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What Do the Lizards Think

Sunday, 13 Sep 2020, 16:49 GMT-0600

There are lizards in the Turk’s Cap. Geckos scurry in the dry leaves and sticks on the ground below them, chirping in the dark of the night. Spiny Lizards climb the trunk of the Ash tree behind them, blending in with the bark so that you cannot see them unless they move. And Anole’s move slowly, changing from brown to green depending on the light. They move slowly until they leap in a flash to grab some aphid or fly or ant or other unsuspecting insectoid. 

There is also a Hummingbird that visits the Turk’s Cap regularly. I wonder what the lizards think of it.

It hovers and hums as its long bill probes deep into the red. It must certainly be mere inches away from some lizard hiding there. And I wonder what those hiding lizards think. Of that humming. Of that hovering. Of that invasion of their space. Which is of course not theirs. Or the Hummingbird’s. Or the insectoids’. 

But still I wonder what those lizards think.

Papershell Pecans

Sunday, 13 Sep 2020, 16:35 GMT-0600

Pete has been here many years. Thirty or more, according to the story he told about scavenging rocks from the creek when they first moved here. The neighborhood would have been young then: the houses, most of the trees.

His two Pecan trees would have been young then. Pecan trees that he has cared for over the years. Pitching battle with the gradually multiplying squirrels over the ownership of the papershell pecans that fall from his trees this time of year. For years, he wrapped the trunks with sheets of aluminum, thwarting the squirrels’ ascent. But the Pecan trees grew. And the Cedar Elms and Live Oaks nearby grew. And their branches intertwined. And the squirrels multiplied. And his defenses ceased to defend.

Pete was out yesterday. In his rubber boots and gloves. Holding a long pole with a pecan grabber on the end. Out there harvesting his papershell pecans. As he grabbed one and then another, squirrels dashed from his yard. One. Then two. Then three and four. Then more. They had been up there doing some reconnaissance, assessing ripeness, until his grabber started grabbing. And they started dashing in squirrel hops to their nests in the oaks across the street. Nests within sight of those tasty papershell pecans that Pete has been so determined to harvest lo these thirty some years.

I suspect that he didn’t get many.

The Jeeps and the Pushers

Saturday, 01 Aug 2020, 11:08 GMT-0600

1. A Jeep Out of Gas

When the light turned green, the geezer found himself behind a Jeep SUV that had run out of gas. A twenty-something driver was pushing and steering, trying to get his vehicle thru the intersection.

The geezer changed lanes and drove around and then pulled into the next driveway. He walked back to the intersection, where the twenty-something driver was pushing his Jeep slowly along the feeder road. The geezer offered to help push, but just then a woman in another Jeep pulled in front and offered user hers to push his.

“I have a blanket,” she said.

“That’s great, thanks a lot,” the twenty-something guy said. 

2. Pushing Jeep #1

The woman in Jeep #2 drove off so she could pull up behind Jeep #1. It was a long loop, and it was going to take her a while to come around again.

“I’m good,” the twenty-something guy said to the geezer, but then he started to push again.

So the geezer pushed, too, wearing his mask from the other side of Jeep #1. A thirty-something guy walked up and began pushing from the back. Jeep #1 started rolling quickly, and the three of them began running as they pushed.

The sun was bright. The heat of the day was beginning to rise. The geezer was wearing a black shirt and panting beneath his mask until he yanked it off (being safely distanced from either of the two maskless *-somethings). His breathing fell into a cadence. His thighs started burning. 

“Let’s push harder and maybe I can coast,” the twenty-something guy said.

“Harder!” the geezer thought to himself. There was no harder in him. This was as much as he could muster.

When they came to a driveway… the guy didn’t turn in!

“I’m just going to go down to the Shell station,” he said. 

3. Jeep #2 Arrives

Problem was, even though they had now pushed Jeep #1 a quarter mile, the gas station was another quarter mile away.

“What have I gotten myself into?” the geezer wondered. Thoughts of his unlocked car with its windows down began to swirl in his head.

Just then, the woman in Jeep #2 arrived. The geezer and thirty-something stepped away, and the woman slowly pulled up and began pushing Jeep #1. 

The thirty-something guy hopped in a car which his wife (?) had been driving slowly with emergency flashers blinking to protect the three of them. The geezer turned to walk back to his car, more than a quarter mile back down the feeder road. 

4. Yay-Boo Epilog

His car was still there when he got back.

But when he finally made it to the farmer’s market there were no more eggs. Boo! But there were still plenty of peaches. Yay!

 

Wrens are not Squirrels

Monday, 27 Jul 2020, 12:05 GMT-0600

A Carolina Wren sang from the upper branches of the Japanese Persimmon. The song was more warble-y than usual, and I went to the back door to listen and watch, slowly closing the patio door since the heat of the day had arrived.

