Saturday, October 12, 2019

Fuzzy Wuzzy Just Becausey

When I met Dave he had a beard. It wasn't the greatest beard of all time but we were all hippies back then and beards were just part of the package. He did have one of the finest heads of hair I'd ever seen. Long and glossy and spectacular. I believe the beard had less to do with fashion than a sincere desire to not get up every morning and scrape his face. I couldn't argue with that. But after a while, when I knew I was worth something to him, I did let on that it would be fun to see it trimmed up a bit.

He looks better with a trimmed beard. Most men do.

So we're going on 43 years now with me mentioning about twice a year that a little snip around the edges might be nice. One of the best things about him keeping his beard short is that it doesn't hide his neck, which is long and glossy and spectacular. He's not moved by this argument.

I've seen his face two or three times, when he had to shave his beard for work. I've still never seen his upper lip. He's got a dimple in his chin. What the hell. Mostly he used it to store facial hair, I guess, so it was a surprise to me. He always grew the beard out immediately and there'd be about a week or two when it was all sexy and short and then we're back in beardville again.

This is what comes of being a couple union blue-collar workers. We save oodles on wardrobe but some of us get scraggly in the beard region and some of us don't wear makeup or even, really, make an effort. Actually, all of that applies to both of us now.

In the last few years Dave went through another sexy phase wherein the top of his beard was dark and the bottom gray. That was a really nice year. Then it went straight to white and somewhere along the line that whole routine of trimming it up every six months whether it needed it or not went by the wayside. I offered to take a scissors to it myself, but somehow something else always came up, and then one day I realized we now have a situation. That situation being my husband has crossed over into Homeless Dude territory.
Note long glossy spectacular neck

But that also means, for the first time in his life, he's right spang in fashion. This is Portland. Portland men get their strength (which they are not allowed to show) from letting their beards grow. They don't shape them. They don't trim them. They want to see what they can produce, and they can never be sure until they've pushed out as much secondary sexual characteristic as their little hormones can manage.

Every now and then you see a splendid beard that is a marvel of architecture but the vast majority run somewhere between curious and repellent. Maybe they're so sparse the beard looks more like a vapor. Or a bad hedge. Or, frankly, pubic. There's an entire traveling ecosystem happening on the streets here. Nobody knows what's in those beards. Could be pizza. Could be Legos. Could be gerbils. And in that illustrious company, suddenly, Dave is looking kind of cool again. His beard is developing some internal shape, is not pubic, gets some wave action going, and is an appealing white rather than gray. Even I'm kind of interested in what else will happen. Right now it looks like his face is wearing a sweater. Down the line, he might develop a cable knit. He's a creative guy.

And I've just noticed, because beards are such a Thing now, that when we walk down the street, he sometimes gets a little personal nod from another bearded man. A little "Nice one, dude." An acknowledgment. A signal from the fraternity.

I don't want to take that away from him. I do miss his neck but Marge and Studley might need nesting material. And besides, the homeless dudes don't ask Dave for money anymore.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cascara Your Fate To The Wind

We've discussed this before. There are people who worry about every little thing and fret their lives away only to find the thing they worry about doesn't come to pass. Although this is probably because they did something about it. And there are people who don't worry about anything and live lives filled with joy and happiness and then pay someone ten grand to rebuild the side of their house, not that I'm naming any names.

I have been aware, however, that the cascara tree just outside my writing room window has been dying for several years, and in fact now sports only a cowlick of a living portion arising from one live branch on an otherwise dead trunk. Let it be noted I also knew that the base of the tree is split and a good three-quarters of it is heading north, i.e. toward my window. And at a fair clip.

So it's not that I didn't know. The thing is, like any other person fond of birds, I do not consider my nearly dead tree to lack value. It is perfectly clear that many, many people find it very valuable indeed, if by "people" you mean "birds." Our chief chickadee Studley Windowson considers it his home base, and like the nuthatches and scrub jays, has been studding the bark with sunflower seeds all summer. I don't know who gets to harvest, but it's a laudable enterprise with winter coming.

Other than that, the tree is ugly as hell, from a human standpoint. It looks like it was designed by a drunken menorah maker. Branches curve out from the base and verticals soar up from them. Whereas Studley has been observed to light on any available twig, he does favor a certain few. These days he lands in them specifically to stare at me and chip-chip while I'm at my laptop until I put one finger up, run down to the fridge for the mealworms, and pop back, where he is waiting patiently for me to open the window. He will come for a worm, fly back to a branch, pin the worm down with his foot, and nip off bite-sized segments like a gentleman sawing a steak. If he had a napkin, he'd tuck it under his chin, if he had a chin. If he had a pinky, he'd hold it out.

The upshot of all this is that although I know the tree is destined to crumble away, and not necessarily in a tidy or insurable fashion, I am fine with leaving its ugly self be, where Studley and the woodpeckers and bushtits can do their things. So this is where denial starts to play a role. I want the tree to stay, so I will it upright, mentally.

It was only a month or two ago that I noticed I had to tilt my head to walk the path next to it. I wasn't sure, but it seemed possible I'd been doing that all along, right? A few weeks later, I was actually ducking. Hmm, thought I. That seems new. Last week I had to crouch to get under it. Upstairs, when I looked out at all the verticals in the crown of the tree, they were diagonal. I finally put three and four together and sent Dave out with a pruning saw. "Just take a little weight off of it," I said, as though he were my hairdresser. "I want to keep as much as possible for Studley and the gang."

