Saturday, December 29, 2018


One of the things about our cat Tater, see, is that she is going to make do with just the one life, the other eight being redundant, but it should be a barn-burner. There's nothing about her that smacks of frailty. She's big and shiny and hasn't so much as hacked up a hairball in her entire life--she's somewhere north of twelve now--and every time we look at her, we think: that, there, is one healthy bag of pudding. Following our house policy, a copy of which I'm sure we shared with her early on, she's going to cost us next to nothing. Store kibble and the occasional plush toy is going to cover the bill. We've had three pets in forty years and haven't seen the same vet twice, because they start their careers and retire before we come back.

It's possible that means we might have skimped on vaccinations and dental care, but everyone seemed happy enough. Larry did require a dose of spendy radiation that one time, and the car ride home was quite the event featuring the Devil's Own Radioactive Diarrhea in a crate and don't let anybody tell you you can't do the speed limit on the freeway with your entire head out the window, but she made it to seventeen. Boomer made it to 16-1/2. Tater will outlive us all. We're trying to figure out how to smuggle her essence into Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She's such a font of fine fettle that I have been moved to comment on it despite superstition. "Tater's going to live forever," said I, heedless. And we've all seen the Hallmark shows and know what happened next. The sneeze.

Only not the adorable kitten sneeze you might expect. This is Tater. This was a five-sneeze drencher.  It pinned our ears back. Rippled the curtains. The sun cast rainbows on the far wall. Well then.

So that's interesting, I thought, I wonder what sort of dust particle she got into. Was it the Higgs boson? It was concerning, but only briefly. Then she sneezed again. And off and on all day and night. And the next day. "If you're still sneezing on Monday," I warned her, "You're going in the crate." Tater does not care for the crate.

Meanwhile I did a modicum of research and thanks to the gol-durned oversharing Internet I discovered that cats do get colds and upper respiratory infections from other cats, but I discounted that on account of Tater is the queen and sole fur-bearing occupant of this house and isn't allowed to roam outside. And I further discovered that an upper respiratory infection could also indicate heart failure, feline leukemia, dropsy, the grippe, conspicuous consumption, pox, and hoof-and-mouth disease (rare). 

And I was sore afraid. We began to examine her looking for signs of generalized moroseness but it's hard to tell if a cat that sleeps 80% of the time anyway is feeling peaked. By Monday I had decided she did look a little off, although that was as far as I could take it, and I made an appointment for the next afternoon, gave her the same warning about the crate, and hoped she'd straighten up beforehand.

The next day she was still sneezing. We jammed her into the crate butt first, which is how you turn a bag of pudding into a Ninja throwing star in one second, and we hove off to the vet's after double-checking the directions. The vet extracted her from the crate, took her temperature, looked in her ears, eyes, nose, and throat, probed her kidneys ("quite smooth," he said approvingly), prodded at the state of the pudding, and announced that had we not said she'd been sneezing, he would have proclaimed her the healthiest dang cat he'd seen all year.

"And she's down a pound since the last time, but that's not worrisome," he said, and I said "Well, we haven't been here for eight years," and he said "No, you were here two years ago." We were? What for? He glanced at his paper. "Sneezing," he said.

Then he opened up the crate, she strolled inside, he closed it, we paid sixty dollars, we went home, and Tater never sneezed again.

But as she points out, her eyes half-shut but bright, sixty bucks does prove we care.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Let Nothing Ye Dismay Too Much

I was ready to celebrate Christmas, or as it is known in our family, Tuesday. Tuesday with twinkly lights and music. There's always something to celebrate in this big beautiful world, and the things worthy of celebration are more likely to appear to you if you're not all fried with obligation: the shopping, the postal schedule, the traffic. We keep things pretty calm around here. Life comes with enough challenges without picking up burrs of distress.

Dave and I don't even exchange presents. We get each other what we most desire: nothing.

