Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Big D

This here is my 500th blog post, and I can hardly hear the trumpets over the sound of my mind blowing. As many of you know, I spent over thirty years Moving The Nation's Mail, a job that allows for considerable daydreaming, especially if you're not too fussy about whose mail goes in which slot. And from time to time I found myself coming up with a clever way of saying something, and I'd polish it up like a little word-agate. Based on the small shiny collection of clever things I had rolling around in my pocket after thirty years, I concluded I should be a writer. I also made plans to be closer to six feet tall.

A lot of times these things never really get in gear. They stay in neutral and make little putt-putt noises and sometimes there's a little toot of blue smoke but mostly you spend the rest of your life idling in the driveway. People get notions for their bucket lists and knock off one or two of the ones that only involve buying airfare, and the bucket stays pretty full, and after a while there's nothing left to do but kick it. The sorts of things that make me very happy are pretty low-key: take a nice walk, look at the occasional cool bug, tip a really good beer. I'm tickled enough with life as it is that I hadn't even really gotten a start on making a bucket list. But if I had, writing an actual book would have filled up most of it.

I needed a bigger bucket. As soon as I retired I put my nose to the ground like a burrowing mole and rumpled up a whole collection of postal stories. I started and finished a novel. I started and finished a second novel. Now I'm about halfway through a new book, creative non-fiction this time. And most of the reason I was able to actually do what I always thought I should do is that I got in the habit of writing Murrmurrs, and that's why I keep writing it.

Yes, I have a dog poop stamp. You don't?
Which is why the occasion of my 500th blog post reminds me so much of pulling a sausage casing out of a dog's butt. Right about the time it occurred to me that cats make nice pets, I saw a friend bend down next to her straining mutt and grab hold of something netherly and start tugging. Poor dog was all bound up, but there was a little tag hanging out that turned out to be a sausage casing. That accounted for a few inches of the blockage; then other stuff started coming out, including not only what was designed to come out, but bits of string, and plant material, and part of a raincoat, and I don't know what-all. Some of that might have been in there for months. This blog, as you may have guessed, is my canine gastrointestinal tract. And you, my dear readers, are pulling on the sausage casing.

And boy howdy, but there turned out to be a lot of crap in there. It keeps coming out because there are people out there interested in it, and they keep giving it a little tug.

Reason I started this venture was to develop what is called a platform. You can write the best stuff on the planet but nobody will publish you if you don't have a platform. It was understood: if you hoped to be a published writer, you need a blog. No real explanation how that works. And people don't just
flock to your blog because it's so grand. You have to go out there and whack your way through a shrubbery of blogs and leave calling cards. There are billions of them. There are photos of people's dogs and photos of people's dinner. You can spend hours at this. Then you're supposed to tweet. Everyone tweets. It's getting loud out there. After a while you don't have time to look at cool bugs.

And not to cast nasturtiums on anyone's dog or dinner, but after a while you begin to spend less time in the shrubbery. And that trajectory of visitor numbers that had looked so promising begins to level off and then dip and dive. You loyal readers are a lot more intimate group now, but I hope you'll stick around and keep tugging on the sausage casing.  And I'll keep posting here because this place is the cod liver oil to my creativity.

Only twice a week, though. We want "crap" to remain a metaphor.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Don't Get Me Anything

I had one of those birthdays with a zero in it yesterday. I don't do a lot of celebrating on birthdays. Every day for me is pretty much like every other day, and that's not a complaint. My days are stellar.

The only birthday I ever had that bothered me was my seventeenth. I thought you couldn't be a prodigy after the age of sixteen, and that's what I thought I should have been, so I felt officially washed up. I must've been quite the snot. I'm not sure what it was I was thinking to have accomplished by age sixteen; probably a novel or something. I always had it in mind that I would excel at writing even though there was nothing, trust me, absolutely nothing in the way of evidence to support that. At the time I was specializing in precious poetry with a lot of internal rhyme that sounded cool but didn't make any sense at all. I don't know what any of it means now, and I didn't know then either. I soldiered away at the craft like I was driving a wheelbarrow through the mud and finally buried the wheel in what I called Writer's Block at about age eighteen. It was writer's block, and only real writers can have that, right? I now credit my writer's block with being something of a truth-teller. I think it's one of my healthier qualities: I can only fake it so long, and then I bog down. And I was totally faking it. I wanted to be a writer, not write. You should always write what you know, and I didn't know anything. I'd have done just as well trying to grow a Walt Whitman beard.

