Pumpkinhead

It’s Always the Pangolins With You People

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

Wu Yuanbin said that regarding the South China Agricultural University team’s suggestion that pangolin may be one of the intermediate hosts of the new coronavirus, the relevant scientific research team is being organized to test this hypothesis. Research on the spread of new coronavirus from pangolin to humans is also being stepped up.  (https://promedmail.org/promed-post/?id=7009213)

What is it with you soft-bellied bipeds and taking responsibility for once?  New virus outbreak?  Blame the Pangolins.  Too many insects in the crops?  Blame the Pangolins.  Bernie won’t stop muddying the Democratic primaries?  Pangolins.  Why is it any time there’s a new global disaster, someone’s doing a Pangolin hit piece in the New Republic? 

Really, we’re getting pretty sick of taking the fall for every little thing that goes wrong with you people.  You’ve been doing it for years.  JFK?  Blame the Pangolins.  Do you know the most redacted word in the Mueller report?  Of course you don’t, that’s what redacted means, but I’ll give you a hint:  Starts with a P, rhymes with angolin. 

Kid won’t go the fuck to sleep?  Invoke the giant pangolins.  Like it’s our fault Mrs. Knowles brought cupcakes to preschool again and little Johnny ate more sugar than most third-world families see in a month.  Jimmy Hoffa?  Well, ok, yeah, that was us.  You do NOT fuck with a pangolin.  You’ll never find that crooked son of a bitch.  But that’s not the point.

The point is you don’t take responsibility.  Pangolins didn’t meddle in the election – humans did. Pangolins didn’t eat the plums in the icebox you were probably saving for breakfast.  Humans did.  Pangolins aren’t making sea levels rise, or causing respirator mask shortages, or forcing old rich white guys to run for president.  Quit blaming us for your shit, and take your “novel” coronavirus and stick it where the moon don’t shine.  I swear just thinking about it makes me want to curl up into an oversized pinecone and wait it out. 

So, sure, go ahead and tell yourselves it’s the Pangolins when you’re coughing all that Wuhan death-market dust out of your lungs.  How about not selling our scales as medicine for a change?  You know what I hear cures coronavirus?  Dried, ground up politician penis.  Try selling that on the black market.  It would be nice to balance the scales for once.  Scales, get it?  That’s a joke.  God, you’re dumb. 

The thing is, we don’t need to mess with you. You’re messing things up just fine on your own. You’re so full of yourselves and your xenophobic blame-someone-else mentality that you don’t even notice it – you’re like lemurs, but without the cute fur.  You don’t see lemurs complaining about new viruses. 

So just like the Earth, your temperature is going up 3 degrees?  We don’t care.

It’ll all be ours when you’re gone.  Then we can blame you for a change.

Pumpkinhead

Farewell to the Decade

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

Twenty Twenty. 24 hours to go, but even less than that now, and this would have been a good decade to be sedated – at least for the tail end.

It started pretty well. From the start of 2010 through the end of 2012, there were, to my surprise as much as anything, 414 separate BUMD posts and updates. From 2013 onward, there have been 83 posts in the remainder of this decade, including this one. I can no longer imagine having the time, much less the energy, to write that much. I would love to vow to get back on that track and get back to writing more, but that would look too much like a campaign promise – sounds great, sells well, followup unlikely. The only difference is that I would, in fact, mean it. Honest!

Turning our thoughts to the end of the year looks better. Decades are big, complicated things to wrap up and review; that’s why we invented years in the first place – they’re like little bite sized chunks of a decade that we can tear off with our teeth, and if ever there was a year that needed to be ripped out with our teeth, man, 2019 might be the one.

That said, it wasn’t all bad. I posted in 2017 a short guide for the next 4 years, and those 4 years are coming due. We need to continue to persevere, to persist, and to punch above our weight class in speaking truth not just to power but to ignorance, in speaking acceptance to intolerance, in speaking the language of love to the rhetoric of hate.

Those are good words – I’m good at that. (Go read them again, if you like; I’ll wait. Feel free to use them.) But action is harder. I haven’t done a lot, personally, to foster those conversations – I haven’t marched, I haven’t protested, I haven’t even learned to knit pussy hats. I have noticed some good examples, though, outside of politics. There are a few things – a few people, really – that just make the world a smaller, kinder, and perhaps more hopeful place.

One of them is a friend we call Auntie Jenny. She started a Facebook group dedicated to living with mindful intention, to setting small, attainable goals, and to generally being there for people. It’s grown to more than 1500 people and has turned into a community of devotees who mostly try to channel their inner Mr. Rogers – posting their triumphs and tragedies, offering advice when asked and consolations, commiserations, or congratulations when not. Imagine! Complete strangers posting intimate details about their lives to the Internet and receiving validation and support. Weird, right? It makes me happy.

Another person who makes me happy is one I’ve written about before:
Pita Taufatofua, the well-oiled Tongan. If he qualifies for Tokyo this coming July, he will be one of only 15 people to have participated in 3 Olympics in a row, and possibly the only one to do so in 3 different sports. He seems by all accounts to be a terrifically good-natured person, dedicating his life to showing the world what a human can accomplish if they really put their somewhat crazy mind to it. (Yes, it helps that he’s impossibly good looking.) Like Auntie Jenny, I think he sets an example of the greatness of the human spirit. I just sent him a few dollars to help keep him in his kayak; you can help here if you’re inclined – or even if you just like looking at oiled up muscles on the big screen!

You don’t always see words like “nice” next to words like “indomitable,” but there you have it: These are nice people who, with indomitable wills, are doing their own small part to make the world a little bit nicer, maybe a little weirder, and setting an example from which I take some hope – we CAN make a difference. We can create small communities of considerate people, which can create bigger communities and eventually, nations. Eventually, worlds.

