Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Dust-Mite-Laden Arms Of Morpheus

I found a helpful article in the paper the other day on how to pull together the perfect bedroom look, and I devoured it, looking for the answer to the biggest mystery: why shams? They didn't say. What struck me instead was the categorical statement that you should replace your pillows every one or two years. There was some kind of reason. Your pillow molecules will mutiny, assemble a dust-mite cavalry, and take you down in the middle of the night, or something. Immediately this struck me as the sort of science that comes straight from the marketing department. Like "lather, rinse, repeat." Or the received wisdom that a diamond engagement ring should set you back two months' pay. Or the latest from Taco Bell: Fourth Meal. (This last legitimizes the enormous fat-and-salt porkathon you scarf down at two in the morning to soak up some of the alcohol, and just in time, too, because people were in danger of starting to worry about diabetes.)

Well, Dave and I haven't replaced our pillows for as long as we've known each other, at least--36 years. And neither one of us wants to replace our pillow, which is absurd, because he totally should.

His pillow is the skinned and flayed remainder of its former self, just a pillow gut pile with the ticking long gone. It is a gray, dingy remnant of folded-over batting whose only dignity is conferred upon it by the pillowcase that holds it together. Mine, on the other hand, still has its entire outer cover, if not all its original innards.

Dave is a man of great courage and loyalty who would stop a bullet with his forehead to save a friend. However, his sense of loyalty is not limited to those with the customary supply of consciousness. He befriends inanimate objects all the time. Pieces of fluff, rocks that look like they have noses, and wind-up Fred Flintstones, every one becomes his "little buddy." In all likelihood he looks at his disreputable rag of a pillow and sees a congregation of dust bunnies, arms linked, little buddies in formation, and would no more discard it (or them) than he would kick Pootie (#1 Little Buddy) to the curb for being a Lakers fan. Ditching his pillow would not be an act of hygiene: it would be a betrayal.

If my pillow is not my original childhood pillow, it has to be close. It is a thin squashable scrap of ticking half-filled with Archaeopteryx feathers and every night I mold it into a popcorn-shaped sculpture designed to keep my face nearly straight down while allowing a little breathing passageway. I am a stomach sleeper.

I cannot fall asleep on my back. Sometimes that's where I end up, and I can tell because I'm occasionally in that position when I wake up due to some horrible racket that always quits just when I come to. It is possible for me to fall asleep on my side, but it is too dispiriting to watch my belly set sail for distant shores across the mattress and my boobs pool out like a short stack of pancakes. So most of the time I fall asleep face down. I've been doing this since I was wee. Probably my parents put me in the crib that way hoping it might save them college expenses one day. I know for a fact that I wasn't in their original plan.

But my scrawny little pillow doesn't make my bed look good. It makes my be look like Brigitte Bardot's bustier on a six-year-old. What makes a bed look good, according to reliable sources that sell such things, is a mountain of pillows adorned with cases and shams in coordinating colors, textures, and patterns, including stripes, plaids, and florals, but nothing too matchy-matchy. In other words, the look that sends me into despair when I see it in my motel room. I have to evict all but one pillow and then find a corner of it and wheedle it into a little one-inch nose prop while the rest of the pillow floats above my head like a thought balloon.

But the secret that lies inside my laundered pillowcase is a lifetime of skin cells, drool, and other DNA. If I found it on the "free" table in a garage sale, I'd be horrified. But it's all mine. I've got almost sixty years of personal bacteria in there. My little buddies. I can't abandon them now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Pre-Wee League

From a distance, squinting, we couldn't tell what we were looking at. March of the biped tortoises? I guessed. Diving bells on parade? Dave ventured. Enormous shells were moving around a field with little legs under them. We moved closer. And Lord love a duck in springtime, it was baseball. It was the Wilshire-Riverside League, the best in post-fetal baseball, and, like every other form of baseball, it was terrific. Call it the Pre-Wee League.

