Saturday, March 30, 2013

Breast Milk Baby!

Poor Breast Milk Baby is having trouble getting traction in the toy market, even though Bill O'Reilly thought it was creepy, which should have boosted sales in the blue states. What sets BMB apart from the rest of the baby dolls out there is that it can be attached to a child's personal breast region by means of a halter. It snaps right onto little daisies at nipple height and sensors in the daisies produce suckling noises. While Mommy is busy feeding the new baby in the family, the older sister, or brother, can provide the same sort of care for the doll. This is no doubt appealing to a certain sector of young children, and it's probably up to the adults to monitor whether or not the child should wear the dangling babies out on the street like a mama possum. Bill O'Reilly is upset at what he perceives as the early sexualization of the child. (He probably puts "mammal" pretty far down on his list of self-descriptors. And I'm guessing he played with his sister's Barbie in some fashion, probably by himself.)

Staged photo, fake smile.
So Breast Milk Baby isn't doing too well in America, even though there has been plenty of precedent for this sort of thing. The Betsy Wetsy doll goes clear back to the 1950s, when it was Number One on many girls' Christmas lists, leaving Little Chuckie Upchuck and Debbie Doots in the dust. I was given one myself, and can still remember it. You poured a bottle of water in the front end, and it came out the bottom end. I was just old enough to be familiar with the concept of water running downhill and the novelty wore off on Day One. Anyone who thought I would like something I had to clean up after had the wrong girl. My own folks gave up early on getting me dolls. A few filtered in from distant aunts but they were well-neglected. I liked stuffed animals.

So baby dolls in general are probably more appealing to children who have been required to share their space with a real baby. I was that real baby. And I expected to be taken care of or ignored and, in any case, to have no responsibilities whatsoever. My stuffed animals had jobs and personalities and things to do, but they didn't need wiping. The horror! At some point I was deemed old enough to babysit other people's kids, for which I received fifty cents an hour. I was vastly overpaid. As far as I was concerned, I was just there in case the house burned down.

Breast Milk Baby wouldn't have been a hit when I was growing up. Betsy Wetsy came with a bottle and so did most of the rest of us. Mommy was a fully-clothed entity: she had a comfy hourglass figure encased neck to knees in modest cotton. I could see the general shape was different from Daddy's but I was not interested in or provided with much detail. If I search my memory for any such detail, nothing in particular sticks out.

And that is why the painting Daddy hung above the fireplace was so puzzling. One day, I set about to satisfy my curiosity. My neighbor Susie and I together couldn't make it out. She usually had more reliable information about Things Which Must Not Be Said In Front Of The Children than I did, but she was a year younger, so she was puzzled too. The painting in question is of a young, smiling black-haired woman in a red dress. The dress in question stopped short of getting the job done, by my mother's standards. Two smooth globes rose above the top of it. Susie and I had no idea what they were. They looked like little bald heads. We pointed. "Are those her babies?" we asked.

We did not get an answer. We asked again. Still no answer.

Click to embiggen. Any ideas?
The painting was probably a famous one, maybe one in the National Gallery of Art, which was nearby. It can safely be assumed that Daddy picked out the painting. He liked that sort of thing. He liked Sophia Loren. He liked her a lot. After Susie and I asked our question, I'm thinking Mommy liked it a lot less. She might have thought it could only lead to trouble.

55 years later, she's been proven right. Because I've just wasted a ton of time trying to find the painting on line. I've Googled "painting red dress boobs" and have only scratched the surface of the five billion images that came up. Dave's offered to try to help narrow it down, maybe some day I'm off running errands. So there's that.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Does It Take To Urn Your Love

There are some rare subsets of humanity out there, such as people
with AB-negative blood, people who can roll their tongues upside down, and necrophiliacs, but even in these select groups, Kristina Ehrenborg-Staffas is something of an oddity. She is the Swedish woman who was recently charged with "violating the peace of the deceased," which, if you ask me, is over-delicate. It wasn't the peace she violated. More the deceased themselves.