Which brings me to the last part of 2019. The Queen Mother of Pink left us this February, and this will be my first New Year’s Eve year in something like 20 years that I don’t call her at the stroke of midnight, yell “Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit,” and hang up. Well, I tried to hang up, but half the time she’d say it first because she always knew it was me. She’d remind me that it was her dad’s birthday, and she’d stay up every year to toast him and wish him a happy birthday. I’d give her an increasingly brief update on the kids and that would be that. It was harder as she got deafer, but she always knew it was me, and yelled all the right things even when I was pretty sure she couldn’t hear me in the first place. Last year, she called me around 10pm my time and said, “Rabbit rabbit rabbit, I’m more than a hundred years old and I’m going to bed!”

She was a nice person with an indomitable will, and she left the world a little bit nicer, a little goofier, and she set an example from which I take some hope.

In 2020, I will hope to see the good in people who have good in them. I will hope to notice early and reasonably avoid those people (and they’re out there) who don’t. I can’t be Greta Thunberg, or Pita, or even Auntie Jenny, but I can be myself. I can remember to think before I speak and – with intention – I can speak truth to ignorance, speak acceptance to intolerance, and speak the language of love to the rhetoric of hate. And so can you.

Happy New Year to you all!

.

Pumpkinhead

I Have Some Reservations About Waiting

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

Saturday was a day. And by a day, I mean moving the Human Tape Recorder back to college, which was an exercise in waiting in lines, and then driving SOBUMD to her MRI, which was an exercise in waiting in rooms, and then getting dinner, which was an exercise in saying “Huh?”

On the college side, the waiting was for a large cart, into which one can load most (but not all) of the first SUVful of one’s stuff. (She’s an upperclasswoman now – it takes 2 SUVfuls of stuff to properly outfit her half of the room.) To acquire a cart, the HTR had to provide her student ID, phone number, proof of residency, blood-lien against 1/7th of her soul, and first round draft options on any eventual children she might have. This is not what took the time, though – the bottleneck was with the crew signing the carts back in. This is a university that can build and deploy actual food-delivery robots capable of navigating sidewalks, pedestrians, and automobile traffic, but they can’t figure out how to put a GPS or even a damn barcode on a bunch of 3 x 5 foot carts. No one’s going to steal these, folks. Honest.

On the MRI side, once the HTR was properly loaded, unloaded, reloaded, and in line to return the cart, I came home and drove SOBUMD to her appointment in some magnets. In fact, it was just her foot, but I saw none of this as I waited in the waiting room. For the most part, I had it to myself, so that wasn’t so bad.

Once complete and in possession pictures of the inside of her foot, which I may or may not include in this year’s holiday letter, we realized we were quite hungry. The nearest food was Sweetwater Tavern, which checked many of our boxes – good food, dependable, and less than a 2-minute drive. Putting thought into action, we popped over and walked in, as walk-ins, at 7:47 pm.

It was, in fact, a Saturday night, and we were unannounced. It was, in fact, packed. There were people waiting outside. There were people waiting inside. There were people waiting pretty much all over the place. We assumed there would be some bit of a wait.

“Party of 2? Do you have a reservation with us tonight?”
“We do not.”
“Okaaaaay,” says the maitre ‘d, looking at her computer, “the first available seating I have for you will be around 9pm. The wait is around an hour and 15 minutes. Is that OK?”

Obviously, that wasn’t going to be OK, we were already hungry and not well positioned to stand at the bar for 75 minutes – between having her foot in a boot and her foray into sobriety, going on a year now, SOBUMD is decidedly not standing at a bar for any length of time. Besides, the HTR’s university food-delivery robots can beat that time. We stumped back to the car to update our dinner plans. It was now 7:53 in the evening.

“That’s funny,” she said, “This reservation app on my phone says I can book a table for two at 8pm. Hold on.” Click. Click. Click click. “Go back in there and tell them we have a reservation.”

“Party of 2? Do you have a reservation with us tonight?”
“We do, for 8pm.”
“Okay,” says the maitre ‘d, looking at her computer, “would you like inside out outside seating?”
“First available would be great.” It was now 7:55 pm.

At one minute past 8pm, SOBUMD and I were ushered to our table, total elapsed time, 14 minutes – during which we had walked in, walked out, discussed 5 other local restaurants, and proved to the maitre ‘d that we own smartphones. I conjectured that this was, perhaps, a ploy on the part of Sweetwater Tavern to keep out the phone-less riffraff, those poor undesirables who might fail to post #photos of their #dinner to their Instagram accounts. (SOBUMD much more practically conjectured that they’re probably just idiots, but I prefer to look deeper.)

I am left to wonder if any restaurant, so encumbered and in thrall to its technology that it will turn away hungry patrons who are literally standing inside their establishment seeking sustenance, in favor of potential diners who might click their way past the front desk, can long survive. Had SOBUMD not happened to check the app – after we had returned to our car, engine idling, ready to take our hunger and our wallets elsewhere – we most certainly would not have spent our money at Sweetwater last night. Had I been alone, I would have been long gone – I’m much more a Luddite than she is.

As it happened, we enjoyed our respective meals, paid the check, and walked out just at 9pm. (Ironically, this was also the exact time the HTR finally reached the front of the cart-return line.)

“Hey, hon?” I said as we left.
“Yes?”
“Good news! Your table’s finally ready.”
“Idiots.”

Pumpkinhead

The Great Fairfax Coffee Caper

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

You know that feeling when you’re looking for the UPS drop box because you got a Nespresso machine for Father’s Day and you’ve finally filled up the bag they give you to send the canisters (don’t call them pods, dear god, not making that mistake again) back for recycling, and you’re in a bit of a hurry to hustle those suckers out of the house because the bag with the used coffee pods, pardon me, canisters, had that nice coffee smell for about the first 3 hours but for the last 2 months it’s just smelled of rancid coffee mildew death, as does the cabinet it was in, and now that the bag’s in your car you’ve got maybe 30 minutes before the odor permeates the supposedly impregnable plastic of your simulated rosewood dashboard and interior trim? 

That feeling?  No? 

Well, let me tell you.

UPS Drop Box!
Who the hell is Carolyn?