We're skeptical about efforts to rope tiny kids into team sports. It was probably the niece's soccer mudathons that did it. We'd hunker down under tarps on the sidelines and cheer whenever it seemed appropriate, while on the field the kids accreted into scrums with everyone making with little dinky kicks like a single multi-legged organism until the ball squirted out, and after a while one of the kids noticed and ran after it (cheer) and the whole organism reassembled in the new location. There was fresh air and a dab of movement involved, so that's good, but the attempt to introduce structure into their brains was like trying to braid a pitchfork. We both thought they'd have been better off with Duck Duck Goose for another year or so.

But the Wilshire-Riverside League won us over. Kids were happy. Parents were happy. Everyone had a good time and nobody was yelling. And it all had to do with the rules. There weren't any.

Oh, there sort of were, but they were more like suggestions. It was hard to go wrong.

Each child had five pitches to saw at, or eight or nine if the situation called for it, and then the batting tee came out, and the child could whack at it until the ball rolled off. Each team's own adult coach was the pitcher, tasked with trying to make contact with the erratically swinging bat. So everybody hits, or in some other way encourages the ball in a forward direction, and everyone runs the bases. There are three innings. Each inning is over when everyone's had a turn at bat. No runs are scored. Nobody wins or loses.

"Does that bother them?" I asked. Not yet, I'm told.

In theory, a runner can be declared out, if by some coincidence a ball is chased down at a base before the runner manages to get it out of first gear. In that case, it is suggested to the runner that he might want to go back to the bench, but if he gets too involved with the second baseman's bug collection, he can stay put and the other runners work around him.

On this Saturday afternoon, the Georgia-Pacific Girl Power team was facing the Barbers, an all-boy team. G-P wore pink, and the Barbers wore blue. This was helpful for gender identification, because the helmets prevented us from seeing the color of the little bows placed over their soft spots. So let's see how the action plays out:

The Barbers, all five of them, trot out to their designated positions, where the second baseman picks through the grass for bugs, the third baseman consults a passing cloud, the pitcher (who does not pitch) crouches in total safety and total eclipse behind the coach, the shortstop experiments with alternative hat and mitt placement, and the highly alert first baseman hops up and down. Number One in the pink line-up steps up to the vicinity of the plate. Pitching commences. Swing, and a miss. Swing, and a miss.

Miss, and a swing.

The batter is all limbered up for the tee now, and within three whacks has dislodged the ball in the direction of third base, which is so astonishing that everyone pauses to admire it, except the highly alert first baseman, who cannot contain himself from charging all the way to third for the ball before spinning around in confusion as he attempts to field it to himself on first.

Second batter for Pink is tiny. Her chin comes into view under her helmet as she tips her head back to locate home plate, where she squares up like a sentient mushroom. The helmet is enormous. A cloud of bats could fly out of there with no one the wiser. At the first pitch, Tiny trickles the ball into the infield and heads off toward first base at a dead totter, finally going the distance as more and more of the base path comes into view. With both hands on helmet she continues around the bases behind the first runner and both of them fetch up at the same time on home plate in time to watch the ball's triumphant arrival at first base (cheer).

A half hour later Pink takes the field with a minimum of one player per position including outfield where, defensively speaking, their presence is strictly ornamental. They even have enough players to field a catcher, who is armored up with enough safety equipment to tip her over well behind home plate, from which position she assembles a ball collection. An adult wings them back to the pitcher.

It was a terrific game. Everyone had a good time. The team cheers were a triumph of coordination. Both Pink and Blue nailed them.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Oops! Totally Did Not Mean For That To Happen.

My Dad, unmodified
Californians are considering a proposition to require genetically modified foods to be labeled. Such a label might read "Warning: Contains Genetically Modified Organisms." Monsanto, the world's largest GMO producer, is agin it. The corporation believes this will have an adverse effect on sales. And it probably will, at least more so than if the label read "Boy Howdy! Genetically Modified Organisms."

