Saturday, March 23, 2019

Yellowing Up

Speaking of things I should know but don't, and I was just about to, here's a thing: there is a bird called a Lesser Goldfinch that I never heard of until about five years ago, even though there are a billion of them at any one time in our very yard.

There is nothing like birding to distinguish the people who notice things from the people who are too busy jamming their thumbs up their butts. I have been both of those people in the same day. "Oh, it's a lesser goldfinch," I heard someone say on my first Birdathon, and I was duly puzzled. Goldfinches I know. This sounded like a slight. Get to know that goldfinch, I wanted to say, before you start casting nasturtiums.

But in fact a Lesser Goldfinch is considerably smaller than an American Goldfinch, somewhat greenish on the back, a bit less show-offy, has an extra comma on its wing bars, and says "peww, peww. Peww?" I know all that now because apparently, all this time, they have been slathered every which way in my yard. And they're there all year long. Not noticing them is the very definition of a character flaw.

And so it is I had another smack-my-head observation the other day. I used to notice when the American ("regular") Goldfinches came back for the season. Hard not to. They're ridiculously bright yellow. It's spring, the scent of daphne is in the air, and all of a sudden your tree is filled with sunshine on the wing. It's like the swallows coming back to Camp Castrato, or wherever, except in your very yard.

But what I finally noticed is they've been back for a while, or never left. They just haven't been yellow. And now they're yellowing up. That's what they do. It's a work in progress.

Birds molt at least once a year. All of them. They have to. They can't go whackety whackety with those wings all year long and not need to replenish. And many of them have a spring suit and an autumn suit. The males' nesting season duds are frequently more eye-catching. No particular point in being both eye-catching and tasty in the winter, so then they tend toward dull.

But when they molt, most of them don't just drop their drawers and haul on a new outfit. It happens feather by feather: the old one gets pushed out, and the new one grows in. And so that nice even beige color of the male winter goldfinch goes spotty and mottly for a while before it's finally all Hey-Baby yellow.

Even the dashing goldfinch has dark wings, though. The darker pigment adds strength to the feather, and the tail and wings do the most whacketing, so they need to be able to hold up. You look around. Dollars to donuts your birds are liable to have dark wings and tails too, no matter what other colors they are.

I feel privileged to have finally been able to notice my birds yellowing up. It's probably because we moved the bird feeder a foot away from the window. That is a real boon to the near-sighted person. Turns out that you can cut down on bird-window strikes by putting your feeders that close. I'm not sure why, but it seems to have helped. The cat-window strikes from the inside are through the roof, but the birds are doing great.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Getting Sloshed

Dave and I are both pretty good noticers. So when he stands at the front door and says "Huh. Now that's something you don't see every day," I will haul my butt over and have me a look. It could be crow antics. Could be a cool bug. This is Portland: it could be a naked woman juggling hamsters on a double-story bike.

"Huh," I agreed, standing at the front door.

"Ain't that sumpin'?" Dave said.

Yes it is. It's a blog post, is what it is.

A river was running down our street. Canoeable. There was police tape at the intersection. And firemen all over the place. Global warming promises to deliver extreme weather events, but they're not usually this localized. A party atmosphere prevailed. The couple across the street had bundled up their infant and were headed south, or as we refer to it now, upstream. "Going to check it out?" I asked, and they said No. They were going around the corner to T. C. O'Leary's for a beer. Before noon. As they reasoned it, St. Patrick's Day was only a day away, and there was no point risking the water would rise and they'd miss it.

I put on my leaky rubber boots and headed out. I don't own any boots that keep me dry in two feet of water anyway. If I did, I'd dance on a stage.

All up and down Alberta Street, the consensus was that this was an even better show with a beer in hand. Galleries were empty, bars were full.

A thirty-inch water main had busted up at 23rd and Skidmore and was busily mapping out the relative elevations of the Alameda Ridge. I knew we weren't quite at the high point--in fact the water main probably was--and if you continue north about four miles you hit the Columbia River, which is, by definition, the low point of everything. That was another thing Dave noticed once. We'd lived here a few years by then, and he was standing in the middle of our street and said how cool it was that you could see sailboats going by. He wasn't on any meds at the time that I could adjust, so I joined him in the street and I will be dag-blasted if tiny boats weren't sailing by in the distance. (He was also the one who noticed the day it was pouring rain in the front yard and sunny and dry in the back, and now, because of those two observations, he gets to pull my leg as hard as he wants, because every ten years or so he's right.)

Before I gave up and submerged my boots--it only hurts for a bit--I asked one of the nice firemen for a hand up onto the relatively shallow sidewalk. It's not like they were doing anything. Five thousand uniformed firemen and nobody offers to pick an old lady up off the street? He frowned at me. "Is there somewhere you need to be, Ma'am?"

In your arms, sugar. In your big meaty fireman arms.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Poop On Joe The Plumber

You know, if it weren't for the occasional meme that gets tracked into my Facebook page on a right-wing shoe, I wouldn't know that Denver has just legalized pooping on the sidewalk in order to protect illegal immigrants from deportation at the behest of Democrats who need their votes in order to continue their march toward socialism and the destruction of freedom as we know it. I had been unaware of this, but it makes sense.

Liberals are rightly concerned because it is well known that homeless illegal immigrants are particularly drawn to city sidewalks for their defecation activities, in many cases passing up clean heated restrooms for the opportunity to drop their drawers in public. This is a long-standing tradition among peoples who are expected to clean other people's toilets but not use them personally. It would be culturally insensitive to force them to use the public toilet facilities most American cities don't have any of.

In fact there are credible reports that illegal aliens, like dogs, have scaled the border wall just to drop a deuce in our yard, and be back home in time for din-din.

But even we liberals believe they should clean up after themselves, so we are pressing for legislation to provide Baggies & Ballots in street dispensers along with absorbent American flags to wipe with.

Illegal immigrant homeless poop is considered more of a public health threat because it takes the jobs of regular homeless poop. Worse, evidently there is a thousand-foot-long turd oozing toward our southern border. Much if not most of the illegal drugs passing into the United States have been shown to be passed first through illegal immigrant rectums. Pooping on the sidewalk does make the cocaine retrieval a lot easier.

Wait a minute. A quick fact check revealed that Denver did not in fact just make sidewalk pooping legal but instead lowered the penalties to sixty days in jail per turd, and they did it two years ago.

So why is this meme making the rounds now? This particular story has been brought to us on an annual basis (or as needs of rage require) courtesy Joe The Plumber, who was never a plumber and cannot be expected to help with the waste management situation. In fact, he puts out a lot of shit himself.

