Saturday, April 30, 2016

Enjoying The Living Crap

It had been one of the first warm days of spring, and I was preparing to enjoy the living crap out of a few simple elements: a gentle breeze, a nice IPA, and a seat on the warm concrete front steps, just in the last perfect patch of sunlight. Earlier, it had been too hot; if I moved into the shade, one foot over, not quite warm enough. Friendly people walked by, neighbors waved. I'm not much of a sunshine person but I do love it when the sun warms you just enough and no more. The beer was splendid.

Just one thing was a little off. I smelled dog poop. And I am not a fan.

I hardly ever smell dog poop. By some miracle the entire society has changed over the last three decades such that people keep their dogs on little strings and bag up their poop. All this was basically unthinkable until not that long ago. There used to be dog poop everywhere.  Your neighbor's dog poop was in your yard and your dog's poop was in your neighbor's yard. Kids rolled around in it. It was chiggers and dog poop all day long.

"You look comfortable," my neighbor hollered, and I raised my beer, and said "Except I smell dog poop."

"NO!" she said, horrified. "Are you sure it isn't raccoon?"

Horrified, she was, I tell you. She's decades younger, and that's how much things have changed. Anyway, I was sure. I do have a poop field guide, but I didn't need to check it. It smelled like my childhood: honeysuckle, Pixie Sticks, thunderstorm ozone, and dog poop.

I checked my shoes. Clean. Some time in the 'nineties, my employer quit offering plain-soled shoes for our postal uniforms. You could only get the real grippy kind with a bunch of topography on the bottom. I hated them. I hated them because of St. Clair Street. There was one block of St. Clair that had a bunch of apartments, all pavement and parking lots and no dirt or greenery. And because this is Portland, and dog ownership is required by law, that meant there were two hundred dogs in that one block. Mostly little ones. Their devoted owners stuffed them in their purses with the makeup and the packet of tissues, walked outside, extracted them and set them on the sidewalk until they produced a pellet, just like popping a Pez. Probably 95% of these good people bagged the poop, but that still left a major raft of turdlets on the pavement. All I had to do is glance at the letters in my hand for one second and it was squish city. My plain-soled shoes could be depoopulated with one or two good scrapes on the curb, but the grippy ones with the waffle soles would get all mortared up. You had to lean up against the apartment building and turn on the spigot and use a stick to get it off. It took minutes and you still had to finish up with the indoor-outdoor carpeting at the apartment door.

Anyway, the poop was not on my shoes, but it was real close. Because I have a scientific mind, I found it by following some flies. It was right by the steps, about a yard away. So.

I really, really wanted to enjoy my seat in the sun with the beer and the nice passing people. I could have gotten a shovel and dug it in, or bagged it and put it in the trash, but half the point of being there was to be there, and not be somewhere else, doing some other thing.

The scientific term for this is "lazy." I looked at the flies. They seemed happy. I thought: let's try something. Tastes differ. The flies clearly like the smell of dog poop. What if I were to quit wrinkling up my nose, and become a fly, and imagine I like it too? I've always been credited with having a good imagination. The world is filled with annoying things, and we must do what we can, and then let the rest go. I leaned back. I owed it to myself, to the world, and to the sainted brewers of Ninkasi Total Domination India Pale Ale to give it a try. It had not been a high-capacity dog.

It worked. It took a second beer, but it worked.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

There Goes The Neighborhood!

Resin in beak!
Well, the nuthatches are definitely a going concern. Things look a lot different than when the chickadees, Marge and Studley Windowson, were in the birdhouse. They just poked grass and stuff in there and neatened it all up and planted petunias in the front and kept the lawn trimmed, but these guys are a flat mess. I had no idea.

