Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Delicate Constitution

Oh, well, shoot (as they say). I don't know.

We've got a problem with guns. We don't agree what it is, but no matter who you are, you have to admit we do a lot of shooting in this country. Most of us don't, but this is one of those areas where one person can have an outsized effect. And the fact is, other nations do not experience the violence that is routine here in the U. S. of A. You know, unless they're in a war. So there's something going on. Can't keep pretending there isn't.

People who oppose any gun regulation like to say that the problem of mass murder boils down to mental illness. But it's not just mentally ill people doing this shit. All kinds of people are ready to put some hurt on random strangers. And the tut-tutting about the mentally ill is generally done by people who won't even sign on for universal health care.

So we have a situation in which reasonable people, people I know and love, people who will never commit a crime, who merely want the ability to defend their house and home in the way they feel comfortable with, and maybe pop a deer every now and then, are so horrified by the utterly imaginary prospect that someone is going to try to take away their guns that they have drawn a line: and the line is All weapons, Always. They might not need a weapon capable of flattening a crowd of people, personally, but they will defend to the death someone else's right to have it. Preferably someone else's death.

Every time someone suggests assault weapons should be banned, someone else chimes in to suggest how ignorant that is. He will then helpfully explain that there is no such thing as an assault weapon, that it is a semantic construct unrelated to anything in the current commercially-available arsenal, and the simple addition of a diphthong-kit can easily render even a carved-dogwood cap rifle into a fully asthmatic splatterstick at a price of $18.99, available at any Walmart. He will further explain that any bullet is capable of dropping a silhouetted teenager in a dark hoodie and it doesn't matter if it runs him clean through or shreds him spectacularly along the way, so regulating ammunition or the speed at which it can exit a firearm is of no value. Basically, you can kill someone with darn near anything, so these distinctions are without merit.

These people make a good point. That point being it is absolutely true that I do not know anything about guns. So I will state my dumb-ass beliefs as simply as I can.

I am not afraid of gun owners; I might even be less afraid of people than they are. I believe citizens who want firepower for hunting purposes or who feel they are safer when armed should have those arms. I believe the Second Amendment as written is a historical fossil. I believe a well regulated Militia does not mean the lawless Bundy gang or the Nazis at the Capitol, and doesn't really apply to anything currently necessary to the security of a free State. I also do not believe for one blessed moment that living in a country saturated with guns makes us safer. That's some wild-West horseshit right there. Now to the technical part: I think people should not be allowed to own bang-bangs that can rain bullets and mow people down in a couple of seconds. And, as an aside, I believe anyone who thinks he has a God-given right to shoot lead ammunition should be pinned down on the desert floor without water in condor territory.

It is remarkable to me how much folks on the fringes, right and left, autocrat and anarchist, resemble each other. They are disinclined to question their own dogma, they're scared of shadowy government forces taking away their guns, and they have plans to personally hold off the U. S. Military from their basement bunkers.
And here I am, silly me, stranded in the middle with my fingers in my ears, afraid of global warming.
Is there a way to get these fringes to face off in one massive cage match? When they run out of bullets we can yard out the carcasses for the remaining vultures, and then maybe we can address some issues with actual existential consequences for us all.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Ending Bird Homelessness

I don't know why it took me so long to think about putting up another bird house. The one Dave built for the Windowsons, for their chickadee manufacturing project, has been no end of fun. I just hauled it down to bleach it for the new rental season and it's starting to show some wear, but it'll be fine. Then I thought: how about if there's another nest box on the other side of the house? We walked down to the Backyard Bird Shop and had us a look.

(By the way, I know a lot of you want to live with lots of space around you, and that's understandable, but there's something to be said for living where you can walk to a Backyard Bird Shop. A library. A grocery store (or three). Hardware store. Brewpub. Another brewpub. Another brewpub. Where was I? So I hope all you country mice are being great stewards of the land or at least not messing it up, but let's hear it for jamming the bulk of humanity into well-planned cities, okay? We're rambunctious and destructive, as a species, so we should keep most of us away from what sustains us.)