Another Wren in the pond caught my attention. It was splashing in the fountain: rolling one way and then the other, shaking and puffing and then rolling again. Then it hopped up onto a standing stem of Horsetail: swiping/cleaning its beak, shaking and puffing, preening for two or three minutes. At which point the Wren hopped back into the water and did it all again — three more times.

The Wren then flew over to a puddle of sun on the back of a blue patio chair and puffed and shook and then flew over to a potted Texas Star Hibiscus. It landed on the rim and plopped into the soil in another puddle of sun: rolling one way and then the other, shaking and puffing and then rolling again. The potting dirt went flying. 

It then flew off, leaving a depression in the pot where all that rolling and shaking had just taken place.

And here I have always blamed the squirrels for this.

Wrensong and Rainfall

Sunday, 26 Jul 2020, 08:12 GMT-0600

“Matamoros is getting it,” Trudy said.

Like her mother, she loves watching weather radar. She held out her phone. A bright red band was smeared across the map. It came in from the Gulf and passed inland right over the spot where the map showed Matamoros to be.

“Corpus is getting it.”

There was another red band up there.

Still, we haven’t held out much hope for one of the arms of the storm passing by here. There was a tiny shower yesterday for 30 seconds or so, but nothing of consequence. Just enough to cool things down and maybe add half an inch to the rain barrels.

“50% chance of showers this morning,” they say on the radio, but we know better than to put much hope in that. And then…

“It’s raining,” said Trudy.

“It is? It is!”

You could hear it on the roof. You could see it when you gazed across the field behind the back fence. A Whitewinged Dove fluttered down from the branches of the Ash tree to sit on the birdbath, obviously in anticipation of rising water levels.

Outside the front door, a Wren hopped from branch to branch in the Texas Redbud tree. It shook with each flit until, perched on the topmost twig, its disheveled head silhouetted by the gray western sky, it sang out loudly. 

A few moments later, the sun came out, and the rainfall stopped.

Pond Plans

Saturday, 25 Jul 2020, 09:25 GMT-0600

All our tiny backyard pond plans have come together.

Essential Work

Friday, 24 Jul 2020, 17:34 GMT-0600

1. Ron

We worked in a big room filled with desks and tables. One wall was made out of glass and looked out onto a hallway.

This used to be the mainframe room, the 60s era computing technology that got the astronauts to the moon. Our computers were Sun workstations that sat on the tables. Each of us had one to work at, a luxury in those days. I sat in front of batman. Next to me was robin. And then gothamcity. The workstations for the other teams had different themes. Lots of computers, but the mainframes were long gone. Cold air still blew in thru vents in the floor—a relic of the need to keep the mainframes cool. On some days, we had to wear gloves to keep our fingers warm.

On the far wall, there were some partitions where a select few had real desks. But most of us sat at the tables where our clients would daily walk by to gaze at the software technology being built in that lab.

Ron was our system administrator. He installed the workstations. He named them. He gave us our login credentials. He set up our email. And when we had a computer problem, he would solve it. 

Ron was always available. He always had a smile on his face, unlike most of the system administrators most of us had worked with. He always found a solution to our problems.

2. Six-Figure Salaries

These were the early days of the dot-com boom. Software companies were spinning off and pulling talent from our team on a daily basis. To our disbelief, those who left for the dot-com world commanded six-figure salaries.

At the time, the expression six-figure salary was reserved for consultants that went out on their own and job-shopped their technical skills. The notion that you could get a six-figure salary just by jumping from one software job to another was inconceivable, which is why so many people were leaving.

One day, I bumped into our boss after Ron had solved some problem that I was struggling with. (I think it was an email problem that required Ron do a traceroute on in order to figure out why gothamcity had stopped delivering email.)

“How are things going?” he asked.

“Great,” I said. And I explained how Ron had just solved my email problem.

He nodded, not really understanding much about email.

“I have to tell you,” I added. “If anyone on our team deserves a six-figure salary, it’s Ron. We’d be lost without him.”

He looked at me blankly, nodded, and walked on.

3. Essential Personnel

You see, Ron was one of our truly essential personnel, even though we didn’t use that term them. But six-figures? Except for independent consultants, back then no one made that kind of money except consultants… or managers. And system administration was perceived as a blue collar job. What I learned that day as my boss silently nodded and walked on was that blue collar jobs were almost by definition not essential.

Ron left not long after that. A dot-com six-figure salary was calling.

I tell this story, because I bumped into this story on Naked Capitalism, today. It pokes at this pathology: why essential work pays poorly (think delivery drivers, grocery store workers, transportation workers, air conditioning technicians, meat packers, farmworkers, sanitation workers, …). 

Plus ça change

I Do

Friday, 24 Jul 2020, 14:39 GMT-0600

“I like your writing, except…”

“Except what?”

“Except that you write so much in the first person. It’s all me, me, me, I, I, I.”