You don't need much when you have goldfinch butts right out your window. Our Lesser Goldfinches like to grab water out of the central reservoir of the nectar feeder. They show us their cute little fuzzy white butts. It's not a butt butt, of course; no cleavage. But it's still interesting. As is the hummingbird that hovers at them hard, giving them what-for. He could totally boop them right in their fuzzy finch fannies, he wants them to know, but he has discretion. And also there are twenty more finches in the tree, and the hummingbird has no friends to speak of. But--he wants them to know--he could totally boop.

There's stuff worth celebrating online too. Lookit, there's a dancing parrot! Oh look, someone made cream puffins! Cream puffs with little puffin heads on top!

Oh look, someone started a thread about transgendered people using the wrong bathrooms! There are several commenters, and they're all in agreement. Penis: male. Vagina: female. You use the bathroom that corresponds with the gear you were born with. That's it. Simple, end of story.

My goodness, we're on the eve of rendering the entire planet uninhabitable, we're on the verge of extinction, we're creating refugees faster than we can wall them out, and the possibility that someone we don't understand is going to want to pee at the same time we do is what's keeping us up at night?

I stood at the edge of the pit just to observe, but there comes a time you just want to pop in a word in case someone is reachable--someone who hasn't sunk into the mire all the way. Sometimes it works.

Okay, it never works.

I suggested that although this is a simple matter for most of us, it isn't for everybody. I suggested it pays to listen to someone who does not have your own experience. I suggested that person might be someone's child, or even one's own.

I was swiftly reminded that this whole issue had already been decided by God. And that I should "stop placating that which is abnormal," and that "the country needs to go back to basics."

And that I was a "typical puppet lefty, calls people hateful & running away cause they can't think for themselves."

I reviewed. I had said something about advocating for my friends, people I actually knew. I had said something about listening. I had not said anything about hate.

Got to give the hateful fuck points for mind-reading, though.

And this coup de gross: "If you're not helping your friends get mental help then I hope you celebrate when they get their ass kicked or kill themselves because you're the one helping that to happen."

I'm the one helping that to happen.

This is just the sort of thing that brings on despondency in a person, every bit as debilitating as the Christmas despondency we've sworn off of. It's not that I can't win the argument. It's that these awful, dreadful people are out there at all, let alone in droves. It's all too much: the ignorance, the racism, the xenophobia. It's almost more than I can bear, sometimes. I ceded the last word and stepped away from the pit for my own peace of mind, but it was long in coming. Dreadful, godly people were squatting in my mental real estate.

We decided to get a tree. Decorate it, for the babies that will be here for the holidays. Turn this thing around.

Guess what? There is a Christmas tree shortage in the biggest Christmas-tree-producing state of all. One week before Christmas, all the lots were swept out, except one. We pulled in. The trees were presided over by the most unpleasant human being I have met in the real world in a decade. He was a horror. Nasty. The kind of man who gets described as body parts. We waited, and waited, to pay by far the most money for the crappiest tree we'd ever had while he conducted loud and seedy business on his phone, and finally he deigned to run our credit card while sneering and grumbling as dramatically as possible. Under my breath, I called him "Mr. Personality." He turned on me so fast and with such anger that I recoiled in fear like a woman used to being abused. It was the most thoroughly unpleasant transaction, I think, I have ever made in my life.

I drove away and pondered the loss of my equanimity. I rarely take things personally. I am seldom so affected by an unpleasant encounter; as a postal carrier, I looked at those as a challenge to win people over. But on this day my soul had already been steeped in a stew of small and hateful minds. I was already tender. You could drop a fork right through me.

I pulled out of it. The solution is surprisingly simple. If you want peace, you must find it within yourself. You must share it with the world. You must be the light you want to see in others. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Also? All the dreadful people need to be swapped out for goldfinches. Soon is good.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Good Stories

I must've been a Doubting Debbie early on, because I sure don't remember being traumatized by hearing Santa Claus wasn't actual, even though I've been assured by the Internet that I should have been. Apparently I've blanked out the entire bruising episode. It's possible my parents didn't hit the subject too hard to begin with. They never trotted out the bit about Santa knowing if you're good or bad, because being bad was not presented as an option in our family, and I'd already gotten the idea that being just a little bit bad was only a matter of opinion. My opinion was that I wasn't. I was conducting an experiment, or I was just trying to see what was inside that thing, or I had no idea who tracked that in, or I wandered away because where else is there to wander?

