Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hot Stuff

Dave and I have agreed that we are probably in one of the last generations, we humans having evolved ourselves right out of a job, and we're not sure that's such a bad thing, although we're sorry for the frogs. We seem likely to soon be gone with both a bang and a whimper, and good riddance. On the other hand, as Dave points out, our generation is in the privileged position of being able to enjoy all of our self-destructive toys on our way out.

He's not ostentatious about it. His car is what he describes as "suede-top" '93 Thunderbird, resolutely parked where it can rust in peace, while he walks all over town; fourteen miles to buy a pencil is nothing to him. The walking habit began when he quit smoking. He left a single pack on the microwave and walked away from it until it felt safe to turn around, at which point he might be twelve miles away. His embrace of modern technology is minimal and his needs and wants modest. No, what he really enjoys doing, as our planet bakes and gags and prepares to grease our exit, is to stand in front of an open refrigerator door, after first turning on all the lights in the house. He stands, he basks, he looks around, and he drums incessantly on the open door, the habit of percussion having long since replaced the tobacco. He will stand there until he finds the pepperoncinis or finishes the drum solo to "Sing, Sing, Sing," whichever takes longest. To add to his pleasure, we have two refrigerators. And to further add to his pleasure, this routine drives me batcrap crazy. If I seem to be engrossed in something and paying insufficient attention to him, he will drum his way into the kitchen, snap on the overhead lights, open the big fridge, leave it open and go to the small fridge and open that, drum for a while, fan himself with the door, then leave the room and flick lights on all the way up to the second floor, where he hopes to locate the mustard in the underwear drawer. (Sadly, as time goes on, this has become increasingly likely.)

I resolve not to give him the reward of jumping up and screaming, but in a minute, after having visualized a herd of salmon leaping out of the refrigerators and flopping on the floor, X's over their eyes, he gets his reward. The energy waste is a small price to have to pay, unless you're a salmon, for that giddy feeling he gets when I go batcrap crazy.

We run hydropower here in NW Oregon, and there's always been plenty of it. Dave's habits have been ingrained since childhood, when there were just as many dams and far fewer people. I open the fridge door long enough to slip a credit card through, if you're fast. I have tripped over furniture because of my disinclination to turn on lights. But I have my own appetites. I have discovered that I can solve any problem I might be having with my writing while I'm in the shower. This is so reliable that I routinely look over a piece I'm working on before stepping in the shower. The longer the shower is, and the hotter it is, the better. If I look pruney to you, assume I've had a major literary breakthrough.

But the whole problem of our wastefulness has now been solved, because we just had photovoltaic solar panels installed on our roof. And do you know what this means? No, it doesn't mean we are off the grid; we're only expected to recoup 17% of our current (ha!) usage. No, it doesn't mean our hot water is free; our electricity goes back to the power company. Here's what it means:

We're cool. We're immensely cool. We are way cooler than you, probably. We've been way cooler than you since we got the little "Solar City Home" sign poked into our front yard, and now that we have actual panels hooked up on our roof, our coolness is off the charts. We wouldn't have them if you, the taxpayers, weren't giving us a lot of money back--thank you, taxpayers, who are less cool than we--but we have them, and our smugness knows no bounds.

The crew that installed them showed up in matching green shirts and crotch-defining safety harnesses, and I started feeling warmer right away. The panels aren't very noticeable except from up the street, so we've left the "Solar City Home" sign up, at least for a while. Oooh! You have solar panels! Do you love them? Oh, those? Yes, we're very pleased. Here is a beatific smile for you, and thank you, little people. We are very, very cool.

We should have no trouble jacking up our electrical usage to make up for the 17%. Dave has moved his chair in front of the open fridge door. And I'm working on a novel. I plan to drain the reservoir.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas In Portland

You have to work at it to find Christmas, but it's worth looking for. If it weren't, its absence wouldn't hurt so much. Because what we are looking for has something to do with our childhood advent calendar with the little doors opening one by one, the mechanical store-window displays seen from Daddy's shoulders, the choirs with candles, the green plush dinosaur under the tree, the eyes springing open at dawn and the bounce bounce bounce on Mommy and Daddy's bed. But familiarity robbed us of our anticipation long ago. The sorrow starts younger than you let on, if you're good; you tuck the secret away in your gut, that you aren't as excited as the grownups are counting on you to be, because you already know it's your job to pull them through their own loss. You pretend best you can, you light up your eyes to see theirs shine too. And that tiny, well-meant deception puts you on the road to one of life's most faithful disappointments.

