Saturday, March 25, 2017

That Spooky Invisible Hand

I don't know what's more alarming: that a house should suddenly go missing, shed to shingles, or that I can't remember what it looked like even though I walked by it all the time. But no matter where you go in this neighborhood, or how often you stroll by, you're going to run into gaping craters where a house you should remember has been deleted, like it had been taken out by a comet. It's all so sudden. Just a hole in the ground, and a porta-potty, and a radio set to a Spanish station, and then you turn your back for a few weeks and there's a big shiny house in one of three neutral colors and a Sale Pending sign.

It feels like Monopoly. You pass by a little green house and by the time you make it around the block again, there's a big red hotel instead. Pluck off, plunk down.

Monopoly wasn't one of the games we had at my house when I was a kid. I got introduced to it somewhere else. And in all these years, I've never come close to winning.  I feel that little burst of optimism when I put my game piece on GO and then it's all downhill from there. At home we had games like Parcheesi. You'd roll the dice and move your pieces just that many dots and no more, and there was an opportunity to jam things up and get in people's way, which, as a small child, appealed to me. That was the limit to the strategy, as I recall.

But at my friends' houses, I'd get all set up with my play money, and my game piece, and I'd fly past the railroads and the tan streets to buy Illinois Avenue or Pacific, reasoning (in an early foreshadowing of my investment acumen) that I liked red and green, and things would progress a bit, and then all of a sudden some kid is horse-trading. "I'll give you this, because you really really need it, and you give me that and that and all that there and most of your cash. C'mon, that's fair, isn't it?" No! That makes no sense! The price is right on the back of the card! You can't do that! That can't be in the rules! I'm telling your mom!

But they could, and they did.

I'm still not over it. Things shouldn't just cost what the richest person is willing to pay; people shouldn't have to sell stuff because they're losing ground in some spooky ethereal market. The Art Of The Deal is a dark art. There's nothing wrong with the little green houses around here. But because money is thundering into this town at this time, it's thought to be a smart thing to take out the little green house and put in a big red one, and the same number of people will be living in it, but they'll be richer, and so will the development company in charge of the comet.

As a result, Dave and I are sitting on what could become a comfortable pile of cash, and we didn't do a dang thing for it except buy a house a long time ago, just to live in. It doesn't feel right. Mediterranean Avenue should just be $60. And there was no reason to take away the thimble.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Fix Is In

A long time ago, a boyfriend and I moved into an apartment. I took the first shower, and the water didn't drain. I chucked in some Drano and some Mr. Plumber and all I got was a big tubful of toxic soup. I poked at the drain with a stick, to no avail. It was jammed. We called the landlord. He sent out a guy.

The guy squinted at my toxic soup with disgust and brought out a snake and got nowhere with it.  He was baffled for a moment, then he looked at the handle on the wall and turned it, and everything whooshed out at once. Boy howdy, I'd never seen a bathtub drain stopper in a wall like that! The plumber looked at my boyfriend, and my boyfriend looked at me, and back at the guy, and my boyfriend said "As God is my witness, I didn't think she was that stupid."

Don't get all worked up on my behalf, ladies. My honest reaction was: Aww, honey. Really? You didn't? I was touched.

Because I'm really not good at figuring things out. Sometimes I do fix things, but I'm squirrelly about it. I can't go from A to B without involving the rest of the alphabet. Nothing is ever obvious. If I were the little Dutch boy, I'd stand back and hurl a basket of gummy bears at the dike until something stuck. I've solved the exact same problems dozens of times and the process never seems to shorten up.

No surprise that come the digital revolution, nothing much changed. I've improved somewhat in that it takes me a little longer to get pissed off. I have just enough confidence to Google a problem and scan the results, even though it is rarely helpful. There's usually a forum. Someone has had the exact same problem I have. Someone else tells them to go into the HTML and find the phrase "Call Me Ishmael" and replace it with a piece of code. The first person says "Thanks, MobyMan! That took care of it." I go into my template and Ishmael is nowhere to be found. Instead it says "Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin."