There we were, dropping the Human Tape Recorder off for her appointment at the Carolyn Building.  We knew that it was call the Carolyn Building because it said on the UPS App.  There are no other recorded instances of anyone ever referring to it by this name.  We wondered who Carolyn was, and the Human Tape Recorder replied that it was very likely some chick named Carolyn who’d had a package delivered there one time in 1993, and they figured, what the heck, good a name as any.  I mean, Carolyn sounds like something your kid sister would have as a middle name in the ‘70s or something.

But there was the UPS App, claiming that there’s a drop box there, into which we can drop our UPS postage paid package of rancid coffee grounds. 

Of course the Carolyn Building was locked, but the Human Tape Recorder had the code. The primary code didn’t work, but the universal code worked.  (The universal code is “knock twice and show some cleavage.”  The guy with the cleaning supplies almost tripped letting her in the door.)  The Human Tape Recorder vanished up the elevator for her appointment and we drove around back to find the UPS drop box. 

It wasn’t there. 

Luckily, the App showed there was another box a few buildings down.  And there might be, too, but if so it wasn’t outside, and the building was locked.  No box.

Next building.  No box.  Drive a little farther.  Next building.  No box.  Drive a little farther.  Next building.  No box.  Check the door.  Locked.  No box.  The car is starting to smell of fair trade privilege and decay.  Hurry to the next location on the UPS App, around the parking lot, in the back – there, two boxes!  Saved!

No.  One box was USPS and the other might have started life as a UPS box, but it had turned into a FedEx box since the UPS App pushed its most recent update. 

I came close to dropping it in the FedEx box.  Same concept, right?  People must mix those up all the time. 

I can just hear them in the Great Shared Sorting Facility:
“Fred, got one of yours here.” 
“Thanks Bob, here’s two for you, Texas.  What’s that one say?”
“Nespresso pods, er, canisters.”
“Aww shit, really?  Trade ya?  Those things stink.”
“Heh.  All yours good buddy, says UPS on it.  All yours.”

But I’m not sure I really believe in the Great Shared Sorting Facility, and so, being a responsible coffee drinker, I continued to risk my car and nasal cavities by driving a little farther down the line.  We found a dead end, which held some merit but didn’t seem sporting, since there were houses there, and we found a Dumpster, which I have a really hard time distinguishing from a UPS Drop Box some times.  (The reverse is also true, which is also why I’m never going back to a certain business park near that bar in Cleveland.)

Finally, the UPS App map swore there was supposed to be a drop box at Building 3251, which is called Building 3251.  We found it by dint of winding up parked right in front of it; SOBUMD asked what the address was, and I had to open the sunroof to check the numerals, which are two stories high, declaring themselves to the world, from the rooftop.  Right building…  And, closed.  Box inside.  I could see it. 

As with the Carolyn Building, there was a person inside 3251 with cleaning supplies.  As an overweight, middle-aged Big Ugly Man Doll, doors DO open when I flash my cleavage, but they’re usually doors that you can’t unlock from the inside, and sometimes the officers bang your head on the car as they put you through them, and besides, the flashing lights give me the headache.  So, that was out.

We went around.  The back was no good.  Well, it might have been good, but there was a party happening in the rear of the parking lot, with a nice fire going.  It seemed like a very well-attended party.  Since we hadn’t been invited, possibly because of our having a fixed address and boring shit like that, we decided discretion was the better part of valor. We went around to the front of the building and pulled into the exit lane, to return to the open road and continue our quest. 

I just needed to wait for that UPS truck to turn in front of me.

Picture it!  There I was, about T-minus 3 minutes before our stinking rattle-sack pillow of coffee bones and despair leaked enough malodorous malevolence that I’d have to buy a new car, and there’s a big brown box truck of deliverance turning left right in front of me!

“Follow that truck!” I shouted. 

“You have GOT to be kidding me,” said SOBUMD.  I did a right and proper, by which I mean highly illegal, U-turn and pulled in behind the truck, as he stopped at Building 3251.

I pulled in right behind him, looked at SOBUMD again (she was holding the baby), and said, “Right, out you pop!”

“You have GOT to be kidding me,” she repeated, handing me the flopping aluminum stink-sack.

I got the bag out of the car with only seconds to spare – the paint was starting to peel, and that was on the inside. 

The poor UPS driver climbing out of the truck had clearly been busy hating his life to start with, and being handed a squirmy baby made of shifting aluminum and sustainably harvested, eye-watering compost canisters did nothing to change that. 

“I didn’t find the box, but I did find you,” I said with the good cheer of a man who now doesn’t need to file a dubious insurance claim about that smell in my car.  He took the bag.

“Yeah.” 

He tossed the bag onto the floor of the truck.  Clang-kerclunk-rattle-pew-thud.

“Thank you!” 

“Yeah.” 

I could see the delight in his eyes, and by delight I mean the flashbacks of loves lost, poor decisions, and bad fashion choices that had lead him to this job, this truck, this route – on this night.  The pod people were always coming for him.  Or canister people.  Whatever. 

We left the poor UPS man with the steaming sack of a hundred used cups of Joe and peeled out of there before he could change his mind and/or quit his job.  As luck would have it, the final UPS App Drop Box effort had landed us across the street from a dessert store called, in an example of truth-in-advertising gone too far, The Dessert Store.  (I have to assume they share an ad agency with Building 3251.)  It’s in a strip mall with not one, not two, but three hookah shops, two of them actually adjacent to one another, and a clock and watch repair guy who probably closes at 5pm on the very, very, precise dot, presumably for a smoke.

We got some desserts, because how else does one celebrate one’s emancipation from certain coffee mildew death, and besides, it’s what they sell at the Dessert Store.  We watched the rain, raining sidewise for a bit.  Two young women walked out, decided they’d wait on the bench outside, started to get drenched and came hesitantly back in.  I told them that rain like that was a good reason to stay for more dessert.  I guess I sounded convincing, because they were still eating when we left, as the rain dissipated.  I should be in sales.

