If you haven't seen the video or read a transcript of Stephen Colbert's speech to last night's White House Correspondents Dinner, you're missing something extraordinary.
A teaser: "But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know -- the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know -- fiction."
The president and his wife were less than amused. And, in sharp contrast to the journalistic chortling that took place a couple of years ago, when Bush did his little skit in which he searched fruitlessly for WMD in the Oval Office, the press-types gathered were conspicuously reserved.
Crow doesn't make for a palatable meal. Perhaps their tummies were upset.
The links to the video and the complete transcripts are posted at Democratic Underground.com
Later, my friends.
30 April 2006
If you haven't seen the video or read a transcript of Stephen Colbert's speech to last night's White House Correspondents Dinner, you're missing something extraordinary.
29 April 2006
The phone woke me at 5:49 this morning. I don’t keep a bedside phone, but I was alarmed enough by the early hour that I stumbled my way out of bed and to the kitchen to pick it up before the answering machine kicked in. After all, we don’t get that many calls these days on the land line, and it could have been an emergency call from my elderly mother, or my sister ...
“Hello?” rasp I.
And I’ll be damned if there was nothing but shooooshing static on the other end, the dead giveaway of an automatic dialer out there somewhere. It dialed my number, I picked up, and now it was just a matter of waiting for the, ah, friggin’ telemarketer to catch up with the machine and say through the bad connection cracks and whistles, “Hi! I’m Melinda! You’re a valued customer of ABC Mortgage Company. Did you know that right now is a great time to refinance your home?”
Yeah, we’re on the National Do Not Call List – and thank you, gods of earth, air, water and fire for that – but there’s this little catch. If you’re a customer of a particular company, THEY get to call you before the birds wake up and try to pitch you a deal.
I swear, the trials and tribulations of modern life.
I growled something suitably furious into the handset while it was still shoooshing and hung up, turned around to go back to bed, and there was the psycho-dog, blocking my way, tail wagging at light speed, ears pricked, eyes full of hope.
So I dutifully gave him his morning biscuits, dumped his morning scoop of kibble into his bowl and refilled his water. Then I shambled back to bed, muttering. Dropped back off to sleep almost instantly.
At 6:12 the phone rang again.
Holygods. Maybe it had been a family member after all, and I’d said something ugly and hung up on them, and it had taken them this long to get over the shock and now they were calling back.
Give me a break here. I WAS mostly asleep.
Up I got again, leapt the cat on the way down the hall to the kitchen, and picked it up.
“Hello!” I barked.
“Shooooooooooosh,” said the phone.
This time my comment – I HOPE they record the “shoosh” portion of these autocalls, like they do the rest – was considerably bluer. Obscene, in fact. I hung up again.
I stood there for a moment, looking at the phone. I had no doubt that the moment I dropped back to sleep – and it would be harder to do this time – it would ring again.
Without a qualm, I gently took the handset off the hook and laid it on the old chopping block that serves as a telephone table. By the time I’d fed the cat and turned the faucet in the bathroom to dribble for him, that horrible BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP the phone makes to let you know you’ve left it off the hook had stopped, and I was, yes, wide awake.
I found my slippers and bathrobe, made coffee, watched four Stellar’s jays harass each other at the sunflower seed feeders just outside the kitchen window, and decided to put off taking a shower for a while.
I suffer from a life-long aversion to phones. I’ve never been one of those constant phone-chatters, like some of my friends who can turn a minute-long informational call into a marathon conversation, usually while telling me to hang on while they wrestle the children. And I resisted getting a cell-phone for years. I mean, do I really want to get a phone call as I’m picking over melons at the supermarket? Do I really want to take a work call when I’m not at work?
Actually, I just got one on the cell, just now, from one of my reporters. Should he cover the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, held to support the local women’s shelter, since he happened across it on his way back home from the gym?
Um, yes. Please. Man, I love these guys.
My aversion to phones got much worse when I returned to the US from Germany. Before I left, there was no such thing as a telemarketing call. When I got back, nearly every time the phone rang, it was someone wanting to pitch a sale. Cruises. New roofing. Windshields. Mortgages (of course). Donations to a myriad of causes, most of them good, but who can afford all that?
I got an answering machine (also something I’d never had at home pre-1986). That helped, but caused aggravated sighs from the family.
I think what bothers me about the telephone, particularly at home, is that they interrupt the quiet and intrude into my private ohm-time. Sure, it’s selfish, but so much of my time is given to work already. And I’ve always been a solitary sort by nature. My home is my haven, my retreat from the cacophony of the world. It’s here that I can be creative, that I can write, that I can relax and cook soup and read a book by the fire. I can be real, be me. I don’t mind calls from friends and family, but until the National Do Not Call List was started – one of the few, really GOOD things the federal government has accomplished in the last five years – 95 percent of the calls that rang on my home phone were from telemarketers. I absolutely, without hesitation, hated them.
When they made the list operational, I was one of the first to sign up, even as I felt remorse for the operators that made the telemarketing calls. I know, first-hand, how tough it can be to find a job, and that’s the kind of job that no one wants, not really. Imagine having to make calls all day to people who cuss and hang up on you!
Today’s a spring cleaning day. It’s mild and sunny outside. I’m going to put on some music, leave that phone of the hook, turn off the cell phone and try to achieve some Zenny balance as I do the chores. And later, I’m gonna take a friggin’ nap.
28 April 2006
Gas is up to $3.17 per gallon around here. That’s 18 cents since last Sunday. Next time I fill up the ol’ Celica, it’s gonna cost me roughly $37, unless the price per gallon goes up some more between now (Friday night) and Sunday.
Personally, I’m trying to get my head around spending almost $40 per week, give or take, just to get to work and back. I don’t drive a gas guzzler – my Celica is an ’88 and gets about 360 miles to a tank. I also don’t drive anywhere I don’t have to. When I have errands to do, I do them along the route to and fro, rarely going more than a few miles out of my way.
Well, well. So where to cut back?
You know, I feel sorta silly, complaining about the cost of gasoline. After all, in Merrie Olde England, they’re paying approximately $12 per gallon for their petrol. Now that’s gotta hurt. Of course, the British weren’t stupid enough to tear out most of their rail lines and replace trains with SUVs, so they have a rather good public transportation system in their country, between trains and buses. One can get by without a car there, if necessary.
I know, in the Northeast of THIS country, trains and buses are still a viable alternative to a car. Atrios, who lives in Philadephia, has mentioned more than once in his blog that he’s car-less and glad for it. Smart man.
But out West, most of us don’t have that option, so more and more of our paychecks are going to be spent on getting us to work so we can earn the money to get to work. This is disconcerting.
Fortunately, with the days getting longer and longer, I can leave the lights off around here until later in the evening. That should help a little bit. And perhaps I’ll start showering every other morning and just sponge the hot-flash stink off my skin on the alternate days. That will save a little more. Of course, that means a bad-hair day every other day, like clockwork. I can do it, but it’s going to make me cranky.
Eating less is another option. Frankly, that won’t hurt me a bit, though smaller portions will take some getting used to. With summer coming on, we can limit our meals to mostly salads. A bag of fresh spinach is still, as I write this, less than $4. And if I break down and buy veggies that are not pre-packaged and prepare them myself, I’ll save a little more.
What worries me as much as what it will cost to drive to work and back is the way the higher price of gasoline will affect other prices. I just paid my electric bill for the month – the one that was a little more than twice as high as it was last month, and we didn’t use any more power than usual. This much larger energy bill may be the norm now. And since it will cost more to package and transport food to consumers, the prices at the grocery store are going to start going up, too, along with the price of just about everything else, since it’s all so closely tied in with the price of fuel.
Let me be clear. We Wrens are already fairly frugal. My personal luxuries are limited to my dial-up Internet connection (which I’ll not give up until I just can’t even scrape together the monthly payment for it) and roughly $50 a month spent on books, used audio-books and music from Amazon. That I can give up – I’ll just use the local library instead. But really, we simply don’t spend much mad-money – we don’t have it to start with.
We hardly ever eat out, not even fast food. I take leftovers to work for lunch. When Mr. Wren and I went down to the city last week for that nice dinner out and a movie, it was the first time we’d done such a thing for close to a year – and the movie itself was free, since I’m a journalist and this was a pre-screening. Still, the trip ate up over a quarter-tank of gas, and our dinner, while it was delicious, cost us about $32 each.
Yeah, I know, lots of people spend far more than we do to get by. But they probably make more, too. Editors of weekly newspapers do not make the big bucks, you know? And Mr. Wren has been out of work for more than a year. So we’re really in belt-tightening mode and have been for quite a while now.
It’s at moments like this, as I start bemoaning my plight in life and feeling sorry for myself, that I really have to stop and look at the other side – the glass-half-full side.
We live in a beautiful part of the country. We have gardens around our little house that are alive with birds and wildlife. Everything is leafing out and starting to flower. We love and care for each other, and laughter comes easily to us. We have all the usual luxuries – a TV, computers and the Internet, cell phones, coffee every morning. We have a decent roof over our heads and sleep cozy at night, and judging from our waistlines, we aren’t starving just yet. Sure, we have problems, but who doesn’t?
It could be much, much worse.