I don't remember any big tragic scenes in school, either. No kids blubbering in their cubbies. I suppose existential Santa questions came up in conversation but it didn't make much of an impression on me, as long as there were still presents coming from somewhere. And Advent calendars with all the little doors. And Life Savers in a book. And chocolate coins in gold foil. And the chaos of wrapping paper. I was fine with a good story; it didn't have to be a documentary. Give me a good story and I'll sail away on it. I didn't expect to get to Narnia from my own wardrobe, either.

And I got to hear a lot of stories. Dad used to read them to me. There was an earnest pig and a clever spider. There was Mr. Toad of Toad Hall. There was an elephant's child who got his trunk, and I know how.

Then there were all the church stories. The ark, the manger, the shepherds abiding. And of course God, who was nice like all the other Lutherans. I could go along with all that. Some of the details seemed far-fetched. Like heaven, or hell, or baptism (really? That's the deal-breaker?), or the Trinity (why a committee?). Or a grisly execution that somehow saves us all. Mercy! All this strategizing to be able to live forever, just because we can't bear it otherwise. And the one about God answering our prayers! Okay, I guess, as long as we can take "No" for an answer.

It must have been my nature. Lots of things I was told didn't stick with me. I should put a sweater on. Or quit riding my bike after dark. Or save myself for marriage. There were so many stories, and I listened politely and then--according to my mother--did whatever the hell I wanted to do anyway. She didn't say "the hell," but it was heavily implied in her eyebrow region.

And then after a while God didn't seem all that important either--or more to the point, the existence of God didn't explain anything any better than the existence of Santa Claus. Of course, I was not raised with the judgmental version of either one, so there wasn't really a penalty involved in folding them up neatly and storing them with other childhood treasures.

I still believe in Santa Claus, as much as I ever did. Santa, and Mr. Toad, and the miraculous eternity of baby spiders.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hark! Hark, I Say!

"Let's go caroling," Dorothy said, and it sounded like a swell idea to us. We had a group already. We got together every month or so to sing madrigals.

Not that we sounded all that good. Dorothy was an A-1 soprano, sweet and true and lacking that bellicose vibrato that would get a lot of sopranos swatted if they weren't so scary. The rest of us were of a lesser grade. We had one voice for every part including first and second soprano, and at least you could tell which of us belonged where, because we usually drew inside the lines of our ranges, although some of us scribbled. It was a lot of fun to get together and do all the fa-la-la and hey-nonny-nonny: a lot like a recorder group, in that it was way more fun to be in than to listen to.

We scavenged some other volunteers and we met at Dorothy's apartment in NW Portland. There was some discussion concerning how to go about this thing. This was forty years ago, and yet caroling was already old-fashioned by then, and we weren't sure if there were rules. Finally we decided to go up to the first house we saw and ring the doorbell. We didn't want to seem disorganized, so we agreed on a carol and the number of verses, first. We rang the doorbell.

"Just a minute," came a forlorn baritone, followed by shuffling sounds, and doors banging shut, and locks opening, and finally a large, morose, unshaven man appeared at the front door, still working his way into some scuffs, and clutching a bathrobe shut with one hand. Oh boy, we thought. The first recipient of our cheer! And off we went into Joy To The World, in four-part harmony, our bright holiday mufflers wrapped tight, our wool caps jaunty, as the night chill ruffled his leg hairs. Heaven and nature sang, and sang, and sang, and then danged if The Lord didn't go right on and rule the world with truth and grace; our victim sagged visibly; in reconstructed memory, the man grew shorter and shorter and may have sprouted a thermometer; he was approaching panic as we repeated the sounding joy, and repeated, and repeated it; what were you supposed to do with carolers? Somewhere in his childhood pre-Depression memory he was certain there was a protocol, his mother would have known, there was supposed to be mulled wine, or baskets of cookies to dispense, but isn't just this kind of thing the reason he'd gotten a place by himself in the middle of the city? The ghost of gratitude flickered on his face as we appeared to be winding up, but no, we had a plan, and no mutineers; we finished up with We Wish You A Merry Christmas, complete with the good tidings to him and his kin, which were not strictly necessary, and we bid him adieu.

