Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Sky Is Falling And You Will Too

Wintry Mix, 1978
We're in line for what the weathermen typically call a "wintry mix." They call it a wintry mix because they don't know what else to call it. People like to complain that we have the same weather day after day, but every now and then we just have all the weather at once, and that's your Wintry Mix. It's not imaginative. It's like when the women's magazines publish a new Christmas cookie recipe and they don't want to come right out and call them Sugar Gum Goo Bars With Some Kind Of Breakfast Cereal And An Unknown But Hopefully Botanical Adhesive, so they call them "Festive Treats."

People from colder climes like to bitch about how no one here knows how to drive in winter, but odds are they've never seen this before. They zip around in a nice grippy snow powder you don't even need chains for. But not only do we not know what we're doing, our weather doesn't even know what it's doing. It's supposed to either come in a little warm from the ocean and rain all over us, or come in cold but dry from the other direction. When by chance we start to get some cold and some precipitation at the same time, the moisture just hangs up in the atmosphere rooting around in the glove box for the manual, and there isn't one, and then it's all finger-pointing and recriminations. Up top it's crowded with snowflakes and they elbow each other until they start to fall. But then some of them come back up and report that there's a whole warm layer down there and they're falling apart, and then the snow on top says jeezy peezy just keep going, it gets colder at the bottom again, and they go back and forth and eventually everybody hits the ground as either hail or snow or sleet or Rice Krispies or plain rain--for a minute. Then it seizes up. Everything's coated slicker than polished goose shit. If we could just put this stuff on the Hubble telescope we'd be able to see up God's nose.

One of my last winters Moving The Nation's Mail we had four days of this. By the third day the frozen rain had humped up over previous piles of Wintry Mix. It might have been possible to ambulate on something resembling an ice rink, but not this bumpy crap. Every step sent you three directions at once and your strongest tendons determined your trajectory. "I'll walk you to the bus stop," Dave said, as I headed off to the post office (during the dark of night, be it noted). "No need," I said, "I can manage two blocks," but then I disappeared briefly and turned up under the truck. Dave hoicked me back up again and we made it to the bus stop as a single four-legged teepee, and I showed up back at the house three hours later. The bus had made it about five blocks, sometimes sideways, and I'd demanded to be let off before it went downhill. The three blocks home took me a half hour to walk, plenty of time to determine my bones are not brittle.

You show me a good Minnesotan who knows how to drive in that, and I'll show you what the bottom of his car looks like.

But now I've got fuzzy slippers, a wood fire, and a beer with my name on it in the fridge. I'm going to enjoy my wintry mix. If you're a retired mailman, there's no finer weather on the planet.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Feature This

Every day, merely in the act of remaining alive, your body sheds billions of skin cells, nomadic mites, bacteria, and personal information. Market researchers can harvest the latter to help relieve you of your money. That is why ads for things you actually want keep popping up on your computer, and that is why newspapers no longer publish news. Newspapers now publish features and filler, because they have done market research, and they know that's what you like.

I didn't think I liked it, which is why I gave up my Oregonian subscription and got the New York Times instead. I was thrilled! There were long serious articles all over the place. I set aside the Style section, and also the Style II and Style III sections, and the Sports, and most of the Arts & Entertainment, and then after a while I set aside a lot of the front section to read later.

Articles about Syria, for instance. I didn't pay attention at first because I was hoping the whole thing would blow over. When it didn't, I was too far behind to understand it. I set all the World News sections aside and stacked them on my Tower of Remorse.

Shadows lengthened from the Tower of Remorse and finally I realized I didn't really want to read the news anymore. Which the Oregonian already knew, well before I did. So I got the Oregonian again, and now all I read is the Local Dead People and the features. Features like Personal Style, Homes & Gardens, and Pets.

Personal Style: yes! This week I learned that a really good footwear choice for short women is pointy flats, because they make your leg look longer. Sure they do! I plan to double down with false fingernails and a dunce cap and hit the runway.

Homes & Gardens: yes! The essential guide to proper gift wrapping. I'm a horrible gift wrapper. I always made all my presents, any of which might have taken me sixty hours, and by the time I had them done I didn't give one shit about wrapping them nicely. I shook them in a bag with old wrapping paper and tape like I was flouring chicken and hoped for the best.

But here were instructions on making your own felt bows and adding fun, funky ornaments. Or non-poisonous greenery from your garden. Unless that was from the Pets feature on hamsters. "Try wrapping one or two gifts each evening instead of all at once," the author recommended. Clearly, this was going to take some stamina. But it's easier, said she, if you collect little ornaments and funky doodads all year long and keep them in a closet with your wrapping paper and ribbon. Suddenly I realized I was reading advice from a person who had a doodad closet. I do not have a doodad closet. Just the tiny drawer in which I keep the shit I don't give one of. I turned the page.

Yes! How to create a cozy guest bedroom!

Keep it simple: that's the key. To keep it simple, it is suggested you use only one kind of fresh flower for the simple but elegant floral arrangement you will place on the nightstand with the chocolates and an assortment of current magazines and classic books. Also, you should provide a simple personal coffeepot in the room along with a tray of hot chocolate, tea, sugar packets, mugs, airplane booze, pudding, your wireless code with a link to an escort service, and a selection of charcuterie.  Also, a fruit bowl, personal ointments, a stocked freezer and a pizza oven. Also, water and adequate lighting. Unless that was the hamster advice.

Bed should be of sufficient size and sturdiness to withstand several strata of pillows. Seed the pillow pile with fun things for your guests to find when they're excavating down to the mattress: think Legos, small tins of Oxycodone, or a rented kitten. (Check your doodad closet.)