If some soothsaying wizard had come along my path 20 years ago and said, “In 2006, your country will be on the verge of being ruled by a theocracy -- a fascistic, totalitarian regime,” I would have given him a quizzical smile, shaken my head and moved on. If he'd told me that we would be engaging in wars of convenience, including nuclear wars, I'd have laughed out loud, but I'd probably have given him my pocket change, thinking he was one of those sad, crazy-as-a-bedbug people who wander the streets.
In 1986, the very idea would be ludicrous applied to the United States of America.
And, I’m embarrassed to say, I’d have had to go look up the definition of “fascism,” if I thought any more about it at all. See, I grew up gently, coddled in a democracy and fed on equality, so I didn’t really “grok” words like that back then. I associated the term vaguely with Mussolini, and we all know what happened to him.
In 1986 I was three years out of the U.S. Air Force, had a 5-year-old daughter, had recently remarried and had just arrived in Northern Germany with my Air Force husband. His job over there was to watch the skies along the border between West and East Germany for “hostile” aircraft on radar, as East Germany was still under the thumb of the Soviet Union and its Communist government.
My own four years as a military member at the end of the 70s and the early 80s had been spent mostly in Washington state, watching the skies of the Pacific Northwest on radar. At the time, the best military minds conjectured that a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union against the U.S. would come out of the north in the form of intercontinental ballistic missiles, or carried by high-flying, rumbling bombers accompanied by swarms of jet interceptors. Probably both.
Our own strategy against the Soviets was the same. My job had been to help to direct, by radar close control, our own interceptors against the Soviet bombers and ICBMs in the hope that we might be able to destroy them before they could drop their nuclear payloads on our cities.
In the course of my military service I learned enough about our defensive capabilities in this regard to be unconvinced of our success. My feelings had nothing to do with America’s military might, which was awesome even back then. It was the knowledge that the weapons the Soviets and we had pointed at each other were far too efficient for either side to win against.
If there was any consolation at all, it was knowing that even as America did all she could to bravely counter the threat, our Soviet counterparts would be desperately doing the same. And we’d both know it was futile. Because the moment one side or the other actually launched nuclear missiles or bombers, we were equally doomed -- and we’d take the rest of the world with us. It was insanity – and we all knew it.
So I’d have laughed that wizard off. We were fighting a Cold War – infinitely to be preferred to a “hot” war. And in the end, a careful program of détente and diplomacy on both sides of the conflict saved the world from nuclear annihilation.
Well, at least, that time.
I could not have imagined the world I live in today. At this moment, the Decider is decidin’ whether to use nuclear weapons against Iran, our newest Enemy of the Week. I believe he’s already decided to do it – now it’s merely a matter of deciding just when would be most stragetically advantageous in terms of keeping the Republicans in power here at home.
We should remember that Iran does not have nuclear weapons and does not represent a direct or imminent threat against the United States. Instead, Iran is merely engaging in saber rattling – not surprising, considering the Decider named it, along with Iraq and North Korea, as part of the “Axis of Evil.” We know what happened to Iraq. North Korea CAN retaliate, so we won't risk attacking them. That leaves ...
A “bunker buster” nuke may not have the massive size of the nukes we used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II or of the ones that came later – the ones we and the Soviet Union brandished at each other for decades – but the massacre would nevertheless be horrendous.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Plans to use nuclear weapons against Iran also fail to recognize the immediate dangers inherent in the use of nuclear weapons. The administration is reportedly considering using the B61-11 nuclear 'bunker buster' against an underground facility near Natanz, Iran. The use of such a weapon would create massive clouds of radioactive fallout that could spread far from the site of the attack, including to other nations. Even if used in remote, lightly populated areas, the number of casualties could range up to more than a hundred thousand, depending on the weapon yield and weather conditions.
"Threatening to use nuclear weapons against Iran provides the strongest of incentives for nuclear proliferation, since it would send the message that the only way for a country to deter nuclear attack is to acquire its own nuclear arsenal. The administration cannot have its cake and eat it, too—it cannot have a viable nuclear non-proliferation policy while continually expanding the roles for its own nuclear weapons."
Such an attack on Iran would turn the entire world against us – and deservedly so.
In 1986 the Cold War was winding down to an end. We had managed, somehow, not to destroy the world. And yet here we are today, on the verge once again of nuclear annihilation.
All of this makes me ashamed for my country. I simply cannot imagine the U.S. using nuclear weapons in a first-strike scenario. Of course, I couldn’t imagine my country engaging in a conventional war of convenience, either, as we did in Iraq.
What in the world is wrong with us?
Oh -- by the way. My convenient little desktop buddy Answers.com kicked my shin a few times as I was writing this so I could refresh my memory regarding what “fascism” means – and memorize it, for good measure:
A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.
Oppressive, dictatorial control."
Sound familiar? Thanks, Answers.com.
27 April 2006
Mr. Wren farting his way out of bed, ripping the pristine silence with sounds that made me thankful I was at the other end of the house got me musing over the strange, sweet earthiness of marriage as I drove to work this morning.
What, I wondered, is it that attracts people to each other and compels them to attempt to live their lives out together?
Well, yes, there’s love. And lust, although after the lust part fades a little, both partners may be left somewhat befuddled about what it was, exactly, they considered so darn loveable about their mate.
Let me hasten to say this is not the case with me in regards to Mr. Wren. I love the guy today even more than I did the day I first set eyes on him, though I don’t see him through those heart-shaped, rose-colored glasses anymore.
Well, except now and then in a weak moment. And we all have those, right?
Mr. Wren is a World Class Windmaker, kids, absolutely World Class. If farting were an Olympic sport, he’d be buried under his gold medals. Few on the planet can hold a candle to his skill – and indeed, few would dare. Hold a candle, I mean. Within 20 feet of him.
You can’t help but admire such mastery, nurtured so lovingly and with such single-minded dedication to daily practice from childhood.
I have to admit that when we got married overlooking Zephyr Cove in South Lake Tahoe wayyyy back in the Olden Days, it never, ever occurred to me that within a fairly short time (roughly 12 hours), I’d be able to gauge his mood simply by paying attention to the tonal quality, frequency and ferociousness of his tootling.
Nor did I comprehend the sheer joy -- even glee -- he got from it. That came later.
But I digress. During the 40-minute-drive to work this morning, I mused about how it was that we happened to choose each other, all those years ago.
Now, I should make it clear that Mr. Wren, at 22 years old, was a young god. He was tall, lean, tremendously strong, very nicely muskled and possessed of a face that could make cherubs weep. He caught my own 22-year-old eye right off, the very first day we both showed up in class at a military intelligence training school in the exotic foreign country of Texas. Mr. Wren was red-headed and fair-skinned with eyes as clear as water and a butt so ... nice ... it was darned near perfect. I had no idea it was musical, as well!
He was also soft-spoken, articulate, intelligent, kind, gentle and possessed of a wonderful sense of humor.
We quickkly discovered a few things we had in common (other than an abiding need to get into each others’ drawers). Mr. Wren grew up in Oklahoma. I grew up in California, but my father’s family were Okies who’d come West after World War II. That meant that we could both claim distant (if rather ephemeral) Cherokee ancestors. (I’ve since learned that there isn’t an Oklahoman on Earth who doesn’t claim Cherokee ancestors.)
We also shared a Heinz-57 mix of other ancestors, those of the Northern European immigrant variety. Mr. Wren proudly claimed Dutch, Irish, English and, uniquely, Swahili forebears. Given his russet hair and freckly skin, I believe the Irish may have been dominant. As for the Swahili, who knows?
I also claimed a genetic mixture that included Irish, English, and Welsh -- and Finnish, of which I’m a quarter. I have blonde hair, blue eyes and pale skin, but my Scandahoovian forebears seem to have been short and round rather than tall and willowy. Darn.
We discovered a lot of differences, too. Mr. Wren loves gardening. I like to gaze at gardens. He has a fabulously mathematical mind, while basic addition and subtraction leave me sweating. I’m artistic; he wishes he was. He loves hiking and fishing, pastimes during which one can fart freely without offending anyone but the skunks and jays; I love nights out at the theatre, the ballet and the symphony hall – not good places to relieve gastric pressure, especially while trying for a reverberating middle C.
Mr. Wren grew up in a large, rowdy, country family. To hear him tell it, each day began before the crack of dawn with cow-milkin’ and ended with fish-cleanin’, with a healthy dose of hay-bailin’ and stackin’ tossed in between humongous meals that consisted of plenty of whole milk, stew pots full of beans and fresh vegetables. Passing wind was not only unavoidable but encouraged, as they believed it was unhealthy to, well, hold back. One might, after all, explode.
To deflate this potential disaster, Mr. Wren’s family engaged in cheerful, daily concertos of friendly, competitive farting. The winner was the family member who could produce the longest, loudest and most musical trouser-melters in the greatest numbers.
I’m guessing here, but I’m sure his poor mother left the windows open year-round. I know I do.
I, on the other hand, grew up in the suburbs. I learned early on that producing noise from between one’s nether cheeks was unhealthy and frowned upon. Holding back was paramount, although once cloistered behind a bathroom door, where the sound could be muffled and the stink contained, one could cut loose. Discreetly. Cans of air-freshener were always on hand, just in case.
I think it’s the Finnish ancestry, actually. It may well be that it’s instinctual to retain as much hot air as possible in case of an unexpected deep freeze.