Well. That left something to be desired. It wasn't at all clear that any joy had been transmitted. We amended our plans to merely loiter outside the next house and not knock at all. We decked the halls, or something. Fingers pulled the Venetian blinds slats apart and then shut again. We decided to just walk down the sidewalk and sing as loud as we could. One carol after another. It was fine. After all, people had had TV for decades by that time. Nobody could be expected to know what to do with an authentic caroling assault. Then we came upon one of those U-shaped courtyard apartments that prevailed in that quarter of town. We walked into the center of the courtyard and we Had At It. We Let Fly.

Hallelujah! Relieved of sole responsibility for properly appreciating unsolicited carolers, people opened their windows. Leaned out. First floor, second floor, third. Smiled. Clapped. Gave thumbs up. Joined in. The acoustics were tremendous: we sounded good, and not just Dorothy. One or two residents were crocked enough to invite us all in for some version of a toddy. We declined, but it was nice to be asked. Hey nonny, nonny, it was nice.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Sit On My Face

As far as I know, the face mite is the only living animal that doesn't poop.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't trust an animal that never pinched off a loaf. It's just not healthy to keep too much to yourself. I'm willing to give the face mite a pass, though, because there's no arguing with them at this point. They're set in their ways. Also in your pores.

Face mites are very small spider relatives that sit on your face. They look like a worm that changed its mind at one end, jamming in eight legs in a bunch. The other end is where the anus orter be but ain't. This is what happens when you rush a project without proper planning.

So what the face mite does is store up an entire lifetime's worth of crap and then, predictably, drops dead. Fortunately, it only lives about two weeks, but still. That's backed-up. It does all of this--growing up, having sex, dying, rotting, and dropping off its old shit, on your face. Mostly in your hair follicles or pores, but it moves around at night, and at a pretty good clip, considering. The female lays a heart-shaped egg half her own size in one of your sebaceous glands, and that hatches into a six-legged larva, later tacks on an extra pair of legs when it remembers it's in the spider family, and then it continues to eat your face until it dies.

Under the circumstances I don't get too worked up about having face mite poop disintegrate on my face, since its food came from my face to begin with. I think about it as being more of a compost situation.

sealed nethers
This is the kind of thing that makes people itchy, though. There's a whole industry in cosmetic exfoliation because people can't even stand having their own personal dead skin cells on them, and they will polish their faces to a high gloss with scrubs and little Dremel tools so as to get down to the young juicy layers. They're faithless, though. They'll give that beautiful young skin no more than a day or two and grind it off again. And this is without even knowing about the mites.

Scientists knew about the mites relatively early. The face mite was first described in 1841 and called Acarus folliculorum. Nobody paid much attention. The next year someone called it Demodex folliculorum and everybody went Oh, sure, Demodex. We know all about that. They discovered there was a long form and a short form, just like taxes, and it was 1972 before it was finally confirmed, in a real groundbreaker, that they were two different species, in a report that also did not receive much attention.

Both of them sit on your face, to the degree they can sit, without a butt. They stick their heads into your sebaceous glands with their sealed nethers sticking out. Except when they're motoring around at night.

They don't bother me. When you've got enough years in your back pocket, you have a much better grasp of what isn't going to harm you (face mites and refugees) and what is (falling down and global warming).

So they're all welcome here. Tolerance and compassion are my goals. A face mite wants to drop an anchor larva on my eyelid, I say go ahead on. I'm a Democrat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Spread This

We're about thirty years in, now, on making our own Christmas cards, and by "we," I mean me, with Dave's usual lavish support. Until five years ago, I carved a block and hand-printed over a hundred cards in black ink, and then hand-colored each one, and then wrote inside them and addressed the envelopes, and in the days before email that also entailed a fat recap of our entire year in longhand, because some of those people only heard from us that often. It worked out to about, carry the one, five thousand minutes per card, which means--move the decimal--I should be done with 1994's batch any time now.

