Saturday, January 30, 2010

Abbie Normal

I don't know how many times I've said I wished I had my father's brains. I'm just glad I never mentioned that out loud at the funeral home.

A New Mexico family is suing (the hell out of) two funeral homes for giving them a little more service than they wanted. Their mother perished in an auto accident in Utah, and her remains and personal effects were bundled up by a local funeral home and sent to the New Mexico funeral home. On the day of the funeral, a box containing the dead woman's personal effects was solemnly passed to the family, who stowed it in their car, and there it stayed, unopened, until a day later when it acquired an aroma. There in the box was an assortment of personal items and a bag of brains. Mom's brains. We shall assume.

We shall not dwell overmuch on how the brains came to be separated from the rest of the body. It was by all accounts a dreadful car wreck. And someone has the unfortunate task of picking through the wreckage and gathering up items which should be returned to the surviving family members. Sunglasses, pearl necklace, rings, road map, little pine tree deodorizer, brains. One of these things is not like the others. Do you know which one? Just off the top of your head?

No one is saying her brains should have been ignored, and that can happen. If you will recall, Bob Crane, who played Col. Hogan in Hogan's Heroes, was murdered by bludgeoning in a case that remains unsolved to this day. The detective on the case got so far as determining that the murder weapon was a tripod, and he had a tripod-owning suspect who had rented a car on the night in question, but other than that he was stumped ("I know nothing"). Fourteen years later, someone discovered some brains in the rental car that had been overlooked the first time around.

"Whoa, Ned! Check it out!"

"I'll be go to hell. Looks like brains. Don't that beat all?"

"Well, put them back--we're looking for a signed confession, here. Focus! Focus!"

For their part, the funeral home in Utah defended its actions as standard procedure. According to misleadingly named Serenicare's director, the redundantly named Dick Johnson, "it is common practice to ship it inside a bag. If we put it back in [the head], it could have been a soggy, leaky mess." Whereas this is no doubt true, it may be the biggest example of Missing The Point since Sarah Palin's handler suggested she might be more comfortable in flats and a pantsuit. People! No one doubts you did a nice, tidy job of it. But this isn't Safeway, and that's not a pork roast. Don't put it in the cart.

Mr. Johnson went on to explain that in these situations the family is "typically encouraged to let the funeral home discard the bag rather than take it home with them," implying that there may have been a communications lapse on the New Mexico end, or even a poor choice on the part of the family. There seems to be some confusion all around, so I have taken the trouble of drafting some guidelines for this situation in the future:

(1) Always keep in mind that we want to remember Mom as she was when alive. Most of us.

(2) In circumstances like these, we would like other, unrelated people to get the spatulas and whatnot and get her scooped up, recombobulated and as presentable as possible and transported to a burial site.

(3) This includes her brains.

(4) Standard procedure is to bag up any stray brains and insert them into the torso for shipping, just like gizzards in a Butterball.

(5) We do not want to receive her brains along with her personal effects. Even if they are double-bagged.

(6) Seriously. You can ask the next hundred people you meet, and not one of them is going to want a bag of their mom's brains. A rib-eye or a bit of brisket, max.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ten Good Inches Of Ink

Breaking news: former Governor John Kitzhaber will be taking off his jeans at his upcoming debate in February. Spank me! This was on the front page of The Oregonian, as well it should be. Mr. Kitzhaber is easy on the eyes, and I can't be the only reader who might want advance notice of the event.

Our former governor is famous for wearing jeans at all times, even with suit jacket and tie; he was sworn in wearing them. They are invariably referred to as his "signature" jeans or his "trademark" jeans, or (as in this more in-depth article) both; they've been deemed newsworthy for a long time. He's running in the Democratic primary again this year, even though he's been out of politics for several years. He was an emergency room physician and has worked on the state and national levels for universal health care while both in and out of office. He's a serious dude in trademark jeans. They're actually statesmanlike, compared to what the newest Massachusetts senator wore in Cosmopolitan magazine. Still, if he's taking his pants off, I wouldn't look away.

Oh wait. It's just that Kitzhaber will be debating his Democratic opponent at the Oswego Lake Country Club, which has a dress code prohibiting jeans. It's a puzzler: do you keep your distinguished guest out, or do you bend the rules? They decided not to bend the rules. The debate is only weeks away. Whatever will they do? What if Kitzhaber doesn't read the front page of The Oregonian? Isn't there some way someone can get the word out to him in time? If it came to that, the general manager of the club said, they do have some spare slacks to lend the ex-governor should he show up in his Signature Jeans. But who wants to wear the club's Common Pants?

