Bird Camp Dispatch 6

I got a quick call from A. on Wednesday while I was at work. She was on the road, trying to locate an electronics shop that she’d found in the phone book to see if they could repair some damaged video cameras, and she called me to see if I could look up directions for her on-line. Unfortunately, the shop – which the phone book identified as being in Flagstaff – was actually in a small town south of Sedona, about an hour away. She couldn’t talk long, since she had other errands to complete and only the afternoon to get it all done.

Later, in the evening, she called me from the rim. She’ll have to buy new cameras, she thinks, and has put in bids on a couple of Ebay auctions. (I’ll have to check those for her today.) We talked about the upcoming trip a little.

“There goes a van full of elk herders,” she said at one point. Apparently, some of the tree falls caused by last week’s high winds had landed on a couple of plots’ exclusionary fences, allowing at least one elk to get into at least one of the enclosures. While A. had been gallivanting around town all day (as she put it) a bunch of the bird campers had been running around the enclosure in the 90-degree heat, trying to chase an elk toward the opening in the fence.

Just another day at Bird Camp.


What is it about a job? Seems there’s always more work to do. Well, I know that’s sort of the point. But summer is the busy season where I work, when the “single-most important item on our annual calendar” takes place, and much of the summer goes into preparing for it. As a diversion from, you know, the year-round work that doesn’t exactly take the summer off. I’ll actually miss the “calendar item” this year because of the move, and everyone at work jokes that I must be glad, at least, for that. But in fact I’d gladly attend if it meant I didn’t have to help get ready. And by “help get ready,” I mean “help prepare a 200-page binder of research materials that hardly anyone looks at but is (1) a contractual obligation and (2) helps protect the process at hand from various forms of liability.” A sort of crossing of “T”s, dotting of “I”s, and covering of hindquarters.

That no one looks at.

I took the day off from exercising. And regretted it. All day I felt like a lazy lump and had this nervous energy coursing through me. Which is good in the sense that it will help me get back on track, but I’m worried that I might be slipping into the obsessive mindset I had in Miami, that led me to run down the beach at noon even on “code red” days and left me depressed and anxious when our underway schedule threw me off of my workout routine by even a day or two. It was like I could feel all of my gains slipping away if I took even one day off. On a bigger ship, there would have been an exercise room with at least a stairstepper or stationary bike. But on the small 110-footers there was no room, no non-living space where you could have put one. At one point, some of us floated the idea of installing a recumbent stationary bike in the aft berthing area. But this would have meant removing the only table, and it also would have meant that, while some people would be trying to sleep, someone else might be panting away and dripping sweat on this bike only a few feet away. Also, while we had decent air conditioning, it was no match for the very hottest part of the subtropical summer, especially not in that space whose “roof” was an exterior deck, painted gray. Someone exerting himself in there would not have helped.

Once, so desperate was I for some shipboard exercise, I brought along a jump rope and, after dinner one evening, retired to the fantail deck (just above said berthing area, as it happens) to try to break a sweat. The seas, while not rough, were not quite glass smooth, either, and we were moving at quite a clip, meaning that the boat was occasionally tilting strongly to one side or the other. There wouldn’t have been the slightest risk if I’d been just standing there, or walking the decks, but because it seemed possible that I might trip myself up with the jump rope (never really having used one to work out before), I wore a life jacket. I quickly discovered that the steel deck of a ship is not an ideal exercise surface, particularly not for exercises that involve jumping up and down. (I couldn’t quite master that boxer’s quick-step, where it’s more like they are running in place.) I finally gave up, partly because my knees were quickly starting to hurt from the unforgiving impact, and partly because I worried that I might look like an idiot to anyone on any passing ships. (This wouldn’t normally have bothered me, but, at the time, I took myself a little seriously as a representative of the United States government. I didn’t want to have to go board a ship in a law-enforcement capacity if someone on board had just been watching me through binoculars as I jumped around spastically in a life jacket and shorts.) I also wondered what I must sound like to someone trying to sleep in the compartment below me, where the top layer of the three-high bunks would have put the occupants’ noses only a couple of feet away from the deck I was cavorting around on.

In the morning, a rare coup: actually remembering one of the bimonthly paper-recycling dates in time to do something about it, i.e., bundle up the 75 pounds of accumulated newspaper and pizza boxes (and, um, health-food boxes) in brown paper bags and get them to the curb in time for pickup.

