Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Pencil Test

There's a new boutique down the street called "The Pencil Test." It's a bra shop, named after the antique advice that if you can hold a pencil under your breast, you need a bra. The word "need," here, is in the context of adolescence, which operates under strict social rules, rules that are absorbed by the adolescent quickly and so thoroughly that she can remember them fifty years later even if she is foggy about everything else. This is why I can recall exact uniforms associated with the caste system of Williamsburg Junior High. Outfits from Villager and Ladybug secured with a circle pin put you at the very top, and Lerner's knockoffs kept you just above the Untouchables. Anyway, the pencil test serves as the last opportunity to get with the program, although there are plenty of opportunities to jump in early via the Training Bra. The training bra is employed at a stage when the only thing that needs holding up is the child's social standing. It's there to fend off mockery and introduce her to needless discomfort early, lest her childhood be squandered on joy. A true training bra would be much more useful late in life when the little wheels might help keep things from sliding off the sides.

I don't think there is a jockstrap pencil test for adolescent boys, and it's just as well. They'd be dropping that pencil every ten minutes.

One good thing about the moment you need a bra is that, theoretically, it coincides with the time you no longer need a pencil holder. In truth I never used a pencil holder. That was one of the ten items on the list of school supplies we were required to show up with in first grade. I remember going shopping for them. It was thrilling. I didn't own much. But now I had pencils, a plastic zip pencil holder, a perfect rectangular gum eraser with the brand name still visible on it, and a composition book with a black-and-white nubbly pattern on the cover. The pencil holder presided over the successful transfer of my pencils to my very own desk in first grade, and that was the extent of its service. Not too many years later, I was growing my own.

That's an interesting time. I hadn't really paid much attention to boobs until they showed up in the adolescent school supply list along with nervous tics and Clearasil. When it comes to boobs you're at the mercy of genetics, but you're not clear about that. It's all a mystery: when are they going to start? And then, when are they going to stop? You check yourself out in the mirror every day to see how the project is coming along. In fact, that was what I was doing the very last time my father opened my bedroom door without knocking, producing a flash of intense embarrassment all around, tinged with--on my side, at least--remorse that Daddy's little girl was leaving home and there was nothing I could do to stop her. On the plus side, progress was being made. In the absence of actual money, with which I could have bought a Villager outfit, I was finally able to develop some social currency of my own. Before long I was able to transport a boxed set of Prismacolor pencils, 128-count, with no hands, should the need arise.

That's undeniably handy, but it doesn't stop there. Many of us have proven to be able to grow entirely new body cavities over the course of our lifetimes, allowing us to cache contraband in our own back folds. I'll give myself another ten years and I'll be able to line up all my pencils one by one down my front and roll them all up jelly-roll style, tucking in between a pair of chins. By that time nobody will be looking anyway, and it beats carrying a purse.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


It's spring, and a woodpecker is hammering away on the neighbor's tree, checking for bugs. It's likely either a Downy or a Hairy woodpecker, which differ only slightly, but even novices can readily tell them apart by asking a real birder. Sometimes they hammer on a chimney. There are no bugs in there--they're trying to attract a mate. The flicker that likes to drill holes in our house succeeds, at least, in attracting Dave, and he's not easy. Well, yes, he is easy. Still, woodpeckers are attractive.

The males in particular are often crowned with a bright red patch which they use as a sexual signaling device. They also have short, stiff tails that help anchor the bird to the sides of the tree while he's hammering and support him while he's climbing. Humans lack this and must resort to a crotch harness, which doubles as a sexual signaling device.

Many people wonder how the woodpecker avoids brain damage while he hammers away. Bird experts ("ornithodontists") point out that, for one thing, he has a very small brain. So he's utilizing the same sort of evolutionary stratagem that protects humans from debilitating tail injuries. I'm not sure I buy it. Although it is true that brains and peckers are rarely associated, the real reason woodpeckers don't get headaches is that their children all leave the nest in under a month.

