Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Scoring the Dose


We got our first COVID vaccinations the usual way. There was a rumor that a kilo of Pfizer had landed on the east side and we went to meet some guy behind a warehouse, and he flashed open his trench coat, studded with open appointment slots. I was dubious, and when I feigned disinterest, he said "All right, sweetheart, you got me--but if you want the real deal, go to the dumpster behind the CVC and ask for Vinnie."

Vinnie's collection of appointment slots was obviously fake, just magic marker on pieces of masking tape, and we weren't falling for it, but he got his cousin on the phone and I will be damned but he totally had slots, slots for days. He only operated between midnight and 2am, but if you could stay up that late, he had it all: Walgreen's, Rite-Aid, and a jackpot at the Convention Center. We signed up right away and told all our friends, and they all got appointments too, until the third day when the velvet rope went up, and the latecomers were sent back out to work the alleyways.

It ain't easy. One couple we know found a scalper on the corner of Fifth and Hallelujah and got all signed up, and when they got to the vaccination site it turned out to be a pitch for time-shares in Florida, plus the cookies were stale.

So screw them, right? We got ours, and that's what matters. They had a slick operation there at the Convention Center. They're running six thousand people a day through there, moving them through the cordoned aisles as smooth as corpuscles in the bloodstream. We never stopped moving. There were mazes of aisles, and ushers to insert us into them, and at the end everybody got the cheese. We sat for fifteen minutes so someone could scoop us up if we keeled over, and then we were out of there.

It was an easy shot. Four hours later I got a nasty case of shoulder flu. No other side-effects, but I was dragging knuckles on one side like Quasimodo and had to lift my right arm with my left arm just to put it on my lap. This, I am assured, is a good sign.

It means my body is putting up some kind of fight and should be commended at the earliest opportunity. My body, in theory, has gobs of white blood cells whose chief occupation is defense and homeland security. Some of them find invading germs and eat them. They spit out the icky bits, called antigens, and then others produce antibodies to attack the antigens. It takes a while to stock the armory but with any luck your body will be able to get ahead of the germ before you drop dead.

Vaccines are designed to rev up the whole system. They simulate an invasion and muster your white cells to get off their duffs. Some are "live attenuated" vaccines; they use a disabled germ, like sending in an invading army of quadriplegic soldiers with spears. Inactivated vaccines, such as our new friend the COVID vaccine, are armed with Nerf spears and Whiffle-cannons. You need a booster a few weeks later because your body doesn't take it as seriously at first, but by the time the second surge begins, it's plenty annoyed by all the Nerfing and Whiffling and it's had a chance to stock up on antibodies and complain to the condominium association abut kids these days.

The other thing your body does after encountering a vaccine is it assigns some of the white blood cells to be Memory Cells. They're responsible for neighborhood watch patrols and they get on the two-way if they spot any of the germs they've got antibodies for.

This is the part that worries me. If I develop any memory cells, they're just going to wander all over the place. They'll bunch up around the kneecap and say "Now what is it I came in here for?" and then they'll have to make another trip around to remember. And if they do bump into any germs, they're going to waste time trying to trick the germs into telling them their names again. "We've got a situation down here in the trachea," they'll call out. "It's that old whatchamacallit virus, the one that looks like an orange with the cloves stuck in it? No? The one that was married to that other one that used to play the neighbor on the Dick Van Dyke Show. Yeah, well, shit, I don't know. Just send over the whole kit when you get a chance, I guess."

This is why old people are in more trouble.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Wattle It Be?


I won't speculate why my facebook page is showing me so many ads for cosmetic neck creams except to point out that there is a camera on my laptop, and who knows where it goes at night? One of the ads promises to give you a "neck that turns heads." It's called Système 41. The Système makes it Frenchy, and the 41 makes it sciencey.

You'd think turning a head would be the bare minimum we should expect out of a neck, but there's no guarantee of it, and I know that first-hand. The family still remembers that camping trip during which my sister had to extract me from my own sleeping bag like string cheese from a wrapper because my neck had completely locked up. That was the most acute episode of the story, but the problem persisted for a number of years that can be measured in chiropractic bills. I did finally fix my neck, but not in a way anyone else would notice.

This particular ad was for a product that could make my neck lovely enough to attract favorable attention. My head would float like a wine goblet on a delicate stem, and heads would, presumably, turn.

Heck, they turn anyway. My neck is an anatomical wonder. My head bobs around on it like a cherry on a bowl of tapioca. Over time, it has developed interesting topographical features including crevasses and pillow lava and, dead center in the throat region, an awesome sinkhole. Under magnification, face mites can be seen fleeing its vortex. (This is visible with the naked eye during a Zoom meeting.)