Utterly ridiculous amount of time involved. Of course, I worked then, and as everyone knows, retired people are oh so busy. You know why retired people tell you they're busy? They just want to work "retired" into the conversation as often as possible because they enjoy the look on your face.

So, yes, I'm busy, but that's after working in nine or more hours of sleep a night, and a leisurely morning with the newspaper and coffee, and a considerable chunk of time staring into space. I now devote about three days to carving out my card block and getting a decent print and coloring it, and then it's off to the print shop for mass production. One "Murry Christmas" in my illegible hand on the inside, slap on the stamp, and Bob's yer uncle. The only really aggravating part involves Microsoft.

I made a spreadsheet of my Christmas card recipients. It's got three columns. Name, address, city.

I don't even really know what a spreadsheet is, and my Microsoft Excel spreadsheet knows this, and tries to wipe me off on the first low branch it trots under.

Wikipedia: "A spreadsheet is an interactive computer application for organization, analysis, and storage of data in tabular form." Sure it is! And you can manipulate all that data. And by "you" I mean you, not me. I try to alphabetize my list, for instance, and I get a nice column of names in order, which is useful if you don't mind that their addresses didn't tag along with them. Every time I try to do something like this my spreadsheet goes tectonic. The columns shift along predetermined fault lines with the names uplifted and the cities subsiding. Yes, I looked up how to do it right, but my spreadsheet can smell fear, and is in fact quite energized by it. My spreadsheet will stop suddenly just to watch me sail over its head into the bushes.

At one point I thought I couldn't add a new name to my list unless it fit alphabetically where I deleted a dead person.

So after a while I quit trying to manipulate my data and just flang it in. Which is inelegant, but at least it's all there. Until that dark day comes that I need to do a Mail Merge and get all those data on sheets of label paper.

But this is Microsoft. There's going to be a quiz. What is the name of your printer's first pet? Bzzzt, wrong answer, the parakeet totally counts. What kind of label paper are you using? Here's a list of a thousand brands of label paper. It's probably one of those, have a spin. What is the PIN number for your account? Do you want to start an account? Would you like 10% off for doing a survey? What's your maternal grandfather's first name? Are you sure? They changed things when they left the old country. What? Oh, you wanted to print labels? Never mind. What is the name of your printer's first pet?

Every year. Every year I would curse and drink and spend hours and finally my labels blundered into the barn and I slammed the gate behind them, and then I carefully wrote out instructions for the next year for what seemed to work. The next year those instructions did not work. Shit, I bought a Mac ten years ago, but I was afraid to not use Microsoft, so I got Microsoft Office for Mac all saddled up and tied it to my toolbar where it is routinely spooked by just about everything.  So this year I sidled up to my computer and threw a blanket over my spreadsheet's head and went to retrieve last year's instructions. And guess the hell what? I didn't have instructions from last year. What I did have was last year's list ready to print. I apparently saved the successful last step of the Mail Merge as a word document, and I was able to edit it for this year and hit Print and the gol-durned thing sprinted away and came back with my labels. Like that.

Which means I can send the spreadsheet to pasture and just update my word document from now on. I'm sure I didn't think of this wonderful thing. I think one of my young friends came drifting through and pulled a beer out of the fridge and fixed the settings on my computer and evicted the gremlins and reamed out my phone and said BTW (that's the way they talk) you can just use this document from now on, LOL. And I forgot it until now.

And this is why old ladies keep a lot of beer in the fridge.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Slug Named Skippy

I spied a hyphenated slug trail the other day.

Slug trails themselves are not at all unusual around here. We have lots of slugs, and they're always trying to get somewhere else, even if the place they end up isn't any different from where they started. The main reason a slug produces a snot trail is to make a Slip 'N' Slide so it doesn't scratch up its belly. (It's not really called a belly--they call that whole bottom portion a "foot," even though it's really more like a zamboni.) Also, it is thought that other slugs can find each other by following their trails if they're feeling sociable. And, of course, theoretically an individual can always use them to find its way back to where it's been, although it never does.

