Altered States

The Engineer’s big doofus Mystery started stumbling last week, and we freaked a bit. He’s almost eighteen and already has old-kitty kidneys, and watching him fall conk onto his side like a tree in the forest was a little alarming.

(He’s not really a doofus. He’s just an uncomplicated, big, yellow cat who has a minimum of settings: “Food?”, “Petting?”, sleeping, grooming his sister Lilly Bast, scarfing catnip, and sloping into your vicinity with an expression that says “whatcha doin’?”)

We were lucky enough to have a cats-only vet move in just up the hill a few years back, a practice I’d already been following on an Instagram account curated by one of the vet techs to show off her special needs rescue kittens, her interesting cases (“CW: surgery pictures”) and Discworld tattoos. The considered diagnosis was probable arthritis. Cats, especially kidney patients, don’t handle the equivalent of Advil et cetera very well, but they had some Chinese herbs for pain that helped immediately, and yesterday he went for his first acupuncture treatment.

My Beezler of blessed memory had miserable arthritis that was completely managed by acupuncture, which also sorted his allergies and slowed down his kidney decline, so I was right behind this. The clinic asked permission to take photos and post them on the main Instagram account, but we got a first look.

(That’s the bottom of his cat carrier he’s sitting in. He resists getting out at the vet’s. He knows.)

Is it just my imagination, or does he look… stoned?

(Acupuncture used to put me in the Twilight Zone. I’d still be doing it as a sort of spa treatment, except that my acupuncturist suffered from a vice common in the alternative health professions, or as my late and ex used to say, “the basic vice of all therapy is the therapist’s need to be considered hot shit.” Her prices I could just manage, but the incessant feeding of her ego was too exhausting. Apparently the veterinary branch of the field suffers less from this.)

He ate for the rest of the evening, which isn’t all that atypical of Mystery, but his appetite’s been less aggressive lately. News as I get it.

Glitter

This blog, once active almost daily, has been drowsing like a drunken dragon for the last five years, because after the 2016 election there wasn’t much to write about except how depressing things were, and it’s only gotten worse, and I really didn’t have the heart to keep doing that to people.

But. Today I have glitter.

In the Before Times, when it wasn’t as much as your life worth to get on the Metro or go into a place of business, we were habitues of the Ivy City distillery district downtown. If you had out of town guestsm so long as they weren’t teetotal, it was a perfect afternoon: you’d start at Green Hat, where they bottle the first spirits ever to be distilled (legally, anyway) in DC since Prohibition; hang out a little at Republic Restoratives, known for products like Rodham Rye (yes, that Rodham; the first bottle was given in a solemn ceremony to the e-mail lady who ought to be serving her second term right now). You might finish at One-Eight with their single-batch whiskies, or toddle off to Cotton and Reed, who started out making rum that was basically Windex but have an amazing product now.

And then there’s Don Ciccio e Figli, two Italian guys who make something like eleventeen kinds of amaro, the herbal, yea medicinal, often bitter style of aperitif best represented in popular culture by Fernet Branca. (Which I was drinking from the neck of the bottle by the time the polls closed in 2016, but I digress.) They add something to the line a couple of times a year, and like everything else nowadays, you can get it delivered.

[Drumroll]

Yeah, that’s edible glitter. Product name:

It’s got kind of that Hawaiian Punch thing going on, only classier, and the prickly pear base makes it a nice float in a gin and tonic, which we never mix any more without the distillery’s signature Fico d’India. The glitter is supposed to be mica and fully edible.

At a time when gay and trans people are once again being blamed for the Fall Of Civilization and probably sinkholes and rising gas prices, commercial though it may be, it’s just… cheering. The sort of thing you want to drink while watching Randy Rainbow videos.

Pride this year is going to be lit.

Cold Comfort

So the brand new fridge is still not working. I mean, it works but we are no closer to solving the problem of the freezer gasket that does not seal. I am considering a request for UN mediators and possibly summoning a demon.

The mook who arrived a couple of weeks ago to examine the freezer and say yup, sure nuff, doesn’t shut tight, I’ll put in a parts order, called to say he’d arrive sometime after eight yesterday. This, in Our Times ™, means getting up at seven, putting a Corsi-Rosenthal air filter box in place in the adjacent room (my kitchen is the size of a coat closet), herding the cats and opening all the windows. The weather is mild, but it is allergy season, and if you don’t think it is possible to sneeze till you bleed, I can send you some gross pictures.