From there, we still had a nominal amount of time to kill before picking up the Human Tape Recorder at what we now knew to be the Carolyn Building, and we’d already called Geico.  (Geico has actually blocked my number at this point.)  We went to Starbucks.  Closed.  They roll the sidewalks up early in Fairfax.  We drove past enough other places that I wondered what these people do for fun in the evenings, other than smoking hookah and dreaming eponymous dreams.  Finally, we found Earth Fare, with 9 minutes remaining to shop before they closed.  We shopped in 7 minutes, because we’re professionals, and because I dragged SOBUMD out, to her consternation, with only 4 bottles of coconut amino acids.  Her coupon is actually good until December, which is good, because we’ll be back.  The checkout person was throwing things into our bag at near relativistic speeds to ensure our timely departure, while maintaining a smile all the time.  She may have been a robot. 

Thus happily unencumbered by coffee canisters of dubious odor, equally happily encumbered with snacks, and grave with desserts, we pressed on our appointed rounds in time to retrieve the Human Tape Recorder.  She emerged, asking after our evening.  We launched into this recitation and she said something on the order of “Oh, yeah, the UPS box is right inside, I could have brought that in.” 

Next time.  Next time. 

And so ends the saga of The Great Fairfax Coffee Caper. 



Pumpkinhead

Dear Gram

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

Over the course of the last 10 years or so, I sent my grandmother a number of letters, on the order of 40 or so. Mostly, I told her, this was because she didn’t own a computer, and I didn’t feel that the lack of a computer and Internet access should exempt her from having to read the deathless prose of the Big Ugly Man Doll. She was, after all, the Queen Mother of Pink! (And yes, I addressed most of the envelopes to “The Queen Mother of Pink” at her address. The Post Office had no trouble finding her.)

This was mostly the hubris of her eldest grandchild speaking, but I was reliably informed that she appreciated the updates – by her, because she often wrote back with comments. (The comments were often variants on “you’re out of your mind,” proving that comments on blogs are the same the world over, regardless of medium.) The other reason I sent the letters, though, was because I was never really great at sending thank you notes when I was young, despite Gram’s unfailing ability to remember my birthday. (Between Christmas, birthdays, Easter, and Valentine’s day, for myself and all my cousins, and all of our kids, she must have sent literally thousands of cards – possibly keeping the local Hallmark afloat.)

I know she kept quiet track of the notes: When she found out that I had joined my high school debate team, she sent me the one medal she’d won while she was on HER high school debate team. I thought this was pretty cool, and when I won a (one and only) medal, I gave mine to her the next time we were in Chicago. She thanked me and laughed and said, “This gets you off the hook for a lot of missing thank you notes!”

The Queen Mother of Pink
The Queen Mother of Pink

The Queen Mother of Pink passed away a few days ago, at 101, in her own home, just as she’d said she would. She lived her life her way, tiny and fierce, short of stature and strong of will. She was the nicest person I know of, and certainly the nicest person I’ve ever known in person. Nice was never the same as weak – she had a will of iron. I learned a lot from her.

And so, finally, one last Thank You note – late, as usual.

Dear Gram,

So, you’re dead. I’m sure you’ve finally got WiFi now, so I know you’re reading this. I’ll miss your reply, typed on the old Smith Corona – I never understood how you did that with non-standard paper sizes. Even the checks were typed.

Thank you for teaching me what power grandmothers have. My earliest memories of you are from Omaha: You and Grandpa were visiting, and I was perhaps 5 or 6. I had been being my most usual self, I’m sure, and was about to get in trouble for it. I heard the words, “Do you need a spanking?” And suddenly, before I could say anything, I heard “Oh, not while Grandma’s here!” I’m sure my mother must have been near apoplexy, but to me, this was paramount to Mr. Rogers himself reaching through the television to intercede on my behalf. Wow!

Thank you for providing a road map on how to age without really getting old. You earned a college degree in the 1930s, and you never stopped learning. Learning to drive in your 50s? Going back to a local college in your 70s and 80s, to audit courses about the history that you’d lived through? That’s genius. Staying in your house, in your 90s and 100s, because it was your house and you damn well felt like it – that was maybe a little goofy, but strong. And reading – I didn’t get to your house very often, but there were always books. Not a library, hording them like I do, but you were always reading some new books.

And thank you for being an example. As I face my 50th year, I think of all the things you saw. You saw two states admitted to the union, and three Federal holidays created.  You were there to see cars replace horses; you saw Ford replace the Model T with the Model A.  You saw the infield fly rule amended to not apply to bunts. You lived through 18 Presidents, starting with Woodrow Wilson. (Jimmy Carter was the first one younger than you were!) You saw the end of the Great War, and then presided over a century that saw little else. 

And yet none of those things made you jaded, or less hopeful – not even the infield fly rule. You saw the good in people.

Thank you for sharing some of the stories about that history. You told me that when the victory in Europe was announced in May of 1945, and everyone was banging pots and pans in the street to celebrate, you had to use a stool to reach some of yours from the cabinet – and this was when Uncle George first realized, “Mommy, you’re short!” The end of the war? Never mind that – his mom had to use a stool to reach the pots! Man, that was a milestone!

One of these days, I shall compile my letters to you, with your replies, and post them as an epistolary record. Just to be goofy.

I’m sure you’re enjoying things there. I hope they have Twinkies, and Peeps for Grandpa. We’ll keep things moving down here, and we’ll try to live up to the examples you set – in niceness, in compassion, and in strength. Maybe not in pink, honestly, but I’ll see what I can do.

Much Love as Always,

-Big Ugly Man Doll

Pumpkinhead

1 January 2019 – Long Letter Follows

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

Still aint’n dead.  Missed most of the last year – slept right through it.  Will work on updating this more often – a genuine, shiny new year’s resolution.  Hey, I’ve got to have something to fail at, right?

Be well, stay safe, think positive thoughts about the end of the current administration.  The watchword for 2019 is HOPE.

Oh, and be nice to each other while I’m away.  Your fellow humans are going through a lot right now.

Bide.  And hope.

Pumpkinhead

Of Birthdays and Saints

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

When did I get old?

Nine pm used to mean there were 4 more hours left to pack in every inch of an exciting life. Later on, 9 pm meant another 2 more hours in the day.  Now 9 pm means I’m late for my medication and need to get to bed as soon as I can. What the hell happened? 