Oh wait. Right there, fifth paragraph down, it turns out that Kitzhaber is aware and respectful of the rules after all, and owns his own pair of fancy pants. He said he had to have them to visit the state prisons, which require that guests not dress like the inmates. So it would appear that the panic is off. This should free up some space in the paper for items of interest to Oregon voters. There are some. We have a tax structure so unstable it could barely hold up a good idea. Our kids have to grease up to all fit in their classrooms, and the school year is currently scheduled to peter out after Groundhog Day. We have unemployment soaring, in some timber communities cresting 100%, counting the children that haven't been born yet. So there's stuff to report. I'm sure the folks running for governor will have a serious conversation about all of it.

Oh wait. Eighth paragraph: one of the Republican candidates is a member of the country club. "If I don't get to wear them," Allen Alley says of the jeans, signature and otherwise, "he shouldn't get to wear them." Sweetie? He won't. He's got his own pants. Find another issue. We've got problems to solve.

I'm not sure, but I'll probably vote for John Kitzhaber again, after careful consideration of the issues of the day, and for the same reason I voted for him the first time. That man is totally smokin' walking out of a room.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Blogosphere Is Flat

I was trolling the Internet the other day when I tripped over a blog with a post entitled "Eight Reason's Santa Claus Must Be A Conservative Republican." This didn't look good, but following the same instinct that compels me to flip through the National Enquirer in the checkout line, I clicked on it.

Danger! Danger!

It wasn't good. The blogger was a fan of both conservative Republicans and Santa Claus and he went on about it at some length. I found this absurdly upsetting. Santa Claus is the major figure in what passes for my religion, one in which happy fat people and sugar plums and exotic roof mammals play prominent roles, and I found myself as appalled by the blasphemy as any other fundamentalist. In a gingerly way, I appended a comment to the many approving comments on his post, just to tilt the universe back a little towards normal.

Danger! Danger!

"I agree," I wrote. "Santa Claus got fat working one day a year and living off the labors of a platoon of elves." Something like that.


The first woman to respond to my little bit of fun disapproved, describing my comment as "snarky." The entire original post was snarky, of course, although from her standpoint it bloomed with truth, which made it not snarky. I refrained from pointing out that if I had really wanted to be snarky, I would have edited the post and all succeeding commentary for grammatical and punctuation errors, and who has that kind of time? However, I did put in another comment.

Danger! Danger!

Then everyone piled on. I was set straight on any number of misconceptions I am laboring under. Because of people like myself, who exist only to suck on the life-blood of hard-working Americans, our entire engine of commerce is about to run off the rails. My President is an actual devil and a Nazi and bent on destroying all that is good. Wealth is always in the service of goodness, and the extremely wealthy, if left properly alone, will pull the worthy up to prosperity. The tiger of industry will surge forth if I quit stepping on his tail, and our destiny, if not thwarted by socialism, is to wring all the use out of this planet and stride on the unblemished plains of Zargon, which we will reach either because of our scientific ingenuity or by catching a ride on the next comet of righteousness; and the only thing keeping us from oblivion is the fierce defense from upright and (by the way) heavily armed Americans, who will continue to stand tall and proud whilst socialist peas roll beneath them and eventually fall off the ends of the earth. And I must not dare to decry the violence that is surely coming my way, because--referring, inexplicably, to violence--"your side started it."


Now I'm all depressed. I was tempted to continue, but it was becoming clear that even if you picked off one gopher of ignorance with a shot-pellet of wisdom, there's a whole golf-course full of them out there. And where do you begin? Do you mention that "nanner nanner" has two Ns in the middle? Do you start by gently pointing out that, in reality-world, it has long been known that peas will not roll off the ends of the earth, because it's really like a giant plate with a lip all around it?

It's not just that you don't know where to begin. There's no ending it, either.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Last summer we got the word that Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal were coming to town on the same ticket. Should we go? Oh, yes. It's $68 apiece! Oh, no.

We held off for a while, to give the rationalization process a chance to crank up. Then we climbed back on line and aimed at a pair of tickets, general admission. The electronic gate was presided over by Ticketmaster. I gave Dave the running score. "Okay, that's $136 for the tickets. Then there's $9 for processing, $14 for a facilities fee, and another $9 for the convenience fee. Times two."

