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Monday, August 22, 2016

Prose And Poultry

When I was little my world was full of walnuts and chickens. One of my jobs as a five-year-old was dragging a gunny sack under a tree to collect fallen walnuts. Once I got a couple dozen in the sack I'd swing it round in front of me and kick it with every step, which made a satisfying crunch that attracted chickens. Chickens would follow me around and say, "buck, buck, buck."

I was sure the chickens thought my name was Buck and were trying to get my attention. But, by and by,  because they seemed to call each other Buck and mutter "buck" about everything, I considered other possibilities. Years later I tried stiffening my lips in approximation of a beak and found it impossible to pronounce the letter F. Came out B. Mystery solved. I learned something of the general discontent of chickens.

But this is not intended to become an autobiography. Typical of boys my age I have an aversion to the finality of the form. After one experiences a few blows in life, one feels a bit  impermanent and shies away from writing it up. This is instead a personal essay which, although containing some historical exposition, is another sort of thing.  I  will restrict my comments to barnyard animals.

Childhood observation was recalled to me as I sat in the back porch with one of my grandsons. We heard roosters crowing to the west, to the south, then more distantly to the east. Once those in all directions knew of each other, they crowed back and forth incessantly.

Grandson asked what they were saying. I said, "Traditionally, 'cock-a-doodle-do.'"

He didn't think so. I listened. He was right, cock-a-doodle-do has five syllables and these roosters were crowing only four. The rise in pitch toward the end was right, but was revealed now as interrogative. A question.

"A riddle?" He asked .

A riddle with no answer, or an answer so obvious as to need no articulation besides silence, followed by repetition --an enigma! We listened carefully, trying to fit lyrics to their four notes. Finally we heard it together: Where's-the-bathRRROOOM? Where's the bathRRROOOM?

We got the answer simultaneously too: for a chicken, anywhere.

I post this scholarly personal essay in hopes that others will explore the language of chickens and contribute to a lexicon --an addition to the Rosetta Stone that includes poultry. Remember to consult children in this endeavor, especially if you aren't a child yourself.  Children remind us we are on this planet to learn, to imagine and to have a little fun every day.

Monday, August 15, 2016


She had taken a picture of the moon. I remained, admiring the night,  conducting a nicotinic meditation in the great outdoors, then stowed my pipe in the pumphouse and headed for the back porch door.
As I reached for the doorknob, I felt a familiar feathery touch on my shoulder. I stopped, turned toward the cool white light and remembered my manners.

"Boa noite Lua."

"Geo., you may address me in your current language." Then she appeared upon the planet that is also a portal to her world.
"Excuse me, Selene then?"

"Lovely, but dated. How can I feel anything but old when named by ancient Greeks?"

"Prosperina? Hecate? Diana? Juno?"

"No! I share no responsibilities with pseudonyms now more often used to name racehorses and  fishing boats!"

"Carmen Saeculare?"

"Do I look like I have horns?"

"No, you are as beautiful tonight as you were when you made your covenant  with Gaia to share an orbit around the sun a billion and a half years ago. What is upsetting you?"

"Well, it's just a few things. No one wants to live on moons because other planet-dwellers call them lunatics instead of Lunarians..."

"What about Selenites? That's a pretty name."

"A name your H. G. Wells imprinted upon literature as ill-mannered insectoids!" 

"What do you prefer?"

"I like Lycanthra. Lycanthropes in literature had bubbly personalities."

"Why would you think that?"

"I've monitored your werewolf movies and noticed, under my full moon, they all  froth at the mouth!"

"I shall not call you Lycanthra."

"But how do you account for all the unpleasant things Earth People insist upon  doing when there are so many pleasant things to do?"

I confess I can't, and hope you can help correct the problem...and wish you good night Lua. I love you."

"I love you too, Geo."

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Enigma of Creation

There are as many creation stories as there are indigenous cultures, and as many interpretations as there are --have been and will be-- minds to interpret them. They do, however, have certain points in common.
Creation myths begin with a creator, a being of pure potential, perfected in darkness, who decides to bring light --much like the figure in the geodoodle above. In the doodle, light is represented as stars spreading away from each other. A reference to the Doppler Effect tells us the red stars are moving away and the blue ones are coming toward us. I included yellow stars because I think they are pretty. We orbit a yellow star. All of them emit light.

