Friday, June 26, 2015

Sweet-Home-Alabama Pride or Is He Just a Bigot?

I have an opinion about the confederate flag. Do you know the story that I'm referring to? There were nine people in a church in Charleston, North Carolina who were murdered. Nine African American people. The murderer had a confederate flag on his license plate. Now, use of the confederate flag by state governments is in question.

My first opinion is that attention has been taken away from that vile act against our African Americans and in a church no less. Now, instead of talking about mental health issues or rampant racism, our politicians argue whether the confederate flag should be a symbol in the South or not. Why can't they stay focused on the real issues?


My second opinion is that the confederate flag should go. Oh, I know those people who loved the confederate flag for its representation of redneck rebel pride, Lynyrd Skynyrd, off-road trucks, and spicy pulled-pork sandwiches.

Still, I never saw a black man waving that flag and eating a spicy pulled-pork sandwich. Never.

Did you?

Show me a black man waving the confederate flag and I'll show you a Jew waving a swastika.

Think about it. Five thousand years ago, the swastika was a Sanskrit symbol for good luck or well-being. Then, it began to be used as a symbol of 'purity' by the Nazis. Purity, really?

And that ruined the use of the symbol forever. It was used to create terror and to incite an evil pride instead of wishing people good luck. Can you imagine trying to send a swastika to anyone as a sign of good luck now? It just doesn't mean the same thing any more.

One time, I had a difference of opinion with a friend's son. He insisted that he was a 'hacker' and was completely offended when I asked if he'd done something illegal. After that conversation, I learned that a small group of computer experts were calling themselves hackers. At the time, my only comment to him after he explained that he wasn't breaking any laws was that if a large population defined a word in a negative way, a small group of people co-opting a different meaning of the word would have to live with the consequences, with the confusion, with the negative association the larger agreed meaning would bring.

Did that just make sense?

I told him that if he called himself a hacker, most people would assume he was breaking the law, that his small group of people couldn't just change the meaning and argue that the rest of us were wrong.

He hung up on me.

And so it is with the confederate flag. A large population see the confederate flag as a sign of oppression. I used to wonder why I got so nervous at a party whenever I met a guy driving a truck with a gun-rack and a confederate flag in the back window. Now, I know. That flag could either have meant that this guy liked his pulled pork spicy and would sing along whenever 'Sweet Home Alabama' came on the radio or it could mean that he was a bigoted - and that often went along with being a misogynist - man with a bunch of guns to back him up. With the confederate flag, you could never tell which man was which until the party had gone on too long and the beer was flowing freely.

Yes, I think the confederate flag should be removed from any government buildings and license plates. What you do with your own gun-rack is up to you, but don't be offended if I wonder if it means you're a bigot. Okay?

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Did Mom Say You Could Do That?

On the way home from a Scout meeting, I listened to NPR on the radio. I often listen to NPR on the radio when I get to choose what's on the radio. I admit it. I'm a news junkie.
Tonight, someone was interviewing a scientist about transgenic animals. This scientist was excited about getting to recessive genes in a chicken to make a chicken have features like a dinosaur. Teeth, tails, and legs instead of wings. Oh, I really don't want to see those things loose in the woods. He was excited about these animals.

I'm sitting in my little gray Prius, driving down the highway at fifty-eight miles an hour and I'm talking to my radio.

"Really?" I said out loud. "You want aggressive little chickens with teeth and four legs running around our forests?"

"We've been doing this kind of thing for centuries," the scientist said. "Just look at how we created a chihuahua out of a wolf. It's the same thing only faster."

"Chihuahuas are still dogs. They have four legs. They bark. They run around at the park acting like a big dog. Chihuahuas may be small, but they aren't exactly freaks of nature."

When I pulled into my driveway, I wanted to sit in the car and hear more from this mad scientist. Clearly, he had not seen the Jurassic Park movies about how nature has a way of gaining the upper hand, how these creatures we created just might pose a problem for us. Clearly he hadn't thought of the lives of dinochickens. They're going to be freaks among their fellow chickens. They're going to get out. Somehow, it's going to happen. These things are going to get out of the labs one way or another.

I looked up transgenic animals on the Internet when I got into the house and found glow-in-the-dark rabbits and mice with ears growing on their backs. It was just gross, like finding photos of heavily-tattooed and pierced people.

Why would anyone think that we need rabbits that glow in the dark? Can you picture that poor strain of rabbit hanging out in the woods at dusk? Still, they might be so freaky that predators wouldn't eat them. I know I wouldn't.

This is all crap. I'm sorry, but it is. Have you noticed that everything I've been writing lately has been crap?

