A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nilla Wafers and Albert Eintstein

What do Calculus and Physics teachers do for fun, you wonder. ("No, I don't wonder," you might say, but I say, " Yes, you do.")

Ann's colleage Cecilia, who teaches physics, showed Ann, a Calculus teacher, a neat trick a couple of weeks ago.

Take a box, like a cracker box, whose dimensions are different on each side. Throw it in the air and spin it one way, and it spins. Spin it another way, and it spins again. Spin it a third way, and it twists and spins like Greg Louganis off the high dive. Apparently, differential equations can explain why this twist happens.

This is the sort of thing that excites Calculus and Physics geeks like poetry excites geeks like me.

Ann demonstrated Cecilia's trick in our living roomwith a Nilla Wafer box, half filled with Nilla Wafers from the days when I was allergic to chocolate.

She threw it and spun it into the air one way, and it spun. A second way, and it spun. The third way and it did the Greg Louganis twistand spin and then threw the Nilla Wafers scattershot across the living room.

I wonder if Albert experienced such a mess. Probably, but I don't think he wrote about it. That's why he was a famous physicist and not a famous memoirist.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Annabella on the GOP

Last night, my nonegenarian neighbor Annabella and I drank beer and watched the GOP debate together. More accurately, she watched the debate and I watched her watching the debate.

Annabella will be voting for Obama. Usually, she calls the democrats, "democrats", and she calls republicans, "those other ones." Still, she's interested in those other ones and she has opinions.

As each candidate's image hit the screen she commented:

 Newt Gingrich: "He stole so much and then he cheated on his second wife. Wanted an open marriage so that he could have his mistress. She said no, so he left her. She told on him, and he's in first place. What kind of shit is that?"

Mitt Romney: "He dies his hair, but he left a little grey at the temples. His hair doesn't go with his face....He's got to many kids and grandkids. We don't need that many people in the White House....I don't like that guy. He's a millionaire a million times over. I think when you're rich like that, you shouldn't be president because you don't know about poor people. "

Sen. Rick Santorum:"He's good. I like him. He won't win."

Ron Paul: "He's too old. Look at how little he is. His wife's twice as big as he is. He looks like a little worm. He's got some young children, too. Look at him."

About the whole group, she says: "That some big bucks there: millionaires...That black ass one [that was trying to run] doesn't belong there. He belongs with the black man." (Annabella is Creole: Her mom was French Indian and her Dad was mixed and looked black. Her husband was an African-American man.)

She liked the fiery exchange between Romney and Gingritch, and later when Gingritch talks about NASA, she says to him, "Now start cursing. That's what they want. Some cutting up. We need some F words." Later, she yells at the t.v.: "This is about the longest and most disgusting thing it's ever been, although it was bad when Kennedy screwed all those young women. Marilyn Monroe and all of 'em."

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I have studied four foreign languages, and though I know some words in each language, I'm not fluent in any of them.

In middle school and later in college, I studied French. I remember, "Bonjour" and "Il ne marche pas" (It doesn't work--I used that one a bit when I travelled on the trains in France.) I also remember, of course,"Je t'aime," the most important romantic expression in the most romantic language. I also recall some monologue about going to the post office for "timbres," which I believe are stamps. (My twin friends Ellen and Donna, now in their 50s can still recite a monologue from their high school French class.)

In high school, I studied Latin, which is still a dead language to me.

For the past twenty years, I've studied Spanish, and at one point my Spanish was good enough to explain artificial insemination to a couple of Salvordan men curious about how lesbians get pregnant. I remember stumbling, though, on "turkey baster."

In those same twenty years, I've studied Teenspeak, which is different for every generation because each generation has its own technologies and concerns. In the sixties,  Simon and Garfunkel were "feelin' groovy"; in the seventies, "Stairway to Heaven" was cool at the end  of a dance; in the eighties, maybe Phil Collins was bad in that good way, and in the nineties Pearl Jam rocked the house (to read my high school journalist's headlines, you would think that everything rocked); in the 00s the Dixie Chicks emerged, and so did Brittny Spears (maybe that was the decade of the belly buttons.)  I'm not sure who is dirty or foul or filthy or whatever means groovy now.

Teaching in the suburbs in the 1990s, I learned suburban Teenspeak, so I learned that "rims" were wheels and "kicks" were sneakers.