Critics of the proposition believe the labels might lead consumers to reject GMO products without having any understanding of their environmental and economic benefits. There is something to this. People might indeed veer away from the stuff even if it is completely safe. It is true that many people react viscerally rather than investigating. For instance, I automatically, without further review, discount any proposition made by a Republican, but it does not follow that all Republicans are unworthy of support. No. They are unworthy of support because they are short-sighted, profligate, womb-invading planet pirates with cash-encrusted pockets the size of entire countries.

So what is genetic engineering? It is the deliberate manipulation of a living genome by the insertion or deletion of a gene. Deletions are dicey: the sucker is still in the hard drive somewhere and ignorance of this fact will dog you all the way to divorce court. But usually genes are inserted instead, and usually across species. Most often a bacterial gene is inserted into plant DNA, but it could totally be a squid or something. The gene can be inserted by attaching it to a virus and sending it on what amounts to a guerrilla mission, or tiny little particles can be fired into their targets with something called a "gene gun."

This process has resulted in plants that grow their own insecticides or are impervious to our own herbicides, or--in a breakthrough for the fossil-fuel industry--tomatoes that remain sullen and leathery and can be transported over huge distances until they arrive at their destination markets to "ripen," which is the industry term for turning reddish.

Animals too have had their genomes twiddled with. Using a "gene howitzer," a goat has been engineered to produce incredibly strong spider silk in her milk, which is suitable for body armor and other military uses; pigs have been grown that glow green in the dark.

Ask anyone who has ever suffered that common nightmare about the roving band of bullet-proof goats wearing night-vision hoggles: this has the law of unintended consequences written all over it. It should sound familiar. Settlers in Australia thought they were bringing in a tasty touch of home with their rabbits, and now the entire country's topsoil has been replaced by bunny fur. We're no good at this.

It isn't that we can't aspire to greatness. If the gene that persuades songbird chicks to poop in their own little transportable baggies could be shot into urban dogs, the world would be a better place. Likewise might we be better off if the pig-snout development gene could be inserted into mosquitoes so that they grow blunt proboscises, and are forced to queue up at the Red Cross for charity blood boxes. But things get away from us. The concentration of logy mosquitoes might then lead to localized populations of rotund chickadees that can barely get off the ground and threaten the eyesight of small urban dogs. The birdhouse industry will falter during a retooling phase and new markets will spring up to produce designer chickadee deflectors for pugs. It's hard to predict, or control.

If you look around at nature, you'll find that everything is pretty much the way it's supposed to be. That's not so much because any particular deity wants it this way. It's that if it were supposed to be another way, it would be. Which is not to say things remain static. Stuff happens. Little stuff, big stuff. Lightning strikes a tree and creates new housing opportunities. Rocks fall out of the sky and all the dinosaurs pack it in. Life is opportunistic. If you pull a peg out of the wall, something's going to happen. Either something will burrow into the hole and lay eggs, or the wall will come down on top of you.

So without doing a lot of research, I am on the distrustful side of the genetic engineering development. We've done nothing but tinker since we crept out of the gorge and danced on the savannah. And I don't think our record of so-called mastery is very good.

But I am excited about the possible introduction this year of a fast-growing salmon. Throw in a baguette the size of a missile and Jesus will be on board with it, too. I know just where they'll put it. Right off the Pacific into the mighty Columbia, which I can see from my house. Any lesser river and the poor bugger will scrape his sides on the banks.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Being And Taterness

My current cat Tater and I differ more ways than we are alike. She can leap to a five-foot countertop in a nonchalant second; I fell on my fanny trying to execute a three-inch hop on Leap Day. She nods off between naps; I pound out novels in the middle of the night for no remunerative reason. She has perfect, velvety paw pads; I have a Plantar's wart. She doesn't like ice cream or beer; I'm not nuts. She walks around presenting her ass like it was the Hope Diamond, and I haven't done that for decades. Sometimes we connect unpredictably. She gazes at me with yellow, unblinking eyes that say: I really like having you around, but don't expect too much. I feel the same way. It's an easy relationship. She rakes her head against my ankle and I toss crackers in her bowl once a day.

