Saturday, October 12, 2019

Fuzzy Wuzzy Just Becausey

When I met Dave he had a beard. It wasn't the greatest beard of all time but we were all hippies back then and beards were just part of the package. He did have one of the finest heads of hair I'd ever seen. Long and glossy and spectacular. I believe the beard had less to do with fashion than a sincere desire to not get up every morning and scrape his face. I couldn't argue with that. But after a while, when I knew I was worth something to him, I did let on that it would be fun to see it trimmed up a bit.

He looks better with a trimmed beard. Most men do.

So we're going on 43 years now with me mentioning about twice a year that a little snip around the edges might be nice. One of the best things about him keeping his beard short is that it doesn't hide his neck, which is long and glossy and spectacular. He's not moved by this argument.

I've seen his face two or three times, when he had to shave his beard for work. I've still never seen his upper lip. He's got a dimple in his chin. What the hell. Mostly he used it to store facial hair, I guess, so it was a surprise to me. He always grew the beard out immediately and there'd be about a week or two when it was all sexy and short and then we're back in beardville again.

This is what comes of being a couple union blue-collar workers. We save oodles on wardrobe but some of us get scraggly in the beard region and some of us don't wear makeup or even, really, make an effort. Actually, all of that applies to both of us now.

In the last few years Dave went through another sexy phase wherein the top of his beard was dark and the bottom gray. That was a really nice year. Then it went straight to white and somewhere along the line that whole routine of trimming it up every six months whether it needed it or not went by the wayside. I offered to take a scissors to it myself, but somehow something else always came up, and then one day I realized we now have a situation. That situation being my husband has crossed over into Homeless Dude territory.
Note long glossy spectacular neck

But that also means, for the first time in his life, he's right spang in fashion. This is Portland. Portland men get their strength (which they are not allowed to show) from letting their beards grow. They don't shape them. They don't trim them. They want to see what they can produce, and they can never be sure until they've pushed out as much secondary sexual characteristic as their little hormones can manage.

Every now and then you see a splendid beard that is a marvel of architecture but the vast majority run somewhere between curious and repellent. Maybe they're so sparse the beard looks more like a vapor. Or a bad hedge. Or, frankly, pubic. There's an entire traveling ecosystem happening on the streets here. Nobody knows what's in those beards. Could be pizza. Could be Legos. Could be gerbils. And in that illustrious company, suddenly, Dave is looking kind of cool again. His beard is developing some internal shape, is not pubic, gets some wave action going, and is an appealing white rather than gray. Even I'm kind of interested in what else will happen. Right now it looks like his face is wearing a sweater. Down the line, he might develop a cable knit. He's a creative guy.

And I've just noticed, because beards are such a Thing now, that when we walk down the street, he sometimes gets a little personal nod from another bearded man. A little "Nice one, dude." An acknowledgment. A signal from the fraternity.

I don't want to take that away from him. I do miss his neck but Marge and Studley might need nesting material. And besides, the homeless dudes don't ask Dave for money anymore.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cascara Your Fate To The Wind

We've discussed this before. There are people who worry about every little thing and fret their lives away only to find the thing they worry about doesn't come to pass. Although this is probably because they did something about it. And there are people who don't worry about anything and live lives filled with joy and happiness and then pay someone ten grand to rebuild the side of their house, not that I'm naming any names.

I have been aware, however, that the cascara tree just outside my writing room window has been dying for several years, and in fact now sports only a cowlick of a living portion arising from one live branch on an otherwise dead trunk. Let it be noted I also knew that the base of the tree is split and a good three-quarters of it is heading north, i.e. toward my window. And at a fair clip.

So it's not that I didn't know. The thing is, like any other person fond of birds, I do not consider my nearly dead tree to lack value. It is perfectly clear that many, many people find it very valuable indeed, if by "people" you mean "birds." Our chief chickadee Studley Windowson considers it his home base, and like the nuthatches and scrub jays, has been studding the bark with sunflower seeds all summer. I don't know who gets to harvest, but it's a laudable enterprise with winter coming.

