Category Archives: Adventures

The Facehole, and the hoarding world

Two things happened to me of late: my Facebook account got messed up, and I helped a friend with the prep for a hoarders’ estate sale.

The Facebook thing seemed like a bug. The system demanded I add a cell phone to my account, something I resist because in the first place go to hell, in the second because I don’t want my phone number in such a hackable place, and in the third because I don’t ever desire to have to rely upon Verizon’s text messaging to permit me to log in. I couldn’t bypass it, so I tried–and FB wouldn’t take my verification code. It behaved as though I had entered nothing. Eventually it threatened to punish me if I didn’t “slow down,” a warning that persisted even when I hadn’t tried it for nearly a day. In an abundance of caution, I took a guess my account had been hacked; I changed my password and clicked on some link to alert Facebook.

I vanished from my friends’ view. For all they could know, I’d blocked and defriended them. In the world of Facebook, I’d been grabbed by the hacks and thrown into the hole.

Facebook did not respond to a single email.

In the meantime, I kept trying. Once a day, I’d retry the login process. I also kept feeding more focused search strings into a search engine. I tried from three different browsers. Some of my friends e-mailed me; my wife notified as many as she could of my situation, and some helped by passing it on.

Facebook didn’t fix it; searching did. I finally turned up a slight FB variant site mentioned on a message board in direct connection with fixing my exact problem. It looked a bit different, so I knew I might have reason to expect a different result. Indeed so: I was back in.

Some have speculated that my criticisms of FB had come back to haunt me. I thought it far likelier that FB had declared war on people who used a number of effective ad blockers, but I didn’t put anything past them. There have been people who have, for no discernible reason, found themselves permabanned from FB with no right of appeal. By far the most disturbing aspect for me was the concern that I would lose touch with people, especially older people whose technophobia might lead them to jump to the conclusion that I had blocked them. How do you explain to all of six hundred FB friends what happened? Oh, sure, when you get back on, you can post, but some of the most technophobic will have hmphed and gone on their ways. I didn’t like not being in touch, and it’s fair to say that I value FB more than I once did.

After a few days I got used to its absence, but I did miss a lot of people. For many, it was the only way to get in touch with me. In time I’m sure I’ll find that I lost a few elderly game-related friends and referral friends (“omg you and this person should link up, you would love each other”), and I’ll get a PM or two asking me why I blocked them, then unblocked them, and how was I able to refriend them without them knowing it. I won’t try explaining. I’ll just tell them it looks to have been a bug.

One thing that happened while I was in the Facehole was that I got a visit from one of my oldest friends, an antique dealer who was in town for the Portland show and then had to begin work on the estate sale for a hoarder house. Being a little short on honest casual labor manpower in this area, my friend hired me to help him begin the shoveling process.

Hoarding is a frightening thing. In this case, both homeowners are now in assisted living and their descendants are managing their affairs. It took a lot of work just to clear paths through the home, which had been done before I got involved. The guy was a sort of Gyro Gearloose, and my friend assigned me to battle my way to the basement’s back wall. What an amazing experience.

Imagine this: several shelves full of loose fuses, gadgets, gizmos, gauges, light bulbs, gaskets, pieces of conduit, screws, wire nuts, switches, fossilized tubes of stuff, matchbooks, pencils, razor blades, tuning forks, and other crap. A bunch of the same dumped on the floor. Atop the loose stuff, many boxed and new versions of the same thing, most seeming to date back to the 1950s.

I gathered light bulbs of kinds I’d never even known existed. I gathered adapters and fuses by the dozen. I gathered pieces of conduit. I gathered up several huge pipe wrenches and many boxes of fussy little stuff. Thermometers. At one point, a large box containing a plastic bag was fused chemically to a pair of wooden blocks and a can of metal faceplates. The white stuff in the plastic bag had leaked. No matter how I might maneuver this awkward mess, I could not avoid rupturing the bag. Good thing I assumed the worst, because only then did I see the label on the now-exposed side: CORROSIVE: CONTAINS POTASSIUM HYDROXIDE.

