Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Almost all my peeves are someone else's peeves.

I first noticed it when someone down the street had a daily visitor who drove up and honked the horn for him instead of using the doorbell. It was rude, but I could ignore it. Not my neighbor, though. She got a little purpler each time, and eventually whenever I heard the car horn I could feel her fury right through the vinyl siding. I knew it was only a matter of time before she hauled out on the front porch with a pistol. She was plenty capable of taking that car horn out without nicking the dashboard. I began to seize up whenever the horn went off. I had developed Acquired Car Horn Syndrome.

This business of taking on other people's peeves started early. My father was a first-class curmudgeon and all sorts of things irked him. No improper use of English went uncorrected in our house. He was too polite (and anti-social) to correct other adults but we kids were fair game. And he went off several times a day on wayward custodians of the language. It could be anything. "The forecast IS rain, the forecast is not CALLING FOR rain," Dad would bellow at the weatherman, every single night, as we kids mouthed it silently behind his back. The fact that my father could not save the English language all by himself never prevented him from hollering at the television. He was certainly in charge of us, at least. All four of his children were punted out of the nest with a death-grip on proper English and a lifelong tendency to cringe, on his behalf, when "people who should know better" messed up.

He never got anywhere with the campaign to save "comprise." It means the opposite of "compose" but they are used interchangeably most of the time, and he simply could not stand it. But his fury was general: Nixon, the destruction of the environment, and people using "iris" as a plural all elicited the same reaction.

Dad has been dead for over thirty years, but I still hunch up wincing when our weatherman talks about his "futurecast,"as though that were somehow more prescient than a forecast. I'm the sort that thinks that dead is dead, but Dad's crotchets have eternal life.

Now people are more peevish than ever. Any glance at the internet will reveal how many things drive people absolutely crazy, and how proud they are to admit it. Apostrophe abuse, visible panty lines, clerks that call you "honey," people making duck lips in their selfies, long voice mail messages, people who write "wallah." If any of these send you around the bend, you might consider the possibility that you're wound too tight. You might, as my Dave likes to say, want to let out a loop. Because here's the thing: if hearing someone say "hone in on" drives you nuts, it's probably a pretty short drive.

As a public service here at Murrmurrs, Inc., we will now list all the things that you really ought to be upset about. The rest don't matter.

1) Global warming.
2) Mass extinctions.
3) "Comprise." It means "be composed of," not "compose." Get it right, or face the Wrath Of George.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Coming Unmoored

"You Do Not Do," by Lorna Nakell

I came home last week and there was a big-ass painting sitting in the living room chair. There had to be a story behind it, because it can't have gotten there on its own. Turns out Dave had scored it from the artists next door, who had decided to clean out their basement. They're good artists, and it was a good painting. And it was five bucks! Unfortunately the painting had slouched in its (big-ass) frame. It would need to be taken apart and recombobulated.

"Can you do that?" Dave asked. "I want to put it in my bathroom."

That's where a lot of our good art goes. Dave spends some serious time in the bathroom, much of it quality time, and he likes to look at his gallery.

"No problem," I said. I have personally framed and matted some fifty or sixty pieces of art in this house. I try to avoid the framing stores. Professional framing is great, but it will drain your beer budget in a hurry. The painting, a pastel portrait, had come unmoored from its mat, and needed to be re-taped. Ordinarily I could put a project like this off for years, but this was (as previously described) a big-ass painting that was likely to get in the way, so I got right on it.

An hour or four later I had liberated the mat and painting and had the big metal frame in parts and the glass carefully stowed against cat intrusions and a precarious pile of screws, clips, and corners in detention on my desk. Pastel is pure pigment in powdered form. The painting, exhilarated at being freed from its prison after twenty years, began shedding pigment with great joy and abandon. Colored motes cartwheeled through the sunbeams. The lighter colors tossed their dusty hats into the air like Mary Tyler Moore.