When the kids were going through puberty – when they started, that is, since they’re not all completely finished with the process – we got them a book called something like “Hey, What’s Going On Down There?  A Teenager’s Guide to Your Changing Body.”  

We need to update this book.  

Now that I’m staring down the barrel of 50, I think we need a book of our own:  Same concept, same title, but a drop-head like “A 50-Something’s Guide to What the Hell Just Happened to Your Body.”  It would include chapters like “Is it Supposed to Look Like That?”, “Never Trust a Fart,” and “Three Ways to Tell if You’re Actually Urinating RIGHT NOW!”  (Hey, it’s not like we can see it anymore.)  There could be a handy guide in the back for dealing with insurance companies.  

My parents gave me The Talk when I hit puberty, but I feel like they fell down on the job with the “Next Talk,” which parents should have with their kids when you hit about 45 or so.  Not their fault – as a society, we don’t talk about this kind of thing.  I guess women talk to each other a bit about menopause, but trust me that guys Never Talk About Anything.  No 50-something dude has ever swiveled his chair around, leaned over to the cubicle next to him, and asked a co-worker, “Hey, Tom, is yours getting smaller?”  We don’t talk about it. 

(Imagine if he did, though:  “Does it still work?  As long as it works, size is NOT the biggest issue.”)

So, I’m getting old.  I’m so old that I remember when loose coupling described a dating technique and then, later, a programming technique.  (Although honestly, for most of us geeks, it described a programming technique and a dating concept with which we would have liked to become familiar.) 

As I reflect on my birthday today, I realize that these days, loose coupling describes the relationships between most of my bodily functions.  

We need to be talking to our kids as they hit their late 40s and early 50s, and try to prepare them for these changes.  Imagine Carrie’s 30th High School reunion, wondering why we’re all suddenly incontinent?  “Son, your shit’s gonna start falling apart, and that’s OK.”  I’ve had shit stop working that I didn’t even know I had in the first place.  Plus I’m still in denial about my glasses.  Luckily, I don’t really need them, except to read and to see things at a distance.  Other than that, I’m fine.  

But it’s not all bad.  As I rack up birthdays, I realize that I still don’t have even half as many as The Queen Mother of Pink, who’s 99.  With any luck, I’ll have years to complain about my shit slowly falling apart.  Gram doesn’t complain, though – she just powers through.  Ninty-nine years old and still, she persists.  Pretty good role model, if you ask me.

The Three Lunatic Children are getting funnier, too, and faster on the draw, so that’s another advantage to getting old:  watching them grow into their own.  Sometimes they go out of their way to sound like me, which is most certainly going to get them into trouble one of these days.  I mean, look how I wound up?  The oldest one got me a few nights ago:

HTR:  I was thinking about déjà vu.
BUMD:  I‘ve thought about that before.
HTR (without missing a beat):  I knew you were gonna say that. 

Birthdays – they’re like the ultimate déjà vu, until they’re not.  But since it’s my birthday, I want to tell you about St. Patrick, who is the reason my middle name is Patrick.  (Actually, that’s not true:  My godfather, Mike Burke, is the reason my middle name is Patrick.  I understand the conversation went something like: “If he’s born on St. Patrick’s Day, you HAVE to name him Patrick!”  “No.”  “Middle name?”  “OK.”   I owe him a debt I can never repay.)

St. Patrick died around 493 – pretty good gig to be remembered for more than 1500 years, to say nothing of having libations drunk in your name every year.  I’m not much given to prayer, but since I seem to have a patron saint of my own, I’ve been thinking about asking him about that whole deal with the snakes.  I’m thinking we could use a good old-fashioned snake drive these days.

So I’m not as old as St. Patrick, nor even half as old as the Queen Mother of Pink, but with the luck of the Irish, I’ll get there!  Perhaps in a thousand years, they’ll be drinking libations in my name as well.  It could happen!  In the meantime, I’ll have one of whatever that man on the floor’s having.

And so, happy birthday to me, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you, Dear Friend, Fond Relation, and Gentle Reader!  Beannachtam na Femle Padraig, and let’s get all these snakes out of here!

Oh, look at the time!   I didn’t realize it was that late – I need to get to bed.

Pumpkinhead

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Next Four Years

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

Don’t Panic.

While I am certain that I do not speak for all Americans, which is these days mainly a question of decibels and volume, I feel comfortable speaking for some reasonable percentage of us when I describe how many of us feel this morning.

If you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should.  There is a scene very early where Earthman Arthur Dent has just regained consciousness on a Vogon spaceship, where his friend has rescued him from what is now the smoking remains of what had been our planet.

“…There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been close to. No reaction. Then he thought of a complete stranger he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket two days before and felt a sudden stab: the supermarket was gone, everyone in it was gone! Nelson’s Column had gone! And there would be no outcry, because there was no one left to make an outcry! From now on Nelson’s Column only existed in his mind. England only existed in his mind. A wave of claustrophobia closed in on him.
He tried again: America, he thought, has gone. He couldn’t grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he thought, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every “Bogart” movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger.
He passed out.”

That’s how many of us feel right now.  The enormity of the situation, the magnitude of the mistake – there is no way for our imaginations to feel the impact of climate change denials and LGBT rights reversals and ACA repeals all at once.  It’s too big.   America has gone.  We can’t grasp it.  Many of us never seriously believed it existed anyway.

Don’t panic.  Yes, the Vogons control both houses of Congress, and we’ve elected The Donald to the White House, Zaphod Beeblebrox with one head and small hands.

I have learned a lot from having kids.  One of the most interesting things we noticed is that all of them – the Human Tape Recorder, Number One Son, and the Reigning Queen of Pink – all went through some of the same mechanisms of growth and development; parenting books and the internet tell us that most children do this as well.  When the kids were little, we’d watch them becoming older, more mature, and marvel at their independence – and then suddenly they’d be clingy and fearful.  It seemed they had regressed two years overnight.  Then, a few weeks or a month later, they bounced out and moved on, standing taller than ever, butterflies with new wings.  They had just needed that reassurance, that sense of touching home base, of being sure that there was a safe place behind them before they moved on to the next part of their broader world view.