Note Diagonalness
Which he did. However he shook the tree enough in the process that it's a good foot and a half closer to my window now. "Try not to pull the whole tree down," I distinctly remember instructing, which shouldn't be necessary, but I've seen him do that before. He can pull down a tree. I suspect I'm going to have to take the whole thing down after all, except for the one live bit coming out the middle. I have two apprentice cascaras growing up through it. They're eager enough, but they're several years away from getting journeyman height to them. I don't know what to say to Studley. I don't know if anyone is going to want to rent the birdhouse next spring with nothing to land in nearby. It's a sad day in the bird real estate world.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Murder On 29th Avenue

A Northeast Portland neighborhood was shaken the other day by the catastrophic loss of a Douglas fir tree, cut down in its prime.

The deed was undertaken with deadly efficiency by a hit squad of three young men who had clearly done this sort of thing before; not a branch was seen to hit the crappy house of the crappy homeowner who hired them, who got away scot-free, except for abrasions to his soul.

Not much is known about the perpetrator. Neighbors report that he kept to himself, but not quite as much as they'd like. He has a fondness for two-stroke engines and noise, an enormous truck, and a small wiener, probably climaxed a minute into the sound of the chainsaw, and is widely rumored to be a Republican.

Penthouse resident Chucklehead the Crow reports she had just returned from her nightly roost downtown to discover her home being reduced to toothpicks. Chucklehead is a particularly valued member of the community, entertaining nearly everybody with her unusual musical stylings. She has raised numerous children in that location, and had planned on doing so for several more years.

This tree was approximately forty years old and started out as a Christmas tree before aspiring to greater heights and was by all accounts healthy at the time it was murdered. Motivation for the crime is unclear, although one neighbor had complained about the shade, and another groused about needles in the gutters.

Songbirds up and down the block remember the victim as a tremendous source of seed-filled cones and abundant insect fare. "I remember getting some nice sap from that tree," says local nuthatch Lonesome Larry, "with which I smeared up the entrance to my nest box to protect my wife and kids. It was real good stuff," he went on, lamenting that it was not his fault his wife got stuck in it and nearly lost a foot. Two downy woodpeckers have threatened to peck someone's eyes out and local crows are planning a massive shit attack as soon as blame can be assigned. Scrub jays were philosophical, noting that they can hang out pretty much anywhere and bash pretty much anyone's head in, pretty much anytime they like.

The ubiquitous Eastern Gray Squirrel immigrant population, though indubitably harmed, has been given no legal standing in the case, and nobody really cares what they think.

"I'm appalled, of course," said neighbor Murr Brewster, to whom we are indebted for the photographs. Unfortunately, Ms. Brewster felt she was not able to intervene because she is small and also she had recently taken down a 15-year-old scarlet oak in her own yard, even though, as she explains, it was a shitty bird tree that nobody would even perch in, it had hardly any leaves at all if you looked at it right, and was replaced by five native vine maples. The murder suspect in the case of the Douglas fir is expected to replace his tree with a new big-ass truck, a smelly leaf-blower, and maybe a bigger-ass TV.

The mood was somber except for several tons of local carbon that danced and sang "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we're free at last," but that kind of thing goes on all night long, and the community has largely become used to the disruption.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Happy ****ing Birthday To Me

I don't put much store by birthdays. I don't encourage anyone to give me presents. In some moods, I think a little spanking might be nice.

Obviously when I was a kid birthdays were special. But by the time I was in college, the shine had kind of come off of it, although I still used it as an excuse to drink. Which made it much like any other day. Which is how I still feel about birthdays: they're like any other day. You can think of them as a day in which you're one step closer to dead, but again--that makes it like any other day.

I like people saying Happy Birthday and stuff but I don't plan anything special. This year, for instance, the plan was to wait for the dishwasher installers to show up, which they finally did around four. There were three of them. Their hobnail boots crunched ominously on the wood floors. I worked at my computer in the kitchen while two of them ripped into the box containing the dishwasher and set it out on the floor, where it promptly tipped over with a mighty crash. I looked around and one of them said Oops. Meanwhile the third was busy hauling out the old dishwasher.

This was their second trip. The first trip they announced my water shut-off was corroded and they couldn't do anything until I got a plumber in to fix it. The plumber was a week out and charged more than the new dishwasher cost. But that's water under the, uh, sink.

The installer wanted to know if I'd ever tripped the dishwasher breaker before. Because the wires were all melted. "And if this goes far enough in, we won't be able to install it."

"You mean I'll need to get an electrician in?" This was fast becoming a thousand-dollar dishwasher.

He investigated and the damage was limited to the first inch of the wires and he said he could do it. I relaxed. Went for my email.

Just at the exact moment I finished reading the letter from my literary agent in which she said she was sorry but she was dissolving my agreement with the agency, the installer said "Uh-oh."

"What," I said, in a tone any good TV detective would recognize as homicidal.

"Have a look," he said, and I got up, made a wide arc around the kitchen knives, and had a look. Mouse turds in the cabinet hole. An inch deep.

"Huh," I said. He said nothing. There was a long pause. "Do you want me to clean that up?" I said. In fact, he did. "Do you see this sort of thing often?" I said.

"All the time," he said, although he apparently kept no vacuum in the truck, and turd removal was not in his contract. He stood back helpfully.

I got a broom, dustpan, and vacuum cleaner, and I got on my hands and knees with my ass in the air in front of three strapping young dishwasher installers, and swept up ten thousand mouse turds, on my fucking birthday, and imagined that somewhere behind a two-way mirror folks were pointing and giggling and popping corn, and I creaked back upright thinking a hantavirus was probably as good a way to go as anything, and they put in the dishwasher and left.

