Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The way I prefer to imagine it, the act of dying will be a gentle thing, somehow devoid of panic. There will have been some sort of shift so that the mind is no longer afraid of being quenched. Ideally, things will just wear out and I will slip from this life without stress or embarrassing emissions. I gave the concept a practice run the other night when I got sick.
Not sick sick. Just one of my peculiar colds in which the symptoms occur all out of order or maybe some of them don't manifest at all. In this case, I developed a blatting baritone that was only minimally sexy and began to want to cough recreationally most of the time. No sore throat. No congestion. It was merely annoying until the third night, when a little fever crept in. At that point I holed up in a comfy chair with a blankie over me and churned out heat for the lap cat. Dave poured me a beer and I soldiered through it.
Uh-oh. I don't soldier through beer. Probably, I thought, this is a sign that I am dying. And I don't care. It's okay. As long as I don't have to get up out of the chair, I'm fine with whatever comes. It's peaceful, really. This is what is supposed to happen. You begin to separate from the joys and cares of life. Like, right now, as long as the quilt is still up under my chin, and the cat doesn't have an epizootic and patch out, and nobody is expecting anything of me, it's all good.
With a sense of heightened self-awareness, I focused on a small, dark presence deep within me. It was the Seed of Death. It began to grow. I acknowledged it with a pitiful rattly cough, and it dislodged. It was a snot nugget after all, but it was right next to the Seed of Death.
I ate half the steak and half the potatoes and couldn't manage the salad at all. Yes, I am surely dying. I will cruise in and out of consciousness, and at some point I will no longer cruise back in. She didn't want that second beer, Dave will tell people afterwards, and I knew she didn't have much time left. I just kept her comfortable.
Twelve hours later I managed to make it downstairs in my jammies and haystack hair and announced myself with a loogie-rattling honk. I'd stayed in bed just to make sure, but I was not technically dead at all. Someone had tied a clatter of tin cans to my lung bumpers. Jesus Christ, are you ever going to stop coughing? Dave said, with a little edge. He won't miss me too much. That's good, I think.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
So we do know that there are planets out there in other solar systems, and sometimes we even know what they're made of. They've recently located one made of rock and iron, just like Earth. Earth is mostly molten but crusts up nicely on the chilly outer edges. This new planet is whipping around its star in eight and a half hours and is not considered a likely spot for life. It would be hard for a critter to hang onto a planet flying around that fast, but inasmuch as the planet is entirely molten, holding on is the least of the challenges.
They've even found planets orbiting around pulsars. A pulsar is what's left over when a star blows up, and all that's left is the throbbing. I wouldn't have imagined that any planets would survive their star going supernova, but they do. This should be a great comfort to the kind of people who are so insufficiently frantic about their own mortality that they need to worry about the sun blowing up. I've met them. They tend not to get worked up about climate change, for some reason.
Scientists like to find planets they think might support life. Unfortunately, with the state of scientific literacy being what it is, this encourages people to imagine we might hop onto those planets once we're done trashing this one. If you point out how many light-years away they are, they just think it sounds sunnier.
Of course, we needed to properly define what a planet is before we could assert we had found any, and recently we've come to a consensus. A planet must be big enough that its own gravity has spanked it into a round shape. But it must not be so massive that it begins its own thermonuclear reactions. If that happens (it would have to be thirteen times bigger than Jupiter), it is essentially a star, if not a major one. It would be called a brown dwarf, or, as they prefer to be known, a Little Star Person Of Color. But there's a third requirement for achieving planet status, and this is the one that doomed Pluto: it needs to have mopped up most of the stuff around it. It turns out that Pluto is a member of a whole roaming pack. Not only that, but some of the other members of the pack are nearly as big and vicious. Pluto's in the Kuiper Belt, a revolving swath of space crap including a few other spheres that could qualify as planets themselves if we weren't enforcing that clean-up clause, but we must have standards.
My favorite of the planets discovered so far is the one they're calling the Fluffy Planet, with a density like that of cork. Even if it doesn't have enough mass and gravitational pull to hold onto anything, we could always pin stuff to it.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Take my annual Thanksgiving dessert. My sister-in-law was in charge of dinner years ago and so I ran it by her. "I was thinking of making something different this year--I cut it out of a magazine," I said. She was skeptical. "Does it have chocolate?" she wanted to know. I consulted my clipped recipe. "It's called "Fudge-Slathered Fudge Cake," I said. "Bring it," she said. A tradition was born.
|Fifty shades of turkey|
I still don't know everything that's in it, but part of it is made from pureed fat person.
The Fudge-Slathered Fudge Cake was a hit too. It looked weird, but it tasted great. The cake part gets all its lift from egg whites, momentarily, and then when it cools it shrinks and craters into something with all the heft of a communion wafer. I was horrified that first year, but it comes out that way every time. The cake is only there to hold the frosting up, and the frosting is terrific. But the second year the frosting didn't set up. I started slathering it on, and it kept puddling up around the bottom like saggy pants. I was horrified, but the family gathered around it and monitored the lava flow with spoons and fingers, and everyone was happy. Some years later I stumbled onto a way to make it work right and that part has been fine ever since.
