Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Signed, Sealed, Delayed, Destroyed

Lordy, what a group we were. The good old US Postal Service in 1977 was loaded with hippies and cranky Vietnam veterans and misfits in a permanent state of pique over being seen as misfits. A more disheveled lot of employees you will never see. Crews didn't get much motleyer. Nobody could tell us what to do, or make it stick if they did. Language was the sort now delicately referred to as "inappropriate." Booze breath and cigarette smoke prevailed in the workplace. But my goodness. We got the job done. We Moved The Nation's Mail.

We arrived as early as 4am and we moved it hard and fast, even those of us who had to top up with an 8am Bloody Mary on the way out to the route. We had supervisors who made sure all the territory was covered and then joined us for breakfast at the next barstool over. Discipline was lax, ineffective, and mostly not necessary.

Because we had one thing working for us. And that was something we called the Sanctity Of The Mail. Carriers and clerks who followed no other creed believed in the Sanctity Of The Mail. New hires were inculcated in it. No lost little lamb of a first-class letter was left behind. If we discovered a mis-sorted letter while out on the route, we saw it properly delivered on the way back to the station. Our goal was to come back with a clean truck. We had pride.

Things began to deteriorate once the management began employing computers and barcodes and imagined it could streamline service and regulate employees by consulting the raw data on their devices. The first supervisor who tried to hold back mail to make "the numbers" come out in his favor started a revolt on the workroom floor. The old farts defended the Sanctity Of The Mail and the new workers were inspired. I don't know what the ethos is now, when carriers are no longer responsible for sorting their own mail, instead receiving it sorted by an imperfect machine, making the clean truck impossible--and when GPS tracking rewards only the carriers with a steady trudging pace. Pride in work is bound to suffer.

What could be worse? Glad you asked. Now we have a Postmaster General dedicated to the dismantling of the post office. He is another in a depressing line of self-serving Trump hires whose stated goal is to eviscerate the public wealth, such as Betsy Devos in Education, or Andrew Wheeler of the Environmental Protection Agency, who is devoted to eliminating environmental regulation and ensuring plunder can proceed apace. And all are in the service of the billionaire class and those aspiring to it, who see no value in the public good if there is private money to be made.

They've wanted the Postal Service goodies for years.

But the USPS is explicitly charged with providing a low-cost universal service at no profit because that was deemed in the public interest. It costs the same to deliver a letter to an outpost on the Bering Sea as it does to send one across town. This is no profit-making model. And it will be gone as soon as private companies begin to divide the spoils of a ruined Postal Service.

The raiding started a while ago. The George W. Bush administration required the Postal Service to pre-fund retirement health benefits 75 years into the future--for employees that haven't even been born. No other agency has that burden, and it accounted for up to 90% of its losses, until the pandemic, and was engineered precisely to cause the public service to fail.

Unfortunately for the pirate class, the post office, responsible for prompt delivery of medicines, ballots, parcels, and love letters, is wildly popular with citizens, who are not inclined to abandon it as long as it continues to perform well. So chief pirate Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is seeing to it that it won't.

The requirement to pre-fund benefits meant it was cheaper to pay employees overtime than to hire sufficient staff. Routes went unassigned and service standards tanked. And now, faced with yet more staffing shortages from COVID, and a boom in parcel business, the PG has announced there will be no more overtime paid. Which means each carrier must leave the station at a prescribed time whether all her mail is ready or not. And whatever can't be delivered in eight hours is brought back to the station. And day after day, it will pile up. Delay is guaranteed. Parcels will languish on the dock. First-class mail will have no meaning. Patrons will choose other carriers.

Trump, for his part, refuses to sign any legislation that includes a bailout of the Postal Service, which he calls "a joke"--presumably mystified by its inability to turn a profit, which, of course, it is not designed to do. He understands what a Business is for, even though he doesn't know how to run one, but he does not understand the concept of a Service at all.

The new PG, a major Trump donor, started his campaign of destruction a month into his tenure without consulting any unions or postal experts. Time is of the essence. If the beleaguered agency can't even guarantee a mail ballot will be processed in a timely manner, or at all, the vote-by-mail threat to the Republican Party might yet be averted.

Besides, it's never too early to sell off public treasure.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A Bad Feather Day

One thing that brings us together in a time we're all supposed to stay apart is we have something in common. We all look like shit. I had finally figured out exactly what length hair I should have, after all these years, and now it's galloping away again and I'm on track for being one of those old stringy-haired hippie ladies. That's okay. I've had decades of practice looking like shit and this sort of thing doesn't ruffle my feathers much anymore. And nothing is going to be done about Dave's hair until we fix the string in the weed-whacker. Also, we need to wait until we're sure nobody's nesting in there.

For a number of people who are not accustomed to looking unkempt (or, gasp, gray) it's an eye-opener. But we're not alone in this. You should see the birds.

Lots of folks are seeing the birds now, and wondering where they all came from. They've been here all along, of course, but only now got your attention. So take a good look: because a whole lot of them are in a state of major disrepair. Which makes them even easier to relate to. The scrub jays aren't used to humility and seem to have lost a little of their verve. Their screeches of menace have gotten a sour lilt to them, more bad attitude than triumph. It used to be Tremble before me! Prepare for thy doom! and now it's more Oh yeah? Something-something your mother, you'll be hearing from my lawyer. The chickadees are too busy to get worked up about how they look. But let me break it to you gently. They look bad.

Really bad.

Feathers are super important for a bird. Most of what they're good at would never happen if they were naked. Flying, staying warm, looking hot for the ladies, it's all about the feathers. Your feathers go to shit, you will soon follow. And feathers wear out. So once a year, or twice for some species, they have to swap out the whole outfit for fresh.

Ducks make a clean sweep of it. Waterfowl in general just drop everything at once and head into quarantine in the middle of the pond until they resprout. Ornithologists like to say they do this to stay safe since they're not able to fly for, like, a whole month. But shame and humiliation could explain it just as well.

The rest of the birds re-up their feather complement more methodically, a few at a time, so they can stay in the air. From the hummingbirds to the crows, everyone's a mess. They're rumpled and linty. If the same thing happened to my sweater, it would skip right past the Goodwill pile and go under the sink with the Lemon Pledge.

I thought I was prepared for Studley's molt. Last year he had a bald spot and patchy cheeks. But this year I was shocked. That vulnerability of baby birds in their pink-goobery stage has always frightened me, until they grow up and develop spark and substance. But it turns out that the right bird outfits, just like ours, can hide plenty. And Studley, poking his head up and around, has revealed that there's not a lot of bird there. He's still a goober with fluff, until the fluff falls out. Please, please, Studdles, feather out! I need the illusion of solidity. I need to imagine you can't be clotheslined by a strand of spider silk. Lordy, dude.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Cowardly, Lyin'

It is considered wrong, I am told, to tell someone else the right way to protest.

And there are a lot of ways.

People are pissed off. There are a lot of people who are so pissed off they wouldn't recognize progress if it offered them a sandwich. They'll string up a decent politician for something he said fifty years ago. They'll howl for his hide if he offers them 60% of what they demand plus a soup kitchen to be named later. There are people getting off on such a perpetual state of blinding rage that their positions are frozen.

