Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Misters Happy

You all remember Mr. Happy. Mr. Happy with his gigantic eight-foot pink spike of flowers that lasted for months and months? That Mr. Happy. He was from down south but we planted him as a tiny rosette in 2014 anticipating the flower spike in 2015 if we could just keep him alive over the winter. Californians prefer things a little hotter than we like them here. But Dave wrapped Mr. Happy in plastic and added a light bulb and saw him through the coldest days and sure enough he lived long enough to erect a towering pink spike with impressive staying power. And that was that. Mr. Happy is a two-year plant.

But! Last spring I had a look around and found all these tiny little rosettes that I didn't recognize at first; especially in the pepper garden that Mr. Happy towered over. They all had a distinctive rash of speckles that didn't clear up. Mr. Happy! He'd gone all Charlotte's-Web on us. There were dozens at first, then hundreds of Mr. Happies all over the place.

Sure enough Echiums like Mr. Happy are self-fertile, so there is no reason to introduce a Mrs. Happy, and what he'd done all summer long was play with himself and spray his seeds all over everything. I weeded out most of his kids last summer but still had a few dozen placed hither and yon, and I hoped for a mild winter. A giant pink spike of flowers is startling enough in Portland: an army of them would pin people's ears back and cause sensitive souls to fan themselves and make for the fainting couch.

But now it's December, and it's been cold. They're starting to look right sulky. I fret about them. I bring them up in conversation a lot. "Mister Happies" never sounded right. I've started referring to them as "The Misters Happy."

That's old-timey. My spinster great-aunts Gertrude and Caroline, who lived together and both to an overripe age of about a hundred and forty, always used stationery printed with "The Misses Brewster." Neither of them married. They both graduated Smith College and taught English, and then they retired and sat around in straight-backed chairs and waited to die. Every year we would get a fruitcake from The Misses Brewster, wrapped in foil, or maybe it was a plum pudding; it was dark and ponderous and antique-looking and dense as a black hole and it was accompanied by something called Hard Sauce, which is not especially hard. It was pretty tasty, but if you ate too much at once you'd want to take to your bed with a spot of laudanum. My father told us that Aunt Caroline was the one who made the thing, wrapped it up, addressed the box, slathered it with stamps, hitched up the mule, and saw it to the post office, and Aunt Gertrude took the credit.

Aunt Gertrude was the elder of the two. That's the sort of thing that should make more of a difference when you're four and two than when you're 104 and 102, but apparently it didn't. Dad also told us Aunt Caroline had once found a man she wanted to marry, but he was Jewish, and the family did not approve. So she never wed, and she instead looked after her older sister until she finally quit waking up, and then she died herself.

The Misters Happy are not going to live to a hundred. They're looking at two at the outside, but that's okay with them. They don't know beans about fruitcake, but if everything works out right, they'll be spraying seed from spring to fall, and they don't mind if you watch.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Sequins In The Snow

It's been snowing in Portland, so naturally I'm worried about the hummingbirds. Most folks in the U.S. do not worry about their hummingbirds when it's snowing. Their hummingbirds are sucking down Mai Tais in Costa Rica, but ours stick around.

Gosh, I remember years ago, I'd see a single hummingbird whiz by in my garden and totally lose my shit and blast off to the house to cook up some nectar and dig the feeder out of the closet. It would be all scuzzy from the year before when I'd done the exact same thing. I'd change out the nectar a couple times but the little bugger would never come back, and come winter I'd take down the feeder and pack it away moldy out of sheer irritation.

But now! Now we have hummingbirds. You have to broom them away sometimes if you want to get anywhere. Most of them are Anna's hummingbirds. And we get to keep them all winter. Unlike other sorts of hummers, they don't migrate. It's kind of a new thing. They used to hang out in southern California, but people started planting all those tropical trees and flowers and hanging out nectar stations and the hummers have approved of this all the way up to Canada.

Of course there aren't a ton of flowers to sip at here in the winter. The Anna's seem to get by mostly on the feeders and on bugs and spiders. They can poke around in the bark and leaves for bugs but the spider deal is a neat setup. If they've got a decently industrious spider around, they can just pop by and nab her cache right out of the web like picking up groceries. Or, of course, the spider herself. Boop! Spider deleted from web.

The Cornell Ornithology people, who fancy themselves experts, say a flock of hummingbirds is called a "bouquet," or a "glittering," or a "tune." Which sounds lovely, but there are no flocks of hummingbirds. Hummingbirds do not have a tiny social bone in their bodies. They're all assholes. The males perch on a high twig and natter on for hours: tweedle tweedle tweedle, snick snick snick. It's not much of a tune, but then again they don't have a lot to communicate. Just this is mine, and this is mine, and that over there is mine, and so is all this too, mine mine mine. Any given hummer will spend 10% of his time feeding and the rest of the time trying to spindle any other bird coming in.

They do get together briefly for the purpose of making new hummingbirds but there's not a lot of commitment to it. The male does a terrific courtship display by zipping up so high he looks like a sequin, and then swooping down and pulling up at the last second with a nice loud pop. According to the same Cornell Ornithology people, who are not to be trusted, this is a "curious burst of noise that they produce through their tail feathers." Because of course that is the way to a girl's heart. Academics don't get out much.

Your average hummingbird is all appetite and attitude because he's never that far away from dead. They can barely make it through the night. They are obstreperous narcissistic little pissants that would totally be tweeting at three in the morning if they weren't in a near-death state at the time, but they are. They spend the night hunkered down in a state of torpor, which is from the Latin for "might be dead, I don't know, poke it and see what happens." They'll barely breathe. Their hearts will sludge up. They might even be so logy they'll hang from a perch like an ornament.

A few weeks ago it finally got below freezing here. And as the dusk deepened into dark, I saw two females sitting right next to each other on my feeder and drinking nectar, inches a part. They stayed there for several minutes, tanking up, in an unprecedented display of mutual forbearance. I know what happened. Mercury started to plunge and those two looked at each other and said shit just got real and left each other alone.

But it's that bad attitude what's going to get them out of their state of torpor in the morning. Right around dawn they're going to be thinking well, one option would be to just die, but then they'll get that mental image of the feeder with somebody else already at it and zzing. They're off to kick some tiny fuzzy ass again.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Have Yourself A Very Pootie Christmas

Pootie and his buddy Hajerle
People have traditions about their Christmas trees. They pick out the same kind and decorate it with the same stuff from the same attic every year. We never know what we're going to do. The closest we have to a tradition is the beginning part when I hold the tree upright in its stand while Dave is all crumpled up underneath it swearing like a motherless sailor. That eloquence reached its apex the year of the Stealth Scoliosis Tree that did not look straight from any angle after it left the lot. Probably that marked the beginning of the great tree reduction decade, during the course of which we got ever smaller trees and even threatened to skip it altogether.

Which is where Pootie comes in.

Pootie, of course, is the small lint-for-brains dog who runs everything worth running around here. One of Pootie's primary functions is to catalog and archive Dave's baser desires as a hedge against his eventual civilization. That is why the television is often tuned to a basketball game even when no one but Pootie is watching; that is why the heat is often on in rooms no one's in. That is why there is a mountain of chocolate in the house at Easter, and why there is still a stocking for Pootie every Christmas even though the rest of us have quit exchanging presents. And that is why we still always have some sort of Christmas tree.

