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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Nothing Left To Lose

"You young people," our beloved English teacher once scolded us, "you've cleaned up all my beautiful dirty words!"

It was true. There wasn't a part of speech we didn't drop an F-bomb in, and the word didn't hold a sting anymore. We'd rendered it harmless. Meaningless.

Something like that has happened to another F-word, too. And Freedom was a pretty good idea, worth fighting for. Our founding fathers were on the right track: freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom to peaceably assemble. All of these freedoms are rightfully enshrined in our documents. Blood was spilled for them. They represented humanity at its finest.

It was a worthy aspiration, but in a new land with so much room in it for rugged individuals to push into, the concept of freedom was destined to lose its shine. Freedom began to be equated with acquisition. Unearned ownership. Plunder. In a country unconstrained by boundaries or kings, we all became little kings. Survival still took pluck and initiative, but freedom for some meant slavery for others. Or genocide. We got some things right, and still felt free to massacre.

We didn't let freedom ring. We let it metastasize.

We let ourselves imagine that a family that runs domestic cattle over untold acreages is being deprived of liberty if we insist they account for the damage accrued to the rest of us: loss of habitat, of water, of wildlife. We let ourselves imagine our freedoms should drive other people's freedom underground: the customer unserved. The medically fragile left to die for our freedom to infectiously assemble.

It's beyond juvenile. "It's a free country!" That's what kids my age used to say whenever someone told them it was bedtime, or scolded them for sass. They didn't know what it meant to be free but they didn't care to be told what to do. At least, when I was being brought up, that retort got the attention it deserved. None.

It would all work out if there were fewer of us. Multitudes fewer. But we're densely populated all over the planet, and everything we do affects everyone else. There must be rules. Freedom cannot be unrestricted, or it results in loss of freedom. If Americans during a quarantine think their freedom is being threatened, they have already been compromised by a wealthy class that has paid dues to ensure we do not notice that they've already taken away our freedom. They've taken away our ability to organize by telling us unions deny us our "freedom to work"--to work for scraps, for no security, for no benefits. We have the freedom to accept what little they are willing to give us. Tell an American her freedoms are being stolen, and you can steal everything she has. You can leave her desperate after one month without a paycheck, and she won't even suspect there's something wrong with a system that produces so much wealth for so few while leaving so many in poverty. You can convince her someone even poorer than she is the real thief.

Get the people all riled up for some shitty little freedoms like not wearing a mask or not baking a cake, and send them to the polls, and you can pick their pockets clean.

Will we stand for that? Or will we stand together, and thrive?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Echoes In The Braincase

One of the perks of a digital life is it is possible to present oneself to others neatly giftwrapped, and even add a rumpled bow of modesty and self-deprecation. One can think about it. Engineer it. Why, not too long ago one of you fine commenters here said I was "smart."

This is not so easy to pull off in person. And it's particularly hard to do in the presence of younger people. And I don't know what happened, but there are more and more of them around all the time.

I am well tolerated by the younger people in my life, all of whom I cherish. Now they are smart as hell. They have interesting opinions and different perspectives. I like to listen to them and every now and then I like to snap back with something witty. Problem is, a lot of the witty zone coincides with "things I just thought of five seconds ago." And things that happened five seconds ago live in a sort of quickly escaping vapor. I usually remember the first few words of my witty remark, but then I stick in placeholder grunts, hoping the rest of my thought will stroll by, but sometimes it doesn't, and then I have to say "I lost it there, but it'll come back."

The young people give me a fond and indulgent smile and assure me it will come back, even though it won't, and they know that by now. It's embarrassing. But they're so darn nice. "She's slipping," I see in their thought balloons, but you can see smiley emoticons in there too. I can't refute it. The whole thing has led me to be a better listener, or look just like one. I don't enjoy people witnessing my thoughts evaporate. Acting like I'm listening keeps me from looking as foolish, and is a good idea anyway.

I'm not actually listening. I am at first, but then I start thinking of something else altogether, usually a scene in a novel, or a reminiscence, or the state of the world, and my only connection to the conversation at that point is the attentive look on my face that I hope is still pointed in the correct direction. AND THIS IS WHEN I'M TALKING TO INTERESTING PEOPLE.

Authentic Old Person, With Bran
I'm not as embarrassed around people my own age. We're all kind of a mess. True, in my case some of them watch my neurons failing to connect and secretly put it down to the beer, but they understand anyway. If it wasn't the beer, it'd be something else.

There's a theory going around among older people that this phenomenon has something to do with having one's head so filled with wisdom that some of it needs to be off-loaded, and we have gained insight into what is important to keep and what is not. This is, of course, self-serving baldercookies. The fact is, if there were any more dead air in our brains our neurons wouldn't even touch each other.

Herewith a real dialog example:

     Me: "I'm trying to think of that word. You know, that word? That means, like, you really enjoy something, but it isn't anything you did yourself."

     Person: "Plagiarism?"

     Me: "No, no, more like something...vicarious." 

     Person: "Hmm. Vicarious?"

     Me: "Yeah! That's it! Thanks!" [bounces away]

     Person: [listens for head rattle]

Yes. That really happened. Probably. I do write fiction. It's either real or it's not, I don't remember.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Data Dump

There are things you just don't want to hear if you're a writer. No, not "While I'm not the right agent for this project, I'm grateful you sent it my way, and I'm wishing you the best of luck." Not that. We're used to that. That is, at least, a response.

No, what you really don't want to hear is the guy at the Apple Store, where your laptop has been quarantined for five days, ask "How important is your data to you?"


How important? You mean, everything I ever wrote? Those data? I would really like to keep those data. Thank you so much.

And in the future, if there is some possibility that everything I ever wrote is no longer among the living, you really need to work on your communication skills. Work up to it. Don't say my data is dead. Say it's up on the roof, and you're getting a ladder, and you're sure everything will be just fine. Tomorrow, say it looks like my data is trying to jump off, but you're pretty sure you can bring it around with a can of tuna.

