Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Adam and Eve had belly buttons. I know because they're in all the pictures. The pictures were divinely inspired, so they must have been there; and Adam was made out of mud, so I'm thinking God stuck a thumbprint in him while he was baking, so his eventual offspring wouldn't feel weirded out about their navels. That's the only thing I can come up with and it does speak well of God, who nevertheless went on to do a heck of a lot of smiting, but things were fresh and new then, and everyone felt optimistic.

But if you keep on with this story you'll quickly arrive at more questions than answers. For instance: who did First Sons Cain and Abel get children by? All the possibilities are awkward.

As it happens, this question has troubled people through the ages. It doesn't trouble people at all that nobody ever mentions any daughters of Adam and Eve, because after all they're just females, but speculating about such daughters and their possible coital relationships with their brothers has put religious folk in a flat tizzy for thousands of years. (No more than six thousand, though.) There has to be another explanation. So one theory goes that Cain got a wife from a race of humans that pre-dated Adam and Eve. Which is problematic if you've already swallowed the notion that Adam and Eve were the first and nobody ever said anything about Neanderthals.

So not many people go with that. We're left with Cain and Abel marrying their own sisters, and, as has been pointed out, there's nothing in Genesis that rules out that Adam and Eve had daughters first, especially since they wouldn't have been important enough to mention. Also, Adam had another son, Seth, when he was 130 years old and then he lived another 800 years. Say what you will about our progenitors, they knew how to get lead in their pencils. The idea here is that after a short period of time you'd have scads of humans running around and plenty of broads to choose from, were you Cain or Abel, although they'd all be pretty seriously related.

Which is obviously appalling, or at least frowned upon in most of your modern cults. How can we reconcile this? Easy peasy. God never told anyone he couldn't marry his own sister. Especially since he gave him no alternatives. God didn't have a thing to say about that until he changed the rules and funneled them through Moses. Up until then it was fine. You can't commit incest if there's no such thing as incest, but after a certain point, as outlined in Leviticus, there were all sorts of rules. You don't even want to know. Cain and Abel got in under the deadline.

So we can assume that Cain and Abel had carnal relations with their own sisters.

Nobody said they had to enjoy it.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Another Place The Shoe Fits

The country is being ripped apart by hatred, so Republican strategists have rolled out a new initiative: I Know You Are, But What Am I? And that is why we Democrats and liberals are now being called racists. Because we persist in calling everybody racist.

Except, Sugar? It's not true. We only call racists racists. It just seems like everybody, these days. Believe me, we're not happy about that. Nobody's "playing the race card." Even though it's, ah, a trump card. Our problem is that our whole deck is full of those shitty cards. We would be so happy if the pit boss would come along and swap out that deck, but we can only play with what we got. And what we got here living among us is a shit-ton of racists.

And a lot of them are accusing us liberals of trying to sow division and hatred by calling our President and his supporters hateful names. Why, they even say we want a civil war!

Yeah, no. No we the hell don't. We aren't even armed. What are we going to do, whack you with our Talking Stick? (Because that is an improper use of a Talking Stick.)

Yes. We're scared of you. Because you're scared of everyone else. Y'all are frankly terrifying in all your fear. We're not inclined to violence and we got nothing in our tool bucket to make you go away, but if something were to happen and you were gone, we'd be relieved. Some quick, tidy, painless thing. Maybe the Rapture. Oh praise the Lord, let it come, so the rest of us Americans, in all our splendid variety, can continue on in peace without you.

The only bright spot in all of this is that apparently, at this writing, people still consider it a bad thing to be called a racist. Ain't that quaint? They have no problem being racist but they don't want to wear the T-shirt. Despite a nearly complete inability among many white people to imagine a person of color, other than Morgan Freeman, as entirely human, they do not want to be called racists. They're fine with people of color existing as long as they do it quietly and far away.

We're not racists, they say. It's not racist to call out people who knock over liquor stores and break into houses and sit around all day drinking Colt 45 and collect welfare checks and food stamps, and it's not our fault if all of those people happen to be black. They're either guilty or they look just like someone who is, so it's no wonder the police give 'em an extra thump just to make sure. You can't blame the police for that. And it's not our fault so many of those people are in prison, because they wouldn't be there if they didn't deserve to be.

And Muslims. There is no reason to wear the hijab if you're not trying to hide a bomb. Those people are dedicated to enshrining Sharia law in America and outlawing Christianity, and our own God and Constitution are not strong enough to withstand a threat like that. It's not racist to sound the alarm about those people if it's true. It's just standing up for what we believe in. You know. Freedom.

And don't tell us those "refugees" at the border aren't a threat. A good parent feeds and clothes her child and makes sure she goes to school. You sure as hell don't march your little kid across a thousand miles of desert to sneak into a better country and steal someone else's job. What kind of monster would be that cruel? Fix your own damn country, that's what a good parent would do. My God. So obvious. These are not good people. It's not racist to say so, if it's a fact.

Thieves and terrorists and drug dealers don't belong here. It's not our fault that we can tell who they are just by looking.

Well bless my buttons. What happened to the Home of the Brave? I don't understand much of this. I don't know why folks who are proud to sling rifles over their fat butts in the town square are so damned afraid of so many powerless people.

But I did just think of a good place to store my Talking Stick.

As this post rolls out at 3am PST, Portland is, reluctantly, about to host a swarm of right-wing provocateurs from across the nation. Many of them haven't been laid in a long time and they're very interested in exercising themselves violently. They are likely to find willing foils on the left here, and they know it. Ordinarily, I like to attend these events to witness and to point and laugh (as appropriate). I'm skipping this one. I don't actually want to die yet. Wish us luck.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Coming Clean

If you have spent nearly your whole life paying people to grind trees into lint, roll it up, and pack it into an eternal shroud made of refined crude oil, just so you can wipe your butt, it's hard to come clean.

There are just some luxuries you'd miss more than others.