Her Highness Miss Zuzu has officially been transformed into a crack addict for wet, canned cat food. If that’s not insulting to crack addicts, who probably have more dignity than this mewling beast who races up the stairs to greet me as I rise each morning. (I should probably be thankful that I keep her out of the bedroom or she’d be checking to see if I’d overslept starting at three or so in the morning.) I don’t feed her until after I return from exercising, but she thinks I might feed her anyway as I tie my shoes and look for my towel. Even after I’ve fed her, I’ll be walking through the kitchen or getting something from the fridge and some small cue in my movement or the sounds I’m making will make her think I’m planning to feed her again, and she’ll start staring at me, looking for signs, making this bratty-sounding little ngah noise every time I move. (I know it’s not really fair to call it “bratty,” but the pitch and inflection and even the glottal affect all perfectly match the most stereotypical “whining” sound you can imagine. Really she’s just making a noise she probably learned, as a kitten, that would get a teat moved closer to her face. But I hear a three-year-old saying “pleeeeeeEEEEEaaaaaAAAAASSSsssssseeeee.”) I feed her in the evenings, too, meaning that now, when I open the front door and step inside, I no longer see her sitting in the entryway to greet me (which I guess is kind of unusual for a cat, but that’s what she used to do). Instead, I just see her little hindquarters disappearing into the dining room on her way to her little plate, as she responds to my key in the door by running from wherever she’d just been snoozing toward what she knows as The Place Where Plates Of Aromatic Beef Feast With Giblets Appear, When The Bald One Is Around.

Speaking of cat food, I stopped to restock at Eddie’s on my way home, before ducking into the Barnes and Noble to buy a copy of Bangkok 8, a “thriller” that’s supposedly decently well-written that I heard described on the radio. I need something completely escapist to read these days, and it seemed like a murder mystery set in Asia might do the ticket. When I got home, though, I didn’t get around to starting it, instead finishing an article in the Atlantic about the increasing frequency of Japanese people entering into suicide pacts with strangers, often meeting and discussing the idea on web sites dedicated to the purpose. (By the way, if you think you can shut these down or otherwise prevent this sort of communication, you don’t understand how the internet works.) One interesting point that the article makes is that, in societies that value certain forms of suicide, such as Japan and certain segments of Islamic society, the internet makes it easier for people to take this step. Without the internet, these people’s social circle would include mostly people who’d rather they didn’t kill themselves and maybe only a few who applaud the idea. But on-line, they can find a self-selected group of people who are all sympathetic to the idea who can talk each other into it. Same with suicide bombing, which – seen in this light – seems more an outgrowth of (or at least made possible by) this modern moment, rather than something that follows naturally from the tenets of some ancient religion. But then, that’s fundamentalism in general for you – fake “traditions” that never really quite existed, with all of the publicity and evangelism depending heavily on modern technology, like television, web sites and so on.

I don’t seem to have built up to any pithy stingers I can end on. Sorry. I’ll try to do better.


I was gingerly lifting a low weight with the leg abductor when I glanced up at the television in the far corner, above the treadmills. In the “news” report, a group of women in wedding dresses were stuffing cake into their mouths, their faces smeared with icing.

On my walk to work, I ran into Dave, who lives around the corner from my office. He was on his way to his law-firm job downtown (I guess he’ll sit the bar sometime soon), resplendent in loosely knotted red tie. He was trying to decide whether to catch an MTA bus or a JHU shuttle. No doubt he’ll tighten that tie up when he gets to work.

Elmer, the contractor I’d contacted through our new property manager, stood me up on Tuesday. I’d called him on Sunday, and he’d picked Tuesday evening as a good time to stop by and take a look at the tub-surround job. (I was calling this the “tub-liner job” before, but I guess the really cool contractors call it a “tub surround.”)

“Just call me around one p.m. on Tuesday to remind me.”

I’m not sure where all of these contractors got the idea for this “call and remind me” jazz. I mean, I’m likely to do it anyway, but actually asking for it just makes them sound like addle-brained teenagers. Are they not familiar with the practice of writing things down? Do they not know that little books are sold expressly for this purpose?

So I called on Tuesday but only reached his voice mail; the outgoing message was entirely in Spanish. I guessed that it was saying something like “leave a message after the beep.” (I’m all multi-cultural like that.) So I did: I said I was calling to remind him as requested, and then I left the address and my phone number. He was scheduled for six p.m.; by about seven, I’d given up hope that he would actually come, and then Kevin arrived to look at the strawberry patch, and I forgot all about Elmer.

I called him around one on Wednesday.

“I thought you were going to stop by last night to look at the tub-surround job,” I said. I tried to speak distinctly; I don’t yet have a read on how good the guy’s English is.

“Yes, but I didn’t have the address and I didn’t have your number.”

I let that go by (to give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe his outgoing message en espanol had really said something like “don’t leave a message because I won’t get it”) and we set up another visit for noon on Saturday. When we hung up, I realized that he had once again not asked me for my address. (He hadn’t asked on Sunday, either.) Is this his first week doing this, I wondered. I texted it to him, adding “see you saturday, 12 p.m.” Assuming he receives texts, I figured this would be a good way to avoid possible language-barrier problems, as I always find it easier to understand things in a foreign language when they’re written down than when they’re spoken. But since he has so far acted like an addle-brained teenager, I’m not going to assume he receives texts; I’ll call him on Friday to remind him, and maybe Saturday morning, too.