Everything I ever wrote
As it happens, I have all my data on a little external hard drive the size of a deck of cards. It's embarrassing, but probably everything I ever wrote and ever will write will fit in that thing. The Library of Congress will fit in that thing. I bring my deck of cards to the Apple Store and hand it over, and the boy behind the counter, who talks very fast and doesn't know how to speak in Elderly, whisks it away behind a curtain. He plans to empty out my entire laptop and shove a new system in it. "It's really something," he explains. "I no sooner get rid of all your infections than they just keep pouring in." It was fine until about three weeks ago, but apparently it's the worst case he's ever seen in all his, what, twelve years of life. They're setting up a ventilator.

One-half of one novel
The next day I pick it up. He says everything is fine. My data are back relaxing in the living room, and all my passwords have vaporized, but everything should run real smooth.

Well. Except I can't get any mail. Last mail was five days ago. Can't send mail. Can't find out who rejected my query letters. I was poking at everything and suddenly an Apple Support page popped up with a chat robot that actually put me online with a human within a minute. He was wonderful. Got my browser working, checked things out, but couldn't get me my mail without my email password. What is it? he asked.

I don't know. I don't even know whether to call the outfit whose domain I'm using, or my internet provider. They're not the same people. I decide for the time being to go to my 11-year-old desktop that's been sludged up for a year and see can I find any mail. It wakes up like a drunk. Press any kind of button on it and you can hear it whirring around like one of those lottery tumblers being cranked. You can hear all the little zeroes and ones banging around in there for minutes before it poots out a possibility, and you have to check it against your stack of tickets to see if there's a match. Wal, shit, it drawls. Ah dunno.

It's now too late to call the domain people, and the internet people aren't people. They're chat robots, and when I type in my email address, they claim they've never heard of me. And I pay them way too much for that.

The next day I call the domain people, who are real people and who answer the phone in two ringy dingies, and I will be DAMNED if they don't turn out to be the people in custody of my passwords! They update them and I write them down and I type them into a box on my laptop and my mail comes whooshing through! For one of my accounts. Not the writing account. Same procedure doesn't work at all for that one.

And all morning my mail in the one account works, except when it doesn't, and my cursor disappears and then shows up again later, and I can't comment on my own blog, and I'm afraid to go into that whole thing in case the entire Blogger site slams a door in my face and I can't post a new piece for the first time since 2008.

"How's it going?" Dave asks, keeping enough distance that I"d have to use a gun to kill him, which  he knows I don't own.

I don't answer. He reads my face and springs into action. Brings beer. Hides the razor blades.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Great Tits!

Social media have allowed us to be so familiar with each other that I sometimes get the same link sent to me by numerous people. "Salamander poop," thirty different individuals might say. "I know who would like a picture of that!"

Recently I was multiply blessed with a link to an article featuring what at first glance appeared to be a jaundiced chickadee standing astride a wombat.

The bird in question was not, however, a chickadee, but a great tit, and it was not so much a wombat as a vole. This does not mean a great tit cannot take down a wombat but they are never in the same continent at the same time, so we have yet to observe it.

Black-capped chickadees like Marge and Studley Windowson are great tits also, maybe the greatest in many ways, but we are not to call them great tits, because that title is taken. Great tits live in Europe and are related to Cinereous Tits and Japanese Tits but not so much Turkestan Tits, although there is controversy. Ornithologists can come to blows over such things.

Coming to blows, however, is not what many people think of when they think of songbirds, preferring to consider them passive packages of good will. They are adorable, sweet-singing, and swell-hearted, we think, and not capable of the sort of predatory violence that will net them a dinner of vole brains.

That is because people generally aren't paying attention to birds at all. Birds are not all confining themselves to striking terror in the sunflower patch. 

Studley Windowson, one of the greatest birds of all time, is no vegetarian. He's delicate with seeds, withdrawing them one at a time and neatly cutting them up for himself before going in for seconds, but hand him a mealworm and he will pin the unfortunate larva down with one foot and tear off segments at the dotted line until he reaches the end.

It's not actually known if the great tit in the photograph took down the vole by itself or if it just happened upon the carcass, but it is known that it pecked into its head for the brains. Brains are the creamy filling in the corpse Twinkie. And they're not even that particular about whether the brain donor is dead or not. It is known that the great tit will prey on hibernating bats, always drilling through to their brains. Evidently bats sleep hard.

Marge, the "little woman"
None of this violence should be any surprise to anyone with access to a jay. Our local scrub jays are not remotely afraid of me or anything else. They ought to lose a fight with their larger cousins the crows, but crows give them a wide berth also. They may be bigger, but they're not psychopaths like the jays. The jays have their shivs out all the time and they'll come at you screeching like the shower scene in Psycho. (Thanks to reader Mary Jansen, who first pointed this out, I can never hear them any other way.) They land right next to me when I'm gardening in case I turn up a larva and I always flip it to them, because I do not like the way they size up my eyeballs.

And of course you have your shrikes that not only kill frogs and mice and whatnot but spear them on a thorn to eat later and also to let the general population know who's in charge. A rodent will never vote to impeach a shrike no matter how much evidence you pile up.

And then, Lord. The bushtits. The bushtits are very tiny members of the Tit family and plenty murderous in their own right. They may be no bigger than a fuzzy ping pong ball but they always, always travel in gangs and they will work together to flush a herd of aphids and pick off the old and lame ones. You only think they're cute because you're not a bug and don't go to their meetings.

Then you have your vampire finches. They land on boobies and peck on them and drink their blood. Presumably this all started when the finches were going for mites in the boobies' feathers and then they sort of evolutionarily got carried away. And the boobies don't even mind. That's how itchy they are.

Meanwhile, great tits have been known to attack the tissues of recently hanged people. This has caused me to revise my wishes for the disposal of my body. I would like to be strung up in the woods somewhere and nibbled on by chickadees. See that it happens, people.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Thirty Questions You Totally Shouldn't Be Asking

Here you go, straight from Conspiracy Central: thirty loaded questions about the pandemic that "people should be asking themselves," most of them heavily implying something sinister is afoot, something we need to get to the bottom of. I admit it: I read all thirty. I'm not making these up. And the reason I'm not asking myself these questions is I already know the answers. So obviously I'm just the person to clear up this crap before it goes coronaviral. Ready?

