Saturday, June 29, 2013

For Women Who Think On Their Feet

I almost recycled the Footsmart catalog without looking at it, when the phrase "lower body health" caught my eye. For a lot of us women, the area below the waist covers a lot of ground. For some of us, portions that had once been in the top half have changed allegiances. And if this catalog can keep all that territory healthy, it's worth a look.

Turns out it's a catalog of shoes, but not just any shoes: shoes that solve problems. Hey, if I can palm off any personal maintenance duties on my clothing, I will. Gone are the days a cobbler smacked out a leather last and made it do for both feet. Today's shoes can straighten you up, massage your toes, take the stink out, remember the grocery list and change the channel. The cushiony ones will walk to the store for you. Distribute your body's weight evenly no matter how much porkier one side is than the other. Sense you are about to tip over and fling you back upright again. There are inserts and pads and mesh. One pair will give you two paid sick days after the first six months of wear. Many offer arch support, and others encourage the arch to make it on its own. Some even breathe.

They've got flip-flops that, instead of having one annoying bit of rubber between the toes, annoy all
five equally. Has your heart quit beating? No problem. If your blood puddles up around your feet, they've got socks that will spank it back up. If you pronate, supinate, or procrastinate, there's a shoe here for you. Do you have Morton's Neuroma, described as a stinging sensation between the piggy that had roast beef and the piggy that had none, and caused by wearing high heels? Are you unwilling to trade in your fuck-me pumps for pass-the-potato-chips flats? You don't have to. They'll sell you inserts filled with goo, and a little hit of Oxycontin is released with each step so you can keep those sassy stilts on. Your feet will be so happy your ovaries will unionize for better conditions. Diabetes, arthritis, bunions, calluses, hammertoes, and borderline personality disorder will all succumb to the right pair of shoes.

The catalog got so much traction from its magic shoe technology that it careened into the magic underwear business in the back pages. And here is where the engineering truly shines. Here we are
introduced to enough stays, bones, gussets, wires, splints, and armatures to completely eliminate the need for your own skeleton, or the muscles to operate it. And it's all thanks to the same innovative technology that made the boneless chicken industry possible.

A generous crisscross strap vest with power mesh helps your posture. "Just the slightest pressure reminds you to stand up straight," the product claims. (Their spike-studded pajamas are already credited with converting much of America to side-sleeping.) The vest, it is noted, can be worn inside or outside the clothing. We assume the Queen is not on the mailing list.

And, in a major breakthrough, the Glamorise full-figure soft cup bra manages to be supportive without using underwires. It does, however, have reinforced side panels with "gentle bones" harvested from your smaller vertebrates. I'm getting one. It comes in a 32-hamster all the way up to a 44-double-marmot.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shower Spiders and Bare Arms

I took a shower at the cabin. It's a tiny little shower. Not that much room for anything but your feet. You could get four feet in there if their owners are friendly. It's entirely adequate, but it feels a little too small to share with a spider.

I don't have a fear of spiders. I know people who do, and they're really loud. I think spiders are cool, and if there's one in the house I usually ignore it, or if someone else in the house is struck down by the willies, I'll escort the spider outside and wish it the best of luck. But even though I don't have a particular scenario in mind involving a spider and myself in the shower that ends badly for me, I'm a little uncomfortable sharing the space. I probably share the space more often than I'm aware of. I'm really nearsighted and once I take my glasses off I can't tell if there's a spider in there with me. Unless it's one of those big black zippy ones with the thick ankles. I was squinting at a fuzzy dot with suspicion once I got in the shower and then it made a quick zag. I looked at it for a while. If it was planning to zag toward the ceiling, I was planning to let it. But instead it headed down. I lost track of it, because even though my feet aren't very far away from my eyes, they're far enough away so I can't make out the fuzzy dot. The trajectory looked bad, though. I crouched down to keep tabs. And at some point I just decided to
whoosh water at it until it went down the drain. It's not my first choice, but I don't beat myself up about it. There are religions where you are supposed to make an effort not to kill anything. I think that's fine as far as it goes but I already know I kill things inadvertently, tromping on this or that, and if a horsefly lands on my thigh I'm going to smack it straight to heaven, so I just do the best I can and not worry about it. I always tell myself the spider is going to shake itself off and climb back up the drain anyway. I don't know if that's true. All of which led me to think about guns, and their owners.