When Ann and I first moved to the urban Central District in Seattlle, we didn't speak the teen language here. One afternoon about fifteen years ago, we walked past an animated discussion among teen boys in a nearby driveway. Because we knew from the suburbs that "kicks" were shoes, we had a context and could infer that when they talked about "Jordans," they were talking about sneakers, but though we knew the main topic and we could translate their enthusiasm, we had no idea what they were saying.

In the 2000s, teenagers in my LA class argued about whether "fo'shizzle" was offensive or not and whether it was appropriate for school. Some insisted that it was and others that it was not. It was a fiery discussion, yet another discussion among teens where I really didn't know what they were talking about.

Perhaps this will be my era of adult neologisms. Last week, my friend Jerry told me about a son who "catastrophizes." This is my favorite new new word. (That's not a typo...I mean new new since I think it's new to both me and the language.)

I should use it in context so that you will understand it: Fox News, all T.V. news, it seems, catastrophizes daily events, looking here and yon for the most explosive fires, the cutest kitten stuck in the tallest tree, and the car crash with the worst dents in the most cars."

If you're not sure about "yon," ask your Grandpa--or any Southerner.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bureaucracy at its Best

I know bureaucracy. After all, I've tried for the last three years to get the City of Seattle to put a handicapped parking sign in front of my house. Each call requires an hour, and each call has the same effect, which is no effect.
I had a similar experience with Direct T.V., only I called six times. Also, they finally responded when I contacted a lawyer.

I've also applied for part time disability with an insurance company. I called my friendly contact Giovanni four times, leaving messages asking for information about the status of my paperwork, until on the fifth call he by mistake answered the phone. When I asked how I was supposed to get information when he wouldn't return my calls, he commented that I had only called once. I kind of lost it.

Kind of like once when I got exasperated with an administrator in a school district's central office who wouldn't process paperwork because she was planning her daugher's wedding. I blew a gasket that day. The assistant superintendent kindly pulled me into an office and asked me to tell her what was wrong. I felt like a snivelling child, or maybe a crazy woman. And maybe I was. Both.

Lately, however, bureaucracies been working for me, so maybe I can't always assume that bureucracy has a negative connotation.

For starters, my doctors at Group Health are the best. They call me back when they're supposed to; they're nice to me; their system works for me.

Also, I've needed to call on my auto and home insurance lately, and my provider has been fabulous: they're Pemco, and if you're insured by anyone else, you should switch to them.

Last June, I was in a terrible car accident, and I got the ticket even though I stll don't think it was my fault. Both the other driver and I went to the emergency room, in separate ambulences. The other driver got a lawyer who just happened to be following the ambulances to the hospital and who sued me, or tried to. I'm not sure what happened. My fairy goddess Germaine at Pemco intervened and the case has been settled. Whew.

Then just before Christmas, some not very nice people broke into our house by breaking out two windows and helped themselves to my grandmother's pearls and such. My new fairy goddess, Muriel at Pemco, didn't find my pearls, but she did take care of our bills quite quickly.

So sometimes, even bureaucracy is a beautiful thing. Maybe that's why both bureaucracy and beautiful have that "eau" thing going on.


Thursday, January 19, 2012


When our nephew Sam was three years old, Ann and I took him on an amusement park ride at the beach one day. We circled the amusement park five times on our little train, and each time we got to the spot near the arcade, he would point and yell, "Twapped! They'we twapped!" He seemed upset by this, but we couldn't figure out what he was pointing at.

Our final loop around, we noticed a painting of monkeys in a cage on the arcade's facade. Twapped. Indeed they were. Twapped. How sweet of him to feel their pain.

Sunday, we got six inches of snow. Yesterday and last night, we got more. Today it's an ice storm. Lots of people are without power. We have power, but we don't have televison. Apparently, our dish froze. The governor, hearing about our dish, has declared a state of emergency. I  have not left the house since Saturday, and Ann has been inside all day today.

Twapped. We'uhwe twapped.

Ann has cleaned organized the nut drawer in the kitchen. She has consolidated multiple bottles of fish sauce and soy sauce. She has found long lost jars of chutney. Unfortunately, she has already organized her sock drawer, she told me, so she can't do that.

Even I am feeling twapped. I'm cleaning out my inbox (I'm now down to nine pages of messages from my original 36 pages.)

I've written four essays for a scholarship application, and I have only two to go. But I simply cannot write about myself again at least until tomorrow.

That's twapped.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The only moving thing...

