Monthly Archives: October 2010

Don’t honk if you love groundhogs

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Some weeks ago I discovered that I am capable of carrying twenty pounds of litter on my shoulders for the walk home from the grocery store. Over the course of the three-quarter-mile journey I was reminded of the value of motor vehicles. Since that trip I have driven my car to the store one time, to pick up more cat litter, but except that that one excursion, my three or four weekly trips to the grocery store have been powered by my own two feet.

Along with my occasional walking commutes to work, I have been spending rather a lot of time on sidewalks. Also on absence-of-sidewalks, because the city planners, whose superior knowledge and education I can only defer to, apparently have a thoughtful and logical reason for abruptly ending safe pedestrian walkways alongside certain busy roads. Maybe one day I will be smart enough to understand that reason. 

After next week’s time change, I will probably be walking a lot less. I’m not sure yet. I will be irritable if I have to cede my sanctimonious position. It is a great joy for me, as I walk with my cloth bags to and from the store, to feel as though I have a greater moral and ethical compass than the drivers on the road. That this is a dubious, ill-founded perspective bothers me not at all. 

Walking by oneself after dark is not necessarily an intelligent idea, however. Moral and ethical, yes, but kind of dumb on the whole. I dunno. I’ll think about this dilemma once the time change actually happens. Till then, you will be able to find me on sidewalks, road margins, and ditches around town. I will be the one looking unaccountably smug. 

For those times when you do see me strolling about, please refrain from honking your horn at me. This sort of thing happens fairly often. I would prefer to think of it is a response to my breathtaking beauty, though that’s kind of a stretch, seeing that I’m normally decked in my floppy cowboy hat, ratty old sneakers, and serviceable but unexciting shirt and jeans. And also the jeans are always rolled up at the cuffs because they just don’t make jeans for women of my modest dimensions.

More likely, I think, is that drivers honk because they recognize me. Working as I do at a public service desk, and sporting hair colors that change in shade but remain dependably distinctive, I am a familiar sight. (Even a floppy cowboy hat is not a sufficient disguise, apparently.) I suppose it’s sweet of them to send the greeting, but I never do see the person doing the honking, and it is noisy and startling. I don’t care for it, and neither does my groundhog.

My groundhog lives on the hillside across the road from my apartment complex. I feel confident calling (him? her?) my groundhog, as opposed to just anyone’s groundhog, because I feed her, or him. Just the other evening I walked over to the hillside to leave an offering of apple cores. The groundhoggy wasn’t in sight– but when I strolled by the next day, he or she was feasting away! I paused to admire the little darling, who could pass for the twin of my cat Beelzebub (furry, round, waddles a lot), but then a car came honking by, and the groundhog scampered away. Well– waddled ungracefully away, but at an impressive speed.

My own feast that evening did not delight me the way apples delight pudgy rodents. I had finally decided to try some quinoa, one of the few pantry survivors in my recent battle against the grain moths. I was glad the quinoa survived, considering how expensive it was. I prepared it in my rice cooker, foregoing adornments so that I could judge it on its own flavor, which turned out to be kind of boring. I can get a kind of boring grain dish from rice for less money, so I’m not clear on why I should bother.

Also, healthy wholesome foods seem less appetizing when compared to, say, the three bags of candy sitting in one’s cabinet. It was buy-two, get-one-free at the store. I had no choice. It was for the children, you understand. Not for me. For like the seventh year running I have neglected to come up with a good Halloween costume, but at least I am well stocked for the trick-or-treaters. Not that any have ever come to my door before– but in case they do, I am prepared.


O fortuna!

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Now that the weather has cooled down to acceptable temperatures, I have been taking care of a few chores that I had avoided all summer long. Purging clutter has been chief among them. I attacked my closet and decided to get rid of any shoes that have gone unworn since I moved here.

Sadly, even with this generous measuring stick—four years exactly—I found myself reluctant to part with a few pairs of shoes. Perhaps these hanger-on will be cut in the next round. Meanwhile, I managed to divest myself of twenty or so pairs of shoes.