In case you don’t know, that is near kin to the active ingredient in Drano. It’s possible that, in fifty years, all of it had reacted with ambient moisture or some other thing, but if you’ve ever had a caustic soda burn (KOH also goes by the name of caustic potash), you understand why I didn’t take that on faith. I told my friend to get some dilute vinegar and spray the area until nothing further foamed up.

Fighting my way through piles of electrical components and toxic chemical spills, I pushed through to the wire.

Much of the wire was remnant solid insulated copper, neatly coiled. I was an electrician’s helper, one summer long ago, and I never saw this much scrap wire around the shop. Stacked–if that were possible–it would have formed a human-sized column about 8′ high. My buddy’s clients are sure going to like the kicker of maybe six hundred pounds at about $2.50/lb., and on top of that, he doesn’t have to wait for estate sale clients to buy it.

At least they hoarded stuff like glass bowls and pipe wrenches and light bulbs, as opposed to yogurt cups, bags of trash, and rats. I’m a member of a Facebook support group for relatives of hoarders. It didn’t take them long to show me where I ought to count my blessings.

Durian day

I’ve tried as many strange foods in life as I could arrange. Quite a few I have liked; some, not so much. I do know that my taste mechanism doesn’t work like those of most people. For example:

  • Kimchee: so good. I hate cole slaw, love kimchee.
  • Limburger: not much flavor at all. Smell unpleasant but not that big a deal. Much ado about nothing either way.
  • Nuoc-mam (anchovy sauce): love it and put it hungrily on many things.
  • Raw tomatoes: literally make me nauseous. Don’t like tomato chunks, either, even when cooked. (Puréed is fine when cooked.) Diced tomatoes the worst: too small to pick out. At least the big chunkers I can put to one side.
  • Vegemite: delicious. Smell doesn’t bug me. Great added flavor on ramen noodles, and for an excellent snack with wheat thins and cheese.
  • Cooked spinach by itself: looks like pond bottom muck. Smells worse than pond bottom muck. Tastes about like I’d expect from pond bottom muck. Fine in spanokopita, where it’s puréed to where I can’t really taste it, and the smell is covered.
  • Stilton cheese: absolutely delicious. Yeah, smells like improperly maintained feet, but don’t care.
  • Coconut: can’t even stand the smell, and the texture can ruin anything.
  • Ouzo/Nyquil: I cannot smell or taste one bit of difference. Loved retsina, but anything smelling or tasting of black licorice revolts me. I fear I am ruined for Sazeracs, another thing I’ve meant to try.
  • Pisco sours: a hell of a good drink if you’re ready for a wallop. They’re strong.
  • Anchovies on pizza: absolutely. Any time I’m making it when Deb is not home, that’s automatic. Unless I decide on…
  • Smoked oysters on pizza: fell in love with the combo in, of all places, Raymond, WA.
  • Menudo: such a delicious soup, spoiled only by the chunks of slippery latex (cow stomach) and the acid reflux aftertaste. Which is rather a powerful spoiling combination.
  • Muktuk: traded Dilettante chocolates to some Alaska Natives for it. Pretty sure they got the best deal. Ate it wrong, smelled like fish oil for three days, and committed a felony all in one go–not exactly my most shining moment. Doesn’t have much flavor of its own. Maybe that’s merciful.
  • Asparagus: the smell alone ruins my appetite.
  • Lutefisk: not that big a deal. Gelatinized fish, about what you’d expect if you boiled it in Drano.
  • Head cheese: pretty good on sandwich, but very much a misnomer. It’s not cheese. It’s chunks of abattoir pig leftover in a gelatin semi-binder. Don’t heat the sandwich up; stuff falls to bits.

That’s all I can remember right now. Won’t that do? Remaining on the bucket list are hákarl, balut (that may be the hardest to nerve myself up to), haggis, and surströmming (the videos I’ve seen give me some trepidation; maybe I’ll wait until I am in Sweden, then see if I can get them to ply me with liquor first in return for the spectacle). Fairly sure I can’t handle cazu marzu. I don’t see the attraction of fugu, even granting that the Japanese laws governing the stuff are exacting even by Japanese cultural standards.