Make sure there is easy access to your ventilation system in case your guests want to do some fun midnight exploring! Wait, that was the hamster advice.

Blackout curtains are recommended in case your guests want to sleep in. Walling up the windows altogether is an even nicer touch. Just be sure there is an exit to the outside. If the number for the taxi service is prominently displayed, you'll never have to see your guests at all.

And that's a wrap. News at eleven. I'll be asleep.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Up And Down

It's not that I never challenge myself. Just this week I played Chopin in front of six entire humans who were not me. Also, I cohabited with an enormous can of salted peanuts for days. I could have polished it off in one sitting, but modesty held me back. It's unseemly to go for too much glory. It's unbecoming.

So when I took Dave to go skydiving, I didn't join in; I just watched.

They call it skydiving but it's not. It's like skydiving in that each flight lasts only a minute, but the same can be said of a handful of peanuts. And you can't see the sky. You're indoors in a massive cylindrical wind tunnel. You're all tricked out in a flight suit and goggles and helmet and you're supposed to walk into the wind tunnel and fall forward with your arms and legs out and your back arched and you will float in the air like a cabbage leaf. Dave is naturally graceful but he didn't really cabbage up. He went out straight as bacon and whacketed around like one of those plates-on-a-stick on the Ed Sullivan show. When his minute was up he had only begun to approximate hovering, but you do get two shots at it.

There's a trainer in there with you making sure you don't sail off altogether. He'll snatch you right out of the air. The flight suit has handles on it so he has something to grab, but if things go too far sideways he'll grab any old thing that's sticking out. They keep your credit card open in case he hits something good.

On his second flight, Dave has achieved a measure of control, hovering a few feet above the net, and the trainer grabs his suit and takes him up to spin around the top of the tunnel. They float up like ashes in a chimney--in fact from below all you can really see is their ashes--and back down and up and down again. When the minute is up, the trainer gets him by the neck and butt and Guido-bounces him right out the door. They're on a schedule, and they've already got your money.

Dave's turn to watch came that evening, when I hauled him along to a Sing-Your-Own-Messiah. This can be exciting even for a non-participant if he manages to get caught up in a gale of sopranos, but it was mostly altos around us. Fine with me. I learned the score as a soprano, but decades spent not singing stomped on my range, and I'm temporarily an alto on a tenor trajectory. I could park myself in the tenor section now, but I'm waiting for my mustache to fill in.

Alto basically sucks. You just get to doodle around in a tiny middle range where you sound kind of angsty in your lower register and impotent in your upper, so you yodel back and forth between the two looking for the sweet spot. Plus, your part is dull. You're just filler, just the adhesive to keep the sopranos and baritones from coming apart. You're the choral mayonnaise to their meat and cheese.

But you resign yourself, and you hang onto a melismatic Handel passage or two and start to stretch out the old vocal cords, and by Hallelujah time, you discover your husband is laying down some Hallelujahs of his own, hovering competently near the bottom of the bass clef, and you hitch a ride on a soprano and sail up to a high F just to see what ruptures, and nothing does, nothing does; and you float back down in one piece, full of blessings, and honor, and power.

And glory.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good flight and night.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Here's how it works. You're a certain age and sex, you take pictures of yourself and your BFF making duck lips and post them to the social media. You're twenty years younger than your first lip wrinkle, and you can prove it. It doesn't look good, but you do it anyway. Because that's what's done.

Bodies haven't changed much. You'd think the way we pose would be similar through the years, but it's not. It comes and goes like fashion. When I was coming up, girls stood with one hip toward the camera, toe pointing forward. That's how the advertising models did it; women were known to be afflicted with gigantic asses, and this angle narrowed things out a bit. That's all out the window now.

Now we're all about the ass. Everyone wants a big curvy ass and so the young women put on a clingy dress and stand sideways, manicured hands pressed delicately against a man's chest; tits and ass are displayed to great effect in profile at the same time. For extra credit a girl can raise one foot back behind her. I'm not sure what that's supposed to convey, except an increased possibility she will tip over if she is not pressed against a sturdy male, but it's considered a fetching move, and all the cuter girls have it in their repertoire.

This has been going on a long time. It matters to us how we look in photographs. It makes us self-conscious in ways we were never meant to be. When photos first started becoming common, the long exposure time meant the subjects were encouraged to be still for several seconds, so nobody smiled. It's so typical of the era that even today we imagine our great-grandparents never had any fun. But you know? They probably did.

Well, if there was ever a time to strut your stuff, it's when your stuff is still struttable. But if you're a lucky woman, you do get past the point of thinking this hard about how you look to others all the time. I won't say I never give it a thought. I don't take a lot of selfies. My arm isn't long enough, and the pictures come out with all my chins arrayed in a line along my arm like sliced hors-d'oeuvres on a tray. When this neck issue first became difficult to ignore, I thought about holding my chin up and elongating my neck whenever a camera came out. Then I began to worry about how I looked from the side when I was looking down. Then I realized this sort of thing could take up most of my day and gave up the fight.

There's not a lot of percentage in that fight, ultimately. These days I can stand up straight with good posture but there's no guarantee all my body parts are going to be signed up with the same program. Major factions of my skin are seceding from the union. My birthday suit has lost all its crispness and snap. It's going to be birthday lounging-pajamas from now on.

So I can stand before a camera and ask all my parts to tighten up, stern as any choir director with a baton, but I can still hear the tenors in the back poking each other and giggling. It's over.