When the air returned to the room, Dave demanded to know what a convenience fee was. It was unclear. So we decided to walk downtown, where there was a ticket office for the venue. It was about a seven-mile hike. It was cold, it was raining. We strode up to the box office and asked for two tickets to the BonTaj Tour. The man in the booth totted everything up and asked for an amount of money that was so huge, we made him break it down. "And $18 for the convenience fee," he finished up.

"Convenience fee?" I hollered, stamping the rain out of my boots. "Why not just call it a Corpulence fee? Or an Impertinence fee? Or..."

The man regarded me with a bland expression. "It's a corpulence fee," he said.

So I was on full alert when I learned that Ticketmaster is planning to merge with its rival, Live Nation, and pretty much corner the ticket-sales business. So far, the British Department of Justice thinks it's a fine idea, as far as it goes, and that can be a long way. Because, honey? It won't stop there.

Welcome to MasterNation, where we offer all the tools you need to service yourself in the privacy of your own home. All right! Let's get started. We've put you down for two tickets to the upcoming Tom Waits--Yo-Yo Ma concert, and...

Wait a minute. I didn't order any--whoa! Did you say Tom Waits and Yo-Yo Ma are coming to town?

Eventually. Yo-Yo Ma plays with everybody.

Well I have to admit that sounds wonderful. Where do I click to pay?

Oh you've already paid. Thanks to our newest partnerships with AccuVac and Bank Of America, we've been siphoning money out of your checking account in modest, regular increments, building you a sound down-payment structure for the future. You won't even notice it, did you? And with our complimentary rate-comparison feature, thanks to last week's merger with Progressive Insurance, you can shop for the best loan rates to make up the difference.

That is convenient. But I've never given you the password to my accounts.

Sure you have. We just employed our simple, patented algorithm using the information you supplied to the Facebook app during "What's your pirate name" week.


And we'll be sending your tickets via the Postal Service, as you always prefer. There will be an additional shipping charge of $10.

The Post Office doesn't charge that much to mail two tickets.

That includes the Postal Service Destruction Fee. We'd rather you used our preferred partner, UPS. You'll get your tickets within a week, and you can re-use the box. Don't fret--your account is plumping up nicely. You've already got enough in there to cover the Walter-Tops Tour, even with the you're-not-paying-attention surcharge.

I've never heard of the Walter-Tops.

You will. You'll like them.

How in the world can you know that?

We have a new association with one of the finest search engines on the planet.

Yahoo for you. But how can you be sure who I'm going to want to see?

That's not a problem, Clickenheimer. Go ahead and answer the door; I'll wait.

The doorbell rang.

It was a hot lonely Russian blonde. She wished meeting for ride my love pony.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Flyer, Flyer, Pants On Fire

It's hard to work up a heap of sympathy for your average suicide bomber, but I felt a twinge for the fellow who failed to detonate his underpants on that flight into Detroit. If I were planning to go out in a blaze of glory, I wouldn't want my underpants to survive me, either. And don't think it couldn't happen. On New Year's Day a few decades ago here in Portland, a fellow opened up the gas line to his house and blew it to smithereens. I was two miles away, and it was still the loudest sound I'd ever heard. There was nothing left of his house but the mortgage, and he took out the neighbors' houses, too, but there he was, dead in his yard, fully intact in his underpants. They probably weren't even riding up.

I don't think men's underpants do ride up. I never see men making an adjustment or anything. Oh, they may fiddle around in there, but it's always the package they're fiddling with, not the wrapping. A female suicide bomber would have been a complete success. If we were supposed to add a liquid to the explosive powder in our underpants, we could do that during tea with the Queen and no one would ever know. Every day requires dozens of such surreptitious adjustments. We've got it down.

As a letter carrier, I had to slide out of the tall driver's seat onto the pavement all day long, and the entire right side of my underpants disappeared every time. It only took a few steps to arrange my satchel as a shield and perform the extraction, with no one the wiser.

Then I'd start walking my beat, and my recently-thwarted underpants would get bored and irritable. So they would scout out the territory until, within a block, they had located the exact largest circumference on my ass, and then they'd settle in and make a nice indentation to flag the spot, because they did not yet have sequin-and-flashing-lights technology. There they would remain, snug as the Tropic of Capricorn, with all of Brazil pooching out to the north. You can tug them back to the equator and make it look like you're just stretching your back, but you'll be doing it all day long.

Women of a certain age that is not mine wear the thong, in part, to avoid this particular constriction. Well, if that ain't like curing insomnia with a whack upside the head, I don't know what is. A deliberate wedgie is still a wedgie. No thank you, Junior. It's hard enough taking my clothes off some days without having to excavate.