I'll follow all nineteen steps in a Mail Merge Wizard and right at the end when I click on the last bit and my mailing labels are supposed to shoot out into the room, a portal to the underworld will appear instead, with a gif of a bony hand reaching out and the text "Do you want to continue?" and no, I don't, I don't.

Basically, I can't see the screen for all the pixels.

So when my phone refused to load the weather app, I Googled it and slalomed through all sorts of conflicting advice, and an hour in, just before deciding to un-install several demons I'd never heard of before and might or might not actually be possessing my phone, I thought: Or I could go next door and see if Noah can help me. Noah is a Young Person.

"My weather app won't load," I said, catching him up with all my efforts so far, so as to save him the trouble, and meanwhile, he stood there patiently with his hand out waiting for me to hand him my phone, and finally I surrendered it, and he turned it on, and then--oh, what's the word for a tiny amount of time? An infarction of a second? A gramlet? A cubit? Oh yeah, a nanner-second--in under a nanner-second, he said "You're in airplane mode."

I did think better of mentioning that I couldn't be because I was not on an airplane.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

There's Another Word For Servicing Yourself

I don't like self-service. It sounds dirty. Plus, I'm no good at it. I learned that years ago, the first time I encountered an unmanned pay station in a parking lot. Against all odds, I managed to navigate the buttons and introduced my credit card to the machine. I even got it back out again. I looked around for a ticket to come chunking out of the box, but there wasn't any. So I wandered off the lot secure in the belief that some collaboration had occurred between my card, the machine, and a global positioning satellite, and they had sent a halo of paidness over my car.

They hadn't. A whisper of a receipt had wafted into a slot at the bottom of the machine, intended for my dashboard, and perhaps the next person had gotten it, or not, but my windshield was wearing a $40 ticket when I came back. I sent a note to the authorities explaining that I had paid and was merely an idiot, but I used complete sentences and spelled everything correctly, and they were not moved. If I'd gone in person, my shortcomings would have been more clear. I would have had my money back in five minutes, plus maybe a little something extra to tide me over until my caretaker showed up.

I guess if I knew how any of it works I would be a little snappier about it. I've tried to buy a light-rail ticket only a few times. They've got machines right on the platform. Two or three trains will go by while I'm prodding the pay box for soft spots. First, of course, I look for the place to put my coins. It's not obvious. I imagine it's about at walker-height. But they'd really prefer you use something else. I find another portal to the ticket-world and start hammering away at buttons, but that's rarely successful either. I always think the machine has just quit on me, but it turns out that somewhere it's waiting for me to tell it "okay" before it will go on. Everything's got self-esteem issues these days.

"Okay." Still no ticket. Then I remember that most people on the train have their tickets jammed right into their phones somehow.  I don't know how they get in there, but I take out my phone and pass it over the machine Ouija-style, up, down, along the sides and underneath, hoping something will go "blip." Instead a paper towel shoots out the bottom and apparently I've also ordered the third season of "House Of Cards." And this, I think darkly, is a machine in my native language in my home town.

I will not do the self-service line at the grocery store. I will not. I'd probably scan my vegetables too hard and get premature salsa. No, sir: I want human hands on my fruit. Someone whose shirt I'm on a first-name basis with.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Draining The Swamp

Daddy and I always went out salamandering in the springtime, so we knew where all the best spots were. When it was looking to be a fine warm wet night, he'd grab his camera and flashlights and we'd hit the vernal ponds looking for spotted salamanders. Because if a puddle party of spotted salamanders doesn't inflate your soul, you've got more problems than can be addressed in church.