I don't have to have the fancy toilet paper. I don't even want the fancy toilet paper. I once tried someone's Charmin, which is made of baby fontanels stacked four-ply with cherub breath quilted inside, and it's so soft you feel like you're stripping the wings off a fairy with each wipe. It's disconcerting. Not only is it more comfort than anyone should have on the toilet, but it supports at least forty years of the worst advertising campaigns the world has ever known, wherein we finally ditched Mr. Whipple only to replace him with fat technicolor bears and the stupidest tag line in history: "We all have to Go--why not enjoy the Go?" In other news, it is not possible to break a television screen with a bag of Cheetos.

The Charmin bears, if you ask me, are awfully fussy about something they're supposed to be doing in the woods.

Animals don't use toilet paper. Our cat Tater, for example, does not wipe herself, and we can monitor the condition of her nethers, because unlike the previous cat (Saint) Larry, she is a tail-up kind of gal. She never looks smeary or anything. It makes you wonder why people need so much clean-up. I believe this has something to do with our notable buns. That's a lot of real estate for a turd to get through. Cats don't have buns. The fattest cat you know is still just a bunch of scaffolding with a pucker-button on one end.

Anyway, humans have not always had toilet paper at all, although it does go back a long way. Toilet paper was first manufactured in China in the sixth century A.D., where it was considered a stout improvement over stone tablets. All sorts of other botanicals have been used, as well as wool, stones, snow, and (famously) corn cobs, which is the item I have the most trouble imagining. I mean, if you're itchy, sure. And, of course, the Persians would just scoot on their carpets.

With the advent of the printing press, newsprint and books became an excellent vehicle for personal tidiness and enlightenment. In a story attributed to Lord Chesterfield, a gentleman picked up a cheap copy of Horace, read a page or two, and--speaking of fancy--"sent them down as a sacrifice to Cloacina." Cloacina was the goddess who presided over the Cloaca Maxima, which refers not to Catherine the Great but to the main drain of the Roman sewer system. She'd rather have been the ambassador to the Cook Islands like anyone else but sometimes you've got to work your way up.

It wasn't until 1857 that modern toilet paper was invented, although some brands were advertised as "splinter-free" as late as the Depression. Colored TP was introduced during the 'Sixties, when white people used it without a trace of irony. And of course many brands were and are perfumed. I don't know why. Maybe to throw off the dog.

So, back to our original plaint. 27,000 trees are sacrificed every day for toilet paper. The softest fanciest brands, such as Charmin, are indeed made of virgin old-growth trees and its purchasers should really consider getting over themselves. Especially since you can now purchase toilet tissue fashioned from bamboo or hemp. Hemp, of course, according to its fervent yet relaxed proponents, can be made into virtually anything, from rope to paper to clothing to beer to soap. Notable hemp activist James "Jim Jim" "Spiffo" "Soo-wheet!" Spackleworth was even reported to have designed a working constructivist paradigm transmogrifier out of hemp and popsicle sticks, although his notes didn't make sense in the morning.

Whether one opts for the more environmentally friendly versions of toilet paper or not, it's no doubt inarguable that most of us use more than we need to. In olden times people were probably a lot more conservative with it than they are now. I know the arrival of the Sears & Roebuck catalog was a much anticipated event on the farm my mom grew up on, and had a bigger impact on the whole region than internet advertising could ever hope to.

At any rate, let's get some perspective on the famous "over-under" toilet roll controversy. Don't be precious. If it really bugs you that much, you can fix it yourself. You're just sitting there.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Crashing Soon Into A House Near You

I hear tell the Postal Service is experimenting with driverless trucks. This is in line with everything else they've tried in the last twenty years. Basically, the Postal Service thinks everything will go a lot smoother if they could just get rid of those pesky employees. A lot of them are unkempt and disheveled and whiney, and virtually all of them want pay, medical insurance and some sort of retirement plan. They're a pretty solid minus for the outfit in all respects except customer service, but the plan is to thin out the customer base too, so it should pencil out.

When I started as a letter carrier in 1977, human beings had their smeary hands pretty much all over the mail distribution process. Every letter got fingered many times by many people; mail got banded out, stuffed into canvas sacks and tossed around; it was efficient, it was accurate, it was extraordinary, really; it turns out the cleverest machine isn't really a match for a postal brain, even one of your lower-quality ones. Kids didn't have asthma or allergies back then either, no doubt on account of the protective influence of mailman germs delivered directly to their doors.

Not now, boy howdy. Your letters get picked up from the mailbox and immediately sluiced into an automated system like pigs in a slaughterhouse, barcoded, scanned, sliced into salami, and shot into the ether, ultimately landing, a bunch of the time, in the correct town and in the care of the correct carrier, a carrier with his pride and joy removed, who is also barcoded, scanned, and remotely monitored for malingering--a recipe for trudging if ever I heard one.

It's a postal manager's dream.

So. Driverless vehicles. This one really is a good idea. This is going to make America a ton safer. Let's start with me. I hadn't been in the force for a month before I hit something with my truck. (It was a house.) Thirty-one experienced years later, with a month to go, I backed into the side door of a parked car. During the intervening years I started out with a half-ton truck with an immovable seat from which I could reach the mailboxes or the brake, but not both at the same time; the good news was this was when I got in the habit of using my seat belt so as to keep from falling out of the window going for a low box. The Jeeps were more compact but you're still basically motoring down the road to the south with your head cranked to the east, reading envelopes off a tray. Once I slid my door open while I was still moving and it flew right off its track and cartwheeled down the street for a half a block. Nobody got clocked that time and I got it hooked back on by myself. Jeep 988 ("The Death Can") died if you let off the gas for one second, so you had to drive it floored with your other foot on the brake. All day.

They tried to get a few more years out of the fleet by painting the trucks white, but they were old and creaky and eventually they replaced them. With exploding Ford Pintos. You could hear the gasoline sloshing ominously below your butt when you came to a stop. Several other iffy brands were trotted out and retired and finally they designed a new truck just for the Postal Service. It had a driver's window and a windshield and a bedazzlement of tiny mirrors. You could see behind the rear bumper by squinting at the top left mirror in the front aimed at the back left mirror, or was it the second-from-the-top? It was safest just to take it really slow in reverse and keep your ears peeled for thumps and screams.

