Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We've Got A Trojan

Recently I wrote about how Pluto, the former planet, got demoted because it hasn't cleaned up its neighborhood of space debris. It's not that Earth is completely tidy, but at least it's not surrounded by crud. This is one of the attributes that allows us to call ourselves a planet. (Also, we're the ones who got to define "planet.") There are asteroids and meteors and comets and other dust bunnies in the vicinity but for the most part our planet has long since vacuumed up everything major in the region. The odd space rock will wander on through, but those don't count against us; we're just being hospitable, even to the point of occasionally giving them a soft spot to land. (Sorry about that, dinosaurs. And Russians.)

We do get to keep a moon. A planet can accumulate a pet moon in a number of ways. It can start out with a gang of dust and gas around it that begins to associate ever more closely until it spheres up. Or, it can steal an already-made one that was just passing through. The way we got our moon was that somewhere along the line something huge smacked into us and knocked a chunk out. So our moon is like the loogey we hawked that didn't quite clear our shoulder.

The reason there's ever a solar system in the first place is that masses are attracted to each other, because space is a big and scary place to be by yourself; we call it gravity, but it's really atomic loneliness. Of the stuff in the disc that became our solar system, almost all of it got claimed by the sun itself, and the leftover dribs and drabs became us, our planet buddies, and other miscellany. Everything started to bunch up. We get something solid to stand on because we are close to the fire, so all the rocky bits and iron and metals with a high melting point were at our disposal. There isn't that much of that. Most of the stuff running around the sun, by far, is in the big gas planets. Jupiter's the biggest, having formed first, and Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune had to make do with what was left over. I'm not sure you can land on Jupiter or Saturn, although you could maybe sort of land through them. Uranus and Neptune are icy, so you could stand on them. Briefly.

Artist's Depiction
We're all very fond of our moon and many of us have thought it would be cool if we had another. So a few years ago we found out we do! Sort of! We have our own Trojan Asteroid, and it orbits with us, if not around us. A trojan asteroid is a space rock that travels in the same orbit as a planet or a planet's moons, simply by positioning itself at a Lagrangian point. So there you have it.

Lagrangian points are certain locations--five of them--at which the combined gravitational pull of two massive objects, like the Earth and the sun, allow a smaller object to travel with them rather than going haywire. Our trojan is leading us around the sun, even though it is only a thousand feet across. It's like a weiner dog straining at the leash. I don't know why it's called a trojan. It has no protective qualities at all.

Since there are only five Lagrangian points associated with the Earth and the sun, you'd think scientists could have found the sucker before now, but it's little and hard to see in the daytime, which is all the time. But also, it doesn't just hang out at the predicted point. It oscillates around it, wildly, in what is called a "tadpole-shaped loop," and if that doesn't cheer you up, you should probably seek pharmaceutical help. Scientists might have been encouraged to refer to its path as a tadpole-shaped loop in order to avoid calling it a spermy loop. They're in enough trouble with the Trojan thing.

So we can't gaze on our trojan at night, but still it's ours, and the least we can do for it is give it a better name than "2010 TK7." I'm going with Skippy.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Seeing Clearly

Many of you were probably paying attention the other day when I wrote a nice poetic segment about window glass rippling with the passage of time, only to have the notion ruined (not that I'm pouting or anything, but ruined) by friends Kat and Roxie who both pointed out that window glass is not a slow liquid and does not puddle up over time. And that turns out to be true. All the ripples in old glass were there when it was new glass, and it's a natural consequence of how the glass was blown. Modern glass is manufactured differently and does not ripple.

And evidently this has been true for the whole time I've harbored the belief that glass sags. I learned it early. "In fact," whoever originally told me said, "if you examine a pane of old glass, you'll discover that it is thicker at the bottom than at the top. Eventually it gets thin enough to shatter in place."

I might have squinted at a window then but decided it was too subtle for me to tell. And old glass does have a way of shattering. Just like new glass. Doesn't matter. I loved the idea of liquid glass. I still do. I want to believe it. For lo, it is very good.

I do want people to tell me when I get things wrong. I have a reputation to protect. When people read here that a gang of caterpillars once stole the coin collection of a famous 19th-century entomologist and sold it to buy meth, I want them to be able to take that to the bank.

