Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The One-Butt Kitchen

Before and after!
No tour of my old house in Arlington would be complete without a visit to the kitchen, which was big enough to hold a canister of homemade cookies, and always did.

To get there, you hang a left off the tiny living room and angle through the tiny dining room until it squirts you out into the kitchen. In a house of small rooms with no sensible flow to them, the kitchen stood out for crampedness and weird design. For instance, the back door, basement door, and closet door all opened out into each other. If you found yourself in the closet, you should just stay there. (It's a classic 'Fifties sentiment.)

My folks did a remodel in 1960. I have photos of our kitchen "before" and "after," and although my mom was probably pleased with it, there wasn't much difference. There's a new Formica countertop with boomerang spangles in the "new" kitchen, with, I think, a matching table. The cabinets were replaced with something smoother. There was a regular-size refrigerator with rounded corners and Arthur Godfrey lived in the melamine radio on top of it.

Back then, they didn't even make fridges the size that people can't live without now. If you opened up our fridge you'd have found cheese, eggs, and milk. (Modern children don't even know where milk comes from! It comes from the man in the little hat who lives downstate and leaves it by the back door every Saturday.) You might also have found a few other items such as a lemon-shaped container that says "RealLemon" in order to distinguish it from real lemons, which we didn't have any of. The freezer had ice cube trays and bags of frozen vegetables. Take out one of the frozen green bean bags and a couple cans of Campbell's soup and you've got supper.

New dishwasher
But now, of course, there's a stainless steel stove and granite countertops and a stainless steel refrigerator that could shelter a polar bear. They must have given up on the little breakfast table because there's no way all this stuff fits in that little kitchen. Most disturbing of all, the new refrigerator is to the right when you enter the kitchen. And I cannot for the life of me come up with what used to be there. I only ate breakfast in that room every day for sixteen years and I can't remember for sure what was on that wall.

Old dishwasher
Probably another counter and cabinets. I have the dimmest recollection that I would stand on a counter over there to reach the highest shelf and get a little nip off Dad's Taylor Sherry bottle. He had a glass of sherry once a year and, I assumed, never noticed the theft. Alcohol was another thing, like a rec room, that other kids' houses had but not ours. As a result, the first time I got schnockered, I was at the Cellar Door in D.C., at least three years underage, to see Laura Nyro, and I ordered sherry, because I didn't know the name of anything else. My parents simply refused to prepare me for adult life. I think that's the takeaway here.

But I have one legacy. I still like Formica. I like it better than granite. When my beer glass comes down on the counter, which it does often, I don't want it to go CLANK. That might not be what my parents had in mind, but there you go.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

That Old House

In 1976, Mom and Dad sold the house I grew up in. They'd originally bought it for about what you'd pay to put some carpet in it now, and sold it for $60,000. That astonished them, and they didn't give much thought to the fact that it sold in the first half hour. According to Redfin, it's now worth around a million. I was back in Arlington, Virginia fifteen years after I'd left and I stopped by. I put on my most disarming face and knocked. A couple came to the door, and I explained my heritage, and peered hopefully between them, because they were standing side by side, arms linked and shoulders pressed against the door frame. "I guess you can look at the back yard," one of them said, reluctantly, and followed me back there to monitor.

Well that was disappointing, but that's what comes of having your crummy old house be in a currently hot location and worth a lot of money: Republicans buy it. I assume. I won't say anything else about Republicans this time, except that it strikes me that they are fearful people as a whole.

Then it occurred to me recently that if the place had ever been up for sale there might be a slide show of it online, and guess the hell what? There was! There were thirty photos of it looking every bit the way I remember it! Nobody ever added to it or "opened it up." Which means it's still a little house with itty bitty rooms jammed in and no sense of flow.

The front door still gives into the living room. In the photos, which were presumably designed to put the place in its best light, it is clear there is no room for today's furniture. Everyone in our family was fun-sized, and consequently we had little sofas and chairs. If you put in one of those modern big-ass sofas and stuck your feet out, nobody could get by. I suspect the furniture depicted belonged to the seller, because if you were going to stage it professionally you might not want to stick an enormous TV on the diagonal in the corner to demonstrate how much room there isn't. To get a similar effect, they could have put my current piano in the living room with the narrow end extending into the dining room, and set up bar stools and place settings around it.

Daddy and I are in the enormous-TV corner.
This house is palatial, from the perspective of a modern urban tent dweller in a median strip. Or an immigrant or refugee. Or of any human alive in the front end of the twentieth century, or the million years preceding that. But utterly inadequate for a teenager in the 'Sixties. Teenagers are not known for broad perspectives.

If my friends came over, the front door would open into that living room, where my tiny Mom and tiny Dad would be sitting in their tiny chairs, and still taking up most of the room. And they wouldn't leave. In their defense, there was nowhere else to sit. And so we mostly crowded around cross-legged on the floor and minded our language. It was not an ideal situation, socially.

Because we did not have the rec room that thoughtful, loving parents would provide. Ohh! The rec room! A whole basement all shined up with fresh linoleum and a bar and pretend wood paneling and a big ol' stereo and ash trays and sprawlable furniture! Cue the celestial choirs! We had nuclear bombs and Civil Rights marches and assassinations and war and all of it would have gone down so much easier if only we had had a rec room. Amazing things happened in rec rooms, where parents never materialized. The moon landing. Wholesome socializing. Loud music. Drinking. Drugs. The televised draft lottery. Making out. Actual sex. Oh, my parents were cruel, cruel.

