Saturday, October 17, 2020

Evolving


There are lots of things no one has quite figured out about evolution. Is it gradual, or not? Why is there a relative lack of intermediate forms in the fossil record? Some species is happily cavorting or barking or ruminating away and then it's gone, and evidence of a later form pokes out of the stone, something smaller or pointier or more burrowy. What happened in between? I believe it was Stephen Jay Gould who observed a caterpillar that looks like bird poop and wondered how that particular adaptation gradually evolved: sure, it keeps predators from wanting to eat it, but where is the percentage in looking just a little bit like a turd?

It was Gould and friends who postulated something he called "punctuated equilibrium," in which a species could be expected to remain pretty much the same for a very long time, and only an abrupt change in environment or circumstance would cause the various mutations rumbling away in the margins of the population to surge. Dog-sized critters didn't gradually inch up into horses. In this scenario, mutations are happening all along, but in a large population well-adapted to its environment, those little accidental genetic ideas are overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of standard-issue traits. One creature might show up with an adorable little horn between her ears and say "Look! I can drill holes with this thing!" and everyone else is all Yeah, that's just weird. And that's it for the horn until something happens in the environment that makes hole-drilling really handy.

It's suggested that these little developments lead to species changes only in the edges of the population, where a group might break off from the main herd and get isolated geographically, and at that point some of those accidental ideas get more of a hearing. Things could then change in a hurry, in a matter of generations. And if the diverging population meets up with the original species again, they don't even recognize each other anymore. "Ew, horns," they hear. "Gross."

"Yeah? Drill you," they say back.

Some events are more consequential than others. You get a lot of tectonic mayhem happening and all of a sudden you've got the isthmus of Panama, and everything changes. Marine species discover themselves in separate oceans. Llamas move into South America. Porcupines pass them going north. Warm Caribbean waters can't play with the Pacific anymore and now there's a serviceable Gulf Stream gyre affecting things in Northern Europe. It's a big deal.

That's what I think happens in politics, too. Things don't change too much and then there's a big event, or a series of them, and minds change, and things that weren't possible before are suddenly inevitable. Gay people are persecuted and killed in one decade, fighting unsuccessfully for basic civil rights in the next, daring to demand the right to marry in the one after that; it's too soon, they're told; it's too much; some county allows marriage on a Wednesday and yanks back the licenses by Friday. But the push is on. And more and more people are willing to come out to their family and friends. And they talk to other people. It's a cascade of truth. And all of a sudden gay marriage is legal. "Ew, horns," some people still say, but nobody reallly cares what those people think anymore.

We are now in a very unusual time. A formerly well-regarded nation can't keep its people healthy, or housed, or even fed, and we're on a fast track toward an unlivable planet, yet nothing seems to change. Billionaires are still isolated in their own country called Money and we're caught in the same gyre of power and greed that has dominated the world for centuries. On the edges of the population, ideas emerge: the rise of the commons, the rejection of racism, the deliberate restructuring of a world economy toward a just and sustainable future. The ideas are shouted down. Too radical. Too soon.

But a global pandemic reveals the fault lines in the system. Hurricanes and fire and drought lay their fingers on ever more people. Women speak up about their mistreatment at the hands of men and are heard. Cell phone video reveals how much Black lives still don't matter, and citizens finally listen, and learn, and march, and keep marching. Facing disasters all around, Americans begin to imagine life with adequate health care, with livable wages, with compassion toward each other and the stranger.

The ground is quaking. We're poised to tumble toward a more sustainable existence. It's a Panama moment.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Right Rock

 


I'm making rock walls again.

I've made a bunch already: rock-lined gravel paths meander through the garden. We're all about basalt here. I mean, half of Oregon is basalt from repeated lava flows so massive they shoved the Columbia River all the way up to Astoria even before Astoria had been properly invented. We've got shit-tons of basalt.

And it makes good walls. So I started looking for nice chunks of basalt lying around on the side of the road and Dave got used to me slamming on the brakes and hopping out to toss rocks into the back of my car. At least he was decent about it. Not sure he got used to it. Because at some point he just called up a gravel quarry and asked if we could pop in there and toss rocks into our pickup truck. (Dave, famously, likes to "knock a job out," whereas I am a fiddle-farter.) Doggone if the quarry operator, who had never had such a request, thought maybe we could, and we drove up there and checked in and he sent us to a remote portion of the property and we started lobbing in as much basalt as we thought we could safely drive home. The quarry operator looked at our haul and said, Hmm, how about ten bucks, does that sound fair? And we thought it did, and in fact we came back at least three more times, because I really, really like rock paths. At some point the quarry guy must have heard from a lawyer or something because he turned the spigot off, but at that point I was pretty much done.


It takes a while to put a nice rock-lined path together, particularly if you aren't shaping the rocks in any way, and aren't real strong, and have standards. You sit on your haunches and pick out one rock after another and turn it every which way until you find one that fits just right. The right one goes in chonk and it makes you so very happy. I do not know why I enjoy this so much but some part of my brain was set up to be a teeny tiny mason. I like to see things go chonk.

It feels a lot like writing, for me. I can toss off a sentence with the rest of them but I'm always revisiting it and trying out different verbs and turning them this way and that until something goes chonk.

    "Soon, all over town, we were seeing the improbable new style phenomenon called the muffin-top." Nope.

My rock walls aren't professional-looking,but they're still pleasing to the eye, and so satisfying to build that I don't care how long they take. They're not built to be walked on, but try telling a four-year-old that. Especially the first ones I made, when I'd put in a rock with no solid base at all because it fit so well with the next one over, and I'd back-fill it with dirt and strategic pebbles and hope it wouldn't pop out, but of course it eventually did. Later I worked harder at using good solid rocks with a fat base and those have stayed put better. 

    "Soon, all over town, people were perching size-eighteen buttocks on top of size-twelve jeans like their pants were an ass pedestal." Nope.

This spring I decided to cut in a new path. It's going all right. But it's a lot harder because the rocks I have left over are all the rocks that didn't work out the first time. They don't have good flat facets, or the shape is wrong, or there are too many roundy bits, or things stick out. It's like putting a jigsaw puzzle together when pieces are missing and a third of them were swapped out for Parcheesi pawns. Or like having an old brain that won't supply the right word when you need it. But I've got time. I intend to prevail, however long it takes.

    "Soon, great rolling cumulonimbus mounds of flesh were thundering out of pants all over town."

Chonk.


Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Few Neurons Shy Of A Clue

 


It's not easy for a young person to fully appreciate short-term memory loss. I know because I still have a dim recollection of being a young person.

I remember being really good at Concentration, where you place cards face down and match them into pairs. Used to beat my own mom at that, even as a preschooler, and that makes a kid feel neat. It is exactly the same skill required to be a stellar mail carrier. I could walk up to an unfamiliar sorting case and within an hour I had all the slots memorized. I could make that case my bitch.

Every now and then we'd get a new hire. Some old guy: like, in his fifties even. They'd be so slow. It was hard to watch. They'd stand there with a letter pointed at the case and not move. We used to call it the "Postal Wax Museum." Poor old man! Kind of stupid, I guessed.

So here is a helpful visual depiction of Short-Term Memory Loss. Note the lump on the forehead. This was from taking a small item of trash to the trash can. In order to reach the trash can I have to duck under a vine maple branch. The depositing of the trash takes no more than two seconds, then I turn around and walk back. BAM.

Two seconds is too long to remember to duck under what you just ducked under two seconds ago. 

Short-term memory loss is the real reason we lather, rinse, and repeat. It's why the ends of our sentences go missing. It's why we end up walking into a room and standing there for no reason. It's why we don't interrupt people in conversation as much as we used to. You thought we'd just gotten more considerate? Hell no. Our clever rejoinder sailed away.

Short-term memory loss is why you make an eggplant parmesan and when you're all done eating it you find a big pile of parmesan on the counter. All grated and ready to go.

It's why it seems like I'm looking right through you. I'm searching for a word, and your head is in the way.

Short-term memory loss, to take an example from someone so close to me she may in fact be me, is why you walk a half mile to the grocery store, bag up your produce, and discover you have left your money at home, walk back home, go inside, have to pee, pee, and return to the store, and still don't have your money.

