Saturday, April 27, 2019

That's No Skin Off My Squash

How hard can it be?

Butternut squash soup. Hearty, delicious. You have to figure there's liquid in it, and butternut squash, and you need to render the vegetable soupworthy somehow, but hey: it says "squash" right in the name. In other words, it practically makes itself.

So. Here we go. Peel and cube the squash, add broth and a few other items. I thump the squash onto a cutting board and commence peeling.

Remember that dumb old allegory about the dove that rubs his beak on a boulder once every thousand years and when the boulder is reduced to a grain of sand, one day in Eternity has passed? They could totally have made the same point using a budgie and a butternut squash.

Because Lord love a duck in springtime, the peeler doesn't penetrate the thing at all. After a few minutes, I discover that although I have not persuaded the peel to liberate itself in any way, I have got a real nice polish on the squash. After a half hour investment and the removal of several of my favorite layers of knuckle skin, I'm most of the way there, but I'm starting to have flashbacks on the disastrous wallpaper removal project of 1983, a.k.a. the Confetti Situation.

The internet, consulted afterwards, recommends stabbing and microwaving the sucker into submission before attempting to peel. I'm all for violence when it comes to vegetables; it takes the sting out of them not being pork. I'll try it next time. It does occur to me that something involving a garbage can and small explosives might take care of the peels and the dicing all at once.

You really can't trust vegetables. I tried a mango recipe once that suggested, in a bland way, I remove the skin and then remove the seed from the fruit. As it turns out, this is really hard to do when you don't know what's in there. Is it like an avocado pit? Is it like an apple core? It is like neither of these, or anything else I've ever seen. It takes up an undeterminable amount of space inside the fruit and is shaped like old soap. I gave it a whirl and then realized I was inviting Mary Ann over for dinner. All I had to do was get the rest of the salad ready and then say "Mary Ann, do you have any idea how to persuade mango meat out of one of these things?" and she would not only have one idea, but several, including an assortment of hacks she'd read on the internet and had always wanted to try. Mary Ann has a whole closet of hacks in her brain, all accessible and ready to roll. And then you hand her the mango and she delightedly--delightedly, I say--does the deed, to perfection, trying her latest hack for the first time, which involves rubbing the mango along the lip of a drinking glass.

I remember that much. I don't know how it happened, though. Rubbing a mango along a drinking glass seems just as expeditious as taking your pants down using the toilet seat lid. But she did it. I added a note to my recipe: "Wait until Mary Ann is coming for dinner." That might go on the butternut soup recipe, too.

I still am not certain why a butternut skin should be so tenacious, especially in a house where the paint exfoliates itself and porcelain chips fly off the sink. But I'm alerting NASA. If they had only used a butternut skin for the Challenger, Christa McAuliffe would be president today.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Twelve Ways You're Wiping Wrong

I'm pretty good at ignoring ads. On TV, I zone out somewhere between "suicidal thoughts" and "anal seepage;" I'm not interested in what the pill that starts with F does and I doubt my doctor cares about it either. Online, although I admire the way my screen fills with advertised items I might actually be interested in, I hardly ever take the bait. It helps that I don't want to buy stuff much anymore. I'd buy that stuff if I did, but I don't.

I am not immune to the sirens lurking in the shallows as I guide my ship through my Preferred Content. I bow to the cleverness of the marketing fairy that has detected the flick of my retinas toward this doo-dad or that sweater. It is a remarkable achievement in the business of extracting my money, and I salute it--but not to the point of clicking on it.

So when the little ad popped up in the right margin, I gave it the nanosecond it deserved, and then went back to my important solitaire game. I'm not a clickenheimer. If there's a teaser that promises to explain to me twelve ways I'm wiping wrong, I'm not going to look. I'm happier going to my grave thinking my way was A-Okay. But this time, something made me glance back once. Then twice. Apparently I was one click away from finding 19 clever gadgets I couldn't live without.

This in itself is not appealing. You wouldn't believe the number of things other people think are necessary that I'm quite able to live without. I still look at a real map if I'm trying to find a place. I even drive a car that would totally let me crash if I wasn't paying attention. I finally gave in and got a crappy phone but I don't carry it much and it doesn't have any Naps on it. So I set my brain on Ignore. But.