A million bucks. They're calling it two full baths now. None on the main floor, still, but upstairs there's a tiny one. Tall people sat on the toilet sideways. The sink is now a vanity but I don't know how they get the door open. And they have in fact redone the toilet in the basement. They have opened that up, at least, into Dad's old darkroom, and there's a shower and everything. It used to be a little hole in the corner with a funky toilet and cracked sink, cinderblock walls with guard spiders and the occasional bat, and one photography magazine on the floor. Dad didn't subscribe to any photo magazines, so this was an anomaly. If you picked it up, it sprang open to a page with artful black-and-white nudes. I think he thought he was the only one who used that toilet, and Mom certainly didn't, but unfortunately for him, he taught us to like spiders, the naughty boy.

When I lived there, there was a massive bed of bearded irises, my Dad's favorite, and a compost pile and another flowerbed and vegetables and five large maple trees. Now there is a daylily, because they're hard to kill, and a lawn. Dollars to donuts the people who live there now pay someone to mow it. Yeah, we know who they voted for.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Meet My Tweetheart: Studley D. D. D. Windowson

I have mealworms. Let the seduction begin.

I have mealworms, two industrious chickadees, and a box of beebling baby birds at the goober stage, all ready to assemble. Marge and Studley Windowson did find the mealworm stash near the suet feeder on the other side of the house, or someone else did, but still I yearned for intimacy. I did not want to attract scrub jays. I gave it some thought. The mealworm store lady probably couldn't guess how much time and care I was willing to devote to this project. I cracked open the window close to the birdhouse. When I was certain only my chickadees were around, I eased a worm out onto the windowsill. Nothing happened. But when I turned my head for a moment--okay, I went to the toity--it was gone.

The next day I edged my palm out onto the sill with a mealworm in it. Studley definitely saw it. Studley definitely wanted it. He made feints at my hand, hovering. Then he landed on the sill, weighed his responsibilities against his fear, stabbed at the worm and rocketed off like he'd swatted a tiger's nose on a dare. A half hour later he was landing on my finger. Then on Dave's finger. On two hearts at once.

They say there are wormholes in space-time. Portals to other universes. I was already smitten, but it wasn't until the next day that my entire soul tipped into that gravity well. I was outside weeding and stood up to stretch, and there came a flibbet of wingbeats, and there was Studley, on a twig eight inches from my face. He tilted his head, back and forth, sent me one bright black eye, then the other. And I fell through the mealwormhole into Studley's world.

I wasn't anywhere near his window. And I was wearing a hat. But he knew me. Had he been looking at me for years, even as I was looking at him? He's paying attention, that's for sure. Dave stands in the garden with his hands relaxed at his sides and a small grown bird tucks into the cup of his fingers. I get out of my car and a bird lights up the closest branch, and dips over to my hand, his feet as important and small as punctuation. He doesn't weigh any more than a held breath.

Marge hasn't taken the plunge. That's okay. I worry about habituating Studs to people, although he's only stalking Dave and me, but he did land on neighbor Anna's teacup. It's white, just like the ramekin I carry mealworms around in. Maybe it's because I've zoomed in on so many photos of Studley, but even now, when I see him through the window, he seems larger than he really is. Substantial, even. He's not. He wouldn't tip a scale with a peanut in the other pan. He is a tiny, tiny bird. But he's smart.

He's damn smart. He's probably known me for years before discovering I'm useful. When I'm too slow to get him a worm, he knocks the hat off my ramekin and helps himself. He goes off to a branch to subdue it for a baby's gullet, whap whap whap. When we call it a day and go inside, he figures out where we are in the house and hovers at that window.

He knows when beer-thirty is.

I know what he likes me for. But is it love?

I want to get this right.

The sober voices say all love is self-interest. The sober voices are measured in their assessment. They manage risk. Keep their own hearts on a short lead, safe from disappointment.

I choose headlong.

Because I don't know just where a love story begins. But maybe love is the name of the charged ether that joins our worlds. I do know I've got the trust of the smartest, bravest, most valiant chickadee in the whole world, a world that can be frantic, and grabby, and barren. Does he feel a lift in his little gray chest when he sees me? Does he love me too? It might not matter. I've got enough love for both of us.

Pin lovingly fashioned by Amy Weisbrot, amyweisbrot@gmail.com



Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Love Story: Tweet One

Who knows where a love story begins?

The best ones don't always start with the precision of Cupid's arrow. Some take time. And sometimes you can fall in love without even knowing someone's name. In this case, I had a name. But I wasn't sure who to attach it to.

Marge and Studley Windowson were more of a concept at first. True, I did have a pair of authentic chickadees and a house to put them in. But I didn't know if it was the same pair every spring. I didn't know which one was Marge and which one was Studley. I didn't even know how they knew. I think they just did what felt natural and then waited to see who the egg dropped out of. Strictly speaking, this is not the case. I read up: the female scouts the nest site and puts the mattress together while the male brings around snacks. So I knew who was who while Marge was hammering away in the nest box, but then as soon as they were both on a branch I was all befuddled again.

Fortunes change. Some years they blasted in with 5,000 bugs a day and baby birds came out. Some years they took off and left their eggs unloved. One year they were aced out by nuthatches. It's always something.

But then last year one of them showed up with a bum foot, and it turned out to be Studley. Brave Studley curled his swollen toes up in his belly feathers and devoted his days to supporting Marge any way he could think of. He parked on a nearby twig with his head swiveling for danger. He chased away smaller birds and hollered at the rest. When he came back this spring, with his missus, and minus two toes, I about lost my mind with joy. I wanted to take up trumpet. The cups are still rattling in the cupboards.