Bird house. That's where I was. My eye was immediately drawn to a wall of small bird houses in fabulous colors, and I picked out the little red one and came home with it. I don't expect Marge and Studley to be interested. The hole is an inch in diameter. Chickadees like their holes a quarter-inch larger. Might not seem like a big deal, but chickadees, quilters, and sloppy carpenters are all about the quarter-inch.

Now, I do not know what the little princesses do in the wild when these precise measurements do not pertain to a given tree-trunk. Seems like you could be house-hunting a long time before you find a nice 1-1/4 inch hole. Chickadees aren't major excavators, but they are willing to chip away at a hole in a tree if someone else has already started it or there's a knothole in soft wood, and that's prety amazing, since their pointy parts are only the size of a fingernail clipping.

Anyway, I don't expect a chickadee to want this red house. You need at least some clearance. Seems like it's enough trouble to blast into a hole head-first and somehow apply the brakes inside before hitting the far wall, which is less than five inches away. What I'm looking for here is maybe a wren. We do have a lovely Bewick's wren hanging around. She's got her tail cranked straight up like one of those cats that's super proud of its bunghole. But I'll bet she knows how to flatten it if she's coming in hot. We stuck the house in a tree and put wood shavings in it, per the advice of the Bird Shop maven.

I've heard this before. Chickadees and wrens are cavity nesters and like to work on holes that already have wood shavings in them. The idea is maybe it indicates someone else already used it and lived to tell the tale, or got a good start going on renovations and then ran out of cash and had to bail. According to one website, it "makes the bird feel like it is doing the work of hollowing out the cavity." Awesome! I'm stocking up on gold stars to reward the bird. Maybe a trophy for Participation.

Do we really know this? Did someone put a bunch of sawdust in a nest box and conclude the birds liked it because they took it all out? Have they tried it with crumpled-up newspaper? Mac and cheese? Legos? Get back to me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

How To Disappear A Mountain

The Mazamas mountaineering club was founded in 1894 by a fellow named William Gladstone Steel, who was a journalist, mountain guide, and mailman. Back then you could have all the jobs because the world was fresh and new and not because you had to do gig work just to cover the rent.

Mailman Steel then named Mt. Mazama after his club, even though the mountain no longer existed, having blown to bits about 7700 years ago, leaving its caldera, Crater Lake. Crater Lake had been discovered only a few years earlier. Rumors persist that it had existed long before that but only the indigenous peoples knew about it and they named it wrong, so it didn't officially count. Mr. Steel was fifteen and living in Kansas when his mom wrapped his lunch in a newspaper that contained an article about the lake. Fifteen years later he traveled by rail and stagecoach to Fort Klamath and walked twenty miles to find it. He spent the next fifteen or so years lobbying Congress to make a park out of it, because mailmen can multitask.

So how do they know Mt. Mazama blew up 7700 years ago? This is why geologists are the coolest: they can take a chunk out of a roadcut and intuit a billion years of earth history before breakfast. The Mazama bit was easy. That volcano blew out enough crap to coat the territory for thousands of miles and the orange Mazama ash layer can be used to stick a pin in time anywhere it's found. Throw in a deposit of seriously charred trees that can be carbon-dated and you've got your story nailed down.

Generally speaking these calderas are not formed because the middle of the mountain got blown into the stratosphere. It's all the stuff well below ground that gets ralphed up, leaving a hollowed-out space, and, after a brief period of hanging in mid-air like a cartoon coyote, the mountain notices and collapses into the gap.

