Smart Arse Engineers

No one knows how I suffer.

“Where,” I said in exasperation, scrubbing the dish drainer, the filter pitcher and the kitchen taps, “does all this mildew come from?”

“Well.” said the Engineer, “billions of years ago, the newborn planet gradually cooled. About a billion years later, the first life arose…”

There are not enough middle fingers in the world.

Seriously, we’ve been up each other’s butts for about six months, since the world went to Hell, and this is about as bad as it gets.

Rosh Hashanah In The Can

We paid a visit to The Godson ™ last weekend, bearing pies for his best friend’s birthday. It’s a tradition, founded on both the young men’s love of pie and the Engineer’s passion for baking. Ben always gets Key Lime, and the Godson gets a pecan pie because he doesn’t really like the lime ones so everyone gets to party.

It’s a little weird to do this in Coronastan. The Godson has grown up a lot since I gave him my old wreck of a car in 2011, and these days is sharing a group house with two other technogeeks like himself. Until we all started living in hell, we were going over every Sunday for movie night in the enormous magnificent home theatre they have because they are all audio/video technicians and have made the finished basement magnificent with control screens and instrument panels which cover just about everything but the bar.

Now the Engineer and I take the pies (or whatever else we might have brought) up the first flight of the steep front steps and place them on the walk, like an offering, and then retreat to lean on the hood of our car.

The Godson, unlike me, is working. Sometimes he does jobs in a hazmat suit, which I gather is a hot thing to wear while carrying video equipment; sometimes he’s able to keep social distance. I worry, but then I worry about everybody

Currently he’s filming remote services for a local synagogue, which are recorded and edited in advance of the actual date. A veteran of the Israeli Army, he is the right lad for the job.

“I’d love to hang out and talk more,” he said, after we’d exchanged a quarter hour of pleasantries — it feels so awkward when you’re all but shouting at each other, with planes going over, and The Godson is a hugger, so it seems all wrong — “but I’ve got to go back in and get Rosh Hashanah in the can.”

Coronastan is a weird place.

The Great Scallion Famine Of 2020

2020 blows in so many ways it has become tedious to try to list them all, but I can now add that we seem to be in the middle of a scallion famine.

This is no laughing matter.

See, one of the odd side effects of Phred, the space alien recently removed from my left ovary — along with the ovary itself and various other gratuitous thefts — was an unaccustomed sensitivity to hot pepper. I had simply filed it under “weird shit that happens to your body over time,” but it was yea annoying since my perspective on seasoning is that it isn’t hot until actual blue flames are coming out of your nose. Having to eat bland food or else suffer the kind of gastric explosions that usually bedevil an army marching across terrain with stagnant water sources — well, I’ll spare you.

This had been going on for a year or more, and then after Phred went into the biohazard receptacle, I had the occasional Bloody Mary I allowed myself (the Engineer makes them pretty fiery) and — lo! no problem!

It was all Phred’s fault.

Well, mostly. I still notice a twinge, but I am back to slamming assorted stir-fries in a wok full of garlic and ginger and Szechwanese hot pepper paste, and I’ve decided it’s safe to make my signature Ant Noodles. These are basically faux ground meat, noodles, hot seasonings and a generous amount of minced scallions. They are Chinese comfort food and they ROCK. It’s the only blazing hot thing the Engineer craves.

And you can’t find scallions. Anywhere.

Well, anywhere we shop. It’s now down to delivery orders from Costco (which sells everything in eighty-five pound batches, but I could probably go through that) and Harris Teeter, and no one has scallions.

No one had them last week. Or the week before. WTAF?

All my stir-fries need scallions. The magnificent Azahar’s potato salad needs scallions. Regular onions don’t work. Shallots don’t work.

I’m worried about the election getting stolen, avoiding catching the plague. not being able to practice my fucking profession, not having a gym to go to (safely), and recovering from Phred. Give me my goddam scallions, cruel Fate.

2020 blows.