I'm sorry for that. I really am. I blame the sun. I've been waking up with the sun and napping in the afternoon. I feel weird when I walk around after only five hours of sleep. Then, if I sleep in the afternoon, I feel even stranger, as if I've walked out of a strange dream that's still going on around me.

And it is a strange dream that's going on around me. Scientists are creating glowing bunnies, mice with ears, and chickens that are ready to act like dinosaurs. I just wish I could have been the interviewer and asked this mad scientist if he'd gotten more than five hours of sleep a night since the days are just so long this time of year. I wanted to ask him if he might benefit from black-out shades and would his grandma be proud of the chickens he bred for her coop.

We're creating so many problems for ourselves, climate change, resistant strains of viruses, and now glowing bunnies and dinochickens. What are we thinking? What?

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, June 19, 2015

Thoughts on Bad Juju and Grocery Bags

It was my first sleep-until-you're-done day in many months and I woke up at 6:03am. I blame the sun. At least the people in Alaska have it figured out. When we went there once in June, I slept like a baby because all of the hotels have black-out shades. Oh, I have it figured out, but I haven't replaced my blinds yet. I'm too tired.

I'm doing laundry right now.

Lovely, you might think. She's going to talk about laundry.

Worse. I'm washing grocery bags today so, yes, I'm going to talk about grocery bags instead.

Seriously? Grocery bags?

A few years back, I was accosted by a woman I know who was selling grocery bags and coffee cups as a fund raiser. And I mean accosted. She worked me until I bought a bag, wrung me out. She wasn't done with me after I bought the first bag at $5 a pop. No. A short period of time passed and another fund-raising moment came and there she was at it again, serenely smiling in that high-pressure-salesman sort of way. She could have sold cars. I tell you, I felt the fear in the back of my knees the minute I saw her standing there with that smile on her face, with her table of grocery bags and coffee cups. I decided to do an end-run and immediately bought another $5 bag. At least I would use the grocery bag even if it cost five times what other ones cost. And then, I could relax and smile back at her whenever I ran into her. Not exactly. Before she was done with me, I bought one more grocery bag at five times the cost of an ordinary bag. And she's still out there, selling coffee cups and grocery bags whenever she has an opportunity. It's like knowing that Jaws is in the water. Somewhere. Just waiting. With that toothy grin on her face.

Fast forward six years. I now have a collection of grocery bags that can't be beat. I have the bag I bought in France because my sister didn't like my backpack for some of the more high-end restaurants. I bought it because it could pass as a purse but labeled it in my mind as an expensive grocery bag. It's so nice that cashiers don't want to use it for groceries. Explaining it to the grocery store clerks always makes me think of the incredible restaurants in France. I have the bag I bought at the dime store in Hawaii with the cheerful old woman at the cash register. While Mike and Nick haggled over some trinket, she smiled and taught me a bunch of words in Hawaiian and nodded her head sagely when I repeated the words she'd taught me and told her my favorite word was 'ohana,' family. I love that grocery bag for the inclusion into the Hawaiian family that I felt that day. I have the '12' grocery bag I inherited from a football fan that incorrectly identifies me as a mutual football fan, though that may have to change now that Nick is signed up for his high school football team. I get a lot of incomprehensible chatter from cashiers whenever I pull out my '12' grocery bag, especially before the Superbowl. I try to smile and look as though I belong in this conversation, but despite my '12' grocery bag, they soon understand that I do not because I have a dumb look on my face. That bag entertains me for the damage it does to true '12' fans. If you're an avid football fan, sorry for that.

I also have the ratty old bag I bought in the days when Whole Foods first opened in my neighborhood. Whole Foods cashiers keep trying to replace that bag because the plastic coating is peeling off and getting all over my groceries and black pants. I keep politely telling them that my ratty old bag is fine, that it's still holding groceries well. The funny thing was that one overly-enthusiastic cashier just gave me a new grocery bag one day despite my protestation. I tried to tell him that I didn't need anything for free, that my ratty old bag was fine, that I even liked it's abstract patterning since the plastic had nearly finished peeling. I told him that my ratty old bag had survived two or three trips through the laundry and it was still working fine. He gave me a bright shiny new bag anyway.

And do you want to know what?