It's complicated. I can recite my library card number, which has eighteen digits. But that's only because I always forget to bring my library card.

Short-term memory loss is why I still don't know the name of our neighbor but he's known mine for twenty years and I can't ask now, but I do remember it's one of an old duo's names, either Chad or Jeremy, or Jan or Dean, Hall, Oates, or possibly Starsky.

If I haven't called you by name in twenty years, be kind. Figure out a way to work it into a conversation. Say "I cannot believe that I, Chad, of all people, lost my keys again!" In fact that one will earn you double points.

You think we've gone stupid, but it's just short-term memory loss.

Although I will be damned if I can tell the difference.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Soul, Man



There are things everyone says, so they're assumed to be true.

This is why I keep some things to myself.

Don't speak ill of the dead. Don't wish ill on the living.

That whole notion--that all human life is precious, that our souls make us something special--has never made sense. Perhaps all people are precious to God, but they're not to me. If Beethoven had a soul, it's worth more than Donald Trump's. There are people I will mourn and other people I won't miss at all.

I'm not sure what a soul is. It seems like something you invent to get out of dying. If I do have a soul, I'm quite certain my chickadee Studley does too. In any case, every one of us will die. Our souls will survive us, or they will fade back into fiction.

So I don't, mostly, wish ill on a living person. At least out loud. COVID-19 is purely awful. And I wouldn't, as the mandatory sentiment would have it, wish it on anyone.

But if I did, bingo, he would totally be the guy. I hope he recovers. And lives long enough to go to prison.

Why? Not because I enjoy imagining someone suffering. I don't. I'm at least that much of a liberal. But this man has been jaw-droppingly careless with other people's lives. People of color, immigrants, peaceful protestors, and, in the face of a pandemic, every still-breathing American. 

And now, for him, finally, the shit got real.

It got real for someone who doesn't believe anything is real and has duped half the population with his whims and fantasies and play-acting and ever-flowing fountain of bullshit. I can celebrate that. I do.

Because it's not just a pandemic. We're also well on the way to destroying our planet as a livable habitat for us and most of our fellow travelers. We know exactly how we got here, we know what to do about it--but criminally greedy souls are pretending we don't, and are blithely sacrificing their children. And yours. And Studley's children too. They are willing to risk it all, for a little bit of money. It makes no difference if half the people are willing to swallow their lies whole and ask for seconds. It doesn't make it less real. Shit needs to get real. If it takes a dead man to do it, I'm good with that.

I do not particularly believe that human life is sacred, or at least any more sacred than other life. But tonight, I was thinking about our souls and our pretense to immortality, and I put on a recording of Beethoven's Ninth, second movement. I cranked it way up. I lost my breath.

The top of my head tingled and dissolved and lifted off until it soared with the angels I don't believe in. It was as real as anything I know.


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Up For Nomination


 

I'm looking at a full-page ad here for Primal Max Red, the latest and greatest entry in the swelling male sexual performance market. Says here there have been over 200,000 studies of the enhancer, and that dude says it totally works. PMR results in a quicker, stronger, and longer-lasting "performance."

Performance! It puts me in mind of a puppet show, with the star in question popping up on the stage! Boy howdy! A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants! Let's call it seltzer.

The new pill is a combination of nutrients and nitric oxide, and unlike the famous blue pill's 5,000 mg of product, PMR contains "a bigger 9,000 mg dose." With the increased girth of the improved dose, researchers report a whopping 275% boost in blood flow in five minutes. Customers interviewed after regaining consciousness are enthusiastic. Side effects include light bruising of the torso.

 
 

Nitric oxide is the key to all this. Nitric oxide is what got the balls rolling and no one seems to care that its formula is "NO." According to the ad, nitric oxide won the Nobel Prize in 1998. That's the first time a molecule or atom bagged the big one since radium, which was awarded the prize in 1911 because otherwise it would have had to go to a girl.

Winning the Nobel Prize is a big deal and our little molecule should be proud. It's a much bigger deal than merely being nominated, as Donald Trump was earlier this year.

He's eligible because being nominated automatically proves your eligibility, and a ton of people are allowed to nominate, including politicians, cabinet members from an Earth nation, university professors, associate professors, adjunct professors, unpaid interns, and janitorial staff; members of l'Institut du Droit International, or members of the court of The Hague, or Barack Obama--he can nominate too. He didn't nominate Trump though. That honor accrued to a lutefisk-white fellow named Christian Tybring-Gjedde, who has been stinking up the Norwegian parliament for fifteen years. Christian loathes immigrants, idolizes Vladimir Putin, and believes climate change is a hoax--that the Arctic ice just melts every now and then because God loves us and wants us to have more oil. He was unavailable for comment as he was off to the North Sea to get photos of himself stabbing a whale with his shirt off.

There have been 318 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize this year alone. Trump also shares the honor with Adolf Hitler and Stalin (twice). It is considered unlikely that he will in fact win the prize, although he can take heart in the fact that Woodrow Wilson scored it in 1920. Mr. Wilson was fêted for getting the League of Nations started, but he is also renowned for significantly reducing friction between the races by keeping them the hell apart. He re-instituted segregation in government agencies, which had up till that point been appointing Black statesmen to positions of leadership in unacceptable numbers. He also innovated Regular and Colored toilets in federal buildings. White workers, he explained, felt very strongly about toilet-seat contamination by Negro and this was a way to bring peace to the work force. When Black leader Monroe Trotter brought a delegation to the White House to whine, for some goddam reason, Wilson, complaining bitterly about his tone, had him removed. Wilson, furthermore, was a pioneer in introducing the concept of achieving peace between racial groups by favoring one and incarcerating the other. He was ahead of his time.

For his part, Trump tweeted that if Anyone should get a Piece Prize it should be him, and he has been up for it for Years, thanks to a friendly fascist from Norway, and probably nitric oxide. 

This post was written before the announcement of Donald Trump's miracle encounter with the hoax virus, but I couldn't think of any reason not to publish it anyway.


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Let's Web The Place Up!

 


It's almost October, and it's time to appreciate spiders again! As most people are aware, spiders are not insects, and at this time of year are more accurately members of the Piñata family. Your average female autumn spider can be recognized by her resemblance to an ottoman or small cargo plane. People seem to be quite upset at the size of spiders this time of year and yet those same people are not at all happy about encountering hundreds of tiny spiders in the springtime either. You really can't please some people.

The reason spiders are so husky now is that they are completely packed with the bugs everyone was complaining about earlier, only in a permanently disabled condition. Generally speaking your tubbier arachnids stay outside but every so often they will enter the homes of very loud people.

The trouble with looking up information on things like spiders is that the first two pages of links are from pest-control companies. This is not the place to get reliable information, and even the reliable information on these sites will often concede there is no real problem with spiders, but offer you twelve noxious ways to send them to heaven anyway. "There are 35,000 species of spiders and only a few of them bite," one will say, knowing that the casual reader has already blacked out at "35,000."

 

I had no more confidence in the chatty report in the newspaper that began "If you feel like you're running into spiders everywhere right now, you probably are." This is sort of unhelpful unless it is important for the reader to immediately determine if they suffer from delusional parasitosis. Presumably such a person will be relieved to discover they've most likely had actual spiders crawling over them.

The sensation of imaginary bugs and spiders crawling on or under the skin is called formication, but it's not as much fun as it sounds. Formica is from the Latin for cheap countertops, and among the many possible explanations for the feeling of formication is, it says here, menopause. Fuck of course, menopause. Why not? It's just God's way of distracting you from feeling fat, dried-up, and periodically on fire.

So it's something like Morgellon's disease, in which patients suffer from the conviction there are itchy fibers growing in their skin, even though there aren't. But suffer they do; it resembles the civic psychosis derived from consuming too many conspiracy theories. The stuff you're afraid of isn't real, but by God you're gonna strap on an AR-15 and go out and menace somebody anyway.

