Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Out of the Jar with a Spoon

Today's non-book post is a comment on a point made in the book I just reviewed, Rick Bailey's Get Thee to a Bakery

Apparently trending on a web site, not too many years ago, was a set of questions about things people in other countries have heard about the foodways of the United States. (Briefly, although many Americans have never seen or heard of some of the menus foreigners have heard that "Americans" eat, in a nation of this size there probably are people, somewhere, who eat it. Though in the case of real authentic kim chi, which some Americans do eat and not all of them are even of Korean descent, they may have been asked to move out of a furnished room after preparing and eating it.)

In a nation of this size, in fact, to mention any unusual and (you think) disgusting food item is probably to give somebody an idea for a trademark for a new restaurant chain. It probably will work for somebody. I'm not defending the idea of pineapple on pizza, but the enzymes in pineapple probably would make it easier for some people to digest meat and cheese.

Most Americans aren't celiacs. Even in Ireland the celiac gene puts people in a minority. Glyphosate has, however, caused many Americans to try eating as if they were celiacs. It's not a cure but it helps, because nearly all U.S. wheat has been heavily sprayed with glyphosate, so a wheat-free diet makes a difference in the amount of this poison to which we expose ourselves. 

Quite a few traditional American foods consist of a wheat-based dough, baked, boiled, or fried, spread with or dipped into something softer. According to traditional rules, both of economics and of nutrition, people were supposed to fill up on generous portions of the wheat products with just a thin coat of the gooey stuff on top. Wheat was cheaper and, when unsprayed, unbleached, with a good bit of bran left in, it was nutritious for most people. (Celiacs still didn't digest it.) Pouring on or mopping up enough of the "topping" to spill back onto the plate, or need to be scooped up iwth a spoon, was extravagant and was seen as a form of gluttony.

This changes when you realize that wheat is what's been making you sick (and in some cases keeping you skinny, though flabby). You can substitute equal volumes of corn, rice, potato, millet, quinoa, oat, or tapioca products for the wheat-based part of a meal. Celiacs usually do that when cooking for guests. At home we don't necessarily bother. 

So, yes, there are those who do eat their favorite toppings-for-bread/pastry/pasta all by themselves...

1. Tomato sauce without the pasta or pizza. Heat it, thin with the juices and/or cooking liquid of vegetables, and it turns into delicious soup. That idea is positively mainstream. Hunt's displays recipes for their tomato sauce as a soup base on some of the labels of their tomato sauces.

2. Fruit preserves, jelly, jam, or marmalade without the bread. Personally I think it's more interesting to warm the fruit preserves enough to melt it and use it as sauce on fruit, anyway, especially if you happen to have some organically grown but rather boring fruit to use up, e.g. pears. 

3. Peanut butter without the bread. It's traditionally spread on celery, but yes, people do eat it by the spoonful. 

4, Frosting without the cake. The most popular cake frostings in the United States are the buttercream kind, though they're often made with Crisco shortening instead of butter for longer storage. The idea of eating a bowl of Crisco with sugar mixed into it still puts many people off, even in the celiac community, although I've heard it recommended. Frosting is, however, sold in little tubs from which it's easy to scoop up on pieces of fruit or nuts.

5. Syrup without the pancake or waffle. Personally, I once used a dab of cheap maple-flavored corn syrup to stick a key back on a typewriter when all else had failed. The key stuck on with corn syrup has stayed on that typewriter for 35 years. This has made the idea of eating anything that's that sticky seem unappetizing to me. Real maple or sorghum syrup is not to be wasted, though. It can be scooped up on pieces of fruit, especially fruit that didn't get enough sun while it was growing and may also have been picked while green for easy shipping. 

6. Nutella without the biscotti. Nutella has not been imported into the United States long enough to be traditional even with the biscotti. I can't think of anything else that really seems like a complementary flavor, but I suppose eating Nutella by the spoonful is no worse than eating peanut butter that way.

7. Applesauce without the bread or meat or even a cookie. Applesauce is just cooked apples so I see no reason not to eat applesauce with a spoon. I've known people who added crunch to applesauce by eating it with gluten-free cold cereals like corn flakes, Chex, or Cheerios. This was a better idea before food processors started spraying glyphosate right on grain, to dry it out faster, in 2009.

8. Salsa without the tortilla. Most things sold as salsa in the United States would be too peppery for most people to consider eating with a spoon, but they work just as well on any other component of a taco as on the tortilla. Salsa can go directly on meat, beans, lettuce, tomato, radish, fish, whatever. It can also be eaten on rice, or on corn and corn products.

9. Dulce de leche--condensed milk not reconstituted with water and used in cooking, as intended, but cooked into a sort of candy. How is that worse than eating caramels?

10. Mayonanaise without the sandwich. This one does disgust me, mostly because I don't put mayonnaise on salads or sandwiches myself. It has no food value. It is pure empty calories and it smells like vinegar. It is possible to sandwich two slices of meat together with mayonnaise. Meh. They could at least hold the sandwich together between leaves of lettuce.

Book Review with Excuse: Get Thee to a Bakery

This review is late, as is today's non-book post. I have an excuse for this. I received a batch of books within 26 hours. I wanted to post reviews of them in the order they came in. That's not happening; the first book aroused such mixed reactions that its review ran overtime, and then I felt as if the author ought to give informed consent before I posted a complete and honest review. (Briefly, I think it's a good book for some people, susceptible to abuse by and against others.) 

Here is a hastily written review of the next book. Since they came in electronic format all the quotes come from the first quarter of the book, because scrolling takes longer than flipping pages. No worries, though. The book is entertaining all the way.

Title: Get Thee to a Bakery 

Author: Rick Bailey

Date: 2021

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

ISBN:  9781496225610

Length: 228 pages 

Quote: "We exercise, we are not overweight, we are not old exactly. Just beginning to incline . . . old-ward. But there it is, the age-related groan."

Although it's published by a university, this is a light book, suitable for bedside or bathroom reading. Or for reading in a place like the Roberts Family Bakery Cafe, whose patrons stock the coffee table near the front window with light reading such as Cake Wrecks and The Book of Barkley

It is a little more scholarly than other collections of light newspaper-column-length essays like Normal Is Just a Setting on Your Dryer, or Down the Seine and Up the Potomac, or Alice Let's Eat. Bailey suggests, for example, that while standing on a ladder he distracts himself from his wife's repeated warnings and his own memories of people falling off ladders by reflecting on pumpkin pie, and specifically on nutmeg. His reflections include recipes translated from French and Italian. Still, they're meant to evoke chortles, and perhaps salivation. They won't be on the test. They are offered just for fun.

Bailey's ancestors are English but his wife's are Italian, so there's a fair bit about Italy in the book. There is an assumption that you are, or will be, or at least enjoy the company of, a person who goes to libraries and reads whole books when he wonders about a "how" or "when" question, who recognizes classical music by title, and who frequently visits friends in countries where Engllish is not an official language. There is also an assumption that you have, or know someone who has, a way to look anything unfamiliar up online, even to download an app that promises to name any tune. Since you're reading this review on a computer this book should be completely accessible to you. Bing even promises to pay you for looking up things like "recording of Andrea Bocelli's 'Con te partiro'," if you're wondering how that song goes, although Bailey warns that it's an earworm.

When a book is likely to provoke laughter I usually pick a few funny lines for readers' consideration. So: 

"I understand tannin but I don’t get pliable. I tell him my mouth is dumb. I’m just not a very good taster. He asks, “Did you like it?” “Yes, I did,” I say, and empty my glass into the spittoon"

"She was from Fano, in the Marches region. (Nearby residents, instead of telling someone to go to [H]ell, tell them to go to Fano.)"