There are many uses for the mucus they produce to make their trails. One memorable ancestral slug of my youth used his to make sure I never walked barefoot in the grass again. Human observers are able to examine the slug's thought process by means of its trail, which usually wraps up in less than the width of a standard sidewalk. There's the heroic first sally, followed by an arc of doubt, indecision, looping, and despair, culminating in desiccation or the Rapture, depending. The Rapture, in slugdom, is when the good slugs are lifted up and go straight to bird shit.

This particular slug trail worried me because it was like when you don't have enough paint on your roller and there are dry bits on your wall at regular intervals. Slugs need a lot of paint on their rollers. They manufacture mucus from an area just below their mouths, right about where their foot starts.

At first I was very excited about my hyphenated slug trail in case it was evidence  of a sense of sluggular humor. Slugs are known for randiness and ick, but not really humor, so much. But what I saw on the sidewalk was precisely the joke in the comic strip Family Circus. Little Billy is supposed to come straight home but never does. He goes all over the place! Ha ha! It's such a staple of hilarity you can count on seeing it every couple weeks. Could my hyphenated gastropod be pulling a funny? Comedy has to start somewhere. There's a lot of evolution involved before you get to true stand-up, as pioneered by the meerkat family.

We like it damp here, and so do slugs. You could dang near navigate by slug trail on a full moon night. So when a Facebook friend posted a photo of a heavily slimed tree and asked whatever it could be--tree sap was the prevailing guess--I informed him he was looking at the aftermath of a slug orgy. I was right, too, but for some reason no one believes me anymore. [At least, not since the time I declared that a group of caterpillars once beat up a famous entomologist, trashed his place, stole his coin collection, and bought a bunch of meth.]

But I knew it was a slug orgy because one of the many things slugs do with their vaunted mucus is goo themselves up to a tree branch and hang from a slime string to have sex, and lots of it, and they aren't at all averse to doing it in a group. Everybody has the same equipment. A slug is not just an undifferentiated bag of snot: each slug has one vagina, one penis, one nostril, one mouth, one anus, and one foot. Pity the poor forensic artist who has to work with that description.

The hyphens! That's it! Slugs got only one foot! They're hopping!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


These days it's more important than ever to stay informed. Everyone says so. We must be intelligent consumers of the news, able to discern fact from fiction in a world that aims to deceive. That's right. News is something we consume. Not sure what happens to it down the line.

Say you find something interesting, something serious, something from a famously thoughtful journal, and you click on it. You settle back. It's a comprehensive review of judicial and recent stippled history as it pertains to the current ascendancy of the alt-elf estate, with bonus analysis by highly ornamental exports in the field of cross-germinated flagitation. You concentrate on the first few paragraphs, consuming away in a righteous state, brow furrowed, and when it doesn't seem to be in a hurry to wrap up, you start to wonder how long is this, and you glance over at the scroll bar, just to see exactly what sort of commitment is being asked of you, and that little dingus is way up there on the page, and then you go back in for another paragraph or so, soldiering away, but it's troubling, and then you give that scroll bar a big spin like Wheel of Fortune, and holy moly but it's a long one, and so you bookmark the page and file it away in your online hidey-hole of worthy things you mean to read sometime, which is nearly as virtuous as reading it, and have to recuperate with a video of kittens falling off things.

Don't let this happen to you.

Because these days it's more important than ever to monitor your information diet so as not to damage delicate emotional tissues. It's not that you don't want to stay informed but sometimes a glancing blow of news is good enough. Get the gist, enough to fill in the right bubbles on the ballot, and move on with your life. Fortunately there are ways to gauge your level of involvement before it's too late.

For instance, listen to the language in the first few moments of a radio broadcast. They'll tell you what you're in for right up front. It's a good sign if the host of a show is going to have a conversation around something. Or if he is interviewing someone and asks for help to get his head around an issue. Or even wrap it around. You can anticipate a pretty easy data dump here--a moderate but not insurmountable degree of information is headed your way. If you're lucky, they'll even do some spitballing, or they'll offer to circle back.