Mook arrived, sporting an N95 as he did last time. I tend to infer that this level of masking means someone takes the pandemic seriously, but after a half hour of fucking around in the kitchen while I sat in my office, similarly muzzled, beside another CR box, he called out to me that he was stumped. I walked to the other end of the house to see his mask in the position of a chin diaper.

I can jump backward four feet. I didn’t know that. He flapped and replaced the mask sorry sorry just took it off to breathe and maybe he has allergies too but y’know, the masks help with that. I don’t know how these “hard to breathe” people think health care workers wear the things all day long. Anyway, half an hour and a brand new gasket later, the freezer door still doesn’t seal. He also doesn’t think he should have to “push the French doors shut” on the refrigerator section. I mentioned that they had to take the doors off to deliver the damn thing since no one makes a refrigerator small enough to fit through the doors of a 1940s house any more, unless you want a dorm room countertop model. “That might be it,” he said, but instead of investigating that circumstance, he announced that he would call the manufacturer and they’d call me.

I don’t know how that is supposed to fix it. The manufacturer knows nothing about the bozos who delivered it and their power wrenches. I anticipate a lengthy game of Pass The Shoe.

Definitely a first world problem, but it would be nice if something went right.

A Little Bite Each Day

I have just, a little belatedly, signed up for a thing called “Dracula Daily,” a project which e-mails a little bit of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to you each day, depending on the progress of the action in the novel. It’s as good a thing as any to beguile the slow drip of waiting until someone figures out we need to do something about Covid other than vaccinate about half the population, abandon masking and declare victory.

Everyone knows who Count Dracula is — and, thanks to the classic film, has an image of what he looks like (which is not quite how Stoker describes him) — but not everyone has read the novel, which is a fricking masterpiece of pulp storytelling and hands down the best epistolary novel I have ever read. The different voices, the pacing, the way that the successive letters and diary entries tell us about the characters and their relationships to one another: deft, and so far above the standard of Stoker’s other potboilers that I’m inclined to the theory he co-wrote it with his wife, as some believe. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it, but this is a different idea: issue a (more or less) daily e-mail containing all the entries for that date in the novel, from now to November.

I ran across this on social media and I gather a lot of people are having a ball comparing notes about the unfolding story, some of whom have read it before, some of whom have not. If you are a regular on Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook and suddenly everyone seems to be talking about Jonathan Harker, this is the reason.

You can sign up here. https://draculadaily.substack.com/about

Sir

So an amusing feature of the purchase of the refrigerator I bought to replace the one I bought in 2013, to replace the one that had been running 18 years except the door finally fell off, was the number of times I got called Sir.

This is just the latest of a litany of appliance failures. When I moved in, my then plumber opined that the water heater was about 35 years old and still going strong. About seven years later it showed signs of, you should pardon the expression, tanking and we got a new one. Thirteen years later I was told the bottom was on the way to rusting out.

Then there were the washing machines. For all my working life I’ve done something like 25 sets of sheets a week. I beat the crap out of washers. The front loader I bought in 2000 lasted nine years; the next one, barely four; the one after that, two and a half, and one after that croaked just after the end of the two year parts warranty. The repairman I called — a guy with clear anger management problems and indifferent cell phone skills — managed to finally look up the company website on his phone, swearing all the while, and told me it wasn’t worth what I’d pay to fix the washer.

This is what you hear now. By the time he left I had extracted the information that one brand of washer, and only one, made the agitation mechanism the way they used to, when machines didn’t faint if you used them. Only one independent store in the area handled them — the big Sears and Home Depot type dealers sold only the instabreakers — and I paid out the wazoo, whereupon we instantly went into a pandemic and those 25 loads a week were a matter for history.

The 2013 fridge had its first breakdown at 18 months — a fried circuit board which refried again, like beans, a couple of years after the first replacement. Some time after that the onboard defrosting cycle went wonky and the repairman told me it was because the food I had stored in the freezer drawer stuck out a little over the top. You got me. That fix lasted until a couple of weeks ago when the fridge started warming up again.