4. Why should you stay inside but yet heat and sunlight kill the virus? You, in particular, should stay inside so you can read up on how things work. But no one is telling anyone to stay inside. Get on out there, Petunia! Get some fresh air! Sunlight plus time is a disinfectant, so you can leave a plastic bin, for instance, outside for a few days and there shouldn't be any virus on it. If you leave your personal self outside for a few days and stay real still and don't move and don't touch any orifices, yours or a friend's, probably people could lay a finger right on you and not get a virus. Try not to breathe on them though.

5. Why can't kids (who are not at high risk) play on an outdoor playground, where sun kills this virus? Okay. Sure! Let the little buggers play on the playground! Kids are famous for not touching each other or bunching up or getting each other smeary or leaking fluids out of their orifices, so everything should be just fine, as long as one of them hasn't acquired the virus somewhere else! They wouldn't, like, share the playground equipment, would they? Or laugh, or talk, or shriek, or snot on things? Then they're good to go. Oh, that high risk bit? Your kids can get real sick too, but you're right, it's mainly Grandma we're protecting by trying to contain this thing. Although another way to go might be to have the oldsters laminated and park them in the basement. Send down a bucket of creamed peas and a fruit cup every few days.

7. Why is it okay for government officials to get a haircut, but not common citizens? Really? This is a thing? You mean government officials like the President? That's not a haircut, that's an installation. I'm guessing no "government official," whatever you mean by that, is getting a haircut unless they have someone who lives with them cutting their hair, or unless they're stupid or vain. Same as "common citizens."

8. Why the fear, when this virus has less than a 1% death rate? This virus is so new and so little data have been gathered that no one really knows the mortality rate yet, although it's generally pegged at over 1%. I guess we can only speak for ourselves on this one. The death rate for people in my age group is more like 4-11%, and it's not a nice death, and you get to die alone. I don't want it. Also, if my chances of getting killed in a car were one in a hundred trips, I wouldn't get in a car. You go ahead on, though, you tiger, you!

9. Why are areas like Chicago and New York gearing up for mass vaccination? Because they're smart and well-run.

11. Doesn't shelter in home mean there is a whole population of people not staying home so we can? Excellent question. Yes.

12. Why are they dividing us? Another good question. Wait. Who are you calling "they?"

13. How do people not know that we are a Republic, not a democracy? Huh. A little off-topic, there. I'm going with "nobody learns anything in school anymore," because as an Oldster I certainly know that we are a republic, meaning we elect our own representatives to legislate, rather than just everybody voting on every little thing all the time and seeing what shakes out. We are also a democracy, in that we democratically elect our representatives. I'm going out on a limb here, but something about your question makes me suspect you don't know any of this, but think this has something to do with our two major parties?

14. Where has the flu gone? Oo! Oo! I know this one. Bill Gates had the flu shipped out for the warmer months per his usual schedule and will have it re-installed next October, just in time to terrify people into accepting his vaccines, through which he intends to microchip everyone in the world, and then do, well, I don't know what. Something sneaky.

15. Why do the homeless consistently demonstrate the lowest infection rate? They don't. Jesus.

17. Why are they telling us to mask up after two months of lockdown? Really? Uh, because we still have no cure or vaccine for a dangerous and highly infectious disease. I'm not sure you're paying attention.

21. Why are the common people being controlled by government and no one is controlling the government? Hey, I've got one for you. What the hell is wrong with you?

23. Why are some doctors speaking out and then getting silenced? You mean Dr. Fauci?

25. What does a computer geek have to do with a pandemic and why does he want 7 billion coronavirus vaccines? He's a humanitarian.

28. Why did Dr. Fauci say in 2017 that there would be a "SURPRISE PANDEMIC" and then runs the pandemic team? Same answer, both clauses: because he is an expert on pandemics.

29. Why are they infringing on Christians [sic] freedoms? Whuh? Who? They who? Calm down.

And just for fun, let's go back to #3, which we skipped earlier.

3. Why can't you have an elective surgery, but you can have an abortion which is elective? Elective surgeries are those that are either unnecessary (like cosmetic surgery) or that can be reasonably postponed. Abortions, whether medically necessary or legally requested, cannot be reasonably postponed. This question doesn't seem to have much to do with our pandemic response. It feels more like a sniper shot from the Pro-Life movement, herein defined as a group advocating for the right to life for humans from blob till birth, and for a while after that, with exceptions for capital punishment, war, famine, black people running around blackly where they don't belong, and of course people over 65 during a dangerous pandemic.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Tomatoing Too Soon

My parents were genuine antiques. My dad wore a dress as a baby and later he had a pet burro. Mom remembered barnstormers flying low over the farm. They were adorable when they got to reminiscing, but I still rolled my eyes sometimes.

Like the thing with the apples. You could get a few kinds of apples at the Safeway--Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Stayman--but my parents would grimace over a Delicious apple and start naming all the old apples they missed. They could go on for hours. They'd just light up at the mention of some of them. Apples! Sheesh. Just buy Pop-Tarts and count your blessings, I thought.

Now, of course, there's a whole market in Heirloom Apples and the local nursery will have at least fifty varieties available during their annual Apple Festival. They're good, but by the time you've had fifty apple dice on a toothpick you no longer remember which ones you liked. It's a bit much, but my parents' ghosts are smiling.

And of course there are heirloom tomatoes. I'm never sure about them. I figure they're going to have purple stripes and be shaped in cross-section like something that lives on the ocean floor. Not Regular, in other words. I look over the seedlings at the nursery and am confounded. I'm only going to get three plants and call it a day, and I don't like to guess wrong and be filled with regret. So every year I pretend to consider the heirlooms and then get a Big Boy and an Early Girl and a random cherry, usually Sweet 100.

The chairs are six feet apart.
Now I'm negotiating with our local nursery for an online order that I can pay for by phone and pick up in their parking lot. It was time to look for tomatoes. But they didn't have any tomatoes in their vegetable spreadsheet. Oh well, I thought. It is a little early to plant them. Oh wait! It's because they have a whole other spreadsheet just for tomatoes! Heavens to Elizabeth, as my parents used to antiquely say.