Back to our spider friends. Spiders may spin small webs early in the season but by fall they are really hitting their stride. The autumn spider has a remarkable way of getting a web started. She will shoot silk out her butt vicinity and let it spin out and ripple in the breeze until it catches onto something. Then she pulls it taut and anchors it and strengthens it and before long she's in the web business. Those of us feeling paralyzed over the daily horrors in the news should take heart and adopt the simple faith of the autumn spider. When you don't know where to turn, or what to do, shoot something out your butt and keep hope alive. It will land somewhere, and then you just strap in and hold on. Build your web. All your friends will be doing it too. And bit by bit we'll have the whole place covered.

Then we can really start scaring some people.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

My Mouth Is An Anarchist Jurisdiction


 

I've got crooked teeth. There's not enough room in my face for them all, even though my face isn't all that large on the inside. It's a regular game of musical chairs in there and has been for years. My second molar got the last seat. My lower canines have barked my incisors sideways. There's been a stampede for the exits. The bicuspids are overtaking the skinny ones in the front.

My molars mostly match up if I ask them to, but I could slide a small woodland creature through the front with my teeth clenched and not even rumple its fur. We've got a situation.

So it occurred to me the other day that as long as I was going to have to have this unsightliness I might as well find something to blame it on, and I decided to accuse my British heritage. According to the DNA wizards I'm about half British. And everybody knows British people have crooked teeth. And obviously the 4% of me that runs Neanderthal didn't come to the fore in the tooth department, and while we're at it, it didn't do much for my eyebrows either.

But the internet said the British thing wasn't so. In fact--and there were several scientific articles that agreed on this--the crooked teeth can be blamed on modernity. Specifically, it's been a while since we humans did a lot of chewing.

So most modern people have crooked teeth. I don't know what percentage get braces. Those used to be a lot worse. When I was growing up the braces looked like something you'd surround a penitentiary with. It doesn't make a lot of sense, species-wise. I mean, why even have an extra molar in the back that they just have to rip out later? You suppose God flang it in there so dentists could buy a boat? The answer is, of course, that it isn't extra. It's supposed to be there. There's supposed to be plenty of room in the jaw. But in most cultures we haven't worked our jaws properly for a thousand years, and if it keeps up we'll just end up with a cat-butt pucker-hole of a mouth and have to suck strained peas through a straw.

People used to really reef on things with their teeth. You've seen the dioramas. Everyone's sitting on their haunches ripping mastodon meat with their faces and crunching on the bones for marrow. Then just for fun they chew on some animal hide until it's pliable enough to make a canoe out of, or at least a nice lanyard. And because they are working those jaws, the bone is strengthened and lengthened. But without that exercise during the growth years, the jawbone never gets to be the proper size. Who knows? If I hadn't grown up on overcooked vegetables and gummable meatloaf, I might have had a real jawline, and my chin wouldn't be embedded in my neck like the button in an overstuffed chair.

So cooking is one of the big culprits. And my mom, a 1950s housewife with a Norwegian heritage to boot, never served us anything that was a challenge to chew. Tuna hot dish. Jell-O salad with tiny marshmallows. The only thing that gave me a chance was Bonomo Turkish Taffy. You get hold of one of those bad boys with your teeth, and you had to pull down and sideways on it with both of your little hands to torque off a piece. Then chew and chew. Hours later you were still sucking on it where it mortared your teeth together. I should've had the jaw of a Neanderthal.

The eyebrows still would have been a problem, but nobody would notice, if I added the wax lips.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

On Peace And Power

 

I hold some truths to be self-evident. There's a resistance in my chest when I am confronted by what my heart reads as false. That internal pressure--that's the signature of a principle.

Who knows where my principles come from? A lifetime visceral revulsion at violence, for sure. Or a learned distrust of statements that scrub out doubt and detail in favor of certitude and a simple slogan.

Some things are simply factually wrong. The right wing specializes in those. Thugs in black are not traveling by airplane to destroy your suburb. There are no, do I need to say it, lizard people. The thing about lizard people is if you believe in them, you will believe in them hard. You will lock on like a pit bull on a poodle. We can blast you with a fire hose of truth and you will not let go. So we move on.

But we hear other things, from other quarters. They get repeated. Every age has its platitudes, but time does not always redeem them. Gosh, we used to believe love was all you need, and it isn't.

One thing we're hearing now is that all protest is equally worthy. That there is no wrong way. That we can't tell other people how to resist.

Bullshit. Of course we can. Perhaps what is meant is that we can't tell people how to feel. And since we can't know what it's like to be in their skin, we can't be critical of their actions. It's a platitude from a new age in which all voices are encouraged, and every opinion entertained. If Tyler wants to burn a dumpster for civil rights, shouldn't he be allowed to express himself? Well, that's one special kind of emotional anarchy, one in which every response is as righteous as every other, and every individual must be a vigilante for the truth as they see it. And if so, that must be extended to those who murder abortion doctors and those who show up in the town square bristling with assault rifles in defense of the freedom to bristle. Should Tyler's country cousin storm a wildlife refuge for the liberty to plunder public lands?

And we hear that if peaceful protest hasn't gotten us anywhere, violence and destruction will. Peacemaking is naïve and ineffectual. That's what warriors have been insisting for thousands of years, but if warring ways have gotten us any closer to peace and justice, I haven't seen it.

I read a quote from Martin Luther King that was trotted out in service of this notion that all protest is legitimate. "I think," he said, "that we've got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard." Which meant he understood why people riot. He sympathized. As Pope Paul VI said, "If you want peace, work for justice." Absolutely.

But telling people how to protest is exactly what John Lewis and King did. The Freedom Riders were trained in passive resistance. It took work, practice, courage. It wasn't easy. It isn't natural. Blood was shed. But the power of peaceful resistance is immense. It can move mountains.

We can't tell other people how to protest? Of course we can. We can distinguish between raw feeling and wise action. We can strategize. Under our big, broad tent, we can insist people not pee in the kitchen area.

Same for any blanket characterization. It's easier to look at the world this way, assign people simple uniforms of good and evil and play them in our heads like checkers, but it won't be true, and the truth will out. There are a lot of good ideas for police reform and defunding. But when you deride cops as an evil monolith, you've lost me. Because I know it's unfair. It's untrue. It's lazy. There's plenty of work to be done, but you will not achieve justice with a false premise.

I'm sure it's satisfying to punch a Nazi. It's also a great way to get a lot of people dead and keep a lot of the wrong people in power. Let your heart ache, but use your head.

This town is all in for Black Lives Matter. It's not even controversial. So the Patriot Prayer Boys are coming back on the 26th. There is nothing this gang of outsiders likes better than to costume up, invade our home as if it's enemy territory--and it is--and holler about their favorite little fragment of the Constitution. To provoke a predictable response and get it made into a poster for the evil empire. Maybe spark a war. Why do we want to give them exactly what they want?

Let's stay home for a day. Or gather peacefully in a glory of numbers, miles away from them, and sing. Sing anything. America the Beautiful. Build Me Up Buttercup. Let's dispatch one dude with a tuba to march around the Proud Boys with derp music. How flimsy a fist will get when its target turns away! Let's ignore the incel army and watch them go limp.

If you value peace you stand up for it every time. And you work for justice.



Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Root

 

I've had rock-lined gravel paths in my garden going on thirty-plus years now and they've held up pretty well, but what with one thing and a roofer, a painter, a toppled tree, a fence-builder, and another, things have gotten a little wonky. I finally bit the bullet and decided to rebuild the whole thing from scratch. And change the trajectory as long as I'm at it. We took down the grape trellis Dave built a thousand years ago since there was nothing holding it up but possum pee and a conspiracy of mosses. Now I think I'll narrow the path where the trellis used to be and get some more garden space. So. What to do with the Root?

The Root was a conundrum to begin with. We have a Root that travels along the surface of the ground and, for about three feet, above it. It's a good three inches in diameter. It's clear it belongs to the grapevine. It disappears underground near the base of the vine and the other end looks to be underneath our house. I don't know what good it is doing anybody in there. And it's kind of in the way of my proposed path.

The first go-round I let it live. I really didn't want to endanger the grapevine. Not so much because we like the grapes: they're shitty grapes. Nobody eats more than one or two. Once we had a neighbor from the Ukraine who was tickled to harvest our grapes for shampanskoye. One afternoon he called Dave to come over and try his hooch. It was pink and bubbly. Very very bubbly. They'd been into it for a while when I came riding up on my bicycle and they hailed me over. Two things happened in short succession. Veniamen popped the cork on a fresh bottle and it blew its contents straight across the street without getting a drop on the pavement. And he opened another and got some of it into a glass for me, I downed it, got back on my bike, and tipped over into the shrubbery. Dave and Veniamen peed their pants laughing.