None of this has ever made a whit of difference when it comes to loving my sweet, gentle madman, though. He has a way with animals that’s nearly magical. He picks up possums by the tail and cradles them in his arms as they desperately play dead. Chickens think he’s their mother. Our dogs have always spent their days as his shadow and nuthatches have landed on his cap for a visit. Children are mesmerized by him, as if he’s a cross between the Pied Piper and Jack’s giant.
I’ve spent my marriage to Mr. Wren laughing, often until my sides are splitting and I’m gasping for breath while madly fanning the air back in his direction. While I have never been able to join him in free-farting demonstrations – my upbringing and genetic makeup just won’t allow it – he taught our two daughters to let ‘er rip with abandon. And while that prodigious brrrrrrrraaaaaaaaappppp-ph-ph-p at dawn might make my eyes water, I’d be concerned if I didn’t hear it.
Who knows, really, what attracted us to each other and led us to spend our lives together? Maybe it's because I have a terrible sense of smell. Mr. Wren withered my nose-hairs, taught me to belly-laugh and, in the process, won my heart for good.
26 April 2006
It's been a little busy around the nest tonight.
You know how it is -- you get home from work and suddenly, there are just so many things needing your attention. The cat wants strokes, the dog wants goodies, Mr. Wren needs dinner-making instructions and, as he boils rice and grills chicken, has to tell you how he saved The Girls from a marauding possum in the wee hours. Actually picked the creature up by the tail.
Yes, I spat my coffee in surprise, too.
And then there are e-mails to read, Babylon 5 on DVD to watch, leftover apple cake to eat and worlds to save.
That's a roundabout excuse for an absent muse, this pleasant spring evening. But do saunter over to Patrick at I Speak Dog and get a load of the graphic he posted. You'll get a chuckle, I'm sure, just like I did. And he writes the most lovely things as he tinkers with life.
Enjoy. I'll be back tomorrow.
25 April 2006
Welcome, Mannionites! I'll endeavor not to disappoint. Come on in, wander a bit, and say hi!
And Lance, you sweetie, thanks for the link.
Today, as regular gasoline went up to $3.07 at the same station I filled up at on Sunday for $2.99, I starting thinking about how I got around when I was living in Germany.
Yes, I had a car, but it wasn’t my first choice of transportation.
Instead, I walked just about everywhere. All the time. Might be why I was still relatively svelte back then, too. We lived in a third-floor flat with no elevator. The laundry room was in the basement.
Hah! YOU hump a week’s worth of laundry for three people down and up four steep flights of stairs in several rounds and tell me that’s not exercise!
I had a wire-haired Dachshund named Max who had to be walked first thing in the morning and a couple of times at night, more often on the weekends. These weren’t short walks, for the most part. Ol’ Max liked a good trot to stretch those stumpy legs of his, so unless the sky was actually falling we did a complete circuit of the neighborhood, probably about a half-mile most times and often, a good deal further than that.
At first, it seemed like a real chore. I wondered what I’d been thinking of, wanting a dog when I lived on the top floor of my building. But it wasn’t long before walking Max became a pleasure. He was a good excuse to get outside and away from everyday chores and troubles at home, a half-hour vacation I took several times a day.
And it was while I was out with that little dog that I learned all the shortcuts around my part of town. After a while I started noticing things like the elusive fragrance of star jasmine on dark summer nights and the nervy wonder of linden trees literally filled with honeybees in the daytime. I learned, with Max straining at the end of his leash, the joys of walking in all kinds of weather. We walked in sleet, rain, wind and snow, sunshine, fog and in the deep, clear, razor-sharp cold, the kind that nearly takes your breath away. We walked in all of it, day in and day out.
There were a lot of other reasons to walk, not least of which was that parking a car was always a chore. On one of my walks with Max, I found a little coffee store tucked back in a quiet neighborhood about eight blocks from my flat. A nice German woman ran it out of her home, and I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, early on weekend mornings. I’d walk home carrying my bag of rich, warm, freshly ground coffee and a little paper sack of Gummi bears for my daughter. The aroma of that coffee – oh my.
Another frequent destination was the local park, a gigantic, glorious place of grass, foresty trees and a lake with swans. I’d walk for hours there, and that was after walking to it. In six years, I never drove the car to that park once, even though I went there frequently.
For more serious shopping downtown, I usually rode the city bus. Once there, I’d hop off and start hoofing it. I’ll admit, the first six months or so, as a spoiled American, it took me a while to get used to, but after a while, I didn’t even think about it anymore. The only time I ever drove my car and parked it downtown was when I was in a hurry (not often) or when I knew I’d have to tote around a lot of heavy shopping bags. After wandering through the open-air market, I’d end up with bags full of cold cuts, sliced cheeses and German candies, fresh vegetables and jars of kraut and aromatic knockwurst wrapped in butcher paper. I’d bring home heavy, fresh-baked loaves of dense, chewy German bread and bouquets of bright flowers, wrapped in crinkly cellophane and tied with curlicue ribbons.
And of course, I’d window shop, too, smelling the smoked fish, the meaty butcher shops, the coffee places and the luscious scents wafting from the bakeries. Sometimes I’d stop and treat myself to coffee and cake at one of the little cafes.
The U.S. Army base where I worked as a civilian writer/editor for the Public Affairs Office was too far away from my flat to walk to, unless I wanted to set out several hours early and do it in the dark (though in the summer I rode my bike fairly often). So I rode the bus. The best part of that was that I got to know my fellow riders. My German absolutely sucked – I was struggling to learn, but it was a slow, slow process – yet I’d be greeted with big smiles and hearty “Guten Morgens!” when I climbed onto that crowded bus at oh-dark-thirty. I made them laugh with my fractured German, but they were kind and encouraging. My neighbors taught me a lot on those rides.
I’d encounter many of those same people on the bus during weekends or on the streets downtown as they did their shopping, too. Always, there was a smile of recognition and cheerful, exchanged greetings.
When I was living in Germany, I felt part of the community in a way that I’ve never felt here. I miss that.
I don’t walk anywhere now. I live eight miles in any direction from towns of any size, so I have to drive to go shopping, or out to dinner, or to a movie. Even if all I want is a pound of coffee, I’m looking at another 16 miles on the speedometer. There are no sidewalks in my own little town, and while there’s one, small, overpriced convenience store, walking the main streets to get to it means risking being hit by a car or, godforbid, a lumber truck.
Because I don’t walk here, I don’t know my neighbors very well. Down the mountain, where I work in a sprawling bedroom community, walking is lunatic. It’s two miles to the nearest grocery store, with nothing in between but McMansions – and no sidewalks. Cars hurtle by at 50 mph. So I get in my car in the morning, drive down the mountain, walk 25 feet into my office, sit in my chair all day, walk 25 feet back out to my car at the end of the day and then drive back home.
If I have to shop, I stop along the way and park as close as I can to the store, especially if it’s dark. It’s not just laziness – it’s not safe in parking lots at night. And I’d never consider just taking a walk at night, alone, like I did in Germany. I’m afraid to, even in this lovely little mountain town.
Maybe there’s a blessing hidden in our rising gas prices. Maybe we’ll all be forced to find work, somehow, closer to home. Maybe we’ll start walking again, getting to know our neighbors, becoming part of the communities in which we live. It’s hard for me to imagine what I’d do here – there’s no newspaper and little industry besides the lumber mill and the orchard farms – but it’s something to ponder.
Change is coming. It might not be all bad.
24 April 2006
I’m the managing editor of a weekly newspaper, which means I’m overworked, underpaid and mostly crispy, most of the time. Our newsroom consists of me, two general reporters who do double duty as photographers and a one-day-a-week editor for the entertainment section.
Both of the reporters are great guys and talented writers. They work incredibly hard for not much in the way of pay, since like just about all community weeklies, we operate on the tightest of shoestrings. But they’re bright and they’re hungry. Both of them are dedicated to doing the best work they’re capable of doing – and then doing even more.
But gang, I gotta tell ya. The younger of the two kicks journalistic ass. He’s just starting out, fresh out of Chico State, which is why he’s doing time at my little weekly. It’s a training ground, like most small papers.
This young man is, however, extraordinary. And today, I’m in editorial heaven.
Here’s the story.
Late last week, we heard that President Bush would be making a couple of short stops at two environmentally-progressive companies in the area. My intrepid young reporter decided, as a lark, to see if he could get credentials to attend one of them, hear Bush speak and maybe get a few photos. Without telling me he was going to do it, he called and left his name with the presidential press people inquiring about getting credentials. Left a voice mail.
As he went out to snag some lunch, he said, “If the White House calls for me, take a message.”
We all got a chuckle out of this. Thought he was kidding. He sauntered out of the office, laughing.
Well, the White House called while he was gone. The ad rep who took the call came bouncing into our miniscule newsroom, all a-flutter, saying they’d told her they’d be faxing the President’s itinerary.
Jaws dropped all around. So when our boy got back, we passed on the message. His response?
“Get outa here! No way!”
Well, he got his credentials. And on Saturday, he was at the event with a slew of other reporters, print and broadcast. He got his story and he took several excellent photos. The shot at the top of the post is one that I, being of irreverent mind, particularly like.
This week, our little rag will publish its first, locally produced news story about the visit of a sitting president, along with some damned good photos. I’m so proud I could bust. And so is our talented, on-his-way-up reporter, but he’s modest. If it weren’t for the cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his face, you’d never know.
23 April 2006
I filled my car today as I left town to head home, 28 miles back up the mountain.