There was this picture. One of the gadgets I couldn't live without. And it was not only stupid, it was impossible. It was a glowing hot knife that toasted bread as it sliced. I went back to my game and thought: who the hell needs a knife that toasts bread? If you're too lazy to drop a slice of bread in the toaster, you're too lazy to buy unsliced bread.

I'm a bread slicer from way back. My mom made all our bread and you had to slice it if you wanted any. Everyone in our family produced uniform slices. There's a trick. (You turn the loaf on its side. Oh shit, now everybody knows.) But most people aren't that good at it, and would rather not bother.

I continued to Ignore. Until it hit me. Wait just a cotton-pickin' minute. How can a knife, no matter how plugged-in and gleaming, toast bread? That's not possible. Is it?

Is it? Oh hell. I clicked. I didn't want a knifey toast slicer but I had to see how it worked. And there they were, one after the other: the 19 gadgets I can't live without. And I got all the way through them without finding one toasty slicey knife. It isn't possible. They made it all up just to get the people to click who wouldn't have clicked for any other reason.

Yep. The toasty bready slicey knife is something to solve a problem nobody has, using something that will never work. Don't anyone tell Donald Trump, or he'll order five billion of them, and make our veterans pay for it.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Cat Kit

The thing about cats and the swingy thing on their bellies is that they are not embarrassed by it at all, no matter how much we think they should be. They consider it, and all the rest of themselves, to be part of the essential cat kit. Cats are not vulnerable to human ridicule, although if they personally get themselves into a predicament they weren't anticipating, such as falling off a counter or toppling a Christmas tree, they will commence the "I meant to do that" paw-licking ritual.

The swingy thing has a name: primordial pouch. It belongs on the cat. It's hard to understand what is primordial about it. It's not as if In The Beginning God created the cat-flap as a placeholder until he could whomp up the cat. Maybe it was named by someone who got tired of people calling his cat Flabbity McFattycakes. He might say, heatedly, "That swingy thing has been there since the beginning of time," even though the actual cat is only three. Or, maybe it's just a random adjective employed to deflect criticism, such as if I started calling my neck a "gelatinous chin-rest" or a "gibbous head-peg." It confers legitimacy on an otherwise graceless accoutrement.

So the primordial pouch is plenty legitimate, and not a sign of the cat letting itself go. Cats don't let themselves go until they get to be about eighteen, and then, as I've observed, they quit grooming and get spiky and corduroyed and squinty about the eyes, but can still land a claw in a dog's snoot without even moving their butts.

The primordial pouch has purpose. Evolution favored the cat with wiggle room built in. A cat's pajamas are designed to contain the operating system without being too snug about it. A good cat should be able to turn around completely inside his pudding-bag, in case he finds himself in an unexpected position requiring extrication. A bonus, in an animal likely to pick a fight, is to have major portions of himself not attached to anything vital. If another cat decides to do some disemboweling with his nasty hind feet, he might discover he's scratched up the fabric pretty well but the guts are still in fine shape and ready to roll out cat turds as though nothing had happened. It's like a matador's cape.

Another reason to develop an extraneous fur flap is to allow for necessary elasticity. You might think you can eyeball the dimensions of a cat, but if you hold it up by the armpits, it elongates quite readily, like a plumb-bob on a rubber band or a worm looking at a fishhook. Stretchiness is a virtue in an animal bent on jumping on your kitchen counter for the butter, and the primordial flap allows it to do so without ripping.

If I had a primordial pouch, it would be made of friendships and perspective and a gift for forgiveness, and it would keep me from getting hurt when I play on the internet. There's some fierce claws out there.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Ripping A New One

In a world proctically teeming with assholes, particularly in the seat of government, as it were, it's a breath of fresh air to find out about an animal that doesn't have an asshole at all. No, not the face mite this time. The one that doesn't poop until it dies and then disintegrates on your face along with a lifetime of backed-up poop? We were happier not knowing about that one.

