Monday, November 29, 2021

Murrmurrs 2.0

I don’t want to scare anyone unduly.

I’m fine with scaring people duly. The autocrats are demolishing human rights here and abroad. The wealthy are ever wealthier and more powerful. The Gulf Stream is petering out, with dire consequences for the climate and all life dependent on it. Children are inspired to vandalize through TikTok, and people’s hair is falling out in clumps. White ladies’, too.

So this isn’t that bad. The deal is, this blog is changing. At least the drapes and wallpaper, which smells like rose water and lilac, the sort of thing one suspects is masking an underlying old-lady hygiene issue. If we keep going at this site any longer, I’ll have to set out a dish of hard candies in the margin. I’ve been afraid for quite a while that if I keep my antique template and stick with Blogger for my host some horrible thing will happen. Like the whole thing will disintegrate from natural senescence and blow away like powder.

On the other hand, I’ve had reason to worry that if I do try to migrate my blog to something more up-to-date, there will be an explosion so serious that my words, every precious one of them for thirteen years running, will disappear altogether. Do you even know how many words I’ve jammed into this site? Hundreds. Maybe dozens. It would be awful.

On top of that, I have been solemnly advised that I need an Author Site. It’s sort of a fake-it-till-you-make-it thing, maybe, but also I am told that literary agents will invariably seek out your Genuine Author site if they’re even remotely interested in you, and there’d better by gosh be something there, so now there is.

It’s a simple site. I didn’t want anyone to click on it and have to wait for a bunch of artful creative visual content to unroll before them. It’s a Just The Facts Ma’am site. And my blog has moved in there. So, this here post is on there as well as here, if you want to check out how it looks—clean and simple, like me in the latter respect. The next post will be exclusively on the new site, and if you’ve been so kind as to sign up for updates, weirdly emailed to you a day late—don’t ask me about that—they should direct you to the new site. If not, or if it doesn’t work, you can bookmark my new home, and I hope you do. At least one cool thing is ALL my archives are easily accessible from the new site, so if you want to read the very first one, you can! In fact you can order a box of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper and sit down and read the whole damn oeuvre in chronological order, if you’re a little backed up.

I’m sticking with this new platform, but I don’t know how everything works yet, so I want to hear from you if you have trouble commenting (do you get the irony, there?) so we can straighten it out. Wordpress, my new platform, is a little more precious than Blogger, my old. Wordpress’s default is to put a velvet rope around my blog and let in only the worthy or credentialed, and my default is to take y’all on no matter what, even if you’re nuts. So let me know if there’s trouble and we’ll see what we can do.

That’s the deal. I have been trying to attract the attention of literary agents and publishers for any of my six novels and one non-fiction work for a while now, and it feels like throwing spaghetti on the ceiling to see if something sticks. But although some pieces stick for a minute and then fall off the ceiling, mostly my pasta evaporates into thin air like a stream of urine in the Arctic. So I now have an Author’s Site. Is it like the Field of Dreams? If you build it, they will come? I do not have a corn field out there, just a field of standing spaghetti strands, but let’s just see. If nothing else, maybe Kevin Costner will show up. “Bull Durham”-era Kevin Costner, as long as I’m dreaming, not present-day.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Be The Leslie!

The Leslie!

I don't know if it's COVID fatigue or Climate Moroseness or something else, but I'm starting to fret and frazzle about doing things rather than doing them. I realize I need to get on the roof for something and suddenly I'm apprehensive about getting on the ladder. My printer is acting up and my sink drains slow. Rats have resurrected the bowling alley in my attic and Tesla has just emailed me that my solar panels have quit. And maybe none of these things is insurmountable but if enough of them pile up together, they gather emotional lint and torpor and suddenly I feel incapable of doing any of it.
I've never been a real go-getter, of course. Even if I was embarking on a new project using skills I already have, I would feint at it for a while before I got moving. I make a Christmas card every year and yet I circle around it for weeks before I finally sit down and make it happen, and it always happens, and I'm always surprised.
And it's not like I've ever been terribly useful around the house. Still, there are things I know how to do. I can paint. I know the techniques and I have a steady hand and I know what order to do things. I'm pretty good at it, too.
But then the other day I discovered one of the windows in our tower has rotted out at the bottom and I'll be dogged if it doesn't turn out the whole window needs to be replaced. Which is not cheap. And when someone came out to have a look, he noticed that all the south- and west-facing windows are looking a little vulnerable. The wood is bare in spots and just aching to rot out. No sooner had this been pointed out than  it commenced to rain absolute buckets for weeks on end.

