Wednesday, July 17, 2019

He Worked Hod For A Living

"I put a brick in your garden," Dave said.

I wasn't sure what to do with this information, but he appeared to be waiting for a response.

"Did you."

He did. There was an air of expectancy. I looked up. Dave is a brick guy, after all, and has a certain personal aesthetic.

"Well, I'm sure it's in just the right spot."

"You should go look for it. It's hidden," he said. There were a number of things I could have been doing at the moment. I wasn't doing them, but I still wasn't up for finding a brick in a garden spanning two city lots.

"Hidden in plain sight," he wheedled.

We settled for my vowing to keep an eye out for it in the course of my usual wanderings. And sure enough, a week later, I found his brick. In plain sight. It said "HIDDEN." Pretty long wait for a punchline payoff, but hey.

A few months later I found another brick. This one said "E J JEFFERY 1871." It gave me a sense of foreboding. One HIDDEN brick is one thing. You can see the point of that. Two special bricks, and we're getting perilously close to having a collection. I wasn't sure we needed a brick collection. Or if there was such a thing.

My dad used to say that no matter how obscure an item seemed to be, you would discover that there is a whole society devoted to it, with a membership roster, and collections of it all over the world, an associated magazine ("Scurvy Scraper Monthly"), and a thriving exchange market. And he didn't know nothing about no internet.

I looked up E J JEFFERY 1871 and instantly found out Mr. Jeffery owned a brick yard in Portland, Oregon and that he supplied brick for the courthouse and they were all stamped 1872. Not only that, but his brick yard had been located on my old mail route. Not a trace of it remains, but even now a building can be demolished and a new one erected and two weeks later you can't remember what the old one looked like even if you walked by it every day. Could it be Dave's new brick was valuable? That the famous brickmaker who built the courthouse had a rare, earlier model? It didn't take too many more clicks to discover that Dad's observation held true. There are brick collectors.

[shudder]

Now, a brick collection can be a fine thing, if it is assembled into a useful and attractive wall. Dave had accomplished that very thing twenty years ago. It's possible he doesn't get the credit from the neighbors he should have. He spent most of the summer hand-grading the perimeter of the yard, which involved removing obstinate roots, sieving out bucket after bucket of cobble from the old Ice Age Floods, forming and leveling a footing, pouring it in sections as time and the demands of paying work dictated, fashioning forms for arches, removing the footing forms, estimating and ordering block and mortar supplies, setting up work stations and stocking planks, and finally he assembled a crack team of bricklayers and made 5,000 sandwiches and whammo, all in one day 300 feet of wall went up around our yard. "Your friends sure do get a lot done in a hurry," one neighbor observed, and I, being familiar with the man, could see the whole thought process written on his madly blinking face: whereas I dug and scraped and sweated and did all this and hauled all that all summer long and all they had to do was show up, butter some bricks, stick them on top of each other, and drink beer all night, but I believe his actual words were "Yes Ma'am."

Anyway, that's a fine brick collection.

I checked. Dave's bricks aren't valuable and he hasn't accumulated any more of them. We're holding steady at Two. I think we've dodged the collection bullet.

We, personally, are holding steady at 36. Happy Anniversary, Dave!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

A Tornadette

As natural disasters go, this one was on the puny side, but it got bonus points for zest and caprice. I mean, no matter where you live, you carry with you a notion of what's liable to get you, and what isn't. You develop a steely, studied nonchalance toward the likely events and the rest aren't even on your radar.

Even when it's a tornado, which is something that is totally supposed to be on radar.

So here in our little neighborhood, we don't give any thought to wildfire, or flood, or hurricane, or tsunami, or avalanche, or tornado. We're urban, and on high ground. And yet in the space of a few months we've had a flood, when a major water main blew up and emitted 30,000 gallons of water per minute into the streets for hours, and a tornado, caused by God only knows what, although localized outbreaks of sodomy are as good an explanation as any.

Homeowners were on the hook for related damages both times. Nobody carries flood insurance or tornado insurance. We still recall the homeowner who couldn't collect when his neighbor's entire house slid down a hill and crashed into his, because his insurance policy didn't cover house-to-house collisions.

The insurance industry is in the business of making shareholders whole.

The dog's name is Paisley.
What we are instructed to worry about here, in the way of natural disasters, would be your massive cataclysmic earthquake, or your volcanic ash-fall. That's about it. So when our tornado touched down, residents shaking in its path were probably thinking: Wow, I knew it would be loud, but I didn't expect it to be this wet.

We were four blocks away and it was just one of those sudden deals wherein the sky looks bent for a minute and then God's own bucket of hail comes down. Nothing unprecedented about that, just another meteorological event in the "doozy" category. We did get one ton of rain and hail for about ten minutes. It was compelling. Dave came bolting through the front door from his walk, looking like a drowned rat, followed by a raft of actual drowned rats for comparison, from the dumpster of the Mexican place on the corner. It was something. Salmon runs convened offshore and considered a comeback. Cactus fields a thousand miles south shuddered into bloom.

But four blocks away trees were coming down, and people peered out their windows to see lawn furniture and branches and surplus poultry and an old bat on a bicycle flying by. It's just not the kind of thing anyone expects.

And that is because weather apps are not all they're cracked up to be. I particularly enjoy Accuweather because of its audacity. "Rain starting in 119 minutes," it will smoothly report, which is just the kind of specificity that can fill a person with confidence that everything is well under control, but nowhere in the Monday report did it mention anything about a petite tornado touching down at 5:24pm. And the nearest trailer park is four miles away.

