Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I Guess The Dog Was A Laptop Model, Too

We used to have the cutest dog. When she was a puppy, we took her out to the river in case she wanted to swim. She didn't want to swim. She'd never even seen water. Her ancestry had led her to want to jam her face into holes in the ground and bother rodents with it, not swim.

But we were curious, so Dave picked her up and walked into the water with her. The most amazing thing happened. Suspended above the water but still dry as a bone, she began paddling with all fours for all she was worth. All Dave had to do was lower her into the water and she shot off like a toy boat with a rubber-band motor.

That is some freakishly specific brand of smart. I'm a little higher up the evolutionary tree, and if you'd suspended me over the water, I'd have hollered and scratched and bit and dropped to the bottom of the lake like a plumb-bob.

So the problem I have with my computer is I don't know if it's more like me or my old dog.

I do like my laptop. It replaced a massive antique Dell that looked like an old-fashioned TV set. That one started getting creaky and after a while I was afraid Everything I'd Ever Written would disappear one day and Columbo and the Murder She Wrote lady would have to climb out of the screen and go looking for it.

Remarkably, the transition went seamlessly. Everything I'd Ever Written fit on a one-inch thumb drive--I don't know how to feel about that--and showed up unscathed on my laptop. I thought I was home free.

But one thing about the new-fashioned computers: they're curious. This one wanted to know all sorts of things. It's like pudding: you have to know a lot just to get it to set up. There were keychains. Passwords. Suitcases to bring to the Cloud. Extra underwear. It wanted to see my previous computer's birth certificate and tax returns. If I answered stuff wrong, it basically rolled its little eye at me. I think I might have contributed a password full of pet names and numbers, but it kept asking more and more questions, and then I just gave up. I'm still not on the Cloud.

But regular as shit, the darn thing wants me to update stuff. Asks me every day: do you want to install this? The furthest it will put me off is "Remind me tomorrow." I already know what I'm going to say tomorrow, but apparently, as smart as it thinks it is, it can't anticipate. And sometimes it wants to change absolutely everything. It wants to upgrade me to a new operating system. The Mac operating systems were named after jungle cats for a long time, and now they're geological wonders. I don't know what OS we're up to now: Saber-Toothed Tiger On Top Of Old Smoky?

I have no wish to do any of this. If I do an update, the next day will be a slog of all the old questions before I can play. It will want me to authenticate all of the crap I never quite authenticated before. I still won't be on the Cloud. And if I upgrade my operating system?

I don't know if Everything I Ever Wrote will be dog-paddling above the machine ready to scoot along or if it will drop like a plumb-bob.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

On Having A Heart

6-wk-old fetus--oh wait, this is a pepper sprout.
Aww, man. Georgia just passed a Heartbeat Bill, targeting women who pursue an abortion before six weeks' gestation. And here I just fired off my annual donation to Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, this puts me in the crosshairs of the Georgia justice system, which might opt to prosecute me for hiring a hit man, and I can only hope they're too busy rigging elections down there to extradite me from Oregon. Odds are good Oregon wouldn't cooperate, but I can always hide in the office of our own governor, who has a uterus but (this being a blue state) is allowed to have opinions anyway.

It's not as though I court trouble, though, so I'm hoping to be able to get on the Georgia uterus registry in the "dried-up" column, because if I were to suddenly begin bleeding profusely from my central nethers, I want to be seen by a local medical professional and not hauled into court in Georgia on suspicion of aborting a potential human being at the stage in which the Legislature believes a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is to say a few weeks before it has an actual heart, or a face, and several weeks before it develops genitalia sufficient to determine the eventual worth of the child to the State of Georgia. At the grub stage, in other words. Which means they can't yet tell if the bouncing blob of cells is going to grow up to be a Republican senator, or a host body and sperm receptacle.

6-wk-old fetus--oh wait, garbanzo bean.
The heartbeat bill is inconvenient from the standpoint of the woman who is unlikely to know she's pregnant and may not even be glowing yet, but ideal from the standpoint of the grub, who is very near the most valuable stage of its life, gram per gram, in a death-penalty state.

Georgia is to be commended for showing the most concern in the nation for African-American embryos, who are nevertheless advised to come out with picture ID in hand.

Just to be on the safe side, it is suggested that every woman of mandatory child-bearing age in Georgia take the precaution of mailing all used pads and tampons to the State Legislature so they can make sure she hasn't pulled a fast one. No need to go to the trouble of packaging them up, either. After all, you can stick a postage stamp on a coconut.

6-wk fetus--oh wait, beetle larva.
The point of all these bills--Georgia is the fourth this year to pass a "heartbeat bill"--is to send an obviously unconstitutional measure all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, where newly instated Justice, drunk and sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh is expected to try to redeem his soul by overturning Roe v. Wade.

There may, in fact, be no recourse for women in Georgia, unless they can get some legislation passed that will allow pregnant women two votes, or outlaw anti-life activities such as fellatio. Failing that, they could hold out altogether, and if the senators get lonely they can just go fuck themselves.

Georgia legislators, for their part, insist their measure is not extreme, citing Alabama's newly passed Wet Spot Protection Act. Step away from laundry detergent, little lady.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hanging Up Your Bird

I am always little and often hungry, but I am otherwise nothing like a Vaux's Swift, a few billion of which just showed up in town the other day. They're way up there in the sky flapping like mad and chirping and nabbing bugs out of the air. They're busy as hell.

Vaux's swifts are invariably described as cigar-shaped, even though the swifts have been around a lot longer than the stogies. And anyway it's not so much a cigar as a big poorly-rolled doobie, of the kind people used to roll when you could get an ounce for ten bucks. I am not cigar-shaped. I am Venus of Willendorf-shaped. This makes me less aerodynamic than a Vaux's swift. However it does mean if I land on the ground I will not roll very far, whereas if a Vaux's swift lands on the ground, it's totally screwed. Its feet are too little and its wings are too long to get airborne again. It would be like trying to levitate a canoe. If you ever do see a Vaux's swift on the ground you need to pick it up and heave it into the air and wish it the best of luck.