People make assumptions all the time and get proven wrong just as often. Remember the guys who set about to see which kind of cutting board was better at reducing bacterial contamination? They ran some preliminary tests on marble and plastic and went ahead and threw in an old-fashioned wood cutting board too, and much to their surprise, the wooden board was WAY better at staying clean than either of the other two, which were assumed to be better because they're so much less porous. The bacteria were crawling right into the pores in the wood, like innocents in a dark alley, and not coming back out again. Wood murdered them.

Some ideas are easier to let go of than others. I felt better about my wooden cutting board immediately. But the window glass! I loved the puddling window glass from the moment I heard about it. Not too long ago I observed that one of our old windows--one with fifteen separate panes--had some panes rippling horizontally and some vertically. It made no sense to me. It was clearly (ha) an original window, and our hypothesis about rippling couldn't account for a vertical ripple. But did I question the premise? No. I wrinkled my brow and carried on. The weird thing about this is that it's not even something science needed to solve. People who made window glass in olden times obviously knew it was rippled right off the bat. It's something that got un-learned.

It would be like people now saying that cars from the fifties and sixties began to clank and rattle and smoke and sputter and die by the side of the road as they aged, when many of us are old enough to know they did all that when they were brand-spanking-new.

But oh, we cherish the cool ideas, even when they're proven wrong. There are still people living today who think the world's only about six thousand years old. You can't persuade them otherwise. I really don't get hanging onto that one though--the truth is so much cooler.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Neener Neener

All right. Ants. I admit I didn't see you at first, but by the time the four-millionth of you marched through, I was on to you. Don't think for one moment I can't see you all lined up straight like a bunch of uniformed schoolchildren from some foreign country where they're freakishly obedient. Now. This was all very cute when you used to come in here in April and take off again in May, but it's been dragging on longer and longer, and The Management is no longer cool with this. And now it's freakin' February, for fuck's sake. There's going to have to be some changes. We're going to have to have some ground rules.

Number one. Stay on the ground. There's plenty of room in this house along the baseboards without everyone having to traipse off into the sugar drawer or the pantry or anything.

Number two. There'd better not be any number two.

Number three. As soon as you get all properly lined up on the ground, I'm going to spray your asses with Windex and wipe you up with a sponge. I can do this all day long: I literally have nothing better to do. Yes? Question?


Speak up. You say that all of you together are more like part of one big body than a bunch of individuals, and that if I Windex all your asses, it will be like clipping a fingernail? Your point?

neener neener

Your point is that Big Mama has already laid more eggs than I've Windexed asses in the time it took to call this meeting together. Your point is that if you put all the humans on one side of a scale and all the ants on the other side of the scale, the scale wouldn't even tip. I'm fine with that. I wish you all the best, somewhere else.

Number four. Okay, here's how it's going to be. I am going to lay in a vat of Windex and have a spray bottle in every room. Five or six times a day I am going to spray your little asses--do you even have asses? I mean, not with cleavage or anything. If you do, I'll spray them. You won't like it.

Don't even think about going over to that cat dish. Don't. You know what will happen? The cat will come toward you and put her nose right on one of you. That's right. And then she'll back away fast and make noises for a long time, and believe you me, you don't want any part of that.

Number five. In about a month, I'm going to go online and tattle on you to all of Facebook. That's right. I'm going to harness the collective wisdom of the smartest species that ever lived. And all my friends are going to send me a bunch of advice involving Borax. Believe me, you don't want any of that. And then I'll start to hear from a trickle of my other friends who don't necessarily vote the way I do but they're my friends anyway. And they're going to recommend a protocol of poisons capable of dismantling the entire back yard ecosystem. I would watch my little fannies if I were you.

Number six. And then I'm going to keep with the Windex and the wiping clear into September. Questions? You in the back.


Speak up.

neener neener neenie neen neen

Okay, yes, I see that the little fellow I referred to as "you in the back" is not actually in the back at all. In fact, there is an unbroken line of you behind him that goes through the dining room and around the corner. I see that now. All right, listen up. It's Windex and death to all of you for the next eight months right up to the day you decide to waltz off somewhere else. I'd think about that if I were you.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Winter Wind

It's midnight, and the wind is pushing on the house. The house is creaking like an old man shrugging out his kinks. Every now and then something bangs or clanks or tumbles through the yard, and I run through a mental inventory of unsecured items: bucket? Garbage can? The chains of the house ghost? This is an old house, basically, with big implants. The new parts have up-to-date insulation but the old parts have had lint blown indifferently into its crevices, and it's probably settled like Pootie's stuffing: dense in the butt and a little thin in the chest. The room I'm in is over a hundred years old and all the windows that a burglar hasn't come through are ripply. Glass is a slow liquid, and the panes are puddling up at the bottom. We'd do better with double-pane thermals, but I like to be able to see the passage of time.