It's not at all the color I thought it would be and doesn't match anything. It is, unfortunately, the color I ordered. I intend to find it charming.

Donald Trump arguably was having a worse day. The impeachment inquiry had officially just begun. Then again, any day you wake up and you're Donald Trump has to be the worst day ever. Only, in his case, he doesn't realize it. He thinks he's a perfectly fine appliance, the best, like you've never seen. He doesn't know he's sitting in a tub of rodent poop.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

My Overall Impression

The internet sent me this picture. The internet knows better than anyone how long I've been looking for cute summer-weight overalls. And if they look this good on a tall, slim, elegant young woman, just imagine how good they'll look on me!

Just imagine!

In retrospect, I should have been suspicious from the name alone. Sexy Slim Thin Jeans Wide Leg Jumpsuit. I mean, that doesn't even make any sense. That's just a bunch of trending modifiers plucked at random by people who don't speak English. Hot Thigh Gap Brazilian Microbladed Boyfriend Suit would have been equally descriptive. Plus, the garment was cheap as hell. And you know what that means. That means a tiny young Asian person churns out a hundred of these every day for a packet of dried fish.

I knew that. I bought them anyway. I haven't been able to find the pair of overalls I've been looking for, not even in the pattern books. This looked like a winner. True, the size chart is in centimeters, which always make me look fat, but I punted a little--they ran from small to extra-large, so I went Medium. It should have worked.

I wasn't looking for anything snug. Basically, I like to be able to walk around inside my overalls, but still have them drape attractively, suggesting that I have a shape in there somewhere. These I can walk around inside of and invite the book club, too. Heck. I could have sex inside these overalls on the cross-town bus and nobody'd be the wiser.

And they don't just run wide, or, as the name suggests, thin slim jeans wide. They actively shoot out for the horizon just below the hip. I'd need to wear three pairs of jodhpurs to fill them out. Forget those skinny-ass weasels: I could trouser a fat pair of badgers in this thing.

I hate going through the rigmarole of returning things. It doesn't come up often because I buy so little online. I was just going to slog through the site for return instructions and decided to try them on one more time. And lo!

Why, I think I could just take these in at the side seams. Way in. And straighten out the part that would make my thighs look like giant pitas. What's that? There's a side zipper? I could stand these babies up and step into them without touching the fabric, but it needs a side zipper? Screw the zipper. I don't even need to take it out. I'll just fold it along the seam and sew it up, zipper and all. A few judicious snips and I'll have a matching duffel bag. Which is good, because I'll be needing a new place to stash the badgers.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Know Your Enemy

On June 19, 2019, a convoy of log trucks, big rigs, and tractors shrouded the State Capitol in a fug of diesel soot and blasted their air horns to protest proposed climate legislation. As a demonstration, it didn't make the case for the status quo very well, but it wasn't meant to; it was an unmistakable middle finger raised to those perceived to be threatening their livelihoods.

The loggers and truckers were supported by money from timber and trucking executives, but it would be a mistake to assume the demonstrators were paid actors. These are real people understandably concerned that their ways of life are threatened by the efforts to eliminate fossil fuels. They just want to survive. Which is what they have in common with climate warriors.

"We will no longer stay silent about politicians that try to legislate us out of a job," Timber Unity PAC (TUPAC) wrote on its facebook page.

Politicians are an easy target, assumed always to be venal, even when they are duly representing those who elected them. And those constituents are assumed by many hard-working Americans to be fey baristas and hemp-wearing arugula farmers. But it is children who are in the vanguard of climate warfare, fighting for their future. For any future.

Any log trucker looking to mow down a few of these perceived enemies would have scored big at the climate rally in Portland last Friday. Thousands and thousands of young people showed up, but not one was interested in running people out of a job. Instead, they are trying to prevent extreme capitalism from running everyone, truckers included, out of a livable planet. It's a matter of perspective. Working men and women often see the world through a lens as narrow as a wallet, but children are not so constrained.

It's always been easy to mock children for being foolish and idealistic, a term that usually stands in contrast to "realistic." Realism is what is left when the clarity of youth gets sullied by circumstance. We grow inward as we age. But that doesn't mean the idealists are wrong. Maybe it never did.

"They just want to get out of school," people sneer. But every one of these marchers already knows more than those who belittle them. That is why they march for "climate justice." And what is that? It is the recognition that those who have profited the most from the catastrophe we face will be affected the least. And those who have gained the least will be hit the hardest.

That is why every iteration of the Green New Deal insists not only on transitioning to clean energy, but strives to direct new economic opportunities to the poorest communities; and it includes elements such as fair living wages, and guaranteed health care and education for all, even if it scuffs up the purses of the wealthy.

Authentic gray-haired hippie, bottom right
The cohort of gray-haired hippies at the climate rally recognized the spark of youth and idealism and marched alongside in support and approval. It was easy to make fun of us back in the day too; the peace sign was the "footprint of the American chicken." We protested a pointless and devastating war in part because its consequences were personal, true. We lamented the slaughter of innocent Asians in a way we might not have if we were not being lined up for sacrifice ourselves. And sure enough, as soon as the immediate threat was lifted, we swarmed Reagan's new capitalist casino and scooped up all the money we could. But it doesn't mean we were wrong to protest. We weren't.