The year we decided to quit altogether, Dave relayed the information that Pootie would like a small one for himself, so of course he got one, and festooned it with ornaments of his own choosing, including a ceramic jockstrap and a garish star from the Dollar Store. That tree was about a foot tall, and it was something. The next year we again did not get a tree, but Pootie's was a little larger. This went on for years until Pootie's tree was the same size ours used to be.

I suspected I'd been hornswoggled, but Pootie had such a look of innocence in his buttons that I went along with the program for a while. And then came the year I announced I just wasn't up for getting a tree. And that year, on Christmas morning, Pootie presented me with a tiny potted Arizona Cypress because he knew I wanted one, and we hung as much stuff as we could on it. Every time you think Pootie has been indulged quite enough, he goes and does something sweet like that. That was the same Christmas we drank up our stash of Hoptimum IPA at ten in the morning. It was a good year.

The cypress went outside, still in its gallon pot, while I pondered where it might reasonably be planted, and finally I decided to plant it next door at the rental house. It was now three years old and three feet high. We turned our backs for a moment--had to go get ice cream or something--and when we looked again, it was twelve feet wide and sixteen feet tall and utterly too ambitious for its location, and we hatched a plan to dig it up and transplant it to a friend's house, but somehow it never happened, and it kept growing, audibly, until it occurred to me: but it would make a terrific Christmas tree.

Which felt wrong, somehow, like baconing your own pet pig, but after all what else would we do? We'd buy a different tree someone else had cut down. This way we'd at least own our transgression. We checked with Anna, whose kitchen-window view was fast being obliterated by a bustle of cypress branches, because we knew her to be a sensitive soul, and she gave us permission to do the deed. And so we butchered it humanely (which is to say, when Anna was not watching) and now Pootie's little blue tree is going out in a blaze of glory in our living room. With its nine-foot ceiling.

We didn't top it. I don't think we ever can.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Asphalt Of Doom

I didn't have a car when I lived in New England. So all my winter driving experience has been here in Portland, and what a fuck of a lot of fun that has been over the years! Oh those wacky postal Jeeps with their bald tires and engines tuned up to idle at 7000 RPMs! Ha ha! Who can forget that day I inched my Jeep over the crest of a steep driveway and slid toward a parked car? What a hoot. Finally got 'er stopped a few feet short with my wheels cranked away from the car, and a nice gentleman tapped on my window and said if I got off the brake I'd be just fine; why, I'd straighten right out; there might be an issue stopping at the bottom where it spills into the four-lane highway that you couldn't see because of the wall, but "there's not much traffic out today, you'll probably be just fine," said he, and I kept my foot on the brake intending to hold it there until the ice melted, and finally let go and plummeted into the highway sideways with my screams going full Doppler all the way. Memories!

I was not here, however, but in Maine, in a raging five-degree snowstorm, the night I had to go to the airport 70 miles away, and there sat Margaret's little Honda at my disposal in the driveway, with no accompanying set of chains in sight or in existence, and I checked in with my friend Jon who assured me I'd be just fine, and I grabbed some beer and emergency underpants and off I went, flying down the highway in the blizzard, and I will be go-to-hell if that road wasn't as grippy as a packed-sand beach.  I even tried to skid on purpose and failed. I could not have been more confident if that Honda had been strapped to a conveyor belt in a donut factory and arrived at the airport filled with custard. This was easy.

This was not Portland.

It's not just that we're not used to it, though we're not. It's what "it" is. Other places, precipitation knows the drill. Rain is going to come out of the sky, or maybe snow, and it's just a matter of when and how much. Around here we get our warm wet systems from one part of the map and our cold dry systems from a whole other part, and whenever they chance to meet they both completely lose their shit like they've never seen anything like this before. All the moisture goes tearing around the various thermal layers like teenagers in a stolen Trans-Am. You got your hailstones whipping around and putting on one coat after another until they're big enough to damage raccoons. Your sleet that starts as snow and falls to rain and then freezes back up again before it reaches the ground. Your frozen rain that starts as snow and melts and re-freezes when it hits the ground. Us and our damned diversity.

The forecasters cover their bases. Morning snow changing to intermittent crap, variable sleet, freezing rain, partly flakey, black ice, patchy snarkles, asphalt of doom. After a while they give up on the specifics and just tell us to expect a "frozen mix."

When our last bout of weather hauled in, it looked like snow, but it was all going sideways and the flakes freaked out when they got close to the ground and screamed back up into the cloud again to sit and think about things for a while, which is never good. Terror amongst water molecules leads them to stampede around the sky in a state of thermal confusion until they're sheared off square and plunge to earth pointy-side down. Finally something began to stick and everything looked cool for a minute, while the colluding weather systems pondered how many strata of crap to lay down and in what order. The ultimate goal here is a slick city-wide gravity detection system wherein everything from vehicles to body parts achieves its lowest elevation as fast as it possibly can. There was a yummy snow layer with an ice coating on top to seal in the juices, a thin film of motorist panic sweat, some random snarkling, and then--the piece de resistance--a cheeky deposit of julienned pre-frozen Midwesterners plucked from upturned RAV-4s and dressed in smug-sauce.

Frozen Salamander
All of which resulted in splendid road conditions resembling seal snot on a polished puck, and not a packed-sand beach at all, but honey? That's why God gave us ditches.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Final Days Are Awesome

Science marching on
It's amazing how much stuff we know! In my lifetime alone--and do not be fooled by appearances, I am but an eight-year-old in a wrinkle suit--we learned that the continents are moving around. I was still in high school.

And it was barely forty years ago that I first read that our worst pollution problem might be carbon dioxide. This was startling. We'd been assuming all along that the dirty smudgy sorts of pollution were the big problems, and if we could keep the black crap from spewing out of our smokestacks, and if we picked up trash on the roadways, and saved the whales, we'd be in pretty good shape. Carbon dioxide was not on our radar.

We certainly wanted the whales saved because they are intelligent and majestic and worthy. But it's only been a few years since we learned how essential they are to the ocean ecosystem, because they forage in the deep where the nitrogen is and come up for air and poop it out as the surface, which jump-starts the whole food chain. No whale poop, no phytoplankton. Who knew? Now we know. Amazing.

Science zigs and zags but marches on, occasionally getting things wrong, and correcting them later. This is exactly as it should be. You looking for certainty, religion is your game.

I'm not sure how we got here, as amazing as our knowledge is, but now most of us are not only science-illiterate, but we don't even understand how science works. Otherwise you'd never get so many people to actually believe that 99% of the world's climate scientists are pulling our legs about global warming. What they are doing, of course, is collecting data from all over, and developing computer models using the data, and testing hypotheses, and publishing their results, which are then reviewed by their peers, who are--or should be--their stoutest critics.

Instead, a lot of people have been persuaded that they are sitting around their little labs pulling in grant money and plotting to manipulate their results so as to bring down the entire world economy that is run on oil. Ha ha! Why would they do that? I don't know. Because people made fun of them in school and now they're secretly conspiring to get everybody back? Who do they think they are? Bunch of smartypants in unattractive lab coats who think they're better than everybody. Same people who told us coffee would kills us, and then changed their minds a month later. They're scam artists.

People didn't used to reflexively dismiss the most educated among us, but now they do. Some corporate shills realized they could make bank on our insecurities to create doubt in the minds of the people. It was a calculated and deliberate effort, and now here we are, in quite a pickle, without the political will to save ourselves.