It's not even a big nursery. They have over a hundred varieties of tomato. They have one called Banana Legs. Big White Pink Stripe. Bloody Butcher. Dancing With Smurfs. Mortgage Lifter. Speckled Roman and Striped German. Stupice. Purple Bumblebee ("dusky purple with metallic green striping," so help me God).

There are descriptions. Meaty! Flavorful! Elongated! Slightly squat! Fluted! And, of course, "determinate" and "indeterminate." That has something, I know, to do with how they grow. And how you're supposed to treat the little princesses. It feels like just another way of getting things wrong. One of them sort of shrubs up and the other sprawls into the street. I never remember which is what, so it just makes me feel bad and contributes to my getting the Big Boy, Early Girl, and standard cherry every year.

But this year, by gum, I'm going to do it. I'm going to buy three completely screwy varieties of tomato. I'm going all in! Headlong! Hell bent for leather! Katie bar the door! I'm getting Cosmonaut Volkov, Paul Robeson, and Chocolate Cherry.

I feel I owe it to Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Grace And Grief

Strange times indeed. They're marked by uncertainty, most of all, followed by a stouter appreciation of how uncertain life has been all along. What next? we ask ourselves, as we might well have asked before, if we hadn't had so much busyness to distract us. We want a dog's life. Specifically, we want to wag and bark and roll in shit without any sense of our mortality. Meanwhile, life keeps sending us bolts of grace and grief, all in the same fabric.

At the same time I've been holding my breath waiting for a friend to recover from COVID-19, I've felt nothing but honored that, purely by chance, I have a front row seat to the creation of a new batch of bushtits. Front row, hell--I'm sitting on the stage! Right in front of us we've watched over the past month as Chip and Mitzi Vinebustle have painstakingly fashioned their nest-sock out of spiderweb and moss and hustle. It was finally finished about a week ago. The flurry of activity had stopped. I thought the Vinebustles were out grocery-shopping and I got curious about their sock, so I leaned over the railing--it's only a foot away--and brought my eye next to the entry hole at the top, and Mitzi up and blasted out of there right now. Sorry! I won't do it again! Oh dear. Poor little button. I backed way off, of course. I'm thinking eggs have happened.

We know what comes next, and look forward to the day, coming up soon, when the nestlings hatch and the rest of the family is invited back and the whole sock fills up with bushtits. A jollier thing cannot be imagined.

But I'll have to keep imagining it. Because sometime in the afternoon of April 29th, something really bad happened. There is a paw-sized gash in the side of the nest sock and the bottom is ripped out. Two light brown feathers are stuck to the moss and tremble in the breeze.

It had occurred to me that the nest might be in range of a cat on our railing, and I'd had the notion to jumble chicken wire on the railing if I saw a cat stalking the Vinebustles, but I hadn't done it. The neighbor's cat noticed the peeping from the song sparrow nest under a shrub last year and dispatched them before I'd found something to fence it out. I don't know why I wasn't proactive this time around.

I have two neighbors with outdoor cats that like my garden a whole lot. It's no wonder. Everything I do there is with my birds in mind. I plant what they like, I don't clean up the things gone to seed until spring, I don't rake leaves, I maintain feeders and a nest box. My neighbors would like their cats to not kill my birds. They think--well, most that can be said is they think it's a "shame." They also think that's just a cat's nature, which is true, and they also think it's very important for their cats to be able to entertain themselves by expressing that nature. Maybe they also think it's handier for them to poop in my tomato bed rather than a litter box. I can't say.

In any case they do not want to upset me, but after all, there are lots of birds, aren't there? Cats have been around forever, and there's no shortage of birds. Right? In fact domestic cats have not been around forever, not on this continent, and birds have not evolved with them, and there is most definitely a shortage of birds. Particularly in this yard. But my neighbors have heard all that, and shrugged.

And so I want to leave any of you who still allow your cats to roam to consider at least one thing about your neighbors. Just because birds are of minor importance to you, you have no right to assume the same of me. You have no right to assume my feelings are silly or overblown. Your nonchalance about your cat has devastated me. Has stolen my sleep. And there's still a chickadee in this yard that has single-footedly kept both Dave and me emotionally afloat in the darkest of days. Don't tell me it's just a bird. You're not the authority on whom I love. It's not your territory: you have no right. You have no idea.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Dispatch From The Shutdown

Here's how my haircuts usually go. Things look spiffy when I leave the barber shop ("Seniors $15"). After that I look spiffy if I take the time to blow-dry my hair before I go to bed and use Product, which I might do for a day or two. By Day 3 I am washing my hair before I go to bed and permitting my pillow to do all the styling, and any Product used came out of my face. Results are random and sometimes startling to others, but not me because the last thing I do in the morning is put on my glasses and then I don't look in the mirror, for the same reason I don't check the rear-view if I thump over something in my car.

Then there is one day, one glorious day, when my hair is exactly the right length. And the very next day it's gone over the edge and I need a haircut, bad. That day was a month ago. My barber shop is closed. Fortunately, like everyone else, I can now shrug helplessly and say "COVID-19" and point to my head and everyone understands. No one ever mentions my hair always looks this weird because--deep down--nobody cares. That's just something girls worry about for no reason.

This would be one of your lesser impacts of a world-wide plague.

Also too, the Easter Bunny didn't come to our house this year for the first time in over forty years. The governor put the kibosh on it and besides there was a problem in the supply chain. The Easter Bunny and I go way back. At first He brought enormous quantities of chocolate and hid it around the house. There'd be a chocolate bunny and a few good truffles and then mounds and mounds of M&Ms like rainbow rodent poop everywhere. In the middle years the Buns stepped up the quality and lowered the quantity, upping the truffle-to-crap ratio. And then, after consulting his investments and noting the earnest and hopeful gleam in Pootie's eye-buttons, he just started hauling in the good chocolate by the buttload. This year, nothing.

So that's more concerning. Impact-wise.

Others face more pressing obstacles. To get a flavor of this, it's always good to take a cruise on the NextDoor site. This is an online community of your immediate neighbors, through which you can take heart in the goodness of others, and also you can find out exactly who is leaving rhetorical bags of flaming poop on your porch, because they up and tell you.