Nineteenth-century geologists, many of whom were also coach drivers, botanists, and pizza deliverers, did not know this is how calderas are formed. But the native population did. Chief Lalek of the Klamath tribe explained it all to a young white soldier in 1865. There had been people in the area for at least 10,000 years--we know, because we've found their sagebrush shoes--and evidently they listened to their parents, because the legend has survived to this day. It was the usual story. Underworld God meets pretty girl, invites her to live forever in his company, pretty girl's tribe hides her, god gets mad and starts pitching flaming rocks at everybody. All hell breaks loose. A wise elder prescribes a human sacrifice, and he and an equally old man discuss the matter, agree to leave the young people out of it, and--after what Chief Lalek said was "a period of silence," followed by a muttered "Oh shit," they trudge up the mountain and jump in. Overworld God is impressed, drives Underworld God back underground, and the mountain collapses on him.

Which is a pretty specific and geologically accurate scenario to have survived in the collective memory for so long--especially since this was several thousand years before Real God created the heavens and the earth.

The Klamath tribes were fond of Crater Lake, and disinclined to tell white people about it, because it was a sacred site. Basically, they knew white people would fuck it all up.

Some of them found it anyway, in 1853, when a man named Skeeters, which is a totally normal 19th-century name, led a band of eleven miners to the region in search of gold. They thought the lake was nice, and told people about it, and named it Deep Blue Lake because they were just that imaginative, but fortunately for the pristine blue waters everyone forgot all about it because there wasn't any gold. It remains a stroke of luck to this day to live on land devoid of oil or coal or precious minerals.

So let us now praise unknown men and women who know how to keep a legend alive across hundreds of generations, and let us not mock their god stories. We have no room to talk. We've got Jewish space lasers and lizard people, we can't remember what happened last week, and our shoes fall apart in no time.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Dinner On A Dime

On Vacation
Because I'm in touch with members of my high school Class of '70, I learned recently that the dear old Alpine Restaurant on Lee Highway is about to be torn down to make way for a day care center. The second thing I learned was that it had been in operation since 1966, a year during which I was demonstrably alive, and had been for some time. But I couldn't remember the restaurant at all. My friends reminisced about the place, and someone provided a photograph--a fake chalet sort of façade--and I still couldn't recognize it, even though it had to be pretty close to my house. I checked the address.

Ah. The Alpine Restaurant was one and a half blocks from my house. If I stood in the front yard and looked south, I could see it. In its entirety.

Well, such is the nature of my Magic-Slate brain, in which most memory is peeled away for a fresh new sheet in case something interesting comes along. Clearly I have no recollection of the Alpine Restaurant because we never, ever ate there. One of my friends said his family didn't go often because they didn't have the budget for it, so that proves it. My father took the family out to dinner every Saturday night because he believed Mom should not have to cook seven days a week. And every single Saturday night for years we went to the Seven Corners shopping center and ate at the S&W Cafeteria in the basement. Where, I assume, you didn't have to tip.

Somewhere along the line Dad discovered a sit-down Family Restaurant in Cherrydale that fit his budget and we went there a few times. Here's what I remember. They had a cool toothpick dispenser at the cash register. And once, some adult came up to our table to compliment my sister and me for being so well-behaved. Was there another option???
There was another restaurant I do remember, but not because our family ate there. We did not. I think it was one of my friend's moms who took us to the brand-new McDonald's, one block west of the Alpine Restaurant (apparently) on Lee Highway, and treated us to a cheeseburger (18 cents), French fries (15 cents), and a chocolate milk shake. My world turned upside-down. How could food be so delicious? I couldn't imagine why we weren't eating there all the time. It had to be in the budget, because I was able to buy my own French fries with babysitting money, and I'm not sure I ever cleared more than four dollars a month.

It probably arrived around 1963 or so. A classic. Came with the two Golden Showers on top. Arches. Whatever. And a sign that said "over one million sold" that got upgraded every few months. At some point it hit "over a billion sold," and very shortly thereafter they settled for "billions and billions." Now there's just a poster in the parking lot that says "You know you're coming in here, just pull out your fucking wallet."