This makes me sound like the heroine of a chick lit novel. It’s very misleading. I’m not materialistic, honest. It’s just that I seem to have accumulated quite a few samples of footwear over the years, which is just silly, considering that I wear basically the same three pairs of shoes over and over: the functional brown pair, the functional black pair, and the other functional black pair. And also the sneakers, but still. There’s no good reason to fill my closet floor with dozens of pairs, no matter how pretty or classy or sexy or cute they are. (I had to explain this to myself three or four times, but I got there, eventually.)

So, wearing my ratty pink velcro sneakers, I marched a bunch of women’s size 8 shoes up to the thrift store. There are two thirft stores within convenient walking distance, actually, but the one in support of sick children didn’t get the goods because it’s located on the other side of the street and I didn’t feel like crossing traffic. Instead the disabled vets got my shoes.

I want everyone to stop and appreciate, here, that the following sequence of events was set in motion by not one but two good causes: I was cleaning up my apartment, and I was donating good shoes to the disabled vets.

Because of the decluttering in my closet, I became reacquainted with several pairs of shoes that had been relegated to the dusty corners. While I was dressing for work on Wednesday, I spied a pair of gorgeous, knee-high hand-me-down black boots.


I had never before worn them. I’d tried a few years ago, but zipping them over my womanly thighs had proved impossible.


I’ve lost some weight since then, thanks in large part to healthy if dull lunches such as tomato-based vegetable soup. There were some suspenseful moments, but I managed to wrestle them onto my legs.


I woried that I might lose all circulation to my lower extremities.


I still have all ten toes.


It was while I was walking down the stairs from my apartment that the sole on the left boot decided to part ways from the main shoe.


After I’d hobbled back up to my apartment to switch into a pair of functional black shoes, I discovered that I’d left my coffee sitting on the counter.


During the time when I would have been settling into the day’s work routine and drinking my coffee, I was cleaning up tomato-based vegetable soup. Apparently, when I had stumbled, I had loosed the lid from my lunch.


The tomato-based vegetable soup spilled all over the books in my tote, but it only hit the covers of my library books. They cleaned up like a charm.


The tomato-based vegetable soup had noticably affixed itself to a personal book I had borrowed from a colleague.


My colleague had forgotten that she’d ever loaned the book to me in the first place, so she wasn’t that chuffed.


It was about this time that I realized that the tomato-based vegetable soup had spilled onto my skirt.


There is a sweater we keep in the Reference workroom, normally used my people who get cold easily (i.e., not me, not in a million years) but available to someone who, for instance, might want to borrow it to wrap around her middle so as to hide the red tomato-based vegetable soup stain on her skirt.


It is this hideous red knitted thing, which is probably why no one’s ever taken it home.


Immediately after stepping into the public area of the library, the tomato-based vegetable soup declared its effectiveness in a dramatic way.


That is to say,  my skirt decided to fall down a few inches.


The hideous red knitted sweater, knotted about my waist, shielded my Superman undies from public view.

…My reading of this is that all of the good fortune came from the disabled vets, and all of the bad fortune from the sick kids. I think the lesson here is that, henceforward, I need to split the spoils evenly between both.

Alternatives to plagues, fires, and floods

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Back in the late 80s and early 90s, when I was developing an environmental consciousness, and also breasts, there were five big themes being bandied about: rainforests, smog, the ozone layer, overpopulation, and recycling.

Now in the year 2010, those themes have largely been subsumed by one big theme, global warming, and its pals. Climate change, carbon footprints, local foods, and arctic melting are the buzzwords. Though we’re still hacking down rainforests and polluting the air, nowadays the buzz focuses on reducing carbon emissions. I’m glad that global warming is making an impact on public consciousness, but we seem to have forgotten about the dangers from twenty years ago.