All of this was easily predicted. Whatever my finer physical attributes may have been, my neck was never among them. It's as if God wanted me to have a tiny but dense head and gave me a handy cushion to rest it on. At this stage my neck is merely fulfilling its destiny.

The particular cream that promises to turn heads is made, it says here, of four different manufactured peptides, or protein fragments, plus a bonus ingredient made of stem cells from a grape. They excitedly note it costs far less than $150 neck creams, but, I contend, it costs a whole lot more than a homemade protein patch of Spam stem cells derived from the goo layer at the bottom of the can.

There really is something to be said for plant stem cells in cosmetics. Plant stem cells are good at regeneration; if you cut a stem, you'll get new buds. Liberally applied to the neck, they might produce a crop of energetic skin tags waving like sea anemone fingers at low tide. Stem cells in general are capable of turning into almost any kind of cell. Grape stem cells do not have to worry about turning into livers or hearts or urinary tracts but can concentrate on becoming miles and miles of grapevine. I hesitate to apply grape stem cells to my neck in case I fall asleep in my recliner and my neck puddles up, crawls over the chair, and vaults onto the computer desk.

Human stem cells would probably work even better, but the industry has focused on plant cell technology because an economically significant percentage of consumers balk at using embryo bits, even for such a desirable result as turkey-neck improvement, although market studies show that resistance is largely overcome if we throw in the possibility of thicker, more luxuriant hair.

In any case, the development of an effective neck cream is a laudable use of resources now that we've got world hunger, disease, and environmental degradation under control. As for me, I have my own beauty regime for my neck. I discovered it last year.




Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Minus Cotinus


I didn't know what it was, but I did know when it was.

It was at 12:30 a.m. Woke me right up. I didn't rule out earthquake for the first couple seconds. Rumble crack shlump crackle crackle thunk boom. But no actual shaking. It sounded like a tree coming down just outside my bedroom window. The trees just outside my bedroom window aren't really substantial enough to have made that much noise. The only tree that would conceivably be a threat is in Anna's yard next door, and if it goes down, it could take us both out. Anna and I think that would be an acceptable sacrifice if the alternative is taking down a massive old Western cedar with a lively clientele of birds and mammals in it. That tree was big when we got here and we've been here 43 years. Anna's a tree person. I am too, now that we got rid of that dumb scarlet oak I never liked. Now I'm all on board for the trees. As it were.
 
Anyway, I popped right out of bed and looked out the window, and everything looked totally normal, except for several tons of ice on everything. My power line was bouncing a little, and I concluded a big shelf of snow had slid off the roof. I went back to sleep.
 
What's that word for taking pleasure in someone else's pain? Skunkenfrond? Fritzenshizzle? It's not nice.
 
I'm not always nice.
 
The next morning, as we blundered out in the sunshine to the sound of general artillery as the neighborhood shook off its ice, the mystery was solved. As it would have been the night before if I'd put on my glasses. A large tree had fallen down, across the street. On a car.
 
The tree, a 40-year-old Cotinus, was the last tree left in our neighbor's small front yard, after he'd had two massive, beautiful, healthy conifers taken down, ostensibly because he worried they might fall on his house. They were never going to fall on his house. The Cotinus that he left behind, however, came down upended root-ball and all, no longer having any support from the root system of the murdered trees. Oops!
 
Sadly, it did not fall down on any of that neighbor's oversized gas hogs, but instead on his neighbor's car, which was not much of a car, but it was all he had. So I feel bad for him. Sort of. He did use the car to run the occasional errand, but mostly he used it as a sound system. He has a fondness for insanely repetitive thumpa thumpa music with autotuned singing and naughty lyrics, and apparently that cannot be fully appreciated unless it's at a volume that dissolves kidney stones in the next block. Sometimes, in fact, it's best appreciated at one in the morning. Some of the individual songs are so dang appreciatable that they need to be played over and over again for an hour.
 
And now, there's a tree on all that.
 
Not only that, but there was a large squirrel's nest in that Cotinus that I've been noticing for a while that looked like it contained some items that previously belonged to me, and I couldn't quite get the angle with my binoculars to make sure, and now it's a foot off the ground near a left fender. It sure looks like it was a comfy nest. That is because sure enough it is lined with a brick-sized piece of Poly-Fil stolen from our chair cushion, a bit of thievery that the little shits like to engage in when they're not stripping insulation from our wiring or assaulting our bird feeder. Sure hope none of them fell on their little punkin heads when the tree came down.
 
Heh heh.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Anogenital Distance, Rabbit Holes, And You


Neanderthal sex!

