Saturday, November 9, 2019

And You Don't Have To Bimbo It

One fortunate consequence of not photo-editing pictures of myself on Facebook is that I see a lot of fun ads for how to fix what obviously ails me.

Nikoro is only the most recent. By appearances, Nikoro is a gold razor, and the video in the ad shows someone raking it all over the face, hard: forehead, temples, you name it. And whereas I do have a nice cover crop of facial hair going, the only hairs I actually wouldn't miss are the ones with measurable diameters. I can't remember when the Legacy Hair on my chin first sprouted, but next time I yank it out I'll try to remember to count the rings.

Nikoro is, however, upon further exploration, not a razor at all. Instead it's a metal wand on a stick that you push all over your face to urge it into a state of immaturity. It employs microaggressions or something. Oh, and also it vibrates. The purveyors of Nikoro recommend you apply their vibrating non-razor anywhere you like. Marketing!

According to the website, it has been designed for women who want to reduce their wrinkles or who have drooping skin, face, neck, or chest. I'm not certain what the golden wand is likely to do for my drooping chest but I'm pretty sure I can carry a half dozen of them under each side with nobody the wiser.

This will not be necessary, however, because the Nikoro also comes with an accessory black velvet pocket "to take it everywhere with you, in your handbag for example, without having to bimbo it." Which is an obscure relief.

The Nikoro, if used to massage the upper chest area, is claimed to revive the Cooper's Ligaments. Cooper's Ligaments (a.k.a. "God's Bra") are a cage-like assemblage of supporting tissue that holds the breast in an ideal state of pertness. They were named after surgeon Sir Astley "Hands" Cooper, who discovered them repeatedly for several years in the 19th century.

Cooper's Prototype Ligaments
Whereas it might be possible to revive Cooper's Ligaments, mine are not dead, but only retired. If anything, they're taking a nap and should not be disturbed.

The Nikoro is advertised as a lower-cost home facial improvement product utilizing the extremely ancient massage technique known as "Kibodo." This age defying technique was pioneered by two 540-year-old practitioners, who oughta know. It is said they originally clashed over a demonstration of "Kyoku-te," a facial treatment performed with percussion using the folded hand. (In this country, the facial percussion with the folded hand is carried out by Guido, and it does plump the tissues.)

It is recommended that you start your treatments as soon as possible after age 30 so as to ward off the worst of the aging process. These are your prime beauty-treatment-purchasing years, and if you wait too long, there is a significant commercial danger you will become too old to give a shit.

And if you wait until you're my age, that thing is just going to leave tracks on your face like a vacuum cleaner.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

I Used To Be Fun-Size

We have a situation.

I can only compare it to the similarly trauma-induced Toilet Paper Closet that my mother maintained faithfully until her demise.

Mom sailed patriotically through butter rationing and she was fine with painting the seams on her legs in lieu of stockings but she never got over the toilet paper shortage in World War II, and as long as I can remember her linen closet was stacked to the ceiling with toilet paper.

We, on the other hand, are living with a pile of Halloween candy that could block out the sun. The new topography of our kitchen counter shows up on LIDAR. The center of the pile has probably achieved composting temperatures by now.

It all goes back to a Halloween forty years ago when we bought what we thought was a reasonable, even plentiful, amount of candy and discovered, an hour in, that we had way undershot. Worse, most of the kids on our porch were dressed up as eighteen-year-olds with scowls and pillowcases. Some of them held out second pillowcases and demanded "one more for the baby at home." This wasn't fun. We phoned our neighbors to see if they had any extra candy and they were panicking also. Someone made a trip to the store to find shelves bare of everything but Tic-Tacs and tiny eyeglass screwdrivers. It didn't occur to any of us that we could turn the lights out and hide under the bed.

So ever since, we've gone way overboard, even though nothing like that ever happened again. Dave wanted to buy candy early, but I know that trick, and I held him off until about two weeks ago. Then we got a few dozen full-size bars. Dave likes to give the immediate neighbor children full size bars, and then it doesn't seem fair so he gets a bunch more full-size bars, and really we don't have that many trick-or-treaters anymore so they might as well ALL get full-size bars. And then we got a couple bags of fun-size bars just to be on the safe side. And we waited.

Then I noticed that the bagged bars were not fun-size after all, but even smaller and presumably even more fun. They were basically only a square inch of candy bar each. Which meant that it wouldn't be that big a deal to go ahead and open it up and pop a few in our mouths. A few here, a few there. How much trouble could I get into, especially during World Series season when I'm already eating salted peanuts in the shell for dinner and praying for a sweep so my colon can recover? The day before Halloween, after we'd gone ahead and opened up the second bag, I was at the store and decided to restock the stash just in case we ran low. The lady right around the corner said she'd gotten five times as many kids as we did last year, and on the Alameda Ridge a few blocks away word was they got 300-400. I got another couple bags of actual fun-size bars, and then another couple just in case.

Not sure what happened after that. We stuffed all we could into the cabinet and some of it whelped. There was a Baby Ruth and a Snickers left out on the counter and Jesus showed up in the middle of the night and loaved and fished them. Then we had three bowls the size of God's satellite dish filled with fun-sized bars with itty bitty bars to spackle up the spaces plus a solid forty full size candy bars not including the twelve we thought were full size but turned out to be packages of eight fun-size. Each.

The six small children who showed up did real well.

Six. Real well.

The good news is I'm finally out of salted peanuts in the shell. Should have bought some more toilet paper, though.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Case For Hibernation

I don't have anything against winter, but hibernation seems like a terrific idea to me. I am really attracted to any protocol that involves major gluttony followed by tremendous sloth. Pride, envy, greed, lust, and wrath have no hold on me. But them other two rock.

Give me that whole bear routine. The idea is to eat as much as one possibly can and then sleep it off for months. Oh, this checks all the boxes. I would give it a shot, even though I know I'd run the risk of spending four months looking for the classroom I never attended in order to take the final exam, or racing through the airport to make my flight, or not being able to find a clean private toilet to poop in.

What I wasn't aware of was that ladybugs hibernate also. Many of them gorge themselves as fall approaches, which I find disturbing, because they do not have the benefit of stretch pants. Nevertheless they apparently start packing on the micrograms and then get together in a big heap with thousands of their little friends, like a pile of puppies, to sleep it off and sit out the winter. I'm not sure what the angle is. As far as I'm aware, ladybugs do not generate heat metabolically. So the bottom ladybug in a pile of cold ladybugs is still cold. Perhaps they just like company.