The Cat Who Gave No F**ks

My post-op mileage was up to about two and a half, which is ridiculous because I’m usually good for about four or six, and then the heat hit. Apparently having big chunks of meat scooped out of you screws up your temperature regulation more than I would have thought, because the heat index seems to be the critical difference between being able to knock out the mileage and me calling the Engineer for a rescue because I’m starting to get a big head and a sense that I’m radiating heat, like a two-bar electric fire.

It’s just frigging HOT out.

I know I’ll make it home without a bailout if I can get the home of the Cat Who Gives No Fucks. He or she (a grey tabby, so gender indeterminate) hangs out in the yard most afternoons, more rarely in the mornings. A couple of hysterical dogs, probably littermates, who look as if there’s some Jack Russell in there, live at the same address and can be heard raising the rafters anytime anyone passes the yard, even if they’re inside the glassed-in porch. They have a dog bed which has been strategically elevated to the level of the window sill and  patrol the yard in all directions, losing their shit in the key of C sharp anytime anyone passes the corner of the chain-link fence. If they’re outdoors, they fling themselves against the wire as if they think they’re Dobermans in a movie and Chuck Norris is about to vault over into the secure installation. It would be cute if it weren’t so noisy.

The cat gives zero fucks.

Seriously, this cat, who typically flops on the walk leading up to the house but has sometimes been seen in a decrepit lawn chair under the one shade tree, has absolutely no reaction to all this canine commotion. The dogs are yelping, the dogs are slamming the fence, the dogs are launching themselves like sugared-up toddlers in a Moon Bounce.

The cat does not move.

My eyes are bad enough now that I sometimes can’t see the cat at first, motionless grey cat in dim shade, and sometimes the Engineer has to point it out. Most times I’m by myself, and I lean on the corner post of the chain fence, enraging the dogs, and take off my mask for a moment like someone who’s just got to stop and breathe, but I’m really only looking for the cat. There is something about that cat’s preternatural calm that I envy and wish to be granted. Maybe it can share.

I probably will never find out its name. In my mind the cat is Zerofux, after a great Merovingian war leader.

Last week I actually spotted the cat outside the yard — it looks like it has a few years on it — slinking under the porch next door, the only shade worth mentioning on the block at the hour. Cats are famously indifferent to extreme heat (I’ve had to pull two back from the brink of heatstroke), but even Zerofux had had it.

It’s not just me. It’s hotter than Hell’s boiler room out there. And I still have a few fucks to give, but they’re going fast.

Cane Fu

You can tell the building where my surgeon has her office is a place where serious illnesses are treated, because there’s an artificial waterfall cascading down the height of eight or nine storeys. Medical buildings of a more general nature have to make do with aggregate planter boxes.

It’s on the campus of the local monster hospital complex, which probably has more than one zip code, and because people who have grown unidentified foot-wide space aliens in their chitterlings are sent to oncologists on principle, it is a cancer center, which makes some things about it peculiar.

For one thing, after you enter the atrium (where you now queue at a polite distance to have your temperature assessed with a hi-tech ray gun), you have to go up an escalator to reach the elevator lobby. I have to assume that there is something like a lift from underground parking for really frail people. A docent of some sort with a badge and pinafore was directing people the day I arrived for a follow-up, one customer per lift, and as I waved to her I deftly flung my sun visor (without which I am never seen in public) half way across the floor.

Accustomed to people beat-up by surgery and chemotherapy, she moved to retrieve it for me just as I winkled the tip of my walking stick under the strap, spun it up into the air and caught it.

“I am a seventh degree master of Cane Fu,” I explained as I restored it to my head. You have to cherish the little things.

So everything looked good, the nurse practitioner answered all my carefully nuanced and technically phrased medical questions in sentences that a two year old would have found condescending, and I come back at three month intervals because, well, it was a space alien and that is the rule book.

I am kind of on my own with workouts. The best Nurse Nancy could come up with was “Listen to your body.” No! Really? “Now it’s not only about the amount you can load the muscles after surgery, but when we haven’t exercised for a while, we experience a certain amount of deconditioning…” No, really? “Start with about a quarter of what you usually lift…”

“Okay, so a hundred and twenty five pounds on the sled press?”