So he was the first to notice when they started paving them over. Ditches were gratuitously filled in, damp spots were erased. As an educated man who married a nice Lutheran woman, he didn't have access to a lot of salt in his vocabulary, and had to make up for it with actual eloquence, delivered in a preacher's cadence and for the benefit of nobody's ears but mine. The powers that be had seen every pond as a seep of contagion and an eyesore, and done their damnedest to eliminate them. I was young, and certainly understood the value of spotted salamanders, and if they represented even half the worth of the ponds, that made them quite worthy enough. Daddy had even more knowledge in the bank. I remember swatting bugs one hot summer day and whining "What good are mosquitoes anyway?" and Daddy didn't miss a beat. "Frog food," he said. Well then. Okay!

People are, collectively, stupid. They'll take an axe to an oak if they need a toothpick in December, and then complain about the lack of shade in July. Individual people can be pretty smart, but they get together and stupid right up.

It takes time and attention to learn what there is to learn in this world, but people, collectively, know a lot about wetlands now. All those boggy spots might appear to those without imagination to be worthless, but those people are as blind as they can be. Wetlands mitigate flooding, restore shorelines, filter water, sustain life, cache groundwater. For free. The Army Corps of Engineers can get as fancy as they please with concrete but they can't come close to duplicating the value of the wetlands, and they don't come cheap, neither.

Someone recently lurched into power with a promise to drain the swamp. A lot of people think he has broken that promise, because they see he has packed the pus-pockets of power with even more privateers and pirates than we had before. But they didn't take him literally enough. The other day, just taking a break between drowning refugees and jacking off the Big Oil boys, he drained the swamp. He put the boot to the Clean Water Rule that protects wetlands. Apparently, it cuts into golf course profits.

Some people can look right at the magnificent, unmatched genius of nature and see nothing of worth--nothing as valuable as, say, a Walmart on a slab. Two main reasons: they're greedy, and they're stupid. Don't underestimate the stupid. And so the trees come down, and the swamp is filled, and the concrete flows, and the Walmart pimples up, and the true bill is left for someone else to pay, down the line.



That's who is in charge now. Someone who will mine your organs for their value on the black market and then rig you up with a respirator and dialysis and say, See? Good as new! Bummer about your liver. But some day someone'll come up with a replacement for that, too. The best replacement, a beautiful thing, like you wouldn't believe!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Beer: A Love Story

Back when our parents were warning us about the evil reefer, it was common for us to accuse them of hypocrisy because they drank martinis. They countered that it wasn't the same thing. They said they just enjoyed their martinis, and it wasn't like a drug at all.

I didn't do any accusing, personally. My parents didn't have martinis. Or the occasional glass of wine. Or anything else, except once a year when they'd uncap the fusty old bottle of cheap Taylor sherry and have themselves a little nip. When it came to the proper acquisition of bad habits, my parents were horrible role models.

Nevertheless I soldiered on. I didn't like beer. Not until I went to live in London, where the beer was a whole lot better. That's where I made a study of it, and Guinness in particular. "Tall, dark, and have some," it said on the billboard, and I did. Oh, honey. It was gorgeous. It had a creamy head you could write your initials in and still see them at the bottom of the glass, in case you forgot who you were. Golden curls of goodness roiled and frolicked beneath the foam. Bubbles sidled along the glass like an ever-renewing fountain of yum. It was delicious. And most of all, it solved everything. It filled up all the tiny holes: all the pits and pocks of my muttering soul, all gone smooth again.

We dope-smoking hippies were right: the alcohol really was a drug.

I'm not complaining. This isn't an anti-alcohol screed. I think alcohol is a good thing, until it's not. Our parents (well, maybe your parents) drank to take the edge off. It works. It's good medicine. It gets to be a problem when there are too many edges, and it takes too much medicine to smooth them over. If your soul is shot through with little holes, no amount of alcoholic spackle can be enough. When I came back to America, I located a decent beer--Narragansett Porter--and began taking the edge off at ten in the morning. That would be what some people might have called a red flag, but some of us need more flags than others.

The other thing I came back with was a recurring happy dream. I'd get it once or twice a year. In my dream, I'd take a few steps down from the street into a London cellar pub and have a wonderful local brew and shoot darts with the locals. Then I'd come back into the sunshine (in my dream, London had sunshine), walk another few blocks, and step down into a different pub. And repeat. For thirty years this was my happy place dream.