Broadly defined, necrophilia refers to the practice of sexual gratification with those who are well past the age of consent. If memory serves, this is not the first time I have mentioned it in this space, and I'm sorry to resurrect the subject, but it will not stay down. Am I especially drawn to these stories? Of corpse not. Hey: some people think Paul Ryan is sexy. I'm not here to judge.

Motivation runs the gamut. Some people do not like to talk during sex. Some people really don't. Modern psychologists have identified ten varieties of necrophilia, but in the most common variety, the draw is that the object of desire doesn't go away. One assumes that the practitioner usually has a problem with that.

Whatever the incentive, the practice has probably been around as long as people have. Officials in ancient Egypt took the precaution of letting the prettier dead women ripen for three or four days before handing them off to the embalmers, who were known to be a randy bunch. In other societies, it was thought noble to have sex with the corpses of virgins--a matter of solemn duty. Because their souls would never find peace otherwise. It was doing them a favor. Here we have an example of starting with a conclusion ("I would like to have sex with a virgin") and then cooking up a justification. That's another enduring human practice. Even today, people start with the conclusion ("I love money") and work backwards until they have the rationale ("trickle-down theory"). The parallels with screwing the innocent are remarkable.

But in general, most people do look askance at the practice, which is reviled across most religions. "Thou shalt not have sex with dead people" is pretty much the missionary position. Even individuals with no religious affiliation usually believe that necrophiliacs come to a bad end.

So that's why Sweden, an otherwise tolerant nation, has Ms. Ehrenborg-Staffas in custody. What makes her stand out, even among necrophiliacs, is that in her case the phrase "jumping someone's bones" is not as metaphorical as we'd like it to be. When it comes to sex, normal people might reasonably disagree on whether it's the meat or the motion. For your standard necrophiliac, it is definitely not the motion. For Ms. E-S, it isn't even the meat. The object of her affections is a collection of skeletons, including five skulls and an entire spine. Many people are drawn to deep-set eyes and strong cheekbones, but still. It is suspected she arranged her bone collection in sexual situations. She had enough material in her possession to mount a plausible tableau with a UPS man and a pair of pool boys.

I have observed before that although I am fine with venerating the dead, I'm not that particular about venerating their remains. You all can make tomato cages out of mine if you want, because I will be through with them. And yet I do find this woman's collection a little disturbing.  I've searched my mind for places a person might score a human skeleton, and none of the possibilities is real appealing. And she has a whole set. What's next?

If there's anyone out there looking for a good piece of ash, I don't want to know about it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Flatulence Tax

If you really want to get on my good side, you'll find me a fossilized termite fart. Nothing would please me more. I wasn't even aware that such a thing existed until I perused a National Geographic magazine and there it was: a blob of amber, or fossilized tree sap, containing a termite in flagrante pootus. What a find! I thought. What are the odds that a booger of tree sap would not only trap a termite but preserve his gaseous eruptions for eternity? I was reminded of the photograph of the grizzly bear standing in the stream, his toothy jaws perfectly framing a doomed, leaping salmon. One-in-a-billion shot, I thought. Then I saw more and more of them. Apparently, one needed only to come to the right spot and set up a tripod. A significant portion of the salmon population travels to the ocean to gain weight for three or four years and then finds its way back to the waters of its birth following a primeval instinct to become bear poop.

Turns out the fossil termite farts are the same kind of deal. Tree sap has buried plenty of termites over the years, inasmuch as they are in the wood-chomping business, and trees tend to be mainly wood. And it further turns out that termites do only two things: they chomp wood, and they fart. It's not easy to metabolize wood: it takes a village of bacteria to do it. The bacteria are working in permanent overtime status, and as a result, termites are a regular methane machine.

Literally: 1/4 of the methane production of the world can be traced to termites. It's a problem, because methane is a major greenhouse gas, more potent in disrupting the climate than even carbon dioxide. Fans of fossil fuel consumption like to hold up the lowly termite as the villain in this piece, but it should be noted that the termite population has not changed much over the millennia, so their contribution to the atmosphere in the form of farts is probably static and they are not to be blamed for the current spike in greenhouse gases. "But if we could get rid of all the termites," they say, "couldn't we keep pumping all that fossil fuel into the atmosphere for another hundred years?"