Last night's thread began with one woman's measured request we observe physical distancing whilst walking by neighbors who might be gardening near the sidewalk--to pay attention and veer away to the degree possible. And it ended up with two or three missives from the Division of the Grammatically Impaired to stay the fuck in your basement if you're so fucking scared and people have the right to walk wherever they want. Followed by a suggestion to just fucking die already.

Which is a timely reminder that yes, we old people should be prepared to check out at any time, in general, and allow young people to eventually grow into mature and considerate adults with broader perspectives. It's only fair.

And the most helpful advice of all came from a Dear Abby column I shall reproduce in bullet points:

  • Love conquers all
  • Every day may not be good, but there is good in every day
  • Don't count the  days--make the days count
  • When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and:
  • Laughter is the best medicine!
All righty then! I can only add: 

  • It takes more muscles to frown than to smile, so bulk up. 
  • Think of your NextDoor neighbor as an ass that is both half empty and half-cocked.
  • Dance like nobody's watching because they're inside drinking heavily and binge-watching Night Court. And:
  • When life gives you weird hair, make excuses.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Anonymous Family's Prodigal Son

Aww, Sugar. Mommy missed you!

you boomers are shutting down the entire economy because you're afraid of a flu. Seriously, can you boomers kill yourselves? ...I  HOPE the virus gets much stronger and kills you all. There is not one single demographic that does not hate you--white people, black people, asians, mexicans, indians, chinese, millennials, GenX, GenZ...can you baby boomers hurry up and fucking drop dead? ...I hope you enjoy the retirement homes, boomer scum!

That's how it is. Our shitty kids go out in the world wreaking havoc everywhere and we don't even hear from them for years at a time and then bam, they're off the streets and back in our life, and not one bit better than they ever were, but by cracky, we're so relieved to see them again! We let them crash in the basement and suck up the wi-fi because that's what mommies do, but eventually we have to give them the old heave-ho again because of all the things. The grocery budget, the ominous odor wafting up the stairs, the missing money from the change jar, the noise. We give them a little warning and then the boot, and maybe they'll have grown up some by the next time they surface. That's all we can do and all we can hope for.

Anyway, welcome back, honey. Oh, your Uncle Loogey "BOYCOTT AMERICAN WOMEN" called--wants to know if you have any spare coaxial splitters, and said to tell you he knows it was you that got into his Cheez Doodles.

Sweet boy! We know you're only a troll and a bot, of course, but still we're beginning to despair of your ever learning anything about constructing an essay. Repetition is good as a rhetorical device, but pay attention to cadence, and tighten, tighten, tighten! The list of demographics that hate boomers? Overdone. You've lost the reader by number four.

Spelling and syntax have improved since the last time you showed up, several years ago, so that gives a body hope. And the virus bit is a nice update. Before, we were advised only to "drop dead" without being given any suggestions as to method, which just leads the reader to conclude you're lazy, when there are so many intriguing options. But it doesn't help your case when the same exact screed shows up week after week, and all across the blogosphere. Sure, we know you're just clueing in on keywords such as "sagging" or "chin  hair" or "by cracky." Or maybe you have a way of detecting complete sentences and punctuation. Maybe that's what passes for research these days, but ultimately no one is going to be impressed if you repeatedly plagiarize your own self. Call me an old fogey, but "content" is not worthy in itself, no matter what you've read.

Or perhaps you are targeting blogs with old-lady wallpaper such as this one, presuming, correctly, the author is too technologically challenged to freshen things up, but you don't have any quarrel with the décor when you're cleaning out the fridge and piggy-backing off the cable. I mean, really, son. What's the point? Who asked you to take your cans of literary spray paint and tag the whole internet? Do you really imagine you're hurting our feelings?

We don't have feelings. We've got money. We're old and funny-looking and got over ourselves ten menopausal years ago. We own the houses you're crashing in and we've decided to spend most of the money we stole from your generation and bequeath the remainder to environmental organizations. Until you find someone else who has a basement, you might think about sweetening up.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Rocking The Man Skirt

New shop coming in on Alberta Street where the doo-dad shop used to be. Stumptown Kilts. We didn't have a kilt shop yet on Alberta and we have to cross our fingers that it will make it, stranded on a corner at least two blocks away from the nearest Thai or Mexican restaurant. Noodles and tortillas run this street like electricity, and you don't want to be too far from an outlet.

I wish them well. I'm a fan of kilts. They're snappy. I like the old time kilts best, though. A few centuries ago a kilt was basically a gigantic tablecloth, assuming your table seated fourteen, and half of it got bunched up into a skirt and the rest got wrapped around whatever chilly bits were left out: over the shoulder, around the bend, on the head, tucked into the waist. You had to lay it out on the ground and painstakingly fold over all the pleats, then lie down on it and cinch it with a belt. You could probably wrap your horse in it. It was an operation, putting that on.

It seems silly to have to lie down to put your clothes on, but I remember doing it myself. In the old days when pants were supposed to be tight, and Spandex hadn't been discovered, we had to lie down on the bed just to get them zipped up.

But the so-called "great kilt" got abbreviated at some point and now most men wear just the short kilt, although there's still plenty of material involved. The classic great kilt and newer kilts are all gathered mightily in the rear and sides, and flat in front. Simple knife-pleasts, usually, but sometimes box pleats. I know box pleats.

You KNOW I'm putting in Liam Neeson.
I know box pleats because when we learned to sew in 8th-grade Home Ec, we had to make a box-pleated skirt, for some goddam reason. Each pleat is folded on both sides and stitched down. You start with a couple hundred yards of fabric and pleat your way to your tiny 8th-grader waist size, a number you will never see again. It was a giant pain in the ass. I don't recall if I ever wore my pleated skirt, but I do remember it was blue and white gingham, unless that was the apron we also made to wear when we were supposedly learning how to cook but didn't.

Anyway the modern kilt is much like that gingham number, and you don't have to fold it up on the ground in order to get into it.

I get a big kick out of the men wearing kilts around Portland these days. That is because there is clearly a bit of pride involved in deciding to wear one in the first place, America being the sexually repressed place it is. "I am manly enough to wear a skirt," the modern Portland man says, and just in case there's any doubt about the manliness, his skirt is made out of some kind of poop-brown duck cloth you could make tractor tires out of. You know Carhartts? That material, folded ten ways to Sunday and fortified with extract of boar gristle. Doll that bad boy up with rivets, chains, buckles, a winch rope, tiny skulls, bear claws, and penis bones and slap on a sneer and nobody's going to come after you.