I don't know. Poop is a problem. I think we need to build a stall. A big, beautiful stall.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Beer From Here

Every year I scour my annual credit card statement looking for hidden items my tax preparer might be interested in. You never know. I'm forgetful. I may have suffered an involuntary donation. Or had a dependent child all this time. Or went blind. Or maybe the cat can be depreciated. She's not getting any younger.

What really struck me this year is that if my credit card is any reflection on my discretionary spending--and that's pretty much what it is--all I did with my pension was (1) piss it away and (2) turn it into shit. That's right. I didn't buy any things. No new furniture. No clothes. No car. No gadgets. Dave got some shoes but that's to keep him from wearing his feet down to little ankle stumps. He walks a ton. Nope: everything we bought we either pissed away or it turned to shit.

Grocery stores. Restaurants. Brewpubs. And repeat.

We love great food and great beer. And we happen to be in about the best town in the world for it. I will re-use Kleenex and save seeds and stick extenders on my pencils but my wallet shoots wide open for really nice food and beer. I like that it employs my fellow citizens too. Our money goes sideways and around and around, and not to Jeff Bezos.

Beer has been really good here for about thirty years. With your first swallow you can tell that your beer is instantly embarking on a search-and-destroy mission to locate and eliminate pockets of unhappiness. There are many people who think this is a bad thing. They say, in fact, that alcohol has many untoward effects such as shriveling your brain, enblobbening your liver, shredding your stomach lining, making your heart all stretchy, pitching a tent in your pancreas, and ruining your relationships. And all of this is even egregiouser if you're a small female. But they're basing this on nothing more than rigorous scientific inquiry, exhaustive longitudinal studies, and peer-reviewed medical research, whereas I hold that it is entirely possible I am the "exception that proves the rule"--a sound principle that I know is scientific because it has the word "prove" in it.

Besides, it's not all about the buzz. I don't drink Budweiser--I'm not an animal.

We were quite taken with Bridgeport IPA when it came out in the 1980s. In fact, it seemed to solve almost everything. Bridgeport was a pioneer that put hoppy beers on the map and won a bunch of international awards with them, too. They were kind of the Big Daddy that got it all going. But then smaller breweries started up. Roots Brewery was a revelation: their organic IPA solved problems I didn't even have yet. Then one day we showed up at their pub and the place had just folded up. No warning. It was awful.

But soon after came the Burnside Brewery, which made tremendous beer AND food (smoked trout deviled eggs with flying-fish roe and dill vinaigrette? Come on.) AND was located in the exact right spot to get refreshment on a twelve-mile city hike and still leave a nice contemplative hour for walking home. If we only wanted to go a couple miles we could pop into Alameda Brewing. And of course even if a place doesn't brew its own beer it still maintains a zillion taps for people like us--there are probably seven such establishments within three blocks of our home.

But cue the shark music. You know those stories where a bunch of people are stuck on a moving train and one by one they either (1) disappear or (2) get really nervous? We're getting really nervous.

Burnside Brewery just up and closed, lock, stock, and deviled eggs. Their employees were as surprised as anyone. They've still got a silo of beer out front. Alameda Brewery just shut down. And now Big Daddy Bridgeport is closing too. Suddenly this town is awash in unemployed barkeeps.

I'm mentally prepared for invasions of climate migrants. The collapse of fisheries. The insect die-off. The end of air travel. Extinction. It's not easy, but in the face of all this I am able to keep breathing in and out because of a few key tricks of perspective: (1) the insignificance of our globe in the universe, and (2) my own imminent demise. I can keep my cool.

But it's going to be a lot harder without beer.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The House Guests

Well, shoot, something must've been in the air, because yesterday we got our first ants AND our first raccoons of the year. The ants were rolling around snickering on the roof and the raccoons were marching in a purposeful little line from the back door. Or maybe it was the other way around.

I don't have a big quarrel with the raccoons. We can even go a few years without seeing any, although I suspect they're around even then. It's remarkable how elusive they manage to be whilst being so substantial. If a really large cat swallowed a basketball and it got hung up just at the rectum, it would look like a raccoon. Cats can't swallow basketballs, of course. You're thinking of Labrador Retrievers.

Dave did have a big quarrel with the raccoons once. He was peeing behind the tool shed, as one does, with his business well in hand, and turned to find a committee of raccoons watching him, and wondering if he had anything he wanted to share with the class. He did not. It was a bit of a standoff and obviously he negotiated an exit, but you know there had to be that moment in which he was reviewing just how much of a threat a raccoon is. They never seem to come after you directly, and you've never heard of anyone with personal raccoon damage, but there's something deeply untrustworthy about them. They just don't fear us enough. If I had my hand on a private portion of myself I was particularly fond of, I'd be alarmed.

I do keep a compost pile, and have yet to observe anything untoward rooting around in it, but that's probably because it's guarded by attack scrub jays. You'd have to be a complete idiot to take on a scrub jay, because they'll stab you in the head as soon as look at you. So I don't know where these large mammals are hanging out when they're not doing the moonlight dance on our roof. I do see their poop. It could be opossum poop, but raccoons are said to use latrines, and this poop tends to be all bunched up in the same place, under our grape arbor. If you spend any time online looking up raccoon poop, and who hasn't, you will find yourself strongly advised to remove your raccoon poop latrine, so as to avoid getting raccoon roundworms. I'm not real worried about that. You get raccoon roundworms, it says here, by ingesting raccoon poop, and that wasn't anything I was planning to do. You're thinking of Labrador Retrievers.

I'm doing the regular thing with the ants. I give them a couple squirts of ant poison in a sweet gel and they scarf it up and take it to their nests, in the form of themselves, and then drop dead, are briefly mourned by their colleagues and are, themselves, eaten. It seems disrespectful but it's tidy and efficient, I suppose. I should probably feel bad about my treatment of native fauna but I understand that there is no ant shortage.  In fact, there are more ants than there are anything else. Besides, they eat their dead. Who does that?

Labrador Retrievers, probably. They'll eat anything. Or they'd at least roll in it. Which is fine, as long as they don't do it on my roof.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ivanka: The Moral Leader We've Been Waiting For

Attention please: First Daughter Ivanka Trump has just made an important pronouncement.

By the way, does Tiffany get to be a first daughter too, even though she's farther down the line of success, I mean succession, and needs more plastic surgery to make standard? No matter. We'll go ahead and call Ivanka the first daughter, although there's probably no way of knowing at this point how many there really are, either fleshed or flushed.