Other ways to tell me apart from a Vaux's swift: they get up first thing in the morning and work all the blessed day long. They don't rest. Most of our songbirds are plenty busy this time of year but they still park it from time to time and watch the world go by. Not those swifts. They've got nothing to park with. Their little feets can't perch, and the best they can do is sort of hang themselves up inside a tree or a chimney with their little claws, like a work shirt. They can't sit in a tree any more than a person with a conical butt can sit in a recliner. So all day long it's flappity flappity with a more or less constant chatter. I don't know what they're saying but it doesn't vary much. Probably bugs bugs bugs or yum yum yum.

That's a lot of work but it's worse than that. They have no plan for retirement. Some swifts can go ten months without landing. They sleep in the sky. If I woke up and discovered myself high in the sky I would freak out, but swifts are cool with it, and would take it in stride if they had anything to stride with. Yes, swifts eat, sleep, drink, and have sex in the air. They do make nests if they find someplace to hang themselves up in. But it's not going to be a branch or anything they can usefully weave nesting materials around--they have to hang themselves up somewhere and glue sticks to the surface with their own spit. If you have a nesting swift in your chimney and discover a baby bird in your fireplace, you should pick it up and stick it higher up your chimney, and it will keep skritcheting higher until it finds its nest again.

They've stuck little hats on birds to detect if they really sleep on the wing and discovered they even have REM sleep, during which they dream about showing up for the final exam on bug ID even when they hadn't gone to class all year, or giving a speech (yum yum yum) without any feathers on. Sometimes birds sleep with half their brains and keep the other half on the lookout, but sometimes they shut down the whole computer, usually while on a nice updraft. And maybe that works out a lot of the time, but if it doesn't, they can always make more swifts.

Keep an eye on your fireplace though.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Dave peered into the beer fridge with concern.

"We have to make a Costco run," he said. He was right. We were down to our last case of beer.

There are lots of people who might not consider 24 beers a panic situation, but we believe in planning and preparing and personal responsibility, and what if a couple bears showed up tonight with a bottle opener? No. It's just too close for comfort.

I did say "beer fridge." Let's call it a legacy item. Forty years ago we got a small refrigerator and drilled a hole in the door and set it up with a keg. We did pretty well with that until we realized we were attracting more friends than we really wanted or liked or, in some cases, recognized. One day we didn't replace the keg and that was that. But the little fridge had been there long enough to be a common-law appliance. We swapped it out for another small fridge and put our beer in there, with some chaperone sodas. We've had two refrigerators all this time. A full beer fridge feels like security. With a full beer fridge, we feel like we are in compliance with earthquake readiness recommendations. We're not, technically, but it feels that way. Disaster? Ha. We laugh at your disaster.

We should probably get a bucket with a toilet seat and dried food and a water filter and a first-aid kit and Handi-Wipes and peanut butter and a lantern and a space blanket and a Saint Bernard, but the lack of a lot of those things can be mitigated with beer. Oh and we're also supposed to have some firearms to protect our stash from our, uh, friends and neighbors and people in need, but we aren't planning to change party affiliation or anything, so no.

Basically, everything I've ever read about a big-ass earthquake leads me to believe the full beer fridge is a solid first step. Followed by the bucket and toilet seat. Stick with the basics and you can avoid the full-on Donner situation.

It's been suggested that being hyper-aware of the number of beers on hand is a bit of a red flag, alcoholism-wise, but who's to draw the line between a nice hobby and a debilitating disease? Also it's not supposed to be a good thing if you obsessively check the beer situation at other people's houses so you can go out for supplies, but what if you're going to be there for hours and they're Hefeweizen people? What then? Some people also think it is some kind of sign if you have to pull over when driving in a dangerous and scary situation to chug a beer before you can keep driving, which I have done twice, and both times were totally justified. Some people think being prepared to take care of your own needs is not a virtue. Suddenly people who think nothing of making sure they have life-saving heart medication on hand are all judgey about other people's needs.

The real reason it's a little nuts to panic when the beer gets low is that we are living spang in the middle of the best beer town in the whole world, and we can get any of thirty or forty different brews inside of a five-minute walk. If we actually ran out of beer, the solution is right around the corner.

But we're prepared. We're self-reliant. We're the Mormons of the beer aisle. That's not a thing, but if it were, that's what we'd be.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The View From The Driveway

It was a comment in response to a post about the urgency of forestalling climate catastrophe.

"All I know is that we have friends who have a hybrid car. They could not get up our driveway. We had to pull it up our driveway using a tow rope with our Jeep. I am not giving up my car."

Oh, sweet pea. I am sorry that is all you know. There's so much else.

All around you, people are making choices in their daily lives that must baffle you. They are paying more for items that aren't packaged in plastic. They're voting to tax themselves for greenspaces. They're checking the tags in their clothing to make sure they're not supporting slave labor. They're choosing to live where they don't need a car at all. Maybe they've found out that animal agriculture is the biggest driver of climate change and environmental devastation, and they've quit eating meat. They're doing these things because they have learned some stuff about the world, and they're unable to keep operating as they had before they learned it. It becomes a moral choice for them.

What they're not doing is changing their behavior in order to shame you. Something about your statement leads me to suspect you think your friends bought a hybrid car because they think they're better than you. But what do you do when you find out something you're doing is hurting others? Maybe it's something you didn't realize before, but once you learned better, wouldn't you change? I'm sure you would. Maybe that's what they're doing: trying to do less harm.

Of course their hybrid is still burning fossil fuel. And this is what is going to make our planet uninhabitable, in a matter of a few short lifetimes. It's a big deal. If you knew we had only ten years to get off fossil fuel altogether or risk an unlivable planet, wouldn't you embrace a solution? Maybe not--because there is so little one person can do to affect such a massive problem. It needs to be addressed on a national and world-wide level.

But here's a related massive problem: we are operating under a system of profit-driven capitalism that does not begin to account for the costs of enterprise. Shouldn't corporations be required to pay for the harms they cause? Should they be able to destroy our environment without any consequence? Should you be able to get away with poisoning your neighbor's well? We put people in prison for knocking over the corner store; why do we reward people who endanger every single life on the planet?