Because there is a thing that makes gun aficionados different from me, and it's not a thing I understand. I've got lots of friends who like guns, and I like those friends just fine. What I don't get is the passion with which they love guns. There's something about a gun that gives it power over its owner. And I'm not talking about "gun nuts." Regular people, people I like, get all possessive over guns, especially if they think that someone might try to take them away. The closest thing I can think of to compare it to is what happens in Middle Earth when someone gets hold of a ring. I have all kinds of possessions, more than I need for sure, and with the exception of Pootie--and I have more custody than possession of him--I don't have as much passion for any of them as gun owners have for their guns. Guns are preciousss.

It might sound as if I'm making judgments about gun owners, but I just want to understand the pull. I can only surmise. Having a gun and knowing how to use it must give the owner a feeling of power that I don't ever feel. I'd have nothing to compare it to. Beyond that, I suspect that gun owners have a much more developed sense of danger than I do. I imagine that most of them have played out scenes in their heads, not involving deer or ducks, in which a gun would come in handy. To the extent I've ever imagined such a scene, I've imagined ducking out the back door.

I can imagine being in a truly frightening world--a gang-ridden pocket of a city, a war zone--in which I might feel moved to have a gun to protect myself. I don't feel that way in Portland, Oregon in 2013. It's not to say that bad guys don't occasionally turn up and threaten people. But preparing for it, to me, would be like having plans for an underground bunker in case of asteroid strike. I give the threat almost no brain space at all.

I won't deny I might be deluding myself. Here's the thing. I could have a showerful of spiders at any time. But I can't see them. And that works for me. The spiders are out there, and one of them might feel threatened if I accidentally step on it in the shower and be moved to do something about it. But mostly, as long as I don't know about them, we'll all get along fine.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pink Balls Of Doom


It was my friend Lora who recommended the snowberry. "I just love mine," she said. "The flowers are nice, and then you get these lovely pink berries. And it does great in the shade." I bought a snowberry. I have a shady area I'd just as soon not take too elaborate care of. I've been ignoring it for years.

I do the gardening around here, and Dave does the cooking. That way nobody has to eat my cooking, and I get half the year off. I picked up a plant in a gallon pot: "Symphoricarpos, 'Magic Berry.'" A magic berry! Whoa! "Small pink flowers are followed by clusters of attractive rosy berries that attract birds." Birds! Little rosy balls! Who wouldn't want little rosy balls? Nobody, I say, nobody! I tucked the plant behind a tall azalea and next to a clematis and continued my ignoring regimen.

The first year, I didn't notice any little flowers at all, and of course no little rosy balls. But the plant looked happy enough. The second year, it still seemed happy, but no little rosy balls. Years passed. Happy plant. No balls.

This year I noticed a plant way over in another part of the garden that looked a lot like a snowberry. It
was odd. "I guess it re-seeded," I thought to myself, not thinking quite so hard as to wonder how it could re-seed without having formed berries. Later I noticed the snowberry seemed to have gotten entangled in the clematis vine. I decided to hack my way in and see what I could do.

Too late. The snowberry had already given the clematis a wedgie and was fixing to take its lunch money. I began to snip at it until I could see where it was coming up. "Funny," I thought. "I can't believe I planted it this close to the clematis." I began to tug at its roots. Suddenly I saw a movement in the bushes several yards away, and I froze, suspecting a marauding cat that needed to be encouraged out of the yard. I looked for a persuading pebble, but the movement had stopped. I pulled at the plant again, and once again leaves rippled yards away. In every direction.


I followed one branch back to what turned out to be the original plant and tugged on that. Bushes began to vibrate all over the garden. This plant definitely had balls. The original tag gleamed from a twig. "Compact, spreading shrub. Grows five feet tall, spreading to thirteen feet wide by suckers." And each sucker produces a whole new plant that also grows thirteen feet wide by suckers.