It's all still so fresh.

No, the reason I want the grapevine is its antiquity. I think if something's been around for a long time it deserves to live out its life. And this grape is old. I even know how old, because early on, a thin papery old lady came teetering by and told us the story of how her father built our house. And that he planted the grapevine in 1915. That's an old grape.

Way older, for instance, than those cheesy Confederate monuments that shitty people erected to commemorate the shittiest aspects of their shitty-ass heritage. And some people think those should be preserved, whereas my grape has done nothing wrong, giving up the same stupid grapes to one and all.

But the Root is really in the way of things. And the way I plan to route the path, it's liable to trip somebody some day. I'm not the kind of person who worries about liability that much, except it's liable to be me. And there's something different about the Root Conundrum now from the Root Conundrum of 1985: Google exists.

In short order I discovered grape roots run sparse and deep and whatever my Root is doing on the surface might not be that important to the plant. I got the mattock and whacked it out. If the grape keels over, well, it's had a good run. When I turn 105, you have my permission to take a hatchet to me, too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Bird On The Side



A lot of you have discovered birds since you've been holed up at home, locked down with your mandatory family people. It's a natural step. "I'm going to look at birds," you say, on your way out the door, having run out of other pretexts, and nobody minds seeing you go. And then you're out there. Might as well look at birds.

I was already looking at birds. What I'm doing for fun now, a half-year in, is looking at really ratty-ass birds. Jeez, they look sorry. Some of them, like the crows, seem to be properly embarrassed by the state of their wardrobe. We have a house finch with two unshed old feathers sticking up on her head like horns. What a crew. Patchy-bald and tufted as a sprouted potato: a lot of them look like an old weedy parking lot. You won't catch me looking like that. As long as I stay indoors.



All right, I'm no prize either. I'm told I can get a haircut now without worrying about being dead in a month, but I haven't done it yet. As a result I can now put all my hair in a ponytail again. Not the sort you might see on a pony--we're more in toilet-brush territory. I could scour out a roasting pan with it, maybe.

Studley Windowson, my chickadee, though not vain, is not coming around like he used to. He's good for a couple mealworms a day and thank you very much, but he isn't stalking us at the window or leaving long whiny voicemails. His kids are on their own.

I must here report that Marge and Studley got a second brood going, in July! I'm not kidding. I looked it up and they're totally not supposed to do that, but Marge must have been impressed with his prowess as a mealworm provider--our little secret--and sure enough that nest box was peeping again. And little diaper sacks were coming out of it. But fully realized birds? I never saw a one, and can't report that this batch was a success. And yet. The Studmeister! What a neat bird.

And I wouldn't want to do anything to hurt his feelings, but here's the deal. The Crow Project of at least ten years remains a bust. Dave has done his best to entice a personal crow and gotten absolutely nowhere. Our crows do not give one goopy shit about us. Everyone on the planet of any spiritual worth has their own crow but not us. However. Their cousins the scrub jays are looking like contenders. They like peanuts, and we have peanuts. We're tossing them ever closer to us with some success. They're still cautious, unlike their relatives, the gray jays. If you go into the high woods emitting so much as a cookie molecule, you will shortly be encrusted with gray jays. We think our city jays are coming around, though, and it's fun to watch them dart in and blast off like little jet-powered tyrannosaurs. They are superb at hopping, and watching a good hoppity bird hop is a sure cure for the COVID blues. 

Problem is, I don't want Studley to see me doing it.



Studley hates jays. I hate jays on Studley's behalf. I wouldn't even look at a jay after the Nuthatch Fiasco of Ought-Sixteen. Scrub jays act like they have no enemies (or peers). But the other day a bunch of them detonated out of the neighbor's plum tree followed very closely by a hawk. That probably cheered Studley up no end. Take that, screech-heads!

But, you know? The screech-heads are fun to watch. And I know my chickadee. I can pick out his tiny little chip-note anywhere on the block. It sticks out like an errant apostrophe. I listen, I wait, and when the punctuation is right, down goes the peanut. Don't tell.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Dispatch From Oregon


Not much. You?

It's actually kind of nice this morning. The wind has died down to nothing and so the smoke from the fires seven miles away is just sort of meandering over here and loitering rather than galloping in. It's keeping us fully twenty degrees cooler than predicted, too. The humidity has gone back up, which is also good, and we're anticipating not having to check our hankies for blood and crud any day now.

All in all, it's a fine orange day in the neighborhood. We have a number of friends who have had to leave their homes, and even those who have been wanting nothing more than to do that for the last six months are unhappy about the circumstances. So far our friends have found shelter that is not too odious and haven't had to camp out in a school gymnasium somewhere whilst keeping distance from fellow possible disease vectors, which is truly unfair. But that's the kind of year it's been, right? The kind of year when there's no room in the hospital for you even though you've broken all your bones slipping in locust poop.

We check the news several times a day to make sure our anxiety levels are topped up. Our next-door neighbor Anna reports she has a go-bag all ready, which is annoying of her, because it means we should have a go-bag ready but we don't, and that leads to a lot of inner conflict between the sensible and lazy portions of our psyches. As a sort of compromise, we have begun to imagine what we might put in a go-bag if we ever got off our dead asses.

Peanut butter. That would be a good thing to put in, and we don't seem to have any. We do have a mess of broccoli in the freezer and if we added popsicle sticks we might have a plan, but we don't have popsicle sticks either. You're supposed to put in all your important papers. I do not know what those might be. I truly don't. Also your safety deposit box key, which is just silly. Can't sleep in a safety deposit box.

Photos, mementos, all the things you'd really miss if you didn't have them? There are fewer of those things all the time. I've wondered what I should do with my photo albums. I have scads of them. My heirs might be able to spend a fun evening looking through them once, especially the nude years, but after that there'd be this awful weight on them as they recognize they don't want the albums but feel they must store them as some kind of mandatory monument. Honeys. Just throw them out. It's okay. I should get around to doing it for you. Somehow I haven't. I should get rid of my parents' old albums also, but, well...you know. Somehow I haven't.

 

So what would crush my soul if it didn't make it out of a fire? That's easy. Tater cat. And Pootie. Maybe not even in that order. And, I am not kidding, Pootie's best friend Hajerle. Hajerle used to live with my sister Margaret and he came to live with us after she died. I don't think I could bear to look into Pootie's eye buttons if we managed to escape without Hajerle. I know this sounds emphatically dumb, especially to people who have lost family members and pets and have a good grip on what's important in life, but this is a fact: the threads of love and grief are anchored in peculiar, personal ways. And even giving them an imaginary tug will reveal which ones are attached to the heart.

This morning it appears that Portland proper will escape the current inferno. But there is much to mourn. One of these things is the news that a whole lot of people in this country think the Black Lives Matter people are setting these fires. And that if you tell them they're getting that BLM confused with the Bureau of Land Management, they will think: We knew it. We knew BLM had Management all along, and a headquarters, and shady overlords that hate America and want white people to die so they can steal their property.

I mourn this.

But Dave and Tater and Pootie and Hajerle and I are not on fire. We should probably work on that go-bag anyway. At this rate, there's no way our predicted big-ass state-leveling earthquake won't show up before the year is out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Blowin' Smoke

 


Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, 1pm.

We're scheduled to have a Wind Event in a few hours, and I'm very excited. It was in the TV forecast (or, as they persist in calling it, the "futurecast," because "fore" just wasn't getting us there fast enough). They also trotted out a helpful Garbage Can Wind Scale, with Level One being a garbage can at rest, and Four being a garbage can gone forever. This event is going to be a Three (look for your can down the block). Level Five is a garbage can twenty feet up a tree, but we don't have those here.

Somebody is paid to think up these things.

We do know a lot about how weather works, because of Science, a lot of which is up in the sky. From the vantage of our satellites, we can see wavy lines called isobars hovering over the map. There are also big H's and L's. The wavy lines are responsible for the wind. If you get a bunch of them bearing down on you drawn in a Sharpie, you're in for a good blow.