Most of us are not accustomed to looking beyond the narrow slots of our own lifetimes. Until very recently, people sought out caves for shelter and socked away fat and berries for the winter, as their ancestors had done for hundreds of thousands of years. But somehow, now, most of us think it is completely normal that even though we get winded running for the bus, we can walk into a metal tube in California and be in New York City in six hours. We think it's so normal, in fact, that we bitch about it if we spend an extra hour on the tarmac.

We simply do not comprehend what a very special time we're living in. This unprecedented luxury feels like our birthright. We don't want it taken away. And we can't imagine why anyone would want to take it away.

Right now a group of people are making a stand against a pipeline. They want to protect their water; some of them want to protect sacred sites. It's just one pipeline segment, but they have a lot of support from people like me who witness their bravery and recognize their stand as being the spearpoint in the fight against catastrophic climate change. When we make our case, we're mocked. I've never seen anyone protest the oil truck coming to their house in the middle of the winter, writes one wag on the internet. We're hypocrites, in other words.

If this is how you see us, this message is for you:

Aw hell no, Sugar! We're like everyone else. We love this stuff. I can get in my car and expend four calories with my right foot and be walking on the beach in an hour? Awesome. I can flick my index finger and make my house cold enough I need a sweater in July? Outstanding. I can drive to the store in January and buy fresh salad greens from a thousand miles away and then just toss the plastic box in the garbage? Baby, oh baby! We are living better than kings and queens, every one of us, even if we don't fully appreciate it, and all because we're digging up a finite fossil swampland and burning it up as fast as we possibly can, right now. We haven't been doing it for long, and we won't be able to do it for much longer. But right now? We get to have all this swag.

And there ain't an environmentalist with a beating heart that wouldn't want to keep that up if it were possible. And if it weren't going to seal our doom.

Look at us! We never even had the first clue about the whale poop and the plankton, but we're willing to allow half the world's species to go extinct on our watch, and cross our fingers it all works out. Maybe we still feel safe; maybe we live on high ground, and still have air conditioning. Meanwhile, we won't even take in a Syrian victim of terrorism in case she's a terrorist; but in a few years, entire populations are going to be on the move. Climate refugees, trying to survive. If we're not interested in making room, and sharing our stuff, we could start by not assuming scientists are frauds.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Walkin' With My Baby

In October, Dave and I went to the mountain and tried to get a last hike in before our favorite spots were covered in snow. It had been dumping rain in town for a month. And it was supposed to rain that day too, hard. We set out under ominous clouds.

There are two million people living within an hour of this mountain, and on this day none of them is anywhere near us. We amble along the White River by ourselves. Two miles in, we see a trail emerging from the forest, all dwindly. We take it without knowing where it leads. After about a mile I begin to put together where we are. In fact, suddenly I know the Pacific Crest Trail is going to come up on our left--and there it is.  And that if we continue on the trail for another hour or so, we'll end up at the Timberline Lodge, where they sell beer. But the days are already too short, and we don't have enough time to get there and back again. We pick a turn-around spot at random and watch the peak of Mt. Hood flirt at us behind a swirl of clouds. Finally it emerges altogether, doing a dance of the veils.  We can see a hundred miles in every direction. There is nobody around.

Nobody. Nobody.

We watch for much longer than we should, and then turn back in a race with twilight. Behind us, the peak slides behind its veils again, waiting in vain for another audience. We squint until we delete the distant ski lifts. Until we're on a deer trail, made by the rare local waffle-soled deer. Until we become the First Humans, and, in the absence of our kind, we are humble before beauty. Then we slip down below timberline and follow the dwindly trail until it peters out at the White River canyon. And that's when we hear it.

Sounds like a raptor, at first. About a hundred yards away. A sharp, downward squeal, and a weird, low, growly bit all a-rattle at the bottom of it. Then it repeats. And again. Every ten seconds. Skree-roowr, Skree-rowr.

"I think that's a cat," I say to Dave.

"I think it's a bird," he says to me.

That was no bird. I briefly imagine our old dog Boomer, gone now twenty years, perking up and scampering off to investigate. There would be a short, edited yipe and that would be that.

There are plenty of invisible cats on that mountain. We've seen lots of sign. Gigantic kitty footprints and big, furry, tapered turds.  One day we'd taken an abandoned trail up a long rise. We couldn't make it twenty feet without clambering over or under a log. And the farther we went, the more sign we saw. Basically that trail was fast becoming wall-to-wall cat shit, and we had it to ourselves that day, too. It was supposed to end with a view over a precipice, and everything pointed to it being a cougar convention spot, with all attendees taking a dump and sprucing up a bit before they arrived. We began to feel...observed. Dave helpfully explained his strategy to look bigger by holding me in front of him, and we cut the trip short that day.

This day, I wanted to get closer to whatever was making this noise. Also, I didn't want to get closer. We listened, and we wondered, and then we went on our way.

Back home I Googled cougar vocalizations. The female in heat calling for a mate was similar, if not exact. But even humans in similar circumstances have a lot of variation. "It was a cougar," I told Dave.

"It was a bird," he told me. Dave guards his big ol' heart against disappointment.

But that mountain was all ours that day. That was our view, and our trail, and our moment in a world uninfested by our species. So I'm calling it. That was our cougar. And our honor.

Happy birthday to Dave, who always puts me first.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Really Important Shit

I guess the archaeologists are running out of golden pharaohs and stone statuettes and such, because now they get all excited when they find a nice old poop. They pick through it and conclude it belonged to the King because he ate more figs than oatmeal. It's just human nature to imagine that any given poop you manage to dig up has to have come out of someone important. If you're tweezering through shit instead of unwrapping mummies, you have to build yourself up somehow.

Why are they always finding single preserved turds? Who does that? I've heard a rumor that Louis XIV like to summon his favorite underlings to observe him on the potty, and I'd like to imagine at least one of them might have engaged in speculation and boxed some up in anticipation of a spike in royal crap futures. And he'd have been right, archaeologists being who they are, but you know his mom finally threw out all his shit one day like it was a baseball card collection or something.

Nevertheless singleton poops keep turning up. There is the Poop of the Unknown Viking, on display at the Jorvik Viking Centre, notable for evidence of Diced Saxon in the diet. And there is the piece of crap discovered recently in a museum in Denmark (and not the Netherlands, as you'd expect). If you want to get a leg up on making your mark in the antiquities world, you could do worse than to paw through the back rooms of existing museums. They never throw anything out. They've got all kinds of shit in their drawers, and no one ever does inventory. Anyway this particular wad was preserved in a bottle, and, according to the tag, was originally found in 1937 in an old bishop's manor. The Poopetrator is assumed to be the old bishop himself, Bishop Jens Bircherod, making the specimen over 300 years old, and looking every bit as fine as it ever did.

Sure, let's say it came from the Bishop, and not any of his servants! Why not? Who cares about peon poop? No one. Admit it. If you were in a museum and there was a glass case labeled Richard the Turd or the Archdookie Ferdinand, you'd have a look. What I don't quite understand is why these items didn't get the royal flush. How does a bishop's manor or a castle fall into ruin in the first place? Does it happen gradually, or all at once? Kingdoms come and kingdoms go, as do kings; but wasn't someone supposed to take out the last poop? Or--was there a panicked exit in the face of an invading horde, and the poor monarch just let go? Fear will do that to you. No one talks about the basket on the butt side of the Guillotine, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one.

But I think it's equally likely that if our preserved poop was indeed of royal provenance, it was left on purpose as a political statement. The empire was crashing all around, and some poor downtrodden sod with the worst job in the kingdom left a pile behind for posterity. There, said the sod. Someone else can clean this up. And, several centuries later, someone does.