Regular unleaded was $2.99 per gallon. I have no doubt that by tomorrow, it will be up a couple more cents, at least. In the last two weeks, the price of gasoline has risen an average of 25 cents.
The reason? According to AP:
“Crude-oil prices hit a new record Friday, fueled by concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions and tight U.S. gasoline supplies.”
Hmm. A quick perusal of this evening’s New York Times Online shows nary a word about those rising gasoline prices. I guess oil at $75 per barrel isn’t front page news anymore. Seems to me about this time last year I was reading panicky news stories about how we were about to break the critical $49 per barrel mark. Ahem. I do believe we’ve left those heady days behind. What’s the next critical mark? $80 per barrel? $90?
I live a long way from the city. It was a choice: home prices are lower up here, and we wanted to live in the country, where Mr. Wren could garden and keep chickens to his heart’s content. I wanted the beauty of four seasons, and being of Finnish ancestry, I have this thing for evergreen trees and snow.
But we don’t own a McMansion. Hell, I could fit two or three of my little 70s-era shoeboxes into one of those. They have garages almost as big as my house, and I can’t even imagine trying to heat or cool one of them. We heat our modest little house with a woodstove insert. We discovered the first winter after we moved in that using the old, electric baseboard heat – even if only for a few hours in the evenings during the week, turning it off while we were all away at work and school -- was going to break the bank. We invested in an energy-efficient woodstove and cordwood. And the following winter, we put double-paned vinyl windows in the three main rooms. The bedrooms are still like Outer Siberia, but that’s what goosedown and cuddling are for.
We Wrens are energy misers. We don’t use lights in the rooms we aren’t immediately using. We’ve gone out of our way to get energy-efficient appliances, like the refrigerator and the washer and dryer. We only run the dishwasher when it’s full, and we use the energy-miser setting. We even went so far as to buy and install the first on-demand hot water heater in the area. We had to have a small propane tank installed, but at the time, propane was still relatively cheap.
Until this month. Propane was costing us an average of $50 a month – and yes, it has been going up in tiny increments in the three years since we had it installed. But when Mr. Wren got the bill the other day, it had suddenly jumped up to $60, prompting an irritated grunt from him. For my part, I did more than grunt when the electric bill also made a sharp leap up this month to over $230, about twice what I usually pay. Yikes.
I drive a 1988 Toyota Celica to work. It gets great mileage, and I don’t do any unnecessary driving. Still, $3-plus per gallon gasoline at 56 miles per day, just to get to work and back, is going to hurt.
Gonna have to start looking for other ways to pinch pennies. Thank goodness for the hens! And now that it looks like the snow is over for the year, we can plant the vegetable gardens.
There's a gift in this somewhere, I just know it.
22 April 2006
Holy cow. That last post was a doozy of a rant. You know how it is, I bet. Sometimes you just get to feeling so small and insignificant and angry that you just have to let loose or explode. Tell you what: Next time I feel a rant coming on, I’ll go take a long, long walk and rant to the air instead. It’ll be good for my flabby muscles and might even burn 10 or 12 calories.
Anyway. On to the real world.
There’s a red-tail hawk pair nesting at the top of one of the fir trees 300 yards or so from my den’s window. I rarely see either one of them – my view of the top of the tree is obscured – but I hear them. For the last six weeks or so, mostly in the mid-mornings on the weekends, I hear Mr. Hawk or Mrs. Hawk creeee-creeee-ing from the nest. They’ve set up housekeeping in this particular tree for several years; I’m glad they’re back. They feel like old friends.
I keep the window open almost year round. I like being able to hear the world outside as I create worlds inside. At the moment, along with the hawk, I can hear a wren singing. They have a sweet, musical song, and this marks the third year a pair has chosen to nest in the little wren-house my Mr. Wren put up in a protected spot in the garden back in ’98. Stellar’s jays also spend a lot of time yelling in the firs, too. They’re big and cocky and absolutely gorgeous, with their electric blue bodies and sooty black heads.
At night, in the summer, I loving hearing the owl pair conversing. “Huuu-hu-hu,” says one. “Hu-huu” says the other. The sound is low pitched, quiet, even alien, and it carries a long way through the late night air. These are great horned owls. One evening, as I was taking out the trash, I saw one of them sitting on top of the utility pole up on the street.
This is where I sit as I write each day. Blogging is new, but I’ve been starting and tossing out the Great American Novel from this room for about six years now. My den is a converted garage, but not like you’re thinking. This room’s back wall has a rugged-looking faux-rock face, and all the other walls and even the ceiling are paneled in smooth, redwood planks. No veneer. There’s a door to the back garden but we’ve never been able to get it open – it’s stuck tight.
I claimed this room as “mine” the moment we saw the house. There’s no heat, but there’s a long raised hearth along the rock-wall, and once upon a time, there was a small, wood-stove standing on it. We couldn’t use it – it was dangerous and inefficient – and we didn’t have the bucks to replace it. Now, since the house is very small and space is at a premium, four tall, oak bookshelves stand elevated on the hearth. I use a little heater under my desk for warmth in the winter.
My den is a mess, of course. Also because of the space issue, this room tends to attract all the things we don’t know what else to do with. Soon, the fledgling, who’s planning a move down the mountain to live with her love, is going to take the old sofa and the old dresser, along with the giant terrarium that sits on top of it. It’s home to a Chinese water dragon and at least 12 chirping crickets every week. The lizard, who’s quite pretty in a lizardly sort of way, was a Mother’s Day gift last year.
There’s also a smaller terrarium with a small rubber boa in it. The fledgling found it while she was out hiking last summer and brought home with her. It’s also an interesting creature, but it spends most of its time beneath the sand-like substance that fills the bottom of the tank to about two and a half inches. Reminds me of the sand-worms in “Dune.” I hardly ever see the little guy. Or girl. I’ve decided when it warms up some more outside, I’m going to let it go, unless the fledgling wants to take it with her, too. When the little boa constrictor eats, which isn’t very often, it dines on infant mice. The fledgeling has no trouble buying and feeding it “pinkies,” but I do. I’m too soft hearted.
I’m looking forward to the migration of these objects, and I’m trying to decide how I’ll use the vacant space. I have an old recliner in here, along with my desk. Maybe I’ll find a daybed or something like that for lazy afternoon naps on the weekends. I have a standing tapestry loom with four inches of weave started at the bottom – it’s stuck in the middle of the room for lack of anywhere else to put it. I could bring in a straight-backed chair from the dining room and start working on it again. And maybe I’ll get a drawing table and start drawing and painting. I was born an artist. As I grew up, I was never without a pencil in my hand, forever drawing. But somehow, after I hit my mid-20s, got married, had the fledgeling, got caught up in work and the everyday chores of life -- and discovered the delight of writing -- the urge to create images in ink and watercolor on paper died. I still doodle a lot.
21 April 2006
When people started saying, soon after Sept. 11, 2001, that “everything has changed,” I took it with a grain of salt. Yes, the attack by foreign terrorists on the American mainland was unprecedented. Like everyone else in America, I was shocked, stunned, rendered nearly speechless by the sheer, evil audacity of the attack. And my heart ached and broke for the innocent people who died so horribly that day. My mind shied away from even imagining the terror and pain they must as felt as the Twin Towers exploded, burned and collapsed.
For a little while afterwards, there was noticeable change in the way we treated each other as Americans. We grew closer to our neighbors. We gave everything we were able to help the victims of the attack. Memorials of all kinds were created all over the country. In the community for which I edit the local weekly, a two-ton boulder which has served as a sort of billboard for local teen-agers armed with spray paint for the last 30 years was painted over with a big American flag, the words “God Bless U.S.A.” lettered over it in gold. Countless pots of live flowers and bouquets in vases, small flags and other symbolic paraphernalia were left there, on top of the rock and all around it. Some local construction guys even erected a towering flagpole and a giant flag on a nearby hilltop. The local fire department, when it held its annual community get-together a couple of weeks after Sept. 11 to raise funds for burn victims and, that year, for the victims of 9-11, unfurled a flag from the extended ladder of its new ladder engine as dusk fell. They trained a spotlight on the flag. The crowd gathered beneath stopped its good-time reveling and stood in total silence for a long, long minute, some praying, others dried-eyed, all remembering.
That was all good. It was healthy. Our community alone raised an incredible amount of money for the families of the 9-11 victims and for the rescue personnel who’d lost their own lives trying to save them. I’m talking thousands upon thousands of dollars. It was an outpouring of love, support and solidarity. I’d never seen anything like it before – and haven’t since, not even for the tsunami victims, Hurricane Katrina’s victims or the victims of the Pakistan earthquake.
For that first month or so after Sept. 11, we were part of a nation in mourning. “Everything’s changed,” people said solemnly. It was like a mantra, repeated over and over by the news media, our national substitute for independent thought until it was accepted as fact.
I didn’t see it, though. Yes, there was this natural coming together, this sudden feeling of being part of a vast brotherhood (for want of a better word). That was a change. We were Americans. We’d been hurt. Our country had been hurt. For the first time since Pearl Harbor, Americans became aware that they were not absolutely immune from Bad Things Happening.
But instead of looking for answers as to why this small group of low-tech, tragically deluded religious fanatics – call them evil, if you wish -- could have wanted to injure us this way, or how they were even able to manage such a thing, we stopped thinking. Individually and as a nation, we quit asking “why” and gave in to blind, righteous rage.
