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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How Do You Like Them Apples?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody said they had to enjoy it.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Another Place The Shoe Fits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Coming Clean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Crashing Soon Into A House Near You

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

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

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

It's a postal manager's dream.

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

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

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

That's all part of the Customer Reduction Plan.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

New Dawn Coming

This is how it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We're in a stupid amount of trouble.

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

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Blaming It On Clayton

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Clayton!" we mutter.

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