I said Fuck It and called the fancy dealer again. The fridge appeared two days later (I had all the windows open, forced KN95 masks on the deliverymen, and ran the Corsi-Rosenthal air filter until a half hour after they left, because everyone has gone insane).

This time it only took two days. The freezer is full of frost and the naked eye (at least the Engineer’s, because I am only half blind now rather than nearly blind) can see the gap between the gasket seal and the refrigerator door.

This refrigerator cost more in absolute dollars than my first car. Fucksake. Part is on order.

But there’s always something to make you smile, and for me, it’s the salesman calling me Sir on the phone, and the repairman calling me Sir when he scheduled his visit. I am a light baritone (all my shower arias are parts like Scarpia and Hans Sachs) and this happens a lot. I think it gets me some respect. I’ve gotten it to my face when I’m wearing a jacket and hat. The times being what they are, I’m waiting for someone to try throwing me out of a women’s bathroom, except that for the foreseeable future, I’m not going into any public bathrooms because this friggin thing is not over and in a mask, no one can tell if you’re Sir or Ma’am anyway. It could be the solution to a lot of problems.

My New Best Friend

Meet Herbert.

What happened was, nothing happened. Nothing has really happened for two fucking years. It hasn’t been safe to go to the gym (which is why I now have an adjustable set of weights and a rack arranged next to the piano). The only other place I ever drove was the grocery store, and except for a brief interregnum which I now refer to as the Second Before Times, when we thought this mess was turning around, we’ve been having everything delivered. And since the Engineer got the world’s Most Adorable Electric Car, a red Mini with a dashboard like the Millennium Falcon, he has had no interest in driving Lua-Vanessa Aspasia Himmelblau, the 2011 Fit I keep thinking I just bought yesterday.

Right about the time the shit hit the fan in 2020, Lua’s battery died. I had to reflect that it was nine years old, which is really rather impressive. I called a tow truck and rode along with her to the dealer to have a new one dropped in, and that was my last close contact with anyone outside the household until we had vaccines. There was not much driving of her, but I lent her to the Engineer for road trips until the Falcon came along, when his itch to drive the little red car was so palpable I couldn’t insist he trade out now and then. Since then, outside of an odd trip to the recycling center or the UPS drop box, I’ve just run her in the driveway once a week, if I remember.

I forgot for a couple weeks. Cue the solenoid click.

I owned a battery jump box with cables, which assessed the problem, sighed, and died. It really felt like that thing was new too.

I cannot tell you how much I cringe at this point in history at the idea of interacting with anyone face to face, now that we’re apparently pretending there’s no pandemic any more and everyone is cavorting around without masks and acting as if I’m some sort of obsessive-compulsive weirdo for asking them to wear one. The idea of dealing with even a tow truck driver had me nearly in tears. So I decided to take a chance on Amazon, and a day later Herbert was in my hands. I have to call him something because he has pretty much rescued my week if not my entire month.

Herbert charges via a USB port. He has a lithium battery that can jump a six-liter engine, roughly four times the size of Lua’s. He has USB output that will take care of your phones in an outage. He supposedly has a feature that lets you override his safeties to charge a battery that’s dropped below two volts, but ther are dire warnings about how this could cause him to shoot sparks and the manual is printed in something like Caslon Microscope or Arial Nanoparticle, and if he couldn’t get Lua going in normal mode, I was resigned to the tow truck.

The Engineer hooked up the cables and turned on the power button. Herbert lit up. I turned the ignition. Lua roared.

She’s out there idling now — it’s too fucking cold for a recycling run and I have no place else to go — and I am thinking of getting Herbert his own little special box and possibly one of those dishes you see in front of statuettes of a Bodhisattva, where small devotions of orange slices and so on are left. I love Herbert.

Happy Valentine’s Day

So my unconscious sent me a Valentine.

Since the end of the second Before Times — the halcyon interregnum spanning the period from “everyone with a brain got vaccinated” to “here comes Omicron” — I’ve been waking up from exhausting nightmares. It didn’t happen in the first year of the pandemic; everything was shite, we were washing our groceries (note: apparently this is unhelpful and unnecessary), the shitgibbon was President, I was rehabbing a fricken surgery, but we were hanging on the news of a vaccine and people were taking it all pretty seriously and there was something to work toward.