There are plenty of enraged people on the right, of course, the original home of black-and-white thinking, but they're mirrored on the left by pious progressives who still, in 2020, claim we should vote for a unicorn because there isn't any real difference between Democrats and Republicans. And also that anchovies and ham would be good on ice cream.

They come in all ages. A lot of the younger ones can keep a righteous boner going all night as long as they light something on fire. Around the corner here we have a graffiti gang busily scribbling over the landscape with the self-importance that comes with their rage and age. Some are particularly impressed with themselves. "Why refuse the mask? You've been wearing one your whole life," scrawls one, with all the insight of a precocious ten-year-old. The Black United Fund building is routinely decorated with screeds against cops and landlords and capitalism and although the building has needed a paint job for decades, it's also possible they could have squeezed out a few more scholarships for Black students if they didn't have to pay for cleanup.

One must never tell someone else how to protest. So I am told. But you know what? Ham and anchovies would be really shitty on ice cream, and there are some really shitty ways to protest.

A really good way to protest is peacefully, persistently, and in huge numbers. Over and over. And that's what's been happening in Portland. That is the story here, or would be, if the sanctimonious late shift could be persuaded to confine their fireworks to Mommy's trash can. And so, by the light of another pointless dumpster fire, an idea reared up in the darkest heart in the nation, and an anonymous paramilitary force was parachuted in to bang some heads and disappear some citizens, while much of the country was fed a fiction of friction in service of the great leader's favorite narrative: his unique ability to solve problems he made up himself.

So, hell. We had been winding down, but of course we had to send in the Wall of Moms. And the Wall of Moms, like all great theater, got noticed: too much, maybe, deflecting attention away from the original message that Black Lives Matter. BLM protestors have rightly wondered where their white allies were in every march since before Ferguson, but now that white peple have shown up in droves, we're in danger of taking over. It's a fine line, and one we'll never get just right. But here's the thing. It had to happen. The wall of Dads with leaf blowers had to happen. The wall of veterans had to happen. Because we've got goons to deal with now, dominating a dab of downtown real estate at the corner of Tiananmen Square and Argentina. And they must be confronted, and so must the sad little coward who sent them. Because the truth is if he fucks this country any harder, he'll have to send it hush money.

I haven't joined the Wall of Moms, although the urge is strong. I'm still safeguarding my health. And after all, I can't claim to be a Mom.

But maybe I can, after all. Maybe that's a spark I still carry inside. Because I swear to God, the first thing I thought of when I saw the video of those cosplaying soldier-boys gassing and shooting and whacking my fellow Portlanders was this:

Don't make me come down there.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Old Friends Make Good

One of the cool things about being old is one is less likely to be unduly impressed by famous people, because we remember them when their daddies were taking the switch to them in the back yard, just at the bed-wetting and squirrel-torturing stage, before they made a bunch of money to fill up their depleted souls and were able to bomb entire countries into gravel as though they were their own ex-wives or the kids that laughed at them in gym class.

Still, it's startling to stumble across a familiar name from one's own youth, and seek out a current photograph of someone you clearly visualize suspended at an eternal age twelve, suddenly catapulted into a doughy dotage like the rest of us.

I saw just such a familiar name the other day. It appeared in a George Will column. As a twelve-year-old the boy was smart, erudite, and damned impressed with himself. Sure enough this fellow is still an intellectual. He's written this whole thing about Deep Literacy, defined as engagement with "an extended piece of writing" in a way that draws the reader into "a dialectical process with the text." And how much we've lost in the way of critical thinking through our addiction to digital content. Or something like that. Too long, didn't read.

Well, I could certainly look into it to see if it's the same fellow. That's the cool thing about digital content: sometimes you can find out what happened to all those people you've lost touch with. At least if they had unusual names.

It's weird. We were all stoned, ambition-free hippies in college, I thought, and then after a few years when I signed on as a mail carrier, I discovered everyone else had gone to law school and was now pulling down a half-mil a year and speaking in complete sentences. Some of them owned slaves.

So while I was thinking of that, I typed in another unusual name from my sixth-grade class. And by gum there was a whole thing about her. It turns out she is a senior marketing research professional available for comprehensive management of primary and secondary research projects and integraton of information across multiple data sources. Dude!

I pressed on. Methodologies include: qualitative, quantitative, trend tracking/secondary search, private online community panel management, competitive intelligence.

Um. Positioning, segmentation, brand equity, consumer relationship marketing, new product development (concept, product, volumetric forecasting), marketing mix, multi-country studies...

All right. If all that means "adept at being your very best friend for an entire year and then suddenly one day turning her back and siding with your other friend against you and never telling you what you did wrong and sending you into your adolescence in an emotional tailspin that lasted several years," by gum, I think I found my girl.

Then I clicked on a photo of George Will's boy. Yup. Totally the guy who smacked me in the side of the face with a slushball.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Starts With Devo

Shh! You know what? There's been this project in the works for a long time. It was ambitious as hell. The idea was to take everything we as a society had hammered out that made us prosperous as a people, and chip away at it until it was gone, until everything we held in common for the common good was hoovered into the private treasuries of a small number of people. Obviously that's not the kind of thing you're going to talk people into. They're much better off with their Social Security, their Medicare, their free educational system, their relatively petite police forces, their clean water and safe food, their pensions and benefits. Lord knows all of those things could be made even better, certainly starting with our crazy-expensive system of health care through private insurance, but still your average American wasn't interested in losing what we already had just to feed the insatiable greed of a few.

So the project didn't really get off the ground for the first few decades, but finally got rolling under Ronald Reagan. There'd been a worldwide energy crisis that provided him and his backers an opportunity. A good crisis should never go to waste. He recast the labor unions that supported the middle class as thieves and heavies, and suggested that we could do much better as individuals if we weren't carrying all that dead weight. And he helped create a new financial sector we could gamble in, using some of the money that used to go to our pensions. We could all hit the big-time, because we're so smart. And he read us new bedtime stories: how the government stood in the way of prosperity, and couldn't do anything efficiently. And how the new financial sector and corporations that sucked up all our old pension money would grow ever stronger and create ever more jobs once they were free of oversight and regulation. The Engine of Growth would lift all boats.

That was such a compelling con job that people didn't even notice that the corporations in all their efficiency bought each other out and killed or sold off solid industries and went overseas where slave labor was more abundant and environmental restrictions less onerous, leaving entire American towns in the dust. Or that mergers created billionaires at the expense of our living wages. We didn't notice we were losing ground every day. The idea that we individuals were so smart we could get rich on our own--an idea repackaged as "freedom"--was too seductive to abandon, even as we slid down the economic ladder, even as many of us tumbled into homelessness and poverty.

They took our public wealth from us. They privatized our public prisons and rigged the justice system to ensure there would be plenty of incarcerated bodies to profit off of--even to the extent of extracting unpaid labor from them; even to the extent of harvesting migrant children to detain at the cost of $750 per day, per child--our money, streaming straight into the pockets of private prison contractors.

They take our vital water utilities for profit. They run our wars for profit. They create our wars for profit.