Anyway, back to Ivanka's important pronouncement. She really isn't getting enough credit for it. She is now in a high enough position she can look right down into the hearts of Americans, most of them anyway, and she likes what she sees. She says:

"I don't think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. People want to work for what they get. So, I think that this idea of a guaranteed minimum is not something most people want."

And she is absolutely right. Most people not only want to work, they also want to be paid for it, and not at a wage that has been driven down over the years by employers' willingness to exploit a vulnerable immigrant slave class for their personal profit. I'd go so far as to say most people who put in at least a forty-hour work week would like to be able to rent some kind of shelter and feed themselves, and it would be super awesome if they didn't have to worry what would happen if they got sick, too. You know, they'd like to be able to live modestly with some security, like they do in those backwards countries like Sweden and Denmark.

And all that is totally possible as long as we listen to our First Daughter, The One That Counts. Because if it is true that most Americans want to work for what they get, things are about to change for the better around here. This means Americans like little Ivanka and her peers--and who knows them better?--must be totally on board with a maximum wage. You make a million a year, five million, fifty million--we should be able to decide on a reasonable limit somewhere--that really ought to do it for you, assuming you want to work for what you get.

We could even cross our fingers and pretend everyone in that range has worked hard to make the world a better place. Ha ha! But there's got to be a certain amount above which we can all agree that, no matter who you are, you cannot possibly have earned it. Then we scoop up your soul-corrupting excess, everyone else gets a decent minimum and health care and a modicum of support and security, and you still get to be rich as all fuck. Nothing but winners here.

And, Skippy? You might make a case that you've earned all your money, up to a point, but once you've started just piling it up instead of paying your workers decent wages or safeguarding the environment, it's time for the grownups to take over. We don't let the entitled brats run the show. They'll get spoiled, and we want them to be civilized members of society.

It doesn't even have to be tied to merit. A generous society can even reward those who haven't worked a day in their lives, if we want to. It would be nuts not to confiscate most of the utterly unwarranted millions they got from dear old dead dad, but we can let them have a real nice start without penalty, a bit of a boost, and after that it's all up to them.

There is such a thing as a "self-made man," but of course Ivanka's daddy isn't it. If you were going to make a man, would you make one like that? Of course you wouldn't. But we can let folks like him get that nice good running start before we start relieving them of their unearned excess. What we can't do is abolish the estate tax altogether. That would be morally corrupting, and sweet Ivanka wouldn't hear of it.

Because we're Americans. We all want to work for what we get.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

R.I.P. Lester Boyd, Falcon Sex Pioneer

I guess everyone knows by now that the falcon sex hat is a thing. It's been making the rounds on the internet. It's old hat, as it were. Smelly old hat, but nonetheless.

The most disturbing thing about the falcon sex hat is not that someone might want a falcon to have sex on his hat. In fact, I'd guess a fair portion of people surveyed might say they'd at least like to try it once, and a lot who swear up and down they wouldn't might act very different in private. Guaranteed, if some guy is railing about the evils of falcon hat sex on the floors of Congress, he should be checked for feathers on his way out of the bathroom stall.

No, the most disturbing thing about the falcon sex hat is that someone had a good idea it would work in the first place. The object here is to take your captive hand-raised falcons and make more falcons with them. The difficulty arises when falcons introduced in a mixer to not show any interest in each other, but rather to the humans who raised them. At that point if you're going to get the pertinent fluid out of a bird, you need to make yourself attractive to him. He's got to want you.

My first thought wouldn't have been to make a sex hat. If anything, falcon sex underpants. That seems to put things more in the ball park. So if sex skivvies weren't the first idea out of the box, that must mean they had a pretty good hunch about the hat. Which means peregrine falcons were already trying to mate with their heads. Dollars to donuts, the hat inventor was a guy with a bald spot.

The business portion of a female peregrine falcon looks more like a guy with a bald spot than anything else. So when spring was in the air, the falconers probably took to wearing hats just in the interests of personal hygiene. I know I would, and I'm not really a hat person. And then somewhere along the line, the light bulb went off--just after the falcon did, in all likelihood--and he said, hey now, if I make this hat such that it would be easier to scoop up the spunk, I'd be halfway to a new bird.

So that's what he did. It's a rubber hat covered with little shallow cells: a twat-waffle, if you will. It's Jizz Bingo: you can't know which of the cells your bird is going to whack off into, so you put them all over and then locate and collect your specimen neatly with a syringe. No muss, no fuss, no need to haul out the rubber spatula. Oh, there's also a nice turned-up brim, just to give the bird a good purchase, and maybe keep the overflow off your neck.

The hat has been around since the early 'Seventies, when peregrine falcons were on the now-familiar brink of extinction. Lester Boyd, a legend in falcon sex, invented it. He wasn't bald after all. Balled, sure. He died last month at the age of 77, and we salute him. It's probably time for a new hat.

As far as transferring the donation to the females goes, a certain degree of consent is required. But that's only right.

                                  Be sure to turn up the sound for this.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Wicked Stawm Comin'

Wicked stawm
It's exciting to anticipate a big weather event. They rarely sneak up on us. In a development that would have rendered my mom flabbergastric, our own phones tell us what's going to happen.We know exactly when the boom will be lowered, in time to stand in line for tire chains, room air conditioners, sandbags, flashlights, bottled water. I don't know why anybody ever thought there was a need for bottled water, but now it's a whole thing. People pay good money for tap water in a plastic bottle. It's criminal: you know for a fact that there are people alive today who think the bright side of the Flint, Michigan water fiasco is they can sell more tap water in plastic bottles. (They're not in a fat hurry to fix the Flint water either. Them's just colored people.)

A hundred years ago, people still could anticipate big weather events. They could feel it in their bones, read it in the sunset, smell it in the air, suss it out from bird chatter and the scurryings of critters. Maw gets a twinge and Paw squints up into the sky and before you know it the cattle are rounded up and the window shutters are latched. People used to know useful stuff. Now we don't have to. Now, people might not even conclude they were in a big earthquake until they'd fished out their phones and hollered "vertigo" and "poltergeists" into them first.

Big weather events are exciting because they allow us to contemplate matters of life and death in a way driving on the freeway should, but just doesn't. We've got a big weather event coming in this evening, we hear. Fortunately we're all prepared. We had a test run a few days ago.

That would be the day that Dave and I walked out of the house past a few patches of dandruffy snow and shortly hit completely clear pavement, so we continued on to the hot dog shop. Which was closed. It wasn't supposed to be closed. We worried the owner had finally thrown in the towel. So we went to the pastrami shop. Which was closed. It wasn't supposed to be closed.