But there was more going on here than mat, painting, and glass. The mat was glued to foamboard, for some reason. I pried that apart, re-taped the painting, glued it all back together because why the hell not, and went to clean the glass.

Huh. Not glass after all; Plexiglas. Did you know you can't use Windex on Plexiglas or it clouds up? I didn't either. Plus, it had big scratches across it.

Huh. Also, the glass doesn't go on top of the mat after all. There's a foam bit in the frame that forms a channel for the glass and for the painting and keeps them both an inch apart. I decided to buy real glass. A nice lady named Jessica at Beard's Frame Shop said she'd cut me one while I waited, so off I went. And she gave me some assembly tips. Evidently you can slide the picture in the bottom part and then you can rest the glass on some beanbags (of course I have beanbags, in the shape of a frog and a salamander--who doesn't?) and slide the whole top part of the frame over it, easy peezy.


Did you know you can spend $83 on a piece of fucking glass? I didn't either. Special glass, it was, with some kind of coating on it to protect the painting from UV light. For $83, I want it to repel gamma rays and Fox News. Jessica wrapped my special glass up for me, and I turned for home, expressing some self-doubt.

"Would you like me to do it for you?" Jessica said.

"No," I told her. "I want to fart around with it for three or four days and then have you do it for me." Ha ha! I crack myself up. I didn't mean it, of course. I was home for less than an hour before bringing it back for her to do it for me.

I couldn't get the glass to line up in the channel. It was too wide to make those micro-adjustments on both sides at once by myself. It was like trying to invade Poland and France at the same time with a single Panzer. I summoned Dave. Dave had just thrown his back out and was consequently in a fabulous mood. Plus, he's the guy you want lifting the car off you, but not threading your needles. And this was a delicate operation. The glass wasn't about to slide in that frame unless it responded to naughty language, which, in fact, did not impress it at all. I dismissed Dave, who had already concluded that the glass was the wrong size and also maybe he'd married the wrong person. I said I needed time to think.

I thought real hard, had another go, and snapped off a tiny corner of the $83 glass. I thought some more. I thought that getting the professional framer in on the job would ultimately be cheaper than doing it myself, once I factored in the emergency room bills and the cost of a messy divorce. I brought it back: the glass, the painting, the frame in dozens of pieces, a quorum of screws, clips, and corners, and my credit card, still warm.

"I don't know," Jessica said. "This is weird. This is a home-made channel glued into this frame. No wonder you had trouble. I can try to make it work, but I'm not sure." Mollified, I got out of her way. Then she and her coworker Sarah spanked it all together in ten minutes like it was a grilled cheese sandwich, taped it up in protective cardboard, gave me hanging hook hardware, and hoped I'd have a nice day. No charge. I considered bursting into tears, but opted instead to just bake them some cookies. I don't have skills, but I do have my dignity.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

We Should Chill

This summer I must have heard a dozen people declare that they would die without air conditioning. We got into a little patch of warmth here in Portland, total sunblare, highs in the nineties for a few days on end, and things got critical for a lot of folks. In my opinion, you do not need air conditioning in Portland. We'll have a really hot stretch for, like, three days in a row, which you could easily live through with a wet washcloth and a fan, leaving you with 363 days of relative comfort. We can go years without having a nighttime temperature above 69. So even on your hot days, if you can exhaust the air out of your house at night with a good fan, you can make out like a bandit, compared to the rest of the nation.

And, in fact, I also believe no one needs air conditioning at all. How could we? It wasn't invented that long ago. People managed to survive long enough to poke sperm into each other for a million years before AC came on the scene.

So people are using hyperbole when they say they will die without air conditioning, which is laudable from a literary standpoint, except that they seem so sincere. Actually, I get it. I hate heat passionately. I moved across the country to--okay, I just moved to leave a boyfriend behind and shake my life up a little, but once I discovered that you could go through a summer without thinking about opening up a vein just to let some heat out, which you totally would have done if you could have summoned the energy, why, I didn't want to move back. It sucks being hot. It's mizzable.