It's been a breezy summer already, although much of our wind these days comes from helicopters looking for the BLM march of the day. But I know wind events can get out of hand. We could lose power. I have a freezer packed to the rafters with broccoli and blueberries. There's probably fancier stuff underneath but the broccoberry stratum is mighty thick, and maybe protective. We could have a big jump in wildfires. None are real close to us now but you never know. At least one major fire in California was caused by fireworks from a Gender Reveal Party. (The fetus in question was revealed to be a likely idiot.) Portland is not nearly as fully involved in flames as you might have been led to believe, but stuff happens, and we've been advised to be as nervous as possible.

 

Trees could come down. They've all still got leaves on them, which gives the wavy lines a little more purchase. Dave still remembers the famous local Columbus Day Storm of 1962, a huge sustained wind event, a total Sharpie monster all the way. It wasn't as devastating as it could have been, because electricity hadn't been invented yet, but milk trucks got knocked over and several Fuller Brush men took to the air.

I do know I would not care for an extended Wind Event. The Santa Ana winds are famous for driving people insane, and we don't need any more of that this year. Presumably the winds carry an excess of positive ions and pelt people with them. I remember a wind storm back east that had sustained 80mph winds for four days. I specifically recall that I had to drive my boyfriend's car over a high skinny bridge from Sea Isle City to mainland New Jersey on my way to Virginia. It was a runty little car with the heft of a potato chip. In the middle of the night when I'm reviewing all the ways things can and probably will go wrong, being blown off a bridge into deep water has always been right up there in the rankings.

4:45pm. A few minutes ahead of schedule, the Wind Event has arrived! Doors are slamming everywhere as the house ghosts evacuate. The sun is a cigarette burn in a cardboard sky, and a tall tree is kowtowing toward it. Smoke fingers its way inside and scrapes the throat. It's from a distant wildfire--or a wildfire that was distant a few hours ago.

California is ablaze. The Midwest is underwater. Parts of Africa are blowing away. Methane is soaring out of the thawing tundra. Is there anything that can save us from a fate equal to death? No? All righty then. Buckle up, Thelmas. We're all in this together.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Oh DeJoy: A Postal-Mortem


Just got my quarterly copy of the Postal Service Retiree Newsletter, introducing our new Postmaster, Louis DeJoy! What a go-getter! He was appointed by Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, the chair of the Board of Governors. Mikey was appointed by Donald J. Trump. Gosh, turns out he was Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2007 to 2009! Clearly this duo will know how to make the Postal Service soar.

DeJoy is quoted here saying the Postal Service is an integral part of the government, but needs to change their expensive, inflexible business model.

Ruh-roh.

So, a mere month in, the talented DeJoy has already pinpointed the main problem: the dang workforce. And the unions won't let him get rid of it. What a bunch of slackers, sucking up so much overtime. There would be no more overtime paid, by golly. If you can't get all the mail out on time in a given day, you leave it behind.

But here's the thing about postal work. People still have to work it. People have to stick their gummy hands on all those individual pieces of mail and jam them and their cooties into your mail slot. If we had enough drones to replace this force, the honeybees would perish of bafflement.

I will admit right here that I don't know what a lot of people do. I do not know what a Market Research Consultant does, or an OJD Information Technology Specialist, or a Senior Technical Account Manager. I can't tell if such a person is doing the thing or not. How do you slack in technology specializing? You could be sitting there doing the thing, or you could be just sitting there. 

And I don't know what the folks working from home actually do, either, although--it's my nature--I do trust they are actually doing something. But postal employees who take their work home are sent to the slammer.

 

It's a different kind of job. Old-fashioned. Here's how it was in my day: every morning, before dawn, we show up at our sorting cases. There are hundreds of one-inch-wide slots representing one or two houses each, and we need to pick trays of letters up off the floor and find little one-inch homes for each letter. Typically, there are three thousand pieces of mail to find homes for. Then we walk out of the station to find their actual homes and stick them in there. It's basic.

It's dishwashing. Every day there is a big stack of dirty dishes and we have to clean them all up. The next day there's a new stack. I didn't mind. Sisyphus didn't have a pension, but I do. And it's satisfying to have a real, honest task to accomplish every day and go home knowing you've done it.


But every morning is not the same. Mondays are harder: nothing went out the previous day, and the trays of mail are stacked that much higher. The day after a holiday is a complete mess. If you're little, like me, you might have to squeeze into your sorting case and sort eight hundred letters before anyone sees the top of your head. The day after Columbus day is the worst of all. Nobody else has the day off but you and bank employees, so everyone else was busy generating mail. Plus, it's the kickoff to the Christmas catalog season, and election mail has started.

I remember Gerald Ford died right before the New Year's holiday. We all wondered when his funeral would be, because we'd get that day off too. No way, I thought, they'd make it a Tuesday after we had Sunday and Monday off. That would mean an unprecedented three days of nondelivery, and we might never see our loved ones again. But they did. We were still shoveling our way out over a week later.

The point is this is real work. In that you can't just wait out the clock. Real mail shows up and real mail needs to get where it's going.

In 2006, a ridiculous burden was put on our Service, when the W. Bush administration required us to pre-fund health benefits for retirees 75 years into the future. That is extremely expensive, and unnecessary, unless, golly, you're trying to undermine the Postal Service. Immediately changes were made that affected us. Mail routes come up for bid whenever they become vacant because the carrier bids on another route, or retires. Suddenly a portion of those vacant routes quit coming up for bid. Those routes, through no fault of the poor souls who lived on them, became "auxiliaries." No one was assigned to them and they were sorted and delivered by committee. Often after dark, all of it.

    “Honey, I’m bushed. I’m going to hit the hay. Coming with me?”
    “No, you go ahead—I think I’ll wait up for the mail.” 

People were pissed. And we carriers who were delivering sections of the route on our overtime had no good answers for the aggrieved customers squinting at their mail by porch light. This is seriously shitty service.

The letter carriers union worked hard for a simple concept: one carrier per mail route. But we did not prevail. It was simply too expensive to hire enough humans--and humans are what is required--since they had to pay retirement benefits so far into the future. It was cheaper to keep a minimal crew and make them work time-and-a-half to deliver poor service. Demoralizing, to say the least.

So when our fine new Postmaster General says no more overtime, in a deliberately understaffed workforce, he means the mail won't go out. And this ain't no holiday. Starting now, there's no catching up. That shit is going to be stacked on the loading dock or warehoused somewhere else and there will be no digging out from under. There aren't enough people, and in this business, we need people. We already thinned the workforce by automating the mail sorting, but now the sorting machines are being laid off too.

At the end of that little quarterly newsletter, DeJoy says: "We stand on the shoulders of the men and women who built this institution." Okay then.

It's not kneeling on our necks, but it's close.

 

 


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

And A Half Hour Later He Was Hungry Again


There are lots of interesting facets to the recent discovery of a small water beetle that, when ingested by a frog, motors its way all the way through the frog and out its back door, soiled but unscathed.

One is that it was discovered at all. In order to discover this, one would have to spend a fair amount of time watching a frog's butt to see if anything that came out of it walked away on its own, which, since it would be an unanticipated event, seems unlikely as a way to pass the time, even during a pandemic. But that's because you don't know Dr. Shinji Sugiura. Dr. Sugiura is a curious beetle guy. So he put a frog and the beetle into a tank and started filming. And that is how he got that prize footage of the beetle shooting out the frog's butt and swimming away. And to think that his mother had always told him he wouldn't amount to anything!

Nearly every other creature on the brink of death might be cautioned against running toward the light, but inside a dark frog, it turns out to be just the ticket. The whole trip took the beetle six minutes, which isn't enough time to be digested. Dr. Sugiura naturally wondered how the beetle accomplished the feat--swam, ran as fast as his six little legs could carry him, hitched a ride on an Express Turd--so he gummed up its legs and sent it back in, and sure enough the unfortunate insect reemerged six days later as butt juice and beetle bits. He concluded the unhampered beetle in fact ran through the acidic digestive tract making little ow noises like a barefoot kid on hot asphalt. Remarkable.