And I know just who the sucker was who spread it. Who doesn't like rosy balls?

My friend Lora must be made to suffer for this. I think I'll make her dinner.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tossed In Space

So how did the Russian Space Gerbils and their friends fare? Not so good. The space lizards returned in the same nonchalant state they left, although behavioral experts caution that reptiles play things pretty close to the vest anyway, and reliable inferences about their emotional state cannot always be made. As the former caretaker of an iguana, I can attest to this. I enjoyed believing that Sparky was genuinely fond of me, but lizards walk a fine line between affection and thermoregulation. Anyway, half the space mice died, proving the value of seat belts once and for all; and every one of the gerbils appears to have fatally freaked out. From the standpoint of Mongolian gerbil eradication, the mission was deemed 100% successful, and costs are expected to come down over time.

The truth is, whatever gerbils didn't die were slated to be murdered and examined right here on earth anyway. I suspect that the real reason gerbils were sent to space is that there is someone in the Russian space hierarchy who has it in for gerbils, and bad. I can imagine things coming to this extreme because I am living with a man who loses all sense of proportion when it comes to Eastern Gray Squirrels. He hates them. Ignoring his repeatedly-demonstrated historic inability to kill anything (a trait that helps me sleep at night), he keeps threatening to get a gun and create as many squirrel smithereens as he can.

They don't bother me much. I do want to discourage them from hoovering up all my bird seed, and to that end we purchased a splendid Squirrel-Proof Feeder, one that shuts down the feeding holes if something as heavy as a squirrel clambers onto it. I could have opted for the other kind, the one that triggers a catapult and flings the squirrel at warp speed into the stratosphere when he leans on the perching bar, but I visualized endless cleanup of rodent schmutz on my siding and Dave slowly wasting away, unable to peel himself away from the window.

I trace a lot of this animosity to the Corn Nuts And Baggy Shorts Incident of 1994, but the man is capable of making distinctions. He seemed to enjoy the strenuously adorable Abert's squirrel, with its Ears of Exuberance, that we saw in New Mexico. But probably he tolerated the Abert's squirrel because it was in New Mexico, and not here. The reason he hates squirrels is he has an easily stimulated fret center in his brain, and he believes squirrels are devoted to destroying our house. All of them. They want to scurry into our attic and tear
up our insulation, and then they want to dine on our electrical lines. At some certain point in our future, Dave believes, our house will burst into flames as a posse of evil squirrels chuckles from the neighbor's roof. He does not believe his obsession is unreasonable, because he has a reason, and the reason is that this is what all squirrels want to do. Only the vigilance of his fretting has warded off this eventuality so far. If Dave had the money, he would totally blast the squirrels into space. All of them. Even if they're not all Muslims.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Space Emission

Russian scientists jammed a group of lizards, mice, gerbils, and other animals into a space capsule and blasted them into orbit for a month. They wanted to see how space travel affects living things, apparently forgetting that people have been bobbing about in space for decades now, many of them fluent in Russian. A few more years of progress and they might succeed in firing off some amoebae. They have been blasting men into space for a good while, although mostly healthy, strong, smart men, and not the ones you might have picked out yourself; and then, for the most part, they bring them right back again. Still, it's a good start. Something needs to be done about overpopulation.

One of the puzzles our Russian friends are trying to unravel is the effect of microgravity on sperm motility. (We seldom hear about "zero gravity" conditions anymore, because something somewhere is always tugging on somebody, however feebly.) Will sperms motivate with their usual zeal, or will they just loll about hoping to wander into an egg? Unknown. Sex acts in space, or any kind of space emissions--which we are assured have not yet taken place in an extended trip undertaken by healthy male humans in their prime, wink wink--are fraught anyway. Any sort of poking motion will have the effect of banking the pokee into the corner pocket. But we'd like to think such a thing could be accomplished in a species that, after all, was able to repeatedly negotiate procreative acts in a confined area with two bucket seats, a dashboard, and a stick shift.