When it looked like the nuthatches were going to take over the lease, I read up on them to see if anything would be much different, other than that they'd be producing tiny invisible nuthatches instead of tiny invisible chickadees. One of the things I read that seemed a little exotic was that they might be inclined to daub pine resin around their nest-box hole. They might bring the resin in their beaks, or they might even use a tool, a piece of bark or a mortar trowel or something, to smear it around. The male is in charge of goobering up the outside of the hole and the female works on the inside. "It is thought," the literature says dubiously, "that this is meant to deter predators." In other words, no one's really sure why they do it. Presumably the nuthatches themselves avoid the sticky resin by shooting straight through the hole on the wing.

Toes rearranged for hanging upside-down
Of course, Marge and Studley could and did fly straight through the hole too, so it wouldn't deter chickadees. So the nuthatches have to be on their aggressive, territorial toes. And they are.  I thought the Windowsons were plenty protective of their house. Anyone flying anywhere near it got a good scolding, and no mistake. Nobody likes to be dee-dee-deed at by a feathered golf ball. But the nuthatches are way more ferocious. They're complete assholes about their territory, in fact. They no sooner spot a strange bird in the vicinity than they're diving right at it. They will even chase off hummingbirds, and hummingbirds don't take guff off of nobody. They'll spindle you as soon as look at you. They will poke you a new cloaca. But doggoned if they don't hit the road when the nuthatches come bombing in.

Business end of a male nuthatch
While I was reading up on nuthatches, I still wasn't sure we'd scored any. They were interested, but not committed. And supposedly it was quite rare for them to use a house instead of a tree cavity. But there is at least one advantage. If the hole in the tree is big enough for a nest but the entrance hole is too sprawly for proper security, they'll haul in mud and enshrinken it. So our birdhouse had exactly the right size hole (nuthatch diameter + a quarter inch) and they didn't have to do any masonry. That's a savings right there.

And then we saw it: pine resin coming in! The male was hanging outside the box by one toenail and smooshing resin on the outside of the hole, just like he'd read his own Wikipedia entry. This seemed serious. It's sticky stuff and not something you'd necessarily want on your own personal beak if you were planning to eat, unless you were driven. He'd schmear it around and then go to a nearby twig to try to scrape off the excess.

I was thrilled. Then, over the course of a few weeks, they brought in more and more resin, and the sun melted it so it ran all over the outside of the box, and every time one of them exited they dragged nesting material out, and it dangled from their toes like stuck toilet paper. Pieces of fluff and fur and bark strips are hanging out of the hole, dripping with resin. It looks like hell. The chickadees did everything but neatly line up plastic flamingoes and solar lights on the walkway. These guys were of a completely different school. They've got a broken-down washing machine on the front porch and a dead car in the yard and plastic toys and beer cans. They's slovenly.

There's so much resin on the place that I fear for the hatchlings. I never did witness the chickadee puppies' maiden flights, but if these little guys don't get a really good jump, they're going to end up glued to the side of the house. Nuthatches On A Stick.  It will look like carnival food for hawks. I can't bear to watch.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Big Fat Baby Heads

According to impeccable sources on the social media, baby horses are born with squishy hooves out of deference to their mothers. I did not know that. I knew fawns are not born with a full rack of antlers and baby rhinoceroses pop out with just a starter nubbin for a horn. This is only polite. Any other arrangement would work only if the baby deer or rhinoceros were both carnivorous and cannibalistic, which they are not. If you're going to be a regulation mammal with a future, it pays to be nice to your mom.

In many cases it seems that mom is not necessarily nice to you, but a lot of times it's the tough love that's going to see you through. Wildebeest mamas make a point of dropping kids in the middle of the herd and the little guys had best be up and moving in a hurry, but that's good. Wildebeests that are born on the margins become lion snacks. (Gnuggets.) Giraffe mamas do not lie down to give birth; their kids plummet from above and their mamas squint down at the slick heap of spots and bones and say "Don't make me come down there." But it works. The kids have to stand up tall and take some responsibility, because that's where the milk is.