These children aren't wrong either. And their idealistic souls will remain intact because there is no more fool's gold left for them to plunder. They know the facts. The facts are that we are stripping our living planet of what is needed to sustain it, and yet our leaders are still doubling down on disaster. We must stop, or die. Hell yes, that's going to shake things up.

There's nothing simple about it, except the pure and absolute imperative for it. When your house is on fire, it's not easy to jump out of the window, but you must to survive. People working for climate justice might give you a net to jump into. What you don't do is try to put out the flames with gasoline.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The New Wardrobe

I told you about our chief chickadee Studley Windowson and his new duds. The boy is all freshly feathered out for the next year. What is a feather, anyway? Feathers are the fanciest thing you can make out of keratin, a protein. Not you personally. All you can do is make sparse and peculiar outgrowths of hair, ratty fingernails, and dandruff. We humans might dye our keratin or paint it but we don't make magnificent spiraled horns out of it or anything as spiffy as feathers. We have to compensate for our feeble keratin skills with art, music, and certain kinds of comedy.

Or by swiping feathers off a bird that wasn't done with them and sticking them on ourselves. Historically, nobody waited for the feathers to fall off the bird, but instead plucked the animal, such as the egret, nearly into extinction, which is a shame, but damn, the hats were fabulous.

Keratin isn't living tissue, which is why you can, if you have a super nice cat, clip her claws more than once. But because it isn't living tissue, it can't renew itself when it gets worn out. So the feathers fall off the bird periodically and the bird starts over.

Once you've made yourself a feather, you'd best take good care of it. You have to preen it, and nibble at it, and straighten out the little interlocking side shoots off the shaft, and keep it in good condition, so you can fly properly or repel water or stay warm or whatever you need your feathers to do. But eventually there's going to be some wear and tear. And so, the feathers will have to be replaced by brand new ones. A warbler that never molts will end up being a sad little golf ball with bristles and stubs, just parked on the ground waiting to be someone's lunch. I assume. It doesn't happen.

Some birds molt once a year. Some birds do a half-assed job of it once a year and a whole-assed job later. Only a few do a complete molt twice annually, and those are the ones that really beat up their feather allocation by flying through windmills. Ha ha! Not really, just dense vegetation and such. The birds that fly through windmills quit molting altogether.

Studley is a once-a-year man and as such he looks as good now as he ever has or will. Some birds drop all their feathers at once, such as your duck, who is then temporarily flightless and moves to the center of the pond and tries not to get nabbed by anything, which is why it's called a "duck." (The goose has the same issue but knows how to defend itself, which is why it's called a "goose," and you shouldn't turn your back on it.)

But most birds are more methodical. They'll drop their feathers and replace them in a particular order and that way they can stay in the air, if they've a mind to. Crows in August show grand gaps in their wings and tails but they're never actually grounded. They're a little irritable though because they're vain and they know they look like crap. They'd totally make egret feather hats if they had the materials.

For many birds, the sexes are differentiated by their outfits, and many also look different as babies than they do as adults. A particularly annoying form of bird looks different after every molt for several years in a row. This is utterly fine if you are a talented birder and can squint at a distant dot and confidently (some would say arrogantly) mark it down as a three-year-old herring gull as opposed to, say, a two-year-old herring gull, a junkyard scrabble-pigeon, or an eye floater. Gulls in general earn their keep in the birding world by being difficult to identify but theoretically solvable. Normal people can get back at birders by calling all these birds and their distant kin "seagulls," which drives birders crazy. Keep that in your back pocket. They'll correct you, and you'll just shrug at them because you don't care. They'll feel superior and impotent at the same time, sort of like liberals.

But that is all just one more point in favor of Studley and his cohort. Not only do Studley and Marge look alike, but they stay alike all year long, and produce children that look just like them. That, there, is a considerate bird.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Resplendence Of Studley

What with the ravages of extreme capitalism and the collapse of ecosystems and the rise of fascism and the complete surrender of the masses to the plutocracy, I know visitors to this site have one overriding question: How is Studley Windowson doing?

Studley is, of course, the primary chickadee in the Price-Brewster domain, who, in spite of missing some toes, has worked his fuzzy buns off year after year to produce successful progeny. He and his wife Marge both are models of industry but their efforts have never been assured. Last year they gave it a couple good tries and either gave up or moved on, but the favored nesting box outside our window produced neither chicks nor dees. The year before was also a wash, and not for lack of effort. It's not that easy to turn an egg the size of a Tic-Tac into an operable bird.

So this spring we decided to help out by offering live mealworms. One of the things climate change has affected is the availability of insects and other food at the proper time for feeding bird chilluns, so it was possible we really were improving prospects, but mainly we were hoping we could get them to land on our hands, and in that we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Marge never went over to Team Mealworm but Studley was all over it, and right now. The day after he made his first dodgy feint at our hands out the window, he saw me in the garden and got right in my face. Hey. Mealworm Lady.

June Studley
For weeks, as the peeping in the nest box grew sturdier, we kept the mealworm train going. It was a fair transaction: Studley got quality groceries for his kids, and in return he healed the human heart, one and a half tiny feet at a time. Then what?

I am proud to announce that Studley and Marge created at least one new chickadee out of nothing but bird schmutz and valor. We didn't see it fledge. We came home to discover Studley all excited as  hell and one short-tailed chickadee blundering into the wisteria upside-down like Woodstock. For weeks, proffered mealworms went directly from Studley to the new hire, who says her name is Dee Dee. He and Marge flew into a nearby fir tree and lots of cheeping came out, so we assume more than one chick made it into the world, but later all we saw was Studley and the one kid. If the rest survived, they might be following Marge around. I hope that's what happened.