The restaurant thing with my father was fraught. I learned to tip heavily but certainly not from him. He was focused on paying down a mortgage and providing a college education for four children, goals which strike me now as laudable indeed, but didn't impress me one bit as a child. I wanted a bigger house with a rec room. I never got it. Got a stupid B.A. in Biology instead.

Vacation is fun!
We did go to restaurants when we were on vacation. One vacation my mom broke the heck out of her ankle in South Dakota and had to stay in a hospital while Dad drove my sister and me back home to Virginia. We went into a restaurant one night, the only one for miles, and as soon as we got seated we realized we'd made a huge mistake. The place was tinkly with inappropriate laughter from adults with genuine cocktails and the waiter brought enormous leather-bound menus over in which every entrée was at least one decimal point over budget. One of them was "Mermaid Steak," presumably a surf 'n' turf deal. I was terrified. Daddy said we could leave and he got up to tell the waiter we wouldn't be staying, but it took a bit to get his attention, and when I saw a straight path had opened up to the front door, I hollered "Run, Daddy!" and we all peeled out of there. I don't know what we did for dinner.

I would've remembered if it was McDonald's.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Live Free And Die

Isn't it something? We live in an age of medical and technological wonders and have the knowledge and means to solve any number of seemingly intractable problems, from climate change to plagues, but we don't, because we still can't fix stupid. We can identify stupid from the hats and the bumper stickers but we can't seem to stamp it out before it spreads.

So now we have a plethora of perfectly useful vaccines for a rampant virus but no way of cajoling enough people into protecting themselves, and the rest of us, with them. Like, we could end this thing tomorrow if we had the collective will. But even if we were able to slip the stuff into the drinking water, it wouldn't work, because so many people don't have access to clean water. The ancient Romans could manage it, but that was before billionaires were invented, and profit must be made.

You can't put vaccines in water anyway, but the only reason you're not hearing that the Deep State is planning to do it is that it seems so much more likely we'll have it sparkled into us from space. There's no end to  how dastardly a liberal--read Jewish--billionaire can be.

You didn't encounter this kind of obstinacy when the polio vaccine was developed. People were kind of simple and uncomplicated about things back then. Polio bad. Thank you Drs. Salk and Sabin. Please give me sugar cube. Now, we're sort of done with measles chickenpox diphtheria polio smallpox whooping-cough tetanus hepatitis and even the dag-gone mumps, and there are so few real things that we have to worry about we need to invent them, just to get our understimulated little chests to rise.

People used to band together to fight their foes but now we're all on our own, 330 million armies of one. Some people would never get a vaccine on principle, that principle being freedom, or some toddler's version of it. Others would rather wait and see how it turns out. "Wait and see" is not a reasonable plan from a public health standpoint when time is of the essence with a still-rampaging mutating microbe, but many people are suspicious. Look how quickly Trump got the vaccines developed, they say. Wasn't he wonderful? On the other hand, it was way too quick to trust. Let's see how many people drop dead from the vaccine first! We can stack those bodies up here, and the COVID Hoax bodies over there, and see which pile looks scariest. That's science, right there. That's just using the old bean.

One fellow who got COVID and has no intention of getting the vaccine explained it this way: "I had a fever for a couple days. I don't think it's the bogeyman they made it out to be."

A half million others were unavailable for comment.

Black people, as a demographic, have a well-founded historical distrust of the medical establishment but seem to be coming around to the advisability of vaccination. Republicans have a distrust of the truth. And they don't trust government ever to do the right thing. Which, considering the last four years, is almost reasonable.

Can't fix stupid. You can fix ugly, but it takes a face mask. So. Back where we started.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Forty Years Of Pointlessness And Laundry

Advertisements are a lot more explicit now. Maybe whatever held us back in the past has long since been rendered quaint by the required recitation of side-effects from the drug peddlers. By the time you've said "uncontrollable erection" and "anal seepage" out loud, a line of delicacy has been crossed.