Then top it with your sporran. That's Scottish for "purse," but no one has to know that. It's worn right in front, and comes in various sizes depending on how much you're planning to pack, or are already packing.

They also sell a "sport utility" kilt, but I'm pretty sure you can get a King Cab Super-Duty version with cupholders if you want. Whichever you choose, be sure to accessorize with your sporran, and mind how it's hanging.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Price Of Freedom, TBD

You really have to hand it to the Republicans. They can call up a standing army at any time and not even pay the soldiers. The pawns can be found everywhere, like little dormant seeds in the soil, and all the Rs have to do is plop in some manure and boom, up they spring in their little flag outfits, loud and proud and fully armed, ready to take on the enemies of the plutocracy. And boy oh boy do they have plenty of manure. They ain't running out of that anytime soon.

Their aim is pretty transparent. They would like to be in power forever in order to funnel all the money from as many people as possible to the lucky few that own the propaganda arm, the presidency, and the courts. Of course that's a lousy way to raise an army. You can't get people up in literal arms by telling them you want them to work for minimum wage or lower with no sick leave and no pension and no medical insurance, just so a small number of people can own everything in the world. That's where the manure comes in. They have to make the people believe they give one shiny shit about gun rights and abortion and [cough cough] freedom and then, just like that, they've got their sad little soldiers, marching as to war.

Not really sure what a bunch of people screaming and honking and wiping their noses on the flag because of a public health order has to do with the right to bear arms, but in certain circles that case can be made without any logic involved whatsoever. You could accuse your mom of trying to take your Second Amendment rights away if she runs out of Nestlé's Quik, and nobody'd even blink an eye anymore.

I mean, what's the good of open-carry laws if they're making you march around the living room with your toddler all day long? The point is to brandish. Can't brandish by yourself. Look at them! All dolled up in bullet-proof this-and-that, bristling with firepower! Nothing's going to take them down, by God. Psst: Do they know just how small a virus is? Perhaps they're planning to rain bullets into the air in case we get a locust plague next. That, at least, would take down one or two locusts, making it more effective than trying to kill a virus with an antibiotic--Mr. President Science-Boy, sir.

And if you can't rouse enough rabble with an imaginary assault on gun rights, you can always remind people how many fetuses have been lost compared with the number of grandmas dying ghastly deaths alone in the ICU. That old chestnut! Never gets old.

Hell, you can raise an army by telling people Democrat Governors want to shut down their states until December just so people can't say Merry Christmas to each other. You can make up any old thing. There will always be willing buyers. Seeds...manure...sprinkle, sprinkle. Boom.

The demonstrations in Michigan and elsewhere have had some adorable touches. "Don't carpool," one organizer tweeted, "gas is cheap!" And so in a new natural world that has gone blessedly quiet and started showing signs of environmental repair and recovery in a few short weeks, amassing the maximum number of vehicles making the maximum amount of noise is bound to have the bonus effect of annoying liberals. Awesome, my dudes! Now, don't you feel better?

You don't?

Excellent. That means you're still exploitable.

When you get your socialist stimulus check from The Little People, a.k.a. the chumps who aren't rich enough to quit paying taxes, just mail them to Betsy DeVos and her family, who have sunk a buttload of dough into your little "grass-roots" organization. That's really her point, stripped down. She and her friends want the rest of your money.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Chip And Mitzi Put In An Offer

Well, we certainly did not want to discourage Chip and Mitzi Vinebustle, the bushtits, from building a nest right spang in front of our noses. And we'd only get the one shot. In spite of the fact that it takes a month or more to knit a bushtit nest, they don't reuse them the next year, but choose a different location. The amazing thing is they totally could reuse them. The suckers are sturdy. I'm always seeing bushtit nests from previous years. They look like fluff with intention, but they make it right through the winter, and as you may recall, this is tornado country.

Not really. But it's tornado neighborhood. We had a genuine petite tornado a couple blocks away last year and it took some trees down but I'm betting the bushtit nests made it through. What makes them so durable?

The main ingredient is spider web, a.k.a. God's Own Spandex. Chip and Mitzi are in there tugging on the webbing and pulling it every which direction. Usually these nests dangle from tree branches, which means the construction crew has to hang onto the nest with their feets while they're working on it, but Chip is totally using scaffolding. We have the smartest birds! The wisteria is jangling with old beans on strings and they're hanging their nest right in amongst them.

Mitzi up top with construction-grade fluff
That was job one, for us. The beans are left over from last year's pendulous flowers and some warm evening in March they all detonate. They can take your eye out. You can hear them blow up from a block away. Unfortunately not every one has gone off yet this year. There were still three unpopped beans hanging within a foot of the Vinebustles' nest, so we clipped them off. The explosion would be sure to discourage any prospective fuzzy homeowner and that's if it doesn't blast them into the street.

It's possible that bushtits have enough equanimity to shrug off exploding wisteria beans, though. They don't mind us too much. And they're not real fussy. The Literature states that the location of the nest in a given tree "tends to be from 3 feet to 100 feet" off the ground. Tends? That's like saying your average American tends to live somewhere between sea and shining sea.

The Literature also says that the tits incorporate feathers, fur, and downy plant matter to camouflage the outside of the nest. That way nobody will notice a foot-long fuzzy sock with a bustle of bushtits flying in and out of it all day long. Because once Chip and Mitzi invite the whole family back in, there are going to be lots of bushtits, and they never stop talking, either. It'll be as quiet as a preteen slumber party. Everyone wants a turn. Let ME sit the eggs! No, let ME! MOM! It's MY turn! Pip pip pip! No fair! SCOOT OVER!

Chip on his scaffolding
Camouflage? Please. They might as well go for a snappy argyle.

The extra helper tits are referred to (in The Literature) as "supernumeraries," and yes, that is the same term used for extra nipples on people. It's a little dismissive. The implication is that you really don't need all those bushtits. They're superfluous. But bushtits never find each other superfluous. They all find each other equally swell and they're all super excited about making new ones.