Something is blowing in, hard. We're easily moistened but thermally delicate here, and can go several winters without the temperature getting into the twenties, let alone lower. So there's something exciting about this, but wind always excites me. Something's happening. Something's coming. Two generations ago (in my family, at least) people had ways of coping with cold. They might have preferred not to have to bring the cows to the barn through a snowdrift, but they could bundle up, and they could do it. For thousands of years people have managed to feed themselves and regulate their temperatures. Now we are bundled in layers of tasks, places we need to be and things we need to do, and extreme weather has turned into more of a calamity. We're almost undone if we can't drive to the store.

Wind is the movement of air molecules from a place there's a lot of them to a place there isn't. Warm air is just a bunch of molecules that are moving faster than cold air molecules. They're energetic and jittery. Because they're moving faster, they're jostling harder. They move toward each other and away, but the away tends to win out, and that means there's more space between them. Cold air molecules move less and have comparatively more stay-puttedness, so they don't spread apart so much. That means a volume of warm air has fewer molecules in it than the same volume of cold air. So it weighs less, and rises. It has low pressure.

I'm almost certain I have that right.

The fun begins when you get a mass of warm air and a mass of cold air and they get close to each other. The warm air molecules are pushy, and one would expect them to shove right into the cold air molecules, which are just standing around bunched up, mostly, and that's what can happen in a thunderstorm. But when you're talking larger air masses, the whole planet gets into the game. Because the earth is rotating, it drags some of the atmosphere along with it. And that gets the air spinning. That means most of the air is flowing around the warm and cold air masses, making S-curves. In between is where you get your wind. If the high and low pressure systems get really close together, your garbage cans tumble through the night.

I like to be comfortable as much as the next person, but this is why the battering wind at midnight excites me, even as I snug the quilt to my neck. I know that my disappearing garbage can is at the whiplash-end of a story about the rotating earth, and the insistent tropical sun; and the garbage can and I are merely blown-about specks on the beautiful swirling marble we call home. It makes me happy to know how very important I am not. It's thinking you're in control of things that leads to despair.

I like things that are much bigger than me, like Dave, and weather, and the universe. Many people are comforted by the notion that someone even bigger is in charge of them, even if there's a lot of evidence that such a being, if merciful, is slacking off. I'd rather just bang around in the wind and wonder at the rare and random privilege that is my life.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Let The Human Interest Stories Begin!

At last the Winter Olympics are here. Russia has been angling for an Olympics for a long time and finally got the one they wanted: the Winter games, which show Putin's nipples off to best effect. Lacking authority over climate change--so far--Putin has gone to great lengths to assure proper winter conditions for Sochi. The last two winters' snowpacks were detained indefinitely by the state, and new snow was being manufactured right up until opening ceremonies. In some cases supplies have been artificially augmented, such as in the mogul run, consisting of a light top layer of snow over the glazed and powdered bodies of unrepentant homosexuals. The Russian team is ready, resplendent in butch outerwear lined with stray dog fur. Let the games begin!

Singles figure skating was one of the first events and here, too, Team Russia looks promising. Team Canada registered an objection when their star Tessa Virtue was marked down for "getting off on her twizzles," pointing out that it's hard not to get off if properly twizzled. American skater Ashley Wagner was out of the running early, after combatively asserting that her only goal was to prove she should be here, which she could have done just as well by displaying her ticket and visa. Promising skater Mao Asada of Japan, set to retire at age 23, gave a stirring performance marred by a fall on her first jump, after which she was shot and sent to the rendering plant. And then it was just left for tiny Russian phenom Yulia Lipnitskaya, age 15, to mop up with an outstanding routine. Her talent had been well nurtured after she showed early promise and her first menstrual period was detained indefinitely by the state.

As always, the individuals singled out for greatness are those who have had the most to overcome, and many of the human-interest stories remain in tight contention. If calamity does not occur naturally, a semblance of  it can be manufactured; to that end, the Russian hosts have provided intermittent electrical service and running water plus ice toilet seats in the athletes' lodging. The Russian team members have been accused of having the unfair additional advantage of a threat of a Siberian retirement, but nothing has been proved.

