Saturday, October 29, 2011

Save The Fetal Corporations!

It's getting on late afternoon, which means it must be about time for another Republican debate. They're showing up more often than rate-increase notices from the cable company. I try to catch as many as I can, because they're not going to go on forever. By mutual agreement, they are capping the number at 665.

I find them fascinating. But there's no danger I'm going to be voting for any of these people. I have a pretty basic set of priorities: I want to see serious progress getting away from a dangerous and unsustainable fossil-fuel economy. I want an equitable and steeply progressive tax structure. I want regulation in place to prevent the plundering of assets by a piratical sliver of the population. I want sound science and a long view to prevail over ignorance, short-sightedness and religiosity. I want a single-payer health care system that covers every American.

So what we've got in the Republican horse race is the promise not to disturb the profit engine of the private insurance industry, the promise to remove regulation, and several propositions for shoving even more of the tax burden onto the middle class. We've got the governor of Texas, which is in the process of flaking off and blowing away, insisting that if the climate is changing, it's only because it wants to change, and putting his state under the protection of the Dunderhead Fairy. One fellow put out an ad featuring his campaign manager taking a long drag on a cigarette. Not to be outdone, another readied one showing her manager in a Klan hat failing to scoop poop. Meanwhile, all expressed a willingness to drill right into our uteruses in case there's oil there. The only guy who actually put in a sensible health-care program is swearing he didn't. To their credit, the panelists did stop hopping up and down and nit-picking and throwing shit at each other long enough to scoff at the theory of evolution; and everyone anticipates the Almighty will show up at some point as soon as he is ready to make an endorsement.

Not my cup of tea, as it were. I didn't think we had any common ground at all until they weighed in on the Personhood Amendment. They're in favor. The Personhood Amendment would define a fertilized human egg cell as a human being deserving of all the protection of the law. As a liberal, I agree it's important to pinpoint the moment a human is created, so we can know when to start taxing it, but there's a lot of disagreement on what that exact moment is. Some would point to the time of fetal viability; some would say at birth. Some propose a probationary period until age eighteen. Many believe a fertilized egg is at most a potential human, although the same could be said about sperms. (Sperms are unquestionably alive--zippy, even. And you can't beat their slick delivery system.)

The amendment might have the effect of outlawing many of the most popular forms of birth control, such as the Pill and the IUD, because they make the womb inhospitable to the implantation of the petite human, which would then drift and wither and die before it ever learned how to pull a slot machine. It is being proposed in Mississippi, and no wonder. Sure, Mississippi is already solidly in first place in births to unwed mothers, at over 50%, but Louisiana is hard on its heels. Something had to be done.

At any rate, finally I can get on the same page as the Republicans. I think we can all agree that corporations are just people, too, really large bloaty ones, with their own hopes and desires and Facebook pages, but they're big enough to take care of themselves. What we need to protect is the fetal corporations, those little entrepreneurial blastocysts trying to grow to the point they can live on their own. And in order to protect and nurture them, the local book store, the cottage industry, the neighborhood fix-it guy, we need to ensure they are able to thrive in their environment. We need to make sure they have an adequate infrastructure, sewers and roads and whatnot, educated workers, and a population of decently-compensated potential consumers. If guaranteed health care were extended to all, that would help them immensely.

So there's our common ground. Jump on board, Republicans.

Murr's All-Star gallery of blastopreneurs, in order: Donna Guardino of the Guardino Gallery; Néna Rawdah of St. Johns Booksellers; Timothy of the Community Cycling Center; Barbara McLean of The One Stop Sustainability Shop; and Jehnee Rains of Suzette. Shop local, people!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

If It Quacks Like A Quark...

Australian paleobotanist J. W. Schopf says he has found the world's oldest fossils, the traces of single-celled organisms 3.4 billion years old. Other Australian scientists disagree. "No you di'n't," they pontificate. So there's controversy. The second set of scientists has set up camp a few miles away and they think their fossils are the oldest. The whole issue is fraught. It's hard to imagine picking up a rock and squinting at it hard enough to see a fossilized single cell that dated from the sulfurous primordial ooze. Maybe that's what it is, but it could totally be petrified schmutz or retinal floaters or even something the guy only sees when he's coming down off a toot. You've really got to want to see something like that to see it at all. I can't even track my own point through a two-minute conversation, and these guys are finding stuff that used to be alive before dirt was invented.