Meanwhile, I concocted some of my own spackle and began to put my soul back together. I made it out of a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. A little music, a little truth, a little walk in the woods, more than a little time.

I haven't had that happy dream in years. I can walk out my door right now and partake of any of a hundred different local beers in a matter of a few blocks. I'm living the dream in the best beer town in the world. If your soul has a few pits and pocks in it, it will take the edges right off.

But if you don't have too many edges, it will just put a doily of joy under your big tumbler of life.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Frogs, Food, And Fun

It's a damp and pleasant night, and I'm plucking a perfect pink frog off a curtain of landscape cloth and placing her in a bucket. Which naturally puts me in mind of the Great Gilchrist-Crescent Spaghetti Feed of 1989.

We are trying to keep the frogs from crossing Highway 30 on the way to their annual Spring Fling in a vernal pond. On our data sheets we refer to this as "assisting" them, which is not the verb the frogs use. In fact the case could be made that they lack appreciation.

Not a frog, but definitely landscape cloth
We've got a slick system in place now. Our team has rigged up a temporary fence with landscape cloth to intercept the frogs before they cross the road. It's a thing of beauty and was engineered chiefly by Anne the Magnificent, who has imagination and ingenuity and, ever since the election, plenty of time to think about things in the middle of the night. It's a working wonder of rebar and old fence insulators and washers and string and clamps and pebbles and probably tractor innards and old hoof shavings and whatever else she could scavenge for free from her daughter's farm, and it works like anything.  Add in Maggie's contribution--sewing eight hundred heroic feet of rope in a channel on the bottom of the landscape cloth for weight--and us frog wranglers, and we've got a well-oiled frog-plucking machine.

But it's not as much fun as it used to be.

Before, we were scampering after the lusty hoppers all over the road and chasing them on the shoulder and clambering up to the railroad bed to coax them off the ties and scoping out their eyeshine on the berm and pointing and squealing and having us a fine old time. Lordy, it was invigorating. The hours go by like minutes when you're frog-wrangling aerobically.

But of course we missed some of them. And it isn't really safe to dash around a road in the dark. And the railroad company's legal department was pretty particular about us not getting near their tracks. So great minds got together and produced this slick new system. And now we stroll the length of the cloth curtain like church ushers with a collection plate and scoop up frogs as we go.

Pootie in a younger day
No more Gilchrist-Crescent Spaghetti Feed for us.

Oh, that! It was 1989. It was only the second year of the Cycle Oregon bicycle tour, before they'd ironed out all the kinks. 2,000 bicyclists were provided with campsites and luggage transport and dinner and water, but for most of the day we got a banana and a spank on the Spandex for luck and sent off for our ride. Any minor diner we came across during the day was stacked all around with bicycles eight feet deep and packed with cyclists, a wide-eyed waitress and a panicked fry cook. Little kids who set up cookie stands on the side of the road got cleaned out in minutes no matter what they charged. When we arrived in the logging towns of Gilchrist and Crescent, we were prodded toward the Grange Hall, where long tables sagged with homemade pies for sale--hundreds of them. We dispatched them like locusts on a corn crop. Then came dinner. Gilchrist-Crescent was ready. The community center was well-staffed and every large pot in town was set to boiling. Someone ladled tomato sauce out of a vat and everyone in town knew how many people to expect and how much spaghetti constituted a logger's portion, but they were not familiar with 100-mile bikers. The garlic-bread distributor blanched at her dwindling supply and cut us down to a half-slice each. Progress in the line slowed and then ground to a halt as pickup trucks peeled off to nearby towns for more boiling pots and spaghetti. Those of us still waiting for dinner made a shoulder-rubbing conga line and sang 'Sixties hits and put our left foots out and put our left foots in, and a fine and raucous time was had by all, even as the G-C womenfolk were living out their worst nightmares. It was like that all week. All 2,000 of us continued to vulture our way through miles of rural Oregon leaving behind a cleaned carcass of exhausted and astounded residents and a fair amount of money. It was grand.