Other than that, the tree is ugly as hell, from a human standpoint. It looks like it was designed by a drunken menorah maker. Branches curve out from the base and verticals soar up from them. Whereas Studley has been observed to light on any available twig, he does favor a certain few. These days he lands in them specifically to stare at me and chip-chip while I'm at my laptop until I put one finger up, run down to the fridge for the mealworms, and pop back, where he is waiting patiently for me to open the window. He will come for a worm, fly back to a branch, pin the worm down with his foot, and nip off bite-sized segments like a gentleman sawing a steak. If he had a napkin, he'd tuck it under his chin, if he had a chin. If he had a pinky, he'd hold it out.

The upshot of all this is that although I know the tree is destined to crumble away, and not necessarily in a tidy or insurable fashion, I am fine with leaving its ugly self be, where Studley and the woodpeckers and bushtits can do their things. So this is where denial starts to play a role. I want the tree to stay, so I will it upright, mentally.

It was only a month or two ago that I noticed I had to tilt my head to walk the path next to it. I wasn't sure, but it seemed possible I'd been doing that all along, right? A few weeks later, I was actually ducking. Hmm, thought I. That seems new. Last week I had to crouch to get under it. Upstairs, when I looked out at all the verticals in the crown of the tree, they were diagonal. I finally put three and four together and sent Dave out with a pruning saw. "Just take a little weight off of it," I said, as though he were my hairdresser. "I want to keep as much as possible for Studley and the gang."

Note Diagonalness
Which he did. However he shook the tree enough in the process that it's a good foot and a half closer to my window now. "Try not to pull the whole tree down," I distinctly remember instructing, which shouldn't be necessary, but I've seen him do that before. He can pull down a tree. I suspect I'm going to have to take the whole thing down after all, except for the one live bit coming out the middle. I have two apprentice cascaras growing up through it. They're eager enough, but they're several years away from getting journeyman height to them. I don't know what to say to Studley. I don't know if anyone is going to want to rent the birdhouse next spring with nothing to land in nearby. It's a sad day in the bird real estate world.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Murder On 29th Avenue

A Northeast Portland neighborhood was shaken the other day by the catastrophic loss of a Douglas fir tree, cut down in its prime.

The deed was undertaken with deadly efficiency by a hit squad of three young men who had clearly done this sort of thing before; not a branch was seen to hit the crappy house of the crappy homeowner who hired them, who got away scot-free, except for abrasions to his soul.

Not much is known about the perpetrator. Neighbors report that he kept to himself, but not quite as much as they'd like. He has a fondness for two-stroke engines and noise, an enormous truck, and a small wiener, probably climaxed a minute into the sound of the chainsaw, and is widely rumored to be a Republican.

Penthouse resident Chucklehead the Crow reports she had just returned from her nightly roost downtown to discover her home being reduced to toothpicks. Chucklehead is a particularly valued member of the community, entertaining nearly everybody with her unusual musical stylings. She has raised numerous children in that location, and had planned on doing so for several more years.

This tree was approximately forty years old and started out as a Christmas tree before aspiring to greater heights and was by all accounts healthy at the time it was murdered. Motivation for the crime is unclear, although one neighbor had complained about the shade, and another groused about needles in the gutters.

Songbirds up and down the block remember the victim as a tremendous source of seed-filled cones and abundant insect fare. "I remember getting some nice sap from that tree," says local nuthatch Lonesome Larry, "with which I smeared up the entrance to my nest box to protect my wife and kids. It was real good stuff," he went on, lamenting that it was not his fault his wife got stuck in it and nearly lost a foot. Two downy woodpeckers have threatened to peck someone's eyes out and local crows are planning a massive shit attack as soon as blame can be assigned. Scrub jays were philosophical, noting that they can hang out pretty much anywhere and bash pretty much anyone's head in, pretty much anytime they like.

The ubiquitous Eastern Gray Squirrel immigrant population, though indubitably harmed, has been given no legal standing in the case, and nobody really cares what they think.