Ladybugs are also called Lady Beetles but not by anyone I know. Probably only entomologists. Because entomologists know ladybugs aren't bugs, they're beetles. Hell, everyone knows that, but we're still going to call them ladybugs. Entomologists should let a loop out every now and then. Knowledge can be a curse. It's like how I keep trying to tell everyone that "iris" is not the plural of "iris" but I never get anywhere, and I'm the only one unhappy. Nobody cares and I shouldn't either.

What's more interesting is why the beetles are "lady" anything. Evidently in the Middle Ages--so goes the tale--crops were failing right and left and the people prayed to the Virgin Mary for help, and she sprinkled ladybugs over the good Catholic farms. The insects scarfed down the aphids and all was saved. That's just the kind of thing God and his staff will do for the properly reverent. And the people called their saviors the Beetles Of Our Lady. And larded the original story up with supporting religious hoo-ha, to wit: the red beetle represents the cloak of the Virgin and the black spots are her joys and sorrows. That's a lot of significance to heap on a small insect, but in case they get too full of themselves they can fly to Poland, where they're known as "God's little cows."

Some time before the slumber party the female ladybugs lay eggs near a big food source such as my broccoli crop, which went gray with aphids this year. The stated reason is to give their larvae a better chance to find food. More likely, they're completely stuffed full of aphids themselves and they can barely get off the sofa to fly. Although it all works out the same.

What ladybugs do in a heap over winter is not actually called hibernation, but "diapause," which any entomologist would not be able to prevent himself from telling you. Basically they just push the pause button. (You get a ladybug in peridiapause, she'll be cranky for years.)

Ladybugs have made a nuisance of themselves in the course of their overwintering by congregating on the siding of light-colored houses and finding their way inside, where they warm up, wake up, and spew stinky yellow goo out of their knee-balls over anyone with a disciplinary broom or vacuum. In the course of reading about this I learned that they "are of special consternation to those who are entomophobic," meaning they really creep out people who are afraid of bugs. Who writes this shit? Entomologists? Anyway there are some ways of preventing an infestation. Simply seal all cracks, crevices, and openings in your entire house that are larger than a tiny beetle. And repaint your house. Done!

Well, none of this is as appealing as being a fat marmot snoozing away in a burrow in one of the prettiest places on earth, but it's a living. And there's a lot to recommend it. Fact is, the world would be a better place if we all left it alone for a few months every year.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Problems On The Follow-Through

Brussels Sploots?
We're all going to have to learn new things. Old things, really, things our grandparents knew and every generation before that, but not us. Things are going to need to be decentralized. We need to learn how to make our houses comfortable without pumping in a lot of energy from somewhere else; we need vegetable beds in every front yard. Time's a-comin'.

We're on board. In theory. We wear sweaters and we have a vegetable garden. Or something like it.

It's so exciting to think you can plunk a little package of Life into the soil and wring dinner out of it later. In fact it's so exciting that we expend all our enthusiasm right off the bat and have no follow-through. We always planted sugar snap peas. It says right on the package that you can plant successive crops every two weeks, but we feel so accomplished after the first batch comes up that we never remember to do it again. We have a collection of open seed packets (rolled over at the top and a little soiled) going back a decade.

Same thing with lettuce. We put in six plants and a few weeks later there's more lettuce than we can even eat, and then they bolt and we put them in the compost pile. If we'd sown more seeds earlier, we'd have new lettuce, but we forgot, and now we have to wait a few more weeks.

We watch the first few peas ripen and pluck them happily for a few days and then something shiny goes by, and the next time we look the pea pods are fat and nubbly and overdone, and we put them in the compost pile.

We've got basil, and extract a few leaves now and then, but we leave the rest for Donna around the corner to make pesto out of. This year we forgot to bring it over and she forgot to fetch it. First cold snap we'll be putting the plants in the compost pile.

The peppers always do well. Or they used to, but this year we put them in the pea bed just to shake things up and put kale in the pepper bed. The peppers sulked. We picked a few small, dispirited ones and the plants went into the compost pile. The kale was tremendous and we had kale salad for a good week and then the white flies showed up and we pulled them up and put them in the compost pile.

No one needs lettuce flowers.
Know what we have a ton of? Acorn squash. We didn't plant it. It just showed up. There were plenty of seeds in the compost and it could've just as easily been butternut, or delicata, or that stripey thing that looks like a toilet float, but no. Acorn. Every last one. They're easily our most successful crop. That is because you can put them on the counter and ignore them and they'll still be edible months later. And that's what we need in a vegetable.

In short, this is not a vegetable garden. This is an avatar of a vegetable garden.

What to do? There are a few ways to go on this. We could begin paying attention, with sticky notes on the calendar ("PAY ATTENTION") and bone up, and buckle down, and can, freeze, grind, dehydrate, stomp, juice, dig a root cellar, and, in short, go full Grandma on the thing. Or we can find a bright-eyed kid with braids, a Bernie button, and a fug of Patchouli and tell her to go to town on the place in exchange for a fifth of the take. We'd be way ahead doing that.

But we'll probably do the same thing. We'll see what wanders into the yard, feed it, water it, admire it, watch it make a mess in the bed, and then humanely euthanize it. We don't grow vegetables. We grow pets.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Billionaire Protection Party Playbook

There are 4,398 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for President. It's a sharp bunch. There are some differences in their proposals but they're all operating on the side of goodness. You should pick one or two you really like and toss them a few nickels and see where it all lands. What you shouldn't do  is worry too much about something called "electability."

Because every single one of them is electable. Most citizens do not like Donald Trump, and do not like him hard. Even most of the ones that do like him don't care for him personally, because he's rude and childish, but they like how that gets liberals all worked up. Of the remainder who really, really like him, a significant percentage will fall down go boom or soil themselves on their way to the polling place.

So if you really like one of the leftmost candidates (formerly known as Eisenhower Republicans) but think you'd have a better shot with someone beiger who can't be pinned down to any position, think again. It doesn't matter who we pick, because the attack machine will be the same for any of them. If we nominated that flamer Jesus, he'd get the same treatment. The massively-endowed think tanks and focus groups that champion the Billionaire Protection Party never let the truth get in the way of a good tactic.