Anyway, it turns out the little horses' hooves are all soft and weird and look like asparagus spears. As soon as they hit air they harden up. Humans make allowances too. Those giant human baby heads are made of movable plates that can deform quite a bit during the birth process, such that some children's skulls come out looking like zucchini, and settle out into a socially acceptable shape later on their own time. I, myself, was less than six pounds at birth with a head the size of a tennis ball, including the fuzz, and for that reason my mommy loved me very much, although it's possible I didn't need to be that considerate, since she assured me she was completely knocked out for the event. At any rate, human babies make quite a few adjustments out of pure thoughtfulness and that is why the human birth process is such a snap.

Pardon me? No, I haven't given birth myself, why do you ask? I wasn't interested in being pregnant because I thought it would ruin my line.

That line being: "We decided not to have children because the genetic counselor said there was too great a risk they would turn out something like us."

I did have the opportunity, but I determined I was not mature enough for parenthood, and have spent the rest of my life proving it. There is, I'm sure you have noticed, quite a range of attitudes women take toward fetuses, and mine is "when I want your opinion, I'll give it to you." Yeah, I would have been that kind of mommy.

Thanks to you, I'm over halfway to my fundraising goal for the Portland Audubon Birdathon! If you'd like to help, please visit my pledge page. Yay!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Home Of The Whopper

The employees of a Phoenix Wendy's restaurant were recently tricked into smashing their own windows. A prankster posing as a fireman called them up and told them a dangerous buildup of gas had been detected inside the building and that they must immediately run outside and break all their windows to let it dissipate.

People have no trouble believing that someone could call them on the phone and tell them that something really scary is right inside there with them, and, even though it's invisible--especially because it's invisible--it could kill them. And that the thing to do is destroy everything.

If there's one lesson to be learned, it's that firemen really can't be trusted. And people who look and sound like firemen should be regarded with suspicion, too. In fact if they ever catch these guys, it would be a good idea to kill their entire families, so they think twice the next time. And if your house is on fire, you should call a barista. But you should never ignore your fearful feelings. That would be a YUGE mistake. Yuge. I guarantee you that.

You'd think this sort of trick would be a one-time deal, but no. This has happened several times. The prankster originally just wanted to stir some stuff up, for fun, just to see what he could get away with. But then all his buddies told him how awesome it was, dude, and how awesome he was, and before you know it he's thinking, watch this. I'm going to get ALL the people to smash their windows for no reason, and then I'll run for President, because I'm just that awesome.

It's well known that people are not logical about what scares them. That is why people read text messages on their phones while driving, but are afraid of sharing a restroom with a woman who has suspiciously large hands. That's why people are pretty sure they can tell if someone might be carrying explosives in his underpants just by his facial hair and the shape of his nose.

If you live in a country where your cities have been bombed into powder and your friends have been murdered and you just pulled your bleeding baby out of the rubble and you don't have enough food or water or a home anymore and you're desperate enough to float the whole family in a bathtub across the sea, you've probably got good reason to be scared. If you're scared of those very same people applying for citizenship in the Home Of The Brave? Not so much.

It's ridiculous. I know I would never smash a window if someone told me there was a dangerous buildup of gas in my building. I wouldn't take the time. I'd run like hell. Maybe I'd lock the bathroom doors first, just in case there was a tranny in there. Because that's where they hang out. Odds are a lot of innocent people would be blown up before they were done wiping, but at least the rest of us would be safe.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cheeping In

Yes, it's Birdathon time again at Portland Audubon, and we all know what that means. That means I am going to be begging you and you and other complete strangers for money, even though nothing makes me squirmier in this whole wide world. I'm typing away here with my shoulders bunched up under my ears and my face all puckery. I hate asking you for money. I'd give anything to not ask you for money. I'd even give money. In fact, I will.

I hate asking you for money even though I bought, every year, all those boxes of Thin Mints you kept at your work station with the cash envelope on the Honor System (bully for you), and doesn't anybody's kid have to go door to door anymore by themselves like I did when I was a Bluebird selling salted peanuts? Now the little darlings aren't allowed off their own front porch, and for that I thank you, and here's an extra twenty bucks, hold the cookies.

And did I not buy hundreds of pepperoni sticks over the years for your kid's soccer team even though I don't like pepperoni sticks and they only use them for fundraisers because they never get any worse? I did.