It's been a hell of a successful fire sale of the commons, but there is nervousness now amongst the moneyed elites: their peculiar, stammering cartoon character of a figurehead is losing his shine, especially during a crisis that shows exactly what government of the people and for the people should be doing. But their project isn't done yet. They still haven't bought up all our public schools. Time's a-wastin'.

And that is how we must frame the latest edict from our Secretary of Education, a filthy-rich woman who has never been in a public school, never been an educator, whose family profits from privatization, and who was given the Cabinet job vowing to dismantle the system of free education in this country. She wants all the kids back in the classroom. (Who doesn't?) She declares it safe, or safe enough. And she says if schools decide on their own not to reopen, they should not receive federal funds. And those funds should instead be given to the parents as vouchers. So they can send their children to private schools, preferably Christian.

Betsy Devos. She's just one more poisoned arrow in their quiver, aimed at the heart of us.

It's the libertarian edict. Never let a good crisis go to waste. You can always make money off it. Always.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Break On Through To The Other Side

When I was younger, I admired old women. Their faces and bodies had gone to pot, but they didn't care. Or didn't act like they cared. That was what I admired. There was no attempt to disguise the age. No spackle, no paint, just jowls swinging like a hammock in the wind, a general corrugation, a cover crop on the upper lip, you name it. And they didn't care.

I knew that was something to aspire to. My first ten years of life, I had no awareness of my physical or sartorial shortcomings. Then, in my adolescence, my peers laid it out in excruciating detail and I was revealed in all my inadequacy. After that, I did care.

It might not have looked like it. I never did get locked into that trap of makeup and hair dye that women can't extricate themselves from. But of course I cared. I had one or two things (two anyway) that worked out for me that I could play up, and some idea what my best angles were, and wanted to look nice in my clothes, although that project never really got off the ground either. If my belly stuck out, I tried to suck it back in.

But look at those old women! Smiling and laughing with their yellow teeth, not a care in the world! I wanted that sense of self-possession. They call it "letting yourself go." Doesn't that sound wonderful? Better than keeping yourself locked up. I wanted to feel what it was like on the other side of their faces.

Well, welcome to the other side of that face. It happens in a hurry. You think you're on the morning commute and something distracts you while you're running for the train and all of a sudden boom you're on the way to Hogwarts. Now you're inside of that old face, looking out.

First of all, it's nice in here. Roomy. All those shits you used to give had a way of tightening things up. Now you can laugh yourself jiggly. You get to care about a lot more things once you don't care what people think of you.

On this side of that face, things that used to be important aren't anymore. They're trivial. All that time you spent thinking you were too fat or too skinny is gone, replaced by "too close to dead."

It never made much sense to mourn the loss of some version of beauty you never lived up to in the first place. Any discomfort in the transition goes away with the realization that there isn't anything you can, or should, do about it. It gets filed away with the other things (not beer) that are a waste of time. Time, like collagen, is what there's not so much of.

And here's your old-lady ace-in-the-hole. That short-term memory thing? It finally kicks in on your behalf. From this side of my face, I forget what I look like. It totally slips my mind. Every now and then I get a sudden glimpse in a store window or I'm ambushed by a stealth mirror and I'm all Holy shit what happened there but then--right away, I forget about it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Aha, Aji!

The key ingredient, apparently, in the recipe that looked so nice in the picture was a ready-made sauce I'd never heard of. There were no suggestions for substitutions. This is a foodie kind of town so I thoroughly expected to find the sauce. But two good groceries didn't have it, and I finally Googled the ingredient and found one place in town that carried it. When I showed up at the address it was boarded up and two homeless men were curled up in their sleeping bags at the front door, like larvae.

It's a foodie and homeless-man kind of town.

Somehow I tripped over an international market on my way back home and there, miraculously, was a jar of my ingredient on the shelf with the yak butter and ground beetle bits. I brought it home and eagerly started my recipe. The sauce was a component of a chicken marinade that ultimately, as it turned out, gets scraped off the chicken. I felt a little cheated. I'm never sure about marinades. Are they the ghosts of food? (Answer: No. You're thinking of farts.)

So I looked for more recipes that use my Key Ingredient, and I found one. No problem!

Problem. The first ingredient on the recipe list: eight quail eggs.

Mind you, this wouldn't have been a problem in the old days, when we lived across the street from Kevin and Scott and they kept quail chicks in their basement. When the quails got excited they made the most impressive gargly bugle like they were shaking a bag of marbleized loogies and that always got Dave excited too, and then he'd be out on the front porch gargling right back at them, at the top or possibly bottom of his lungs, and we outlasted all the neighbors who witnessed that so who cares what they thought?

The point being we had quail eggs right across the street. First time we went over there after they got the quail, Scott, who is a master chef, offered Dave a dozen eggs for breakfast and asked him how he wanted them cooked, and Dave said "over easy," because for a big guy he can be a real little shit, and Scott calmly plated up twelve quail eggs over easy, because he has skills.

But we don't have ready quail egg access now and I don't know where you're supposed to find them. Furthermore they are supposed to be hardboiled and presented alongside of the main course, peeled. Peeled. I can't reliably peel a chicken egg without having it go lunar on me.

Fortunately, the recipe says the quail eggs are optional.

Unfortunately, one commenter complained that the whole recipe should be thrown out because the authentic version definitely calls for hummingbird eggs.

I've got limits. I only just learned how to skin a butternut squash and I ain't peeling no dang hummingbird eggs. If I did manage to do it, I'd devil the suckers. They would be adorable. I'd serve them with spider drumsticks and a dandelion-sepal salad.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Somewhere Over The Transom

Gosh, this is the fun part, huh? I've written another novel and have to find someone on the Inside who can jam it into a publisher's heart. In the old days, apparently, it was easier to find an advocate for your work. I wouldn't say just anyone could land an agent, but your odds were at least better than being killed by a meteorite.

Hell, in the old old days, you could just type up your entire book and sail it over the transom at a major publishing house. The transom is the magic portal above the door and if you dropped it from there it got some nice momentum. Then it was just a matter of some overworked editor (gruff, haggard, yet somehow endearing) noticing your manuscript splayed out on the floor and seeing the genius fumes wafting up out of it, and pretty soon you're summoned to the office (in a rainstorm, with a taxi not only ignoring you but splattering you with mud while peeling away from the curb) and then there's a whole scene and you unbundle your hair bun and take off your glasses and the music swells and you're a published author.

Now there are only five publishing houses and they've sealed up their transoms but good. You need someone on the Inside. You need an agent. And you need your query letter to sparkle just a little more than the other nine hundred letters she gets that week.

Well, I've done this before, and I'm serene about rejection, so it isn't as hard as it could be. I did land an agent once. I can't remember how many I tried before she took me on. Thirty, maybe.

Holy shit. I just actually went back and counted them up. Eighty-four. Anyway. Here goes. I'm ready!

Sort of. I forgot one thing. You work up your list of possible agents, and then whack it down to a short list, and then hatchet that down to a top five, and write up your best letters and shoot them off into the void. Right? Not so good if you get rejected and start to realize how you could have made your letter better--but now you've already lost your favorites.