It was only an 80-mph tornado, just strong enough to make eyes roll in Kansas. But it's not supposed to happen at all. What's next?

God, I hope it's frogs.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

For Love Of Country

Scenes from a neighborhood fireworks display
We're 243 years along on this experiment in liberty, a little late to learn it is traitorous to take a knee in peaceful protest, or stand quietly during our anthem, or fail to wear a flag pin in our lapels, or abandon any other symbol of patriotism-on-the-cheap. We are told we disrespect our troops. "I hope you sleep well tonight, under that blanket of freedom our men and women in uniform have won for you," a man sneers, trotting out a road-tested narrative from the think tanks of our overlords.

It's repeated so often--that our brave men and women are dying for our freedom--that a huge swath of the population never stops to question it. But the undoubted courage and sacrifice of our soldiers has often been in service of anything but freedom.

The War of Independence was surely a fight for our freedom, back when we declared prematurely that all men are created equal, but successive armies were put to the task of extinguishing the Shawnee, Cherokee, and Choctaw, who, scientists now agree, were fully human even then. Certainly in the Civil War our soldiers, or half of them, fought for the freedom of slaves. Then our troops were mustered to isolate or destroy the Sioux and the Comanche, and more were sent to colonize the Philippines; and meanwhile, for the next hundred years, law enforcement in the former slave states enforced the utter subjugation of millions of people through murder and terrorism, leaving communities deprived of any property or wealth, with repercussions to this day. And even so, many of us still fly the flag of Jim Crow on our bumpers in the name of some fabled Heritage that should be our shame.

We fought the good fight in World War II, against clear evil, and then sacrificed many thousands more in dubious enterprises that have, whatever their rationales, failed to make the case for war over peace work.

And now our leaders continue to sell us endless war by insisting our brave troops are fighting for our freedom, and we're buying it. Oh, we're paying through the nose for it. Our soldiers are paying even more.

Take Cheney's War, cooked up under false pretenses, ostensibly to free the Iraqis from the authoritarian rule of Saddam Hussein--but then all attempts by Iraqi people to actually conduct free elections were quickly quashed by our forces under orders from an administration that saw its control of Iraqi wealth slipping away; and the rebuilding jobs, promised to citizens whose government jobs were taken away from them, were instead taken over by our soldiers, who were then supplanted by a new private mercenary army at unfathomably greater cost to US taxpayers but tremendous and ongoing profit for private firms like Halliburton and Blackwater.

Our soldiers are fighting, and building, and dying, but not for our freedom. And if I take a knee, or remain silent for our anthem, it will be for them.  Or for anyone else whose freedom is threatened by the actions of my government.

Why dredge up ancient history? This is our truth, and not so ancient. A mature nation must not pretend its way out of it, or merely press a reset button absolving us of our bloody history while we still kill for oil, and declare war on refugees and their children, and demonize the innocent, and incinerate our gorgeous planet for money.

And yet now we are being told that we should not trouble ourselves over these issues, that the patriotic thing to do is cheer and lay ourselves out to be fleeced and continue to send in our brave sons and daughters to be sacrificed for someone else's profit. That to do anything else is to disrespect our troops. No. I respectfully disagree.

There is a reason to glorify our bloated military, to declare it a sign of our strength rather than a failure of our ideals. And that reason is to baffle and bluster us into believing everything we do is for the good, and to distract us from the sins committed in our names. To say: look at these shiny jets, and this procession of armored codpieces-on-a-track, and don't look over there at the war profiteers' growing treasure, and the death and deception that feed it.

But we are a government of, by, and for the people, and anything our leaders do is done in our name, whether it is genocide, or enslavement, or pursuit of the happiness of CEOs at the expense of entire nations. We protest out of love for our nation and its highest ideals. We cannot simply climb aboard the Good Ship America and glide toward our lofty destiny. We stutter and stall and tack toward it at best, and we need all hands on deck.

But we still believe in our path and principles, and it is our highest patriotic calling to keep fighting to form a more perfect union, with liberty and justice for all. All.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Sit Right Back And Hear A Tale

Fossil music was coming right out of our TV.

I didn't even know you could get that sound out of a flat-screen, but sure enough, the dramatic strings and horns of the Perry Mason theme song were charging through the room, and I dropped 55 years just like that.

Perry Mason wasn't one of the shows I watched. In fact, at age ten, I didn't have a show. I played outside, and later watched what Mom and Dad watched, which would be Huntley Brinkley and the Dick Van Dyke show. My friend Carol was nuts about Perry Mason, but she was kind of advanced. She used words like "however" in ordinary conversation. But of course I remember the theme song. And that was enough to get my reverie going.

Shows still have theme songs but they're super snappy and to the point. Everybody has a skillion shows they could pluck out of space at any time and you don't want to make them wait for anything. Nobody today will sit through the Gilligan's Island theme song, which didn't outpeter for about ten minutes, and even with all that, the Professor and Mary Ann were just a footnote. In fact, it says a lot about the nature of time that we did have enough of it to sit through that crappy song. We were marinating in time. We had no fear of missing out: nothing else was happening.

What the theme song did remind me of is how there were certain shows that absolutely everyone watched, and then they'd rehash them all the next day. Ed Sullivan. Batman. Laugh-In. You didn't want to miss your show. And you certainly would miss it if your fanny wasn't in front of the TV when it started. You didn't get another shot at it until the reruns started. That means that you knew all your friends were watching the exact same thing you were, at the exact same time. It was a new, modern, yet remote form of togetherness. It was amazing. Now, unless somebody drops a skyscraper, nobody's watching the same thing at the same time.