Because what you really want is not the green plush dinosaur, but the heart that can barely contain the joy of it. Because what you really want is to be flanneled and folded and fit in Mommy's lap, knowing her heart can barely contain the joy of it. What you really want is not at the mall, but if you know where to look, you can get enough to go on. Music is a good start. It's why we go to Tuba Christmas.

That's outdoors in the square downtown, the one some child whose joy is gone tried to blow up a few weeks ago. It's December in Portland; it's dumping rain. There are over two hundred tuba players of all ages there, scavenged from all over town and corralled under a canopy. We watch as, with some difficulty, an antique conductor is installed on the dais. He is revered by the musicians, many of whom he has taught, and they smile at him with love and embarrassment. This is the highlight of his year, and he wants to talk. He wants to talk a lot, to teach some more, and to crack wise with comic timing honed in the nineteenth century, the punchline expected later in the month when the stage comes through. And we citizens of Portland stand in the downpour, our shoes filling with water, screaming inside tuba tuba tuba, and we smile in his direction, until finally he totters around to face the players--no--he turns around again, he forgot to mention something--and then, at last, he slowly lifts his arms and releases the tubas. There are virtuosos, but it is not the nimblest of instruments, and a large and democratic volunteer force of them is best reined in at a safer speed. Still, they are magnificent, even while lumbering through Joy To The World, even if Deck The Halls is done as a dirge. Magnificent, I say, the big marching tubas hoonking away in the rear like a troupe of flatulent mastodons; and the crowd politely covers their smiles when the antique conductor's pants fall down and he is assisted by a spectator in the front row.

There's an attempt to get the crowd to sing along, only to our horror it is not "along," but a cappella, our verse framed but not accompanied by tubas. The conductor is under the canopy and hard to see, and the pace the tubas have set for us is glacial. The angels we could hear on high, who couldn't see the conductor at all, had to wing it. Other factions selected their own tempos according to how cold they were, and by the time heav'n and nature sang, the group closest to the conductor had been lapped twice. There was nothing professional about it, any of it, and when the conductor remembered an interesting historical footnote and laboriously turned around to inform us of it, I looked back at the audience: every one of us wet as muskrats, children stomping puddles as quietly and decorously as possible. You could try to think of rain as God's tinsel if you want, but it's cold, and hard to festive it up. Yet everybody is smiling patiently, jiggling for heat, because not one would deny a kindness to an old tuba player at the close of his life; it's the bookend to our first Christmases, and it's what we have to give. And when the tubas break out in the most magnificent hymn of all, a hymn with the majesty to match the tempo, there's a moment in it: the soaring come and adore him, born the king of angels, the measure where your voice and your heart both break at once. That's your childhood shining through the fracture. It's okay to weep for it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Mess O' Dungeness

Tom With Crabs
There's nothing better than good friends. But if there was, it would be good friends with a boat and a beach house. Our good friends Margie and Tom invited us to the coast for a combination fishing/crabbing expedition, which meant there was something for everybody.  I love to fish, and Dave loves to crab. Fishing is wonderful. You can fish all day long without ever having to come into contact with anything slimy that needs to be slain and gutted. There you are with your pole in your hand, trolling along in the rain, knowing that at any moment something exciting might happen, or not. Just like life, and I like life. Many people, including Dave, profess to be bored by holding a motionless fishing pole for hours on end, but they do not properly appreciate anticipation. Which is the best part of Christmas, after all.

You can leave the pole in the pole-holder, and then react when it does, but I always hang onto mine. I want to feel it at the very moment it snags up against a huge log and must be battled back up to the surface, covered in weeds and debris. Just like life.

The agenda was to put in seven crab-pots first thing in the morning as the tide comes in, then fish for a few hours until it's time to pick up the pots. Dave loves picking up the pots. He likes nothing better than to reel up a pot heavy enough to engage the stomach muscles, haul it aboard, and begin sorting through a frightening melee of crustaceans that might, at any time, separate him from his thumb. It's like sticking your hand into a vat of knives. What fun!

Crabs themselves are pointy and malevolent and capable of great self-expression when faced with the proposition of a short ride in a bucket. They appear rigid, but they are nevertheless capable of hinging themselves backwards if held from the rear and signing autographs with your blood. Dave plunges in without fear and without gloves, although he does keep his crotch out of range. In an instant the boat is filled with scuttling prehistoric meat-eaters in search of fresh toes. Myself, I prefer my food more apathetic.