So you work that much harder and research the living crap out of the agent list and try again. By the time you've ironed all the kinks out of your letter, you've lined through a fair number of gold-star targets. The quality of your query is going up while the quality of the agents goes down. The rejections begin to filter in. The no-response-at-alls hover coyly in a vapor just outside your laptop. You wonder: should you take a chance at the big-ass guy at the big-ass agency because he seems like the best fit, even though he's a wildly successful agent of forty years' standing who holds reunions at the Pulitzer Prize ceremonies? Or do you query his equally good fit at the agency who just got bumped up from the mailroom? You've only got one shot at this agency.

Do you confine yourself to agents based in New York City, or does it matter anymore? It used to.

The vapor of non-responses develops heft and pressure and hovers harder outside your laptop, smirking.

Months in, dilemmas like Top Guy vs. Mailroom Guy begin to seem quaint. I still have my unearned self-confidence. I know I've got a great book here. I can continue to believe with all my heart that I've got what it takes, because nobody has actually asked for a manuscript yet and told me it's crap. So there's that.

But I'm not far away from querying the agent who's set up a pop-up office in the parking lot of a food cart pod. As long as it's in New York.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Thirty Days Per Gallon

I made the observation on the Old Person's Social Media Platform that I hadn't bought any gasoline since February. Might even have been early February, and I still had half a tank.

"All electric?" my friend Jeremy wanted to know.

No. All parked.

"You need to take it out on the freeway once a week for twenty minutes," he opined. My own opinion was that I the hell did not.

He elaborated. Something having to do with condensation. A crankcase. Rust. Dead car. I needed to run my car.

I'm sure he's right. But when it comes to cars, and pets, and life mates, I need something that doesn't ask much of me. Because that's what it's going to get. I certainly do not want to have to go throw a ball for my car. I don't even have a crate to put it in. Besides, moving it would disturb the new plants just getting their roots down in the sludge next to my parked tires.

In forty years, we've had two more or less self-maintaining cats and one dog that climbed our fence paw-over-paw and headed out to the hinterlands for better cuisine, returning happily every evening with a mouthful of biscuit and sausage. It was a great arrangement. Sometimes we'd get a phone call to come pick her up at the tavern where she was hanging out, if she had overstayed her welcome, but mostly she just did her usual route, pooped in someone else's yard, and knocked on the front door once we were home from work.

I don't know what a crankcase is, but it doesn't sound like something I want to be appeasing. You start in with that kind of indulgence, pretty soon your car is going to be whining for oil and a bath. I don't think I've washed my car since Obama left office. There's a distinct topography of bird poop mostly on the right side under the telephone wire. I'm not sure I want to disturb it even if I could at this point. It would be like vandalizing stalagmites.

Mainly, I'm lazy, which is how some people refer to my efficiency of leisure, but also when it comes to cars I have the opposite of pride of ownership. I'm ashamed. I certainly understand why it is cool to have your own capsule you can drive anywhere anytime all by yourself, but the sheer volume of infrastructure we have built up for this remarkable convenience is just embarrassing to the species. Pavement absolutely everywhere. Pavement just for parking. Bonus pavement to fill in ditches where wildlife might otherwise show up. Ships and pipelines and wells and tankers and refineries and drive-ins where you can idle while awaiting fried cow on a bun. Big box stores in former wetlands, moated with asphalt acreage. It's ugly and dirty and convenient as all get-out.

And of course there's that little detail of the carbon pollution that is quickly making our home planet uninhabitable. You'd think that would be of concern, but it isn't. We don't care if we're going straight to perdition if we can do it in leather seats with a good sound system.

So I don't want to be seen spoiling my car. I don't want to have to exercise it, and there's really no way to pick up its poop.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Beta Reader

When you've written a book, you're supposed to have beta readers take a look. Beta readers are supposed to let you know what does and doesn't work in your novel; where you've lost their attention; and how they think it should have ended. If you're lucky, a lot of them won't even get back to you at all.

But what I need beta readers for is other stuff. Stuff like noticing that my hero is born in 1965 and yet is now only thirty years old, and this isn't a magical realism story. Or that Selma was the secretary at the sheriff's office on page one and worked for the post office on page forty. Or that a guy named Dave shows up in the middle and no one knows who he is, because he was Steve thirty pages ago.

I have trouble with names. I spend a lot of time trying to work out my characters and outline my plot before I ever start to write. After a while I give my characters placeholder names so I don't have to keep typing out "rich girl" and "village idiot." When I do start writing for real, I change their names, sometimes more than once, and I don't get tidy about sweeping up the old ones. Also, sometimes I forget which one is which.

It got easier when I discovered the "replace" function but that was troublesome too. One novel I wrote had an "Alan" character, and at some point I realized I occasionally spelled it "Allen," so I did a search-and-replace for Alan to Allen and got 50 replacements right off the bat. Felt pretty smug about that until I reread my manuscript and discovered words like "ballence" and "nonchallence" sprinkled all the way through.

One of my first actual beta readers noticed pretty quickly that half of my names started with H. That's fine in real life, but it's unnecessarily confusing for readers. I wasn't aware I'd done it. My reader started circling "H" names and writing "another H" in the margin, until, in my very last chapter, I introduced a Hannah and she just underlined it and wrote Really? in the margin.

The book I'm writing now is particularly confusing. I am following a half-dozen characters, and I'm filling in their histories in flashbacks. So it goes back and forth from the present to their adolescence and points between--in literary circles, we refer to that as "willy-nilly"--and now I can't swear that some of them haven't given birth to their own grandmothers.

It kind of makes me wonder how God did it. Just slammed everything down bip bam boom and came in ahead of deadline and knocked off for a day. That's some serious chops. Of course he was a set-it-and-forget-it kind of guy. No flashbacks there. You just create a setting and plop in your characters, and if Time is operating correctly, it should be pretty coherent from then on.

Heck. Anyone could write that.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

One Bird Too Far

So many things going on during nesting season if you're paying attention. The trill of victory, the agony of de tiny little feet! Everywhere one soap opera after another is playing out. Studley and Marge plumb disappeared shortly after the scrub jay incident and didn't show up for worms even though we extended our beer-thirty hours JUST for them, and we had no idea where they went or even if they still...were. The resident crows are just past the stage where their baby has plummeted from the treetops and been grounded for a few days, and we knew that because every so often we heard a great cawcophany from the neighbor's yard followed by two little kids screaming their heads off and dashing back into the house. It was very satisfying. Now the crow baby is aloft for good and pecking around the garden beds with its blue eyes and gape-remnant lips and it will soon be the best-looking one of the bunch, because the adults are all about to go gappy and drop their feathers.