As if. Tom Delay was in the pest-control business and even he couldn't get rid of all the termites in the world. This stuff is hard. We can't even bring down the numbers of Republicans infesting the House of Representatives with The Vote and access to factual information.

Termites are not the only source of methane, however, as I am in a particularly good position to know. But even outside our house, there are animals producing more than their allotment of methane. Herbivores, mostly. Cows and other vegetarians are famous for it. It isn't easy to digest plant material. Cows can't even do it without throwing up a little in their mouths. And since we have artificially augmented the planetary number of tasty cows, there has been an uptick in flatulence traced to bovines. It's a problem. New Zealand was the first country to try to do something about it. Not cork the cows; but try to mitigate damages to the atmosphere in a responsible way, by assessing a tax on the owners of cattle and sheep, of which they have a great many.

This is a sensible approach. One of the reasons greenhouse gases have gotten to be such a terrible problem is that the things that produce them are artificially cheap, because no one is being asked to pay for cleaning up after them. Those who whine about the free market and how vital it is are sitting on top of a stacked deck. If the consumers of fossil fuels, and hamburger, were required to pay the full cost of their use, the free market would reflect some way different choices. "I guess I could take the train and eat fewer bananas," we'd say.

It's a simple concept. If I poop in your well, I owe you. For some reason, though, we give people a pass, if they have really massive amounts of poop, and the well is only the atmosphere that has sustained us. An atmosphere that, true, has had different compositions in different eras, producing climates that have varied over time; but if we had our druthers, and a clear choice, we'd probably opt for the climate that allowed us to flourish, and not the one that only sustains termites.

So yes. New Zealand attempted to tax the purveyors of livestock to counter their emissions. And the idea was batted down rather handily, once opponents began calling it a "flatulence tax." Hell, people get traction here talking about Death Taxes, even though no one has ever been taxed for dying, or Job-Killing Taxes, whatever that means. This, on the other hand, really was a flatulence tax. That doesn't mean it wasn't a good idea.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mouse Droppings

It's spring. The daphne is blooming, the people dressed up as the Statue Of Liberty are hawking tax preparation offices in the strip malls, and the scent of Windex hangs in the air. The annual ants came in last week and set up a bivouac in the kitchen from which to run operations for the next few months, and we have been casting a blessing of Windex over their tiny asses, in what amounts to a minor harassment of the entire organism, which is 40,000 ants strong. We will continue to do so until the day, perhaps in early July, that they decide on their own to move outside. It's what we do.

When we consider our complete inability to budge our annual ant population in an area as small as our kitchen--not to mention my inability to rout a replicating cold virus in an area as small as my nose--it is ever more wonderful to contemplate the problem that has challenged scientists in Guam, where an army of brown snakes has invaded and multiplied, and cattywamped the local ecosystem. The scientists are trying to come up with a plan to eradicate the invaders and restore the balance of native wildlife. It's a daunting task. The jungle is much bigger than our kitchen and much, much bigger than my nose, and it's going to take some creativity to come up with an idea. But that's what good science does. You must have facts and you must have education, but without creativity science does not advance.

Thus Friedrich Kukele dreams of a snake biting its own tail and wakes up knowing the structure of the benzene ring. Thus an apple drops on Isaac Newton's head so hard it smacks a theory right out of it. These people succeeded because of the natural ingenuity of the unfettered mind, as much as any artist or musician.

Or, in this case, the very same sort of collaborative creativity exhibited by frat boys with desires, curiosity, a week off, and buckets of alcohol, without which they will never achieve a lifetime of regrettable body art or a possibly fatal road trip.

Yes, the scientists are going to airdrop dead baby mice spiked with Tylenol and wearing parachutes over the jungle in Guam.

This had to be a group effort.

"Ideas, guys, we need ideas." Jason taps a whiteboard with his marker.

"Let's bop them on the head!" Ethan is excited. He bounces up and down in his seat.

"You first," Zach says.

Ethan reconsiders. "Let's drop things on their heads from a great height!"

BEAN THE SNAKES, Jason writes on the whiteboard.

