Monday, September 29, 2008

Miracle and Parody

Miracle: it’s always nice to start your day with a miracle.
Well, to be honest, I started the day by getting up and feeding the dog. Then I headed back to the bathroom to work on a crossword puzzle, and I could hear thumping in the other room. What is that dog doing? I wondered.
Then I walked back out into the dining room, and a little brown bird flew into the room. It headed for the windows, where it tried to fly through the glass. The thumping I’d heard was this terrified bird flying into things.
So I walked over to the window where the bird was fluttering frantically, and I gently closed my hand around the bird, then my other hand around that hand and the bird, and quietly as possible, cooing to the bird that it was all right, I wouldn’t hurt it, and please don’t die from fright, I walked over to the open kitchen door where it must have flown in, and released it. Then I closed the screen to avoid further bird misadventures.
I don’t know what kind of bird it was. It might have been a female house finch. It was small and a dark speckled brown in color. It wasn’t until a few minutes after I released it that it occurred to me that I had just gone over and picked it up and taken it outside without thinking about it much.
The first time I picked up a wild bird in my hand was many years ago. A hummingbird had flown into what was then the shop room, and it sounded like the most enormous bumble bee you ever heard buzzing against the window. I looked around and found it, and found myself suddenly quiet within. Instinctively I went over to the window and picked the hummingbird up in my hands. It went still.
I called my son, who was a toddler then, to look at the bird, and then I went over to the door and released the hummingbird, which took off into the blue like a rocket. My son wanted me to “do it again,” and I had to explain that I couldn’t.
I felt like I had experienced a miracle. The awe stayed with me for months. Wow. I held a hummingbird in my hands! I’m not Native American, so I don’t have a totem, but I do have a guitar which is a Gibson Hummingbird model. That’s the guitar I’ve played and written music on my whole adult life, and I’ve felt a special attachment to hummingbirds because of it, and here I’d held one in my hand. It felt cosmic.
A few years later, another hummingbird flew into the house. Again I picked it up in my hands. This one did not go gentle into its rescue. It fluttered and struggled as I walked it over to the door. I set it free, and away it went. Not so cosmic, this time, although I still thought, amazing, another hummingbird.
This morning when I saw the finch, or whatever it was, that instinctive quiet kicked in, and I went over and picked it up. This bird did become still in my loose grip, though its beak gaped open, in exhaustion or terror or both, until I let it go. Then it was so outta here: zoom!
Three birds, three releases, three miracles. Oh, I know, some of you out there reading this are saying, “Big deal. I pick up wild birds all the time.” Congratulations to you if you do. I don’t, and this morning what most struck me is that I did pick up that bird as if it was a ho-hum thing to do, and the extraordinariness of the event didn’t hit me until well afterward. It makes me wonder how many miracles fly by without my noticing.
As for parody: the other thing I did this morning was write a lyric, a parody of an old folk tune. It’s a topical song, which means that it has an early expiration date. Last week our local bank, Washington Mutual, or WAMU, failed, and was bought by J.P. Morgan. That put this old folk lyric into my head, and here is the lyric that came through this morning. I don’t actually know the melody, but my husband does, and he will teach me. Although the economic situation may have moved on too far, too fast, for this to be more than a TV skit:

My Name Was WAMU (But It’s Now JP)

The little bank of WAMU started out in the Northwest
It worked so hard and carefully that it was a success
Instead of staying small, the bankers thought that it should grow
What happens when banks grow too fast? I guess that now we know.

My name was WAMU but it’s now JP
The mighty bank of Morgan has acquired me
They’re saying that I grew too fast
That’s why the party couldn’t last
My name was WAMU but it’s now JP

They bought up banks in other states, their interest did compound
They gave out mortgages so fast their heads were spinning ‘round
Then the housing market crashed, the money bubble burst
The “little bank that could” became the bank that couldn’t do worse

My name was WAMU but it’s now JP
The mighty bank of Morgan has acquired me
They’re saying that I grew too fast
That’s why the party couldn’t last
My name was WAMU but it’s now JP

The greed the money brokers have they do not try to hide
They’ve taken you and me and everyone else for a ride
Anyone with sense could see it couldn’t last for long
That’s why the folks at WAMU – I mean, JP Morgan – are now singing this song:

My name was WAMU but it’s now JP
The mighty bank of Morgan has acquired me
They’re saying that I grew too fast
That’s why the party couldn’t last
My name was WAMU but it’s now JP
Lyric © 2008 Mary Litchfield Tuel ~ September 29, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