One time we decided to take Tater to the mountain cabin with us. We reasoned it would be slightly nicer for her to have us around for three days than to leave her on her own, because she is very social. Tater had never set paw outside the house after her first kittenly vet visit. It's been five years. Birds are TV to her--endlessly entertaining, and off-limits as snack items. That's the rule.

"What can go wrong?" I asked Dave, who gave me that look that means: when we find out, it isn't going to be his fault. We bundled our stuff into the car, with Tater blasting around the house as is her habit when she sees a suitcase come out, and at the last minute we picked her up and took her to the car. After we unhooked her from the mid-epidermal layer of my shoulder, we took off. Tater located a two-inch slot under the front seat, wedged into it like a wafer of fur, and yowled WAH-WAH-WAH-WAH-WAH for forty miles.

Once we'd arrived at the cabin, and put in all our stuff plus the litter box, we brought in the cat. She did a thorough exploration of the place in a minute. An electron would have missed more. Same thing happened when we brought her home from the Humane Society the first time. "Your kitty will be cautious at first. Leave her in her opened crate in a single room until she's had a chance to adapt. Then, gradually, make other rooms available." Tater torpedoed out of the crate and did a reconnaissance of all three floors, rolled over for a belly rub, and then took off again to leave cheek marks on all the perimeters of her new territory. If there was room for a moth to flap in that house, she knew about it within five minutes.

So it was the same thing with the cabin. A minute of pandemonium, then it was Happy Kitty. Sofa Leopard, Chair Leopard, Defender Of The Woodpile, Strider Of The Countertop. Home. All was well.

I recognized this. We have more in common than I'd realized. Everywhere in life I find myself, I'm fine. Am I thirty now? No problem that can't be solved by more beer and bigger pants. My forties? No worries. Then I fetch up in my fifties with no eyebrows, and some of the other nouns are missing, too. Oh well--there's comedy in that.

But the transitions--the lurches--the moments when I realize that those kids in the coffeehouse think I'm a fossil hippie, those times when my train of thought derails four words in, the mornings I notice my skin isn't even attached in places, the sudden apprehension that I'm not getting out of this gig alive--WAH-WAH-WAH-WAH-WAH. I can adjust, do the reconnaissance and settle down in a hurry. Don't make me go in the car again.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

O. Crap

Studley (or Marge)
It's possible you don't care about our chickadees, Studley and Marge, but that seems so unlikely, I'll tell you about them anyway. Our chickadees are in the chickadee manufacturing industry, and they've set up shop in the house Dave built for them and hung outside my writing room window. The first year we followed their progress avidly. Nothing against Dave's carpentry skills, but neither one of us really expected to achieve chickadees just by putting out a house with the right size hole. So we were thrilled. Chickadees are interchangeable, not that we don't think ours are special. No matter where we are, if we hear chickadees going off, Dave will ask if those are our chickadees. And I'll examine them, for some reason, and then say yes. Why not? They don't any of them veer off the template much.

Last year things didn't go well. They showed up on schedule and moved in the bassinet and took turns popping in and out, but we never heard any peeping and no one ever brought in grubs. When we were absolutely sure we wouldn't mess things up for anybody--around Christmas--Dave took a look inside and found some punctured eggs. We were very sad and hoped this year they wouldn't have moved to a better neighborhood. But they didn't. They scouted it out in March and started moving stuff in toward the end of April. By May two chickadees were definitely living in the box. One would stay in and the other would go for take-out.

I watched them, five feet away, while I got ready to write a novel. When the chickadees were bringing in mattress material, I was rounding up research books, notes, and sources. When the chickadees were taking turns settin', I sketched out my opening scenes. I wrote my first page, and the chickadees began blasting in and out of the house with bugs and grubs, indicating, to my fine detective mind, that it was really hungry in there. I tried hard to tell them apart. After a while I persuaded myself that one of them was a little sleeker than the other, though the difference was like shaving dimples off a golf ball.