We've always been social beasts. But the nature of togetherness changes. My grandparents' generation did togetherness old-school. Physically. And that was probably because they had to cut hay or slap cattle rumps or polish their horses or something. And if your daughter took off for the hinterlands and someone asked you how she was doing, you had no idea. You'd have to wait until a hand-written letter showed up, so it was dependent on the stamina of someone's mule. You'd just stare off into the horizon all wistful-like, and shake your head, and go back to wiping something down. It was a little sad, but it didn't make you crazy like it can now.

Because now you can be together with anyone in the world at any time and there are fifteen different ways of going about it. It's frantic. It's diffuse. It's togetherness in aerosol form. And if your daughter doesn't answer your text right away, you pretty much have to take it personally or imagine the worst. She's out there in that spray somewhere. It's been an hour. Where can she be? Is the mule okay?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

News Out Of Bubonia

Mongolia is reeling at the tragic death by bubonic plague of a couple who snacked on a marmot kidney. Officials are warning that marmot kidneys are dangerous even if you boil the piss out of them, and pretty much any other part of the marmot is a bad meal plan as well.

Bubonic Plague, a.k.a. the Black Death, was famously responsible for wiping millions of people off the map in the Middle Ages, but this couple was just in their thirties.

This is merely the latest in the tragic and terrible trend of Mongolian marmot mastication. The area experiences an average of one death by marmot per year. It's the age-old story. God gave us everything we needed in a beautiful garden and in return asked only one thing, one thing, which was not to eat of the kidney of the marmot, but did we listen? Sure enough the couple goes right for the marmot first thing, and whereas in a similar scenario Adam and Eve discovered they were naked, the Mongolian couple discovered they were no longer extant.

It was only five years ago a Kyrgyzstan teenager died of eating barbecued marmot although, in that climate, it could totally have been the potato salad. The victim apparently believed, as many in the countryside do, that the marmot meat would benefit his health, or at least clear up his skin and give him a huge boner. So close! Bubonic plague.

The Kyrgyzstan government has repeatedly warned its citizens about the whole marmot thing, but the message doesn't get through as readily in a country with a serious vowel shortage. No one is sure where they went wrong in Ulaanbaatar.

I for one would never consider ingesting a marmot part. I've never been issued a proper spirit animal, but for years I've thought if I were going to be reincarnated, I would prefer a time slot as a marmot. When I was younger I used to say "river otter" because they're so dang cute and have so dang much fun, but I hadn't really thought it through. Eventually I realized there's a limit to how much fun I like to have, and most of it is not rambunctious, and none of it involves swimming. "But if you were an otter, you would know how to swim," people tell me, but I don't know how they can be sure of that. There would have to be some residual aspect of my own spirit in the otter and what if it turns out to be the part that sinks?

So marmot it is: they are fat and fun and hang out in the prettiest places on the planet and they eat a lot and don't watch their waistlines and they live underground in cozy dens lined with lots and lots of adorable brightly painted cupboards. This has not been validated by science but I know it in my very heart, the same way other people know what heaven looks like even though they've never been.

The very same way, in fact.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Oh. The Humanity.

It was a short video. A person wrapped in a blanket was curled up on the ground and a man in a business suit--let's call him Boots--gave him a sharp kick as he walked by. The characters as costumed were a little too dead-on for good fiction, but this was not fiction. It was horrible.

So was the second commenter in the thread. "While I would never do such a thing," he began ominously, "we should realize that a lot of people in this country are pretty fed up with the homeless camps and slackers with their filth and feces and..." It went on. It became clear that the commenter would dearly love to kick the man too, but would settle for fantasizing about it.

I also am appalled at the filth and feces and campsites and begging and everything else that we're seeing so much more of these days. I hate it. I'd rather it weren't there. What I can't fathom is how a person can walk by these tragedies and not ponder that old saw about the grace of God, who is notoriously arbitrary with his blessings. How does someone come to this circumstance?

Boots and his apologists do not, apparently, give it much thought. They do not like the way this human refuse looks or makes them feel, and have already concluded that these people are fundamentally different from them. Maybe not quite human at all. In their charitable moments, they might suppose they're mentally ill, and hope someone will scoop them up and stash them somewhere. Otherwise, it's their fault.

They are not like us. Because we are moral, principled, and hard-working.

We never say "lucky."

One of the problems with imagining the worst of our fellow humans who are homeless is that we then have to believe something happened to suddenly make a huge number of people shiftless or evil, because we haven't seen poverty this widespread in our lifetimes. Assuming that the percentage of mentally ill people remains steady over time, what could have turned so many people so wretched so fast?

Here's where we really get creative. It must be because there's been a moral breakdown since the advent of birth control. Or since we took God out of our schools. Or since the liberals quit teaching their children the difference between right and wrong. Or maybe God is punishing us for gay rights and abortion. Or maybe this is all part of the plan to hurry along the second coming. Something catastrophic, surely, has happened to our society, something we righteous folk had the good sense and fortitude to avoid. One thing we know: that could never be us down there on that sidewalk.

After all, there's no excuse for it, when the economy is doing so well! Unemployment is way down. The market is way up.

I have to say this in a whisper, because the cheerleaders for the current regime spook so easily: all this shit you deplore is a really big sign the economy is not doing well at all. Because you're right: we didn't see this stuff when we were growing up. The economy first started picking the big winners and big losers when Reagan came into power, and cut regulations, and cut taxes on the rich, and privatized for profit what had been in the public trust; and the gap between those who have everything and those who have nothing has widened ever since.