Some six months ago, my wife and I were at a local Filipino grocery store gathering ingredients for our annual Christmas dinner ethnic food. We had settled on Pinoy, with olympias and pansit and adobo. We always prepare this meal as a team, and about three times out of four, we get a fiasco. I still feel bad for the friends who joined us for Polish food, at which we failed. I’m glad no one else was around for the Jewish cooking experience etzleinu; that was a big oy gevalt. Pinoy went pretty well; my olympias especially were a hit, though it took me a couple of hours to master the rolling method. Pretty sure the average Pinay grandma could have done it perfectly in forty-six seconds without exerting herself.

While hunting for some exact version of this or that ingredient, I came across a freezer that contained durian. Two of them per package, skin removed, sealed in rugged plastic. Both were the size and color of peeled baking potatoes. I stuck my nose into the freezer to see if anything had leaked, but no. I grabbed a package and put it in our basket.

“What is that?” asked my wife.

“Durian, dear. It’s a fruit that smells so bad it’s banned from airlines in Asia.”

“And therefore you want to eat it.” She has known me over two decades. I ceased to surprise her one of those decades ago. “Don’t do it in the house, or else.”

She had no worries. I may be dumb enough to try stuff like this, but even I am not dumb enough to risk spilling it in our kitchen.

I then mostly forgot about it, as outdoors in Portland in December and January hold limited al fresco dining appeal. You’d need to start thawing it a few days before, counting on a warm spell at just the right time. I’ve been taken hard aback by enough Inaccu-Weather forecasts around here to realize that the local meteorologists have a hard job. They’re wrong often enough that you can’t depend on them. You definitely wouldn’t bet your durians on them. I decided there was no hurry, and that I had all spring to nerve myself up.

In the latter third of June, nearing the summer solstice, nerving leveled up, durian achievement possibility unlocked.

I took the ziplock bag out of the refrigerator and was glad I’d double-bagged these. As all students of physics of course, know, there is no such thing as impermeable; the question is what may permeate what substance. Put another way, I could smell something through the plastic if I huffed with a little effort. It smelled like very bad breath–a person with untended rotting teeth, eating lots of sugar and never drinking enough water.

I began to suspect that this stuff could knock a raccoon on its ass at fifty paces. Maybe even a raven.

Was I stalling? Not really. Well, a little.

I took the package outside on a plate, bringing fork and knives, and did a ginger job of cutting it open. Both durians inside were wrapped in cling wrap, like a package of two peeled, individually wrapped baking potatoes–but a lot mushier. Up from the pierced plastic arose a pretty bad smell: fruit cocktail mixed with life-threatening halitosis. The thaw had completed (maybe not such a wise idea on my part, and the one I opened was mushy with clear liquid spilling out onto the plate. Not enough to spill over and get all over the bottom, thankfully. I hate that.

Next I turned on the hose, so that I didn’t have to handle the thing any more than unavoidable. Once I had laid bare a durian, there was nothing for it but to slice off a piece and eat. Let’s do this.

Definitely fibrous, but not in the tough and persistent way of celery; nothing difficult to cut with a serrated knife, nor difficult to chew. I see what they are talking about concerning the vanilla custard taste, if you can imagine eating vanilla custard with terminal knee-buckling halitosis emanating from it. Stringy vanilla custard, yes, but definitely sweet.

Putting it in my mouth wasn’t as hard as chewing and swallowing, because that takes a bit of time, and that gave the smell time to permeate my senses. This is not the sort of scent with which I would normally permeate those. My snapshot thought as I swallowed: not a bad basic taste at all, but I don’t like the texture, and the problem is that along with the smell hitting one’s nose, one can literally taste the smell in one’s mouth. I don’t think that my nose works the way others’ do, but it reminded me of the fermenting-garbage smell of limburger–only quadruple strength.

Sorry to disappoint all you career sickos (you know who you are), but at no time did I throw up, nor even come close. Perhaps if I’d eaten the whole durian, who knows what could have happened? But the plan wasn’t to gorge on durian; it was to try the stuff. Durians taste like stringy vanilla custard radiating eye-watering halitosis in every direction. If that sounds like something you’d rather not eat, you and I concur.

