Saturday, December 16, 2017

Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog

Men are hound dogs, and suddenly it is news.
Not all men, I hasten to add. Most men are good, decent people, despite the hand life deals them, and that is admirable.
Men in positions of power, authority, or fame, though, tend to be hound dogs. Turns out it is true that power corrupts. Right now, the heat is on famous guys. Powerful guys. Guys who in the past were too big to fall. Guys who probably thought you should feel honored to be sexually assaulted by them.
Men in power, famous men, have always had the perk of using women (and men and boys) however they wished. It’s part of power, doing whatever you want to whomever you want, simply because you can.
Now women and men are feeling emboldened to speak up about what has been done to them. The big change is that they are believed when they tell their stories.
What kicked off this latest hue and cry were the accusations against Harvey Weinstein. Apparently, he’s been slime-balling his way through actresses for decades, but suddenly an actress spoke up about it, then another, then more, and wow, blink, he goes from one of the most powerful men in movies to unemployed. A guy like that going down for his sexual assault behavior? That was new and strange.
Then men started falling like dominoes.
Their individual responses to their falls made a big difference to how I felt about them. Louis C. K. said, “Yes, those stories are true, and I am sorry.” All right. No attempt to deflect or weasel out of his actions.
Kevin Spacey, on the other hand, said, “Oh, yeah, by the way, I’m gay,” without addressing the issue of forcing his attentions on young men who did not want them. My opinion of him went from “one of my favorite actors” to “eeyew.”
A friend sent a simple culpability test to me: “Part of the issue is degree - when did he do it? What did he do? Is he genuinely contrite? Is he still doing it after his 40s?
“Is he still doing it now? Shoot him.”
Due process is so tedious.
This same friend points out to me that hound dog behavior is not all about power. It is also about testosterone, which begins by driving men to scatter their seed and diversify the gene pool, but can end with truly heinous behavior. I cede her that point, and give testosterone its due for its part in men behaving badly. Tip o’ the hat to testosterone.
My trouble with the current furor is that it is happening so fast. It feels like a lynch mob, and that makes me uneasy. Mistakes will be made. Also, Americans have the attention spans of cats. This will be a big deal for a while, then it will become so last year.
I have a theory that some of the passionate rage coming out now is misdirected because there is one big powerful hound dog we have not yet been able to touch. We must wait for due process, which is so tedious, while we hope and pray our military will have the sense and backbone to refuse if they are ordered to use our nuclear arsenal.
I hope this present reckoning for sexual predators will bring about permanent changes for the good. I especially hope that women, I hope that all victims of sexual assault, will continue to be listened to and believed, but I do not believe that male privilege, power, and hound dog behavior is going away. You think powerful men are going to let go of all that easily?
If they care what people think, perpetrators’ behavior will become more complex. They will go to great lengths to look like they have relinquished their abusive ways, while the abuse continues, but more deeply hidden. That’s the tactic I have seen used by lying scum in the past, anyway. They go to incredible lengths to keep doing what they’ve always done, while trying to make you think they’ve changed. They’re kind of dumb and predictable that way.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Republicans have pushed their Mystery Tax Bill through both houses of Congress, so billionaires will be having even more money. BILL-yuns and BILL-yuns, as Carl Sagan used to say. And when you have BILL-yuns, you can be any kind of darn hound dog you want.
Note: no disrespect is intended to the canine species by use of the phrase “hound dog,” which is a reference to the song, “Hound Dog.” © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC. Songwriters: Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller. Originally recorded by “Big Mama” Willie Mae Thornton, and quite different from the Elvis Presley version.