That doesn't mean it's not so. Joe America tends to scoff at such reports, but Joe America can't even find his own happiness without a remote control. Scientists are always drawing conclusions about things that can't be seen. The Higgs Boson, for instance. A whole lot of people have put time and money into finding the Higgs Boson. No one has ever seen a Higgs Boson, but they figure it must be around somewhere because otherwise we wouldn't have mass, and we know we have mass because we keep bumping into each other. The Higgs Boson, and the honorable quarks, are invisible things that are presumed to exist because their existence explains the observable forces, such as electromagnetism and gravitation. Scientists proposed their quarks and gave them splendid names, which always gets them extra points in my book: Up. Down. Charm. Strange. Truth. Beauty. (Truth and Beauty were later renamed Top and Bottom to better account for the forces of dominance and submission.)

Higgs Boson: artist's rendition.
So you can't see a quark, or a boson. But you can prove their existence by flinging a bunch of shit at them really fast and seeing if they duck. That's what they're doing in the expensive particle accelerators. They've done well with the quarks, but they're starting to wonder about the Higgs Boson. They've chased him into a corner and if he doesn't show up they might have to conclude he doesn't exist at all. Which would be dreadful. We'd be like the cartoon coyote that runs over a cliff and makes the mistake of looking down. We might just disappear. What if there is no Higgs Boson? What if we should have been looking for the Higgs Splorknit all along?

It may seem silly to make something up and then go looking for it, but it's not uncommon in the sciences. Even in economics, people earnestly go on and on about the Trickle-Down Effect even though there's no evidence for it at all. They have to propose its existence to explain why they have all the money. It's easy to test the hypothesis. All you do is take the combined assets from millions of people engaged in honest labor for decades and invest it hard and fast until it smacks into something, scatters, and disappears, and thus you can infer the existence of extremely rich people, even though you'll never see them. But we're all scientists at heart. We see forces in the world that we don't understand, so we postulate whatever we can to explain them: socialists, elitists, and evildoers. Or corporate overlords, fascists and fundamentalists. Take your pick and start looking, and you'll see them everywhere.

I have an affinity for science, but it's still tough to comprehend. When I'm in doubt, I throw in with whoever comes up with the best wordage, like the guy who named his quark Charm. I'm glad they finally found Up, Down, and Strange; maybe they'll discover Pudge and Flappy some day. So I don't really know which of the paleobotanists in Australia has come up with the oldest fossil, but I'm going with Dr. Schopf. He says he found his fossil stash in the Apex Chert of the Warrawoona Group. That's good enough for me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Have Gloom, Will Travel

Your human brain is remarkable in many ways, but a lot of what makes it remarkable also makes it very wrinkly, and that means it requires some upkeep to keep it moist and in tip-top shape. The wrinkles are prone to filling up with lint if exposed to too much drudgery, despair, or television. For proper maintenance, the brain needs to have beauty pounded into it as often as possible. You never know when you're going to need it later. That's why we hike the alpine meadows of Oregon, and that's why we just went to New Mexico.

My friend Melissa lives there, in Los Alamos, so we figured she should know some stuff. She advised us what to pack: "t-shirts,  a lightweight long-sleeved shirt for layering, shorts, sunscreen and maybe a pair of long pants--it gets cool at night sometimes." On my own initiative, I added eight pairs of underpants to the list: one per day plus an oopsie pair for burrito country. And off we went.

The day after we arrived, it snowed. I put on all seven t-shirts, all eight pairs of underpants, and an expression of betrayal. "It's unusual this early," Melissa admitted. "But the great thing about New Mexico is that even when it's cold in the winter, the sun's out. We don't get that overcast you all do.

That evening a weighty fog rolled in and erased the nearby canyons from the landscape. It's a common thing to accuse visitors of having brought weather with them, but it's generally meant in jest. Dave and I eased our rain gear over our underwear collection and strode like rubbered shmoos through the familiar gray pall to the grocery store. There, shoppers sulked under the awnings and peered out with bafflement and alarm, as though something had gotten loose from the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory. Slowly, wary eyes turned towards us. We had carefully scrubbed the moss off our north sides before leaving home, but we looked suspiciously comfortable. Frankly, I thought maybe we'd brought it with us, too.