That’s how I see America right now.

EIGHT WHOLE YEARS with a black president?  All that LGBT legislation protecting the dignity of all people?  The hard-line conservative core reacted like 6-yr-olds.  There was just too much change, too fast.  With this election, conservative America had a chance to regress for a while, to touch home base, and that’s the way the country voted.

Just like my kids at that age, though, we’ve *seen* the broader world.  The genie is out of that bottle.  We know it will be waiting for us; we know we’re going to go back to it.  America would just like a few more years under a fuzzy blanket, please.   Give us 8, 10, 15 years and we’ll be back where we were and then some; we will remember this episode as an embarrassing and brief blip in our history.

That’s my hope, anyway.  Don’t think it’s inevitable – it’s not.   Don’t think it won’t take a lot of effort – it will.  We need to do our best, as the parents of this still-young country, to keep prodding it to be better, to keep calling our elected officials, to keep yelling when yelling will help. to keep whispering when whispering works, to keep loving the country and the idea of the country.

It seems very dire right now, and many of my friends worry that the current spectacle is reminiscent of the Nazis.  They’re not wrong, and there is evil afoot in the world – it looks like intolerance, it looks like intransigence, it looks like the willful suspension of belief in facts, and we must speak against it when we see it.   Fascism is a scary specter, but don’t think it’s inevitable – it’s not.

America may not have been ready for the social progress that it made, but it will be.  This is a road we’re paving slowly, and the pendulum will swing back toward education, toward tolerance, toward dignity and a more worldly world view.

That’s my hope, anyway.

In the mean time…

Don’t Panic.

 

Pumpkinhead

Of Meteors and Voting

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

Last night was one of the great days of summer, with the chance to lie on the grass and watch stars shooting overhead, as the Perseids come streaking through our atmosphere, heating up and burning themselves out in a flaming blaze of glory as they crash.  The Human Tape Recorder and the Reigning Queen of Pink stayed up all night last night, on beach towels in the backyard, to watch one of natures great fireworks displays.  Around 1230, they woke me to join them.

I’ve always loved meteor showers, so I did as I was told, brought a blanket outside for a while, and stared up at the stars.  Within about 5 minutes, the score was Team Perseids 4, Team West Nile 3, and Team Zika was up to 7 with a hat trick.  Mosquitoes love me.  The girls were sad to see me go back inside, although that may just have been because I had been drawing fire from the flying vampiric plankton that flies around my back yard.  I itched my way back to my own bed and wished them well, but that’s not what I came to tell you about.

I came to talk about the draft election.

Are you on the fence about voting this November?  Let’s say you vote for Trump, and then let’s fast forward a few years into his administration with the current GOP platform.  (Go ahead, read it.  I’ll wait.)  Now, ask yourself these questions:

If your daughter wants an abortion, or worse, needs an abortion, and she can’t, legally, have one, how will you feel about having voted for a misogynist-in-chief? How will you look your daughter in the eye and tell her that you voted for this man knowing that he doesn’t believe she has the right to make decisions about her own body?

If your teen-aged child, maturing in this political environment, is conflicted about their sexuality and wonders about their possible attraction to their own gender, how will they ask you about it? Knowing that you voted for a party that holds hate in high regard, a party that has pledged to repeal laws allowing adults who love one another to marry, how will you look your child in the eye and tell them that you’re looking forward to their straight sibling’s wedding, but that you voted against their right to have one?  If your gay child should leave the nest to live with their same-sex soulmate, will you remind them that you’ve voted against their right to legally adopt your grandchildren?

When your Muslim friends ask about celebrating Eid in their public school and are laughed at, or worse, while walking past the Ten Commandments or the Christmas tree in the school office, how will you look them in the eye and tell them that you voted for a government that values “America’s Judeo-Christian heritage” more highly than America’s heritage of freedom? Will you remind your Hindu friends that you voted for a party that believes a good understanding of the Bible to be indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry?  Just the Bible, not the Koran, not the Talmud, not the Upanishads, or the Tao Te Ching.

When your neighbor asks you to attend their young son’s funeral, how will you look them in the eye and tell them that you voted for increased magazine capacities in automatic rifles?  That you voted for the right of anybody who hears the voice of god whispering in their ear to carry that gun anywhere they go, Linus with a 5.56-mm security blanket and a hundred rounds in the clip, a good guy with a gun until he saw that kid in the hoodie with his phone, wrong place, wrong time, his mom didn’t know he’d stopped taking his meds two weeks ago, our thoughts and prayers are with you?

When your neighbor asks you to attend a loved one’s funeral after they succumb to an anaphylactic allergic reaction because they ate something that wasn’t accurately labeled, how will you look them in the eye and explain that you voted for a party that has pledged to repeal federal mandates for food labeling?

When you look in the mirror in the morning, will you be able to look yourself in the eye knowing that you voted for a party that holds monochromatic monotheism in higher regard than modern medicine, a party that puts faith before fact, a party that will sideline science, social justice, and STEM schools because stem cell research might offend their narrow notion of God?

You don’t have to vote for Hillary Clinton.  I understand.  She’s a career politician, and she’s made the Faustian bargains that career politicians make.  She’s competent, she’s qualified, and she’s not cuddly and likable.  You don’t have to vote FOR anything.

Against, now – that’s another story.   When you go to the polls November 8th, don’t vote FOR anything.  Press the button that says Hillary Clinton.  You’re not really voting for her.  You’re casting your vote against.

Vote against misogyny.

Vote against racism.

The Trump campaign may flame out like a Perseid meteor long before November, a spectacular magnesium flare streaking across our political sky as millions stay up late to watch.  But it might not.

And if it doesn’t, and if in November you find yourself faced with the dilemma of decision, I urge you to cast your ballot for sanity and competence.   If it really bothers you, remind yourself that you’re not voting for Hillary Clinton.

You’re voting against hate.