Yes I will sponsor your girls for the Jog-A-Thon so they can get band uniforms, and I'll buy holiday wrapping paper from your son too so he can go to camp, but I'm folding up like a glued wallet if he shows me that list of stupid magazines again this year, I swear to God, oh, all right, I'll order one, but don't send the magazine.

And of course I chipped in for that poor beagle that had to be glued to a skateboard, so he could have therapy for his depression because his name was "Reginald" but everyone kept calling him "Stumpy;" and I also chipped in for the litter of Siamese kittens who were born joined at the ankles so you could open them like a fan, even though I was pretty sure I could have taken care of it myself in fifteen minutes with a nail clipper and electrical tape.

You say your cousin didn't make it through the birth of her third set of quintuplets? That IS sad, and sure, I'll poke in some change to help send the brood to private school, since you're shaking that jar at me, Mrs. Grocery Clerk Lady. Although I do think that those kids in particular might benefit from being around kids who are different from them.

And might I remind you that I did kick in for your Kickstarter campaign to develop a prototype combination sofa/refrigerator/toilet, even though I had my suspicions from the start that you might have underestimated the ambition it would require to see it through.

What's that you say? You've survived Cancer of the Entire Body and you're going to go on a hundred-mile plod in the pelting hail until your stigmata open up, all for cancer research? Cancer? Isn't that, like, kind of cheating, fundraiser-wise? Isn't that a little hard to compete with for the rare public fundraiser dollar? If all I've got is "I'm in perfect health and I'm going to spend a whole day going to pretty places and looking at pretty birds and I'd like you to give me money so Audubon can patch up some busted sparrows?" Sparrows can get cancer too, you know, at least I think they can. And besides, one of the really important things Audubon does is help introduce kids--your little soccer player, those Girl Scouts, the wrapping paper boy, and the dead lady's set of fifteen--to the outdoors and educate them about the natural world so that they have a chance of growing up and voting right.

You'll see how important that is, real soon.

If you're so inclined, please trot over to my Birdathon Pledge Page and cheep in to sponsor me. Maybe I'll have some extra wordage over there for entertainment. You never know. Thanks! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Free To Pee, You And Me

We were talking to an acquaintance the other day, and right there between the weather and the price of gas, he up and declares that people using public restrooms should be either male or female, and nothing in between. His supporting argument was that anything else ain't right. It's possible I misunderstood, but it seems he feels very strongly that whoever might be in a public restroom checking out his junk should be All Man. Well, okay.

I sort of get it. The Bits Allocation of people sharing a restroom with me has always been very high on my list of concerns, just under women wearing white hijabs after Labor Day.

He went on to clarify that once a guy has actually had his dick cut off, he can then use the ladies' restroom. I am assuming that the lopping of the dick indicates sincerity.

Seeing our apoplectic looks, he invited us to explain to him why he's wrong, but I suspected insincerity. In any case, I had things to do, and taking someone all the way back to his early education and starting over seemed like it was going to cut into my weeding time.

He'd be right at home in North Carolina, where transgendered or transitioning citizens have been cordially invited to cut down on their fluid intake. I do not know, or care, how many such people I have shared a restroom with, or thought to wonder what they were doing there. I always assume they have to pee.

There is an upside to the North Carolina Moron Protection Act, or whatever it's called. It's a job creator. Now there will have to be an employee stationed at each public restroom as a Crotch Inspector. If you're currently unemployed in North Carolina, you should look into openings in Crotch Inspection, which is, coincidentally, a job description. Me, I'm more creeped out by sharing a restroom with someone who wants to be a Crotch Inspector, but that's the price you pay for freedom from the heebie-jeebies. The downside, of course, is that there will have to be a whole new layer of government to oversee the Crotch Inspection Force.

"Not so," our friend insists. "Government doesn't do anything efficiently. It can be privately run, or an all-volunteer citizen force."