After two bites, I figured I had done my share. The rest went into the dumpster, brought with commendable foresight to the back yard beforehand. I chose Thursday because Friday is our trash day. Then I went inside to write while all this was fresh in my mind, leaving the plate out in public. When I finished writing, I would see what it might have attracted. I could always hose the plate off, of course.

It hadn’t attracted anything. In Aloverton, we have these enormous fat houseflies. Some are the size of a marble. I expected to return to find the plate covered in loathsome flies. Not a one; not even the flies want this. As I cleaned off the plate and utensils, I reflected that my least favorite aspect was the persistent aftertaste/aftersmell. Half an hour later it lingered in my mouth, a source of vague discomfort. The sweetness had moved along, but the unpleasant aftertaste/aftersmell stayed with me. I ended up going back outside for a cigar just to sear the rest of it out of my mouth.

Bringing the dog outside with me helped me to put my finger on something. I had missed a bit of description, a nuance I could not quite put into words. Our dog, a miniature schnauzer named Leonidas, is a deeply annoying little creature; cat brain, dog body. Imagine a cat that still seeks to coat you with saliva, but wouldn’t know a litterbox from a Tardis, and never feels especially guilty for decorating the floor. For reasons I don’t understand, my wife likes him. For that reason, and for reasons of fundamental humanity, I tolerate him and do what is needed to prevent him from suffering. He represents a marital compromise, one forged after many battles: no, he may not sleep in the bed with us, not if you want me sleeping in it as well; no, he cannot have free run of the house now that he’s got dogabetes; no, he cannot go everywhere with us, because I treasure my vacations away from him; no, we can’t get another one, because I have a hard enough time tolerating a single dog, especially one this insolent and obstinate.

Well, Leo has bad dog breath even by the considerably shocking standards of the canine species. I don’t see why I even bother with weed killer when I have a perfectly organic means of killing all life: let Leo breathe on it. Durian’s smell reminds me of Leo’s breath. And even after a forty-minute cigar and a big slug of iced coffee with non-Nestle creamer (those people are diabolic), I could still tastesmell a bit of the durian smell in my mouth. Eventually I’m going to have to rinse with peroxide to kill this.

The interesting effect there: how excellent the cigar and iced coffee tasted. I don’t smoke very expensive cigars, and they can be hit or miss on taste (and draw, and burn, and wrapper integrity), but this smoke tasted like one of triple the cost. Very, very pleasant, as was the coffee. The durian impact on the mouth, from only two bites, is sufficient that anything else not revolting takes on a very welcome flavor.

I’m not big on bathroom humor, so let me just say that the experience did not improve as my body performed the standard nutrition processing habits. Those who desire may use their imaginations in order to perceive this brief, disagreeable, unforgettable completion to my adventure, confident that they are unlikely to overstate the reality.

I don’t recommend durian, but at least now I know why.

Poi oh poi

Another box checked off the “try this and find out what it’s all about” list.

Hey, they aren’t all bad. I find I love kimchee. It does have a smell like something gone off, but it has nothing of that not-food taste I find in most vegetables, and especially none of the revolting cloy characteristic of cole slaw. I last had a school lunch in second grade, and I can still remember the nauseating taste of cafeteria cole slaw nearly half a century later. Menudo, on the other hand, not so good; it was like a rich taco-flavored soup with a strong acid refluxiness on the finish. I never need to eat the latexy cow stomach chunks again. In fact, I need never to eat them again. Same for muktuk, which I admit I am still mystified some cultures see as food. Black pudding? Good stuff. Ouzo? Tastes exactly like Nyquil to me, or liquid black licorice, than which same I think I’d rather eat cole slaw. With that abomination among condiments, Miracle Whip, so as to get two barfs out of the way. Vegemite, Marmite? Always have one of the two around.

So yeah, I try things. I’d long wondered how to find poi, which is taro paste, until Brain Trust here (living in Portland, a city with a substantial and diverse Asian population) finally hit upon the notion of an Asian grocery store. “Sure,” said the customer service counter person, “it’s over in produce. Tends to vanish fast, though.”

