Wednesday, July 18, 2018

This Either Is, Or Is Not, Awesome

This here is my one-thousandth blog post, which is obviously awesome! By "awesome" I mean immensely cool, or even just cool, or else I'm just signaling the end of a sentence and now it's your turn to talk.

Cranky language people like to sniff that we've gotten careless with the word "awesome" and that if we use it, we'd better be talking about, well, God, or somebody equally impressive. Or one of his larger or more photogenic works. Mostly they don't notice that it started out, around 1600, meaning "full of awe" (so it would, say, refer to somebody beholding God rather than the big guy himself). And then only later was it applied to the awe-inspiring item. At any rate, the curmudgeondom is pretty certain "awesome" shouldn't refer to a collection of blog posts, or a satisfying dump, or even the observation that a person can meet someone at the movies at five. None of those should evoke an "awesome."

This doesn't bother me much. I understand that there is a need to shanghai words for one's own purposes sometimes, and there's a further need in any community to shake the vocabulary up a bit so it doesn't sound stale. "It's garbage day," I might say, and someone might say "Awesome" back. It didn't even have to be "awesome." It could have been "saline" or "gibbous." The point is to move conversation along and, maybe, send a signal to your own tribe that you're a member in good standing. Some day in the future, you might hear someone saying "Gibbous, dude," although "dude" will have been replaced by then. By "bosco," or "kipper."

"Awesome" has been on the way out for a while. Now you're more likely to hear things are "perfect." If you order something off the menu in a restaurant, your servidude will automatically say "Perfect." One suspects that every single thing on the menu is equally perfect and you doubt that, but after all it's a sunny attitude to take toward your food, or your willingness to schedule an appointment at a certain time ("Perfect").

First post
Anyway, I don't get real worked up about it. I know how this works. Some word or phrase or even inflection becomes passed around your cohort and before you know it, you hear it vaulting out of your own face like a dog after a squirrel. Bam. It's like influenza. You think you're immune, but you're not. You can go sixty years without ever saying "I know, right?" or "I can't even with this" and then, suddenly, you do. You might feel sort of weak and susceptible when you hear yourself saying it for the first time. (But at least you know what a "cohort" is.)

Still, I was startled the other day when Dave and I were on a walk, and we saw a young man get out of a delivery truck, and we said "Hi there, which direction  is Burnside?" And he smiled and said "What an amazing question," and pulled out his phone to check.

I laughed outright. "No it isn't!" I said.

He looked at me and laughed back. "I guess you're right!"

"It's kind of an ordinary question, really," I pointed out.

"Yeah! It is. Huh! I guess I just said it to be friendly."

Good enough! We did all feel a few notches happier, all right. He pointed toward Burnside, after checking his phone, and got back in the truck. We took his amazing information and headed toward Burnside.

Nice kipper, that guy.  Truly crepuscular.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The New Neighbor

There are a lot of  ways to tell you're getting old. The revolutionary anthems of your youth are playing in the pharmacy aisle. You can mold your own elbows like Play-Doh. You have a different relationship with death.

Young people don't think about death much at all. When they do, it's in the form of nameless terror that comes unbidden, a sudden, nocturnal wad of dread, to be replaced come morning with your regularly scheduled immortality.

Old people have more familiarity. Death is the new neighbor who moved in down the street. We can smell what he's cooking. We've been peering at him through the blinds for a while, and we're getting to know his habits. They're not all good. We probably should bring over a fruit basket so he will think kindly of us, but it's too late and awkward now.

Old people get specific about this. It's not a big dread-wad anymore, but a sober review of options, most of them unpalatable. Most of us have notions of the nature of our own demise, educated guesses mostly, and we also have our druthers.

Me, for instance. I druther be minding my own business on the street and have a piano fall on top of me. According to cartoon lore, this sort of thing used to happen all the time. People stared at pies on the windowsill by means of hyphens, people ran off cliffs and were doing fine until they looked down, and people walked under falling pianos. My friend Bill actually had his grand piano craned up twenty floors into his apartment, and back down again later. So I had a shot. When I go, I want to be smashed into veneer and hear that 88-key clusterjangle, last thing.

But that's not what I think will really happen. I think one day my neck will gang up on me and sit on my windpipe. I can feel it gearing up sometimes when I fall asleep in my chair. Any time my chin drops forward, my neck gang convenes and plots to take me out.

Another way to tell you're getting old is if you refer to your own neck in the plural. But there you go. It's a gang. It's three against one. I don't like my chances.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Iams Okay, Youms Okay

Tater Cat, here, eats Iams Proactive Health Healthy Adult Original cat kibble in the bright orange bag, and don't you be slipping her anything else. She will think you're trying to kill her. Actual chicken? Actual fish? Pet store cat-candy? Wet food? Ice cream? Don't even try.