"I'm appalled, of course," said neighbor Murr Brewster, to whom we are indebted for the photographs. Unfortunately, Ms. Brewster felt she was not able to intervene because she is small and also she had recently taken down a 15-year-old scarlet oak in her own yard, even though, as she explains, it was a shitty bird tree that nobody would even perch in, it had hardly any leaves at all if you looked at it right, and was replaced by five native vine maples. The murder suspect in the case of the Douglas fir is expected to replace his tree with a new big-ass truck, a smelly leaf-blower, and maybe a bigger-ass TV.

The mood was somber except for several tons of local carbon that danced and sang "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we're free at last," but that kind of thing goes on all night long, and the community has largely become used to the disruption.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Happy ****ing Birthday To Me

I don't put much store by birthdays. I don't encourage anyone to give me presents. In some moods, I think a little spanking might be nice.

Obviously when I was a kid birthdays were special. But by the time I was in college, the shine had kind of come off of it, although I still used it as an excuse to drink. Which made it much like any other day. Which is how I still feel about birthdays: they're like any other day. You can think of them as a day in which you're one step closer to dead, but again--that makes it like any other day.

I like people saying Happy Birthday and stuff but I don't plan anything special. This year, for instance, the plan was to wait for the dishwasher installers to show up, which they finally did around four. There were three of them. Their hobnail boots crunched ominously on the wood floors. I worked at my computer in the kitchen while two of them ripped into the box containing the dishwasher and set it out on the floor, where it promptly tipped over with a mighty crash. I looked around and one of them said Oops. Meanwhile the third was busy hauling out the old dishwasher.

This was their second trip. The first trip they announced my water shut-off was corroded and they couldn't do anything until I got a plumber in to fix it. The plumber was a week out and charged more than the new dishwasher cost. But that's water under the, uh, sink.

The installer wanted to know if I'd ever tripped the dishwasher breaker before. Because the wires were all melted. "And if this goes far enough in, we won't be able to install it."

"You mean I'll need to get an electrician in?" This was fast becoming a thousand-dollar dishwasher.

He investigated and the damage was limited to the first inch of the wires and he said he could do it. I relaxed. Went for my email.

Just at the exact moment I finished reading the letter from my literary agent in which she said she was sorry but she was dissolving my agreement with the agency, the installer said "Uh-oh."

"What," I said, in a tone any good TV detective would recognize as homicidal.

"Have a look," he said, and I got up, made a wide arc around the kitchen knives, and had a look. Mouse turds in the cabinet hole. An inch deep.

"Huh," I said. He said nothing. There was a long pause. "Do you want me to clean that up?" I said. In fact, he did. "Do you see this sort of thing often?" I said.

"All the time," he said, although he apparently kept no vacuum in the truck, and turd removal was not in his contract. He stood back helpfully.

I got a broom, dustpan, and vacuum cleaner, and I got on my hands and knees with my ass in the air in front of three strapping young dishwasher installers, and swept up ten thousand mouse turds, on my fucking birthday, and imagined that somewhere behind a two-way mirror folks were pointing and giggling and popping corn, and I creaked back upright thinking a hantavirus was probably as good a way to go as anything, and they put in the dishwasher and left.

It's not at all the color I thought it would be and doesn't match anything. It is, unfortunately, the color I ordered. I intend to find it charming.

Donald Trump arguably was having a worse day. The impeachment inquiry had officially just begun. Then again, any day you wake up and you're Donald Trump has to be the worst day ever. Only, in his case, he doesn't realize it. He thinks he's a perfectly fine appliance, the best, like you've never seen. He doesn't know he's sitting in a tub of rodent poop.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

My Overall Impression

The internet sent me this picture. The internet knows better than anyone how long I've been looking for cute summer-weight overalls. And if they look this good on a tall, slim, elegant young woman, just imagine how good they'll look on me!

Just imagine!

In retrospect, I should have been suspicious from the name alone. Sexy Slim Thin Jeans Wide Leg Jumpsuit. I mean, that doesn't even make any sense. That's just a bunch of trending modifiers plucked at random by people who don't speak English. Hot Thigh Gap Brazilian Microbladed Boyfriend Suit would have been equally descriptive. Plus, the garment was cheap as hell. And you know what that means. That means a tiny young Asian person churns out a hundred of these every day for a packet of dried fish.