But use caution if someone is planning to unpack a story. That can get grisly in a hurry. Before you know it, they'll threaten to drill down or, worse, do a deep dive. You might want to back off and change the dial until you find someone willing to give you the takeaway.

The takeaway is really where it's at, but keep your instincts sharp; if the conclusion is anything other than "The future still remains to be seen," or "No one expects that to change anytime soon," you might be getting into some suspect content there.

In troubled times, you're probably safest just getting your news from snappy memes on social media. These are designed to be short, sassy, and to the point. Your friend might post it with the single comment "This." Or, look for something that ends in "Think about it. Take all the time you need." This will generally be a slam-dunk absurdity and, usually, a shout-out to the choir, which should puff out your righteousness sails for minutes at a time.

For even more pointed commentary, look for the words "Let that sink in."

There! That didn't take long! Now you know which bubbles to fill in, you've limited your exposure to abrasive reality, and you're back in kitten territory.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Oh, Fudge It

What's in YOUR refrigerator?
I believe in tradition, even if I have to make one up every year, and so it is with solemn pride that I report this is the thirty-fifth year in a row I have screwed up the fudge-slathered fudge cake in a completely new way.

It's never come out right, but it never comes out wrong the same way twice. I am not a baker. A baker understands things about temperature and chemistry and eggs. I have the reputation in my family as a baker on account of I do bake things, and I bake things because I like eating baked goods. In much the same way, Dave is a cook because he likes eating, um, food. We come as a set. It usually works out.

My baking works out mainly because it's hard to throw flour and sugar and butter and cream together without getting something yummy out of it, even if you have to rename it.

Usually I mess up the fudge frosting on the fudge-slathered fudge cake. It either sets up too strenuously and slabs onto the cake like shingles, or stucco, or something other than smooth shiny slatherance; or, conversely, it doesn't set up at all, and we have to chase it all over the counter with spoons. In all likelihood this is a matter of temperature and if I were an actual baker I would have a sense how hot to bile it and for how long, OR I would have a thermometer and precise instructions. The recipe doesn't mention a thermometer. It merely suggests I cook it on medium low for about ten minutes. On the test kitchen's stove, using the test kitchen's saucepan. The home cook is on her own.

I messed up the frosting a little this time. Calls for six ounces of unsweetened chocolate, for which I substituted the three ounces I actually had on hand, two ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips, and a pale, desiccated old ounce I scrounged from my neighbor, because it's not really Thanksgiving unless you're missing a key ingredient and the stores are all closed.

I don't usually mess up the cake. At least, not any more than it's been messed up every year. It involves whipped-up egg whites and whipped-up egg yolks. You're supposed to fold the egg whites into the rest of the cake batter. "Folding" egg whites is one of those baker jokes. Real bakers laugh themselves silly over putting that instruction into a recipe, because it is not possible to mix fluffy egg whites into chocolate and ground nuts and keep any loft in them at all. There's really no point. Nevertheless, I try for it every year. The two cake layers bake up fluffy and then swoon into sad little cratered crackers as they cool.

This year, however, I dropped a bit of egg yolk into the egg whites and couldn't persuade it out, so I just went ahead and tried to whip it all into Soft Peaks. I did not achieve Soft Peaks. I achieved an apathetic foam floating on a sea of snot.

Hell with it, I said. It's not like this cake ever stays fluffy anyway. I mashed all the egg portions together with the nuts and chocolate and poured the whole mess into the pans, and I will be dogged if the cake didn't turn out better than it ever had. It's not fluffy, of course, but this time it's not actually concave.

Well! The frosting turned out perfect too. Without any doubt, this was the most successful fudge-slathered fudge cake in 35 years. Somewhere, there's a cabal of bakers cackling their fannies off thinking of how much pointless bullshit they get people to do. I should've known right off the bat when the first instruction was "grease two pans and then line with tin foil." Because everyone knows how much tin foil loves to stick to pans! Very funny, baker cabal.

Next year I'm going to throw all the ingredients at once into a big bowl and chuck eggs into it from across the room, fish out the shell fragments, and mix. It'll be fine.