I suppose. There are already plenty of private citizens who charge themselves with making sure people's sex conforms to one or the other of the Big Two. Here in the blue states, we call those people Assholes. Speaking of openings.

But if you're going to have legislation like this, you'll have to have enforcement. And that means that in the less clear-cut cases there's going to have to be some kind of internal probe. That's your Long Arm Of The Law, right there.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Chickadees: If You Have To Ask, You Can't Afford It

Big news in Portland real estate, where rental vacancies are at an all-time low, and landlords can comfortably soak their tenants without compromising their ethics at all, assuming they're assholes. So it should have been no surprise that the nesting box, the one right outside my writing room window that has been occupied every spring by Marge and Studley Windowson, our chickadees, has fallen victim to the hot market. A pair of nuthatches sensed an opportunity and snapped it up before Marge and Studley ever got their tiny little identical butts in gear. There's nothing we can do about it. We're hoping the Windowsons have been able to locate something affordable on the edge of town.

Meanwhile the nuthatches seemed to be dinking around about actually moving in. I decided to hang up some nesting material right nearby. My cat Tater helpfully refused to shed a single strand of fur. I went next door and borrowed a cup of Golden Retriever. Birds loved it, except for the nuthatches.

Holding single strand of golden retriever
I read up. The box was the right size, but nuthatches "rarely" use them. Well, poo. Had they just been toying with us, and holding up the paperwork on the house just long enough that Marge and Studley had to give up? Would we have an empty box through the nesting season?

Finally they began to move in some fluff. It looks like a going concern now, plus we have the benefit of feeling special, since they so rarely go for nesting boxes. I'm looking forward to watching this, not least because I can tell these guys apart. I don't know if I'm looking at this one, or the other one, but I'm pretty sure they're not the same.

Which just goes to show how extremely bad I am at really noticing things. I spend a lot of time noticing, but not to the point where I could give you any particulars.

Male, primping
Example. This week Dave and I went on a hike. A few hours in, an old man came by us going the  other direction and we all said Hi. One minute later another old man came by and asked us if we'd seen a woman just ahead of him on the trail. I hesitated. I didn't want to say an old man had just passed by, in case that was the woman he was talking about. Seemed rude. He clarified that "she is wearing a pink jacket." Now. I should have remembered if the old man was wearing a pink jacket, shouldn't I? But at that point I couldn't swear that the person we just saw was a man or a woman or was wearing pink or not.

Birds, same way. I'm pretty sure our nuthatches are different, but if you asked me, I'd say one looked sort of diffident, and the other one sort of saucy. These are not field marks. Find three field marks, I can hear my friend Bill say, so let's see: one of them is diffident and pensive with a thousand-mile stare. The other one is saucy, restless, and prone to hyperbole.

I looked them up. According to the guides, the male has a black crown and tends to be somewhat darker in the breast, and the female has a dark gray crown. Well, sure. When you put it that way. I can see it now.

But if one of them had a pink jacket on, I can't recall.

Here's a bonus video of the nuthatches protecting their territory. Hold onto your heart; and yes, I promise the nuthatch is okay in the end!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cootie's Only Skin Deep

A tick latched onto me the other day. I'm cool with wildlife but ticks creep me right the hell out. You don't even feel them biting you until their heads are all the way in you, and then you sort of absently flick the area and that's when you discover you have a tick butt hanging out of you. Then things get loud.

My typical reaction when I discover a tick is to scream Mommy Mommy Mommy only these days I scream Linda Linda Linda because my friend Linda is the next best thing, only right now she's three thousand miles away, which is where the goddam ticks are supposed to be, too.  We're not supposed to have ticks here. I mean, we do, but Dave has lived here his whole life and never had one on him. In the right locations, you'll find him wearing a crust of mosquitoes and biting flies, so we figure he's the bellwether for noxious critters. But he never even heard of doing a Tick Check, which was standard protocol for us Virginia kids when we came back from the woods.