The eventual Democratic nominee will be called a socialist. Doesn't matter that there aren't any socialists running, or that people don't know what socialism is. Most of the ideas Democrats are espousing are very popular. You call the very same platform socialist, and the public turns on them. There will be very sophisticated memes out there proliferating, depicting the candidate as crazed or drenched in red or wearing horns, because that is how we choose a President these days. If you ask the average voter what a socialist is, you will be told that it is a person who wants to take all you have worked for and give it to someone who doesn't deserve it. That's actually what the billionaires are doing, but the Billionaire Protection Party has plenty of cash to devote to confusing you about these things.

Once they've gotten the public all heated up about socialists, they'll start hammering away on the idea that our Democratic candidates not only want to take away what you have, but they want to make fun of you or shame you. They'll say they're coming after your favorite light bulb and your drinking straw and they'll force you into a skinny little car you don't want. They will say this is taking away your freedom. Focus groups have found that Freedom plays really well with Americans. Americans will happily ride the last glacier to rubble and pull the last fish from the sea as long as they still have their freedom. And they hate to be scolded. They will jam a dozen plastic straws in their sodas and blow black exhaust out of their big rigs just to stick it to the scolds and know-it-alls. This is exactly what a two-year-old would do, but the Billionaire Protection Party can afford to shower them with Legos and cheap candy so Mommy and Daddy can go out and paint the town red.

So go ahead and nominate a real grownup. You might just as well. The public might even surprise you and elect them.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Are You Ready For Some Basebrawl?

It's time for a baseball post. So it might as well be this one.

We were at our local Triple-A ballpark watching the Portland Beavers. Or maybe the Portland Mavericks. It was years ago. We were ahead. Or maybe we weren't. I was distracted.

I don't like to be distracted. You can watch a lot of baseball without actually watching but every now and then something incredible happens and you'd rather not miss it. Dave wasn't missing any of it. We're in the bleachers. And I start to hear something behind me. It was a couple of young dudes, about five rows up. Underage, maybe. But they've been knocking back beer for a while, and they're hollering at our pitcher, who is struggling a little. Basically, they think he's a bum. Specifically, they think he's a stupid fucking nigger. That's the theme. I swivel around and glare hard. It's not a huge crowd but you can tell everybody is appalled. Nobody's doing anything about it, though, and glaring pretty much shoots my entire repertoire of aggressive moves. There are two security people at the top of the section, both of them African-American, but they aren't doing anything either.

By the time I have managed to hone actual daggers out of the vapor between us, and am pretty sure my glare is not survivable, one of them points directly at me and sing-songs "Ooo, lady, are you offended?"

I can't remember if I said anything at that point, but their next move is to yell at Dave, "Ooo, big guy, your girlfriend is offended. What are you going to do?"

Finally Dave notices something. He's not sure what. He hasn't heard any of this but I'm clearly upset and these dudes up in the bleachers seem to be challenging him for some reason. So he stands up and turns around. Seemed like the thing to do, although he's not sure what the next move is.

Dave is a big guy, but nothing like the man one row down who rises up slowly and turns around. He's three hundred pounds of solid don't-even-think-about-it; his own shoulders are a threat to his t-shirt. He had Pipsqueak for breakfast and he's still peckish. He points at the dudes and tells them it's time they sat down and shut up.

They sit down and shut up.

Dave turns back around and asks me what the hell is going on. He's pretty sure, whatever it is, I had something to do with it. I am livid. I'm so pissed off that the dudes wanted to fight Dave instead of me that I'm spitting tacks. Dave does not approve of people my weight class and skill level picking fights and is just about to explain why, when he's hit square in the head with a nearly full beer as the assholes are making their exit.

Dave has the reaction time of an electron. He's' already bolted up the bleachers, grabbed one of the dudes by the shoulders, and spun him around for a little chat, and the dude pushes back. Unfortunately, Dave is not quite squared up and he trips over the bench and tumbles end-over-end back to where he started. It's horrifying, but before we can ascertain if he broke any bones he kips back upright and thunders up the bleachers again. Ten seconds have gone by. And in that time, the entire section has ignited and fifteen people are pummeling the dudes for all they're worth. Dave can't even get a shot in. A very slight bespectacled young man turns toward Dave with a grin for the ages and says "I got him in the kidneys with my binoculars!"

Both security guards continue to stand impassively, chins up, pointedly surveying every section in the stadium but ours, and move just enough to let the young men crawl by them in pulped form on their way out.

Don't know if they learned anything. But there are some lessons to be learned here.

Dave's lesson: Smack the snot out of the guy first and ask questions later.

My lesson: Doesn't matter. I didn't learn it.

Lesson for the rest of you: the kidneys are at the back, up a little higher than you think.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

It's Not Fitting

I couldn't bear to drive all the way to the fabric store for only four buttons, so I bought a shirt pattern and some yardage too so the gas wouldn't have been wasted. (This is true.) It was a simple style. I've made a couple hundred similar shirts for Dave and although he and I have way different topography, I thought this should be a snap.

I'm no whiz. My least favorite part of sewing is the cutting out of the fabric pieces, followed closely by the sewing of them.  Sewing is a straightforward process. My mom taught me. All you need is a machine, a seam ripper, and a few choice words I didn't learn from my mom. I opened up my pattern and pulled out the instructions. Oh, crap my pants.

This isn't a simple shirt. This is a "3-hour perfect fit shirt." In other words, this pattern is going to ask more of me than I ask of it. And three hours won't even get me to the fabric cutting. Did I ask for a perfect fit? I did not. The deal is, you buy the pattern, you sew the shirt, and if it gaps weirdly in the front or bunches up funny, you hang it in the closet and give it away in twenty years.

"First, buy the right size," it says in the instructions. I always review the measurement table for the various sizes, just for drill, but I'm invariably on the cusp. Or I suspect I am: I haven't actually measured myself since I was an adolescent wondering where it would all stop. Then I give up and pick Medium because it seems the least controversial.

To find your right size, it says here, you measure your high bust.