"[T]he issue was what irritates Europeans about Americans who travel abroad. For example: Americans talk too loud, Americans tell what state they come from (people from Michigan, raise your hand). Americans are polite, they smile all the time, they engage total strangers, like cashiers, in conversation. They are fastidious about finding trashcans. They require lots of ice."

"'Salmonella...causes about 450 deaths every year.' Evidently there are a lot of bad eggs out there. Unfortunately, they all look about the same."

"They ask me a question. I know it has something to do with soccer. Do I like it? Drawing on one of my lady books, I could say something like: My heart swells and beats faster as our time draws near. Americano! they yell at me, asking me a question about a recent motorcycle race. I have a ready response: In the depths of my soul I knew the answer was yes, yes yes.  Americano! they yell."

If you're smiling, you'll enjoy this book. It also delivers lots of free Italian vocabulary words and several recipe and serving suggestions. And books you might want to read next. And web sites.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Morgan Griffith on Labor's Main Concern in the Ninth District

As Labor Day approaches, the Ninth District's main labor-related concern is new job openings, or the hope, the thought of one. So many businesses have closed due to the artificial COVID panic. So many people have been laid off. So many high school and college graduates have not found employment.

So many businesses that have reopened have failed to learn the essentials of maintaining an environment that won't promote the spread of airborne virus. That means it can happen again. And it very likely will, because

* cold and flu virus mutate constantly, and most of them are much more likely to affect humans than coronavirus

* new vaccines for virus are always hit-or-miss experiments, so it's against the interest of people who are not especially vulnerable to bother with them

* and more older, richer, influential people are recognizing themselves in the "more vulnerable" category every year.

Businesses need to reshape the workplace. No more "line" or "bullpen" rooms where people literally rub elbows all day. (Instead of cranking up the obnoxious commercial radio to cover up the sound of gossip, McDonald's, e.g., needs to be making the transition to putting each employee in a separate cubicle, with screens for relaying messages and slots for transferring trays!) Workspaces need to be separated by walls. Each workspace needs a window; it's not safe for people to work within conversational distance of each other all day, so they need a view of open space where other people come and go, to prevent the claustrophobia some people claim to suffer in cubicles. 

To make this expanded interpersonal distance economically feasible, people can and should be working from home most of the time. Most people do not need to be commuting every day. With today's technology clerical workers, for example, can locate files and take dictation entirely by phone and Internet. People can build the ability to focus on actual work done, free from prejudice and "office politics," by seeing words and graphics and other work without being able to distract themselves by looking at each other. 

Virus-proof workspaces can be a huge step forward--away from bigotry (against large pressure groups or smaller, less noticeable categories of humankind), away from pollution, toward efficiency and hygiene. And there's even a bill pending in the Senate to address the economic impact of all those electronic gadgets that can make it work.

That's my comment. Here's the E-Newsletter from Morgan Griffith, R-VA-9:


Great Job News in the Ninth District

The celebration of Labor Day on the first Monday in September is an occasion to celebrate American workers and all they have done to create the greatest economic power in history.

In our region, this upcoming Labor Day would be a good time to note a recent spate of good news for workers, job growth, and opportunity.

Companies announcing that they are newly locating to Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District or growing in the area are events to celebrate, not only for the companies and the workers who will gain jobs but for the surrounding communities which will gain more investment, nearby shops and restaurants which will enjoy more customers, and local governments which will collect more tax revenue to pay for services.

On August 23, Coronado Global Resources announced plans to expand in Buchanan and Tazewell Counties, a $169.1 million investment that will create 181 new jobs. Coronado’s announcement comes as demand surges for the metallurgical coal it produces.

Metallurgical coal is an essential product for the steelmaking process. Central Appalachia happens to be home to some of the world’s major metallurgical coal reserves, so when steel is in demand, our region can benefit.

Coronado’s announcement was a welcome one for the miners who will earn wages well above the median in the region. It was also a reminder that, with its various uses, coal is not going away.

In Big Stone Gap on August 25, I was present for an announcement by the Chesterfield County-based firm Paymerang that it was locating a hub in the town and would create 50 new jobs in the area.

This opportunity meets Southwest Virginia’s enduring assets – a low cost of living and a high quality of life – with recent technological developments. Improved internet access gives more employees the ability to work from home. We hope that will lead to more people calling Southwest Virginia home or staying in our region. They can enjoy expanded possibilities for employment without sacrificing proximity to our great outdoor recreational activities or paying the exorbitant rent or house prices of urban areas.

I hope Paymerang’s announcement is only among the earliest of its kind to offer distributed work positions or other similar opportunities in our area.

Job growth is not only about increasing the number of positions now. It is about improving workforce skills so that more jobseekers are matched with quality jobs.

This is the purpose of a new program at the Tazewell County Career and Technical Center, with a ribbon cutting for it on August 30. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities awarded a $1.4 million grant to the center to pay for modern computerized welding equipment and staff and instruction on how to use it. Skilled welders are highly sought-after, and training them in our area will benefit both those who take up the trade and those looking to employ them.

Virginia’s Ninth District has plenty of assets to attract workers, including affordable living and access to great natural and recreational locations. We can create more opportunities by renewing or redeveloping parts of the old economy. This is the purpose of the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) program, formerly the AML Pilot Project. When the federal program was first created, Virginia was not eligible, so I successfully added an amendment to include Virginia.

AMLER can be applied to a variety of uses to reclaim old mine lands, including preparation for industrial sites. Russell County’s Project Reclaim is one such location, a 67-acre industrial site which received AMLER support to remove old mining structures and reclaim the land. Prepared industrial sites can attract new enterprises that will hire workers and become important economic drivers.

The hardworking people of our part of Virginia are being rewarded with new opportunities for well-paying jobs. We can all celebrate this progress.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.


Book Review with Dog Pictures: A Dog Is Listening

This post is brought to you by dogs. In honor of Roger Caras's memory and preferences, these dogs are or at least appear to be fancy breeds. 

1. Eddie, an Airedale Terrier from Pennsylvania

Eddie is described as undersocialized and scared of new people. He is looking for a foster home with the possibility of permanent adoption. The foster home needs to have a big yard where Eddie can keep away from people he doesn't know well. A dog playmate is also recommended. Eddie weighs about thirty pounds. Since he'd be difficult to sell and they recommend fostering first, the shelter might make a real deal with someone who wanted to adopt this shy dog. Eddie's web page is .

2. Itty Bitty, a Belgian Shepherd Malinois from Maryland 

Itty Bitty does not have the most efficient web site manager. Her page mentions that she got that name by being the smallest in the litter, but she's no longer itty-bitty...and then gives no exact weight or measurements. Well, sheep-herding dogs aren't small. They can be smaller than typical American police dogs and still be too big for some people to carry. Itty Bitty is described as a friendly, playful, hand and face licker, already spayed, good with other dogs and children, and fond of chilling in the pool. Meet her via .

3, Messi, a Catahoula Leopard Dog from Atlanta 

For some unexplained reason there are a lot of Catahoula Leopard Dogs in search of homes in and around Atlanta. "Leopard dog" means the coat has dappls of color. I like the shelter's revealing evasiveness in describing this telegenic dog. They can't say much for her, they named her Messi, and if you're in town, you can borrow this great gorgeous mess for two weeks, free of charge, to see how you like living with her. Apart from the library-loan-style "fostering" offer, isn't that the way it goes with shelter dogs? Only in this case they admit it? Messi's web page, , doesn't give a precise weight but she's a good-sized hound. 

