Saturday, October 20, 2018

Patch Me Up

It was all about the patches.

Once you got to be a Camp Fire Girl, you got a vest, and then you could start accumulating these cool patches. I don't know what they were for, because I never got that far. They could've been for anything. Conservation. Service. Congeniality. Typing. Showing up. Marshmallow cuisine. Patch-sewing. Patriarchy-fighting. I don't know.

You had to be a Blue Bird before you could be a Camp Fire Girl, so I was. That got me an outfit, thus enlarging my school wardrobe by 50%, because I got to wear it to school one day a week. We had meetings. We had officers. I was Secretary. All I knew was Secretary was a thing I could be, because Mom had been one before I got invented. I was hoping it was a ceremonial title, but they made me take minutes and stuff.

Summer after fourth grade, we got to go to Camp Mawavi. I was plenty excited. Mom and Dad saw me off when we filed into school buses. I was in line with all my friends and when we got to the front of the line they asked us our ages, and all my friends said Nine and went in one bus, and I said Eight and they sent me to a different bus, like Auschwitz. It was horrible. I squeaked and pointed but I had no experience arguing with an adult, and quickly ran out of options. The buses pulled into camp and my friends went one direction and I never saw them again, and I went with the Little Kids in the Little Cabins, where they checked on us at night by shining flashlights in the window and telling us it was the fairies. The next day they doubled down on the fairy story to point out the fairy dust shining in the dirt, but my older sister was a rockhound and I knew it was mica flakes, and said so. It didn't go over well.

This is how far I would go into the ocean.
I was miserable. We made lanyards out of gimp and potholders out of little loops. The worst was they kept trying to teach me to swim. All week I pretended I had a cold so they wouldn't make me put my head underwater, but at the end we were supposed to demonstrate our ability to put our heads underwater by navigating an obstacle course in the lake. We were supposed to duck under the big floaty thing and come up the other side, and I must have looked mighty wretched, which is how you look when you're only eight and contemplating your own death, because I remember the adult waiting and waiting and finally lifting up the floaty thing so I could go under it with my nose out of the water, and I passed. She must have realized she'd be stuck with my sorry fake-sneezy ass all summer if she didn't.

After that my friends all Flew Up, right there at camp. That's what it was called when you shed your Blue Bird wings and become a Camp Fire Girl and got the patches. If there's anything I hated more than putting my head underwater, it was flowing up. Also, they eliminated our school so we all had to go to a different school for fifth grade. And guess the hell what? All my friends went to Tuckahoe and I went to Taylor Elementary and didn't know anybody. That had to do with our house being in the Nearly Negro section of the county. We were red-lined out of a lot of things, including, not coincidentally, the public swimming pool. I went from being the most popular girl in Mrs. Rejuney's fourth-grade class to being a real nobody with still only two outfits and no friends, and I got an attack of bashful that lasted for years. Never really quite pulled out of it until I got me a little social currency in the form of real titties. Once the dress code was abolished and you could wear hippie jeans and a hippie work shirt to school and still be cool, my remaining obstacles had been lifted.

All of which is to note that I never got to earn patches for a vest. But now I have a hat. A Metro Volunteer Hat, earned for being a frog egg counter for the regional gummint, and I have five Birdathon pins to stick on it too. Shiny ones. Also, I can put my head underwater. I'd rather not, but I can.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

G.I. Joe vs. The Dead Huns

I just got my first Big Girl pneumonia shot. Evidently I have reached the magic age at which it is assumed I can't afford a full-price movie ticket, and I'm likely to keel over in the presence of a microbe. I do tip over easily.

I woke up the next day feeling a little off, though. For instance, I got up at the usual time and took a dump but instead of getting dressed I went back to bed, just because. Long about mid-morning it occurred to me to take my temperature, and sure enough, it was up to 99.9. Right in the dreaded stinkhole! No, I took it orally. My shoulder was sore where I'd gotten the shot, too.