Light is energy propagated at a visible wavelength.  Its definition is inseparable  from its velocity. That is, nothing can equal the speed of light without being light --so it also serves as a universal constant, particularly in this equation: E= mc2When we are young algebra students, it is almost irresistible, we divide both sides of the equation by c2 and discover ourselves to be E, kinetic energy, and m, relativistic mass. In short, we are the square root of light.

Creation myths generally describe building archetypal humans out of water and earth --after adjustments are made by the creator to the velocity of light resulting in seas and minerals. Scientific evidence suggests we crawled from the water in search of new evolutionary opportunities. Whether scientific, scriptural or metaphorical, creation stories abound. I rather like to include a bit of supernature, which is why this is my favorite creation myth: 

"Frosty the Snowman, was a jolly happy soul,
With a corn cob pipe and a button nose, and two eyes made of coal.

Frosty the Snowman, is a fairytale, they say.
He was made of snow, but the children know he came to life one day.

There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found,
For when they placed it on his head, he began to dance around!" 

My appreciation to Doppler, Einstein and the songwriting team of Nelson and Rollins. And to all from this hot California summer: Remember the winter sometimes and try to dance around a little. I do!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Recapitating A Goose

Our education system is lacking in some key areas. This essay will address only one such shortcoming --mainly because another educational shortcoming is we don't know what the rest of them are-- but I trust it will suffice to illustrate the problem.  I trust also it will demonstrate something positive about the enigma of ignorance by drawing upon my own vast reserve of it.

Among the most important questions an American can ask is, "What should I do when my goose's head falls off?" 

The first step toward resolution is, don't panic. Think back on lessons in basic ornithology. Unlike most birds, geese are not hatched from eggs, nor do they have articulated skeletons. They begin life as wads of rebar (short for reinforcing bar, used in masonry structures), around which concrete is cast.  One end of the rebar is drawn up and forward to support a neck and, for maybe 20 years, a head.

What with rain, drought, irrigation, worry, etc., heads tend to crack and crumble, then fall off.  Look in the mirror;  watch for the signs.  We're not so different from other animals --like geese.  However, much can be done. First step is to find up any pieces in the dirt that can still suggest a cranial contour --it's what brain surgeons do, I think. 

Second step, again like brain surgery, involves mixing stucco patch with Elmer's Glue. I do this on a palette with a knife because there's more chopping than stirring. Get everything good and stuck together, have a beer, then go back with the palette of gritty putty and build a beak.
Let the beak dry, smooth it with sandpaper, then remember when to stop --some folks sand things down to a fraction of their original size, a strange and regrettable enthusiasm. Then wait, go live happily and thoughtlessly a few days until everything dries.  Afterwards, decide whether you want to seal the patch with goose details --and no, you won't capture the mischief in their beautiful eyes, as I had to admit to myself-- or reintegrate the repairs with color of concrete. I got into the pumphouse and found a 30-year-old can of gray primer.
Did the trick. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What IS History Anyway?

Alas, I get political:

Two years ago, I asked,

Is this the face of someone who'd paint things bleu for no particular reason?

In 1906, Walther Raster founded the Justrite Manufacturing Company with Frederick Becker. They sold this can:

It was rusty and cruddy. It belonged to my grandfather. Strangely, Norma didn't set it out in the garden and paint it bleu (blue).  She painted it green:
The can is about 100 years old and full of history. It has an ingenious spring-loaded, lever-operated lid, so history can't escape unless you pull the handle back real hard. It is a safety feature. History can be quite flammable.

What is history anyway?

As I answered my history-class teacher 50 years ago, "History is social movements and explosions sometimes, but mostly it's barbwire fences and people just standing around."  He kindly accepted my imbecility and asked some other kid. I forget what the other kid said but it was also true. A discussion ensued. This was a time when Timothy Leary said, "Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition." (Yes, he was a feminist by then.) and Joan Baez, her mother and sister, Mimi, posed for a poster captioned, "Women say yes to men who say no." I could go on,  but I don't want to and you can't make me, but history was clearly defined. Still is.