I remember my fiftieth birthday like it was ten years ago. Dave and I thought maybe we'd haul out the old backpacks and pitch a tent up on the Timberline Trail on Mt. Hood like the old days. We'd wake up in the morning and see the sun spark the waving threads of spider silk across a blue sky. But then some dear friends from long ago showed up with love and party hats and we all went up to the mountain, and all saw beautiful things, and all slept in decent beds like sensible people, and it was the best thing ever.

It's hard to know how to celebrate when every day's a blessing. I just got another essay accepted to The Christian Science Monitor and Dave said "we should celebrate!" Yes! What should we do that would be better than what we were going to do anyway, which was have a beer and then a nice dinner that he cooks? "We could have a really good beer!" Yes! We could! Dave hunts in the fridge. "Looks like we just have our regular good beer," he says. "I love that!" I say. We have that. We clink glasses.

I've had this weird thing since I was a real little kid. Whenever I picture a number, I see it floating in
three-dimensional space with all its neighbor numbers in a twisting, meandering pattern that never changes. The spatial arrangement is set in concrete for me, but it's not sophisticated. The numbers always change direction noticeably at the tens. One through ten wiggle around quite a bit, but then they take a right turn at eleven and stagger a little, and then another right turn at twenty and thirty. From forty through a hundred, they don't move around as much. Not so many right angles. It smooths out. And it probably corresponds to life, such that the more of it you have stacked up behind you, the less important each individual number is. Daily dramas yawn, unimportant. Death loses its sting, even without being swallowed up in victory. But at any given age, I visualize myself perched on that number, in the space it's occupied since I was wee, and looking at higher and lower numbers that have not changed position my whole life. I don't see a lot of sharp turns in front of me. It should be a coast from here.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mine. All Mine.

"Help yourself," I always say. "Let me get you a bucket," I say.

I get a good raspberry crop and I'm happy to share. The neighbors appreciate the berries. Strangers passing by in the alley leave with juicy grins and a sense of there being goodness in the world. Little kids in particular are enthralled by the idea that they can pluck a morsel of delicious right off the vine at eye level. "Don't forget the sugar snap peas," I'll add. "Want some cucumbers?"

It feels generous and good. Everyone is smiling. I'm such a nice person. What a swell neighborhood.

Stay the hell away from my blueberries.

I mean it. That's why I planted raspberries. Look at the pretty red berries! Don't you want some pretty red berries? Pay no attention to those bushes over there.

Camilla is a raspberry veteran, at age three. Her little brother Sebastian is just learning the ropes, figuring out the difference between the red ones and the really, really red ones, his jammy mouth working under his wide brown eyes. Camilla turns her perfect face up to me. "Thank you for the rassberries," she says.

"You're very welcome," I tell her. Her mom beams. Camilla may have been pre-prompted, but she came through in adorable fashion. She fires off a string of Spanish to her mother and turns back to me with a melting smile, her hands clasped in front of her.

"Are there any booberries yet?"

Devil child. I smile back. "No, honey," I say. "You see? They look blue, but they're not really ripe yet. They'll be a lot better in a couple weeks."

And that is true. At least, it was true a couple weeks ago. Camilla looks at the laden bushes, doubtful.

I'm sorry. But this is the kind of behavior you get from someone who doesn't believe in Hell. I can't
overstate how much I like blueberries. I love birds, but if I see a bird on my blueberry bushes, I'm going to get a tennis racket and smack it into dice. Camilla toddles off with her brother in tow, and I go fetch a bucket. It's time to rescue this crop before it gets over-appreciated.

My goal is to freeze enough blueberries to adorn my daily oatmeal until next season. Shouldn't be a problem this year. The branches are drooping with fruit. They sag like an old woman in an overloaded house dress. I flash-freeze them on a cookie sheet and the berries regiment themselves on it like little geometry geniuses. But nothing beats a fresh blueberry, not even pie. I begin
filling my bucket and do a quality control check with a couple berries. I don't wolf them. I pay attention to them in my mouth. They say they are lonely. I send in a couple more handfuls for company. Then I divert all the larger ones to my mouth because they'd just mess up the cookie sheet geometry. Pretty soon it's a party in there. Blueberries always get along with each other. Before long I have an inch or
two of berries in my bucket and am lying on my back under the bush with a large funnel in my teeth
and shaking the branch above me. One fat berry bounces out and rolls away. I go looking for it just like Jesus and the lost little lamb. Yes. I am totally like Jesus. I don't think Camilla can see me down here.