 

 

 

 

 

Pumpkinhead

A Homestead Weekend

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

So there we were, once again on the open road, driving into a cloudbank from hell. The rains that we drove through that Thursday in June killed 20 people, destroying homes and families alike. The weather is capricious – many people were devastated, while the biggest impact to us was a cleaner car, proving that there is no justice to be found in this world.    It also resulted in a more full hotel, but we would only find that out later.

We were driving into the Homestead, which bills itself as the oldest resort in the country and has the provenance – and sense of antiquity – to back it up.  view2Celebrating 250 years in business this year, it boasts 15,000 acres of fields and forests, with activities ranging from wading and swimming pools to hot springs and warm springs where Thomas Jefferson used to “take the waters” for his health and welfare, from horseback riding and falconry to archery and skeet, from hiking the gorge to just sitting back on the veranda and watching the world go by.  Sitting, typing this from the veranda, I present my view.

I can easily imagine my friend Mark Twain sitting on this same veranda. Mind you, this particular building wasn’t completed until the 1920s, so he certainly didn’t, but he would have enjoyed it.

Thursday dinner was at their Casino restaurant, with a table that couldn’t stop moving.  While the table was loose from the base, and the base was not stable on the floor, we still knew it was actually the Reigning Queen of Pink causing our dinners to bounce – the table was rocking in rhythm. Any of the rest of us and it would have been rocking asymmetrically; with her at the helm, our dinners were executing a perfect sine wave.  The restaurant at the Casino (which turns out of be a word used in its original meaning, which has to do with indoor sports and has nothing, to my regret, to do with gambling) had a small army of staff milling about, which was odd because none of them seemed to be able to find our table.  I mean, the movement might have been throwing them off, but still.

fireworksAs the Homestead is celebrating 250 in business this year, they are setting off fireworks each Friday in the summer.  To further commemorate this 250th anniversary, they’re serving a different cake every day of the year, in the lobby with tea from 3-4pm.  Friday’s was lemon blueberry – most excellent! I can’t imagine more than about 100 ways to do cake; hats off to their chef.

Prom_King_and_QueenSpeaking of Anniversaries: allow me to digress a moment on the reason for the trip. My parents this June celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The same month saw my mother turn 70 a few days later.  They are amazing!  (For those of you doing the math at home, yes, my father plays up the fact that she was a teen-aged bride.)

My father, having been a math major, added 50 with 70 and declared it a 120 celebration – and celebrate we did, with them and the Very Clever Aunt and Her Michael. We are, at least on my side, new to the “resort” scene. In this case, certainly, I could get used to this in a hurry.

Friday we were joined by the aforementioned Very Clever Aunt and Her Michael; dinner was at Jefferson’s.  There any number of amazing restaurants at the Homestead, plus four bars.  In point of fact, dinner was preceded by drinks with Kipling, who went out of his way to ensure that we had excellent seating and an excellent time.  Jefferson’s was a great dinner; I enjoyed braised lamb to die for with gnocchi and sage.  One of the funniest bits was actually a few hours before dinner; I got a call from the restaurant confirming our dinner reservations – they had meant to reach my father.  I decided that I might not be “the” Lang, but I was “a” Lang, and I was qualified to confirm our reservation.  The RQOP, who’s first name starts begins the alphabet, stepped out of the shadows and announced that no, SHE was “A. Lang,” by god.  I stood corrected, but I confirmed the reservations anyway.

nomsFollowing dinner and the fireworks, we retired to the Very Clever Grandparent’s room.  We had all been carefully instructed: “no presents.”  We decided that “no presents” didn’t count if the presents were consumable and stood a good chance of not leaving the grounds.

During the course of the trip, I posted a postcard or two – and found a wonder. I have always wanted to drop a letter into one of those old-fashioned “mail your letters here in this box on the wall” boxes; the old Cutler Mailing System letterboxes.   mailboxAs a former letter carrier, those things were cool – a blend of art and function, usually with old art-deco styling to them.  I doublechecked first, since many times you see them and they’re no longer being serviced or checked on, but the Homestead confirmed that theirs is still in use, and if you’re on the upper floor, you can still drop your letter in the upper box and it will slide into this one.

This town is small enough that the post office closes before noon on Saturday, and the Homestead doesn’t bother – so any mail that misses on Friday will go out Monday.  I am perhaps irrationally excited to have mailed things from a Cutler box.

The next day dawning bright and clear, we hiked the Cascades Gorge. That sounds simple, but it isn’t.  The reason it isn’t is named Brian La Fountain, who is the funniest, most well informed, most energetic, most passionate tour guide I have ever encountered. Number One Son, who does NOT want to go outside much, not only expounded on his appreciation for the hike, but gave Brian a hug – a rare compliment from a 16-yr-old boy.

falls2The hike itself was amazing. I shall include only a sample of the views, because if I posted all the pictures I took, this post would take more time to load than we took hiking the gorge.

Brian explained a dozen things in a dozen ways, and did so while keeping up a running patter of puns and jokes that jollied even my jaded children into enjoying themselves. He is a terrific guide; making sure people can hear him, making sure we understood the rules and their reasons. falls1I also noticed his quiet attention to the details that he didn’t talk about – he was very careful about counting the group, making sure that everyone was keeping up and doing OK with climbing over the wet bridges and steeper rocks, without making it at all obvious that he was doing so: The mark of a great guide is that you don’t see the attention he’s paying. He’s a great guide. He also has a gift for stand-up comedy to rival Leno.  He told us only one lie: He said he was 50 years old.  No one with his exuberance, good looks, and joy de vivre could be so old.

treeballsThe interesting views of nature are not limited to the gorge, however.  Right outside our door was a tree.  Well, a few dozen trees, really, but one of them stood out – most trees, growing as they do straight up and tall, have a somewhat phallic look to them anyway.  Very few have the balls to show for it, though.  (The Human Tape Recorder decided this one much be named Johnny One-Nut.)  The most embarrassing bit is that I took the picture, then sent it in a text to a good friend, female type.

BUMD:  Tree balls – bigger than I thought they’d be!
Her:  Wow that’s an interesting tree.  That protrusion looks quite phallic.
BUMD: Oh my god, I’m sending you deciduous dick pics. I’m so busted!