There are things grosser than ticks, but they're things that happen to Africans or caterpillars. For instance, there's some kind of wasp that plants eggs inside a caterpillar and then its little grubs grow inside and eat all the juicy bits but avoid the parts that operate the caterpillar, and then all at once they tunnel their way right out of its skin and spin cocoons for themselves, and the caterpillar uses all its own cocoon silk to further shelter the wasp grubs, and fights off predators for them, and then it dies.

Those are worse than ticks.

But ticks are revolting. If you read up on them (say, you've just taken one out of your very flesh and you want to see how long you have to get your affairs in order), the authorities always refer to their "mouth parts." That, right there, is revolting. That means either they don't have lips, or they haven't even bothered to completely assemble their mouths. Either way, gross.

There's a trail here somewhere
It's not that easy to pick up a tick in Oregon. I had to work at it. We went on an eight-mile hike on a trail that has not been cleaned up at all this year, and it was a heck of a winter for downed timber. We were climbing under logs and over logs and through logs and basically scraping off every living thing off logs and onto us, until finally the Only Tick In Oregon quit clinging to a log and caught a ride.

I've never had one buried so long it bloated up with Murr Juice. That would be fatal. And that is because you can totally die from the willies. I'm pretty sure it would be fatal to whoever was standing next to me when I found it, too.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Slovenly Host

A large percentage of people report being watched over by angels. Angels are supernatural beings deputized by God to watch over people, because even though he is all-knowing and omnipresent, he would like to have a day off now and then. In fact, according to Genesis, he invented days off. Ordinarily it would be a little creepy to think of things watching over you, but angels are presumed to have your best interests at  heart. They may drop the ball every now and then, sure. But they're not personally going to mess you up.

I don't have angels of my own. I didn't really need any; I was born lucky. But I have plenty of people watching over me. Probably hundreds. Technically, they're spiders. But I feel honored to have them. They just hang out by the ceiling and make little cottony nests and go about their tiny spider business, and a fine business it is: eating insects and keeping an eye on things. They can do that. They have eight eyes and they can look at a lot of different stuff at once. Angels get distracted, but spiders are on it. One pair of eyes checks the direction of light (in our house, it's coming from the TV). One pair has telephoto lenses. The third pair swivels, and yours don't, Mr. Fancypants Primate. The fourth pair gets basic cable. Spiders rock.

House spiders in particular may have evolved to live with myopic people. I have to really think about it to notice my spiders, and yet, when I do, they're all over the place. I'd say most of ours are on the ceiling in the TV room, although they drop down from time to time on little magical circus threads, just to get a closer look. Then they go back to the ceiling to watch over us.

In spite of the fact that I have had a thriving and undisturbed community of spiders in my house for decades, I'm not sure I've ever been attacked by one. Maybe. I've woken up with an itchy, persistent sore about three times. It's always on my butt, and it's not a big deal. I assume I roll over on them in bed, and so I can't say as how I blame them for objecting. But a lot of people are terrified by spiders, and hate them strenuously, even though they hardly ever hurt anyone. They'll do anything to keep them away and they want to kill the ones that make it through. They feel exactly the same way about Muslims. Spider eradication, in fact, is a plank in the modern Republican platform. It's too early in the campaign for specifics but they'll get around to it. Just as soon as they can figure out the best way of killing spiders while simultaneously poisoning the environment and enriching Dow Chemical, they'll get back to us.

Not house spiders, but a favorite photo, so here it is.
The Orkin site, which is devoted to providing the consumer with poisons for all manner of natural beings, solemnly intones that the "signs of an infestation" (I'm sorry, that is a loaded word: "presence" would have done nicely) include The Spider or The Web. Yes, that is true. In fact one of the surest signs of spider presence is the spider. The signs of an infestation of humans include Plastic and Massive Unprecedented Destruction Of The Environment. Orkin does not supply a Human-B-Gone. They totally would--ethics are not a consideration--but they aren't interested in exterminating the species with the wallet.

Spiders are entirely carnivorous. But they don't take down big game. They're all about eating insects and, significantly, other spiders. So if you really hate spiders, you should really like spiders.