Our president fanned that rage. “They hate our freedom,” he said, speaking as if to traumatized children. And like children, a majority of Americans took him at his word. The 2000 presidential election had thrown us off balance. We were unsure about the concept of a president appointed by our Supreme Court, instead of being elected with a majority of votes. We were nervous about what that might portend regarding our democracy. It was a disconcerting time. America was looking for reassurance.
And yes, I know. Anger is a natural reaction to malicious injury. It’s also a natural part of the “grief process,” as the blabby, socio-psychological woo-woo industry calls it. We needed action. Individually helpless, as a nation we needed to make the ones who did this mind-bendingly awful thing to us pay.
Suddenly, a whole industry in American flag kitsch sprang up. Old Glory was pinned to suit lapels, blouses, and stuck as decals of various designs and sizes on car windows and bumpers. People flew flags from their car windows. One guy in our community painted his entire garage door as an American flag. They flew everywhere, from our hilltop to – wait for it – a local car dealership. That particular flag was so big it could have covered my house.
George W. Bush stepped up and declared a “War on Terror,” wearing an imaginary ten-gallon Stetson and run-down cowboy boots, making simplistic “High Noon” utterances about catching the villains. The bad guys could run, but they couldn’t hide, he said. Blood for blood. He turned his steely gaze toward the backwards, impoverished nation of Afghanistan, pointing a long finger at its fundamentalist Islamic government, which harbored “terrists.” Most Americans supported him; we wanted justice.
And so America went to war in defenseless Afghanistan, toppling the Taliban, chasing down Osama bin Ladin’s al-Queda terrorists, destroying their training camps and, after a while, pursuing bin Ladin himself into the mountain strongholds of Tora-Bora on the border of Pakistan. We were in the final moments of the final reel, holding our collective breaths for the denouement.
And then, everything DID change. Instead of throwing our forces into catching the architect of Sept. 11 and bringing him to justice, Marshal Dillon turned into Barney Fife, fumbling his gun around. He diverted America’s might to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was busy admiring his reflection and writing bodice-rippers in his free time.
You know what happened next.
We were taken into a “pre-emptive” war against Iraq on the strength of lie after lie. Here in America, as W. visited “Shock and Awe” against innocent Iraqi civilians in our names, we were told to do our part, credit cards in hand, and be consumers for America. The weapons of mass destruction we were told Saddam had, ready to launch against us at any moment, didn’t exist. The nuclear weapons the administration warned he was capable of producing in the blink of an eye didn’t exist, either. Darn. Well, oops! We’ll just give those ungrateful Iraqis democracy and freedom at gunpoint while we take control of the oil that lays beneath their sands.
That warm, inspirational sense of coming together, of American brotherhood that we basked in for a short time after Sept. 11 is gone. So is the support, sympathy and empathy that came from our friends all over the world. Dubya said, “You’re either for us or against us,” and now America finds itself awash in hate, overwhelmed by hate, reveling in hate, bathing in hate.
At this moment we stand teetering on the brink of yet another “pre-emptive” war, this time against Iran – which also doesn’t have WMD or nukes. President George W. Bush, acting on what he considers a “mandate” after he and his gang of thugs terrified slightly over half of us into giving him a second term, is seriously considering employing nuclear weapons. We are not safer today than we were on Sept. 10, 2001. If anything, we’re in far worse danger than ever. There’s nothing to keep terrorists from without or within from attacking us. Aside from diplomacy and a sincere attempt to address the issues that inspire the disenfranchised to fight back against their oppressors with acts terrorism, there never was.
Vast amounts of national treasure has been squandered while the very richest of us gets even richer and the rest of us bow under the burden of miserable pay and mountains of debt. The legacy of our children has been pissed away. We live under the constant threat of our own government spying on us, of tapping our phones, reading our e-mails and tracking our use of the Internet.
And our own, homegrown religious fanatics are in the process of creating their very own oppressive theocracy.
That gargantuan flag that still flies over the rows of shiny cars at the local car dealership? It has become my own, personal symbol of the phrase “Everything has changed.” Indeed, it has. We have met the terrorists, and (hello, Pogo, old friend) they are ... us.
Bringing up the rear, as usual, I finally saw “V for Vendetta” last night.
Mr. Wren and I went to see it as a media pre-screening event at our local IMAX theater. I’d never been to an IMAX movie before, though I’d heard how amazing the experience could be. I was most curious.
And I’d wanted to see “V” ever since I read Wolcott’s review last month.
“V for Vendetta” on IMAX was like going back in time. The film was projected dead ahead on the giant screen – no wraparound shenanigans, as it hadn’t been made for that type of projection. But for me, it was almost being like a kid again, going to a Saturday matinee back when all movie screens were that big and Vincent Price was the star. The only things missing were the warm, buttery popcorn and chocolate-covered peanuts, which we didn’t get a shot at because we miscalculated the drive-time into town. Feeling indulgent – we don’t hitch old Nellie up to the wagon for a trip into town very often – we’d stopped before showtime for a rare treat – a gloriously delicious dinner at a whoa-baby restaurant halfway between home and city.
We ended up being fifteen minutes late for the movie. So we hit the lobby at a trot, no stopping for goodies or potty breaks. Still, the floor was comfortingly sticky in the row we settled down in, and really, what’s a good movie without a sticky floor?
And “V for Vendetta” was a good movie. A really, really good movie.
I particularly liked the moral ambiguity woven throughout the story. As cartoonish and fictional as it was (intentionally so, as it was adapted from a graphic novel), it smacked of reality. Life IS ambiguous. Right and wrong aren’t always clear; no issue is black or white. Sometimes, we just have to take a chance and hope.
“V,” the protagonist-antagonist, was charming and sinister by turns. Terrorist or freedom fighter? Hero or anti-hero? Hugo Weaving made the character believable in spite of his cartoonish quality. That was no mean feat, considering Weaving’s face – an actor’s most valuable tool – was hidden behind a stiff, clownish Guy Fawkes mask from start to finish. Weaving has a classical voice and uses his body with eloquence to express emotion. The moment his V started to descend into idealistic, righteous preachiness, his inner monster came to the fore and saved him.
Wish I knew how to do that.
And the impossibly slender Natalie Portman (don’t let that girl out in a high wind!) was a pleasant surprise. With her delicate, child-like beauty, huge, injured eyes and bee-stung lips, she could easily have been nothing but eye-candy. But this young actor is a heavyweight. Her Evie, V’s equally ambiguous protégée, was both exquisite and powerful.
The flick gives us a look into an uncomfortably believable future. It doesn’t let you walk away feeling morally superior, either, having pinned down the good or bad in the protagonist’s actions. Was V a terrorist? Could it be that “terrorists” might have legitimate grievances? Are there times when violence is right? Should we allow our freedom to be compromised for the sake of security? Which is more important?
“V for Vendetta” doesn’t answer these questions. Ambiguity means you get to stew.
If you haven’t seen “V for Vendetta” yet, do. IMAX adds nothing to it, except to let you see the movie on a really big screen, which is an undeniable pleasure. But I think it would be equally effective on DVD, flickering on my old 19-inch tube.
Mr. Wren said, as we walked out of the theater into the roaring spring night, “That one’s a keeper.”
19 April 2006
He said in 2000 he was the “uniter, not the divider.” Today, six years and some months later, President Bush tells us in no uncertain terms that he’s the “decider,” and he knows what's "best" for us.
Excuse me, Mr. President? This is just lil’ ol’ me, here, but I don’t think you do.
According to the latest Harris Interactive Poll, your “job-approval rating slipped for the third consecutive month and remains near the lowest mark” of your presidency.
This less-than-happy news comes from today’s Wall Street Journal Online, which is sure no floppy, latté-drinking liberal rag, like the LA Times or, dare I say it? the New York Times. I encourage you to take a gander, Mr. President. There are charts with a lot of numbers, but if you concentrate – perhaps right after a good workout in the Presidential Gym – I bet you can read them. They’re pretty straight forward. But don’t ask for help from your friends Turd Blossom or Unca Dick. You know what, sir? They’ll lie to you.
Not me, though. In fact, let me give you an easy summation, right from today’s WSJ story:
“Thirty-five percent of 1,008 U.S. adults surveyed in the telephone poll think Mr. Bush is doing an "excellent or pretty good" job as president, down from 36% in March and significantly lower than 43% in January. This compares with 63% of Americans who said Mr. Bush is doing an "only fair or poor" job, down from 64% in March.”
Mmm. Not lookin’ so good, sir. Perhaps you should pay more attention to the People, who don’t seem to be very impressed with your “decidin’” abilities or your take on what’s “best” for us.
First of all, Mr. President, we’re not very happy about your war in Iraq. I know, I know – we’re ungrateful. You get that way when your sons and daughters are cannon fodder.
But more to the point, sir, when you decided we needed a War on Terror, we sorta thought you were going to focus on Osama. A lot of us saw the spirit of John Wayne in you when you said, “you can run, but you cannot hide.” We were scared and boy, were we glad you stood up like a man for us.
You started out OK, Mr. President. You sent our troops to Afghanistan and righteously kicked some nasty al Qaeda butt. But just when our troops were about to catch him, you remembered you didn’t like Saddam even more than you didn’t like Osama. So you let the architect of Sept. 11 get away, sent our brave troops to Iraq instead, and told us a series of whoppers so we’d be quiet. So we’d let you have the war you really wanted. And just in case we got nervy about it, you made sure to keep those terror alert levels high. That way, we’d be scared and keep our mouths shut.
