You've probably heard of the Sleep Number bed. You can dial in your own level of comfort for your side of the bed depending on your personal doughiness quotient and the current mood of your spine. You get your own weirdly specific number. It's a miracle. With just a twist of a dial, it virtually eliminates divorce.
We have such a product because as a species, we've evolved into princesses. It wasn't that long ago people had to hole up in a cave to crash, after relieving some mammal of its hide. We didn't sit around. We did stuff, and we got tired and went to sleep when the sun did. We didn't lie awake at night wondering if we were going to run out of money.
Actually, there is some evidence that ancient humans did make a bed. They've found one in Africa that was 77,000 years old. It was a big pile of grasses. They're sure it was for a human and not a prehistoric giant hamster because it still had the tag that says do not remove under penalty of law and hamsters are known for having that criminal bent.
Beds got fancy at various points in history, especially if you happened to be a pharaoh or the King of France. But your average American bed in the 1700s was very small, as was your average American, and accommodated most of the family. If company showed up, you jammed them in there too. It was all armpits and stinky feet but nobody complained much.
My Uncle Cliff used to tell me how happy he was the day, once a year, the mattress ticking got fresh straw. The old straw would have stiffened up after assuming the shape of the occupant's lumps and bulges, and by the end of the year a youngster might have outgrown his own bed's personal topography. But if you're a kid dry-farming wheat and seeing a herd of dairy cows through the North Dakota winters, you're way too tough for a Sleep Number bed. You're not princess material at all. New straw was just about as good as it gets.
When we went on vacations, Dad always insisted on checking out the motel bed before he forked over the $16 for the room. It was his opinion that mattresses should be hard. I think that was because he preferred to stay put and not tip into the middle, and soft mattresses always got saucer-shaped. At home he and mommy had a double bed and switched to twin beds pretty soon after I (a very late addition) came on the scene. There might have been a connection.
I don't think I'd ever slept in a king size bed until I met Dave, and never mind how soon after I met Dave. It was a revelation. The other person might as well have been in the next county. Years later I encountered my first pillow-top mattress, and suddenly even Dave's big old mattress was obsolete.
Now I have a bed with serious acreage and plenty of cool spots to roll into. The pillow-top is stuffed with camellia petals and sustainably harvested unicorn belly fur, the layers interspersed with endorphins and air collected from just above a puppy's head. I love it.
Best of all, the covering is dimpled so even if my tiara comes loose, it won't roll too far.
Ten trekkers climbed the highest peak in Malaysia, took their clothes off, and snapped photographs of themselves, thus pissing off the mountain to the degree that, after thinking about it for a few weeks, it let fly with a fat earthquake. Four of the trekkers were fingered and detained and the remainder has apparently fled the country to points unknown, putting nerves on edge at the margins of tectonic plates worldwide.
The trekkers themselves have mocked Malaysian authorities who have accused them of causing the earthquake, but they're on shaky ground. I myself once climbed our state's highest peak in the company of a young man who stripped down to his hiking boots for photographs at the very top, in full view of Mt. St. Helens, and two days later that mountain shot off some thousand-plus feet of elevation. Coincidence?
In that case, and also in the case of the Malaysian visitors, the climbers' motivation was the same: they were expressing their sense of freedom, they were getting closer to nature, and they were young enough to be pretty goddamn proud of how they looked.
There's a good record of evidence that public indecency has a direct causative effect on earth movements, so much so that we can conclude with confidence that if there is an earthquake anywhere, somebody somewhere was probably naked. Similarly, it is also true that such events always happen in threes, given enough time, after which we start counting over. There is some disagreement on the issue in scientific circles, although scientists can generally be discounted because of their habit of writing snotty personal emails. However, they do make a good point that there used to be a lot more tectonic activity when the world was younger, long before humans were invented, and even longer before pants were invented. Still, the science is young, and it is expected to be years before we can devise methods of verifying episodes of naughtiness among trilobites.