Well, civilizations rise and civilizations fall. Centuries from now, maybe some archaeologist will find the foundation of the White House and start digging. "Holy moly," she'll say, quaintly, "this shit dates from the Last Days. This might be an actual Trump Dump! It's right there at the door to the West Wing!"

Hope she knows what to make of the brown paper bag with the burnt edges.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Das Wagglecatsen

English-speakers love to jam words together. We might as well be Germans. Sometimes we dice and splice them, as in "Brexit," and sometimes we just run them into each other, like "medicalmarijuana." We picked up a hitchhiker once who talked a lot about medicalmarijuana, even though it was pretty clear the condition he was treating was intermittent sobriety. Now in Oregon we have recreationalmarijuana. That's a big word for what we used to call a "stash."

There are lots of words like that out there. Like "Corporatedemocrat," which, near as I can tell, mostly means "Democrat." It's used, and liberally, by people I generally agree with. It can refer to anyone from an old-school Appalachian coal company whore to a thoughtful congressman who voted for an imperfect compromise bill in order to make some headway, or who voted against a cherished goal in order to avoid an objectionable rider. And the beauty of calling someone a Corporatedemocrat is that you don't really have to go to all the bother of investigating his or her motivations at all. It's handy for bypassing undue thought. Kind of like racism that way.

So I'm adding a new one. The one our veterinarian taught us. He was referring to our cat Tater. She's got that waggly thing going on in her nether-Tater regions. If she were a more dignified sort of cat, you could almost imagine her attended by a double line of uniformed mice, holding her belly-fabric out like a train. Instead she regularly thunders through the house and that thing rocks back and forth like a censer in the hands of a meth-head priest. It's impressive. And that, according to our new favorite veterinarian, is where she stores her "healthy fat."

Healthyfat it is! I've been storing it for years and I just didn't know what to call it. If I were any healthier, I'd bust out a butt seam. And for those of us sitting atop a catastrophic earthquake zone, we're all about the storage. In fact if anything I might have underestimated the amount of Healthyfat I should be storing. I have the usual cache right in front where I can keep an eye on it, but I see no reason not to add to my auxiliary stores--in a pinch, so to speak, I can raid the upper arms. I keep spare rolls on my back. And if nobody's come by to dig us out after a month, I've still got that emergency supply in my neck.

You face-lift people are going to be totally screwed.

December special! Hop on over to the Trousering Your Weasel page--in the left sidebar up there--and if you order books from me, I'll waive the shipping charge. Plus, I'll sign 'em. Boy howdy.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

As The World Churns

Meet my little buddy Mr. Sneffels. Mr. Sneffels is from China but he doesn't have a Chinese name because I adopted him and named him myself, after Mt. Sneffels, which I was hiking on the same day I picked him up. Mr. Sneffels is a Keichousaurus hui, and the very youngest he could be is about 201 million years old. Whoever was remaining of the Keichousaurus clan cleared out then, during the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event. May not have been a good idea, but all the kids were doing it.

What a pity, though. He was a marine lizard. He paddled around marshes with his big paddly arms. Had to be cute as the dickens. They even think these guys were born live rather than being shot out in egg form. They've found fossilized adult lizards with tiny versions nestled in the pelvic regions, which either means the animal died pregnant, or the tiny version died by being sat on and the larger one perished of grief. Nobody is real sure what caused half of the world's species to die out 201 million years ago, but the best guess is it was another climate change deal. That stuff is serious. There's only so much carbon in the world and it moves around over time: in any given era, it might be mostly underground bound up in rocks, or it might be in the air. The first way is good for us and the other way is good for giant termites, and the planet doesn't care either way, so it's something to consider if you're in the process of pumping it out of the ground and into the air. The Carbon Perp at the T-J event was likely to be volcanoes.

This particular kind of fossil is really common. Many of them display the pretzeled neck that you see on poor Mr. Sneffels. It was explained to me that it is a natural event that happens upon death, some sort of rigor mortis thing, although it seems equally likely to me that the unfortunate lizard might have just been looking back to see what got him.

I brought Mr. Sneffels back from the fossil orphanage in Ouray, Colorado. I might have paid too much for him; it's hard to tell. It's not the kind of thing Bill Cullen asked about on The Price Is Right. But I'd been in the place many years earlier and was sorely tempted to buy one then, and didn't, and as soon as I got home I regretted it. So this time I snapped him up. And I haven't regretted it. I like him bunches. I even had him professionally framed, which I rarely pop for, because I didn't know how to frame a rock. And I still haven't hung him on the wall.

He's heavy, but that's not the problem. Framing hardware is plenty adequate for his weight. But every time I think about taking him off the top of the desk he's lying flat on and hanging him on the wall, I think about how he's going to come crashing down when we get our 9.0 earthquake. I can't bear it.

Which  is silly. It's like dreading a flood because it will make you look all pruney. Besides, when we do get our 9.0 earthquake, he's going to go sailing off the desk he's on. Or our house will come crashing down on him, or the neighbor's house will. And it's even remotely possible that when I'm being jerked back and forth and the house is pancaking all around me, I won't even give Mr. Sneffles a thought. It's possible that there are things I care even more about than Mr. Sneffles in the event of an earthquake, including, oh, off the top of my head, my piano and my self.

Hiking Mt. Sneffels
But I am strangely moved by having custody of a 200+ million-year-old marine lizard. It seems just wrong to have him have gotten this far and then go to smithereens. I feel like I owe him a shot at eternity. But ain't none of us got that. And maybe the very glory of geology is served by this. Maybe a piece of petrified marsh soil pocked with neat lizards and thrust once again into the daylight after 200 million years deserves to be ground to dust by a major tectonic upheaval. Maybe it's the best ride we can hope for on our still-living, still-churning planet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Half-Assedy Of Hope

I saw the results, and I said No. I wanted to stand, march, be in the company of those who were living this horror with me. This waking-up-in-the-night and this nausea and dread. To say No. No. No. No. No. It was important to be on record as saying No.

I've had second thoughts. Actually, just one tiny second thought. I saw a video once: an ex-convict was ministering to the incarcerated. He approached a man in the front row and brandished his fist. The man grabbed it. The minister pushed. The man pushed back. Hard. They were equals. Then the minister gave in, utterly. He let his fist subside. The man immediately quit pushing, and was astonished that he had. "This is your choice," the minister said. "You can push back, and that is what you want to do. But it's not your only option."

I'm not advocating surrender.  What I see is that people are persuadable. But they are never persuadable when presented with a fist. When we assure half the country that they're idiots and we alone hold the keys to the truth, half the country will push against our fist. We do the same thing. We're all dancing lewdly to the disco-beat of our own righteousness. It feels good, but we will never get where we want to be if we continue on this path. And where we want to be is too important to be sacrificed to our vanity.

I first thought about this when Obama spent so much time with the president-elect in the White House. It could have been a short visit. Lord knows, an awkward one, with the president in the same room with the man who pushed the birther lie about him for years and years. But President Obama is a wise and cool man. He has things he'd like to see accomplished. And scolding or snubbing the incoming president was not going to see them done. I like to imagine he was sympathetic. There's no reason to suspect otherwise: this is a man who puts himself in other people's shoes. Trump is in way over his head, and--at least right now--he knows it. He needs help, and I like to think Obama gave it to him. He laid out the complexities of the job, he sympathized, and he offered advice. First thing Trump said after that encounter was that he was looking forward to consulting with Obama in the future.