Those of us who didn’t fall for the whoppers (they were pretty bad, you know) were called “anti-American.” Our patriotism as Americans was questioned. Why, you even let your buds call us traitors. I have to admit, that worked on a bunch of us.
But you know what, sir? We aren’t any of those things. In fact, we’re just fine with catching real terrorists, and we’re grown-ups. We can deal with the fact that doing the job might get messy. We just don’t see any sense in putting our soldiers in mortal danger and blowing up innocent Iraqi civilians just so your buds can make a lot of money.
When our brave troops didn’t find Weapons of Mass Destruction you swore Saddam was saving for a rainy day in Iraq – the reason you gave for going to war – you just shrugged and joked that maybe those ol’ WMD were hiding somewhere in the Oval Office. But believe me, Mr. President, if they’d been there, they’d have stained Laura’s pretty, yellow sun-rug. You’d have noticed. Really.
I hate to say it, but we weren’t amused. We already knew there were no WMD in Iraq, unless they were the stale old chemical weapons we gave Saddam ourselves in the 80s so he could put down those pesky Kurds in exchange for keeping Iran off balance.
And we knew Saddam wasn’t anywhere close to making a nuclear bomb, too. Jeez, Mr. President – he’d hardly had time, since the Gulf War. We’d been all over him like flies on cow patties ever since he ran back to Iraq from Kuwait, his silly tail tucked. Saddam was just a lot of hot air. If you’d asked, we’d have told you.
You didn’t ask. I guess when you’re The Decider, you don’t have to.
Mr. President, your war in Iraq just went downhill from there. You’d decided, I guess, not to make any real plans about what to do with the country after you took it. As a result of that decision, Iraq has imploded into civil war. Thousands of Iraqis are being maimed or killed every day because of your decision. And darned near 2,500 of our own troops have been killed, too, and many thousands more have been so horribly injured their lives have been changed forever.
I guess you’re not losing sleep over that. After all, you got what you wanted, even if your hold on it is pretty tenuous – control over Iraq’s oil.
You’ve made a lot of other decisions since 2000 that weren’t what I’d call bright, Mr. President. The short list? Tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans. Torture. Secret wire-tapping. The slow but methodical dismantling of America’s Constitution and her incredible democracy.
You’ll excuse me, sir, if I’m not convinced of your prowess as a “decider.” I’m afraid you’re “decidin’” us right to hell.
Look at those numbers, Mr. President. They don’t lie. The People (you know, the ones who elected you and pay your salary) have “decided” we don’t like you very much at all.
16 April 2006
As you might have surmised by now, I'm not a religious type. I don't celebrate the Easter as a religious holiday.
Way back in the time before time, though, there was some real meaning to this holiday. You could put your finger on it -- the evidence was everywhere. Oester celebrated the rampant signs of winter's breaking and those juicy, tingly urges the greening of the earth stirred up in all warm-blooded creatures. The holiday looked forward to the warmth and plenty of the coming summer, the hope of harvest in the fall. It was, simply, a celebration of life in all its eggy, rich, fecund, randy, gorgeous facets.
I can go with that.
Here's wishing all of you a glorious future, symbolized by The Egg. Don't forget to notice the bursting, throbbing, beautiful world outside your windows.
15 April 2006
It’s a gray, foggy, windy day in my part of the world. Seems like a good day to be lazy. It’s my last day off this week, too. I work on Sundays like the good little pagan I am.
I woke up in a contemplative mood today. That last post is a good indicator. I’d decided to play around with the site a bit and, in the process, learned some new things that got me thinking about old things, and that led in a natural sort of way to “Learning the code,” below.
I’m a neophyte at blogging. But I think it’s wonderful that one can still be a neophyte at anything at almost-50. That’s one of the truly great things about computers and the Internet for people like me, who don’t have the time or the money to go back to school. I can keep learning, keep my mind sharp, keep growing, and all in my spare time. I’m going to get good at this. I’m going to learn HTML – don’t laugh, youngsters! I’m going to learn it so well your eyes will pop. Better late than never. Age and treachery ...
Anyway, writing about typesetting got me to thinking about other jobs I’ve had. As a teen, I worked at a fried-chicken fast food restaurant. My proudest day was the one where I got to go “in back” and work the grill and deep-fat fryers. I liked it a lot better than standing out in front, taking orders, filling sodas, making shakes, bussing tables and cleaning up the bathrooms. Ew, to that last.
Then it was a stint at Montgomery Ward. I worked the “fine” jewelry counter. The job was a step up from fried-chicken take-out, and I didn’t go home each day smelling like my work, but it was unutterably boring. This was the late 70s, and even then, Monkey Warts was dying on the vine. There weren’t many customers for “fine” jewelry there, though we did have some pretty decent prices on wedding rings and bands, wrist watches, gold and silver chains, charms and bracelets. Oh, and grandfather clocks. I hated selling those, because invariably we’d get complaints about them after the customer got them home. They were, in a word, cheap.
When I graduated from high school, I started taking art at the local community college along with courses toward my AA degree. Imagine my delight, then, the day I got a job as a real graphic artist, working for a woman who ran a small business out of her home doing grocery store circulars for a slew of local stores. These were the old kind of circulars, hand-lettered in India ink on bluelined layout sheets, pasting down line drawings of boxes of macaroni and cheese and muddy photos of rump steaks and celery with rubber cement from big, brown bottles and a fat brush.
The big headers and prices were on pre-printed strips, hung in hunks on a big pegboard – STEAK; KETCHUP; DIAPERS; each word cut out with neatly rounded edges using an X-Acto blade and scissors to avoid the dreaded print shadow. And then, using Speedball pens dipped in little bottles of jet black ink, or Rapidograph pens filled manually with the same black ink, I’d hand-letter in everything else from handwritten copy taken over the phone from the grocer.
“STEAK juicy T-bone .... $1.79 lb.” When I started, my block-printing sucked, but my boss “Debbie” was patient – she knew I’d get the hang of it. And I did. I even got fast, turning out 8-10 of these layouts in the approximately 20 hours I worked. My goal was to be as good as she was, because “Debbie” was fabulous. Her hand-lettering was perfect, gorgeous, totally readable. And she was a great boss. I was 19, and I thought she was very grown-up and sophisticated. She turned 30 (!) the first year I worked with her. She’d done so much! She’d been a hippy and had done drugs I hadn't even heard of yet. She’d gotten a BA degree at Oakland Institute of Fine Arts. She’d been to Europe several times already. When I met her, she was married and rather well off, very cultured, into ballet and classical music and gourmet cooking.
She had the first Cuisineart I’d ever seen. Debbie introduced me to Italian espresso, which I nearly spat all over one of my layouts the first time I tasted it. The bitter strength of the stuff was totally unexpected. Fortunately, I learned to like it just fine, and I’m a coffee-addict to this day. She made breakfast on Sunday mornings (yeah, I worked Sundays even back then) and I sat in her dining room with her and her husband and ate scrambled eggs with chorizo and crispy English muffins with orange marmalade. Very exotic, I thought. Sunday afternoons, as we wrapped up the work for the week, she poured good red wine in huge-bowled glasses as a reward. I got one glass, and it was lovely. It was from her, as we talked about Europe, that I learned that Nice, in France, was pronounced “neece”, not “nighce.” And Wagner was “Vogner.” Wow.
She woke up my wanderlust, but I had no way to go see the places she talked about. Still, I started learning about them, going out of my way to get some “culture.”
My next job, after I got sick and tired of going to school and being broke all the time (so I dropped out), was with a small publishing and printing company. There, I did pretty much the same sort of work I’d done for Debbie, except the product expanded to laying out everything from small weekly newspapers to insurance forms. Learned a lot there, too, and met some great people. Didn’t like my boss much, though. He was nervous around me (could it be because I had a habit of wearing jeans and halter tops? I had no clue, I swear). Also, he had a serious body-odor problem. But, I was working full time, and I liked that.
I still wanted, somehow, to visit Europe. The wanderlust was getting worse. I took an adult class in beginning Italian, because I wanted to see Italy, first. But I sure still wasn’t making enough money. I couldn’t save a dime. I was living on my own in a studio apartment, had a car and insurance to pay, food to buy – all the mundane costs of adult life I hadn’t known were coming until I was smack-dab in the middle of them.
I did go to Europe, eventually. But that’s for another post. This one is getting too long, and I need to check the fire in the woodstove and see about putting on a pot of soup for dinner tonight. Later, alligator.
I'm slowly, slowly learning my way around how to post and how to use HTML in this blog. Using HTML reminds me of "back in the day" when I used to typeset text for print publishing. Every single change of font, size, indent, etc. had its own code that had to be inserted correctly before and after the text.
At the time, phototypesetting was state-of-the-art, the latest technology. It seemed magical, since it replaced hot-lead-type once and for all. Lead type was, literally, tiny slugs of molten lead molded by machine into individual letters in individual fonts and sizes, then "set" by the typesetter into big wooden trays. He or she set the type in reverse and backwards, of course, letter by letter, word by word, with "em" and "en" spaces made of blank lead slugs between the words and "leading," thin strips of lead between the lines, for readability. The raised letters on the slugs were inked and the paper pressed onto them to get a readable image.