Well, we do have plenty of Pacific Islanders.

Turned out it hadn’t vanished. They sell it frozen in twist-tied bags. Package includes instructions for thawing and serving it. I took a close look; in frozen state, a sort of mauve block roughly the size of a package of frozen peas (but hopefully less repellent). I grabbed one, went off to get a jar of kimchee as well, and checked out.

First lesson: the twist tie was more of a suggestion. It slipped off sometime during the ride in my truck, causing leakage in the plastic grocery bag. Joy. Package fully secured, I went about the rest of a frustrating afternoon: medical appointment with practice that hires dumb admin staff. Stuck in traffic due to eternaconstruction that has been going on for nearly two years with no discernible progress. Used shocking language several times to describe fellow motorists, shaking my head in sad disdain and hoping they lip-read the filth flowing freely from my voice box. Waited in line at post office only to find out that insured mail had evidently been tampered with en route. Said screw it, no haircut; I want to go home now and have a cigar and let this afternoon be over.

After a moderately relaxing cigar, during which I found out that my day’s dinner workup was dashed and I’d have to come up with something else, I decided to try the poi. I also opened the kimchee, on the logic that if the poi was too awful a single bite of kimchee ought to clear away the taste. If not, I could have poi for dinner with a side of kimchee. Couldn’t lose. I extracted a mostly-thawed corner of the mauve block and popped it into my mouth.

I’d like to report that it was delicious, or gross, or weird-tasting, or even ralphtacular. Those would betray your trust. Reality was far blander; one might even call it the ultimate in bland. Compared to this stuff, Wonder Bread is a flavor burst. So is plain pasta. I’m serious. So far as I could tell, poi has no taste at all. It’s completely neutral. It had the consistency of fine hummus, but less flavor than plain steamed rice or even plain tofu. It didn’t smell bad; it didn’t taste bad. It didn’t smell like or taste like anything. It has about the flavor of distilled water.

I am still trying to determine how someone sat down one day and said, “Hey, maybe if we pound this root up into purple paste, it’ll be edible.” Maybe you have to grow up with it. It does, however, explain why Hawai’ians have so embraced Spam: if this was the alternative, any would treat Spam like a boon from on high.

Anyway, I tried it so you don’t have to unless you feel driven. It won’t hurt you, but it probably will not leave you wanting another dose.

Narrow gauge, open mind, numb nuts

There haven’t been any posts for a couple of weeks because Deb and I went on vacation. We drove to Colorado via Utah, then back to Oregon via Wyoming and the Teton Valley (Idaho). Part of it was to celebrate our anniversary, part just that we needed a getaway and one can rely upon Colorado for natural beauty.

One thing we did, which I had never done, was take the narrow gauge train from Durango (Colorado) to Silverton and back. One would never do this for practical means: it costs about $90/each round trip in economy, and it’s three and a half hours to go about 45 miles each way. But for those of you who have heard of this excursion, and wondered what it was like, I can now tell you.

We could have paid double for what presumably would have been a more comfortable ride. Our rather spartan coach car had padded seats, but they weren’t very pleasant for three hours of sitting. In fact, to my alarm, I lost all sensation down below. It took a couple of days for it to return, which is not something I had envisioned. If you are riding in coach, my advice is to bring some pads.

The train pokes along at about the speed a cyclist might ride, so there is lots of time for photography. If your seats are on one side headed for Silverton, they will be on the other during the return to Durango, so you will get both sides’ views. You will also be treated to a few steam expulsions, because the coal-fueled train has to stop and blow off steam to both sides. I hope there are never any animals over there to get scalded. The train also stops at a zipline adventure place and a couple of other locations, in addition to three watering stops from pipes rigged up to stream-fed catchbasins. While its public presentation is as a pure tourist line, the train serves communities along its length for some freight and milk-run passenger service.