Sure enough--we checked later--both places were closed because a snowflake had been rumored to have fallen overnight, somewhere in the metropolitan area, and panic had set in. And now--I get the vapors just thinking about it--we're due for four inches of the stuff. Any minute now. It's inhumane. Nobody's going anywhere, that's for sure. You don't want to risk ending up upside-down in a ditch with a lot of people who might not have voted right.

We might get snow and we might not. Either way, Portland will have a snow day. We're progressive that way.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

We Have A Situation

Just saw yet another ad for a bra that is designed to Minimize and Support. It has sleek smoothing side panels and industrial underwiring, with just a hint of rebar, and the model looks quite adequately contained in it, but I'm looking for something with flying buttresses and a block-and-tackle, here. Sleek and smooth is all well and good but I just want to get everything back in the barn and the door rolled shut.

It's not that I'm huge. But I'm not small. Containment has always been an issue, but now that my basic personal infrastructure has begun to break down, we have a situation. The pudding no longer sets up. The soufflé has lost its loft and the batter is overflowing in the pan.

To complicate matters, the leftmost contents of my bra are considerably more voluminous than the rightmost. I'm not sure why I'm not walking in circles all the time. It's not even subtle, and the only reason no one notices is no one expects it. Most people's brains edit out the discrepancy. (Any of you now moved to go back through all the photographs of me on this blog and examine more closely, have yourself a good ole time, and maybe drop a little something in the bucket for the orphans on your way out.) At any rate, a standard bra has never been able to resolve the disparity. There's always going to be either sinkholes or spillage.

Basically, I wear a bra in order to keep everything from lighting out for the territories, especially on the left. On the right I just need a little slap and a "Hey now, Bessie, hey now," and on the left it's full-on border collies and Hee-yaw and git in the corral.

I used to be perky. That was sometime in about 1965, late autumn, I think. It's an odd thing to watch this stuff happening on you. I distinctly recall that at first there was the intimation of a sturdy little disc. A lens of promise, as it were, and you could feel the edges on it like it was an actual implant. Then things rounded out. I do remember being perky because it coincided with the last time my dad barged into my bedroom without knocking. What an awful thing to happen in a family in which private stuff is never said out loud and one is furthermore convinced she's disappointing the folks by growing up. Maybe it wasn't so, but I was pretty invested in my role as the sunny last child that Kept Them Young, and adolescence takes a pretty hard kick at that. At the sunniness, too.

You hardly ever see anybody perky anymore. I don't know what happened to today's young women, but they're busty as the dickens. I used to be considered on the substantial side, but I'd be dead-average these days. I've heard this has happened because the kids are raised on dairy products from cows that have been artificially hormone-boosted, which has to suck for the cow, who has a hard enough job shoveling in pasture and throwing up in her mouth all day long without having to deal with stretch marks and irritability.

Anyway, inasmuch as I have two sizes of Secondary Sexual Characteristics to compare, I do know which I'd prefer. When I was younger, I'd have preferred to match the bigger one for the Yoo-hoo, I'm Over Here factor. Now I'd match the smaller one, which  has the good grace to not get wedged in my armpit. As it is, when I roll over in bed, things just keep rolling over. It's not restful.

If my underwear is going to support me, I hope it's planning to send money.

All illustrations from Trousering Your Weasel, available at a sidebar very near you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Verdict

Jury duty. My service has precisely coincided with the longest stretch of sunshine this winter. We can tell because someone reported a little patch of it in a high window.

It is in fact an awesome responsibility to have someone's fate in one's hands; certainly in a criminal case, but even in a case like this one, where someone's counting on fifteen million bucks to live on, and the other entity is merely a hospital that could pony that up in an afternoon if they bill enough aspirins. We are taking this seriously.

In a very disturbing element for your correspondent, I must report that for eight days now I have been leaning toward whichever side spoke last. The closing statements should be a dead heat.

This is upsetting, though. Perhaps it just speaks to the skills of the lawyers. Perhaps it just means I have an open mind. In fact I do have an open mind, but once it starts to fill up with testimony, there should be some precipitate in the brain pan. What if having an open mind just means there's a bunch of air going through there?

This condition does not apply to politics. I have firm opinions in the realm of national and world affairs. I stand ready to inflict them on you at a moment's notice. Not only do I have opinions, but I know they're right, even the ones that are uninformed, and I know which people are wrong wrong wrong. If it's late at night and I'm one beer over, I'll let them the hell know, too.

I think I remember a time in my life when I could throw out an opinion in public, and it could be volleyed about, and sometimes my opinion would be shown to be over the line and sometimes it would dink the net and drop fair. Everyone claps politely and we try to make some more points.

That never happens anymore.

Now I throw out an opinion in good faith, and discover that my debate opponent has been inseminated by fallout from passing chemtrails, resulting in an involuntary measles vaccination. And that this experience will inform every aspect of his world view.

Or that she is single-mindedly devoted to assuring that a series of perfectly dreadful events will occur in a precise order, leading up to the Rapture for herself and her identical friends.

Or that the person is just wrong. Even before I assemble my bullet points and trot out my data and proofs, I know the other person is wrong. Because he or she is unkind.

That's the tell.

Kindness is not the same as naiveté. It does not preclude disapproval. Kindness is a willingness to recognize the humanity of others. People are not kind who feel safe only when they have constructed barricades and identified enemies, even if they have to make them up. Kindness is a thin thing if it applies only to identifiable members of their own tribe. If a person falls easily into gross generalizations about any group, they are lazy, fearful, and unkind. And wrong.

If you're not sure what to think, you start by cultivating kindness. You can always hang 'em high later.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Justice League: Amateur Version

Let's review. Your correspondent is the eleventh of thirteen jurors selected for a civil case and is seated in a fossilized chair from the Inquisition. During quiet moments, the hip screws in the juror to her right can be heard to ease out. It's Day One. We assess our predicament.

The courtroom is presided over by a handsome judge. He is calm, clear, thorough, and altogether spiffy.

Also presiding, above him, on a ledge, is a plastic owl. A good one: no plastic rodents of any kind are observed.

The plaintiff is the only African-American man in the room. In a Portland jury composed primarily of white women in their thirties, this probably works in his favor. Unfortunately, he looks exactly like Clarence Thomas. So it might be a wash.

Right away, during opening arguments, I am experiencing a problem. Let's go back to an earlier moment. I am awakened by an alarm clock I fired ten years ago, it's completely dark outside, and I'm not going fishing. I make my way to the bus stop and am baffled and horrified by the number of citizens who are out and about without any assurance, other than force of solar habit, that daytime will arrive. It's cold. It's dark. It's sleepy as all get-out. Clearly, this is inhumane.