"That was smoking gun evidence that they are using their legs," agreed Nora Moskowitz, who studies frog digestion at Stanford University but wasn't involved in the study.

    [What do you do? Oh, I study frog digestion at Stanford University.
    Pleased to meet you. I’m in beetle pooping.]

This is considered a tremendous achievement on the part of the beetle, although it should be pointed out that corn kernels do pretty much the same thing all the time, and they're just vegetables.

There are other beetles that induce frogs to vomit, a.k.a. the Jonah method. Jonah was, of course, the prophet who was swallowed by a whale. He spent three days in the belly of the creature before God made it hork him up onto dry land. Many scoff at this tale and consider it an allegory of some kind, but we are assured by the good people at ChristianAnswers.net that this was a true event and they can prove it because the Bible tells us so. In a nod to skeptics and heretics, they also suggest it's possible that there is always some air in the whale's stomach, and, as long as the animal it has swallowed is still alive, digestive activity will not begin.

I did not know this about digestive activity, and had suspected stomach acids weren't that precious about the liveliness of their projects. I would consider it much more likely that God didn't create digestive juices until the millionth day. So I don't think much of this theory, and, really, neither do the good people at ChristianAnswers.net. They say the most likely explanation is that it was a Miracle. I quite agree.

But should I ever be threatened by a peckish whale, I'm going to lace up my Keds and try to go full water-beetle on the thing. That's a lot of territory to cover in a short period of time, and there are lots of hairpin turns to negotiate, but I'd do it just for the chance to be violently whooshed out in a flocculent plume, which is the form whale poop takes.

In fact, "violently whooshed out in a flocculent plume" is going to be my new euphemism for dying.

The best part of Dr. Sugiura's experiment is his working assumption that at the point the beetle skids to a halt just inside the frog's sphincter, it starts tickling it. Or maybe knocking. You got to get that thing open somehow.

And then you're off to do great things with your beetly life. In Jonah's case, he finally took up the mantle of prophet, which is what God was trying to get him to do in the first place, even though he didn't want to. It was a good decision, being a prophet. He could never say he didn't see that coming again.

h/t Uncle Walt


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Unconventional

All righty! I had alcohol, I had my emergency cyanide pill, and I sprayed WD-40 on my mute button. I was ready for the Republican Convention! From the schedule, it looked to be a barn-burner.

Politicians were in short supply. We've got appearances from random Americans who have publicly lost their shit in various patriotic ways. We've got authentic Trump spawn in various stages of infidelity and malfeasance. The stage is solemnified by a backdrop of an actual portion of the Border Wall knocked down by a Democrat derecho with help from a couple of bad immigrant drivers. Check out this awesome lineup:

A Pro-Life activist, escorted to the podium by armed militia at full bristle.

The Shamwow guy. I think it's the Shamwow guy.

Famous Nazi rocker Skank Boy Willy, of Boy Willy and the Droolers, appearing without any Droolers out of fear of redundancy.

The kid who went viral taking a dump for Freedom on an Indian burial site.

An assortment of ladies with big titties, for spacers.

Nigra One, and

Nigra Two. Nigra Two is conservative Jack Brewer, former NFL safety who once called Trump the first Black president, but got an invite anyway. Mr. Brewer is facing charges of insider trading at the moment, which is kinda white of him.

Impeachment defense lawyer and bonus blonde Pam Bondi, castigating Biden for giving his son unfair advantage.

Irony, who declined to attend, citing family issues.


The Trump family members still in the will, including, oh, you know, that one son--what's his name? I can never come up with his name--the dude that posed next to the dead elephant? The one whose face has a little glans at the bottom complete with jizz-hole? Vladimir Putzchin! He spoke.

And also his special friend, drag queen and Werewolf-American Kimberley Girlfeel, and her big decibels. She's only got a little spot of leftover COVID but was plenty healthy enough to project it to the back of the room.

West Wing Hottie Ivanka portraying her father as a man with feelings for others, like never before reported by anyone, ever. Yes, it's a scoop!

Funny-looking Trump Kid One, and

Funny-looking Trump Kid Two.

Anchor Bimbo Melania, who got citizenship through the so-called Einstein Genius visa; it was unclear if she submitted evidence of extraordinary abilities, or just submitted, but it is assumed her current husband supplied a testesmonial in her favor. Melania addressed the nation from the newly-scrubbed Rose Garden, for which she has received unfair criticism by those who did not realize how many of the previous crabapple trees had succumbed to an infestation of democrat cooties.

Trump himself has not been prevented from speaking all four days; and, of course,

God. God was unable to appear, but has sent a gift bag of hurricanes, floods, and wildfires to demonstrate his support for the Trump agenda.

Rudy Giuliani*

Chief Autocracy Liaison Yuri Sonovavich**

Election Fixer "Hangin' Chad" Hackmeister**

    *if located

    **if unindicted

Well! Out of concern for my health, I didn't catch the whole thing. I gather Kamala Harris is not quite Black enough to be allowed to describe herself as Black, but is plenty Black enough to bring her citizenship into question. I gather Joe Biden, famous for hating America, has been responsible for keeping things exactly the same for 47 years and is also about to swing radically toward communism.

Basically, it's super scary out there. I gather we're all just this close to living in a state of perpetual violence and anarchy; there was helpful video of that so we'd get the idea. The footage was from Spain, but, you know, it's the same here.

Frankly I couldn't hear much of it over all the hubbub from the M-13 gang next door, plus I was distracted by arsonists and looters--can't swing a dead cat meme around here without hitting one of those. But the gist seems to be that things are really, really bad, darkness is on the face of the deep, and pretty much everywhere else--so, so much darkness! We're in imminent danger of getting health care and other utopian conditions, and if we want to get things back to the way they were when Donald Trump first came to office, we should send him back for four more years, plus a life option or guarantee of future pardon. To safeguard our democracy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Rap On Nefarious DNC

It's fashionable among some lefties to talk about how awful Obama was. I guess he let a bunch of progressives down, what with not achieving world peace and universal health care and one thing and another, and he irked some of them even more because he supposedly got this free pass to be (gasp) moderate and escaped criticism because he was Black. Or something.

Yeah, that Black card can sure get you in the finest places.

Thought I'd share a little Obama story. A friend of mine is among the top dozen public health experts in the nation. She was in on the discussions Obama had when he was working on a health plan. I was dismayed at the time that O wasn't kicking the insurance industry to the curb and I whined to my friend. "Doesn't he support single-payer?" I said.

Yes, she said. He does.

"Then what..."

He can't get it through. He doesn't have the support.

What he had was the opposition. And, as you may recall, it was formidable. McConnell openly swore to obstruct anything Obama was for. And he had the votes. Obama did the best he could manage, and then tried to slip in that "public option." It was smart. If enough people chose to go with the much cheaper public option, the insurance industry would crumble away on its own.

Politics is the art of the possible. But even the public option wasn't possible. Not with the Republicans in there.

Well, the current narrative is that the Democratic National Committee cheated and shoveled in Biden when absolutely everyone preferred Bernie, who everyone knew would have won in a landslide, and doggone it, we're not going to vote for the "lesser of two evils" this time around. Hell no. "You can't change the system if you keep voting for the same thing," they say. Here's what else you can't do. You can't change the two-party system, or anything else you deride, by voting for a third party at the top of the ticket. What's the plan here? Explain your mechanism; show your work.

Of course it's pissing into the wind. Of course it will have no bearing on our future whatsoever unless it gets more Republicans elected. We've seen this play before, more than once.

We could have had a President in 2000 who, more than anyone, knew what we were up against with global warming. Who would never have invented an endless war in the Middle East to enrich his friends. He might not have been able to do everything he wanted--there would have been no end of obstruction. But now we've dug another twenty-year hole for ourselves, and we're twenty years closer to the apocalypse. A third-party vote for President in a two-party system will win you a nice righteous woody, and zip-all else. Oh wait! Guess what else that vote got us! Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, followed closely by the Citizens United decision! That was the decision that purported to champion free speech, but instead favored very, very expensive speech. Way to stick it to the man and get that corrupting money out of politics, dudes. Thanks for that, hope you enjoyed the woody.