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

This is my favorite stanza from Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." I like it bcause of the strong image, a dark eye moving amidst snowy white, and because of the pun on moving... moving is both a participle, describing an eye in motion, and an adjective, describing the emotional impact on the poet. Cool, huh.

My friend Todd has thirteen blackbirds tattooed on his arm, an allusion to Stevens' poem.

Todd belongs in my club of lifetime geeks. (He doesn't belong in my other clubs, though, like the expatriot Southern Baptist lesbian club or the Brain Tumor survivors' club. I don't think he's in my bruise club either. That's just me and Katie.)

I'm not sure why I started thinking about blackbirds this morning. Perhaps because our yard, covered in about six inches of snow this morning, is quiet and white, and this morning, I watched a raven fly low across the whiteness, lovely in its dark contrast with the white.

Crows are the most common blackbirds around here. Last fall, when Ann and Ellen and I were walking around the block, me holding onto the crook of Ann's arm for balance, a crow flew so close to my head that I thought I might fall. We all laughed at the surprise of it, and as we laughed the crow returned to hit me on the head with its wing.

The next morning, we read in the newspaper that fall is the season when crow fledglings (crowlings?) are learning to fly, and to protect their little ones, crows will warn off people who are close by flying at them. Ah. This was a maternal crow. Sort of like a winged mama bear. Please note that winged has two syllables here.)

Ann and I enjoy watching spring birds in our birdfeeder, so a couple of years ago we bought a bird bath. That way they could have a sip of water, with their tasty seeds and thistles. The birdbath had a blueish-purplish glaze, so that it stood out in the garden and birds would notice it.

Unfortunately, however, crows took over. Ezell's, a famous fried chicken place, is few blocks away, so crows would pull chicken out of the trash (I assume), and bring it to our birdbath to wash it off. The clear water that we were providing for local chickadees and wrens turned a greasy grey, so we got rid of the birdbath and now I suppose that crows eat dirty chicken--or more likely they've found another place to wash the grime off.

A decade ago, I think, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a newspaper that died a couple of years ago, ran a story on crows. A researcher at the University of Washington climbed up to crows' nests in the university area to count the eggs. The crows didn't like this, and everywhere the reseacher went, crows dive bombed him. University crows had talked with central district and downtown crows at the crow convention, and everywhere the researcher went in the area, crows dove at him, cawing in their crow way of yelling at him. The researcher tried hats and facial disguises, but he couldn't fool the crows. Maybe he moved to Florida and is now under FBI protection.

In another crow story, our friend Colleen once lived in an apartment with a washer/dryer in the basement. When she went down to put her clothes in the wash one morning, she heard a flapping in a wall vent, and worried because she could not get the bird out. She talked to her slummy landlord about it, but he decided to let it die first and then get it out.

Colleen returned to move her laundry to  the dryer, and the bird was still there. She wanted to let it out, but she was afraid it might poke her eyes out in its fright, so she went back to her apartment to get a screw driver to unscrew the vent, and she layered herself in coats and safety goggles, like the ones her students use in their science labs. (I know that this is beginning to sound a little like a Bill Murray movie.)

Colleen opened the vent so that the bird would fly out. The bird, a crow, did fly into the room, but she couldn't get the crow to go outside. She finally threw a towel over it and when she picked up the little bird package, she felt the bird go limp. She thought that it might have died of a fright, but it seems that it only fainted because when she took her little crow package outside, it lay there a bit and then it flew away.

Once outside, hundreds of crows cawed angrily at Colleen from their perches in the trees. They had flocked there, it seemed, to save the trapped crow. They yelled at her then, but the freed crow must have told them that she was good, and she hasn't had to dodge them like the researcher did. Still, I don't think the crow she saved left her an Ezell's chicken bone on her doorstep as a way of saying thanks.

I suppose crows don't like the expression, "eating crow"  just like I don't like the idea of a "bloody Mary." The expression "eating crow" means being humbled after a boast. The origin seems to be from an 1850 short story about a dim-witted farmer whose tennants complained about the quality of his food. When the farmer in the story says, "I kin eat anythin", his tenants feed him crow, and the story ends when the farmer says, " "I kin eat a crow, but I be darned if I hanker after it." According to Wikipendia, this line was  a knee slapper at the time.

Someow, I don't think the crows thought it was funny. They seem smart and communal, but I haven't seen any evidence that they have much of a sense of humor.