Chickadee puppies should fledge and fly away about sixteen days from hatching. And this time I was going to see it, because I was spending so much time in that chair. Would they arrow through the canopy and stick their landings like mom and dad? Or blast out like plumb-bobs? Did I need to string up a net?

I wrote 4200 words, bringing me to a crucial early juncture. Scrub jays showed up at the suet feeder and the chickadees gave them what-for, pelting them with dee-dee-dees until, after five minutes or so, they fell bloated off the suet. I clicked on something on my screen and my 4200 words disappeared. The chickadees hurled in grubs, and I sent my neurons in after my lost novel. The hungry box began peeping like it was full of hamster secrets. I got back up to 6,000 words.

Now they're fast and furious. The chickadees had a flappity-flap signaling system to prevent them from banging into each other at the entrance. You first. No, you. I got a purchase on my second scene and hammered my way toward 9,000 words. The peeping inside the box began to sharpen up, genuine dees without the chicka. I anticipated fledging day on Friday the 8th of June. But that day the grubs kept coming; one of the parents was now augmenting the menu with bug-and-suet sandwiches. By twilight my novel may as well have been rolling off God's fax machine. I was up to 13,800 words, one for every grub that had been poked into that hole. And still no fledglings had come out.

I finished the first two major scenes in my novel and didn't know exactly how to approach the next part. I sat down the next day and stared out the window. The chickadees were gone. I don't know if they all flew out when I was farting around on Facebook or what. They were gone. And my screen was blank. And I thought the same exact thought you all are having right now: shit. I just wrote myself into an O. Henry story.

Marge (or Studley)
O. Henry made a mean candy bar but he was responsible for ruining fiction for me for decades. I loved his stuff when I was a kid. Everything I wrote was a clumsy imitation of him, with the boffo ending, everything turning on the last line, which was always strenuously ironic. The wife sells her hair to buy a fob for her dear husband's prized watch. He sells his watch to buy a comb for her beautiful hair. Theirs was the best fucking Christmas ever, because they had love. Bite me. Or, the feeble woman convinces herself she would die when the last leaf falls from the vine. The artist paints his masterpiece, a leaf that never falls, and she thinks better of her dramatic demise and recovers, while he catches pneumonia from painting en plein very cold air and dies. When an O. Henry story ends, ain't nobody confused about it. Bang the cymbals. It's over.

That, I thought, was the way a short story should be. But modern short stories aren't like that. They may turn on the last line, but it might be just a slight turn, more like a facial tic. I keep flipping the page, wondering where the rest of the story is. They peter out. That's what they do. It would be like if I wrote a blog post and it just sort of, you know, whatever.

But this may not be the end of my story, or my novel. Chickadees sometimes get enough gumption to haul in a new mattress and start a second brood. That's what I hear. So I've got my eyes peeled for Round Two. If one of my birds comes back with a glint in his eye and a furniture jones, I'm back in business.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pre-Planning For The Future

Dave got a solicitation in the mail the other day from Neptune Cremation Service, which thought he might want to plan for the future. The only plan we've had so far is to have him go first, so that part was appropriate. And since cremators don't charge by the foot, he's already getting a better deal than I would. In the advertisement, Neptune Cremation Service points out that we can lock in today's prices, and that is a legitimate selling point in these days of rising energy costs. It's not easy to burn people thoroughly--we're seventy percent water, and it takes a lot of energy. That water weight is a big deal. If a woman succumbed during her period, she could end up smoldering for days. Fortunately, this doesn't happen often. Most deaths occur to people who happen to be nearby a woman having her period.