Even so, Always Maxi Pads startled me with their "What The Gush Moments." You know what? Those ugly technicolor bears with their clean heinies can go straight to hell, but this I love. It's a sly nod to a vulgarity, paired with a 100% accurate, relatable description. Not only that, but when they do the little demonstration of their product sopping up liquid, they use red liquid.

They used to use blue liquid. Mediterranean Blue. Like this is a freaking holiday on the French Riviera. That's how delicate our sensibilities used to be. Pretty sure some men thought even that was gross, and to those guys, I say, button up, Buttercup. At least they're not showing chunks.

Shoot, way back when, "feminine hygiene" ads didn't even really say what they were advertising. You could imagine it was deodorant. Or little white shorts. Or swimsuits. Or maybe they were just celebrating Freedom. Oh, say can you see? Sure hope not!

But the What The Gush Moment gets my attention. Because that is absolutely, totally a thing. You're going about your day and then very suddenly, with no warning, you have a Situation, and you freeze in your tracks to give your mattress-sized pad the best opportunity to Control The Situation and not breach the dike. As it were. Then you're mincing toward the bathroom only moving your legs from the knees down. It's been fifteen years for me, but when I see the faces of the women in the ad suddenly registering a Moment, I know exactly how they feel.

Here's a thing. If you want to see a roomful of women pee their pants laughing--there's Poise for that--just say "The average amount of blood lost during a menstrual period is six to eight teaspoons."

Who were they studying? Disney princesses?

Teaspoons. This is a plug for the metric system if I've ever heard one.

Hey. If they're making something that will handle the Situation without requiring you to tie a sweater around your waist just to make an exit, more power to them. When I was first introduced to the joys of womanhood, my mother set me up with my very own napkin and belt. Which was no doubt an improvement on whatever sorry improvisation she grew up with on the farm in North Dakota. But let's put it this way: when they came out with adhesive strips for your underpants, it had the weight of a technological breakthrough. Because the thing about that belt is you could get the whole contraption centered just so, and five walking steps later it was crawling up your ass and you were backing into the corner of a table to shove it back toward the front. There you are, talking to a nice boy, just, you know, casually backing into furniture with a little humpy-movement hoping you look normal. And you are not. You are embarking on a special Ladies' Cruise with 480 ports-of-call and if you sail out of any one of them with clean underwear, Disney would like a word.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Moltin' Gold

Sometimes my mom would snatch me by the arm as I was barreling past to go outside, and say "Hold on. You look like nobody loves you." Then she'd scrub my face with a washcloth and punt me out the door. It made me all squinchy and I thought it was uncalled-for but I did absorb the fact that she cared. Dave says his mom did the same thing, only she'd pull a Kleenex out of her sleeve and spit on it, for extra love.

The thing is, when you love someone and feel some responsibility for them, you do pay attention to how they look--whether they're healthy, or presentable. And that is why I have been acutely aware of every feather on my personal chickadee Studley Windowson. As Yogi Berra might have said, you can observe a lot just by looking. And Studley lets me have a real close look, several times a week.

I've learned so much. But I'm not breaking any new ground. Other people are already on it. My friend Julie Zickefoose, the queen of noticing, l'arned me something new just the other day. I had observed that my chickadees take one seed from the feeder and go off to a branch to work it over, and that the goldfinches didn't, but I didn't know why. Turns out goldfinches aren't able to hold a seed in their feeties like the chickadees. Now, I'm not sure that puts the chickadees at an advantage. There they are chipping away at the solitary sunflower heart under their toes like someone cutting up a steak for a child, while meanwhile the finches go all Labrador-Retriever on their food, parking their fannies on a perch and hoovering seeds with their faces like nobody's business. But evidently everyone gets what they need.

Let me get you up to date on Mr. Windowson, though. He went through his complete feather molt last summer and looked like holy hell for a while before coming up crisp in his new winter suit. What should have been obvious to me--but wasn't--was that his perfect little black bib was not something that overlaid his white shirt. Most of his bib feathers are black, for sure, but the feathers making up the hem of the bib are bi-colored, black with white edges. Of course, I said to myself when I noticed the bi-colored feathers working their way out during the molt. Duh! And yet, like every new niblet of information, it dropped a pellet of joy in me, and those things add up.