Vagaries of climate can similarly be traced to untoward human activities, as was recently noted in the California legislature, when an assemblywoman declared that the terrible drought was caused by God's wrath over abortion. And there might be something to it. I once voted for a presidential candidate who merely favored abortion rights, and I not only didn't get my man, but we ended up with some weird massive war. There was a Dick hanging out then too.
And whereas I am certain that the trekkers in Malaysia did somewhat tardily cause the earthquake, I'm not so quick to maintain that the mountain was pissed off. Could have been it was just excited. I'd have to see the photos.
So it was a couple weeks ago I first saw someone refer to herself as "cisgendered" and had the usual reaction ("what now?"), and the prediction, made to Dave, that although I'd never seen this word before, I would now see it several times within the next week. Actually, I saw it twice more that same day.
I looked it up, of course. I don't mean to be disrespectful with the "what now" reaction, but there is a rather large range of ways of being human, and more and more words all the time to slice the human experience into its component wafers, and it can be a little overwhelming for those of us who still routinely leave one ingredient out of a five-ingredient pie.
"Cisgendered," a new coinage, refers to the state of feeling pretty much like the sex everybody always thought you were. In other words, "reg'lar." And at first it would seem one didn't really need a term like that, but, of course, the point is to drive home awareness of the existence of other ways of being. Which (the awareness) is a good thing. "I'm cisgendered, and you're transgendered" is thus a replacement for the more common thought "I'm a man, and you're just weird." It's a little like if we started calling ourselves "colored" so as to become more mindful that some people are albinos.
I probably got an introduction to the concept of transsexuality earlier than most in my generation. Nobody used to talk about it as much as we do now, but I learned I had a transsexual aunt when I was sixteen. I never had trouble accepting that there were people who did not feel any allegiance to the sex they were told they were, because clearly that was the case, but I didn't quite understand it, either. And not because I felt so strongly that I was a girl, but because I didn't.
I kind of don't care, either way.
I certainly never felt like a boy. But I also had no interest in the sort of things girls were expected to do, or be. Pink horrified me. I was not a tomboy, or at least not a good one. Couldn't throw a ball. Couldn't get too far up a tree. I did like catching frogs, but I'd never have tried to frighten anyone with one (out of consideration for the frog). I had a huge collection of stuffed animals and every single one of them was a boy, except for one that was handed down--a bear with a rubber face and eyelashes painted on--"Mrs. Teddybear." Mrs. Teddybear was the least interesting animal I had. I loved my own mommy but the prospects for females seemed dull.
When I tried to imagine what it felt like to be a girl, whether "in a boy's body" or not, I couldn't come up with much. Even now, if I were to prioritize a list of adjectives that described me, my sex would come pretty far down the list, and I'd put it in just to help you recognize me at the airport.
Maybe my confusion is because I'm so very cisgendered, but I don't know. I tend to see my life as an adventure with a frame of mortality around it, full of opportunities to create and to revel in Creation, and the suit I get to wear for the ride feels irrelevant.
There's a flap now over Bruce Jenner's transformation to Caitlyn and in particular his introduction in a high-glamor shot. (I did find myself thinking: what 65-year-old woman is named "Caitlyn?" What's wrong with "Debby?") I used to be put off by done-up women, myself. Forty years ago a friend put it this way: "I don't like female impersonators, and I don't care what sex they are." I thought that was cute, but it's not really true. I think male female impersonators are a lot of fun.
So it's fine for Caitlyn, and all the rest of the hair-dying, skin-slathering, Spanx-wearing, made-up women in high heels out there. I just don't really get it.
I would, just once, like to be able to put on a nice blouse and skirt and have the right shoes for the outfit, all at the same time. Just once.