But we the people are the government, here. We can design any economy we want. We can structure our tax system so we reduce or eliminate poverty and strengthen the middle class. Or we can daydream that we'll all be better off if there were no constraints on capitalism, no rules to make sure the least among us could live in dignity, no regulation to preserve our environment and climate. We could make sure that a person working full-time can afford to shelter and feed herself, however modestly, or we could continue to blame hard-working poor people for failing to find better jobs. Right now, we want someone mopping our floors, and cooking our burgers, and picking our lettuce, but we don't think they should be able to support themselves doing it. We really don't value work at all. We value money, stacked high, however obtained.

Extreme capitalism, dedicated solely to profit for shareholders, will always produce more billionaires and more people we want to kick. Always. It's up to us to insist on a better world. If you're offended by beggars and camps and filth everywhere you look, quit voting for the billionaire party. And if you don't want immigrants and refugees either, quit voting for the warmongers and climate destroyers. It's a direct damn line.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The One-Butt Kitchen

Before and after!
No tour of my old house in Arlington would be complete without a visit to the kitchen, which was big enough to hold a canister of homemade cookies, and always did.

To get there, you hang a left off the tiny living room and angle through the tiny dining room until it squirts you out into the kitchen. In a house of small rooms with no sensible flow to them, the kitchen stood out for crampedness and weird design. For instance, the back door, basement door, and closet door all opened out into each other. If you found yourself in the closet, you should just stay there. (It's a classic 'Fifties sentiment.)

My folks did a remodel in 1960. I have photos of our kitchen "before" and "after," and although my mom was probably pleased with it, there wasn't much difference. There's a new Formica countertop with boomerang spangles in the "new" kitchen, with, I think, a matching table. The cabinets were replaced with something smoother. There was a regular-size refrigerator with rounded corners and Arthur Godfrey lived in the melamine radio on top of it.

Back then, they didn't even make fridges the size that people can't live without now. If you opened up our fridge you'd have found cheese, eggs, and milk. (Modern children don't even know where milk comes from! It comes from the man in the little hat who lives downstate and leaves it by the back door every Saturday.) You might also have found a few other items such as a lemon-shaped container that says "RealLemon" in order to distinguish it from real lemons, which we didn't have any of. The freezer had ice cube trays and bags of frozen vegetables. Take out one of the frozen green bean bags and a couple cans of Campbell's soup and you've got supper.

New dishwasher
But now, of course, there's a stainless steel stove and granite countertops and a stainless steel refrigerator that could shelter a polar bear. They must have given up on the little breakfast table because there's no way all this stuff fits in that little kitchen. Most disturbing of all, the new refrigerator is to the right when you enter the kitchen. And I cannot for the life of me come up with what used to be there. I only ate breakfast in that room every day for sixteen years and I can't remember for sure what was on that wall.

Old dishwasher
Probably another counter and cabinets. I have the dimmest recollection that I would stand on a counter over there to reach the highest shelf and get a little nip off Dad's Taylor Sherry bottle. He had a glass of sherry once a year and, I assumed, never noticed the theft. Alcohol was another thing, like a rec room, that other kids' houses had but not ours. As a result, the first time I got schnockered, I was at the Cellar Door in D.C., at least three years underage, to see Laura Nyro, and I ordered sherry, because I didn't know the name of anything else. My parents simply refused to prepare me for adult life. I think that's the takeaway here.

But I have one legacy. I still like Formica. I like it better than granite. When my beer glass comes down on the counter, which it does often, I don't want it to go CLANK. That might not be what my parents had in mind, but there you go.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

That Old House

In 1976, Mom and Dad sold the house I grew up in. They'd originally bought it for about what you'd pay to put some carpet in it now, and sold it for $60,000. That astonished them, and they didn't give much thought to the fact that it sold in the first half hour. According to Redfin, it's now worth around a million. I was back in Arlington, Virginia fifteen years after I'd left and I stopped by. I put on my most disarming face and knocked. A couple came to the door, and I explained my heritage, and peered hopefully between them, because they were standing side by side, arms linked and shoulders pressed against the door frame. "I guess you can look at the back yard," one of them said, reluctantly, and followed me back there to monitor.

Well that was disappointing, but that's what comes of having your crummy old house be in a currently hot location and worth a lot of money: Republicans buy it. I assume. I won't say anything else about Republicans this time, except that it strikes me that they are fearful people as a whole.

Then it occurred to me recently that if the place had ever been up for sale there might be a slide show of it online, and guess the hell what? There was! There were thirty photos of it looking every bit the way I remember it! Nobody ever added to it or "opened it up." Which means it's still a little house with itty bitty rooms jammed in and no sense of flow.

The front door still gives into the living room. In the photos, which were presumably designed to put the place in its best light, it is clear there is no room for today's furniture. Everyone in our family was fun-sized, and consequently we had little sofas and chairs. If you put in one of those modern big-ass sofas and stuck your feet out, nobody could get by. I suspect the furniture depicted belonged to the seller, because if you were going to stage it professionally you might not want to stick an enormous TV on the diagonal in the corner to demonstrate how much room there isn't. To get a similar effect, they could have put my current piano in the living room with the narrow end extending into the dining room, and set up bar stools and place settings around it.

Daddy and I are in the enormous-TV corner.
This house is palatial, from the perspective of a modern urban tent dweller in a median strip. Or an immigrant or refugee. Or of any human alive in the front end of the twentieth century, or the million years preceding that. But utterly inadequate for a teenager in the 'Sixties. Teenagers are not known for broad perspectives.