This one is safely in the ocean, which is basically a giant toilet anyway. The warty comb jelly (a.k.a. Sea Walnut) isn't even packing, anus-wise. He just punches one through when he needs it. The rest of the time it's nowhere to be found. Perhaps this should not be surprising. The whole ocean is full of weird bloopy creatures that don't even know how to assemble a proper spine and it's no wonder their priorities are way out of whack.

Although, they might be on to something. Give them this: the standard ass is not always all it's cracked up to be. Generally speaking the rest of the animal kingdom makes do, as it were, with a hole and associated sphincters, but the sad truth is you can't absolutely count on the sphincters, especially as age creeps up and kicks you in the nethers. That's why, pharmaceutically speaking, there is such a thing as "anal seepage."

The warty comb jelly, on the other hand, takes in nutrition like everyone else and sends the extraneous bits down the gut, and then right before the grand exit, well: Houston? We have a problem. You'd think. But not for the wily warty comb jelly. He gets everything all lined up and then punches the poop canal into his outer envelope and suddenly there's a hole and everything is taken care of, and then it heals back up. That's as backed-up as he gets.

Fun extraneous fact though: the warty comb jelly has more than one exit plan. Everything comes in the front end and then there's a fork in the road, and he can load up one side or another. Whichever branch of his poop apparatus he cares to evacuate, that's the one he jams into his skin and rips himself a new one. He has not been observed, as yet, to operate both poop canals at once.

Which would be awesome. "Dropping a deuce" is just an expression with us, but what if Number Two really meant something?

But just because it hasn't been observed doesn't mean it never happens. In fact, that's the other thing that's interesting about this. People have looked at sea jellies before and drawn helpful pictures of them, and in all the pictures in the literature ("The Literature" is where Science is kept until it busts out), someone's drawn in a little dot where the asshole orter be. And it took this one guy to have himself a look and notice that, actually, it wasn't there. People see what they expect to see. And although most people never expect to see a warty comb jelly at all, at least in day-to-day life, when they do imagine the thing, they put a butthole on it. Which begs the question: what else don't we know?

That is why it pays to become a scientist. We don't know everything. Any one of us could have been the person to discover the warty comb jelly's posterior peculiarity, but we didn't. We're just too danged busy.

That's the lesson here. Don't believe everything you think. Next time some asshole comes along and tells you what a horror show Socialism is, for instance, just tell him he doesn't know everything, and ask him what he knows about warty comb jelly butts, and when he looks blank, say See? See? At least he'll go away.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Mandatory Arugula Proposition

I hate to be an alarmist, but y'all are going to be hearing a whole lot about hamburgers now. More than you really want. It's already started.

That is because about ten years ago the libertarian billionaire squirrels sitting on their massive piles of nuts noticed that they weren't getting the affection they deserved from the little people, who had been waiting in vain for their nuts to drop. They realized if they were going to be successful in their plan to get almost all the nuts, they'd have to repackage their message, because their actual message was self-serving bullshit that even a nitwit could see through. The nitwits needed to be softened up by appealing to their core values.

The focus groups and think tanks and libertarian institutes got to work on the project and finally concluded that unregulated free-market piracy that has resulted in extremes of wealth and poverty would sell only if it were recast as freedom. People like freedom. Especially people in America, which has a long-standing devotion to the concept of freedom. Just the concept, of course, not any kind of actual freedom, which is why there was such a big to-do over the freedom to own slaves. Shit, man, people used to argue that one without any sense of irony at all.

So now everything from union membership to vaccination to fair taxation is pressed through the filter of sweet, American liberty. By gum, we've got people all cranked up about their fundamental right to earn less and less, but save on union dues; or to be able to choose which health insurance giant should scrape the profits off their medical care, without questioning why the insurance industry exists at all. And now, friends, it's hamburgers.

Yes, fellow Americans, "they" want to take away your hamburgers.