I’m heading out to Arizona on Tuesday. This trip, we won’t be living as high on the hog as last summer’s visit, when I rented a Dodge Magnum (white, with tinted windows; the model is part of this new “fist-shaped” aesthetic that automakers seem to have embraced and this particular one was easily the ugliest car I’ve ever driven) and we stayed outside of Flagstaff for a few days at some cabins in the woods. This time, there’ll be no car rental so we’ll have to stay inside Flagstaff. And because there is no car rental, I needed to arrange transportation from Phoenix (where Southwest, the only real U.S. airline, lands) to Flagstaff. I’d been all set to buy a ticket on Greyhound when A. turned me on to Open Road Tours, which, for only about $10 more than a Greyhound ticket, picks you up at the airport for the journey. Plus, they only transport about a dozen people at a time, so I guess the vehicle must be something other than an interstate bus. Maybe it will be a sort of party bus, with a jacuzzi in the back. Here’s hoping. But anyway, I called on Wednesday to make my reservation and it was a treat to talk to the guy who took my order. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry at all and kept repeating certain details back to me and asking if there were anything else he could do for me. “You just call if your needs change,” he said at the end, “and we’ll accommodate you.”

Well all right.

It’s thunderstorm season and I love a good storm but it’s strange how they always seem to come just a few minutes before quitting time. After the time I’d been stranded by what looked like a huge one and called my brother for a ride (only to have it clear up by the time he arrived), I realized that I’d had an umbrella in my office after all. One of the huge “golf” or “door man” umbrellas A. and I purchased in quantity for our rainy October wedding. I’d stuck one in the office so that I could produce it in time to escort some VIP in from the rain or something like that. I’m the kind of person who relishes producing just the right umbrella for the job.

So I knew I had the umbrella option and didn’t need to wait the storm out, but for a little while I just sat in my desk chair and stared out at the gathering gloom and the traffic lights bobbing in the breeze. As the storm started to build, the ominously tilted tree on the southwest corner of Calvert and 25th began to writhe in the confused winds, its branches bending and swaying like a crowd of punch-drunk boxers, its fluttering leaves green as emeralds in the storm light. I was briefly hypnotized by the sight and only stirred when I heard the faintest sounds of thunder. Or was that just the chain-smoker who lives above my office coughing?

When I left, clutching an umbrella the approximate size and shape of a Zulu spear, I discovered that the rain was not heavy and walked for a few blocks with the still-closed umbrella on my shoulder like a rifle. In a little while my gray polo shirt (my “commuting shirt”) began to show the flecks of heavier and heavier drops and I briefly deployed my umbrella. Open, it was more like a tent than an umbrella. I started to feel ridiculous, as if I were wearing mountaineering boots to clear snow from my front walk. Besides, the cool rain had felt nice on my skull (one of the pleasures of near baldness). So I folded the umbrella back up again and walked the rest of the way home in the rain.

I didn’t even get very wet.

This is where the political stuff would go, but I decided to lay off of that for a little while.


[Changes: As per almost usual, this post has been tinkered with since it first went up.]

Now I remember how I used to have time to read all of the magazines I subscribe to: the gerbil stepper. It might not work for everyone, but I can get lost in an Atlantic article about how China will one day rule us all even as I’m sweating and gasping on one of these machines, and suddenly I’ll look down at the timer and ten minutes will have gone by. If I just look at the televisions, each minute feels like a year and my lungs feel like they’re considering jumping up through my neck to throttle my brain before the “news” and “talk shows” make us all any stupider. (If you think you hear a vague echo of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in that last bit of figurative language, I think you are correct, but I can’t be bothered to go look it up.)

On Tuesday I read in the June 11/18 New Yorker a brief piece by James Surowiecki about how thrilled we should all be by the president’s immigration-reform plan, in particular this whole “guest worker” thing. He sums up his viewpoint in the final paragraph:

“[T]he [guest-worker] program’s costs to American workers are negligible, the gains for the guest workers are enormous [compared to what they’d earn making the same product in their home countries for export to the U.S.], and the U.S. economy will benefit.”

I can’t comment on the second two points; they sound possible (although doesn’t the second point involve a lot of assumptions about what kind of work the immigrant in question would be doing back home?); I really don’t know. But something struck me about the article’s analysis of why “costs to American workers [would be] negligible.” Surowiecki’s main point is that a guest worker program won’t depress non-guest-workers’ wages, because “immigrants tend to work in different industries than native workers, and have different skills, and so they often end up complementing native workers, rather than competing with them.” He cites the inevitable “recent study” that found immigration “actually boost[ing] the wages of most American workers; its only negative effect was a small one, on the wages of workers without a high-school diploma.” (Italics mine.)