I've never heard of such a thing, but I know I don't have one. Nothing on me is at all high. If I even have a bust line, my bust is nowhere near it anymore. That bust line is more like a chalk outline in a murder scene. My body parts have gone nomadic. There's no point looking for them where I remember seeing them last. They could be anywhere by now.

So. Medium it is.

Then the instructions get peppy. "Don't waste time sewing a garment that doesn't fit!" it chirps, without suggesting anything better to waste time on. Four pages of alteration possibilities ensue, for women with broad backs; with square, sloping, broad, or narrow shoulders; with a full bust; a hump; advanced osteoporosis; skin tags; a third nipple; an alien. In order to determine how well or badly the basic pattern fits your private scenery, you are to cut the pattern tissue, pin the pieces together, and stick it right on your actual body.

Good one! Pattern tissue has the integrity of a moth wing and it will tear if you so much as look at it crossly. Not to fear: you are to iron the tissue, cut around your pieces, and then reinforce the seam lines with tiny lengths of Scotch Magic tape (in the green box, it says). You're going to want lots of little pieces of tape, and then you snip the tissue to the tape in a sawtooth pattern, and then pin all the pieces together and try the thing on, and see if (for instance) the center front actually achieves your own personal center front or comes up a little shy, in which case you consult the alteration lines on the tissue and then there's more cutting and taping, folding and pleating, slicing and dicing, and a strategic introduction of dart lines.

If done correctly the tissue should have a confetti look to it. Carefully transfer the ribbons of tissue to the fabric, close your eyes, and start cutting.

We're a week into this now and only just getting to the part I hate the most: the beginning. It's like opening the pantry for a peanut-butter sandwich and finding a bag of peanuts and a tray of wheat starts.

But it all worked out. Fabulous, in fact, with a kicky two-tiered ruffled peplum, Juliet sleeves, keyhole neckline, side slits, and a hammer loop! And there's fabric left over for fringe.

It was supposed to be a camp shirt, but done is done.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Wherefore Art Thou Murr?

Murrelet Halterman
Got a message the other day. "Do you get Birding Magazine? There's a Murrelet in there."

I hadn't gotten the latest issue but I wasn't surprised to learn there was a murrelet in there. That's where I'd expect to find one. As opposed to, say, Sports Illustrated. Not an actual murrelet. They're small enough, but not flat enough. I figured there'd be an article about the Marbled Murrelet.

They're incredible little birds. In a world wherein we might assume we've found out everything by now, the murrelet's life has remained a mystery until very recently. They are sea birds, but they breed onshore. Somewhere. It took a lot of legwork and time, but a dedicated group of scientists finally discovered they nest in the very highest parts of very old and very tall conifers. They find a small cushy platform of moss or lichens swaying way the hell up there and they pop out a single egg on it, sit it for a month, feed the baby fish for another forty days, by flying fifty miles to the ocean and back at least twice a day, and then the baby up and flies to the ocean by herself, if she's so very lucky to still be alive. It's a tough road. And if there weren't a hundred other reasons to leave those Pacific old-growth forests the hell alone, that would be enough, right there: murrelet eggs, on a high moss cushion.

Yeah. I read a whole book about them. But that wasn't what was in the Birding Magazine. Instead there was an interview with a surpassingly cool woman named Murrelet. Murrelet Halterman picked her name out herself.  She's another Mary slid sideways. She was flipping through the bird book and picked that one out for a nickname, figuring "it was enough like Mary that her parents wouldn't notice." A different woman might have gone for Robin or Lark, but clearly Murrelet has a certain kind of class. Also, she is a nutcase. I like that in a person.

My own Mary name slid sideways without my intervention. It's easier to report that my college friends were too stoned to pronounce Mary, but it's not really true. What happened was my friend Walter and I were pretty much the only Southerners in the whole college, which was populated almost entirely from New York, New Jersey, and New England. Walter was from Atlanta. This was the closest either of us was ever going to get to feeling ethnic. We started drawling in each other's company just for drill and solidarity, and it proved contagious. Pretty soon everybody was saying things like "Turrible, turrible." (We opted for Walter's more adorable accent. Nobody wants to hear the version from Virginia, where my name would be pronounced "May-Ree.") Thus and then I became "Murry." And eventually "Murr," because my friends were too stoned to...well. Anyway.

I was certainly not going to spell it Myrrh. Too fancy. And I had no idea that there was such a bird as a Murre. I wasn't a birder. Forty years later, when I joined that fraternity as its least adept member, it was too late. Theoretically, since Mom didn't name me Murr, I could add an "e" whenever I wanted to, and some of my friends do out of affection. But by now it feels like putting on airs.

In any case, Murrelet and I aren't all alone in this. My Dave married a girl just like the girl who married dear old Dad: Mary Alice Price.

Her friends called her "Murry."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Fuzzy Wuzzy Just Becausey

When I met Dave he had a beard. It wasn't the greatest beard of all time but we were all hippies back then and beards were just part of the package. He did have one of the finest heads of hair I'd ever seen. Long and glossy and spectacular. I believe the beard had less to do with fashion than a sincere desire to not get up every morning and scrape his face. I couldn't argue with that. But after a while, when I knew I was worth something to him, I did let on that it would be fun to see it trimmed up a bit.

He looks better with a trimmed beard. Most men do.

So we're going on 43 years now with me mentioning about twice a year that a little snip around the edges might be nice. One of the best things about him keeping his beard short is that it doesn't hide his neck, which is long and glossy and spectacular. He's not moved by this argument.

I've seen his face two or three times, when he had to shave his beard for work. I've still never seen his upper lip. He's got a dimple in his chin. What the hell. Mostly he used it to store facial hair, I guess, so it was a surprise to me. He always grew the beard out immediately and there'd be about a week or two when it was all sexy and short and then we're back in beardville again.

This is what comes of being a couple union blue-collar workers. We save oodles on wardrobe but some of us get scraggly in the beard region and some of us don't wear makeup or even, really, make an effort. Actually, all of that applies to both of us now.