So, awesome. I have a case of miniature shoulder pneumonia. My bicep is hard at work fending off disabled microbes and frankly, I couldn't be prouder. It's like the Attack Of The Dead Huns! This would be a practice run. Somebody has dumped off a shipment of Dead Huns and all my personal warriors have run out to stab them with daggers just to get the feel of it so they're not squeamish when the real thing arrives.

This is the sort of scenario you cook up when you're running a fever and need to feel okay with it. You want to feel ready for the Huns.

So because there was laundry to hang out and dishes to put away, I spent the morning looking up the Huns. Huns are supposed to be fierce, like pneumonia. Turns out one of the first peoples the Huns attacked were the Alans.  The Alans. How hard could it be to beat up the Alans? Clearly, I needed a different visualization.

So. My shoulder is full of highly excited plasma cells. The little girl plasma cells are off somewhere trying to read and the little boy plasma cells are in my shoulder with a set of G.I. Joe antibodies, lining them up and going pew pew pew at the invading dead pneumonia microbes and getting all steeped in the culture of violence so that some day when they grow up they can go to war for real, and the girl plasma cells can get some reading done. Everybody's yelling at them to keep it down in there, but that shoulder is going to be sore until they run out of G.I. Joes.

By the next day my fever is back to normal. The plasma cells have been instructed to put away their toy soldiers and register for Selective Service, and peace has returned to the body.

What a wonderful thing is the vaccine. Most of us remember that the first one was developed by an 18th-century physician who'd heard that milkmaids didn't come down with smallpox, possibly because they'd been exposed to cowpox, but it's not true. For one thing, it was probably horsepox all along. Also, the Chinese had him beat by 800 years. They did it old-school. They scraped smallpox scabs off of dead people and ground them into powder and made people snort it.

I don't want to hear anyone complaining about modern vaccines again. Roll up your sleeves and your kids' sleeves. We'll come up with a cure for imaginary autism later.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

It Is My Dooty To Report

Reader and Friend Of Pootie Nisa Blackmon recently corrected me about a misapprehension I had concerning how sea urchins take a dump. If this is not the only blog you'll read today that starts out like that, I hope it's the first.

As she explained, they don't really take a dump, at least not in the gravity-assisted way we have grown accustomed to. Their anus is on the top of their body. That seems like really poor design but we have to remember they're underwater for the event, and presumably their effluent leaves the immediate area. Up until now I had not considered that the ocean is basically a giant toilet. This cements my determination to avoid it, especially as it is not airworthy, and I do not have gills.

Well. Under the circumstances it only makes sense to put the anus on top. Those circumstances being that the urchin's mouth is on the bottom end, where it can hoover algae and such from various surfaces, and in general animals are designed to poop as far away from their mouths as possible. Flip yourself upside down to mow algae on the sea floor with your lips and you will note that your anus is on top, too.

Urchins have five-fold symmetry, which is unusual in the animal kingdom. You'd think that if they were doubling up, however many times, they'd come out even. But they start out bilateral like us, and then the left side only gets busy and divides, and the right side stays put to be the oddball. We end up with a basically spherical animal, like Chris Christie.

It's hard to argue with success. That anus arrangement has been going on for a long time. And individual urchins apparently keep growing, however slowly, until something eats them, such as a Japanese person. They can get to be a hundred years old, or even 200, with few signs of aging, which is understandable in a critter that starts out with sprouty hairs and dribbles poop on itself. What more could it do, keep the turn signal on? Scientists have learned a lot about their longevity by measuring the Carbon-14 in their little round suits, thoughtfully deposited during the nuclear bomb testing of the 1950s. They really don't know how old an urchin can get, although science is intrigued by the discovery of a massive urchin with what is thought to be catapult dents.

I just had a little fun at the sea urchins' expense, so let me correct the record to note that even old urchins do not dribble poop on themselves, but eject it forcefully. (Related sea stars have anal cones for the same purpose so as to distance themselves from their personal magma.) They probably do have to get up to go several times a night, though.

Aristotle, who had the benefit of being a curious fellow in a time when nobody knew anything, studied almost everything, including urchins, and he referred to the purpose of the anus as providing "issue of the residuum." I plan to work this into my vocabulary as soon as possible.