After Watching "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

I watched a movie last night, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” This is a documentary that made me amazed and angry by turns.
In 1990 the California State Legislature enacted a law requiring that the state have zero emissions vehicles on the road, phasing in larger percentages of such vehicles over time. Now, I just wrote a column satirizing such a law, so the subject is close to my heart, but what I was truly satirizing was “more politically correct than thou” attitudes, not electric cars.
The car companies and the oil companies did not want to give up the existing market. They sued the state of California, which then rescinded the zero emissions vehicle law. It reminded me of the time back in the 70s when ASARCO applied for a variance so it could keep smelting copper down in Ruston, putting arsenic and heaven knows what else into the air and the ground.
People who live in Gold Beach here on Vashon, by the way, are advised not to allow their children to play in the dirt in their yards. The reason? Back when the smelter was first built, early in the 20th century, it smelted ores with heavy metals, which went up the smelter’s stack, and blew over to Maury Island and settled in the soil there. That’s why.
I attended, and spoke at, that ASARCO hearing. The upshot of the hearing was that the Puget Sound Air Quality Control Board (or whatever their name was) rubber-stamped a variance that the smelter’s lawyers had written. The smelter ran for a few more years, and then ASARCO closed it down, putting out of work all the people who had begged to keep their jobs at the variance hearing. I wrote a song about it at the time; all I can remember is the last two lines: “If you want to change things, get power and money, and then you can write your own laws.”
Getting back to the movie: before the law was tossed out, General Motors responded to the zero emissions vehicle law by building an electric car, and then, as soon as the law was nullified, taking it off the road and crushing or shredding every single vehicle.
General Motors, by the way, is now advertising the 2010 Chevrolet Volt, an (are you ready for this?) ELECTRIC car! Woo hoo! Our corporate saviors!
There is nothing new in this story. Human beings are comfortable with the familiar, and we’re all familiar with gasoline-powered cars. It is only now, when gas prices have gone up far enough to really hurt, that we think maybe we should be looking at other, cheaper, power sources, which makes an electric car a viable source of income to the car companies.
So it all got me thinking (again, always dangerous), and here’s what I think: nothing changes until and unless the people who already have power and money have seen a way to make change pay.
We are coming up on a presidential election. We have a choice of electing the white guy who is guaranteed to maintain the status quo – a status quo which is not so hot for a lot of people at the moment – or electing the black guy, who might be able to do some good.
Or not. The power and money crowd are pretty entrenched and not about to let go of one red cent before they are forced to. I always imagine that new presidents find themselves stuck in “the way things are” and “the way things work” when they take office. This is why I don’t listen to election promises.
A president can’t make universal health care possible for all citizens, for example. A president can drag the entire country into a war that most citizens are not so sure is necessary. He might have to lie to do it, but up until now I have not seen anyone willing to lie to make sure that every citizen has medical care, or enough to eat, or a safe place to sleep, including the citizens who put their lives on the line in war when they come home.
So what can I do? My power is extremely limited: I can only write, and sing songs. I decided this morning that the electric car movie inspired a country song, a song of unrequited love and loss. I’ve only written four lines, and that’s as far as I’m going to take it:
“Gasoline – you made me love you
Gasoline – I am your slave
Gasoline – I have to have you
Gasoline – Now I must pay”
That’s it. A real tear jerker all right.
There is more thinking to be done. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Had a Bad Dream

Dear Hearts and Gentle People,
People have been known to ask me how I get ideas for columns. This one explains in the first paragraph the jumping off point for the whole fantasy.
My only concern is that some people will not realize that it is a fantasy. I remember that when Dave Barry’s columns ran in the Seattle Times there was always an explanatory paragraph at the end stating that this was HUMOR. Even so a lot of people didn’t get it, and wrote angry letters.
I guess reality was getting me down, so a fantasy seemed attractive. But then my fantasy took a turn that was all too realistic, as you will see.
Hope you are all well - blessings, love, grace, peace, hugs - Mary