The trouble is, there's always trouble. It's harder to go from an egg to a journeyman bird than you might think. There are wasps. Mites. Other birds can't be trusted. Several of my neighbors are devoted to seeing that their cats can express their wild nature, and my yard is where they like to do it. And the tree that used to shade the Windowson residence has only a cowlick of leaves remaining. If the eggs don't get poached by a critter they could get poached, period. I learned how to reconstruct the nest box to keep it cool, but too late to avoid disturbing sweet Marge. Fortunately, it hasn't gotten hot yet.

But once the bug and grub train gets rolling, it'll be Grand Central around here. By the time the nestlings are about ready to fly away, Marge and Studley will be hauling in groceries about once a minute, dawn to dusk. You'll never see a stronger work ethic. Last year their brood failed. I wanted dearly to help.

"Mealworms," I told Dave, who reminds me of Studley.

We took off for the mealworm store.

What I wanted to do, I explained to the mealworm store lady, was crack the window open and dispense mealworms from my windowsill. I'm right there a couple feet away from the bird house. Maybe they'd even take them from my hand, I said, all fizzy with the possibility.  I once spent a half hour still as a statue with sunflower seeds in my hand and snagged two indelible seconds with a pine siskin. And of course I've had gray jays land on me. If you wear a suit made out of cereal, a gang of gray jays will strip you naked in nothing flat.

The mealworm store lady frowned. You don't want to attract scrub jays, she said. If you have a suet feeder on the other side of your house, you could hang a mealworm feeder underneath it and your chickadees will find it right away.

That felt less personal. But the image of a scrub jay slicing through the air with a fuzzy new nuthatch reopened a gash in my memory. I did not want to attract jays.

But I did buy the mealworms.

To be continued. This post and the next are dedicated to Julie Zickefoose and her wide-open heart.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

PPSD: Phantom Pee Spot Disorder

You know that feeling when you've sat down on a toilet seat and there was a little drop of something on it but you don't realize it until you stand up again and there's that little cool spot on your butt that you hope is water? Hold that thought.

I'm at the age where people complain they were never warned about this or that health issue. Actually, I'm way past that age, because a lot of it happens during menopause. Or perimenopause. In fact perimenopause is one of the things that people say no one told them about.

So in case no one told you about it, perimenopause refers to the years right before authentic menopause in which your body is just experimenting with how it would be if all your youth-enhancing hormones disappeared. So one day they'll drain out and the next week they'll surge back and be all What do you think about me now and you won't know whether to laugh, cry, or stab someone just because. "Nobody told me my periods would get heavier and more frequent," people complain, nor do they mention that from time to time you will be passing something that looks like a small damp rodent, or that you will develop new moles everywhere, and then plant whiskers on them like flags, or that you will be asked to cut down on sleeping for a few years because you can sleep when you're dead which by the way is coming right up too.

That business about being all crabby because your hormones are in flux is something people do tell you about, but it's not true. You're crabby because you're just about at the age when it will become obvious you married the wrong person or wasted thirty years at the wrong job, or had more kids than you needed or will ever use, or you realized you didn't follow your dreams because you never had any to begin with even though everyone assumed you should.

They don't always tell you about pre-perimenopause, which would be the thirty years before perimenopause. If you're lucky someone will have warned your nine-year-old self about periods but even so that first one is still going to come as a big surprise, and like as not people will have glossed over some of the nastier details in favor of something more hopeful like "You're becoming a woman." So even with the basics, you can't always count on a ton of good information.

And as long as we're about it, they don't tell you about how unpredictable your periods are going to be, especially the whiz-bang very last one that happens two years after the one before and one year after you've gotten rid of all the paraphernalia, as soon as your last hormone can detect you're wearing white pants.

They don't tell you anything about fibroid tumors and when they do, it's because you already have them, and then they tell you they're usually benign, although not always. They don't mention that they like to sit on your bladder like a big fibroid joke.

They don't mention the connection between laughter and laundry.

There's stuff men don't get warned about either. Like peni-pendular recession, or the effect of scrotal gravity on the hairline. Nobody ever talks about that, but those bow-legged old men with gigantic foreheads didn't come out of nowhere.

And so as a public service I offer all of these observations to those who might otherwise complain that no one ever told them about them, and add the following:

Sometimes your body gets just a big kick out of itself and makes shit up. Like suddenly developing a dime-sized portion of your left buttock that feels just a little colder than the surrounding acreage and every time you pull your pants up you think: did I just sit on a wet spot on the toilet? Five times a day you think that, for a couple weeks, and then you realize your own buttock is doing  that to you for no reason medical science will ever discover. There won't be a name for it, or a ribbon-color for it, or a foundation devoted to its cure.

So don't let that come as a surprise.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

All Bloom And Bluster


Truth be told, the foxglove population here has been demoralized for years. It started when the Echium "Mr. Happy" was brought home in his little four-inch pot and settled in the ground. Not much to look at, at first, but his tag was all braggadocio. He was going to be something, boy howdy. Ten-foot spike with impressive girth, like you've never seen.

Some of the foxgloves warned, darkly, that this was going to be trouble, and kept going on and on about this being one more northern foothold in the Californification of the garden, blah blah blah. But no one cared. Mr. Happy wasn't bothering anyone else. The annuals gabbled away as the one-season wonders they were. It's just a big ol' rosette, they said. The more the merrier, and all that.

But the foxgloves had been the dominant biennial flower spike of the region for a couple hundred years, and they had a more mature perspective. Nothing good could come of this. Have you no sense of heritage, they said? This is not normal, they said.

Pssh. The zinnias didn't care for all this gloom and doom, and, if they were to be honest, they thought the foxgloves could stand to be knocked down a peg. Don't worry about it, they nattered, unbearably cheerful as always.  No way he's going to make it through the winter. He's a flash in the pan.