That bright shiny new bag lost its stitching within two months and some apples fell through a hole and got bruised. It made me mad. I returned that bag to customer service. Oh, I didn't want a new bag, I told a woman at customer service. I didn't want a refund for something I got for free. I have plenty of bags anyway including the ratty old bag that I held up for the woman to see. I just wanted them to see the irony in what they'd been trying to do. I wanted them to think about the environment when they looked at that new useless free grocery bag that was now headed for a flotilla the size of Texas. I told them I could have stitched the thing on my sewing machine but that this was beside the point. Oh, I was an old crabby bitch that day. Can you picture me, standing there with bad hair and red-rimmed eyes from lack of sleep, holding my ratty old bag in the air and shoving the shiny new bag across the counter to the nice customer service woman?

If you're a customer service woman for Whole Foods, I apologize. In fact, if you're a customer service person anywhere, I apologize for all of us crazy people who show up at your counter and give you grief over stuff you have absolutely no control over. You customer service people all over the world are going to heaven for all the ration of shit you have taken in regarding ridiculous stuff us crazy people bring back to you. Saints, you are. Absolute saints that should stand with Ghandi and Mother Theresa in heaven.

And so today, I'm washing half of my grocery bags. You can never wash all of them at once. Then you're sure to get stuck in the store with all your grocery bags hanging on door knobs in your house and coming home with six or eight brand new plastic bags that will work twice before they tear and end up in the flotilla the size of Texas that is clogging the Pacific ocean. Remember the flotilla of plastic the size of Texas clogging the Pacific ocean? I've read that all the oceans are getting them.

I'm washing the ratty old grocery bag from Whole Foods with abstract art on its sides, my ohana grocery bag that always makes me feel warm as if I could be a grandmother in the Hawaiian culture if I were dropped there one day by mistake, my '12' grocery bag that makes me feel like a bit of a fraud but is entertaining nevertheless, my French grocery bag that no one seems to want to use because it's too nice.

And I'm washing the three grocery bags that cost five times what they should. As I stand there shoving them into the washer, just touching them gives me the impression that that woman is going to show up in the middle of my tiny laundry room pressuring me to buy yet another one. Still, those grocery bags are holding up, looking almost as good after heavy loads and extra bleach as the days I crumbled under the pressure and bought them from her. On the day when that smiling woman finally convinces me to replace all of my ratty old comfortable grocery bags with her bags that are five times the cost of an ordinary bag, I may never have to buy another grocery bag again.

And that would be sad.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lunch or No Lunch

Today is the last day of school. Nick is done with 8th grade. You'd think that I'd be reminiscing about how fast the days fly. You'd think I'd be thinking, with a tear in my eye, how he had to shave yesterday before putting on the dress shirt and tie with his blue jeans and old sneakers.

No. I'm not. He's going to see most of these people in his classes next year. A few are moving away, but he'll still be in his element even though the classrooms will have changed. New teachers? He's a pro with new teachers. Will I be thinking about his future, an unknown with clues based on his likes and dislikes?


What I'm stressing about this morning is that I still don't know, after eight years of half days on occasion, whether or not I need to make a lunch for him when he gets out of school at 11:53, or is it 10:53? I can't remember even though I just looked it up.

He wants a lunch. He doesn't really need a lunch, but he wants one, so I made him a little lunch.

It would be too embarrassing to ask at this stage. It really would.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

His Very Own Bunny

Teddy, our dog, found a rabbit in the yard tonight. He chased this poor creature through some weeds, across the lawn, past our feet, through a row of English laurel, over a rock wall, around the corner of the garage, and Teddy lost his bunny by the old cedar on what we loosely call the lower lawn. There isn't actually much grass in the lower lawn, but there's lots of brush to hide in.

It was a baby rabbit. I'm so happy that we have a rabbit and though I wish him a peaceful life, I think maybe it was good for him to get used to being chased, even if it is by a benign creature like Teddy. Teddy had a rat in his mouth once by the garage, but he let it go. Teddy has casually strolled up to rabbits, yes, more than one, and if they didn't run, all he did was sniff their butts and look at me like it was my job to force them to run. The fun stuff is running and sniffing, but Teddy isn't a killer even when he could catch them.

A bunny!

Seventeen years ago, we had another rabbit at our house, though I suspect that one was dropped off since it was almost tame and was the color of honey. Wild rabbits around here are never the color of honey. I never did manage to touch it though. Who wouldn't be a little suspicious of people when it was a person who took you from your comfortable hutch and dropped you off along the highway? That bunny disappeared within days, too short a time for me to find bunny feed and set it out for him and gain his trust. Coyotes. Owls. Hawks. And a different, more predatory dog. It's not an easy life out here for an almost tame, insufficiently camouflaged bunny.

Teddy's bunny today was wild and properly mottled. Teddy's bunny knew to run like hell when something the shape and smell of a coyote stalked him and ran him down the hill. Teddy's bunny is smarter than he was just an hour ago. That experience is etched into Teddy's bunny's brain. Run like hell and you just might survive. Dodge back and forth. Run like hell.