Tiny East Fuckistan's hopes for the gold are pinned on luge contender Mglyk Sklerotodic, who is thought to have nothing left to lose. Abandoned as an infant in the parking lot of Dirt 'N' Potatoes R Us, young Mglyk was rescued by a pack of wolves that chewed him out of the burlap sack. He was subsequently raised in the woods, until his pack was tragically gunned down by the East Fuckistan Biathlon Team when their 24-hour ski training regimen left them too woozy to steady their rifles. Newly re-orphaned,
Mglyk was left healthy except for a lingering hip dysplasia, and recovered only after retrieving enough Legos from a dumpster to fashion his own splints. He is expected to easily best American Bobby Lee Piecrust, who has brought to the competition only a mother with cancer and poor employment prospects.  Bobby Lee told reporters that he will do the best he can to make his mother proud, with God's help, and said that he is holding out hopes his circumstances are at least heart-wrenching enough to land him a spot in a singing competition.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Red In Claw

There's a lot to be said for goldfish as pets. Sometimes they're towing that long poop trail, but that's just temporary. I was thinking about the merits of goldfish when we retired a fine upholstered chair that our cat Tater had loved to ribbons. When she began to apply the same affection to a new Arts & Crafts rug that we'd bought so recently that we still remembered the price tag, I began to look up solutions on the internet. "Cat murder alternatives," I typed in.

You could type in something like "do earthworms sneeze" and expect a billion hits, but it turns out there are not many good alternatives to murdering a cat. One of them is rubbery claw covers. You glue them on your cat's claws and instantly reduce their slashing ability and self-esteem. Also, they come in colors. What could go wrong?

They only last a few weeks, and the main brand was willing to relinquish a set of twenty for about thirty dollars. I could just reupholster my chair every six months for that kind of money. But I could get forty of them for a buck if I ordered them from China on eBay. I won't even shop at Walmart because they've moved our entire economy to China, but I was willing to put a divot in my ethics when it came to rubber cat claws. I sent away for them. They arrived promptly, with a helpful instruction pamphlet, including a cutesy Chinese cat cartoon and the following advice:

Some dogs and cats will try to bite away the nail wraps after they are initially put on. Once it happens, immediately cry it down until they are used to the wraps. But please don't worry, it is quite normal. Avoid direct contact between children and pets with the adhesive. Trimming of too short nails may let them blood. Once the nails blood, put on the nail wraps after bleeding is stanched. If the nail kits cats & dogs were swallowed, do not worry, most the circumstances were swallowed nail kits will be discharged as waste.

This was all very helpful, but didn't go quite far enough. As a public service, I  have expanded the Nail Caps Instruction Leaflet for the benefit of all:

Some cats will catapult a mayhem event on the application of the nail kits. Once this happens, do not worry. It is normal. Do make sure the crockery. In the circumstances of the too short crockery, simply engage a sweeping. It is recommended that the cat observation continue through the mayhem event. You may find it helpful to pillow the remaining crockery.

Remember: nail adhesive is strong and binds now. Be careful do not glue your fingers together. Once
it happens, intrude a grapefruit knife in the middle of fingers with care and apply gentle sawings. If it bloods, do not worry, that is quite normal. You will normally live.

To reduce incidents of slashings, it is recommended that a full set of nail wraps are installed in the cat before initially attempting to install nail wraps in the cat. Be careful to do never glue your fingers to cat. Once it happens, calm up the cat as agitations can be rippy. If the cat is strenuously going away, apply blanket to its head and cry it down. If no blanket somewhere, oh well. That is life! The situation will resolve itself within four weeks when new skin arrives. Some cats will try to bite away the fingers. Please don't worry, blooding in the circumstance is quite normal. Continue to observe normally the cat and be alert to spurtings on your selves. If spurtings happen, immediately seek up help from the doctor.

Do not worry. Worry gives agitations to the system and can lead to discharges quickly of waste. Instead admire at the cat until the doctor arrives. Nice cat! Pretty cat.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pressed And Pleated

From Trousering Your Weasel.

So they called me after my last mammogram to tell me they weren't happy with one of the pictures, and would I come in to get the right side done again? And allow time for an ultrasound. Okay. I never did take a good picture.