Now for the book...

Title: A Dog IsListening

Author: Roger A. Caras

Date: 1992

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 0-471-70249-1

Length:228 pages plus 10-page index

Illustrations: many black-and-white pictures

Quote: “The dogs of the world have a whole universe of sound far beyond our reach.”

Everyone knows that dogs normally hear a lot of sounds humans don't. Roger Caras is able to fill six whole pages with facts chosen to communicate his awe at just how much it' possible that dogs hear and we miss.

He goes on like that to consider dogs' other physical traits, their diversity, their lovableness, dogs in history and dogs he's known. A Dog Is Listening is not a guide to the care or training of dogs. There are already a lot of those, Caras was clearly thinking, and what the world needed from the president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was a general exposition of how he felt about dogs and why.

What he felt about dogs was wonderment. Why? Dogs are wonderful. Caras doesn't say "Everyone should live with a half-dozen or so dogs" because he was unfortunately aware that a lot of people aren't fit to own dogs, but the overall effect of reading his book is to make you think how much richer life is with dogs in it.

"Dogs are children that are never able to grow up, no matter how smart they are" was the thought the publisher chose to spotlight on the back cover. All Caras seems to have meant was that dogs need human supervision to live among humans. Dogs can go feral--they evolve, in a few years, toward the prototype dog, the coyote--and do quite well at surviving and perpetuating their DNA, at the cost of the qualities humans love about our pets. Coyotes are not loving or loyal, will not protect your home or children, will not help you in any situation whatsoever, and aren't even anything to look at. Dogs grow up to be dogs. They can learn enough of a human language to tell when they're being used as substitutes for human babies. Some of them like humans enough to play along with such foolishness; others may bite.

The quote goes on to summarize the many ways many humans have expressed the thought that they prefer relationships to dogs, where they know where they stand--they're dominant--to relationships with humans. While this is how many people feel, I think serious animal lovers might want to challenge it. Do we, in fact, love other humans? Do we have human friends? If so, we would agree that a dog is no substitute for a human friend. But then again, a human is no substitute for a dog friend. If blessed to live in the country, we may have noticed that a dog is also no substitute for a cat friend, a horse friend, a sheep friend, or a chicken friend. If you've become fond of a human friend's dogs, you may have noticed that, with some dogs, you are not the leader of the pack--the dogs make it clear that, though treated as a friend because the leader of the pack said you were one, you're a fellow follower. Any authority you have was given to you by Their Human. So you don't have a need to know where you stand, or more specifically that you're dominant, in order to enjoy a dog's company. Probably it's more accurate, if we think about it, to say that most humans like specific dogs for the same reasons we like specific people. Under the right conditions we can generalize a set of pleasant relationships with dogs into a general feeling that we like all dogs. In practice, though, we still like some dogs much more than others. Love is an individual thing.

Caras, being one of the people who generally enjoy watching other animals, getting to know them, and bonding with some of them as pets, does not challenge that sneaking implication that "You only like dogs because you don't have enough satisfactory relationships with humans." Actually, he tells us, he had opportunities to be the "voice of reason" reminding his family that they couldn't adopt all the homeless animals in, or turned away from, the shelter. And he goes on for pages and pages of stories that make the point that most animal people are mentally sound, socially competent individuals who happen to bond with individuals of other species as well as our own. But he doesn't try to claim that that's true for all pet owners. A case could be made that, in his book, he offers stories of socially competent individuals' cross-species bonds by way of inspiration to the other kind of pet owners.

There have actually been debates, among people whose lives focus on animals, about whether the domesticated animals should be forced into extinction as the world implements the (male) Socialists' Master Plan for keeping the products of unlimited male self-indulgence in slums and feeding them on vermin. Many, of course, don't take such "plans" seriously because we don't believe nature will allow them to work: if humans can't stop procreating "the billions" feeding whom will require bizarre high-tech alternatives to raising natural food on natural farms, and we are a species in which the increase in non-reproductive sexual behavior isn't stopping the population from increasing, then plagues will take care of human overpopulation. COVID-19, though helpful to the subsidized medical care programs of the world, was only a beginning. Plagues that cure overpopulation affect the young. Those who believe that humankind will one day be reduced to "billions" of huddled masses in slums, dependent on rations of syntho-slop engineered by the technocrat elite, are however working to render domestic animals extinct. They've succeeded in destroying some breeds of sheep and chickens, and their current target is dogs and cats. The Humane Society's loathsome leader, in a book called The Bond, envisioned a future where our grandchildren's instinct to bond with dogs, cats, and horses will be redirected toward rats, cockroaches, and Central Park pigeons. Into this debate, Roger Caras is remembered for dropping the statement that it would be a shame if the fancy breeds of animals weren't preserved. Or, in practice, commercial breeders should carry on raising pedigreed animals, some of which are produced by dysfunctional or downright lethal genes, and animal "rescuers" should keep on sterilizing or killing undocumented, snob-appeal-free animals with, often, more functional genes.

This opinion is apparent when Caras discusses specific breeds, even though the purpose of his chapter on that topic is to express wonderment at dogs' genetic diversity rather than to advise people considering a new pet. As of 1992, he tells us, the America Kennel Club recognizes (or recognized) 145 breeds; Caras was aware of over 300 breeds some people recognized, though names like "Labradoodle" and "Peke-a-poo" have proliferated further since 1992. He acknowledges that disease genes and lethal genes are found in some popular dog breeds, but doesn't come near listing the number of possible problems befoire expressing his real prejudice:

"As for mixed-breed dogs (my name for them is the rather more dignified "random-bred"), Lord love'em, we always have some. They are as fulfillingly doggy as any pure breed and deserving fo just as much care...We must stop encouraging or allowing random-bred animals (dogs or cats) from breeding, however, since we are killing well over twelve million a year because there are not enough homes. For the time being that means surgery although a chemical solution to the problem will soon be available. No dog...should ever become a parent unless...its genes are really needed to perpetuate a historically valid line."

Meh. I consider the author photo on the jacket. Approaching age 70, Caras had flabby jowls and small eyes, faults that would surely cost him the trophy in any well run man show. Even without observing his floor-cleaning skills I think we could fairly say that he should not have become a parent, although he was. Consistency forbids consideration of any testimony about his having been a good father, having raised competent offspring who have carried on some of his projects. Surgery was clearly indicated although a chemical solution to the problem undoubtedly existed even before 1992.

Seriously, this reviewer thinks we need to be mindful of the prospects before anyone becomes a parent. Can you, or people you know, guarantee a good uncrowded home for any kittens or puppies your pet produces? Thanks to the overzealous neuter-and-spay campaign, on the East Coast there is actually a demand for pets who aren't in the hands of control freaks, so allowing your pet to be a parent may be ethically acceptable if the baby animals are healthy. When problem pregnancies in a female or defects in the offspring of a male become obvious, sterilization is obviously necessary. When you are not willing to keep puppies or kittens yourself until they're claimed by decent humans, or when you want to banish a particular animal from your home and can't find someone who's willing to put up with its misbehavior in a few days, then you should schedule the operations. Meanwhile humans need to think harder about the prospects for baby humans. Will they grow up in a world where every child is precious, where human life has a very high value, where these potential children of yours will find it easy to work their way through school and pay for nice houses with gardens? If and whenever that becomes true, the concept of a "big happy family" with multiple children can be taken seriously, as it was a hundred years ago. So long as the answers to the questions prospective parents need to ask are what they are today, humans need to make a commitment to produce one child or none. If God wants you to have two children, you will have twins. After one birth, neuter and spay yourselves.

