Saturday, February 29, 2020

I Can See Clearly Now. EEEEK!

I've been disappointed in my eyeballs of late. I think they've let themselves go.

It isn't any one thing. It's a bunch of things.

They do amazing things with prescription lenses. You have portions that you look through to read a book. Portions to see the computer. Portions to identify the hawk in the distance. Little sidecars up top for your mind's eye. A fold-out bit for examining your conscience (optional for Republicans). Used to be your eyeballs did all that by themselves, but now that they've let themselves go, your glasses have had to step up.

And they're still not enough. I have trifocals and still can't read sheet music from the piano bench. So I got special piano glasses. And they never worked. I could see the top staff but not the middle one. I could see the bottom line if I held my glasses out a half-inch, which isn't practical. I thought about wedging a tampon on the bridge of my nose. Theoretically I could just yank on the string when I got back up to the top line and reinsert the tampon on a held note.

It wasn't suitable for every piece.

And then my regular glasses came up short. I found myself peering over the top to read and having to take a step back from friendly people to get them in focus. My prescription was only a year old, so I just put all this down to old eyeballs. I figure parts of my eyeballs were petrifying and other parts were going slack like the skin on my inner thighs. Maybe my eyeballs had gone squishy too. Didn't have enough structural integrity to hold a pose, and the lenses went rigid just to try to restore order. Throw in some elaborate floaters and it's like seeing the world through soup. Also, the last time I was at the optometrist's, he said I had a little cataract but there was no plan to discipline it until it was a teenager.

What the hell. I went in again, and this time I also measured the distance between my eyeballs and the sheet music. "Twenty-one inches," I told my new doctor, and she made a note of it, and didn't just assume some standard middle distance like the old doc probably did. I didn't hold out much hope.

But I will be damned. I can see the music now. I can see GRACE NOTES! Grace notes are teeny tiny notes that the composer puts in out of a general lack of commitment to the real notes.  They're like the real notes' pets. Now I can see their little noses and tails.

The optician placed my new trifocals on my face and asked how the distance was. I looked out the window at the newly crystalline West Hills and gave him a big thumbs-up. Then I read the teeny tiny print on his card. Then, because I had no idea how my glasses looked on me because I couldn't see myself when I tried the frames on, I turned to the mirror EEK EEK a foot away EEEK. I still don't know how they look. All I saw was my actual face EEK the way it apparently has been for a while. It was clear as hell. There was a dried-up mudflat cracking into plates, strands of gravel, a network of arroyos and drifts of rabbit-brush and prickly pear, lizards sunning themselves, tortoises lumbering through dry canyons. Pulled myself away just before the Lunar Rover hove into view.

"I see fine," I told the optician. "They work way better than the old ones."

I'm not saying that's a good thing.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Of Footcoats And Dickeys

When I'm awake, my brain gets to go on play dates with other people's brains, has a schedule, and is expected to put its toys away at the end of the day. When I'm asleep, supervision is out the window. Things I might have encountered during the day tumble around in there and problems might be tackled, although not well.

Other times the dreaming brain just rolls around like a raffle ticket spinner and you don't know what's going to drop out.

Last night I woke up and had one thing only on my mind. Spats.

Spats. I had questions. Mainly: What the hell?

I like spats because they always make me think of the bottom end of Fred Astaire, and then I work my way up. But I always assumed they were just for fashion. No! Evidently, spats are little raincoats for your shoes. They're short for spatterdashes, and they keep the water and crud out of the places they could leak in at your shoelaces. They have a little strap underneath the shoe and go on exactly like a raincoat on a dachshund. That's how they got their start, but later they were worn purely for fashionable effect after the King of England made a public appearance in them. Similarly, dachshunds wearing coats are now mainly a personal fashion statement for the owner, and are unrelated to dry dachshunds.

Spats continued to be very popular for formal dress until the 1920s, when the King of England showed up spatless and tanked the industry in one day. Everyone noticed. According to some, the kingdom was littered with discarded spats after that.