They set up a traveling amusement park on the waterfront for the Rose Festival season. After it's broken down and packed away, the city crews have to spend several months trying to resuscitate the turf, but this is considered a worthwhile public expense for the peace of mind of having had all those scary teenagers and smelly people penned inside a cyclone fence for a few weeks. We walked by it the other day. Dave looked wistfully at The Big Sling. It's an expensive ride for a two-minute thrill but it's probably quite the thrill. It's the one where they slingshot you straight up into the stratosphere at three times the speed of projectile vomiting. I'd try it with Dave but I have an aversion to sustained really loud noises, and it doesn't help if they're coming from me. I still don't like them.
When I think about it, I can't remember a single time I have been flooded with adrenaline that I enjoyed. I don't even like to be dampened with adrenaline. Every last experience from singing solo to being followed in a dark alley to roller coasters has been a horror. But Dave has recently expressed an interest in doing an amusement-park tour in California. In fact, he wants to go to Disneyland.
Already there's a little adrenaline spike involved here. Disney was not allowed in our home when I was growing up. My father had a thing about Walt Disney and when the Wonderful World of Disney came on the TV, even though it was in living color, not that that mattered on our TV, we couldn't watch it. I didn't know why at the time, but as an adult I read that old Waltster was appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee, calling out people for being Communists, and that, right there, would have been enough to keep Mickey Mouse out of our house. As far as I knew, our television didn't even work on Sunday nights until Ed Sullivan came on. Ratting on people to Joe McCarthy? For an unrepentant liberal man raising a family, that was plenty enough to get you the boot. No Disney; No Mission Impossible (covert interference in other country's affairs is repugnant); no Hogan's Heroes (Nazis aren't funny). So even though Daddy has been dead for 35 years, there's a little illicit thrill to be had by even thinking of going to the Happiest Place On Earth.
But that's enough thrill for me. Dave likes the kind of rides that get your viscera going hard in one direction, and their contents in another altogether. The kind that repeatedly lead you to believe YOU'RE ABOUT TO DIE but ha ha! you don't. Does the Little Mermaid run a waterboarding concession? I'm not interested, so Dave thinks I'll be a sorry amusement-park companion for him. I don't see why he can't flip himself silly on the Diarrheaton while I cling carefully to the edge of a slowly-spinning teacup, and we go have a beer afterwards and compare notes. But evidently there is great joy to be had in terrifying me right out of clean underpants, and I would be denying him that joy. "Just try it," he's going to wheedle, for hours, and eventually I will cave, and I will hate every blasted second of it, and he will be unable to stop smiling.
Meanwhile Disney has just hit the news by firing a bunch of their higher-tech employees. They were eased out as a squadron of workers from India was eased in, under a government program that awards visas to foreigners that are more skilled than our own workforce. Of course, the replaced workers had to spend three months training their replacements to make sure they could do their jobs at least as well, so there's some question about whether their skills were really lacking, but my goodness, the immigrants work a lot cheaper, and it turns out you can put a price tag on that.
"I guess your dad was right," Dave said, after I showed him the article. We're liberals too, so we'll probably have to settle for the second happiest place on earth. As long as it has a roller coaster, please sweet Jesus a teacup ride, and beer, we'll make do.
Last week Dave and I walked downtown to catch the Rose Festival Parade, as usual. Our timing was a little off. When we ambled up to the route, we saw that we had already missed some of it. But there were chairs set up right on the street, courtesy a hotel, and no one was in them, so we sat comfortably in the shade, feeling lucky, just in time to see a high school marching band come blatting by. Up. Town. Funk you up. Uptown funk you up. If that doesn't bounce you in your cushy hotel folding chair, you need to get your bouncer re-strung.
This is my favorite part of the Rose Parade--all the high school marching bands. Everything about them. The uniforms that fail to make them identical: the clarinetist marching around inside his uniform just trying to touch cloth; behind him a uniform completely stuffed with trumpeter. The brass. The drums. The sheer bravery of the outgunned piccolo section. It makes me cry. If any of the bands rips into Stars and Stripes Forever, I fall apart completely. I can't remember seeing any parades when I was a kid, and I was never in a band or orchestra. So I guess I'm nostalgic for a past I didn't even have. Probably most of us are.