And they don't have a lot of room for brains, because they need to free up the space to store their tongues. Many species of woodpeckers have a long tongue for exploring cavities and retrieving insects and sap. Then they have to reel it back into their heads so as to remain properly aerodynamic. So they run it up the backside of their skulls and tuck it in at the nostrils. Hummingbirds have a similar design. When they make little hummingbird yummy noises you can see the tongues go back and forth over the top of their heads. I'd like to think that the ability to ripple your head when you're happy could be a sexual signaling device, although for hummingbirds, which also have little fingers on their tongues, that might be gilding the lily. I know if a human were to develop little fingers on his tongue, word would get out.

Creationists, or proponents of Intelligent Design, are people who are more comfortable with mystery than knowledge, and they like to point to the woodpecker as being an example of Irreducible Complexity, proof that God had to have stamped it out whole, perhaps from a perceived shortage of time. As evidence, they point out that the woodpecker's tongue is anchored in its nose, which is not true, and that only God would think of doing such a thing, which might be true although we'll never know because he didn't do it, and that (most importantly) it directly contradicts Genesis, which is undoubtedly true, end of story, amen.

In reality, mutations can result in structural changes whose functions change over time, or fall into disuse. In humans, a hallmark of our evolution is our large brain, which allowed us to fashion tools and develop strategies and acquire knowledge so that we were able to achieve considerable success in spite of our physical weaknesses. Now, in many parts of the population that prefer mystery to knowledge, the brain is no longer being used much except as stuffing so our hats don't fall off. Only time will tell if this is a useful adaptation. I plan to keep exercising my own brain, just in case I need it later. Or at least until I can ripple my head.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Going North

It was the usual hectic operation getting our friends Scott and K.C. moved out to begin with, in 1985, when they lived across the street. We should've known the city couldn't contain them. They already had a burgeoning collection of vehicles including a bulldozer and they had a dog and cats and a freaking horse and a herd of quail chicks and no one thought it would stop there. I can't remember if the herd of quail chicks was still around to be transported, or--I should say--all but the one K.C. tried to introduce to her cat, in the interest of interspecies harmony. The introduction was wildly successful from the cat's point of view, but no one else thought it went well.

We helped with the move, of course, but we were morose about it. They only moved fifty miles away, and assured us we had not driven them off. In fact, it was the prospect of jobs that pulled them away, good grown-up jobs. But our pinochle marathons were destined to be a rarer event. No longer could we expect to amble across the street and play cards into the night with whiskey and a platter of warm cookies. We were young and on the motley side, and we shuffled the deck on their incongruously grown-up new Queen Anne table, part of a meticulously polished set, a far cry from the cinderblock and board furnishings of their peers. That casual recreation, and our good friends, were leaving.

But it wasn't like they were gone forever. We visited as often as we could manage, with my oddball mailman schedule rarely cooperating with Dave's out-of-town trips to repair boilers. Scott and K.C. had more respectable occupations and were pinned down by the requirements of a growing menagerie of unemployed animals. Sheep, goats, alpacas, and the like blossomed on their green hillside, with their only obligation to be good sheep, goats, and alpacas. The pigs were the dearest of all. Diesel was the first, and Myrna joined him later. Well, it was always something over there. You just never knew. You might be given the task of trotting the duck and sturgeon chow down to the lower pond past the wine grapes, taking care not to slip in the peacock poop. Or, you might pass an afternoon tracking dinosaur prints in the snow until they resolved into an ill-tempered emu on the lam. The emus' job was to be good emus, but they sucked at it. A fully realized emu is an irascible beast. From a narrow human viewpoint, they're only good at a distance, or on a plate.