Katie, off in the corner, rolls her eyes. "Snakes have notably small heads," she says, feeling tired already.  "I think your beaning success rate will be vanishingly small. Perhaps we can come up with something that, I don't know, works with nature and doesn't rely so much on adolescent fantasy."

BEAN THE SNAKES is rubbed off the whiteboard.

"I know! Let's harness the abilities of a natural enemy of the snakes."

"Mice!" Ethan puts in. "Mice hate snakes!"

"And yet--" Katie rolls her eyes--"oddly enough, they are not known for being particularly aggressive toward snakes."

"We use the brooding females. Their protective maternal instinct will kick in over their fear, especially if we arm them. We can give them tiny little hammers! I can totally manufacture a tiny little hammer using 3-D printed material technology."

"Awesome," Jason says. Ethan runs out of the room.

Katie rolls her eyes again. "You're not going to get a mouse to march up to a snake and smack it with a hammer. Especially not a brooding female. They have a forked uterus with fetuses lined up on either side all the way up to the armpits. Once she's pumped them out, she is not going to care if she comes up a couple short."

"How do you know?"

"I just do."

Ethan runs back in brandishing a tiny prototype hammer and the men Superglue it to a mouse's head. The mouse takes two steps, tips over frontward and pedals its rear feet in the air. "Shit," Ethan says. "I already made 10,000 hammers."

The room is quiet for a few moments.

"I know! Katie, you said there is an excess of baby mice?"

"Depends on your perspective."

"But there is no shortage. We can glue the tiny little hammers to the baby mice and drop them on the snakes! It's perfect! If we drop them from high enough. We can do a blitzkrieg!"

The room fills with swooping arms, rat-a-tats and World War II bombing-raid plane noises. BEAN THE SNAKES goes back up on the whiteboard. Katie's eyes are, at this point, permanently rolled up.

"Problem," Katie says.

"What now?"

"Several things. One, PETA is going to have a conniption. Dropping baby mice out of an airplane! Two, our snakes are not on the ground waiting for death from the sky. They live in the trees. They're going to be mighty hard to bean."

"We could pump a painkiller in the mice. They won't feel a thing. Matthew, go dope up a mouse with Tylenol and see if you can drop it on a snake head. And as for the trees--"

"We could drop them in by parachute! Tiny little parachutes." Ethan looked ready to bolt from the room again.

"Too slow," Zach puts in, hurriedly scratching figures on a pad. "Can't obtain beaning speed."

"Tiny little parachutes, and tiny little hammers!"

"This is getting complicated."

"No wait. This could totally work. The baby mice get hung up in the trees by their parachutes. The snakes eat the mice and choke on the chutes."

Matthew races back into the room. "Dudes! Snake ate the mouse and dropped dead! It's got to be the Tylenol!"

"Katie and Gentlemen, I believe we have a plan," Jason says, as Katie wades through a sea of fist-bumps, cheers, and high-fives in search of the Tylenol. "And you know what that means!"

Road trip!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Month In IKEA

My colds all follow the same script. There is the inciting throat tickle; the sore throat and fever; then the march of the phlegm brigade; sneezing and congestion; and finally, a dry hacking cough for a day or two, and we're done. A week, tops. The dry cough is the worst. Nothing alleviates it, although there is medicine that will transform it into a dry, mentholated cough.

So when I got my inciting throat tickle in the airport in Fiji on January 20th, I thought: well, at least I'll be done with this before I give a reading of Trousering Your Weasel at the bookstore. And judging from the crush of humanity and humidity in the Fiji airport, I should be grateful it's not Ebola. People who are not me love that kind of heat, but I associate it with lying wretched on the linoleum floor in front of the black oscillating fan in August in Washington, D.C. in 1960, and other tropical diseases.

My throat did get sore, but that misery was eclipsed by the fact that my ears sealed up on the airplane and never flopped back open again.

After two weeks, they still hadn't. "Have you tried yawning?" people inquired, one after the other. No! Really? I am nearly sixty and I've never heard of the yawning trick, you annoying shit. Young mothers steered their children away from me as I walked down the street repeatedly gaping like a carp and yanking on my earlobes. I still didn't have congestion. Then, all out of order, came the dry, hacking cough. "I've still got three days before my reading," I thought. "I should be done by then."