But it would not do.

Cycle Oregon felt a bout of organization coming on, and got out its pencils and spreadsheets and calculators and thereafter delivered a precise and reliable 7,000 calories per day per person. Roadside cookie-stand business slumped. Waitresses waved from diners. Not many cyclists dropped dead. Order was restored.

It's 2017, and smashed frogs and starved bicyclists have been reduced to an acceptable minimum. It's a good thing. It's efficient.

It's just not as much fun.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Makeup For Crones

I kept seeing this ad for some beauty line with the caption "Ten makeup tips for women over fifty." I guess the internet has nailed my demographic, if not my style, which is best described as "not applicable." If I were giving the tip, it would be "Just march on out there with what God gave you and give it a go," but that didn't even make the top ten. The person providing the tips is a stunning 64-year-old woman who needs makeup like a jellyfish needs stretch pants. When she dies people are going to want to dig her up for one last look. Nevertheless, it's makeup she's selling. I don't know how much of her product you'd need to buy to look like her, but I do know you'd also need joint compound, a sander, and Leonardo da Vinci in your contacts list.

To her credit, though, she thinks you don't need much makeup. At your age, Petunia, less is more. Which is great, because you can't get any more less than I have. "Don't overdo it," she cautions. "After age fifty, your face is not a blank slate anymore." Boy howdy and ain't it the truth! Nothing blank about it. It's got some wear to it. She says she let herself go gray at age 45. I haven't worn makeup since I was sixteen, so that's about when I started letting myself go gray, also. It took another thirty years.

Oh, and this one other time.
Anyway, she warns against using any kind of powdered foundation because, as she delicately puts it, you don't want "unwanted extra texture." The implication is that at this point you've started to accumulate some personal texture of your own that you might not want to draw attention to. Sweet baby Moses in a sunhat, I'll say! It's a freakin' moonscape, innit? I've got stuff growing out of my face that was never on the original work order, but there it is. I'm counting on most of it not being cancerous.

So you sure don't want to use any kind of powder. That just settles in drifts in your personal arroyos whilst tiny tumbleweeds of talc drift about and collect in the beard zone. What she'd like you to use instead is something more like lipstick, but for all over. "Is there a woman who hasn't dabbed a little lipstick on her cheeks for a quick touch-up?" Why, yes, there is. There's at least one who never dabbed any on her lips, either. One time when I was too young to have money to buy makeup and was most certainly not going to get any past the parents anyway, I put a little baby powder on my lips, because we were going through that fashion nanosecond when white lips were cool. It tasted weird and I gave it up. I couldn't afford the go-go boots either.

Oh wait--I also tried someone's red lipstick on a dare, just that one time, and wiped it off in nearly the same instant. I was going for an Ingrid Bergman look but the effect was more like a stab wound.

Still, the concept here is that you get a few items for your Kit--you get to have a Kit!--that come in big wide tubes and you goo it on yourself. Kind of all over. You're not supposed to put on MUCH makeup in any one spot, but there's no limit to the territory you can cover. The champagne-colored one, for instance, is meant to go in the inner corner of your eyes, your cheekbones, your shoulders, and your decollete. I know what that is. That would be your boobular region, and I'm not up for chasing that around with a stick of goo. It would be one thing if we still wore those 18th-century gowns that mash everything up above the bodice where you can reach it.

I have a different plan for my decollete. That fine-sand beach got covered with riprap decades ago, and I plan to keep it covered the hell up.

There's more. Eyeshadow: it should be a shade lighter than your skin tone. But our friend has an even more daring proposition. "If you can," says she, "even try going eyeshadow-free!" Way ahead of you, babycakes.

But the biggest mistake old women make is to use too much under-eye concealer. I never heard of under-eye concealer. Sounds handy.

Most of me is under my eyes.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

All Clear For Takeoff!

