March 1, 2021
All I wanted was an empty cardboard box for holding firewood. We go through a lot of firewood, which means we go through a lot of cardboard boxes. But there it was, in a box by the edge of the dumpster, forgotten but not forlorn, hiding under some loose papers and a cardboard divider. There it was, a bottle of Modelo, a Mexican import, its gold tinsel wrapper still affixed on cap. Ice cold, too—because it was a cold day (duh).
So of course I take the bottle home and stow it in the fridge, and I tell my wife, who approves. I mean, it’s a freebie. A bit of happenstance, a tiny sliver of Good Fortune that we don’t really need, but we’re not going to turn down.
This happened two months ago. The beer remains where I had placed it.
We just don’t drink a lot of beer here. Maybe on a hot summer day, sure, I’ll indulge. But my wife has given up on the stuff, and thank God the teenager seems completely untempted. That leaves guests, which we don’t get these days because of the pandemic. Even when people did come over, we have exactly one (1) friend who enjoys the beer, and he tends to bring his own, for unexplored reasons.
So the beer awaits whatever fate has in store for it.
I imagine a hostile visitor. Unexpected and unannounced, he bursts through the front door, all blustered and flustered and angry, launching various screeds and threats in my direction, full of fractured logic and self-righteousness, and he adds various taunts and asides to my startled family and confused dog. So I look him in the eye and say “Hey, you want a beer? I’ve got a Modelo with your name on it. Good stuff.” And Mr. Hostile looks at me and says, “Yeah, all right.” He joins me in the kitchen, drinks the beer, and then….well, I don’t know what happens next. My imagination is limited.
Pawlie the cat needs his tail amputated. This is the big news of the day, which tells you about the day I am having. Pawlie came to us as a feral rescue from the suburban wilds of Hempstead, Long Island. For whatever reason, he has always lacked motor control of his tail, which merely limps behind him. He has now taken to biting the tail, perhaps as a meat source. The tail has become bent and bloody and….well, I’ll skip the gory details. My wife fashioned a cloth bandage out of an old T shirt, which we wrapped and taped, and she made an appointment at the vet.
The old T-shirt happened to be a freebie, long preceding the beer. I collected it at a Chicago White Sox game, summer of 2006. It was a simple ash gray T-shirt imprinted with the team name and logo, the legend “World Champions 2005”, and the insignia for Pontiac, the car company, which was giving the away the shirt in exchange for haphazard responses on a questionnaire. Although I am a fan not of the White Sox but of their arch rivals, the Minnesota Twins, I nevertheless had worn the shirt from time to time across all these long years, typically as an undershirt, until it finally frayed at the edges too extensively even for my own low standards and I tossed it in the fabric scrap pile.
So I imagine that White Sox game, receiving my brand new souvenir T-shirt from the man or woman fronting for Pontiac, and I say “Thank you!” and the response is “This shirt will be cut into strips for bandaging the ruined tail of your cat.”
My son the younger, age 3 and a half, has taken to playing with the Bowling Monkeys, a gift years ago from the grandma to the older boy, kept in storage until recently. These are miniature bowling pins that are painted to look like circus monkeys, their postures rigid but faces smiling, and they appear to be wearing clown pants with suspenders. For a while we lined up the Bowling Monkeys in a triangle pattern and rolled a ball or toy car to knock them down, which is the intended purpose, but the Little Boy has decided to assemble wood blocks into bunk beds (his term), on which the Bowling Monkeys can lie down and sleep. He also has named these odd creations as the Mama Bowling Monkey, the Dada Bowling Monkey, the Nathen Bowling Monkey, and the Bubba (“Big Brother”) Bowling Monkey, and then he reuses the names as necessary.
The kid lives in a Universe of exactly four people; everyone else is an abstraction. When the world finally opens up again—as it MUST!, right?—I hope the boy manages to incorporate the knowledge that a lot of other people are out there, without blowing (or bowling, take yer pick) a big monkey hole in his zeitgeist.
The other day I learned the answer to a question that had been nagging me, quietly and without much notice, over the long years. Which is: How can neurons distinguish between sodium ions and potassium ions? The two types of ions have exactly the same charge and essentially the same chemical properties. Their one difference is that the potassium ion is somewhat larger. Yet the membrane of a neuron pumps sodium ions into the cell and potassium ions out of the cell (in a 3:2 ratio, mind you.) And if the neurons failed in this endeavor, meaning if potassium got a little too concentrated on the inside, then the nerves would keel over and stop firing and their owner would wind up dead very quickly. So there!
The secret—and the answer to this little bottom-of-the-board Jeopardy question—is a class of compounds called ionophores. An ionophore is a molecule that wraps around an ion like it was a Christmas present, and its exterior has the nonpolar properties needed to cross the cell membrane. The space inside the ionophore is fixed, so it can carry an ion of one specific size only.
We’ve been watching installments of the television show WandaVision, which is proving to be wonderful entertainment for the whole family. The premise is that a pair of superheroes from Marvel Comics have found themselves in various situation comedies from the 1950s to the present. For me, the mind-bending innovation is that it’s the sitcoms that are the fantasy, while the comic-book world is the external reality. They’re pulling it off, too.
The pandemic of COVID-19, which has now been going on for about a year, has skewed lots of the pretenses and habits of my life—as it has yours, I would wager. I still have coffee, aspirin, my publishing work, my immediate household, various fictions, and reasonably good health. I have lost interstate travel, ski resorts, baseball games, restaurant dinners and coffee shops, and friends coming over to the house to drink or not drink the beer that remains in the refrigerator. I keep saying that THINGS WILL EVENTUALLY RETURN TO NORMAL, and all the vaccinations that are taking place are certainly encouraging, and count me in whenever it’s my turn to roll up my sleeve.
But…..the future still feels so uncertain. The future is the Undiscovered Country, as deemed originally by Shakespeare and cited in a Star Trek movie, which makes for two ringing endorsements. We shall boldly go into March, 2021, you and I, and with good fortune make it to 2022 and whatever years come after that. I am skilled at math so I should be able to identify these years by number. The trick, of course, is to combine both enjoyment and accomplishment, and to nurture and support those we care about it, and to keep the whole planet sustainable for its 7.8 billion (and counting) human inhabitants, plus lots of other populations that are worth mentioning but that I’ll leave readers to include as they see fit.
Stay safe and sane, everybody. Keep calm and carry on, and give a holler if you would like to talk or chat, or feel the need to bark at the Moon.