To really put the cherry on top of the whole underwear experience, though, you must add tights. Tights are sold in a variety of sizes, none of them mine. I am parked on the cusp, and my choices are to tuck the tights under my bra and watch them puddle up at the ankles, or get the ones that come out of the dryer eighteen inches long and fit like a sausage casing.

There is, however, no avoiding "control-top" hose, even if you were not planning to ask anything of your underwear you do not ask of yourself. Control-top hose contains Spandex, a synthetic fiber developed by bored and irritable Nazis. The function of the Spandex is to round up fat wherever it is hiding and shoot it out the top of the hose. The effect is that of a billowing flesh fountain on a nylon pedestal, and gosh--ain't that the look we were going for, ladies? Comfy, too. It takes five minutes to argue them all the way up to your waist, but sadly, fifteen minutes later, the tights have retreated to new ground quite a bit south of ideal. Enforcing a waddling gait, the crotch is now hanging six inches below your own, and no, you have nothing to fill that space up with. Not unless you have explosive powder.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Road Tripping

Back when I was a tadpole, our mothers used to broom us out the back door and tell us to roll around in the dirt, eat grubs and play kickball in traffic. We lived by our wits, such as they were. Ultimately, this led my entire generation to engage in a little thing called a "road trip," wherein groups of large children who had obtained sexual maturity, if nothing else, piled into cars and took off for the hills. Maps were free from the gas station, but the cars were guaranteed to fail, telephones were scarce, there were no machines that spit out money, and, for that matter, there were no credit cards. Survival was all up to you and whatever common sense and resourcefulness you had accumulated through the years of parental benign neglect. Drugs and alcohol upped the ante. Natural selection worked as it was intended to, and those of us who remain topside are more or less able to think for ourselves.

Things are different now. Children are carefully supervised, padded against peril and sent out with wicking underwear and weatherproof outfits and enough electronics to replace every part of their brains. A child plunked down in the wilderness now would spin in place for a few hours, and then make an art project out of acorns and mud and wait for praise from the rescuers. This method of child-rearing produces grownups like the ones here in Oregon who, last month, headed down unmaintained roads in the grip of winter until they got stuck, far from civilization, because that's what the little voice on their GPS system told them to do. The modern version of the old scold is no longer rhetorical. "If Garmin told you to go jump off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff?" Why, yes! Yes we would!

One stranded couple knew exactly how to get over the mountain to their destination, but they faltered when the GPS lady insisted they take a short cut. The GPS lady was so sure of herself
that when they passed by the shortcut because they couldn't see it, since it was all covered in snow, she admonished them to make a U-turn. Which they did, and proceeded to plow their way into a snowy oblivion several miles in. Their cell phones didn't work, either. This poor family was so baffled by the failure of their electronic neuron supply that they did the only thing they could think of. They made a nice video of their surroundings and waited to die.

Technology may be a snap if you're born to it, but it can be very frustrating to those who had been raised to rely on their own brains. We will never forget the scene of Dave's mom crouching in front of the oven one Thanksgiving. That fine woman had, by then, roasted about fifty Thanksgiving turkeys in her life with complete success, but there she was with her new-fangled Butterball, prying at the button with a paring knife and muttering, "Dang it, I know it's done."

So just when I had despaired of children ever being exposed to the consequences of their own actions, bless their hearts--they went and invented tree-surfing. A California teenager recently rode a Christmas tree towed behind an SUV, and the driver took a turn too fast and sent the surfer out on a tangent that culminated in his hitting a parked car and suffering entirely redundant head injuries. The driver fled. The other kids riding in the SUV said they have no idea who she was. Natural selection, if given free rein, will cull every one of these people. This will cause momentary sadness, but then thanks to a variety of indulgent satellites, we'll know just where their bodies are.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Late-Breaking Bulletin

No, this is not your regularly-scheduled Murrmurrs post. But I thought readers of my New Year's piece would appreciate this news, hot off the press, about the driver of the fourteen-foot truck that just plowed into the eleven-foot railroad trestle. And yes, it is Scott and Kevin's railroad trestle.

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up. And mostly, I don't. Mostly.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Is "Leapin' Lizards" Too Obvious?

It's cold. Folks are bundling up in Georgia. Frozen lizards are dropping out of trees in Florida. Children are staying home from school in Ohio.

Oh, about the lizards. People are going to see that falling-iguanas thing in different ways. Some are going to call it proof that Al Gore is just being mean. Some are going to declare it the eighth sign of the Apocalypse. Me, I'm a simple soul. It reminds me of two things: (1) Cold iguanas. (2) Falling iguanas. Both of these are very familiar to me.