We also get mail from funeral homes. Most of them also remind us of the need to plan for the future, even though that is so much more challenging than planning for stuff that's already happened. Some of them up the ante by recommending pre-planning. But pre-plannig is what I'm already doing. I'm perpetually at the stage before planning, and that is why I'm unlikely to respond to this sort of advertisement. I am also not reassured by these outfits' tendency to use the word "pre-need." It should go without saying. People tend to lose a lot of their former charm almost immediately upon death, and something should be done, but you don't want to jump the gun on cremation. Some folks could use a little exfoliation, but that's about as far as it goes.

Neptune Cremation Service brought up some valid points. People move around so much these days that it makes less sense to place one's loved ones in a "local" cemetery. Which means "rest in peace" has turned into "buckle up, because your shiftless son is going to be toting you in a can from sofa to sofa for the next forty years." It's true that embalming and burial are a waste of resources, but cremation is not without its environmental impact. It would make more sense to get dug into the garden; it's not legal everywhere, although you could probably get away with it if you topped it with a little plywood headstone labeled "Fluffy." Better yet is to get staked out for the vultures, but people are excitable, and oddly begrudging of vultures, especially in your urban areas.

But wait! There's more! If we send in the enclosed card--you have to use your own Forever stamp--we can be put in the hopper to WIN A PRE-PAID CREMATION! which is no iPad, but I'd still probably mention it on Facebook if I won. The card insists it is a Confidential Data Card. No information will be released. So it's a little odd that they reveal last month's cremation winner. It's Charmaine Reed, y'all. If you know Charmaine, you might want to check on her to see if she's looking a little, uh, dehydrated.

Dave has cleaned out crematoria before. He used to be in the business of repairing and relining kilns and boilers. His mom sort of expected him to be an engineer, but instead he wore coveralls and scooped out cremation burners. Anyway, he's said many times that he wants to be cremated and have his ashes sent through a lime kiln one last time. I've got a plan too.

I want to have any functioning innards donated to whoever needs them (tip: go for my liver, it's a frickin' miracle worker), but then I would like to be taxidermed. I want my arms up and a fierce expression with big googly glass eyes, and then I want to be interred inside the wallboards of a new and totally useless partition in my house. One that the new owners will be anxious to demolish. They should probably have a pre-plan in place, too.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Learning To Write From Chopin

When I was a kid, I figured Chopin was just mean. It seemed like enough of an imposition on my new skills to load up the key signature with flats and sharps, but then, just to mess with me, he'd flat the flats and sharp the sharps so that the page looked like it was all croutons and no soup. I took it personally. "If he wants me to play an E natural," I whined, "why doesn't he write that instead of making it a double-flatted F sharp?" People get mad when they feel stupid. Which, of course, is kind of stupid.

Well, you get over it. You grow and sharpen yourself up and realize that Chopin liked to hover and flit and dip on the black keys, which are actually easier to play, and was, if not affectionate, not overtly hostile to you at all. But he had eccentricities, and those became your problem. It's one thing to learn how to play three notes in the right hand to every two in the left. Or eight to six; or some other mathematically comprehensible challenge. You can get the hang of that pretty fast. Chopin likes to lull you into complacency and then slide in eleven notes in the right to six in the left. Then in the next measure, twenty-one notes in the right to the same six in the left. Or pi. Or some other thing with no gazintas in it. It's irksome. Everything's going along great and then all of a sudden a bazillion little notes flock in like birds on a wire, and you have to somehow jam the whole chirping mass into a little box without losing any.

First thing you try is to figure out roughly where some of the notes should line up, but it won't work. They won't go. The only way you can do it is to allow part of your mind to come loose. At first it's like a race, and your left hand keeps winning. But finally in one blessed moment of grace your mind lets go and quits trying to make sense of the thing, and there it is, your 21 notes flapping into the sky and back again, and that much more beautiful because Chopin has taken away your sense of control over the music. He's going to slay you with unpredicted beauty.