Eventually, Studley quit visiting every two minutes at beer thirty, but was perfectly happy to request mealworms by the bird feeder, or out the original window. The kid kept hopefully flapping at him but after a while Studley started eating them himself. He earned them. And you should see his new suit!

New Studley
Breeding and providing take a lot out of a bird. Once things settle down, they have to refurbish their outfits. Studley was recognizable not just because of his mashed left foot, but because he had a bald spot, and a mottled face, and the beginnings of a hound's-tooth check in the ascot region, and was kind of skinny, but given enough personal mealworms and a talent for the molt, he's a brand new bird. He's shiny and round and pink around the edges and ready for anything including Marge and winter. And Mama's got a new tub of mealworms.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Have A Nice Rest Of Your Day

We're all thinking too hard about what we say and how we say it. We have a wonderful language, English: it's sly, it's supple, it's wieldy. But we're larding it up.

I get why. I understand that we might want to think a little more carefully about what our words really mean, or used to mean, or could be interpreted as meaning. And we certainly don't want to offend inadvertently; another word for "politically correct" is, arguably, "considerate." Maybe we can increase awareness with our word choices. That's all good. So why does it sometimes make me want to drop some nice anvil-sized Anglo-Saxon chunk into my prose?

Take a recent article in The Oregonian. The headline refers to the "homeless." A few phrases in and we're talking about the "houseless." Okay: point taken. Someone might very well consider his tent or station wagon his home, and we're not here to shame. Later in the same article, it was "people experiencing homelessness."

This is where I start to feel prickly. I understand we need to avoid suggesting that homelessness in a person is a permanent or innate condition, although that is nothing I would have assumed, but we're starting to grow barnacles of clauses on a perfectly understandable phrase. I personally don't attach any more or less judgment on "homeless person" than "person experiencing homelessness," and maybe some people do, but I think there's some value to being able to toss off a sentence and get all the way to the end of it without sirens of righteousness going off. Can't we just talk?

People even overwork greetings. I've heard many fellow curmudgeons bristle at being told "No problem" when they thank someone. I never thought bringing me a cup of tea would be a problem...why can't you just say 'you're welcome?' Well shoot, sugar. It's just a new convention. "You're welcome" didn't arise as a response to "Thank you" until 1907. Probably before that people said "It was my pleasure to be of service" or some such fanciness. "Goodbye" used to be "God be with ye," but sometimes you just want to cut it short and walk off, okay?

So why now do I keep hearing people tell me "Have a good rest of your day?" Do we really need to acknowledge that half the day is gone already and may or may not have been a good one but we sincerely hope that all goes well from now on? Is that really necessary? We're overthinking this. I know people mean well, but this is English. The whole beauty of it is we have a gigantic unrivaled mongrel vocabulary and we can still be right snappy with it. We can herd bison with it or chase rabbits with it. We can fling it around any which way.

That's why a phrase like "tiny-fingered tangerine shit gibbon" is so satisfying. If we spoke French, we'd have to sit through "Monkey with the long arms, of the fingers minuscule, of shit, orange." If we were German, we'd cram the whole thing into one Capitalized word and glue it up with spittle. The first is like doing thrust-and-parry with a baguette: you're pretty sure someone's insulted you, but you're also pretty confident you can take him. The second is like having a side of pork dropped on your head. It's too much. English is spare and bright. English is punchy. We should celebrate that.

Apostrophe abuse is the least of our problems.
And so I end with a small, bold suggestion. When I was growing up in the '50s in Virginia, "colored people" was what the neighbor lady said when she was feeling polite about the Nigras. Obviously it had to go, and it did. We've cycled through a few ways of saying the same thing since then. Often as not, now, we say "people of color." And that has expanded to include not only black people, but many more varieties of human, such as Latinos, or Pakistanis, or Pacific Islanders. Which makes it a pretty useful phrase, especially in an environment in which non-white people share common...concerns. Where they struggle to power through the rage and fear of a dying majority, and the scoundrels who exploit them for political gain.

But I submit "people of color" is clunky. We're not French. It's been at least forty years since I've heard anyone under the age of 80 call someone a "colored guy." Seems to me the stain of derision has worn off. Is it still too soon to bring back "colored people?" Yes, it does imply that the default Person is white and everyone else has to lug around a bunch of modifiers, but so does "person of color."

To my ear, now--not sixty years ago, but now--it has a warm, jolly sound. "White" is cold and bloodless and sterile, and the shoe fits, so I'll have to wear it--but "colored people?" That's a bowl of goodness. That's sun and song and laughing on the front porch and fellowship and family and home cooking drifting from an open window. That's community. And that's English.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Into The Frying Pantheon

My friend Sara is a food goddess. I've seen her work. I remember she was right here in Dave's kitchen when he expressed his culinary philosophy ("I have no fear of butter"). They bonded instantly.

Sara can go into a market, a roadside stand, or, probably, a clean dumpster, size up the possibilities in a nanosecond, do an efficient flavor triage with her big brain, nab this off the shelf and pluck that out of the ground, bang everything into a series of pots, and invent something swoony every day of the week. Recipes do not alarm her. She’d think nothing of pestling a trilobite in a homemade mortar, whimpering it in wine, reducing, draining, and severely beating it into a juiced raisin vinaigrette, just to make a thimbleful of the first of twenty ingredients in a dish. She could make a salad out of lawn clippings and you'd beg for seconds. Look. If Sara had been in the Donner Party, everyone would've looked forward to the funerals. All right?