So nobody is going to confiscate your Jeep. You can keep your Jeep. But maybe gasoline should be $250 a gallon. Maybe that's what it would take to mitigate the harm done by the extraction and burning of buried carbon. It's not meant to be punitive--it's the cost of doing business. You might decide to make some different choices.

Seem like a lot to pay? A few decades ago someone had the idea of pegging gasoline at $5 a gallon. That was a lot at the time. People would use less, more efficient vehicles would be on the market, and the excess tax would be devoted to changing our infrastructure toward a more sustainable plan. It was a good idea. A number of things we could have done a few decades ago would have made things a lot easier now, but we didn't do them. And now we're out of time. It might even be too late.

I don't blame you or your Jeep. It's not your fault. There are real criminals involved in this scheme to further enrich the wealthy at the expense of literally everyone else. But it would be a good thing, for starters, to take a step back from your driveway and see how big the picture really is.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Being Serviced

TV was on the fritz again. This happens a lot since everything went digital. It never makes sense, which means it's probably related to hormones or some planet being in retrograde. Usually I can fix it myself with some combination of unpluggings and holdings-in-of-buttons, although the precise order is a mystery.

Sometimes, I think, it just comes back on as a sort of blessing. It's like God. You might get the dropsy or win the Irish Lottery, but it won't be because of anything you did.

Not this time. This time I scared up a screen that promised Software Is Being Updated, but I was dubious. The progress dots were just loitering. After about five minutes they gave way to an Error screen in big red letters. I unplugged more vehemently and jammed the plug back in like I meant it, Mister. It didn't budge. I unplugged the toaster and the slow sink, to no avail.

Somewhere there was a suggestion I chat with someone online, so I gave it a go. First thing I see is that I'm really important and the estimated minimum wait time is 127 minutes. I kept the window open and farted around on the internet.

Cool! The estimated wait time kept coming down fast until it was down to five minutes after only a half hour. This is a winnowing technique. They know perfectly well they lost half their complainers right off the bat. Smart! Then every two minutes they updated to say I was down to five minutes. Five minutes minimum wait time, which would include, I now realized, 127 minutes.

Then I got a new message! Hi! My name is CenturyLink and I'll be with you in a moment, as soon as I figure out who you are and whether you are packing! Followed thirty seconds later by "All our agents are busy. Try again later."

Oh, no you di'n't. I gave the chat window a wicked bitch face and then typed in "Are you there?" To my surprise, it came back with the message that someone would be right with me, and thanked me for my patience, which I believe was rather an assumption on their part.

"I'll be with you in a minute," it said. That would be Nick ("The Nickster") and his imaginary friend Nurse Skippy, who is still in the bathroom. Nick isn't allowed to chat on his own without a nurse in the room since the Incident.

Every two minutes, I got a slightly different version of this message and then--1-1/2 hours in--the "agent" terminated the chat. Would I like a transcript of our chat? Oh yasss. Yass indeedy, I would. I'll need it for the murder trial.

Used to be we had ourselves a fat monopoly called Ma Bell. Ma was all-powerful. She owned our phones and unless you had a postage stamp or a ham radio that was the only way you were going to communicate with anyone who wasn't in the room. When your phone didn't work, you went to a neighbor's house to call Ma and she sent out a nice man in a spiffy suit to fix it, no charge. He'd come in and frown at the phone and then go outside with a loop of new line and a bulge in his pocket and come back brandishing a dispatched squirrel, either a relevant one or an alternate that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then your phone worked again.

We used to complain about Ma Bell. I don't remember why.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Marge and Studley In Da House!

Studley April 2019
Marge and Studley Windowson are back again and I am so relieved.

It was no sure thing my chickadees would be back in the nesting business. At least not in the box Dave set up for them outside my window. Last year and the year before they made a go of it but didn't produce any working chickadees. And that's a heap of trouble to go through for nothing.

Last year she had a good start on the nest inside the box and then disappeared when the wasps showed up. Without much hope of success, I took down the box and removed the wasp nest that was hanging down like a chandelier from the ceiling. It was off-putting to me, and I'm certain Marge felt the same way, although she and Studley are made of stouter stuff than I am. A wasp or two came by after I absconded with their sculpture and decided the neighborhood was a little too iffy for them, and they moved on. Amazingly, Marge came back to check on things, found the chandelier gone, and resumed work on the nest. But some time before the eggs hatched, they abandoned it. I don't know why.

Studley April 2018
And yes, it is truly Marge and Studley. I will hereby admit I called them Marge and Studley for years without being utterly certain it was the same pair. Chickadees don't veer off the template much. You see one chickadee, you can kind of write the book on all the others. But last year Studley showed up with a bum foot. It was pink and swollen, and over the course of a couple months it looked like pieces of it fell off. The only thing I can think of is he narrowly escaped a cat. And I think I know which cat.

This year his foot is nice and gray like it's supposed to be, but the toes aren't the right length and two of them are missing claws. When he lands on the nest box hole with his right foot, his left foot sort of slides down the side, for a lack of grabbiness. But he perches just fine, and that's mostly what he's doing now. He's keeping watch on a stubby branch while Marge works on putting the mattress together. And he's taking it seriously. His head turns every which direction and when he spots an intruder he gives it what-for. Mostly he scolds, but if there's a smaller bird, he'll chase it off. That means the Lesser Goldfinches are on the run for sure, and so are the bushtits. The bushtits don't really act scared, to be honest. He might aim at one and dislodge it and then they all fly off in a bunch, but they're all "Oh, are we going this way now? Fun! Whee whee whee!" Still, it has to puff out Studley a bit to rout fifteen birds at once.

Scrub jays, whole other thing. If you could scare off a scrub jay by going dee dee dee at it, there'd be a lot of terrorized jays around here, but you can't. I don't frankly know what would scare a scrub jay. I used to like them before one made off with my nuthatch baby on its maiden flight, and now I'm a little peeved. I thought I'd help out Studley when a jay landed outside the window and I opened up the window and went all boogah boogah on its ass, and all it did was size up my eyeballs for spearing.