When desktop publishing came along in the form of Adobe Pagemaker in the early 80s, those gigantic photo typesetting machines I struggled with, twisting my brain and fingers up with code, went the way of oh, the Edsel, I guess. Or the dodo bird. And it's been full speed ahead ever since.
I used to type all the text into the machine, watching it appear on a CRT in glowing green letters. Once I was done, I'd "print," and the machine would develop the text on a long, long strip of thick, matte, photographic paper. I'd tear it off, proof the text to be sure I hadn't messed it up by inserting or leaving out code (an easy thing to do, unfortunately), then run the paper through a waxing machine, which laid lines of soft, warm, sticky wax on the back.
And then, it was a matter of manually slicing up the printed-out text with an X-Acto blade and sticking it onto bluelined layout sheets, using a T-square to line the text up vertically and horizontally and make sure it was straight. Once that was done, you'd use a rubber roller over a second sheet of paper to stick it down tight.
It was a huge amount of work, but it was satisfying, too. Typesetting and paste-up took a certain amount of skill, and if you were a graphic artist, like I was, there was a lot of pride involved in getting it right.
Once the layouts were finished and proofed, they'd go to the printer, where the pressman burned metal plates, fixed them to his press, added ink and paper and ... heheh... viola. A book. Or pamphet, or flyer came into existence.
Ah, memories. HTML is kinda fun, in a nitnoid sorta way. Anybody have any suggestions of how I might learn more about it, free, online?
14 April 2006
Digby over at Hullabaloo wrote a great post on Baby Boomers called "Uptight, Crazy and Reactionary."
I was struck by something he said:
"The younger cohort, like me, looks at greatly reduced opportunity in a
shrinking job market that is unkind to older workers. Many cling to their
pathetic jobs with their brittle fingernails for fear of having to pony up many
thousands of dollars in health care premiums if they lose it (and having to take
a shit job at Walmart when nobody will hire them at their formerly decent wage.)
Health is becoming a big issue for us --- the system is quite inconveniently
breaking down just as we enter our unhealthy years. This economy feels very
unstable and if you are over 50 you know you will not be able to make it all
back if it goes.
"We are feeling a little bit stressed."
I haven't reached the big 5-0 yet, but I will before the year is out. Retirement at 65 always seemed a long, long way out there to me -- forever, really -- but as forever dwindles down to about 15 years away and counting, retiring when I'm 65 doesn't seem likely. In fact, to make ends meet, I'm sure I'll have to keep working, somehow, probably until the day I die.
That's assuming, of course, that my fellow "boomer" Dubya doesn't live up to the name and "boom" us all off the face of the earth, first.
As Digby says, we're the dominant generation at the moment. Our parents were the dominant generation before us, when they hit this age. But now, one of us -- one of the nutcases, unfortunately -- is president.
We must draw on the idealism that rocked the country in the 60s and early 70s and use it again, or "boomer" is going to take on a new and ominous meaning to our kids, theirs, and future generations -- if they survive us.
12 April 2006
Heard a rumor yesterday: It's going to rain for three more months!
The woman I heard the rumor from said she'd heard it on some news weather segment. Apparently the prognosticator said that the weather patterns are set up to run wet storms into the region one after another.
It's almost mid-April now, so that would mean rain, almost every day until mid-July. Cool, wet, rainy days deep into summer.
Hey, I'll take it. Call me crazy, but I like rain. I like storms and wind and thunder and lightning. I like being cool and since I'm in that phase of life where I generate my own personal heat wave five or six times each day -- and as many all night -- I get to be hot and sweaty (no, you're glowing! my friend says) more than enough already. Summer -- with its oppressive heat and relentless sun -- can just stay away, far as I'm concerned.
Honestly, given my druthers, I'd be living in a part of the world where it rained long and often as a normal thing. How odd is that? Here in California, where most people live because of the warm, sunny, dry climate, it's pretty odd. I live here because it's where my family ties are, but that's the only reason.
And now, I hear this rumor. Three more months of rain! Global warming causes regional cooling, and a delighted segment of the population heaves a great, pleased sigh of relief.
Rain. More later.
10 April 2006
There's a Japanese maple tree right outside the bathroom window. We planted it as a sapling the first spring we lived here. It was just about four feet high then, small and skinny but full of potential. I could see the future in the leaves of that little maple: one day, it would be tall and full, and it would fill the bathroom window with watery green.
Now it's about 11 feet high and not only does it do just what I hoped, it continues to grow taller each year. But it does more, too, because I hadn't imagined the maple in each of its seasonal incarnations.
Today was a gray, rainy day, not very cold but full of chill, the kind of day that makes you shivery and feel silly about it. I like to open the window when I shower early in the morning, before work; I like to breathe in the fresh dawn air, and this time of year, listen to the racous chorus of birdsong that begins even before the sun is up. And I like to look at my maple as I soap up and rinse down, watching the steam from the hot water gather under the eave and then waft away into the morning.
Until today, the branches have been completely bare. Long, curving, graceful thin branches, reddish to dark brown, most of them with new growth thin as pencil leads at their tips. At this time of year -- winter and early spring -- I call the maple my crystal tree, because most mornings it's decked out in garlands of fat, clear raindrops, each one perfectly still and round, glittering in the gray light. A good shake would cause them all to spatter off the branches, but the maple is on the north side of the house, protected from the wind. Even when gaggles of goldfinches come to perch in it, the those enchanting crystal droplets cling undisturbed.
But this morning, along with the raindrops and a few odd goldfinches, the maple sported tiny, fingery leaves at the tip of each reaching twig, pale green and furled. It won't be long before they've opened up, achingly delicate five-fingered leaves, not a one more than an inch across.
In a month, there will be so many leaves I'll be hard put to see the old, leaning wooden retaining wall a few feet beyond the tree. And the natural light in my bathroom will once again be watery, filtered green Japanese-maple-light.
Last year, late in the spring, I looked out the window at the leaves as I showered and there, not more than a foot from my nose, was an Anna's hummingbird mother and, right next to her, a fledgling. Both were perched, tiny feathers fluffed out, on one of those impossibly delicate branches, facing the window, and for a while, the three of us breathed the same air and gave each other a good looking over.
A gift, that tree.
09 April 2006
It seems that President Bush is now contemplating the use of a nuclear weapon against Iran.
According to Agente Presse France, Seymour Hersch has written an article, which will be published on April 16 in The New Yorker, which says that Bush and his administration are now doing serious "studies" on the possible use of a nuclear weapon. The idea is, apparently, that nuking innocent Iranian men, women and children will somehow cause the survivors to rise up against and overthrow their own leaders and welcome Western-style democracy as their new form of government.
Turn it around. If Iran nuked, say, Washington, DC, would the American people be likely to turn on their own democratic government and welcome an Islamic theocracy in its place?
This is sheer madness. This is ... horror. Even thinking about it. What sort of maniacs are running this country?
Yeah, I know. The same maniacs who stole the presidential election in 2000, lied the American people into prosecuting a disastrous war in Iraq, felt that barely winning with a majority for a second term in 2004 was a "mandate" and continue to tell us everything is hunky-dory in Iraq while the country collapses into the civil war we created. The same maniacs that think it's OK to use torture and "renditions" and wiretap Americans without a warrant. Who think there's nothing wrong with declassifying certain selected, politically advantageous information and leaking it to bolster their own lies. These are the same maniacs who outed an undercover CIA operative as revenge on a brave man who pointed out their lies.
Is Bush bluffing? Hoping to scare the Iranians into doing what he wants them to do? If so, he's a fool.
But then, we already knew that.
08 April 2006
When I looked this morning, I saw three of The Girls -- as our six laying hens are known because they all look exactly alike – standing like statues on three big pots. The pots form a barrier at the edge of the concrete cliff that is our patio.
This is not exactly earth-shaking news.
It did make me smile, though. Why were they standing on the pots, all of them facing away from the house? It was as if they’d taken it upon themselves act as sentinels, hoping to spot enemy agents sculking down the narrow streets between the motley collection of small, elderly houses that make up the old part of town.
You go, Girls.
The pots are full of bulbs that haven't sent up greenery yet, which is why the hens could stand unhindered on the soil with such eagle-eyed intensity.
See, Mr. Wren is a Master Gardener. He’s into bulb flowers. I’m on the fence when it comes to daffodils, tulips, day lilies and the like. The flowers are gorgeous when they bloom, no argument there, but during the other 11 months and two weeks of the year, I find the foliage first boring, then downright ugly as the leaves and stalks wither and die after the blooms have gone. As decorative pot-fillers, they fall short.
Yes, the various types bloom at different times of the year. This makes up for the dead foliage, in Mr. Wren’s estimation. There’s always something blooming. Of course, there’s always something in various stages of decay, as well. Can you tell which one of us thinks the glass is half-empty?
For instance, the daffodils in the bed by the driveway are well into their third week as cheery yellow harbingers of spring, but I noticed yesterday that more than a few of them are looking a little depressed. (It could be because they were buried under a foot of snow – again – this week.) Pretty soon they’ll look like dead daffies. But woe be unto the amateur gardener (me) who even thinks of, well, removing the dead bits. Mr. Wren believes fervently in an organic garden, and all those shriveled, brown, bladey leaves will eventually dissolve into the soil, making it even more nutritious for future generations of daffodils.
Our gardens do not look like those at your local horticultural centers. Ours look ... messy. Especially right now at the butt-end of winter.