You see the problem. I sent an e-mail to my Olympic Lifting Masters Champion who also trains elderly people and rehab patients. He might have something a bit more helpful to say.

There is always vulgar slapstick. The aide was run off her feet and puffed in just as Nurse Nancy was spelunking in the parts that are usually covered by black boxes in censored pictures, apologizing for lateness.

“It’s okay,” said Nurse Nancy, “I just started without you. I didn’t think you were going to come.”

“That’s what he said,” I commented from my supine, paper-draped position.

With luck they may decide not to let me back in there.

Now it’s just about building back up. I broke two and a half miles of hills this week, just in time for the godawful Virginia heat to settle over the landscape like the breath of six hung-over dragons. Send a truckload of crushed ice and a couple of industrial fans.

Blow Dried

So here I am on the day of Trump’s Masque Of The Orange Death rally, reclining on my bed attired solely in a burgundy-colored terrycloth spa robe, blow-drying my bush.

I suppose I should back up and explain.

I have been a very patchy blogger since the Orange F ck was elected — it’s like fighting your way through a massive depression just to keep going, I live right outside DC, the waves of evil and stupid pulsing out of the government district are like gouts of poison gas — and even more absent lately. See, what happened was, here I am almost all the way back from getting both hips Borged February was a year ago, blowing up a 500 pound sled, four miles of hills daily, and then thank you very much I start going through shall we say a repeat of puberty. The ladies can sort this out. I had been up on the rack for the customary fourteen-point check and oil change in January so this was weird. A month, an MRI and a bravura effort later, from an ultrasound technician who went medieval on my stomach with a — well, you remember the big foofaraw about states wanting women to get ultrasounds before ending a pregnancy because looks like a baby something something? The whole violation element involved? Think of someone using that dingus like a tire lever.

Actually, it looked like a water balloon.

Actually, it kind of was a water balloon, attached to my girl bits, only, not to drop a spoiler, it was more or less filled with (sorry) snot. This phenomenon shall henceforth be known as the “Ephraim McDowell Special,” or Phred for short. It is a young woman’s neoplasm, and I have no idea why it decided to set up shop in an actual Medicare subscriber. Curiously, the riveting tale of the first successful excision of one of these was a chapter in the History of Surgery that I read to tatters at age 10 before I realized I would make a shitty doctor because I actually like taking care of people.

I realize this verges on what my Albino Ex used to call “the organ recital” (he had a friend with an unfortunate habit of sharing the minute details of an annual “Millennium Scan,” before we tied him to a chair and beat him with feather pillows, until he promised to stop before he glowed in the dark). But, well, long silence bears explanation.

Apparently when you are toned and ruthless, you can plow hills with a ten-inch-across oblate thingy inside you and only notice feeling a little as if you’ve been going heavy on the beans. Well, vegetarian.

Anyway, fast forward to the local teaching hospital, a surgeon who looks about twelve, masks everywhere, temperature checkpoints, and a chirpy, excited nursing staff who didn’t even wait for me to wake up all the way before telling me on the trip back to my room: “Everyone’s saying they took like a whole turkey out of you! Wanna see the pictures?”

Bedside manner.

Really most of them were nice. There was the one who would never shut the bathroom door after herding me in there (house rules, no one walks to the can unsupervised). And then there was the Night Of The Long Blood Pressure Cuffs, when all my chitlins coming back online after a double transabdominal nerve block hurt so frickin much that my pressure unsurprisingly skyrocketed. The medical solution to this problem is to wake up the victim prisoner patient EVERY GODDAM HOUR ON THE HOUR ALL NIGHT LONG to check it again. By five a.m. I was screaming fornicatory maledictions and threatening to break the fourth floor window and go out of it.

Does not work and play well with others.

Anyway, they sprung me about 36 hours after that, and I have been chilling at home trying to decide what tattoo to get over the 44-staple zipper they had to open up to get at Phred, who apparently was not an especially hostile alien but just wanted a place to be, kind of like when  you find a raccoon has given birth in your attic. Meanwhile, now that the staples are out and it’s just got tape on it, I am supposed to ALWAYS KEEP IT DRY. Including the part where they clearly realized they were going to have to cut further than anyone expected, leaving the last three staples in an area that ought properly to have been baldicated. Phred was ambitious.