But jobs and opportunities change, and when K.C. was recently enticed again, the way was clear to take a new turn in life, one unmarked by the demands of ravenous sturgeon, and our friends are now headed north--way north--to find a new home with an attached airplane hangar and some biddable moose. No one can blame them. But melancholy still shoulders in. People have a way of accumulating a lot of stuff in twenty-five years, and now much of it is tabled up for an estate sale, the tawdry tableau that usually signals a death in the family and the diaspora of debris: former treasures rubbing up against half-boxes of cleanser, a life trivialized by sticky tags. The Queen Anne set stands proud, polished, unmarred, and for sale. Theirs is a gem of a little farm, with all its potential met, and it sparkles with decades of loving effort: the trout pond, the sturgeon pond, the guard ducks, two hills corrugated with grapevines, and this year's alpacas masticating away on the hilltop. A new couple is buying their own dream, ready-made, and they're going to tend the grapes and the animals, with youthful stamina and no particular notion that they will ever grow older.

But it twists the heart, to see the past all measured out on tables and trailers, the years having spun out in a blink, and as we leave, the last pig, Lily, comes out from the barn to stand in the sun and smile and be the best pig she can be. From a distance she doesn't seem any bigger than the lump in my throat. She's an old pig and doesn't have many more days in the sun. That's just the way it is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March March

The beauty part is, we can always blame Elizabeth. We're good hikers but we need that initial punt in the heinie, and our niece is a grade-A heinie-punter. She's the pull-cord for our two-stroke engine. So she's the one that suggested we go for a waterfall hike in the gorge in March. The Columbia Gorge hikes all have a lot in common: they're green, full of waterfalls, and straight up. That's a package deal. They're green from all the water. They're waterfally from all the upness. If you start walking in the Gorge, you can't get very far without starting to climb. And once you start to climb, it's hard to finish, because there's always more up. Devil's Rest, at least, seemed to have an end point. Nothing about the name warned us off. Everyone likes rest.

And because the Gorge has so much Up in it, you can run through several latitudes and months in one day hike. You can start at the bottom in September with the happy woodland critters, and emerge a mile up in January, eyes peeled for trampling caribou. Elizabeth promised we'd stop when we hit snow. We were only going to gain a half mile elevation on this  hike, but we're not in our summer shape, and we got warm right away. "Can't believe people won't hike in the rain," we said to each other, too smug. "Look how beautiful it is. We should've worn shorts and a T-shirt," we said, too snug, unzipping everything we had on.

The View
The snow appears abruptly when you're hiking uphill. First you round the bend and see a little starter patch. Then more and more patches, until they coalesce into a snowfield with intermittent mudslides. The weather personages had forecast light rain, and sure enough there was a whole ton of light rain up there. Nearby trees began to disappear. After a few miles, the first viewpoint presented itself as a wide spot with a sheer dropoff, beyond which squatted a cloudbank thick enough to break your fall. It was magnificent: somewhere below us stretched the majesty of the mighty Columbia churning through the basalt. Or, the shimmering pink sands of Waaka Waaka where the plumious frondle-trees waved in the breeze and tiny pocket monkeys played castanets and dropped petals in our Margaritas. Could have been either, it was hard to tell. We stepped away from the edge and kept shlorping uphill through the snow and mud. Devil's Rest was a view-free bunch of boulders in the forest at a point high enough to funnel a gusting wind in our direction. There was a break in the light rain, in the sense that it was now coming at us sideways. We zipped up, hunched over our sandwiches, and speculated about the freezing point of mayonnaise.

Dave, through clenched teeth, sent out something about Elizabeth and me being entirely too gung ho. There was something about a ho, anyway. I mentioned that the guide book said there was a different way down, conceivably through Tahiti, and that we should be able to make out signs. We peered through the fog and finally noticed signs of hypothermia, and went down the way we came, with the mighty Columbia rumbling below and Dave grumbling behind. Periodically the snow, mud, and downward momentum sent him ricocheting down the trail and into a voluntary face plant on a Douglas fir to stop his slide: shluck shluck shluck SHLOOOORP bink-bink-bink-bink-BAM. Ha ha! Funny Dave!

"I thought," he said tightly, peeling bark from his beard, "we were going to stop when we hit snow."