The last selfie?
Some of it's downright shocking the first time you notice it. My legs have always been strong, but the skin on the inside of my thighs is just sort of loitering around now. I don't know what it's doing. It might be chatting up the butt cheeks for all I know; God stuck those where I don't have to watch. And last week I discovered the skin on my upper back has struck out on its own too. It's just hanging close enough to get free wireless from the hypothalamus.

The elbow skin has been on its own a long time. It's fun to play with. You can mold it like Play-Doh. I still harbor the hope that if I'm patient enough, I'll be able to work the skin from behind my left elbow all the way over to my right elbow. What a reunion that would be! "I always knew," my right elbow would say. "I always knew I wasn't the only one."

Then they'll make duck lips into the camera. BFFs.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


My goodness, but it's raining; been raining for days. I thought the sky had forgotten how to do it.

We've soldiered on underneath one improbable sun after another, day after day, all through last winter and into the summer, unmoistened and edgy, wondering who'd put the order in for this unrelenting brightness. Recent immigrants, probably. Arid folk who can't even get into emotional gear unless they're pelted with photons, who require an unremitting stream of solar energy because they've never learned to put any energy by. They have failed to stock the root cellar of their souls.

I'd felt sorry for the sky. I myself experience an odd phenomenon wherein, from time to time, for no reason at all, I momentarily forget how to swallow. I'll be all ready with a nice package of excess saliva and I start to send it backwards and something locks up. My brain actually engages intellectually at this point: let's see. Is it tongue pressed up against the palate? And then something sort of relaxes at the back of the throat, and everything whooshes down? Or does the relaxation part happen first? Or am I supposed to push somewhere? Don't tell me, I've got this. I used to do it all the time. So far, it's always worked out after a few seconds.

Puddles in the 'hood
But that's how I imagine the sky. The Sky of 2015, the sky that forgot how to rain. The sun poked out in the middle of the winter for a week or so and far too many people started to admire it, and it said, well, shoot, yeah, I guess I can hang around for a while, since you're all being so nice, and that was that. OMG, the sky says on its facebook page, I can't believe I ate all that carbon! LOL! And the sky gets a zillion thumbs-up, and it likes a little affirmation as much as the next guy. And by summer, when the lakes shrink up and the big snowy mountain experiments with nudity, it's too late. The sky has lost the knack. I remember I'm supposed to pick up a bunch of water over here in the ocean and then wring most of it out over the Coast Range, and then throw the extra at the Willamette Valley, but right now I can't remember how I used to scoop it up.

But now it's raining like the clouds just fell down all at once. The
TV weathermen are standing in flooded streets with little meteorologist woodies. The roof sounds like the staging area for Santa's reindeer plus his backup team. The low spots in the garden are advertising for trout. The Coast Range is getting fifteen inches of water and it's going back to work on its abandoned Flattening Project. The valleys are exalted, and the mountains are laid low. Mud slips. Rocks loosen. Roots change their minds about things. Trees entertain existentialist thoughts. Everywhere you look, water is doing its damnedest to get to the center of the earth, thwarted only by topography. It is a beautiful display of water and gravity, of the way things should be.

"There's water in the basement," comes the text message from the new renters.

That's one way to thwart. Well, it's just a little joke rain plays on me because it knows I like rain. Ha ha! How do you like me now? Rain can be quite the scamp. I remember how to swallow and Dave goes for the ladder to check the gutters. But I'm calm. Everything is as it should be. We've still got water, and we've still got gravity. I don't want to float off into space. I certainly don't want to float off thirsty.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Stalking The Wild Tenant

New Victims
It's a chilly day and I'm watching our new tenants move into the rental house next door. We gave them a hand with some of the heavy stuff earlier and now I'm just sitting up in my writing room snooping out the window. I always do this, and I'm told it's unbecoming. The last folks to move in, I found myself popping over there every few minutes to see if they needed anything. I was being nice, I thought. But genuine human interest and warmth can skid into sketchy territory pretty fast. You start with Nice and soon you're on the road to Overly Solicitous and before you know it, Stalkerish is coming into view. After a week or so, with the last tenants,  I pulled back and made myself completely scarce for a while. They didn't know me. I didn't want them to have to worry I was going to be one of those pain-in-the-ass chatty landlords.

But these people do know me, already. They know exactly how I can be, and they're already resigned to it. So.

We met Anna years ago, in fact. She played cello in a band with our very first tenants, Big Dave and Little Dave. Evidently, she tells us now, she lived there. In the basement. Illegally. Along with a rotating crop of sofa surfers. "I hope to get around to repainting that dark-ass green room in the basement," I told her when she was checking out the place. "I don't know who was responsible for that."

"I did that," Anna said.

When The Daves moved in, I couldn't stop snooping. I'd be in my darkened living room peering into their window at night. "Dave!" I said to my Dave. "Aww! They've got a floor lamp!"

"Get away from that window," Dave said.

"Dave! Aww! They're putting a little table in the kitchen!"

"Get away from that window," Dave said.

I quit updating Dave. But you know? It was just like when you bang a birdhouse together and hang it in just the right spot, and an actual bird shows up, and starts taking care of things. Or when you get a little bitty kitten and bring it home and it pokes around and finds the food dish and the water dish right off, because it's the smartest kitten ever. And then later you hear it flushing away in the basement litter box that it found all by itself. Genius kitten. We'd fixed up the house, and now there were authentic humans in it, young ones, feeding themselves and using furniture and everything. Would they know where the litter box was? Yes! They do! They're so smart!

Doesn't mean they ever cleaned the litter box. Five years later Big Dave strolled in just as we'd finished spiffing up the place for the new tenant. We'd had the carpeting removed and torched, and set off a bleach bomb, and were just about done squeegeeing mystery sludge off the walls, and he stood at the bathroom door, admiring our work.