But it's a dessert. It's not going to behave just because you want it to. Every year I find a new way to
The cake tasted fine. I think everyone was thankful for it. And, thankful that I'm not in charge of the rest of the dinner. That's another tradition.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
When I was growing up in the humid shadow of the nation's capital, if anyone asked me what my daddy did, I said "he works for the government." Everyone else in my class did, too. There would be a few whose dads were in the military and their kids knew their ranks and stuff. The rest of us really didn't have a clue, nor did we much care. Daddy went off in the bus at seven and as long as he came home in time to carve the meatloaf and dish up the green bean bake, that was all we needed to know. There's evidence that I didn't even know everything my mom did, even though she did it right there at home. At least, by the time I'd gone to college, it would appear I believed in laundry fairies.
When I got into my teenage years I knew enough to say "my father is a statistician for the Veterans' Administration." Sometimes I'd say "mathematician" because it sounded smarter. But still, to this day, I do not know exactly what he did every day when the bus dumped him off in D.C. There's something about people being dead and gone that makes you suddenly way more curious about them than you were when they were around to answer questions.
I did not contribute to the general obfuscation about jobs. I was a mailman. Everyone knows just what that is. Most people think it's sort of cute.
|Spanky Grommet Flapper|
All I know from that is that candlesticks are not involved. "I support operations for the grommet synchrony module," she might as well have said, adding, with a chuckle, "basically, I'm a spanky grommet flapper." And everyone in the room smiles and nods and someone remarks that you can't swing a dead cat around here without smacking a spanky grommet flapper. Merriment ensues. Someone eventually notices my blank look and wonders if I need to have the explanation drawn on my forehead with a crayon.
I used to stick letters through holes in people's houses. That's right. Ask me what a letter is all you want, kids--I'm not telling.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Second floor? Forget it. Whatever vapors deigned to coax the first floor into the low sixties were sucked straight out the walls and windows before encountering the second floor. That's where our bedroom was. Our breath froze on the windows to the point of being chippable. I bought flannel sheets. I had insulation blown in. I think it was more a suggestion of insulation. We don't really know where that insulation ended up. You're supposed to trust the blower guy.
We bought a cord of wood that first year but then Dave kept coming upon discarded pallet material and whatnot and before long he had developed a habit of scrounging waste wood from construction sites, a habit that continues to this day. "What does your husband do now that he's retired?" people ask, and the first thing I think of is his butt in the air bent over a dumpster scouting for dimensional lumber. All our wood is free, if you put no value on his labor and willingness to dumpster-dive and saw shit up for our stove.
We each had our bailiwicks. I'd pay for utilities, for instance, and he'd pay for food. It just sort of settled out that way, and after about five or ten years of shivering in the dark, Dave announced that he was going to (dammit) pay for fuel, and he (by cracky) planned to pay for some right then and there. He'd buy us a tankful of oil, and stride right up to the thermostat and flip the lever Like A Man. The problem was--and he knew it--something else was responsible for my heat tightwaddery. There have always been things I'm totally cheap about and other things I can't throw enough money at. My budget for good beer would buy a lifetime of BTUs. I'll go out and spend enough money on one dinner + tip to pay for a hundred mosquito nets for African kids. I buy Art. But I'll reuse the same Kleenex until it's saturated and if it has enough integrity to hold up when it dries I'll pull it out flat and start over. And I can hardly bear to heat my house.
When I was a kid our house was always cold. I remember crawling behind my mom's Electrolux vacuum cleaner because the exhaust coming out of the back end was warm. Sensing the oil heat flying out of the house makes me squirm. Maybe early on it was about the money, but now it just seems wasteful in a way that drinking good beer just doesn't. We have natural gas heat now, but that isn't much better. I hate to pull all this fossil fuel out of the ground and squander it just because it's hard to move with ten sweaters on. I'm not out of sweaters yet.
It's the curse of the liberal. I'm totally cool with having a wonderful meal and supporting my local farmer and brewer and restaurateur and wait staff. One of my favorite local joints was in an old drafty concrete electrical substation building that was impossible to heat. The waiters tucked Pendleton blankets around our laps and then brought us Pad Thai. I felt right at home.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Elena Kagan is nicely adhered to the bench on the Supreme Court now, but it was touch-and-go there for a while during her nomination process. Someone spaded up a damaging photograph of her and flang it all over the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It depicted a much younger Kagan squaring up at the plate, softball bat in hand, proof positive that the alarmingly unmarried nominee was a lesbian. Which is ridiculous. Because she totally could have been faking it.
That's what I was doing back in 1976, when I signed up in the city softball league to play second base for Sappho's Sluggers. The Sluggers was a team of women who had never played team sports before, and for good reason. We were each terrible on our own, and as a group we were completely hopeless. An ace player for the much better Lavender Menace team took us on as a project, believing women--or womyn, or wimmen, take your pick--could accomplish anything with the right training and opportunity. It was an idealistic time.