If my friends came over, the front door would open into that living room, where my tiny Mom and tiny Dad would be sitting in their tiny chairs, and still taking up most of the room. And they wouldn't leave. In their defense, there was nowhere else to sit. And so we mostly crowded around cross-legged on the floor and minded our language. It was not an ideal situation, socially.

Because we did not have the rec room that thoughtful, loving parents would provide. Ohh! The rec room! A whole basement all shined up with fresh linoleum and a bar and pretend wood paneling and a big ol' stereo and ash trays and sprawlable furniture! Cue the celestial choirs! We had nuclear bombs and Civil Rights marches and assassinations and war and all of it would have gone down so much easier if only we had had a rec room. Amazing things happened in rec rooms, where parents never materialized. The moon landing. Wholesome socializing. Loud music. Drinking. Drugs. The televised draft lottery. Making out. Actual sex. Oh, my parents were cruel, cruel.

A million bucks. They're calling it two full baths now. None on the main floor, still, but upstairs there's a tiny one. Tall people sat on the toilet sideways. The sink is now a vanity but I don't know how they get the door open. And they have in fact redone the toilet in the basement. They have opened that up, at least, into Dad's old darkroom, and there's a shower and everything. It used to be a little hole in the corner with a funky toilet and cracked sink, cinderblock walls with guard spiders and the occasional bat, and one photography magazine on the floor. Dad didn't subscribe to any photo magazines, so this was an anomaly. If you picked it up, it sprang open to a page with artful black-and-white nudes. I think he thought he was the only one who used that toilet, and Mom certainly didn't, but unfortunately for him, he taught us to like spiders, the naughty boy.

When I lived there, there was a massive bed of bearded irises, my Dad's favorite, and a compost pile and another flowerbed and vegetables and five large maple trees. Now there is a daylily, because they're hard to kill, and a lawn. Dollars to donuts the people who live there now pay someone to mow it. Yeah, we know who they voted for.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Meet My Tweetheart: Studley D. D. D. Windowson

I have mealworms. Let the seduction begin.

I have mealworms, two industrious chickadees, and a box of beebling baby birds at the goober stage, all ready to assemble. Marge and Studley Windowson did find the mealworm stash near the suet feeder on the other side of the house, or someone else did, but still I yearned for intimacy. I did not want to attract scrub jays. I gave it some thought. The mealworm store lady probably couldn't guess how much time and care I was willing to devote to this project. I cracked open the window close to the birdhouse. When I was certain only my chickadees were around, I eased a worm out onto the windowsill. Nothing happened. But when I turned my head for a moment--okay, I went to the toity--it was gone.

The next day I edged my palm out onto the sill with a mealworm in it. Studley definitely saw it. Studley definitely wanted it. He made feints at my hand, hovering. Then he landed on the sill, weighed his responsibilities against his fear, stabbed at the worm and rocketed off like he'd swatted a tiger's nose on a dare. A half hour later he was landing on my finger. Then on Dave's finger. On two hearts at once.

They say there are wormholes in space-time. Portals to other universes. I was already smitten, but it wasn't until the next day that my entire soul tipped into that gravity well. I was outside weeding and stood up to stretch, and there came a flibbet of wingbeats, and there was Studley, on a twig eight inches from my face. He tilted his head, back and forth, sent me one bright black eye, then the other. And I fell through the mealwormhole into Studley's world.

I wasn't anywhere near his window. And I was wearing a hat. But he knew me. Had he been looking at me for years, even as I was looking at him? He's paying attention, that's for sure. Dave stands in the garden with his hands relaxed at his sides and a small grown bird tucks into the cup of his fingers. I get out of my car and a bird lights up the closest branch, and dips over to my hand, his feet as important and small as punctuation. He doesn't weigh any more than a held breath.

Marge hasn't taken the plunge. That's okay. I worry about habituating Studs to people, although he's only stalking Dave and me, but he did land on neighbor Anna's teacup. It's white, just like the ramekin I carry mealworms around in. Maybe it's because I've zoomed in on so many photos of Studley, but even now, when I see him through the window, he seems larger than he really is. Substantial, even. He's not. He wouldn't tip a scale with a peanut in the other pan. He is a tiny, tiny bird. But he's smart.

He's damn smart. He's probably known me for years before discovering I'm useful. When I'm too slow to get him a worm, he knocks the hat off my ramekin and helps himself. He goes off to a branch to subdue it for a baby's gullet, whap whap whap. When we call it a day and go inside, he figures out where we are in the house and hovers at that window.

He knows when beer-thirty is.

I know what he likes me for. But is it love?

I want to get this right.

The sober voices say all love is self-interest. The sober voices are measured in their assessment. They manage risk. Keep their own hearts on a short lead, safe from disappointment.

I choose headlong.

Because I don't know just where a love story begins. But maybe love is the name of the charged ether that joins our worlds. I do know I've got the trust of the smartest, bravest, most valiant chickadee in the whole world, a world that can be frantic, and grabby, and barren. Does he feel a lift in his little gray chest when he sees me? Does he love me too? It might not matter. I've got enough love for both of us.

Pin lovingly fashioned by Amy Weisbrot, amyweisbrot@gmail.com



Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Love Story: Tweet One

Who knows where a love story begins?

The best ones don't always start with the precision of Cupid's arrow. Some take time. And sometimes you can fall in love without even knowing someone's name. In this case, I had a name. But I wasn't sure who to attach it to.