It strikes me that sperm motility is the least of the obstacles to space sex. Already we have had to overcome the problem of separation when it comes to matters of the toilet, because what we are attempting to push out fails to detach without the gravity assist. And most of us have seen the video of the astronaut trying to wring the water out of a soaked towel. The water refuses to depart the towel,
instead sliming the astronaut's hands like some alien plasma monster. If we are really going to get into the business of space sex, the old conundrum of who has to sleep on the wet spot becomes quaint. Assuming the wet spot can be induced to detach at all, it will be floating around the space station like a giant loogey. You get enough healthy male astronauts in their prime, it could look like Satan's lava lamp in there.

I'm not sure anyone who thinks we need to look into making space babies should be entrusted with enough money to run a space program.  I can see the upside of getting a bunch of us off the planet, but not if we're going to just go and crap out some other place.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Making A Point

Says here in the paper that some guy in Germany just discovered the reason he'd been having headaches and sinus trouble for the last fifteen years is that he's had a pencil in his head. It was four inches long and went all the way to his eye socket. You would think someone would have noticed at the time it went in, but maybe if it was a clean wound and only the eraser was sticking out, his parents just figured he'd grown a mole. I can imagine this sort of delayed discovery in the U.S.A., because health insurance is so expensive, but you'd think in Germany someone would have x-rayed his sinuses by now. Anyway, a surgeon was duly dispatched to get the lead out.

Photoshop? I don't think so. Sharpie.
When I was in first grade, I too was stabbed with a pencil. The lead broke off in the meaty part of my hand, and there's a scar there to this day. We didn't have as many safety precautions in place as kids do now. No helmets, no shin guards, no seat belts, no locks on the cabinet under the sink with the Drano in it (although liquor cabinets might have been buttoned up), nothing to keep us from sticking a knife in the electrical outlets. There were some attempts at safety made at school. We were all issued tiny round scissors that you could bend up construction paper with, unless you were left-handed, and then you just had to hope it was glue-and-macaroni day.

Memory being what it is, I don't know if I stabbed myself or some other kid did, but I assume it was some little boy, because why would I stab myself in the hand with a pencil? I don't think he meant any harm, either, or I would have remembered who did it. He was just a boy in possession of a sharp object and he felt something needed to be stabbed, fast. He might have been playing World War II and was full of boy-juice and mistook my palm for the stout heart of a Japanese warrior. And I think it was a little boy because little girls hurt each other whole different ways.

Like Murooj Abbas. Murooj sat in front of me in first grade and one day she turned around and asked if she could borrow my brand new big square gum eraser, so I gave it to her. A few minutes later she turned around again with what I would learn years later is called a shit-eating grin on her face. She
held her hand out to mine and dumped in a few crumbs of eraser, and turned around again. I never told anybody. I had grown up to that point with no defenses at all against cruelty and humiliation, because I had never experienced it, even though I had several older siblings. I had no idea what to do, so I just stored it in the only memory-closet I have that is reliably lucid: the humiliation closet. Most of my humiliations in life have been self-inflicted, so each incident of being targeted by someone else is crystal clear. I can tick them off in order, one by one.

Dave also has a scar on his hand from a pencil wound. He says he invited a boy to stab it out of an overdeveloped sense of justice, after he'd stuck a pencil upright under the kid's butt just as he was sitting down. It's one of the things we have in common. We like mountains. We like beer. People want to stab us.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Butlek And Askis Solve Everything

Congressman Butlek entered the windowless room and locked the door behind him. "Good news, boys--it looks like the immigration issue is going to go away before we have to admit we like the cheap labor."

"That's excellent! What happened?"

"No crops to pick. So that is potentially a downside. I've brought in Dr. Doomer of the EPA to bring us up to speed."

"I thought we finally got rid of all the scientists down there."

"We did. He's a volunteer."

Dr. Doomer looked up with an expression of such earnestness that the congressmen turned away in revulsion.

"All right," Congressman Askis began. "Where we at? Is it the drought thing again? C'mon, boys. We can handle this. We just need to move our operations up north, where our old weather has gone. Start some acquisition work in Canada. They don't even know what they have up there. They're just using it to stack moose in. We can get it cheap. And we've still got plenty of water. You been in a 7-11 lately?"

