get it from her shirt tag. It's pathetic. I have my down days, but I'm not going to respond to a pep talk from my clothes. Dave's "Friend Of Pootie" shirt always cheers me up, but that's different.
Any shirt I buy might as well have a tag that says "HELP ME! I'M BEING ATTACKED BY A SEAM RIPPER!" It's out of there--I don't care if it says Dolce and Gabbana. Which it won't.
Every now and then someone comments on this blog that I should be President, clearly recognizing that it would be a total snap to institute environmental safeguards and progressive policies in the current political climate if only they were explained properly. There are a number of reasons I haven't entered politics, including that it would cut into my beer time, and would expose my family, which has counted on my obscurity over the years, to certain humiliation.
For one thing, there are too many photographs out there, taken at a time when the only good judgment I demonstrated was in having come of age before the internet showed up. Any number of these would have prevented me from holding elective office, outside of Italy.
Now there's another reason. Representative Becky Carney of North Carolina just accidentally voted to allow fracking when she meant to vote against allowing fracking. She simply pushed the wrong button.
Fracking is a controversial method of energy mining in which the earth is drilled and injected and busted up into fractures until it farts out natural gas, and is implicated in the contamination of water, earth tremors, subsidence, and other disastrous consequences. The practice has even been forbidden by some countries, including France, which fracking proponents, whining nasally in ridicule, consider evidence in their favor.
Rep. Carney cast the deciding vote to allow fracking, even though she did not support it. She got mixed up. I know how that can come about. We get helpful explanations sometimes in our Voter's Pamphlet that go like this:
A "yes" vote reverses the lower court's refusal to overturn the decision to override the cheese ball veto.
Now, I have to come at this from the back end (a photo of which may exist) and puzzle it out with string, a pencil, and daisy petals to know what to do, and even then I don't know if I'm going to get any cheese out of it. This is the sort of thing that happened to Ms. Carney, and as a result she was able to move the earth just by pushing a little button (there may be a photo of that as well).
So Carney was honestly confused. It would be even worse if I were in there and had to keep track of my buttons, because it isn't getting any easier. In recent years I have discovered my kitchen sponge in the cheese compartment, which went a long way toward explaining how my countertops got so smeary, and my little voice recorder in my underwear drawer. I was glad to see it. It had been missing for days. I'm afraid to push the play-back button. I could face the rigors of a political campaign, but I don't want to know what my underpants think of me.
Many thanks to Ian over at And I Still Think So for his kind words and good-blog recommendations, and you could start with his.
It is not enough to sift uncritically through the available medical advice sludging up the internet. One must weigh sources, review data, note controls or lack of controls, and check for ulterior commercial motives, and only then can you make an informed medical decision for yourself based on what you wanted to believe anyway.
So I was excited to read that bras cause cancer. My own relationship with underwear is fraught with woe and this news confirms my worst suspicions. I only wear a bra these days in order to not attract attention, in pretty much a reversal of my strategy as a younger woman. Supposedly the heat generated by a tight brassiere is conducive to cancer cell growth, and cancer cells appreciate a little shaping and support as much as the next cell. The underwire bra in particular is implicated, which doesn't surprise me in the least; the underwire is also responsible for unsightly ridging, occasional irregularity, acid rain, and world strife. But the main reasons I believe this study has scientific merit are (1) I hate bras and (2) it runs counter to the advice of Miss Olive Pawley.
Miss Olive Pawley was the Dean of Girls at Yorktown Senior High School in the sixties. It was a terrible time to be a Dean of Girls. Even a few short years earlier, it had not been considered at all out of line for Mr. Guter, Dean of Boys at Williamsburg Junior High, to deal with the scourge of bangs on boys by butch-waxing the miscreants' heads into a gloppy pompadour in public. Such a move was not considered a fatal blow to self-esteem in those days; in fact, self-esteem had yet to be invented. But later in the decade, those in charge of maintaining order among the young were stripped of all such tools and weapons. Humiliation and coercion were out. Even the title "Dean of Girls" was soon to be abolished in favor of "Suggestress." Not only were girls no longer required to kneel and have their skirt hems inspected for proximity to the floor, but the dress code was done away with altogether. Sartorial anarchy reigned. Patched blue jeans and work shirts prevailed, and bras were out. Everything was out, and some of it was in motion. Miss Olive Pawley was appalled by this development which, she was certain, would ultimately tear down civilization as we know it and replace it with a soul-corrupting licentiousness. She was right about that, but not really on solid footing with the bras.
I was not the type to be called into the Dean of Girls' office, as a rule, but I was summoned there one day so that Miss Pawley could have a go at saving my soul, using the only tools she had left. "I have noticed," she said, "that you are no longer wearing a brassiere, and I want you to be aware of the medical consequences. Studies have shown that the flopping of one's breasts against the thoracic cavity causes cancer."