That’s all Surowiecki has to say on the subject; he’s quick to move on to another sweeping statement about how a guest-worker program will “benefit…the economy.” But I’d like to return my italics, above. I guess Surowiecki’s point in the passage leading up to my italics is just one way of saying something that we hear all the time: immigrants are willing to take jobs that Americans don’t want to do. But Surowiecki’s (man, I’m getting tired of typing out this guy’s alphabet-soup-like name) throwaway comment about “workers without a high school diploma” maybe being affected a little implies that such (American) workers are, in fact, willing to do these jobs and so would indeed face competition from guest workers. But no big deal, right? Who doesn’t have a high school diploma? Know anyone?

In Baltimore City, where any reference to public-school education should in all fairness include quotation marks around the word “education,” something like two thirds of the adult African-American population doesn’t have a high school diploma. And, at least somewhat as a result, there are neighborhoods in the city where well over half of the adults of working age don’t have jobs. (This is a statistic that is hidden when people discuss “the unemployment rate,” because the unemployment rate is really the rate of “people who don’t have jobs but have actively sought one in the last month”; if you’ve given up looking – which is easy to imagine people doing in a city that has hemorrhaged as many blue-collar jobs as Baltimore has in the last decade or two – you’re no longer counted as “unemployed.” So, paradoxically, if an area had a high “unemployment rate” for a while, and there just didn’t turn out to be very many jobs and lots of people got discouraged and stopped looking, the “unemployment rate” would suddenly improve! And the politicians could throw a party! Yay!)

Anyway, I’m not building up to a particularly devastating, well-thought-out point here. I just wanted to say that there are a lot of people sitting on doorsteps in Baltimore. I bet a lot of them – not all, but a lot – would rather be working. Maybe we could talk about certain things that some of these people are not taking responsibility for, but, before you judge them too harshly, you should really try to understand the effects of generational poverty and the resulting difference between someone who is unemployed but had good role models and has an education and job experience and knowledge of how to take advantage of things like libraries and otherwise possesses a sense that Life Could Be Better, and someone who is unemployed and everyone they know is unemployed and their parents were unemployed and they’ve never been through a job interview and have never written a resume and don’t know that everyone looks for jobs on-line these days and they could do that for free at the library, and so on.

And my point is that Surowiecki’s point seems to be that such people will, as a result of the guest-worker program, face even more competition for jobs than they currently do (from illegal immigrants, I guess). And that sounds awful for America’s cities, because continued mass unemployment ain’t cheap either: as just one example, a mayoral commission found that, in those same neighborhoods with the staggering rates of people not working, HIV-infection rates in certain age groups are comparable to rates in sub-Saharan Africa. Not to mention crime and blight (not exactly attractive to people who are considering moving and paying taxes here), and on and on.

So, on behalf of America’s urban underclass, I find myself wishing there weren’t a single illegal immigrant in the country, not to mention thinking that a guest-worker program wouldn’t really help things. (Although maybe it would. It would presumably be illegal to pay those guest workers less than minimum wage, so maybe that really means less competition with American diploma-less workers. God, I don’t know. Shows what I get for writing these things before breakfast.)

But anyway, we have these pesky illegal immigrants, so what shall we do with them? Damned if I know, although I must say that certain parties to the current debate act as if the immigrants aren’t here yet, or could be efficiently flushed from the country if necessary. In fact, there are anywhere from 7 to 20 million of them inside our borders, a situation that is just in a different scale from anything that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency – with only about 15,000 total staff members – is prepared to deal with as an enforcement problem. (And, of course, only a much smaller subset of those 15,000 can be sent out to check the kitchen of your favorite restaurant and the grounds-crew break room at your country club and the like). So we have to decide what to do about the fact that America has 7-20 million residents who are here illegally, many of them children who had no choice in the matter.

Should we just say “tough luck” and refuse to give them any legitimate way to interact with our society and institutions, so that they are forced to work in the shadow economy and are afraid to call the police when they are robbed or raped or otherwise taken advantage of (not to mention simply underpaid or otherwise treated like slave labor)? So that they are tempted to turn to crime themselves? [FN 1]

But if we don’t say “tough luck,” won’t they just keep coming? Or is that not such a bad thing? (The big corporations certainly don’t think it’s a bad thing – hence the Republican Party’s schizophrenia on the issue – but then, they’re thinking about their wallets, not the texture of civil society.)

Again, damned if I know.

Speaking of jobs not many people want, I was crossing 25th Street (yes, on my way to the Safeway) when my eye was caught by the sign on the door of a beautiful, late model, fire-engine-red pickup truck with a tradesman’s hutch on the back.

“Explosives Experts.”

I though about taking a picture but decided to just keep walking. But I wanted to commend this company on its choice of name, though. I can just imagine skimming through the phone book: “Bob’s Bombs.” “Explosive-R-Us.” “Big Bangs, Inc.” “Discount Detonations.”

“Explosives Experts.”

Which one would you pick?