Marge and Studley Windowson were more of a concept at first. True, I did have a pair of authentic chickadees and a house to put them in. But I didn't know if it was the same pair every spring. I didn't know which one was Marge and which one was Studley. I didn't even know how they knew. I think they just did what felt natural and then waited to see who the egg dropped out of. Strictly speaking, this is not the case. I read up: the female scouts the nest site and puts the mattress together while the male brings around snacks. So I knew who was who while Marge was hammering away in the nest box, but then as soon as they were both on a branch I was all befuddled again.

Fortunes change. Some years they blasted in with 5,000 bugs a day and baby birds came out. Some years they took off and left their eggs unloved. One year they were aced out by nuthatches. It's always something.

But then last year one of them showed up with a bum foot, and it turned out to be Studley. Brave Studley curled his swollen toes up in his belly feathers and devoted his days to supporting Marge any way he could think of. He parked on a nearby twig with his head swiveling for danger. He chased away smaller birds and hollered at the rest. When he came back this spring, with his missus, and minus two toes, I about lost my mind with joy. I wanted to take up trumpet. The cups are still rattling in the cupboards.

The trouble is, there's always trouble. It's harder to go from an egg to a journeyman bird than you might think. There are wasps. Mites. Other birds can't be trusted. Several of my neighbors are devoted to seeing that their cats can express their wild nature, and my yard is where they like to do it. And the tree that used to shade the Windowson residence has only a cowlick of leaves remaining. If the eggs don't get poached by a critter they could get poached, period. I learned how to reconstruct the nest box to keep it cool, but too late to avoid disturbing sweet Marge. Fortunately, it hasn't gotten hot yet.

But once the bug and grub train gets rolling, it'll be Grand Central around here. By the time the nestlings are about ready to fly away, Marge and Studley will be hauling in groceries about once a minute, dawn to dusk. You'll never see a stronger work ethic. Last year their brood failed. I wanted dearly to help.

"Mealworms," I told Dave, who reminds me of Studley.

We took off for the mealworm store.

What I wanted to do, I explained to the mealworm store lady, was crack the window open and dispense mealworms from my windowsill. I'm right there a couple feet away from the bird house. Maybe they'd even take them from my hand, I said, all fizzy with the possibility.  I once spent a half hour still as a statue with sunflower seeds in my hand and snagged two indelible seconds with a pine siskin. And of course I've had gray jays land on me. If you wear a suit made out of cereal, a gang of gray jays will strip you naked in nothing flat.

The mealworm store lady frowned. You don't want to attract scrub jays, she said. If you have a suet feeder on the other side of your house, you could hang a mealworm feeder underneath it and your chickadees will find it right away.

That felt less personal. But the image of a scrub jay slicing through the air with a fuzzy new nuthatch reopened a gash in my memory. I did not want to attract jays.

But I did buy the mealworms.

To be continued. This post and the next are dedicated to Julie Zickefoose and her wide-open heart.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

PPSD: Phantom Pee Spot Disorder

You know that feeling when you've sat down on a toilet seat and there was a little drop of something on it but you don't realize it until you stand up again and there's that little cool spot on your butt that you hope is water? Hold that thought.

I'm at the age where people complain they were never warned about this or that health issue. Actually, I'm way past that age, because a lot of it happens during menopause. Or perimenopause. In fact perimenopause is one of the things that people say no one told them about.

So in case no one told you about it, perimenopause refers to the years right before authentic menopause in which your body is just experimenting with how it would be if all your youth-enhancing hormones disappeared. So one day they'll drain out and the next week they'll surge back and be all What do you think about me now and you won't know whether to laugh, cry, or stab someone just because. "Nobody told me my periods would get heavier and more frequent," people complain, nor do they mention that from time to time you will be passing something that looks like a small damp rodent, or that you will develop new moles everywhere, and then plant whiskers on them like flags, or that you will be asked to cut down on sleeping for a few years because you can sleep when you're dead which by the way is coming right up too.

That business about being all crabby because your hormones are in flux is something people do tell you about, but it's not true. You're crabby because you're just about at the age when it will become obvious you married the wrong person or wasted thirty years at the wrong job, or had more kids than you needed or will ever use, or you realized you didn't follow your dreams because you never had any to begin with even though everyone assumed you should.

They don't always tell you about pre-perimenopause, which would be the thirty years before perimenopause. If you're lucky someone will have warned your nine-year-old self about periods but even so that first one is still going to come as a big surprise, and like as not people will have glossed over some of the nastier details in favor of something more hopeful like "You're becoming a woman." So even with the basics, you can't always count on a ton of good information.

And as long as we're about it, they don't tell you about how unpredictable your periods are going to be, especially the whiz-bang very last one that happens two years after the one before and one year after you've gotten rid of all the paraphernalia, as soon as your last hormone can detect you're wearing white pants.

They don't tell you anything about fibroid tumors and when they do, it's because you already have them, and then they tell you they're usually benign, although not always. They don't mention that they like to sit on your bladder like a big fibroid joke.

They don't mention the connection between laughter and laundry.

There's stuff men don't get warned about either. Like peni-pendular recession, or the effect of scrotal gravity on the hairline. Nobody ever talks about that, but those bow-legged old men with gigantic foreheads didn't come out of nowhere.

And so as a public service I offer all of these observations to those who might otherwise complain that no one ever told them about them, and add the following:

Sometimes your body gets just a big kick out of itself and makes shit up. Like suddenly developing a dime-sized portion of your left buttock that feels just a little colder than the surrounding acreage and every time you pull your pants up you think: did I just sit on a wet spot on the toilet? Five times a day you think that, for a couple weeks, and then you realize your own buttock is doing  that to you for no reason medical science will ever discover. There won't be a name for it, or a ribbon-color for it, or a foundation devoted to its cure.