Elizabeth explained. Usually, when we hit snow, it's passable for a while, and then it suddenly gets too deep to traverse, and that's when we were going to turn back. This snow, however, had remained thin, albeit slick. "So," Dave said, "what you meant was, we would go until the snow was in fact impassable, and at that point we would not continue passing. We would not, as you say, violate any laws of physics. Is that it?" Shluck shluck shluck SHLOOOORP bink-bink-bink-bink-BAM.

"Right," Elizabeth said. "You okay?" she called down.

He was probably okay. He didn't say much the rest of the way down. We got to the car and cranked up the heater until we'd knocked the rime off the interior of our cell walls. "That was great!" Elizabeth chirped when her larynx thawed out. "It'll be even better next time," she said, poking Dave until he seized her by the poker.

"Next time," Dave said, "snow means snow."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

God Should Have Quit On The Fifth Day

Science has been unable to pinpoint which day of the week God created man, but for sure it was after he created salamanders, which showed up mid-afternoon of the fifth day. That was a barn-burner of a day for God, and he was justifiably proud, and probably went a little manic there for a while until he got some mud and made a man out of it, and after that he had to rest up. The book says "rest up," but really, he probably realized he needed to put the brakes on and think about what he'd done, because he'd totally overshot. It happens. Creative types frequently come up with their masterpiece early on and then spend the rest of their lives trying to replicate their success, and it never works.

"Day" is probably not meant to be taken literally, because God is more poetic than that, and bigger in general, with much longer days and a much greater imagination than us little mud-cakes he slapped out on the sixth day. So the salamander sort of worked things out on his own, with one great idea after another. There he was in the ocean, where things are constantly trying to make a snack out of him, and so he got closer and closer to shore, rolling his eyes around in alarm, until at one point there they were--his eyes--right on top of his head. Whoa! Genius. He could stay underwater where the oxygen was, and still see everything above the water. Like the land. Which, as far as he could see, contained nothing that wanted to snack on him. At that point there wasn't much more to do but fiddle with the flippers and do some push-ups and before you knew it, the first salamander hitched up on shore, where he grew the biggest and nicest smile anyone ever had before or since, and why not? He'd gotten everything just right. Lo, he was very good. And so he took the entire kit, handsome smile and all, right through to modern times, with barely an adjustment.

It might seem far-fetched about the eyes rolling around on the face, but it happens. Even today, flatfishes start out swimming sideways like regular fish with eyes on either side, and then one of their eyes migrates around to join the one on the other side, and then they drift to the bottom of the sea and blend in, with their eyes on top checking things out. It isn't the Mozart Requiem but it's still pretty cool. The eyes never look quite even, but it's the best they can do, having traveled around the side of the fish. And so you see this sort of thing in Nature all the time: halibut. Flounder. Shannen Doherty.

When God came up with the man, he told him to have dominion over every living thing, which was a big mistake, if you'll pardon my saying so. Sure, you're tired, you've worked hard, and it's tempting to just tell the kids to take care of everything, but that's how you get mud tracked in the house and candy for dinner and the credit card gets run up and all the forests turn to desert and someone cranks the heat up to high so they can sit around in their underwear all winter. It's not responsible. It's not all bad, but you're going to run through a hundred years of oligarchs and Republicans for every Mozart that shows up.

I have the good fortune to know people who do know their proper place in the world, and that place is chest-deep in a cold bog in February. Yes, the regional government Metro has sent out its intrepid Frog Warriors again this year to get a rough count of amphibian egg masses, so we can see if we've done a good job restoring wetlands to what God had in mind in the first place. It's an honor and a privilege to bear witness to the single greatest feat any critter has ever accomplished, something humans couldn't do in their wildest dreams: making new salamanders. No wonder they're still smiling.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Don't Whack That Mole

I don't usually read articles about Beauty. They can be hard on your wallet. Still, the one in the paper recently about achieving lush brows caught my eye.