We know this guy.  If Obama had been at all condescending, he wouldn't have said that.

I like to think Obama gently let him in on some difficulties with abolishing the Affordable Care Act, with tearing up world treaties, with governing by dictat. I like to think he might even have suggested that there was more to this global-warming thing than a hoax by the Chinese, and that he might have a place in history if he led us in the right direction, and that he was in a unique position to do it. Trump might like a place in history.

Next thing I read is that Bernie Sanders offered his full support if Trump actually wanted to take on Wall Street. My friends on the left were outraged. Bernie had sorely disappointed them. Why? Because you must show your fist to the enemy! Then your enemy can push back. Now we're all pushing, and we get nowhere.

Except all Bernie said was he would support Trump if he wanted to take on Wall Street. What? Are we those people? Are we the ones who would obstruct Trump even if he manages to do something right, just to make sure he fails? I would like to imagine that Trump would be interested in collaborating with Bernie. He campaigned on similar issues. It would show him to be nobody's puppet. He might be in a rare position to get something accomplished, particularly if he gets credit for it. I suspect he'd like that.

Listen. Trump might have some blank spots on his slate right now. He hasn't thought that deeply about anything. He seems persuadable, at least a little. He's already demonstrated that by backing away from some of his campaign promises. Instead of supporting this, some on the left are hooting about it and reminding his supporters that they're chumps. He needs help, and right now he knows it. But he's also prickly. Tell him he's a moron, and he's not going to respond well.

If you subscribe to the Clicker Method of animal training, you always reward the behavior you want--even feints in its direction. And you fail to reward the behavior you don't want. That doesn't mean you punish the animal. Sometimes it means you just don't give it the attention it craves. It works for people, too. Your elderly mom calls every night to complain about everything? You don't tell her it can't be that bad. You don't tell her to perk up. You give her nothing, just let your voice trail off. Then when she says something more upbeat, you get all enthusiastic. Within a matter of days you've retrained your mom.

We are at an unusual intersection here. I don't have much hope. I deplore everything Trump claimed to stand for--but I'm not sure he was that invested in any of it. He was doing a reality show with himself as the star. He was giving the people what they craved. Yes, we must stand up for tolerance. Yes, we must stand up for civil rights, and our fellow citizens, and we must stand up for our beleaguered planet, every time we can. Yes, we must fight the evil ones among us who are encouraged by this man's mindless bluster.  Things don't look good, and we will have many opportunities to resist, to make our stand. But if, on any issue--say, he wants to replace Obamacare with single-payer--this guy gets a notion he wants to be a hero, I intend to let him.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Rach Of Ages

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a big old romantic Russian composer and virtuoso with a flawless memory who could comfortably reach a twelfth on the piano, or palm a medicine-ball, which is deeply unfair. I mean, anyone could play as well as he could if they had freaky fingers, monumental talent, and practiced all day long for fifty years. I've been playing a piece of his recently. It's called Elegie, so it's about death. It's maudlin as hell, but it works. Rachmaninoff carefully attached his opening notes to our heartstrings and then yanked on them all the way through. A lot of people never even hear the ending because their heads are in the oven. It's sad, is what I'm saying. No one mourns more extravagantly than a Russian.

Russians are very interested in death. In fact, there's a big argument now about where Sergei Rachmaninoff himself should be decomposing. He is currently interred in Valhalla, which is just outside New York City, but there are those who believe he should be rotting in the homeland instead. They're willing to hoist him up and make it happen, too.

The Russian Culture Minister, Vladimir Medinsky, stated with confidence that Rachmaninoff had dreamed of being buried in Russia, although there's no way of knowing if that was one of his good dreams. And it is true that the composer missed his home country terribly, but if he'd wanted to be buried in Russia he could have just hung around in 1917 and let the Bolsheviks do him in. Then it would just have been a matter of digging him up and relocating him when and if he became fashionable again.

That's what happened to the Romanovs. They weren't even all that reliably dead for a while, and mostly unaccounted for, but eventually a lot of their bits were rounded up and given a proper burial. Basically, any dead Russian of prominence can expect to be periodically exhumed and relocated according to the whim of whoever is currently in charge of writing history. If you're a valuable Russian commodity of the 20th century, at a minimum, you can expect to trot the globe for a while, and then try to grab a spot six feet under and hold on, but there will be no guarantees.

I'm not 100% sure it ever makes sense to be proud of where you came from. It's not as though it's an accomplishment. Still, Russians can justify their allegiance as much as anybody. Theirs is a rich and storied culture. They don't write little novels. They don't compose little pieces. They might have been exiled in life, but that doesn't mean they'll stay that way.

As formerly living valuable Russians, they must be ready to continue to serve the state, but the state wants to curate their corpses: they don't want just anybody. The Siberian tundra is spackled with deceased citizens of strong character who didn't start out there, and those are likely to stay put. But there is a strong conviction that any retrievable portions of approved illustrious dead Russians should be gathered up and bronzed, stuck in a glass box, refabricated as nipple jewelry for the President, shoved underground again for the greater glory of the motherland, or pulverized and shot out over Ukraine to inspire the troops. Resting in peace is for sissies. Westerners.

As an American, I have the leisure to expect my own carcass to stay put, but I don't care. I do not give one hoot about where my remains end up. I certainly do not believe I should be carried back to Old Virginny, the place where I was born. If anyone asks, my preference  would be to be recycled as vulture poop, and the vulture can drop her load anywhere she wants.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Macedonians Are Coming! The Macedonians Are Coming!

Maybe you saw it. The week before the election, a news story went viral. "FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE," it read. The story was from the Denver Guardian, which does not exist; the newsroom address is that of a tree in a parking lot; the accompanying photo was of a 2010 house fire; and, in short, the entire thing was grade-A star-spangled horseshit from start to finish, which did not prevent it from being stretched from one side of the internet to the other and back again.

I figured somebody had to be behind this plague. I imagined boiler-room operations under the direction of the Republican National Committee or MoveOn, busily churning out lies that people eat right up because they really piss them off, and it feels good. Yaaas. It makes them feel outraged, and righteous, and aroused. Ooh baby, baby!

Yup, it's porn. There's something for everybody: Hillary caught peeing on the grave of a Benghazi victim during midnight Satanic ritual. Hillary entertaining at private Wall Street gathering in blackface and a bunny costume. Trump inciting violence at rallies. Oh wait, that one's true.

When you see all this stuff being shared so promiscuously, you have to wonder: where is this coming from? And now we know: Macedonia.


Macedonia? Well bless my soul. Better yet, rock it in the bosom of Abraham. Enterprising kids in Macedonia with mad graphics skills are pasting these things up out of stock footage and thin air and the open-source bullshit commons, and flinging them onto the internet, where the ad money piles up with each view. Yes, most of them were targeted to Trump voters. The kids don't care one way or another, except that those are the ones that really sell, because the liberal elites are more likely to check their sources before they share, I guess.

So, Macedonians! The Abysinnians are all Dude, and here I am slaving away in these call centers, and the Phoenicians can't even with this. Where the hell is Macedonia?

In fact, when is Macedonia?

Honestly, I had no idea. Last I heard of Macedonians, the apostle Paul was telling them that Jesus was the Messiah, and to spread the word. Maybe they told the Galatians, first, and second, some more Galatians. So spreading the word, any word, seems to be a national Macedonian pastime of long standing.