In the evening, Kevin stopped by to inspect the strawberry patch. We seem to be just hitting the tipping point: the whole patch was stippled with the blood-red color of ripe berries. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be the only fans. Of the forty or so berries that were ripe enough to pick, about half were half-eaten. Most of the damage looks as if it were caused by something like a worm boring straight in, but some of the berries showed what I thought were obvious tooth marks. Kevin also spotted something he says are spider-mite eggs, which could be a problem as well. This weekend, I was planning on going to Home Depot anyway, so I’ll check out their poison aisle and see what can be done about this. “You sir! A bottle of your finest poison, and make it snappy!”

And later in the evening, my brother turned on the television in an idle moment and we were suddenly transfixed by America’s Got Talent. This is actually a semi-amusing show, as these things go, because of its vaudeville-like revue style, in which you never know what kind of act is going to show up next. (And, in fact, many of the acts are distinctly vaudevillian.) But the main amusement is in watching “the Hoff’s” train continue to wreck. He behaves so strangely, and yet seems aware of his strangeness, like he knows it’s part of the show. “Thrill to his pallor and flamboyance! Will it all come crashing down – tonight?” And what’s with all the cheering? I know, I know, there’s a producer stalking the aisles with a stack of cue cards and a whip, inciting the audience to it, but how do they summon up such enthusiasm, even if it is faked? Some of the acts are genuinely, impressively talented, but not to an extent that leads me to even consider shrieking with ecstasy.

Maybe, as always, You Just Have To Be There.



FN 1: This is a good point to bring up the disconnect between the reputation liberals have as being too soft and do-goody (“Hug the prisoners and give them money!” “Hug the illegal immigrants and give them money!”) and what it is that liberal social policy is actually trying to achieve. It’s not that we want to be nice to everyone, it’s that we want to try things that might actually work, such as providing job training to prison inmates and trying to turn prisons into something other than the hellish psychopath breeding grounds and trade schools for criminals that they are now. Similarly, the thinking behind trying to in some way integrate illegal immigrants into this society has to do with not allowing criminal enterprises to flourish using this cheap labor (not to mention gaining an unfair market advantage over companies trying to follow the law) and not getting robbed by an illegal immigrant who has decided he has no other option to be able to afford to buy his passport back, etc. [FN 2] We get a bad rap because sometimes our ideas don’t look “tough,” but maybe it requires toughness to accept the possibility of being made fun of for not looking tough in the course of actually trying something new.

Actually, never mind, that last sentence just sounds defensive.

FN 2: But let me just point out here that the “we” I’m talking about – that is interested in integrating illegal immigrants in some way into society – does not include Mr. Bush and this guest-worker thing, although – since, these days, the “real” conservatives are in the process of tripping over themselves backpedaling away from their erstwhile golden boy – I bet that if the guest-worker thing goes through, it gets tarred as a “liberal” idea touted by Mr. Never-Really-Was-A-Conservative, just like the nation got stuck with the Republican version of welfare back in the 1960s but the idea of paying people not to form stable family units somehow became associated with “the liberals.” [FN 3]

FN 3: Footnotes within footnotes? I must think I’m David Foster Wallace or something. (Look for the sentence beginning “His most notable rhetorical move. . .”)

Paris in the Springtime

Changes: This post has been tinkered with since I first put it up this morning.

I’m not about to get going on a long rant about Paris Hilton (in retrospect, this appears to have been a lie), but I just wanted to say that I agree with Christopher Hitchens that there is a most distasteful flavor of vengefulness in the way her recent travails have been covered by the press and discussed by the public. [FN 1] It is apparently perfectly ordinary for the L.A. County sheriff to change the terms of a prisoner’s confinement, whether for the good of the correctional facility or of the individual prisoner, meaning that Paris might currently be getting less justice than the average citizen is eligible for (and, indeed, news reports do suggest that the average citizen guilty of Paris’s “crime” serves less time behind bars than she already has).

So what are we all so mad about here? Maybe we’re just tired of hearing about the silly little thing, but it’s not Paris’s fault that the press has taken her up on her offer to make every one of her warts visible to us all, and it’s not Paris’s fault that news about her sells papers and moves click-throughs on web sites. Yes, she is a completely inconsequential person – “well known for being well known” – but it’s her right to be one, and, if you don’t like her, then stop paying attention to her.

But if, instead of stopping paying attention, you’re rubbing your hands together with glee at her tear-stained visage behind the tinted window of the SUV carting her back to jail (and, given how utterly poorly served this woman-child has been by, apparently, every single person alive with a duty to care for, educate and shape her, isn’t this sort of like throwing things at the village idiot?), ask yourself what it is you really hope to see her punished for. As Phil Nugent wonders, might it just be for “society’s oldest crime, being a sexually active woman”? He continues:

“…[P]eople didn’t seem to spend that much time talking about what she could be seen to represent in a culture where people who are born rich are rewarded for not amounting to much, not even in the simple terms of being stable adults who don’t stupidly, recklessly break the law and then boast about their presumption of being above it. There were a few feints in that direction, but mostly, the jokes were about how she’s such a slut. Lots of knee slappers about lube trucks and loofahs and experimental uses for hot dogs and long cylindrical vegetables. And aside from the fact that Paris sets a pretty sleazy level all by herself and it would be nice to see people rising above it, it’s just too easy, in too ugly a way.”