We keep her bowl of kibble in the kitchen. Same general vicinity as all the rest of our food. We're not super tidy. There are food bits around to be found, if you're in the entrepreneurial vermin class.

So this winter, in the midst of the Rat Capades, I discovered a neat cache of cat kibble in the kitchen, under a sofa, in a throng of rat turds. Not grain, not beans, not bread crumbs or fruit from the basket. Kibble.

And yesterday, an enthusiastic parade of ants discovered the kibble and sent word back to the nest that the Promised Land had been found.

All of which leads me to wonder: would Iams Proactive Health Healthy Adult Original cat kibble make a good crunchy topping for a 1950s casserole in the absence of Durkee canned fried onion rings? What's in this stuff, anyway?


That would be your chicken, your chicken by-products, corn meal, corn grits, beet pulp (why not), Natural Flavor, eggs, yeast, thirty unpronounceable nutrition bombs, and rosemary extract. I've always wondered what Natural Flavor was.


That would be your essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. In other words, it's what you use if your Bark 'n' Bean Bake could use a little extra barky flavor punch. It's chemically identical to artificial flavoring but has a fancier provenance; fortunately for consumers, it costs more.

So, on to the chicken by-products. That's got to be eggs, right? No. It's any part of the chicken that people don't want to eat because they think it's offal. White people, anyway, with the possible exception of Norwegians, who probably still revere some ancestral recipe for tusk as a delicacy (as long as there's butter). Chicken feet, backs, spleen, brains, lungs, things like that there. It would also include hen's teeth, which do in fact exist and can be created by turning on a gene pathway discovered in a mutant toothy chicken, which is probably something the pet food industry wants to know about.

A lot of these things are also legally considered fit for human consumption, of course, as long as they are ground into sausage. Sausage is sort of defined as a tubular parcel of things you don't want to know about.

Speaking of things you don't want to know about--are you still here?--if you see something generically labeled "meat by-product," you might have road kill, dead zoo animals, or euthanized pets in there. I'm all for reducing waste, so now I have a new plan for my own earthly remains. Cat food. Tater won't touch it, but how bad could it be?

Saturday, July 7, 2018


"I suppose you want something," I said to the crow on the wire, who emitted a noncommittal squawk. "I've got walnuts. But hey. Since I have you on the phone line, what the hell was that all about the other day, when you and your gang mobbed me halfway down the block? I was already walking away from your kid. You guys are supposed to be smart. Recognize faces, and all that. You know perfectly well I've been nothing but friendly to you."

I fetched the walnuts, squinted up at the wire, and decided to hold out.

"Yeah. So smart. And they say a crow is as smart as a seven-year-old human."

The crow emitted a noncommittal squawk and then cleared its throat.

"Easily. And age seven is the pinnacle of human intelligence, after which you all dwindle down to Candy Crush and reality TV. So."

"You DO talk?" Dave had been hollering "Hey, Walnut-Boy" for years as he placed nuts on the patio, hoping someday the crows would start saying "Hey, Walnut-Boy" to him.

The crow ruffled briefly and sleeked back down. "Tsss. Remember when you used to stare up into the trees and go 'Caw, caw, caw?' Were you expecting some kind of reply? As if. How about if we sat outside your window and yelled 'Dude, dude, dude' over and over again?"

"That would be awesome. That would be cute. It's not like you don't say the same things over and over again already."

"Hardly. You're so provincial. If you hear something that doesn't fit into your narrow world view you just ignore it. But have somebody put on a minstrel show and say Dude Dude Dude and you brighten right up. It's offensive."

"Well, I do like Chucklehead over there in the cedar. He's cool." Chucklehead rarely caws. Chucklehead starts with pairs of hoots and then cuts loose with a virtuosic string of clicks and ratchety noises.

"Her name is not 'Chucklehead.' Cecilia Clickenheimer is a sage."

I was willing to believe that.

"Anyway, glad we can make you feel good about yourself with the walnut distribution."

"You never even take them until I go away."

"They're not going anywhere. And we see no reason to reward you for a blatant case of cultural appropriation. We've been eating walnuts for generations, but you discover them and now it's all about you. You don't even know where walnuts come from."

"I do too. They come from Costco."

"They come from trees. Trees you people keep cutting down and replacing with fancy non-native bullshit trees or something."

"Walnut trees are messy. You should see what they do to cars."

"You should see what we do to cars."

"Hey. I plant plenty of natives. I leave the seedpods to ripen for you guys."

"So occasionally you manage to not mess everything up, and then you want credit? Anyway we just saw you pull out the foxgloves as soon as they quit blooming."

"Oh. You saw that. Well you don't eat seeds anyway."