Which, to be sure, we are very happy about. But.

In the middle of the night as I listen to the pounding rain, deep into my unproductive monkey mind, I can almost hear the fungi rumbling through my windows then and there. Like, if I don't do something about sanding and repainting them by noon the next day, my windows will sag into mush. But I have to be able to remember how to take the windows out. Set up sawhorses. Find the paint. See if any of my brushes still bend. Nothing hard, but at three a.m. it all seems too much.

Then I thought about my friend Leslie.

Leslie does everything. If there's something at her house that needs fixing, she fixes it. She'll spread seven yards of mulch in her garden between dinner and bedtime. She'll clear the downspouts before winter, not during the first downpour. If she doesn't have a tool, she knits it out of steel wool. Her to-do lists are all-done lists. Now that she's retired, her whole neighborhood is liable to be shiny and unbollixed, just from leftover energy. She doesn't dither. If she doesn't know how to do something, she knows she can figure it out. She's got skills and she's got gumption.

And that's when it came to me, at three a.m., in the celestial baritone voice-over of the Lord: Be the Leslie you want to see in the world! And when I woke up and had coffee, I got going.

Took the windows out. Set up sawhorses. Sanded. Primed. Painted. Repainted. Put them back in. Done. I beed the Leslie.
Of course, Leslie probably wouldn't have accidentally used the high-gloss paint on the satin-finish window. Leslie absolutely wouldn't have tried to put the window in backwards even though one side is white and the other side is red. And Leslie would have had it all done before breakfast. Five years ago.

But still. I beed the Leslie.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Slow And Smooth

Dave and I love baseball or anything like it. Softball, Little League, beer ball, it doesn't matter. So when we saw a bunch of people on the field at the neighborhood park, we hurried over to watch.

Something about the structure of the game fits my interior life like a ligand on a macromolecule. Or an mRNA sequence on a viral membrane. You get the picture.

[No, we don't.]

Okay, baseball just plain matches up to my insides. I watch baseball and life snaps back into place and everything makes sense again. Don't ask me how. I don't question these things.

Anyway, once we got to the field, it turned out to be a distant cousin to baseball. "My word," I said to Dave, antiquely. "It's adults playing kickball!"

I hadn't seen a kickball game since I was in one. I loved that game. If one kid on the block had one of those big plastic dime store balls, you could play it in the street. You had to work out the baselines according to whose car was parked where. The adults who were assigned to any of us kids liked the game fine, because we were "out from underfoot." Unrelated adults were annoyed. They didn't like seeing all these greasy kids smearing up the fender of their Pontiac rounding third. And if they were actually driving, everyone was annoyed. We kids were annoyed because we were expected to step out of the way so the car could get through. The drivers were annoyed because nobody ever stepped more than three inches further away than they figured the car needed, and then the kids were annoyed all over again because the driver took so long to squeeze through, pounding his steering wheel and using language we weren't supposed to recognize. Then it was back to the game.

But I sucked at it every way you could. No skills at all, couldn't kick, couldn't catch, couldn't throw, couldn't run so's anyone could tell I was running.

My memory sucks too. I remember only the seminal moments of my childhood, in three categories: the humiliations. The triumphs. And the times I got in trouble when I didn't think I deserved to. (This third category is by far the smallest. Mostly, I knew I had it coming.) Kickball once furnished such a moment across two categories at once: triumph followed almost instantaneously by humiliation.
I was playing second base. And, in a plot twist, I was playing baseball, for the very first time. I was no more than eight and had never seen anyone play baseball--apparently, our television only got Huntley-Brinkley. But they said it was just like kickball. The batter swung and squeaked a dribbler out past the pitcher and to everyone's shock and amazement I corralled it somehow, and to my shock and amazement the runner on first was just then passing by on the way to second, and holy moly I threw that baseball and thudded it right into the runner's body even though I was fully four feet away from him at the time. I had never gotten anyone out in my life. I was a dang hero!