In a way, the spat is a bit like a dickey for your feet. The Dickey, of course, was originally known as a "detachable bosom," and wouldn't that be handy on those slimy hot summer days, ladies? Men wore dickeys as a false front of their shirts so that they could just clean those instead of the entire shirt. Laundry has always been a pain in the ass and was even more of one in the olden days when you had to soak, soap, boil, rinse, wring out, mangle, dry, starch, and iron, and probably make your own soap. That's the story, but the story doesn't really wash either. It leaves out the important tidbits such as that the vital armpit portion of the shirt is now going unwashed, and also didn't they have people for doing all that cleaning? Specifically, womenfolk.

Today we think of dickeys as those cloth turtleneck types that men can wear to get the full sweater effect without the nipple abrasion, but although the originals were linen, there was a time when they made dickeys out of rigid celluloid ("hard dickeys").

But dickeys did allow clothing to last longer. Now, of course we mostly do not wear dickeys, since the invention of slave labor in the third world has revolutionized the practice of discarding clothing on a whim, and even purchasing clothing that never gets worn in the first place. Spats, however, should be due for a comeback.

Scottish Highlanders do still wear spats, which seems like a great idea. I don't know if they have hard dickeys. And it had never occurred to me to check if their spats were highly polished patent leather. Until now.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

United We Can't Stand

We're living in contentious times. Concerted efforts have been made to divide us in any way possible, for all sorts of purposes. Libertarian billionaires have funded Astroturf movements like the Tea Party to keep us squabbling with each other instead of banding together with pitchforks. Russian oligarchs have flooded us with disinformation to discourage voters or split votes in order to build their own power. Newscasters fan the flames because there's money in it for them. And, of course, sometimes a single man might wedge us apart simply because he likes to call people doody-pantses and get crowds roaring, because it gives him a little woodie again. Ah, nostalgia! There's all kinds of reasons to make us One Nation, Divisible.

So we must look for ways to bridge the gaps between us, and celebrate those areas where we still have common ground.

For instance, nobody much likes vegans.

We just don't. We don't really mind a lot of the other diets. They're so easy to make fun of. They eat only grapefruit. Or algae pellets. Or bacon. There's always a justification.  This diet aligns with the stomach contents of a perfectly sound frozen person who died of old age 10,000 years ago. That diet makes your urine crystals line up with the magnetic field. The other diet stimulates your metabolism in the morning, your chakras at noon, and your balls at night.

We think vegetarians are silly but sort of cute. But vegans? Man. They're just too extreme. They think they're better than we are. And if there's anything we can't stand, it's other people thinking they're better than we are, even if they are. Some people hate it so much, they even throw in with Donald Trump, who is a pus-filled waste of carbon.

Vegans choose their food and clothing and other things on principle. And principles are annoying as hell, in other people. Principles don't just sit on the sidelines. They accuse. We want to mock vegans. We want to poke them with a fork and speculate on how well-marbled they are.

Vegans will not partake of animals or animal products or consider animals a commodity in any way. Some vegans particularly revile factory-farming because of its unspeakable cruelty. Others emphasize the dire consequences to the planet of the whole system of animal agriculture. In the face of these strong, unassailable points, it is incumbent upon the rest of us to catch vegans stepping on bugs and accuse them of rank hypocrisy.

Because they're clearly out of control. For instance, good vegans avoid standard vaccines because chicken eggs are used to incubate their viruses. Lots and lots and lots of chicken eggs. There are ways to make vaccines that use cells from insects instead, which, technically, are animals. This is what the wise vegan would opt for, as opposed to forgoing vaccines, because it is not a perfect world and an insect is assumed to be a few notches less suffery than a chicken.

Not photo-edited. Dave didn't hold the camera steady.
You can make fun of this view if you want, but I won't join you. The vast majority of vegans are people who do not shy away from ethical dilemmas and who educate themselves about the fallout of their actions and conduct themselves accordingly. This is the mark of a grownup. Mocking vegans as scolds who don't want anybody to have any fun is totally toddler territory. That said, I had a flu shot, and so I believe a chicken has contributed to my well-being this year, and is liable to contribute to my plate this week.

I eat less meat all the time. You could call me a Flexitarian. Or just plain chicken. But I'm a work in progress.