In the last few years Dave went through another sexy phase wherein the top of his beard was dark and the bottom gray. That was a really nice year. Then it went straight to white and somewhere along the line that whole routine of trimming it up every six months whether it needed it or not went by the wayside. I offered to take a scissors to it myself, but somehow something else always came up, and then one day I realized we now have a situation. That situation being my husband has crossed over into Homeless Dude territory.
Note long glossy spectacular neck

But that also means, for the first time in his life, he's right spang in fashion. This is Portland. Portland men get their strength (which they are not allowed to show) from letting their beards grow. They don't shape them. They don't trim them. They want to see what they can produce, and they can never be sure until they've pushed out as much secondary sexual characteristic as their little hormones can manage.

Every now and then you see a splendid beard that is a marvel of architecture but the vast majority run somewhere between curious and repellent. Maybe they're so sparse the beard looks more like a vapor. Or a bad hedge. Or, frankly, pubic. There's an entire traveling ecosystem happening on the streets here. Nobody knows what's in those beards. Could be pizza. Could be Legos. Could be gerbils. And in that illustrious company, suddenly, Dave is looking kind of cool again. His beard is developing some internal shape, is not pubic, gets some wave action going, and is an appealing white rather than gray. Even I'm kind of interested in what else will happen. Right now it looks like his face is wearing a sweater. Down the line, he might develop a cable knit. He's a creative guy.

And I've just noticed, because beards are such a Thing now, that when we walk down the street, he sometimes gets a little personal nod from another bearded man. A little "Nice one, dude." An acknowledgment. A signal from the fraternity.

I don't want to take that away from him. I do miss his neck but Marge and Studley might need nesting material. And besides, the homeless dudes don't ask Dave for money anymore.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cascara Your Fate To The Wind

We've discussed this before. There are people who worry about every little thing and fret their lives away only to find the thing they worry about doesn't come to pass. Although this is probably because they did something about it. And there are people who don't worry about anything and live lives filled with joy and happiness and then pay someone ten grand to rebuild the side of their house, not that I'm naming any names.

I have been aware, however, that the cascara tree just outside my writing room window has been dying for several years, and in fact now sports only a cowlick of a living portion arising from one live branch on an otherwise dead trunk. Let it be noted I also knew that the base of the tree is split and a good three-quarters of it is heading north, i.e. toward my window. And at a fair clip.

So it's not that I didn't know. The thing is, like any other person fond of birds, I do not consider my nearly dead tree to lack value. It is perfectly clear that many, many people find it very valuable indeed, if by "people" you mean "birds." Our chief chickadee Studley Windowson considers it his home base, and like the nuthatches and scrub jays, has been studding the bark with sunflower seeds all summer. I don't know who gets to harvest, but it's a laudable enterprise with winter coming.

Other than that, the tree is ugly as hell, from a human standpoint. It looks like it was designed by a drunken menorah maker. Branches curve out from the base and verticals soar up from them. Whereas Studley has been observed to light on any available twig, he does favor a certain few. These days he lands in them specifically to stare at me and chip-chip while I'm at my laptop until I put one finger up, run down to the fridge for the mealworms, and pop back, where he is waiting patiently for me to open the window. He will come for a worm, fly back to a branch, pin the worm down with his foot, and nip off bite-sized segments like a gentleman sawing a steak. If he had a napkin, he'd tuck it under his chin, if he had a chin. If he had a pinky, he'd hold it out.

The upshot of all this is that although I know the tree is destined to crumble away, and not necessarily in a tidy or insurable fashion, I am fine with leaving its ugly self be, where Studley and the woodpeckers and bushtits can do their things. So this is where denial starts to play a role. I want the tree to stay, so I will it upright, mentally.

It was only a month or two ago that I noticed I had to tilt my head to walk the path next to it. I wasn't sure, but it seemed possible I'd been doing that all along, right? A few weeks later, I was actually ducking. Hmm, thought I. That seems new. Last week I had to crouch to get under it. Upstairs, when I looked out at all the verticals in the crown of the tree, they were diagonal. I finally put three and four together and sent Dave out with a pruning saw. "Just take a little weight off of it," I said, as though he were my hairdresser. "I want to keep as much as possible for Studley and the gang."

Note Diagonalness
Which he did. However he shook the tree enough in the process that it's a good foot and a half closer to my window now. "Try not to pull the whole tree down," I distinctly remember instructing, which shouldn't be necessary, but I've seen him do that before. He can pull down a tree. I suspect I'm going to have to take the whole thing down after all, except for the one live bit coming out the middle. I have two apprentice cascaras growing up through it. They're eager enough, but they're several years away from getting journeyman height to them. I don't know what to say to Studley. I don't know if anyone is going to want to rent the birdhouse next spring with nothing to land in nearby. It's a sad day in the bird real estate world.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Murder On 29th Avenue

A Northeast Portland neighborhood was shaken the other day by the catastrophic loss of a Douglas fir tree, cut down in its prime.

The deed was undertaken with deadly efficiency by a hit squad of three young men who had clearly done this sort of thing before; not a branch was seen to hit the crappy house of the crappy homeowner who hired them, who got away scot-free, except for abrasions to his soul.

Not much is known about the perpetrator. Neighbors report that he kept to himself, but not quite as much as they'd like. He has a fondness for two-stroke engines and noise, an enormous truck, and a small wiener, probably climaxed a minute into the sound of the chainsaw, and is widely rumored to be a Republican.

Penthouse resident Chucklehead the Crow reports she had just returned from her nightly roost downtown to discover her home being reduced to toothpicks. Chucklehead is a particularly valued member of the community, entertaining nearly everybody with her unusual musical stylings. She has raised numerous children in that location, and had planned on doing so for several more years.

This tree was approximately forty years old and started out as a Christmas tree before aspiring to greater heights and was by all accounts healthy at the time it was murdered. Motivation for the crime is unclear, although one neighbor had complained about the shade, and another groused about needles in the gutters.

Songbirds up and down the block remember the victim as a tremendous source of seed-filled cones and abundant insect fare. "I remember getting some nice sap from that tree," says local nuthatch Lonesome Larry, "with which I smeared up the entrance to my nest box to protect my wife and kids. It was real good stuff," he went on, lamenting that it was not his fault his wife got stuck in it and nearly lost a foot. Two downy woodpeckers have threatened to peck someone's eyes out and local crows are planning a massive shit attack as soon as blame can be assigned. Scrub jays were philosophical, noting that they can hang out pretty much anywhere and bash pretty much anyone's head in, pretty much anytime they like.