The cough continued unabated, especially when I tried to talk. I quit talking two days before the event in an attempt to rest my throat, a nearly unprecedented phenomenon which left Dave confused as to whether to enjoy it or be worried sick. The dry, hacking cough remained in force for a solid week, with one two-hour break in the middle, during which I had my reading. It was a little miracle, for which I was advised to credit God, who intervened on my behalf because he really wasn't up to wading into that business in Syria.

And then the cough subsided, followed by--we are three weeks into this thing now--the beginning of major congestion, which appeared to be having no effect against the invading virus, and so was amplified by a surge of phlegm soldiers, which emptied into my hankie in such quantities that it seemed my head should fold up like a drained juice box. On Day 24, my left ear unclogged for several minutes and then thought better of it. A few days later the mucus quit running but kept accumulating and filled up every available space inside my head like a herd of unemployed twenty-year-olds in a house full of sofas. And then the sneezing began. One after the other. FAGLAVIK! FORHOJA! SNOIG!

That's when it hit me. OMG. My cold went to IKEA and it can't get out.

That's what happened to Dave and me. We went in to IKEA for something specific. Escalators herd you straight upstairs. I didn't notice at the time, but there are no down escalators. We did maneuvers through office furniture, bookcases, and bathroom furnishings, and finally located our section, selected our item, and tried to make our way back. In IKEA, there is no way back. Retracing your steps requires a sort of reverse peristalsis that their staff is not equipped to clean up after. We were instead directed to the exit by large one-way arrows on the floor aisles, and so we began our odyssey, kinking around the store like farts in a bellyful of intestines. There are no windows. I have a good sense of direction but after four turns I had lost all sense of the exit. "This is ridiculous," Dave said. "Oh look: picture frames," I said. We got some traction in the pillow department and gained momentum through glassware, until Dave bogged down at the tumbler display. Linens were next. I could use some new curtains. I pawed through the samples. "There's a shortcut here, it says," Dave said, pointing at a sign. We headed that way.

"Look at this sweet vase!" I said. "We don't need any more vases," Dave said. "But it's so cheap!" I said. "We have a million vases," Dave said. "Look at this price!" I said, to his back, which was disappearing around the bend. I caught up fast. He'd gotten hung up. "Look at this sweet drawer divider!" Dave said.

Ten minutes later, I was pleased to see another display of curtains. "Hold up," I said. "There's more curtains here."

"They're the same ones," Dave said. Pshaw. I'm the one with the good sense of direction, not him. Holy shit. They WERE the same ones. I was rattled. "Okay, run! Run! And this time, no shortcuts!"

The exit doors finally came into view. They are easy to find. You start at the entrance doors and follow the arrows for forty-five minutes.

I feel sorry for my cold. But enough is enough, I told it. Grab some Swedish meatballs like everyone else and get the hell out of Dodge.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Layover Trilogy: Lift This

The chin at rest.
My strategy for combating wrinkles, to the degree I have one, is to harness the face-plumping power of ice cream. Even the enormous Estee Lauder wrinkle lifting serum ads that I studied for seven hours in LAX did nothing to persuade me to set aside any of my beer money for a potion. But in the eighth hour, the wrinkle between where my eyebrows used to be had deepened enough to be in danger of silting up. By the time we had trudged off to go sit stark upright in an airborne can for the next twelve hours, I could slip my boarding pass in there and keep both hands free for the carry-on.

But efforts to turn back the spotted hands of time are never successful. Most of them manage to emphasize the very signs of age we're trying to hide. Worse, people who wear makeup are doomed to wear it always, because without it they look drawn and sick and there will be no shortage of people to point it out. Whereas I, who have not worn makeup since age 16, look like shit all the time and everyone's good and used to it. Plus, I've gotten an extra fifteen minutes of sleep my whole life.

It's when people try to combat something as inevitable as wrinkling that they really start to get into trouble. Lipstick begins to migrate up the wrinkles until your upper lip looks like a river delta. By the second face-lift, everything you need to smile with is behind your ears. By the fifth, all your former faces need to be done up in a snood behind your head. People, this is silly. What we need to understand is that we need wrinkles. Wrinkles are our friends.