"But a vote for the Green Party will show the Democrats we can't be taken for granted," they say. Awesome! Maybe we'll have another twenty years for that valuable lesson to sink in before the last iceberg sinks away. Really. Get serious. Work for change, and channel your rage into something other than a tantrum.

I know. You're positive the DNC engineered the Biden win. You can't prove it, but you suspect it, and that's as good as gold in your cohort. But this wasn't that long ago--we still remember. We had a stellar lineup of candidates. I had a favorite, but there were several I'd have been happy with. I thought Biden was washed up early and was dismayed when he reemerged the leader. I thought voters were missing a bet by picking someone so moderate when what we needed was someone that could fire us up. But an alternative to the sexy theory that the nefarious DNC did all this is the following: there were lots and lots of voters whose sole motivation was to beat Trump. They were scared to death. I remember the conversations. The virus was still in the future: Trump was doing fine in the polls. Plenty of people were sympathetic with Sanders or Warren but terrified that they'd be too easy to run against; that the "socialist" label would scare off too many people. And these people made a calculated choice in Biden. Real people voted for him. In droves. Some of them were being strategic; some loved him.

We've seen all those memes tearing down one Democrat after another, ginned up by the right wing and shared by the cannibal force on the left. Obama screwed us out of single-payer health care. Elizabeth Warren sold out Bernie by dropping out of the race so she could be Veep. Kamala Harris's ancestors owned slaves (dude! The other name for those ancestors is rapists). Biden said something fifty years ago that doesn't sit right today. Keep it up! The fascists have been churning out these shareable banners of bullshit for years, trying to cling to power by mining gullible people for votes. They appreciate your help, and by the way what can you buy for a few rubles today?

Biden is only the "lesser of two evils" when you really want the Archangel Michael and got stuck with Noah. But they're both running against Satan. Get a damn grip.

You want to get any of your favorite plans going, you'd best get every Democrat you can find in office and then support the living hell out of them when they have to face down the Republicans. My God, we have so many fine people in the party now. All-stars. Plenty of our moderates and pragmatists will swing progressive if they know there's support, and only we can give it to them. We're the ones with the Green New Deal, not the R's. We get behind these people and we push them and we show up at town meetings and we write letters and we march.

It's not as easy as pouting, but that's our plan.


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Fifty Years Zoom By

Just got off a fifty-year reunion of the old Hostel Club on Zoom. It's important to maintain old friendships. Old friends can keep you honest in a way your newer friends, who have only known you since you refined your shtick and curated your image, can't.

For instance, I've been known to comment that I've never been driven. I wear my lack of ambition as an obscure badge of pride, even though at its heart it derives from a condition of feeling easily satisfied with things, also known as laziness. 

Anyway, I say that I've never been driven, but I still have friends left from high school who know better, because they drove me. Lots. All the time. It was embarrassing. But that's what happens when you fall in with a really cool group of funny, smart people who get together in each other's rec rooms and have a great time, but you, yourself, are still two years shy of getting a driver's license and your parents, who are unspeakably old, think you should be home by ten pm.

It all seemed deeply unfair, even though I was fourteen years old, and I was playing with nineteen-year-olds, and I was known to wear skirts that didn't even cover my personal fourteen-year-old situation.

Which means all my friends were having a really good time right around ten pm, and I had to wander around the party trying to work up the gumption to ask someone who's having the aforementioned really good time if they could stop everything and give me a ride home.

Oh, the humanity.

I know my parents couldn't believe the fun we were having was clean and innocent. But it was. You know, mostly. Whatever happened in Stuart's pitch-black bomb shelter stayed in Stuart's bomb shelter. I don't even know what I wasn't doing in there, or who I wasn't doing it with.

I was just beginning to get my social feet under me in tenth grade, just starting to come out the recovery side of adolescence, and this new group of friends in the Youth Hostel Club was the place to do it--we called it "being in with the Out Crowd," and were, for the most part, not naughty, individually shy, and collectively a dang hoot. Still, I was very young, and one doesn't always know if one is going to be accepted.

That all changed the night the People-Bop hit my house. The People-Bop: it was never announced in advance, but an hour before dawn, someone would decide to start collecting people in Lynn Malone's VW bus and head off to a park for breakfast and fun, in this case rappelling down a sheer cliff at Carderock Recreational Area. I woke in the dark to the sound of gravel hitting my second-floor window and my heart about busted in half to look out and see my friends grinning on the lawn, motioning me down, and telling me to bring eggs.

Oh god. They had no way of knowing if this was something I could do, and neither did I. First I had to tiptoe into my parents' room and wake one of them up and ask if it was okay to go flying out the door with my friends at oh dark thirty. Not at all a sure thing. Not at all sure anyone else had to ask permission, or what I'd do if I had to lean out the window and say my mommy wouldn't let me go. But she did. Then I took a deep breath and asked if I could take some eggs. Our family wasn't known for extravagance.

But I could.

Thank you, Mommy, for that rare lapse of judgment, and thank you, good friends of the Hostel Club, for picking me up on my first People-Bop, for giving me that sweet whiff of future independence, for letting me know I belonged with the best people ever. Thanks also for dangling me on a rope over that damn cliff, and I'm sorry if I urinated on anyone. Thanks.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

All Hail Gayle

Well, she gone and done it. Our friend and neighbor Gayle has been close to dead for so long I'd begun to think she'd never get around to it. That it was, in fact, impossible. Sheer obstrepery would keep her above ground for the ages. But she finally died the other day and we are going to miss her terribly. She was one piece of work. She was a riot.

Shoot, it had to have been 25 years ago that she called up wanting to borrow a cup of oxygen off my sister's tank, and she wasn't kidding. She was a complete terror in the hospital system. Nurses feared her, doctors ducked behind her curtains, crossed themselves, and tiptoed away. Administrators wrote her into their budgets. She probably scored steak and lobster with her fruit cup. Same story with any customer service outfit. "Listen, buttercup, I'm retired. I can stay on this damn phone all day long." They knew her at the insurance company. They knew her in city government. If you hate potholes, move on to her street, where they magically heal up. This was a woman who made all her PIN numbers "OH SHIT," so she'd always have the right answer if someone asked.

Gayle had two husbands, one of them twice just to make sure, and easily outlived both of them, which was no accident. "If you're going to have a fight with a man," she once advised me, "have it at the top of the stairs."

If your cat is missing around here, don't look at me. I'm all talk. Gayle had traps and knew how to use them. Nuisances inexplicably disappeared. Just last year, we were commiserating about the latest loud dog on the block. "I wish they'd do something like what your neighbor did. Remember his dog Macy that used to bark? He got a bark collar and trained it out of her in one day." Macy never did bark again, but was known to emit a melancholy, melodious howl for the rest of her days.

"Bark collar, huh? Is that why he thinks Macy quit barking?" Gayle had big, beautiful, basset-hound blue eyes, and they could, on occasion, be very sly.

Her mind was devious, her physique extravagant. You didn't want to be on her bad side. I never had any trouble imagining that her porch contained a trapdoor or her shrubbery hid a man-sized crate. New concrete work was always a little suspicious.

But we had nothing to fear from her. She adored Dave, and thought I was okay too. Early on, Dave volunteered to help her out in some way. Maybe took a big load of stuff to the dump for her, the first of many such neighborly acts. She came over the next day with a huge platter of deviled eggs and radishes for him. He was in raptures. His favorite!

"How did you know?" I asked.

"I know what a man likes," she drawled, in a way that left no doubt of it, and that I needn't pursue it.

She was creative as hell. It was Gayle who showed up at the neighborhood meeting about cell phone towers rocking an actual, homemade tinfoil hat. She also harbored a full-size female mannequin called The Slut who had sleazy outfits to match any holiday. The Slut had her own chair in the bright lime-green living room, in the greeter position right by the front door next to the sign ("The Witch Is In"). Oh. And Gayle was born on Halloween, of course.

Now that she's gone I suspect we'll all find out what else she took care of--the mischief disposed of, the petty vandals vanquished, the community imps and devils scattered to the winds, now free to wander.

Gayle doesn't need a wake, she left a wake. A woman of that much substance could never be all the way gone: one keeps expecting to hear from her still, by some imaginative and no doubt hilarious means. Maybe some day it will rain radishes. But we haven't heard a thing.