That moment when it falls into place is exquisite, like a miniature enlightenment, when you allow your mind to court chaos. It's like looking at those 3-D dot-pictures until something gives way and the image assembles and looms, and you can't imagine not being able to see it. It's a little surrender, containing its own relief. And it's something that gets easier with practice. In fact, my problem is not in letting part of my mind come unstrung but in keeping the whole damn thing from kiting away. I want all parts back together and home in time for dinner. I had to quit smoking pot years ago because I couldn't trust my mind not to stay out all night. It's a worry.

Or a jay, or whatever you happen to have on hand.
So for some things, a supple mind trumps a sharp one. The ability to play a screwy passage in Chopin is the same ability that makes writing possible, when it's done right. A writer stretching her thought-muscles tends to look, to an observer, a little distant and dim. But that's the price you pay for metaphor. If I want to describe something by means of something else, I have to cut my mind loose to bob about in experience and sensation until something chinks into place, and when it's right you can just about hear it snap together. You can't force it. I once read an article about writing in which the author said "writing humor is tough. It's as tough as a chicken-fried steak," thus making her own point. She wasn't cutting her mind loose. She was playing Family Feud. "Things that are tough: Survey SAYS?" Bong! Here are your top five answers, including Chicken-Fried Steak. Pick one and stick it in your sentence.

It's the difference between plunking a pigeon with a shotgun and sending a falcon out after it. The falcon will return to you, but you don't know where it's going. You gotta trust the falcon.

No point in trusting the falconer, though. She may be nodding in all the right places, but she looks a little distant and dim, and probably hasn't heard a word you said.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Buried Them

When winter comes, I turn my back on the flowers I've loved all season. See you next spring, if you make it, I say, and then they're on their own. Well, that's one difference between my friend Julie Zickefoose and me. She's a mom, for keeps, and she will tuck her tender plants into her greenhouse and turn on the heat and read to them when they're sick, and come spring they will lick her face and be ready to go out and play, and some of them will have wrens nesting in them that need to be tended to as well. And somehow everybody will get the care he or she needs. Julie is the sort to see everyone's potential. That's what happens when you spend a lot of time caring for baby birds. You see what a wonderful thing can come from what looks, at first, to be an articulated loogey.

An Articulated Loogey
So we were hauling things out of her greenhouse, and she comes upon a bucket of something or other and says "Oh! Would you like some tuberoses?" and then she shovels something into a Ziploc bag for me and that's how I came home with a suitcase full of tuberoses, whatever they are. They look like dried-up old men's ears and noses with the sproingy hairs still attached. I do have faith, as much as any mustard seed, and my faith tells me that Julie would not steer me wrong, but my faith does not go so far as to tell me these particular plants are going to make it. I do not know what a tuberose looks like, and that's not a good sign. It means probably no one grows them in my area and if no one grows them in my area there's probably a good reason.

Still, I'm giving it a go. I went to the Googles and looked up tuberose, and this is what I found, from a Derek Dyer:

Before you begin to plant/order your bulbs, I want to share this with you: The tuberose is one of the most beautiful flowers that our GOD has placed upon His creation. What a blessing it will be for you and your family to witness the tuberoses growing. I tell my customers that the tuberose is e-z to grow, a very hardy plant and that it is "tuff as nails" and to just wait patiently after planting on the Lord (see Psalm 27:14 KJV). Thank you and enjoy!!

Well, I'm all for giving credit where credit is due, but right away I see a problem. I expect most anything would thrive if planted on the Lord, but all I have to plant on is a fudgy acidic clay studded with river rocks. The rocks are all over, and everyone in Portland complains about them. They came to us courtesy of the Bretz Floods, which repeatedly inundated this area about 15,000 years ago, when, by some accounts, the world was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. The Bretz Floods are named after J Harlen Bretz, who had an uphill battle persuading anyone he was not nuts. Darwin had changed the scientific scene, and incrementalism was now in favor, so explaining things using floods of biblical proportions was no longer fashionable. But Mr. Bretz was proven out, and we now know our garden rocks came to us from Montana. The Lord in his wisdom knew that we would eventually invent the post-hole digger, and he sent us all these rocks in order to make us meek, putting us in a good position to inherit the earth.