I worry about Marge and Studley though. I'm going to help out as much as I can this year. I'm going to buy some mealworms, which I've never done, and I'm going to put them on my windowsill for them. I'll try to rig up a parasol because the cascara tree has lost most of its leaves and I don't want the eggs to cook. I'm going to be very stern with the scrub jays. I'm going to aim a fire hose at the neighbor's cat at every opportunity. The neighbor said that was okay with her, not that I asked first. Sadly, it's considered a social blunder to fire-hose your neighbor.

Studley and Marge and the rest of us, we're all in the same boat. I despair of living with a ringside seat to the next great extinction event. I despair for the beautiful babies my friends and family are still cooking up, and I know they're due for troubles our ancestors could never have foreseen. I can scream and shout and fight with people on the internet and write post cards to my congressmen and most of the time--maybe all of the time--it's not much better than standing on my branch and going dee dee dee. But if Studley is still willing to fight the good fight with his bum foot, I can do it too.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

That's No Skin Off My Squash

How hard can it be?

Butternut squash soup. Hearty, delicious. You have to figure there's liquid in it, and butternut squash, and you need to render the vegetable soupworthy somehow, but hey: it says "squash" right in the name. In other words, it practically makes itself.

So. Here we go. Peel and cube the squash, add broth and a few other items. I thump the squash onto a cutting board and commence peeling.

Remember that dumb old allegory about the dove that rubs his beak on a boulder once every thousand years and when the boulder is reduced to a grain of sand, one day in Eternity has passed? They could totally have made the same point using a budgie and a butternut squash.

Because Lord love a duck in springtime, the peeler doesn't penetrate the thing at all. After a few minutes, I discover that although I have not persuaded the peel to liberate itself in any way, I have got a real nice polish on the squash. After a half hour investment and the removal of several of my favorite layers of knuckle skin, I'm most of the way there, but I'm starting to have flashbacks on the disastrous wallpaper removal project of 1983, a.k.a. the Confetti Situation.

The internet, consulted afterwards, recommends stabbing and microwaving the sucker into submission before attempting to peel. I'm all for violence when it comes to vegetables; it takes the sting out of them not being pork. I'll try it next time. It does occur to me that something involving a garbage can and small explosives might take care of the peels and the dicing all at once.

You really can't trust vegetables. I tried a mango recipe once that suggested, in a bland way, I remove the skin and then remove the seed from the fruit. As it turns out, this is really hard to do when you don't know what's in there. Is it like an avocado pit? Is it like an apple core? It is like neither of these, or anything else I've ever seen. It takes up an undeterminable amount of space inside the fruit and is shaped like old soap. I gave it a whirl and then realized I was inviting Mary Ann over for dinner. All I had to do was get the rest of the salad ready and then say "Mary Ann, do you have any idea how to persuade mango meat out of one of these things?" and she would not only have one idea, but several, including an assortment of hacks she'd read on the internet and had always wanted to try. Mary Ann has a whole closet of hacks in her brain, all accessible and ready to roll. And then you hand her the mango and she delightedly--delightedly, I say--does the deed, to perfection, trying her latest hack for the first time, which involves rubbing the mango along the lip of a drinking glass.

I remember that much. I don't know how it happened, though. Rubbing a mango along a drinking glass seems just as expeditious as taking your pants down using the toilet seat lid. But she did it. I added a note to my recipe: "Wait until Mary Ann is coming for dinner." That might go on the butternut soup recipe, too.

I still am not certain why a butternut skin should be so tenacious, especially in a house where the paint exfoliates itself and porcelain chips fly off the sink. But I'm alerting NASA. If they had only used a butternut skin for the Challenger, Christa McAuliffe would be president today.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Twelve Ways You're Wiping Wrong

I'm pretty good at ignoring ads. On TV, I zone out somewhere between "suicidal thoughts" and "anal seepage;" I'm not interested in what the pill that starts with F does and I doubt my doctor cares about it either. Online, although I admire the way my screen fills with advertised items I might actually be interested in, I hardly ever take the bait. It helps that I don't want to buy stuff much anymore. I'd buy that stuff if I did, but I don't.

I am not immune to the sirens lurking in the shallows as I guide my ship through my Preferred Content. I bow to the cleverness of the marketing fairy that has detected the flick of my retinas toward this doo-dad or that sweater. It is a remarkable achievement in the business of extracting my money, and I salute it--but not to the point of clicking on it.

So when the little ad popped up in the right margin, I gave it the nanosecond it deserved, and then went back to my important solitaire game. I'm not a clickenheimer. If there's a teaser that promises to explain to me twelve ways I'm wiping wrong, I'm not going to look. I'm happier going to my grave thinking my way was A-Okay. But this time, something made me glance back once. Then twice. Apparently I was one click away from finding 19 clever gadgets I couldn't live without.

This in itself is not appealing. You wouldn't believe the number of things other people think are necessary that I'm quite able to live without. I still look at a real map if I'm trying to find a place. I even drive a car that would totally let me crash if I wasn't paying attention. I finally gave in and got a crappy phone but I don't carry it much and it doesn't have any Naps on it. So I set my brain on Ignore. But.

There was this picture. One of the gadgets I couldn't live without. And it was not only stupid, it was impossible. It was a glowing hot knife that toasted bread as it sliced. I went back to my game and thought: who the hell needs a knife that toasts bread? If you're too lazy to drop a slice of bread in the toaster, you're too lazy to buy unsliced bread.

I'm a bread slicer from way back. My mom made all our bread and you had to slice it if you wanted any. Everyone in our family produced uniform slices. There's a trick. (You turn the loaf on its side. Oh shit, now everybody knows.) But most people aren't that good at it, and would rather not bother.

I continued to Ignore. Until it hit me. Wait just a cotton-pickin' minute. How can a knife, no matter how plugged-in and gleaming, toast bread? That's not possible. Is it?

Is it? Oh hell. I clicked. I didn't want a knifey toast slicer but I had to see how it worked. And there they were, one after the other: the 19 gadgets I can't live without. And I got all the way through them without finding one toasty slicey knife. It isn't possible. They made it all up just to get the people to click who wouldn't have clicked for any other reason.