"Gol, you guys," he said, "if this bathroom had been this clean when we moved in, we might have taken better care of it!"

"It was new when you moved in," Dave pressed out, through clenched teeth.

"Oh," Big Dave said, there being nothing else to say.

We loved those filthy boys to pieces, and we still do. And the splendid and indomitable Beth who succeeded them, and Extraordinary Dean, whom she lured in fair and square. And Molly and Zach who replaced them, two people who claim to be writers and yet never failed to pay rent. And now Anna and Noah. We'll be giving them keys to our house and pickup truck in a few days, because they're just two more in an unbroken line of spectacular young people we love like they're our own children, only without any of the unfortunate genetic repercussions. But I'm not that worried about being a pain in the ass this time.

If I were truly an overly solicitous landlord, I'd have had their furnace fixed by now.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Groutmaster

I'm kind of pleased, actually. I just installed a kitchen tile backsplash all by myself. Just me and the Sales Associate I cornered at Home Depot until I'd extracted everything he knew about tile-setting. And that's not easy. You have to keep turning your shoulder on the people piling up in the aisle determined to nab him next; you need to pretend they're not even there, no matter how close they edge up, no matter what power tools they may be brandishing. A person like myself, who was brought up by a really nice Lutheran woman from North Dakota, does not normally have the emotional tools to withstand that sort of pressure. But I held out, right down to the grout float and sealer instructions.

Yup, installed it all by myself. Unless you factor in Dave, who stationed himself outside with a tile saw to make cuts on demand. "What'll it be?" he'd say, and I'd hand him a tile and say, oh, three inches, 'ish,' and he'd say "ish?" and lower the eyebrows of scorn.

Dave is comfortable with a tile saw. Can operate a forklift. Can park a tractor-trailer. Can wrangle mathematics well enough to slip a star-shaped tube at an angle into a squid-shaped boiler so tight a fart couldn't get through. Can, let's face it, keep a dozen bricklayers in cuts and material so efficiently they don't have time to wander off for a beer.

Which is to say he can slice a tile right down to the gnat's ass. And we're talking right down the center cleavage of the gnat's ass.

"Ish," he repeated, scowling, and handed me a sharpened pencil. If there was going to be a mistake on this project, it wasn't going to be his fault.

The Home Depot guy talked me into a peel-and-stick mat instead of mastic. It's strongly adhesive. You cut it just so, and peel off one side and stick it to the wall, and then when you're ready you peel off the other side and stick on your tiles. For a small project like this it's not much more expensive than doing it the regular way, and it's easier for beginners. You do have to get it positioned just right. If you're a little off, and you try to pull the mat away from the wall to readjust it, you might take a divot out of the wallboard. Mice would be waiting right there on the other side with their little suitcases.

So I made mistakes. The eighth tile I tried to stick on kept falling off. I was in despair: I had this whole mat up, and it wasn't working! It took me almost a minute to realize I'd merely neglected to peel off the protective cover.  Ha ha! Whew!

I did that five more times.

But it's done. It's not too bad-looking. It's got flaws, but I'm pretty sure if I had it to do all over again, I'd get it exactly right. That is, if I did it tomorrow. I have a protective cover on my memory and rarely get around to peeling it off in time for new information to stick. I'll admit that.

Anyone who repeatedly loses her grout float even though she'd set it down two minutes ago and hadn't moved five feet has to admit that.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Tiny Hat Club

I happen to know, because of once having been fitted for a graduation cap, that my head size is 6-3/4. That's small. In fact, if you put a normal size adult hat on my head, I go blind. Pay attention to this, because it comes in later.

An odd thing happened when I retired from the post office on--let's see--October 1, 2008, at 3PM. The thirty-one years I had spent there began to slide out of my brain like a luge team with diarrhea. I'd assumed I'd drop by the station to say "hi" at some point, and smirk a little, but then I became afraid I wouldn't remember anyone's names. In a matter of just a few weeks, I didn't think about the post office at all.

And I liked my job. And my coworkers. You know--mostly. The early memories are the fondest, before Management decided the best way to get us to work hard was to barcode our asses and monitor us with drones and satellites, which resulted in a demoralized, trudging crew. No, the best were days we'd converge on some hapless new hire when the sun was going down on a Jeep that was still half full of mail. We'd pop open the back of the truck and do triage, passing out sections and parcels to all available hands, and we'd roar through the remainder of the route with elegance and efficiency and sometimes a little heroism, and it was a beautiful thing. Because the sooner we got all the mail delivered, the sooner we could go drink beer in the park. Often, off the clock.

Or the days we hunted down the proper destination of a lilac-scented letter with old-lady handwriting and no discernible address to speak of. It would get handed back and forth through the offices of capable carriers with freakish memories, even for quirks of handwriting, until it finally rattled into the right location because someone knew somebody on his route had a Great-Aunt Violet.

But it's all going away now, because it appears that my brain is a Postal Palimpsest. (Incidentally, any time a blogger can work in the word "palimpsest," all casual-like, you know you're getting a quality product.)

A palimpsest, as you all know, is a parchment or papyrus or other writing medium that has had the original writing scratched off and been written on again. Most of the time the antique folks would scratch their letters onto a waxed board or something and it was easy to smear it back into original condition, like one of those Magic Eraser Boards where you pull up the plastic sheet and everything goes away. But those haven't held up as well over time, so the ones people find now are often made of parchment. It might seem like a lot of work to scratch out the original document just to write over it, but you'd do it too if every time you needed to pop up in the middle of the night to jot down a thought you had to go out and kill a buffalo and tan its hide or something first. You totally would.