Our powers lasted only a few days before the sun reasserted itself, and we huffed our way around the landscape, much of which had been pushed up above 10,000 feet and then left there, for no particular reason. Dave reassessed and concluded we hadn't brought the weather, because if we had, we would have thought to bring some air with us as well. As he explained breathlessly to passing hikers who looked at us with concern, where we come from you can actually see the oxygen molecules. They're all over the place.

New Mexico and Oregon are both beautiful in opposing ways. Western Oregon has just as much geology as anywhere else, but we keep it demurely draped in greenery. In New Mexico the geology is buck-ass naked. It has tipped and rocked and rolled and been stripped and blown and it doesn't care who's looking. We gaped like Lutherans at a bawdy-show.

Rare Alpine Snow Pootie
Still, it was colder than advertised. We intended to go to the high mountains and look at turning leaves, but it was already half-past aspen and a quarter to winter up there. Well, as the saying goes, when God closes a door, he opens an all-night donut shop. Branches may have been bare, but much to our surprise, we got a glimpse of the rare Alpine Snow Poot. Meanwhile, at lower elevations, plucky plants scribbled all over the terrain, their main feature being their ability to hold water, and I admire that, especially since menopause. They clutched and clambered and flowered ferociously, sparking under the broad, broad blue: desert in session, Ubiquitous T. Raven, presiding.

A word about the cuisine. Wherever you go, the menu will list lots of ingredients that you don't recognize. You took French in high school and that's all well and good for finishing crossword puzzles but it isn't going to help you here. All  you need to know is that all of these words are interchangeable and may refer to something in the pepper family, something in the meat family, something in the bread family, or cheese.  It doesn't really matter what it is, because it will all look exactly the same under the camouflage sauce. The meat family may include items customarily discarded by your home butcher. The only thing under your control is the color of the camouflage sauce (red or green). Your best bet is to scan the ingredients for signs of Latin roots referring to insects, and then order the Menudo con papadzules, pepitas, poblano rellenos, burro bits, cacahuete and roasted corn tracers in mole sauce with achiote "ricky" recado. This is either pig lips and little squiggly ambush peppers rolled into a bread product, or it is minced nostril and allergens stuffed in a pepper the size of a buttock. The cheese is directly under the camouflage sauce and its function is to expeditiously remove the roof of your mouth, which may then be placed to the left of the salad fork. You really can't go wrong. It will all be delicious. Also, order water. You should drink lots and lots of water. Beer is practically all water.

Speaking of lips, my own sheared off in papery shreds and are resting on a canyon floor somewhere, where industrious lip-scavenger beetles are using them to line their nests. Water is scarce in this country, because no one is keeping an eye on it. I'm as guilty of inattention as anyone. I kept pouring a bunch of it into myself and it kept vanishing in some way I'm not familiar with. After a week my hair couldn't be contained without baling wire and the mummification process had begun. It was a splendid trip, but we got home just in time. It's raining here. Good lip-growing weather.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fried Monkey Poop

Iran has been trying to shoot a monkey into space, and Israel is feeling jumpy about it. A single monkey is one thing, but an infinite number of monkeys blasted into space with an infinite number of typewriters might succeed in producing the Koran.

Iran is a little late in the space monkey business. Unconsulted monkeys have been strapped into rockets since 1949. Ostensibly the reason for sending monkeys into space is to test the waters, as it were, for human space flight. But essentially the program is no different than what would have happened if any random group of 12-year-old boys with a lot of money had been in charge. "I know! Let's shoot a bunch of monkeys into space and see what happens!" So what happened?

Monkey one, Albert, suffocated. Not sure if they'd anticipated the oxygen thing.
Monkey two, Albert, did fine until his parachute failed.
Monkey three, Albert, blew up; Rhesus pieces orbit to this day.
Monkey four, Albert, did fine until his parachute failed.
Monkey five, Albert, did fine until his parachute failed.

After a careful analysis, the space program concluded that humans too might have low survival rates if blown up or given bum parachutes. Subsequent monkeys that were lost at sea or baked in the capsule before they could be found and rescued provided valuable additional data about the dangers of being lost at sea or baked in a hot metal can. Finally someone had the idea of sending up a monkey not named Albert, and better outcomes ensued.