Thirty years ago, I had an iguana who was forever falling through the air. Or maybe it was just the once. Sparky's agenda on any given day involved locating a heat source and glomming onto it. It's a reptile thing. They get most of their energy for movement and digestion from external sources. This is why many iguana aficionados believe their pet lizards are personally fond of them, although I suspect they wouldn't be nearly so affectionate if they were not owned by warm mammals. You'll never see an iguana crawling on Dick Cheney, for instance.

So most of the time, when we'd look around for Sparky, who had the run of the house, she was in the same places: the coils on the back of the refrigerator, the radiator, or spread across the top of a floor lamp with her belly over the light bulb. One day, we couldn't find her anywhere. But we knew she would turn up, so we went to bed. That's when we spied her on top of a curtain valance. She had no doubt traveled up there in the daytime when the sun was shining strong through the window, and as dusk fell, she got colder and colder, eventually becoming too chilly to motivate back down. Dave, who is an exceptionally warm mammal and a nice guy, plucked Sparky, rigid, from the valance and stuffed her under his T-shirt. She didn't move much at first, but as the belly heat began to take effect, she started to come alive. Just about the time Dave was beginning to look like a victim in the Alien series, he reached under his shirt to extract the lizard and snap her back onto the refrigerator coils. But Sparky had lots of energy by then, and reacted by scooting up his chest and into his armpit. I'd never known Dave to be ticklish before. Yet there he was, a long green tail hanging out of the front of his shirt and a fringed green head poking out his sleeve, hopping up and down and screaming ACK ACK ACK. I had the same reaction to this as anyone would. Why can't this be happening when the Jehovah's Witnesses drop by?

Which brings me to the falling-iguana incident. At a time in my life when I thought it was impolite to tell a salesman that I wasn't interested, I let in a nice Avon lady and agreed to let her show me her box of potions. She was smiling, and alarmingly fragrant, and I knew she didn't have a thing in there I wanted. It should have been obvious to anybody that I was not a woman who spent money on cosmetics. To an Avon lady, however, I was just someone
who really, really needed to spend money on cosmetics. As the minutes wore on, I became increasingly aware that (polite soul that I was) I would have to locate something to buy so she would not have wasted her time. An array of skin cream samples dotted the sofa. And that is when Sparky, who had been biding her time on the top of the curtain, plummeted gracefully between us and landed plop on the sofa, the Avon lady bounced straight up six inches and made eepy noises, and dozens of tiny jars of skin cream flew into the air and rolled onto the carpet. She left quite soon after, tucking my order for a lifetime supply of face goo into her briefcase. It was totally worth it.

So I don't know what we should do about the icicle-covered oranges in Florida, but I do know we should station an army of warm men in T-shirts to stand under the trees.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

It was coming up on New Year's Eve, and as usual we were planning to spend it with our friends Scott and Kevin. We opted for the cabin again. Dave and I heaped the truck with food, drink and toilet paper and headed up early to scout out the situation. When we arrived, we were pleased to discover that there was not enough snow to be a problem getting in, but just enough snow to keep the beer cold; there was no evidence of break-ins, there were no trees on the roof, and there was electricity all over the place, lights and baseboards and ovens and everything. The clock wasn't even blinking, which meant that the electricity had been on, uninterrupted, for over a month, which came close to being a Christmas miracle. The firewood was dry and plentiful. In short, everything was perfect, which could mean only one thing. Sure enough, a terse note from the water master was hanging from the front door. He had turned the water off at the meter. Dave turned it back on again, and we were able to observe that our entire water supply was shooting out of the ground about a foot away from the cabin. I believe that this could also have been observed from the highway.

We've stayed there without water before, but it didn't seem like a good prospect this time. We were planning to stay two days, and we'd have to haul buckets of water up a snowy slope from the Zigzag River in order to flush the toilet. The four of us could fill a boxcar with two days' worth of booze and groceries, and we can be, shall we say, a little hard on a toilet. We switched the venue to Scott and Kevin's place in Independence.