Who are these dreadful people who want to confiscate our hamburgers? Well. "They" are people who support the Green New Deal. But their primary motivation is not actually to make life miserable for meat-eating Americans and bring on an era of mandatory arugula. They have a much broader perspective, a common side-effect of education. They understand that the carbon-sink forests of the Amazon are being razed for soybean farms to fatten hogs and cattle. And that the factory farming of animals and modern food production, with its manure lagoons and synthetic fertilizer and soil depletion, is a greater contributor to global warming than even cars and coal plants. And that a pivot in favor of smaller, more diverse farms that employ more people and sequester more carbon is not only sound policy--it's crucial. Crucial to our way of life, our freedom, and our continued survival on this planet. Because our current path is utterly unsustainable. [That means we can't keep it up, Mister Man.]

But people so morally beggared that they can't see past their own nuts are now actively rewriting reality for us. They say the Green New Deal is a threat to our liberty and our hamburgers, when what they mean is it's a threat to their money. And that's all they ever cared about.

Two questions, America: in the face of this, are we really going to burn down the house for a cheap hamburger? And, if so: are we two-year-olds?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

All Hopped Out

It's early April and the frog-shuttling season is just about buttoned up.

There are over seventy of us humans in the Harborton Frog Shuttle, all ready to pop out on a nice wet night and scoop up frogs in a bucket before we'd have to scoop them with a spatula. They want to get to their wetland and make new frogs, and they have to cross Highway 30 to do it. God did not install Highway 30, and whoever did wasn't doing it for the frogs.

The season can be long. We're on the alert for downhill movement as early as November, but don't generally see much action until late December. By February we're ferrying frogs back uphill until we run out of customers, which is usually around the end of March. It seems like an onerous burden, but we split up into nightly teams, so we each need to keep only one night a week open on our calendars.

I'm the co-captain of the Monday team. That's not as fancy as it sounds. That means the five percent of the time the real captain, Captain Jane, can't make it, my sorry fanny is enlisted to gather the troops, locate the buckets and safety vests, apologize all night long if the frogs don't show, and possibly screw up the data log. But the Monday Nighters are forgiving sorts. The Monday Nighters rock.

Each of us has one eye on the weather report for four months and a pocket of our consciousness devoted to the well-being of our extended frog family. They're like any other kids. They don't like the discipline of the bucket, but we're grownups: we don't expect gratitude. We just want grandbabies some day, and all will be forgiven.

Most years we shuttle about 800 frogs. Last year we had only half that many, and a stone on our hearts. This year we were really excited. We scooped up over 1200 frogs early on! Only 90 of them were females, but that was expected. The males always dominate the early migration. They have enthusiasm. They have spunk. Great Gosh-A-Mighty, they have spunk. The females will be along later. They're bloated with eggs and they'll get there when they get there, Sparky. We awaited another warm, wet night and a deluge of females. And we waited.

...and a few freeloaders
But night after night, it was too cold. And when it wasn't too cold it was too dry. And somewhere around the middle of March, the males gave up. They started back uphill. The way-outnumbered females did too; they'd had it. It's looking like the worst season so far.

We don't know what gravid females do with their eggs if they can't get to a pond. We don't know if they're reabsorbed or if the ladies just have the world's worst period and bitch at the salamanders. We did find one doomed egg mass in a trickle of water along the highway shoulder. We don't know what to blame, except the weather. I'm perfectly willing to assign this little calamity to Mitch McConnell and Charles Koch, of course, and I can even draw a few straight lines to do it.

But I don't want those soulless monsters residing in my head any longer than I have to. That's where our frog family lives. We can't forestall the catastrophe that's coming, but we can improve the world one pink frog at a time, at least for a while. And so that's what we're going to do.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Closet Annex

I mentioned earlier that the business of being a bright yellow spring goldfinch is not a matter of popping into the goldfinch closet and pulling out a fresh outfit. It doesn't happen all at once. It's more dithery than that.

And I don't even know where I come up with such a metaphor. What would I know about going into a closet and finding an outfit? I don't hit the closet that often. I'm more likely to haul something out of my Closet Annex. That's on the floor somewhere between the bed and the bathroom. I won't have my glasses on, and my selection for the day will be determined by the forces of gravity and friction. Whatever is on the top of the heap is a winner.

I'm not sure what it's all about. A grownup person should be able to take ten seconds to hang or fold up her clothes at the end of the day or send them to the laundry. Mine go to sartorial limbo.