We settled in. Horses prancing by with flowers heaped on their butts, as fine a metaphor for overcoming adversity as I can imagine. A group of ladies from a foreign land doing swirly dances in diaphanous costumes. Bagpipers with knobby knees. A teeny tiny ladybug float that must have represented a budget shortfall in the city of Washougal. The Budweiser Clydesdales, which halted for a few minutes, casting about for people to stomp into salsa. The annoying announcer lady on the stand warning us to stay out of their way, just before she climbed down to have her picture taken in front of them. More swirly costumes. And then, a magnificent troupe of choreographed--what the hell? Street washing machines?
We missed practically the whole dang parade.
We missed the One More Time Around Marching Band, the old farts that maybe slap a rose on their antique high-school instruments and play Louie Louie to the very limit of their lungs for three miles. We missed every single float bigger than a ladybug. We missed the Rose Festival Court, although they've really been missing for years.
Used to be a thing. Every high school had a princess, and a nod was given to those who had a decent grade point average or a lofty personal goal and consideration for mankind, but they were all cute and sweet and decent, and we followed their selections in the paper, and picked favorites, and noted with approval their chaste matching outfits, and their trips to the nursing homes, and the coronation of the Queen the night before the parade. Then all those activities became suspect, and a greater effort was made to include girls who relied a little harder on their Inner Beauty, and then the whole princess idea became so civically embarrassing that they just nominated them in the dark of night and issued them matching T-shirts and jammed them onto a float and gave one of them a tiara but didn't tell anyone about it, and nobody cares anymore. Missed them too.
But I can close my eyes and imagine the rest, the best. The high school marching bands from Wilson, from Beaverton, from Battle Ground, from all around, resplendent in polyester, kept apart sonically by wedges of floats and classic cars and llamas, but carrying the day, a glory in brass, a resounding pair of Louies bobbing above a sea of Uptown Funk. Don't believe me, just watch.
You may recall that I've had a chickadee manufacturing plant just outside my writing room window for six years now. I sit in the calming vicinity of a blank document on my computer screen and observe closely, in the service of science. And in all that time I have failed to see a baby chickadee emerge from the birdhouse. All signs point to the fact that they're in there, but we have no visual proof. Last year we did manage to identify baby chickadees that had rolled off the assembly line, by spotting them in the three-hour interval before they become indistinguishable from their parents. We knew they were babies because they had clown lips, and because they had blundered onto our windowsill and were looking inside our kitchen. Adult birds rarely show any interest in our kitchen. They can find their own food.
Our chickadees, Marge and Studley--the Windowsons--have been running this franchise for years now. Even if they're not the original Marge and Studley, how will they know? The Windowsons look exactly alike. And we knew the babies were going to look almost exactly like them too. Many baby birds do not. Many wear kid outfits, partly to camouflage and protect them, and mostly to annoy beginning birders, who are not going to find them in the field guide.
In theory I should be able to watch the birds leave the nest. I have a good idea when they've busted out of their shells, because Studley picks up the pace in hauling in groceries, and you can almost hear peeping. And I know approximately how many days it takes before they've taken in enough groceries to flap away, because I looked it up. With that in mind, yesterday I told Dave I was going to pop upstairs and see if there was any news on the chickadee front.
And for the first time, I saw it! An authentic baby chickadee head sticking out of the nest box hole! Clown lips and everything! Marge and Studley were just outside making wheedly noises. Houston! This was it! Junior was on the way out! WAY TO GO WINDOWSONS!
Junior pulled his head back in. All morning I watched as the Windowsons continued to haul in grubbage and Junior peered out. Junior looked up. Junior looked down. One time Marge went inside the box and then Junior appeared at the hole. Was she going to poke him in the fanny and get him off the dime? No. He pulled his head back in and she flew out.