Anyway, my bad. I was never all that good at geography. You put me in the room with a bunch of piss-pants kids who know all the rivers in the world, and I'll, well--I'll challenge them to a spelling bee.  So I don't know where Macedonia is. Or, I do, because I just looked it up, but in another couple days I won't again.

I'll just go back to imagining that a bunch of goatherds with too much time on their hands put brush to papyrus and wrote stuff so compelling and prescient that it baffled a gullible society and brought down an empire two thousand years later. It makes as much sense as anything else.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Moon: A Primer

There was a Supermoon last Monday--so they say. There are all sorts of moons out there. Every time we get a full moon, which I've noticed is happening with regularity these days, it comes with its own name, pedigree, and warning label. Be sure to look at the rare and mysterious Malware Moon tonight! It will be rising in the east at 6:25pm, in apoplexy with Mars and Jupiter in its bilious phase, and we won't see that again for 1,425 years! So you trot outside to give it appropriate tribute, but it still looks about the same.

I grew up hearing about the Harvest Moon and the Blue Moon and the Paper Moon, but there are a lot more choices available now, thanks to the need for Content on the social media. And many of your standard moons are also known by more than one name. Here in western Oregon, for example, the Harvest Moon is also known as the Last Moon Before Next July.

A lot of the names were just sensible. They weren't named for any powers residing in the moon itself, but things that were liable to be going on when they showed up, in a natural order. So, in Indian lore, there's a Wolf Moon and a Snow Moon and a Worm Moon (it's a big deal when the worms show up), and also a Buck and a Beaver moon, which should be separated by a few months if we know what's good for us.

The Blue Moon we keep hearing about things happening once in? That ain't much. We have more full moons than we have months because of the obstinate refusal of the moon's revolution around us to coincide neatly with our revolution around the sun, and so every so often we have what appears to be an extra in the calendar, even though it's more of a calendar issue than a lunar issue. They're not that rare. Every two or three years we're going to get a blue moon, and then all those things that don't happen very often can go off all at once.

The supermoon from here
Supermoons are another kind of moon. That's when the full moon looks bigger because it's at or near its perigree, the point at which it is closest to us. This will affect tides and other things. For instance, it is contended that fishing is particularly bad when the moon is at its perigee. It is unknown whether the moon's looming proximity makes fish less peckish or more suspicious.

Astrologists are very opinionated about the moon. They base their interpretations on a single overriding principle: everything is always about us. For instance, they say the phase of the moon when we are born has a tremendous effect on us throughout life. (I hope it was waning when I was born, or even a little thundewy.)

There's also a Black Moon, which, according to Wiccan lore, is the second of two new moons that appear in one calendar month. There's good magic to be had then, due to the fact that you can't even see a new moon most of the time, which makes it already sneaky, and when you get two in one month, you're really not expecting the second one, so you can get away with all kinds of stuff. This is not the same thing the astrologers refer to as the Black Moon. They're talking about the full moon at its furthest point from Earth ("perimenopause"). Their other name for it is "Lilith." The rest of the time it just goes by "Petunia."

The moon is full everywhere on Earth on the same day, but fortunately half of us are asleep at the time. If all the women of the world got their periods and were awake at the same time, things would be run a lot different around here, Bucko.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


I don't know, guys, I don't know.

The good and beautiful people of my good and beautiful city are walking around like survivors in a blast zone. Strangers embrace. The detonation has happened and now the concussion and devastation will ripple on for a long time. I find I'm not interested in food. That's never good.

We can all see each other now. The really, really bad people are lit up like flares. They're celebrating in their white robes and waving their Confederate flags and terrorizing their fellow citizens in the street. Their unwitting partners--almost half the country--are not really bad people, probably. They're just full of shit.

I don't mean that in the normal disparaging way. I mean that a systematic propaganda apparatus has been cranking away for decades now, and its architects have concocted a poisonous stew of lies and distractions, and seasoned it with honey, and people have tipped their heads back and allowed the funnel to be placed in their mouths, and all that shit got pumped in. A party devoted only to increasing the wealth of the wealthy was rebranded as the champion of the middle class. A good, smart, hard-working woman was recast as a devil. Sound science became fantasy. Demonstrable falsehoods were propagated with glee. But folks on the left as well as the right sucked on that funnel and accepted the particular load of shit that was curated just for them. Truth is the first victim, but there are so many more. When you've been pumped full of shit, you actually begin to believe certain of your compatriots threaten you, when clearly those people have much more to fear from you.

Muslim citizens do not like to be mischaracterized as terrorists, nor Hispanics as criminals, and so too, Trump voters are outraged to be called racists and xenophobes. That's not who they are! That stuff is peripheral. They had other concerns. And you know what? They're probably telling the truth.

But the ability to filter out and discard as irrelevant the flagrant racism metastasizing all around them, and the demagogue at its epicenter, the Igniter-In-Chief, does not speak well of their capacity for empathy. To them I say: these are the people you have cast your lot with. To discount them is to reveal yourselves to be comfortably cocooned and unwilling to take a step outside your own experience and imagine someone else's: your neighbor now afraid to wear her head-scarf to the grocery store. The gay man now second-guessing his usual route home in the dark. The Latina betrayed by her own facial features and subject to derision and terror. The black man assumed to be a gangster, and subject to execution. This is what's happening in America today. We marginalize and dehumanize people who frighten us. Every single time we generalize about people, we're wrong. We're wrong, and we're lazy, and we're also less safe, if that is the point of the exercise. We are all far, far less safe now.

So what do we do? Deliberately, we do not have all the options embraced by some of our political foes: most of us are not armed. That's not the way we roll. One thing we do is band together for peace. We keep our eyes and ears open, and when any of us is under attack, we stand with that person. Literally. Physically. We stand together and we give each other strength. And we reject violence.

And we mobilize. There is so much to defend: our civil rights, our health care, our environment, our standing in the world. Everything we've ever cared about is under attack. Everything that actually does make America great is to be dismantled. It has not escaped us that international terrorists will take this opportunity to goad our new president, an insecure, easily-bruised, childish bully, into the all-out holy war they have yearned for. They've got their man, now. As bad as that is, we don't need an external enemy if we're rotting from within.

And with all that, there are even worse things.  We are many years too late to undo the damage we've already done to our planet. But we must keep things from getting worse. We have to at least try. We are out of time to waste. And we can't do it by pulling out the rest of the fossil fuel and burning it up. We have an international climate change agreement signed now--baby steps, far from adequate--but even at that, our new president wants to rip it up and drill, baby, drill. He wants to shovel ever more coal into the boiler of a runaway train. He is a simple, uninformed man: he thinks he's creating jobs. He wants to give us full employment--as grave diggers. When we're done we can all jump in.

We can't let him. We need to stand, march, and holler. We need to fill the streets with our good and beautiful selves and hold each other up. Someone talked about building a wall. We need to be that wall.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Spoils

We're Americans. We came, we conquered, we pushed into the endless West by the sweat of our brow and the fire of our rifles, and even though we ran out of endlessness long ago, we still believe we can bootstrap ourselves into our own individual clean water and roads and schools and self-defense, all 320 million of us. 'S long as we don't get sick or nothin'. No socialism for us!

But oh, capitalism. Why do we love it so, and so uncritically? It's the engine of prosperity, that's the dogma--the idea that the means of production are in private hands, that profit accrues to the victors, that everyone comes out better, that we go on growing forever and together. If only there were any evidence that it's true, and not that a whole lot of people are doing the work and a tiny fraction is accumulating the profits, and that it's not possible to grow forever! Something doesn't add up.

