Saturday, December 26, 2015

Waste Not, Want Not

While it's entirely possible I've written about this before, the chances that you'll remember are vanishingly slim. I don't, and it's my blog. Anyway, this is all about reusing things that still have some life in them, anyway. So there.

I bought this "tree" (I use quotation marks advisedly) about three years ago. At the time, "pre-lit" was supposed to be a selling point. However, the fact that cheap Christmas lights burn out faster than artificial trees biodegrade was not adequately explored in the promotional copy.

Setting it up a couple of weeks ago I found that some of the lights were no longer functioning. I strung additional ones. More lights have gone out. It's beginning to exhibit tree-pattern baldness. And some friends, friends who have never known what it is to go without, are telling me to throw the tree away and buy a new one.

Not so fast.

My paternal grandparents were both Cornell graduates, so you know. My grandfather had a B.S. in Agriculture. My grandmother had a B.S. in Home Economics. Don't laugh - she could do things you can only dream of. Forget about merely being a good cook and housekeeper. She could make clothes - elaborate, coordinated, ornamental outfits, with smocking, embroidery, and so on. She crocheted carpets and furniture coverings. She kept a home garden perfectly capable of supplying most of the needs for her family. She prepared and canned food. There was an industrial freezer in their mudroom, where the snowshoes were kept, with years' worth of rutabaga and corn and apples and soybeans. Honey was down cellar. It's kind of funny, as someone who follows the locally-sourced, natural foods movement to note how heavily these well-stocked supplies of local produce were supplemented with cheaply-available commodities like oleo, Wonder Bread, Spam, and powdered milk. But so it was.

My grandmother wasted nothing. Christmas wrappings were carefully slit with a penknife and folded away for reuse. I let my kids tear off the paper, but never, never, never have I knowingly thrown away a Christmas bow. Why would you do that?

And every year, when it came time (January 6, thankyouverymuch, this atheist reminds you) to take down the Christmas tree, my grandparents carefully and painstakingly picked off every strand of tinsel icicle to reuse the following year.

Naturally, after a while, the tinsel icicles were a little less icy-looking. Eventually they were just straight-up gray. They were limp; they were dull. But, not having actually disintegrated into dust, they were carefully gathered and folded away every year. So one year, being a teenager, and fancying myself pretty well versed in the ways of the modern world, I shelled out $0.89 for a package of shiny new tinsel icicles, and gave them to my grandparents for Christmas.

They opened them, and thanked me. They marked them down on the running list of who-had-bought-what-for-whom, to be referred to in composing thank-you notes later. And, solemnly, as if I weren't being a complete little shit, they laid them aside, to be opened whenever the old ones should wear out. I have a feeling - I may have blocked the memory - that we came across the unopened package among Grandma's effects many years later, after they had died. But maybe not, because I think if so, I would still have them.

That's what's on my mind whenever anyone (including my own internal voice) tells me, just throw this tree away. Just get a new one. Get one without pre-strung lights, then, if you don't want to be wasteful. But this one's a write-off. Pitch it.

On January 7 I expect to be going through it with a pair of cheaters and fine-gauge wire cutters, making it ready for next year, and many, many years to come. I could hardly face Grandma otherwise.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On the Lam

"Um, Elizabeth?" Mary sounds uncharacteristically tentative over the phone. "Security ran your driver's license for the Governor's Mansion tour, and DPS called and said to give you a heads-up there's a warrant out for your arrest."

Well, shit.

The wildly ebullient Mary works at the state visitor center here in Austin, not to get too Googleable. Another of our staff members there was kind enough to set up a holiday tour of the Texas executive residence (which we don't call the Texas White House, that's out in Stonewall; LBJ and Lady Bird are buried out there) for some of us office schlubs. The Governor is in residence, so they do a routine background check when you sign up. And it turns out I was a fugitive from justice.

The thing is, when you're on the lam, you usually know it. You become an expert at skulking. You're shady. You are not usually a peacefully oblivious solid middle-aged citizen, becoming, let's face it, a little more solid with each progressive year. Being on the run gives you a lean, hunted look. Fuck Paleo, being a wanted criminal may be the new diet plan for the twenties. I'd lay money on it. But only in an unofficial and strictly legal capacity.

So whatever did I do? Mary politely insisted it must be some sort of clerical error. But Mary doesn't do insincerity well, and her attempts to soothe and reassure me were punctuated with images she's found online of elves in a lineup and Santa Claus getting handcuffed.