Before the bunny, Teddy was bored with this house and the summer heat which means that he gets fewer rides to interesting places than usual. Teddy is very happy to live here now. His very own bunny. When he came in the door finally, after his chase and after spinning around the old cedar four or five times when he lost the game, he still had a grin on his face. Finally, the life of a dog on a highway in the Pacific Northwest has just been elevated to almost perfect. He acted like a boy with his first puppy. He wanted to sleep out in the yard with his bunny tonight, but I told him that he might see his bunny in the morning on the way to school.

I just hope Teddy doesn't go crashing after the bunny some day and come face to face with our bear. That encounter might not be so much fun.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, June 1, 2015

When Slugs Fly

There is a banana slug on the screen to my sliding glass door. The cat raised one paw to it but decided not to touch it at the last second. I'm never sure what slugs do there on the screen because I can't imagine it's comfortable, but they are curious folk. I imagine them helping me clean algae from it, telling me that their slime trails turn to fairy glass and will dissolve into dust when it dries. It's true. Have you ever seen a slug trail in the sunshine? It's a rainbow and then you touch it and it's gone, shattered.

Most people, especially gardeners in the Pacific Northwest, are involved in genocide, the attempt at sending the banana slug to extinction, but I don't think these people have really looked at a banana slug or thought about their role in the environment. Banana slugs are quiet. I know they're hungry, true, but they're just trying to tell you to plant natives in your yard anyway. Still, last fall I bought a bunch of native plants, wild ginger, bunch berry, and deer fern and I planted them in my front yard under my Japanese maple. The deer fern are the only ones that weren't decimated by some voracious creature when things began to grow in March. I blame those little black bugs with yellow dots above each of their many legs, not the banana slugs.

I love the Internet. The black bugs with yellow dots are flat-backed millipedes. They have no eyes and secrete toxic chemicals but it's not enough to hurt a human. I wouldn't eat one, just in case. They aren't native to the Pacific Northwest either, but they're everywhere. I couldn't find anything about what evil millipedes eat, probably wild ginger and bunch berry.

So, I'm holding off on blaming my banana slugs for the death of my wild ginger. Banana slugs are surprising to look at, not human at all, which is what we humans usually like in a face. Who doesn't think a baby chimpanzee is adorable? Still, banana slugs have a certain alien charm. They are a dull yellow with black freckles and can be as long as seven inches. When I first moved here from the East Coast, I found this shocking. They seem to wear a hood or a thick collar behind their heads and have a frilly hem along their sides. But they have weak eyes at the end of stalks that work more like delicate fingers than anything. When a human finger is put in front of their faces, they back away as if stung. Maybe we do sting when we touch them. Salt peels their skin away completely. I tried it once and was horrified to have caused so much agony for the poor writhing slug. So maybe our salty skin is like nettle to them.

By the way, I found out the other day that nettle can sting right through latex gloves. Can you imagine that? I thought they would help me conquer my fields of nettle because someone - I won't name names- took my trusty old gardening gloves to a Scouting event and they never made it back to where I look for them in the garage.

Sorry, back to the banana slugs.

We are fearful beasts for a slug with our salty skin and great clumsy feet and the sweet poisons we leave for them. And what do they do for us in return? Did you know that slug slime has a natural anesthetic and will neutralize a nettle sting? Well, that's what a park ranger once told me anyway, but I've never been brave enough to try it out. I needed that the other day in my fields of nettles, the day my gardening gloves went missing.

Except for eating those exotic flowers you buy at Home Depot on sale, slugs are benign creatures, really. They move so slowly, so cautiously that I wonder what their languid lives are like. Sometimes I find a pair curled into a yin yang symbol, slug comfort, I imagine, but I could be witnessing a slow-motion battle. Their lives are so alien to me, I can't even interpret their simplest movements, except their slow but determined movement toward my potted plants.

So I have made peace with my banana slugs. It makes sense because three sides of my yard are adjacent to forest. There is futility in killing all those slugs and I don't like putting poison on my yard anyway. Now and then though, when I find a slug eating petunias in the pots on my deck, I do show it how it could fly if it tried hard enough. I wrap it carefully in a big leaf so as not to come in contact with its anesthetic fairy glass slime which is impervious to soap and water and my impatience to let it air dry. Then, I pluck it off its salad and I toss it as far as it might take him to crawl in two or three days.

And in two or three days, my determined banana slug may fly again.

Thank you for listening, jb