It all reminds me of the glee that used to attend every new piece of “evidence” of what a poor mother Britney Spears supposedly is – glee that evaporated into embarassed silence, at least for people with the slightest shred of decency left, when it recently became clear just how troubled and confused and alone the 26-year-old and essentially single mother really is. [FN 2] Never having been a mother myself, I can’t say this with certainty, but I suspect that those of you who have been or are might be pretty grateful, if you stop to think about it, that there wasn’t a camera there to record every decision you made as you learned the ins and outs of that job.

If you really think that what you’re applauding, in Paris’s case, is justice finally being served, you might want to look the word up in a dictionary. I just did, and I can’t contort any of the definitions into meaning something like “punishing someone for non-illegal activities accruing semi-naturally to being born into an essentially abusive or at least negligent family as well as being given too much money too young.”

Yes, I know: “poor little rich girl.”

But tell me, are you so sure you would have turned out differently under the same circumstances? And, on the flip side, does making the poor little rich girl sit in a room for the remaining three dozen or so days of her sentence really do anything to correct the very real injustices perpetrated every day by this country’s legal system? (Remember, her sentence seems to be approximately 1,000 percent longer than the average one for this offense.)

Late update: The two young African-American women checking out magazine covers in the checkout line at Safeway just now did not seem disposed to feel charitable toward Paris. “Man, those white chicks be partying like rock stars,” said one, in a statement that is interesting in a quite unintended way. “Please, ‘Paris is devastated,'” read the other one out loud from a tabloid headline. “She’s devastated because she’s in jail like the rest of the common folks.”

I did not pipe in and try to convince them of the viewpoint I expressed above. Soon enough, they moved on to a discussion of a local hairdresser whose bona fides they seemed to doubt. “Please, if he so great, why isn’t he up in Pennsylvania or down in Georgia, where the hair shows are? If he so great, what’s he still doing in this town?”

The other one picked up a magazine with Rihanna on the cover.

“She’s so pretty,” she said. “That’s what my baby’s going to look like.”



FN 1: As a useless aside, let me just say that I also could have called this post “We’ll Always Have Paris,” of course – because we will, won’t we? Wonder which generic, hackneyed song reference is getting more use for posts like this in the blogosphere.

FN 2: Although let me just point out that I’m not going on record here as believing that shaving one’s head should be considered prima facie evidence of madness, unless you want to send some good pharmaceuticals over, in which case, OK, I’m bat**** insane, too.


The early morning sounds are what I love best. The birds greeting the dawn. The trash truck downshifting. Bush on the radio saying that the planned “no-confidence” vote on Gonzalez is “meaningless.”

True, I guess, at least in the sense that such a vote can’t force the president to take any action, but it’s always nice to hear what the man thinks of the opinions of the nation’s elected representatives.

Some people who use the gym at the same time I do clearly don’t know how to use the weight machines. A woman who is there almost every morning puts her elbows too far forward on the biceps machine, enabling her to lift an artificially high amount of weight but defeating the design of the machine, which is intended to isolate the muscles in question. A diminutive man who is also a regular turns the ab crunch machine into a sort of chest press: you are supposed to sit in the machine, push the handles forward, then lock your elbows – holding the weight out from your body – and repetitively bend forward from the waist, but he just sits still and pushes his arms out and back, over and over, exercising an entirely different part of his body than the machine is designed for (and there is, of course, another machine he could use to exercise his chest and arms). How did it get to this point? Why didn’t they ask the attendant for an orientation? Have they never noticed how others use the machines? Have they never glanced at the directions printed on the machines?

Should I say something?

No, obviously I should not.

My mother, who was visiting this weekend, did me the favor of picking up some groceries. I was excited about the matter-of-factness of the label on the bag of coffee beans she bought. “Pleasant Morning Buzz.” Pretty much all I’m ever looking for in a cup of coffee. (This would be like labeling a bottle of wine “Smooth Mellow Drunk.”) The bag was of the stiff plastic variety and looked tantalizingly as though it should just pull apart at the top; there was a little bit of plastic tape, presumably for resealing the thing. But I just couldn’t find my way into the bag. Finally, I grabbed the utility scissors from their holster, magneted to the fridge, and made a tiny incision, figuring this would allow me to pull apart the opening at the top.

The tiny snip instead suddenly enlarged, the whole bag ripped asunder, and I was on my hands and knees sweeping up coffee beans for the next five minutes.