I am not suggesting that all pets should reproduce freely forever. Personally I've come to suspect, though it was never officially diagnosed, that the Cat Sanctuary's original rescued alley cat Patchnose had FIV; despite losses after glyphosate poisoning episodes, Serena and her kittens have been much healthier and hardier than the cats in the female line of descent were. If FIV and chemical poisoning don't intervene, an all-natural Cat or Dog Sanctuary can become an overcrowded colony that's likely to be ravaged by plagues, even if you pay for all those vaccines against the most deadly infectious diseases. Sterilization has its place and, as in humans, the operation is much cheaper, simpler, and safer for males than for females. But in the thirty years since this book was first published, the East Coast states have seen a human-life-threatening decrease in free-range cat populations, an unholy alliance between "rescuers" and breeders to inflate the costs of keeping animals and prevent children having the valuable life experience of keeping pets, that need to be reversed. Neutering and spaying are options to be considered mindfully.

Despite his prejudices, Caras had access to a rich collection of dog lore. Apart from pages 222 through 225, if you're willing to tolerate some credulity about evolutionary speculation as science, this book is a treasure chest of fun facts and charming stories about dogs. Dog people should love it. And of course this book was intended to be shelved next to its companion, A Cat Is Watching.

These Little Things

At , reading a short post by Janis Leslie Evans (remember ?), I saw this list of things readers loved about their Significant Others: 

  • 0% Laughter
  • 33% Smile
  • 0% Quirks
  • 50% Conversation
  • 17% Humor

There are other good things at the page, including a Stevie Wonder song for those who can listen to it; if you add your answers to the survey it'll become more useful. Currently the size is too small to amount to anything. 

My take? The list is too short.

Most of us meet a lot of attractive people if we live long enough, and we may observe some things about our preferences that may be useful to science some day, For instance, are you consistently attracted to one physical type, or do you seem unconsciously drawn to someone as different from your ex as possible? Are there similarities under the difference? My pattern comes closest to "conversation," but I think "character: would be a better word.

I never got into boy-craziness the way some girls do. I empathized with those girls' inevitable humiliations and, when I started feeling attracted to boys, recognized that it was not True Love and the best thing would be for nobody ever to know which boys those were. This only meant pretending to be asexual for years when I was not asexual, but at least looked young enough to limit people's reactions to that know-it-all "Oh, one day, dear..." 

They weren't bad men. They weren't good men. They weren't any kind of men at all, when I knew them. They were high school boys. No sensible person seriously wants to get close to a high school boy. Not that high school boys can't be likable, but you have no idea even what they're going to look like ten years later. .

So there's no benefit in talking about the things that caught my half-grown eye in high school, except that most of high school boy "culture" was a turn-off, for me. Swearing, spitting, gross-outs, the whole "nobody tells me what to do, except the group to which I slavishly conform" teenaged thing, turned me off then and turn me off still.

It might be worthwhile to mention the things that convinced me that men, or even the men some teenaged boys were becoming, were worth a little more serious consideration. Without any privacy-violating discussion of who, where, and when...

I, personally, look for High Sensory Perceptivity in close friends, male or female. A majority of people don't have this hereditary trait and don't look for it, so it's almost irrelevant to this discussion. Among people over age 50, however, it does tend to make the difference between people who are still looking for new adventures and second or third careers, and people who just want to settle down and be "old." The physical HSP trait tends to favor the development of the character traits mentioned below, but they're worth spelling out and celebrating individually.

I liked the gift of diplomacy in a school friend before I liked it in my husband. Both of them studied people and could think of the perfect thing to say to break up a fight before it started. Few people have this gift. I wanted to lose no chance to learn from those who do.

I really did like the loyal, persistent friendship of some men who didn't seem attractive at first, and yes, it did make them seem more attractive. Well, that and the fact that the gangly one grew into his feet, and the one with the gruesome mess on his face eventually accepted the fact that his facial hair was never going to form a real beard, and so on. This effect did not make thinking about a physical relationship with the ones who looked like relative feel less icky, nor did it make the problems of international marriage seem less off-putting, but I think young men should know that being a good friend is an attractive quality. Especially if you don't react to any suggestion that a young woman appreciates your friendship with "So now can we flop into bed?" You still have to wait for evidence that any little twinkle of attraction we may have felt has not been stifled by thoughts like "But he's the wrong age, type, ethnic background, or he looks like a relative, or we don't totally agree on this or that." If and when she decides such things don't matter, you'll know. Don't ask.

I like fortitude in men or women. We did not all grow up with Drill Sergeant Dads who found us in a state of shock beside the road and yelled "Why didn't you stand in the road and turn that mule?" Some of us had parents who might have been "sensitive" about the possibility that a child would have been afraid of being trampled by a bolting mule. I don't mind sensitivity but I wasn't really taught to cultivate it, myself. If you're with me when a building catches fire I do sort of expect you, "you" being any reasonable person over about age six, to move children and disabled persons out of danger and help fight the fire; you can always cry later if you want to. There is a time to feel the fear, or the weariness, or the disgust, whatever, and do the right thing anyway. I like people who understand this. I don't find that males actually have more fortitude than females; if anything the opposite seems to be true, but I find it attractive in men.

"Sensitivity" has sometimes been associated with a man's willingness to cry in front of women. I think the misreadings of the data on this question have been wild. A man does not lose respect by "seeming more like a woman friend" if he cries. There was nothing effeminate about President Reagan's tears when the Challenger was lost. There was nothing effeminate about President Clinton's tears when a haircut ran over schedule, either, but there was something infantile. Neither a man nor a woman loses my respect by crying when someone has died. Neither a man nor a woman loses my respect by crying in physical pain. Neither a man nor a woman loses my respect by crying at celebrations of life's passages where everyone claims to be so happy for the baby, bride, graduate, etc., and everyone feels old. Both men and women lose my respect by crying when they've done something stupid, instead of apologizng and trying to make up the damage. 

I like a cheerful disposition in men or women--the kind that comes from regular digestion and plenty of outdoor exercise. Clowning, I think, can be left to the professionals. I like friends who see the funny side of things. I like sharing a laugh. I don't like guys who can't be serious, or who can't laugh at jokes they didn't crack themselves. Mine, or a relative's, or Dave Barry's.

I like a beginner's mind, eager to learn, even and especially in people who also have a gift of teaching (which is another thing I admire in men or women). Some men really should have been told, earlier in life, that nobody's going to want to buy them new luxury cars if they get stuck in "I KNOW how to drive" and handle every car as if it were the clunker they had in college.

Related to the beginner's mind is the spirit of humility, as Christians call it, that gives men respect for others. Men crave respect from their wives. Women want to be able to respect their husbands. One reason why it doesn't happen is that men have picked up the stupid idea that they're supposed to wheedle and haggle and push for "more" on a date. When women can't just step back and take a long breath, but have to say "No" and "That's enough," that lovely cozy feeling of being able to relax and trust someone else to know what's best just evaporates. Another reason is that men act on stupid ideas, like the idea that they can get what they want by shouting and interrupting and refusing to listen, or the idea that anybody but themselves is going to do anything about their dirty clothes or dishes. No matter how much a woman wants to follow a good leader, following a man around to pick up litter is a different thing and the two things may be mutually exclusive. No, men get respect by giving it. And this doesn't even always start with the woman herself. I remember losing all interest in one guy just by waiting on his front porch and hearing how he spoke to his mother.