There are lots of beauty articles. They're there to keep the ads for beauty products from running together. I ignore them. Play Up Your Cheekbones! Not applicable. I'd need joint compound and a Sharpie. Best Swim Suits For Your Body Type! Got it. Something in a split-level, with an awning and good foundation plantings. A Firmer Bottom In Ten Steps! No thanks. My bottom is plenty firm and it took way, way more than ten steps.

But I read the whole lush eyebrows article. I never had lush eyebrows, but at least I had eyebrows. My mom told me I was lucky to have them, because she didn't. Since I take after my mom, I should have taken that as a warning.

Because one day I noticed they had gone away. No note or anything. I don't  know if they got paler, fell out, or just rode the last estrogen bus out of town. One day they simply weren't there; I looked like Mrs. Potato Head between renovations. Now obviously it couldn't have happened overnight, but I hadn't noticed. That's kind of normal, that lack of attention. It's why some men spend more time on their hair the less they have. Bit by bit their hair falls out and doesn't come back, and day by day they attempt to patch things up, until after a few years they have a routine that produces an effect everyone finds highly comical. But they keep doing it. Don't they realize how it looks? They do not. When you're coping with hair loss one day at a time, every day requires a new affirmation that you have things under control. I used to work with a guy who parted his hair just above his right ear and glued the longest strands over the top of his head. It's his last battle. He parted his hair a little further down the mountain every year and sent the troops charging up, but in time the forces were depleted. Now they don't even make it to the top of the hill. One day all he'll have to send to the fight is mercenary ear hair.

Another fellow on my mail route was well into his dapper nineties and still spent the better part of each morning creating his coif out of optimism, red dye and back hair. He had eighteen long strands at the base of his neck and he motivated them with antique hair gel and sent them up his nape and over his crown, where they sat curled up on his forehead like a thin, damp rat. I admired him, I really did. He just wanted to look nice, and everyone who looked at him smiled back, hard, so he knew he was doing a good job.

I, too, for a while, was able to imagine I still had eyebrows, because if I rumpled my brow into little hills, the shadow they cast mimicked the original equipment. As a woman, I don't have that much of an eyebrow ridge. It's the men who have a prominent jutting forehead, part of the original gorilla kit they still enjoy. I've only got enough of a ridge to fluff my remaining eyebrows. For years now they've strung themselves out up on that hill, brave, thin little soldiers peering out over the landscape, only to be picked off by sniper zits from below. Who were probably tipped off by a mole.

And I know just which mole. It's hunkered right up there on the eyebrow ridge, and I've had it all my life. There was always a little nubble under the skin, but it wasn't anything anyone noticed. At least I don't remember it casting a shadow before. I don't remember it getting in the way when I watched TV, or sending out for its own pizza. The only thing I can conclude is that the mole ate my eyebrows. If we sliced it with a lancet, fur would fly. I'm afraid to have it removed.

So I read the whole article hoping for a revelation. Apparently the key to achieving lush eyebrow growth--you'll want to jot this down--is to quit pulling them out. You need to get all your brow hairs on the same growth cycle, because otherwise the ones you want will stay underground in case you were planning to tweeze them too. They're very sensitive that way. Mine are presumably so sensitive they react to other people's eyebrows being plucked, because I've certainly never done it. Also, in extreme cases, you can have a transplant of your own hair into your brow. This could work out. You know, depending on the source.

As far as I'm concerned, we missed a genetic bet not crossing Frida Kahlo with Martin Scorcese. Their descendants would have to mow their foreheads, but for the sake of humanity, it would have been worth it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Horticulture, Homeless Dave, and Homicide

Russian scientists just grew an antique campion plant from a 32,000-year-old seed, and I can't even sprout an aster from last year's seed packet. They claim the campion seed had originally been buried in a burrow by a squirrel, where it froze solid, and was only recently recovered and prodded into life. It's hard to count that many rings in a non-woody plant, but if the age estimates prove out, it will be by far the oldest plant to have been generated. The scientists in charge are pretty confident after interviewing the squirrel in question, who was found at a local library looking for the card catalog and muttering to himself. They're excited about growing an old campion next to a new campion and studying the evolution of a plant in real time. But they'd better keep a close eye on it, or somebody might take it, like Homeless Dave.