The ubiquitous Eastern Gray Squirrel immigrant population, though indubitably harmed, has been given no legal standing in the case, and nobody really cares what they think.

"I'm appalled, of course," said neighbor Murr Brewster, to whom we are indebted for the photographs. Unfortunately, Ms. Brewster felt she was not able to intervene because she is small and also she had recently taken down a 15-year-old scarlet oak in her own yard, even though, as she explains, it was a shitty bird tree that nobody would even perch in, it had hardly any leaves at all if you looked at it right, and was replaced by five native vine maples. The murder suspect in the case of the Douglas fir is expected to replace his tree with a new big-ass truck, a smelly leaf-blower, and maybe a bigger-ass TV.

The mood was somber except for several tons of local carbon that danced and sang "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we're free at last," but that kind of thing goes on all night long, and the community has largely become used to the disruption.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Happy ****ing Birthday To Me

I don't put much store by birthdays. I don't encourage anyone to give me presents. In some moods, I think a little spanking might be nice.

Obviously when I was a kid birthdays were special. But by the time I was in college, the shine had kind of come off of it, although I still used it as an excuse to drink. Which made it much like any other day. Which is how I still feel about birthdays: they're like any other day. You can think of them as a day in which you're one step closer to dead, but again--that makes it like any other day.

I like people saying Happy Birthday and stuff but I don't plan anything special. This year, for instance, the plan was to wait for the dishwasher installers to show up, which they finally did around four. There were three of them. Their hobnail boots crunched ominously on the wood floors. I worked at my computer in the kitchen while two of them ripped into the box containing the dishwasher and set it out on the floor, where it promptly tipped over with a mighty crash. I looked around and one of them said Oops. Meanwhile the third was busy hauling out the old dishwasher.

This was their second trip. The first trip they announced my water shut-off was corroded and they couldn't do anything until I got a plumber in to fix it. The plumber was a week out and charged more than the new dishwasher cost. But that's water under the, uh, sink.

The installer wanted to know if I'd ever tripped the dishwasher breaker before. Because the wires were all melted. "And if this goes far enough in, we won't be able to install it."

"You mean I'll need to get an electrician in?" This was fast becoming a thousand-dollar dishwasher.

He investigated and the damage was limited to the first inch of the wires and he said he could do it. I relaxed. Went for my email.

Just at the exact moment I finished reading the letter from my literary agent in which she said she was sorry but she was dissolving my agreement with the agency, the installer said "Uh-oh."

"What," I said, in a tone any good TV detective would recognize as homicidal.

"Have a look," he said, and I got up, made a wide arc around the kitchen knives, and had a look. Mouse turds in the cabinet hole. An inch deep.

"Huh," I said. He said nothing. There was a long pause. "Do you want me to clean that up?" I said. In fact, he did. "Do you see this sort of thing often?" I said.

"All the time," he said, although he apparently kept no vacuum in the truck, and turd removal was not in his contract. He stood back helpfully.

I got a broom, dustpan, and vacuum cleaner, and I got on my hands and knees with my ass in the air in front of three strapping young dishwasher installers, and swept up ten thousand mouse turds, on my fucking birthday, and imagined that somewhere behind a two-way mirror folks were pointing and giggling and popping corn, and I creaked back upright thinking a hantavirus was probably as good a way to go as anything, and they put in the dishwasher and left.

It's not at all the color I thought it would be and doesn't match anything. It is, unfortunately, the color I ordered. I intend to find it charming.

Donald Trump arguably was having a worse day. The impeachment inquiry had officially just begun. Then again, any day you wake up and you're Donald Trump has to be the worst day ever. Only, in his case, he doesn't realize it. He thinks he's a perfectly fine appliance, the best, like you've never seen. He doesn't know he's sitting in a tub of rodent poop.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

My Overall Impression

The internet sent me this picture. The internet knows better than anyone how long I've been looking for cute summer-weight overalls. And if they look this good on a tall, slim, elegant young woman, just imagine how good they'll look on me!

Just imagine!

In retrospect, I should have been suspicious from the name alone. Sexy Slim Thin Jeans Wide Leg Jumpsuit. I mean, that doesn't even make any sense. That's just a bunch of trending modifiers plucked at random by people who don't speak English. Hot Thigh Gap Brazilian Microbladed Boyfriend Suit would have been equally descriptive. Plus, the garment was cheap as hell. And you know what that means. That means a tiny young Asian person churns out a hundred of these every day for a packet of dried fish.

I knew that. I bought them anyway. I haven't been able to find the pair of overalls I've been looking for, not even in the pattern books. This looked like a winner. True, the size chart is in centimeters, which always make me look fat, but I punted a little--they ran from small to extra-large, so I went Medium. It should have worked.

I wasn't looking for anything snug. Basically, I like to be able to walk around inside my overalls, but still have them drape attractively, suggesting that I have a shape in there somewhere. These I can walk around inside of and invite the book club, too. Heck. I could have sex inside these overalls on the cross-town bus and nobody'd be the wiser.

And they don't just run wide, or, as the name suggests, thin slim jeans wide. They actively shoot out for the horizon just below the hip. I'd need to wear three pairs of jodhpurs to fill them out. Forget those skinny-ass weasels: I could trouser a fat pair of badgers in this thing.

I hate going through the rigmarole of returning things. It doesn't come up often because I buy so little online. I was just going to slog through the site for return instructions and decided to try them on one more time. And lo!

Why, I think I could just take these in at the side seams. Way in. And straighten out the part that would make my thighs look like giant pitas. What's that? There's a side zipper? I could stand these babies up and step into them without touching the fabric, but it needs a side zipper? Screw the zipper. I don't even need to take it out. I'll just fold it along the seam and sew it up, zipper and all. A few judicious snips and I'll have a matching duffel bag. Which is good, because I'll be needing a new place to stash the badgers.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Know Your Enemy

On June 19, 2019, a convoy of log trucks, big rigs, and tractors shrouded the State Capitol in a fug of diesel soot and blasted their air horns to protest proposed climate legislation. As a demonstration, it didn't make the case for the status quo very well, but it wasn't meant to; it was an unmistakable middle finger raised to those perceived to be threatening their livelihoods.