I called the DPS security officer at the Governor's Mansion. He didn't have any details, but was able to tell me the warrant was for Theft By Check. I'm a little freaked. When's the last time I ever bounced a check? Have I ever messed up and left one unpaid? There was a time when money used to run out between paychecks, but I would tend to characterize that time more as "expensive" than anything else. There were bounced check fees, and I paid them. It costs a lot of money to be poor, dontcha know. When did I last renew my driver's license, or get pulled over in traffic? I was involved in a crash with a red-light-running taxi just last February, and cops were all over the place, taking down information and running licenses. I certainly haven't had any issues in such recent memory. Did I close an account with some forgotten automatic draft set up?

The county attorney's office has a robot phone system. Sure enough, when I enter my date of birth and driver's license number, it reads back an outstanding arrest warrant. "Date of issue: December 5, 1989," it says.

What. I hit "repeat" on my phone. I must have heard that wrong. "December 5, 1989," it insists.

Out of shame, I've gone outside to the break area to make my call, but this is silly. Back in my office, I tell my cube neighbor about it. "Wait," he says. "Is that 26 years ago?"

"It is!" pipes in another neighbor a little too quickly. We remember she was born in 1989.

"Well then," I said, "I guess I better figure out how to take care of this."

So, with a couple more calls to the County Attorney's office, a visit and a small amount of cash (no checks accepted, sorry) at their walk-up window, and a receipt delivered to the clerk at the county court, it's all taken care of. Yes, I'm sorry to say I wrote three bad checks in the course of one week - one week! - to the convenience store down the street from my college housing co-op a couple of months after my 20th birthday. There are not a lot of positive things to be said for Younger Me. Didn't know better? Sorry, I am back in school now with plenty of people that age who seem to be perfectly responsible citizens. No, I was just stupid.

It doesn't answer why my outstanding warrant never set off any alarms when I was renewing my license, over the decades, or doing the other oblivious things I did with no notion of my wanted status. In a way, this is a little exasperating. Really, I've been a fugitive from justice for 26 years? Really?? I mean, I know justice is blind and all, but seriously. I'm right here.

At the county courthouse, the clerk told me, "You're all set - but the warrant might not be lifted until about 5 PM. So be extra careful until then."

Do see the Governor's Mansion, if you get the chance. Mary is a real comedienne, and the DPS security officers are peachy. No comment on anyone else who works there.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I Can't Hear You

Hello - is this thing on?

Ludwig van Beethoven, many say, was not white. Beethoven had Moorish ancestry dating to the Spanish occupation of the portion of the Netherlands, now part of Belgium, from which his paternal grandfather hailed.

If I understand correctly, this ultimately means Beethoven's grandfather was ethnically Flemish, with some other stuff, maybe or maybe not - but really, why not - mixed in. The main thing I know about Flems and Dutch personages is that they dislike each other so much, SO much, I've read, that even though Flemish and Dutch are technically two dialects of the same language - speakers of each can understand the other - they are classified as separate languages.

A 15-second scan of the Internets does not turn anything up to refute this, so I'm going with it.

Anyway, imagine if we hated the Australians so much that we pretended we couldn't understand a damn thing they said. This is probably a bad analogy, because who could hate Aussies? But if an Aussie weren't keen on Americans, and turned up her nose and pretended not to be able to understand a Texas drawl or a Hollywood vocal fry, that would be roughly equivalent. I think. I'm not sure, I changed my major from Linguistics to Rhetoric and Writing a while ago.

We digress anyway. The point is, Beethoven may or may not have had Black ancestry, evidence in support of which is that he was fairly swarthy for a German, and wrote music with unusual rhythmic sensitivity for his date and time.

I'm good with the first point. The second makes me uneasy. Even the staunchest African-Beethoven theorist is not suggesting that Beethoven spent any of his lifetime whatsoever in Africa. Therefore, any notion of his Black ancestry having an effect on his unique musical expression suggests at best a troubling genetic component to his musical proclivities. Beethoven was raised in Europe - never set foot outside of it, as far as I've read; never knew any but a vanishingly small handful of people who had. To suggest that a style of musical composition is racially based is also to bring up all sorts of other suggestions, hopefully long debunked, of which races are better at certain things than others.

Why the sudden interest? My sister Margie drew this wonderful bust of Beethoven, which an amazing tattoo artist in Queens - Astoria (Body Language Tattoos on Broadway, if anyone's interested) brought to life on my shoulder. I've been hankering after this for a few years. It's amazing, and doesn't really hurt much at all, if you're used to hungry cats at 5 AM.
So now it's personal, you know.