So that's what I have to plant my tuberoses in. I'll be pulling for them, but it looks like they want a long growing season, which means I should have started them months ago, when it rained for forty days and nights, and that was just in March. It's not going to be easy in an area we don't always eke out a tomato.

I looked up the psalm to see if there were any specific gardening instructions but it just told me to wait on the Lord. And that's fine with me. I've been waiting for ten years for my frost-free gardenia to either bloom or die outright, so I've got lots of patience. I'm just afraid I'll wait all summer and find out the Lord is hanging out in Acapulco with the tuberoses.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Drowning Our Troubles At The Brewery

Burnside Brewery Goddess Molly Fox
Dave called me on his new Mobile Cellular Telephone the other day while he was on a walk and I was home writing. I was at that crucial stage between picking at my hair and looking out the window--that golden moment that comes just before bailing out on getting anything written down at all. And he said he was three miles away from the Burnside Brewery. Which meant if we both started walking in that direction, we'd get there at the same time. To add to the serendipity, the Burnside Brewery--unlike other random places equidistant from both of us at that moment--serves up an India Pale Ale that'll put hair on your esophagus and then comb it all the way down. You throw that much serendipity at a girl and she'd be a plumb fool to turn it down. It would be an insult to the universe.

So off I went. It looked like it might could rain; in other words, it was a normal evening. Nothing to put on rain gear for. Walking is very helpful for my writing. In a good walk I can come up with all sorts of turns of phrase and plot points and such that are polished into brilliance later by my inability to recall them. Portland is noted for its rainfall but it isn't a very big deal. Most of the time it's like fog with punctuation. Sometimes it assembles itself into raindrops but a lot of times it's just moist enough to make an old lady's face-fur gleam like fiber optics.

We settled into a booth at the Burnside Brewery. The booths were elevated on a little platform. I've always been drawn to booths. When I was younger they seemed more canoodly. Now they just make it easier for us to hear each other. We sat on the same side to make it easier yet, and watched Saturday evening unfold outside. First Marilyn Monroe went by accompanied by a generic zombie princess. More zombies followed, interspersed with young people expressing their individuality in their arrangements of clothing that is either ripped or stripey or both. There might have been a zombie event in the vicinity or it might have just been the overflow from Voodoo Donuts on NE Davis meeting the overflow from Voodoo Donuts on SW Third. At any rate, a good time was being had by all, as required. Then came a little ripple of thunder.

Where I grew up, there was a thunderstorm every summer afternoon at four o'clock. That is either true, or it is a tidy memory-packet I've assembled for my nostalgia kit based on a single week in 1968. At any rate, it was not unusual, as it is here. Here in Portland thunder is attended with flying eyebrows of surprise, and, in a public place such as the Burnside Brewery, applause. The air thickened abruptly. Soon the polite smokers hunched under their hoodies at the far end of the parking lot began to stream ominously into the building. Then the parking lot disappeared. The sky dropped a single raindrop a mile wide. The picture window grew a vertical river, in spite of being under wide eaves. Dave and I were so entertained by the scene that it took a while to notice bobbing tables beginning to accumulate in our peripheral vision. We glanced down from our platform to observe that the diners at tables were polishing off their beers with their feet off the floor. An army of wait staff began aerobic floor-squeegeeing. Bright yellow sandwich boards reading "CAUTION: WET FLOOR" floated informatively by. The bar split in two with the bow end sticking straight up before sliding into the sea. A pair of giraffes poked inquisitive noses into the front door. I don't blame them. Noah probably didn't serve a good IPA.

We got 1.02 inches of rain in an hour.  It makes sense. We average 2.5 inches for the month of May, but it had been oddly sunny a lot of the month. We didn't have much time to make up the difference, so down it came. We're a fun-loving bunch, but we're not anarchists. Not most of us, anyway.