So among the things I'm looking forward to here is the arrival of the Louis Tiffany drapes Mitzi has on order, and the day the sock will bulge and bop with essential birds, cozying up in the feather lining. There won't be a kid jiggling his bag of marbles who will be any happier than me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Flyover

Well, they all showed up on the same day. April 8. What a bunch of goofs.

April 8: Housefly Day. Not a ton of flies. Well, possibly a ton, but not a large number. These are the biggest, slowest, logiest bunch of fattycakes I've ever seen. They don't even fly so much as they lumber. They remind me of the big-bellied prop planes that used to trudge across the sky over our house when I was little. You saw them coming and you had time to go inside for a popsicle before they were all the way done with going over your house. They came from National Airport, which was relatively close by. That's the one that got renamed the Ronald Reagan Union-Busting Libertarian Assholes Airport, but by that time, the planes had a little more pep and we had a lot more confidence they weren't going to plop into the back yard.

I have no idea what was keeping them in the air. The houseflies either. In fact I've been watching them, and they don't all stay in the air. Some of them end up on the floor from sheer excess of avoirdupois. I coaxed three of them out the window already. You know how you open the window for a fly but it always goes buzzing off in the wrong direction? These guys just lifted off from the windowsill, I went to get a popsicle, and then I popped them on their fannies in mid-air and they bumbled their way out.

The larger house spiders are watching the flies warily and wondering if they're well-marbled. Spiders are not known for hunting cooperatively but it wouldn't be the worst idea in this case. Early humans could live off squirrels but if they banded together and took down a mastodon they were set for the winter. The smaller house spiders, meanwhile, are boarding up and latching the shutters. They assume mastodons are mostly aspirational anyway. You don't want one falling on your house.

I figure this was a single hatch, since they showed up all at once. The maggots had to be the size of pinto beans. I don't know how they got in. This is why people used to think flies were spontaneously generated from meat. You'd have a lovely piece of meat and then out of nowhere it flang out maggots. It took people a remarkably long time to recognize that the maggots came from fly eggs, even though the experiments involved were simple. (Cover the meat.) It was just easier for them to imagine flies came out of nowhere. Isn't that silly?

But we're way smarter these days. I've been researching a lot of typing on the internet, and it's perfectly obvious that my flies came from Bill Gates. Bill Gates is a multi-billionaire who keeps trying to do good works with some of his money, which most of us agree is highly suspicious. He has already been caught trying to depopulate the world using his dastardly vaccines, and now, with the coronavirus, the word on the street is he's working on a vaccine that essentially implants a microchip in the unfortunate recipients so that he can control everyone. You can see the potential for big mischief here, if you're paying attention at all. The odder the conspiracy theory, after all, the more likely it is to be true, because the best conspirators are known to be very sneaky by nature. As lots of typists on the internet are saying, Wake up.

So I'm sure that's what the deal is with my flies. Bill Gates developed them. Clearly, they're drones. They're spying on us every minute. Somewhere Bill is sitting in a lavish bunker watching video footage from my flies and I have half a mind (this helps) to show him my big white fanny. But I won't. He's just wily enough to have snuck in a real decoy fly, and I don't want to get into a personal maggot situation.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Wish List

I don't have a big wish list. I've got what I need, and if I don't, I won't take it personally. Still, there are things.

I want to see a woodcock. I want to watch that goof strutting with his big old eyeballs on top of his head. His eyeballs are so big his brain had to slide down the back of his neck just to fit them in, and I'm not even kidding. He's dashing. He's got rhythm. He goes PEENT. He is everything I want in a wish, except Here.

Also? I want a personal bushtit nest with personal bushtits in it. As wishes go, it's not out of line. We are butt-deep in bushtits all year. They fly plurally from one tree to the next. If they had to practice social distancing they would just die. The only time of the year you'll see just two bushtits together is when they're building a nest. The rest of the flock has to be sitting around hyperventilating until they're all invited back for the open-house. And believe it or not--they will be.

Standard number of bushtits, on suet feeder
I make a point of looking for bushtit nests when we're out walking. They're often dangling from the branches of evergreens, but I've seen them in other kinds of trees as well. That's right, dangling. They totally knit a sock. A fuzzy sock.

So the bushtits in our yard have to be nesting somewhere nearby, and every year I hope I'll spy the sock, so I can watch. My sheltering-in-place plans already included trying to spot bushtits with nesting material and figuring out where they go.

And then, on a March evening warm enough to take our beers out to the front porch, we saw it. We saw it! There are two bushtits knitting a nest in our WISTERIA! Which is like six feet away from our chairs! On the PORCH! Right the heck THERE! Right the heck IN FRONT OF US!

Day two
Oh my god oh my god. They were just casting on, but I guess it takes a month for them to finish a sock. Once they turn the heel, they're home free. I read that the male will be starting two or three nests at once and the female picks one and they finish it together, so there's some danger she'll pick a different one. But we're a week in now and I think this thing is happening. So far it doesn't look like there's any actual knitting going on. It looks like it's entirely made of individual dandelion flufflets and static cling. But there's plenty of spiderweb and moss in there too. Maybe they're just putting in the lining and they'll bring in something stouter for the siding later. I plan to see.

Just think of it: can you make a sock with your face using only spider butt juice and lint? Okay fine, but then can you pop out eggs in it and jam yourself and your teenage kids and your in-laws in there until teeny weeny bushtit babies come out? I thought not. You can't even spend that kind of time with your family on Thanksgiving. But bushtits are all of the same mind when it comes to politics. It works for them. Thanks, thanks, thanks, praise the Lord and pass the creamed aphids.

And unlike most chickadees--Marge and Studley excepted--you can tell the bushtits apart. The boy has brown eyes and the girl has yellow eyes. That's Chip up top and Mitzi to the left. We're trying to give them all the space they need (and they don't seem to need much) but we have been eavesdropping and we do know their names.

Everyone? Meet Chip and Mitzi. The Vinebustles.

And bonus woodcock from Mr. Internet:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Push Pause

Don't waste this.