That's what happened to our lemon. Homeless Dave was but one of a surplus of Daves we had in the neighborhood; we have enough that everyone can have one of their own. We've got Big Dave, Little Dave, Store Dave, Old Dave, New Dave, and Republican Dave, who moved away in search of lower taxes. My Dave ("Old Dave") had befriended Homeless Dave, if by "befriended" you mean "didn't run away screaming." Homeless Dave was a toothless Vietnam vet with a mohawk and a drug problem and a voice that could make bridges go up and down. He favored feathers, large knives, shiny objects, really large knives, and psychotic breaks. He would show up at inopportune times (although, to be truthful, no time was particularly good) and bellow conversationally until you gave him some money or food. Dave, who has a saintly nature he tries to obscure with curmudgeonliness and targeted flatulence, paid him attention and cooked him gummable meals. One cold night, while we slept, he came by and built a raging bonfire in the Weber and dragged it under the eaves of our house where he was trying to escape the wind. Dave brought him inside long enough to get a hot meal in him and sent him away while I crossed Social Work off my to-do list. Homeless Dave was a pain in the ass. I wished him safe and warm and happy and in Central America.

About the lemon. We had a lemon tree we'd bought that claimed to be hardy to 20 degrees. And it was. It was hardy, but that didn't mean it was in a good mood. We kept it outside in a pot and knitted sweaters for it and spooned juice into it and sang to it and bought it a Savings Bond and finally, after about ten years, it began putting out experimental fragrant flowers, a few of which finally resolved into tiny fruits around five minutes to winter. We watched them carefully as they struggled to grow, and after about eight months they began to veer yellow, and we lost all but one, but that one got fatter and yellower until Dave pronounced it just about ready to eat. One summer day he came around the back of the house to find Homeless Dave mopping juice off his grin. "GREAT LEMON, NAMESAKE!" he said. "BEST I EVER HAD!" And Dave fingered his pruning shears while contemplating his chances of successful homicide against a well-armed crazy ex-Marine. Ultimately he let him go with stern words and an omelet.

Homeless Dave showed up with useless gifts, scavenged or stolen, but he meant well. One time he pounded on the door before dawn with an attitude and a knife that wouldn't have looked wrong on Orion, demanding attention from my Dave as he was trying to leave for work, and Dave told him he'd worn out his welcome. We don't know where he is now, but if he showed up bearing a bouquet of 32,000-year-old campion flowers, it wouldn't surprise me in the least. And that would be a blow to science. I'd also watch out for Monsanto. If they even think they can engineer a shortcut to pre-frozen vegetables, they're going to try.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hurts So Good

Here's what my friend Jim said: "Joe Blair carves out a place in your soul. Too bad it hurts."

You've never seen a book review on this site, and I don't want to start now. So I'll finish now. Joe Blair's first book is for sale. You should buy it. Joe Blair tells the truth better than anyone I know. By The Iowa Sea is a memoir, but genre doesn't matter much to me: if something is well written, that's all I ask of it. You can write about pod people or you can rip bodices, but be sly, be graceful. Choose the right words, and I'm yours. Joe's words take my breath away. They remove the last defenses against understanding his life.

And what's to understand? The facts are these: Joe and Deb married with the usual optimism, assuming that great desires as well as mundane joys would be fulfilled. They had four children. All children rearrange one's future, but their fourth, Michael, stole theirs. Severely autistic, sweet, and infuriating, Michael requires 24-hour care and more love than most people know they have. And he tests that love every day. For Joe, the prospect of an affair presented a glimpse of a less-burdened future, and he found it irresistible. But it's not the end of the story for a man with the habit of truth.