The coal smell isn’t as strong as I expected. I wouldn’t want it all the time, but for a finite period I found it immersive. A brakeman gave us instructions (mainly, don’t stand on the platforms between rail cars) and warnings about cinders. The combustion kicks off small cinders that tend to get into riders’ eyes. He assured us he carried eyewash materials. I got a couple cinders, but nothing serious. They weren’t hot.

By late September, Silverton (never a thrill a minute at the best of times) isn’t a very big attraction. It’s mostly tourist traps and dirt roads (no pavement), and there’s nothing there you couldn’t get just as easily in Durango, plus half the shops are closed up for the season. The purpose of this trip is not to obtain two hours in Silverton; the purpose is to ride an old school train through the mountains. We had a nice time, except for the wasp moment. As our car sat in Silverton half-boarded, with all the windows open, a wasp entered the car and buzzed Deb. She is not allergic, but is highly apiphobic. As the wasp headed for the car’s rear, she ran for its front, commanding me to slay the creature. I am not apiphobic, but I hate being the center of a bunch of strangers’ attention. Didn’t matter; what mattered was my wife expected me do courageous battle against the marauding insect. I radiated resignation and ennui as I heaved my numbed regions out of the seat and followed the wasp to the back of the train; one swat with my Thor Gasket cap and it was on the floor, one smoosh of a sneaker and it was no longer among the living.

Upon my return Deb questioned whether I had truly slain the beast. She finally accepted my insistence that I had observed its smashed body. In hindsight, I should have offered to go get the corpus delicti and show it to her, as that would have made her cease to question me.

Overall impression: it’s a beautiful if very lengthy and uncomfortable ride, and in late September the aspen are in full fall color mode. Just remember that it’s a seven-hour round trip sitting on a train, and be sure that you want to spend seven hours on a train. And that you brought cushions to sit on.

Deb got hundreds of great photos, and we both appreciated the novelty of the trip (me especially when sensation returned to all suitable parts of my body). On top of it, when we got back to Durango, we had a great dinner at the Strater Hotel in spite of the fact that some nincompoop had just ruptured the gas main to the entire Durango area. How could this be?

How it could be was that we knew the Strater from our anniversary dinner the night before. It had been phenomenal, as near to dining perfection as one is ever likely to experience, but we wouldn’t normally go back to the same place the next night. We did not have much choice. When the gas is out, most of the restaurants have no real choice but to close down. Not the Strater, which is made of sterner stuff. They reviewed their menu, came up with an abbreviated version, set up a grill behind the establishment, and the show went on. And it was just as good as the night before. If you’re ever in Durango, and you don’t hit the Strater at least once, you should have stayed in Ouray (pronounced your-EH). I admired the way the restaurant combined business opportunism (thinking of a way to be open for a whole townful of tourists with dinner money to spend and very few places to spend it) and a high standard of food and service. And no, they didn’t raise the prices of those menu items. The Strater would be a success in downtown Portland. In Durango, I doubt it has an equal.

Where I read, and why I might wear a helmet

Maybe this is not the expected answer, but I don’t do most of my reading in some deep-burnished law-library-looking place that screams “weighty matters.” I do have a library, but the space is more about a vista of historical and world travel books on Ikea-designed shelves, and a large leather recliner containing several heated massage devices. I can turn it up so high I can’t read even large print.

It’s beautiful there, but I find it inspires me less than do the great outdoors. Most of my reading is done in a cast-off Adirondack chair under two of fourteen lodgepole pines. I watch towhees forage, squirrels re-enact the Looney Tunes gophers, and chickadees dart about. I listen to the sounds of ravens, crows, and falling pine cones. And if I am fortunate, those cones do not hit me. (If it begins to rain, or there are excessive pine cones, I move to a plastic chair mostly sheltered by the eave.)

My back patio is about 10′ x 30′ of poured concrete, just outside the library window, looking at a back yard that is sort of like Chile. It slopes up a lot, has tall pines, and has one short and one very long dimension. I’d say my back fence is about 120′, but from my Adirondack, I could hit a badminton birdie off it. Except: if I wanted a shuttlecock, I’d probably just pick up a pine cone and use a tennis racket.