Then Studley came back with three of his little guys in tow! They're not any littler than he is, of course, but they're beebling away in the trees waiting for Daddy to show up with snacks, and we couldn't be relieveder. They too can be recognized by their shiny new suits and I do believe they outweigh their father too, because as usual he has worked himself skinny. His molt will start any day now. Last year by this time he had a ragged cheek bib and a bald spot on his head. This year his head feathers look okay but he's had this one feather sticking up on his back for weeks. I tried to smooth it down once but Studley has stopped just short of allowing me to touch him in a personal fingery way. And I know this because it's everything I can do to keep from chucking the little dude under the chin.

wayward feather
And because it is not enough to have a private tit to show off to your friends, my niece was inspired to try to entice a pair of juncos that were nesting in her yard, and succeeded in getting them and their babies to take food from her hand, and start a new brood, and get those babies to do the same, and, what the hey, the local song sparrows seemed to show an interest too, and what with one thing and another, she is basically encrusted with birds every time she walks outside. Dave shakes his head. Brewster girls, he says, without elaborating.

It's not a competition, but I will point out she doesn't have a chickadee yet.

And so I'm happy that I've made my garden a destination resort for the feathered set, and contemplate what more I can provide, because birds are awesome in every way, but I would like to mention that I the hell did not mean I wanted freaking pigeons nesting under my solar panels with their stupid breathy cooing like they're fat little Olivia Newton-Johns in a world of opera stars and all walking around like they do with their tiny stupid heads poinking along behind them like they're trying to catch up to their own plumpety bodies. But there they are flapping down to the rental house's gutter and coming back up to our roof with big old sticks because not only do we have freaking pigeons committing lavish poopination under our solar panels but sure enough we didn't get around to clearing out the gutters last season and thanks for reminding us.

I know I'm supposed to be more even-handed about this as a bird lover but I really don't care for pigeons much at all or the whoop-whoop-whoop Three Stooges routine they do or their unmatched outfits, the best of which look like a motor oil slick in a puddle, walking around all dumb and eating white bread preferentially, and I know they have plenty of admirers and can do some amazing things such as find their way home even from a very great distance, which they can go ahead and do any time now as far as I'm concerned and I hope it's way the hell across the ocean.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Better Than Insomnia

I'm not sure what to make of this. A blog post, maybe. But not a normal one.

See, for someone who's been accused of being creative all her life, I have the dumbest dreams ever. If there's a possibility of something interesting happening, like flying, or having sex with handsome strangers, I don't do it. In my dream I say "No thanks, you go ahead and fly, I'll just hop up and down a little." I say, "No thanks, sex sounds nice, but I need to get my laundry off the line before it rains." Invariably I stop short of something really satisfying, and instead do whatever I would ordinarily do in my ordinary but satisfying life.

And that's if I'm not trying to figure out how many Little Things go in a Big Thing. Or if I'm not missing my flight. Or if I'm not running around trying to find a clean, private toilet.

Sweet dreams aren't made of these.

So listen to this:

I dreamt there was a big mob in the street. Everyone was yelling. They'd heard there was going to be a hanging, and they were out for blood. The person who was going to be hanged was running for office, someone like Elizabeth Warren, although in my dream she looked like Maggie Smith. Donald Trump had told the crowd she was going to be hanged from the inside of a glass elevator shaft, and the mob was gathering around the building's parking lot to watch. Donald Trump was working the crowd. "Or maybe we won't hang her after all. Maybe..." He shrugged, put his palms up, milked the moment. The crowd roared. "Maybe we'll just let her drop a couple feet. A couple feet!" He's holding his tiny hands apart. "And then maybe we'll ask her a few questions. A few questions! I don't know! What do you think?" He shrugged again. The crowd screamed Hang her! Hang her!

I'm growing more and more horrified as I realize this thing is actually going to happen. I keep thinking there has to be a way to stop it, that things couldn't have gotten this far, that they can't really get away with this. I know the building. It's an apartment tower on my mail route, and I know which floor has the access to the elevator shaft. I punch a code to enter and race up six flights of stairs and fly down the hallway. When I open the door that leads to the elevator shaft, there's a pretty good crowd there too. Donald Trump is there. He is smirking and teasing and bobbing his head. People are laughing with him, but I don't get the sense that this crowd is all on his side--that maybe they are just cowed, afraid to intervene. I had in mind that I would yell out "No! We're not going to let you do this!" and all the good people would start hollering and stomping and get the gumption to rush the guards. They just need someone to break the spell. I'm waiting for the right moment.

Just then three men start leading Elizabeth Warren Maggie Smith toward the gibbet and she looks tense but dignified, like Marie Antoinette on the way to the Guillotine, and I about lose my mind. Instead of yelling, I lunge straight at Donald Trump and jump him and put my hands around his big squishy neck and throttle him for all I'm worth. He crumples to the floor and I'm kicking and strangling and stomping and he is soft and doughy like a bag of goo and can't defend himself at all, and every punch and kick lands, and I'm thinking, Well, this is it, I'm about to get shot or hauled off to prison or both, but it doesn't happen. Trump lies on the floor curled up like a fat, damaged larva and everyone stands and cheers, even the guards. And there are more and more of us cheering and we look down and the crowd in the parking lot is thinning fast, skulking away.

I really did dream that, all of that. And when I woke up, I really did think "I'd better not put this in a blog post, or I could get arrested." Because that's the kind of world we're living in today.

Or maybe it's the dream world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Firstly, You Must Find Another Shrubbery

You act weird enough, people just leave you be.

I've already told you about the time Dave took me to the back porch to teach me how to blow a raspberry. (It was a sanitary issue. I was spraying a lot.) He was patient. I must've spent a good fifteen minutes spraying away before I got my first good fart sound out and then it was just a matter of refining the tone.

By then I was leaning over the railing so the spit wouldn't hit the porch so much, and Dave was helpfully lip-farting to demonstrate proper embouchure, and every time we looked up we could see Venetian blind slats closing, and curtains dropping.

Still, people didn't leave us alone for long. We're friendly, and we have beer and a pickup truck. But today I might have finally done it.

I was outside attending Mr. Studley Windowson with a nice tub of mealworms, and he took one and immediately started scolding, and loud. That's something, not only having a perfect bird on your finger but having him go off like that, and I looked up, and there was a scrub jay close by on a post. Mr. Windowson hates scrub jays and the boy can put out some decibels when he wants to. I admire jays, but I'm getting to where I'd prefer they go somewhere else, ever since the Nuthatch Fiasco of 2016.

So Studley flies off to a wire to scold some more, and Marge joins him, and they're both going off, and I think--recalling Julie Zickefoose and the time she won over a previously hostile family of barn swallows by getting on a ladder and scooping up an enormous black rat snake that was working its way toward their nest--I think, Watch this, Marge, because Marge still hasn't come to my hand, and I go over to the post the jay is perched on and thump it but good.

Studley visits friends too.
And the jay does not even pay me the honor of glancing down. Eventually it gets bored and goes to another post, and I follow it and thump it right up to Kingdom Come. And then I get out my hose and put it on Jet and try to knock it off, but it flies lazily upward, and by this time I'm spraying the hose straight up in the air and every which way. Any neighbor peeking out the window is now watching me spray myself, basically, and nothing else in particular, and running around in circles. And eventually the mildly annoyed jay flies off. Meanwhile, Marge and Studley are still going nuts.