Because, honey? Your skin is retired. You may still have to put on a PowerPoint presentation but your skin is down at the Legion Hall swapping tall tales. Your skin can't remember if it's Tuesday or Saturday and it's not planning to get out of its pajamas all day. Your chin is now lying in its own hammock and it's never been more comfortable. Your skin used to cling to your skeleton and follow its every move, but now it's free. It's going places. Your bones are only there to offer suggestions.

No longer are you at the mercy of overbearing collagen. If someone taped your elbow skin to the bathroom sink, you could still take a shower and use the toity and be halfway down the hall before having to turn back. Your skin is free, and so are you.

But this is why you need your wrinkles. You're lying there on your side, relaxed, nearly asleep, and your upper lip has just begun to mosey over the pillow. You begin to register the idea that you can actually feel your upper lip wrinkles folding in place. Yes: your lip is pleating up like an accordion. It is. Don't be a hater. Your skin is retired. If you didn't have wrinkles to tuck it in place, your lip would puddle over the pillow and head for the edge of the mattress. Without your gathering stitches, you would have to hoist your upper lip every time you wanted to poke in a Cheeto. Without your wrinkles, your face would billow in the wind. Your ass would flap. Your upper arms would take out a whole row during a standing ovation.

You don't need a serum to lift your wrinkles. You need to lift your attitude. Before it's fallen, and it can't get up.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Layover Trilogy: The Rosetta Stone

Five hours into my eight-hour layover in LAX, I have begun a new game of Travel Scrabble with my companion. Travel Scrabble is compact and ridgy so that the tiles will snap into place and not become dislodged if the board were to, say, suddenly sail through the air toward the Cinnabon dumpster. The board is clear. I have one vowel and two possible three-letter words. I had already decided to take at least fifteen minutes for my turn in order to give my companion some much-needed time for reflection. After a minute I have bored myself and snapped down my word. My companion leans back, cracks his fingers, and settles in like a bear in winter. I drift.

We are in the international airport. The Estee Lauder ad for Perfectionist wrinkle lifting serum shines from every single wall. But wait! Could it be? They are not the same. Yes: each one is in a different language. A completely different alphabet! My lord. It is the Rosetta Stone. Right here in LAX. A good scholar could, given enough time, discover the key that unlocks almost any language. Could discover how to say "New! The first wrinkle lifting serum to use CP+R technology" in every tongue known to mankind. Right next to the English version is an ad using some kind of characters. Letters in our alphabet correspond to sounds, so that speech can be transcribed. Characters may have nothing to do with sounds. They're called characters because they're like little personalities all to themselves. They're pictures. Of things, mostly. So there may be a stroke that depicts "tree" and another that depicts "woman" and we're supposed to know if this character represents Mother Nature or Dry, Scaly Skin. Not only that, but instead of reclining comfortably across the page like letters, the characters are strung up by the neck, and it's up to us to see how they're hanging. The system is almost completely inscrutable to all but about two billion people, so this is a rare opportunity for someone with a lot of time between flights to crack the code.

It's not easy. The stroke for tree, for instance, can mean tree, or maybe, because of implied height, "basketball-player," and the stroke for sky can mean sky, or, possibly, the concept of "strategy," which apparently used to sound like the word for sky a few centuries ago; and with the addition of a small dash halfway up the tree-stroke on the right ("squirrel"), suggesting quick movement, gives us the character tree-squirrel-sky, or "pick-and-roll offense." Not to be confused with the character with the squirrel-dash placed higher near the sky ("bat") or at the base of the tree ("plummet," "rabies," or "a walk in the park"). It is a system without mercy. Sloppy penmanship dooms the author to obscurity.

This Rosetta-Stone business is serious scholarly work. It takes a lot of concentration, and there is no guarantee a person can pursue it and prevail at Scrabble too, especially when playing with a man who has no sense of the passage of time. Especially when he has a nicer rack.

