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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Word List # 15, Cricket And Related Concepts

1. FIELD CRICKET: Field crickets are insects of order Orthoptera, subfamily Gryllinae of family Gryllidae. The specimen in the photo above is a Gyrllus Pennsylvanicus which has evolved over millions of years to make its home under refrigerators --mainly in Pennsylvania, but has adapted to cities around the world, even where refrigerators do not occur naturally. The chief occupation of the Field Cricket is to crouch in inaccessible places rubbing its legs together, producing a shrill, piercing, trilling sound that has two important purposes. It attracts mates and is the first step toward advancing family Gryllidae's numbers. Second, it drives the homeowner nuts trying to find the source of the sound, and so provides Gryllinae with endless amusement.

2. CRICKET FIELD: When mate-selection and homeowner unhingement are complete, Field Crickets really do go out into fields. It is at this point that humans take their revenge. Uniformed exterminators will run out onto the cricket field and herd the crickets toward the batsman, whose job it is to bash the crickets with a special cricket bat.

These spectacles are so popular among cricket-hating humans that gigantic stadiums have been built to accommodate the crowds.

3. POLLYANNA: Arguably, we might compare cricket field crowds with all large gatherings of like-minded people and credit the Field Cricket as a powerful unifying force in human coexistence. We might also be justifiably called Pollyannas.

Pollyanna is novel by Eleanor H. Porter published in 1913, now considered a classic of children's literature. Title character's name became synonymous with anyone whose outlook is irrationally rosy. The term was also adopted by social scientists to indicate a largely insupportable domestic arrangement stemming from Pollyanna-like optimism, or Polyandry.

Although Field Crickets have practiced polyandry with great success for eons, human practitioners, like Draupadi with her five husbands (above), appear less than enthusiastic after a much shorter time.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Test Driving The New Fjord Implorer

I am not a skittish shopper. Sunrise over storefronts with tumbled walls do not deter me if I suspect they sell what I want behind them. That is what drew me into the only Fjord dealership outside of Norway. I was in the market for a new ride. I entered and was not accosted by salespeople, a good sign. The sole representative yelled "Hiya!" and waved me over to his bed.

"You sleep here?"

"I live here. Cuts overhead. How can we help you?"

"There's no 'we' here, just you and you're in your..."

"I meant the Fjord Motor Company. We're just starting to explore the American market, so you and me's WE --We're gonna help each other."

"You don't sell Fords?"

"Does the little king make tall people walk in ditches? You know the Ford Explorer's on the way out. Too big, ungainly, belligerent and belches pollution like my brother out there."

"Brother? Where?"

"Out there painting signs and doing electronic retrofitting."

"What kinds of signs and...what's he doing?"

"Well, you drove in here in a '71 VW bus and have therefore been through hell twice. First keeping it running and second competing with modern traffic. Here's what we do: we hang new Fjord signs all over your car and install onboard computers to interface with Ford Explorers"

"But why?"

"So you can change lanes and merge, for starters. Your new gadget calls up the Explorer and begs to be let into the next lane or onto the freeway."

"I need this?"

"You bet! And, unless you want to see your rearview mirror full of murderous SUV teeth, you need to call the Ford Explorer behind you and beg for space and mercy."

"Wow, I never thought of it that way!"

"Yep, begging is the key. Now what would it take to put you an a new Fjord Implorer?"

I paid and went back out to my car. Turned on the ignition and got a strange voice coming out of the dashboard. It said, "It's early. I'm sleepy. It's hard to wake up and I'm not sure society is moving in a positive direction." Then the engine died. Hmmm, maybe I could just live at the Fjord dealership. How bad could it be?

Monday, July 23, 2012

But It DOES Signify!

"It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing." — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)

Last night it was nearly nine and still 100 degrees outside. I sat indoors with the NYT crossword wishing my brains would work but they wouldn't. I just pondered its puzzles, felt quite stupid, wished I didn't. I told Norma and, because she is full of sympathy and because we share everything, she told me she too wished I wasn't so stupid.

So I rose, gathered my dignity with a theatrical flourish and chased her outside. She is quick and nearly impossible to catch, but barely had the back door banged before we stopped, staring up in awe. We saw, forming under a crescent moon, a sight long missed under weatherless sky. Quoth I:
"'Say... why
Upon this blasted heath you stop our way
With such prophetic greeting? Speak...'"


"Scottish Play."

She fetched her camera.

It was a good moment, a secret moment which I readily impart. After all, until everybody's told what not to tell, how are they going to keep a secret? Yes, it was with this thought I realized these were no random clouds; we were witnessing the formation of an Idiot's Tale --and standing under its influence.

We watched the clouds herd together. They swirled and climbed into gloaming night. We got excited!

Then we got bored. How long is this going to take? Are we there yet? We caught ourselves in horror. There's nothing going on! It's an empty assembly of furling vapors! We are imbeciles! Run!