Yep. The toasty bready slicey knife is something to solve a problem nobody has, using something that will never work. Don't anyone tell Donald Trump, or he'll order five billion of them, and make our veterans pay for it.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Cat Kit

The thing about cats and the swingy thing on their bellies is that they are not embarrassed by it at all, no matter how much we think they should be. They consider it, and all the rest of themselves, to be part of the essential cat kit. Cats are not vulnerable to human ridicule, although if they personally get themselves into a predicament they weren't anticipating, such as falling off a counter or toppling a Christmas tree, they will commence the "I meant to do that" paw-licking ritual.

The swingy thing has a name: primordial pouch. It belongs on the cat. It's hard to understand what is primordial about it. It's not as if In The Beginning God created the cat-flap as a placeholder until he could whomp up the cat. Maybe it was named by someone who got tired of people calling his cat Flabbity McFattycakes. He might say, heatedly, "That swingy thing has been there since the beginning of time," even though the actual cat is only three. Or, maybe it's just a random adjective employed to deflect criticism, such as if I started calling my neck a "gelatinous chin-rest" or a "gibbous head-peg." It confers legitimacy on an otherwise graceless accoutrement.

So the primordial pouch is plenty legitimate, and not a sign of the cat letting itself go. Cats don't let themselves go until they get to be about eighteen, and then, as I've observed, they quit grooming and get spiky and corduroyed and squinty about the eyes, but can still land a claw in a dog's snoot without even moving their butts.

The primordial pouch has purpose. Evolution favored the cat with wiggle room built in. A cat's pajamas are designed to contain the operating system without being too snug about it. A good cat should be able to turn around completely inside his pudding-bag, in case he finds himself in an unexpected position requiring extrication. A bonus, in an animal likely to pick a fight, is to have major portions of himself not attached to anything vital. If another cat decides to do some disemboweling with his nasty hind feet, he might discover he's scratched up the fabric pretty well but the guts are still in fine shape and ready to roll out cat turds as though nothing had happened. It's like a matador's cape.

Another reason to develop an extraneous fur flap is to allow for necessary elasticity. You might think you can eyeball the dimensions of a cat, but if you hold it up by the armpits, it elongates quite readily, like a plumb-bob on a rubber band or a worm looking at a fishhook. Stretchiness is a virtue in an animal bent on jumping on your kitchen counter for the butter, and the primordial flap allows it to do so without ripping.

If I had a primordial pouch, it would be made of friendships and perspective and a gift for forgiveness, and it would keep me from getting hurt when I play on the internet. There's some fierce claws out there.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Ripping A New One

In a world proctically teeming with assholes, particularly in the seat of government, as it were, it's a breath of fresh air to find out about an animal that doesn't have an asshole at all. No, not the face mite this time. The one that doesn't poop until it dies and then disintegrates on your face along with a lifetime of backed-up poop? We were happier not knowing about that one.

This one is safely in the ocean, which is basically a giant toilet anyway. The warty comb jelly (a.k.a. Sea Walnut) isn't even packing, anus-wise. He just punches one through when he needs it. The rest of the time it's nowhere to be found. Perhaps this should not be surprising. The whole ocean is full of weird bloopy creatures that don't even know how to assemble a proper spine and it's no wonder their priorities are way out of whack.

Although, they might be on to something. Give them this: the standard ass is not always all it's cracked up to be. Generally speaking the rest of the animal kingdom makes do, as it were, with a hole and associated sphincters, but the sad truth is you can't absolutely count on the sphincters, especially as age creeps up and kicks you in the nethers. That's why, pharmaceutically speaking, there is such a thing as "anal seepage."

The warty comb jelly, on the other hand, takes in nutrition like everyone else and sends the extraneous bits down the gut, and then right before the grand exit, well: Houston? We have a problem. You'd think. But not for the wily warty comb jelly. He gets everything all lined up and then punches the poop canal into his outer envelope and suddenly there's a hole and everything is taken care of, and then it heals back up. That's as backed-up as he gets.

Fun extraneous fact though: the warty comb jelly has more than one exit plan. Everything comes in the front end and then there's a fork in the road, and he can load up one side or another. Whichever branch of his poop apparatus he cares to evacuate, that's the one he jams into his skin and rips himself a new one. He has not been observed, as yet, to operate both poop canals at once.

Which would be awesome. "Dropping a deuce" is just an expression with us, but what if Number Two really meant something?

But just because it hasn't been observed doesn't mean it never happens. In fact, that's the other thing that's interesting about this. People have looked at sea jellies before and drawn helpful pictures of them, and in all the pictures in the literature ("The Literature" is where Science is kept until it busts out), someone's drawn in a little dot where the asshole orter be. And it took this one guy to have himself a look and notice that, actually, it wasn't there. People see what they expect to see. And although most people never expect to see a warty comb jelly at all, at least in day-to-day life, when they do imagine the thing, they put a butthole on it. Which begs the question: what else don't we know?

That is why it pays to become a scientist. We don't know everything. Any one of us could have been the person to discover the warty comb jelly's posterior peculiarity, but we didn't. We're just too danged busy.

That's the lesson here. Don't believe everything you think. Next time some asshole comes along and tells you what a horror show Socialism is, for instance, just tell him he doesn't know everything, and ask him what he knows about warty comb jelly butts, and when he looks blank, say See? See? At least he'll go away.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Mandatory Arugula Proposition

I hate to be an alarmist, but y'all are going to be hearing a whole lot about hamburgers now. More than you really want. It's already started.

That is because about ten years ago the libertarian billionaire squirrels sitting on their massive piles of nuts noticed that they weren't getting the affection they deserved from the little people, who had been waiting in vain for their nuts to drop. They realized if they were going to be successful in their plan to get almost all the nuts, they'd have to repackage their message, because their actual message was self-serving bullshit that even a nitwit could see through. The nitwits needed to be softened up by appealing to their core values.