This time it’s different. There are more cases of the virus than at any time since this crap started, but for some reason — even though a big chunk of those cases end up with blood clots and long-term cardiac symptoms and chronic fatigue and organ damage that no one wants to talk about because we have no strategy for coping — everyone’s supposed to send their kids back to school, take off their masks and party. I’ve shut down business again after six months with no clear idea when it’ll ever be safe to go back into the water, and every day is Groundhog Day. The handy-dandy Fitbit says I’m in better shape than I have been since before it all began — the hills are outside my front door, the weights are in the basement — but I wake up every morning feeling like I’ve been beaten with sticks. The handy-dandy Fitbit also says I spend something like a quarter of my night dreaming, and most of it is like a Guillermo del Toro movie.

This morning I got a little musical offering. Longtime readers will know this happens sometimes, but it’s been ages. There was, in the dream, a blond gentleman in an ornate military uniform seated by the Engineer’s side of the bed — it looked a bit like the medal-encrusted dress greys seen on Field Marshal Zhukov in The Death of Stalin

— delivering a lecture on, unsurprisingly, military history. The same lecture was appearing on three screens of a tablet set up on an adjoining table, obviously recorded in other circumstances, and I spent a few pleasant moments trying to tell whether he was lip-syncing before he announced he would be concluding, and then began to sing us a stanza of an Eastern European sounding ballad. I couldn’t understand the language, presumably it was Romanian or Czech or whatever, but I woke up with the melody. This is why I keep stave paper by the bed.

The dream only gave me the first phrase, which was repeated as music readers will see here, so after dashing that down I thought a moment and added a second line of melody, also to be repeated before a return to the opening phrase. I am sure it is a song about how the woman took the chicken to market and met a man who offered too low a price, or the innkeeper’s daughter spurned her suitor three times before accepting him. Key of A minor, in a deliberate tempo, transcribed here an octave higher than sung like any self respecting tenor line.

I caught myself dancing a grapevine to it with arms upraised, so maybe it’s a shtetl song.

I have no idea how long I’m going to be stuck in here — at any rate, until we get a more powerful vaccine like the Novavax that’s in approval process or the nanoparticle thing that the Defense Department is working on, which I’m sure will be roundly spurned by all the people who think they were injecting microchips with the last one. At least I may get occasional entertainment.

Does anyone else find their brain doing shit like this?

The Great Lobster Crisis Of New Year’s 2022

The Engineer gets a regular refrigerated delivery of medication for the tiny woodland sprite Lilly Bast, whose thyroid, as is the wont of old cat thyroids, began overclocking a year or so ago and making her skinny and aggressive. In Lilly’s case, “aggressive” meant “stops hiding in the corner 23 hours a day and actually greets visitors,” so it’s been a positive development in many ways, but she still needs her medicine and I am diligent about calling upstairs when a REFRIGERATE IMMEDIATELY shipment appears on the porch.

This time, he said “She’s not due for another delivery of meds.” He peered more closely at the infinitesimal print on the mailing label. (Why? In God’s name, why? What is saved by printing addresses in lettering so small that a Lilliputian would squint?) “Legal Seafood?”

It was clearly addressed to him. Conundrum.

I don’t know if you remember the Ginsu knife craze but at different times I received three for opening bank accounts or buying a box of detergent or something and they still perform the office of package opening. Inside the box were two pillows of mostly vaporized dry ice, a nearly foot-square brick of styrofoam, and a printed sheet.

“It’s a gift from my mom,” he said, “and — what?”

It is not an exaggeration to say I felt my world collapsing around me. I am a vegetarian, for fuck’s sake. Except for a post-surgical period when I felt my tissues screaming for protein that I wasn’t distilling in adequate quantities from eggs and lentils, and consented to prawns, I don’t eat anything that ever had a face (even an approximate one like a crustacean), a central nervous system, or a mother. (I consider scallops kind of a grey area on the food chain, meat plants, sort of.) I can’t even stand to watch people eat animal crackers. I especially don’t eat something that is typically prepared by being boiled alive.

Ginsu knife in hand, horror collapsing my features, I stood there at the table while the Engineer contemplated the styrofoam block. Visions of buying an aquarium jostled in my head with a surreal image of walking a lobster on a leash and fluorescent harness. How would the cats feel about a little lobster buddy? What is proper enrichment for a lobster?