But then last November, a shocking thing happened. Studley showed up for his snack and he had completely lost his tail. And I do not know any way that could have happened except that something pulled it out. Maybe a hawk, maybe a damn cat. I was horrified. I looked up cat traps for a half hour before realizing I'd probably end up trapping a possum, and I couldn't do it anyway; then I looked up missing tail feathers. If Studley's tail had been pulled out follicles and all, it wouldn't grow back. But if it had been snapped off (or bitten), and his diet was good, he might replace his feathers before the next summer molt.

I have five billion chilly mealworms in the fridge. I got yer diet right here, Studdles.

It grew back!

But I wasn't done learning. Studley takes as many worms as you care to give him when he's feeding his young'uns. But for the rest of the year, he takes four or five, just enough to maintain his ping pong ballish figure.

Until last week, when I met him on the front porch and fed him a worm, and another worm, and another, and...he took twenty-two worms. I'm not even sure that's good for a fellow. But finally I watched him more closely. He wasn't eating them. He was poking them in the little mossy bits in the tree. I knew they cached seeds, but live larvae? Hope they're still there when he comes back for them. Maybe he was throwing a party. There was one going on in my heart, for sure.

May we now pause to celebrate the coolest bird in the tri-county area?

The average lifespan for a wild black-capped chickadee is under two years. Predation is the primary problem. I don't know how old Studley is. That is because although I may have told you Marge and Studley Windowson have raised kids in our nest box for at least ten years, I really don't know they're the same birds every time. They's mighty sim'lar. But I do know when I first noticed Studley, because he showed up with the bum foot, and it wasn't a birth defect, but an injury. He kept it balled up in his belly fluff that whole summer of 2018, when he had to have been at least one, and returned the next year with functional but abbreviated toes. Studley D. D. D. Windowson is about to turn four, y'all. At least.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Getting The Jump On Panic

I hear they're about to roll out a warning system for earthquakes around here. It's called ShakeAlert. Apparently this will give you three seconds' notice.
This is already in operation in California, where it might conceivably be of some use. They schedule earthquakes all the time in California. They're like zoom meetings: there are too many of them and nobody really enjoys them anymore, but at least everyone knows how they work. In California the ground goes sideways so often that people have their protocols memorized. 
Here, we get an earthquake every three hundred years. It's a doozy, but it's hard to anticipate.
So I imagine in California everyone has scoped out the safest place to hunker down during an earthquake, with the awareness changing from room to room as they walk through the house, and given three seconds' warning they can actually change their personal outcomes. They've rehearsed.
I have no idea what I would do with three seconds' warning. Pull a Q-Tip out of my ear, maybe. Or grab the toilet paper, if I could, since that's the first thing I'd need after the quake. Supposedly you should be able to get a warning from the birds and animals, even your own personal cat, although ours would have to wake up first and can't even get a whole yawn out in three seconds. And really, the birds are no help either. If all the birds fly away at once, it's going to be a Cooper's hawk just about every time, and an earthquake every three hundred years. So.
Now when I was working at the post office, there could have been some merit in a warning system. Everyone had a big metal sorting case they stood at, and if we make the charitable assumption that everyone is in fact working, and not wandering around with a football pool, that means everyone has something solid they can duck under during an earthquake. In theory. In reality, we had all sorts of things stashed underneath our cases where our bodies might have otherwise fit. Trays of vacation-hold mail, for instance. It's considered bad form to deliver someone's vacation mail after you've pooped all over it. Not unprecedented, but still poor from a public-relations standpoint.

There's another problem with the ShakeAlert warning system. It comes over your phone. I don't even know where my phone is. Everyone else has a phone in their pocket so I guess I should take it as a warning if everyone stopped suddenly and went "WAH! WAH! WAH!" Does it give me enough time to evacuate? In my shorts, maybe.