I also do not eat much crab. It's sweet and delicious, not revolting like something in the Sea-Loogie family (oysters, clams, etc.), but I overdid it one day just before a long ride in the back seat of a rhythmically rolling old-model Pontiac, and struggled not to go all Jackson Pollock on the floor-mats. It has affected my crab consumption ever since. I feel the same way about Scotch.

In general I question the wisdom of going to all that trouble to eat something with sci-fi monster mouth-parts that you've pulled off the bay bottom after luring it with rotten chicken. Dave is unmoved by this and unfazed by the prospect of tossing them into a vat of boiling water. He is very comfortable in his position near the top of the food chain.

I was comfortable with the previous several hours spent not catching a twenty-pound--my mistake, it was fifty, easy--Chinook salmon that would have to be dispatched in some way and relieved of its unattractive innards. Left to my own devices, I would be a stellar vegetarian. It's my good fortune to have been born in a time when someone else does the distasteful stuff, and yet there's still pigs.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Latter-Day Ain't

Most people entertain some kind of idea of what happens to them after they die. Some of them get pretty creative. My notion is that nothing happens at all. I'm here, and then I'm not. I might wish it otherwise, but not enough to make stuff up. This idea is not original to me, but it does worry some people, and some of them are praying for me. Although, to be fair, not all of them are praying because of my lack of imagination concerning the afterlife, but also some errant behavior I might be exhibiting while fully upright and viable. I don't really blame them, and I'm not averse to their efforts to intervene on my behalf. I think it's sweet. But I still think it's going to be lights out, don't-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-butt for me.

I'm perfectly willing to find out otherwise on the other side, though, and under those circumstances I do not expect to be penalized for my lack of faith. As unlikely as I consider the prospect of a Supreme Being who is keeping tabs on me, I believe it is even more unlikely that such a being would have the nanner-nanner sensibilities of a seventh-grader. Hey, I could be wrong, though, and if there is a hell I'll bet it's a lot like seventh grade.

What would really suck, on the other hand, is to be zipping along in the void after my demise and suddenly discover I'm a Mormon. Apparently that is a possibility. I'm not picking on Mormons, because they're welcome to their whole philosophy, and I'd feel the same way about being a retroactive Muslim or Congregationalist. But the Mormons are the only ones practicing Baptism By Proxy. This is the practice of locating dead people--they've got the whole genealogy database set up for that--and baptizing them as Mormons using a currently warm and viable Mormon who gets dunked on their behalf.

The reason for this, as I understand it, is that baptism is necessary to achieve exaltation, or eternal life as miniature gods and goddesses in our own right. According to some reports, there is a quorum of Mormons that must be reached before everyone goes for glory, and so there is a concerted effort to rope in as many people as possible, including people previously snubbed (see: evangelism in Africa) and people previously, uh, alive. According to other reports, there is no quota system as such, and it's just a nice thing to do on behalf of folks who don't have as much opportunity to sign up, now that they're dead and all.

Either way, count me out. I'm not a brave person, and if you try to convert me at the point of a gun--this is not unprecedented religious behavior, and is starting to seem more and more likely all the time--I'll tell you anything you want to hear, and right now.  But in general I'm not one to cover all the bases just in case additional information turns up later. I'd have to spend my life genuflecting, wearing special underwear, painting my face, sacrificing animals, chanting, burning incense, and maintaining a shrine, and frankly, I have a hard enough time keeping up with the laundry.

Besides, if you're a Mormon and have been sealed with your family, you have to spend eternity with them, and Thanksgiving is hard enough. If I must, I must, but I'll take my chances with my own relations, thank you, and not some random Mormon family that might not even play Scrabble.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I take only two drugs, way under my basic allotment as an older American, and the nanny state wants to rip them away. And here I've never abused either one. Or not so as either of them has complained.

They are caffeine and alcohol, and they are the steadfast and reliable tools of my life kit. One shovels me out of bed in the morning, and the other slides me into bed at night, frequently my own. They pry open my day, springing it loose from my dull dreams; the first drug setting it up with little trumpetings, the last rearranging my very molecules into a soothing shape, gold-hued and a little foamy on top. It works for me.