Which, I knew even then, was ridiculous. Given their location, where else are breasts supposed to flop?
Her real concern, I suspected, was that the flopping of one's breasts against the thoracic cavity causes erections.
Her information had been unreliable in the past. It was she who warned us that the reason our parents did not want us to drive over the line into the District of Columbia was that it was the scene of a thriving "black market in white women." I did not and do not know what she meant by that, although it had enough poetic resonance to stick with me to this day. But I knew the real reason our parents didn't want us driving into D.C. was that we would hit the first liquor store over the line on MacArthur Boulevard where the drinking age was 18 and buy beer by staying in the car and sending in the hairiest boy with the most dependable baritone.
Well, I keep my own counsel. From what I can surmise, sun, bisphenol-A, charred meat, lack of sun, breasts, colons, stress, and bras all cause cancer. Drinking in moderation is beneficial. I'm ditching the bra and doubling down on the beer.
I was so tickled when I was in the paint store and came upon a big display of Frog Tape! I was all set to stock up, just so I could have some on hand in case I should run into a frog that was coming undone. But upon closer inspection, it turned out that it was just a standard painter's masking tape, and of no particular use for amphibian repair.
The trouble is, you don't always know what you're getting with brand names.
If you've been to a major construction site, you may have noticed a huge machine called, generically, a concrete pump. This is an enormous tube which starts out small, unfolds itself to a great length, swings around and spurts out thick white material. First time I saw one in action, it reminded me of something else, somehow, but nothing I could put my finger on. Until I saw the brand name painted on the side: Putzmeister. Putzmeister? Oh yeah.
I thought this was kind of funny and mentioned it to Dave. He's worked at lots of construction sites, and he said every concrete pump has a suggestive name. So I started noticing. Next one was Brundage-Bone. The one after that: Pettibone. (Not surprisingly, that one is good for slabjacking, too.) Then: Schwing. Finally one day I came home to report a sighting of a concrete pump with an ordinary name.
Dave smirked. "You mean you've never heard it called a Johnson?" he said. Oh yeah.
So we're in the department store looking for a kitchen scale, and I searched high and low in the kitchen-goods aisle and couldn't find one anywhere. Dave strolled over and quickly pointed out three of them, in different sizes, all boxed up with the brand name Salter on them. "I thought those were just salters," I said.
"What is a salter?" Dave wanted to know.
I don't know. It sounded cuisine-y, though.
It can get confusing. In the Hair Care aisle alone, you can find bottles containing Wheat Germ Oil and Oat Fiber and Mango and Papaya, but none of it is meant to be taken internally. Just For Men doesn't go where you'd think it does, either. But some stuff is hard to resist. In the hardware store I discovered something called a Faucet Beanie, which, according to the sign, you can "push-on and wiggle-flush for a hassle-free friction fit, with no more hooks, bands, or straps!" I've been looking for that my whole life.
Even shopping for plumbing fixtures is fraught. There are all sorts of brands of toilets, from Kohler to American Standard to Universal Rundle. I'm guessing most Americans would go for the Standard, but I thought in our case we should buy a Universal Rundle. Because Dave and I don't have the same size rundles.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled Murrmurrses for a bonus post about a friend in the blogosphere. Ah, Internet: everything is free now. That's what they say, but maybe it shouldn't be. Julie, who puts out quality material for nothing, lost her best-beloved greenhouse in the recent Big Wind. We will return you to your normal fare tomorrow.
Gather 'round, kids, and attend to my sonnet
about Julie Zickefoose and her late Pod;
that's her greenhouse, that somehow got crosswise with God,
Who uprooted a tree and then flang it right on it.
You don't take it personal. That would be silly:
there's no single person's a target of wind.
It doesn't mean Julie has trespassed or sinned
by protecting the fuchsia or wint'ring the lily.
That's just how things go. But there's things we can manage:
replacing a Pod that's been felled by a tree
for a woman who gives us so much, and for free?
We can do that. And so I appeal to her fannage:
Let's go to her blog. You've all been there before
to learn how to safely relocate a snake
with a pillowcase, ladder, sheer balls, and a rake;
or discover how swallows can open a door;
or a way to put corpulent bats on a diet
until they are streamlined and ready for flight.
There's a donation button right there on the right,
and to show her we're grateful, I think we should try it.
For Zick, and her Pod that's irreparably riven,
for all we have learned about bird-eating frogs,
and busted-up turtles, and snorgling dogs,
here's a way to give back some of what we've been given.
If we all band together, it won't take a lot.
We can go there and chip in a five or a ten,
or whatever, to shelter that now-homeless wren
that kept nesting there, in the geranium pot.
Here's a link to her blog. It's right there at the bottom.
Her friends will show up, so let's show her she's got 'em.