I did hear that Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump aide and conservative bile factory, thundered "They want to take away your hamburgers! This is what Stalin dreamed about but never achieved!" Well, I swan. Ol' Sebass, there, might finally make a vegan out of me. Here's a tip. As soon as you hear people yelling about taking away your hamburgers, or your pickup trucks, or your guns, or your light bulbs, or your toilet, know this: that person really wants to take away your health care, your pension, your wages, and your Social Security. Screw them and pass the yams.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020


I'll tell you one thing about a cat in her prime: she can go from zero to sixty and back to nonchalant in less time than it takes for a Christmas tree to fall down. We know this because of a particularly arresting display during Tater's first Christmas with us. We were two rooms away from the tree when she barreled in like a sentient pipe-cleaner and sat down and started licking her paw. Then came the thump of the decked-out tree in all its jangly glory. That puts her at not quite 9.8 meters per second per second, because the tree stand was probably doing its level best to hang on before throwing in the towel.

In any case we have a good idea how fast a motivated cat can travel. The speed of the feline sympathetic nervous system in engaging the arrector pili muscles to produce horripilation (a.k.a. pipe-cleanerage) is, if anything, even faster.

No Christmas trees since that first Year of our Tater have been so much as glanced at by that cat, but the entire scene came back in vivid memory this last New Year's Eve. We were observing our New Year's tradition (ignoring New Year's) when there came a tremendous if muffled thud from the other side of the house and the cat showed up totally pipe-cleanered. Our Christmas tree this year was only two feet tall. The cat was now two feet wide. You could clean out a dryer vent with her tail.

"What was THAT?" Dave wanted to know.

I didn't want to know.  Only thing I could imagine was there was some sort of rodent incident in the other room and something big got thumped down, and I did not care to speculate on the size of the rodent that might have been involved. I can barely contend with ants; I do not want to have a house capybara situation.

My solution was to ignore it and maybe it would go away.

And that might have been the end of it, but it was New Year's, after all, and the next morning I actually remembered to look for my First Bird of the year. It's a birder thing. I can prepare for this without getting an accidental fly-by because we don't have any birds in our yard until I put on my glasses. The most likely possibilities are crow, gull, junco, Anna's hummingbird, and lesser goldfinch, but I wanted to go for glory and see if Studley would be my first bird. So I covered my eyes and walked into my writing room, where he frequently perches in the cascara tree just outside the window. And opened my eyes.

There was no tree at all. The cascara, a pretty sorry specimen by any non-bird standard, was entirely in a heap between our house and the neighbor's. Nothing on either house got clipped or mashed. It was a little miracle, and not one, Tater says, that she had anything to do with. Tater was all alibi. Tater contends she was nowhere near that tree and, in fact, can't rightly remember anything about a tree being there in the first place.

The tail said otherwise.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Peckers Gonna Peck

We get used to the sounds of construction around here. Not to mention destruction. You see a perfectly sweet little house on your walk and the next week it's gone and the week after that it's been replaced by a way bigger house with way richer people in it. A bunch of folks make a lot of money, the tax base shoots up, a few thousand more people huddle in tents on the freeway ramp, and everyone's happy. That's life in modern libertarian America, where there's still plenty of dough, but it hasn't all settled evenly.

It's lumpy.

The point is, it's not unusual for me to hear a bunch of hammering. It is surprising when it's happening on my house. Or, more accurately, Marge and Studley Windowsons' rental, outside my window. They raise their chilluns in it most every spring, but it's empty at the moment. That's okay. For what we charge, it doesn't really matter if it's at full occupancy. At all.

But I hadn't seen any demolition notices and I was a little taken aback when the downy woodpecker showed up and started whacking away at the front door. This is a concern. According to the literature, chickadees are fussy about their door size. One and a quarter inches. One and a quarter inches. This woodpecker was definitely messing with the template.

And I wondered: do downy woodpeckers nest in boxes? If they can get their bodies in? It might seem to normal people that I know a lot about birds, but I don't. I'm always picking it up on the fly, as it were. Turns out woodpeckers are fine with nesting boxes. But of course this isn't the time of year they're likely to be churning out fresh woodpeckers. I read on.