By all means, bring on the driverless truck. Set it at a solid mosey calculated to stop at every house for whatever time Management thinks it should take, and if someone has a question or outgoing mail or something--too bad!

That's all part of the Customer Reduction Plan.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

New Dawn Coming

This is how it was.

It started just before dawn with a peep here and a warble there and before you knew it, a fabric of bird song was unfurling, birds in the hundreds, saluting the new day, claiming their ground, making a joyful noise. If you were familiar and so inclined, you could tease out the individual threads, or you could just allow the whole brocade to weave itself and wrap around you.

There are places that still host such a wonder, and maybe it's every bit as splendid as it once was, but who's to say? Who remembers? I heard it in West Virginia, a wealth of warblers in their spring migration, returning to the same trees and the same woods in the same mountains they were born. It's an extravagance of life, except where the mountains were decapitated for coal and their dismembered bodies dumped in the streams.

But most of us do not wake to the dawn chorus anymore. Maybe we snarl awake to one crow we find annoying. Most likely there are three or four birds in our yard and we can't tell one from the other, or aren't moved to. Three or four ignorable birds seem like the normal amount. We were born yesterday. We have no idea what is missing, so we don't miss it.

That's what happens. Whatever condition you find yourself in, you get used to it quickly. One day you're utterly amazed that you can take a stack of books on vacation on a device the size of a playing card. The next day you find yourself picking up an old paper book and spreading your fingers on the page to enlarge the font.

So it turns out to be really easy to persuade people that global warming isn't a big deal, or that we have nothing to do with it, or even that it isn't really happening. Doesn't matter that it was predicted over a hundred years ago, or that everything scientists have warned us about is already happening, or that the only thing they missed is the torrid pace of it. All it takes is a bunch of money; a disinformation campaign and propaganda outlets created and funded to spread it; and an underlying resentment to exploit, a suspicion that over-educated scientists are scolds who think they're better than we are. And that bumbling fop Al Gore, annoying as a morning crow, is just in it for the money.

Because it's simply not possible. There's no way humans could have an effect on something as huge as the climate. That's ridiculous. The climate changes. It always has. It can't be us.

But it's not only true, it's obvious, if you take just a step back and pack a few facts in your pocket. The composition of the atmosphere has changed a number of times for a number of reasons. Ultimately it comes down to where the carbon is. At one time plants grew so large that they pulled carbon from the air and loaded it up with oxygen. Firestorms released the carbon again. Plants were submerged in warm, rising waters and the carbon was buried in the ground in the form of oil and coal. Quarantined. For 300 million years. If we come along and pull sixty million years'-worth of safely buried carbon and burn it up again in a matter of a hundred years or so, it's back in the air. Fast.

So what people who scoff fail to appreciate is what a special time we are living in. Being able to keep large uninsulated houses the same temperature all year is nice, but it's not normal. Being able to motor a hundred miles for a day trip is nice, but it's not normal. We're on a heck of a ride, but it's costing us. It's more than we can afford.

Our weather isn't normal either. Almost everyone can see that now. Greenland is melting. The Arctic is on fire. More and more, people are coming around to the idea that we really have started something we need to fix. Some day. And now that the writing is on the wall, and we're told we have maybe a decade to kick our fossil fuel addiction--to leave it in the ground--it's more important than ever that we learn why. Facts we got. It's wisdom we need.

Because it's going to be damned hard. And, as always, it's going to be even harder on the poor. Our task is nearly impossible, but the alternative is not survivable. We all need to understand how urgent our situation is, or we will be conned once again by the first rapacious gasbag who tells us that the liberal elites want us to pay a buck more for gasoline. Or take away our "freedom" to use plastic straws. Or foist "socialism" on us, whatever vague horror we imagine that to be.

We're in a stupid amount of trouble.

These liars are not on our side. They're not even on their own side. We are sunk if we believe life began with us, that our unfathomable, unprecedented power is our birthright, if we believe our diminished world, our endless striving for material accumulation, and our dissatisfaction with it--that all of that is normal. What birds? We never had birds here.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Blaming It On Clayton

What happens is, we plant a perfectly sound plant in apparently decent soil and it putzes along for a year or two, gets its feet under it, and then goes splendid; it is a joy to one and all; passers-by light up when they catch sight of it; the angels smile down upon it; and then it dies for no reason. And Dave and I point at the corpse and pout and our eyes narrow and we growl in unison:


Clayton was our next-door neighbor when we moved in 41 years ago, and there was nothing about him that made us want to get to know him any better, until a kid burned down our garage and half our yard while we were away and it finally occurred to us we should make an effort to meet our neighbors. Clayton was friendly enough. But there were things.

Such as the thing he had about pouring used motor oil into the soil under our laurel hedge. And because he owned a horrible car he went through a lot of motor oil. The hedge was no prize. I trimmed it twice a year and it was twelve feet across in places. You don't want a laurel hedge, but it came with the place. NASA could have saved a ton of money on the moon shot just by allowing a laurel hedge to grow unimpeded and sticking an astronaut on top of it. "Hey, don't pour that motor oil into the soil," I might have eeped when I first caught him doing it. "It's okay," he said, "it keeps your weeds down."

Which was true. Nothing grew under that hedge, although it should be noted the laurel wasn't affected in any way.

Clayton shrugged and said he'd quit, but I know he didn't.

Fast-forward ten years, and Clayton had suffered a relatively early death that was nevertheless in no way premature. We could have started not missing him a lot earlier, as far as I was concerned. We put an addition on our house and Dave leveled the laurel hedge. "We'll never be rid of it," I lamented, but Dave was strong and tireless and also had a 1969 four-wheel-drive International Harvester pickup truck and a big chain and access to the company flatbed and by gum if there's no trace of the hedge now.