The Soviet Union got some fur in the game, too, sending up unpronounceable monkeys with mixed results. The squadron of randy bonobos got everything all sticky. A Rhesus was sent out on the first spacewalk but could manage only a sort of bent-over shamble. After a quorum of monkeys had been sacrificed, someone got the capital idea of shooting men into space. In a miscalculation, they sent  up smart, talented men in fabulous shape, but the program did demonstrate the possibility that a more useful expulsion of humanity might some day be in reach.

Iran has previously sent up rockets containing a turtle, a mouse, and some worms, counting the missions as successes even though there were some mishaps owing to the confusion over which end of the worms the helmets should be strapped to. Still, they believe their monkey will have an eee-eee-eeeasy time of it. Observers world-wide express apprehension over the implications of an Iranian space monkey, suspecting that the government is working on offensive military capabilities, and well they might. No one yet knows the menace that monkey poo flung from space represents. It seems as though it could have quite an impact. "Nonsense," claim scientists at the Iranian Ape Torture Academy. "Space monkey poo would reach terminal velocity just like anything else, and in any case would burn up during re-entry, which proves we are only trying to conduct research into peaceful new energy sources." Fine, Mr. Terminal Velocity Science Guy. Even if you are correct, which my sources tell me is highly unlikely while Mercury is in retrograde, you are introducing a pall of fried monkey shit into the troposphere, with unknown consequences. An advanced civilization would never introduce quantities of shit into the atmosphere with no regard to repercussions. It simply wouldn't.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Hare Under 5'4"

Says here they tried to reintroduce a population of bunnies into central Washington and it didn't take. They put twenty little pygmy rabbits out there in the sagebrush and got nothing for it. Nineteen of the bunnies fell to predators and they rescued the twentieth after a brief debate with a creationist over the likelihood of immaculate conception.

It's hard for me to imagine trying and failing to achieve full bunny saturation. This is not a moonshot. It would be like swinging a bat in Portland and not hitting a barista. But fail they did.

The problem, as I see it, was with the bunnies themselves. They were very small and cute; nuggets, they were. The biologists might as well have thrown out a handful of popcorn. Apparently the local coyotes found them utterly adorable, all the way down.

I've banked on the notion that small equates with cute all my life. I remember being the smallest in the class the entire time I was growing up. That, and having a name that started with a "B," kept me in the front row, where I had to develop skills not required of more easily hidden people. But I had hope. We got measured every year against the kitchen door frame, and I could see a positive trajectory in pencil marks. My mother was short; my father was short; my paternal relatives were uniformly tiny and had to develop curmudgeonliness, scowling, and, in some cases, seizure disorders just to scare away predators. My great-grandfather was barely five feet tall. He was a popular author who did a lecture circuit with Mark Twain. The poster for the tour featured the two under the title "Twins Of Genius." The "twins" part was a joke because they were such different heights. Also, way different genius, but we won't get into that. Anyway, when it came to verticality, I looked at my heritage and figured: hey. I'm due.

Unfortunately, there is no chromosome for being due. After an exciting couple years when I made progress measurable in actual inch fragments, the pencil mark intervals went into millimeter territory until the last one, which is very dark from having been drawn over and over. When you stand to get your height measured, you give it all the stretch you've got, but it never makes a dime's-width of difference. Your eyebrows fly up and your ears pin themselves back but there is no more height to be gained. I was ready to begin phase two of the Brewster growth pattern, all of which is lateral. It makes sense, evolutionarily. We go for a lower and fluffier center of gravity to guard against tipping injuries.

Still, I never felt terribly short. I felt more on the low end of average. Then, as an adult, I got a mail route that included a high school. Walking down the halls towards the office, I navigated a swarm of adolescent giants plumped from birth with high-fructose corn syrup; I bobbed along a trough in a sea of tits and armpits. It's disconcerting.