"The hell. Besides, sparrows eat seeds, and I eat baby sparrows."

"That's disgusting."

"Cry me a river, Veal-Girl."

"The point is, there's no reason to scream at my head if I get near your baby. You know I'm not going to hurt your baby. You know all, see all. Wait. Is it because we let Tater out on the patio with us at Beer-Thirty? Is that it?"

"It's not the cat. It's perfectly obvious your cat is only out here to eat grass and throw up. Awesome little sidekick you have there. A real Einstein. But remember when you put that baby robin in a shoebox and dropped an earthworm on its back? And then you couldn't get it back off again?"

"It was wiggly. I missed. I was only six."

"That poor robin! Peeping away with a worm wriggling through its little feathers."

"That poor robin you would have happily scarfed down?"

"As is my wont. I can take care of myself. You would starve to death in a full pantry if you didn't have a can opener."

"Not true. I saw a Life Hack. You can rub a can against the pavement and the top will pop right off."

"Excellent! It's Cling Peaches and cold goopy black beans for the rest of your days! Honestly. The fact is you people are wrecking everything, and you know it."

"Now, now. I've read that crows do very well in an urban setting."

"Of course. We're smart."

"So you're all high and mighty about the sorry state of the world when you know perfectly well you'll do just fine."

"I see! You think I'm all 'I've got mine, I don't need to worry about anyone else! Howdy, howdy, howdy!' Typical."

"I didn't say that."

"You just did say that. You assumed I'd be as oblivious and self-centered as you people. That's called 'projection.'"

"That's not true. I'm not like that. I am a Democrat and a dues-paying union member."

"Ooo, ooo, ooo. Somebody should give you a cookie. Where are you going? Leave the walnuts."

"Sure. I'll leave the walnuts. You won't eat them until I'm out of sight, but you always eat the walnuts. 'Cultural appropriation,' my bald fanny."

"Reparations, baby. Reparations."

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Independence Day Special

As I understand it, Mitch McConnell and his wrecking crew not only held up Obama's choice for Supreme Court, but did the same for hundreds of other vacancies in the judiciary, so that by the time their biddable bag of meat acquired the Presidency, he could pack the courts with young conservatives who might be expected to steer the country hard to the right for many decades.

Which is awesome if you happen to believe that abortion is the most important moral question we face. It's an answer to prayer. To the Republican majority and the billionaires who underwrite them it is less a matter of God's will than the culmination of a long-term strategy designed to gain and maintain power. It's one element in a campaign that also includes gerrymandering, voter suppression, union-busting, propaganda, and flat-out cheating.

There are a number of reasons I believe abortion should be legal, reasons having to do with coercion and control, and the mysteries of the soul, and the pragmatic consideration that more abortions can be prevented by access to free birth control than by criminalization, and a bias in favor of women's health and autonomy over fetal rights, but it's not something I intend to argue about with people who describe themselves as pro-life.

Suffice it to say fetal success is not at the top of my list of concerns. Not above civil rights for the born; not above the destruction of the particular climate that has sustained us and other life forms; not above the demonization and marginalization of entire groups of people, by race or faith or country of origin, which precedes and condones their elimination; not above the lust for war, which precisely tracks the lust for money. So much. So much I care about.

So many of us do. Enough to march. Lawsy, wasn't that a march! That sea of pink hats! There are more of us than there are of them. How did it all go so wrong?

Let's go back to the anti-abortion folks. Sure, they're just one element of a constituency that includes nervous gun owners and xenophobes and outright racists--there's some intersectionality involved here--but let's look just at them.

These people care. They really care. They care enough to vote, and they vote every chance they get. They put their people on the school board. They elect judges. They elect their city council. They scrutinize every ballot to reward the stance they favor. They're in a minority, but they win. Because they vote.

Is there anything we care enough about to do that? To vote?

Peace? Justice? Sustainable energy and economy? Shared prosperity? Do we care about extinction? The collapse of the oceans? Refugees? Poverty? Do black lives matter to us, at all? Do we assume our own version of righteousness should prevail on its merits, without us having to bother to vote for it?

How would this world be different if Al Gore had had enough extra votes that the Supreme Court would have been ashamed to hand the election to Dick Cheney? Would climate deniers have dominated the Cabinet? Would we still be mired in a fossil-fuel economy? Would we be at war in the Middle East? Did we really think Hillary and Donald were equally bad choices? Really? I guess so. Enough of us stayed home pouting. Waiting for that gorgeous candidate, so we could rest easy, put a LOVE sign on our lawn, and go back to our oblivious daily lives. We didn't care enough.

We care enough to march. We care enough to write checks and make calls. We can start caring enough to vote, every election, every chance we get. Or we can start knitting pink handbaskets.