Look! There is a whole little mob of characters on the Korean version, all corresponding to the compact English "New!" I study, and after a few hours, its mystery is revealed: Dear Leader on a pedestal, Dear Leader on a pedestal with X's over his eyes,  and then Dear Leader on a pedestal again. A native speaker will get it right away. But what a load to lug around, in place of new!--a slim dart of a word from a git-er-done language. New! Crisp, sharp, pins its meaning to the mat and rolls off, ready for action. Yeah, baby. That's my language. Big, muscular, agile English, all swagger and punch, and home to a thumping vocabulary, a treasury of words stolen from everyone and everywhere, the echoes of one conquered people after another. And words admired from a thousand voyages and stashed into the luggage on the way home. They're all ours now, nimble, sly, supple, and all of them slingable. Like the choice chunk of Middle English that I could sling at this Scrabble game right now. If I had a "U."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Layover Trilogy: Estee Lauder Is Dead But She Still Looks Good

There isn't as much to do during an eight-hour layover in LAX airport as you'd think. Once you've learned everything you can about your immediate environment, all that's left is to learn it over, harder. If you happen also to be playing Travel Scrabble with a man who always wins because he takes up to forty-five minutes to consider what move will jam the board up the worst until you're so sick of looking at the game that you drop in some dumb-ass word as soon as you get the chance so that it will at least appear that time is not standing still--say--you have lots of time to study your surroundings.

Such as an enormous ad for Estee Lauder Perfectionist wrinkle cream featuring an attractive 23-year-old model who, indeed, seems to have her wrinkle problem well in hand. The ad proclaims that their product is "the first wrinkle lifting serum using CP+R technology," and I have no basis upon which to dispute it. In fact, I suspect it is true. There may be only a limited number of wrinkle lifting sera out there, and even if one or two of them use CP+R technology, they probably wouldn't say they were the first unless they really were. Such a bold statement, so easily disproved. And they mean business--you can tell because it's a serum. "Save the serum!" the mortally wounded scientist hollers into the wind as the precious bottle goes whacketing down the swollen river and the life of a major protagonist hangs in the balance. Serum is serious.

My companion places five tiles on the Scrabble board, hesitates for several minutes with his finger on the last, and peels them back off again.

But wait. "Serum" specifically refers to the clear fluid obtained from various animal tissues, such as blister goo, or blood with the red crunchy bits taken out. Can Estee really go around claiming to have rendered the snot out of critters for her potions? I decide that the word is being employed in a poetic manner, in the service of marketing, and as long as no outrageous claims are being made, no harm is being done. "Goo," after all,  would not have the same emotional appeal to a potential customer facing the heartbreak of looking her age. Estee gets a pass, I conclude charitably, as my companion places his tiles and begins laboriously to tot up his score.

He has used all his letters, and yet five of them are adhered to other letters in such a way that there is no real opportunity to hang any good words on them. I slap down a word in a clear spot devoid of bonus squares, squandering my "X." I fire up the wrinkles between where my eyebrows used to be, and resolve to get to the bottom of CP+R technology. I look it up. CP+R stands for Correct, Protection, and Repair. That's irritating right  there. Why not Correction, Protection, and Repair? Or Correct, Protect, and Repair? Get me Edit!

But then it gets interesting.  Perfectionist is made of a patented combination of natural artemia extract, whey, and Chlorella vulgaris, which is not, as it sounds, something you might pick up in the locker room at the Y, but a micro-alga. Which means that for only ninety bucks per eensy beansy bottle, you can rub your face with a paste of cheese, pond scum, and dead brine shrimp. Brine shrimp live in very salty water and yet rarely come out wrinkly; they may be on to something.

My companion taps on the table with his tiles. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tappity tap. Tap tap tap. I glance at my tile rack and wonder if the Scrabble dictionary accepts "FUCKER."

After four weeks of applying the pond scum-brine shrimp-cheese serum, the skin looks (it says here) redensified, and its collagen-building power is doubled. I haven't asked my skin to go to any extra trouble for me, so its power, doubled, would still be zero. Also, one is advised to "pay particular attention to your deepest wrinkles." Which, I don't know, seems as though it could go without saying. I've got another four hours before I have to even think about finding my gate.  Plenty of time to imagine which hopeful customer, in receipt of an extravagant bottle of ointment, decides to dab a bit in the laugh lines at the corner of her eyes and trust fairy poop to fill in the big suckers.