In its place, for a solid year at least, was a big pile of excavation dirt that Dave shoved around with a rented Bobcat. I announced my intention to do away with our lawn altogether, whilst grass sprouted audibly everywhere. One day we even got a visit from a city employee who hoped to pin a Nuisance notice on our door and scoot on out of there, but he was intercepted by Dave, who emerged in his bathrobe, kicked a beer can off the porch, hawked a tobacco loogey, and hooked a thumb toward the back yard. "Them's just decorative grasses," he said.

"You'll never get rid of all that grass," he lamented later, but I did.

Same view 2018
The current garden is relatively impressive due to my strategy of throwing out all the dead stuff. But it keeps happening. A plant will putter along fine for a few years and then make a strangly sound and keel over. My suspicion is that the roots finally get down to the motor oil field. And that oil field is extensive because that soil got Bobcatted all over the place.

"Clayton!" we mutter.

It's probably not Clayton. It's probably nematodes or Verticillium Wilt or a drainage issue or all of the above. But it's satisfying to have someone to blame it all on. We can just snarl Clayton and plant something new, and move on. Whenever anything good or worthy dies, it's Clayton. Though I would never rule out Mitch McConnell.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Doot Dots

With carbon molecule for size
There was a dot on my wall the other day. Looked a lot like a house fly doot, except it was moving. Ambulatory poop always merits close inspection.

Tiny little sucker though. I couldn't even focus on it so I took a picture and blew it up. Sure enough it was a working beetle of some kind--possibly a pet for a ladybug. A few days later I saw another one. Then a dead one. Then a couple more live ones. The Doot Dots were trending.

So I looked them up on the internet, which has everything. And the very first photo that came up was my guy. He's a Carpet Beetle. He just mates and dies, but his babies eat carpets.

It's always a bad sign when the first ten pages of Google hits on a subject are from pest control outfits. And how could there have been carpet beetles all this time and I've never heard of them until now?

What else is out there that I don't know about? Linoleum flies? Chintz bugs? Wallboard weevils? I was a bit concerned because we have invested in good wool rugs. I finally found an article not written by an exterminator and discovered the following: carpet beetle larvae feed on animal-based items such as feathers, silk, wool, and fur. The adults like to mate near a light source, so I assume they do not engage in body-shaming, even though, like most beetles, they're awfully round. My beetles are true to form. They're mostly on a guest bed that Tater cat prefers. The pillow is a feather pillow and the pillowcase is felted in cat fuzz. Plenty to graze on. And there's a window right above it. Bada-beetle-boom.

Really, despite the exterminators' best efforts, it was hard to work up a good lather about the carpet beetles. They aren't really big enough to do a ton of damage in a hurry. And they prefer to dine undisturbed, so even going around scaring your linens once in a while might be sufficient to deter them.

Where they are really of concern is in museums and taxidermy shops. They like to eat dead insects and if you happen to have a valuable dead insect collection you're definitely going to want to monitor for the beetles. My own dead insect collection, which I store mainly in cold-air vents and light fixtures, is still purely at the hobby level.

And I had only the one plan for taxidermy. I was going to be stuffed upon my demise and mounted in a zombie pose inside a sheetrock partition somewhere so I can make a final impression on whoever eventually does the demolition. Now I have to worry that my victim will be only momentarily startled and then go "Oh, look, carpet beetle damage. That's not alive."

Anyway I'm not planning to do much about them at this point. It says here they're drawn to "stored or rarely used items such as pet dander," which is a concern. It's so hard to throw away your pet dander because you know just as soon as you do, you're going to need it.

The adults do fly and that's considered a nuisance by some, but I'm not sure I'll be able to distinguish them from my eyeball floaters. They're preyed upon by ants but I'm not about to introduce an ant population to clean up my carpet beetles. I know that song. Eventually somebody swallows a horse, and they die, of course.

Really, all they say to do is vacuum regularly and move your stuff around. Essentially, the beetles succumb to normal household hygiene. So it looks like ours will be around for a while.

They'll chew away at the fabric of our lives under cover of darkness and we won't even know the extent of the damage until it's too late. Nothing to do but vote the little suckers out.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Holy Crap

My friend David sent me a link to a poop article. This happens. It's like how people know where to dump off their unwanted kittens so they'll be taken care of. Poop articles come here to feel less lonely.

But until David sent me this one, I had no idea anyone ever thought about whether or not Jesus pooped. It never occurred to me he didn't. All men do, even John Wayne, who was discovered to be packing forty pounds of impacted fecal matter at his autopsy, which might have accounted for his gait.

That, of course, is patently ridiculous. Forty pounds of poop! John Wayne did not even have an autopsy. People are mixing him up with Elvis Presley, who did have an autopsy, at which he was reported to be harboring an even more stupendous quantity of stale caca, but the quality of the autopsy is suspect, inasmuch as he hasn't even stayed reliably dead.

Which, I guess, brings us back to Jesus.

The problem, for many Christians throughout the millennia, is that Jesus is thought to be both human and God, and for some reason people don't like to think about God taking a dump, even though he has a throne. I'm not sure why something as natural and, frankly, satisfying as a bowel movement has gotten such a bad rap that we would deny the pleasure to the gods.

Probably this indicates my own privilege. The whole routine has always been a snap for me, and the first couple years my poop was someone else's problem. But when I once asked my parents what they thought was the greatest innovation in their lives--I was thinking about airplanes, and automatic washers, and rocket ships, and such--they both said, fervently and in unison, indoor plumbing. So. This business of making poop disappear with several gallons of perfectly good drinking water is kind of new, humanity-wise.

Anyway, some of your earlier Christians thought Jesus only appeared to have a human body but was really a god, through and through, running a sort of parlor trick, if you will. And these Christians thought Jesus never actually dropped a load. This position is known as "Docetism," from the Greek word dokein ("dookie"). No wonder the Trinity is so hard to comprehend. We can't even get past number two.

All of this kind of makes me feel sorry for Jesus, and not just for that part toward the end. Surely a man of his talents could turn shit into sugarplums if that's what a sensitive populace demanded. He did amazing things with a single loaf of bread and a dead fish, as you'll recall. And if he didn't poop, he'd have to keep a tight rein on that sort of behavior or he'd be one tunafish sandwich away from a serious personal backup.