So now I am in the jury box for the next nine hours, and right away I am having trouble keeping my eyes open. It's early in the case, and I'm sure I can catch up, but it is important that I look like I'm paying attention. This causes stress. My eyelids are threatening to snap shut audibly. If I close them, adopting a look of concentration, there is no guarantee I will not drool, also audibly. I am told this is confusing and alarming to spectators. So we have a situation. If you have ever found yourself falling asleep at the wheel, you will recall that even the imminent likelihood of turning yourself into paste on a bridge abutment is not sufficient to keep you awake. This is similar.

The good news is, things are lively in the jury room, during breaks. My fellow jurors seem to be unusually intelligent, interesting, and funny. We wasted no time in starting a pool as to the exact minute we'd be called back into the courtroom. Nobody guessed 1:37, and so the pool grows. You want odds? What are the odds you get thrown in with twelve other citizens from a random pool and you're thinking you'd like to spend an evening playing Bananagrams with ALL of them? And might not even win?

You can't count on this. I've been on a number of juries, and there is usually at least one member who has made his decision fifteen years ago, when that asshole did that thing that he'll never forget or forgive. This case, and the conduct of his daily life, will all be run through that particular grinder of an incident and result in precisely the same hamburger every time. There will be another member who will skate right over Judge's instructions and insist "I just know it, okay? I can tell." A third will be sporting a fatal freight of aftershave.

Blue Day. You thought I was kidding?
This jury? Well. When the judge noted that two of us wore a lumberjack plaid one day (the odds of this, in Portland, are very high), we all decided to wear green the next. That had a diluted effect on account of the huge number of ways "green" can be interpreted, from "olive" to "forest" to "red check." The next day we all wore black.

Now that was impressive, and duly noted from the bench. The jury box looked, depending on your point of view, like either an execution squad or a choir loft. For those with the sunnier interpretation, be it noted that a skeleton hanging from a gibbet showed up in the courtroom on the same day. Don't mess with this jury, is what I'm saying.

We're doing charades next week, Bianca's bringing in donuts, and Martha brought enough gimp we should all be able to go home with a lanyard or key fob. Wednesday is Purple Day. Friday we deliberate.

I have no idea what we'll decide. I'm confident justice will be served. This is one sharp jury. Which is why I'm looking forward to Thursday. That's Skit Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Twelve Plus A Spare

Ah, jury duty. It's been a decade or so, but before that they called me up every other Wednesday, seemed like. The first few times I was called, the service was for two weeks. That was back when people had careers and maybe were represented by unions and in general the jury duty was an inconvenience or a slight financial hit. These days people's expectations of scraping together food and shelter are much reduced, a condition referred to on the right as "freedom." You ask half the prospective juror pool to sit for two weeks, you're going to run into some attrition in the form of starvation deaths and homicide.

So we are now asked to show up for two days. And that should do it, unless you get called to sit on a trial that lasts longer than that. Which, naturally, is what happened to me.

I'm a union girl and I'm getting my pension either way, so I'm not out any cash. Still, I thought a nice boutique trial of a day or so would be just the ticket, a possible blog post, and an opportunity to dish out a tidbit of justice. More than two days, I felt, was asking a lot of an old lady with a novel to write. Who likes to sleep in.

Our trial was going to go nearly two weeks, so they called up 40 jurors with the hope of sieving out 13. Would this trial present a hardship to anyone? 40 hands shot up and waved like a wheat field. I made an effort but it was clear I was not getting out of this.

An amazing percentage of people, as it turns out, could be described as living paycheck to paycheck, if only they got paychecks. As the hardship stories rolled toward the back of the room, we met folks who were liable to lose two or three of the minimum-wage jobs they were splicing together between food stamp allotments. Or who were going to be out forty big ones if they miss their next plasma donation. Or who were at risk of losing their favorite spot on a warm street grate. Ladies and gentlemen, it's getting medieval out there.

Then there were the medical hardships. Front row, a juror's hip screws were liable to pop out if she had to sit in a juror chair for too many hours in a row. Juror #21 couldn't guarantee he wouldn't bust out howling after three or four days. Juror #28 is the sole caregiver for her mother, who might start to wander if she isn't locked in her bedroom, and the fire department had words with her about that the last time. Third row back, grandpa eats wallpaper if left unsupervised. Fourth row: there's a basket of puppies attached to an explosive device that will detonate if the juror's ankle monitor doesn't register inside his house at least once every four hours.

The judge worked the room. Was Juror #32 aware that sperm donations pay better than plasma? Could Mother benefit from a support hamster? Might it be possible to paint over the wallpaper? What kind of puppies? Don't explosive devices have a less than even chance of going off, on average?

Eventually thirteen of us pulled the short straws and filed in to the jury box. We looked either sullen or sober, depending on your viewpoint. We were sworn in. We, by gum, were set to drop a load of justice on the county. A bigger load than we'd hoped to, but still.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The State Of Our Union Is Wrong

Like everybody else, except Native Americans who might otherwise like to vote, the State of the Union has an address. Which means you can get a pretty good fix on it. With a good enough address, you can find out if the fellow in charge is able to correctly identify actual problems and then not really do anything about them; or, conversely, he has no idea what's at stake, attacks fictitious problems, and doesn't really do anything about those either. The first gives you that tiny pop in your sails for a few minutes, and the second makes you want to go straight to bed with Cheez-its, a bottle of hooch, and a catheter.

This one was a doozy. Both teams were in uniform: white on the side of Faint Hope, blue suits and red ties on the side of the Co-Conspirators. The co-conspirators got the most exercise. If you were able to thread them properly and hook them up to a machine, you could have stitched a nice long seam. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. With the white team, you'd end up with the same basket of unfinished mending you started with. That's what makes them relatable.

All those ovations took a toll on the co-conspirators, though. Next year they're hoping to power their pants with coal, if they can't farm out the standing applause to ragged children in Bangladesh for a nickel.

Ovations there must be, however, in order to keep the Dear Leader from sagging like an inflatable tube-man at a used car lot. He was thus encouraged to tout all his accomplishments, most of them, amazingly enough, having been achieved like never before. This is the kind of thing you say if your history book starts the moment you get your breakfast cheeseburger and concludes with The Sean Hannity Show. Highlights included the smooth segue from defending sacred fetal life to having the biggest, baddest-ass military ever, like the world has never, ever seen.