So don't let that come as a surprise.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

All Bloom And Bluster


Truth be told, the foxglove population here has been demoralized for years. It started when the Echium "Mr. Happy" was brought home in his little four-inch pot and settled in the ground. Not much to look at, at first, but his tag was all braggadocio. He was going to be something, boy howdy. Ten-foot spike with impressive girth, like you've never seen.

Some of the foxgloves warned, darkly, that this was going to be trouble, and kept going on and on about this being one more northern foothold in the Californification of the garden, blah blah blah. But no one cared. Mr. Happy wasn't bothering anyone else. The annuals gabbled away as the one-season wonders they were. It's just a big ol' rosette, they said. The more the merrier, and all that.

But the foxgloves had been the dominant biennial flower spike of the region for a couple hundred years, and they had a more mature perspective. Nothing good could come of this. Have you no sense of heritage, they said? This is not normal, they said.

Pssh. The zinnias didn't care for all this gloom and doom, and, if they were to be honest, they thought the foxgloves could stand to be knocked down a peg. Don't worry about it, they nattered, unbearably cheerful as always.  No way he's going to make it through the winter. He's a flash in the pan.

The foxgloves began to relax. Mr. Happy was a buffoon, a joke. He's just an entertainer--he's not going to ascend to his bloom year. The foxgloves settled into proper dormancy for the winter confident that the upstart would be revealed to be the clown he was, come spring. But they had not counted on all the behind-the-scenes support from unknown benefactors. The plastic wrap. The light bulb.

And to their shock, the next spring, there he was, still among the living, and he quickly shot up into the sky, surpassing the foxgloves in height, girth, and glory, and proceeded to go on and on about himself all summer long. The annuals were impressed. Annuals are easily impressed.

The foxgloves conferred and came up with some proposals but nothing made it out of committee. It was infuriating, they thought. How could it not be obvious that Mr. Happy was an impostor, a bluffer, a fraud, nothing but a big-ass tower of bloom and bluster with no qualifications whatsoever? How could he be Number One? Why are the zinnias falling for this fool?

Mr. Happy is the greatest. Mr. Happy is the biggest. Mr. Happy is the best. How could anybody believe this crap? The foxgloves laid out the situation, hoping the truth would win the day. But nobody cared. Look at how all the bees made the shift, they said. Everybody's so busy. Mr. Happy is totally a job producer.

The foxgloves grumbled helplessly. Job producer, my plump pink petals, they said. Bees will work for nothing. Employment numbers don't mean anything  if everyone has to work five thousand blossoms a day just to make it.

And so on. Until this year.

It started with murmurings in the understory. Sharing of scuttlebutt. Botanical buzz. The first stirring of hope among the beleaguered foxglove community, and whispers that their long, yardular nightmare may be coming to an end. Mr. Happy's grandkids have arrived.

And what a motley crew they are. Pinko. Stubby. Knobbles. Slim Jim. Fuzzball. Who's your daddy, Mr. Happy? Hmm? Because there's a lot going on in this woodpile. Different sizes. Shapes. Colors.

The foxgloves want it to be known they have no trouble with a little color variation. But they have a feeling Mr. Happy's base doesn't see it the same way. Heh heh.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Your Secret's Safe With Portland Disposal And Recycling Company

The Oregon Supreme Court came down on the side of Liberty the other day, and meth cooks are jiggling their teeth loose celebrating.

They found in favor of a couple of methamphetamine dealers and threw out their convictions based on the notion that Oregonians have a right to expect privacy in the matter of the garbage they leave out on the curb. Because it's in an opaque bin with a lid on it, a universal sign for Not Yours, Mister Man.

Oddly enough, this conclusion is at odds with the big-boy Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., even though they're way fatter fans of Liberty when it comes to things like the freedom of corporations to purchase congressmen and things like that.

In the Oregon case, police were suspicious of the couple when their trailer kept blowing up and highly unattractive people were coming and going and Walter White's name was on the reserved parking space, so they had the garbage company hold out their garbage for inspection. Without a warrant. Which the court now says they should've had one of.

I'm a huge fan of this kind of decision. Big ACLU proponent, here. Unreasonable search and seizure is an important concept in a free country, but I draw the line somewhere the other side of my garbage. I do not, personally, feel I do have a right to privacy when it comes to my garbage. I'm throwing it out. That's why it's called garbage. If you don't want someone finding something in your trash can, go dump it in a restaurant dumpster like a grownup.

Maybe people should be required to go through our garbage. And I don't say that because I have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm deeply ashamed of mine, and you should be too. Everything in our garbage can is evidence of our failure to conduct our lives in a sustainable manner. We did buy all that packaging. We did dump that appliance that only worked for a year. We did own a plastic singing fish.

The Oregon Court says even the garbage company isn't allowed to look at your garbage. If your garbage man happens to notice a bunch of blood-stained bundles of meat that might plausibly be rearranged into a human being, he is expected to overlook it, and if it upsets him, he should've taken up typing. Because your private garbage is still your private garbage even though you've given it away.