We don't expect to. It isn't going to be us she's haunting.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Be The Magic Wand

So it occurred to me that the grumpiest of Bernie Sanders' supporters remind me of little girls fantasizing about a prince on a white horse. And before you bring it up: I know that's not fair.

It's not fair to lump people together and make assumptions like that. And I don't want the assumptions to be true. I sincerely hope there are not many young girls fantasizing about princes on white horses. Any color horses, really. I just get confused because you can't go anywhere without seeing young girls all done up in frothy pink tulle and sequins because apparently everybody gets to be a princess now, and what the hell is that all about? As a girl, I couldn't have imagined getting all dolled up like that, voluntarily. It was like your wretched Easter finest, squared. Polished shoes and anklets and petticoats. Honestly. The female condition, writ in starch.

I'm hoping for the best. I'm assuming the current princesses are some new variety that has special powers and interesting kingdoms and they're not all waiting for their princes to ride up on their horses and save them from something. Everybody seems to know which princess is which because they represent particular movie franchises and although, yes, they're still adorable and have big eyes and pert noses and trim bodies, they also have special skills and worthy aspirations, or something. I guess.

It's all so different. We each roll out of the chute different, and I'll just say for the record, the Murr seed sprang true from the get-go. I had no interest in dolls, let alone princesses. All I wanted was stuffed animals. I had 46 of them. Gronk the brontosaur was the largest, and Webster the ladybug was the smallest. Here's the interesting thing. They were all males. Every one of them, except Mrs. Teddy Bear, who was a hand-me-down with a handed-down name and a rubber face and eyelashes painted on. I never played with her at all. I even called the whole collection "The Guys."

Why were they all guys? Because girls never did anything interesting. Girls ended up being mommies. My own mommy was the best person ever, but I didn't want to be one. In fact, I couldn't even imagine what I would ever be. There wasn't any choice but mommy or teacher or secretary or nurse. The Guys had business to run and things to do. Trumpet was President, Oashmeal was Vice President, Glump was Secretary, and there was no need for a treasurer. Funkhauser had a grocery store, Borgward published a newspaper, and Gronk was an accomplished poet. I left my own future casually unvisualized and blundered into adulthood during the Women's Liberation Movement. I still didn't know what I might do but at least nothing seemed off limits.

Anyway I can hardly believe that today's girls feel so constrained, so I'm assuming the best of the princess thing. I'd like to think the best of the Bernie thing too. You can't hang onto that prince on the white horse. I'm not saying Bernie's not right. He's 100% right. What he's not is magical. He would have no power at all as President beyond the power he still has, the power to move us in the right direction, and try to get this ship turned around. And he can't do that without us. He is us.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Making Bank In The Tank

Everyone knew the position of Giant Isopod Poop Cleaner at the Toba Aquarium was awarded through nepotism. There was no work to be done and so no way to fail by not doing it, and for years the fortunate employee, unsoiled by ambition, had remained happily at home watching old sitcoms and collecting paychecks, until May 26th of this year, when a giant isopod poop was found languishing in the giant isopod tank. It was the first crustacean crap to appear in the tank in over two years.

The giant isopod is a sea creature resembling, and related to, the little land crustaceans known variously as pill bugs, sow bugs, or roly-polies, only the size of a dorm-room refrigerator. There are five of them in the Toba Aquarium and they're no trouble at all. Whatever their needs are, they are not many. The first giant isopod they hosted did perish after not eating for five years, but nobody knows why. Could have been foot fungus, or malaise.

Remarkably, the isopod poop that materialized in May contained fish scales of a species that had never been on the aquarium menu. So it was assumed it was from something the creature had eaten before being captured, over seven years earlier. That's a long time to be working on a turd.

That does not mean the giant isopod suffers from irregularity. If he dumps another lump in 2028, he'll be right on the money.

So we don't really know what motivated the movement this time, although it should be noted that streams of visitors to the aquarium had been staring at the animals through the glass for years and years and the isopod pinched a loaf only when the pandemic shut everything down.

Anyway, although the giant isopod cannot be descibed as peckish, it does have its moments. A now-famous video shows a giant isopod eating the face off a dogfish shark. Or purports to: what with all the thrashing and turbulence, I can't even make out the isopod, and would have assumed the unfortunate shark was just having an epizootic.

 

But in any case the isopods clearly feel no urgency about eliminating digested shark face. They're pokey about it. Seems to me you don't get to be a really giant giant isopod by shooting everything you eat out the back end. You need to deliberate on it.

The Toba Aquarium isopod poop cleaner probably got bumped back down to the mailroom, or up to Vice President, but he could have been redeemed if it had taken a little longer to discover the poop. Turns out that many isopod species eat their own poop. Maybe, just maybe, the isopods are dropping a dookie a lot more often than anyone thinks, but scarf it back up before the morning shift comes on.

That's called coprophagia, and a number of animals practice it, notably rabbits. They can hoover doots straight from their nethers. Rabbits eat their own poop in order to get just that much more nutrition out of it. That's because the nutrient absorption happens only in the front end of the rabbit, but the fermentation that breaks down a lot of plant material happens in the other end, after the food has passed Go. (This takes place in an organ called the Cecum, a.k.a. Baltic Avenue.) So the rabbit sends everything through one more time to scoop up the remaining nutrients. Then it's done. The pellets are different. There's Number Two Number One, and Number Two Number Two, and nobody eats the Number Two Number Two, in case you were starting to think poorly of rabbits.

In any event, no one knows if a shark-face-eating giant isopod will eat his own eventual poop. A dog will, in a heartbeat, and there's really no good reason why. People persist in thinking dogs are really smart, but I've never seen one unwind himself from a tree.

 

Thanks to Friend Of Pootie Kat Satnik for the news flash.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

This Blows


We live near the airport, but it's been quieter since the virus showed up. The other morning, as I lay awake listening to the birdies, I heard an awful noise that got louder and louder and I got all worked up over the idea that anyone would be operating a goddam leaf blower anytime let alone that hour of the morning, until I realized it was just an airplane. Shame on me. I was blaming some nameless neighbor--although I did have a particular neighbor in mind--for something that wasn't even happening. So. There is definitely a lesson to take away from this incident.

And that is that leaf blowers are as loud as a fucking airplane. They are.

Whatever it takes to get a five billion pound metal tube in the air and keep it there is as fucking noisy as the little backpack tube we use to terrorize the last cherry blossom into the street.

And there is no reason for it to exist. It should not exist. The job it does shouldn't be done. Perfection is a trap.*


Oh sure. It does the job it does way more expeditiously than a rake or a broom or whatever else one might apply to the problem. You can spank your lawn clean in no time and all it costs is one more wasted bolus of fossilized carbon and the good will and serenity of your neighbors, many of whom have trouble concentrating over the sound of a tyrannosaur stepping on Legos.

So let us review. We can now accomplish something at great speed that doesn't need doing and wasn't done ever until about forty years ago in spite of the fact that we as a species have been fine for over a million years without doing it, and not only will we leave our surroundings aesthetically dull and completely useless to our fellow planet inhabitants, but we will do it with all the ambience of a one-ton mosquito having dental work done. There are vanishingly few mosquitoes that weigh a ton and those that do rarely need dental work, and there should be exactly the same number of leaf blowers.

Nothing needs to be that tidy. If you absolutely have to scrape all the leaves off your lawn and dump them in the street gutters, it can be done with a rake, fueled by a sandwich. But there's another side to your compulsion to tidy. Imagine, if you will, a sumptuous banquet laid out before you. It's coming on winter, but you're in great shape. There are seedpods to dangle from and berries to scarf and leaves to scuff up for delectable worms and grublets. Your very beak is watering just thinking about it. And then someone comes along and upends the table and dumps the entire banquet into the trash. Someone whose obsessive-compulsive disorder is triggered by a table crumb. Why, in the general scheme of things, should the guy with the mental affliction be in charge? It would be like finding some guy who's uncomfortable when he's not surrounded by pasty rich people, and letting him run America.

And if we gotta have that guy, we should at least make him quieter.

*Edited to add: Dispersing tear gas is an acceptable use for a leaf blower.