Dr. Doomer cleared his throat. "Well, it's not so easy as just moving things up north. It's not just the temperature and the water table. For starters, we'd have to move the topsoil too."

"Shit, son, our topsoil is moving right now. It's so dry in my district the wind is picking it up and taking it away. All we have to do is get it going in the right direction," Butlek said, waving his arms.

"You mean, change the prevailing wind patterns? We don't have that kind of control."

"Oh, is that how it is with you people? First you tell us we are changing the weather, and then you say we can't change the weather. You can't have it both ways."

"At any rate, it isn't just the temperature, or the water, or the topsoil. We're losing our pollinators too. Our bees are suffering massive die-off from colony collapse disorder. Potentially they're taking our entire food production capability with them. The worker bees all drop dead away from the hive, leaving the females and queen without income."

"Union bees, without a doubt. Lazy fucks."

"They're not lazy, necessarily. In fact beekeepers have been moving them from crop to crop and many suspect they're being overworked. Pesticide use is also being implicated."

"Good riddance. I hate bees. I got stung on the golf course the other day, right on the second hole," Askis grumped, shifting in his seat.

"That was probably a wasp."

"Same thing."

"No, really different. We're talking about the European honey bee."

"French union bees! I knew it! We can solve this. We're Americans. Do we even need pollinators in this day and age? All we need is new crops with more self-motivation. Get Monsanto on the line!"

"I'm afraid it's not feasible. And each single flower needs to be pollinated to ensure a good crop."

Askis drummed his fingers on his desk. "Mexicans," he said. "We'll get the Mexicans back. An army of Mexicans with Q-Tips. We don't even have to offer them a path to citizenship--just a provisional driver's license and a lottery chance for a low-rider. They'll be swarming up here."

"That brings us back to that immigration problem, though. We can't get reelected by bringing in new Mexicans," Butlek pointed out.

"Well, the colored, then. Colored folks with Q-Tips. Nothing sharp," he added.

"They won't do it."

"White folks! Really poor white folks. We're crawling with them."

"White people can't do it. We're not cut out for that kind of work. Something about the hips," Butlek said, standing up and demonstrating an artless waggle.

"Okay--wait. We could make some little pollinating device. Something small and nimble enough to go from flower to flower, but not need paid vacation or health insurance."

Fingers drummed.

"Drones!" Butlek and Askis shouted at once. "Get the Air Force on the line."

"With all due respect," Dr. Doomer put in, "that's exactly what bees do. Nobody does it better. If we merely strove to remove the obstacles to the bees' success, we could..."

"Point taken," Askis said. "Let's get us some bees, then. New bees, with a better attitude. Not so damned entitled. Get China on the line!"

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Ring Around Your Anus

Thanks to the movie Beverly Hills Cop, most of us know that if you put a banana in your tailpipe, your car won't go.

Thanks to The People's Pharmacy, I know that putting a banana in your personal tailpipe makes it easier for you to go. Allegedly, it's just the ticket for hemorrhoids. Insertion is easy, because of the natural taper of the fruit, but that's not what they recommend. You are supposed to apply just a portion of the banana peel to the Affected Area. According to the website, "getting the banana peel to stay in position may be challenging, but no more so than a cabbage leaf." I do not have sufficient experience to refute this. I do know that rigging up a whole banana peel on one of those sanitary napkin belts we used to wear in the olden days is not likely to be useful, let alone socially acceptable. The belts worked fine if you didn't move, but take two steps and everything has migrated north.

Hemorrhoids are very common. By middle age, some 50% of the population is bothered by them. The other half doesn't much mind. They tend to flare up and die down, but occasionally can become quite debilitating. It is said that life-threatening bleeding from hemorrhoids is rare, but it could be that that sort of thing just never makes it into the obituaries. If things do get especially dire, surgery is recommended. Outcomes are usually good. When it comes to the anus, we all like a good outcome.