The loggers and truckers were supported by money from timber and trucking executives, but it would be a mistake to assume the demonstrators were paid actors. These are real people understandably concerned that their ways of life are threatened by the efforts to eliminate fossil fuels. They just want to survive. Which is what they have in common with climate warriors.

"We will no longer stay silent about politicians that try to legislate us out of a job," Timber Unity PAC (TUPAC) wrote on its facebook page.

Politicians are an easy target, assumed always to be venal, even when they are duly representing those who elected them. And those constituents are assumed by many hard-working Americans to be fey baristas and hemp-wearing arugula farmers. But it is children who are in the vanguard of climate warfare, fighting for their future. For any future.

Any log trucker looking to mow down a few of these perceived enemies would have scored big at the climate rally in Portland last Friday. Thousands and thousands of young people showed up, but not one was interested in running people out of a job. Instead, they are trying to prevent extreme capitalism from running everyone, truckers included, out of a livable planet. It's a matter of perspective. Working men and women often see the world through a lens as narrow as a wallet, but children are not so constrained.

It's always been easy to mock children for being foolish and idealistic, a term that usually stands in contrast to "realistic." Realism is what is left when the clarity of youth gets sullied by circumstance. We grow inward as we age. But that doesn't mean the idealists are wrong. Maybe it never did.

"They just want to get out of school," people sneer. But every one of these marchers already knows more than those who belittle them. That is why they march for "climate justice." And what is that? It is the recognition that those who have profited the most from the catastrophe we face will be affected the least. And those who have gained the least will be hit the hardest.

That is why every iteration of the Green New Deal insists not only on transitioning to clean energy, but strives to direct new economic opportunities to the poorest communities; and it includes elements such as fair living wages, and guaranteed health care and education for all, even if it scuffs up the purses of the wealthy.

Authentic gray-haired hippie, bottom right
The cohort of gray-haired hippies at the climate rally recognized the spark of youth and idealism and marched alongside in support and approval. It was easy to make fun of us back in the day too; the peace sign was the "footprint of the American chicken." We protested a pointless and devastating war in part because its consequences were personal, true. We lamented the slaughter of innocent Asians in a way we might not have if we were not being lined up for sacrifice ourselves. And sure enough, as soon as the immediate threat was lifted, we swarmed Reagan's new capitalist casino and scooped up all the money we could. But it doesn't mean we were wrong to protest. We weren't.

These children aren't wrong either. And their idealistic souls will remain intact because there is no more fool's gold left for them to plunder. They know the facts. The facts are that we are stripping our living planet of what is needed to sustain it, and yet our leaders are still doubling down on disaster. We must stop, or die. Hell yes, that's going to shake things up.

There's nothing simple about it, except the pure and absolute imperative for it. When your house is on fire, it's not easy to jump out of the window, but you must to survive. People working for climate justice might give you a net to jump into. What you don't do is try to put out the flames with gasoline.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The New Wardrobe

I told you about our chief chickadee Studley Windowson and his new duds. The boy is all freshly feathered out for the next year. What is a feather, anyway? Feathers are the fanciest thing you can make out of keratin, a protein. Not you personally. All you can do is make sparse and peculiar outgrowths of hair, ratty fingernails, and dandruff. We humans might dye our keratin or paint it but we don't make magnificent spiraled horns out of it or anything as spiffy as feathers. We have to compensate for our feeble keratin skills with art, music, and certain kinds of comedy.

Or by swiping feathers off a bird that wasn't done with them and sticking them on ourselves. Historically, nobody waited for the feathers to fall off the bird, but instead plucked the animal, such as the egret, nearly into extinction, which is a shame, but damn, the hats were fabulous.

Keratin isn't living tissue, which is why you can, if you have a super nice cat, clip her claws more than once. But because it isn't living tissue, it can't renew itself when it gets worn out. So the feathers fall off the bird periodically and the bird starts over.

Once you've made yourself a feather, you'd best take good care of it. You have to preen it, and nibble at it, and straighten out the little interlocking side shoots off the shaft, and keep it in good condition, so you can fly properly or repel water or stay warm or whatever you need your feathers to do. But eventually there's going to be some wear and tear. And so, the feathers will have to be replaced by brand new ones. A warbler that never molts will end up being a sad little golf ball with bristles and stubs, just parked on the ground waiting to be someone's lunch. I assume. It doesn't happen.

Some birds molt once a year. Some birds do a half-assed job of it once a year and a whole-assed job later. Only a few do a complete molt twice annually, and those are the ones that really beat up their feather allocation by flying through windmills. Ha ha! Not really, just dense vegetation and such. The birds that fly through windmills quit molting altogether.

Studley is a once-a-year man and as such he looks as good now as he ever has or will. Some birds drop all their feathers at once, such as your duck, who is then temporarily flightless and moves to the center of the pond and tries not to get nabbed by anything, which is why it's called a "duck." (The goose has the same issue but knows how to defend itself, which is why it's called a "goose," and you shouldn't turn your back on it.)

But most birds are more methodical. They'll drop their feathers and replace them in a particular order and that way they can stay in the air, if they've a mind to. Crows in August show grand gaps in their wings and tails but they're never actually grounded. They're a little irritable though because they're vain and they know they look like crap. They'd totally make egret feather hats if they had the materials.

For many birds, the sexes are differentiated by their outfits, and many also look different as babies than they do as adults. A particularly annoying form of bird looks different after every molt for several years in a row. This is utterly fine if you are a talented birder and can squint at a distant dot and confidently (some would say arrogantly) mark it down as a three-year-old herring gull as opposed to, say, a two-year-old herring gull, a junkyard scrabble-pigeon, or an eye floater. Gulls in general earn their keep in the birding world by being difficult to identify but theoretically solvable. Normal people can get back at birders by calling all these birds and their distant kin "seagulls," which drives birders crazy. Keep that in your back pocket. They'll correct you, and you'll just shrug at them because you don't care. They'll feel superior and impotent at the same time, sort of like liberals.

But that is all just one more point in favor of Studley and his cohort. Not only do Studley and Marge look alike, but they stay alike all year long, and produce children that look just like them. That, there, is a considerate bird.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Resplendence Of Studley

What with the ravages of extreme capitalism and the collapse of ecosystems and the rise of fascism and the complete surrender of the masses to the plutocracy, I know visitors to this site have one overriding question: How is Studley Windowson doing?