But it's survivable. Heat is God's way of saying "you keep crying, I'll give you something to cry about." You don't like to be hot? I've got locusts. I've got floods. I've got plague and war and famine. Keep whining, and see where it gets you.

My suspicion, though, is that we've come to depend on AC so much that we don't even allow ourselves a reasonable range of comfort. We don't want to inconvenience a sweat gland or ask too much of a shivering muscle. No, we've pretty much got it down to a yearlong 70 degrees. We want to sweater up to our comfort level. We don't want to give our cells a workout. We're boxing ourselves in.

And if it didn't matter, if there was no downside, I would say bring it on. Can you make my whole house suitable for naked TV-watching all year? Lovely. I've got 2500 more square feet than I need, but all those rooms should be comfortable too, in case I need to walk through them on the way to the fridge or the clothes dryer. But air conditioning takes coal. It takes oil and gas. It takes water away from salmon. It's jamming the atmosphere with carbon. It's heating us up. We might actually die from all that, or our kids will. And we can't keep doing this.

I grew up without air conditioning, in Washington Gates-Of-Hell D.C. Not without complaining, hell no. But definitely without dying. We'd lean into the mosquitoes for the breeze from their wings. We'd lie on the floor in a personal marinade of unevaporated sweat and stick our fingers in the black oscillating fan every now and then, just to feel something different. But no one does that anymore. God, we're such pansies about our comfort.

Don't be putting a tag in the seam of my underpants, though. That's crossing a line.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Camel Spit, And You

There's been an important advisory out about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which is pronounced "murrs," but is not endorsed by me in any way. It's a serious illness, made all the worse because it is new, and thus we have no idea just exactly how many of us it can take out, if it gets to galloping. Lots of these new diseases make the leap to humans from some other critter and discover that our respiratory passages are the viral Promised Land and they can dine on the snot equivalent of milk and honey until their host drops dead.

Research indicates that the virus might have originated in Egyptian tomb bats, which is super cool. We all have to go sometime, and there's a lot more cachet associated with being hit by a mummy's curse than by a bus. More recently, researchers have been fingering camels, which is not a recommended practice. In fact, the important advisory specifically states that we should refrain from showing camels any overt affection. Evidently, camel-kissing is a thing.

from Trousering Your Weasel.
Without a doubt this practice will be widely ridiculed in this country, but that's because we're cowboys, and also racists. This kind of attitude goes back a long way. For instance, in the pioneer days, cattlemen used to sneer at people who brought in sheep. Hah! Shepherds, they snorted, were obviously too short to take care of cows. As it were.

Not that people in the Middle East are any more sensible. They believe something very important to them has been taken away. There's been a positive outbreak of public camel-kissing since the advisory went into effect. Probably, the advisory should be more general. Camels are pretty famous for spitting. And just like the rest of us, they have other secretions. Perhaps, for the time being, people should be encouraged to cut down from two humps to one, and see how that goes.

I'm always leery of these medical pronouncements anyway. They tend to be sort of glib; like, sure, you can virtually eliminate your chances for alcoholism by not drinking. But what if they change their mind about that later, and you've missed all that beer? Still, I would feel relatively safe from MERS if only because we don't have a lot of camels around here. Unfortunately, it only takes one camel-kisser boarding a jet and suddenly that virus has a ticket to everywhere.
from Trousering Your Weasel.

That's the thing. You can only protect yourself so much in a world saturated with people. You might have lived your whole life on a low island in a simple and sustainable way, but the rest of us carbon-belchers are going to see to it that you drown anyway.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Lawsnit

Sometimes it just seems like everything goes wrong at once--your credit card gets hacked, you get into a fender-bender, your kid busts out of Juvey, all in the same week--and it must seem like that to President Obama now, too. Not only is he required to share the world stage with a Russian maniac who can't be counted on to stay on script; not only is he responsible for unrest in the Middle East among players who still can't get along even after having had a thousand years to think about it; not only is he on the hook for thousands of damp children crossing the border, but now he's getting sued. Crap. No one likes to get sued.