We've got trees in our parks...
For one second. The runner kept going and made it to third and all my teammates were howling and groaning and waving their arms and I was given to understand that in this game you do not get a runner out by whacking him with the ball, even though that's exactly how you do it in kickball. Presumably, a person could hurt someone throwing a softball at him. I couldn't, but a person could. I'd never successfully either caught or thrown a kickball but I'd certainly had them thrown at me. It was possible to knock me all the way off the base path into the infield and I do believe a number of the bigger boys rather enjoyed seeing how far I would carom, as though it were a game of human marbles.

Anyway, the young adults at the park were indeed playing kickball. I struck up a conversation with one of the spectators on the sidelines. "Wow!" I said, antiquely. "I used to play that when I was a kid!" 

"Huh," she replied, looking me up and down and lofting a thought balloon in which I could clearly be seen in knickers and a jaunty wool cap rolling a hoop down the lane with a stick.

I watched for at least ten minutes. I never saw one player catch a fly ball. I never saw one player throw anyone out. I never saw the other team take the field but they didn't run very well. They all kind of sucked.

They were my people.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The One-Hit Wonder

Early in our relationship, Dave and I had a little disagreement, and I got mad and punched him in the arm. No chance, I figured, I could do the big guy any harm, but it was not a playful punch, either. Just before I could get a second punch in, his hand stopped my fist cold in mid-air, and he carefully lowered it, and he said "We don't hit."

Oh, I remember thinking, That's another possibility.
There's been no hitting since. It takes a while, when you're still basically children, to learn how to disagree efficiently and with the least amount of emotional shrapnel. I have no idea why I did this shameful thing, although there surely was alcohol involved. I certainly never witnessed anything like that in my family. No one in my life has ever hit me, either. I think, to tell you the truth, that I saw it on TV, and that at the time of the argument it suggested itself as the thing to do. It was, as they say, "modeled" for me.

This embarrassing admission is brought to you by news of recent event at a local middle school. Boys are slapping girls on the ass in the hallways on what they call "Slap-Ass Fridays." Girls are speaking up and walking out. And for some reason, fights are breaking out all over the school. Lots of them. Nobody seems able to stop it. Innocent kids are being thrown around. It's chaos. They're bringing in the police. We're talking twelve-year-olds.

What the hell is going on?

I guess there were fights when I was going to school--grudges settled under the bleachers, that sort of thing. You always figured some kids just had it rough at home. Except for a couple boys brawling at the school bus stop once, which utterly terrified me--I ran away with my hands over my ears--I never witnessed any of it.

So this seems ominous. What is being modeled now?

Well, for one thing, all across the nation adults are storming school board meetings and town halls, bellowing and flailing like quarter-ton toddlers, complete with spittle. Grown men and women are surrounding private houses of duly-elected officials in gangs, with the specific intent to terrify. Profane death threats are piling up in the inboxes of anyone with the audacity to serve in government. Hit lists are being drawn up.

People are showing up in the public square bristling with arms. Like little Kyle Rittenhouse, they're looking for trouble, and they're finding it, proving to themselves they are right and righteous, even if they had to manufacture their trouble themselves. They're hauntingly oblivious of their part in the play. Everyone's on their own side.

And this is mostly a right-wing phenomenon. Sorry, that's just a fact. There is a small but deliberately provocative contingent of black-clad elements on the left, the challengers, the dumpster-burners, with a minor tally of victims, and an outsized reputation among those stoking right-wing resentments, but all are unwittingly in the same family: the family of the enraged. And all fight with rage and succeed only in making more and more rage.

Civility is now considered quaint and weak to the players on all the edges. But civility is not the same as acquiescence. Civility is the bare minimum of courtesy in the social contract that allows us to coexist. Civility is what gets us from here to there, and in its absence, hearts harden up, and we get nowhere, ankle-deep in casualties. We need to start pulling our punches.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Dolphin Coiffure

There isn't anything complicated about my hair. It's straight. You can describe it in linear units and you've pretty much got the picture. It's been everything from an inch long to three feet long, and gravity writes the rest of the story. Don't look for the strands to show any initiative or imagination. It's all just going to hang there to whatever point it's whacked off.