Another key to winning respect is honesty and reliability. A man can break a date, say, once in five or ten years, without losing my respect, if he can prove he was in a hospital or a courtroom. If he was in a hospital sitting up with his grandfather, that might even be a point in his favor. But if he can't plan and control his own daily schedule, he has no business making dates. The whole purpose of dating is for a man to win a woman's trust so, if he says he'll be somewhere at one o'clock, that does not mean 1:01.

I like self-control in men. (Women, too, actually.) The world is full of droolers and gropers. I like having a little time to feel attracted to a man and wonder whether it's mutual. Not so long as to build up a crush on a man who's not even interested, but definitely months rather than days should come between the first lunch date and the courtship rituals. 

I totally cannot resist synergistic work with a man or woman, the cooler passion C.S. Lewis called philia love. That was the sole attraction of one young man who was never in the same place for long, but wrote and called me for years. Improbably, he and I worked as a team--moving furniture, of all things. If we'd been in furniture moving as a business the relationship might have lasted. I think synergistic teamwork, if only in bed, is essential to any long-term relationship of any kind; at least, for me. A lot of middle-aged men, who think of "work" in terms of jobs they never liked much, will say "I'm done with work! I'm looking for a playmate!" I call them Insane Admirers. As far as I'm concerned, if we're not a team it's no use even trying to be a couple.

It's trendy and idealistic to say that age, "race" or ethnicity, money, etc., don't matter so much as people's feelings about each other. Perhaps they shouldn't but the problems associated with differences can affect people's feelings more than people like to admit. Age differences are likely to raise issues about health care and disability. Visible "race" differences make a couple conspicuous and sometimes unpopular. Differences in "background" can be merely entertaining, and then again they can create harsh judgments. Feminism liberated young men from being judged solely as sources of money, for which they should be more grateful than they seem to be, but it also allowed men to judge women as economic assets too. All such practical considerations, and all the traditional roommate questions about when to get up in the morning and when to open windows, deserve long hard thought before people make commitments--including the commitment of physical intimacy. My husband and I were so different no matchmaking service would have considered introducing us. Only after we'd been best friends and Partners for Life through a few years of sharing hard work, road trips, and the care of each other's sick relatives, did we consider that one reason for loss of interest in all the demographically correct and quite attractive people we'd been dating might be that we were each other's beshert. I was happy with "Mr. Impossible," and he seemed happy with me, but marrying across the barriers of age, nationality, color, income, connections, religious affiliation, and political party is not something anyone should do on a hormonal whim.

Believing as I do that every healthy body is beautiful in its own way, I liked my serious boyfriend's leucistic skin, with its freckles, and my husband's melanistic skin, and then as I got to appreciate my Significant Other I thought "Thank goodness, we're in the same color category." But it's a common, if not the majority, category in my home town. What made the man so attractive was a quality older people in Virginia would have called "being a gentleman," in the specific sense of having a social conscience. Others turned to him for help in an emergency, and he helped, without a second thought. I like that quality in a man.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Manly Art of Patient Care

Some reminiscences for those of The Nephews who are young men, and for any other men who care to read them...and for mothers of sons...

When I flunked out of university with mononucleosis, Mother was the Queen of Denial. "You're young! You're healthy! You're strong! You should sign up for that geriatric care course at the community college. If we get Great-Uncle Rich-and-Childless's house we'll open it as a private nursing home for just three patients at a time, and they'll get well and go home." The course was so well subsidized we actually got some spending money after enrollment, in order to feed fresh nursing assistants into the horrible state nursing home nearby. We put in practice hours there, the twenty-some students in the class. Every one of us was female. Nobody seemed to take any notice of the fact that I was so jaundiced and haggard I scared the kids I used to baby-sit. The fact that I was single did, however, attract attention. "Since you don't have a husband to practice bathing and shaving, you get to do that for the male patients!" 

The male patients suspected something like that. But, as they were gentlemen and were also hugely outnumbered, all they actually said was "Well, you've got a lot to learn." 

Yes, it's possible to lift a patient who weighs twice as much as you do, if you learn the tricks. One of the tricks is to choose a patient who is either cooperative or unconscious. Another little trick of the nursing trade is to remember that almost all patients can clean their own private parts more efficiently than you can. However sloppy they are, otherwise, they'll feel the dirt there and want to get rid of it. So the female nurse hands the male patient cloth, soap, and basin, and washes his back or feet..

I didn't go to work at the horrible nursing home. My exam scores got me snapped up by a private patient,  female, for whom I worked three weeks before going back to bed. After that, prospective patients and people who knew them said hopefully "You'll be teaching your sister, won't you, and your mother can get back to home nursing?" but the state law, which finally allowed parents to teach their own children, said nothing about sisters, and I watched a lot of NBC, which was still the only television channel we could pick up.

I remember, though, one friend from university who wrote that he was living with a male patient in town, as a caretaker, to save dorm fees. A male nurse! He was a Northerner and was studying to be a Seventh-Day Adventist preacher, and although I loyally disagreed with his claim that he was repulsive I found several other guys more attractive, but the idea of his being willing to sit with a male geriatric patient made him seem a lot more...respectable, anyway. The old gentlemen in the nursing home would have felt better about being bathed by him.

Anyway typing was more fun than nursing, and in those days typing paid well. In a few years, though, the'rents started to grow "old." The Veterans Administration thought Dad's eyes should be checked by a local opthalmologist who was supposed to be good. I suppose he was good, for some of his patients. Maybe it was the copper-colored skin that put him off asking whether Dad was Irish-American. The most popular chemical used to examine the eyes for cataract surgery happens to cause long-term, painful glaucoma in many patients of Irish descent. Dad went in with cataracts and came out blind. Over the years the glaucoma subsided a little; by then the cataracts were past help.

He resigned himself to the idea that an "accessible apartment" was the place for him. As a disabled veteran he got a basement flat with soft northeast light that wouldn't hurt his eyes and enough bedroom space for all of us to have moved in. 

"You," Mother said to me, "are moving into the nurse's room and keeping the place cleaned until he finds his way around it. He'd rather have me, but that's just too bad. I have a job. You don't." So I stayed with Dad and mopped the floors a lot, did part-time and odd jobs, learned songs off the Limbaugh Show. It was a dreary year, but not terrible. I finally had a boyfriend who wasn't scared of Dad, and whom Dad didn't seem to be trying to scare. In fact, though he never would have said it in so many words, Dad seemed downright grateful, not only when Mother or my natural sister visited, but when his brother and cousins did.

I wondered when we'd be seeing the childhood hero who'd become Dad's closest friend. Dad didn't get to Germany until after the war, but Sergeant -- was a Purple Heart veteran of the war with Japan. Among other things he'd been on a ship that was blown up, and had a steel plate in his head. He and Dad, and sometimes a laborer from town he used to pay, had shared an all-organic vegetable farm for several summers. Sergeant -- wasn't afraid of much but, it seemed, he couldn't stand retirement projects. Later I heard that he'd told another old friend he'd gone into the building, once, but before actually ringing Dad's doorbell he decided the whole idea of a basement flat was too depressing.

At the end of the year Dad reckoned he knew the way around, and he wanted to feel free to listen to tapes if he couldn't sleep at night, and he might sleep better if my natural sister weren't alone in the house anyway, and I'd earned enough to pay off what was left of my student loan debt. So that was a good deal all around. 

Not too many years later, when I stopped at the project, Dad was really ill from a reaction to his medication. I had a key, let myself in, and saw that the floors were worse than usual. Dad was in his bedroom. "Go away," he shouted through the door. "I'm not fit for female eyes to see. You can clean the floors if you really want to. Or just tell Cousin -- that he could come and see me, if he wants to. If I have to have a caretaker, which God forbid and fend, it'll be male." 