Anyway, apparently, because in my retirement I have become on fire to write creatively, I have had to scratch the postal parchment clean. There's no room in the brain for all of it.

Tiny, tiny hat.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Bed Is Just To Hold The Pillows Up

I finally punched through my favorite bed sheet the other day. I've been sleeping on it for twenty years, and it was getting so thin I could read the Do Not Remove tag on the mattress through it. It was the softest, smoothest sheet ever, the kind of sheet that makes you wiggle like you're treading water in the morning instead of getting up, just so you can feel it some more. It was soft as a baby's bottom without any of the effluent, mostly. I was so crushed to see the hole that I briefly considered keeping the sheet but avoiding the thin spot. Then I realized that whatever portion of me had thinned out the sheet was not likely to voluntarily relocate in my sleep.

I have another set of sheets, and they're pretty good, but not as good. The good ones didn't quite fit the mattress, and kept poinking off at the corners. The not-as-good ones fit just fine. The trouble is you can't tell if you have the really good sheets until you've bought them and opened them up. They can say stuff on the packaging but it doesn't mean anything. Egyptian cotton? Good for side-sleepers, I assume. Thread count? Please. There's no guarantee your 500 threads per square inch aren't all sticking straight up. Or that your sheet isn't as dense as a pair of Carhartts. And they won't let you feel the sheets in the store. The best you can hope for is if your sheets are all made up on an abbreviated display bed, and you can strip down and crawl in for a few seconds, but usually, in your better department stores, they send over some lady from Fragrances to spray you down. I've heard.

The set I just brought home is typical. It's a cube. It's not remotely squishy. It's encased in a transparent plastic suitcase all its own, with a zipper and everything. When you open it up it slides out all square. And then it folds out like one of those old Christmas Life-Savers books, and if you dig at it long enough, you'll discover it has been folded around heavy-duty cardboard to maintain squaritude. They pay some tiny person in Indonesia fifteen cents a day to cardboardize your sheets and then the store puts a lock on the little zipper so you can't open it up and feel them. Oh, it's packaged all to hell. You can tell the company sincerely wanted to add polystyrene foam and microbeads to the packaging and edge the plastic suitcase in baby seal fur, but Marketing intervened and insisted everything be transparent. At any rate, you have to throw the little suitcase away, preferably directly in the ocean where it can eventually choke an albatross. Because you're never, ever going to wad your sheets back into the sucker.

At least I was able to purchase a sheet set that didn't include four pillowcases and a pair of shams. We only use the two pillows, and they're not even king-size, though our bed is. Dave wanted something he could locate both ends of, so he got a queen, and mine is even smaller. When I make up the bed, it looks like I'm hiding a Tic-Tac in there. All I use in a pillow is the corner. I'm a stomach sleeper, and I fold the point under and wad up a fist-sized portion to mold to my eye socket and temple--just enough to keep my nostrils off the mattress. I don't even use the center portion of the pillow. That's just there to give me four corners to choose from.

Since my entire pillow inventory could be the size of a stuffed sock, I have always wondered why beds come with so many pillows now. I thought it was just for show. You have your regular pillows, you have your extra set of regular pillows, you have your throws, your tubulars, and your shams, all in attractive coordinating fabrics that aren't too matchy-matchy. What are they for? Are they bolsters to keep you from sailing off the bed? Are they cat deflectors? First thing I do when I encounter a bed with this many pillows is find the skinniest squishiest one and throw the rest on the floor. But at some point it occurred to me that my guests might actually enjoy pillows.  So I got a few extra for the guest room. OMG.

They use them. They orchestrate them. They want them. They, like me, have body parts all over them that need to be molded or contained, and they will draft every available pillow to give them an edge on insomnia. I may hate fat pillows because they force me to crank my head back like Jake the Alligator Man, but other people need as many different pillows as they can get. I won't argue: you have to go with what works. I need to keep my nostrils from being mashed into the mattress, and if my guests have something personal on them that needs propping up, it's no business of mine.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Pass The Cheese And Quackers

Medical specialists may seem like dull people, with their narrow focus and all, but they have fun at parties. I know this now.

Let me back up. I've had a long-standing policy of avoiding non-recreational drugs. I'll step into a small nest of antibiotics if they're called for, but I think the prescription drug business is a racket and a trap, especially the older you get. No one ever seems to get off of their meds, and instead they get more and more of them, and the meds start playing with each other and not with you, until all you are is a hollow host for pharmaceuticals. A lot of older people I know are having more trouble with their drugs than they are with whatever they're supposed to be treating. I don't want to jump on that train.

Which is all well and good, inasmuch as nothing really bad ever happens to me. It's been an easy policy to carry out, so far. And yet, out of sheer irritability, I got myself on a drug. I went in to the Ear Nose and Throat guy because of my chronically clogged crustacean tubes and he looked in my ears and up my nose and down my throat, because that's pretty much his whole sad life, right there. And he declared my hearing perfect and my crustacean tubes open on both ends.

"But they're not," I insisted. "Particularly the left one. In fact, the only time it's opened up in the last eight months has been when I've been on an airplane." I'm aware this is completely backwards, but there you go. People have been known to drive their babies around to get them to sleep; I'm wondering how long I can be allowed to stay at 30,000 feet, because it's like a little slice of heaven up there.

"Well," he said, "if it's even a tiny bit clogged, it can feel uncomfortable, I suppose," he said, thickly implying that I have inserted an imaginary bean in the middle of perfectly serviceable crustacean tubes that are obviously open on both ends. "Tell you what," he went on. "We can put you on Flonase. Sometimes that will clear things up. But I have to warn you: too many times people give up on it too early. You have to take it for at least two months before it takes effect."