On a generally unrelated note, this morning I got up and went to the kitchen and found Bingo bathing himself on the stove, as is his wont. "Bingo!" I shouted. He ignored me.

Bingo kept on licking himself, his back to me, and I kept on shouting at him, unregarded. "Bingo!" I said. "BINGO!!" I was right behind him. He showed no notice. Finally I touched him and he started almost out of his skin, looked at me reproachfully, meyowled a few times, and jumped off the stove. He had no idea I was there.

Bingo is stone deaf.

He's 16 years old, so I guess this should come as no particular shock, and might have been going on for quite a while, but I had no idea. Poor little guy. He already gets special dispensation for his advanced age, so I gave him more cream when I made coffee, and an extra cup of stinky food, and plenty of extra chest scritchies as he purred on my lap, warty old neck extended. I love that little guy.

There's a lot more I wanted to say about issues of race, social acceptance, and disability - not to mention body art - but this will have to do for tonight. The fall semester has begun, and as usual, when I have writing to do for school or work, interest in doing it for fun dwindles. Which is a shame, because the whole point of a blog (isn't it?) is that there's no actual expectation that it be any good.

So here's a terrible joke from our old friend, the Internet:

When Beethoven passed away, he was buried in a churchyard. A couple of days later, the town drunk was walking through the cemetery and heard some strange noise coming from the area where Beethoven was buried. Terrified, the drunk ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave. Frightened, the priest ran and got the town magistrate.

When the magistrate arrived, he bent his ear to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, "Ah, yes, that's Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, being played backwards."

He listened a while longer, and said, "There's the Eighth Symphony, and it's backwards, too. Most puzzling." So the magistrate kept listening; "There's the Seventh... the Sixth... the Fifth..."

Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the magistrate; he stood up and announced to the crowd that had gathered in the cemetery, "My fellow citizens, there's nothing to worry about. It's just Beethoven decomposing."

*mic drop*

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Childbirth: Now Available in Extra-Crunchy!

Homebirth, from my experience, is a wonderful thing. I've done it twice. Then I had my youngest in a hospital, naturally, because I'd gone and got all grown-up and had insurance, which didn't cover a midwife, so a hospital birth it was.

I totally should've shelled out for the midwife.

The thing is, there are cautionary tales out there about homebirths. People will tell you that you are taking your life, and the life of your child, into your own hands. They will say that you need medical support in case something goes wrong, and I won't deny that medical support, in case something goes wrong, is a very good thing indeed. The problem is that medical support starts leaning in when things aren't yet going wrong, on the off-chance that they might, with the result that sometimes things that otherwise would not have gone wrong, had nature been allowed to take its course, which it was not, do. There are probably statistics about this and I could probably look them up. I might very well be able scientifically to prove the point that natural childbirth is better, but that isn't the goal of this blog post.

The goal of this blog post is to warn you that you will be expected to figure out what to do with a placenta.

Hospitals, you know, never ask you to clean up the mess. You go in, they give you some drugs, they stick a needle in your spine, they cut a neat slit in your hoo-hah, they reach in with forceps and pull out the baby, badabing badaboom you're done. Never, never do they then hand you a large slab of meat WHICH YOU PERSONALLY MADE WITH YOUR OWN BODY and say "Hey! Do you want to take a bite out of this, or cook it, or plant a tree over it or something?"

Midwives do, you know, from being under the impression (rather understandable I think) that you are a super-duper-hippy-earthhugger who believes in an interconnectedness of all things and the sacredness of the creation of new life and some other freaky shit like that. So there you are, exhausted, proud, and cranked up on endorphins like you wouldn't believe, cradling the most wondrous being in existence to your maternal breast, and your midwife - after months of holistic prenatal care, one of the dearest friends you've ever known - says to you, "Where do you want the placenta?"

This is not an easy question even after you've had your coffee. You haven't.

When my son Eric was born, 25 years ago (!!!!!) this May 22, we elected to wrap it* in plastic bags and stick it in the freezer, because if there's a top 10 list of things you can't make a snap decision about under stressful circumstances, what to do with your placenta is at least #4. At LEAST.

We wanted to plant a tree over it. But we were renting ($350/month for a 2-1 on North Loop, thankyouverymuch), and didn't know when or if we'd ever have a place of our own, so we just stuck it in a couple layers of plastic bags and stashed it in the freezer. What are you going to do?