Cousin -- found Dad lying in a filthy bed. "I wouldn't want my wife to have to see that," Dad told him, cooperating as the cousin threw away linens and scrubbed walls, "and I'd rather die than have my daughters see it. I know Pris has seen worse, having trained at that nursing home, but those patients were not her own father." (Well, actually, of course, he used my real-world name, which is not Priscilla, but never mind.)

Meanwhile my natural sister had eloped with a young man I would have helped Dad scare off if we'd ever got a good look at him. Mother had. "I tried to discourage her. So they eloped," she said. "Well, for one thing, he has a birth defect--he's not expected to live to age forty. She'll have a military widow's pension, at least." She also had children with disabilities. When they reached school age their father went to work in a bigger city, on a bigger-paying job, where the children could be in special school programs.

"Their father's in the hospital again. He might die," Mother said now and then over their growing-up years.

"Fine by me. Er, um, having the children back here, I mean."

But he kept coming home from the hospital and going back to his job. Time passed. The children graduated from high school, not in Virginia, but they obviously learned something. The one whose nearsightedness didn't qualify for a disability pension went down to Chick-fil-A and told the manager about his plans to stay with his frail old father, now close to age fifty, after graduation. How long he'd need to ride to work with a friend who worked at Chick-fil-A until he'd have a car, how much time his father was likely to need, what he'd been learning during the year I was doing all those guest posts about free, cheap, or at least less-overpriced online courses. The manager was impressed. My brilliant nearsighted nephew is now earning his way through university on his salary managing a restaurant, the way older people used to earn their way by washing dishes. I don't expect he'll spend enough time on campus to get his degree from M.I.T. or Georgia Tech, but I believe he could if he wanted to.

Meanwhile I lost my husband to cancer. When he started spending nights in the hospital it was in the cheerful neurology section; I slept with my head on the side of the hospital bed, sitting in a straight-backed chair. Then there was a stay in the urology section. "We can't have women visitors overnight. It makes the other men too uncomfortable. Aren't there any male relatives who could stay with him at night?" There were two; they were called, they made short visits during the daytime, but neither of them stayed with my husband at night. Well. Soon enough he was on the cancer ward and didn't know who was with him any more.

I came home and met a man who was tall, dark, and handsome, at the time. As of this year he also qualifies as old, sick, and rich: best of show in all categories. I met him on a job, liked working with him, liked chatting with him at lunch, and soon started seeing him after work. During the first year I agreed to marry him as soon as his teenaged foster son moved out, because teenaged boys didn't need foster stepmothers.

As regular readers know, the foster son moved out. About a month later, the foster father had Lyme Disease. The foster son came back. Lyme Disease wasn't properly treated in time, and became chronic. Some days my Significant Other has been fit to walk or drive, some days not. When he's not, he's expressed a preference for me to do at least some of the driving, and I went so far as to acquire the sort of big macho-looking truck in which he's comfortable, but mostly the foster son has done the driving, the cleaning, and whatever else needed to be done. 

Sinetunes I think, "I ought to be doing more for him." Then I think about the trick to carrying a patient who is bigger than you are. Anybody can carry anybody, if they have to get out of a burning building, at close to their top speed, without great strain. If the situation is less life-threatening than a burning building, patients hate being carried that way. Having their feet drag on the ground hurts. A 6'3" man can do more for a 6'4" man than a 5'4" woman can do. That's all there is to it.

The only truly practical advantage being male can be said to provide, relative to most of the jobs people do, is size. Male athletes are disproportionately stronger and faster than female athletes. Male hormones can help build more efficient muscles, for as long as the man trains and uses his muscles. Male couch potatoes are neither stronger nor faster than women the same size, but they can still reach further and lift heavier weights. Size should not be underestimated as an advantage in providing nursing care.

But some men, the ones who aren't too lazy or grumpy or perverse to work in human-service jobs, also enjoy a psychological advantage in working with other males. How many times, in adult and supplemental education classes, I've seen a man or boy seem bright, charming, but unable to focus and learn the material. 

Sometimes it's not just any male teacher who can help. I remember telling my husband about a problem student whose real name was Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson had been homeless but he could be described as handsome and thought he was very cool and charming. "The way I see it, Mr. Johnson may never get anywhere with me or the other woman teacher, because he's too busy posing and preening and trying to look attractive. He's not getting anywhere with the two young Black men teachers, because they're younger and he's trying to act 'smarter' than they are. He's not getting anywhere with the older White man, because he's trying to act tough and defensive. I think his only hope of earning that G.E.D. would be to have a tutor who is older and darker-skinned than he is. Then he might possibly think about anything but what kind of impression he was making long enough to learn the multiplication table" My husband came in to tutor, and Mr. Johnson earned his G.E.D. in five weeks.

My husband had a gift. However, it seems generally to boost male students' morale when at least some of their teachers are male. Likewise, male customers are more comfortable buying things in stores that are co-owned by or that at least employ men. Likewise, male patients seem less miserable being cared for by male doctors and nurses. 

So why are there so few males in the health care professions? Men still compete for top positions as doctors, but they're not proportionately represented in other health care fields. Least of all do they seem interested in the lowly nursing assistants' jobs. Doctors and nurses don't even call nursing assistants "Nurse," though patients usually do. In hospitals nursing assistants are paid by the hour and are the ones most likely to bathe patients and clean bedpans. Male patients, who might not mind having women help them bathe when they're healthy, often hate having women help them bathe when they're ill. A good male nurse can always find work, and may be able to choose among private home care jobs with all sorts of unenumerated benefits. A surprising number of men pass up these benefits because:

* they faint at the sight of blood

* they feel sick at the sight of body secretions, generally

* they feel awkward around sick people

* stupid insensitive hospital or nursing home policies might require them to bathe women, which is just too icky for all concerned (this one is true); or

* they find being around sick people unbearably depressing, or frightening, or both.

Do men still believe that "manliness" presupposes fortitude? Fortitude is the solution to at least four of these problems men have with doing the jobs that could get financing their education. 

Nursing is not for just any guy. It does require that a man have grown into his feet and become able to move efficiently in his full-grown body. It requires that he have matured enough not to go into the sort of clown act little boys use when they feel scared or embarrassed. It requires that he cultivate what Christians call the "servant's heart," the gift of humility, necessary to allow him to work with both doctors and patients as superordinates. It requires more strength and stamina, keener perceptivity, and a more robust immune system, than most people think. It requires the ability to treat strangers, for no reason but their illness, as if they were part of your own body--to snap out of a sound sleep and take them to the bathroom, or bring them a basin or bedpan, or whatever, half a dozen times in a night--and then detach from them completely, as they either die or recover, and on to the next one. A good male nurse has to be, in short, a good man. 

But the rewards are great--especially when a fellow can pay back what he owes his father, or father-substitute, in this lifetime.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Sunday Book Review: Indian Summer of the Heart

Title: Indian Summer of the Heart

Author: Daisy Newman

Date: 1982, 1990

Publisher: Marriner


Length:376 pages

Quote: “In the summer of his seventy-ninth year Oliver Otis of Firbank Farm fell in love.”

And? So...?” some might ask. “What makes that a novel? Sounds like a romance.”