The thing is, I don't like to run the dishwasher until it's jammed full and I don't like to wash my clothes unless they're truly crapped out. And given my low standards, "crapped out" might have to involve actual crap. If I were going to refresh when my shirts were just getting pitty, I'd have to change every three hours starting at 10am.

None of this applies to Dave, who has no body odor. He's as fragrant as a ghost. Sometimes when I'm in a contemplative mood and the air smells like nothing at all, I think "Ahh, Dave." This is spite of the fact that he's walking fifteen miles a day out there. I think he's sensitive about my accusations. Sometimes he swears he has developed a manly musk and demands that I smell his armpits to affirm--it's easy, they're right there at my face level--but there's never anything detectable. He could wear the same shirt for months on end and still be in good shape if the Queen stops by.

After I've raided my Closet Annex for a week or two, I move stuff into the laundry pile. Anyone curious exactly how long I can wear the same shirt can avail herself of standard geological methodology. Start chipping away at the oatmeal nurdles and run some carbon-dating. I can't seem to get all my oatmeal into my face, but the stray nurdles never get far. That's what the bra is for at this point. To protect my pants.

I can flick at it for a few days but there is a certain level of oatmeal accretion that even I find unacceptable, and then it's off to the washing machine. From which it eventually makes it back to the proper closet, for a while. [We will take a brief break with our hands over our hearts whilst remembering the immortal words of my friend K.C., who once barked at her husband when he reached into the closet for a shirt: "Don't wear that! I just ironed it!"]

What does it say about an adult woman that her clothes are in a heap on the floor? It says her mom is no longer with  us; it says her clothing choice is a decision made before coffee.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Meet Corn Chip

It's spring, and two crows were wheeling in the sky in a sort of ballet. "That looks like courtship," I said, and Anna burst out laughing.

"What?" I said.

"Only you would name a crow Corn Chip."

Well. I didn't. But I will now.

Now it's just a matter of figuring out which one Corn Chip is. And that's the problem. Dave is in about the tenth year of a project trying to entice a crow to be his personal little buddy. It's sad, really. Crows make friends with people all the time. Some little girl is famous for  her personal crow that brings her some new bauble nearly every day. She has a whole collection. Dave doesn't even have a bird poop collection. That's how far away the crows stay from him.

He walks out every day and lines up peanuts on the wall for them. We've all heard the stories about how smart they are and how they can tell people apart and know who's good and who's bad. Our crows observe him from the top of a 200-foot Douglas fir and wait until he's all the way back inside to get their nuts off. The wall. They know perfectly well it's Dave providing the goods but they won't give him the satisfaction of a how-do-you-do. And yet, bless his danged hopeful bones, he persists.

This spring things are looking up a little. After so many years he's finally gotten a few crows to hang around while he flings his nuts. Naturally, we figure it's the same crew coming around all the time. We have the idea that crows have favorite trees and even though they go downtown for the night they come right back to the same spots. But since the crows we think of as "ours" all look exactly the hell alike and have exactly the same behavior, we can't actually name any. "That one there: the crow that ignores you, Dave," I say, but that describes ten thousand local birds.

But we do know one distinctive crow. We have to walk about three miles to find it but it's reliable. Half of its tail feathers are white. It is one fine and fancy crow. I always took it as further proof crows hang out in the same places all the time. This particular crow has been there for years. "Unless it's a completely different half-white-tailed crow in the same tree every time," Dave says, because he believes he has not yet driven me sufficiently crazy.

Crows can live a long time. One lived as long as thirty years in the wild. They sawed open his legs and counted the rings. That might have been what did him in.

The Quintessential Portland Crow: we put a bird on it
Supposedly the lack of pigmentation is common among urban crows, but I've only seen it twice. The other one had some white wing feathers. We had a kid in our grade school that had one white eyebrow and a white patch in the back of his head. It freaked me out at the time. I thought maybe it was early onset elderliness and worried it might be catching.

The condition is called leucism, because that sounds more scientific than Crow Tail Exuberation. So we should probably call this crow Lucy, but until one of our yard crows gets rid of the attitude and sweetens up, we're going to call it Corn Chip.