I believe I might have to buy some cute little Bolivian kid a heifer now.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Marrying Gina

My first sturdy memory of Gina was from a softball game. She wasn't any bigger than I was--in fact we were built on just about the same general template--but unlike me, she had skills. We'd worked in the same post office for a year by then, and we'd gone to a game with another station that pretended to be casual but, in fact, was not: a keg of beer was at stake. A towering fly ball was hit to the outfield and Gina began streaking across the field yelling I got it I got it I got it and she was darn close, too. Then there was a terribly loud thudding sound that none of us could make any sense of, because we had never heard a collision between a swiftly moving bosom and a light pole before. Gina was on the ground. I hope she had the ball in her mitt, but I can't remember. Nobody could figure out what the hell a light pole was doing in center field. She shook it off and was soon diagnosed as good enough for postal work, but really she was always a lot better than that.

Years followed in which Gina and I held ostensibly the same job (letter carrier), but she was a fixture in the downtown business core, and I hoofed around up in the residential area in the hills.  Our postal paths never crossed. But they might as well have, because we were constantly being mistaken for each other. We both had dark honey-colored hair, we were short, we were female. At the time female letter carriers were a novelty. Any time our customers saw us out of context, they would start chatting away.
If I didn't recognize the person talking to me, I'd be a little off-balance at first and then relax. "He thinks he's talking to Gina," I'd surmise. She had the same experience. Since we knew each other's life stories, it was just as easy to play along as if we were the other person rather than to correct and possibly embarrass the person we were talking to. "Talked to one of your fans today," we'd say to each other. This went on for thirty years. I didn't mind being mistaken for Gina, because she was an ace. I hope she felt the same about me.

Gina became a mother, a really good one, and then went for two because the first one turned out so nice, and much later she divorced. If you had told me, in 1979, that I would marry Gina, I would have thought you were nuts. I was plenty on board for the possibility of gay marriage some day, but as much as we resembled each other, we weren't each other's type. Our types mostly have penises. Nevertheless it happened. Gina reconnected with a fine man she had dated early on, and Kevin and she were married last week, with the Reverend Murr officiating.

I picked up my official status as the Marrying Kind last year when my friends Beth and Dean requested my assistance. It was a matter of an exchange of emails to obtain my license as a minister of the Universal Life Church (creed: "whatever"). It's an odd thing. The state of Oregon sort of cares who officiates, and sort of doesn't. You can be a judge, or you can be a mail-order minister. I'm not sure why you can't just be a librarian, or a letter carrier. People tend to go on and on about the holiness of the state of matrimony, but ultimately it's just a legal arrangement. It confers upon the couple a defined set of benefits that serves as a short way
around what would otherwise be a daunting legal maze. Some of them are major. You can receive each other's Social Security benefits. Pensions. Health benefits. The holiness of the marriage is something
else altogether. Whatever love has to do with it, it would do with or without the legal sanction. We are thrilled to celebrate the triumph of affection and the willingness of two people to care for each other. But they don't need us for that.

They can have that in any case. It's up to them. But the benefits--they need my decidedly secular signature on the marriage certificate for that. I have other friends whose love is neither negotiable nor subject to anyone else's approval.They got it, they got it, they got it. But right now in the state of Oregon they cannot be legally wed. Something is stopping them from that, something that makes as much sense as a light pole in the middle of center field. Next year, in 2014, we're going to take down that pole. I'm sure of it. I'll still have my license, if anyone needs it.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Man-Nipples at Ten Paces

[Two players enter world stage and circle each other warily, one standing and dribbling a globe, the other with a horse between his legs, his broad chest gleaming with manly manliness.]

"Ho, there, little man on foot. Mind the hooves. It would be a pity if you were to accidentally get squashed like a bug."

"As if. I am far too quick for that. I can dunk over you any time I want, with my vaunted quickness. You and the horse you rode in on."

"Only a fool thinks of himself as exceptional."

[The horseman strikes a pose, and suddenly the globe sails over his head, while he swats at it wildly. The first man has darted quickly around the horse and caught the globe on the other side. He resumes dribbling.]

"Your pet state made a stinky."

"Not my pet state." The man on the horse notices a small roll of flesh over his trousers and makes a small twisting adjustment in his torso to eliminate it. "My pet state was in the yard the whole time."


"He who smelt it, dealt it!"

[Dribbling.] "I think I'll drop a missile on your pet state for making a stinky."

"You wouldn't dare."


"My pet state didn't have anything to make a stinky with. Nevertheless, because I am the bigger man, as you can see by my horse and chest of manliness, I will tell it to give up the stuff it could have made a stinky with, if it had any, which it doesn't."

[The globe bounces: one, two, three times, and then comes to rest under the man's outstretched palm.]

"All right, I'll back off for now."

"Ha ha, made you stop. I lured you in with my huge, throbbing diplomacy. I threw out my bait, and you snapped at it. I am the King of Baiting. I am the Master. Say it."