So there's a mouth and an anus and lots of tubes inside for organizing stuff once it's in there, but what about sex? It's a little disappointing. Female urchins expel eggs that float freely in the water, and male urchins produce milt that can fertilize any eggs it encounters. This method is scientifically known as "jacking off," or, if it keeps up for a long time, "on and onanism."

It doesn't seem like much of a plan, but urchins have been around for 450 million years. That's a pretty good run for something that has an asshole at the top. Take heart, America.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Rags To Bitches Story

So I found out, and never mind how, there's no reason to get into it on a Sunday, that my fine young friend buys reusable cotton flannel menstrual pads, which I didn't even know were a thing, but they are. And I was grateful yet again for being a post-menopausal liberal.

Because if I were a liberal woman still in the throes of unasked-for fertility, I would then have to go purchase these myself, and use them and wash them out in order to keep yet another single-use throwaway item out of the landfill, because that is the curse of a liberal, to worry about such things, and because it's not as if the throwaway kind ever saved much on laundry anyway, since there wasn't a single month in forty years in which I did not manage to doody on something I shouldn't have, even if I wore two corks and a pad so large it has a tag on it that says DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW.

If I were a pre-menopausal conservative I wouldn't have to give this a second thought. I would be worried about some colored person breaking into my house or being blown up by a Muslim war refugee or raped by a Mexican or the fact that God is both all-powerful and somehow kept out of the schools or that some liberal is going to force me to use curly light bulbs or some stinking Socialist is going to steal my Medicare or someone is going to call me a racist just for having the guts to call a spade a spade or, and this is the very worst thing, my own husband might some day be accused of something he didn't do, something that totally never happened on account of there being no witnesses except that one really drunk dude who hasn't remembered anything he's done in thirty years. Any woman could accuse him of such a thing at any time and then go cash her check from the First National Bank Of Libtards and it wouldn't matter how many creative explanations my husband made up to explain the naughty bits in his yearbook. And his life would be ruined unless he makes it to the Supreme Court and is right back on top. As it were.

As a conservative woman I would be able to assume that life began when I was born, and being able to wear sweaters inside in the summer and drive my Ford Extortion to the corner store and throw away a plastic pod every time I make coffee is just what the world owes me. Certainly I would assert there was no life before pads and tampons. Just because women survived for a million years without them until a hundred years ago does not mean that we could survive without them today.

They did, though. Admittedly, history has not been overly interested in the concerns of women. Hypatia is an exception. That 5th-century mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher once discouraged an unwanted suitor by smacking him with her menstrual rags, although some scholars dispute this account, pointing out that she could have just waved them around and he'd have dropped dead of his own accord. Unfortunately, Hypatia was a woman of great and beguiling beauty, otherwise known as Satanic wiles. She and her big brain and beauty got into a nest of early Christians and that was pretty much that, for soon enough she was murdered, sliced up, dragged in pieces through the street, and burned.

And for this alone I might have donned the cotton rag in Hypatia's name. But now I don't have to, thank God. Or whoever's in charge.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Prom Night In Alaska

It was like being a chaperone at the junior prom.

K.C. and Scott let us get our breath after Denali, served us some delicious chunks off her 286-pound halibut (what the hell, Alaska?), and then walked us a mile or so into the woods near their house. Where, instead of terminating at what would have been a perfectly acceptable mushroom or salamander, we stood on the banks of a wide, graveled, braided river and watched sockeye salmon churn upriver in ardent anticipation. Thousands. Thousands of cherry-colored fish on their way to a very important date.

Cherry-colored. Why? They start out blue and white like any sensible ocean-going fish, but then, as the urge strikes, they turn bright red and their heads turn green and the males get long in the nose and develop a hump; make of that what you will. Why green heads? Because nothing goes better with red. It is possible there is a more involved explanation than that but beauty has its purpose.