So, I’ve joined the ranks of the Bros who send dick pics.  I feel so basic!

indoor_poolIn addition to the amazing nature scenes, there are outdoor pools and spas and springs, plus there’s an indoor pool – in case it’s raining, or you’re just feeling indoorsy.  And when I say indoor pool, I mean This Is What I Want My Basement To Look Like.   Is that too much to ask?  This pool is larger than my house and would have made the Romans proud.  One of the best parts of swimming was seeing Her Michael’s tattoo: It says “#FFFFFF TRASH” – which is funny on a lot of levels, not least that it’s only supported by Netscape 5.0 these days.

We had a terrific time all around.  SOBUMD and I were instructed on our golf swings, the girls went horseback riding with FOBUMD, and the ladies took in the wonders of the Spa.  We all wound up in the outdoor pool (of course it has a bar, why do you ask?) at one point or another, complete with its massive water slides.  Canoeing, however, was cancelled due to the torrential rains that we’d driven through – a good call on the part of the Homestead.  There was a delightful dinner at a grill named after Sam Snead, who is famous in the golf world and called this town home.  linda_remingtonOn top of all that, I was very lucky and, with 5 minutes to spare, had the  chance to satisfy a life-long interest in falconry with Remington, the Harris Hawk.

Falconry is fascinating.  It turns out that while much falconry is in fact accomplished with falcons, much more is done with hawks here in the United States.  The Homestead has many birds and trainers; I was introduced to Linda – and Remington.  You need 2 and half years of training apprenticeship to receive a falconry license in the US.  Linda names some of her birds, such as Remington, after guns – because as far as the US fish and wildlife department is concerned, in her hands, that’s a lethal hunting weapon.  remington1This is somewhat incongruous considering that you need practically nothing to own an actual Remington.

Wearing the gauntlet, I had Remington land on my hand and then, with a slight flick of the wrist, sent her aloft again, on her way to the nearby roof.  Despite a wingspan of close to 3 feet, she weighs only slightly more than 2 pounds – and can fly through any opening wider than her chestplate.  Linda had her demonstrate this by standing us increasing close together and convincing her to fly between us – impressively nearly knocking my phone from my hand in the process.  I was wing-whacked a few times – it was an experience I’ve thought about for more than 40 years, and I was thrilled.

boyThat evening was the last, and as fitting of a final dinner at such a place and to commemorate such a 120 celebration, dinner was in the formal dining room.  If you’re picturing something from Downton Abby, you’re not too far wrong.  We dressed, we all dressed.  Even those of us who do not, as a rule, dress for dinner, dressed.

That’s right – the kids cleaned up.  Even Number One Son, who looks slightly like Kramer from Seinfeld in this picture.  Glamour seems to come more naturally to the girls.  girls I tend to wear business attire pretty much every weekday, so the whole business of getting dressed up wasn’t as traumatic for me as it was for Number One Son – he dressed for the ages, for one of the most formal events of his young life.  I dressed for a Tuesday.  Hardly seems fair, really.  Also, the Very Clever Aunt and Her Michael were not exempt from this!  While the caption over their heads states “Birds of North America,” they are from Baltimore, and so technically I think this is a picture of Orioles.jani_michael

The dinner was sumptuous, with live music, yummy wine, appetizers, and dancing – until SOBUMD took her first bite of her dinner and had an anaphylactic reaction to something in the sauce. She’s highly allergic to cinnamon, and while the staff didn’t think there was any in the dish, there must have been something close enough to it.  She had been looking forward to that plate since before we’d arrived, so not being able to eat it was killing her – unfortunately very nearly literally; it took me 20 minutes to get her back to the room, along with several hits from her emergency inhaler and enough Benadryl to stop a horse.  (She decided against the epi-pen only because that would have involved an ambulance ride to the nearest ER, and the Benadryl and inhalers were starting to kick in – along with not wanting to further complicate the evening.)   The rest of the crew was able to finish dinner (although the prime rib evidently got the better of Number One Son), and we all made it to our respective beds.  Luckily, we all woke in the morning as well.

backdoorI woke early and took a few pre-dawn pictures of the place for posterity, to compliment the pictures of the previous evenings.  The building is too large for any one picture; these only just begin to provide a sense of scale.  There are nearly 500 rooms, all of which were full while we were there – largely because The Greenbriar, firepitwhich is only a few dozen miles away, had flooded in the recent rains and sent a lot of its overflow to The Homestead.  Our building itself had taken some water, but nothing compared to the devastation around us.  The wet grounds provided morning fog for the sun to burn through, the kind that armature photographers love.

Eventually the sunrise did what it always does to such times, and it was time be under way, back to the open road, and home.  We returned to our lives feeling like Muggles, bereft of the magic words that had sustained us for the past days:  “Please charge this to room 7155.”   It turns out that doesn’t work at my local grocery store at all.  We also missed the whole concept of having cocktails served before going through for dinner.  mistysunriseThis is an inherently civilized thing to do.  If I could have brought the redoubtable Kipling home with us, I would have.

The after action report on the 120 celebration and the Homestead Weekend was best summed up in an email exchange between FOBUMD, who organized and funded the entire trip, and the rest of us.  A few days after we arrived home and became reacquainted with our more usual standard of living, he sent the entire party a note thanking us for celebrating with them.

For a change, I was speechless.  The English language doesn’t have a lot of good words to convey the sense of appreciation we felt, but I was reminded of FOBUMD’s description of an evening he spent, years ago, with his brother George. “A brother is someone who picks you up in the rain with little notice, takes you home, stays up past 2 am while you talk and finish all his Scotch, then drives you back to the airport in the morning and says ‘Great to see you’ – and means it!”

2dad_julesA father, to continue this example, is someone who celebrates a set of anniversaries and birthdays by taking the whole family to an amazing resort, coordinates specific activities for specific people, makes sure the logistics are so seamless as to be invisible, pays for it all, and then thanks US for coming – and means it.

He concluded that we have the best family in the world, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.  We’re looking forward to the 100th anniversary!