“Whitefish feast in aspic” is, by far, Her Highness Miss Zuzu’s favorite canned food.

She will also never receive it again.

I’ll admit that it’s the most food-like of any of the varieties of canned cat food I’ve seen so far, resembling nothing so much as a tin of white tuna.

But man does it stink. Even though the amount left on her little plate after she was done with her morning meal was so miniscule that to call it “particles” seems an exaggeration, the aroma filled the dining room and kitchen. I could only imagine the olfactory treat that would be waiting for me after the plate had been sitting out all day.

I threw away the rest of the can.

From the “Not One Thing, Another” Department: as we look ahead to renting out our house, we are curious how the insurance coverage will need to change. A call to Amica elucidated that we would just carry fire insurance on the structure. However – if we’re going to insure a house that we are renting out – Amica requires that the insurance for our primary residence be through them, as well (that’s where any liability coverage is carried, too, including for the house we’re renting out). Fine and good – and, yes, rental insurance counts. But apparently, because Montana is “really rural” (in the words of the customer-service representative I spoke to) it’s not a given that they will be willing to cover any possible rental we might obtain. And if Amica won’t cover our Montana residence, this means they won’t insure the Baltimore house we’re renting out, either, meaning that – if we pick the wrong house in Missoula – we’ll need to find a new insurance company.

The customer-service rep recommended that I call the Montana Amica office to find out what parts of the state they cover.

This turns out not to be an easily answered question, even when phrased as “would you cover a house within the city limits of Missoula?” Apparently we will have to (1) get the address of our rental and (2) submit same to Amica; Amica will then (3) “write up a policy” and (4) “submit it to the underwriter” so that we can find out (5) if they’ll freaking cover it or not. I badgered them further and I think that the main potential problems just have to do with the fact that even houses fairly close to the town of Missoula may not be near things like fire hydrants and the like, meaning that they are more likely to burn down, meaning that Amica stands a higher risk of its customers actually needing to use the services they’re paying for, which of course is contrary to the standard insurance-company business plan. So I think we’ll be safe if we stick to places within the town limits (and they may cover places outside the town limits, too), but this is just an unwelcome wrinkle when you’re in the position of house-hunting from 2,200 miles away. “Um, yes, I’ll put a deposit down on this rental – just as soon as my insurance company underwriter gets back to me. In the meantime, please don’t rent it to someone else who walks into your office and puts money on the table!”

Every time I asked the customer-service rep anything, she put me on hold.

Is “Another One Bites the Dust” really appropriate hold-music for an insurance company?

At Safeway, I bought a lime green “water tumbler” to replace my convention-giveaway white plastic mug I smashed against my office wall on Friday.

I love it already.

The Difference

[I added the material at the end of this post at 1:49 p.m. the same day I posted it.]

I’ll admit it, I’m a fan of the Democratic Party – but more for what it isn’t than for what it is. Here’s an example of what it isn’t: a hand-puppet for big business.

Several Democratic and Republican lobbyists agreed GOP consultants often get it wrong with Democrats because their corporate pitch is such an easy sell in Republican offices, which already are ideologically sympathetic to businesses’ concerns.

Meeting with Democrats, some Republicans neglect to factor in a much wider array of constituencies that hold sway with the new majority, including labor, environmental and consumer groups.

“Republican lobbyists are used to walking into an office and just saying, ‘I’d like you to do this,'” said one Republican operative who regularly lobbies across the aisle. “With Democrats, you really have to hone your arguments, and you really have to sell them on policy.”

Hone your arguments? Sell them on policy? Imagine! Next, they’ll be insisting that the lobbyists explain how their proposals are good for Americans, or something loony like that.

[Quote quoted from Talking Points Memo.]

Late Update: I suppose that, in the interest of fairness and accuracy, it’s worth pointing out what the above quote boils down to if you really think about it: Republican politicians sell out the American people as soon as a lobbyist suggests it; Democratic politicians (“Democrat politicians,” to use the president’s little playground taunt) make the lobbyists talk a good game first. Oh, well.

Bird Camp Dispatch 5


Bird Camp went on one of its periodic breaks (every nine days? eleven? can’t remember) last week, in which the crew decamps for two nights in Flagstaff: motel showers, restaurant dinners, check the email and otherwise get back on the grid for a while. A. stayed in camp with one of the grad students for an extra day because she didn’t want to get behind on some of the recurring research tasks. Some of the data are supposed to be collected every other day, for example, and it’s not so great if that pattern gets interrupted too often.