If you find piles starting to get the upper hand, you might need to be examined with a proctoscope. A proctoscope is a long tube with an asshole at each end, I've heard, but that might be unfair. After all, the proctologist is just trying to help. They're like anyone else--they take pride in their work. If they didn't, they wouldn't have proctoscopes named after them, like Kelly's Rectal Speculum. Or they wouldn't attach their name to the position a patient assumes during a rectal exam ("Sim's Position"). For the record, if anyone wants to name something after me, I'd prefer a star.

Everybody specializes these days. We don't have many general practitioners anymore like we did when I was a kid, and Mom would call Dr. Martin to come over when I came down with the punies. Dr. Martin always called my mom "Mother," and one time when I was sick in bed he just poked his head in the door long enough to sniff, and then wrote out a prescription for penicillin. He was either very good or not so good. He was also, years later, the first person who performed a gynecological exam on me, which was mortifying, because we had never had that kind of relationship before. I felt humiliated enough before he went over to the clothes hook to sniff my underpants. The man was a sniffer.

Anyway, nowadays doctors have specialties. I'm guessing the good sniffers dont' get into proctology. In fact, there's a built-in dilemma about consulting proctologists because there's something suspect about a doctor who wants to be in that field. On the other hand, in any class of med students, someone's got to be near the bottom, and there's always an opening in proctology.

There are benefits. If you tickle someone's ass with a feather, you are likely to generate a reflex called the Anal Wink. I'm not sure what the presence or lack of an anal wink can tell you, medically speaking, but I can imagine that you might be moved to perform the test anyway, when you're in an under-appreciated specialty. It's like a little thumbs-up. So to speak.

If you want to avoid the proctologist, you might want to keep some bananas on hand. Especially later in the year. According to experts, winter is the peak of multiple hemorrhoids. I'm going to try to remember that, because I'm always missing the Perseids.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Much of the eastern United States is bracing for the deafening return of the 17-year cicada. The cicada lives most of its life underground. It could be worse. It is related to the spittlebug, which, as we've previously mentioned, lives in a nest of its own wet farts. The cicadas hatch in a tree but then drop to the ground and begin to burrow, finally staking out a homestead up to eight feet below ground, out of the reach of predators, until they start to feel safe again, which, depending on the species' anxiety level, can be up to seventeen years. Then something compels them all to tunnel back up to the surface. This corresponds to the age humans are at their horniest, too.

In Greek myth, which for my money could take any religion in a cage-fight, a fellow named Tithonus captured the fancy of Eos, Goddess of the Dawn, and she asked Zeus to kindly make him immortal. Unfortunately for both of them, she neglected to request that he be forever young, and in due order he was stove-up and drooling on himself for eternity. At some point he was turned into a cicada, which made him easier to clean up after, but was still doomed to live forever, against his wishes.

The slobber hole
It might have seemed to the Greeks that the cicadas lived forever, boiling up out of the ground at regular intervals and keeping everyone awake, but they don't. In fact, if Tithonus is still miserably showing up every 17 years, he'd do well to park himself in the back yard of any Eastern subdivision, where veterinarians are warning people not to let their pets eat too many cicadas. They say "pets," but they mean dogs. A cat isn't going to gorge himself on cicadas. He's going to bat one around for a while and then go off looking for rare migratory songbirds to murder. A dog, however, will totally eat as many of anything as he can stuff into the slobber hole. And their wrappers, too. The problem is with the wrappers.

Cicadas aren't poisonous. The vets are concerned that the dogs will eat too many exoskeletons, made of a tough substance called chitin that is also responsible for keeping lobster meat together, and then the dog will get backed up something fierce, unless he is able to ralph up the bugs. Which dogs are certainly known to do. They will put anything in the pipe, and they don't care which direction it goes. But a highly constipated dog full of cicadas runs the risk of a major gastrointestinal bug eruption in his latter years worthy of an Alien sequel.

It is my opinion that the veterinarians are hyping the dangers. Any decent sized American dog,
Chitin consumption
particularly a Labrador retriever, is not going to be done in by a little chitin consumption. I have seen a dog carry off a pair of Carhartt overalls and, when confronted, back into the bushes and swallow the whole thing. Then comes the agonizing hours waiting to see if it comes out bib first, or breech. But you can't kill a Labrador retriever.  People have tried. Carhartt owners.