There has to be some sort of mechanism for this celebrated self-control, or lo, it will be with him alway, even unto the end of the world. The explanations given are less than satisfying from a scientific standpoint. For instance, according to a second-century teacher named Valentinus, "Jesus digested divinity: he ate and drank in a special way without excreting his solids. He had such a great capacity for continence that the nourishment within him was not corrupted, for he did not experience corruption." That's religion for you--you're just supposed to accept that.

But it only raises more questions. For instance, did people in the second century, when they hit their fingers with a hammer, yell Oh, Experience Corruption?

At any rate, the digestive method described by Mr. Valentinus must be something like sublimation, the process by which a solid (in this case feces) makes a transition directly to a gas. Big deal. I do that all day long.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

It Came From Out Of The Ground!

We grow the same vegetables every year. Sugar snap peas. Asparagus. Peppers and basil. And of course tomatoes. They even ripen now, and not just at two minutes before frost, because of the global warming. You have to grow your own tomatoes. Eating tomatoes from the store, even in the summer, is like going on a hot date with someone's avatar.

But for much of my life I didn't care much about vegetables. I assumed they were just on the plate to chaperone the meat. Salads were pointless. Something to soldier through.

When my Dad retired, he started making space for vegetables in the flower gardens. I have photos of him looking mighty pleased with his harvest, and he wasn't a smiley sort. I understood in theory, but put it down to one more odd thing only old people get excited about, like compression socks and lemon drops. My sister's been like this all along but she sort of started out old.

But something happened to me in the last few years. I like vegetables now. And salads. What the hell. Last year we stuck in some lettuce plants and it blew my mind how I could trot out the kitchen door and snap up a bunch of greens just like that. This year I thought maybe we could do some advanced college-level vegetables. Broccoli. Cauliflower. Brussels sprouts.

I didn't have a lot of hope for them, though. Seems to me we tried some Brassicas the first year we got this house, and they turned into an aphid maternity ward. I'm not even sure we ate any. And, after all, they were only vegetables. If Brussels sprouts made meatballs I might have been more concerned.

My plants jumped up quickly and I maybe checked them once or twice but basically I was waiting for them to fuzz over with aphids, at which point I would conclude they were about ready. So imagine my surprise when I peered into the top of one of my plants and found a broccoli bigger than my head! And another! And another! I didn't know what to do. Here I had a shit-ton of gorgeous broccoli all ready at once and no idea, other than sharing with neighbors, what to do with it. Until it occurred to me that you could put more than gin in a freezer. Enter Google and a plan began to emerge.

Well I couldn't be more pleased with myself. I now have six bags of blanched broccoli in the freezer and more fresh in the fridge. Why, I'm just like Grandma! Things have been Put By! In fact I'm exactly like Grandma, assuming she didn't also have to slop the hogs and milk the cows and feed the menfolks and strangle a chicken and hie off to the windbreak in the snow to go potty. All right. Comparing myself to Grandma is like getting into college as a Legacy. It's cheap ancestral credit.

The Googles said to soak the broccoli in salt water for a while to discipline any resident insects. But I didn't have any insects. Oh wait! Oh there they are. Hmm. Tucked way up in there, huh? Lookit that. They look right cozy. Hmm. Well, it's not like I didn't go ahead and bake a bunch of blackberry maggot pies that one year. The Googles say it's just extra protein and nobody will be the worse for it, and everybody did eat the pie, except myself, because I felt an allergy to larvae coming on, which is, I tell you, a thing.

Grandpa and Grandma
Blanching is a silly word for something that turns purple asparagus green or green broccoli greener, but we're stuck with it, and I did it. And I did pose with my broccoli haul, and I will be damned if I didn't feel mighty pleased with myself. Just like Dad.

Of course, I am old.

But not THIS old. Hey! Monday was Dad's birthday. Happy 111th, Daddy!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Fun On A Bun

There's no better sign that the vegan movement is gaining traction than that the state of Mississippi has just banned the use of "burger" or "hot dog" to describe plant-based products. Mississippi is afraid that if consumers get the idea there are attractive alternatives to ground-up cows, they might be moved to try one. One might wonder why the state of Mississippi cares about such things, but in fact Mississippi is very attuned to the needs of even its post-fetal cattle. Ha ha! Not really, just its cattle industry, not the cattle so much. And its cattle industry does not want anything cutting into its market share.

The ostensible reason for the ban is that it is too confusing for the consumer, who might assume a "vegan burger" is full of meat. And that may in fact be the case for Miss'ippi citizens, whose educational system is not, shall we say, well-done. A certain portion of the populace might be highly tempted to try a vegan burger, imagining that it is made out of shredded vegans, and about time, boy howdy. Because if there's one thing America can agree on, it's that vegans are annoying and should be culled, even if they're stringy and not well-marbled. They are annoying because they share a number of well-thought-out reasons to forgo meat and meat products, from humane considerations to the existential threat to the environment from factory farming and ranching, and mostly, we don't. We might if we thought about it a little, but there's bacon. And cheese.

Producers of plant-based burgers and dogs believe it is unreasonable to demand that they be required to market Nut 'N' Lentil Pucks, and how is it the slaughterhouses get to lay claim to the burger name anyway? "Burger" is just short for "Hamburger" which is short for "Hamburg steak" and didn't even initially include the bun, and the fair residents of Hamburg ("Hamburgers") might well be miffed about the association; and, as well, the citizens of Sandwich, England might prefer the bread item be named after the actual fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who invented the thing. Add in the Swiss cheese and French fries and the fact that there's hardly a country that our president hasn't insulted by now, and you can see we could be in a pickle, as it were.

Because if people start getting all lawsuity about this whole thing, Mississippi ranchers might be forced to sell Mashed Moo Montagu instead of hamburgers.

A whole other threat to the cattle industry comes in the form of laboratory-produced meat, or actual muscle meat grown in a lab, cell by cell, which, if quality control can be trusted to remove random tusk growths and hoof eruptions, rivals dead meat in every respect. Most people find the entire idea of lab-grown meat repulsive in a way that bloody slabs of cruelly-raised, shot-up, and tortured livestock simply does not.