The involved explanations would also have you believe that redness indicates fitness and salmon choose each other on that basis, as though they're conducting a job interview, but what else is beauty? You might as well say they choose the beauty. After all, we do too. Sockeye salmon, like other salmon, get the pigments in their flesh from what they eat, primarily nice pink krill and the like. That's also why tomatoes, and your better flamingos, aren't white. Carotenoids. You spend a few years in the ocean eating what nature intended and you're going to look really appealing on the plate, not that that's much of an evolutionary driver.

So when things feel just right, and hormones start acting up, and you're a sockeye, you turn red and green and humpy. Trust me, there is nothing weird you can't blame on hormones. You turn red because those terrific pigments you hoisted from your dinner start to move toward the skin under your scales, and your scales are transparent.

I've wondered about the nature of the salmon's motivation to spawn before. Sure, we fling around phrases like "biological imperative" and we know that whatever scoots them along gets rewarded in progeny. But still. It's not like anyone sticks anything in anyone else. Or even, really, touches. It's hard to imagine the draw. Until you remember new love.

And no one has much of an explanation for that. Someone catches your notice and sparks your flesh, and there's a quake within you, and you are drawn inexorably to that person, pulled right across the room to that person, and nothing is more important than closing the physical gap between you, and who can reason that out? Is there any point in trying? You are in such thrall you will offer up the secrets of your heart. You will vibrate the silky web. You will show your reddest meat.

The biggest, reddest males have the most success at this business, and get to swim next to their beloved and shoot sperm over her dropped eggs, but sometimes the lesser males get a squirt in too, later, after everyone's gone. Just like at the prom.

We're standing by the punchbowl watching the feints and fumbles and surges and urges. Love and beauty, that's what we're watching.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

I Pledge Allegiance To The Swag

Sometimes you have to hear things a few times before they sink in.

For instance, in a thread questioning why a woman would put herself through the threats, humiliation and abuse that Dr. Blasey-Ford did if she were not sincere--a question I had taken to be rhetorical--I was startled to read the following comment:

"It's their 15 minutes of fame. Paid for, I'm sure by the Left. Otherwise, why come out now. They've been ashamed to go public until now, why not keep quiet?"

I dismissed that right away. Until the very next day, when Judge Kavanaugh loudly clarified:

"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump...revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups."

And suddenly, I saw the light. And I was deeply ashamed.

Yes, I am remiss in my contributions to The Left, and here it is Pledge Week already. It's time to step up and pay my dues on behalf of the Clintons. That child-sex ring isn't going to run itself.

That's right, Bob, a lot of our listeners probably don't even know how much goes into running a successful left-wing operation. For instance, sure, we can see the up-front costs associated with a pedophilia ring, such as salaries and travel expenses, but what about behind the scenes? What about the rent for the pizza place, or what about the sacrificial goats for the Satanic ritual abuse? What about the murders and coverups? They don't come cheap.

So true, Starchild, and let's not forget The Clintons themselves. As you know, they come as a set, but that's expensive to maintain; especially since Bill has been dead for years, and we've had to re-stock and train a cadre of doubles, all ready to deploy like Lassie, and that costs money, even though they've gotten so much skinnier.

Yes, Bob, and so to all of you listening today, let's chip in and together we can continue to make progress! We still have babies to kill and guns to confiscate. Every little bit helps, and whatever amount is right for you is right for us. Join today at the $20 level and we'll thank you with a hemp tote bag with our logo, the silhouette of a family of fleeing Mexicans! You'll know you're doing your part to contribute to the surge of immigrant gang members and rapists that we need to broaden our base.

True enough, Starchild. Don't forget, each tote bag can hold up to thirty pounds of fair-trade coffee and heirloom tomatoes, but, Starch, what if our listeners don't want to tote their own tomatoes?

Well, Bob, if they join our Karl Marx Society, with a monthly contribution of $1000, we'd love to send them a pair of actual Mexicans! Not only can they tote like nobody's business, but each one comes with a certificate of proof of voter's registration and his, her, or their own food stamps.

That's awesome, Starchild! how about our crisis actors, though? Do we have enough in the pipeline?