“I’m telling stories.”

“Stories in which you seem to always have a cameo if not prominent role.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I do.”

Quite Meta and Very Meta

Friday, 24 Jul 2020, 13:13 GMT-0600

1. Tangential Background

Years ago, the University of Illinois had a 5-year joint liberal arts/engineering undergraduate program. I was curious. Eventually (some time during my freshman year), and in spite of the Engineering Dean’s pronouncement that “that program is meant for civil engineers who want to build bridges in South America,” I enrolled.

What degrees to choose? The engineering degree had been a known ever since my father introduced me to the word astronautics in a Scrabble game years before: Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. What remained was to choose was the liberal arts degree.

In the event and for (poor) reasons that I won’t go into here, I chose Political Science.

2. Quite Meta

Without exception, the best class that I took in the Political Science department was International Relations. Dr. Weinstien was a marathon runner (something I could not conceive of back then). And he had very high expectations.

We were expected to pepper our comments during class with specific examples drawn from history, which intimidated me from the beginning. We were only allowed three punctuation errors (!) in our semester précis. (Yes: He called it a précis, although there was nothing abbreviated about it.) We did a very close reading of Hans Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations.

Morgenthau’s notion of a bipolar international order was a dominant thread in late twentieth century. It provided a framework for studying foreign relations. And what we did that semester was analyze his framework (analyze his analysis).

Sorta meta, and undoubtedly (in retrospect) why I loved the class so much.

3. Very Meta

Summer 2020 is coming to an end, and I am in a sprint to finish at least one of the books I recently started.

“What are you reading?” Ben asked.

“I’m trying to finally read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. Only 200 pages left. I’m going to make it.”

“I thought you had read that several times!” he chuckled.

Sadly, this is the plight of many gems on that shelf. Boo! Happily, Nasim Taleb tells us that an anti-library such as this is the best. Yay!

Klein’s book is a masterpiece. It presents principles (and importantly, principals) to explain twentieth century foreign affairs (including the Cold War tensions that were the favorite of Morgenthau’s realists) in a way that explains equally well foreign affairs in our time. It’s the same people doing the same things time after time in place after place.

Klien’s is a framework that looks at things not just from a power/politics perspective but also from a power/economics one. Least among the appeals of her approach is the lie it puts to the notion of Political Science and Economics as distinct academic disciplines — a bifurcation that would be mended by return to Political Economy.

If I were a political science (or economics) professor today, I would have a class on international relations (or international economics) that used Klein as the text. Much as we used Morgenthau’s text those many years ago, we would read Klein very closely. And we would analyze her framework (analyze her analysis).

Very meta. (And undoubtedly why I like the book so much)

Pest Control

Monday, 13 Jul 2020, 11:08 GMT-0600

1.

He must have thought we were easy marks. After knocking at the door and stepping back, the salesman started pitching his pest control. 

“We’re not interested,” I said, turning to close the door.

“But,” he said, looking and pointing at the two wasp nests under the eaves.

“I know about them,” I said. “We’re happy to have them here.” 

Which was the truth. I mean, we’re good with snakes and lizards, right? And the wasps were here before them.

2.

I had been painting. Or maybe cleaning the garage. Sweeping or blowing dust with the leaf blower (a trick my brother taught me a couple years ago) or vacuuming. Or maybe I was trimming Oak tree branches (now that the temperatures are above 100).

I don’t remember precisely what was going on. But I was coming in for another glass of ice water.

“Ah! AAAH!” I screamed as I stepped inside.

I shook my head and swept my hands on my face. There were two wasps on my sweaty face stinging me. My glasses went flying.

3. 

In the end, there was one sting not two. The second wasp made it back outside. But I confess the first … did not. 

Later that day, another pest control salesman showed up. (What’s up with these guys, anyway? Do they not know that their services are not essential? Do they not care?) Trudy answered, wearing a mask. 

She stood outside the storm door where he gave his pitch also wearing a mask and standing a safe social distance away. They chatted jocularly. Jocular chatting with a salesman because he knocked on the door? This is the epitome of my fine spouse. She has an unbounded decency.

It was reminiscent of her mom meticulously reading every envelope of junk mail that arrived in her mailbox — because it was in her mailbox. I thought this to myself as the two of them talked and laughed making me inwardly roll my eyes.

“But he wanted to kill all the Wolf Spiders,” she later told me. “We’ll take care of them all,” he had told her. Not a convincing selling point for this household.

4.

That day it must have been early enough that the heat was not yet pissing off the wasps. As I had learned the day before, when it gets to be 101 degrees out, opening the storm door is provocation enough to bring them down on you. Yet on that day, Trudy was able to hang out with that salesman directly under the first and oldest wasp nest with no consequences.

But this morning. This morning, Trudy walked outside and counted the nests. There are five or so. Yesterday there were only three.

I think this is where we and they part company.