I'm not discounting that consumers can be confused by labeling. Who among us has not wondered who milks all the little almonds, or whether a beefsteak tomato needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145, or if soda pop is drained from someone's actual dad?

But the stated reason for the ban is belied by its own proponents, who say that the bill "protects farmers from having to compete with products not harvested from an animal." Because we certainly don't want that.

Well, it's not just me. Even the strictest vegan can recognize Bull when she sees it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

He Worked Hod For A Living

"I put a brick in your garden," Dave said.

I wasn't sure what to do with this information, but he appeared to be waiting for a response.

"Did you."

He did. There was an air of expectancy. I looked up. Dave is a brick guy, after all, and has a certain personal aesthetic.

"Well, I'm sure it's in just the right spot."

"You should go look for it. It's hidden," he said. There were a number of things I could have been doing at the moment. I wasn't doing them, but I still wasn't up for finding a brick in a garden spanning two city lots.

"Hidden in plain sight," he wheedled.

We settled for my vowing to keep an eye out for it in the course of my usual wanderings. And sure enough, a week later, I found his brick. In plain sight. It said "HIDDEN." Pretty long wait for a punchline payoff, but hey.

A few months later I found another brick. This one said "E J JEFFERY 1871." It gave me a sense of foreboding. One HIDDEN brick is one thing. You can see the point of that. Two special bricks, and we're getting perilously close to having a collection. I wasn't sure we needed a brick collection. Or if there was such a thing.

My dad used to say that no matter how obscure an item seemed to be, you would discover that there is a whole society devoted to it, with a membership roster, and collections of it all over the world, an associated magazine ("Scurvy Scraper Monthly"), and a thriving exchange market. And he didn't know nothing about no internet.

I looked up E J JEFFERY 1871 and instantly found out Mr. Jeffery owned a brick yard in Portland, Oregon and that he supplied brick for the courthouse and they were all stamped 1872. Not only that, but his brick yard had been located on my old mail route. Not a trace of it remains, but even now a building can be demolished and a new one erected and two weeks later you can't remember what the old one looked like even if you walked by it every day. Could it be Dave's new brick was valuable? That the famous brickmaker who built the courthouse had a rare, earlier model? It didn't take too many more clicks to discover that Dad's observation held true. There are brick collectors.


Now, a brick collection can be a fine thing, if it is assembled into a useful and attractive wall. Dave had accomplished that very thing twenty years ago. It's possible he doesn't get the credit from the neighbors he should have. He spent most of the summer hand-grading the perimeter of the yard, which involved removing obstinate roots, sieving out bucket after bucket of cobble from the old Ice Age Floods, forming and leveling a footing, pouring it in sections as time and the demands of paying work dictated, fashioning forms for arches, removing the footing forms, estimating and ordering block and mortar supplies, setting up work stations and stocking planks, and finally he assembled a crack team of bricklayers and made 5,000 sandwiches and whammo, all in one day 300 feet of wall went up around our yard. "Your friends sure do get a lot done in a hurry," one neighbor observed, and I, being familiar with the man, could see the whole thought process written on his madly blinking face: whereas I dug and scraped and sweated and did all this and hauled all that all summer long and all they had to do was show up, butter some bricks, stick them on top of each other, and drink beer all night, but I believe his actual words were "Yes Ma'am."

Anyway, that's a fine brick collection.

I checked. Dave's bricks aren't valuable and he hasn't accumulated any more of them. We're holding steady at Two. I think we've dodged the collection bullet.

We, personally, are holding steady at 36. Happy Anniversary, Dave!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

A Tornadette

As natural disasters go, this one was on the puny side, but it got bonus points for zest and caprice. I mean, no matter where you live, you carry with you a notion of what's liable to get you, and what isn't. You develop a steely, studied nonchalance toward the likely events and the rest aren't even on your radar.

Even when it's a tornado, which is something that is totally supposed to be on radar.

So here in our little neighborhood, we don't give any thought to wildfire, or flood, or hurricane, or tsunami, or avalanche, or tornado. We're urban, and on high ground. And yet in the space of a few months we've had a flood, when a major water main blew up and emitted 30,000 gallons of water per minute into the streets for hours, and a tornado, caused by God only knows what, although localized outbreaks of sodomy are as good an explanation as any.

Homeowners were on the hook for related damages both times. Nobody carries flood insurance or tornado insurance. We still recall the homeowner who couldn't collect when his neighbor's entire house slid down a hill and crashed into his, because his insurance policy didn't cover house-to-house collisions.

The insurance industry is in the business of making shareholders whole.

The dog's name is Paisley.
What we are instructed to worry about here, in the way of natural disasters, would be your massive cataclysmic earthquake, or your volcanic ash-fall. That's about it. So when our tornado touched down, residents shaking in its path were probably thinking: Wow, I knew it would be loud, but I didn't expect it to be this wet.

We were four blocks away and it was just one of those sudden deals wherein the sky looks bent for a minute and then God's own bucket of hail comes down. Nothing unprecedented about that, just another meteorological event in the "doozy" category. We did get one ton of rain and hail for about ten minutes. It was compelling. Dave came bolting through the front door from his walk, looking like a drowned rat, followed by a raft of actual drowned rats for comparison, from the dumpster of the Mexican place on the corner. It was something. Salmon runs convened offshore and considered a comeback. Cactus fields a thousand miles south shuddered into bloom.

But four blocks away trees were coming down, and people peered out their windows to see lawn furniture and branches and surplus poultry and an old bat on a bicycle flying by. It's just not the kind of thing anyone expects.

And that is because weather apps are not all they're cracked up to be. I particularly enjoy Accuweather because of its audacity. "Rain starting in 119 minutes," it will smoothly report, which is just the kind of specificity that can fill a person with confidence that everything is well under control, but nowhere in the Monday report did it mention anything about a petite tornado touching down at 5:24pm. And the nearest trailer park is four miles away.