I did quit both drugs for a time, although not simultaneously. I quit caffeine before I had my first mammogram when the doctor told me it would eliminate breast tenderness. And I had that bad. At the time I couldn't jog without a Spandex block-and-tackle, and was forced to take both hands off the steering wheel to immobilize myself whenever I went over a pothole. The prospect of pouring my breasts out onto a medical griddle to pancake thickness did not appeal. I quit coffee, and as promised the entire problem went away. This was so impressive I remained off the sauce for over a year. Then Starbucks arrived on the scene and one day a co-worker bought me a cup of joe that gave my entire psyche a woody. I was so entertaining that morning that someone bought me coffee every day for a while, like they'd put a quarter in the pinball machine, until I got accustomed to it and was no funnier than anyone else.

The beer I quit for over a year, too, but the less said about that interlude, the better. It was like the Dark Ages, every day of it still clear in my memory, which is not optimal, and certainly not the way I intend to conduct my life. I owe my entire pleasant disposition to a state of perpetually renewed amnesia. This has allowed me to fend off religion, too, since I remain untouched by existential dread.

Evidently the problem the FDA is having with my drugs is when they are mixed together in a high-alcohol, high-caffeine drink. I have always kept those bad boys apart by a judicious interval of tap water, and the concept of combining them does not appeal to me. The danger of the combo is that the caffeine props the imbiber up enough that he does not notice the alcohol. Instead of crumpling languidly into a heap, he will actually hit the sidewalk running, forehead first, and then remain fully awake during the blackout, which can be emotionally scarring. Partakers can be spotted when they stagger at such a great speed that they look like Charlie Chaplin, only without the genius.

There are a number of these drinks on the market, so let's just call it Zip-A-Dee Dodo. Their purveyors are unmoved by claims of danger. "We have repeatedly contended that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe," says a representative, nervously snicking the retractable bayonet on his pistol.

One 16-ounce can of the leading brand contains 18 ounces of liquor and 24 ounces of caffeine in a buffer of high-voltage corn syrup. The effect on the consumer is the same as can be achieved more easily by a baseball bat, with about the same amount of cleanup. I'm not motivated to try it. When it comes to my drugs, I'm a purist. The period of time between my coffee and my beer is what I call my "day." If you have your caffeine at the same time as your alcohol, you're liable to miss your whole day. I guess that's the point, though.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pinned Down

 I'm sitting on the cusp of Libra and Virgo, which puts me at risk of an astrological wedgie. But really I'm a Libra through and through. I hold the balances; I see both sides of an issue. I don't like to get pinned down. In spite of that, I just went in for my annual mammogram.

In the interest of my health, I have my annual mammogram every fifteen months or so. Fifteen-month years do wonders for your longevity. This time, after taking the required four pictures, they asked for a do-over. They said I moved. What moving? There's no moving. If the fire alarm goes off, I'm screwed. Nothing pins a girl down like a mammogram.

The woman in charge (let's call her Adolph) carefully stuffs your breast onto the bottom plate, hauling in a little extra from the belly, armpit and the lowermost of chins, and then takes the top plate and smashes you to a thickness that she can read through. The instructions are on the bottom plate.

This used to be more painful, but as one obtains maturity, as here defined by a marked decrease in sexual attractiveness, one's breasts begin to lose all their internal architecture, replacing it with a sort of apathetic goo. In the context of a mammogram, the procedure now involves less stuffing and cramming than merely peeling the tissue off the torso like a piecrust and rolling it out onto the plate. The top plate is now superfluous.

One year I got a letter afterwards suggesting I should come back in for a recheck. There was an "anomaly," and a date available in two weeks. I'm not the sort of person who can survive two weeks in a state of panic, so I badgered them until they admitted they weren't really doing anything just then, just sitting around eating pancakes and pita bread and playing with their food, and I raced in. The technician brought out my x-ray and hung it up on the wall for reference.

What these pictures used to look like, pre-menopause, with all the architecture intact, was something you might see from the Hubble telescope: millions of little stars and thready gases and nebulae, in which trained personnel can detect suspicious planets. I'd seen one of mine before. This one was deep space, all darkness, no nebulae at all, with the Star of Bethlehem blazing away right in the middle. I could see it from across the room. "Is that thing in the middle the anomaly we're looking at?" I whimpered, visualizing a tiny tumor glowing in a manger. The technician nodded. She used a more focused x-ray machine and zeroed in on my supernova. Then she left the room with the x-ray to show the doctor,  leaving me with an inadequately distracting group of women's magazines. At times like these, one is no longer interested in how to keep pounds off during the holidays, or five new recipes for fried chocolate.