I knew that. I bought them anyway. I haven't been able to find the pair of overalls I've been looking for, not even in the pattern books. This looked like a winner. True, the size chart is in centimeters, which always make me look fat, but I punted a little--they ran from small to extra-large, so I went Medium. It should have worked.

I wasn't looking for anything snug. Basically, I like to be able to walk around inside my overalls, but still have them drape attractively, suggesting that I have a shape in there somewhere. These I can walk around inside of and invite the book club, too. Heck. I could have sex inside these overalls on the cross-town bus and nobody'd be the wiser.

And they don't just run wide, or, as the name suggests, thin slim jeans wide. They actively shoot out for the horizon just below the hip. I'd need to wear three pairs of jodhpurs to fill them out. Forget those skinny-ass weasels: I could trouser a fat pair of badgers in this thing.

I hate going through the rigmarole of returning things. It doesn't come up often because I buy so little online. I was just going to slog through the site for return instructions and decided to try them on one more time. And lo!

Why, I think I could just take these in at the side seams. Way in. And straighten out the part that would make my thighs look like giant pitas. What's that? There's a side zipper? I could stand these babies up and step into them without touching the fabric, but it needs a side zipper? Screw the zipper. I don't even need to take it out. I'll just fold it along the seam and sew it up, zipper and all. A few judicious snips and I'll have a matching duffel bag. Which is good, because I'll be needing a new place to stash the badgers.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Know Your Enemy

On June 19, 2019, a convoy of log trucks, big rigs, and tractors shrouded the State Capitol in a fug of diesel soot and blasted their air horns to protest proposed climate legislation. As a demonstration, it didn't make the case for the status quo very well, but it wasn't meant to; it was an unmistakable middle finger raised to those perceived to be threatening their livelihoods.

The loggers and truckers were supported by money from timber and trucking executives, but it would be a mistake to assume the demonstrators were paid actors. These are real people understandably concerned that their ways of life are threatened by the efforts to eliminate fossil fuels. They just want to survive. Which is what they have in common with climate warriors.

"We will no longer stay silent about politicians that try to legislate us out of a job," Timber Unity PAC (TUPAC) wrote on its facebook page.

Politicians are an easy target, assumed always to be venal, even when they are duly representing those who elected them. And those constituents are assumed by many hard-working Americans to be fey baristas and hemp-wearing arugula farmers. But it is children who are in the vanguard of climate warfare, fighting for their future. For any future.

Any log trucker looking to mow down a few of these perceived enemies would have scored big at the climate rally in Portland last Friday. Thousands and thousands of young people showed up, but not one was interested in running people out of a job. Instead, they are trying to prevent extreme capitalism from running everyone, truckers included, out of a livable planet. It's a matter of perspective. Working men and women often see the world through a lens as narrow as a wallet, but children are not so constrained.

It's always been easy to mock children for being foolish and idealistic, a term that usually stands in contrast to "realistic." Realism is what is left when the clarity of youth gets sullied by circumstance. We grow inward as we age. But that doesn't mean the idealists are wrong. Maybe it never did.

"They just want to get out of school," people sneer. But every one of these marchers already knows more than those who belittle them. That is why they march for "climate justice." And what is that? It is the recognition that those who have profited the most from the catastrophe we face will be affected the least. And those who have gained the least will be hit the hardest.

That is why every iteration of the Green New Deal insists not only on transitioning to clean energy, but strives to direct new economic opportunities to the poorest communities; and it includes elements such as fair living wages, and guaranteed health care and education for all, even if it scuffs up the purses of the wealthy.

Authentic gray-haired hippie, bottom right
The cohort of gray-haired hippies at the climate rally recognized the spark of youth and idealism and marched alongside in support and approval. It was easy to make fun of us back in the day too; the peace sign was the "footprint of the American chicken." We protested a pointless and devastating war in part because its consequences were personal, true. We lamented the slaughter of innocent Asians in a way we might not have if we were not being lined up for sacrifice ourselves. And sure enough, as soon as the immediate threat was lifted, we swarmed Reagan's new capitalist casino and scooped up all the money we could. But it doesn't mean we were wrong to protest. We weren't.