The foxgloves began to relax. Mr. Happy was a buffoon, a joke. He's just an entertainer--he's not going to ascend to his bloom year. The foxgloves settled into proper dormancy for the winter confident that the upstart would be revealed to be the clown he was, come spring. But they had not counted on all the behind-the-scenes support from unknown benefactors. The plastic wrap. The light bulb.

And to their shock, the next spring, there he was, still among the living, and he quickly shot up into the sky, surpassing the foxgloves in height, girth, and glory, and proceeded to go on and on about himself all summer long. The annuals were impressed. Annuals are easily impressed.

The foxgloves conferred and came up with some proposals but nothing made it out of committee. It was infuriating, they thought. How could it not be obvious that Mr. Happy was an impostor, a bluffer, a fraud, nothing but a big-ass tower of bloom and bluster with no qualifications whatsoever? How could he be Number One? Why are the zinnias falling for this fool?

Mr. Happy is the greatest. Mr. Happy is the biggest. Mr. Happy is the best. How could anybody believe this crap? The foxgloves laid out the situation, hoping the truth would win the day. But nobody cared. Look at how all the bees made the shift, they said. Everybody's so busy. Mr. Happy is totally a job producer.

The foxgloves grumbled helplessly. Job producer, my plump pink petals, they said. Bees will work for nothing. Employment numbers don't mean anything  if everyone has to work five thousand blossoms a day just to make it.

And so on. Until this year.

It started with murmurings in the understory. Sharing of scuttlebutt. Botanical buzz. The first stirring of hope among the beleaguered foxglove community, and whispers that their long, yardular nightmare may be coming to an end. Mr. Happy's grandkids have arrived.

And what a motley crew they are. Pinko. Stubby. Knobbles. Slim Jim. Fuzzball. Who's your daddy, Mr. Happy? Hmm? Because there's a lot going on in this woodpile. Different sizes. Shapes. Colors.

The foxgloves want it to be known they have no trouble with a little color variation. But they have a feeling Mr. Happy's base doesn't see it the same way. Heh heh.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Your Secret's Safe With Portland Disposal And Recycling Company

The Oregon Supreme Court came down on the side of Liberty the other day, and meth cooks are jiggling their teeth loose celebrating.

They found in favor of a couple of methamphetamine dealers and threw out their convictions based on the notion that Oregonians have a right to expect privacy in the matter of the garbage they leave out on the curb. Because it's in an opaque bin with a lid on it, a universal sign for Not Yours, Mister Man.

Oddly enough, this conclusion is at odds with the big-boy Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., even though they're way fatter fans of Liberty when it comes to things like the freedom of corporations to purchase congressmen and things like that.

In the Oregon case, police were suspicious of the couple when their trailer kept blowing up and highly unattractive people were coming and going and Walter White's name was on the reserved parking space, so they had the garbage company hold out their garbage for inspection. Without a warrant. Which the court now says they should've had one of.

I'm a huge fan of this kind of decision. Big ACLU proponent, here. Unreasonable search and seizure is an important concept in a free country, but I draw the line somewhere the other side of my garbage. I do not, personally, feel I do have a right to privacy when it comes to my garbage. I'm throwing it out. That's why it's called garbage. If you don't want someone finding something in your trash can, go dump it in a restaurant dumpster like a grownup.

Maybe people should be required to go through our garbage. And I don't say that because I have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm deeply ashamed of mine, and you should be too. Everything in our garbage can is evidence of our failure to conduct our lives in a sustainable manner. We did buy all that packaging. We did dump that appliance that only worked for a year. We did own a plastic singing fish.

The Oregon Court says even the garbage company isn't allowed to look at your garbage. If your garbage man happens to notice a bunch of blood-stained bundles of meat that might plausibly be rearranged into a human being, he is expected to overlook it, and if it upsets him, he should've taken up typing. Because your private garbage is still your private garbage even though you've given it away.

The one dissenting justice thought this was nuts, and he said a garbage company should be able to take your garbage and "gift it to the police." I object to that too. Nobody ever needs to "gift" anybody anything, for Pete's sake, as long as the word "give" is still loitering around in the language. I'd be perfectly happy to instruction them about that later.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Color Of Money

Andrew Jackson is said to be one of Trump's favorite presidents. Dollars to donuts he can't name more than about ten of them altogether, and only boned up on Jackson when he learned that Obama wanted to have him replaced by Harriet Tubman on the twenty-dollar bill. Clearly this could not stand. Because Obama, number one. And number two, as Trump said upon seeing the proposed design, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posed ta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"

So Trump got someone to read him the Cliff's Notes on our seventh president, and he liked what he heard, and ordered his portrait hung in the Oval Office.

Even when he was running for president he weighed in on the issue, and while declaring Harriet Tubman a very fine woman, he thought she could just as easily dress up one of your lesser currencies, such as the Malawian kwacha. He said the whole idea of evicting Jackson from the twenty was a matter of pure political correctness, which is what people like him call correctness.

It is, however, a fine idea, and inspiring to many. Harriet Tubman was an exceptionally brave woman who was instrumental in establishing the Underground Railroad after she herself fled slavery. Jackson's reputation, on the other hand, has suffered a bit because he offends the delicate sensibilities of moderns who have been engaged in "rewriting" history, or stripping the propaganda out of it. And many of these people look askance at his enthusiastic embrace of slavery and his role in driving Native Americans out of their homeland on the so-called Trail of Tears so white people could take it. Slavery, extermination. Stuff like that.

Freakin' snowflakes ruin everything.