We returned to indoor pursuits and finally retired. And I thought of retirement. Useful word --especially in crosswords-- that means getting to bed or getting up for work one morning and calling in old, which I did three years ago --stayed home with Norma because I could no longer see any reason to go where she wasn't. My brains returned.

At midnight I got up and went out again, with a bottle of wine, to watch the flashes of lightning and hear thunder cannonade in the east where the Idiot's Tale was dammed on foothills. Then wind changed and, over the next two hours, drew sound and fury over our yard. Lightning flashed with strobe-light frequency and thunder rolled. Then it rained.

I ran in and woke Norma. Wake up! Wake up! My pajamas are wet!

I was not an "only" child. I had three siblings, older and better armed than I. And I married. I have friends and acquaintances who have experienced none of these things and they are happy. But they have missed the running critique and commentary: they meet life not knowing what kind of idiots they are.

I believe I've just solved Macbeth.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Turtle Island, A Stow Lake Cosmology In 3 Acts

After an evening phone call and encouragement from Willie, I decided to write this play:

Act I:

Turtle: Here I am, a little turtle on a little log to which the rest of the world is anchored by a little steel cable.

[Several hours pass. Not unusual for a turtle to go hours, days or a lifetime between thoughts. This can be condensed for the audience by projecting a photo-montage of scenes from the Department of Motor Vehicles.]

Turtle: I think I should stay here and guard this cable. It looks important. I believe it IS important --that the world stay put. Probably.

Quact II:

(Enter duck)

Turtle: Hello!

Duck: mMMphhh?

Turtle: Hello. What are you? What are you doing and why haven't you got any head?

Duck: I'm a duck and I do so have a head. It just disappears when I'm preening.

Turtle: Preening?

Duck: Preening is what ducks do when not dabbling.

Turtle: What's dabbling?

Duck: Dabbling's when we turn upside down and only our butts stick out. Here, I'll send you a psychic picture!

Turtle: Amazing! Maybe I...hey! I've got something in my shell. I'll stick it out.

Duck: Ooooh I see it. It's your left leg!

Turtle: Well, imagine that! What's it doing?

Duck: I have been many places and seen many strange things. I believe it's doing Yoga.

Turtle: Oh. Well, if you're so smart, maybe you know this cable keeps the world from floating off and getting in all sorts of trouble.

Duck: I knew that! It's not just a cable, it's a teleological attractor and it anchors the universe.

Turtle: So why's it vibrating?

Duck: Where the cosmos quivers
And each ripple indicates a
Distant ocean storm, in soil
Edged white where the pond
Dries down, ducks, herons
And all marsh birds in fennel
And salsify read the sea!

Turtle: Wow, a soliloquy!

Duck: Soliloquack.

Turtle: Where do you learn this stuff?

Duck: We fly across the world through the air and observe. It's dangerous because there's no hunting limit on duck.

Turtle: How do you survive?

Duck: We disguise ourselves as airborne bowling pins. By the time the hunters, who are also all bowlers, race off to rent bowling shoes, we're long gone.

Turtle: Wow. Ok, see ya!

Duck: See ya! [exeō,Duck]

Act III:

[Enter Big Swimming Turtle]

Big Swimming Turtle: Hello.

Turtle: Hello. You're a really big turtle!

Big Swimming Turtle: What makes you say that?

Turtle: Well, you look way bigger than I do.

Big Swimming Turtle: That's because you're farther away.

Turtle: Ah, and you're right up close to yourself.

Big Swimming Turtle: Yeah, so what're you doing on that log?

[Several years pass, indicated to audience by showing excerpts from PBS fund drive]

Turtle: I think I'm doing Yoga.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

[Norma Photos] #3, Trainride

It is not uncommon to feel fond attachment to one's town. It was 106 degrees in our town yesterday, so I was unencumbered by this sentiment. I worked outdoors for forty years in this hot valley and it had an effect on me. When I began, I was slightly over nine feet tall and had the figure of a discobolus but got worn down by heat, life and labor to the toughness, appearance and intellect of beef jerky. I spent my last iota of mentality in a decision to retire. Had I the mind-power, I would have moved to San Francisco as two of my sons did decades ago but it was beyond me and I content myself to visit.

It was time for a trainride.

Norma took pictures. The one above finds us settled with coffee and newspaper, pulling out of the depot. Construction on our town's station began early last century and has not stopped. One can look out at work being done in infernal heat as one departs. There is only one other place in the universe where a strenuous, soul-killing job hectored by incendiary, demonic heat may be begun and be still underway a hundred years later and that is Hell.

Much as I love my town, I felt a sudden need to find the funny pages.

As we made our way over the bay, it was time to look out again and judge the weather. Fog rolling in from the west, people boating and all the wavy heat lines over everything had disappeared behind us. This was promising.