This means it's not much help to put in layers so as to give the illusion that I have a normal-shaped head. Most people's heads are round in the back to accommodate the standard Homo sapiens operating system, but my head is just flat. It's the size of an ambitious walnut. You cut layers into my hair in the back, they all hang straight. Layer cuts give me all the volume dolphin skin gives a dolphin.

This worked out very well for me at age thirteen when I had long straight hair that didn't even need ironing, not that I didn't iron it once or twice. Classmates who soldiered through fitful nights with their hair on soup cans would have killed for my hair, and that was my stock, because until the tits grew in I had nothing else to bank on.

And I've never been able to decide what linear dimension my hair should be. The last time it was real long and I cut it off, I thought it needed to be to my shoulders at least so that I could hide my pudding neck. But that doesn't work. My pudding neck considers itself a Feature and is somehow aware I'm never going to threaten it with surgery, so it just flops out there, shameless. Doesn't matter what angle you take the picture, my pudding neck photo-bombs my head.

Then I sheared my hair off to a nice stand-up crewcut in case that would volumize my head but that required Product and attention, and even then it was still flat in back. So I let it grow out and hoped at some point I'd know when to say "When."

And I have! My trusty barber has managed to take the limp shower-curtain look out of my head and it got to just exactly the right length and now I have a Look. Wrap a scarf around the pudding and I'm good to go.I went back today for a trim and asked her if she could cut it without making it shorter. English isn't her first language so she did not have a large bullshit lexicon to draw from. She just said "No."

Okay, cut it anyway, I said.

The fact is I would get my hair cut every week if I could. I would pay someone to just fiddle with my hair. Every follicle is attached to its own happiness nerve. Throw in a little electric-razor action at the nape and a light touch in the ear region and I will follow you home and roll over for a belly-rub. I still remember the feeling when Pastor Lange put his hand on my head during my confirmation as a genuine Lutheran. (They try to confirm you when you're still the age to be weirded out by Death and Eternity but before you get to the point where you're thinking, Now, hold on just a minute. What is that you want me to believe?) When the good pastor floated his palm over my hair, I would have told him I bought the whole story.

This is how I survived babysitting. I am not a natural babysitter. But girls of a certain age will happily play with long hair for hours as though you are their personal giant Barbie. And I will let them. I will even consider forgoing the 50 cents an hour, but think better of it later.

I'm sure I was meant to have my head patted. I was wired that way. And it's no trouble for anyone. This is why God made me short. I think that's what Pastor Lange was trying to convey.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Reigning Cats And Dogs

Here is a way you can tell you're a dog person. Several times a day you say "Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit! Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Good BOY!"

Here is a way you can tell you're a dog. You are lost in adoration of your favorite person who is barking at you in a friendly way and after a good long while you pop your butt down on the floor for one second and back up again and your person is so very very happy! You did it! You made your person happy! Nothing makes you happier than making your person that happy and it only took one butt-pop! OH MY GOODNESS THERE'S A TREAT! It's a wonderful world!

Here is a way you can tell you're a cat person. You are, yourself, sitting, all of your own volition, and there is a cat on your lap, and you have to pee pretty bad, but you don't get up just yet because your cat looks so comfortable. You think there is something perfect about how very comfortable your cat looks, as though your cat has got everything figured out and is not given to worry. You are in a world where everything's going downhill on a greased sled at every level from the biosphere to your own personal craposphere, and if you could just feel as comfortable as your cat looks, for just a little while, you could manage to hang on. If you do anything to disturb your very comfortable-looking cat, you are toying with the mechanics of happiness in ways you might never fully recover from. Somewhere in the universe there are credits piling up in your favor for the amount of times you have not disturbed your very comfortable-looking cat, and some day, if there is any justice at all, you will be able to redeem them for a reward. As long as your cat is still in your lap and looking comfortable, you are not a failure. You have purpose.

Here is a way you can tell you're a cat: you're comfortable.