Roosting boxes! I didn't even know that was a thing. This is one of those big important bird things I knew nothing about, but always wondered: what do they do when it's really stormy and windy out? And where do they go at night?

Entry door, post-pecker
It was particularly breezy yesterday and I watched a few birds on the tippy top branches of a tree that was rocking and rolling. It looked like it could be a lot of bouncy fun, really, although I suppose if you can also fly it might not be such a thrill. One thing I do know. They don't have to clench their little feetses to stay on a branch. That would be dreadful, trying to get a decent night's sleep while hanging on for dear life. What we call birds' feet are just their toes. The part that you think is a knee is their ankle. Their knees are right up near the basic bird silhouette where it starts to get personal. If you can see their hips, you've done something rude.

And there's a tendon that runs along their legs that holds their toes in grabby position. That's the default. They have to operate the tendon to open their toes, so basically, they're snap-on, snap-off accoutrements. They're not likely to fall off a branch; they have to motivate to do that. The hummingbird, which spends every night in a stage of near-death, has even been observed to hang upside-down from a branch while sleeping. So you could set it swinging, if you wanted to. You'd kind of want to, but that would be rude also.

Bonus woodpecker
Still, how do they cope with extreme cold and wind and sleet and plagues of frogs? The answer for many is they roost. They get together with their pals and bunch up for warmth in a house or a hole. Some birds roost every night but some just hunker down when it's icky. Our downy woodpecker might be trying to remodel the Windowson place for winter sleepage.

Apparently the chickadees might occasionally use the old homestead for that too. I'd hate to think of what they'd do if they bombed into the place and found it stuffed with woodpeckers. I'm all for letting Nature take its course but if I see Marge and Studley in a little tent by the freeway, I'm going to intervene.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


So, January is in the books. We had 62 days of rain last month, 14 of them banked earlier and another 17 on credit, and people were starting to squeak about it. Not me. Seems to me this is right in line with a proper January. But we have a whole lot of new people moving into this town and a bunch of them must have thought they could drag some of their old weather in with them. They feel grumpy and misled. I'm not sure why. We do have a reputation for greenery. Even some of us are a little green--the sedentary types only on the north side. We who have been here a long time feel a little smug about it all. Like the newcomers don't have a right to complain.

Which doesn't mean the old-timers don't complain. It's just that our complaints have more legitimacy, coming on the heels of decades of legacy whining. Just you wait, the old-timers say. Get another thirty or forty soggy years under your belts and then you can start bitching. We're the old farts with a mortgage and medical bills asking the sniveling children what they think they have to complain about.

Yesterday I got caught on the sidewalk behind two people walking side by side with umbrellas. It was weird. Umbrellas are wide and pointy and a threat to the social compact. And the mark of the newcomer. There's no point in it. The anticipation of being drenched just gets all drawn-out. Jump in the lake and get it over with. Slap on some rain gear and get on with your life. If you have an umbrella and one other item, you've got nothing left to hold your beer with.

Thing about the newcomers, though, they might be right about having drug some of their old weather with them. It's not dry, but holy moly it's warm. Seems like every day in January was solidly in the fifties instead of twenty or thirty degrees lower where it belonged. And that simply can't be right. Nobody needs an abundance of degrees all the time. It's wasteful. You need a little chill to set up properly. That's what winter's for.

You need it to put snap in your soul. You need it to kill off the nasty bugs of your disposition, the lazy, entitled notion that the world is here to serve you. You need it to kill off the earworm larvae that will pester you in the summertime. (When the weather's fine, when you got women you got women on your mind. Chh chh-chh uh.)

There are people in this world whose chief goal is to live in a hammock and feel comfortable in their underwear all year long. Is there anything wrong with that? With shunning adversity? Or with spending half the year pining for the other half?

I think there is. I don't trust it. And I couldn't give you a single reason why, except that it comes from somewhere bone-deep, ancestral, a message from my fore-Vikings. I need to chew on butter. I need to tuck my fat yellow braids in my belt as I brace against the wind and look around for someone to cleave asunder with my broad-axe. I am not murderous, but I am ready.