Tears standing in my eyes, I stared at the Engineer. He stared back. He cracked the styrofoam.

It was a package of crab cakes.

I sagged with relief. We took a closer look at the printed insert, which went on to detail proper storage and prep for all the company’s offerings, including filet mignon, which the last I looked was not seafood but maybe there is some sort of legend of Theseus and the Bull From The Sea thing going on (pace Mary Renault).

The Engineer is happy to be a veggie himself, but he does enjoy a bit of seafood and I am not one of those irritating vegetarians who harangues people. The crab cakes are in the freezer.

We still don’t know exactly why his mother sent him a half dozen crab cakes. News as I get it.

Every Freaking Night

Every freaking night now I wake up from a dream — in some cases a genuine nightmare — that has two recurring themes: the kind of futility dream we all know, one of my most common, in which you’re trying to get somewhere or accomplish something and everything works against you (the phone won’t dial, there is no clean bathroom); and the feature of people in the dream, strangers, with their BARE FACES HANGING OUT, ignoring me as I exhort them to put on a frigging MASK, for the love of all that’s holy.

In my own home massage office (invaded by bro’s), or in a hotel (why am I in a hotel?). Right up in my grill. Talking. Breathing. Sublimely indifferent.

In the Great War, when men talked about starting to dream of the trenches and the shelling, astute COs would put them at the top of the rota to get leave behind the lines. They knew that the deeper the predicament rooted itself in their troops’ minds, the more would become dysfunctional from shell shock, whatever the oblivious white-feather idiots back home thought of it.

There is no “behind the lines” now. There’s just people with their eyes open, and eejits. My house, now no longer receiving massage clients, left only for walks in the open air at times when I won’t see many people, feels like a foxhole. I dodge to the other side of the street when I see occasional clots of nice, almost certainly triple-vaxxed blue-state liberals gossiping maskless on suburban corners, letting their kids run around screaming out of their Covid holes, as if concepts like “breakthrough infection” and “long Covid” had never crossed their radar.

Wear a freaking mask.

Everyone Has Enough Mugs

Stop it. Just stop.

Think about it. When was the last time you actually broke a mug? The fookers last forever. You can drop them, bang them into the sink, shot-put them. And if you do chip the lip, it ends up with pencils or something in it.

When the Engineer joined a fencing club for a while, he got a mug with his membership. Last year he changed jobs, and his new employer presented him with safety equipment and an enormous mug. The year he turned fifty his family gave him a mug decorated with a complex mathematical formula yielding that number. That was a year or two after they gave him his second oversized Doctor Who mug with a disappearing Tardis.

My clients are lovely people who like to remember my birthday. They give me mugs.

I have a pottery kink, and what do potters make more of than anything else? You guessed it. (Try, just try, finding a dinner plate at the Hand and Kiln Collective.)

As winter set in and I found I could see and maneuver decently for the first time in a few years, I started extruding the closets, shelves and cupboards. There were mugs going back to the horrible job I had in the early 80s. There were mugs slid off on me by people who’d obviously received them as some sort of promotion and didn’t have space for them either. I lost an hour of my life that I won’t get back, stuffing newspaper and bubble wrap around them, to join the donation pile that has now crept up to about 25 boxes of assorted clothes I’ll never wear again, dishes I’ll never use and gizmos I never even tried out. Damn it feels good taping those boxes shut.

We sat down on Christmas morning and opened an omnibus box of gifts from a branch of the Engineer’s family out of state. In seventeen years, I have never actually had a direct conversation with this couple or their two sons, but at Christmas, apparently, it is imperative to perform gift-giving.

There was a jigsaw puzzle, which we don’t have space to put together, a set of the ugliest cereal bowls I have ever seen in my life and — engrossed with truly hideous Eight-Year-Old-Kid Art by one of those online companies where you can upload your original design — a gigantic mug.

Really, it’s okay not to give people something if you don’t know them well enough to know what they’d like. And don’t say “gift card.” I have a gift certificate — probably expired, but who can read that tiny print — to a theater chain where we never go, which has been stuck to the front door with a fridge magnet since just before it became too dangerous to go to a movie theater. Save your money.

At least, for the love of God, stop giving people mugs.