At that point in the week, the area was plagued by extremely high winds, high enough to cause some tree falls out on the plots and to make the jobs at hand frustratingly difficult. You try measuring wing-markings and otherwise handling a tiny, fragile nestling while buffeted by gale-force winds. (“Gale force” is a technical term meaning, I think, winds with per-hour speeds in the upper thirties; I don’t know what the actual wind speed was at Bird Camp.) A. and her helper returned to camp, eager to get to town, only to discover that the tent housing the camp’s video equipment had blown down, although fortunately no damage had been done. (And fortunately they hadn’t gone to town with everyone else the day before, or the tent would have been down and the equipment uncovered for several days, instead of just an hour or so. Who knows what might have happened then. I mean, bears might have eaten all of the cameras or something.)

In Flagstaff, A. had a full plate. She had to reorder supplies, purchase some items for the camp, arrange for an oil change in one of the vehicles, and make all of the final visa arrangements for the Englishman who’s been hired in a hurry to make up for the crew’s having lost three members since the season started. But she stayed an extra night at the motel and managed to fit it all in.



It finally feels as if the process of moving has begun, even though we won’t be vacating the house until early August. But, as of Sunday evening, there are half-full boxes cropping up in this or that corner of the house: books I’m weeding out to try to sell to Normal’s, clothes I emptied from some bedroom furniture we’re selling.

Speaking of selling furniture, when you put an ad up on Craigslist you get this warning:

Please be wary of distant “buyers” responding to your ad! Many sellers receive replies from scammers hoping to defraud them through schemes involving counterfeit cashier’s checks and/or wire transfers. These checks will clear the bank, but the person cashing the check will be held responsible when the fraud is discovered…

And in response to one of of my ads, I found this in my inbox (spammish formatting preserved for effect):

How are you doing today,i hope everything is okay with you?I was browsing through the craigslist to check out some furnitures i need for my new apartment and i came across you ad for your furniture and would like to buy your it because i really need it in my apartment.
I really wish i could come down to you to look at it but unfortunately i am currently in Los angeles but moving there soon and i can do the whole transaction from here.
I would like to know is if the furniture is still good conditions for use and also if you can accept a cashier’s check for payment as that the is the only way i can have payment to you.The cashier’s check will be delivered to you via mail just fews days after it has been mailed from here by me.

You sleep nine hours, which is good, but then you miss yoga class. Oh, well. No day can be perfect. Speaking of no day being perfect, we were unexpectedly out of coffee. I don’t know why I always buy the small Chock Full o’ Nuts can; we go through them pretty quickly and it’s always catching me out. I thought I’d had another can in reserve but my bleary-eyed, fumble-fingered search couldn’t locate it. I didn’t remember opening it, but perhaps my brother had done so. The solution was clear: go to Sam’s for bagels and cups of coffee. But just as I was picking up my keys, my mother located a single-pot bag of coffee in the pantry, one of those things that comes in gourmet gift baskets and the like. We started a pot brewing, and I went to get some bagels anyway.

The shop was almost empty and the euro-techno beats were booming. There’s something that just feels right about this strange soundtrack that’s always playing in Sam’s these days. It seems to put the environment of the store outside of any anticipated frame of cultural reference, which is to say that it reminds me of listening to the radio in Germany, where you’ll hear “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” just before some traditional German folk ballad, and that strange whistle noise in between news items. The weird thing is that it seems as if the Sam’s crew is almost never not listening to “What is Love?” but, as this is an exemplar of the genre, I don’t mind in the slightest. Although I don’t think I’d want to sit down and eat to this soundtrack.

The bagels were as good as ever, but the veggie cream cheese – which they make there and package in plain, anonymous plastic containers – had the melted-plastic overtones of a fat-free product. Perhaps it had been stocked on the wrong shelf.

After breakfast, I got to work on some of my to-dos while my brother and mother drove to Fells Point for a 10,000 Villages visit and coffee on Bond Street Wharf. They report that the effects of last week’s “brown tide” – i.e., thousands of dead fish rotting in the water – have almost completely dissipated. Meanwhile I spent some time nosing around on line, looking for ideas for my online portfolio. This is turning out to be harder than I expected. Maybe my standards are too high, but I’m not very impressed by the portfolio sites I’ve come across so far. They seem so lackluster and halfhearted. And one thing that searches involving the words “writer” and “portfolio” gets you are all of the thousands of scam artists out there looking to hook would-be writers into group web sites where, allegedly, “employers come to you,” and “we prepare you a professional portfolio page on our site” – oh, and it only costs you a little. Writers can be a fairly pathetic bunch, I guess.

No one will ever go broke selling “opportunity” to people who want to be writers.


Some days I feel the urge to write, but not really the inspiration.

Heck, I don’t even have any notes from Saturday.

I guess my mother and I went to the 32nd Street Farmer’s Market, and bought bread and salad greens.

I guess I fixed the corruption.

I guess we went to the matinee of Pinter’s Betrayal, at the Everyman.

I guess my brother, my mother, my brother’s friend Heather and I went to dinner at the Zodiac.

I guess I finally managed to get to bed before midnight, and slept a good nine hours.

But there’s really no telling, not without any notes. All hearsay, really. But it’ll have to do, for now.