These children aren't wrong either. And their idealistic souls will remain intact because there is no more fool's gold left for them to plunder. They know the facts. The facts are that we are stripping our living planet of what is needed to sustain it, and yet our leaders are still doubling down on disaster. We must stop, or die. Hell yes, that's going to shake things up.

There's nothing simple about it, except the pure and absolute imperative for it. When your house is on fire, it's not easy to jump out of the window, but you must to survive. People working for climate justice might give you a net to jump into. What you don't do is try to put out the flames with gasoline.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The New Wardrobe

I told you about our chief chickadee Studley Windowson and his new duds. The boy is all freshly feathered out for the next year. What is a feather, anyway? Feathers are the fanciest thing you can make out of keratin, a protein. Not you personally. All you can do is make sparse and peculiar outgrowths of hair, ratty fingernails, and dandruff. We humans might dye our keratin or paint it but we don't make magnificent spiraled horns out of it or anything as spiffy as feathers. We have to compensate for our feeble keratin skills with art, music, and certain kinds of comedy.

Or by swiping feathers off a bird that wasn't done with them and sticking them on ourselves. Historically, nobody waited for the feathers to fall off the bird, but instead plucked the animal, such as the egret, nearly into extinction, which is a shame, but damn, the hats were fabulous.

Keratin isn't living tissue, which is why you can, if you have a super nice cat, clip her claws more than once. But because it isn't living tissue, it can't renew itself when it gets worn out. So the feathers fall off the bird periodically and the bird starts over.

Once you've made yourself a feather, you'd best take good care of it. You have to preen it, and nibble at it, and straighten out the little interlocking side shoots off the shaft, and keep it in good condition, so you can fly properly or repel water or stay warm or whatever you need your feathers to do. But eventually there's going to be some wear and tear. And so, the feathers will have to be replaced by brand new ones. A warbler that never molts will end up being a sad little golf ball with bristles and stubs, just parked on the ground waiting to be someone's lunch. I assume. It doesn't happen.

Some birds molt once a year. Some birds do a half-assed job of it once a year and a whole-assed job later. Only a few do a complete molt twice annually, and those are the ones that really beat up their feather allocation by flying through windmills. Ha ha! Not really, just dense vegetation and such. The birds that fly through windmills quit molting altogether.

Studley is a once-a-year man and as such he looks as good now as he ever has or will. Some birds drop all their feathers at once, such as your duck, who is then temporarily flightless and moves to the center of the pond and tries not to get nabbed by anything, which is why it's called a "duck." (The goose has the same issue but knows how to defend itself, which is why it's called a "goose," and you shouldn't turn your back on it.)

But most birds are more methodical. They'll drop their feathers and replace them in a particular order and that way they can stay in the air, if they've a mind to. Crows in August show grand gaps in their wings and tails but they're never actually grounded. They're a little irritable though because they're vain and they know they look like crap. They'd totally make egret feather hats if they had the materials.

For many birds, the sexes are differentiated by their outfits, and many also look different as babies than they do as adults. A particularly annoying form of bird looks different after every molt for several years in a row. This is utterly fine if you are a talented birder and can squint at a distant dot and confidently (some would say arrogantly) mark it down as a three-year-old herring gull as opposed to, say, a two-year-old herring gull, a junkyard scrabble-pigeon, or an eye floater. Gulls in general earn their keep in the birding world by being difficult to identify but theoretically solvable. Normal people can get back at birders by calling all these birds and their distant kin "seagulls," which drives birders crazy. Keep that in your back pocket. They'll correct you, and you'll just shrug at them because you don't care. They'll feel superior and impotent at the same time, sort of like liberals.

But that is all just one more point in favor of Studley and his cohort. Not only do Studley and Marge look alike, but they stay alike all year long, and produce children that look just like them. That, there, is a considerate bird.