Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Ages Of Man (And The Little Ladies)

I know what baby boomers are. I'm less clear about all the new lettered generations and Millennials. Who are they? And who cares? Not us baby boomers. Everyone else is just a prequel or an afterthought. We're the ones who count, which is why we find it so baffling that we're dropping dead.

But I got to wondering about all the names we give our generations, and time periods in general, and it occurred to me to look into the historical record. Here's the thing about me and History. I don't know any. If I ever did, I've forgotten it. And that's a problem, because those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Not that I'll be able to tell.

Anyway, I'm not at all certain what or when the Middle Ages were. Or the Dark Ages. Or Medieval times. So I looked them up.

Guess what? They're all the same thing! The Middle Ages started in 476 CE when the Roman Empire fell, with what I assume was a freakishly specific thud.  See, I didn't even know the Roman Empire fell all at once. I assumed it sort of dwindled away; everyone misplaced their sandals and the gladiators started doing lunch instead of fighting and the paper boy quit even trying to hit the porch. Turns out it fell, like, on a Tuesday.

By the way, that CE thing? That's what we used to call AD, Anno Domini. Most scholars nowadays prefer to take the religion out of the time references, so Year Of Our Lord is out the window, and Before Christ is out the window, and we have Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE) instead, although, coincidentally, they are still divided by one particular year when somebody was born under a great star. But it could've been anybody, I guess.

So the Middle Ages began in 476 CE, and ended with the Renaissance. The Middle Ages were when everyone forgot how to make concrete and we were overrun by Christians and people threw their poop out the windows. There was a whopper of a plague that took out a third of everybody and, times being what they were, was generally blamed on sinfulness rather than fleas. People started beating themselves and each other up to atone for it all, and even engaged in wanton murder of those suspected of insufficient piety. For your garden variety heretic, the Renaissance couldn't come soon enough.

Actually there was a ton of cool science and math going on during the Middle Ages, but it was going on in Muslim countries, so the Europeans wore red crosses on their sweaters and had themselves a Crusade. They thought if they could murder enough people they would be assured a spot in heaven. They fought Muslims for, like, 300 years, nobody particularly won, and lots of people died, although, in fairness, they would have by now anyway.

Meanwhile, back  in Europe, for the entirety of the Middle Ages, nobody clever or important was born, except for Hildegarde von Bingen, who didn't count, for ovarious reasons.

It's the Renaissance folks who named the Middle Ages: some dull, middle interval between the great Greek and Roman civilizations and their own enlightened selves. It's a bit dismissive. And now the Middle Ages have been further subdivided into Early, Late, and Right Spang In The. It was dull. Many of the participants weren't even aware they were in the Middle Ages at the time. So you see the level of sophistication we have to work with.

Those ancient Greeks themselves thought there were five Ages Of Man: Gold, Silver, Bronze, Iron, and Leatherette. All of those people BCE had to figure something was up as they were running out of years, but when they got to zero, lo, time miraculously started up again.

Anyway, now we're naming generations hand over fist because we don't have time for ages anymore. We've got your Greatest Generation, also known as the Dark Ages because it didn't have any boomers in it; we've got boomers, yay boomers; we've got Generation X, named after what needed to be solved for; then we have Generation Y, which is the same thing as Millennials by the way, and now, ominously, we've got Generation Z, and no more alphabet. It's all winding down, folks.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Let Nothing Ye Dismay

I don't know how you parents do it.

I don't know how you're supposed to have this little tiny being that you love more than you've ever loved anything in the whole wide world and then you're supposed to just let it grow up and go away. It's got to be the hardest thing. I mean, sure, it's one thing if it's annoying, but otherwise, how are you supposed to stop worrying?

And then what if it's not annoying at all? What if it has always been perfect in every way and not once given you a moment of sorrow? What if it's Studley Windowson?

You get yourself your own personal chickadee and you've got a twelve-gram portal to everything important in the universe. Maybe you're a little down, and you've sort of lost your way, and you wander outside and your chickadee lands on your finger and all of a sudden everything makes sense again. Here, he says, your way is over here. And maybe could you bring a mealworm on your way back? Studley thinks I'm a terrific cook, which makes him unique in the world. He thinks I get the temperature and liveliness just right, every worm al dente, but it's nothing, really. It's all in the presentation.

I don't see Studley every day, but every couple days he'll show up outside my writing room window and chikket at me. I'll put up one finger--to let him know I'm on it--go downstairs to the fridge and get the mealworms, and he'll still be right there waiting when I get back. But I haven't seen him in two weeks.

