No New Messages

Fido’s net

Photos by Roman.

…on this doggy bulletin board.

“Huh?” you say?

Look: When a dog pees, it’s never just a matter of Fluphy relieving himself. It’s also a statement that Fluphy was here, and not just that Fluphy was here but many of the other things of importance to an interested dog. Fluphy’s health. Fluphy’s sex. What Fluphy has been eating. Maybe even Fluphy’s mood. All to be read by Fido and Spot and Puggy and Wee and all and sundry who come with a nose that can see.

And they reply with a pee of their own, maybe as perfunctory as a “like” or as voluminous as a treatise. Or maybe they’re just trolling.

Back in the days when the internet, for most of us, meant a long-distance telephone call to a desktop computer with a dial-up modem, there was a volunteer service that would pick up and deliver messages between message boards. Yep, it was called FIDO Net.

What with the current fad of teaching dogs and cats to speak, maybe pee has become an underground grapevine, a samizdat between the feral and the domestic. Careful! They may eat us all, someday.

But until then, they mostly keep us sane… or maybe just less deranged… Otherwise I might suggest that you author your own message to see what the dogs have to say in reply.

You’ve Got Mail!

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Peemail. Photo by Roman.

Post Script:
Don’t believe everything that I’ve written here. However. Dogs and cats do get information from scents, some of which is social and some of which overlaps that which humans gain through conversation and correspondence. But just what “some” is is still a matter of research and speculation.

And yes: People are teaching dogs and cats to “talk” and there is a small community of folks (and creatures) on YouTube where their efforts are documented. Whether it constitutes speech or not is a debatable assertion best left to those who study such things; I don’t know that there is a consensus on the matter. But it seems pretty obvious to me that at least some of the creatures have adapted the process (whether “speech” or not) to signal their desires and needs.

If you’re curious about this, my two favorites are Billi the cat and Bunny the dog.

Billi is an older cat and living proof that you can indeed teach old cats new tricks. But pause (begging your pardon) before trying this with your cat. After all, do you really want to know that your cat can not stand the really great music you are playing or that your Significant Other is making too much damned noise? For a while, “mad” was one of her favorite words.

Bunny the dog is a young whippersnapper with an existentialist bend… or maybe it’s just her humans… hard to say. But she is a genuinely joyful character (as most dogs are) and apparently pretty articulate, though sometimes she babbles. That may actually be one of her more interesting behaviors.

And then there is the question of identity, the conscious “I”. Both Billi and Bunny have confronted mirrors and seem to understand… about like humans confronting quantum physics for the first time. There’s also all sorts of research on this subject, including trail cams posted by mirrors in the wilderness. Some creatures seem to figure it out. Others clearly do not. And with others, it’s hard to say.

It’s an interesting question with implications ranging from religion to ethics to diet to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.

For my part, I promise not to eat any dog or cat with whom I am personally acquainted.

Dinosaur Watching

For some circumstance, for some reason, birds have not been much on my radar this spring, but I did not notice this until I began opening my windows in the face of our pleasant heat wave this May. It was quiet in the morning. Too quiet. And thinking back on it, April and March had been the same. This is the season when many birds sing out on the common themes of sex, real estate, and aint-i-wonderful. It’s a great racket, as any male will tell you if candid.

Now, I’m not a birder, for all that I like birds, albeit some birds more than others, and so I’m not adept at recognizing who’s who, even if one were an owl. But something was obviously missing.

It’s the chimney swifts. For all the years I’ve been living in this apartment, there’s been a perennial colony that populated the courtyard and the parking lot across the alley. They are noisy, quarrelsome birds whose musical twitter masks dominance games, though for insects it probably sounds like the boom of doom, as if painted by a targeting sonar. They are not totally absent (in fact I hear a few as I type) but they do not occupy the space as they did. The local swifts displayed an intimate knowledge of the courtyard and lot. These chimney swifts lately do not; they ain’t from this neighborhood.

Their absence makes me wonder what else is missing. Fewer robins, perhaps? Or starlings? There did seem to be the usual crew of sparrows that hunt for spiders along the corners of brickwork and windows. But the near absence of chimney swifts may be influencing my perceptions.

The good news is that for a second year, the nighthawks are back. For more than a decade, they were largely absent from my little part of Rogers Park. These are probably the common nighthawk, judging by their electric squawks. I’ve always found the sound of them at night to be a comfort, for some reason. They do seem to be starting their hunt for insects a few hours before sunset and continuing on for several hours after sunrise. Is that new? I’m not a birder; don’t ask me.

Oh! And I did see a pair of purple martins in the parking lot a few days ago. They were a childhood favorite. I grew up with a large yearly colony in my back yard.

birdoncable
August, 2018; photo by Roman

There are also a few unknown songs in the neighborhood. Not being a bird nerd, I haven’t the foggiest… One sounds truly tropical… Is it even a bird?

Summer, 2001

For all that it was a broke-down slum, a place for the well-to-do to park their money and for hoi polloi to hunker down for the moment, I still remember this apartment with fondness.