And if you're reading for the plot alone I might as well admit that it is a romance, pretty much, although a romance between people in their seventies is guaranteed at least to be different from the first-kiss-on-page-35 paperbacks certain “romance” purveyors crank out by the half-dozen. But one doesn't read Daisy Newman's novels for the plot alone. Indian Summer of the Heart is the sequel to I Take Thee Serenity; together they're the story of the nicest family in New England. Newman wanted to offer readers a healthy dose of niceness while making some points about the social issues of the late twentieth century, and sharing the history and beliefs of her religious community—the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

Oliver is a gentleman farmer who enjoys working out in the fresh air. His wife, Daphne, found time to be a painter, and eventually became somewhat rich and famous at it...

It already seems silly now, but in the twentieth century many people seriously believed that the old French Socialist fantasy, in which women were supposed to preserve some sort of spirituality in the home by not having jobs or money of their own, might have a place in the real world. I don't remember any husbands who felt that they'd been “unmanned” if their wives were earning better wages than they were, even in the 1970s. I remember Real Men (like my father) who felt that money was money and if men didn't know how to cook and clean they should've joined the Army, and I remember Common Bums (like one with whom I blush to admit I ate lunch once) who openly wanted to latch onto a rich woman and spend her money. Funnily enough I don't remember ever having heard a friend reminisce about the kind of “No wife of mine has to go out to work” scene the commercial media were kicking around in the 1970s, either. The sociological study of what was actually going on, that passes a reality check and is also a salty good read, is The Hearts of Men.

But...did Oliver ever mind that his wife had become rich and famous, and he was a farmer? Whatever for, he says when asked, they weren't in competition with each other. Oliver obviously has never needed a full-time day care provider to follow him around the house, cleaning up his mess.

By the time Daphne died Oliver wasn't bothered much by hormone surges any more, and was prepared to spend his celibate old age with his young relatives, the charming idealist couple readers had met in I Take Thee Serenity (Serenity, or Rennie, being the bride) and their children. Then he meets Loveday Mead, a retired college dean whose family were Quakers but who's not had the full benefit of a Quaker spiritual life.

Dean Mead is an active feminist, researching a book about how sexism stifled a talented woman, smothering her into domesticity. Feminist readers can probably guess where this is leading from the fact that Loveday's heroine of choice is Anna Maria Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus's older sister. Luckily for the Mozart family, “Nannerl” seems to have accepted the fact that her brother was a genius and she had just enough talent to entertain her rich husband and his friends.

Can Newman convince you that Loveday Mead is not being stifled in any harmful, sexist, patronizing way, but genuinely comforted, when she decides to marry Oliver before she's finished her feminist screed about poor stifled Nannerl? Newman's job is easier if you've read the existing biographies of the Mozarts...I'm guessing that she'll convince you. Along the way, she'll share a lot of firsthand observations about late-in-life romance, about Quakers, about Europe, about New England, and about grandparenting.

Indian Summer of the Heart is a feel-good book that may come to us straight from the Lost Planet of Nice, but if you're looking for a story that offers more insight and information than suspense, this is a particularly nice one.

Another Verse for Kermit's Song

Sometimes I like to visit nonprofit writing sites, like This weekend's writing challenge there was to write a poem or short prose piece from the point of view of a TV character. Here is a longish rant with a poem at the end of it. 

I thought that I don't watch enough TV to think of a character, and then the first poem linked at was about a character who's one of the major cliches of the 1980s, the Prisoner of Shyness. This person is always an extrovert at heart, and the reason why she or he is not totally caught up in one of those close-knit teen cliques where the goal is for everyone to look and sound like multiple-birth siblings is only, ever, allowed to be that the person has been SO TERRIBLY HUUUURRRRT that the person is HIDING from the LOVE of other people, TRAPPED in FEAR, etc. etc. A lot of drama was projected onto this stereotype. Child abuse, preferably of a sexual variety, was the most common explanation provided for their nightmare of social isolation. 

I felt isolated in most crowds, and went through a phase of what I thought had to be the most painful shyness anyone had ever survived, all the usual teen angst. I empathized with the poor little isolated extroverts in fiction, and even tried writing a novel about one, but I identified with the happier characters in biographies and happy-family stories as well as stories about artists and rebels. I really latched on to C.S. Lewis's description of characters who "were willing to be friendly with anyone who was friendly, and didn't give a hang about anyone who wasn't." Whatever people thought, and when I went to a church college they expressed that kind of thought almost constantly, I was not a lonely extrovert longing to be "included" in the little prep-school cliques. I wanted to do things that might include other people, most of whom were also introverts, but usually involved spending time alone. My brother and I were the closest friends we had, but I was not as athletic as he was and he was not as musical as I was, so even then there were spaces in our togetherness.

I grew up to learn that this difference was indeed permanent, probably hereditary. That when adults tell teenagers to "befriend" the poor pitiful kids who seem isolated, like Max, they really need to balance that thought with some acknowledgment of the kids who are somewhat isolated--due to having lives and talents and in some cases even jobs. The nonconforming, non-clique people in high school might be the most interesting people to know, but they are not yearning to be dragged down into watching television together and wearing identical clothes with some clique or other. And spending evenings and weekends doing things you want to do on your own feels very different from being trapped in the basement of a collapsing building with a monster, And another difference: I met a lot of other people who were isolated by having talents and vocations. I don't believe I ever actually knew a person who was isolated by fear or trauma.

I thought about this while the thought of television characters was still in my mind. What popped into my head was Kermit the Frog, singing new verses to his well known song, "It's Not Easy Being Green."

When I was just a little tadpole,
Swimming around and looking sort of like a fish,
Some fishes wanted me to join their school
And swim around and try to avoid sharks. 
And, tadpoles having nothng else to do,
I swam around and tried to look more like a fish,
But I never grew fins...or scales...or tentacles...or anything like that.
Instead I started growing legs,
And my tail disappeared; it turned into legs
And I looked less like a fish every day.
And finally I just had to climb up on the land,
And see my reflection in a quiet pool,
And know that I was going to be a frog and there wasn't any going back.
But frogs can have a good time with other frogs,
And, at least on the Muppet Show, they can even marry pigs
If that is what they really want to do, and it was. 
And frogs can have adventures on the land
Where all fish could do would be to flop around and die.
And I am a frog, for better or for worse
And I think that's what I want to be.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Tiger Swallowtail

Recently a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly fluttered into a store. Someone said, "It's a moth! It's going to eat the fabric!" Someone else said, "It's a Monarch butterfly!" 

"It's a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly," I said, but my quiet reasonable voice was lost in the commotion as people were chasing the butterfly, dodging it, or dodging those chasing it.

Clearly there is a need for a post about the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, a human-friendly creature on the whole, though not one I'd choose to handle (as someone in the store eventually did).

Though sometimes nicknamed "monarchs of the woods" and suchlike, Tiger Swallowtails are a completely different species from the one called Monarch butterflies.

Photo courtesy of By HaarFager at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Actually, Tiger Swallowtails are a group of species. They are found in almost every part of North America, different species in different regions. Slight but consistent differences show experts whether a butterfly found where species ranges overlap is Eastern, Western, Canadian, Appalachian, etc. In my part of the world, I always thought the slightly paler yellow ones might be individuals who'd grown up in different conditions than the brighter ones, but scientists now say the pale ones are Appalachian and the brighter ones are Eastern. 

Anyway, note that the Tiger Swallowtail is yellow (some females are black; more about this later) and its most conspicuous black stripes cross the veins in its wings. The Monarch, shown below, is orange (some individuals are white; more about this at and its black stripes outline the veins in its wings.