I worry. I know some day Studley will not reappear but I am not ready for that now. I want to see him through next spring's nesting season at least. Fortunately for me, our chickadees don't go anywhere in the winter, or so I've always thought. Now that I have one I can recognize, I was looking forward to seeing if I was right.

Every time in the last two weeks I see a chickadee at the feeder I run out with my tub of worms and it's never Studley. I can't see his tell-tale bum foot until he's real close, but Studley is never standoffish, and no one's come close. I've started to think dark thoughts. I've started to refer to my neighbors' unauthorized outdoor cats Boo and Anjali as "Coyote Chow." Maybe out loud.

Sometimes when you've gathered all your big griefs and little griefs and boxed them up neatly for transport without spillage, it doesn't take much to tip the scales. Twelve grams, maybe.

"Oh Studley," I think, when I'm refusing to think worse things, "are you seeing someone else?" So  it is not without gratitude that I received a bolt of grace today. I moved on.  I started seeing other chickadees. We're not intimate, but it's still exciting. Today we got two new birds at the feeder. They're chestnut-backed chickadees. Most of y'all don't have any of those. They're common at the coast and probably some Portland neighborhoods but this is a new Yard Bird for me. I thought: they're not Studley, but jeezy peezy they're snappy-looking. I decided to quit yearning and be happy with what I've got.

And that's when one of the regular black-capped chickadees came to the feeder. They always take one seed and run, but this one paused, and looked directly into the window at me, and didn't even bother with the seed. Studley?


Merry Christmas, Studdles, and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Hateful And Stupid

In the pestilent cesspool of Stupid that is the Republican defense of Donald J. Trump, the stupidest thing being bellowed is that liberals are trying to undo his election because they hate him.


We absolutely do hate him. We hated him when he was just a bankrupt two-bit showman and poser with an unfathomable appeal to people who aspire to his level of vulgarity and ostentation, and we hate him even more now.

Moreover, our loathing is all-encompassing. We hate him for gleefully mocking his betters at every turn, including all women, anyone of non-European extraction, and any actual Europeans who fail to flatter him. We hate him for his refusal or inability to learn, or understand what he needs to learn, for his dismissal of science, for his repeated attacks on the honest press, for his uncloaked racism and eagerness to inflame the worst racist hearts, for his cruelty, for his bottomless ignorance, for his casual undermining of the very structure of democracy solely to enshrine himself as the biggest goddamn duck in the puddle, for endangering the lives of desperate refugees, for kissing up to the worst dictators in the world, for lies and bullshit, all the time and about everything, for enriching himself and his entitled spawn at the expense of the American people, for dividing Americans at every opportunity, for false religiosity, for favoring the insatiable desires of billionaires over the needs of the people, for attacking public service, for selling off the commons to profiteers, for open-faced corruption, for endangering our republic, for spewing propaganda, for ballooning our debt, for his ridiculous hairdo. All of it.

And most of all, we hate him and every other member of the Republican Party for failing to rise to the most existential threat we humans have ever faced, an environmental catastrophe of our own making, a challenge for which they have not only failed to provide any leadership whatsoever, but have dedicated themselves to making things worse, sooner. And all the famine, and drought, and the collapse of the oceans, and the deepening worldwide refugee crisis, and the coming wars over resources and territory, and the epidemics and spread of disease, and the extinctions, all of it is on him, and on them, every last grabbing one of them.

This is a man so uneducated and, frankly, stupid that he either believes there is no crisis as long as he still has air-conditioning, or he doesn't give a damn, as long as he's still rich. Goddamn right we hate him. But we can't impeach him for hatefulness. We impeach him for corruption, for obstruction, for abuse of power, all of it blatant and uncontested; we impeach for everything but blowjobs in the Oval Office. We don't care about that. We don't even care if he lies about that.

Nancy Pelosi says she doesn't hate anybody, and I have no reason to doubt her. I am not a Catholic, or even a Christian, but I am a liberal, so I understand how it works. I too, if I am honest, do not hate the actual man so much as perceive what a grasping, transparently insecure, pathetic man-baby he is and always has been, but I hate very single thing he has done to me, my fellow humans, and everything else. I not only want him out: I want him in prison.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ten Million Nine Hundred Thirty ... crap. One, Two...

You have to take the good news where you can, and I am pleased to report that Bradshaw's Desert Parsley is on the rebound after having been declared endangered. It exists in only a few scattered patches in the Willamette Valley here in Oregon and a bit to the north. But it's gone from 25,000 flowers in 1988 to over 11 million flowers today. Score one for whoever was in charge.