Rat Stories

When I moved in with Rick in 1977, this building was the most run-down place I’d ever lived. The walls had holes in them. The roof leaked. Rats had free run of the place.
Rick was a patient man. He could sit in the kitchen with a .22 propped on a chair and aimed at a hole until a rat’s head appeared. Ping! One less rat. It wasn’t the most efficient extermination method, but Rick enjoyed the challenge.
I was not patient. I did not shoot, and I did not like having a rat scurry through the kitchen in broad daylight. I went up to Vashon Hardware and got some rat traps. First the big rats were caught, then progressively smaller ones, until they stopped coming. But we live in a neighborhood with a creek, garbage cans, and compost piles, so there was always a fresh supply of rats. The traps got lots of use.
Then we got a cat, Miss Kitty of sainted memory. She was a good hunter. Unfortunately, she liked to bring her catches into the house alive. Rick would rescue them from her and turn them loose, which clearly disgusted her.
One day she brought in a huge rat (Rattus Norwegicus) and turned it loose. Holy carp. We were running around the kitchen like the Keystone Kops trying to nab it. It ran straight up a table leg, and back down. Finally, Rick managed to catch it, and released it outside.
There was the night that Miss Kitty had a roof rat (Rattus rattus) trapped under a cantaloupe crate at four in the morning and was singing a low throaty cat growl at it. I woke Rick up, which he did not appreciate. He shot the rat through the crate and went back to sleep. The next morning, he realized he’d missed our water line by inches.
After that Miss Kitty didn’t bring in living things, but she did leave a large dead rat under the kitchen table. It may have been her way of getting the last word.
Lotus and Kate made our house into a real house in 1987, and in 1990 our yard became a gathering spot for feral cats. Probably because Rick and I fed them. We were both kind of dumb that way. No rodent problems in the cat years.
After we got all those feral cats neutered and spayed their population dwindled naturally, and in a few years rats were back. Soon we had them in the attic, in the walls, and running around the closed-in back porch where the rabbits lived. Rats love rabbit food.
Eventually there was a mass removal and replacement of insulation, and a blocking of holes, and the house became rat-free. Now the exterminator comes by every two months, and life is rat-less.
I now have a cat, Mellow, who is a good hunter. Sometimes he brings his kills home, and leaves their carcasses on the porch by the kitchen door.
In warm weather I tend to leave the kitchen door open so the cat and dog can go in and out as they please.
Mellow must have brought a dead rat into the house on a day that I also left the water heater closet door open. You can see where this is going.
I remember walking through the kitchen three or four months ago and catching a whiff of dead something in the air. I looked for the source – under the kitchen table, behind the bookshelf and the canned goods cabinet and the hutch. I must have looked in the water heater closet. I know I did.
I saw nothing. The smell was never strong, and it came and went, and it went away in time, and I forgot about it.
Until the other morning when I opened the water heater closet door and looked down, and there was a nice big dead rat lying on the heavy duty yellow extension cord. A Rattus Norwegicus, or Norway rat, to be exact.
It was not pining for the fjords.
I went and grabbed a few paper towels and came back to pick up the late rodent. It was nothing but fragile skin, fur, and bones, a breath in my hand. Mummified.
I gave the rat what we here at Casa Tuel call “the aerial burial.” Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say the house is next to a ravine.
Why did I not see it last summer? I cannot explain that.
This rat reminded me of the old days. I don’t miss the old days.
I learned from rats that there must be boundaries for relationships to be happy, although I do not routinely poison the other members of relationships to maintain boundaries. Only rats.

Friday, December 15, 2017

No, Really, It’s Winter

According to all the calendars I have, winter begins with the solstice, on the twenty-first of December or thereabouts. I say that’s broccoli, and I say the hell with it.
Okay, perhaps you are not as big a fan of New Yorker cartoons as I am, and that reference is lost on you, but what I mean is, if this isn’t winter, it’s a mighty cold autumn. Yesterday it snow-rained for hours. Nothing stuck of course, but icy particles were falling out of the air. For hours. This morning it is 38 degrees Fahrenheit on my kitchen porch.
I think I have to go with the Celts on seasons. For them winter begins with Samhain (Halloween) and runs through November, December, and January. When I consider the actual experience of weather around here, that makes a lot more sense to me than waiting until the shortest day of the year to call it winter.
Usually we have a storm, and/or a freeze in later November, before or around Thanksgiving. Often it’s a Pacific cyclone, strong winds that topple trees and break power lines and leave us freezing in the dark.
We had a wood-fired range before we remodeled the house in 1987, and I’ve had reason to miss it, though I can still cook on top of the wood stove that provides heat when the electricity is off. Improvise, improvise, improvise.
In December, well, who knows? It might be forty-three degrees and overcast and rainy all month with no weather events.
Or it might snow a couple of feet.
Or it might freeze our world solid, and everyone will be out skating on Fisher Pond and having a great time, and the poor high school kids marching through town for the lighting of the Christmas tree will be freezing their little tushies off, while their brass instruments drip when warm breath hits cold metal.
I believe it was Hanukah Eve, December, 2006, when the snow came and the entire island lost electricity. The first day people were in the grocery stores, which were running on generators, laughing and sharing stories. It was a great adventure. That wore off fast.
It was five days before the lights came on at our house, and we were not the last ones to get our electricity back. That was hard. I think of the people of Puerto Rico now, who have been without power for weeks, when I remember how hard it felt to do without power for five days. We still had water, too – many of them do not.
As hardships go, ours doesn’t look so hard in retrospect.
At that time, Rick was not on dialysis yet, and I’m sure that people on Vashon/Maury who had that need or other medical needs were in dire straits during that outage. A few years later when the power was out for two or three days before Thanksgiving, Rick did dialysis manually at home, and it was not good. His numbers were all over the place. If that outage had gone on longer, we would have had to evacuate him.
January: there can be more snow, more freezing, and who can forget the Inauguration Day storm that blew in on January 20, 1993? While Bill Clinton was taking his oath, we were getting blown to smithereens. That can happen, but the worst is usually in December.
If you go out in the yard in January, you see the tips of your bulbs coming up. I always tell them, “Go back! It’s too soon!” but they never listen. Crocuses are hardy little pioneers of the garden, and it always gives me a lift to see them breaking through in late January.
In fact, they’ll still be breaking through every January long after I’m gone. That’s life for you. Too committed to quit.
So if you make it through November, December, and January, when February arrives you’re ready for a short month and impatient to get on with spring. February is unpredictable. A little wintery, a little springy.
In the Celtic calendar, spring begins in February, and many of us will have plant starts going inside the house, getting ready for planting when the air and the ground are warm enough. We are ever hopeful, ever looking ahead, ever ready to put our time and effort into the gamble of a garden or a farm.
I have outlined here the weather as I’ve come to know it over decades. I believe that November, December, and January are our winter months. Now that we have climate change, though, it’s probably a good idea to be ready for anything.
I hope we like surprises.