It only just occurred to me that we could dedicate another door frame for yearly measurements again. I could have visual proof of having approached five feet from both directions. It could be interesting. I'm fine with it as long as I'm adorable all the way down.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Birthday Boy

Today is Oliver's birthday. Not the anniversary of Oliver's birthday, but his actual one. Did you feel that planetary wobble? That was our boy. He was supposed to show up more than a week ago, but he was disinclined, and had to be evicted. Baby Oliver, my great-nephew, is the first new thing in our family in thirty-one years, and is a production of the last new thing.

I don't really blame him for holding back. It's a scary world out there. Dave thinks I am unreasonably optimistic, but he's wrong. I am constitutionally wired to veer towards cheer, but I'm not really optimistic at all. I think we're going down, but I also think, in the context of each of our little lives, that we must continue to do our best, and that means we need to pay attention. As a species, we're still a teenager, and we're trashing the place because we are lacking an adult perspective and we don't think we'll ever die, but the ugly truth is not all teenagers make it to adulthood. We might party down and wreck the car and crash and burn and take some stuff down with us, but after the teddy bears rot off the milepost marker, no one will remember us.

Now that Oliver's here, I think it would be a swell time for all of us to try a little harder. Start anywhere. Start small.

Are you a sad, wounded, pea-hearted troll who slithers onto the internet at night to say nasty things to people, and you can't bring yourself to just say nothing at all? Maybe you could work on your spelling.

Are you a more responsible soul, standing in line at the store to pay for a shirt, a bottle of water, and a snack-pack? Pay attention, instead. You've got time; the old bat up front hasn't even started excavating her purse for her checkbook yet. How old was the person who stitched your shirt, and what did she get paid? Maybe it's cheap for you because somebody else is paying. And let's take a look at that snack. All those adorable little plastic compartments so you don't have to risk your crackers rubbing elbows with your cheese-like product! The plastic is a deathless unit of petroleum that contributes to global warming on the front end and spins forever in the ocean destroying sea life on the back end. The cheese-like product is manufactured using more petroleum and some minor contribution from cows that have been zipped up with antibiotics that are being outwitted by virulent bacteria right now, to our eventual regret. Maybe you could have an apple. Maybe you could grow an apple.

About that water. Tremendous news, maybe you've heard? We get water pumped right into our houses now. Not that long ago that would have been an unthinkable luxury. It's clean, too, because we got together and bought ourselves some protection with our tax money. You could pick up this uninspected fluid in the handy petroleum package so that someone gets some jingle in his pocket for the privilege of privatizing something that should be owned by all of us, or you could just turn on the tap for practically nothing.

Are you someone who is getting a whole lot of money and a big microphone that broadcasts to the whole world and all you can do is make fun of the First Lady's ass and whine that she's trying to take away your Twinkies? Seriously, dude? Maybe you can think of something more constructive to do.

Or maybe you're in a position of actual power and you're devoting your days to making sure that the people who have all the money get to keep it and add to it. Is this your legacy to the world? Give it a little more thought and do the right thing. Do one right thing. Extra credit if you can do it without getting your penis in the news, but we'll let that slide for now.

Start anywhere. Start small.

Or are you really wicked wealthy? So wealthy that you could give away 95% of it and still be wicked wealthy? Maybe you could let a little of it go, or maybe you could send a little down the line to the people who got all that wealth stacked up for you. Because, honey, you didn't earn it. Know how I know? It's not possible to earn that much money. You amassed it, honey, and that's about the most shine we can put on it. Maybe you could see that all those people who contributed to your fat bottom line could get more of a share. Maybe you could decline to do business in countries that do not care for their workers or the environment. Or maybe you could save a watershed a week, or cure malaria. Does that whole line of thinking make you pucker? Okay. Maybe you could merely call off Twinkie-boy with the microphone and tell him to quit making fun of the First Lady's ass just to raise the rabble that keeps electing the people who are allowing you to amass more money. Maybe you could quit buying those politicians who are raising all those armies for you so you can keep all those resources under your control and continue to trash the planet while the rest of us try to get some of it cleaned up, and maybe you could quit paying those people to come up with ideas like manufacturing all this fake uproar you don't even believe in about gay people so the ignorant keep coming to the polls and voting in your minions so you can keep all of your money and get even more. No? Baby steps, then. Maybe you could pay some damn taxes. Start small. Start anywhere. Start.

