Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Resplendence Of Studley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Have A Nice Rest Of Your Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Into The Frying Pantheon

My friend Sara is a food goddess. I've seen her work. I remember she was right here in Dave's kitchen when he expressed his culinary philosophy ("I have no fear of butter"). They bonded instantly.

Sara can go into a market, a roadside stand, or, probably, a clean dumpster, size up the possibilities in a nanosecond, do an efficient flavor triage with her big brain, nab this off the shelf and pluck that out of the ground, bang everything into a series of pots, and invent something swoony every day of the week. Recipes do not alarm her. She’d think nothing of pestling a trilobite in a homemade mortar, whimpering it in wine, reducing, draining, and severely beating it into a juiced raisin vinaigrette, just to make a thimbleful of the first of twenty ingredients in a dish. She could make a salad out of lawn clippings and you'd beg for seconds. Look. If Sara had been in the Donner Party, everyone would've looked forward to the funerals. All right?

And, this being the age of the internet, she's also inclined to post photos of what she's eating, just some perfect thing she dashed together out of scavenged items. Lentil entrails. Eau de dough. Whiskey barrel scrapings. She's not lazy.

So if she posts a picture of something yummy that doesn't look quite out of my league, I'm tempted to try it. This happened recently with her Courgette Fritters. Oh! I had questions. One, what's the recipe? And, B, what's a courgette?

Fortunately, the internet came through for me in a way my six years of French classes did not. She was frying zucchinis. Oh boy, I thought. Zucchinis, I can come by. Zucchinis will waltz right into your house if you don't lock up. Sara was particularly fond of the "favoured Nigel Slater version." I should've been forewarned by the bonus "u" but I went ahead and looked it up in all confidence, even though I've never Nigel Slated in my life.

Well, shit.

Mr. Slater has an entire barking pack of courgette fritter recipes. He has regular ones, and auxiliary ones, and traveling ones, and ones for the Queen, and spares. I checked again: Sara had specified his buttermilk courgette recipe. All righty then!

Trouble. Right away trouble. Sure, zucchinis are easy to come by, but this recipe also called for milliliters and grams, and they are in short supply around these parts. The oil needed to be heated to a temperature that doesn't exist in this country. Also, the courgettes were to be sliced into rounds no bigger than a pound coin.

I search my memory, which is breezy territory. I lived in London for nine months, almost fifty years ago. I do remember that when I came home, I thought our coins looked like play money. So the pound coin was substantial, for currency, if not squashes. I went ahead and decided my zucchini fritters should be about a quarter-inch thick, which dimension I, as a quilter, am very intimate with, and also that it doesn't matter because I'm not a dab hand with a knife anyway and they'd just have to come out how they come out. Whatever points I lose by being short of grams would be made up for by my tossing off "dab hand" like that.

Nigel Slater might be a big deal with a gang of recipes watching his back but I doubt he has a single quarter inch in his kitchen. Or even his kitcheun.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Raisin Brand

Dave eats wood for breakfast.

I'm not actually sure of that. He eats Raisin Bran, and it always seems to give him splinters. We didn't have Raisin Bran when I was growing up. We were strictly a Cheerios and Frosted Flakes family. My college boyfriend's mom introduced me to Raisin Bran and it made me wonder what else my family had deprived me of. I would've moved in with her on the spot but then she brought out a platter of chopped liver and I loved Mom and Dad all over again.

Anyway it's nice to know they still sell Raisin Bran, although the brand has succumbed to the American demand for a paralyzing number of choices. You can get Regular, or you can get it with Frosted Banana Slabs, or Fruit Pucks of various provenance, or Golden Gooey Grain Globules. All still contain genuine splinters.

What finally got me interested in the cereal was the little game they printed on the back of the box. It really brought me back. Yes! It's Spider-Man, and he's in the city, and you're supposed to find the little cameras, the green shirts, the tiny spider-men, and the backpacks! In spite of evidence I had other things to do, I spent some time looking for them. It's not hard, but neither are the other games they used to print on cereal boxes. We loved them. We had time for them. There might be a Treasure Hunt game and you cut your little playing piece out of the box and move it along the path, and try not to land on the shark or the pirate. Or there might be a maze and you take your pencil and scribble your way out.