Trump, on the other hand, relates to Andrew Jackson, whom he regards, now that someone has whittled his Wikipedia entry down to 140 characters, as a populist tilting against the elites. There are resemblances. Jackson was said to be easily offended and something of a bully. He dabbled in real estate, dealing in particular with claims that had been set aside for the Cherokee and Chickasaw. He may have owned more than 300 slaves in his life and was not known for treating them well, advertising at one point that should any of them escape and be caught, he would offer "ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred." Clarifying later whilst on the stump, which was probably an actual stump, he said "Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay. Just knock the hell--I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise."

There are differences. Jackson was the only president who ever retired the national debt.

At any rate, we'll have to wait to see Harriet on our money. As Secretary of the Treasury and head pirate Steve Mnuchin put it, there's no way they can redesign the twenty before about 2028. It's just too complicated to do that and also work on other Treasury priorities, such as stripping consumer protections and rolling back financial market regulations, at the same time. Simply impossible. Makes Kennedy's moon shot gambit look like a stroll in the Rose Garden. "It is my responsibility now to focus on what is the issue of counterfeiting and the security features," Mnuchin said, by which he means "Trump said there ain't gonna be a nigger on the twenty while he's still President."

Where'd all those dogs come from?


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The CHIRP! Of Love Is In His Face

This is a fact. Dave has a history of being dive-bombed by birds. There are many reasons this could happen, but the primary one is that birds are shitty judges of character. Dave is not a threat to birds. Any bird should be able to read it in his face, but apparently his face is too far off the ground for their comfort. I can walk right next to him and they'll go for his head every time.

But until this week, we'd never seen him get threatened by a hummingbird.

Our local Anna's hummingbirds do an awesome courtship display that involves flying up to the stratosphere and then arrowing down at warp speed, pulling up a the last second before *splat*, and then zooming back up again. Moreover, there is a tremendous CHIRP! sound right there at the bottom end of the flight, coming in fact from the bottom end of the bird. Quite recognizable. Whenever we hear it, we look straight up to locate the aerobat and watch him do it again. He pulls out of his dive right at about eye level from a prospective mate, who is observing from a twig. It's attention-getting.

This time we heard the CHIRP! just off Dave's shoulder. And--we checked--there was no female hummingbird in sight. We stood still. We waited. And sure enough, a half minute later, that hummingbird swooped down within a foot of Dave's left ear.

He was impressed, but not enough to have sex with a hummer.

So we don't know what was going on. It felt threatening.  It felt like the bird was trying to chase Dave off, not get Dave off. But who knows? Either Dave looks like another male threatening his territory, in which case we would assume it would fly straight at his hat, and not do a courtship display. Or, he finds Dave very attractive, and he would like to have three seconds of sweet hummingbird bliss on some suitable orifice, several of which come to mind.

Because as far as I know, male hummingbirds do not defend the nest. They have nothing to do with the nest. They defend their own territory of flowers and hope to entice a girl into their territory and chase off rivals and go to considerable trouble for that three-second wham-bam and then it's Sayonara, Sis, and good luck with the kids. So although other kinds of birds might try to discourage Dave from getting near their nests, the male hummer has gotten all he wants out of the relationship and is back to looking out for Number One.

That leaves attraction as the only other possibility. Something about Dave appeals to a male Anna's hummingbird. The male makes that tremendous noise during his courtship display with just his tail feathers and maybe he senses a kindred spirit in Dave.

All alone and feeling blue, and green, and yellow, and...
But the ability to make remarkable noises from your tail end isn't much to go on in a relationship. Sure, it worked for us, but we're a special case.

We should ask Anna. It's her hummingbird. Anna Masséna, the Duchess of Rivoli, was probably pretty hot. At least she was all the rage in the ornithological community. Her husband, the Duke of Rivoli, was an amateur ornithologist, which is to say he had an enormous dead bird collection. John James Audubon took a fancy to her too, but it was another ornithologist who thought to name the hummingbird after her. Audubon was probably doing this long involved courtship thing and making a gigantic bird painting for her, and then René-Primivère Lesson swoops in all CHIRP! and says "Ma chérie, I give you zees hummingbaird." No one knows what the Duke of Rivoli was doing all this time, but apparently not defending his territory.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

They Shoot Out The Lip

[by DonkeyHotie]
Mike Pence is upset. "Throughout most of American history, it's been pretty easy to call yourself Christian," he said. "It didn't even occur to people that you might be mocked or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible." He's right about that. Shoot, you used to be able to quote the Bible in support of slaveholding and killing the savages and nobody'd even bat an eye. That's how comfortable you can be when you're completely surrounded by people just like yourself, and you can do that by subjugating and exterminating the others.

I don't know. Maybe it takes being a non-Christian to notice how thoroughly saturated this country is in Christianity, where Jesus engineers touchdowns and is called upon to approve of war and discrimination, but if you really feel under attack, so be it. It does strike me as being over-delicate, although, as a practicing liberal, I have trained myself to take other people at their word when they feel oppressed or offended.

I understand. Being ridiculed is miserable. It's not like being kicked to death for being gay, or having a bull's-eye put on you for being a Muslim  or a refugee, or having your children kidnapped at the border, or having bombs dropped on you, but it stings. It stings.

So I'm here to assure you that I don't care what fool thing you believe. You could invent a planet to retire to, or make plans to shake Jesus's hand in the sky. In fact, you could bind up the creation myths of prehistoric goatherds and the hallucinations of schizophrenics and the edicts of tyrants, drop it a few dozen times, sweep it back up in no order and staple it together and tell me it's the word of God, and I won't mock you to your face.

I'm not a Christian, which I think is still legal. But it doesn't matter to me what you believe, unless it actually affects me, or other people, or unless I think it's evil, a word you don't own, and which I still get to use. Mr. Pence, you say that many people who espouse tolerance--you mean liberals--are often the least tolerant of Christian values. Not really, Mr. Pence. We love the Jesus values. Just not the values of intolerance.