And, this being the age of the internet, she's also inclined to post photos of what she's eating, just some perfect thing she dashed together out of scavenged items. Lentil entrails. Eau de dough. Whiskey barrel scrapings. She's not lazy.

So if she posts a picture of something yummy that doesn't look quite out of my league, I'm tempted to try it. This happened recently with her Courgette Fritters. Oh! I had questions. One, what's the recipe? And, B, what's a courgette?

Fortunately, the internet came through for me in a way my six years of French classes did not. She was frying zucchinis. Oh boy, I thought. Zucchinis, I can come by. Zucchinis will waltz right into your house if you don't lock up. Sara was particularly fond of the "favoured Nigel Slater version." I should've been forewarned by the bonus "u" but I went ahead and looked it up in all confidence, even though I've never Nigel Slated in my life.

Well, shit.

Mr. Slater has an entire barking pack of courgette fritter recipes. He has regular ones, and auxiliary ones, and traveling ones, and ones for the Queen, and spares. I checked again: Sara had specified his buttermilk courgette recipe. All righty then!

Trouble. Right away trouble. Sure, zucchinis are easy to come by, but this recipe also called for milliliters and grams, and they are in short supply around these parts. The oil needed to be heated to a temperature that doesn't exist in this country. Also, the courgettes were to be sliced into rounds no bigger than a pound coin.

I search my memory, which is breezy territory. I lived in London for nine months, almost fifty years ago. I do remember that when I came home, I thought our coins looked like play money. So the pound coin was substantial, for currency, if not squashes. I went ahead and decided my zucchini fritters should be about a quarter-inch thick, which dimension I, as a quilter, am very intimate with, and also that it doesn't matter because I'm not a dab hand with a knife anyway and they'd just have to come out how they come out. Whatever points I lose by being short of grams would be made up for by my tossing off "dab hand" like that.

Nigel Slater might be a big deal with a gang of recipes watching his back but I doubt he has a single quarter inch in his kitchen. Or even his kitcheun.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Raisin Brand

Dave eats wood for breakfast.

I'm not actually sure of that. He eats Raisin Bran, and it always seems to give him splinters. We didn't have Raisin Bran when I was growing up. We were strictly a Cheerios and Frosted Flakes family. My college boyfriend's mom introduced me to Raisin Bran and it made me wonder what else my family had deprived me of. I would've moved in with her on the spot but then she brought out a platter of chopped liver and I loved Mom and Dad all over again.

Anyway it's nice to know they still sell Raisin Bran, although the brand has succumbed to the American demand for a paralyzing number of choices. You can get Regular, or you can get it with Frosted Banana Slabs, or Fruit Pucks of various provenance, or Golden Gooey Grain Globules. All still contain genuine splinters.

What finally got me interested in the cereal was the little game they printed on the back of the box. It really brought me back. Yes! It's Spider-Man, and he's in the city, and you're supposed to find the little cameras, the green shirts, the tiny spider-men, and the backpacks! In spite of evidence I had other things to do, I spent some time looking for them. It's not hard, but neither are the other games they used to print on cereal boxes. We loved them. We had time for them. There might be a Treasure Hunt game and you cut your little playing piece out of the box and move it along the path, and try not to land on the shark or the pirate. Or there might be a maze and you take your pencil and scribble your way out.

The games were like the things they'd print in Children's Highlights magazine. To this day if I see the cover of a Children's Highlights I can close my eyes and smell a doctor's office. You might have to look at apparently identical pictures and see how many differences you can find. (Somebody is always missing a foot.) You might have to hunt for all the things that are wrong with a picture. It helped pass the time and block out the Antiseptic Aroma Of Doom in the waiting room.

Dang it, we had real games back then. We didn't hunch over no damn phone. We were down on the rug with real winks to tiddle. We had real metal Chinese Checkers boards and the marbles went bang bang bang bang. We had real pick-up sticks that really could take an eye out.

So the Raisin Bran box brought me back. It was old-timey. The more I looked at it, the easier it was to peer into the past, where kids wearing jaunty caps and knickers rolled hoops with a stick, or flang cowpies. My land! If I looked a little harder, they were squatting in loincloths in the sun tossing knucklebones from a sheep. Looked a little harder and...

Oh crap. The directions on the Raisin Bran box are to cut out the Spider-Man character from the box. Then download and open the Suit Up With Spider-Man app on a camera-enabled mobile device. Then scan the character to use it as a controller in the game.

And just like that, the smart phone is back at the breakfast table. Screw that. I already found all the items. Old-school.

(Looking over my glasses.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Rescue Poot

We don't know how old Pootie is. He joined the household in the '80s, but, as Dave pointed out, he already seemed to have some history, with a lot of preferences as to the way the world should operate, and if a lot of those preferences aligned with Dave's own--a fondness for basketball and chocolate, say--that just goes to show he was going to be a good fit. I do know my friend Margo and I first spotted him downtown, in a store, where he was sitting in a basket of identical dogs. You could look at them as a litter, I suppose, but knowing the Poot, it was probably more of an entourage.

He was a force from Day One. Anyone could see that. Margo certainly did, and shortly went back downtown to the Arfnage and scooped Petey out of the basket. So Petey lives with Margo and Pootie lives with us.