2001-067
Photo by Roman. Bedroom / office, Summer, 2001.

Neither the apartment nor the building nor the photo really deserve that affection. When I moved in, it was a slum with a simmering tenant rebellion. In the quarter century that I lived there, my particular apartment gradually went from shoddy to shambles.

War of the Roaches

Why did I stay?

During the tenant rebellions, we went through two management companies, but the building lost half its tenants. They were not about to toss out paying tenants that year. The third management company had no sympathy for tenants beyond their rent payments, but unlike the previous two, they were at least competent and not actively malignant.

My lease was up every May, but every year the first several months of the year were occupied by one of those projects that happen on deadline whether all the work is done or not, perfect to awaken you at 2 AM with questions like: Will we complete that? Who is going to do this? What if? And on and on… not exactly anxiety but not exactly excitement either. There was little time and little energy for me to be apartment hunting, packing and moving.

Eventually, and with the fifth management company that the building went through in that quarter century, it occurred to me that perhaps I could get a 14 month lease instead of a year. Management was agreeable and the next year I was gone. (Quite possibly they would have been agreeable to a broken lease as well, but I am not by nature a quarrelsome person.)

The building, though, is still there. About a year after I left it was converted into condominiums. The idea of purchasing any apartment in that building is mildly mind-boggling, seeming about as foolish as all the time I spent there. For a one bedroom, the apartment was surprisingly small (somewhere around 550 square feet if I remember correctly) and neither the twisty front stairwell nor the back porch entrance were suitable for moving  furniture of any size. A recliner, for example, might or might not have made it through. Take the legs off that table!

I suspect any fondness is inspired by… not memories of youth but of middle-age.

It’s come to that, eh?

But maybe also cats.

Unions in Science Fiction

I mentioned, a few posts back, that John Barnes was one of the few science fiction authors who took the concept of “memes” seriously. He’s also one of the few that occasionally include a favorable mention of labor unions in his stories. At least, he’s among the few that I’m aware of. There is quite the flood of work labelled “science fiction.” It would be a full time job just to keep up with it, which is another way of saying that I’m not all that hip so maybe there are a lot more such authors these days: IDK.

Most science fiction authors do not consistently write from a particular ideological point of view, so what is it about unions? Part of it is that a good story-teller generally relies upon the reader to supply part of the story. Stories, true or fiction, are collaborative efforts, and the readers who have had direct contact with unions are a distinct minority, and most of those experienced the union the way most of us experience an insurance company. Including unfamiliar plot elements such as unions comes with a cost: You must explain and show as otherwise the readers don’t know. (That’s also one of the reasons most science fiction tales resemble a Dr. Frankenstein’s monster of re-used plot elements.) Another part of it is the assumption that in a futurama future productivity is so great that… why would most people need a union? We’re “post-economic,” right? On the other hand, how few hours a week did the early 20th Century economist John Maynard Keynes predict we would be working by the end of that century? Gee, where did all that time and money go?

Whatever. My ulterior motive in bringing up unions here is as an excuse to quote a paragraph from one of the John Barnes books that I recommended in that previous post, Candle. The series that includes Candle was written around the turn of the century, when failed states seemed to be the likely theme for the 21st Century, including the United States. This is part of a recruiting pitch made to the residents of a Seattle orphanage by the captain of a militia hired to protect that part of the Pacific northwest:

“Burton’s Thugs for Jesus is a union shop, represented by the United Combatants, Engineers, Medics, and Chaplains, and we use the standard UCEMC contract for a battalion-sized unit. You get room and board, medical, dental if we ever get another dentist under contract, and locked-in rent control for basic uniforms and equipment. In the event of combat against other UCEMC units, you have a much better POW contract — which can make a big difference if you’re captured — you keep your seniority without penalty if you elect to defect, and you fight under the strict form of the Hague Convention, so the union is a good deal for most of you, and it’s a flat four percent of your pay. You also pay for your training with a five-percent deduction from your pay for your first year, which I waive if you’re decorated for bravery in combat. You don’t pay any local or episcopal taxes.”

Lest I give the wrong impression, unions appear in only some of Barnes’ works. But even those few inclusions are enough to stand out an otherwise silent or hostile fiction genre. When I finished reading the recruiting pitch for the first time many years ago, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to weep.

But as Billy Bragg sang:

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own;
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?

Early in the Morning

The courtyard is mottled with pools of light, for dontcha know, it’s early in the morning, 5 by the clock this autumn day, and the elves and fairies are stirring though they are never entirely asleep. Always and ever is the roar of the Universal Spell, sometimes piano by the clock but never silent. Presto! Light appears and magic it must be for it is none other than the light ensorcelled by plants millions upon millions of years ago. It is an evil spell that makes zombie light, undead light, poverty light of but one color, lying light for whatever opportunities it provides, it also takes away with no rhyme or meter.

This is a magical hour for me, seated in my dark dining room with a grandstand view of the courtyard. Parked cars line the street. A mere century ago, prior to World War I, that would have been remarkable: So many cars in the city, there is only room to leave them parked on the street! I do believe the Singularity that some transhumanists fantasize about has done come and gone years ago. Welcome to a strange and beautiful and unwell time.

Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology will seem like magic. What do we look like to any of our fellow species of animal? The stories of elves and fairyland are but images of ourselves reflected in the eyes of other species.

The distant horns of the Hunt by the Queen of the Fairies segues into the distant horns of traffic and the thundering hooves of Her steeds segues into the ever present roar of The Machine. And what shall we say of this Hunt? It is a never ending stream of casualties and roadkill without the sometimes redemptive act of feeding. And why? I could tell a story, thousands of stories, but few would make any sense to the creatures with whom we share this planet. They would seem fay.

Wading in a pool of streetlight, someone crosses the street to a parked car. Recognizing its Master, the car opens and, after a moment, it comes alive. It is in a long parking spot and the driver, in reverse, slowly swings the nose out. Out of that spot in two moves, I think with approval: easy peasy. Then instead, the driver repeats the maneuver. Is this an attempt at a U-turn as well? This vehicle must have the turning radius of an oil tanker. A third repeat before escaping to the street establishes that the driver is Fay and I am so glad to not be sharing the road with it.

My espresso is still hot. I take a sip of my cup and a sip of my pipe. The parking spot mysteriously stays empty while the day begins its mumbled conversation with the night. The courtyard is becoming mottled with leftover pools of dark for, dontcha know, it’s early in the morning.

Performed  by Kiefo Nilsson, “it was written by Dallas Bartley, Leo Hickman and Louis Jordan sometime during the mesozoic era. Later, it was performed by Harry Nilsson on the Nilsson Schmilsson album…”

The Ballad of Dick the Pigeon

trash-talking the predators

The pigeons were having a bad morning. It was a smallish flock but they swirled above the trees, above the courtyard and out of sight to return back looping and dodging and dancing in a running, fleeing ballet. They were terrified. A raptor, a big one, possibly a osprey, I don’t know: I didn’t see it, but it almost got Dick — as if being in the presence of a monstrous eating machine were not terrifying enough.

Dick was an older, genial pigeon and he was good. He was often the first to spot a predator. He was fast, agile and attentive to the flock, so much so that the others gave Dick slightly more regard than they gave to his neighbors and so he would often end up its lead choreographer. Like many male pigeons, he was a bit full of himself when it came to the ladies, but Dick always had been a comely lad. If you had to lay an egg, you could do much worse. But an osprey almost ate him.

It wasn’t just fear that lit the pigeon afterburners — and believe me, they were moving at a lively clip. It was also pride. Dance is an integral part of being a pigeon. It isn’t just a means of individual expression but a way of making communal decisions. And of enforcing them. For dance is also a means of defense. Predation is often a dance move, usually coerced by the predator, who relies on a repertoire of coup de mains for quick kills; for as hangry as it may be, it doesn’t want a fight or even an uncontrolled collision. These can have consequences for the predator too. Yet even when the flock is not successfully maneuvered by the raptor, the flock will sometimes sacrifice one of its less well regarded members, maybe a no longer entertaining bully but more likely some one unaesthetically sick or disabled or incompetent or even just a stranger. Rock doves are pacific and artistic birds encumbered by deep and ugly intolerance adapted to a world where every one is a critic and “thumbs down” is more than a critique’s rhetorical flourish.

But an osprey almost ate Dick. The nerve of this cannibal ave, this discredit to the Pandionidae, this flying spawn of satan, this barbarian theropod! Nasty m___________! They flew fast and low with tight acrobatics, not just in fear but in a defiant exhilaration: “You think you’re that good, osprey? Show us some fancy dancing coup de main. Show us if you’re really hungry. Show us what you’ve got.”

Not every critique deserves to eat.

— Yip

Photo by Roman.

Some parts of this story are true.

What Rhyme or Reason

is there for a place to park poetry?

Or maybe it’s the daily slog that ambles from home to work, rhythm of sorts with uneven meter and useless rhyme. It must be a kennel for doggerel.

But wait! It promises a quick departure from dreary lines read in flat nasal affect.

Promises, promises. Capitalism always has an exit strategy…

The Illuminated Egg

Humpty-Dumpty awakes to a fall…

Photo / graphic by Roman.

Oh, the egg came first: There being eggs long before there were chickens, long before there were indeed dinosaurs. Eggs! Gleaming with an intelligence that is beyond autistic in focus, a sociopathic revolutionary move-fast-and-break-things intensity, laden with life’s magic entropy. Eggs! We eat children, don’t we?

The tattoo’d egg was a marvel to behold, each illustration enthralling the eye until it writhed into life, telling a story– no, becoming a story: for a moment, for an hour, for days or maybe even a lifetime until it is over and naught but a second has passed…

It begins with breakfasting on eggs. Two fried eggs under melted cheese and salt and pepper and sage, fried yet still runny perched atop sourdough bread. That moment of anticipation just in front of that first fragrant bite: Let that be the sustained drone, that first harmony of the day’s opening bars, only a few beats, until it rests in the bitter satisfaction of coffee and cream.

It always begins with eggs…

— Yip