Which leads to the obvious question. No, not "Who cares?" Here at Murrmurrs, Inc., we all care. But who the hell is in charge of counting 11 million Bradshaw's Desert Parsley plants, and does she have to start over when she's startled by a cow or something? Clearly there is some heroic botany happening here. As it happens, I have an idea how this is done. And no, they're not making hashmarks in groups of five until they get to 15 mil. There's some extrapolation going on.

I know this because I took a field botany course my junior year in college. I was pretty excited about botany, until I took a class. I blame my botany professor, who could bore mildew off a shower stall. He could bore the chirp out of a cricket. He could make army ants stop for coffee, mid-march.

I was attending the Sir John Cass College of Science and Technology in northern London. We did a field course in the Midlands in mid-winter. This is sheep country. Rolling hills are shrouded in perpetual fog. It is some kind of foreign European temperature which is colder than anything in Fahrenheit. We are dressed in rain slickers and Wellies and the fog is thick enough to be observed traveling sideways at a crisp pace. Our professor lumbers through his instructions. Sheep are ordinarily resistant to boredom, but all available stock have swiftly retreated to the furthest point of the pasture. We are to lay out a transect and each of us put down a hula hoop at precisely determined points in the grid and count the numbers and species of grasses within the hoop.

We do this on our hands and knees, some of us with our noses directly above sheep dookie, because the Grid is sacrosanct. Fortunately, our noses are dripping too much to let an odor in sidewise. There are a thousand individual grasses within the hoop. In order to find out what kind they are, we need to tease apart the little blades with our fingers and look for the ligules where the sheath meets the blade and decide if they're pointy or not. Our fingers quit working about five minutes in. I know this because they still have "minutes" in England and haven't switched them out for farthings or nodules or something. Determining the species of grass in these conditions is like playing clarinet with boxing gloves on, but colder. From time to time, as one contemplates the sacredness of The Data and its relationship to the number of shits given about it, the wind kicks up and whispers to your brain that death might not be so bad if it involves being boiled in oil.

But hey! Maybe this is just the sort of protocol you need to practice in order to tell if your efforts to encourage the spreading of Bradshaw's Desert Parsley are a success.

And I'm right. I looked it up. There's a whole paper on it from 1992 and it even includes a photograph of Dr. Rhoda Love's Botany Class from Lane Community College, everyone on their hands and knees. The caption refers to the group as "enthusiastic."

Y'all aren't going to know this on your own, and it's a scholarly paper, so I'll just tell you: that is sarcasm. But hurray for the parsley.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

At The Low End Of The Ma Bell Curve

In the TV ad, people with diabetes are waving their phones at their arms and ziiip getting a glucose reading. Evidently you used to have to stab yourself to get the same result but now you just have a doo-dad on your arm that your phone talks to. Probably it also knows whether to notify your doctor, or a donut shop.

At least one of the reasons I'm glad I'm not diabetic is that you could tape my phone right to the doo-dad and leave it overnight and in the morning it would just fart and fall off .

Yes, it is supposedly a smart phone.

But you can line it up with all the other smart phones out there and it would be like the picture of your kid's first grade class, all spruced up in front of a banner that says MISS WHITTEN'S ALL-STARS. Psst: they're not all stars. One or two shine bright and some of them eat boogers. I don't ask much of my smart phone, and even so it does not live up to expectations.

I know there's nothing a good smart phone cannot do. I've driven friends around and mentioned a mild hankering and within a minute someone in the back seat has located a spot to hanker in, and summoned directions, and added a musical sound track, and anticipated my next hankering. By the time we arrive at our destination, the phone has wrapped up my taxes, contributed to the correct candidate, and found a suspicious mole.

I don't even think I get all my calls.

Here's a thing my phone does. Sometimes someone sends me a text message that is clearly a response to a gang of people but I can't see anything anyone else in the gang writes. I get snippets of conversation without the replies and have to guess what's going on and with whom. All I have is the uncomfortable feeling people are talking about me. I have, on these occasions, handed my phone to a competent young person to troubleshoot, and they always poke away at it for a minute and then hand it back with the diagnosis: "Huh."

Sometimes I no sooner pick up my phone than it informs me that it's too full and nothing is going to work properly until it disgorges itself of something. I don't know what. There are a few photos in there but no apps that didn't come standard. My phone might be bulimic.