Every couple of minutes, the lodgepoles shed a cone. At that stage of their lives, the fertile cones are heavy, sappy, and probably weigh as much as a cell phone. I am tempted to counsel my patio guests to wear headgear. They may choose from an old US Army steel pot (with liner), my old lumber mill hard hat from back when I was a burly young cog in the workforce (supports pulled out for the suitable jaunty angle, crudely taped US flag image on the front), or if they ask correctly, my Russian Army chapka (which I can’t even wear unless it’s -5° F). I got rid of my hockey helmet a couple years back. They can have the steel pot or the hard hat.

Deb and I quit our most dangerous tobacco vices last Christmas, but I still enjoy cigars (not constantly, and never inhaled). It is not as safe as no tobacco ever, but if you asked your doctor whether it would be better to have a cigar now and then, or to chew daily, you can guess how she would answer. Same for huffing chem-laced mass-market cigarettes vs. a daily cigar: no one’s going to endorse tobacco, but less is better, and very little means less risk. So I get a big glass of iced tea, gather up my current book, pick out a robusto, and spend forty minutes of quality time with the towhees, re-enacting squirrels, ravens, and plummeting projectiles that would surely draw blood from my shiny pate. As I do it, I get a dandy read.

You should have seen it one time, cone hit the shed roof, bounced, landed straight in an empty aluminum bucket. Right next to Leo, the miniature Schnauzer, who does not handle sudden bonks well. Couldn’t call and make that shot in a hundred years.

Nothing against reading in the library, and in rainy Aloverton, Oregon, I treasure a comfortable place to commune with literature. But when weather permits, I find, I do some of my most thoughtful reading with ravens rawking, squirrels squirreling, towhees poking, and lodgepole pine cones passing through the branch bagatelle.

One of them will have to draw my blood before I’ll yield to the steel pot.

Harold’s sneakers

I used to know a guy named Harold, whom I met through my good friend James. Well, Harold had issues, though he wasn’t a bad guy at heart. In short, Harold was a perpetual, seemingly compulsive liar. He would brass through any lie even when presented with plain evidence to refute it. Harold was convinced that he had been a very important member of a secret special ops unit. If the subject of a language came up, he claimed to speak it fluently. Harold lied about so much that one believed nothing he said, and one was surprised whenever a truth leaked through all the fiction and horseshit.

Even so, I never expected he’d burn a friendship to get a couple grand, but live and learn. He still owes me that money, plus interest, ten years in.

I did have fun one time, when Harold showed up at my door unannounced, wearing his green beret (which was draped on the wrong side). I did not miss a beat. “Little girl, I’d like two boxes of thin mints, and two boxes of the peanut butter dream cookies, please.”

Before entering, Harold raised a middle finger, signifying his disapproval of my greeting.

Another time, Harold got snowed in at my place during a freak Pacific Northwest westside snowstorm. He was stuck there for three days, during which he managed to get my sliding glass door stuck open due to ice, thanks in turn to his frequent need to go out and smoke. Since he had trudged some distance through the slush to reach my place, he had arrived with very wet sneakers, which he removed. My carpet would never be the same again. Harold’s sneakers had a legendary stench, and he was now walking around my place in his wet socks. He claimed to have contracted some sort of jungle fungus in the tropics. I suspected he probably just hadn’t changed his socks often enough.

When I awoke the next morning, and went down the hall, my nostrils cringed before the assault of Harold’s fermenting sneakers (probably almost ready for la remuage et le dégorgement). This will not stand, I told myself. My solution was silent, swift, and sure. I dug three quarters out of my laundry coin jar and scooped up a scoop of laundry detergent. I looked at Harold, pointed at his shoes, then to my door. I sat the coins and detergent on the table and went back to my room, hoping that my body language had conveyed the full urgency.

The funniest one, though, was when James needed his house painted, as he feared he might need to put it on the market due to illness. Harold and I teamed up to paint the house. Now, James had a small mutt named Willie. Willie, an inoffensive creature to anyone partial to dogs, annoyed me and I paid him no attention of any kind. Willie did not care. Willie liked me anyway, and for that reason, James liked me. This was a pretty hot day, Harold had rented a paint sprayer, at the use of which he was inept, and we weren’t having a very easy or clean time.