However unexciting that might have been for Scott and Kevin, it's always a treat for us to go to their little farm (motto: "You just never know"). It's always something: will we be called upon to help scout dinosaur tracks in the snow in search of an errant emu? Might we be taken down by a slick of peacock poop on our way to the goat barn to look for bats? Even their location as the last house before the railroad trestle has, over the years, provided endless entertainment. The trestle is preceded by a road sign. It should say, "You must be this smart to drive past this sign," next to a picture of a bucket of warm spit, but instead it says "Caution: 11 feet maximum." This has been interpreted by a series of drivers of 14-foot vehicles to mean "You can get under this trestle if you get up enough speed." Many a pleasant evening has been interrupted by a loud boom followed by a visit from a damaged and perplexed person. Scott has skills, tools, common sense and a helpful nature, all of which he is willing to employ in the service of anyone showing a degree of humility. The arrogant and angry are permitted to use the phone.

On New Year's Eve in 2006, the Willamette River was flooding so exuberantly that our friends' acreage had become an island. Just below the railroad trestle the road had disappeared completely under a raging torrent, and out of this, in the dark, a drowned-rat of a teenage girl on her way to a party came and rang the doorbell. She had driven into the surging current so far that she had to get out the passenger side because the other door couldn't open. She was soaked, scared, and pretty sure she was going to be in trouble with her mom,
who was nonetheless notified. Scott and Dave gathered up chains and winches and drove down to the new shoreline to try to lasso the car. Scott waded in past his waist and spent a half hour trying to find a place, underwater, to hook up the car, as the waters continued to rise. A smaller man would have vanished like a cork, but just before he was forced to give up, he got everything hooked up and motioned Dave to back the truck up. While we watched, the car eased back, wobbled, lost contact with the pavement altogether, snapped the chain and shot out into the blackness like a Heimliched meat-wad.

The girl's mom was a little mad when she came to retrieve her. "Do you think the car is all right?" she snapped as the men returned empty-handed and totally drenched. No. We do not think the car is going to be all right. Your daughter has shown poor judgment but is alive, which you should not consider a small thing. And you're welcome, yes, we are very wet and cold, but we were happy to try to help.

This New Year's was relatively uneventful. I did, once again, eat myself spherical, which is a problem for a stomach-sleeper. But things went smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that I felt a little bad when I went out for some air and had to report back that the alpaca had gotten a tree stuck to his butt.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hard Workers Never Pump Their Own

I couldn't tell you how old I was the day it happened. I only know that I still had a good supporting cast of hormones, but my muscle tone had already started to head down the highway. I was riding my bicycle home from work, and someone was directly behind me in the bike lane for several miles, keeping pace but not passing. When I sheared off to the right, he called out, in tones that still reverberate through the winds of time, "You have a great butt!"--a little item I endeavored to work into my conversations several times over the next few weeks, until finally, in a bid for closure, someone said, "Well, you can't put a price tag on that." Actually, I can. I'd have put it at a good buck-forty-five anyway, and that was before I realized how rare it was. Now, what with demand regularly exceeding supply, and inflation, personal and otherwise, I'd go quite a bit more. There are days I'd empty my wallet for it.

There's got to be a whole untapped market out there. I can't be the only person who would be willing to fork over cold cash to someone who knows just how to make me feel really good, maybe a little tingly. It could be the basis of a whole new profession.

Dave contends it's his job to say things like the fellow on the bicycle did, although he didn't get all prickly about it. He can't. He's got a girlfriend at the gas station. He used to swing by the 76 station on his way home from work because it was the closest. Dave worked very, very hard. He's been known to use a ninety-pound jackhammer over his head for twelve hours in a boiler at 110 degrees. He'd run through a pair of overalls and ten pairs of gloves in a week. He'd come home gashed and sooty. Sometimes he'd just burst into flame. Then he had to cook my dinner and maybe kiss my paper cuts.

The gas station is owned and operated by a Vietnamese family, and the matriarch of the crew is something special. Even I can see that. She's not a young thing; certainly no younger than we are. She has a beautiful daughter who looks very much like her, but it is the older woman who really knows how to handle the hose.

She would lean into the window, tip her head up and smile. Are those flower petals in the air? And ask what Dave wanted today. Is that music I hear? And one day, as Dave was handing over his cash, she stopped and turned Dave's hand over and over, stroking the calloused rind on the palm side and tracing his knuckles with a delicate finger, and breathed, "Ho-aaah. You work haa-aaahd for a living." And removed the cash, and turned her face up to his, all sweetness and cherry blossoms. Eventually Dave got the truck into gear and remembered the way home.

She's not there every time, but as has been demonstrated with rats and pellets, random reward really pulls the lasso tight. What kind of price tag can you hang on that? The 76 station charges twenty cents more per gallon than anyone else for gas, and Dave's been going there for ten years now.