"No you didn't. You folded. You folded because you are afraid of my big missile."

"Am not."

"Are too," the man said, giving the mounted man a little poke in the belly.

"That's it. Deal's off until you admit that you fell in my trap. And I'm gonna tell the United Nations you poked me. Say you're sorry."

[Voice of the United Nations off-world-stage] You kids quit running with scissors and keep it down out there. I'm trying to watch my show.

"United Nations, he's poking me!"

"I'm not touching him!"

[The man dribbles steadily with one hand and wiggles his other finger an inch away from the rider's
chest. The rider's man-nipples flare erect and cast shadows across his midsection.]

[Voice of the United Nations off-world-stage] That's it, you kids are driving me nuts. Wait till your father gets home.

[The globe bounces once and is still. The horse drops his head. Both men squint, puzzled. The horseman speaks first.]

"Woodrow Wilson? He's been dead for ninety years!"

[Door slams off-world-stage, sound of weeping.]

"Way to go, doo-doo-head. Poot poot pootie-poot!"


[Horse tosses mane and flounces off, man-nipples pointing the way.]

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Scratch Golf

Stellar day at Edgefield, where Dave and I go to play something golf-like. We got six scratches, five cups, four beers, three balls and two shrikes. Actually, I'm kidding about the shrikes. I got carried away, there. There are a ton of birds at Edgefield, which disdains pesticides, but no shrikes.

We did get three balls. That's what you get when you're tromping in the blackberry patches that hunker around the golf course. People will go only so far in to retrieve their golf balls, but if you're specifically trying to retrieve berries, you'll get in there a ways, and there they are. Our master plan is to pick enough berries for pie and then play twelve holes of golf and drink beer. It takes a lot of the sting out of blackberry picking.

We got there an hour before our tee time but the pickings were sparse. For some reason the thickets were bearing old, dead berries and green berries. We were a week behind and ahead, both. It's all about the timing. What we did get seemed to be in the pre-fruit fly maggot stage, so that was good. Dave got out of sight early, looking for the mother lode, and I gave up a half-hour in, but I couldn't find him. This is worrisome. On the east coast, blackberries are something you buy at a nursery and plant and nurture and cross your fingers over. Here in the Pacific Northwest, blackberries go thundering over the landscape and you periodically need to whack away at them to see if your house is under there. Dave's tall and has good stomping ability. That means he can get into the thicket pretty far and can stand and pick in the same location for several minutes. Plenty enough time to be ingested by the blackberries. If you don't make a point of backing out every twenty seconds or so, you could be in there for good. Then someone needs to heave sandwiches toward the moaning sound until winter, when it might be possible to mount a rescue. But it's a bother.

He did turn up eventually, and together we had only enough berries for maybe one pie. Boo! I hate making pie, but this was disappointing. However, the beauty of blackberries is that the season is over before huckleberry season starts. Which means you can always stop picking because the possibility exists you'll still get a lot of huckleberries later. By the time you find out it's a shitty year for huckleberries too, it's too late to go back for blackberries, and you're home free. Meanwhile, we got ready for part two: golf. When you play a round after picking blackberries, you can confidently call yourself a scratch golfer.

I don't know a whole lot about golf. No one is eager to allow me on a real course. But if you go to the Edgefield Par Three golf course, you don't need a baggie of niplicks and wedgies, or whatever it is real golfers carry. You just need a putter and a pitching wedge. You also need to stuff at least five balls in your pocket, or enough to make people afraid to look at your shorts. The blackberries are in pouncing distance of every hole. Any ball that meanders out of the fairway needs to be tended to right away before it gets swallowed up.

They're fancying up the place a little. There was a little plastic box on a pole at crotch height halfway through. Dave said it was a ball-washer. I believe there is a time for hygiene, and a time to just let it go, but that's just me.

My method of golfing is closely aligned with pinball. Most of the time, I'm on the green in two. Briefly. Two, three, four, five, and six, and then begins a series of putts that eventually homes in on the the hole like a pendulum winding down and culminates in a nice fat score. But on this day I played par golf. Over two holes. Three and eleven.

And then it was beer time. Beer casts a favorable light on all endeavors. I examined my berry bucket. Only enough for one pie. Yay!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cone Head

There has been a terrible miscarriage of justice in the state of Oregon, which is one of the states Mr. Gary Schwirse was in when he tipped over and fell six feet onto a concrete ledge and injured himself. A federal appeals court has denied his claim to workers' compensation benefits. We should pay attention because this kind of thing could have happened to any one of us, or possibly just me.