Used to be people did for themselves and traded for what they could, and mostly people were on the same level. Maybe not for the last few hundred years, but for a million more before that. And they managed to thrive. What's happening, now that having far more than one needs has been elevated to a virtue?

Ask my friend Julie. Julie Zickefoose is a naturalist, exquisitely educated in the splendor of this, our first and last planet. She is observant enough to behold the whole fabric, to know what will come undone when the threads are pulled. She knows what sustains us. But she has to pay for that intimacy. Because, more than those of us who allow advertising to instruct us what we should crave, she experiences every day the thumping joy of natural abundance, our true wealth. And with it, the freight of sorrow that comes with knowing what we've lost, and have yet to lose.

She's counting her losses now. She's got eighty natural Ohio acres she calls a "sanctuary," because it's the losses all around it that define it. And just down the road, she is watching a wooded wonder come crashing down, tree by tree, and she knows every creature that depends on it, bird to bat to bobcat. She'll be the one who remembers where the newt pond used to be. She is watching a tapestry being degraded to burlap. Because someone was willing to part with it for a dab of cash to put an oil well in there. Soon the birdsong will be crushed under a constant roar, and a flaming stack will steal the dark from the night.

She and many of her neighbors have not signed away their mineral rights, but a patchwork of natural poverty is blooming all around her, scored by a drumbeat of machinery. When the patches overwhelm the original fabric, the threads can't hold it together.

Lord pity the people who have the misfortune of living on top of something like the Marcellus Shale. When coal is to be mined, or copper, or diamonds, or shale oil, everything that stands between capitalism's victors and their money is called "overburden." That would include your forests, your carbon sinks, your newt ponds, your topsoil, your water, your last planet's own means of production. And all of us: we're overburden too. Coal miners are nothing if not expendable, but so is everyone else who counts on the genius of the living world to sustain us, even if we don't know it. We are to be tossed aside as the money is siphoned to the top and we will be left with less than we started with. Much less.

It's not a coincidence that extraction piracy is so often inflicted on indigenous peoples. In some parts of the world, they are sitting on the last unmolested acres, so they must be subdued. In America, the First Nations were allotted the unloved bits, the pieces with no obvious value to the conquerers, and now that it turns out there's black gold in them there barren hills, why, it's time for them to knuckle under again. In North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux are holding their ground against the capitalists. The oil comes from elsewhere, but the pipeline is to be routed in a way that threatens their sacred sites and their water. Life, in other words. Lest these concerns seem quaint and primitive, know this: the pipeline route has already been changed to accommodate the needs of the good white people of Bismarck.

Only a false economy considers the profit of a few to be a fair swap for a devastated, discarded landscape and a ruined atmosphere. The balance sheets are off. The costs have been hidden.

The Standing Rock Sioux understand what is sacred on this last planet, and they're standing against its destruction. Who will stand with them?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This Is A Pubic Service Announcement

It's the day after the election. I don't know what happened yesterday, because I load up my blog posts on Mondays. For all I know, the country is currently on fire, or frozen over. It might be all pitchforks and police dogs and heads on pikes out there. Hurt feelings for sure. Many of us have edited our friendships. We're lacerated and abraded and things are going to have to scab over but good before any healing can begin. We're all packing now. Half of us guns, half suitcases.

I'm not lazy. I have a chunk of blog posts already written, but I don't have anything ready to publish that is likely to make sense on this day. I can't think of a thing, because I'm too busy trying not to think of things like pitchforks and people packing, and so, for the first time since I started Murrmurrs nearly eight years ago, I am loading up an old blog post. It's from 2012. It is not relevant to anything in the news at all. I am picking this one because it is one of the top three most-viewed posts I've ever put out, and there are a billion comments on it, and all of them are funny too, and you know? I think we could all use a break. Click on this:

It's about underwear.

I promise there will be fresh stuff on Saturday, y'all. Peace be with you.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

And It's High Time, Too

It's 2016, the Baby Boomers have been in charge for decades, we're in a perpetual state of war, pot's still illegal, and I'm as surprised as anybody. We didn't have the tightest grip on our principles when we were young but those two items--legal pot and no more war--sure seemed solid at the time.

Recreational pot is now legal in a few backwaters such as my own state of Oregon, though. When I was young, I visualized legal pot as being just like regular pot only not illegal. That is, you'd come by it because you knew a guy, or knew a guy who knew a guy, and you'd buy a big bag of it and roll your own. Or you'd have plants in your garden. I didn't quite imagine going into a store and picking something off the shelf.

And if I did, and I squinted hard into the future, I suppose I would have imagined a store that looked like an old-time apothecary, with its shelves of gleaming labeled jars and a middle-aged fellow in muttonchops and a cap sweeping dust off the wide-plank floors, only with the Twinkie aisle of a Seven-Eleven running right down the middle.

My own history with pot began with giggles and ended with Whoa Nelly Just Bring Me Back And I'll Never Do This Again. (More than once.) We passed little joints around, we got comfortably high. Then I went to England for my junior year and there the kids rolled joints the size of canoes and passed them around with both hands. Different style, same result. I returned to the U.S. in 1973 and something horticultural had happened in my absence. The same size toke I'd taken two years earlier now sent me to the edge of a precipice. The ground I stood on was "my life until now" and the ravine was "and here is insanity." Hang on and hope the cliff doesn't crumble.

I'm not interested in pot anymore, but Dave and I decided to visit a pot store just to see how it was set up, and also because sometimes Dave and I would both prefer he was in a different mood than the one he's in. The place we picked out (there's one next to every Starbucks) actually says "Apothecary" on it, and sure enough there are shelves of little glass jars, but that was just their front room, and the jars held their homemade essential oils. It seemed wholesome as hell. Right up until Dave disappeared behind an ominously locked door. If you wanted to buy some pot, you had to be escorted to the inner sanctum, and you had to show your I.D. I didn't have my I.D. on me, so Dave went in alone.

Well. The locked door. I know what's behind the locked door. That's where the lady in the lascivious vintage '50s dress was reclining on the davenport with a crazed, and nonetheless come-hither, look, deep in the throes of reefer madness. Maybe she was for sale too. I frowned at the door until Dave came back out, which was more promptly than he would have if the reefer-madness lady had been available.

They're real sophisticated about pot now. They've been hybridizing the stuff for decades and now they differentiate it by which little letters it has in it. You have your high-THC pot and your high-CBD pot. Used to be someone would hand you some and say it was all right or it was really good stuff, man and you kind of took  his word for it--that was about it for quality assurance. Now they have head pot and body pot. They have pot for karaoke night and pot for an hour of hula-hoops. They have pot for lower back pain and cancer pot and hangnail pot. Give the Budmaster a list of things you want adjusted ("spider bite, fibromyalgia, gloom") and he'll look thoughtful and select a particular product. They've got it dialed in. They'll sell you raw, rolled, edible. Brownies, cookies, chocolates. One variety for in-law visits, one for Walking Dead marathons. For the budget-minded, the Mailman Special (floor sweepings). You name it.

"Chocolates," Dave said.

"If you haven't had any pot for thirty years, I recommend taking just a half dose for starters and see how it goes," the good woman at the register said, selling him two doses.

He went home and took a half dose. Then he ate the rest of it, because chocolate. Got a thoughtful look to him. Slept all night. Take that, F.D.A.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mmm. Donut.