I Had a Bad Dream

Walking to the theater the other night, I noticed that three out of the ten parked cars I passed were Toyota Priuses. I remarked to my friend that apparently one of the requirements for living on the Island now is to own a Toyota Prius. We laughed, and went to the movie.
It got me thinking, though, which is always dangerous. I thought, and that night I went to sleep, and I dreamed…
“The Island Community Council met last week and declared that the Island would henceforth be known as the free, independent, sovereign nation of Salish Island,” reported Council spokesperson Samantha Earthglaze-Hudefrick.
“The name is in honor of indigenous peoples,” Earthglaze-Hudefrick noted. “However, if they want any more real estate than they already own, they’ll have to buy it at the going rate just like the rest of us.”
“This secession from the United States, the State of Washington, and King County is expected to reap numerous benefits for the residents. Of course, now that Salish Island will no longer receive any funding from those governments, a local tax base must be established. An across-the-board 90% assessment on the incomes of all residents was proposed, at least for the first three years, in order to get the country on sound financial footing. This may sound like a pretty stiff whack to the pocketbook for many people, but the council promises to use the funds accrued wisely for the good of all.”
“The change is expected to create many new jobs. Having enough customs employees to check the passport of every single person coming off the ferries, for example, would be the first noticeable addition to the employment pool, and of course we’ll need people to design, print, and issue those passports.”
“Setting up our own currency may take a while, so American money will be accepted and used for the time being. Someone suggested we use sand dollars, but that suggestion was considered frivolous.”
“The first action of the new government was to enact legislation mandating that the internal combustion engine be banned from the Island by 2014.”
“We realize this is a lot to ask of Islanders, so this will be accomplished by a gradual phase-out. All gas-powered autos, boats, airplanes, and helicopters must be gone by 2011. Motorcycles and ‘smart cars’ will be gone by 2012, and all gas-powered tools, implements, vehicles, vessels, machines, generators, and appliances by 2013. Hybrid cars will be the last to go. They must be gone by January 1, 2014.”
“After that time we hope to have in place an Island-wide electric light rail system which will serve all neighborhoods and be focused around the Island’s population centers and places of employment, rather than being focused on getting to and from the ferries.”
“Electric cars will be allowed, as well as horse, pony, donkey, goat, or dog-powered vehicles, sail and rowboats, and of course bicycles and skateboards.”
“We are confident that Islanders, being resourceful, self-reliant, and independent individuals, will be able to cope with the changes independence, self-rule, and the absence of the internal combustion engine will create.”
“In other council business, a motion was introduced to require all people who were formerly known as Republicans to wear an identifying ‘R’ on their clothing. The motion will be put to a vote at the next meeting. A committee was formed to study the feasibility of moving all such identified residents to a property that is presently a cattle ranch, so that they might have the comfort of ‘living with their own kind…’”
I awoke from my dream with a start and a shudder. Turned on the radio (NPR, of course) to get myself back in touch with the real word, and heard a guy saying that he believed it was safe to say that we are now in a recession.
So I decided to go back to sleep. After all, I can wake up from a dream.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Starting Out, Looking Back

There are many issues on the table right now: the presidential race and the war in Iraq, for two, but neither of those things are on my mind this morning. This morning I am thinking of my god-daughter, Maggie.
Maggie recently became engaged to a young man named Benny. Maggie and Benny: old fashioned names, and these are old fashioned kids. They met, they dated, they became engaged. This winter they will marry.
My husband and I celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary the other day. We hardly had time to notice it whizzing by. Such is life.
Not everyone makes it so far together. Stuff happens. There are good reasons why some marriages need to be put to sleep, in mercy, for the good of all concerned, and people who stay together don’t do so because they are happy, happy, happy all the time. You can’t tell that to kids who are just starting out, and you don’t need to. It will come to them, over time.
That said, for the last few months I have been thinking about what old fashioned kids Maggie and Benny are, and I wondered if a song would come to me for them.
The other morning a song did come, and I kinda thought it was a good one. My cousin Nancy was here at the time, and she liked it. “There won’t be a dry eye in the place,” she said.
I was going to sing it at the kids’ engagement party, but ended up not feeling well that day and stayed home, so I have not sung it for them yet, so I don’t know yet if Nancy and I are the only ones who like it.
A few days after I wrote the song, I thought about how this song could be seen by some people. I have this paranoid fear that some people might construe it to be an anthem for the “one man + one woman = marriage, period,” crowd. That’s not why it was written. That is not what it is meant to be. This song is a spontaneous wish and prayer for the happiness of these two particular kids, who deserve all the best – which is, after all, what we wish for most couples starting life together.
That’s the trouble with writing a song and not singing it in public – you can second guess yourself, and you really have no idea how it’s going to go over. Oh yeah, and it’s going to run in the Loop in an earlier version – this version has had some tweaking. Songs always get tweaked.
For whatever it’s worth, here’s the lyric of the song for Maggie and Benny:

When an old fashioned boy
Meets an old fashioned girl
And they recognize each other
In this new fashioned world
An old fashioned romance
Can spring into bloom
Now she’s an old fashioned bride
He’s an old fashioned groom

And all the women cry
And the men in silence stand
As they place each other’s lives
Into each other’s hands
Saying old fashioned vows:
“I’ll stay with you all my life”
An old fashioned husband
An old fashioned wife

The old can’t tell the young
How life can really be
You wouldn’t want to know
You’ll have to wait and see
You’ll live it now together
The joy, and work, and tears
An old fashioned couple
Together through the years

We give to you our blessings
We hold you in our prayers
Our hearts are full of love
For our children standing there
We look at where we’ve been
While you look ahead with joy
Our old fashioned girl
Our old fashioned boy

And all the women cry
And the men in silence stand
We hold each other’s lives
In each other’s hands
Understanding what it means:
“I’ll stay with you all my life”
Like an old fashioned husband
And an old fashioned wife
An old fashioned husband
And an old fashioned wife
© 2008 Mary Litchfield Tuel

Every blessing to you, Maggie and Benny.
Love, Your God Mama