Hence the hair dryer. I like to shower a lot. Also, walking. Supposed to help. I am in the Tidewater and it’s summer. No health club in the area has a steam room because all you have to do is walk outside, never mind walking a mile, which is the current stage. Working up.

Oh, they took my appendix just while they were in there. Thieves. I have no idea what the black market price is for an intact appendix but I’m checking eBay.

The blessed Engineer saved my life with oatmeal cookies (hospital food never changes), the divine Azahar, who’s weathered a lot worse, has been my spirit guide, and I manage to have only one hysterical meltdown a day. I want a thirty pound dumbbell so bad I can taste it (currently limited to ten, which is barely worth picking up), and threw arm shots at the mandated home physical and occupational therapists (“Why did they send us here?”), after explaining that those poles were not “mobility aids,” they were Alpine walking equipment. The OT was from the Indian subcontinent, saw my “Namaste” plaque, greeted me accordingly, and settled in to talk about pranayama and daal recipes. Shame he has no need to come back.

It takes my mind off our national creeping crisis, but only intermittently.

Send animal and garden and art pictures.


Foxes 2020

So the foxes are back. Last year we were diverted by a litter of five kits cavorting in the neighbor’s yard, probably actually living on the next property over, where a rambling, industrial-sized garden shed the length of the lot was erected, probably against code, by the previous owner. The current resident hasn’t taken it down and doesn’t use it. If I were a fox I’d consider it a luxury condo.

Banged up inside as we are it’s quite a treat to watch the present litter mature. Mamma Fox exceeded her commission and produced seven kits. Sometimes her thought balloon appears to say “God rot ’em,” and we aren’t sure if she goes up on the shed roof to watch them all conveniently or to get the feck away. They’re big enough to eat squirrel now (one averts one’s eyes from some of the truths of Nature) but for a long time, as last year, they pursued her relentlessly in search of milk.

Seven is a lot of customers. I don’t blame her for going up there.

Sorry, Josh

Sooner or later I was going to start melting down. Yesterday I lost it and started screeching until I couldn’t get my breath after the third try attempting to sign into my bank’s phone app so I could deposit checks that I’m afraid to take into the bank — I’ve never done this before, I can’t see, I’m not a natural techy person, did I mention I can’t see?, I spent my whole life in school being shamed to the point of abuse for what I now realize is a genuine sort of dyslexia only with numbers (I can look straight at a simple string of digits and add them the same wrong way three times), and I haven’t made it work yet.

And that was before Josh called again.

Josh has been calling a lot. He works for a company whose business model, if you read between the lines of their bullshit boilerplate, appears to be sieving up self–published authors and trying to sell them extortionate marketing schemes for books that aren’t going to sell any more with their services than without them. I’ve been through this several times since enjoying my joke back in the early oughts with a couple of silly mystery novels featuring all our local political dorks and their tender egos. I made enough on sales to pay for my fun, there were hilarious aftershocks for a couple of years, and that should have been that, but self-publishing has always been a fertile ground for entrepeneurs with a knack for emptying the wallets of people who harbor excessive ideas of their own talents. (“You just need a good PR company! Our marketing packages start at only five thousand dollars, but for ten we can make a Hollywood quality trailer of your novel.” Yeah right.)

So this is the third or fourth company to buy my original publisher’s contact list, but unarguably the most persistent. It doesn’t help that Josh sounds like the Cosmic Nasal Dweeb that even the most charitable soul wants to bitch-slap. This morning, calling from a “Name Unavailable” ID, he started to leave his rote message for the tenth time in two months: “You’ve been recommended to us as an author and we’d like very much to talk about your book…”

I snatched up the phone. “JOSH PLEASE STOP CALLING ME I AM NOT INTERESTED IN OVERPRICED MARKETING SCHEMES DO BETTER WITH YOUR LIFE HAVE A GOOD DAY!!!!” I am morally certain that actual flames emerged from the earpiece at the other end and that Josh is even now in the men’s room, smelling of scorched hair and vaporized styling mousse,  with a cold compress held against his ear and clutching a tube of  Neosporin.