Adolph isn't allowed to tell you anything about your x-rays, even though you suspect she knows as much as the doctors do. She came back in and apologized that she needed to take a few more shots. Fifteen minutes later she came back and said she needed to escort me to stage two, Ultrasound.

By the time we'd reached the Ultrasound room, I had run through a number of items that needed changing in my will, and while she was consulting the doctor about the new results, I'd begun a preliminary list of music I thought would be nice for my funeral. She returned to accompany me and my breasts to stage three, a stern interrogation. The doctor had my old x-ray, the one with the big star, hung up next to a series of new ones, which were entirely blank. "As you can see," he said, using the pointer, "we can't find the anomaly anymore. We probably got a little pleat in there the first time. You don't seem to have anything in your breasts at all. You're good to go."

Nothing in them at all. I gave them an affectionate little pat, without taking my hands from my lap.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Putting The Squeeze On Evolutionary Theory

I am indebted to reader AnnieS for bringing this article to my attention, and where were the rest of y'all? Literally dozens of people must have known that wombats produced cubic poop and didn't tell me. Don't hold it in, people. Cubic poops are the building blocks of a blog post, at the least. Add a plumb bob, a level and a vat of Febreze, and you've got yourself a domicile.

Wombat poop looks like the squared-off chunks from the larger size Tootsie Rolls of my youth. Tootsie Rolls didn't taste all that great, but they were cheap and didn't taste all that great for a long long time, and I speculate that the same could be said for wombat poop. If all goes well, we shall never know. But why, you might ask, do wombats crank out cubes in the first place?

wombat poop
The prevailing theory includes the observation that many animals poop to mark their territory. According to this scenario, some among the early wombattery noticed that turds with corners did not roll away, and they popped them out on rocks and logs like heads on a pike, proclaiming: keep out, this is my space. I would argue that this is at best a secondary reason to poop, but it has merit. I used to do the same thing with used Kleenex and toenail clippings when I had roommates. Also, the wombat can be confident his crap will remain where he left  it, and can easily follow them to find his way home. Since he snaps off 80-100 dice a day, this can get him pretty far afield.

This theory implies that without boxy poop, all the wombats in a given population trying to find their way home via the process of elimination might wind up bunched together in a ravine, or some other low spot. I see a number of problems with this.  For one, I have never noticed that shit in general does a lot of rolling. It's sticky. I have counted on this very property of shit over the years, as one who can only find the direction of a slope in the woods by observing which of my feet gets wet when I pee. Also, you can roll dice. Especially in craps.

constipated wombat
It's hard to squeeze out a solid evolutionary advantage to cube-pooping. Wombats do take fourteen days to digest their food, so that suggests a certain amount of backup, and their posteriors are made of cartilage. There is much to indicate that squaring up one's poop takes a toll.

Whatever the reason, somebody has found a market in paper made of wombat poop. It is dense and fibrous, and, after all, it's already square, but I suspect that the original innovator got the idea because of the poop's stay-puttedness. "Look," our inventor said, a dim light bulb going off over his head, "it's stationary." This is the kind of thing you get in the spell-check generation, and also explains why so many little asses are running boroughs in New York City.

baby wombat
Speaking of burrows, which we almost were, that is where wombats live. They are excellent excavators, spending a lot of time pointed downwards with their bony rears in the air. Being marsupials, they carry their young in a pouch for six to seven months, while they tell them how smart and talented they are. They come back later after they spend some time in the real world and discover no one else wants to buy their drawings. The pouches are installed backwards, so dirt doesn't get in them while the mama wombat digs into her burrow. This situation puts the little ones at risk of falling out when she goes back uphill, but fortunately, baby wombats are square. They don't go anywhere.

All of this is a lot to ask natural selection to account for. The alternative is to postulate that God, by the eighteenth or nineteenth day, just flang out a bony-assed fuzzy critter that carries its young in a pocket with a view of its own butt and likes to produce geometrically pleasing turds on rocks, just for the pure hell of it. I'm a science girl, but I'm going with Number Two. That's sure what I'd do.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jacking In The Crawl Space

In the basement, where we maintain a warren of electrical wiring of mysterious function, we just had a bunch of new electricity put in. It's shiny and serious-looking and when the electrician was done installing it, he said I should go turn everything on again to see if the new electricity had intimidated any of the old electricity. We've got some old knob-and-tube stuff that is nearly Amish, as well as some old new electricity that goes to an electrical panel and some newer new electricity that got added on, plus odds and ends like a burglar alarm and a jack for the DSL, which was the newest kid on the block a while back.