You're never not comfortable. Your head may be upside-down or cranked sideways and you've got one foot draped over an edge and the other sticking straight up and the third over your eyes and the fourth missing altogether, but you're comfortable. Periodically a portion of your pudding will quiver and twitch in pursuit of a dream mouse, but then it will settle back down into a state of even deeper satisfaction. You can be decanted into any shape space and fill it like a bag of beans. You are strenuously content, and any departure from that condition will be regarded as a tragic misalignment of the proper world order. You are boneless. At any moment you can rig up a functional skeleton for the purpose of self-maintenance or hygiene but as soon as your immediate requirements are fulfilled, you will soundlessly revert to custard. You will settle back down into the perpetual eye of all the world's storms. In a plush onesie.

And you will be comfortable.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

To See, Or Not To See

My eyeballs are starting to get obstreperous, and it's really no wonder. The mystery is why it's taken so long, because I have treated them like crap since forever.
We all start out with little baby eyeballs made of rubber and goo and they increase in size dramatically after we're born. For most people, they top out in size in the teenage years. Mine peaked at age seven, leaving me with Bedroom Closet eyes. Age seven was also when my eyeballs realized I was never going to be tall and they started to squash down flat to fit in the available space, which really did a number on my ability to see anything more than a foot away.
So I got combat lenses when I was fourteen. Contact, I mean. That was about eighty years after the first contact lens was invented and no doubt an improvement on the original, which was made of glass and covered the entire eye. I'm not sure who volunteered for that or if they included any lubricating solution, but opium was widely available. Modern contacts are made of fun and frog hair and you wear them once and fling them into the air like Mary Tyler Moore's hat. My first pair were hubcaps and you inserted them with a drop of Tabasco. In a pinch you could pop them out and open a bottle cap with them, but in ordinary use they served to collect grains of sand to rake over your corneas. If I am not mistaken, they came with a little Dremel tool set to grind down your eyeball abrasions for a perfect fit. Even so, if you blinked too hard they'd travel sideways and embed themselves into the eyeball area Formerly Known As White, sometimes with enough suction that they needed to be pried out with a fingernail, leaving perfect bloodshot circle tattoos behind.

But I must report I could see really well with contacts unless there was dust in the air, when I would be paralyzed with my eyes shut waiting for a friend to come along and tow me away by the elbow.

One time, because for some reason I had not yet gone blind, I used my roommate's wetting solution, just to try it--the way you try other people's shampoo--even though she'd bought it in Mexico and the bottle was labeled in Spanish, and even though (as it turned out) it was not wetting solution at all, but cleaning solution, and boy howdy it got loud in that bathroom that morning.

Throughout all of this I became so comfortable with touching my own eyeballs that I did it routinely, licking a finger to scoop out eyebrow hairs and eyelashes. Thank goodness those have all fallen out by now.

Anyway. It's no wonder my sad little soldiers of sight are starting to squawk. After twenty years of success with trifocals, effortlessly navigating the three zones of correction, now none of the zones work all that well, and even new prescriptions are more of a compromise than a solution. And of course there is the matter of the piano glasses specifically prescribed for reading sheet music, which are not quite up to the task. I have discovered that if I pull my glasses out about a centimeter from my face, everything looks pretty good, although bringing the music that much closer does nothing at all. I do not understand this. 

But I can achieve just the right distance by wedging a tampon at the bridge of my nose. It's fine. It's not like I'm at the concert hall all dolled up in a long black gown. 
The string is a little distracting.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Scroll Bar Of Old Age

Baby Murr

Ironically, one of the ways you can tell you're old is you don't remember how old you are.

Last month I heard the COVID booster shot was going to be available for people 65 and older and my first thought was Oh, shit. Then I remembered that not only was 65 already in the rear view mirror, it was pretty far back in the block.

There are other signs. For instance, you can tell you're short when you cut off the bottoms of your new pants to hem them and you discover the remnants could make a tube top for a harbor seal. You always knew you were short, of course, but it can slip your mind because you can still see everything from where you're standing, as far as that goes. You're not going to know you're shorter until they mention it at the doctor's office, and then you can go ahead and argue with them over it. After all, your height, down to the quarter-inch, is a known commodity and a matter of record. Also, you're still eight years old.

So back to that.