And we need to be ready. There is adversity. Knock the frost off your pitchforks, people: those toasty fucks in Mar-A-Lago won't even see us coming.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Schmutz Central

It is not true that we are entirely slovenly around here, or that we fail to notice the schmutz that accumulates despite our best efforts. Our best efforts are not all that great, but we do notice. And I would like  to point out that we clean our toilet at least once a week or more often as circumstances suggest. And by "we" I mean Dave. Dave took some kind of pharmaceutical as a young man that turned his pee bright orange, and as he noted, with horror, the pointillistic painting slowly creeping up the walls behind the toilet, he decided that if any domicile contained one man only, that man should be the designated toilet scrubber. I have, over the years, mounted no objection, because I believe in getting along.

Where do you keep YOUR filing cabinet?
In addition, several times a week I notice all the dust on the wainscoting and furniture in the bathroom. Yes, we have furniture in the bathroom. It's a file cabinet. Where better to store all our tax returns than the toity? It's in there because that's exactly what fits in the corner that was designated (in the architect's drawings) as the chase for the heating ductwork. We ended up using some crappier system that didn't use ductwork to get heat upstairs, but thought it would be silly to just wall off that space, and so we got a file cabinet. It serves as a place to showcase some ceramics that we like. And they're dusty. At least once a week, when the light is right, it occurs to me I should really clean it all off.

But that's a chore. I'd have to take everything off the file cabinet and clean it separately and at least one of the items is a very fragile and delicate ceramic artichoke. The attached hummingbird lost its skinny little beak early on, probably in the concussion from my first colonoscopy prep. Anyway, it's gone. And all it takes is a second or two of looking at that artichoke and I decide that although it could stand some dusting, it doesn't have to happen right this instant.

The other day I took the pretty canister off the file cabinet to clean it up. I didn't think there was anything in the canister. It was one of those items I bought in the 'Seventies to store brown rice or whole-wheat flour or rice cakes or something in, back in the days when hand-thrown pots were routinely displayed on the kitchen counters of hippie households. But of course they either broke or were abandoned, along with the brown rice and whole-wheat flour, in favor of bleached grains, Triscuits, and snap-lid containers. This one has survived as a bathroom decoration for the last twenty years. I opened the lid.

There was paper at the bottom. Scraps of paper, folded over. I picked one out and opened it up. It said "Use vacuum dust attachment to clean floorboards downstairs." There was another one like it for "upstairs." There was one that said "Clean out kitchen gadget drawer and toss seldom-used items." One said "Test all the pens in the house and throw them out if they don't have ink."

Spank my fanny. It was a Job Jar!

I vaguely remembered that Dave and I had once decided to institute a Job Jar filled with useful but limited tasks that, if actually accomplished, would lead to a cleaner house. Clearly we recognized we had a problem. We were each going to pull out one job a week and do it. It wouldn't take all day. Things would start picking up. It was doable. It was a great idea.

I don't believe we ever took out a single Job. We forgot all about it. And here it still is.

The canister is clean. It looks shiny and nice. And I know just where it goes. There's a clean round spot in the dust where it had been. It's just a matter of centering it carefully.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Keep Your Head Down (And Your Fanny Up)

There are numerous reasons your massage therapist puts you face down other than that she would like to admire your fanny with her hands.

For example, if you're face down with your head in a  donut, she can cup you and you can't look.

My therapist doesn't cup me often but every now and then she decides that's exactly what I need, and a donuted face doesn't argue. Cupping, for those who don't know, is an ancient and respected mode of quackery in which a vacuum is introduced in a cup and it is then applied to your person in order to suck up your skin and draw blood to the surface. To this day nobody really knows if it does anything for you, but once a medical technique has been shown to be really ancient it acquires its own legitimacy. Trepanning and Chickenpox Parties are due for a comeback.

I have been having some trouble with my elbows and that might have been what she was working on. She always asks me right up front if there's something bothering me, and I always tell her No, in case she wants to do something about it. But she finds it anyway, and does something about it.

Anyway, cupping might help something, and doesn't hurt anything, which is already more than you can say for a lot of modern medicine. There haven't been any good double-blind trials of the method, because it's hard to get a control group. You the hell know if you're being cupped. If you're face down with your head in a donut, and you get a lot of cups on you, as I just did, you start to imagine you're being suspended from the ceiling like the Mission Impossible guy. And when you're done, you look like you've been making out with an octopus.