Here's how you know a great writer: his words change you. I don't even know how Joe does it. We were introduced by a mutual friend that at least one of us had never met, on Facebook, through an earlier association with a grand online literary experiment called FieldReport, and--well, as they say, it's complicated. One day Joe posted a link to a piece he had up in the New York Times "Modern Love" column. It staggered me. It was about his son, his almost--almost--unknowable son. Yes, Joe and Deb's future has been derailed by the demands of the boy's care, but their duty goes deeper: someone is living in Michael's body, and they bear the responsibility of learning who it is, because no one else will. This falling tree will make no sound unless they are there to hear it. It takes a lot of love to fend off despair. And there's no guarantee there will be enough of that to go around, for the other children, and for each other.

He doesn't put it this way, of course. He's not fancy. He lays out his hopes, his assumptions, his desires. And then, right next to these, his reality, sliding in so sharp we don't feel it going in. He leaves out the extraneous introspection and the philosophizing, and trusts his reader to inhabit the space between the life he wanted and the life he has. And because we do that work ourselves, we are there.

And because it is reality, it is not without humor. If Joe wasn't funny, he wouldn't have lasted this long. His readers will not be unscathed, but he has mercy on us.

Memoir sometimes makes me cringe. Sometimes the author names names and scatters rage; other times he seems to be working towards absolution by extravagantly blaming himself. Me, I can't write it. I am not willing to own all my truth, let alone tell it. I can express grief over the loss of a well-loved soul, but I am loath to reveal much about the living. It's hard to tell what Joe might leave out--certainly not his doubt, his exasperation, his failures, his infidelity. But instead of cringing, I'm on his side, on the side of his family. Because his aggravation is threaded through with forgiveness. He even forgives his son, who is innocent of malice. Forgiving the innocent may be like cleaning soap, but he does it--must do it--anyway. And every day. Even rarer, he forgives himself.

There's no melodrama in here. This prose is simple, supple, and valiant. Here's one truth: muscles cannot grow stronger without something to resist. And Joe Blair, because he must face his responsibility and his burden, is able to learn how large love can be, in a way that those of us of whom less is asked may never do. That's really something.

I've been proud to have Joe Blair in my skinny blog roll for a while now. If you would like to see why I'm so fervent about him, here's the New York Times essay that shredded my heart. And here's how you can order By The Iowa Sea

We will return to our regularly scheduled snortfest on Saturday.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

An Eight On The ICKter Scale

Unusually strong earth-shaking has recently been observed in all corners of Oregon, with reports of aftershocks still coming in. Officials have determined that the epicenter is to the north, in the state of Washington. Although experts say it was not an unprecedented event, nothing of this magnitude has occurred in the area in recent memory. The temblor has been traced to the passage of gay marriage legislation in February, resulting when a movement that had begun deep underground pushed closer to the surface. There is a consensus among frightened citizens that the fault began in California. Survivalist groups are forming to defend heterosexuality as citizens prepare themselves for the imminent collapse of their marriages. "You can't tell me this sort of thing won't endanger marriage," says concerned citizen Leviticus Primrod. "Just last week, my wife Lurleen says to me, she says, 'I'm moving in with Darla Sue if you don't quit picking up chippies at the Five Spot,' she says. And Darla Sue's hot."

In the forefront of the defenders is the Million Mom movement (motto: "because we said so"). The Moms, towing many of their estimated hundred thousand nervous gay children, will march on the state capitol as soon as they replenish stocks of sanctimony and juice boxes.

Elsewhere, predictions vary as to the effects of the event on marriages in general, with some claiming there is no imminent danger, and others warning of the possibility that innocent bystanders will be damaged by sightings of public displays of homosexual affection. Preparedness experts are recommending that people take precautions such as strapping their children to the closet and laying in a two-week supply of bile. In the case of another earth-shaking event, we are reminded to hunker down under a rigid belief system and keep our hands over our ears and eyes.