You see, Mr. Pence, anyone can call himself a Christian.

It's possible to defy Jesus's teaching in every respect and still consider yourself a good Christian. There are good Christians who build homes for the poor. There are good Christians who murder doctors. There are good Christians who collect and control wives. There are good Christians who feed the hungry. There are good Christians who stand on street corners and hand gays the bus schedule to hell. There are even good Christians who endorse bombing the crap out of Palestinians just to hasten the End Times and catch the early flight to the Rapture. Who decides who's a good Christian? As far as I can tell, you get to decide for yourself.

Good people have some things in common, but being Christian isn't one of them. Some of them are Christians and some of them are atheists. Some of them have abortions and some of them vote for socialists. Some of them have the habit of prayer and some swear like sailors. Good people's hearts tilt toward kindness; they're not quick to judge. They can imagine circumstances different from their own. They aim for peace. They build bridges and tear down walls. They are generous. They do not demonize groups; they recognize individuals. They can imagine another's suffering as their own. To the degree possible, they live without fear.

Good people strive to not hurt others. They do this by recognizing other people as essentially like themselves, and so they can imagine what the hurt is like. It's a Golden Rule thing. Give it a shot, Mr. Pence.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I Guess The Dog Was A Laptop Model, Too

We used to have the cutest dog. When she was a puppy, we took her out to the river in case she wanted to swim. She didn't want to swim. She'd never even seen water. Her ancestry had led her to want to jam her face into holes in the ground and bother rodents with it, not swim.

But we were curious, so Dave picked her up and walked into the water with her. The most amazing thing happened. Suspended above the water but still dry as a bone, she began paddling with all fours for all she was worth. All Dave had to do was lower her into the water and she shot off like a toy boat with a rubber-band motor.

That is some freakishly specific brand of smart. I'm a little higher up the evolutionary tree, and if you'd suspended me over the water, I'd have hollered and scratched and bit and dropped to the bottom of the lake like a plumb-bob.

So the problem I have with my computer is I don't know if it's more like me or my old dog.

I do like my laptop. It replaced a massive antique Dell that looked like an old-fashioned TV set. That one started getting creaky and after a while I was afraid Everything I'd Ever Written would disappear one day and Columbo and the Murder She Wrote lady would have to climb out of the screen and go looking for it.

Remarkably, the transition went seamlessly. Everything I'd Ever Written fit on a one-inch thumb drive--I don't know how to feel about that--and showed up unscathed on my laptop. I thought I was home free.

But one thing about the new-fashioned computers: they're curious. This one wanted to know all sorts of things. It's like pudding: you have to know a lot just to get it to set up. There were keychains. Passwords. Suitcases to bring to the Cloud. Extra underwear. It wanted to see my previous computer's birth certificate and tax returns. If I answered stuff wrong, it basically rolled its little eye at me. I think I might have contributed a password full of pet names and numbers, but it kept asking more and more questions, and then I just gave up. I'm still not on the Cloud.

But regular as shit, the darn thing wants me to update stuff. Asks me every day: do you want to install this? The furthest it will put me off is "Remind me tomorrow." I already know what I'm going to say tomorrow, but apparently, as smart as it thinks it is, it can't anticipate. And sometimes it wants to change absolutely everything. It wants to upgrade me to a new operating system. The Mac operating systems were named after jungle cats for a long time, and now they're geological wonders. I don't know what OS we're up to now: Saber-Toothed Tiger On Top Of Old Smoky?

I have no wish to do any of this. If I do an update, the next day will be a slog of all the old questions before I can play. It will want me to authenticate all of the crap I never quite authenticated before. I still won't be on the Cloud. And if I upgrade my operating system?

I don't know if Everything I Ever Wrote will be dog-paddling above the machine ready to scoot along or if it will drop like a plumb-bob.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

On Having A Heart

6-wk-old fetus--oh wait, this is a pepper sprout.
Aww, man. Georgia just passed a Heartbeat Bill, targeting women who pursue an abortion before six weeks' gestation. And here I just fired off my annual donation to Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, this puts me in the crosshairs of the Georgia justice system, which might opt to prosecute me for hiring a hit man, and I can only hope they're too busy rigging elections down there to extradite me from Oregon. Odds are good Oregon wouldn't cooperate, but I can always hide in the office of our own governor, who has a uterus but (this being a blue state) is allowed to have opinions anyway.

It's not as though I court trouble, though, so I'm hoping to be able to get on the Georgia uterus registry in the "dried-up" column, because if I were to suddenly begin bleeding profusely from my central nethers, I want to be seen by a local medical professional and not hauled into court in Georgia on suspicion of aborting a potential human being at the stage in which the Legislature believes a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is to say a few weeks before it has an actual heart, or a face, and several weeks before it develops genitalia sufficient to determine the eventual worth of the child to the State of Georgia. At the grub stage, in other words. Which means they can't yet tell if the bouncing blob of cells is going to grow up to be a Republican senator, or a host body and sperm receptacle.

6-wk-old fetus--oh wait, garbanzo bean.
The heartbeat bill is inconvenient from the standpoint of the woman who is unlikely to know she's pregnant and may not even be glowing yet, but ideal from the standpoint of the grub, who is very near the most valuable stage of its life, gram per gram, in a death-penalty state.

Georgia is to be commended for showing the most concern in the nation for African-American embryos, who are nevertheless advised to come out with picture ID in hand.

Just to be on the safe side, it is suggested that every woman of mandatory child-bearing age in Georgia take the precaution of mailing all used pads and tampons to the State Legislature so they can make sure she hasn't pulled a fast one. No need to go to the trouble of packaging them up, either. After all, you can stick a postage stamp on a coconut.