This: this experience we're sharing as a species is a rare opportunity. To pay attention. To notice. What do you feel? Let's start with something easier. What do you hear?

It's quiet where I am. I walk in the middle of the street to keep my distance from people and hardly ever have to get out of the way of a car. Traffic is mostly gone. I don't even hear many airplanes and we live near the airport. That quiet is the sound of fuel that doesn't have to be used, of trips that don't have to be made. How many of our trips really had to be made, before?

Are you able to work from home? More and more people can. If they can now, is there a good reason to commute later? Are all the conferences and meetings in person necessary, or even desirable? One person I know has been surprised to discover he's getting more work done from home.

Are you counting squares of toilet paper? Are you wasting less food? Are you thinking of putting in your first garden? What happened to all the toilet paper? Did everyone just suddenly shit themselves? How scared are we?

Are you frightened? Stressed? Don't waste this moment. Let it tell you who you are and what you're afraid of. Dying? What changed? You were always going to die. All that busyness you engaged in before--was it just to distract you? Pay attention to your fear. Notice it, and move on to something else.

What are you thinking about? What does it sound like in your head if nothing is distracting you? Do you imagine you should be getting a lot of stuff done now? What if there's nothing at all going through your head? Would that really be a bad thing?

What can you not do without? Why? Listen to yourself.

People are complaining about something they call social isolation...on the internet. They are discussing their loneliness with friends and strangers all over the world, all at once, all the time. They feel bereft. What happened? Not long ago, phone calls were too expensive to make often, or for long; we heard from each other at Christmas and once or twice a year by letter, if we were lucky. Friends, parents, children, everyone. It was fine. Not long before that, people would get in a wagon and go away from their friends and family basically forever. Now we are all rattled if we don't get our text messages returned right away. Are we better off for this? We're so tense. This super-connection: is it good for us? If you had to do without physical human contact, or do without the internet, which would you choose?

Do you feel compelled to read the latest about COVID-19? You want to keep up with the latest recommendations, sure. Then do you also need to hear and share everything you can about how dreadful Trump is? You already know how you're voting. Those people defending that sorry soul online are only going to keep you up at night. You can't spank them from your own device, and correcting their spelling doesn't have the sting you think it does. They don't care. Leave them alone. They're keeping you from paying attention. From noticing.

So do that. Go outside. Don't take any devices with you. Write a list for a scavenger hunt. Nothing is funner than a scavenger hunt! I'll start you off. Find an insect you've never seen. Find a bird. Find a bird carrying sticks and follow that bird until you know where it's going and what it's doing. Find something on the underside of a leaf. It could be on the ground, or still on the plant; turn leaves over until you find a spider, a gall, a fungus, a bug, a salamander, a larva, life. Find something natural that is sphere-shaped. Find a feather.

Find a drawing of anything, or even a doodle. Done by you. Earlier today.

Find the thing you're most afraid of. Stare it down until you're bored with it. Until it gives up on you and passes by. Live.

All these photos were taken in one twenty-minute outing in my yard, just after I finished typing this up. This is the first day I've seen crows with nesting material, and I've been looking. And then Studley showed up when I was trying to get a photo of a bumble bee. He wrecked that. All my bee photos were out of focus. If I had worries, I completely forgot about them.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

And That's The Way It Was

There used to be a thing called The News. It came out of your TV at six pm. There were three portals in your TV it could come out of. Every family had their favorite portal.

The three portals were NBC, CBS, and ABC. It was hard to compare them because once you chose your The News portal you stuck with it. You had your personal family anchorman and you didn't switch. This is because it would require hauling your dead ass out of your chair to change the channel.

We were a Huntley-Brinkley family. I don't know why. Daddy was a man of strong opinions, eloquently hollered, whether you asked about them or not. So I figure he had a reason. Because I had faith in that, I grew up thinking Walter Cronkite was not as good, and maybe bad. Similarly, I knew Eisenhower was not as good as Adlai Stevenson, even though I didn't know anything about either one. It's also possible we were Huntley-Brinkleyers because of the theme music, which was the second movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony. At the end of their final show, they played the whole movement. I was transported. I now suspect we had the album in our meager record collection and could have played it at any time, but I thought of the moment as a once-in-a-lifetime event. That's how TV events were. You didn't get a second shot.

Anyway, in much the same way as one could be either a Methodist or a Presbyterian, many people preferred Cronkite over on CBS. Nobody knows who did The News on ABC. Probably Ward Cleaver, with opinion by Uncle Bub for gravitas.

But whether you watched Huntley-Brinkley on the peacock channel, or Walter Cronkite on the eyeball channel, or Amos Real McCoy over on the channel with just the little letters inside a button, you got pretty much the same The News, at the same time of day.

They didn't necessarily get the news right, but one assumes they tried. Powerful people were still capable of manufacturing a story that would get us more enthusiastic about a war, and the portals would dutifully report that story, but good journalism eventually prevailed. All of us sat around our boxes and absorbed The News without much suspicion, and we formed our different opinions and voted based on the same basic product.

That turns out to be a big deal. Now we can simply default to our own ill-formed biases without any illumination whatsoever, if we want to. The News can be less a source of information than a vehicle to get and keep our dander up.

So on one portal you can learn that seasoned professional intelligence officers, diplomats, and presidential appointees have all agreed that the President has attempted to extort a strategic ally for a personal favor. Or, you can go to another portal and learn that House Democrats have conducted shady interrogations in the basement of the same D.C. pizza parlor Hillary "Lock Her Up" Clinton used to run a child sex ring out of, and that one of the inquisitors has been secretly recorded snickering at a photo of Trump in golf pants and a stiff breeze; and that the entire impeachment process is rigged, illegitimate, and illegal, and springs only out of a deep-seated irrational hatred of a successful and godly president on the part of people who simply can't get over having lost an election. And if Trump gets removed, Joe Biden and his son should be found guilty of entrapment. All of this would become clear if only we had access to HC's deleted emails, which are also thought to include correspondence with her sex-change surgeon, a scanned copy of Satan's compact with Obama, and a mysterious photo of a baby with one white head, one Kenyan head, and thick ankles.

You know what else? The three old portals used to blink off at midnight.

I miss that.