It was only an 80-mph tornado, just strong enough to make eyes roll in Kansas. But it's not supposed to happen at all. What's next?

God, I hope it's frogs.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

For Love Of Country

Scenes from a neighborhood fireworks display
We're 243 years along on this experiment in liberty, a little late to learn it is traitorous to take a knee in peaceful protest, or stand quietly during our anthem, or fail to wear a flag pin in our lapels, or abandon any other symbol of patriotism-on-the-cheap. We are told we disrespect our troops. "I hope you sleep well tonight, under that blanket of freedom our men and women in uniform have won for you," a man sneers, trotting out a road-tested narrative from the think tanks of our overlords.

It's repeated so often--that our brave men and women are dying for our freedom--that a huge swath of the population never stops to question it. But the undoubted courage and sacrifice of our soldiers has often been in service of anything but freedom.

The War of Independence was surely a fight for our freedom, back when we declared prematurely that all men are created equal, but successive armies were put to the task of extinguishing the Shawnee, Cherokee, and Choctaw, who, scientists now agree, were fully human even then. Certainly in the Civil War our soldiers, or half of them, fought for the freedom of slaves. Then our troops were mustered to isolate or destroy the Sioux and the Comanche, and more were sent to colonize the Philippines; and meanwhile, for the next hundred years, law enforcement in the former slave states enforced the utter subjugation of millions of people through murder and terrorism, leaving communities deprived of any property or wealth, with repercussions to this day. And even so, many of us still fly the flag of Jim Crow on our bumpers in the name of some fabled Heritage that should be our shame.

We fought the good fight in World War II, against clear evil, and then sacrificed many thousands more in dubious enterprises that have, whatever their rationales, failed to make the case for war over peace work.

And now our leaders continue to sell us endless war by insisting our brave troops are fighting for our freedom, and we're buying it. Oh, we're paying through the nose for it. Our soldiers are paying even more.

Take Cheney's War, cooked up under false pretenses, ostensibly to free the Iraqis from the authoritarian rule of Saddam Hussein--but then all attempts by Iraqi people to actually conduct free elections were quickly quashed by our forces under orders from an administration that saw its control of Iraqi wealth slipping away; and the rebuilding jobs, promised to citizens whose government jobs were taken away from them, were instead taken over by our soldiers, who were then supplanted by a new private mercenary army at unfathomably greater cost to US taxpayers but tremendous and ongoing profit for private firms like Halliburton and Blackwater.

Our soldiers are fighting, and building, and dying, but not for our freedom. And if I take a knee, or remain silent for our anthem, it will be for them.  Or for anyone else whose freedom is threatened by the actions of my government.

Why dredge up ancient history? This is our truth, and not so ancient. A mature nation must not pretend its way out of it, or merely press a reset button absolving us of our bloody history while we still kill for oil, and declare war on refugees and their children, and demonize the innocent, and incinerate our gorgeous planet for money.

And yet now we are being told that we should not trouble ourselves over these issues, that the patriotic thing to do is cheer and lay ourselves out to be fleeced and continue to send in our brave sons and daughters to be sacrificed for someone else's profit. That to do anything else is to disrespect our troops. No. I respectfully disagree.

There is a reason to glorify our bloated military, to declare it a sign of our strength rather than a failure of our ideals. And that reason is to baffle and bluster us into believing everything we do is for the good, and to distract us from the sins committed in our names. To say: look at these shiny jets, and this procession of armored codpieces-on-a-track, and don't look over there at the war profiteers' growing treasure, and the death and deception that feed it.

But we are a government of, by, and for the people, and anything our leaders do is done in our name, whether it is genocide, or enslavement, or pursuit of the happiness of CEOs at the expense of entire nations. We protest out of love for our nation and its highest ideals. We cannot simply climb aboard the Good Ship America and glide toward our lofty destiny. We stutter and stall and tack toward it at best, and we need all hands on deck.

But we still believe in our path and principles, and it is our highest patriotic calling to keep fighting to form a more perfect union, with liberty and justice for all. All.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Sit Right Back And Hear A Tale

Fossil music was coming right out of our TV.

I didn't even know you could get that sound out of a flat-screen, but sure enough, the dramatic strings and horns of the Perry Mason theme song were charging through the room, and I dropped 55 years just like that.

Perry Mason wasn't one of the shows I watched. In fact, at age ten, I didn't have a show. I played outside, and later watched what Mom and Dad watched, which would be Huntley Brinkley and the Dick Van Dyke show. My friend Carol was nuts about Perry Mason, but she was kind of advanced. She used words like "however" in ordinary conversation. But of course I remember the theme song. And that was enough to get my reverie going.

Shows still have theme songs but they're super snappy and to the point. Everybody has a skillion shows they could pluck out of space at any time and you don't want to make them wait for anything. Nobody today will sit through the Gilligan's Island theme song, which didn't outpeter for about ten minutes, and even with all that, the Professor and Mary Ann were just a footnote. In fact, it says a lot about the nature of time that we did have enough of it to sit through that crappy song. We were marinating in time. We had no fear of missing out: nothing else was happening.

What the theme song did remind me of is how there were certain shows that absolutely everyone watched, and then they'd rehash them all the next day. Ed Sullivan. Batman. Laugh-In. You didn't want to miss your show. And you certainly would miss it if your fanny wasn't in front of the TV when it started. You didn't get another shot at it until the reruns started. That means that you knew all your friends were watching the exact same thing you were, at the exact same time. It was a new, modern, yet remote form of togetherness. It was amazing. Now, unless somebody drops a skyscraper, nobody's watching the same thing at the same time.

We've always been social beasts. But the nature of togetherness changes. My grandparents' generation did togetherness old-school. Physically. And that was probably because they had to cut hay or slap cattle rumps or polish their horses or something. And if your daughter took off for the hinterlands and someone asked you how she was doing, you had no idea. You'd have to wait until a hand-written letter showed up, so it was dependent on the stamina of someone's mule. You'd just stare off into the horizon all wistful-like, and shake your head, and go back to wiping something down. It was a little sad, but it didn't make you crazy like it can now.