OK, it was a strange decade. There were other names I remember: Martin Luther King Jr.; Medgar Evers --whose murderer went free for 30 years-- and, of course it was open season on the Kennedys.

But basically,  history is people. People are measured by experience, yes, and importantly and most certainly, by their capacity for experience. That is character and conscience. I learned a lot from some amazing and courageous people in my formative years, and from those heroes who followed them --young people too-- and I fear only two things: age making me rusty and cruddy, and Norma coming at me with green paint.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dear Aunt Acid

Because my Uncle Eyeball developed a Rocket Butt  and jetted up on a protracted intergalactic survey, I have lately been compelled to ask another relative for advice, my dear Acerbic Aunt Acid.
Dear Aunt Acid,
I clicked onto my blog today and noticed something alarming...

Dear "Alarming...",
That's what you get when your ancestors immigrate to The New World instead of a nice settled country like Acerbia, as I did. Yes, I know, we've argued about it before but they wanted a fortune to cross the Atlantic --even more if I was furnished a boat-- so I came to this lovely, vitriolic country and acculturated myself and made a good living with an advice column. Now, "Alarming", who should have a proctologist examine his brain, what is your problem?

Dear Aunt Acid,
You know it is I, Geo.  I have a question...

Dear Geo.,
I knew it was you, which is why I'm being nice. Shoot.

Dear Aunt Acid,
The GFC Followers list, at the head of my blog, suddenly shows only one line of 20 subscriber icons (and requires key-prompts to show the rest) where it used to show 4 lines and things were simpler. The count is still at 88, but it takes longer to get through them and the dashboard is rearranged in that area too.  It did this by itself. I have visited Google forum to find similar problems and solutions to them but it yields nothing. What's going on? 

Dear addled Geo.,
Send a plea out to your subscribers to find out if they see the same thing at your GFC gallery.  The rest is up to you. Now, excuse me, I must go sweep teeth off the dance-hall floor.

Dear Readers,

Saturday, July 16, 2016

How It Works

I live in a crazy old farmhouse full of books but, when I was a kid, I lived in a crazy old farmhouse full of books.  This book belonged to my dad. He had ridden in cars like the one on the cover when he was a kid. He was 40 when I was born. Mom was 5 years younger than he and I was the youngest child.  Like many women, she stopped having kids at 35. 

 35 kids is more than enough for any family.

The book contains everything mechanical that a kid of any century ought to know.  Here is a diagram of how music is made in a piano.  It is a complex coordinated activity of whippen flanges, cantilevers, dampeners and felted hammers. From it I learned that rubber bands could be stretched from one's front teeth and played pizzicato.  However, the astute autodidact soon found higher notes wanted more stretching than rubber bands could manage.  

They would snap and whack me in the chops. This, rather like picking up a cat by the wrong end, taught generations of kids something they could learn in no other way. We learned to make music within the limits of our materials, and grant upon ourselves the kindly wish that old misfortunes be reversed.  We were curious, happy children.

We were customarily sent outside after breakfast and called in to supper several years later.  As a result,  most of our activities would necessarily fall in the category of  outdoor pursuits. The book helped there too.  It diagrammed the dynamics of kite ascension.

We learned, in the words of another kid (Benjamin Franklin), "a kite flies highest against the wind", and aimed tens of thousands of them eastward.  String being unreliable in those days and kites being constructed of available materials --bamboo, newspaper and snot-- caused a century of the things to snap free and drift aloft to raise the elevation of the high Sierras.

This forced auto makers to add a lower gear to transmissions so people could safely traverse the grades and all us kids were ordered indoors to watch television, which by then was mostly bad horror films --you know, the ones with blood dripping from their titles-- then get up at like a million o'clock in the morning to go to church. There, we sat and debulliated --relieved only by the dream that we might grow up to own cool cars.