I turned everything on and it hummed and lit up and did everything it was supposed to, except for the DSL. I had no internet. Before fourteen years ago I never had any internet, but now it's the second-most important electricity we've got, after whatever keeps the beer cold. The internet, being the baby of the electrical family, had always been prone to tantrums. Sometimes it would sit and hold its breath till it turned blue, sometimes it would stamp its feet and sometimes it would just drag along behind us scuffing its heels and pouting. I've maintained low expectations for it, which it has met.

This time it wouldn't even flicker. It had grown into a sullen teenager. Where are you going, young lady? we would demand, and all we'd get is "OUT!" and a slammed door. I called my splendid ISP, Spire Technologies, where warm humans leap to answer the phone on the first ring and set to fixing your problems in (A) a jiffy and (B) English. Alex was able to confirm I had no internet, and confirm exactly how much internet I didn't have and how badly I didn't have it, and he roped the DSL people at Qwest into the conversation. Everyone agreed I was sorely lacking, and Qwest promised to send someone out the next day.

An hour later I happened to notice I had internet again, so I lassoed up a batch of emails, one of which was from Qwest confirming they'd be sending someone over to find my internet, so it's a good thing I got it back in time to get the e-mail. There was a phone number there I could use to cancel my appointment, and I called it. The fellow who answered was not human but still sounded helpful. "I see you have two services. Are you calling about the phone or the DSL?" DSL, I bellowed into the phone. The non-human wanted to run some tests and he'd be right back. When he came back, after a disturbing Europop interlude, he said it looks like I have my internet connection now, and if I was still having problems I should contact my ISP, and he was ever so sorry, but he didn't know their number. Buh-bye!

So I couldn't cancel my appointment. Fortunately, the internet went out again (slam) and then came back, and a few hours later it did it again (slam). Hormones, I swear to God. So although I was confident it would be working when the serviceman arrived--it's sort of a twist on Murphy's Law--I made no further attempts to ward him off.

Well, Donald from Qwest was just a peach. He fiddled with something near my modem, and then he fiddled with something stuck on the outside of the house, and then he kindly explained to me that my DB level was "four" and what I'd probably want to do is do a home run from the network interface to the jack. Well, sure, I'd like to, but I could never get anything out of the infield. I presented him with a very blank face. He explained I might want to replace a wire from the SNI to the old protector. He peered into my eyes in time to see the pilot light go out. I was blank clear down to my pancreas. Finally I accessed the part of my brain responsible for speech and asked him if all of that was something he could do, if I had enough money. And it turns out it was. Having reliable internet service would be something I would think you just couldn't put a price tag on, but it turns out it's $85.

Before he left, I asked him one more time if he could tell me what he'd done with the home run, and he patiently explained that my DSL doesn't run in series with the other jacks, unless it does it in the crawl space where we can't see it. He left after confirming that things were looking brighter with my internet, but my heart sank just a little. There are all sorts of things jacking away in the crawl space where we can't see them. We've found their little pellets.

But the internet didn't go out again for another five hours, and that's something.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Bright Idea

Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas), most recently in the news for apologizing to BP, is mounting a stiff defense of the traditional incandescent light bulb, which is under attack by government regulators who want to replace it with what he derisively calls "the little squiggly ones." This description is an ad hominem attack against compact fluorescent bulbs. Ad hominem attacks are those in which some aspect of a person (or, in this case, light bulb) is impugned that is irrelevant to the argument in question, such as, for instance, if I said Mr. Barton's ideas were stupid because he is a big pink squinting blob of useless protoplasm. The fact that he is a big pink squinting blob of useless protoplasm has nothing to do with why his ideas are stupid.

Rep. Barton says he found regular light bulbs at Walmart for under two bucks a four-pack, whereas it set him back nearly ten bucks for a single CFL bulb. "If you're mainstream America," he said, "that's not a very good deal." He said this because, as a Republican of means, he does all his shopping at Walmart, and also he wants to fight for the little guys, inasmuch as all their jobs got sent to China. By Walmart. Rep. Barton would like market forces to determine the choices of mainstream America.