A month or two later, we had a power outage - looking back, it probably had something to do with not paying the electric bill - so my ex, then working in the kitchen at The Omelettry on Burnet Road, bagged up all our perishable stuff and took it to work to store in the freezer there. Naturally this included one human placenta, wrapped in a few layers of freezer bags, but still indelibly imbued with the unmistakable quality of being, well, a placenta. What are you going to say?

They've been there a long time. I could look up how long, but am not bothering. I just know that when I started dating a real Austinite and much older man (30!!!!) in my freshman year at UT, he took me to the Omelettry West on Lake Austin Blvd., now the original location of Magnolia Cafe. And I know that when my first husband (as if that really counts) started working there, he was 19 and I was 20, and we practically lived on the day's leftover pancake batter and cheese blocks. Life was tougher then. But then again, now that I am in my mid-40s and well-established in a career making good money, can I afford a nicer place to live than I could then, on my ex's part-time $4.50/hour? Well, no, not really. I don't have a dishwasher, and I don't have a place to plug in three-holed appliances.

So it's probably best that I'm past childbearing age.

I'm deeply saddened that the Omelettry is being demolished to make way for condos, though they will (and I encourage everyone to visit) reopen in a new location with the same menu (get the Popeye, okay? It's incredible) and human history, based on what we know of it so far, never really changes.

I'll shed a tear for the classic location. I have, honestly, no idea whatever became of my son's placenta. Maybe we planted it under a tree at my ex-MIL's house, now completely redone for another resident? Maybe we threw it away at some point?!? God knows what we ever did with Katie's; we were living in an apartment then.

Anna's was never offered to me by a clinical and impersonal hospital system, so thank God for that. I'll have a word with them about the forceps.

And you thought having kids was easy!

*THE PLACENTA, fer crissakes.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

No Smoking

Seven years ago, my dear friend Billy expressed incredulity when we got the news that Bitching Bubbly Smoking Nonsmoker had been fired, and escorted off the premises of our former workplace. "But she was one of the main characters!" he protested.

Her name was Cheryl, and she died this past week after a few years' battle with cancer. According to the relative who posted the news on her Facebook page, the cancer was beaten - she'd been cancer-free for six months, though she was still undergoing some surgeries. The cause of death appears to have been heart failure.

This is hardly surprising. She kept an upbeat tone, but from the updates she posted on Facebook it was evident she had a crushing amount to deal with: trying to find and keep work, conflicting instructions from doctors, losing her condo off Live Oak, health insurance, diagnoses, moving, the death of her father, moving again, unemployment benefits, finding a job, being laid off, more surgeries, etc. etc. etc. She was matter-of-fact and resolutely un-whiny about any of it, but did occasionally find time to bite the heads off well-wishers ("Stop calling me 'brave!' There's nothing brave about it! What else am I supposed to do, lie down and die?!") Being seriously ill brings with it such a devastating load of things to stress out about that heart attacks seem like a natural side effect of otherwise treatable health issues.

I thought it was funny that she bitched about "Obummer" and continued fiercely criticizing Obamacare, without which health insurance would have been unavailable to her. So she was disinterested, at least. She requested advice on upgrading her computer without losing data; some commenters recommended backing everything up on an external hard drive, and one suggested she contact a mutual acquaintance with a lot of experience in the area. She was short with that suggestion: "He pissed me off once and I won't talk to him anymore."

I hope someone told her that the Sheriff, who managed the Herculean task of firing Cheryl from a state agency, was forced to resign this past year. I wish I had. Cheryl called the Sheriff "Dr. Crummy" and carried a bit of a grudge, understandably enough. It was years later, and hardly the ignominious defeat that Cheryl (and others) suffered at the Sheriff's hands, but at least something happened eventually. And again, in a state agency, that's saying something. Still, the fact is, minus the Sheriff's interference, Cheryl would have coasted along a few more years to retirement, and her life would have been considerably less stressful - therefore, most likely, longer.

Cheryl was never unkind or hurtful, just grouchy. What would the world be without curmudgeons? She smoked, she quit; she groused, she worked hard to be positive. I remember trying to help her with a jamming copier once and she stopped and took a breath and closed her eyes. "You're trying to help," she said. "You're very sweet. Please just walk away now." And you have to respect that, really, more than someone who is always bubbly and sweet and nice to your face and then goes and writes mocking blog posts about you, don't you?