The focus groups and think tanks and libertarian institutes got to work on the project and finally concluded that unregulated free-market piracy that has resulted in extremes of wealth and poverty would sell only if it were recast as freedom. People like freedom. Especially people in America, which has a long-standing devotion to the concept of freedom. Just the concept, of course, not any kind of actual freedom, which is why there was such a big to-do over the freedom to own slaves. Shit, man, people used to argue that one without any sense of irony at all.

So now everything from union membership to vaccination to fair taxation is pressed through the filter of sweet, American liberty. By gum, we've got people all cranked up about their fundamental right to earn less and less, but save on union dues; or to be able to choose which health insurance giant should scrape the profits off their medical care, without questioning why the insurance industry exists at all. And now, friends, it's hamburgers.

Yes, fellow Americans, "they" want to take away your hamburgers.

Who are these dreadful people who want to confiscate our hamburgers? Well. "They" are people who support the Green New Deal. But their primary motivation is not actually to make life miserable for meat-eating Americans and bring on an era of mandatory arugula. They have a much broader perspective, a common side-effect of education. They understand that the carbon-sink forests of the Amazon are being razed for soybean farms to fatten hogs and cattle. And that the factory farming of animals and modern food production, with its manure lagoons and synthetic fertilizer and soil depletion, is a greater contributor to global warming than even cars and coal plants. And that a pivot in favor of smaller, more diverse farms that employ more people and sequester more carbon is not only sound policy--it's crucial. Crucial to our way of life, our freedom, and our continued survival on this planet. Because our current path is utterly unsustainable. [That means we can't keep it up, Mister Man.]

But people so morally beggared that they can't see past their own nuts are now actively rewriting reality for us. They say the Green New Deal is a threat to our liberty and our hamburgers, when what they mean is it's a threat to their money. And that's all they ever cared about.

Two questions, America: in the face of this, are we really going to burn down the house for a cheap hamburger? And, if so: are we two-year-olds?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

All Hopped Out

It's early April and the frog-shuttling season is just about buttoned up.

There are over seventy of us humans in the Harborton Frog Shuttle, all ready to pop out on a nice wet night and scoop up frogs in a bucket before we'd have to scoop them with a spatula. They want to get to their wetland and make new frogs, and they have to cross Highway 30 to do it. God did not install Highway 30, and whoever did wasn't doing it for the frogs.

The season can be long. We're on the alert for downhill movement as early as November, but don't generally see much action until late December. By February we're ferrying frogs back uphill until we run out of customers, which is usually around the end of March. It seems like an onerous burden, but we split up into nightly teams, so we each need to keep only one night a week open on our calendars.

I'm the co-captain of the Monday team. That's not as fancy as it sounds. That means the five percent of the time the real captain, Captain Jane, can't make it, my sorry fanny is enlisted to gather the troops, locate the buckets and safety vests, apologize all night long if the frogs don't show, and possibly screw up the data log. But the Monday Nighters are forgiving sorts. The Monday Nighters rock.

Each of us has one eye on the weather report for four months and a pocket of our consciousness devoted to the well-being of our extended frog family. They're like any other kids. They don't like the discipline of the bucket, but we're grownups: we don't expect gratitude. We just want grandbabies some day, and all will be forgiven.

Most years we shuttle about 800 frogs. Last year we had only half that many, and a stone on our hearts. This year we were really excited. We scooped up over 1200 frogs early on! Only 90 of them were females, but that was expected. The males always dominate the early migration. They have enthusiasm. They have spunk. Great Gosh-A-Mighty, they have spunk. The females will be along later. They're bloated with eggs and they'll get there when they get there, Sparky. We awaited another warm, wet night and a deluge of females. And we waited.

...and a few freeloaders
But night after night, it was too cold. And when it wasn't too cold it was too dry. And somewhere around the middle of March, the males gave up. They started back uphill. The way-outnumbered females did too; they'd had it. It's looking like the worst season so far.

We don't know what gravid females do with their eggs if they can't get to a pond. We don't know if they're reabsorbed or if the ladies just have the world's worst period and bitch at the salamanders. We did find one doomed egg mass in a trickle of water along the highway shoulder. We don't know what to blame, except the weather. I'm perfectly willing to assign this little calamity to Mitch McConnell and Charles Koch, of course, and I can even draw a few straight lines to do it.

But I don't want those soulless monsters residing in my head any longer than I have to. That's where our frog family lives. We can't forestall the catastrophe that's coming, but we can improve the world one pink frog at a time, at least for a while. And so that's what we're going to do.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Closet Annex

I mentioned earlier that the business of being a bright yellow spring goldfinch is not a matter of popping into the goldfinch closet and pulling out a fresh outfit. It doesn't happen all at once. It's more dithery than that.

And I don't even know where I come up with such a metaphor. What would I know about going into a closet and finding an outfit? I don't hit the closet that often. I'm more likely to haul something out of my Closet Annex. That's on the floor somewhere between the bed and the bathroom. I won't have my glasses on, and my selection for the day will be determined by the forces of gravity and friction. Whatever is on the top of the heap is a winner.

I'm not sure what it's all about. A grownup person should be able to take ten seconds to hang or fold up her clothes at the end of the day or send them to the laundry. Mine go to sartorial limbo.

The thing is, I don't like to run the dishwasher until it's jammed full and I don't like to wash my clothes unless they're truly crapped out. And given my low standards, "crapped out" might have to involve actual crap. If I were going to refresh when my shirts were just getting pitty, I'd have to change every three hours starting at 10am.

None of this applies to Dave, who has no body odor. He's as fragrant as a ghost. Sometimes when I'm in a contemplative mood and the air smells like nothing at all, I think "Ahh, Dave." This is spite of the fact that he's walking fifteen miles a day out there. I think he's sensitive about my accusations. Sometimes he swears he has developed a manly musk and demands that I smell his armpits to affirm--it's easy, they're right there at my face level--but there's never anything detectable. He could wear the same shirt for months on end and still be in good shape if the Queen stops by.