My companion, with due deliberation, lays out his last tiles and collects an extra eighteen points for my stranded letters. The skin between where my eyebrows used to be knits up in a serum-defying way. I'd try the stuff myself, if it were free, and came with a beer.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Wicked Glitch

A few of you have written to me to let me know my little email notifications have been showing up in hieroglyphics. "Murrmurrs," it starts out, and then elaborates thus: !--[if gte mso 9]!--o false 18 pt l8 pt o false false false...

Et cetera.

Well, it's catchy, all right, but it's not ideal, from the standpoint of communication. I admit that. I feel a twinge of apprehension, and then I launch my standard response to anything I don't understand, which is to pretend everything's fine. Walk in bleeding from the armpits and pixilated with a purple rash, and I'll tell you "oh that! I had that before. It's nothing. You'll be right as rain in no time." Then comes the whump sound and soon you and your suit are stretched out in a box. I embrace denial as a life strategy.

My computer's view of me.
And in things related to computers, sometimes it works out. Sometimes you just have to turn off the machine and give it a good night's rest and everything's sunshine and waffles the next morning. I wrote back to my concerned readers. "Yeah, I don't know what that's all about," I wrote. "Sometimes the Google Blogger platform just has an epizootic. There's no explaining it. Anyway, it's nothing in my control. Thanks." It suits me to think that nothing is in my control. The alternative is to consider that it might be, but I'm too stupid to fix it. And my preference leans strongly toward feeling not stupid. It's odd: I'm comfortable being ignorant of the mysteries of the universe, with no urge to make up a cast of deities to give it some order, but when it comes to computers I believe in a whole pantheon of gremlins and bogeymen and eagerly await the Armageddon wherein the mighty glitch-slayers prevail against the viruses and hackers and we all live happily ever after in the Cloud.

So I kick the can down the road. "I'll look into it," I say, "just as soon as we get to the bottom of this fiasco in Benghazi." I have been led to believe this is a grown-up approach.

Besides, it's not really a problem, I tell myself. People can still click on the title and it will go straight to my blog. They know that, right? Then I remember the people who complained that my posts are funny but they're really short and end in the middle of a sentence, and I realize that no, some people don't actually get that at all.

You can set up your email notifications to deliver the entire post, or just a snippet that cuts off after a certain number of letters. I chose the snippet because I want people to go to my blog where they trip the magic people-counter. But I've never been completely thrilled with the notification. For one thing, although I put my posts in at 3AM every Wednesday and Saturday, Google doesn't fire off the alert until later in the evening. "Let's do dinnertime," Google says, with the sensibilities of a telemarketer.

Then I looked at my people-counter and discovered that my audience has dropped off quite a bit in the last couple months. So I logged into Blogger Help Forum and typed out my question. I had no real hope this would work out. Even if someone did hammer out a reply, it would come with instructions that I'm thirty years too old to understand, and I would give up, feeling irritated, which I prefer to feeling stupid. "First, determine the ID or class of the relatively positioned column, clear your browser's cache/cookies, and then simply add the following between your style and /style tags..." it would say, and I would say, "go fuck yourself."

But, miracle of miracles, the next morning I had an email in the King's English from a glitch-slayer explaining that it appeared I was cutting and pasting my posts into my template from a Microsoft Word document, and that led to a formatting problem. And gave me a set of intelligible instructions to counteract this. I don't know what "formatting" means, but they had me. I do write my posts in Word and when I first started blogging I tried to paste them into the template, but they went straight to hieroglyphics, so I got in the habit of retyping them instead. But faced with putting in six posts in advance of my trip to New Zealand, I tried the cut-and-paste again, and lo, this time it worked. Cool! Sometimes Google improves things on its own, and it appeared it had. Except, apparently, it still sent all its spare hieroglyphics to the email notification.

So if some of you are reading your first Murrmurrs in months because you read "--[if gte mso 9]!" and you thought I'd lost my touch, settle in! You've got some reading to do. Pootie and I will be here playing Scrabble Twister until you've caught up.