I'm not going to say Petey lives a cushier life but there's no question she doesn't fling herself headlong into it quite the way the Poot does. There is photographic record that Pootie was once blond and fluffy, but after seven Cycle Oregon tours and countless adventures in far-flung locales, and lots of time in the sun to work on his beige, he's a changed dog. He's even gone a little bald like his hero Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at least enough to show stitching. Petey, on the other hand, has not let herself go. We don't see her as much as we used to and it's always shocking how fluffy she is.

But it's not for lack of love. Not only is Petey a solid member of the Margo household, but Margo's niece Valentina has taken a shine to her as well. In fact, Valentina adores the entire Pootie franchise and even has a Friend Of Pootie hoodie that, reportedly, is rarely off her long enough to have hygiene applied to it. It's the niece, now ten, who discovered that, like herself, Petey is as much a Trail Blazers fan as Pootie is a Lakers fan. Which is odd in that she lives in California and we live in Oregon, but you're not going to get anywhere arguing loyalties among stuffed canine basketball fans. Valentina only gets to hang out with Petey on vacations.

Pootie, Petey, and Price Bugle
Anyway, we walked into an antique mall the other day where Dave spotted an old baby carriage right by the front door, filled with stuffed animals and dolls. And, said he, a Pootie clone right near the top.

I picked him or her up. "Man, real close," I said, "a knock-off at least, but not quite right. Pootie has a rounder face. Doesn't have this much of a muzzle." Dave said Pootie the hell did too. "I have drawn Pootie thousands of times," I said, with exaggerated patience. "I think I know what his face looks like." Dave harrumphed. We turned the animal around and up and down and Dave settled him back into the carriage, on top, to improve his prospects.

But by the time we'd seen everything in the store and were ready to walk out the door, I realized that even if the new fellow was not the same, he was certainly Pootular, and in any case we couldn't just pick him up and admire him and talk about him and then put him back and walk out the door, because that would surely crush the little guy, and we're sensitive to that kind of thing. So we fished out the three bucks and took him home.

Where I discovered he really was a member of the Pootie Posse. Pootie's muzzle just looks flatter because he's had some fur loved off.

Margo saw it right away. You can hardly see a difference between the new guy and Petey. The new guy is blond in front and a little beiger in back, is all. We realized the little dude has spent the last thirty or so years propped up in a window, and then abandoned. But someone's life is about to turn around at last. Someone's going home with Valentina.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Lost In The Music

I had to pick out a relatively easy piece. I only had a month and a half to learn it. That should be adequate time for a lot of the classic canon but not the way I do it (five minutes every third day until two weeks before performance). Several Chopin waltzes fit the bill and I picked one out and started hacking away.

Plenty playable if you could tell what the notes are, but that seems to be a closely-held secret. This one is in the key of Doesn't Matter, because he plans to change keys every half page or so (in musical terms, "on a whim"). And not necessarily from the major to the relative minor, which would be a sensible thing to do if you simply must mix it up. That's something we're used to. You start out sunny and then slide into the relative minor to demonstrate depth of character. It shows you are capable of entertaining morose thoughts without fear and redeeming yourself and humanity later. Or the other way around, if you prefer to be thought of as complicated and dark. Sometimes he lurches from E major to A flat minor and straight into the Spanish Inquisition, which nobody expects.

There's something about Chopin's key changes that makes me suspect he did it whenever he was warding off a seizure.

So there we are putzing along in some respectable key and building toward some kind of climax and all of a sudden we have slid into an entirely unrelated trough of a key and there's no clambering out. And after two or three measures, when he thinks you've recovered and can find your way around, he starts heaving in accidentals. (An accidental is a note that is not a member in good standing of the most recently applied scale. And they are called accidentals because we don't know if the composer meant to do that.) There are double-sharps and double-flats and other such things to trip over in the dark. The goal here is to make sure that none of the notes in the score appear at first glance to correspond to the ones he wants you to play.

And then he puts in some note--some individual note--that bears so little relation to any of the other notes on the page that you have to study it sideways. You check the history of recent key changes searching for clues to its true paternity, and conclude, ultimately, it really is D double-flat natural ("K," or "bastard").

Yes, he really does want you to play that note that sounds perfectly horrible with all the other notes. And he's a right genius to do so. But you won't know that until you get the sucker up to speed and the note is just a fleeting thing, passing quickly, leaving behind an almost imperceptible but rewarding jarring of the senses. His accidental has become incidental. It's a drive-by.

When I was young, Chopin used to drive me crazy. I'd struggle with every note making sure I had the right one and not just something in the vicinity. I thought he wrote like that just to piss me off. Now I'm a better reader and don't take it so personally. I even appreciate him. I've already outlived him by 26 years, poor guy. I don't know that they've really pinned down what did him in. Consumption, probably, with adult onset preciousness and flare-ups of artistic temperament, but we can't rule out homicide.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

In Portland, They Are Literally Asking For It

On August 17, right-wing agitators assembled in Portland for the stated purpose of drawing out violent opposition. They numbered about 300; resisters about 1000; two bridges were closed, local businesses lost about $3 million, and taxpayers ponied up $2 million for the police presence.

I'm coming around. And Trump gets the credit.

I've got principles. They're not always the thought-out kind. They live in my gut rather than my head. For instance: if something is fundamentally unkind, it's fundamentally wrong. And: the ends don't justify the means, because in the end all you have is means. And: violence is wrong.

That last one's visceral as hell. I have hardly ever witnessed violence. Mom spanking me on the fanny doesn't count. I don't even remember that except the times I didn't think I had it coming, which was twice, and even then her case could be made. I saw two boys punching each other at the school bus stop once when I was about ten. Everyone else was egging them on and I was running away with my hands over my ears. I can't even watch boxing on TV. Do people realize they're actually hitting each other? 