Then I see the jay is poking around the neighbor's arborvitae. Marge even takes a dive at the jay, and then the arborvitae explodes with birds, all of them screaming their tiny chickadee heads off, and I see the jay is actually chasing a flying bird, and I think No, no, not Studley, and I haul ass over there--I am now in my neighbor's yard--and I see the jay actually bearing down on two flying chickadees, not two feet behind them, and I don't know if they're Studley and Marge or the junior Windowsons, and I'm chasing the jay and flapping my arms and yelling NO NO NO at the top of my lungs, and they're making tight circles so I am too and--well, basically, from the standpoint of anyone looking out his window, nobody does any of this stuff unless they're on hallucinogens.

Finally the jay decides to bother someone else and goes away. I think the two birds the jay was almost catching were Studley and Marge drawing attention away from their babies in the arborvitae, but god almighty, how long do they have to keep this up? Their kids are flying, but apparently not well enough, and the sight of a jay almost catching them in flight fills me with dread. They've already made a nest out of pretty much nothing and found food for their brood for weeks and weeks and worked themselves skinny, but the danger never ceases. When do they get to stop worrying?

I've heard it's the same with humans though.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Coming Clean

Well, here we are.

For most of us, our normal daily routines have been disrupted. We have had time to sit back and consider which aspects of our former lives were to the good and which might be discarded. It's a time for contemplation. Self-examination. Reassessment.

Questions seem to come from somewhere deep inside us, day after day. We need to get to the bottom of things. We need to take stock. And so, I know I'm not alone in asking:

Exactly how much toilet paper do we go through every day?

Don't tell me you haven't thought about it too. It's an exisclenchal question, and you're just sitting there. How much do you use?


"You go first," I hear you saying eventually, and regretting it soon after. All righty:

Four squares for the first pass (we shall call it the no-look pass), four squares for the follow-up pass (checking progress this time), a final four for the just-in-case. Three more squares for frontsies and I'm good to go again.

That's on average. There are exceptions for oopses related to texture and volume, and (more rarely) sometimes I can get by with less if the missile is intact and spit clean. There's a helpful medical chart for poop quality called the Bristol Stool Scale. Humans are wired to count everything in a one to ten scale but unlike the makers of blenders, who apparently can distinguish between grate and purée, poop scientists have managed to scrape up only seven types from One (separate small lumps) to Seven (liquid consistency with no solid pieces). I would imagine where one lands on the Bristol Stool Scale would have quite an effect on TP consumption. If you are a Type One, you might be able to get by with no toilet paper, allowing you extra time to rub your antlers on a tree. If you're a Type Seven youo're going to have to trudge to the shower anyway.

I consistently range from a Four (smooth soft sausage or snake) to a Six (mushy consistency with soft edges), generally during the course of a single morning.

That's where I go wrong, consumption-wise. I'm hardly ever Boom-Boom and Check, Please. I get a real good start right off the bat and then have to revisit the situation two or three more times, eventually accessing contents that might not have had time to set up properly. Add it all up and that's quite a lot of toilet paper, but all of it seems necessary.

That's the thing. Ask anyone how much toilet paper they use, and they'll invariably reply (often huffily) "As much as I need to." But we know this is highly subjective. There's genuine need, and then there's personal delicacy. My friend Sarah divulged that her brother ("Plunger-Boy") thunders through a half a roll every time he drops a dookie. That's the kind of thing that will get you notoriety in a family. Clearly the boy does not want to get within two inches of his own nether flesh. He's like the person who sees a spider on the wall and smooshes it with an entire roll of paper towels and runs out to the garbage can with the whole wad, emitting high-frequency squeaks all the way, and then sleeps with a baseball bat next to his bed. Me, I have been known to spot a spider sharing my pillow and just flicking it away.

But I do go through toilet paper.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Greater Force

We heard you.

Not at first, not right after the video came out, when there was no denying or spinning a murder, but soon after. It was shocking footage, so it took a few minutes for you to come around to the familiar narrative that George Floyd's death was his fault, somehow.

And then there were those protests. Many, and massive. And some looting and smashing at the edges. And you found your voices again. That is not the way to protest, you said. We write the rules on rage, you said, and this is out of line. We didn't like the way you did it before, on one knee, either. That's a shame about the man we watched get murdered, but he probably had drugs in his system. He probably committed a crime. He probably mouthed off. He probably had a preexisting condition in the form of a working carotid artery.

Somewhere in the back of your head you are able to hold two contrary thoughts at once: "I don't see color. Why does everything have to be about race?" And: "Those people have to expect that stuff like this is going to happen because so many of them are criminals." They don't act right. They've got it coming. It's a shame, but this sort of thing is going to happen, because they're either criminals, or look just like one.

That's what you saw. Criminals, arsonists, freeway-blockers, troublemakers. A criminal force that must be met with greater force.

And I agree. Force? Meet the greater force of sustained, growing, fervent, peaceful protestors marching night after night. After night. After night. They're still marching. United against terrorism.

That's what I'm calling it. Is that word too strong?

What do you do when you see a headline about a victim of violence? You scan down a few lines to see if you're safe. That's a black name. That's a bad neighborhood. That won't happen to me. But when the planes took down the twin towers, you were terrified. As unlikely as it was any one of us would be the victim of terrorist act, you were still afraid because for the first time--for most of us--you knew you were the target. And that's what made it terrorism. It was a message sent to a few and meant for many.

That's what the knee to the neck is. It is a body dangling. It's a message to an entire race: you don't matter. You are disposable, not quite human. White people know very well that this is never going to happen to them. And some of them put that down to their own virtue.

We've heard you. You like to call us snowflakes. But you are the ones who are so afraid of people that you roar for a police state, an autocracy, you cheer the leader who will build you a wall and call up the military against your fellow citizens. You arm yourself against villains that live in your own imagination. Or villains created and served up to you by politicians determined to hold their power through your fear.

But watch this greater force.

It was our dear young neighbors who first mentioned--from a chaste and respectful twelve feet away--that they were on their way to the latest march. I crumpled. How could we miss this? "Dave and I want to be there, but we're just not ready to be in a crowd like that, not now..." That's okay, they said. You shouldn't be there. It's not safe. We're taking one for the team. Don't worry. It's our turn now. They smiled. I wanted to cry.

And I did, a few nights later, when the most audacious march yet ended up a half block away. Thousands poured onto a freeway three lanes wide and marched a mile to the next exit, another two miles to our street, and farther, and there was no fatigue, no letup, just a beautiful stream of young people saying We're done with this shit now. We've had enough. This was the twelfth day of peaceful protest. I stood at the corner, a few yards away, tears seeping into my face mask.

Meanwhile, you think black people get too worked up about race, but you go all to pieces if you're accused of having white privilege. And you're right, in a way. That so-called privilege should be the default condition of all people. Everyone should have the sense of their own agency, should be able to prosper in a world that accepts them, or crash and burn in spite of a world that accepts them. And then it would not be described as a privilege at all.

But that is not the world we live in. And until black lives matter, which it is clear they do not, it can never be said that all lives matter. Unbunch your privilege panties and own that.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Two Tits Up! Way Up!