After I've raided my Closet Annex for a week or two, I move stuff into the laundry pile. Anyone curious exactly how long I can wear the same shirt can avail herself of standard geological methodology. Start chipping away at the oatmeal nurdles and run some carbon-dating. I can't seem to get all my oatmeal into my face, but the stray nurdles never get far. That's what the bra is for at this point. To protect my pants.

I can flick at it for a few days but there is a certain level of oatmeal accretion that even I find unacceptable, and then it's off to the washing machine. From which it eventually makes it back to the proper closet, for a while. [We will take a brief break with our hands over our hearts whilst remembering the immortal words of my friend K.C., who once barked at her husband when he reached into the closet for a shirt: "Don't wear that! I just ironed it!"]

What does it say about an adult woman that her clothes are in a heap on the floor? It says her mom is no longer with  us; it says her clothing choice is a decision made before coffee.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Meet Corn Chip

It's spring, and two crows were wheeling in the sky in a sort of ballet. "That looks like courtship," I said, and Anna burst out laughing.

"What?" I said.

"Only you would name a crow Corn Chip."

Well. I didn't. But I will now.

Now it's just a matter of figuring out which one Corn Chip is. And that's the problem. Dave is in about the tenth year of a project trying to entice a crow to be his personal little buddy. It's sad, really. Crows make friends with people all the time. Some little girl is famous for  her personal crow that brings her some new bauble nearly every day. She has a whole collection. Dave doesn't even have a bird poop collection. That's how far away the crows stay from him.

He walks out every day and lines up peanuts on the wall for them. We've all heard the stories about how smart they are and how they can tell people apart and know who's good and who's bad. Our crows observe him from the top of a 200-foot Douglas fir and wait until he's all the way back inside to get their nuts off. The wall. They know perfectly well it's Dave providing the goods but they won't give him the satisfaction of a how-do-you-do. And yet, bless his danged hopeful bones, he persists.

This spring things are looking up a little. After so many years he's finally gotten a few crows to hang around while he flings his nuts. Naturally, we figure it's the same crew coming around all the time. We have the idea that crows have favorite trees and even though they go downtown for the night they come right back to the same spots. But since the crows we think of as "ours" all look exactly the hell alike and have exactly the same behavior, we can't actually name any. "That one there: the crow that ignores you, Dave," I say, but that describes ten thousand local birds.

But we do know one distinctive crow. We have to walk about three miles to find it but it's reliable. Half of its tail feathers are white. It is one fine and fancy crow. I always took it as further proof crows hang out in the same places all the time. This particular crow has been there for years. "Unless it's a completely different half-white-tailed crow in the same tree every time," Dave says, because he believes he has not yet driven me sufficiently crazy.

Crows can live a long time. One lived as long as thirty years in the wild. They sawed open his legs and counted the rings. That might have been what did him in.

The Quintessential Portland Crow: we put a bird on it
Supposedly the lack of pigmentation is common among urban crows, but I've only seen it twice. The other one had some white wing feathers. We had a kid in our grade school that had one white eyebrow and a white patch in the back of his head. It freaked me out at the time. I thought maybe it was early onset elderliness and worried it might be catching.

The condition is called leucism, because that sounds more scientific than Crow Tail Exuberation. So we should probably call this crow Lucy, but until one of our yard crows gets rid of the attitude and sweetens up, we're going to call it Corn Chip.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Cough Drop Of My Dreams

In the 1950s, every child in America had their tonsils taken out, until I came along, and evidently I was Dr. Martin's inspiration to try leaving them in to see what happened. Dr. Martin was our family doctor. He made house calls with his black bag and called my mom "Mother." Sometimes he'd just poke his head into my bedroom and take a good sniff and then write out a prescription. What the heck, Dr. Martin is said to have opined, those tonsils must be in there for a reason. Family lore holds that Dr. Martin said mine were "as big as hamburgers" in their normal summer state. In the winter they were often a raging mess of fire and pus-pockets. Everything infectious that came down the pike landed in my tonsils, and yet no one offered to remove them for me.

I wasn't even that bothered by sore throats because I was so used to that particular kind of pain. Once, as an adult, I went in to the doctor with some sort of strepto-crud, and he sent me off with antibiotics and offered to prescribe something for the pain. I was incredulous. Pills for sore throat pain? Ridiculous. I told Dave about it when I got home, without the prescription, and he about jumped out of his chair. "You never, ever, ever refuse painkillers," he drilled into me. Just as I was known for blown-up tonsils, he was famous for having his teeth blow up deep into a Friday night on a holiday weekend.

What I did hate was the awful cough that came in after the throat started to heal up. The kind of cough you could split your head open trying to suppress, and then once you gave in it was all over, and you coughed yourself into the dry heaves. And there was one thing and one thing only that could give you a fighting chance, and that was Parke-Davis Medicated Throat Discs. Major licorice flavor, which I hated, but oh boy did they work. They were a miracle. I've tried to find them since. I Googled them. Guess what? Someone is selling them on Etsy. Not the discs, precisely, but a "Vintage Box [EMPTY]" for $12.99."

I began to suspect they are truly unavailable.

And on the box is a hint why. They contain "not more than one-half minim of chloroform."

The Food and Drug Administration evidently drew the line on that in the '70s. A minim is one-sixtieth of a fluid dram, or about three-fathomsth of a cubit. In case you were wondering.

Well, shit. Somewhere around the same time it was determined that the pharmaceutical and advertising sectors were insufficiently profitable and so then we got TV advertisements for drugs to replace the cigarette ads. Up until then doctors were presumed to be the experts on what pills we should take but now we get to help them out by asking if such and such is right for us. "How about the Pill That Starts With F?" we say, helpfully, and our grateful physicians slap their foreheads and say "Boy howdy! I'd forgotten all about that one," and off we go with our pills, and off the advertisers go with our money. And this is why we now know exactly what we're in for, with warnings about everything from death to anal seepage, and whatever's in between.

So I'm not sure why we don't get to have the good stuff anymore. The cocaine in Coca-Cola, the chloroform in throat lozenges. How bad could they be?

Also, who saves forty-year-old cough drop boxes? That degree of speculation eludes me. But not my friend Walter. I remember he saw me with a metal Chapstick container in 1973 and said "Save that! They're making them out of plastic now." I've still got it somewhere, I think.