Never too many, Bob. And it is surprisingly expensive to get some goon to go on national TV and pretend his little girl was gunned down at school. Early on, you could get one for beer money, but there's been a shortage since the Trump rallies have drained off the supply. And who could have predicted we'd still be seeing Trump rallies two years into his administration?

Not I, that's for sure. But I know what our listeners are thinking: there's not that much money in working for non-profits--can't someone else carry the load? Well, Starchild, we really have only the one billionaire, so it's up to each of us to step up to the plate, tee up that puck, and get us over the goal line. And what better place to start than with our basic $35 membership, for which we'll be happy to send you a travel mug? Each mug is emblazoned with an American flag, which you can disrespect in the privacy of your own home.

But what if our listeners don't do any traveling, Bob? So many of us are trying to limit our use of fossil fuels.

Well, Starchild, the travel mug is still great for that volunteer stint at the soup kitchen, and it fits in a bicycle water bottle cage. You don't actually have to be going anywhere.

And thanks for reminding me, Bob, to tell our listeners to be sure to enter before the end of our pledge drive Saturday to win a trip for two to nowhere at all! This year we're excited to announce we're also throwing in a dinner with Merrick Garland. He's not going anywhere either!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Possible World

So the road into Denali does not climb Denali, or protrude into Denali, or scatter humans all over Denali. It's a 92-mile narrow dusty ribbon that does its best to not ruin the place. We're the intruders here, but the road instructs us well back, peasants attending royalty.

Dawn is sly on the shoulders of the mountains and then spills color into the valleys. Not just color: all the colors. Every color you ever needed. The whole box.

The big mountain itself is the tallest, from base to summit, in the world. Alaska is relatively new, as land masses go. Most of it is formed from whatever gets scraped off the Pacific plate as it dives under North America. Bits of this and that are jammed together and crumple up along their edges, nowhere more enthusiastically than in the Alaska Range. And that's still rising.

Wildlife? Sure. The Dall sheep showed up clearly, but far away, against a dun mountainside. Grizzly bears revealed themselves to good binoculars and loped effortlessly over enough acreage to make it clear that binocular distance is best. Moose tramped by, observed by a grizzly. Wolves eluded us, but wolf territory sprawled for miles in the braided-river valleys, and the possibility of wolf turns out to be so nearly the same thing as the reality of wolf that I was hardly bereft.

And then, there, unmistakable, was my caribou, way off in the distance. Not the caribou I had anticipated; I've seen the pictures, and so I know caribou are supposed to arrange themselves in long picturesque strings on the tundra against a snowy backdrop. The one in front is supposed to fling his antlers back in a splendid yet saucy posture, with the rest trailing behind in admiration.

This was just the one guy, but he was the one in front. I've seen ungulates before. Lots. Deers and elks and mooses and goats and antelopes and sheeps and what have you. But this one took the ungulation cake. If you can maintain that much majesty on nothing but lichens and tundra scuzz, you've got nothing left to prove. If I'd seen a whole string of them I might never have come to, and that's a fact.

Toward dusk we and several dozen of our closest relatives happened on a much more intimate scene, when a moose grunted irritably across the road, with two admirers in tentative pursuit. Adolescents they were, their antlers the moose equivalent of a boy's first mustache, and now and then they scraped their heads at each other half-heartedly, wondering if they were doing it right. A chesty man nearby boomed out that he'd seen a massive bull moose hanging out in the woods and that he'd probably come out soon, because--cue the nasty, knowing chuckle--"he isn't about to let her get away." Suddenly I longed for a more distant sighting, with no narration, and maybe--what the hell--one bull moose partisan choking on his Budweiser.

Sightings are nice. But it's the realm of possibility that floats the heart: wolf and caribou and bear and moose and marmot and pika possibility. It's the gratitude and humility that comes with a glimpse of how the world was and how it should be, a world in which we are clever, vulnerable, insignificant creatures of the margins. And beyond any individual miracle of an animal that might cross our path, it is the vastness and the perfection and the beauty of their rightful home that I want to gather with my eyes and decant into my soul, to sip from for the rest of my life.