So I've been dismayed by the small faction of us anti-fascists that likes to come out swinging. Some of my dismay is thought-out. The tactic plays into the hands of our enemies, and fascists are our enemies. If they're coming to little Portland specifically to score points by attracting predictable violent resistance, why give them what they want? We should ignore them. Or surround them in stupefying numbers, preferably serenading them with tubas, kazoos, and slide whistles.

But I've already seen what the right wing machine is doing with our activist fringe. They are shocked, shocked that Liberals are resorting to violence when they don't agree with what someone is saying! Trump's all over it. Unacquainted with irony, he perches his podium on the backs of terrorized children and the bullet-ridden bodies of the innocent, and he tells his mob of knuckle-draggin', mosque-bombin', immigrant-bashin', pasty-faced vigilantes that Antifa are domestic terrorists. And that means they can be rounded up, along with any sympathetic souls in the vicinity. I know how this story ends. The world has seen it before. And if it happens, Portland, at least, is going to go all Spartacus on their asses. I'll suit up in black and a bandanna myself, and so will 100,000 more of us. Arrest us all, mofos.

I put this question of violence to Dave, and after he hawed, and hemmed, and bobbled opposing talking points on either hand, he said it didn't necessarily matter what he thought, because all our shared history confirms what we'd both do: if confronted by a bunch of Nazis mouthing off, he'd start pummeling, and I would run away with my hands over my ears.

Weirdly, the only people I have ever felt like actually unleashing my tiny fist of fury on were racists. It's just as well I've never followed through. I'd probably bounce off, and my victim would be left absently flicking knuckle cells off his nose and looking around for the mosquito. I'm not big.

Here's how my own fantasy plays out. The leader of the Proud Puffy Patriot Prayer Peenie Preeners postures and prances onto a platform, three-quarters erect in his body armor and flag underpants, and begins to rattle on about his various favorite amendments for no reason whatsoever. I make my way up to the platform--Excuse me, sonny, pardon me--in a clean flowered housedress and sensible shoes and I tip into the microphone and say Now, now, honey, you're all upset. Why don't you go home and put your feet up for a while, and have a nice lemonade, and then when you're feeling better you can go out and see if there's something nice you can do for somebody. Someone will want to have sex with you eventually, honey, just you wait and see!

In the meantime, what the hell. I still don't think you can violent your way to peaceful. But if a handful of our anti-fascists wants to smack some Nazis, I say, give 'em one for me.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

And On The Eighth Day, God Created Assholes

We concluded in our previous post that Cain and Abel must have banged their own sisters, because we couldn't even entertain the possibility that their mother Eve was involved. We are delicate that way. But the question of how that population ball got rolling isn't actually answered anywhere in what people persist in calling the Good Book.

In fact, the Book was originally devoid of punctuation, and consequently the plot lurches along without coherence. There are Gaps. If we want to fill in those gaps, we have to guess. And guess what? People of legitimate religious credentials have been guessing for centuries. With apologies to my Jewish friends, I never heard of Midrash before this week and still don't know how to use it in a sentence, but I love it. Midrash is sort of a Cliff's Notes for the Torah, supplementary material designed to be clipped to the scroll to explain all the bits that clearly got left out. Early rabbis wrote it and some even supplied conflicting stories for the same gaps, and that's just fine with everybody. After a lifetime of having Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door jabbing their confident fingers at the Scriptures, I love a religion that doesn't get all precious about God's Word. "Could be this," one rabbi says, and the next comes along and says "Or that," and nobody comes to blows. Speaking of coming to blows, that's one of the gaps that got filled in. Cain slew Abel but it's not clear why.

The only thing Genesis said was that Abel was a shepherd and Cain tilled the soil, and when they both brought offerings to the Lord, the Lord favored Abel's over Cain's. But you've got to expect that when you bring a vegetarian dish to a potluck. Doesn't seem like a murder situation, though, and in fact many scholars point out that there might have been quite some time between the hummus and the homicide. And the Midrashim offer us some possibilities.

Apparently it's just understood that Cain and Abel were each born with a twin sister, because why not? It's not like such a non-event as the incidental birth of a girl would rate a line in the Torah. And each was supposed to marry the other's twin, out of some very early notion of decency, but Cain's twin was purtier than Abel's, and they both wanted her. Or, alternately, Abel had two twin sisters, and they decided to fight over the spare.

Or, postulates a different rabbi, Cain and Abel decided to divvy up the world, and one took the land and the other took everything else. And in the course of a standard double tantrum, the one told the other to get off his land, and the other told him to take off his clothes. "Strip!" demands brother one, and "Fly!" retorts brother two, and before you knew it, that was that. The first murder.

But when God confronted Cain about this, demanding to know where Abel was, as if he didn't know, Cain complained that he was not his brother's keeper. Especially now that he was dead on the ground. Fine. That's all in the book. But it gets punched up in the Midrash. Cain starts deflecting right away. He says to God it's your fault because you made me do evil, and why didn't you prevent it? Awesome. Typical abuser turning the blame around. I guess it works if you're accusing the Democrats of your own racism, but it's pretty bold to think you can gaslight God.

I don't know. The Midrashim all ring true. One way or the other, the women don't get a say about anything, and the men are obligate assholes, and cause all the trouble, and then blame someone else for it. Nothing's changed to this day.