Mr. Schwirse, a longshoreman, began his day first thing with a couple beers for Morning Mouth, and then went to work, where he consumed three more to take the edge off. He followed up at lunch with another five beers and eased into the afternoon shift with a pint of whiskey. It was during a well-earned attempt to pee over the dock railing at the end of his shift that he fell over the railing and onto the concrete ledge, fortunately landing on his head, which he wasn't using at the time. He demanded workers' comp when his coworkers variously reminded or informed him that he might have tripped over an orange safety cone.

It is a travesty that in this day and age employers are still allowed to get away with placing safety cones in the workplace, in spite of the known hazards. I have personally tripped over safety cones at least three times, and find them second in danger only to the random removal of known doors and hallways. Who among us has not been walking, deep in thought, and negotiated a tight right turn only to find that the door or hallway has been replaced by a wall?

Just me?

Well the safety cone thing is bad. There you are on a well-worn path to the room where the donuts are and there, for no reason, in an area previously occupied by air, is a safety cone. Someone has placed it there to mark the location of a patch of mopped floor that had evaporated hours ago, and down you go. The cones have proliferated along with the lawyers until now you are forced to constantly look where you're going, an activity that interferes with my rich inner life, and I say it's time we put an end to this nonsense.

Speaking of going, that is what Mr. Schwirse was doing when he did a header over the rail. This, at least, has never happened to me, as a mail carrier. At worst, I have only tipped over and rolled a few feet to the right. There might have been rhododendron damage.

When the judge failed to stand up for workers and rejected the claim that the safety cone had occasioned his injury, Mr. Schwirse's counsel suggested that the concrete was at fault, using the logic that his suffering would have been much less had the ledge been made of memory foam. The judge rejected this gambit, too.

Mr. Schwirse, who responsibly waited until the end of his shift to whiz off the edge of the dock, might have hurt his case somewhat by revealing that his job was to collect safety cones, which might lead some to believe he shared some of the blame by not noticing or collecting the one he tripped over. But the end of your shift is the end of your shift. Start picking up cones on your own time and before you know it you're on the road to losing Donut Day, and maybe your health benefits, too.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

No Womb For Disagreement

Considering how long we've been together, I don't really know all that much about my uterus. I take it on faith that I have one, and I know where it's located, but I can't say that I know it like the back of my hand, which is speckled and knobbly. It's reputed to be like a little purse, but it's stretchy, and capable of great things if pressed upon by a fetus, say, or a fibroid tumor, which resemble each other in the early stages. Mostly, it's like everything else in my body. I don't pay much attention to it unless something goes wrong. And I'm one of the lucky ones for whom nothing much goes wrong. I'm nominally in charge of everything in my body, but I'm not the president or anything, or the social director, or the camp counselor. I expect everybody to entertain themselves and play nice. I'm more like the facilities manager, responsible for keeping the heat on and some minor janitorial duties.

We're supposed to be proud of our uteri, as if we'd sculpted them ourselves, but I'm not. It's a badge of womanhood, but I don't identify so strongly with my sex as to consider it a matter of honor to have all the parts. Not that I identify with the other sex either, or any of the in-between models; it's just that it could have gone either way so easily, if a different sperm had edged out the winner. I could just as easily have had completely different paraphernalia, and that would have been fine too. It might even have been a lot of fun, although it seems to involve a lot of unsightly flopping around, and as the facilities manager I would have had to contend with some rogue outfit hanging out in the front parking lot and operating outside of my authority.

The Facility. Photo by Doug Bloem
So I'm okay with having a lot of equipment that remains mysterious and unseen as long as everything is going right. I know where my uterus empties out, but I'm a little unclear how it is hooked up, and to what. Seems like everything is just sort of bobbing around up there and only maintains its position because it's crowded and there's no place to wander off to. It might want to push to the front of the parade route and watch things go by, but it's kind of stuck. Of course, sometimes they do come unhooked. Some women discover that their uterus is hanging right outside them, inside-out. This is called a "prolapsed" uterus because there it is, in your lap. It's not ideal. If you're a girl, and there's something hanging between your legs, something has gone wrong.

Every now and then, though, I get to thinking that even though nothing has gone wrong, I should be paying more attention to my uterus, especially since so many other nice people want to help me manage it, mostly Republicans. They're, like, experts on the subject of my uterus. They know all sorts of things about it.

They want to make sure that whoever gets past the velvet rope in my facility should be allowed to party until they're good and ready to leave, even if they're tearing up the curtains and smashing furniture. Even if they burn the place down. And that I must be compelled to let them play and clean up afterwards. They don't care how much it costs or what kind of toll it takes. I don't know. They seem like well-intentioned people, but you know what? It's my facility.