I would too. I'd like them to be the kind of market forces in which you had to pay what things really cost. If we cut down the forest primeval for toilet paper, the cost of restoring the atmosphere and the water quality to its previous condition should be factored in each roll. Our food should include the cost of restoring the dead zones in the ocean caused by fertilizer run-off. Coal should include the price of putting the mountaintop back. Unfortunately, the capitalism Rep. Barton is so fond of is what used to be known as "pillaging." We go in and haul out all the fish 'til there ain't no more, and then we move on and tell the fishermen to go shop at Walmart. We haul out the coal, and the copper, and the trees, 'til there ain't no more, and then we move on and fight for the rights of whichever miners and loggers are surviving to buy cheap light bulbs at Walmart. A very few people make a bunch of money under this system, and those are the people whose rights Mr. Barton is most interested in. Don't look for them in Walmart.

If the cost of an incandescent light bulb, which is an inefficient user of energy, also included the cost of bringing out planet back from our wasteful and destructive ways, you can bet the squiggly bulbs would hold their own in the market just fine, and maybe a lot of unoccupied American rooms would not be lit up all the time. That's a fact.

Rep. Barton and his pal Rep. Boehner (R-Ohio), global-warming deniers both, do not care much about facts, or the whiny concerns of the mother planet, which, after all, has been here their entire lives. They're figuring that once the scientists they keep insulting get over their snit, they can find us a new planet to trash. Climate science is threatening their wrinkly bottom lines, so they're combating the science with lies. I have given up believing that the truth will sway any of these pirates, but it only recently occurred to me that you can't fight lies with the truth. You need more lies.

So please help me get the news out, people. Word on the street is that a paste made out of the ground-up testicles of Representatives Barton and Boehner will increase sexual potency. It's not true, of course. There's no use for them at all.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

No Offense

Science is abuzz over the discovery of enormous bubbles of gas on either side of the Milky Way galaxy, presumed to have been emitted from a black hole in its center. It is considered a wonder that such a huge phenomenon has escaped their notice before, but I suspect it just means the Milky Way is related to my mother's side of the family.

NASA's finest couldn't have detected gas emanating from my Norwegian forebears. They were, to a person, extremely nice and polite people, and polite people do not foist their emanations on others. It was not possible to smell anything about them that did not come in on their shoes, even during lutefisk season. My mother and her three siblings grew up on a frigid farm in northern North Dakota. The only approved location for activities of elimination was an outhouse in the narrow copse of woods near, but not too near, the house. Every farm had such a copse, referred to for more than one reason as a "windbreak." It was a long, cold march to the biffy in wintertime, and those growing up using it developed sphincter control so exquisite they could have thwarted a sadistic proctologist. By the time I knew my mother, she had either perfected the ability to withhold gas altogether, or it had been somehow sanitized on its passage through a modest, sensible calico.

At least she had children, and thus had learned to contend with, and if necessary communicate about, the business of elimination. Aunt Selma was even more comfortable with the subject, having raised her children in free-spirited California. Uncle Cliff was a bachelor farmer and the nicest man on the planet, and had no immunity to the humiliation of the subject at all.

I was sitting with him during a party at my Aunt Selma's house when she bustled in and asked if he'd seen another guest of hers. He shrugged as vaguely as possible, and she left the room. But she soon came back, demanding to know if the guest had been seen. The shrug failed to fend her off this second time, and it finally leaked out of him that the guest was "indisposed." Aunt Selma frowned. "Do you mean she's in the bathroom?" she asked, and Uncle Cliff surrendered a slight, miserable nod. Aunt Selma left the room, and Uncle Cliff looked abject. "I can't believe she made me say that," he said in a tiny voice.

In North Dakota, snow drifted up to the second floor of the house, some winters. Humans coped using raccoon coats; the Holsteins were on their own. As is their wont, they produced globes of frozen methane all winter long, which thunked softly into the snow. So they were in on the deal, too. When global warming finally begins to thaw the accumulation of antique cow farts, we'll all be sorry. It's no coincidence that frozen methane is a chief component of the atmosphere of Uranus.