I count on my phone for so little that it is easy for me to leave it behind when I go anywhere. Even at home it's not likely to be in the same room as me. I'm as prone to addiction as the next citizen and if I really could get useful or entertaining information out of my phone I'd probably be poking at it all day long. So I'm not inclined to upgrade. If I knew my phone could lock my front door while I was in another state, I'd be checking it every few seconds to see if my door was unlocked after all. That's not healthy.

Life is more enjoyable when you not only don't know everything, but you know you don't know everything, and you don't know how to find out. It's okay. It's probably the way it should be. Just me, Nature, and my phone back home on the counter, eating boogers.

PS: Happy Birthday Dave!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Porn On The Sly

If you want to see a lot of pictures of big-breasted women on your computer but don't want to risk your school-district job to get them, here's my advice: click on an ad for a comfortable bra. Not enough pictures yet? Take the online quiz to discover what your size is and which three bras are recommended for you. Do you still see things other than pictures of big-breasted women? Go ahead and buy one of the bras. (Note, with wonder, that you are now, for the first time in your life, considered a size "small.")

There you go. Big-breasted women wall-to-wall. Russian, probably.

The online quiz was promising. It gave one confidence that indeed the correct bra would thud onto your porch. The questions were very specific. Which of the following three breast types describes you? Round. Bullet-shaped. Tennis ball in a tube sock. Each question generated follow-ups. If tennis-ball-in-a-tube-sock, can you tie 'em in a knot, can you tie 'em in a bow? If bullet-shaped, are you aiming at anyone or are you shooting yourself in the foot?

Many more questions follow. What is the make and size of your favorite bra? Do your straps dig in, or fall off? Do you like to use the first, second, or third hook? What is the name of your first pet? Do you pooch out on the sides of your bra? What is all that puddly stuff flapping around in your armpit, anyway? When did you start having to floss your back? What are the last eight digits of your Social Security number?

Done! Here is your best bra.

Pull the trigger on that bad girl and now someone--Russian, probably--is sending you a photo of a big-breasted woman every few seconds. Even Trump memes can't wedge themselves in, as much as they'd like to. Meanwhile, your new bra is on its way. And when it arrives, it is very Small indeed.

There's nothing to it. It would be snug on a hamster.

Check the packaging. Did it come with a boob-horn? Is it a weasel tourniquet? Are you maybe supposed to lick the back and paste it on? Do you put it on or...apply it? It's seamless. It's cupless. It's wireless.

It's a handkerchief. But you'd need two to get your nose all the way blown.

As it turns out, it's a miracle fabric. If you can motor past the panic stage when you aren't sure you can get your arms back down again, and you manage to scrunch and waggle it on, it will expand with Sea-Monkey technology to fit any kind of knob or tumescence you might care to cram into it. It fits like skin. Well, like skin used to.

And it's buttery-soft. Says so, and is.

It's really quite remarkable. It does make you worry that you might have to take it off with scissors, but in fact you can remove it, too. Sure, it could take an eye out when it shoots across the room, but at your age, nobody is looking your way when you take your bra off.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Give Me A Real Mule

I identify as a woman, but you wouldn't know it by my footwear. I do not give one cis shit about shoes. Especially Ladies' Shoes. If this suggests a chromosome slippage, so be it.

Shoe fashion is lost on me. I remember the first time I had a voice in picking out shoes. I didn't want a voice, really. I was little. Whatever I wore had always been up to my parents. The nice man at McCann's put my little foot in the metal shoe size thingy and boxed it up like a present. That was fun. Then he looked up at me--me!--and said "Would you like buckle or tie?" I had no idea what he was talking about. I drew a complete blank and I remember it to this day because of the embarrassment of being asked something I had a 50% chance of getting wrong. If he'd asked me if I prefer Plethodon salamanders to Ambystomas I'd have had an answer. I picked one of the words at random and then pieced the puzzle together when he brought the shoe. I was ready for the next time but nobody ever asked me that again.

Anyway my shoes were pretty basic. I suspect all my school shoes were brown lace-up types, and Keds or PF Flyers at home, until I got to the awful age of having to Fit In. I'd aged past saddle oxfords. I think I wore loafers. Penny loafers at first and then a pair of tassel loafers. Then the flower-child era freed me from the constraints of needing money to Fit In, and I have no idea what I wore on my feet to school. I can't remember a single pair of shoes I owned for several decades. To this day I can't tell you what a mule or a pump is.

Given my antipathy toward fashionable women's shoes, it was a good deal for me to have been a letter carrier. We wore black oxfords with smooth soles. Period. And they were great, until someone decided we needed waffle soles so we wouldn't slip on the pavement. Nobody ever slipped on the pavement. What we did do was step in dog shit, which we used to be able to clean off with three scrapes against the curb. But with the waffle soles, we were guaranteed to have to spend company time leaning up against a building reaming out dog shit with a stick. It's a good professional look.