6-wk fetus--oh wait, beetle larva.
The point of all these bills--Georgia is the fourth this year to pass a "heartbeat bill"--is to send an obviously unconstitutional measure all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, where newly instated Justice, drunk and sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh is expected to try to redeem his soul by overturning Roe v. Wade.

There may, in fact, be no recourse for women in Georgia, unless they can get some legislation passed that will allow pregnant women two votes, or outlaw anti-life activities such as fellatio. Failing that, they could hold out altogether, and if the senators get lonely they can just go fuck themselves.

Georgia legislators, for their part, insist their measure is not extreme, citing Alabama's newly passed Wet Spot Protection Act. Step away from laundry detergent, little lady.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hanging Up Your Bird

I am always little and often hungry, but I am otherwise nothing like a Vaux's Swift, a few billion of which just showed up in town the other day. They're way up there in the sky flapping like mad and chirping and nabbing bugs out of the air. They're busy as hell.

Vaux's swifts are invariably described as cigar-shaped, even though the swifts have been around a lot longer than the stogies. And anyway it's not so much a cigar as a big poorly-rolled doobie, of the kind people used to roll when you could get an ounce for ten bucks. I am not cigar-shaped. I am Venus of Willendorf-shaped. This makes me less aerodynamic than a Vaux's swift. However it does mean if I land on the ground I will not roll very far, whereas if a Vaux's swift lands on the ground, it's totally screwed. Its feet are too little and its wings are too long to get airborne again. It would be like trying to levitate a canoe. If you ever do see a Vaux's swift on the ground you need to pick it up and heave it into the air and wish it the best of luck.

Other ways to tell me apart from a Vaux's swift: they get up first thing in the morning and work all the blessed day long. They don't rest. Most of our songbirds are plenty busy this time of year but they still park it from time to time and watch the world go by. Not those swifts. They've got nothing to park with. Their little feets can't perch, and the best they can do is sort of hang themselves up inside a tree or a chimney with their little claws, like a work shirt. They can't sit in a tree any more than a person with a conical butt can sit in a recliner. So all day long it's flappity flappity with a more or less constant chatter. I don't know what they're saying but it doesn't vary much. Probably bugs bugs bugs or yum yum yum.

That's a lot of work but it's worse than that. They have no plan for retirement. Some swifts can go ten months without landing. They sleep in the sky. If I woke up and discovered myself high in the sky I would freak out, but swifts are cool with it, and would take it in stride if they had anything to stride with. Yes, swifts eat, sleep, drink, and have sex in the air. They do make nests if they find someplace to hang themselves up in. But it's not going to be a branch or anything they can usefully weave nesting materials around--they have to hang themselves up somewhere and glue sticks to the surface with their own spit. If you have a nesting swift in your chimney and discover a baby bird in your fireplace, you should pick it up and stick it higher up your chimney, and it will keep skritcheting higher until it finds its nest again.

They've stuck little hats on birds to detect if they really sleep on the wing and discovered they even have REM sleep, during which they dream about showing up for the final exam on bug ID even when they hadn't gone to class all year, or giving a speech (yum yum yum) without any feathers on. Sometimes birds sleep with half their brains and keep the other half on the lookout, but sometimes they shut down the whole computer, usually while on a nice updraft. And maybe that works out a lot of the time, but if it doesn't, they can always make more swifts.

Keep an eye on your fireplace though.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Sacrament

Dave peered into the beer fridge with concern.

"We have to make a Costco run," he said. He was right. We were down to our last case of beer.

There are lots of people who might not consider 24 beers a panic situation, but we believe in planning and preparing and personal responsibility, and what if a couple bears showed up tonight with a bottle opener? No. It's just too close for comfort.

I did say "beer fridge." Let's call it a legacy item. Forty years ago we got a small refrigerator and drilled a hole in the door and set it up with a keg. We did pretty well with that until we realized we were attracting more friends than we really wanted or liked or, in some cases, recognized. One day we didn't replace the keg and that was that. But the little fridge had been there long enough to be a common-law appliance. We swapped it out for another small fridge and put our beer in there, with some chaperone sodas. We've had two refrigerators all this time. A full beer fridge feels like security. With a full beer fridge, we feel like we are in compliance with earthquake readiness recommendations. We're not, technically, but it feels that way. Disaster? Ha. We laugh at your disaster.

We should probably get a bucket with a toilet seat and dried food and a water filter and a first-aid kit and Handi-Wipes and peanut butter and a lantern and a space blanket and a Saint Bernard, but the lack of a lot of those things can be mitigated with beer. Oh and we're also supposed to have some firearms to protect our stash from our, uh, friends and neighbors and people in need, but we aren't planning to change party affiliation or anything, so no.

Basically, everything I've ever read about a big-ass earthquake leads me to believe the full beer fridge is a solid first step. Followed by the bucket and toilet seat. Stick with the basics and you can avoid the full-on Donner situation.

It's been suggested that being hyper-aware of the number of beers on hand is a bit of a red flag, alcoholism-wise, but who's to draw the line between a nice hobby and a debilitating disease? Also it's not supposed to be a good thing if you obsessively check the beer situation at other people's houses so you can go out for supplies, but what if you're going to be there for hours and they're Hefeweizen people? What then? Some people also think it is some kind of sign if you have to pull over when driving in a dangerous and scary situation to chug a beer before you can keep driving, which I have done twice, and both times were totally justified. Some people think being prepared to take care of your own needs is not a virtue. Suddenly people who think nothing of making sure they have life-saving heart medication on hand are all judgey about other people's needs.