James, being the good guy that he was, ordered pizza for all of us. (He was too frail at that point to help paint the place. He would eventually need a transplant, which would buy him some more years before we lost him.) Harold and I were glad to go inside for lunch. I was so tired, sweaty, and hungry that I didn’t even care that Harold had removed his sneakers.

We all shared a jovial pizza lunch, eating our way to the crusts. Willie expected that this would be his snack time, and began to get a little eager. James chastised him in that piercing nasal voice I miss to this day: “Willie! Good dogs get, and bad dogs don’t!” Willie, no fool, resumed his patient wait. Soon James pitched a succulent pizza crust in his direction.

I swear to you that this is true: it landed directly in one of Harold’s shoes. I would not fictionalize something like this without telling you so.

James, of course, had not meant to do that. Willie’s reflexes caused him to dart for the thrown food, and within six inches of Harold’s footwear, the dog halted as if he’d hit a force-field. Willie stopped, examined the situation, sniffed, and backed off. He gave James the mournful canine look that says ‘You are such a fucker,’ and trudged away in sorrow.

When it registered what we had just seen, that was probably the best laugh we all ever had together.

It’s how I like to remember James, a man whose eulogy I would one day have to deliver.

You mean you used the whole thing?

I’ve had two experiences with chiropractors, enough to make me very leery of the profession. I won’t detail all my leeriness here, except to point out that it doesn’t all relate to the validity or lack thereof of the discipline itself. One of mine was making fairly outlandish claims, the other was actively milking me and ripping off the insurance company, and the collective experience caused me to shy away. But if it works for you, or has worked for you, then wonderful.

One of those experiences led to me making a fool of myself in a most amusing way, and as we all know, that is meat and drink on the ‘Lancer.

My first chiropractor was a very libertarian/LDS fellow, and somewhat of a True Believer when it came to his field. My second was also LDS, a Chinese immigrant with a heavy accent. No big deal to me, but helps paint the picture. In that situation, I had given chiropractic a second try due to some nagging back issues. At one point, we had the following conversation:

“I also want you to take hot baths with some vinegar in them.”

“Hmm. Okay. How much do I use?”

“Just go get a two-gallon bottle of apple cider vinegar.”

“All right, I guess. Why does this help my back?”

“To be honest, I don’t know why, but it does.”

“Well, I’ll give it a try.”

So I did. I bought a two-gallon bottle, ran a hot bath, and dumped in the contents. Pretty overpowering when mixed with the hot water. I don’t think most people could have dealt with it. I soaked in it as long as I thought worthwhile, then stood up and showered off the remaining vinegar water. About that time, my wife came past the bathroom.

“What the hell have you done in there?”

“The chiropractor said it would help.”

“I’m having my doubts about this chiropractor. But I’m also having doubts about your common sense. It stinks big time in there! I’m turning on the fan!”

I gave my standard reply to most forms of expressed environmental discomfort, from feedlots to cold weather: “Aaaaaah, it’s not so bad.”

“You’re a freak.”

Well, after about three of these treatments, I could see how the cost of this could add up. My back wasn’t improving, and this was an unenjoyable way to bathe. On my next chiropractic visit, I expressed doubts.

“You may not notice a difference right away.”

“Well, I am noticing a couple of differences. For one, the smell is overpowering and not very pleasant. For another, I’m not sure how long I can afford putting two gallons of this stuff in the bathtub.”

He looked at me with incredulity. “You mean you used the whole thing?” This guy was generally the picture of composure and calm, but I could see the shock on his face.

“You told me to. You said go out and get a two-gallon bottle of it.”

He held back laughter with great self-control. “I only meant for you to use about a cup of it!”

“Oh.”

After I left, I’m confident I ended up as one of the funny stories he tells when he gets together with other chiropractors for herbal tea and recommendations on how to push endless supplements on customers. But for the record, if your chiropractor suggests you put vinegar in your bath water, do take time to ask him or her how much exactly to use per bath.