I’ll concede that the push to recycle has been steady. I even noticed a poster in a McDonald’s window boasting that they recycle. This hardly mitigates the social, environmental, economic, and medical damage they do to our society, but it’s a start. Though while I’m on the topic: Um, society? Hello, it’s Jessica here, the voice of reason. Would you please stop eating at fast food chains? Please? McDonald’s only inflicts damage because you keep asking it to.

Of the various ecological concerns that have waned in popularity, what puzzles me most is overpopulation. This was a big deal when I was growing up. Right? Someone tell me I’m not misremembering this. I remember the trepidation I felt as we approached a global population of six billion. Then it came, it went, and people stopped talking about it.

This strikes me as a dumb idea. All of the ecological problems we have can be traced to one root problem: we’ve got too many people. Every single environmental threat you can think of, from agribusiness to mountaintop removal mining (a big issue in West Virginia right now, as I heard on NPR the other day) to toxic metallic sludge in the Danube (a big issue in Hungary right now, as I heard on NPR the other day), would be drastically reduced if the global human population were drastically reduced.

Widespread death could achieve that goal. Genocide would do the trick, or if you don’t feel like targeting specific ethnic populations, you could have a plain old war. For those who are squeamish about actively inducing violence, you could sit about and wait for plagues, famines, floods, and other cataclysms described in the Christian Bible and elsewhere.

Pardon me for being disagreeable, but I have to lodge a protest with all of those methods. Though they can be amazingly efficient, they are all predicated on the concept of people dying, one of whom might be me. I therefore propose another means for slowing population growth: stop having so many babies.

Some disclaimers, before I go further: If you have a child, or are planning to have a child, I am not personally attacking you. (Hi, Mom!) I am speaking about worldwide attitudes toward population growth. I do not want to become a parent, but I recognize that most people do have that inclination, and that for many people, having children brings the greatest joys in life. (Right, Mom? Right?). Having children is a human right. Everyone who wants a child, or children, should be able to exercise that right, unless there is a compelling reason against it.

It’s at this point in the discussion where try really, really hard to distance myself from Hitler. My thoughts on reproduction do not discriminate based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, nationality, or… or anything, really, except that people who are not fit to have children should not be allowed to be parents. People who abuse or neglect children give up their human right to be parents. This raises a host of questions– who defines abuse and neglect? Who enforces it?– but I am going to skirt the practical points by cowering behind theory. This is an abstract discussion, not an instruction manual. This is one of those rare times when I do not want my thoughts to automatically become universal law.

Where were we? Let’s take it as a given that, except for people who are unfit for parenting, everyone has a natural right to have children. Let’s also take it as a given that the world cannot sustain the growing human population. To reconcile those two conditions, we must either kill off a lot of people, or we must stop creating so many people.

Humans already have a nice long history of killing each other off, so I’m afraid I don’t have anything to add to that discussion. Besides, I’m not keen on killing people. I am a big old softie like that.

So! Reproductive control!

There will always be accidents, but whenever possible, pregnancies should be planned. (“We weren’t exactly trying, but we knew we’d be happy if we got pregnant” is acceptable.) Starting before puberty hits, children need to learn how to prevent unwanted pregnancies. If their parents want them to abstain entirely from intercourse, fine– but they still need to have the knowledge. Knowing how to prevent a pregnancy should be part of everyone’s knowledge of basic health, like how to treat cold symptoms and how to brush your teeth.

Affordable, reliable birth control needs to be universal, and it needs to be available to men as well as women. (Darn good thing this is a theoretical discussion, because I have no practical idea how to make that happen in real life.)

Next: planned pregnancies should be actively desired. Lots of people enter adulthood assuming they’ll have kids. That is one hell of an assumption: “Oh, I’ll create a new human life and assume responsibility for it just, y’know, because that’s what people do.” Children should not be created casually. They should be created deliberately, because the intended parents actively want to become parents. No lesser reason is sufficient.