Even more promising was how far the fog progressed and how comfortable the city looked by the time we gained the middle of the bay. This meant sea wind inland, locking the temperature at maybe 65 degrees tops, proving once again one does not escape damnation by conversion so much as by rail.

Cab took us to The Beanery at 9th and Irving, where we rounded ourselves up and hiked into Golden Gate Park. This park was the idea and retirement plan of a remarkable man, John McClaren (1846-1943), who sold the city on his certainty of getting things to grow on 1000 acres of sand dunes. He imported soil-building shrubs like rhododendrons from Australia, fertilized it with horse shit collected from a million horse-power city, built windmills to water it and pinned it to the peninsula with eucalyptus trees. For this horticultural miracle he was awarded title of Park Supervisor In Perpetuity and a salary of $60,000 a year --which he collected from ages 70 through 96. But that's not all, John McLaren's stipulation before taking the superintendent job was, "There will be no 'Keep off the Grass' signs." Now THAT'S a gardener.

We headed for Stow Lake.

Stow Lake is mid-park, beautiful and quite haunted. A lady in white emerges from its water and asks if you've seen her child. This is true. There is a statue of her there. But we were more interested in the row boating, turtle watching and other Stow Lake recreations on a brisk summer day. The chief supernatural wonder of the place is that it is built on shit, dross and offal laid from dray wagons onto the restless, insubstantial sand of California's coast.

There are many statues in the park, even one of John McClaren who didn't like statues. He called them stookies and planted things to hide them. But Norma couldn't resist photographing at least one. We posed. Unfortunately, she has an old-style camera that doesn't label the names of things electronically. It carves them in stone. Sometimes, as in this picture, it gets our names wrong and mistakes in stone can't be corrected. We have learned to take it philosophically.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

DIY House Wiring and Hummingbird Construction

Above is a specimen of Homo Retirosus attempting a manoeuvre usually associated with hummingbirds. Thirty years ago he built a hallway off his back porch. Thirty years and a few days ago, his wife, Mrs. Specimen, said it would be a good idea to have an electrical outlet at the south end of the kitchen counter. Kitchen counter is on the other side of the wall he's working on. No problem, he has a map. It's right on the wall in front of him. It says the cable he's looking for is north of Argentina.

Specimen is carefully opening an access plate he installed with the addition. He hopes it will tell him how the wires go but, because it is notoriously dark inside walls, finds it impossible to track anything beyond the junction box. Specimen can't remember, goes outside to calm down. There is a hummingbird out there.

Hummingbird sticks its tongue out, which is impressive because it is as long as the rest of the bird. It is the same gauge as ten-pound test line and performs a prehensile waggle before snapping back into its case. Hummingbird uses this marvel to explore depths of flowers and puzzle out ports in the bird-feeder. This gave Specimen an electrifying idea.

Specimen hypothesized: If bird can navigate holes and find hidden channels with its tongue, might I not do the same with house wiring? He went back into the porch and got out his sketch book. His intention was to extrapolate the most probable construction of the hummingbird and compare it with his own. Here is the result:

First question to examine concerned the principle of the creature's locomotion: Probably a propeller of at least four blades (detail #3) powered by a high-speed rotor assembly that runs on sugar (details #4,#5). This leaves the main mystery, that of the extra-long, retractable, prehensile tongue (detail #6). But this too is easily solved: Hummingbird skulls (detail #1) share contours with some Russian military hats but must be fitted with spring-loaded recoil spools to reel the tongue out when needed, then snap it back for easier flight.

All that remained was for our specimen to collate his data and form a decisive plan of action. He decided his anatomy compared favorably enough with a hummingbird's to warrant confidence where less informed electricians might balk. The only question remaining was solved at the mirror: Is this the face of a man who would stick his tongue into an electrical socket?

Of course not! What're you, crazy? He fixed a 5/8ths bit onto a 12-inch extender and drilled randomly through the wall until he heard Mrs. Specimen scream in the kitchen. That's where the new outlet is.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Big Dang Experiment!

                        [Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team]

I depart from the usual course of these essays to comment on the photograph above. Norma didn't take this one, NASA did. It is a picture of one tiny rectangle of deep space. Deep space means anything outside our solar system, but to uncounted trillions of solar systems we are in deep space too, a planet at the arm of this galaxy pinwheeling in eternity. Looks like fireworks doesn't it?

I've read a lot of blogs about July 4th today and found them moving, thought-provoking, reflecting upon this 236 year-old experiment in democracy with favor, concern, worry, hope and celebration. The interests of those who produced the Declaration Of Independence are our interests too. Who are we? We are the artists, writers, gardeners, musicians, scientists, engineers, leaders and laborers certainly, every personality, every mother and father, everybody that accepts the awesome responsibility of bringing something new into the world.

The picture above might easily contain a billion worlds. Fireworks indeed. I wish them luck.

Us too. Happy 4th!