Flonase. Great. A liquid you shoot up your nose. I've spent decades trying to keep liquids out of my nose. But I was irritated that this doctor thought I had a fantasy ailment, and yet had a treatment for it. I'd had my heart set on relief; I gave it a go. I was given six months' worth of nose juice. What could go wrong?

The pamphlet was helpful. Do not take Flonase if you're allergic to Flonase. Avoid people who are sick or have infections. Avoid spraying in eyes. Close one nostril; carefully insert applicator into the other nostril. Oh! The other nostril. Check.

Three months in, I've noticed no change in my condition whatsoever. A drug with 120 doses in one tiny bottle doesn't seem like it could be too dangerous, but I decided to look it up online.

Well hey!  You can overdose on the stuff. Evidently you can go blind,  your bones can shatter, and you might develop "fullness of face, neck, and trunk, increased facial hair, and a lack of menstrual periods." All of which describe me to a tee. Also, it's for congestion, sneezing, runny nose, or itchy or watery eyes due to allergies. None of which I have. This is nuts. I must stop taking this shit now.

But he did say it takes a long time before I'll see any effect. I'd hate for the first three months to be wasted. Maybe I'll give it another few weeks.

The doctor is yukking it up at the Medical Specialist parties. "Did it again," he's saying. "I got one to spray shit up her nose for no reason whatsoever. And get this," he pauses to dab his eyes, "I told her she wouldn't notice anything for at least two months," and the rest of the guests guffaw and splutter into the cheese plate. Glasses clink all around. The pharmaceutical rep has to cross his legs, he's so overcome.  Only the proctologists are having more fun.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

They Didn't Mind The Quack Quack Quack

Kaiser Permanente is a highly regarded health maintenance organization, and I like them well enough. Certainly I do not count myself among all those whiners you hear complaining about how they took off the wrong leg and stuff, like they're so perfect. I mean, they can do that only once at most, and then it's problem solved.

They've never offered to take anything off of me. I had a fatty deposit on my eyeball once that they figured could stay put. Got something they call fibroid tumors growing inside me and something else hanging out of my urethra like a damn pee deflector, and their surgeons won't get out of bed for any of those, either. They won't even slice off the mole where my eyebrow used to be. Sucker is big enough to throw shade but the only C-word they keep using is "cosmetic." During my colonoscopy, everything looked so good that they not only didn't nip anything out, but they didn't even need to clean the itty bitty camera afterwards. All they ever do when I point out potentially fatal conditions is offer to keep an eye on things.

That's the real problem with Kaiser. They never find anything wrong with me. I've explained to anyone who still listens that there's something wrong with my heart. It skips and flutters and doesn't kick in on a hike until I've gone a quarter mile or so, when it finally says oh fine and starts working again, and sure, then it gets me up a mountain and back, but you can't tell me people don't die in the first quarter mile. They do.

The doctors humor me. They've stuck electrodes on me and put me on a treadmill and hooked me up to machines and did a lung function test and most anything I've asked them to do, and everything always comes out just fine. They're quacks.

Take the other day. My crustacean tubes have been clogged up since I got the flu in February, so I consulted the Ear Nose and Throat contingency. They gave me a hearing test. They stuck doo-dads in my ears and disappeared into a different room and had me push a button when I heard things. Well, evidently, they haven't seen such a good hearing test on an old lady in ages. They couldn't stop gushing about it. Evidently, I could track whales from fifty miles inland. But heck. They stuck the sounds right in my ears. I'd like to see them try it from a few yards away, behind the crustacean tubes' backs.

That's what the nurse-lady did when I was taking my physical exam for postal work back in the '70s. She got at one end of the hall and asked me to repeat what she said, getting softer all the time. "Pancake," she said. "Pancake," I said back. "What?" she said.

That's how you conduct a hearing test. Well, it was silly anyway. Letter carriers never listen to anyone. They had us lift a seventy-pound sack, which was at least germane to the job. For the rest, they could have just dispensed with the physical and issued us bullet-proof vests, and we'd have been fine for anything that was likely to come up in the station.

So the ENT doctor came in and said more nice things about my hearing test and looked in my throat, where he claims he saw my crustacean tubes winking at him and looking tip-top, and then he looked in my ears and told me, breathlessly, that I had beautiful ear drums, and wrote me a prescription for Flonase just for the hell of it and called it a day. They're all about the flattery, Kaiser. Apparently I am a pink paragon of perfection.

Basically, they don't think I'm ever going to die of anything, and that's just medically incompetent. They have no credibility. I'm not buying any of it until someone peers down my throat and up my butt and between my toes and tells me it looks like I have a touch of being about to be hit by a bus.

And they're going to want to keep an eye on that.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Near-Death Experience, And Them What Love Them

Photo by Beth Glisczinski

It was a wildly successful trip we took to California. We accomplished all goals. We wanted, depending on which of us you asked, to ride roller coasters, or stand on the ground near them. And we wanted to visit friends. Good friends! One was a former boyfriend of mine, something I have in common with his husband. And two of them I married. Signed the certificate and everything.

It was Beth and Dean who ferried us to Six Flags amusement park. The way it works, you hand the people a wad of cash and they let you in, and then you can ride all the rides you want. Ordinarily this works out to about a thousand bucks per ride, because the lines are so long. But we were clever, and arrived the day after Halloween, which is a major holiday in San Francisco. Every adult was too queasy to contemplate a thrill ride, and the kids can't drive. We had the place to ourselves.