It's a sign when you see a particularly tasty specimen of a 25-year-old man with brown eyes and silky hair and a hint of humor in the eyebrows and graceful movement of his splendid but not overdone musculature and the first thing you think is I wonder if he does ladder work? I could use my gutters cleaned.
It's a sign when you're watching baseball and someone named Michael Yastrzemski gets up to bat and you think Holy cow! I wonder if that's Carl Yastrzemski's son! Good old Yaz with the Boston Red Sox! Why, it was just yesterday I was living in Boston during the '75 World Series! GO YAZ!! and you look it up and the dude is his grandson.
It's a sign when you're trying to get your Alexa thingy to do something for you by calling her name and all you can say is Hey, Lady!
Old Bat Murr
But mostly you are wieldy with the internet and a thoroughly modern person, not at all old, until you navigate an online form and when you have to put in your birth year you have to spin that scrollbar twelve times like it's the Wheel Of Fortune.
All of this can come as a shock to you. And that is because you are the same on the inside as you ever were. Your packaging may have changed--maybe a lot--and your contents may have shifted but those contents are the same as they ever were. You are in the bridge of a tugboat that's still chugging and the view out the window is the same as ever, except the dock is getting closer.
But I guarantee when I pull up to that dock I'm going to be thinking Hey, I wasn't done yet and I was just about to get serious.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Halloween At The Crappersons'

They say that ignorance is bliss, although some of the most ignorant people out there seem to be pissed off all the time. Still, there's something to it. There are all sorts of things I remember enjoying more when I didn't know as much. And not just pâté de foie gras.

I used to be able to ignore ads for big-ass cars. But now when I see them ripping through a wetland or jolting up a rocky incline to pose like a conqueror on a precipice overlooking sacred scenery, all I can see is ruined habitat and squashed lizards and noise and clamor and poison, like a poster for everything that's wrong with humans.

And I used to like Halloween decorations more. I'm still all for it, old-school. I like when people go to the trouble of making little ghosts out of sheets and hanging them up. Or carving pumpkins for the front porch. The Halloween decoration industry has really revved up though. Everywhere you look there are gravestones, skeletons, and fake cobwebs. I approve of the sentiment. For one thing, it's all liable to scandalize Christians. Not the Jesus kind, but the kind you don't mind pissing off.

So while I generally approve of the effort involved, now it just looks like more consumption, with all that entails. It's a lot of oil. It's plastic. It's fun, and it's trash. Turns out the polyester cobwebs even snare birds. I would never scold anyone for it, but I wouldn't buy it either. Thirty years ago, if I'd seen a Tyrannosaurus skeleton, I might have wanted one, but I think twice about every such thing now. The kids' costumes are troublesome too. Lots of plastic masks. Glitter: microplastic. The coolest costumes I ever see are all homemade and have a lot of thought in them. Couple years ago we saw the most compelling pint-sized girl in a voluminous long white dress and prim collar, her hair bundled into a bun, carrying a small white book and a candle. I had to ask.

Emily Dickinson's ghost, as I live and breathe!

Well, one of the over-decorated yards in our neighborhood is at a house that gives me shivers all the rest of the year too. It's not haunted. It's just not nice. The people who live there make a point of turning away as you approach, when everyone else smiles or pauses to chat. Their lawn is an unholy green in August with the tell-tale brown patches that betray there is no healthy life therein and the only thing propping it up is frequent infusions from Chem-Lawn. Their dogs are out in a kennel. And the Halloween decorations that aren't completely plastic require power to inflate.

I mentioned the dogs to their next-door neighbor once and she told me she finally went over there one night around 11pm, in her pajamas, when their dogs had been barking non-stop. She knocked at the door, and the lady of the house appeared in the window, jutted out her lower lip and bobbled it with her finger--the poor-baby mime--and withdrew. Really? Holy shit.

When the gigantic Trump signs appeared in their windows on Insurrection Day, yes, that day, it was almost a foregone conclusion.

But they didn't have the courage of their afflictions. The signs were down the next day. They had to figure in this neighborhood someone was liable to leave a Public Radio tote bag full of shit at their door. Or seed their lawn with arugula.

Also? We know real witches.