He's getting sued by John Boehner for going off on his own and accomplishing something without checking with Congress first. John Boehner believes that the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial bodies should be equivalent in power, and so if the legislative body isn't doing anything, the executive shouldn't be doing anything either. It's a sound argument, although it might not stand up to the defense witness, John Boehner, who also accuses Obama of napping on the job. All told, it's a little confusing what the complaint is, although uppityness may be a factor.

Specifically, what John Boehner is accusing Obama of is going off on his own and trying to delay implementation of a part of the Affordable Care Act that John Boehner does not like, because thwarting the Affordable Care Act is Congress's business, not the President's.

I'm sympathetic. I didn't know anything about lawsuits when I was little, but there were things that struck me as unfair. I didn't have that many responsibilities--pick up after myself, set the table, and wash the dishes every night. I was marginally okay with the first two but really didn't care for dishwashing. What was the point? I'd just have to do it all over again the next night. I didn't have a lot of options. Whining was out of the question. Whining was never once rewarded in our house. But it didn't occur to me to sue.

I know just the argument I'd use, too: "but I don't want to." It's airtight. But having the best argument does not always get you a win in court, as the Judicial Branch has recently demonstrated. My parents were in the business of producing civilized children and would no doubt bring up something about the social compact. I'd counter with the point that I was the baby, and expected to be provided for in every way. And that dishwashing was a direct threat to my right to do whatever it was I wanted to do instead, even if that was "nothing," which it usually was. John Boehner would understand.

Well, it turns out that presidents have been sued before. Nixon was sued; Reagan and Clinton were sued. John Kennedy was sued by a Mississippi state senator after he received injuries in an auto accident that left him unable to ride his donkey. He won, too.

So there's some good precedent for John Boehner and his friends. If they too want to sue for the right to sit on their asses, they've got a shot.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Forbidden Fruit

We get really good strawberries in Oregon. They might not ship as well as the California ones, but they're not taste-free red pulp around a white cardboard heart, either. Our climate and soil are conducive to growing the very best: the Hoods, the Totems, the Quinaults, the Firecrackers. Everyone grows them. You just drop a few bare-root plants in the ground and yell hi-oh and they gallop across the bed. Take the weed-whacker to the edges a few times a season to keep the luscious goo off your driveway. All of which is good news for Dave, who loudly adores strawberries.

Naturally, I can't grow strawberries. I can't even grow one strawberry.

There's a long bed thumping with raspberries; there are blueberry bushes groaning under the load. And somehow, he thinks, none of these is as delicious as the particular strawberry I cannot grow. I don't even think he cares that much. It's just that he can't have it. Suddenly, a good home-grown strawberry is the most important thing in the world, and completely elusive. It's the Holy Grail. Unicorn DNA. The literary agent who loves your manuscript and wouldn't change a single word.

We hike the streets of Portland, where waves of strawberries crash onto the sidewalks like God's own reproach. Dave pauses for a long look, then turns to me with the eyes of an orphaned basset hound. He needs me to feel bad. He's punching a ticket for a free bout of teasing, later. Something along the lines of "I would think you of all people would be good at making shortcake."

I have tried. I have had strawberry plants in the ground for twenty years. Occasionally a small, hard green fruit emerges and dies of loneliness. And I do know that you're not supposed to plant strawberries anywhere that strawberries have grown for the previous three years. Evidently after three years, they're exhausted. I do not know why. They never do anything.