I love science. I'll read anything. I will maintain stoutly that I did not click on this particular article to find out what sex with a Neanderthal was like. I don't even speculate about people I know. Far as I'm willing to go in my imaginings is that Neanderthals probably had to tip their heads sideways to kiss in order to avoid eyebrow-ridge abrasion. If they kissed at all.

No, I clicked on the article to find out how anyone has been able to hypothesize about Neanderthal sex. The things people have been able to figure out from the tiniest clues absolutely blow me away.

I mean, it wasn't too many years ago someone found a molar tooth and a finger bone and discovered a whole new kind of human, the Denisovans. And since then they've found a bone fragment--a fragment--that they've confidently identified as belonging to a young girl with a Neanderthal mother and Denisovan father. (They named her Denny, but her real name was NeAnn. She was a Pisces and liked flute music and long walks on the beach.)

The article was specifically referring to sex between Neanderthals and modern humans, however, and doggone if they didn't conclude they did kiss. Because a scientist found a microbe calcified in Neanderthal tooth crud and recognized it as a modern human oral bacterium. The two species of human wouldn't have been expected to be freighting the same mouth bugs, so she ran some numbers and carried the one and determined the Neanderthal and modern versions of the little bugger drifted apart not all that long ago. If they'd both started with the same bacterium it would have happened much earlier, so she concluded there had definitely been mouth-on-mouth action.

Cool.

So, were Neanderthals promiscuous? One would fervently hope the answer could be found in cave paintings. And one would be right, inasmuch as stenciled hand paintings have revealed the artists' Digit Ratios. The what-now?

And this is why I read articles like these. You get sent down all these rabbit holes. I didn't even know Digit Ratios were a thing, but evidently people have drawn all sorts of conclusions from the ratio of the lengths of a person's index and ring fingers. The Neanderthals' lower ratio corresponds with less allegiance to monogamy, shall we say. So now I'm looking up Digit Ratio. Mine is relatively high. I don't know what Dave's is--and now I kinda want to--because we can't straighten out his ring finger. (But I do have a mallet.)

Digit ratio turns out to be a reflection of the available hormones the person was exposed to in the womb, with consequences all down the line. For instance, various digit ratios have been used to predict prostate cancer, aggression, masculinized handwriting, empathy, lesbianism, video game addiction, fear of spiders, and susceptibility to that Sarah McLachlan song about the arms of the angel. Digit-ratio studies have also been done on mice and pheasants.


Mice, and pheasants.
 
All right. I dunno. I was starting to lose interest until I read that digit ratio also correlated to anogenital distance (AGD), the distance between the center of your anus and your vagina and/or scrotum. I will be damned. There is such a thing as Taint Research! It's not a field I ever thought to explore, except at a layman's level, but I'm not about to poo-poo it. I'd think all the fun would be in the actual measuring process, with diminishing returns thereafter. However, Taint Science has given the world stunning sentences such as the following:

"Women who had high levels of phthalates in their urine during pregnancy gave birth to sons who were ten times more likely to have shorter than expected AGDs."
 
Well! I do not know my anogenital distance, offhand, and have no plans to find out, at my age. The only thing I know for certain is that neither my ring or my index finger is quite long enough to be able to play Schumann's Toccata. I blame my Mom.



Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Tower Of Flower


I never had my own amaryllis. Nobody ever gave me one, and I wasn't likely to buy one for myself. Whenever I buy an indoor plant, all the other plants in the shop pitch in for the funeral luncheon.

But this Christmas someone gave me a bulb. And a kit. There was a little pot and a hard little puck of soil that magically fluffed out to fill the little pot, and then you set the big bulb in the little pot so that it sticks partway out. It looked like soup from the Middle Ages, the kind that's mostly boar's head poking out of a little moat of broth. Meat joints are flung to the mongrels and serving wenches overfill their dresses. It was a big-ass bulb, is what I'm saying.

You toss in a dab of water and stand back.


Now, I have sung about an amaryllis. Our madrigal group used to hack through that one. Not much to the lyrics: Adieu, sweet amaryllis, For since to part your will is. I like making rhymes, myself, so I'm familiar with how clunky a lyric can get when you're trying too hard to make a rhyme work. The composer John Wilbye was looking at his amaryllis, and all he came up with for a rhyme was "Willis," but he didn't know anyone named Willis, so he tried out Do tell, sweet amaryllis, you know where Mother's will is? but that didn't make sense, so he ended up with "since to part your will is" and then he had to say good-bye to it. Anyway, the song was a hit. Then he went on to write Farewell, my dear bergenia, For soon we won't be seenya, and Alas sweet marigold, You old.
 