It was a little disappointing, though, from a reality standpoint. Our commander-in-chief, as well as the rest of us, is standing under a monster Death Star and his plan is to shade his eyes, send the Death Star supplementary fuel and supplies, and send in the Marines to deal with a little hatch of imaginary terrorist mice on the southern border. It does make one wonder if he and the co-conspirator team even know where the true threat lies, but not to worry--it turns out they do.

It's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ordinarily someone this fresh to Congress would not be the subject of so many mocking memes and hysterical right-wing attacks, so you have to give the suckers credit for knowing who's about to eat their lunch. Even just since the State of the Union address, where she sat resplendent in white with all her congress-sisters, she has been attacked for being too wide-eyed and wild AND being too sullen. She needs to find that middle ground.

Specifically, the middle ground wherein she pushes inconsequential legislation, protects the interests of billionaires, comes out strong against childhood diseases and the plague, and paves in a few wetlands on weekends.

While being blonde.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Quiver Me Timbers

My dad studied mushrooms. People used to send him slides of mushrooms they had photographed so he could identify them. They sent the slides in the mail. That is how people used to share images before the Internet. Before Slides and The Mail, people just kind of wondered about their mushrooms, and maybe made mental notes of random data such as whether anyone was observed to drop dead directly after eating them. I like mushrooms because they're beautiful and/or interesting and I feel a family obligation to be an appreciator, but I don't know their names like my dad did. I do like Shaggy Manes, with butter. My least favorite kind of mushroom is the kind that likes to eat my house.

I am mushroom-like in many ways, from my button head to the fact that I like to live in dampish places. I would be horrified to have to live somewhere hot and dry. If it's no good for salamanders, I'm not going to like it either. Nevertheless there are drawbacks to living in a squishy climate.

Fungi have a whole kingdom to themselves ("Fungi") and yet nevertheless have no compunction about waltzing over to your castle and eating it. You might not even know they're doing it until your tower falls down. There were indications probably fifteen years ago in our own castle that there might be trouble in the struts, but thanks to my world-class ability to ignore difficult subjects, I was able to live a worry-free life just about up to the point a flower started growing out of my house. To my credit, I did consider that a "tell." But that was after fifteen years of relative serenity, and you can't put a price tag on that. Well, I couldn't, until now. It costs ten thousand dollars.

Fungi can do a pretty expeditious job of hollowing out structures you might have been counting on. We saw a nice example of that up close and personal when one of our Adirondack chairs sprouted mushrooms along one side. It got spongey pretty quick. Still, the patio looks better with four Adirondack chairs than with just three, so out it stayed. You know those games where there's a timer going and you're trying not to be the one holding the bag when the buzzer goes off? We love that game. I might even have professed innocent horror when our guest finally caved in the chair, except that, if I were being honest, I'd been avoiding that chair for months.

This is how denial goes. House addition goes up in 1996. By 2000 or so, on the inside, there seems to be a crack in the timbers between the bedroom and the tower floors. A couple years later, one floor below, the baseboard separates from the wall and the wallboard looks dimply. Here's what you do. You put it down to settling. Houses settle! You can't expect things to stay pristine when houses are known to settle. I can look at something suspicious and say to myself: that looks suspicious. Followed by: I wonder if there are any cookies left. Followed by a stretch of peace of mind until I see the suspicious thing again. And repeat.

A few years later it looks like the clapboards on the outside of the house are warping a bit. That's to be expected! They're long and thin. Those are known qualities of warpable things. Yes, they're warping mostly in a vertical plane corresponding to a long downspout, but that could just be happenstance, couldn't it?

Then your friend points at it and says "You've got a water problem." Right out loud and everything.

Then a plant grows out of the side of your house. Blooms, and everything.

The particular water problem being referenced is, in fact, that the water is inside the walls, rather than outside, where it was presumably engineered to be. In fact, during a good rainstorm, a person still struggling to maintain denial might be able to observe a particular patch of siding where water is gushing out. A spring, as it were, of life.

You really don't want life in your walls. All the way indoors, or outdoors, that's our motto. No intramural life.

The nice contractor man was not willing to predict a final tally. "We don't know how bad it is until we get in there," he murmured, thumbing through a BMW brochure.

This bad: top to bottom, rotten clear up to the tower and into it, not much holding up the house but force of habit and the spotless, untroubled mind of the eternal optimist. Breathe, have a cookie, and try not to be the one in the chair when it goes down. That's what I say.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Tacking Toward Virtue

There's a lot of stuff we can do better as individuals. We can drive less, or not at all. We can avoid plastic. We can quit eating meat. The only problem is, basically, as modern humans, every single thing we do is screwing up something. Massively, in all likelihood. The whole system's going to have to be done differently and some things not done at all, and it will take a mind-blowing catastrophe to get everyone on board with that, let alone the powerful.

The efforts of individuals are so inconsequential that it's easy to get overwhelmed. I've got some good habits and am working on picking up some others, but I'm still a net disaster for the planet.

But it seems important to try, even if a state of purity is unreachable, and so I have instituted my own personal cap-and-trade system. Cap-and-trade is that deal where a government--say, California--decides just how much pollution it's willing to tolerate, and assigns permits to polluters, who are expected to reach reductions in pollutants either by buying permits from some entity that realized efficiencies and wasn't using them, or by polluting less. It's a market system designed to lower overall dreadfulness. My own personal cap-and-trade system regulates virtue. Mine.

Here's how it works. I determine just how much I can stand to screw up the environment and give myself that many permits with an eye to eventual reduction. The unvirtuous me really, really wants to take long, hot showers. So it does, citing the fact that the virtuous me has quit using the clothes dryer altogether. The unvirtuous me still likes meat and cheese, so it continues to eat it, pointing out how often the virtuous me bikes or walks instead of driving.

The Virtue Index can change on a daily basis depending on the amount of beer consumed and the (related) number of shits given. It can change depending on how many young, earnest, attractive, aromatic hippie children show up at the door asking for my signature and a check for something virtuous. The first three every month score. The fourth, who might represent the most laudable outfit of all, has unfortunately exceeded my virtue dollar saturation point for the month. I have a house and a cabin that use different electric companies; for one of them, I pay more for the electricity to subsidize their green-energy output, so for the other one I don't. Never mind that I have a house and a cabin and could certainly afford to pay the premium electrical rate for both: these are cap-and-trade chips, baby.

But none of this is fair. I shouldn't buy bananas because of the fossil-fuel cost to transport them; but I don't even like bananas. It shouldn't count in the virtue index. And if we're being honest here, that business of getting rid of the clothes dryer turned out not to be such a big deal either. I know, it surprised me too.