The real reason it's a little nuts to panic when the beer gets low is that we are living spang in the middle of the best beer town in the whole world, and we can get any of thirty or forty different brews inside of a five-minute walk. If we actually ran out of beer, the solution is right around the corner.

But we're prepared. We're self-reliant. We're the Mormons of the beer aisle. That's not a thing, but if it were, that's what we'd be.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The View From The Driveway

It was a comment in response to a post about the urgency of forestalling climate catastrophe.

"All I know is that we have friends who have a hybrid car. They could not get up our driveway. We had to pull it up our driveway using a tow rope with our Jeep. I am not giving up my car."

Oh, sweet pea. I am sorry that is all you know. There's so much else.

All around you, people are making choices in their daily lives that must baffle you. They are paying more for items that aren't packaged in plastic. They're voting to tax themselves for greenspaces. They're checking the tags in their clothing to make sure they're not supporting slave labor. They're choosing to live where they don't need a car at all. Maybe they've found out that animal agriculture is the biggest driver of climate change and environmental devastation, and they've quit eating meat. They're doing these things because they have learned some stuff about the world, and they're unable to keep operating as they had before they learned it. It becomes a moral choice for them.

What they're not doing is changing their behavior in order to shame you. Something about your statement leads me to suspect you think your friends bought a hybrid car because they think they're better than you. But what do you do when you find out something you're doing is hurting others? Maybe it's something you didn't realize before, but once you learned better, wouldn't you change? I'm sure you would. Maybe that's what they're doing: trying to do less harm.

Of course their hybrid is still burning fossil fuel. And this is what is going to make our planet uninhabitable, in a matter of a few short lifetimes. It's a big deal. If you knew we had only ten years to get off fossil fuel altogether or risk an unlivable planet, wouldn't you embrace a solution? Maybe not--because there is so little one person can do to affect such a massive problem. It needs to be addressed on a national and world-wide level.



But here's a related massive problem: we are operating under a system of profit-driven capitalism that does not begin to account for the costs of enterprise. Shouldn't corporations be required to pay for the harms they cause? Should they be able to destroy our environment without any consequence? Should you be able to get away with poisoning your neighbor's well? We put people in prison for knocking over the corner store; why do we reward people who endanger every single life on the planet?

So nobody is going to confiscate your Jeep. You can keep your Jeep. But maybe gasoline should be $250 a gallon. Maybe that's what it would take to mitigate the harm done by the extraction and burning of buried carbon. It's not meant to be punitive--it's the cost of doing business. You might decide to make some different choices.

Seem like a lot to pay? A few decades ago someone had the idea of pegging gasoline at $5 a gallon. That was a lot at the time. People would use less, more efficient vehicles would be on the market, and the excess tax would be devoted to changing our infrastructure toward a more sustainable plan. It was a good idea. A number of things we could have done a few decades ago would have made things a lot easier now, but we didn't do them. And now we're out of time. It might even be too late.

I don't blame you or your Jeep. It's not your fault. There are real criminals involved in this scheme to further enrich the wealthy at the expense of literally everyone else. But it would be a good thing, for starters, to take a step back from your driveway and see how big the picture really is.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Being Serviced

TV was on the fritz again. This happens a lot since everything went digital. It never makes sense, which means it's probably related to hormones or some planet being in retrograde. Usually I can fix it myself with some combination of unpluggings and holdings-in-of-buttons, although the precise order is a mystery.

Sometimes, I think, it just comes back on as a sort of blessing. It's like God. You might get the dropsy or win the Irish Lottery, but it won't be because of anything you did.

Not this time. This time I scared up a screen that promised Software Is Being Updated, but I was dubious. The progress dots were just loitering. After about five minutes they gave way to an Error screen in big red letters. I unplugged more vehemently and jammed the plug back in like I meant it, Mister. It didn't budge. I unplugged the toaster and the slow sink, to no avail.

Somewhere there was a suggestion I chat with someone online, so I gave it a go. First thing I see is that I'm really important and the estimated minimum wait time is 127 minutes. I kept the window open and farted around on the internet.

Cool! The estimated wait time kept coming down fast until it was down to five minutes after only a half hour. This is a winnowing technique. They know perfectly well they lost half their complainers right off the bat. Smart! Then every two minutes they updated to say I was down to five minutes. Five minutes minimum wait time, which would include, I now realized, 127 minutes.

Then I got a new message! Hi! My name is CenturyLink and I'll be with you in a moment, as soon as I figure out who you are and whether you are packing! Followed thirty seconds later by "All our agents are busy. Try again later."

Oh, no you di'n't. I gave the chat window a wicked bitch face and then typed in "Are you there?" To my surprise, it came back with the message that someone would be right with me, and thanked me for my patience, which I believe was rather an assumption on their part.

"I'll be with you in a minute," it said. That would be Nick ("The Nickster") and his imaginary friend Nurse Skippy, who is still in the bathroom. Nick isn't allowed to chat on his own without a nurse in the room since the Incident.

Every two minutes, I got a slightly different version of this message and then--1-1/2 hours in--the "agent" terminated the chat. Would I like a transcript of our chat? Oh yasss. Yass indeedy, I would. I'll need it for the murder trial.

Used to be we had ourselves a fat monopoly called Ma Bell. Ma was all-powerful. She owned our phones and unless you had a postage stamp or a ham radio that was the only way you were going to communicate with anyone who wasn't in the room. When your phone didn't work, you went to a neighbor's house to call Ma and she sent out a nice man in a spiffy suit to fix it, no charge. He'd come in and frown at the phone and then go outside with a loop of new line and a bulge in his pocket and come back brandishing a dispatched squirrel, either a relevant one or an alternate that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then your phone worked again.

We used to complain about Ma Bell. I don't remember why.