The big bulb didn't do anything for a few days and then a little green knob poked up. Well, I'm familiar with the miracle of plant growth. I have seen entire gardens fur up with weeds if you turn your back for a few hours. My Echium "Mr. Happy" shoots out a ten-foot spire of flowers audibly. If you don't yank a holly at the two-inch-tall stage you'll have to take a chainsaw to it. Plants are amazing.


But that's the thing about amaryllises: people like them because they grow in the dead of winter when nothing else botanical is happening. So they really stand out. You can't look away. My amaryllis thrust itself straight up, a big, turgid, meaty thing it was, and there was something fleshy swelling at the top, and ultimately four fat, lusty flowers exploded out of it and presented to the world like baboons at a sloth convention. I stared in wonder and embarrassment. What in the natural world pollinates such a thing? I visualized a big bumbly bee lumbering in there like a fat old dude manspreading in a sauna in a tiny towel, his entire reproductive apparatus swinging among the stamens.

It's rude, especially in the winter. There should be pajamas on that thing.

And if it were not cocky enough, lo, a little batch of strappy leaves yearned below it like an entourage. 

I know what comes next, because I sang the song. To part its will is. It's going to fold up and go away. If it takes longer than four hours, I'll have to call the doctor.






Saturday, February 13, 2021

Farrelly's Folly


I am now hot on the trail of the story of our house. Remarkably, it appears to have been occupied continuously since 1906 by someone in the family of the original builder, until we took over in 1978. There was an owner in between, but that was just the guy who bought it to flip, after spraying Navajo White all over the wallpaper and disciplining the floors in a deep rust shag, and he ended up getting murdered in a trailer park in California. So.

But I have a family name now! Miss Jane Farrelly, plucky conqueror of tall mountains, and the never-married sister of Florence Farrelly Kraxberger! An Amazon, she was! Or if she's anything like her younger sister Florence, a teeny tiny Amazon. Even better!

Unfortunately, the trail went cold there. I found nothing on the free genealogy sites about Miss Jane and Florence, or any Portland Farrellys. Except that Miss Jane's obituary mentioned a funeral at St. Charles Catholic Church--at the time, about five blocks from our house--and burial in Mt. Calvary Cemetery. I wondered if I should pay her bones a visit, and checked out the cemetery website. Which led to a photo on FindAGrave of her stone, and the information that she was buried next to her brother Joseph. There were other Farrellys at rest there too. Don't know where Florence went, but other names turned up, including a mother, Anna Agnes Boylen Farrelly, and a father.


Peter Philip Farrelly. The clueless but determined builder of our miraculously still-standing home. There  you have it, Dave!

Feeding some of this information back into the genealogy sites, I discovered more siblings. Not all at once, tidily, but in dribs and drabs, with spellings and birthdates varying slightly from one record to another. By the time I unearthed the 1910 census, it had occurred to me that the father simply couldn't remember exactly when they were all born. And left one out. And there were at least nine. Philip, Joseph, Jane, Stephen, Florence, Francis, Frances, Clair, and William. Six of them were born in Pennsylvania. The oldest was born in New Jersey in 1890, a chaste 14 months after his parents' wedding; the youngest in Kansas in 1908. I am hereby assuming he dropped out of Mrs. Farrelly en route to Portland where Dad had been getting the house ready for the big move. Miss Jane was born in 1895, and appears as "Jennie" in the census. She was no older than 23 when she climbed Mt. Hood, stood atop, ice axe aloft, and thundered I am JANE!
 
I'm not sure if there were any children after William. In my research, they just kept showing up one by one, and I'm sure Mrs. Farrelly felt the same way.

But Pennsylvania?

Our fine local neighborhood historian, Doug Decker, once looked into the story of our 15-block plat, the Foxchase Addition. He discovered that it was filed on April 1, 1889, five months before the Farrellys got married, by a land speculator named J. Carroll McCaffrey. A Philadelphia native, he lived and traveled between Portland and Philadelphia frequently. Advertisements for lots in his new plat, located on a high ground of fields, forest, and dirt roads, began to appear in The Oregonian--and presumably back in Pennsylvania as well: "FOXCHASE: BEST BUY IN PORTLAND, $100, $5 down, $5 a month."

Fox Chase was a fancy neighborhood of mansions in northeastern Philadelphia, and McCaffrey's name choice was designed to entice prospective buyers. One of whom was the newlywed Mr. Peter Philip Farrelly, who purchased his Western dream. All but two of his children were born in Woodbourne, Pennsylvania--fifteen miles from Fox Chase. The hopeful Mr. Farrelly snapped up our two lots, bless his soul forever, and hove out to new territory with nothing but a dream and way too much confidence in his building skills.