We had things to do. A watched chickadee puppy never flies, I told myself, and turned away. Or flutters. Or rockets out sideways. Or ricochets. Or drops straight to the ground like a ball bearing. Shit. I don't know what they do. I turned back.
Looking like hell.
But eventually I did pull myself away, and Dave and I went for an all-day constitutional. I reasoned that I'd already seen more than I'd seen before, and perhaps I'd have to wait till next year to see the big moment, the first flight. We got in late. I ran up to the window. It was a gol-durn miracle. They were still there! Nobody'd made a break for it! Grubbage still going in, poop sacs coming out. Marge and Studley both look like hell, honestly, especially Marge, or maybe Studley. They've worn their feathers to a frazzle. Neither of them has had a bath or a moment to themselves in weeks.
This morning Junior poked his head out again. I don't know what happened yesterday, but today he was brandishing an inch-long whisker in his beak. Or possibly it was an insect bit that didn't make it all the way down the maw. I don't know if he's planning to use it as a fencing foil or a curb-feeler. All I know is the dude's ready. He's ready for anything.
It was dark, and I was sound asleep, and fourteen--that figures in later--and it sounded like someone was throwing gravel at my bedroom window. Because someone was throwing gravel at my bedroom window.
Someone from the Hostel Club. I'd heard about the Hostel Club soon after I enrolled at Yorktown High, in tenth grade. When they had their first meeting of the year, I summoned the gumption to check it out. This was a club devoted to hiking, and bicycling, and canoeing, and camping, and staying in youth hostels. And jollity. I had found the social scene intimidating since sixth grade, but so did these people. They all seemed to be taking AP math and physics courses and being nerds and they were smart as hell and even funnier than hell and completely incapable of fitting in with the In Crowd. I fell in love with all of them at once. Every outing was like a mass date with all the fun left in and all the anxiety stripped out. We were a posse. But I wasn't sure where I stood, being new. And young. Most of the members were seniors, and I was not only a sophomore, but the youngest in my class by as much as two years.
But when I peered out my bedroom window and saw my new friends about to let fly with a handful of gravel, I realized: Yes! Lord love a salamander in springtime, I'm In With The Out Crowd!
"We're going to Carderock," Lynn stage-whispered. "Got any eggs?"
Problem. It wasn't as though I could just leave the house, with eggs, like a big girl. I had to wake up either my mother or my father--I reviewed my recent experiences with both and refined my tactics--and ask if I could pile into Lynn's VW bus two hours before dawn and head off to the park with a bunch of kids and some eggs. I didn't like my chances. My parents were stoutly aware that I was younger than everyone else in the whole world and they had all sorts of rules that didn't apply to anyone else I knew. For instance, I had the curfew of a novice nun in Las Vegas. None of this seemed fair to me because I was, at the time, as old as I'd ever been, and besides, they were largely if not totally responsible for my age.
I must have chosen the sleepiest and least wary parent to poke because, after a brief explanation that included neutral or cheerful words such as "breakfast" and "dawn" and "real careful driver," I got the go-ahead. And then asked if I could take some eggs, also not a sure thing in a family on a tight budget. I could.
It was my first People-Bop. I'd heard rumors. A kernel of two or three Hostel Clubbers would hatch the plan to kidnap their friends in the middle of the night and go play by dawn's early light. The kernel would always include Lynn because she had the VW bus. She was a real careful driver, but it's not like every now and then we wouldn't try driving with one person blindly operating the gas and brake with his hands, one person leaning over from the back seat to steer, and Lynn barking out instructions from the driver's seat between snorts of laughter. A successful People-Bop required some familiarity with people's bedroom locations, and just after I'd joined the bus, we screwed up at Bob's house when we graveled his father's bedroom by mistake. From inside the halo of our own high spirits, Bob's father seemed to lack a sense of humor. But we still scraped Bob out of it, and just about when the sun was peeking over the horizon, we were at Carderock Recreational Area, cooking up eggs and bacon over camp stoves and having a high time.