But our shoes were foot-shaped. You'd think that would be standard, but you'd be oh so wrong. I've seen antique ladies' shoes in the museums. Before the 20th century, evidently women had feet the size of butter sticks. And the left and right were identical. If they weren't originally, they got that way over the years. I'm not a large person, but if I had to jam my foot in a 19th-century ladies' shoe, I'd have a blowout.

Put me down for a shoe that looks like my foot. Round at the toe, and close to the ground, just like the rest of me. Would I wear slingback pants? I would not. Platform eyeglasses? No. Cone bra? Maybe.

Supposedly high heels and platforms for both men and women were prevalent in the Middle Ages because there was always so much poop on the street to rise above. But that's no reason to wear platforms. That's an argument for learning how to ride a donkey. You sure don't want to up the chances you'll tip over in those conditions. These days there's less shit and more burger wrappers, and platforms are strictly for fashionable effect and Tom Cruise.

Much shoe fashion, including high heels, had to do with demonstrating that the wearer didn't have to work for a living, unless you count whoring. It is a sartorial expression of profound and desirable uselessness. If you were an aristocratic woman wearing chopines, you might tower almost two feet higher than you would normally, all of it concealed beneath your gown, and not only were you tall and useless, but you also needed a maid on either arm to prop you up. That is about as useless as it gets.

So upper-class people wore high heels. This principle of showing you do not have to work applied to both sexes. Nowadays we just use ambassadorships.

Modern high heels for women, however, do have a use. That use being the permanent and debilitating shortening of the Achilles tendon in order to accentuate the curve of the calf and the small of the back for the sexual titillation of men plus the signaling of the increased likelihood the wearer will be easy to catch.

I'll stick with the Keds. I'm still easy to catch.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

You're In Charge Of Acquisitions

We had folks over the other day, and one of them admired one of my doo-dads, so I offered it to him, and then I offered up my old LPs, and then someone liked my shirt so I said he could have it, and suddenly Anna whipped her head around and gave me a look of pure alarm. It was adorable. Anna is a sensitive soul capable of worrying about climate change, the prison system, and racism all at the same time, so it's nothing for a big heart like that to wedge in a little worry about me, and whether or not I was thinking about checking out.

I'm not. At least I'm not thinking about checking myself out.

But it's true that the closer one gets to one's sell-by date, the less important any of one's stuff is. Or should be. Honestly, I don't know what's gone wrong with the billionaires.

I don't want anything new. I don't need it, and it's going to be made of or wrapped in plastic, sure as anything. This degree of calm in the face of all efforts to sell me something is brought to you by Mortality. Although--full disclosure--it also helps that I'm old enough to have already bought everything. And now it needs to go away. Death isn't something anyone wants, if they're lucky, but it is a gift of a sort, in that it gives you a little clarity about what's important.

I remember what it was like accumulating some of the crap I've got now. It was as if that little purchase would make me just a little bit happier. It didn't. If you're not actually poor but you still think you need to buy a lot of stuff, you should look into what personal hole you're trying to fill.

We got lots of stuff. Every morsel of it that goes away leaves a little bare space that feels better than whatever cluttered it before. Now we're headed into the holiday massive-consumption season and Dave and I are watching the advertising waves roll in with complete serenity. We're not getting each other anything. We're not getting anybody anything. It's nice to buy or make someone something special, but that can happen any time of the year, and for many of us this season is just one long awful obligation. And once you step off that ride, you've got more room for actually enjoying the solemn majesty of winter and candles in the window and the possibility of going caroling.

It's amazing what you can be talked into buying. In one recent ad, I discovered that not only should an already-beautiful woman want to gob up her eyelids with gold glitter, which is made of plastic by the way, but if she accidentally goops it on her cheek, she can wipe it away in one swipe with a special plastic towelette for just that purpose, and even better, she can get that one towelette wrapped in an individual plastic wrapper so she can keep it handy in her purse for on-the-go plastic makeup disasters. People. We need to get a grip.

So yeah. I'm old, makeup isn't going to improve me, and I've already bought everything. It's easier at my age. But we're all going to die. Maybe if we acknowledge that, we can let up a little on what's burdening the planet. And our own souls. This stuff's not about Christmas. It's about pushing profit for shareholders and further enriching the very rich. Let's help them out a little by withholding our contributions. It isn't making them happy or satisfied, obviously.