Meanwhile Mr. McCaffrey, the speculator, was convicted and sent to prison after having been charged with fraud enough times he couldn't afford a bondsman. His wife filed for divorce. When he won an appeal on a technicality, he fled back to PA, sprayed his wallpaper Navajo White, installed dark shag carpeting, and ultimately took his own life.

Why do I care? Why have I spent hours on this endeavor? We want to draw a line through our own lives. A tether to somewhere. The future is opaque, and the only thing that we know will happen for certain is something we'd rather not think about. So we throw a line and a hook into the past, hoping it snags on something. And then we hold on.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Florence On My Mind


People like to remark on our house. It's unusual, for our neighborhood, especially since the addition.

"Say, you'd know," a young woman said once, passing by. "What did this use to be? A house?"

We might have gone a little overboard on our addition. We were young. But the new parts were only a few years old at that point, and already our house was shrouded in mystery. As most are. Unless you've scooped up a historical house built by a 19th-century lumber baron, you probably don't know much about your house, even it it's not that old. Somebody once knew all the answers, but their knowledge has vaporized. Like a virus without a host, it just died out.

That's why it was so much fun to meet Mrs. Kraxberger soon after we bought the place.

We knew the Kraxbergers lived here. We still got some Kraxberger junk mail, and the neighbor lady said it was the Kraxberger place. You don't forget a name like Kraxberger. Tiny Mrs. Kraxberger was chauffeured here by a bored and sullen grand-nephew "to visit the old place," and we'd invited her in.

All we knew about our house was it was built in 1926 in a plat called Foxchase Addition. Wrong, said Mrs. K. It was a one-room house her father built around 1906, and added onto later, finally getting dormers on the second floor in 1926. The kids, she said, lived in a tent in the front yard until there was room for them. Her father had never built anything before, she said, with some pride.

At this point, Dave had been drilling judiciously at likely points in the kitchen wall, looking for studs. Some were inches apart, some yards apart. When he couldn't find a pattern to the construction, he took a SkilSaw to the whole wall in search of studs. Or it might have been a chainsaw, which would have better suited his mood at the time. The windows were truly "hung:" nothing supported them underneath. Wasn't too much later he noticed the dog's ball rolled toward the center of the house from every direction. He went into the basement and came up horrified. Evidently Mrs. Kraxberger's father had decided to put stairs to the basement inside as an afterthought. He'd cut them in but didn't support the joists afterwards, which were just hanging out, open-ended, with two stories of  house on top of them. Dave got some lumber and went to work. The wallpaper ripped as he jacked up the house; there was a vertical displacement of nearly six inches.

So it is a tribute to Dave's finer qualities, which include courtesy and respect for his elders as well as building skills, that he merely smiled, if rigidly, when Mrs. Kraxberger said that her father didn't know anything about construction.

Not Miss Jane
Well, we never got the photographs she said she might have had, and when, fifteen years later, the internet became a thing, I decided to try to find out more about our house. It would be nice to put a name to the gentleman responsible for vexing my husband, which is usually my job. It wouldn't be Kraxberger; that was his daughter's married name. I didn't get too far. Until recently.

The old address of our house, before the Great Renumbering, was 1072 E. 29th Avenue N. If you put that address into the googles, you get one good hit. Miss Jane Farrelly, of that address, is listed as a member of the Mazamas in 1918. The Great Librarian--see previous post--confirmed that a Farrelly was the principle, or possibly only, resident of our house in the 1930 directory.

A Mazama! In order to be a member of the Mazamas, a mountaineering club which lent its name to the massive volcano that blew up 7700 years ago and left Crater Lake behind, you have to have bagged at least one major glaciated peak. The club was founded in 1894 and welcomed women from the outset, which was highly unusual at the time. Miss Jane Farrelly probably started by climbing nearby Mt. Hood. In a dress.

Devil's Punch Bowl
There's a bit more online about Miss Jane: her obituary. She had moved to Alaska Territory and worked in Skagway and Juneau before landing in Fairbanks, surrounded by mountains. I am already, at this point, in love with Miss Jane Farrelly, and have mentally placed her on top of Mt. McKinley, her ice axe raised in victory, but Denali records indicate that between 1930 and 1941 only nine people attempted to summit and four succeeded, all in 1932. But I'm giving her all the other mountains. In fact, Social Notes in the local papers refer to her as one of the "hiking girls" who climbed to Devil's Punch Bowl in Skagway. Unfortunately she developed a heart ailment and died at age 46, a day after arriving in Portland by steamer from Anchorage. She died in the home of her sister. Mrs. Florence Farrelly Kraxberger.

Our home.