At least my therapist is modern. She uses a rubber pump to achieve the vacuum. Other practitioners might go old-school. They set a fire in their cups and apply them to your skin just about as soon as it goes out, ideally, and get the vacuum as the air in the cup cools. Then...well, I can't bear to type it, let's just cut and paste:

"The therapist removes the cup and uses a small scalpel to make light, tiny cuts on your skin. Next, she does a second suction to draw out a quantity of blood. You might get 3-5 cups in your first session."

Of blood?

Oh. They mean they use 3-5 cups, not draw 3-5 cups. WebMD needs an editor, right now.

Anyway, three to five cups? I had at least sixteen on me. I looked like a jackfruit. But my therapist has never set me on fire or sliced me up. That's one of many things I love about her.

Correct. That says "Dongbang Cupping Set."
There are probably several advantages to cupping, from a legitimate licensed massage therapist's point of view, if not that other kind. If you get sixteen cups on you drawing all your blood up to the surface and you have a penis, you are not getting a boner for a long time. Which is good because they do not have a proper donut for that.

According to some sources, cupping treatment can strengthen the body's resistance, although not to cupping; it can promote blood circulation, or at least bloody circles; and it can restore balance between positive and negative forces.

I call bullshit. Only putting Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court can do that.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Fool Me Twice

Anybody would have thought I'd have learned my lesson about buying scandalously cheap crap off the internet after the recent Overalls Fiasco.

That would be the fiasco in which I ordered scandalously cheap but cute overalls made by desperate malnourished children in Asia and they showed up and I tried them on, and I looked like a 300-pound halibut.

In spite of which, yet another package from the internet landed on my porch the other day. In my defense, I do believe I ordered it the same week I ordered the Large Marine Life Overalls, but it took two and a half months longer to arrive, because it was being shipped by messenger squid. This looked like a better risk anyway: it was just a simple tunic top. It would be hard to go far wrong.

Except, you know what? Chinese merchants think American women are the size of refrigerators. I ordered a nice uncontroversial Medium and put it on and I'm not sure the fabric touched me anywhere. It covers my ass, I'll give it that. My neighbor's ass might be in there too.

Well, this time I was not going to get caught up in trying to sew it back to my size. I would just return it for a smaller size. Or a refund. They said they don't pay return shipping, but it couldn't cost much. It doesn't weigh much more than a few postage stamps. In the ad it looked as though it should, like maybe it was a nice sweater knit with a bit of heft to it, but no. Turns out it's made of guppy scales and vapor. So.

I sent out an email to the Return People as noted on the invoice. I included the order number, the delivery date, the product name, and the reason for exchange. I couldn't think of anything to add that was really any of their business.

We want to thank you for reaching out to our customer care team! Our goal is to ensure that you have a satisfied shopping experience on our sites! We've received your inquiry! To better serve your needs, we need additional information! To wit: order number, delivery date, product name, and reason for exchange. Please note customer must reply to every email in seven days or else.

I sent back the requested info, in boldface Baskerville font.

We are sorry you are not satisfied with the item. Customer is responsible for return postage. The return center is in Guangzhou, China. The shirt cost $21. The post office can get it there for a snappy $65.85. Please reply in five days if you want a return shipping label.

Dudes. Is this about that tariff thing? Because I totally did not vote for that mofo.

I wrote back quick. I was running out of time. "Um..."

Please note we must receive reply within three days to prevent detonation of closet monster. If this is not satisfying to customer, we are willing to offer 15% cash refund which can be used to alter item.

Which it could, if there were any desperate malnourished Asian children sewing seams in the Portland area. Alternately, it could be used to purchase a third of an egg roll, or one whole one if you promise to just lick it and give it back.

I probably should have taken them up on the cash smidgeon, but I'm down to the last day, and I'm afraid the next email would trigger legal proceedings to garnish my pension check for upsetting the customer care team. I'm already worried they know where I live. I'll just wear it. I'll wear it and I'll like it.  I promise.