Dave and Dean in the front row
Wasting no time, Dean and Dave shot off to the first deeply terrifying ride they could find, and Beth and I sat down at a table outside a snack bar because it looked like it wasn't going anywhere. We lost sight of the boys, until Beth spotted them way off in the distance, upside-down against the sky. Beth would make a terrific birder.

Neither of us really understands why a person would want to get on these rides, but there are plenty of people who do, and many of them are not despondent.

Beth and I did gamely agree to climb aboard a tiny roller coaster that didn't get any more than six feet off the ground. Unfortunately, I still couldn't handle it. That sucker was taking the corners just a little too fast for safety, if you ask me. An hour later, I consented to strap myself into a flimsy bench seat and go way the hell up in the air and sail slowly around in circles backwards. Maybe some people wouldn't find that frightening, but they lack imagination, and do not realize that all the straps could conceivably disintegrate at once and then all they'd need to do was climb over the bar and jump off, and they'd be pizza.

Perhaps it makes no sense for someone like me to go into such a park, but in my defense, I had a good idea there'd be ice cream in there, and I was right. And it did my heart good to see those men smiling as hard as they were. And they were. I still don't get it. Why do some people want to feel as though they're about to be killed?

"That's just it," Dave explained. "You might feel like you're about to die, but your brain knows it's not true."

Hon, you just described waterboarding.

I looked it up. Although there is no consensus on the reasons some people are so enamored with thrill rides, it's generally agreed that it's hard-wired in. In some cases, experts guess, people like to feel as though they are defying death. Whereas I prefer to defy death by going about my daily business while not dying.

Others speculate that thrill-seekers tend to depression and anxiety and feel relief only when they are forced to be in the present, experiencing immediate terror and not worrying about the future. Also, they have a different relationship with their brains. They have a powerful compulsion to stimulate their own amygdalas, and while I might not understand it, I am willing to accept they are born that way. Who am I to judge? Would I want to stand in the way of a thrill-seeker getting a few hours' respite from the daily wretchedness that is his life? No sir I would not.

Not as long as there's ice cream.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Pack Of Algorithms

Everyone knows Facebook has an algorithm. An algorithm is one of those things--like a parameter, or a paradigm--that you can easily use in a sentence without knowing what it is, as in "Facebook has an algorithm."

"Algorithm" is named after 9th-century Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, in the sense of not being named before him. (Similarly, "G-string" is named after George Washington.) So algorithms have been around a long time. We just haven't much cared.

Unfortunately, ignorance causes us to be complacent about algorithms. We assume that Facebook is a big important company with smart people and they can be trusted with an algorithm or two. They might have started with just a cute little one but it never stops there. "No problem," we think, complacently, "surely they are free-range, grass-fed algorithms, and nothing hinky is going on."

But as soon as you turn the other way and let a nice company acquire algorithms, they're going to want more and more of them. At first they're going to be on display at the company headquarters campus, right near the artificial pond with the fake waterfall and the ducks. But soon enough they're part of a secret captive breeding program and there's no way for John Q. Public to keep track of what they're up to.

And what they're up to is figuring out every little thing about you so that you're more likely to part with some cash. Originally they were just set loose to herd data. It was a pretty good life for them, running free and nipping at heels and getting a lot of data all bunched up tidy so the fleecing could proceed more efficiently.  But then they were bred to be oh hey! Those are the very slippers I was looking for, right there in the sidebar! ever smarter.

One of the things some of Facebook's algorithms have been doing is deciding what goes into your personal news feed. You might think your friends have quit putting in stuff, but it's just that an algorithm has done some sniffing around and decided you weren't all that interested, and has run your friend's post right off the page. And since you don't see it, you don't miss it. And then they'll put in stuff from people you've never heard of that they think you'll like. But lately, they've gone even further. They've sniffed out the stuff people actually do click on, and thus might be expected to miss, and thought: well now! This must be valuable stuff. Maybe someone will pay us to prioritize this little item.

And that is why I can put out bits of cheer and delightful life observations and all manner of fun on Facebook, but if I put in a link to my latest Murrmurrs post, all of a sudden it's all arf arf arf and I Don't Think So, Missy. You don't get to just promote your stuff. Not even if you're not making any money off it. You want your Murrmurrs post to show up in everyone's newsfeed, you need to grease a little Facebook palm.

I was puzzled about this at first. I'd put in my link, and then Ditty the Dancin' Fool (frequent commenter, Friend Of Pootie, and loyal sharer) would put in the same link on her page, and all my friends' comments showed up on her link. They didn't even know her, but she'd tagged me and that was enough to get it to show up for my friends. And then I heard from people who wondered why I had quit linking to Murrmurrs, even though I always do.  And some who (gad) even wondered if I'd quit writing the blog.


There are ways you can fix your own Facebook news feed. You can go to the top right corner and click on News Feed Preferences and click on Prioritize Who To See First.

Or you can click on my name and click on Following and check the box that says hell yes, I want to see links from this lady. Or maybe it says "see first"--could be.

Or, like good ol' Ditty, you can link to Murrmurrs yourself and tag me. Then even God will see it. Good luck, and don't slip in the algorithm poop.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Are You A Friend Of Pootie?

The original Starbucks logo was similar to the current version, except the mermaid had titties. This goes way back to 1971. It took Starbucks a while to get off the ground, and it's probably because of the titties. People were disappointed to find that coffee was what was on the menu, and not titties.