Because it's Oliver's birthday, and it's time we grew up.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Snakes On A Plane

A man was apprehended recently trying to board a plane with several snakes and three tortoises in his pants. Officials were tipped off when the x-ray equipment revealed a surplus of spines. There's no mystery about why a man would do such a thing. He carries tortoises in his pants because mice are too fidgety, and he carries snakes in his pants because they are too large to fit in a four-ounce container. Nor is there a question why the perps in these cases are invariably men. There isn't a woman in America who would attempt such a dastardly deed. We don't have the pants for it.

Pants perform entirely different functions for men and women. Men's pants permit them to appear in public while concealing random peregrinations of the penis. There is always room in their trousers to hang their personal scratchable items as well as perform actual scratching. This much space affords ample temporary shelter for a fleet of reptiles and maybe the terrarium they came in.

Women's pants, on the other hand, function strictly as butt and belly containment vessels. They are fully occupied and you couldn't slide a greased skink in sideways. If at any point we do develop some atmosphere in our pants, we've got a pair of skinny jeans on the shelf waiting to pick up the slack. No one is able to throw away the skinny jeans, which remain neatly folded as a symbol of hope. They are stacked in strata upon previously retired skinny jeans, where climatologists of the future will be able to core them for samples of antique air.

It's a crapshoot whether the skinny jeans will have swung back into fashion when they are finally deployed. I lost weight recently and discovered that my skinny jeans are now known as mom jeans, designed for maximum containment. The high-waisted jean is the gold standard of flesh corrals. Many of your major organs and their adipose insulation can be safely impounded in them and any escapee flesh is neatly covered by the bra and contents, which snap right over the top like Tupperware.

Conceivably a woman could shelter reptiles by wearing 100% Spandex pants, except that they would make a trio of tortoises look like roaming boils. Stretch pants did exist when I was young, but they were for older women with beehives, afternoon martinis and a cigarette cough. We teenagers wore pants with no give at all. We winched them up as far as we could by rocking back and forth and then had to lie down on our beds to seal the deal, rolling off sideways because our pants had taken the bend out of us. If we did tip over, we'd go down like a plank. It didn't look too bad. These were the days before kids were routinely infused with corn syrup from infancy. And we didn't realize it was uncomfortable because we had nothing to compare it to.

Except for a brief decade with pleated-front trousers, which we also managed to fill up, nothing has changed. My most recent trip to a store revealed racks of jeans that could rub the fuzz off a pipe-cleaner person. They don't leave room for a mosquito bite.

The truth about the airport incident is that there is a nasty, lucrative trade in exotic pets and some men will do anything to get that money. A woman would never stoop that low. Stooping is problematic anyway, and we only got room for bacteria and yeast.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


They've had six astronauts cooped up in a can since June of last year, and they're not planning to let them out until November, after 520 days. That's the amount of time it would take to get to Mars and back. It's a test for future manned space flight, and it's pretty clever, really. Most of us would have thought the sticking point would be the actual getting them to Mars, not to mention back again, but all of that rocket science would be for nothing if the astronauts started punching holes in each other's suits or peeing in each other's Tang twelve months in. You've got the potential for serious acrimony among the crew after a certain amount of forced occupation, and you've also got the possibility that any given individual would not be able to bear up. For all we know, even astronauts selected for their emotional sturdiness might do themselves in on a cellular level, their tiny cells slitting their tiny wrists out of sheer boredom,  and the astronauts themselves being reduced to a gummy mass of spilled mitochondria and despair. No one has actually performed such a longevity experiment before, outside of Guantanamo. You simply can't know what will happen until you try, so they jammed the guys in and started counting down the days.

That's just one thing they need to test for. There's also the difficulty that is presented when humans are deprived  of gravity for prolonged periods. With nothing to push against, muscles dwindle out of pure apathy until the entire astronaut is no longer al dente, and becomes more of a custard when reintroduced to Earth. It would be a pity to spend all that time sending a guy to Mars and then just have to pour him out when he gets there and hope he jells up.

This experiment did not address that issue or attempt to remove gravity in any way. The men were simply cooped up and allowed to age in what is essentially a shipping container, described as similar to four Winnebagos with connecting tunnels. A year in, all seemed to be well enough, although the turn signal has been on since March.