The one dissenting justice thought this was nuts, and he said a garbage company should be able to take your garbage and "gift it to the police." I object to that too. Nobody ever needs to "gift" anybody anything, for Pete's sake, as long as the word "give" is still loitering around in the language. I'd be perfectly happy to instruction them about that later.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Color Of Money

Andrew Jackson is said to be one of Trump's favorite presidents. Dollars to donuts he can't name more than about ten of them altogether, and only boned up on Jackson when he learned that Obama wanted to have him replaced by Harriet Tubman on the twenty-dollar bill. Clearly this could not stand. Because Obama, number one. And number two, as Trump said upon seeing the proposed design, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posed ta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"

So Trump got someone to read him the Cliff's Notes on our seventh president, and he liked what he heard, and ordered his portrait hung in the Oval Office.

Even when he was running for president he weighed in on the issue, and while declaring Harriet Tubman a very fine woman, he thought she could just as easily dress up one of your lesser currencies, such as the Malawian kwacha. He said the whole idea of evicting Jackson from the twenty was a matter of pure political correctness, which is what people like him call correctness.

It is, however, a fine idea, and inspiring to many. Harriet Tubman was an exceptionally brave woman who was instrumental in establishing the Underground Railroad after she herself fled slavery. Jackson's reputation, on the other hand, has suffered a bit because he offends the delicate sensibilities of moderns who have been engaged in "rewriting" history, or stripping the propaganda out of it. And many of these people look askance at his enthusiastic embrace of slavery and his role in driving Native Americans out of their homeland on the so-called Trail of Tears so white people could take it. Slavery, extermination. Stuff like that.

Freakin' snowflakes ruin everything.

Trump, on the other hand, relates to Andrew Jackson, whom he regards, now that someone has whittled his Wikipedia entry down to 140 characters, as a populist tilting against the elites. There are resemblances. Jackson was said to be easily offended and something of a bully. He dabbled in real estate, dealing in particular with claims that had been set aside for the Cherokee and Chickasaw. He may have owned more than 300 slaves in his life and was not known for treating them well, advertising at one point that should any of them escape and be caught, he would offer "ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred." Clarifying later whilst on the stump, which was probably an actual stump, he said "Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay. Just knock the hell--I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise."

There are differences. Jackson was the only president who ever retired the national debt.

At any rate, we'll have to wait to see Harriet on our money. As Secretary of the Treasury and head pirate Steve Mnuchin put it, there's no way they can redesign the twenty before about 2028. It's just too complicated to do that and also work on other Treasury priorities, such as stripping consumer protections and rolling back financial market regulations, at the same time. Simply impossible. Makes Kennedy's moon shot gambit look like a stroll in the Rose Garden. "It is my responsibility now to focus on what is the issue of counterfeiting and the security features," Mnuchin said, by which he means "Trump said there ain't gonna be a nigger on the twenty while he's still President."

Where'd all those dogs come from?


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The CHIRP! Of Love Is In His Face

This is a fact. Dave has a history of being dive-bombed by birds. There are many reasons this could happen, but the primary one is that birds are shitty judges of character. Dave is not a threat to birds. Any bird should be able to read it in his face, but apparently his face is too far off the ground for their comfort. I can walk right next to him and they'll go for his head every time.

But until this week, we'd never seen him get threatened by a hummingbird.

Our local Anna's hummingbirds do an awesome courtship display that involves flying up to the stratosphere and then arrowing down at warp speed, pulling up a the last second before *splat*, and then zooming back up again. Moreover, there is a tremendous CHIRP! sound right there at the bottom end of the flight, coming in fact from the bottom end of the bird. Quite recognizable. Whenever we hear it, we look straight up to locate the aerobat and watch him do it again. He pulls out of his dive right at about eye level from a prospective mate, who is observing from a twig. It's attention-getting.

This time we heard the CHIRP! just off Dave's shoulder. And--we checked--there was no female hummingbird in sight. We stood still. We waited. And sure enough, a half minute later, that hummingbird swooped down within a foot of Dave's left ear.

He was impressed, but not enough to have sex with a hummer.

So we don't know what was going on. It felt threatening.  It felt like the bird was trying to chase Dave off, not get Dave off. But who knows? Either Dave looks like another male threatening his territory, in which case we would assume it would fly straight at his hat, and not do a courtship display. Or, he finds Dave very attractive, and he would like to have three seconds of sweet hummingbird bliss on some suitable orifice, several of which come to mind.

Because as far as I know, male hummingbirds do not defend the nest. They have nothing to do with the nest. They defend their own territory of flowers and hope to entice a girl into their territory and chase off rivals and go to considerable trouble for that three-second wham-bam and then it's Sayonara, Sis, and good luck with the kids. So although other kinds of birds might try to discourage Dave from getting near their nests, the male hummer has gotten all he wants out of the relationship and is back to looking out for Number One.

That leaves attraction as the only other possibility. Something about Dave appeals to a male Anna's hummingbird. The male makes that tremendous noise during his courtship display with just his tail feathers and maybe he senses a kindred spirit in Dave.

All alone and feeling blue, and green, and yellow, and...
But the ability to make remarkable noises from your tail end isn't much to go on in a relationship. Sure, it worked for us, but we're a special case.

We should ask Anna. It's her hummingbird. Anna Masséna, the Duchess of Rivoli, was probably pretty hot. At least she was all the rage in the ornithological community. Her husband, the Duke of Rivoli, was an amateur ornithologist, which is to say he had an enormous dead bird collection. John James Audubon took a fancy to her too, but it was another ornithologist who thought to name the hummingbird after her. Audubon was probably doing this long involved courtship thing and making a gigantic bird painting for her, and then René-Primivère Lesson swoops in all CHIRP! and says "Ma chérie, I give you zees hummingbaird." No one knows what the Duke of Rivoli was doing all this time, but apparently not defending his territory.