I wonder what Walter's got in his drawers. As one does.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Save The Billionaires!

Hey friend. Again with the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez meme? That's getting to be a habit with you. I know I asked once, and you said you just don't like her. I'd rather have more to go on than that, but okay, fine, you don't like her. I think maybe the only things you think you know about her are on these little propaganda hit pieces you keep posting, brought to you by the same folks who said Obama is a foreign-born Muslim terrorist. I don't know if you bought that too, but if you did, I'd say you're ripe for the picking.

This meme at least has a bit of substance to it, and isn't just trying to make AOC out to be a daffy uneducated bimbo. She's about as far from that as you can get, but evidently all you have to do is mock someone like that and people will gleefully spread it far and wide as though it were true. Just like you did! But this one cites a complaint about her involvement with a political action committee. The Federal Election Commission is looking into it, and I'd wait to see what they find out, myself--but hey, you go ahead on, and post the meme.

It's rich though. Really rich. The PAC she's involved with deliberately courts small donors. It's harder to come up with the millions it apparently takes to run a campaign when you're doing it that way, instead of tapping the billionaires, but it's the principle of the thing, and a fine principle it is for a working democracy, in my opinion. And the people ultimately responsible for ginning up the propaganda you lap up aren't bothering with the small donors.

They're probably starting with DonorsTrust,  through which they can make unlimited philanthropical (wink-wink) donations anonymously. And those untraceable billions, a.k.a. Dark Money, go to little grassroots (wink-wink) organizations like Americans For Job Security and All Votes Matter and Right To Work and other blatantly political outfits, many of which the original donors designed themselves. It's by far the biggest slush fund the world has ever seen, and look what it has accomplished! The defeat of universal health care in favor of the for-profit insurance industry, the rollback of taxes on the super-wealthy, and--most impressive of all--they were able to turn the tide on any effort to curb global warming, by paying off a few scientists, submitting a new script to their propaganda arms, planting irate citizen-actors in town halls, conducting focus groups to learn what particular line of bullshit would appeal to Mr. and Mrs. America, and good old-fashioned threats to pull funding from legislators--that sort of thing. Thus they were able to secure enormous private fortunes for another twenty years or so while threatening the future of every man, woman, child, fetus, and wombat on the planet. Bless their stony hearts, they may well have killed us all.

So. This is the group infiltrating your social media feed. This is the group working so hard to bring down this young freshman Ocasio-Cortez. And it's easy to see why the billionaire boys' club doesn't like her. They hate everything she stands for: Democratic Socialism, through which they might be relieved of the grossest excesses of their wealth in order to make life substantially better and more secure for people like you and me. And support for unions and a livable wage, both of which cut into their profits but which produce the actual job-providers. (You didn't buy that bit about the billionaires being the job providers, did you? Oh honey. It's normal people with enough security to live modestly with dignity, and pay each other to paint their houses or their nails. We keep each other afloat. And unions used to make sure we could, even those of us who weren't in one.) And, most urgent of all, she stands for getting us the hell off of fossil fuels and into the economy of the future before we have no future at all. Fast. Too fast, too extreme? As someone recently said, we're not in charge of the deadline: physics is. Ocasio-Cortez knows how imperative this work is, and how disruptive, and is working to make sure the poor and the shrunken middle class don't bear the brunt of it. She is not extreme. She is absolutely right.

So that's who's behind all this nastiness and mockery you like to spread around. I know exactly why the billionaires want to destroy this young woman. What I don't get is why you want to carry their water.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Yellowing Up

Speaking of things I should know but don't, and I was just about to, here's a thing: there is a bird called a Lesser Goldfinch that I never heard of until about five years ago, even though there are a billion of them at any one time in our very yard.

There is nothing like birding to distinguish the people who notice things from the people who are too busy jamming their thumbs up their butts. I have been both of those people in the same day. "Oh, it's a lesser goldfinch," I heard someone say on my first Birdathon, and I was duly puzzled. Goldfinches I know. This sounded like a slight. Get to know that goldfinch, I wanted to say, before you start casting nasturtiums.

But in fact a Lesser Goldfinch is considerably smaller than an American Goldfinch, somewhat greenish on the back, a bit less show-offy, has an extra comma on its wing bars, and says "peww, peww. Peww?" I know all that now because apparently, all this time, they have been slathered every which way in my yard. And they're there all year long. Not noticing them is the very definition of a character flaw.

And so it is I had another smack-my-head observation the other day. I used to notice when the American ("regular") Goldfinches came back for the season. Hard not to. They're ridiculously bright yellow. It's spring, the scent of daphne is in the air, and all of a sudden your tree is filled with sunshine on the wing. It's like the swallows coming back to Camp Castrato, or wherever, except in your very yard.

But what I finally noticed is they've been back for a while, or never left. They just haven't been yellow. And now they're yellowing up. That's what they do. It's a work in progress.

Birds molt at least once a year. All of them. They have to. They can't go whackety whackety with those wings all year long and not need to replenish. And many of them have a spring suit and an autumn suit. The males' nesting season duds are frequently more eye-catching. No particular point in being both eye-catching and tasty in the winter, so then they tend toward dull.

But when they molt, most of them don't just drop their drawers and haul on a new outfit. It happens feather by feather: the old one gets pushed out, and the new one grows in. And so that nice even beige color of the male winter goldfinch goes spotty and mottly for a while before it's finally all Hey-Baby yellow.

Even the dashing goldfinch has dark wings, though. The darker pigment adds strength to the feather, and the tail and wings do the most whacketing, so they need to be able to hold up. You look around. Dollars to donuts your birds are liable to have dark wings and tails too, no matter what other colors they are.

I feel privileged to have finally been able to notice my birds yellowing up. It's probably because we moved the bird feeder a foot away from the window. That is a real boon to the near-sighted person. Turns out that you can cut down on bird-window strikes by putting your feeders that close. I'm not sure why, but it seems to have helped. The cat-window strikes from the inside are through the roof, but the birds are doing great.