Really, the only thing I can say for myself at this point is when I do pick up a new habit, it stays picked up. With that in mind, I announce my next new habit, much delayed. I'm buying bird-friendly coffee. If you are already peeved at the crows rawwking away at dawn when you're trying to sleep, rest assured this has nothing to do with caffeinating crows. But bird-friendly coffee is a really good way to put your money precisely where your mouth is. It's direct. It works. It matters.

When you buy coffee certified as Bird-Friendly by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, you are patronizing a coffee farmer who has agreed to leave the canopy alone, or nearly so, and grow coffee in the shade of a diverse forest. Most coffee is grown in plantations of coffee trees created by razing indigenous forest, a monoculture that does not support migratory bird life or most any other life, and (as is typical of a monoculture) requires pesticides and fertilizers to maintain. They get more beans per acre that way. The Smithsonian certification also guarantees a good market rate for their farmers so they are not tempted to clear their land to gain more coffee beans. This is freakishly specific. This is not lobbing monthly donations toward a good outfit that you hope is doing the right thing and not wasting too much. This is your money on the line, riding a dart right to the heart of real virtue. We want good coffee that doesn't wreck the environment, and we also want the farmers to be fairly compensated for it: we pay a decent rate for it.

I haven't done that, even though I've known about it for years. I've bought Costco bags of beans, three pounds at a whack, sealed in plastic, for approximately no money at all (that's where they hook you), and mine says "Rainforest Blend" on the plastic wrapper, so that people like me who are running a personal cap-and-trade program on virtue can pretend it's okay. It's not okay. It's like buying Fiji bottled water because it says "Earth's finest water, bottled at the source, untouched by man."

I don't care what else you eat or drink. Bullshit is not good for you.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Your Brain Is Playing Telephone

As a writer, I have observed that my output improves dramatically if I pause now and then to play Solitaire. It is so fruitful that I no longer even worry I'm wasting time, and I just go ahead and play whenever the mood hits.

A typical session might go as follows: black queen on red king, black six on red seven, turn, turn, OMG Camilla needs to be kidnapped and Hattie totally loses her shit in the next scene, three on ace.

It's reliable and cheaper than running a hot shower all day, which is the other way to produce ideas. But I've been at a loss to understand how it works.

In order to understand how creativity works, or any thought process at all, you must know a little about neurotransmission. Fortunately, that's exactly the amount I do know about neurotransmission.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that poot out of the pointy axon end of a neuron and get gobbled up by the fluffy dendrite end of the next neuron over. It's the way they communicate. Without neurotransmitters, all our cells would just be a jumbled collection jostling each other on the platform, wondering when the train would arrive. But with neurotransmitters, our cells are lined up and whispering to each other in sequence, such that "Take your hand off the burner" eventually arrives in the spinal cord as "Tag Old Stan in the bunghole."

The first named neurotransmitter was discovered in 1921 by a guy named Otto, who got to name it. He called it Vagusstoff, but he was wrong, it turned out to be acetylcholine. Anyway, ol' Otto suspended two beating frog hearts in saline solution and molested one of them, causing it to slow down, and then the other one slowed down too, even though it was not otherwise involved. Also, all the frogs within a ten-mile radius dug deeper down into the mud.

The neurotransmitters in the brain cross over a gap between neurons called a synapse (Greek for "hole in the head"). There are gobs of neurons in the brain, and if you have a very small head like I do, they're packed in really tight. In addition to the neurons, there are even more cells called glia. They are not well understood but appear to be the support crew. They're either tightening bolts or sending out for sandwiches. In addition, they keep the neurons from rubbing up against each other and chafing.

It's not really known if the adult brain continues to create neurons. For a while there it was thought to, because this was observed in rat brains. People were really pumped about that, because they were pretty sure the standard neuron allotment wasn't cutting the mustard. Recently, it's come to light that this might be a rodent thing, and primates more or less make do with what they started with. This would be depressing were it not for the fact that we're already not doing much with the ones we have.

Synaptic pruning in process.
Furthermore, the adult brain is a sleeker model than the child brain, because during adolescence the brain undergoes something called "synaptic pruning," in which some 50% of the neuron connections are tidied up and disposed of. Theoretically this makes the adult brain more streamlined and efficient, but it's possible this is more of a process of civilization for the good of the species as a whole; a process by which humans transition from a life of unbridled masturbation to overeating, TV, and quiet desperation.

Back in oldener times, the brain was thought to be a wired-up electrical model. This was a daunting analysis in the days when people could devote hours to unscrewing every light on the Christmas tree to find the bad bulb. Nowadays we have a more nuanced understanding of brain processes, secure in the notion that if things go wrong we can always unplug, wait a few minutes, and plug back in.

And that's where the Solitaire comes in.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Your Odds Were Long

Looking for frog eggs
Eggs. Red-legged frogs lug them around this time of year, and they don't look comfortable. After consulting with the hormone department, I got rid of all mine. It was one of my better moves.

We female humans have all the eggs we'll ever need and about a million more when we're born. In fact, the high point of our egg-carrying life occurs well before then. At twenty weeks gestation we're packing five million of the suckers. Fortunately, brain development is continuing apace, probably including the ability to track the egg surplus, and we begin feverishly killing them off until we're left with only about a third. Don't tell the Pope.

That still leaves a lot of eggs to lug around. The human female trots out only about four hundred during her reproductive ("bloaty") years and the rest have to die, because otherwise she'd menstruate for several hundred years, and you think men are warlike. So our human female continues to destroy some 11,000 eggs a month until she hits or otherwise smacks into puberty. Now we're down to a more reasonable 300,000 eggs, which is a lot of attrition by any standard. There is no evidence that the selection of eggs to discard is anything other than random. If there were quality control, the 2016 election would have turned out a lot different.

The immature eggs live in little bags of goo called follicles. Thirty or forty of them audition to be a human being every month, but only one matures and gets sent out to the show. Tryouts go on constantly and are not hormone-dependent. But the winning follicle is generally the first to react to Follicle Stimulating Hormone and gets a head start that none of the other follicles can catch up with. The now-mature stimulated egg gets the tiara and all the others die. Which means all of you are here because at some point you sprinted ahead and turned your back on all your fellow follicles. You must be very proud.

The egg with the tiara then gets pooted out of the ovary and into the uterus via the Fallopian tubes. Amazingly, a man named Gabriello Fallopio discovered them 450 years ago; he probably was alerted by the name similarity. He was noted for his dissection skills early on, a distinction that can lead to a life as either a respected scientist or a serial murderer. As later developments revealed, he should have studied tuberculosis instead.