Photo courtesy of By Kenneth Dwain Harrelson, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Which is bigger? Individuals vary; these two species are the biggest butterflies normally found in Virginia. Monarchs' wingspread tends to be wider. Tiger Swallowtails' wings are longer, especially when spread out in museum displays. Both butterflies are very large and contrast to the moths that eat fabric (in their larval stage). The Clothes Moth is so small that, although some individuals have interesting patterns of black and white spots on their drab gray wings, humans seldom notice. Clothes Moths usually fold their wings in over their backs, anyway.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are wider and longer than the palm of most people's hands. At times males are even aggressive, to the extent that aggressive behavior is possible for butterflies. Butterflies “fight” by flapping through each other’s space, which can create drafts and knock the other butterfly off course, and Tiger Swallowtails frequently fly head-on toward larger animals, or even cars. They also frequently mistime their threat-display flight toward oncoming cars, and are found beside paved roads, stunned or killed.

Tiger Swallowtails have distinct sex roles and fairly distinct sex-linked color patterns. Males are yellow and black. Some females are yellow and iridescent blue-black, in a pattern similar to the males'. Other females are predominantly iridescent blue-black, with spots on the hind wings similar to the yellow females'. In the 1980s an amusing study reported that dark females have a better survival rate due to their resemblance to other Swallowtail butterflies that are toxic when eaten, but yellow females have a better reproductive rate due to males being more likely to approach them--proving that Anita Loos' "Gentlemen prefer blondes, but gentlemen marry brunettes" is truly biologically based, right? Other studies did not find this tendency to be consistent. 

Baby Tiger Swallowtails eat new, young leaves at the tops of trees. They can live on several kinds of leaves but they thrive and multiply most conspicuously where there are a lot of tulip poplar trees. In Virginia, after the logging boom a hundred years ago, the first tall trees to re-form our forests were tulip poplars; thus we used to see hundreds of Tiger Swallowtails at every puddle, engaged in social behavior known as lekking and biological behavior known as composting. As slower-growing trees replace aging and dying tulip poplars, we're seeing fewer Tiger Swallowtails. They are still our official state butterfly.

In addition to chasing cars and (sometimes) choosing mates who are less likely to survive (probably by flying toward another yellow butterfly in an aggressive display, then realizing at close range that it's female), male Tiger Swallowtails also seek out and eagerly slurp up all the nastiest messes on the ground. They like oil spills, dung, and carrion. From these sources they extract mineral salts, which their bodies need to digest. Females usually slurp up flower nectar; they absorb and digest mineral salts through contact with males. 

Observing the behavior of creatures like the male Tiger Swallowtail has led scientists to question exactly how much these creatures have in the way of brains. The Tiger Swallowtail has very few neurological structures corresponding to the brain in other animals. What sense, or senses, a butterfly has are distributed around its body in ways that seem bizarre to humans. Butterflies slurp up liquid nourishment with their long tubular tongues, but they “taste” things, before slurping, with their feet. So it is not unusual for a Tiger Swallowtail to fly at a human, land on an arm or leg or even the face, decide the human’s sweat tastes good, and linger to remove a few mouthfuls of sweat from the human’s skin. This is the butterfly most likely to perch on your hand, or even walk up and down your arm, for several minutes. Males do this more often than females, but despite their aggressive defense of what they’ve defined as their mating territory, Tiger Swallowtails share nourishment with other butterflies of any sex or if you hold still long enough, it’s possible to induce two or more Tiger Swallowtails to share your sweat. But, in view of the other things they taste and like, why would you want to? 

Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars are easy to see on the ground, but are almost never found on the ground. If they can, they spend their caterpillar days in the treetops. Their main defense against birds is being the same shade of green as a poplar leaf, which makes them a little harder to see, but if they survive into their fifth caterpillar skin (the “final instar”) they acquire a funny little forked “tongue” they can stick out, located across where their shoulders would be, if they had shoulders. The “tongue,” or “osmeterium,” resembles a snake’s tongue and has an odor that birds seem to dislike. (The individual below is not sticking out its osmeterium.)

Photo courtesy of Jerry F. Butler of the University of Florida. This picture, and several other nice clear pictures of Papilio glaucus, are at .

Monarch butterfly caterpillars look completely different. In nature you would never find a caterpillar at each stage of their development all in a group on one leaf. People rear monarch butterflies in cages, making it possible to pose these caterpillars together, showing how fast they grow. They develop from the tiny stage 1 to the comparatively huge stage 5, as shown below, in about a month.

.Photo courtesy of Ba Rea at .

In temperate regions "large caterpillars" usually grow to about two inches long. Tiger Swallowtails and Monarchs are bigger butterflies, and some individual caterpillars can be three inches long. What these completely different-looking caterpillars have in common, other than size, is that they don't live in cozy family groups, as some other moth and butterfly caterpillars do. In a dim way bigger, older Eastern Tent Caterpillars seem protective of their little brothers and sisters. Monarch and Swallowtail caterpillars are not. They are shell eaters; they eat their own cast-off skin. A natural appetite for their own skin leads them to eat other skins of their own kind of caterpillars too, and too bad about the sibling who might have been still occupying that skin. It would be cruel to leave a collection of caterpillars, like the baby Monarchs above, together for longer than it took to snap their picture. In nature these caterpillars hatch from eggs placed far enough apart that two caterpillars never meet, so they have no social instincts whatsoever. They probably don't have enough brain to realize that their instincts lead to cannibalism, but it happens. 

While turning into butterflies these species look even more different. Monarch pupae hang from a thread and look like little green leaves. Tiger Swallowtail pupae are braced at an angle to tree branches and look like broken twigs. 

As butterflies, they behave differently. Monarchs are seen as having "royal" qualities because they like a lot of space. Though they fly longer, while carrying more weight, than our other butterflies do, they fly at a slow, almost languid pace. In a quiet garden you can hear their wings flap. During the breeding season, after the mass migrations, Monarchs spread themselves out and avoid places where other Monarchs are or have been. This is not because they have any cannibalistic or hostile impulses; the adult butterflies eat only flower nectar. Rather, each female looks for a fresh, untouched milkweed plant on which to lay each of several hundred eggs, and males tend to follow females. Occasionally you might see two Monarchs apparently fighting, not only flying close enough to disturb each other's air but flying into headlong collisions. This is play-fighting. The pair are courting. They don't hurt each other as they fall to the ground. They may mate, or part as friends. You are likely to see only one Monarch in spring and one in fall, because other Monarchs can smell that one has already visited your neighborhood and will look for other places to migrate through. 

Named for their stripes, Tiger Swallowtails aren't predators. They are a composter species. However, they gather around puddles and nasty stuff, where the males slurp up those mineral salts in clusters, sometimes of dozens or hundreds, and females hang around the edges and check our the males. These gathering sites are called leks; the pattern of behavior is called lekking. In the case of butterflies, "licks" would also be appropriate. As they satisfy their appetites and leave the leks, males are likely to flit off with one of the female spectators. They travel several hundred yards together, sometimes play-fighting and teasing, and ultimately mate. Though some smaller, shorter-lived moths and butterflies mate only once, butterflies don't seem to form pair bonds. Females flit off to lay their eggs. 

Like Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails look for a different tree branch for each egg. Because they can use big trees rather than flower plants, however, Tiger Swallowtails don't need to fly as far as Monarchs do. In places that have four distinct seasons, all butterflies show some vestigial pattern of seasonal migration, though no other species migrates as dramatically as Monarchs do. Individual Tiger Swallowtails may linger at the same place for several days. If the females find enough suitable tree limbs and all of them find enough edible liquids, individuals may not travel far, nor will they necessarily migrate northward in spring and southward in autumn. Maps of the whole species population would, however, show movement northward in spring and southward in autumn, as their food plants grow.