Let's just say I'm going to need more than three seconds. If you gave me two days' warning, I could probably assemble a proper bug-out bag of groceries, clothing, extra glasses, TP, and a tent. Maybe I could do that right now, but it would interfere with my mental-health policy of reducing anxiety through applied ignorance. And so far, that has served me very well.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Scoring the Dose

We got our first COVID vaccinations the usual way. There was a rumor that a kilo of Pfizer had landed on the east side and we went to meet some guy behind a warehouse, and he flashed open his trench coat, studded with open appointment slots. I was dubious, and when I feigned disinterest, he said "All right, sweetheart, you got me--but if you want the real deal, go to the dumpster behind the CVC and ask for Vinnie."

Vinnie's collection of appointment slots was obviously fake, just magic marker on pieces of masking tape, and we weren't falling for it, but he got his cousin on the phone and I will be damned but he totally had slots, slots for days. He only operated between midnight and 2am, but if you could stay up that late, he had it all: Walgreen's, Rite-Aid, and a jackpot at the Convention Center. We signed up right away and told all our friends, and they all got appointments too, until the third day when the velvet rope went up, and the latecomers were sent back out to work the alleyways.

It ain't easy. One couple we know found a scalper on the corner of Fifth and Hallelujah and got all signed up, and when they got to the vaccination site it turned out to be a pitch for time-shares in Florida, plus the cookies were stale.

So screw them, right? We got ours, and that's what matters. They had a slick operation there at the Convention Center. They're running six thousand people a day through there, moving them through the cordoned aisles as smooth as corpuscles in the bloodstream. We never stopped moving. There were mazes of aisles, and ushers to insert us into them, and at the end everybody got the cheese. We sat for fifteen minutes so someone could scoop us up if we keeled over, and then we were out of there.

It was an easy shot. Four hours later I got a nasty case of shoulder flu. No other side-effects, but I was dragging knuckles on one side like Quasimodo and had to lift my right arm with my left arm just to put it on my lap. This, I am assured, is a good sign.

It means my body is putting up some kind of fight and should be commended at the earliest opportunity. My body, in theory, has gobs of white blood cells whose chief occupation is defense and homeland security. Some of them find invading germs and eat them. They spit out the icky bits, called antigens, and then others produce antibodies to attack the antigens. It takes a while to stock the armory but with any luck your body will be able to get ahead of the germ before you drop dead.

Vaccines are designed to rev up the whole system. They simulate an invasion and muster your white cells to get off their duffs. Some are "live attenuated" vaccines; they use a disabled germ, like sending in an invading army of quadriplegic soldiers with spears. Inactivated vaccines, such as our new friend the COVID vaccine, are armed with Nerf spears and Whiffle-cannons. You need a booster a few weeks later because your body doesn't take it as seriously at first, but by the time the second surge begins, it's plenty annoyed by all the Nerfing and Whiffling and it's had a chance to stock up on antibodies and complain to the condominium association abut kids these days.

The other thing your body does after encountering a vaccine is it assigns some of the white blood cells to be Memory Cells. They're responsible for neighborhood watch patrols and they get on the two-way if they spot any of the germs they've got antibodies for.

This is the part that worries me. If I develop any memory cells, they're just going to wander all over the place. They'll bunch up around the kneecap and say "Now what is it I came in here for?" and then they'll have to make another trip around to remember. And if they do bump into any germs, they're going to waste time trying to trick the germs into telling them their names again. "We've got a situation down here in the trachea," they'll call out. "It's that old whatchamacallit virus, the one that looks like an orange with the cloves stuck in it? No? The one that was married to that other one that used to play the neighbor on the Dick Van Dyke Show. Yeah, well, shit, I don't know. Just send over the whole kit when you get a chance, I guess."

This is why old people are in more trouble.