I have a successful garden, otherwise. People assume I know
what I'm doing, but all I'm doing is pulling out the dead shit. The rest looks great. The strawberry plants don't die. They just sit there like a growing stack of unread New Yorker magazines, projecting guilt. There isn't much to the growing of strawberries, according to the experts. Soil pH is important. You can have all the minerals and nutrients in the world and if the soil pH is wrong, your strawberries won't absorb them. It's like the minerals and nutrients are facts, and the pH is the soil's religion. Get it wrong, and the soil will deflect all reason. My strawberry plants, apparently, are sitting around quietly waiting for the second coming.

I could lime their asses, or I could go to the store and buy a pint of Hoods.

Store's only a few blocks away.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Fossil Five

The Supreme Court has found that most companies do not have to cover contraceptive care for their employees if the company has a religious objection to doing so. A lot of people are surprised to learn that companies have religious beliefs at all, but they do. The company I worked for, the US Postal Service, does not have religious beliefs per se, but it does have strong, heartfelt preferences; for instance, it sincerely prefers its employees wear clean, pressed company-provided uniforms. Many folks might not be aware of this, given the preponderance of letter carriers who accessorize with colored sneakers, sweatshirts from home, and Cheetos stains, but it's true: the company has strong preferences, but no balls. They're fine with contraceptive coverage, however, and might even kick in for forced sterilization in some cases. But that's the thing: companies are people. They're all different. They've got beliefs. They've got feelings. Favorite colors, occasional irregularity, monogrammed towels, the works. Lawyers.

Like the Hobby Lobby. The Hobby Lobby puts its pants on one leg at a time like everyone else, and it likes a nice snug fit. As plaintiff pointed out, not every employee of Hobby Lobby is even going to want contraception, really only the ladies, so it's not like there's a lot of damage being done here. The Hobby Lobby company is closely held, and possibly stroked a little. And as a closely-held company, it sincerely believes that the Affordable Care Act requirement to provide free contraception for its employees might result in tiny little abortions. The majority opinion held that it was enough that the Hobby Lobby really, truly believes this, deep in its company pants. It was not up to the Court, the Court said, to determine if their beliefs had any merit, as long as they were really, truly, and sincerely believed, and more or less in line with the Court's.

Many see this decision as an affront to the ladies, but it was a victory for science. Researchers have long observed that the five fossil justices--Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy, constituting the majority in this opinion--are lodged in sediment of an unknown provenance, and with this decision we have finally accumulated enough data to properly affix them in Time. All have been known to occur in the same Catholic stratum, but up until now it has been hard to pinpoint their precise age with any confidence. Educated guesses have ranged from the early Titassic to the late Contentious.

Scalia, found in the oldest portions of the layer, has revealed the most clues as to their collective antiquity. For instance, it was he who held that prohibitions against homosexual behavior did not discriminate against homosexuals, because they prohibited heterosexuals from engaging in homosexual behavior also. Justice Alito, a champion of spermal rights, was responsible for writing the opinion in the Hobby Lobby case, in which he dismissed concerns about "gender equality" and "public health," specifically employing the quotation marks to indicate where the sneering and eye-rolling should go. Justice Thomas had nothing to add, believing, as always, that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to--well, he can never remember how the rest of that goes.

All of these clues taken together have finally allowed scientists to definitively assign the five to the Crusty Old Fuck Era. It's a right stout vein. There's no chipping them out.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Say Yes To The Dress

So I was invited to march in the Gay Pride Parade. What to wear? Nothing is really out of limits at these things. In fact, "nothing" was the choice of many of my fellow marchers, or close enough to it. I considered frothing up with an expanse of white tulle and a flowered hat. And then I scanned my closet, and there it was--the perfect outfit. My wedding dress. From  1983. It still fits! Well, it's a little tight in the neck region now, but I don't want to talk about that. What you're supposed to do with your wedding dress is have it dry-cleaned and wrapped in plastic and hung up in your closet until you die, and then let someone else figure out what to do with it. This way I'd get a whole 'nother day out of it.