Mind you, she still has them. They are implied by the curves of her hair, and all the more powerful for that, because they force the brain to do the work of imagining them. The brain can dawdle at its task as long as it wants. It's the same reason reading a book is more engaging than watching a movie. The brain gets to construct the scenery. In the case of the Starbucks logo, it gets to leave some of the scaffolding up, and you're that much more readily drawn into the next Starbucks as it appears, which could be as soon as a half block away.  It's the power of the logo. Also, they sell drugs.

The logo is also brilliant because unlike your average mermaid, all enticement up above and frustration below, this one has a forked tail, and moreover, she obviously has it all spread apart for you. There's your coffee with cream, right there.

The latest iteration of the Starbucks logo assumes we all have our implied delight firmly in place in our heads, and leaves out the "Starbucks" wordage. It signals that the company has arrived, and like Nike and its swoosh, it doesn't need to spell it all out for us anymore.

And that's when it occurred to me that Murrmurrs really needed a logo. And we already have a dog-o. Moreover, he is an extremely handsome dog-o, and vain enough to embrace the role. Pootie is an interesting fellow and interested in many things, primarily being famous. He is not shy and is a natural leader. He has a number of friends, all of whom have accepted a subservient role. Scooter is typical. Scooter is a perfectly fine wiener dog, but when he arrived here from the Arfnage he was immediately drafted into one of Pootie's many enterprises, being the entire workforce of Poot 'N' Scoot Janitorial Services, a baseboard-cleaning outfit that accepts payment in M&Ms. Scooter does 100% of the work involved, but Pootie, as he points out, is the brains of the operation, and keeps all the M&Ms. We're not certain Pootie is a Democrat. But anyway, Scooter is just fine with this role, as long as he gets to call himself a Friend Of Pootie, and that's the way the rest of us feel, too.

There are already several hand-painted shirts out there emblazoned with Pootie's handsome mug and F.O.P. above. There is a Pootie Fan Club whose benefits include (all right, it's the only benefit) a laminated membership card. And now, since the Poot had been gracious enough to grace the screen here for lo these many years (seven), we here at Murrmurrs, Inc. would like to give anyone the chance to become an official Friend Of Pootie. Yes. There are T-shirts. We here at Murrmurrs, Inc. are going to begin with the proposition that we have arrived, even though we haven't, and leave out all mention of Murrmurrs.

Imagine the thrill of traveling somewhere and spying someone else wearing an F.O.P. shirt! Why, there are twenty-six of you in Australia alone, and two in Tasmania. If you do not run into someone with an F.O.P. shirt, you might run into someone who asks you what it's all about, and you can proudly say you are a Friend Of Pootie (he won't mind) and that means you're also a fan of Murrmurrs (I won't mind). If you see someone with an F.O.P. shirt while you're wearing one, you'll feel extra special.

Special-Bus Special is still special.

So are you a Friend Of Pootie? Order an F.O.P. shirt in any style or color and soon you'll be rockin' the Poot. If you want a dark shirt, click here. For a snazzy white, click here. There are tons of options. Please supply your own head.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Cow Shit Truck, And Other Stories

Every time we walk past that spot, I smile, thinking of the time, thirty years ago, the pickup truck we borrowed to get a load of manure broke down right there, and I sat in the cab as Dave popped the hood, had a look inside, and walked into the business establishment ten feet away. Five seconds later he was back out again with a fire extinguisher, and I shot out of the truck like a Heimliched meatwad, visualizing the tremendous explosion, the ball of flame, and the ensuing rain of Murr fragments mingled with aerosolized cow shit. I mean, come on. I've seen the movies.

"It was just a small fire on a wire. It had burned itself out by the time I got back. I just didn't want to do any damage to Scott's truck. I would never," Dave says, with a bit of tension in his voice, every time I bring it up, "endanger you in any way."

And that is probably true. After all, the man has made dinner for me virtually every night for forty  years, and if he'd been at all interested in doing me harm, he's had plenty of opportunity. But he never poisoned me, except that once, and he didn't feel so hot then, either.

So I'm sure he had assessed the situation correctly and I was never going to perish in a spectacular and yet comedic fashion that would have lived on in video to this day. But I can't say his record for this sort of thing is entirely spotless.

There was that stormy night I lay awake listening to a gale-force wind slam into the thin old window directly over our bed. "Wake up," I said. "I think that window's going to come in on us."

It's hard to say if Dave woke up all the way. His mumbling seemed designed to maintain unconsciousness. "That window has been there for seventy years," he slurred between snores. "It isn't going anywhere."

I'm easily comforted. His word was good enough for me, and besides, it made sense. Two seconds later an especially mighty gust hit the south side of the house and Dave launched himself horizontally into the air and on top of me like one of those safes that's always falling out of buildings in the cartoons, to shield me from broken glass, and a minute later, when I could get my chest going up and down again, I thought it was sort of sweet. Plus it was an acknowledgement that I might have had a valid concern. To be fair, he was also correct about the window, which was still sound.


Then there was the time I broadsided a deer with my Subaru, and while the deer sprang up and bounded off to die courteously somewhere else, my hood was so crumpled that it wouldn't shut. Dave tied it down tight with the only thing we had, a bungee cord, and we took off again. Later, at highway speeds, I looked nervously at the hood bouncing around with the wind getting under it, and said "I don't like the looks of that. Do you think we  should pull over and do something about it?" and Dave said "It's fine. It's not going anywhere." BLAM.

Really, it's not often you get vindicated that fast. There we were doing sixty on the highway and the hood whacketed open and hit the windshield and folded back over the top of the car and we had to stick our heads out the windows to locate the shoulder, where we sat for a few trembly minutes, and Dave said "wire might be a better idea."

As long as it's not on fire.