Bon voyage to you, Cheryl. Give Heaven hell.

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Yes You Can

Sometimes you just can't even.

What a copout. Of course you can. You just don't feel like it.

You say you "just can't even," but do, in fact, every day. You do what you have to. At work, at school, shopping, dining. People who frankly would rather not even are evening just the same, so suck it up. What, you think you have some special dispensation that excuses you from evening? I don't think so.

I don't want to hear any more about it.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Acupuncture: Yes

Well, maybe. Probably. Give it a try and see what you think!

It's hard to say. An endorphin high is a remarkable thing. However, the main objection I had to acupuncture - that getting a bunch of needles stuck into you would hurt like hell - turned out to be unfounded, so I'm inclined to be magnanimous.

It's also a very silly objection for anyone to make who routinely allows cats to settle on her, purring raucously, and clawing her skin to bloody shreds while drooling in her hair.

We do still have what I have unequivocally identified as rat mites, so an exterminator is coming out Saturday, courtesy of my landlord, to rid the house of their preferred hosts (without which I am assured they die, no matter how much blood I personally provide).

(This refers, let's be clear, to trapping and releasing any squirrels, raccoons, and rhinoceroses who happen to live in the attic, then sealing all points of entry, and bug-bombing the shit out of the house.)

And now we also have lower back pain. Hooray! So it hasn't really been a banner autumn for me. Aside from making A's in all my classes. But I don't want to brag. I might actually end up with a B in Texas Government, which reminds me of a certain Cheech & Chong song.

But, three weeks ago, on the bike ride to work, I strained something in my lower back (my sacroiliac joints, according to a practitioner of strictly Western medicine), and have been in varying degrees of pain ever since. I can't ride, and have to drive everywhere, which sucks, although I guess it does somewhat justify the purchase of a car (that the bank owns until I finish paying them back for it - I am pretty sure I said that before Bike Snob NYC did, by the way). I have had to buy gas THREE TIMES now. God only knows how much I've paid for parking.

After two and a half weeks of Aleve and Flexeril I was not seeing any improvement, and was finding it difficult to sit, stand, or walk, all of which it turns out I need to do rather a lot. So I followed my friend Lois's suggestion and went to an acupuncturist today.

It really is hard to single out what causes the healing effect. For one thing, Americans aren't big on meditation. But when someone sticks a bunch of tiny needles in your back, hands, and feet (a completely painless process, for me at least), and leaves you alone in a room to contemplate your condition for twenty minutes, you're going to be in a very different state of mind when she returns than you were when she left.

I settled in and began to relax, and pondered the strange physicality-yet-non-physicality of consciousness, as my limbs draped over the table like slabs of meat and I lost any sense of proximity awareness. Were my big toes touching, or were my feet spaced several inches apart? Did my fingers still move? Say - what would happen to a conscious awareness uploaded into immortality in some newly-developed cosmic mainframe?* Would we adjust easily to our new electronic immortality, or would we go rapidly insane in the massive sensory deprivation from every minuscule discomfort, itch, twinge, need-to-pee, breath, heartbeat, scent that we've ever known since conception?

Maybe just the first release. iMmortality 1.0. By 2.6 they'd have worked most of the bugs out.

So hey! No more rat-mite bites!

Following the solitude, I was pretty chatty when the acupuncturist came back in to remove the needles and do some cupping (not painful, as the marks suggest; but I'm less convinced about this practice). Then she gave me a few minutes of light massage to finish up, and told me to take as long as I needed to get dressed and come out, because I was likely to feel slightly dizzy.

The really strange part was how it felt to move back into my body. The lower-back pain had been completely forgotten. I had to think about flexing my fingers, moving my arms, propping up on my elbows. Then I remembered I'd once had toes, and wiggled them experimentally. Slowly I sat up. I looked down at the physical parts of myself in some surprise. Fuck. There are bug bites on my arms.

So obviously, acupuncture isn't a cure-all.

Still, it was rather a wondrous experience, and one I hope to repeat now and again. I stumbled out of the office after paying. The acupuncturist was a little concerned. "Are you okay to drive?" she asked. She gave me a bottle of water. Some Nutter Butters might also have been appropriate.

I'll do a lot to avoid the typical American-elder fate of living out of a date-labeled pill box. My back has been improving over the last few days, so it's hard to say whether the acupuncture itself helped. But the treatment itself felt amazing. I'm a holistic convert!

I'm still bombing the shit out of these fucking bugs.

*Located in San Angelo.

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