Studley is, of course, the primary chickadee in the Price-Brewster domain, who, in spite of missing some toes, has worked his fuzzy buns off year after year to produce successful progeny. He and his wife Marge both are models of industry but their efforts have never been assured. Last year they gave it a couple good tries and either gave up or moved on, but the favored nesting box outside our window produced neither chicks nor dees. The year before was also a wash, and not for lack of effort. It's not that easy to turn an egg the size of a Tic-Tac into an operable bird.

So this spring we decided to help out by offering live mealworms. One of the things climate change has affected is the availability of insects and other food at the proper time for feeding bird chilluns, so it was possible we really were improving prospects, but mainly we were hoping we could get them to land on our hands, and in that we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Marge never went over to Team Mealworm but Studley was all over it, and right now. The day after he made his first dodgy feint at our hands out the window, he saw me in the garden and got right in my face. Hey. Mealworm Lady.

June Studley
For weeks, as the peeping in the nest box grew sturdier, we kept the mealworm train going. It was a fair transaction: Studley got quality groceries for his kids, and in return he healed the human heart, one and a half tiny feet at a time. Then what?

I am proud to announce that Studley and Marge created at least one new chickadee out of nothing but bird schmutz and valor. We didn't see it fledge. We came home to discover Studley all excited as  hell and one short-tailed chickadee blundering into the wisteria upside-down like Woodstock. For weeks, proffered mealworms went directly from Studley to the new hire, who says her name is Dee Dee. He and Marge flew into a nearby fir tree and lots of cheeping came out, so we assume more than one chick made it into the world, but later all we saw was Studley and the one kid. If the rest survived, they might be following Marge around. I hope that's what happened.

Eventually, Studley quit visiting every two minutes at beer thirty, but was perfectly happy to request mealworms by the bird feeder, or out the original window. The kid kept hopefully flapping at him but after a while Studley started eating them himself. He earned them. And you should see his new suit!

New Studley
Breeding and providing take a lot out of a bird. Once things settle down, they have to refurbish their outfits. Studley was recognizable not just because of his mashed left foot, but because he had a bald spot, and a mottled face, and the beginnings of a hound's-tooth check in the ascot region, and was kind of skinny, but given enough personal mealworms and a talent for the molt, he's a brand new bird. He's shiny and round and pink around the edges and ready for anything including Marge and winter. And Mama's got a new tub of mealworms.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Have A Nice Rest Of Your Day

We're all thinking too hard about what we say and how we say it. We have a wonderful language, English: it's sly, it's supple, it's wieldy. But we're larding it up.

I get why. I understand that we might want to think a little more carefully about what our words really mean, or used to mean, or could be interpreted as meaning. And we certainly don't want to offend inadvertently; another word for "politically correct" is, arguably, "considerate." Maybe we can increase awareness with our word choices. That's all good. So why does it sometimes make me want to drop some nice anvil-sized Anglo-Saxon chunk into my prose?

Take a recent article in The Oregonian. The headline refers to the "homeless." A few phrases in and we're talking about the "houseless." Okay: point taken. Someone might very well consider his tent or station wagon his home, and we're not here to shame. Later in the same article, it was "people experiencing homelessness."

This is where I start to feel prickly. I understand we need to avoid suggesting that homelessness in a person is a permanent or innate condition, although that is nothing I would have assumed, but we're starting to grow barnacles of clauses on a perfectly understandable phrase. I personally don't attach any more or less judgment on "homeless person" than "person experiencing homelessness," and maybe some people do, but I think there's some value to being able to toss off a sentence and get all the way to the end of it without sirens of righteousness going off. Can't we just talk?

People even overwork greetings. I've heard many fellow curmudgeons bristle at being told "No problem" when they thank someone. I never thought bringing me a cup of tea would be a problem...why can't you just say 'you're welcome?' Well shoot, sugar. It's just a new convention. "You're welcome" didn't arise as a response to "Thank you" until 1907. Probably before that people said "It was my pleasure to be of service" or some such fanciness. "Goodbye" used to be "God be with ye," but sometimes you just want to cut it short and walk off, okay?

So why now do I keep hearing people tell me "Have a good rest of your day?" Do we really need to acknowledge that half the day is gone already and may or may not have been a good one but we sincerely hope that all goes well from now on? Is that really necessary? We're overthinking this. I know people mean well, but this is English. The whole beauty of it is we have a gigantic unrivaled mongrel vocabulary and we can still be right snappy with it. We can herd bison with it or chase rabbits with it. We can fling it around any which way.

That's why a phrase like "tiny-fingered tangerine shit gibbon" is so satisfying. If we spoke French, we'd have to sit through "Monkey with the long arms, of the fingers minuscule, of shit, orange." If we were German, we'd cram the whole thing into one Capitalized word and glue it up with spittle. The first is like doing thrust-and-parry with a baguette: you're pretty sure someone's insulted you, but you're also pretty confident you can take him. The second is like having a side of pork dropped on your head. It's too much. English is spare and bright. English is punchy. We should celebrate that.

Apostrophe abuse is the least of our problems.
And so I end with a small, bold suggestion. When I was growing up in the '50s in Virginia, "colored people" was what the neighbor lady said when she was feeling polite about the Nigras. Obviously it had to go, and it did. We've cycled through a few ways of saying the same thing since then. Often as not, now, we say "people of color." And that has expanded to include not only black people, but many more varieties of human, such as Latinos, or Pakistanis, or Pacific Islanders. Which makes it a pretty useful phrase, especially in an environment in which non-white people share common...concerns. Where they struggle to power through the rage and fear of a dying majority, and the scoundrels who exploit them for political gain.

But I submit "people of color" is clunky. We're not French. It's been at least forty years since I've heard anyone under the age of 80 call someone a "colored guy." Seems to me the stain of derision has worn off. Is it still too soon to bring back "colored people?" Yes, it does imply that the default Person is white and everyone else has to lug around a bunch of modifiers, but so does "person of color."

To my ear, now--not sixty years ago, but now--it has a warm, jolly sound. "White" is cold and bloodless and sterile, and the shoe fits, so I'll have to wear it--but "colored people?" That's a bowl of goodness. That's sun and song and laughing on the front porch and fellowship and family and home cooking drifting from an open window. That's community. And that's English.