The games were like the things they'd print in Children's Highlights magazine. To this day if I see the cover of a Children's Highlights I can close my eyes and smell a doctor's office. You might have to look at apparently identical pictures and see how many differences you can find. (Somebody is always missing a foot.) You might have to hunt for all the things that are wrong with a picture. It helped pass the time and block out the Antiseptic Aroma Of Doom in the waiting room.

Dang it, we had real games back then. We didn't hunch over no damn phone. We were down on the rug with real winks to tiddle. We had real metal Chinese Checkers boards and the marbles went bang bang bang bang. We had real pick-up sticks that really could take an eye out.

So the Raisin Bran box brought me back. It was old-timey. The more I looked at it, the easier it was to peer into the past, where kids wearing jaunty caps and knickers rolled hoops with a stick, or flang cowpies. My land! If I looked a little harder, they were squatting in loincloths in the sun tossing knucklebones from a sheep. Looked a little harder and...

Oh crap. The directions on the Raisin Bran box are to cut out the Spider-Man character from the box. Then download and open the Suit Up With Spider-Man app on a camera-enabled mobile device. Then scan the character to use it as a controller in the game.

And just like that, the smart phone is back at the breakfast table. Screw that. I already found all the items. Old-school.

(Looking over my glasses.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Rescue Poot

We don't know how old Pootie is. He joined the household in the '80s, but, as Dave pointed out, he already seemed to have some history, with a lot of preferences as to the way the world should operate, and if a lot of those preferences aligned with Dave's own--a fondness for basketball and chocolate, say--that just goes to show he was going to be a good fit. I do know my friend Margo and I first spotted him downtown, in a store, where he was sitting in a basket of identical dogs. You could look at them as a litter, I suppose, but knowing the Poot, it was probably more of an entourage.

He was a force from Day One. Anyone could see that. Margo certainly did, and shortly went back downtown to the Arfnage and scooped Petey out of the basket. So Petey lives with Margo and Pootie lives with us.

I'm not going to say Petey lives a cushier life but there's no question she doesn't fling herself headlong into it quite the way the Poot does. There is photographic record that Pootie was once blond and fluffy, but after seven Cycle Oregon tours and countless adventures in far-flung locales, and lots of time in the sun to work on his beige, he's a changed dog. He's even gone a little bald like his hero Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at least enough to show stitching. Petey, on the other hand, has not let herself go. We don't see her as much as we used to and it's always shocking how fluffy she is.

But it's not for lack of love. Not only is Petey a solid member of the Margo household, but Margo's niece Valentina has taken a shine to her as well. In fact, Valentina adores the entire Pootie franchise and even has a Friend Of Pootie hoodie that, reportedly,  is rarely off her long enough to have hygiene applied to it. It's the niece, now ten, who discovered that, like herself, Petey is as much a Trail Blazers fan as Pootie is a Lakers fan. Which is odd in that she lives in California and we live in Oregon, but you're not going to get anywhere arguing loyalties among stuffed canine basketball fans. Valentina only gets to hang out with Petey on vacations.

Pootie, Petey, and Price Bugle
Anyway, we walked into an antique mall the other day where Dave spotted an old baby carriage right by the front door, filled with stuffed animals and dolls. And, said he, a Pootie clone right near the top.

I picked him or her up. "Man, real close," I said, "a knock-off at least, but not quite right. Pootie has a rounder face. Doesn't have this much of a muzzle." Dave said Pootie the hell did too. "I have drawn Pootie thousands of times," I said, with exaggerated patience. "I think I know what his face looks like." Dave harrumphed. We turned the animal around and up and down and Dave settled him back into the carriage, on top, to improve his prospects.

But by the time we'd seen everything in the store and were ready to walk out the door, I realized that even if the new fellow was not the same, he was certainly Pootular, and in any case we couldn't just pick him up and admire him and talk about him and then put him back and walk out the door, because that would surely crush the little guy, and we're sensitive to that kind of thing. So we fished out the three bucks and took him home.

Where I discovered he really was a member of the Pootie Posse. Pootie's muzzle just looks flatter because he's had some fur loved off.

Margo saw it right away. You can hardly see a difference between the new guy and Petey. The new guy is blond in front and a little beiger in back, is all. We realized the little dude has spent the last thirty or so years propped up in a window, and then abandoned. But someone's life is about to turn around at last. Someone's going home with Valentina.