Anyway, our mature egg now travels to the uterus, which has recently been staged with overstuffed sofas and a full pantry, and sits back comfy with the tiara waiting for a date, but when he doesn't show, all the furniture gets shoved out for another month, through a tiny hole, and isn't that a righteous picnic for everyone involved. Sure as shit is.

You're done with it all, however, when the eggs run out, which they will. One thing about those last eggs, though, is they are not spring chicken eggs. They've been through the wringer. Older women have a far greater percentage of Abbie Normal eggs and although the most common consequence of that is their eggs don't properly take to the comfy furniture and turn into humans, another possibility is that they do turn into humans, but not necessarily the kind you were hoping for. There's a lot more likelihood of chromosomal aberrations in an older woman's eggs due to longer exposure to free radicals and fevers and stress and whiskey and such.

Which might have been a thing for my mom to think about when she had me at age forty, if indeed I had been thought about at all, although indications are I was not specifically on anyone's agenda. But my egg was probably all right. It was tucked inside a Norwegian. You can't get much safer than that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Take The Last Shuttle To Sexville

We've been scooping up frogs and bucketing them across Highway 30 for several years now, since that is the direction they insist on going in order to make replacement frogs, and we want them to keep doing that. Frogs have a number of obstacles in life. The other name for tadpoles, for instance, is "lunch." But even if they manage to grow right the heck up to full size, they're no match for a Chevy.

We've also been keeping nice data on them. We know exactly what sorts of conditions they require to make the trek (damp, dark, warmer than 43 degrees). Although, to be fair, we started out knowing that. It's in The Literature. The Literature is where all the scientific knowledge is stashed so no one needs to remember it. We do keep track of the sex of the frogs and the weather and the temperature and stuff. It helps us know when to be on the lookout. This season we had something like six frogs venture out over the course of a few weeks and then, bam, 345 in one night. You want to be prepared for a detonation like that.

One of the patterns we've noticed over the years is that the great frog migration is led by males. They'll be down at the pond telling tall tales and scoping out the competition weeks before the females make the trek. You can tell the males because they have long, uh, thumbs, and they're very avid. Boing! Boing! Boing! Also they're a lot smaller than females. This leads them to compensate, and for all we know, they're compensating away day and night down there in the pond once we let them go.

Later the females lug themselves down the hill with nothing like the verve of the males (or spunk, if you will). Bloop. Bloop. Bloop. It's hard to say whether they're just not as enthusiastic about the enterprise or if it's all that water weight. They're packing upwards of a thousand eggs each and, honey, it shows. They're one strand of elastic away from a world-class muffin-top. Perhaps there is some kind of primal drive getting them to the Mixer but it's entirely possible they just want to dump the eggs. As soon as they hit the water at least one male is going to want to grab on and squeeze and he's not about to be ditched at the punchbowl. He's on there until he gets something to fertilize--that's the nice term for it--and then he's all done and the female has to find someplace to arrange the eggs in a neat ball and then she bops back uphill, stretch marks and all. The guys hang out a little longer in case another lucky lady happens by looking for a big thumb.

Plus, a bonus salamander.
I don't know. I've never wanted to be a male but there are some things about the female condition that are not ideal. Primarily the bloat. I'd have been fine with lower pay and condescension if I could have negotiated away the bloat. If I were a frog I'd want to ditch those eggs all at once and as soon as possible.

In fact, I wouldn't have minded that option myself. It's one thing to harbor a pizza for a night or two and another thing altogether to suffer involuntary tissue turgidity once a month for decades, for no good reason. And to make it worse--it exactly coincides with the time everyone around you gets super annoying.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Universal Ma'amer

"Yes ma'am," I said, and winced instantly, with a furtive glance at the grocery clerk I was directing it to. Stout in the eyebrows, sure, and kind of a mustache, sure, but otherwise a doughy feminine model of a face, with no offense registered on it. I get this wrong a lot. To be fair, I always have. I grew up saying "Yes ma'am" to pretty much everybody and I'd have had to be in a heap of trouble in a formal situation to let fly with a Yes Sir. To my way of thinking, "Ma'am" is Yes's last name.

It doesn't always go over well. People can get prickly about their pronouns and they can't be expected to know that I Ma'am universally. I always feel bad and embarrassed when I get corrected and it would be worth my while to work on eliminating the whole locution, but it runs deep. The worst one was the day I was facing a gang of mailboxes (don't laugh, that is what they're called) poking letters into them and someone came up behind me and asked, in a highish voice, if I was done with Apartment 503 yet. "No ma'am," I sang out, and my new friend immediately said "Sir." Which threw me into the usual jumbled panic syntax and I turned around to apologize, only to find I was face to face with a person completely covered in tattoo ink, including every side of his head. Jot this down. If you are an individual of the checker-headed persuasion, it would be more considerate not to spring yourself on someone from two feet away.

None of the words in my apology were in the right order to begin with, and after I turned around and caught sight of the man, it all just collapsed into unrelated syllables. I do not know if he enjoyed my discomfiture, because his checkerboard interfered with his expression. We ended up becoming friends, which is how I found out he wasn't completely covered in tattoos after all--he was still missing half of one sleeve and the palms of his hands, I believe, plus his eyeballs, but I understand these omissions have now been rectified. Nothing has been left out, which you can see for yourself at his website, as long as you check the "over eighteen" box.

That was the worst episode, but we're conditioned to feel bad when we get someone's sex wrong. People feel strongly about it. I don't, myself. Or, at least, I don't think I would care if I got Sirred. I can't remember it happening. No one ever thinks I'm a boy, even though I lack couth, fart audibly, and don't clean up after myself.

One time when I was a little girl I pulled my hair back severely and said to my parents, Look, this is what I'd look like if I was a boy! There would be no reason to remember this episode except for how quiet it got afterward. Real quiet. My folks were quiet anyway but when they got that quiet it put a spotlight on the Thing That Must Not Be Said. Their sudden silence framed it like the city painting around a pothole. You can't miss it.

I didn't know it at the time, but my father's sister had declared herself a boy at a very young age and there was no precedent for such a thing in local society. Not in the early 1900s. It didn't work out for him or anybody else in the family, not that that was Uncle Bill's fault. I didn't meet him until I was grown, and by that time he'd fended off the Ma'am thing by wearing a suit jacket, fedora, and wingtips from the boys' department at all times. He had an unusually thick head of hair and his mustache wasn't that great. I'm pretty sure I never ma'amed him. I would have felt awful. But it wouldn't have been the worst thing that ever happened to him.

He deserved better. We all do, so don't tell my friend from the mailbox that I call him Checkerhead. Or That Colored Boy.