I feel a little bad now — really, everything is shit and people are just trying to stay afloat — but only a little. At least the avalanches of e-mails I get from frantic retail companies are only trying to sell me clothes, patio furniture and household gadgets, not false hope. There’s already too much of that around.




I keep telling people that I can’t handle anything right now except completely escapist reading and miniseries — the sci-fi I teethed on, the fantasies and Sherlock Holmes pastiches and Marvel action movies.

Except. I’m not at all sure it’s escapism. Sometimes it seems like reframing.

There’s a monologue written by J. Michael Straczynski, spoken at the end of the third season of the shoestring-budget, turned-showrunner’s-hair-white cable series Babylon 5. Prosthetic aliens, space station, plywood star-fighter ships, all of that.

Straczynski grew up in a horror show like you read about. Superhero comics were his only escape; if you want a hair-raising read, pick up his memoir Becoming Superman. There was not a sound mind or a moral compass anywhere in his birth family (I could relate). Superman became his role model instead — someone who always used his power to help, did the right things, saved the desperate, thwarted the cruel and destructive. Full circle, JMS went on to write for the comic in the 80s and 90s, after writing for more TV shows than I can count, and eventually came up with Babylon 5, which at heart is a parable about how much individual choices matter. Some other guy isn’t always going to fix it. Apt in any time, critical in times like these. It’s been pointed out a good many times that J. K\. Rowling was doing something similar with her Potter books.

Here’s the Narn ambassador G’Kar, a complex character (brought to life by the amazing character actor Andreas Katsulas, of blessed memory) who evolves from hedonistic buffoon to prophet, speaking over the end credits of the pivotal third season:

“G’Quon wrote, There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way.

The war we fight is not against powers and principalities – it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.

The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.

No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.”

Here we are, I think. This is going to hurt for a long while. for the rest of our lives really, and I only hope that the world learns something about the important of choices.

I recommend the whole series. The writers of space opera and comics and invented-world fantasies and children’s books have gifts for us.




Coronastan (II)

The stay-at-home order has been issued for Virginia. I was a little afraid it would mean “don’t go clock mileage even on deserted streets where you are further from other people than two apartment residents standing on their respective balconies,” but apparently exercise is deemed okay. It’s about no sitting down in restaurants, no going to stores except groceries and pharmacies, we know the drill by now.

I’m glad. See, I had this nightmare. Back in the Great War, commanders would reputedly rotate their troops away from the front, whenever possible, if they started to dream about the trenches. That meant their nerves were close to snapping and they might shut down in a crisis. Supposedly it took about six months.

Well, in one of the safest and calmest parts of Coronastan — at least for now; we don’t have financial worries at this point, we don’t know anyone sick, we can get grub by no-contact delivery — it took two weeks. Last night I woke in the emotional equivalent of a cold sweat, having dreamed that:

1. I needed a car part replaced, and apparently this was to be accomplished by summoning an artisan to the house who would create it on the spot with the equivalent of a glass blowing apparatus, which also made sonorous musical noises as he worked.

2. Said artisan had groupies who would go anywhere to listen to the music he made while practicing his craft.

3. Said groupies crammed my basement to the walls, bringing their kids, chatting, catching up with each other, passing the popcorn, until I realized in horror what could happen and began screaming “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! YOU ALL KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE NOW!” And of course they all diddled, and dawdled, and chatted, and reduced me to tears with their indifference.

And then I dreamed that my clients started to show up and wanted not only to get massages, but chat with each other.

And then I dreamed that mean, cruel people like the girls I knew in high school simply walked into my house and made fun of me for yelling at them to get out.

I tell you, I was fucking exhausted by four o’clock in the morning. I can’t imagine what doctors and first responders and people with ill relatives are going through.

When this horror is over, if it ever is, where do we as a nation send the therapy bill?