My friend Kevin sewed the thing for me to perfection. It was one of those Folkwear patterns, Victorian Wedding Dress, with lots of lace and ribbon. "What color ribbon do you want?" she asked at the fabric store, assuming that "white" was not going to be the theme. I picked out pink and blue; maybe I was hedging my bets about the sex of the baby we were definitely not going to have. "Pink and blue," she repeated, to give me a chance to reconsider. "You'll look like bunting." She was right. Politicians could give speeches on top of my head. Despite my ribbon choices, the dress looked fine.

Dave thought marching in it was a grand idea. He tied my ribbon sash for me, admired his old bride, and promised to help me out of the dress when I came home. "Have fun! Bring home a nice tall girl," he said. The dress isn't the only thing from that wedding that still fits.

It was raining off and on, so most of the time I had the dress bunched up in my fist with my non-waving hand, revealing my Keens and colored socks. I was marching alongside my friend, the delicious and willowy Pat Lichen, done up in basic black and rainbows, and we were a hit. "We?" she queried. Oh yes. "Congratulations!" we heard, up and down the parade route. "She's the lucky one," I confided to onlookers, because I am just that obnoxious. It was a great day. We were marching with the Unitarians, spot #94, just behind the Pugs For Pride.

I've heard disgruntled people complain about the whole pride thing. "I don't see why anyone needs to flaunt all that," they say. "You don't see me strutting around being all obvious about being straight." Well, yes, we pretty much do, but never mind that. There's a point to be made that it is silly to be "proud" of the way you were born; proud of being white, for instance. But in this case Pride is the opposite of Shame. It hasn't been that long since people were afraid to march in such a parade, in case someone from their church or neighborhood or workplace saw them.

Twenty-five years ago I picked up my friend Margo in my 1969 International Harvester pickup truck. I had a spike haircut and was rocking a loose pair of denim overalls. She looked me over. "Oh," she said, approvingly, "you could 'pass.'"

Now I can "pass" in a wedding dress.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Unitarian For A Day

This year I got to march in the Gay Pride Parade, behind the banner of the Unitarian Church! I know what you're thinking. Murr, how can you presume to march in the Gay Pride Parade? You're not a Unitarian.

This is true, but I'm not all that far away from being a Unitarian. The motto of the Unitarian Universalist Church is "whatever." Unitarians have been around a long time. There's some indication there were even some rooting around the Transylvania region in the 1500s. The main thing that set them apart, in the early years, was their rejection of the Trinity. The Trinity is a little odd anyway. It's the notion that you have your God, your Son Of God, and your Holy Ghost, three persons, but really all the same person, one of which is more of a vapor. It's designed to be mysterious. There's no point in being God if everybody gets you.

The early Unitarians thought this was pointless. There is only one God, with only one change of clothes. They liked Jesus well enough, but didn't get into his paternity. They didn't have him going up to heaven and sitting at God's right hand. According to the doctrine of the Trinity, sitting at your own right hand is something you can do if you are really big, which most people agree God is.

Later the Unitarians found a lot of other things in the scripture that didn't sit right with them, such as the Virgin Birth. They didn't buy that. Really, if Joseph did, that's all that matters. And what with one thing and another, and doubt being cast about a lot of your so-called miracles, they abandoned the notion that the Bible was all that reliable. In general, they embraced science and intellectualism. And in general, they didn't believe any one religion had all the answers, and one must be open to new ideas. This is one reason a lot of people don't count Unitarianism as a religion at all. True religions are a hell of a lot more sure of themselves. You can't go to war over "whatever."

Da Bears
Well, Unitarians aren't as interested in going to war. They are interested in having an open mind and an open heart and aspiring to be kind. Right there, that's going to sieve out a lot of your other world religions. Unitarians are so little bound by creed that they embrace agnostics, atheists, humanists, Jews, Buddhists, and pagans. In fact, one working definition of a Unitarian is "someone who goes to a Unitarian church."

Which makes me, ipso fatso, a Unitarian, because I went to the Unitarian church to meet up with the rest of my marching squad. I didn't go inside. These things take time.