The astronauts in the experiment were distributed as follows: three Russian, one French, one Italian, and one Chinese. The "marsonauts," as they are called, did very well at first. Early conflicts were resolved when they were able to agree on a standard cuisine of goose liver and dog cacciatore with a cricket crust, the Russians reluctantly going along as long as the vodka didn't run out.

I get it about the jamming people into a can for fifteen months to see how they do. Some people are probably better suited than others. Dave spends an astounding amount of time in the can and it doesn't seem to bother him a bit.

But it's not easy for any group of people to get along when they're in forced company for any length of time. Humor is essential. Take the post office, a social experiment I was inserted into back in 1977. There I was in a room with dozens of other people (well, men), sorting mail day after day. The process of sorting your mail is called "getting your route up." Pronounce it "root," and ask your neighbor as often as possible if his root is up yet, and you have the makings of some serious comedy. But even this level of sustained hilarity isn't going to tide a person over forever. In fact, there's only so long you can take it. In my case, thirty-one years.

Sometime in September the emotional limit appeared to have been reached with the astronauts, two months shy of the time it would take to get them back to Earth from Mars. I'm not sure how they communicated their distress. I don't know if they banged on the can or just came out shootin'. "Screw the pension," they might have said. "I'm going out, and I'm taking some management ass with me."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Crusty Old Broad

I just had yet another birthday, which is as good a time as any to think about death. This year's observation: we're told that people on the cusp of death see their lives flash before them in a chronological series of memories, like a slide show. I have discovered that the exact same thing happens in the process of baking a pie, except in reverse order, and with only the wretched memories, and nobody needs to die unless they're in the same room with the baker.

It's pie season around here, when I make all the pies for the whole year in order to confine the aggravation to one short period, and then I slam them all in the freezer to think about what they've done. I'm the baker in this household, not from any particular talent for it, but by default, since Dave refuses to follow a recipe per se and prefers to let inspiration be his guide. He fired himself from the baking chores after once trying to assemble cookies out of butter, flour and sugar (but no baking powder). That is still known as the Sugar Puck Incident, and if we had not found a nice pothead willing to take them home and suck on them, they might be in the landfill, unchanged, to this day. Anyway, I am willing to follow a recipe, but what works fine one time doesn't work the next, and lacking any understanding of how things work, I'm helpless to diagnose the problem, and have to resort to Renaming. This results in a lot of Crumbles, and Fallen Angel Food, and Lava Frosting, and Egg Custard Pebbles, and Oopsie Flambe, and Holy Shitcakes, and I Can't Believe It's Not Rising. Mine is a natural, unstudied, serendipitous method that others prefer to call incompetence.

Pie season 2011 got off to a rocky start. The blackberries were large and luscious and would probably have baked up nicely if I had been able to correctly adjust the amount of thickener to account for the extra cup of fruit-fly maggots that had distributed themselves throughout the haul. These pies are hard to put a shine on, but I'm going to give them a good five months in the slammer, dub them Amnesia Pie and see how that goes over.

It was the famous Huckleberry Hazelnut pie that produced the near-death experience. Mary Ann came up with the recipe and she doesn't have any trouble making it come out right, but she knows what she's doing, and where's the challenge in that? Pie crust is supposed to have just enough liquid added to get the butter and flour on speaking terms. By the time I added all my ingredients, my food processor was full of soup. I poured it into a dish and refrigerated it, and miraculously, it firmed up. I centered it in a halo of flour, a plump, perfect patty, my little Pangaea, and then it went tectonic. In a short dozen rolls of the pin, the crust had separated into seven continents adrift on the cutting board. I assessed the situation over several large, frosty mugs of serenity. I thought I could get it all to come together with more flour, a colder rolling pin and about 250 million years. Dave backed slowly out of the room.

The immediate danger to bystanders is past and the renaming process has begun. You're all welcome to come over for some of my dammit dammit dammit dammit famous you dirty low-down bastard son-of-a-Republican hazelnut don't you come stumbling in here at four in the morning, you can just sleep right there on the floor where you passed out crust none of my friends have to be home by ten o'clock huckleberry I thought you were my best friend cinnamon doo-doo-head and butter mommy mommy mommy mommy Marie Callender's Thaw & Serve Coconut Cream Pie.