Here I must tread lightly. What I have said heretofore is basically inoffensive. Actually, that’s not true. There are a lot of folks who are offended at the idea of educating everyone about birth control. Let me rephrase: What I have said heretofore is basically inoffensive, notably excepting those who hold conservative religious views on sex and sexuality, and perhaps excepting some others I’m not thinking of right now. The next paragraph is where I start sounding radical. Bear with me.

Reproduction is an ecological issue. Every human, no matter how environmentally responsible he or she tries to be, taxes the earth. Humans, especially in industrialized nations, consume a lot. We consume food, energy, space, and habitat, and we pollute while we do it. We compete against everything else on the planet for resources, and we usually win. Collectively, we are taking more than our fair share. We are not good for the environment.

It is not my place to tell people whether they should have children, nor how many children they should have. It it not my place, nor the place of any government, nor the place of parents yearning to become grandparents. Those decisions should only be made by the intended mother and father (or, in less traditional circumstances, by the intended single parent. Which is a discussion for another day.)

All I can ask is that people be aware that reproduction is an environmental issue. That awareness is largely missing when people think about having kids. I want it to be one of the factors that people consider.

And, for my denouement, I present my trump card. It is a favorite argument of mine, an old standby I keep returning to, because it is elegant and simple. I’m talking about adoption. Adoption is usually considered as a last resort, when couples cannot conceive on their own, and as it stands now, it is a difficult procedure: it is very expensive, and it is a bureaucratic nightmare. I have no idea how to change that. Don’t look at me.

But adoption is such a lovely solution. It gives adults the change to become parents; it gives a home to a child who needs parents; and it it does this without increasing the world population. (It also provides an alternative to abortion, a topic I ha
ve purposely avoided discussing here today.)

Theories. That’s all I’m good for. I have no idea how to turn any of this into practice, except on a very small scale, i.e., I myself am choosing not to reproduce. There are well over six billion other people whom I am not influencing. On the bright side, that gives me a very easy standard to beat: all I need to do, to improve my ecological activism, is to find something, anything, that is actually meaningful. Maybe I’ll start recycling!*

*That was a joke. I already recycle. Everyone knows that, right? I recycle– and not just material from my older posts. Ba-da-boom!

Not amused

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Ifeel guilty when I do not update this blog frequently. This is unsurprising. I feel guilty about nearly everything. 

But I’ve been sitting here for an hour trying to come up with something to say. Some days it’s easy to think of material. If something funny or fascinating happens to me, I can spin it into a story. Absent exciting events (which, let’s face it, is the norm) I can expound on some thought or philosophy, or I can talk about a book I’ve been reading, if the muse is willing. Today, unfortunately, we are not a’mused.

I have read one too many short stories where the author turns his or her muse into a character. I will not inflict that on you. For that matter, I’ve read too many essays, stories, and magazine articles in which the author, bereft of ideas, starts writing about how it sucks to have writer’s block. I’ll stop now.

I did have this paragraph about how much I love October and the coming winter months, but 1.) it was basically the same thing I write this time every year, and 2.) it was boring. I tried adding some exclamation points to spice it up, but it looked dumb! And it was still boring!

And I had a germ of an idea kicking itself around in my thoughts, but it was about reproductive control. I thought it would be in poor taste considering that one of my frequent readers is pregnant, and that another of my frequent readers just delivered her first child. In fact, she took the effort to mail me a picture of him (his disaffected stare is sublime—I love it!) so I’ll have the decency to wait another week or two before railing against global population growth.

Readers who hunger for my thoughts on books—this would be each and every one of you, I assume—will not get anything from me today, because I don’t feel like repeating myself. I just finished writing a whole week of reviews. Today’s book was so enjoyable that I tracked down the author’s email to tell him so. That would be Coyote at the Kitchen Door, by Dr. Stephen DeStefano. This one is worth hunting down in your local independent bookstore or library.

Since I clearly have very little to say, I’m going to do a mercy killing on this post. Perhaps the blood sacrifice will appease the muse? We’ll find out next week! Meanwhile, happy October to one and all.