Because now you can be together with anyone in the world at any time and there are fifteen different ways of going about it. It's frantic. It's diffuse. It's togetherness in aerosol form. And if your daughter doesn't answer your text right away, you pretty much have to take it personally or imagine the worst. She's out there in that spray somewhere. It's been an hour. Where can she be? Is the mule okay?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

News Out Of Bubonia

Mongolia is reeling at the tragic death by bubonic plague of a couple who snacked on a marmot kidney. Officials are warning that marmot kidneys are dangerous even if you boil the piss out of them, and pretty much any other part of the marmot is a bad meal plan as well.

Bubonic Plague, a.k.a. the Black Death, was famously responsible for wiping millions of people off the map in the Middle Ages, but this couple was just in their thirties.

This is merely the latest in the tragic and terrible trend of Mongolian marmot mastication. The area experiences an average of one death by marmot per year. It's the age-old story. God gave us everything we needed in a beautiful garden and in return asked only one thing, one thing, which was not to eat of the kidney of the marmot, but did we listen? Sure enough the couple goes right for the marmot first thing, and whereas in a similar scenario Adam and Eve discovered they were naked, the Mongolian couple discovered they were no longer extant.

It was only five years ago a Kyrgyzstan teenager died of eating barbecued marmot although, in that climate, it could totally have been the potato salad. The victim apparently believed, as many in the countryside do, that the marmot meat would benefit his health, or at least clear up his skin and give him a huge boner. So close! Bubonic plague.

The Kyrgyzstan government has repeatedly warned its citizens about the whole marmot thing, but the message doesn't get through as readily in a country with a serious vowel shortage. No one is sure where they went wrong in Ulaanbaatar.

I for one would never consider ingesting a marmot part. I've never been issued a proper spirit animal, but for years I've thought if I were going to be reincarnated, I would prefer a time slot as a marmot. When I was younger I used to say "river otter" because they're so dang cute and have so dang much fun, but I hadn't really thought it through. Eventually I realized there's a limit to how much fun I like to have, and most of it is not rambunctious, and none of it involves swimming. "But if you were an otter, you would know how to swim," people tell me, but I don't know how they can be sure of that. There would have to be some residual aspect of my own spirit in the otter and what if it turns out to be the part that sinks?

So marmot it is: they are fat and fun and hang out in the prettiest places on the planet and they eat a lot and don't watch their waistlines and they live underground in cozy dens lined with lots and lots of adorable brightly painted cupboards. This has not been validated by science but I know it in my very heart, the same way other people know what heaven looks like even though they've never been.

The very same way, in fact.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Oh. The Humanity.

It was a short video. A person wrapped in a blanket was curled up on the ground and a man in a business suit--let's call him Boots--gave him a sharp kick as he walked by. The characters as costumed were a little too dead-on for good fiction, but this was not fiction. It was horrible.

So was the second commenter in the thread. "While I would never do such a thing," he began ominously, "we should realize that a lot of people in this country are pretty fed up with the homeless camps and slackers with their filth and feces and..." It went on. It became clear that the commenter would dearly love to kick the man too, but would settle for fantasizing about it.

I also am appalled at the filth and feces and campsites and begging and everything else that we're seeing so much more of these days. I hate it. I'd rather it weren't there. What I can't fathom is how a person can walk by these tragedies and not ponder that old saw about the grace of God, who is notoriously arbitrary with his blessings. How does someone come to this circumstance?

Boots and his apologists do not, apparently, give it much thought. They do not like the way this human refuse looks or makes them feel, and have already concluded that these people are fundamentally different from them. Maybe not quite human at all. In their charitable moments, they might suppose they're mentally ill, and hope someone will scoop them up and stash them somewhere. Otherwise, it's their fault.

They are not like us. Because we are moral, principled, and hard-working.

We never say "lucky."

One of the problems with imagining the worst of our fellow humans who are homeless is that we then have to believe something happened to suddenly make a huge number of people shiftless or evil, because we haven't seen poverty this widespread in our lifetimes. Assuming that the percentage of mentally ill people remains steady over time, what could have turned so many people so wretched so fast?

Here's where we really get creative. It must be because there's been a moral breakdown since the advent of birth control. Or since we took God out of our schools. Or since the liberals quit teaching their children the difference between right and wrong. Or maybe God is punishing us for gay rights and abortion. Or maybe this is all part of the plan to hurry along the second coming. Something catastrophic, surely, has happened to our society, something we righteous folk had the good sense and fortitude to avoid. One thing we know: that could never be us down there on that sidewalk.

After all, there's no excuse for it, when the economy is doing so well! Unemployment is way down. The market is way up.

I have to say this in a whisper, because the cheerleaders for the current regime spook so easily: all this shit you deplore is a really big sign the economy is not doing well at all. Because you're right: we didn't see this stuff when we were growing up. The economy first started picking the big winners and big losers when Reagan came into power, and cut regulations, and cut taxes on the rich, and privatized for profit what had been in the public trust; and the gap between those who have everything and those who have nothing has widened ever since.

But we the people are the government, here. We can design any economy we want. We can structure our tax system so we reduce or eliminate poverty and strengthen the middle class. Or we can daydream that we'll all be better off if there were no constraints on capitalism, no rules to make sure the least among us could live in dignity, no regulation to preserve our environment and climate. We could make sure that a person working full-time can afford to shelter and feed herself, however modestly, or we could continue to blame hard-working poor people for failing to find better jobs. Right now, we want someone mopping our floors, and cooking our burgers, and picking our lettuce, but we don't think they should be able to support themselves doing it. We really don't value work at all. We value money, stacked high, however obtained.

Extreme capitalism, dedicated solely to profit for shareholders, will always produce more billionaires and more people we want to kick. Always. It's up to us to insist on a better world. If you're offended by beggars and camps and filth everywhere you look, quit voting for the billionaire party. And if you don't want immigrants and refugees either, quit voting for the warmongers and climate destroyers. It's a direct damn line.