Me and my dinosaur, "Federal"
I've been baptized. I'll stipulate that right off the bat. I don't remember it, but it must have served as a sort of inoculation, and I plan to bring it up if there's ever anyone at the velvet rope checking the list, just in case. Still, I'm aware that the ritual is not without controversy. There is a right way, and a wrong way. I don't like being dunked or even dribbled on, so if I had to choose I'd hope to get away with a quick spray, like when you spritz your perfume into the air and walk into it for a more subtle effect.

Fortunately, thanks to the internet, we have at our disposal a wonderful website with all the correct answers. I recommend it. ClarifyingChristianity is a one-stop over-the-counter dogma depot, dedicated to teaching you how to get right with the Lord and go to heaven. It covers everything but the bus schedule. According to this site, only full immersion is going to punch your ticket. And you can take this information to the bank because (a) total immersion is what is described in the Bible, and (b) the Bible is irrefutably, demonstrably true. Put (a) and (b) together and you're in for a dunking, sweetheart.

I have Federal, and my sister and father appear to have fossils
How do we know the Bible is accurate? They're glad you asked. For one thing, the Bible has a 100% record of prophecies coming true, especially if you count the ones that haven't come true yet but totally might, which is even more impressive. As they explain it, the Bible is really good at future predictions, which are the trickiest kind of prediction.

Also? There's science all over it. In fact, nothing in science has ever contradicted the Bible. For instance, Genesis referred to the number of stars and the amount of sand in the seashore as being equivalently large--and even today Scientists admit they do not know how many stars there are! But it's a lot!

And the Bible described the wind as going south and north and whirling around continuously--thousands of years before Science described the circulation in the atmosphere! And in Leviticus there is a description of blood as being valuable to life even though the circulatory system of the blood was not discovered until 1616! And in Genesis they describe everything that creeps upon the earth continuing according to its kind--well before the discovery of DNA! That's right. Thousands of years ago, the Bible said wind whips around, blood is important, and cattle invariably produce calves, and there's nothing in modern science to contradict any of it.

Inseparable and coexisting
But nothing in the Bible is more exciting from a reality and accuracy standpoint than the mention of dinosaurs. Yes, three kinds of dinosaur were described in the Bible: the Tanniyn, the Behemoth, and the Leviathan. The Leviathan also breathed fire. And lest this strike anyone as unlikely, be it known that there exists, even today, a Central American beetle that blows fire out its own butt, so the technology is totally there, only with the dinosaur it was way bigger and out the front end. And many dinosaur skulls have been found that contain unexplained empty passages which could totally have been gas tanks. It only makes sense. With me so far?

So, Bible-accuracy-wise, let's review: we have the gigantic scaly turned-around fire-farting superbeetle with the fuel tanks in its skull, and it coexisted with Man, because the Bible says it was created no more than one day before Man, and we've already determined the Bible is true. But where are the dinosaurs now? Well. They did make it onto the ark (which, by the way, was filled to only 1/3 capacity, because of the sheer number of cubits involved in its construction); the dinosaurs would have been a stretch, but it is assumed they were little baby ones, which ate less also. So where are they now?

Ah. Climate change. The very same climate change that has been happening for the whole 6000 or so years of the planet. That's what caused the Flood in the first place: the clouds were way bigger and denser in the olden times, and that canopy of big fat clouds caused a greenhouse effect that trapped more oxygen, and everyone was big and happy until God made the clouds fall down all at once for flooding purposes. And once the canopy of clouds had fallen down, the world instantly cooled down, evidence for which is easily obtained by looking at all the mammoths found frozen in place, "some of them with food still in their mouths."

So there you have it--all buttoned up. We did fine with half the oxygen we were used to, but the Leviathan couldn't manage it, and if you need further proof just look around and count the dinosaurs. Heh? See any? Thought so. Well I'm convinced.

I'm still going to try to make do with my original baptism though.

I didn't make any of this up. For further edification, visit clarifyingchristianity.com and prepare to be amazed.