In the summer, though, when everything has leafed out and all the flowering plants are flowering madly, the gardens are a cacophony of color filled with humming bees on a mission. If you don’t look too hard, you won’t notice the legions of weeds, particularly if they flower. Last summer, a giant thistle of the Scottish variety grew up to a height of roughly five feet, looking like a thorny alien next to the drive. Then the thistles bloomed, huge, purple, most unusual. I liked it.
So did the birds. I’m confident that this summer, there will be fifty, maybe sixty Scotch thistles in various parts of the garden.
I must buy bagpipes.
07 April 2006
When I was a kid I read a short story, “The Emissary,” by Ray Bradbury. It was about a sick, bed-bound, weak and very lonely boy who longed to be able to run outside, free, and be part of the world beyond his dim sickroom.
He couldn’t, but each day he’d send his faithful dog out to roam and bring back stories for him.
He’d wait, anticipating the moment the dog came back. And when it did, the boy would bury his fingers and his nose in the dog’s fur and, in a sort of telepathy of the senses, imagine all the places the dog had been during his wanders that day.
I think the story – this was Ray Bradbury, after all -- had a darkish, spooky ending to it, but that’s not the part I recall. What stayed with me was the little boy’s joy as he stroked and cuddled and smelled his patient dog, his “emissary” to the outside world.
Although “The Emissary” touched something deep inside me when I read it, I hadn’t thought about it in, oh, about 30 years. Maybe longer, because I don’t remember now when I first read “The October Country,” the name of the collection that included this story. I loved that book, though. I carried it with me all over the world for years, until finally during one move or another I finally misplaced it.
The memory came back to me suddenly today, as memories do sometimes. I’d just let my own dog, Logan, inside, and he’d run to the laundry room door for his treat.
Logan, I should tell you, is a psycho-dog. The best we can figure out, he’s part Chow and part Queensland healer, and somehow when all the molecules were coming together to form him in his mama’s womb, something didn’t get a perfect fit in his brain. Don’t get me wrong – Logan is the most intelligent dog I’ve ever had the privilege to share my life with, and he’s lived with us for close to 10 years now. But he’s intensely protective and has been unable, his whole life, to socialize with people other than those of us who are part of his “pack.” Since he weighs about 90 pounds and is a compact dynamo of muscle and energy – and has very sharp, strong white teeth -- we're very careful when other folks come around.
As a pup, he got gold stars learning the basic commands – sit, stay, lay down, heal – but he was afflicted, even then, with something the dog trainer called “fear aggression,” which made him cringe and snarl and snap when approached by strangers. He’s been treated with nothing but love and kindness by myself and my family, but perhaps before he came to us, he was abused somehow? We’ll never know. Thus the “psycho-dog” designation. He’s a little bit cracked.
At any rate, to reinforce the “good dog” aspect of doing his business outside, Logan always gets a treat. I got a biscuit for him from the box on the shelf, and saying, “gentle, gentle” I touched his nose, fed him the goodie and ran my hand over his head, around his ears, and down his furry neck.
And that was when the memory of “The Emissary” came back. Why? I was expecting, when I touched him, to feel cold fur. It’s still fairly chilly up here at about 3,200 feet early in the morning; on Wednesday this week, we actually had nearly a foot of heavy snow fall overnight. It’s all melted away now, but what I sure didn’t expect to feel when I slid my hand along Logan’s head and neck was ... warmth. The warmth of the sun. Good, healing, life-giving warmth.
It stopped me right where I stood. For some reason, that warmth, along with the sudden memory of Bradbury's wonderful story, brought tears to my eyes.
And when Logan finished crunching up his treat, he got a long, joyous hug right there in the laundry room doorway as I buried my fingers and nose in his thick, russet fur and breathed in the gift of spring he’d brought for me.
06 April 2006
I was living in Northern Germany when the Berlin Wall fell, ending the long, tense Cold War. I was unable to travel to Berlin myself on that chilly night, Nov. 9, 1989, but I watched CNN on the Armed Forces Network with the rest of the world as jubilant West Germans celebrated in Berlin, chipping away at the Wall with hammers, sledges and even their hands. By the end of 1990, the treacherous border between West and East Germany was open at all points and Soviet Communism was no more.
I remember sitting there in my warm living room, hardly able to believe what I was seeing. The Wall was a both a symbol and a terribly real barrier between the freedom and democracy of the West and the complete lack of both in the Soviet East. I'd grown up fearing the Soviet Union; it sounds quaint now, but the threat of nuclear annihilation was very real. I'd served four years in the Air Force myself, at a "blockhouse" in the Pacific Northwest, as a weapons technician, helping to direct intercept aircraft by radar, practicing against the terrible day that the last war the world would ever know began. Now, my husband watched radar screens at a forward mobile unit, watching the skies day and night for enemy aircraft.
In the spring of 1990, on a cool, gloriously sunshiney day, I took a day-trip with friends. In a town south of Hamburg called Wittingen, we stopped the car and got out, and with a few other curious folks, walked across the border into East Germany on foot. We weren't supposed to do this, even then -- we were four Americans, three of us employees of the U.S. Army in Germany, and one of us an active duty military member. We discussed between us the trouble we could get into if we were caught on the wrong side of the border without East German visas stamped into the back of our passports, but our curiosity and the sheer ... history ... of what we were seeing was simply too compelling to resist.
There was a narrow dirt road across "no-man's-land," that wide strip of cleared area on either side of the border. Cars were not allowed across at this point -- further south, there was an official crossing, complete with border guards, where non-Germans wishing to visit East Germany could stop, hand over their passports, and for a few Deutschmarks, buy a visa good for 24 hours. But we wanted to see and feel under our feet the no-man's-land where so many East Germans had lost their lives, trying to cross over to the West and freedom.
We walked across slowly, staying on the dirt road. There were signs in German warning people not to venture off the road; although by now the landmines had been removed and there were no longer guards drawing a bead on you with their rifles in the watchtowers, that dead strip of land, cleared of all vegetation, dry as a desert, was still potentially dangerous. Had all the mines been found?
When we reached the end of the cleared strip, we all turned around and looked back. Two or three hundred yards away was the West and freedom. Where we stood was limbo. East Germany was still in flux; not much had changed there yet, except that its people could freely cross into the West -- certainly enough. We didn't talk as we looked at the death zone from the eastern side. Just a few months before, what we were doing now would have been impossible.
We walked back. We weren't challenged on either side of the border; there were no guards, no one checking papers. It was over.
A little while later we drove over the border properly, stopping to get our visas. When we left the checkpoint, once again we were all a bit subdued. We were in East Germany, free to travel where we wished.
We spent the day driving along bumpy, poorly maintained, two-laned roads through a countryside that was both beautiful and, compared to the countryside in the West we'd just left, empty. Aboveground pipelines were everywhere, snaking across fields of raps and other spring crops under a sky so blue it seemed unreal. We drove though tiny villages that looked as if they hadn't been painted or spruced up since 1938. Shop windows were dirty, the very few goods displayed behind them looking forlorn and dusty. There were no pubs, no restaurants, very few people in spite of it being a beautiful Saturday in spring. Few cars on the road, either -- we'd go miles before passing one, headed the other way.
We ended up in Schwerin, a small city in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania that had been settled since the 11th Century. We saw the old castle there, built in the 1300s and wandered the Altergarten square. Near the lake -- the Schwerin See, we bought ice-cream bars from a smiling East German vendor. He had to have been one of the first East German entrenpenuers, taking advantage of this new and pleasant freedom.
It was a beautiful city, but what I remember most about it was its grayness. Other than the sky and the trees, and few flowers blooming here and there, there was little color. Here, too, shop windows were all but empty. The windows above them were blank, curtained. There were no flowerboxes outside them, none of the bright advertisements we'd grown used to in the West, and surprisingly few people out and about.
We stayed for a few hours, but the afternoon was getting late and we had to be back over the border before nightfall. And so we returned, taking a road north out of the city and then heading west. When we crossed over again, just as that bright, clear sun was setting, I was struck once again by the incredible difference between the two Germanys. On the east side, colorlessness and a sense that time had somehow stopped. On the west -- within just a few hundred feet -- a smooth road, colorful signs, flowers blooming, buildings clean and bright with paint, cars, traffic, pubs, shops bulging with things to buy, their windows sparkling.
I have seen with my own eyes the difference between a democratic, free society and one that isn't. And I find it stunning that in our own country, now, we face the slow dismantling of our rights and freedoms. President Bush feels free to conduct warrantless wiretapping of our phone conversations; feels free to lie to us about the reason he launched a war of convenience. His administration lies to us daily as it destroys our freedoms. We may never reach the desolate point that East Germany and other Soviet-controlled nations did, but we're on a dark road.
05 April 2006
I'm Wren. I'm an American, a disgruntled Democrat, a veteran, a Mom, a wife, an artist and a journalist, a non-believer. I've never been political. But I can't sit silent and watch while America is taken over by the religious right and our democracy and great Constitution are shredded away by inches.
I'm deeply worried about America. I don't want to see the day come when we find ourselves, by virtue of our silence, powerless subjects of an imperial theocracy. I have a lot of questions and not much in the way of answers. But I have a sharp, questing mind and increasingly, feel compelled to speak out.
And so, I'll blog. I hope to get a good conversation going here so that perhaps, between us, we can find our way home.