So I threw myself into the infield drills and afterwards followed my teammates into dingy bars with no names, trying to work up an interest in breasts, but it was no use. I talked a good game, but my libido kept dropping the ball. The thought that I'd have to fake pleasure with women as well as with men was disheartening, and I wasn't at all sure I could pull it off. Also, Goddess forgive me, I hated lavender.
Worse, I found out that it was my new friends who were bigoted. Gay liberation was in its early stages, and separatism was the order of the day. Men were avoided at every turn, socially, commercially, and, if at all possible, visually. Fathers and brothers were scorned. Even litters of kittens were purged--I did not care to know how--of males. Clearly, my egalitarian views were not shared. In a group whose grievances were this new and raw, you were in, or you were out.
My boyfriend had adopted the ideals of the day too. He made no claim on me, loath to be a tool of suppression, and took up a discreet perch in the back of the bleachers to cheer me on as unobtrusively as possible. He did enjoy watching, particularly when I ran the bases, which was by all accounts a lurching, chaotic affair. "Everything's moving," he'd say, marveling, "but nothing's going forward."
Joan Armatrading was a mandatory fixture on every lesbian stereo in town, and, true to her lyric, I was not in love, but I was open to persuasion. Unfortunately, the more I hung out with my teammates, the more I had to suppress. Bisexuality may have seemed like a sensible condition to me, who had always had solid friendships of either sex, but it was not acceptable to Sappho's Sluggers, who demanded a purer allegiance. I backed further and further into the closet. Ultimately a raven-haired beauty developed a crush on me, and my ideals went head-to-head with my lack of arousal. We had made it to third base and she was rounding toward home. One afternoon she let herself into my apartment and discovered my boyfriend and me in a friendly circumstance. The jig wasn't the only thing that was up.
But in 1976, all of us Sluggers, even those who never scored, learned to keep our eyes on the ball and back each other up. As a team, finishing up the season with a record unblemished by success, we managed to be proud of our roles in smashing a sturdy steretype. We proved that not all lesbians are good athletes.
Some of us aren't even lesbians.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Dave was the one who thought I should get a digital camera. He said it would be really useful for my artwork. I didn't want it, because I'd have to learn something new, and I hate that. He bought it for me anyway. A week later--I'm sure this has happened to all of us--I wanted to draw a picture of a Tyrannosaurus rex peering through gingko leaves, but I didn't have any reference material for a gingko tree. (The tyrannosaur was hard to come by too.) So I took my new camera a couple blocks away and fired off some shots of a gingko tree. My computer hoovered them right up and displayed them for me. Damn. That was slick.
The thing took better pictures than my fancy camera and cost nothing to process. Now I can point it outside my window and fire off fifty pictures in a row of my resident alpha hummingbird, whom Dave named Hannibal Nectar, just in case he turns his head just right and I get the bright fuchsia flash. Three or four of them will be terrific, but all fifty of them will be in my computer. I've now taken four billion photographs, give or take, and they're all in there somewhere. If I need to find one, I have to remember about when I took it, and that is not my strong suit.
In fact, if you asked me to name three things that happened to me in the Eighties, I wouldn't be able to slide a stake into any one thing for certain. One of the things would have really taken place in some other decade, and one of them will have happened to somebody else altogether that I have confused myself with. Remember when I fell off the back of the boat trying to give a toast? and someone will say that was Harold. And you weren't there. Oh.
Or if I'm trying to find a picture of a particular person, in theory I should be able to use the face-recognition feature on the computer. But I've boycotted that little sucker ever since the day I got an odd angle on a 4-H exhibit at the state fair and my computer asked if it was me.
There has to be a way of organizing these things. I hadn't had the digital camera that long--long enough to have a couple thousand photos though--and Dave said, you know? You should pick out the best ones and print them out and put them in a real album, like the old days. But the sheer volume of photos is overwhelming, and has a way of stripping you of your last round tuit.
|There it is!|
Somewhere I have a good photo of an automobile that is completely covered in moss. It would be a great illustration for a blog post about our local climate. I needed it once and by the time I'd flipped through all four billion photos on the machine I realized I could take a new photo of a different mossy car faster than I could find the original, and I was right. I don't know where anything is. I have no idea what to do about this problem. It's like riffling through my entire vocabulary in alphabetical order to find the end of my sentence. Sadly, in fact, I happen to know it's exactly like that, dammit.
Supposedly there's some kind of cloud out there where I can put all my photos, but that sounds awfully ephemeral for someone already contending with brain fog. Once I sent them up there, how could I rain them back down?
It doesn't matter what you have a picture of now--if you ask people if they want to see your candid photo of Donald Trump in an updraft, they'll say sure! and wait for you to finger through everything on your phone, or they'll slouch behind you at your computer waiting for you to find the shot, but they don't really want to see it. Everyone is sick to death of looking at a screen. They're just being polite. People do still like pawing through the old albums. Time passes more reasonably in the albums; flip a couple pages, you gain a few years. They look at pictures of you thirty years younger, and then back at you like you're a cautionary tale. They're alarmed, but they love it.
|No, I'm not scanning THOSE photos for you.|