Hazel Brewster made it through her whole life without offending a single soul. Lest anyone feel compelled to speculate about bubbles emanating from this corner of the blogosphere, please note: I got only half my genes from her.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Resurrection Of Larry

Larry, my old tortoiseshell cat, my first cat, has an entire ventricle of my heart all to herself, and she's got it all set up with the comfy chair and fluffy quilt and gas heat and the whole nine yards. That cat got most of my love, and when people were being difficult she got all of it, and then she went and died on me after only seventeen years, in defiance of our previous agreement. After a couple years we picked up the Tater cat, and she has several fine qualities--four, if you include her affectionate teeth, which I don't. Tater's just a fine and sturdy cat, but she has never had the same effect on me as Larry does, even in memory, now that the details of her personal hygiene are fading.

I don't mind telling you this, because Tater doesn't read my blog. She's been featured in it, but she never reads it. Her tastes run more to mouse mysteries and adventure. She does like to apply asshole prints to my manuscripts, but I'm not so sensitive as to consider that an opinion. Larry, on the other hand, would totally have read my blog if I'd had one.

So Dave and I were out walking in the neighborhood the other day and suddenly, here comes this little tortoiseshell kitty from a house a half-block away at full gallop, straight at me like an arrow from a bow, and skids to a halt at my feet. We looked at each other. "Larry?" I said, tentatively, and she flops over to show me that freckledy belly I so adored. We hug. We kiss. One of us gets a belly-rub. Then I tell her we have to be going, and she sits down, and we walk away, and a block later (I looked) she was still sitting and looking at me.

A week later I found an excuse to swing by again, and the house she shot out of was vacant, a For Rent sign in the yard. Well, that's Larry all over: just cuts out on you, after only seventeen years.

Most of my friends believe in something. Some have met ghosts, some have lucky numbers, some hope for reincarnation, some herd coincidences until they corral them into significance, some believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. A large number aspire to eternity in the form of a vaporous spiritual miasma. Almost all would insist that my dearly departed Larry has reassured me that she lives still. I don't know. I'm not really constituted that way.

But I'm sure glad she dropped by.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tressed Out

If you can use your own hair to floss for dingleberries, is it time for a haircut?

If your houseguests comment on how brave (they don't mean brave) you are to have carpet in the bathroom, and you don't have carpet in the bathroom, is it time for a haircut?

Lest anybody tell you otherwise, I have a lot of hair. It's just that half of it is no longer attached. It's all over the house. It gallops along the baseboards, it clumps up in the recliner, it lurks in the drainpipes. There's no denying it, either. When your guest begins pulling a strand from the casserole, and is still pulling it a minute and three feet later, it's mine. Lazy birds scope out my hairbrush for pre-fab housing.

Most of my life I've had either very long or very short hair. Mom used to stab a barrette in it that would stay all day. The clotted blood probably helped. As a teenager I grew it out. I parted it in the middle and sent it to my waist without detour. I dried it into a perfect curtain while pressed up against the back of the sofa, and if an unauthorized pleat showed up, I ironed it out. There wasn't a crinkle in it. It was perfect mid-1960s hair, and it was my adolescent ace in the hole. I may have had to shop at Lerner's, but I didn't have to sleep on soup cans to straighten my locks.

My favorite all-time haircut was a buzz job that stood straight up if I put enough product in it. If I got it cut in the evening, it would look fabulous until about four o'clock the next day, and then I needed a haircut again. I've never been able to part with the cash for makeup or frequent haircuts, so I had to let that one go. Various in-between efforts were stick-straight and limp, so sometime after age 50 I went for the long again. I braid it to keep it from jumping ship every minute of the day. But it's falling out, and here's the thing: now it's not coming back. I finally realized this one day when I had Section One in my hand to begin my braid and went for Sections Two and Three, and they weren't there.

This is another of those tricks that those comedians the Hormones play on you. After a certain age, your hormones inform you that you are no longer of any use to the gene pool, and so you will not be needing your looks, and that includes your hair. Where once you had hair with no body, now you have body with no hair. Without getting into too much detail, this can be okay in some areas, but in other areas you're going to miss it.

So now I have a braided tail that would disgrace a damp whippet and my face is getting wider and taller. Am I keeping it long because I have so little left? And if so, how much less pathetic is that than a comb-over? Something must be done. I have an idea what a lopped version might look like, but it is Ursula Le Guin's literary prowess, more than her haircut, that I aspire to.

So I hesitate. But I had the right hair when I was thirteen years old and it mattered the most, and you can't take that away from me. And when I'm sitting on the toilet, I still have a couple of options available to me: turn my head, and coif.