Let me get a couple of points out right up front. My brassiere needs are not all that impertant at this time of my life. We're mainly looking at a containment situation. Just trying not to scare the horses. And besides I actually did find an amazing bra made out of condensed fairy breath that I like better than not wearing one at all. You will have to take it off my dead body (bring scissors).

But perhaps because I located that little number online, I continue to see bra ads. So that is how I was introduced to the invisible Lift-up Freedom Deep V Rabbit Bra. Which does not, you'll be amazed to learn, consist of four pairs of cups running in parallel. It is called a Rabbit Bra because it looks like a bunny head, times two. And it's sticky. You stick the bunny nose on your nipple area and then you yank the ears up and stick them near your collarbone. Repeat for the other side. There are no straps, no elastic, no underwires, nothing, really, but a cosmetically more agreeable version of duck tape. They're little pancakes. Or, more accurately, flapjacks. And depending on placement, you can yank yourself as high as you'd like. You can pull those babies up until all your pencils fall out. I could yank my personal set up so far my pudding neck could perch on top.

There's always going to be some kind of innovation in the industry. There is certainly a good case to be made for proper support if you experience extreme tenderness in your breasts, which is not at all uncommon, because what is the point of being a woman if things don't hurt for no reason? I in fact had this very problem for a number of decades, and all of it cleared up at the same time God pulled the plug on menstrual periods. Ha ha, God said, haven't I been a kick in the pants all those years of cramps and pelvic pain and sore boobs? I am such a card. I wanted to see how you stacked up with that whiner Job.

But there are lots of reasons for bras besides alleviating pain. Read the advertising. Basically, ladies, wherever your boobs are naturally, they should be someplace else. So now you can slap on a sticky pad and haul them up, and then, on some models, cinch up a strap between them. It's all adjustable so you can go perky and cleavish at the same time.

As it turns out, the Freedom Bra is but one in an entire genre of so-called "sticky bras." Who knew? Cosmopolitan magazine has run a comparison test on ten brands. They run from simple nipple covers to petal-shaped lifters to wing-shaped cleavage boosters to of course the push-up combo wing bra with underwire, pocket weasel, emergency ejection button, and a slot for a playing card so it sounds like a motorcycle if you're going really fast.

There are no straps or bands around the back. Just the cups. So instead of having overflow problems at the top of the cups or the underarm area, now you have the opportunity to overflow for 360 degrees around the cups. You can have Brioche Boobs to go with your Muffin Top Heinie. Fun!

One of the Cosmo testers touted in particular the combination of a stick-on nipple cover with an underwire built in, which, I believe, she referred to as "support from boning," after which I blacked out for a bit. Fortunately I came to in time for the description of the bra that fell off during the tester's walk to work.  She didn't know where to put it, so she stuck it to the underside of her desk.

And her coworkers have to settle for tech support.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Strike A Pose, There's Nothing To It

Well he showed us! No sooner did hashtag BunkerBitch get smeared all over the internet than President Trump himself stood erect brandishing a Holy Bible in front of an authentic place of worship, proving that he is in fact fearless--fearless!--in the face of immolation by thunderbolt.

The scene was widely regarded as either a stunt or God's Word made flesh in the form of Donald Trump, depending on your news source. A large number of people were, however, offended, and even more were taken aback by the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to clear peaceful protestors from the president's path, or to make straight in the desert a highway for our God, depending on...well. Same thing.

A reporter asked the president if the bible he was holding was his own. Oh c'mon. Of course it isn't his bible! Even I, as a miniature Lutheran, had my own bible stamped with my name in gold letters. You know the president couldn't have passed that up. He'd have a bible with TRUMP all over the front with the living hell gilt out of it. And if you opened it up, you'd find all the pages of Song of Solomon stuck together.

What really disturbs me is the number of folks, including Joe Biden, who suggested the president open the book once in a while "because he might learn something." Holy shit, people. What are you thinking?

What the heck do we think he'd learn? You think peace and love are going to waft out of it? There's war. There's rape. Execution. Incest. Child murder.

You think he's just going to somehow trip over the verse in Numbers where the Lord instructs us to give six sanctuary cities to the refugees? Highly unlikely. Even if he starts at the beginning and tries to work his way through he's not going to be able to get past the chapter where Lot's two daughters bed him, one right after the other.

The trouble with earnest liberals everywhere is they assume the bible is basically Jesus' Sermon On The Mount with a lot of filler on both sides. It's not. And there's no assurance he'd learn from it anyway. Donald Trump's random bible could easily pop open to Matthew: "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." Sword! Heh heh. You should see my sword. I guarantee you, there's no problem.

Or Acts: "And suddenly there came a sound like a mighty rushing wind...and divided tongues as of fire...rested on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit." Sounds like God's Tear Gas to me.

Or Galatians: "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Hey. In the clear. I don't drink. Besides I already inherited a nice chunk from my father who art in real estate.

Or John: "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." Like I always said. I'm a product of superior genes.

Keep the dang book closed. It's just like the internet: you can "learn" whatever you want to from it. God should sue us for slander for suggesting the thing is His Word.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

By The Light Of The Silvery Newt

Turns out salamanders are fluorescent in blue light. Mostly they glow green. What the hell.

We don't know why salamanders glow green in blue light. They are not bioluminescent; they don't produce their own light, which is the sort of thing sea creatures might find useful or decorative in the ocean depths. You have to shine a light on them to get the effect. We don't know if fellow salamanders can detect each other's glow. Basically, we don't know shit.

It might not mean anything. Many minerals glow spectacularly in UV light, but they probably aren't communicating anything by it. Probably. That's the thing. Rocks have longer stories than we do and maybe they want to tell them.

But I think it's likely salamanders are trying to get something across, if not to us. Some of them glow all over, some glow only in spots, and most of them glow brightest from their cloacal region, a.k.a. "hoo-hoo."

Something is fluorescent if you shine a high-energy spectrum of light on it and get a lower-energy spectrum back out, because some of its electrons get excited. (Nobody knows if electrons have a hoo-hoo, but don't bet against it.)

One of the first people to describe fluorescence was the Father of Modern Experimental Optics, Sir David Brewster; as usual, no one knows who the mother was. Sir Brewster also invented the kaleidoscope and it became an instant hit. Bazillions of them were sold because they were considered highly entertaining in the days before TV. Naturally, Sir David didn't get a dime off of it because he was not the kind of smart that doesn't show off the prototype before securing the patent.

This leads me to believe we are related. Apparently we are both related to the William Brewster who herded a group of pious and nauseated folk onto the Mayflower. And when I look back into the dank-spirited and homely bunch that are my most recent ancestors, they had these things in common: smart, religious, and not liable to make any money. Sir David Brewster was born in 1781 and had the misfortune of not dying before photography was invented, and a sorrier face you won't want to meet. He was brilliant, cranky, teetotaling, religious, and dour. He was considered a prodigy and sent to school where he did science (you could just Do Science back then) and they gave him some kind of license to preach along with his degree.

So he took to the pulpit. Once. According to a colleague, "the first day he mounted the pulpit was the last, for he had...a nervous something about  him that made him swither when  he heard his own voice and saw a congregation eyeing him."