I used to think donuts were the perfect food. Donuts never let me down. Every single donut was a triumph. Even old donuts were fine. Mom used to pick up powdered donuts in a box at the store whenever a rare run of good behavior on my part coincided with her own cravings. I still remember how the powdered sugar felt cool on the lips. Later, in high school, a bunch of us used to make a donut run in Sue Martin's Barracuda when we were skipping out of the Literary Magazine period. (The literary magazine staff was assumed to be mature, and lightly supervised.) I had gone over to jelly donuts. Still basically a powdered sugar donut, with a bonus.

Moved on to Glazed in college, when I'd pick up a single donut at Mr. Donut for my lunch, because it was cheap and satisfying and it had not yet occurred to me that good nutrition might ever come in handy or not involve donuts. It took years to shift to a different diet, but eventually I was able to break the donut habit with a smooth transition to pizza and beer. By the time I got my postal job, I wasn't buying donuts anymore at all.

No, I ate donuts only when they were free. And that happened all the time. Someone was always retiring, or leaving the station or coming into the station, or having a birthday, or winning the baseball pool; or we employees had somehow inadvertently done something arbitrarily laudable that the boss rewarded with donuts. Donuts were postal currency.

Not only that, but every eight weeks I gave blood at the Red Cross on Tuesdays, because that was the day they served Krispy Kremes. Until the day they didn't. Someone in the Red Cross hierarchy decided that Krispy Kremes were likely to provoke a flu epidemic, which might be a legally actionable event, because flu sufferers were known to want to give blood and then paw through all the identical donuts looking for the right one. Tongs, people! Have the grizzled old volunteer dude shuffle over with a box of donuts and tongs! No. Donuts were gone. I developed blood donation difficulties soon after.

So now it has been literally years since I've had a donut, even though I really, really like donuts, and there's a spectacular donut shop around the corner. I try not to eat wheat, and somewhere under the sugar and grease there's wheat, probably.

Until today, when our lovely neighbor Kate came by with a buttermilk donut for each of us. Ohhhhhhh. Donut. "I love you," I said to my donut. "I'll never leave you," my donut said to me. Now we are one. Now I use the pronoun "we."

We're thinking about going for a walk later today, my donut and I. We're not sure. But we might.

We might take a nap.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Stuck In The Middle

Just last month I was in Rugby, North Dakota, the geographical center of North America. If I had wanted to, I could have perched on one foot with my arms out and felt the slim tug of Florida to my southeast and the steady pull of the Yukon to my north and the delicate to-and-fro of Mexico and Greenland duking it out to a draw. I'd be able to sway to a position of perfect balance, assuming I didn't tip over for some other reason, but I would have, so I didn't.

There's a stone obelisk in the center of Rugby to mark the spot. It was erected in 1932 with the help of a Boy Scout troop, although not in its current location. Years later the highway was widened and the obelisk had to be walked across the street, and where were those Boy Scouts then?

All of which does shed a bit of doubt over the whole enterprise, because if the center of the continent can just be casually carted across the street, how accurate can it be? Well. It's not an easy thing to reckon. If North America was a nice geometrical shape, even I could come up with a center for it, eventually, given enough erasers. But it's not. It's squiggly as hell on the edges. And there are all those islandy numbers floating around, especially up north where there aren't enough people to keep tabs on them, and who knows how they're supposed to figure in the calculation? If there's one thing I do know, squiggly means that Calculus is going to be involved, and since Calculus was the last math course I took (twice), it was last in, first out.

Rumor has it that a mathematician did the calculation by cutting out a cardboard copy of North America and seeing where it balanced on the point of a pin, which is depressing, because that's exactly how I would have done it. I would have slaved over cutting the sucker out, with my tongue sticking out a little, but I would have expected more from a genuine mathematician.

Anyway, the result came out somewhere near Rugby, North Dakota, and some enterprising soul took out a trademark declaring Rugby the center of North America and planned the obelisk and prepared to rake in tourist dollars, because, no offense to beautiful North Dakota, there isn't a whole lot else  happening out there. Problem was, Rugby is merely close to the center, which is actually in a lake six miles west of Balta, but they didn't think to nab the trademark.

And now some guys hanging out in a tavern in nearby Robinson, North Dakota got to talking, and after five or six drinks they concluded that Robinson was a much better contender for the title, and someone checked it out, and discovered that Rugby's trademark had expired decades ago. And they thought about it a little more, and after ten or twelve drinks they decided that their actual tavern, Hanson's Bar, was really the most likely center of North America, by golly, and they ponied up $350 in cash to buy the trademark. So.

Which just goes to show that these days the truth isn't something immutable or sacred. It's something you can purchase. Just last week Donald Trump declared himself the center of the universe ("or even the solar system," he's said to have boasted), and he's willing to pay for the title, although if I were the Trademark Office I'd wait for the check to clear. I don't know. I'm no mathematician, but I'm willing to stick a big pin in him to make sure.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sweet Alfred E. Neuman On A Hat!

You've got to hand it to the Cleveland Indians. They've done real well. They were so good they might even have done as well if they'd been called the Cleveland Bowling Pins. It's hard to say, because they're still the Indians. They've still got the dopey Little Injun Boy on their hats and everything. He looks like Little Chief Pee-Pee Pants. He's adorable.

There's talk of replacing the name and mascot, but it's meeting the usual resistance. I saw a thread about it on Facebook and, predictably, someone was cheesed off. "Are you saying calling my team the Indians makes me a racist?" Well, no, not that per se. Other stuff maybe. Maybe you just can't fathom that such a mascot might be seen as insulting, since you don't mean anything by it. Maybe you lack imagination. Someone's messing with your tradition? Okay. Hang onto that aggrieved feeling, because we'll get back to that in a minute.

Let's try a little experiment. Supposed the contending team in this year's World Series is the Mighty Whities. There's a fellow flexing on the cap; he looks like Mr. Clean. How does that make you feel? I see. Yeah, bad example. Mighty Whities is kind of redundant. You're not offended. Dude looks strong. Mighty Whities rule.

Which is kind of why they're hard to mock effectively.

Let's try again. Y'all lost the war. New Mexico is the most powerful nation in the world, and most of you English-speaking white people are clustered in little shabby settlements. Strip malls. Trailer parks. You're doing okay outside of tornado season, and as long as the Waffle House stays open, nobody much complains. Then the World Series rolls around and there they are again: the Pasty-Faces won the pennant. It rankles, because you know you've gotten the short end of the stick in general, and the New Mexicans think you're kind of dirty and you kind of are, what with the meth problem and the fracking spoiling your water, but you still  have a proud European heritage and a right to dignity. Remember that bristly aggrieved feeling when you thought someone was calling you a racist, thinking you're something you're not? It feels like that. You and your people have been a national joke for 160 years. It's like a splinter in your heart every time the Pasty-Faces come up to bat wearing those stupid caps with Alfred E. Neuman on the front. You're being made fun of. You're inconsequential.

So is this another one of those cases of political correctness? We all know that person who is offended by everything. You learn to tread lightly around her, even though you think she's too sensitive and she really needs to get over a lot of that shit--and you're probably right. It's when a whole lot of people have the same complaint that it might be worth considering they have a different but valid perspective. And that their grievance might have more weight than your tradition.

Sure it's a tradition--it's a relic from the days when white men never had call to doubt their dominance over everyone else, including women. The name and mascot are fossil ridicule, embedded in a now-crumbling substrate. But you know? It's not that big a deal, a tradition that's lasted only your whole life, and part of your father's life. That's not that long. You can do better. You'll get over it.

Go Bowling Pins!