An hour later ropes had been anchored on the nearby cliffs and several, if not all, of my friends were rappelling down the sheer face in exuberant leaps, like spring frogs heading for the wetland. So I gave it a go. I thought: the worst part is just letting yourself go over the edge, and then this miracle of rappelling will simply happen. It didn't. I was unwilling to allow myself to be perpendicular to the cliff and I teetered back and forth on insecure pins, making bargains with God I would abandon within days, and hit the ground and the end of my rock-climbing career at precisely the same moment.
But that's the kind of thing the Hostel Club did. I've had great friends through the years, but none that came in a complete set like that. Maybe it was our youth. Or maybe we really were that special. Could be I'll find out.
Because the great, grand People-Bop of all time is coming up soon. Four or five of us located each other when Facebook came on the scene. Some of us had still maintained ties with outliers. And when we decided to try for a reunion of the Hostel Club, 45 years later, in the Adirondacks in July, somehow we managed to scour the planet and achieve a critical mass. People are flying in. Driving in. Bob, whose father has either moved on or passed on, is going to bike in from New Hampshire. We're tickled we actually located him. Not one of us, though, all in our sixties, is surprised he's coming by bicycle.
We'll see. We won't have youth on our side. We'll have everything else.
It happens all the time. I'm bopping along the sidewalk when I come upon some gigantic building that I could swear was not there a day earlier. In reality it had probably been three or four weeks since the last time I was on that street, but it doesn't take long to put up a building these days. And there's a lot of building going on.
It's startling, though. It's like walking into your kitchen in the morning and Paul Bunyan is sitting at the counter eating a plate of Eggs Benedict. He wipes his mouth and apologizes briefly for getting a grease spot on the ceiling and then tucks in again. "Where did you come from?" I'll ask, and he'll politely finish chewing while holding up a finger, swallow, and say "I live here." Well then.
A lot of people are moving into Portland. There's a rumor we still have water. And we've got pretty good planning here so there's an urban growth boundary and an emphasis on infill. We don't want to sprawl out into the countryside; we want to jam in together and live side by each like a basket of puppies. I approve of this in general, but in my neighborhood, it isn't working that way. What's happening is a little old house is bought, torn down, and replaced by a big new house. There might be even fewer people living in the new house than lived in the old. They pay way more taxes, but that's about the only social benefit.
The thing that troubles me a little is I can never remember what the big house replaced. Even if I walked down that street once a week. Was it the little blue house with the narrow porch and the tortoiseshell kitty? No, that's one street over. Was it the white job with the red shutters and the Trans-Am out front? No?
The other day I was a little farther afield and came upon a four-story mixed-use retail and residential building that took up an entire block. There was a huge grocery store in the next block. Both brand-new. I was disoriented and confused. Where was I? I finally located the street signs and remembered it had been a vacant lot with a cyclone fence around it for, like, four years, and before that there was a donut shop there. Unless that was a few blocks down.
I was once researching the old D.C. jail for a novel, and found that although it took up at least a block in Washington, D.C., and was red brick, and had a rotunda, and was generally a remarkable edifice, historians were no longer sure exactly where it was. Even though it had only been torn down in the 1980s. No one could remember.
This is what happens to us. We think the world began when we were born, and we bury the past as fast as we can. People think whatever smattering of birds they see now is probably birds enough, with no notion that their parents grew up under a riot of wings and birdsong, and their great-grandparents saw the sky darken with a billion passenger pigeons. We don't miss the passenger pigeons. We never saw one to miss. Joni Mitchell sang you don't know what you've got till it's gone, but it's worse than that. Once it's gone we forget all about it.
In a few years, children will grow up filing "rhinoceros" in a mental cabinet with "stegosaurus" and not feel any loss at all.