I've done this before. The last time I was in a panic, and when I was told the appointment was a week out, I asked them to call me if there was a cancellation so I could get in earlier. They did call and I shot out for Kaiser like I'd been spring-loaded. We did the mammograms over again, several times, using concentrated little plates to zero in on a particular few inches of my personal geography, and then they shook their heads sadly and led me to ultrasound, and finally they asked me to go in to the doctor's office for a consultation, and he said everything was fine. Whatever worrisome thing that had been on the film was no longer on the film.

"Where'd it go?" I asked, regretting once again I had not brought extra underpants.

Well, he explained, it probably wasn't there in the first place. It was just a little mammogram technician joke, something to break up the tedium. In all likelihood she had accidentally gotten a little pleat in there. I can see how it could happen. It's like when you're sewing a quilt and there are lots of layers of fabric and batting and thicknesses and everything looks all smooth on top but when you flip it over you discover you've stitched wrinkles into the thing.

Anyway I'm not worried about this. It's probably nothing. And even if it isn't nothing, time has done a number on my ability to work up a good panic. If they've got to get in there and drill or take the whole thing off, so be it. Lop the other one off while you're at it. I wouldn't want to end up always walking in circles.

But it's probably nothing. There's so much opportunity on a woman like me to stitch in an inadvertent pleat. They don't take merely the breast, after all. They gather up any flesh in the vicinity and heave that in there, too. After a certain age there's no real telling what's breast tissue and what isn't. Things are sprawling toward the sides and into the back-fat folds and just to be on the safe side they like to haul all of it around and jam it in the vise. For a few seconds, from the rear, I look like a thirteen-year-old. Then they release the plates and everything rolls back and wobbles for a bit before settling down, comfy and loose as the cat's pajamas.

It was always hard for me to imagine how they were able to do a mammogram on a man. Not the kind of man who has boobs, but ones like Dave. He has everything he's supposed to, but nothing extra. I worry sometimes that without natural fat gussets, he might rip his skin open while sneezing. And yet, a few years ago, he actually did go in for a mammogram. I have no idea what I was doing that was so danged important that I missed the opportunity to observe that. It is nearly beyond my ability to imagine.

But I have a feeling that if someone were to come in the room while he was undergoing his mammogram, they might have concluded that the plates were locked up, and the technician was sliding him in there like a credit card, trying to pop them open again.

Update: It was nothing. Just another mammogram technician joke. Ha ha ha, mammogram technician! You are a stitch! They were looking for something "below the breast, on the chest wall." I told you. If I had a tumor under my shoulder-blade, they could find it in a mammogram.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Panties Unfurled

The other day I suddenly felt something wonderful--something in what we shall call the crotchular region, something that I hadn't felt in a long, long time. I stopped and turned this way and that and felt it again. And again. And, oh god, again.

Extraordinary!  I couldn't even remember the last time I'd had that sensation. What could I even call it? Roominess. I felt roominess in my underpants. Tiny breezes. Flapping. There were portions of my underpants, in fact, that were not welded to my ass. There was--dare I say it?--draping.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time since puberty, I have droopy drawers.

It's the exact opposite feeling I've come to associate with underwear. Ordinarily I am one with my underwear. I don't want to be, but I am not in control. My underwear has a military demeanor. The bra holds the front line and bolsters the flanks with forces conscripted from the armpit. Below, things charge up the hill and lay siege to the valley. Elastic maintains the perimeter and holds the line against invasions from the north. The rear guard engages in trench warfare at its very worst. I have nothing to say about it.

One way to make peace is with the hippie mama dress. The hippie mama dress might grace the shoulders and jut over the bust, but after that it's all air and unicorns right to the ground. In a different context it could be mistaken for a window treatment. If fashion makes a statement, the statement of this dress is "capacity up to three hundred pounds of oats, groats, seeds, sprouts, soy, and silage. Contents may have settled during shipping." It's nothing to look at, but here's the payoff: no underwear is required. It's nudity without the risk of causing public blindness.

The thing about the hippie mama dress is there's no way to tell how much of you is inside it. I actually took up less room in the interior than it might have appeared. And now there is about ten percent less of me to love than there was a few years ago. Just enough of a loss to put a spring in my step and a breeze in my underpants. The other kind of breeze in my underpants.

I wasn't specifically trying to lose weight, but it's happened. The forces of gravity have begun to overcome the forces of friction in my trousers. All vectors are pointing downward.

And now it is time to buy smaller underpants, something with a little more allegiance to its cargo. But not yet. I can't abandon the old crew yet. Not when we've finally reached detente. Not when they're rippling under there like the flag of freedom.