I am instantly brought back to the unfortunate day Pastor Lange talked my father into delivering a little sermon to the congregation.  I don't remember the subject except that it was about Nature, or God's Works, if you prefer, and he was able to pull it off because he wrote beautifully and had a great command of metaphor, natural science and scripture (King James only, please), but when he got up to speak, his deep voice went thin and weird and he plucked nervously at his throat and shook visibly and looked like he was passing a stone.

My grandfather
Clearly he was tracking along some parallel cousin path with Sir David. My lineage is rife with intelligent, overly pious, poor, sober men with baleful faces. I would like to think that my father made that first break with the legacy by merely being smart, cranky, poor, and dour, but having a tot of sherry once a year; also, being a churchgoer but probably not a believer. Plus he actually would've been pretty if he smiled more.

I'm trying to complete the transformation by being even-tempered, irreverent, and a lush. My father and I were both maniacal salamander fans. He would've been out there in the swamps with a blue light in a heartbeat. He was not the sort of scientist who would be inclined to grind up salamanders in order to use their glowing portions in a medical device or something. He just would want to learn more about them.

Because who knows? Maybe when you shine a blue light on them, they swither.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Minnesota Burning

I've seen this before. I remember when Martin Luther King was murdered. I remember my father telling us the cleaning woman in his office took him aside and said Mr. Brewster? You'd best go home early, and lock the door. There were fires. There was broken glass. There were cars overturned. In Arlington, Virginia, in the 'Sixties, white people thought they could count on The Coloreds to stay put--in their neighborhood of Hall's Hill, in janitorial positions. Until that day.

There've been so many other times. L.A., over Rodney King. Cincinnati. Ferguson. Baltimore. And on. And on. Nothing changes. It's hard to understand why everything's not on fire all the time. There's been restraint, I tell you.

So when I watched a car being overturned and set on fire in Minneapolis, it was familiar. But there's something different going on now.

Because one thing has been clear for a few years. There are people who want a race war in America. Or any other civil war. And I don't mean the dime-a-dozen racist assholes. They're just pieces. They can be swept off the board at any time and replaced just as fast. It's the rooks and the bishops running this show. They want us to fall apart, to kill each other.

I just don't know why.

I don't even know who they all are. Certainly Russians. They'll jam a wedge into any crack they can find. Vaccination. Guns. Race, for sure. They don't take a side. They take all the sides. It's easy to see why someone like Putin wants our fabric shredded.

The President of the United States wants civil war, too, though, and that's harder to fathom. Perhaps the explanation is simpler than it ought to be. He's an insecure ignoramus with no love for anybody, even his base, but rage lifts him up, fills his sails, tents his shorts. He doesn't respect any American citizen, and black and brown citizens are merely at the bottom of his basket of expendables. He, and the daughter he finds most doable, are the only people he almost cares about. This whole damn thing gives him a little chubby.

But he's also got an entire party behind him. With their own calculations.

Somehow or other, someone is calculating that when America falls apart for good, they'll get all the money. All the rest of the money. I'm not sure how, but I am sure. Are you seeing all those memes about the "right" and "wrong" way to protest? The photos of those nasty people setting fires, the looting? They're designed to be spread far and wide by earnest progressives and bigots alike. To make sure nobody misses the violence, to assure people that their assumptions about the dreaded Other were correct all along. There are people behind those creations. And those people don't give a damn about black lives. Or poor white lives, either. They want war. They want the spoils.

But they're not stopping with inflammatory posts on the social media. They're willing to invest living bodies. They've got mercenaries on the payroll, ready to step in at any time, whenever the tinder they've spread around gets lit. Mercenaries to begin the smashing, to spark the protests, to ensure the violence.

Naomi Klein, in her extraordinary book Shock Doctrine, explained how the plutocrats have been poised to exploit any shocking disaster, from hurricane to tsunami to terrorist event, to further their own rapacious ends; they have playbooks on hand and players ready to muster. They privatized the education system during the chaos of Katrina, they privatized the beaches and evicted the native fishermen after the tsunami in Indonesia. And if a disaster does not occur naturally, they'll engineer one: invade an irrelevant country after 9/11, when people were too shocked to mount an objection, and reap billions in profits. Stage a coup in Argentina and take over all the publicly owned utilities and companies. They've got playbooks, they've got players.

And that is how they can insert agents provocateurs into the protests in Minnesota. Just like that. They have them all ready to go. To incite, to divide, to conquer. Don't fall for it.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Three Essentials

Surviving self-quarantine requires a flexibility of spirit. One quickly learns what is essential to living and what can be done without. Dave and I? We're set. We've got beer, toilet paper, and mealworms.

Hell, I'll eat anything. But I won't be caught during nesting season without Studley Windowson's favorite food. Chickadees gotta eat.

In early March, when we were just getting an idea what was coming, a friend did me a favor. "You have enough mealworms? Because you might not be able to go to the store whenever you want." Oh shit! We stocked up. Turns out you can buy mealworms online, of course, just like everything else. "I'll take 500," I typed, and a week later a small box marked LIVE ANIMALS landed on my porch.

I should have remembered you can buy grubs by mail. I delivered plenty such packages. It can be ominous. You get a parcel stamped LIVE ANIMALS and it makes a dry, rattling sound when shaken, you're best off leaving it on the porch, ringing the bell, and running like hell. If they don't see you, you can blame it on your replacement carrier.

This box was fine. I'm not sure what I expected. When I buy them in the store, they come in a ventilated plastic tub with wheat meal. Inside this box was a simple cloth bag with a drawstring, and inside that were my five hundred mealworms, naked and in zippy condition, congregated around a piece of crumpled-up newspaper. I decided to decant them into a cottage cheese container so I could keep them in the fridge. Next to the beer. Refrigerated mealworms are less motivated to beetle up.

They didn't exactly pour out. Lots of them were pretty attached to the newspaper. I got the bright idea of upending the bag over a colander and batting at it until they dropped, and then transferring them to the tub. It was going pretty well. Except the bottom layer of mealworms wouldn't slide out.

Because they were poking themselves through the holes in the colander. From underneath, it looked like the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Why, my friend asked, with that look that people often give me, didn't you use a bowl?

Shit, I don't know. Might as well ask me why, when I'm hopping around trying to get my sock on and I crash to the floor, I don't let go of my sock. People have asked me that. It's the same answer. Shit, I don't know.

I think somewhere in the back of my mind I made a connection between the little ventilation holes you have to have in the worm tub and the colander holes. I don't always think things all the way through. Anyway, after an entertaining five minutes or so of playing Teeny Tiny Adorable One-Finger Whack-A-Mole with my colander, I got them all into the tub. You know, probably.

And Studley is all over it. He and Marge have eggs cooking right now and within a few days it will be Peep City, Start Up The Gravy Train. Meantime, he's hauling worms off to Marge about as fast as we can pinch them out. He's got skills. If we're twirling our fingers in the wheat meal trying to scare up a worm--they hide--he gets impatient, lands on the side of the tub, and spears three invisible worms at once. He's learned to hover like a hummingbird in front of a window if he sees us indoors. He's the best damn bird in three counties and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise.