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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Trick or Treat"

If I were going trick-or-treating this year I would be a character from the "Laily Worm," which Bob and I are recording for our new cd ("We Did It! - Songs of people behaving badly"). It's Scottish, one of the oldest Child ballads, and survives only as a fragment.

(This painting depicts the four main characters - the Evil Stepmother, the Laily Worm, the Mackerel, and the Knight. Too bad my knight looks more like the guy in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Or maybe a fire hydrant.)

So anyway, this song opens with the Laily Worm addressing a knight who stumbles across the tree under which the Laily Worm hangs out. To paraphrase: "My awful stepmother turned me into this Laily Worm here, and turned my sister into a mackerel, and every Saturday the mackerel comes and combs my hair [sic] with a silver comb, and I've killed seven lords under this tree, and I'd kill you too if you weren't my father."

Hmm, I just realized I forgot to give my Laily Worm any hair.

So the lord goes to his wife and says, "Uh, where are my son and daughter that you sent away?" And she says, "Oh, they're off at court getting educated," and he says: "You're lying! I happen to know my son is the Laily Worm under that tree over yonder and my daughter is a mackerel."

So he makes the stepmother turn them back into their proper shapes and then he burns her to death. If you don't believe me, here is the original text.

Just a day or two ago, this song got mentioned at Snopes, under the heading Song lyrics that drive you nuts. Blatherskite wrote: "The Laily Worm and the Machrel of the Sea - the narrator is turned into a worm and his sister into a mackerel. And his sister comforts her brother by combing his hair with a silver comb. His sister... a mackerel... combs the worm's hair. I could accept a mythological worm having hair, and wanting it glossy and tangle-free, but still... mackerel."

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Menticia does Illustration Friday: "Trick or Treat"

Menticia says this is a boat, the trick or treat table is next to the mermaid.

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Mike does Illustration Friday: "Trick or Treat"

Mike says: Bats are lovely little creatures, they don't have to be scary.

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They been "sulled."

to sull: to stop, to refuse to go on (example - donkey or possum plays dead)

I'm not the only one getting played by a donkey. Extracts from the "Donkeys" Yahoo group:

I had spent a lot of time with the princess Savannah, spoiling her, she was the first you know, pampering her, telling her a lot of things I know now are lies, like that she was a princess and a good girl...

It was a crystal clear low humidity Texas Hill Country day ... I put the bridle on Savannah and the saddle and I take her out to the pedestal to get on, and no sooner than I got on she would not step up and move forward, she backed up, and within a few steps we sat down, literally, she sat on the pedestal.

I have never been on a donkey that sat down before. And as this registered with me, she keeled over to the right and just lay down, flat, head down.

I was astonished and trapped under her. As of this morning when I measured everyone, she weighed 571 lbs and was a towering 51 inches. She lay there like the dead, and I struggled to get out but she was dead weight, her eyes almost closed and glazed, she moaned a bit periodically, it was terrifying.

My breath was ha ha ha so fast in and out, I thought she had broken her back leg, legs? I wriggled out and got up and felt her back legs and there was no injury, no blood, no swelling, no nothing, yet she lay there and it was all my fault!

I rubbed her face and called her name, Savannah, my donkey princess! I began timing with my watch and it was a total of 20 minutes this Halloween donkey show. I got the cell phone and raced back, she just lay there like the dead. Do I need to call the Vet? She may have had a heart attack, she may have broken her spine, her leg, she ah she …… I rubbed her head one more time and a glimmer of life came back into her eye and she simply got up and walked off. She was not injured in any way. Witnessed. First hand, in person, on top of me, a donkey who was sulling, who sulled, who sull…..I been sulled.

The Brayer [Donkey magazine] had an article a few years ago, a nice couple bought a pair of mammoths to ride. They were out on the trail, riding along, and came to a stream. Asked the donkeys to go thru it. One did, the other laid down in the middle of the stream. The were so upset, donkey laid there and moaned, they figured they'd better shoot her and put her out of her misery.

The wife went upstream a ways, since it was her donkey, and the husband went to his saddle to get the gun. The wife was sitting on the bank, crying, when someone nudged her from behind. She turned around and there was her donkey, grazing and wondering what mom was doing!!!

Anita, the mammoth list mom, had her donkey Slim lay down in a stream too. They were in Custer National Park, and he laid in the stream, moaning, they all took turns keeping his head up out of the water, while they looked him over to see what was wrong, what was broken, etc. A few minutes later, he hopped up and started grazing!!

I think a lot of people have their donkeys lie down when they first put a harness on them. Everyone thinks they are dying, until they take the harness off, and the donkey is fine. When Ozzy went to live with Vickie Hall in Wyoming, I warned her about the drama!! LOL! Ozzy laid down when he was tied to a railing at an arena, and she trotted off with Stretch, without Ozzy!! Ozzy laid down and started moaning. Everyone in the arena clustered around and were yelling at Vickie that something was wrong with her donkey!! She rode over on Stretch, yelled, Ozzy, get up! He hopped up and stopped his tantrum, to everyone's amusement!

Now y'all tell me! Was this some sort of donkey insider secret? Or merely a donkey secret they can whip out and use against us on occasion? When I was a cop working juvenile and there is the parents before me over something the child had done, I would pontificate on how children don’t come with instruction books and how we have to muddle our way through as best we can. ... Now I am faced with donkeys, much more naughty than any child, more devious than master criminals, nothing escapes their seemingly innocent gaze, the mind of a donkey is passive/aggressive, seemingly not to care until something strikes them as not particularly something they wish to do.

They must be the type who would not fight a war but lay down and play dead or they would be the ones at the demonstration who would have to be carried off to the paddy wagon because they refuse to walk, just lay there.

Yet a feed door gate gets left carelessly open, a cookie laid down momentarily while you answer the phone, and these things become "toast." How did this devious thing develop?

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

[New York Bureau]:The Bridal Simper

Earlier this week I had dinner with my sweetheart, the Urban Caballero, his Cousin Julie, and Julie's fiancee. They're getting married next summer, and have begun the awe-inspiringly complicated process of throwing themselves the biggest party of their lives. As they are sweet, unpretentious people, they've found this process somewhat overhelming.

At some point during dinner I noticed this book on the shelf next to the table and fished it out to have a look. "Oh, that's what the people from work got me," Julie said, embarrassed.

"Wow," I said. "That's a serious looking wedding planner."

"I know," said Julie, and showed me the thrifty workbook she had already created, which consisted of a 50 cent spiral notebook with a bow glued to its cover.

"Look at that bride's face," I said. "Julie, I don't see you making that face."

Julie attempted to make the face, which I've now seen on several other wedding planner guidebooks:

You'll be happy to know, even the mother of the bride is allowed to make this face:

After several tries, Cousin Julie's fiancee was getting concerned.

"Julie," he said, "You don't make that face very often. Is something wrong? Do you not want to get married?"

After doing some research, I realized that the groom is actually obligated to make a different sort of expression - one that is somewhat lacking in activity or intelligence, but involves a sort of bland, genial acceptance of whatever crazy nonsense the bride is putting him through because the wedding planner said so.

(Though I can't imagine how she can even see the wedding planner while squinting beatifically through all those eyelashes).

Friday, October 26, 2007

The chickens which now look like moulting buzzards.

Hannah asked me to post new pictures of the java chickens. I just ran outside to take a couple - it's too dark and rainy to do better than this right now...


In which I play my mother and Jethro plays me.

I got lost at Language Log for about 45 minutes just now, on my way to writing this post.

Alma, a friend from the Caray, Caray! blog, had commented on yesterday's post: "To greatly maim the old saying... you can lead a donkey away from water, but you can't make him think."

Language Log has a thing for snowclones (term coined from this example: "If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z") - here's a compendium of posts on the phenomenon.

I figured You can W an X to Y but you can't make him Z was surely a famous snowclone - but I didn't find it because I got distracted by their many learned commentaries on lolcat captions.

Anyway, Alma was right: I could lead my donkey Jethro to his shed but I couldn't make him go into it.

In fact, I X my donkey to Y but can't make him Z many times every day.

It was easier raising my children; they were reasonable individuals. I, however, was a child more like Jethro. Some would say I still am.

My mother used to scream in exasperation: "All I wish for you is that some day your children treat you the way you treat me." It finally happened.

Example: Melinama, maybe seven years old, is a fairly picky eater. A parent has put blueberries on Melinama's cereal. Melinama has noticed the blueberries' slightly softened, wizened condition and concluded that they are past their sell-by date by an unacceptable margin. She refuses to eat them.

The thrifty parent says the blueberries are not to be wasted and must be consumed by Melinama, who refuses. The parent says Melinama will not leave the table until the blueberries are eaten. Melinama holds her ground. The parent hovers - the world is waiting, but at the table time stands still. Melinama is just a kid and doesn't have much of anything better to do than refuse to eat the blueberries. The parent has lots of things to do.

The parent is getting impatient and suggests, "OK, just two bites." No, not even one bite. To cut a very long story short, I remember young Melinama eventually ending up with her back against the wall, parent in front of her with wizened blueberries in a spoon extended towards Melinama's closed mouth. At that moment, this was her (my) revolutionary thought: "Gee, that parent looks stupid standing in front of me with that spoon, and I am winning."

During my own parenting years, the rule I extrapolated from that episode was: "Never issue an ultimatum unless you are very, very sure you can win."

It appears I violate this rule constantly with my donkey.

Yesterday morning Jethro was a paragon. He was affectionate, he happily let me put his haltar and lead rope on him, we walked all the way to the railroad tracks and back and then several times down the driveway to the deerfence, through the deerfence to the road, and back again. He showed off his ability to go right and left and even STOP. He even let me pick up his feet! You're supposed to clean a donkey's feet every day, but you can't do it if you can't pick up his feet.

He was attentive and happy and obedient. I thought, "We're a team! I can do this!" I envisioned happy walks every morning, going farther and farther...

Then it started raining. Donkeys hate rain. He stood in his shed, of his own free will (so, see, he learned!), and stared out discontentedly.

I'm trying to recall how everything then went so wrong... well, it stopped raining and I thought, maybe I'll try using the hoofpick for the first time! I'd seen muddy crud under those hooves when I picked them up and was feeling guilty and worried that he's been here two weeks and nobody's cleaned his feet...

He was still in a bad mood. I wandered after him across the greensward in recommended non-confrontative style, halter casually in my hand. He would have none of it. I wandered and wandered, and he wandered and wandered just out of reach. So he wandered into the round pen and so did I - and I closed the gate behind us.

This was an escalation and he knew it - he got more annoyed and swiveled to present his butt to me, the more readily to kick me should I approach.

(Difference between Melinama as an aggrieved seven-year-old and Jethro as an aggrieved three-year-old - about 500 pounds and four sharp hooves.)

My mother quoted Haim Ginott to me frequently when I was small. Even then I knew she must be twisting his words to fit her agenda. Therefore I won't blame him for the things she did - just now I looked him up and found the following, which certainly makes sense.

I have come to a frightening conclusion.
I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.

I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.

Between Teacher and Child

So, here we are, Jethro standing with his butt towards me, ready to wait all day, me standing at a respectful distance from his shoulder, holding the halter, wondering what to do next.
  • The "Tough Love" school of donkey training is espoused by Craig, his previous owner. Craig's advice: "He needs to be, not manhandled exactly, but shown who's boss. He's pretty full of himself." The farrier I called said the same thing: "He needs to know you are in charge."

  • However, there is the "Donkeys Have Long Memories And Will Eventually Pay You Back" school too. Using this method, everything is a partnership between donkey and owner. No forcing, no whipping, just calm encouragement and positive reinforcement.
When my mother was raising me, Dr. Spock and Haim Ginott were warning parents to be understanding and patient. (That wasn't going to happen with us, though, because she was a narcissist and an alcoholic.)

My Pennsylvania Dutch father had other ideas. He and his father and forefathers were regularly beaten with sticks and whipped with leather straps to keep them in line.

OK, getting back to Jethro. Tough Love says I shouldn't back down - if I let him out of the pen now without having succeeded with the halter, he'll learn that holding out and turning his back to me is the way to go. Patience and Understanding says I can't muscle him into doing what I want - and the fact is, I couldn't even if I wanted to.

It was getting later and later. I had to go to Yiddish class and it was raining again and his dinner was down in the shed. And he kept swiveling his rump toward me.

I left for class, fuming and wondering what to do. When I got home, I went out with a flashlight and put some hay in his pen. (Like getting a snack later when you've been sent to bed without supper?)

This morning, before it was light and before he'd started braying - yesterday I got an email from next door with subject line "Noisy Neighbor" - I went out with the flashlight and some apple quarters, let him out of the pen, and led him via apples to the shed. He's there now, eating. And I've gone back to bed - it's still raining - to muse over this episode.

Preliminary conclusion: it was wet and he was in a bad mood. I'll try again when it stops raining.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rain: guess which animals know how to come in out of it?

This morning it rained for the second time since early August. Isn't it a wonderful thing to see, hear, and smell?

It's the first time it's rained since Jethro the donkey has lived here. He's furious. I'm sure he thinks the rain is another of my perfidious schemes.

He has (as you know) a lovely shed, but he's afraid of it. He was standing looking drenched and miserable out in the grass. I cut two apples into small pieces and walked out into the squishy field and held them out. He followed me speedily until I got to the shed. Then, slower and slower. Eventually greed won out over fear; I managed to lure him into the shed, retreating into the far corner and feeding him apple pieces over and over.

When the apples were gone and apple fever subsided, he noticed it was still raining. He turned and looked out at the downpour. What a dilemma! He realized he was dry (good) but in the shed (bad).

I was trapped in the shed behind him for a while, because (a) I didn't want to discourage his noticing that he was dry and (b) he was stamping irritably and I didn't want to get stamped.

When I finally left, he, aggravatingly, left too. He's standing in the rain now.

So are the big Buckeye chickens.

So the intelligence prize goes to the tiny Java chickens: they ran into in their filing cabinet and are perfectly dry.

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More on the "Dream Act" from the NY Times

You can call your Senators this morning, send an e-mail message or fax. Call the senate switchboard 202-224-3121 - They can connect you to your two senators' offices.

Also you can email.

A Chance to Dream
From today's New York Times

The Senate has a chance today to pluck a small gem from the ashes of the immigration debate. A critical procedural vote is scheduled on the Dream Act, a bill to open opportunities for college and military service to the children of undocumented immigrants.

Roughly 65,000 children graduate each year from high school into a constrained future because they cannot work legally or qualify for most college aid. These are the overlooked bystanders to the ferocious bickering over immigration. They did not ask to be brought here, have worked hard in school and could, given the chance, hone their talents and become members of the homegrown, high-skilled American work force.

The bill is one of the least controversial immigration proposals that have been offered in the last five years. But that doesn’t mean much. Like everything else not directly involving border barricades and punishment, it has been branded as “amnesty,” and has languished.

But this bill is different, starting with its broad, bipartisan support, from its original sponsor, the Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, to its current champion, Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois. Repeated defeats have forced Mr. Durbin to pare away at the bill’s ambitions. It focuses now on a narrow sliver of a worthy group: children who entered the country before age 16, lived here continuously for at least five years and can show good moral character and a high school diploma. They would receive conditional legal status for six years, during which they could work, go to college and serve in the military. If they completed at least two years of college or military service, they would be eligible for legalization.

These young people — their numbers are estimated at anywhere from a million to fewer than 100,000 — are in many ways fully American, but their immigration status puts a lock on their potential right after high school. They face the prospect of living in the shadows as their parents do, fearing deportation to countries they do not know, yearning to educate themselves in a country that ignores their aspirations.

The Dream Act rejects that unacceptable waste of young talent. The opportunity is there, provided the votes are there in the Senate.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Call your senators! Wednesday, a Senate vote on the DREAM Act, which would let immigrant children move toward college education and citizenship.

My daughter sent me this announcement, and I called my senators today. As you know, I mentor a wonderful seventh-grader, a Latina. Her family came to this country when she was less than one year old. She wants to go to college and become a nurse. Isn't that the sort of citizen we want?
Did you, your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, or any of your friends attend a public college? Did you/your family/friends choose this school because of the chance to get a good education at a reasonable price?

Do you want to give another generation of immigrant students the same chance?

The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and other ask us to call our senators today to express support for the DREAM Act, which allows high school graduates who came to the US more than five years before to attend college as in-state students and to begin a path to legal residency and eventual citizenship.

From the CCIR:

The DREAM Act will likely come up for a vote on the Senate floor this Wednesday.

ALL DREAM ACT SUPPORTERS: CALL YOUR SENATORS, send an e-mail message and fax them, do it all over again on Wednesday morning first thing. Call the senate switchboard 202-224-3121 - They can connect you to your two senators' offices.

The cloture motion will require 60 votes to pass. If it fails, the DREAM Act will be pulled from the floor. If it passes, there will be more votes on the DREAM Act as well as on possible amendments. The outcome of these votes will determine the fate of the DREAM Act for this Congress.

Word is already getting out about the vote on anti-immigrant websites, talk shows, and cable TV who are spreading their usual falsehoods, and there is little doubt that their angry and fearful base will respond.

If you care at all about the future of DREAM Act students who have grown up here, then you must make your calls today and tomorrow, forward this message, and get on the phone to make sure that everyone you know does likewise.


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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mike does Illustration Friday: "Grow"

Mike writes: The inspiration for the painting was the notion of a healthy rainforest, with plants and animals all growing together. The use of alcohol (on the acrylic and canvas) was helpful in getting some of the effects.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Car mechanic hopes for rain...

... because last week, in the midst of our 100-year drought, he BURNED TRASH in his back yard... And he burned up three perfectly good cars in the process. Including his daughter's brand-new convertible.

"Are you dumb as rocks?" I burst out before thinking. "She cried," he answered with a hang-dog look. "Yep, I'm dumb as rocks. But I won't do it again..."

...I should mention the mechanic in question is not the ultra-brilliant, perfect-in-every-way owner of the garage, Jay, but his stringy down-home companion with a long grey ponytail....

... but anyway the point was, he was hoping the rain (we got about 1/2 inch) would wash away some of the blackened mess he'd made...

Jay: "Gonna take more'n that to wash away your mess."

Me: "Just imagine how much trouble a teenager would have gotten into if he'd done it!"

Dumb-as-rocks (though he's actually a good mechanic) thought that over. "I wish there WAS a teenager I could blame it on."

Then he peeled a huge bandage off his forearm revealing a huge shiny burn. "At least I didn't get hurt bad."

Saying seen on a bumper sticker: "I live in such a small town we don't have a village idiot. We take turns"

Thursday, October 18, 2007

In which I acquire a morbidly obese goat who steals food and escapes constantly, but means no harm.

One of the first things I read about donkeys: being herd animals, they get lonesome without friends. The possible "friends" listed all sounded like just as much trouble as a donkey.

With the exception of chickens. Chickens sounded feasible.

So I got these chickens to be friends with the donkey I didn't yet have.

Then I got these chickens kind of by accident. They are now much bigger and look like moulting vultures, I'll have to post a new picture. They've graduated to being outside birds and I stuff them in the coop with the big hens every night. No blood has been shed.

Well, the gentleman farmer mocked my idea of providing chickens to be my donkey's pets, he said I needed a goat.

I didn't want a goat. Goats are too smart, I said, and they escape all the time. I want something stupid. Maybe a sheep would be stupid enough.

He kept after me. When my son Zed and I went out to visit (Zed was interviewing him for a paper), he made this proposal: "Take a goat, for free, for a month. If you don't like her you can bring her back or put her in your freezer. She won't escape, they never escape."

When we came back from lunch, all his goats had escaped. After about half an hour of walking/driving around he found them at the neighbor's house.

Nevertheless, because Zed was very keen on the plan I said thank you when the gentleman farmer hauled a goat box out of his shed, put it in the back of my van, and selected for us this portly creature, whom Zed named Dulcinea. It took all three of us to heave her up into the box.

She's amazingly fat (I couldn't capture the true essence of her corpulence with my camera); however, the gentleman farmer has goats that are much fatter. One had watermelon-sized outriggers of lard bouncing up and down on each side as she ran towards the food bowl. How could she be running? Why hasn't she had a heart attack? No, none of them are pregnant, he insists, unless by immaculate conception.

We got Dulcinea home and within an hour she made her first escape. She is unfazed by electricity and just walks through the electric fence seen below. When it jolts her, her hide twitches, but no matter - she's out.

I've also seen her get down on her knees and ooze through a hole not much bigger than her head. All that fat is very pliable. A goat is actually much like an octopus in this regard.

Three times that first afternoon I caught her by the horns and hauled her - me leaning back, heels dug in, heaving backwards with all my strength, she resisting, all four hooves dug into the ground to prevent forward motion, four hooves against two sneakers, no fair - back into the correct part of the pasture. Then I was tired. I just gave up.

She likes to hang out near the chicken coop, there are leftover morsels of cracked corn in the grass there. Corn kernels are like chocolate eclairs for both Jethro and Dulcinea.

Speaking of Jethro, I'm gradually understanding him better. He is very highly strung. In the donkey way, his reaction to being in a nervous frenzy is to stand totally still (as in this picture).

Lots of things frighten him. Sadly, his nice shed frightens him. I can get him in it if I hold up an apple, but he snatches the apple and leaves immediately.

He doesn't like commotion. When it's quiet and peaceful, he is very affectionate.

Among things he's afraid of: this fine vehicle, a cart for pulling a bucket around the field when forking up poop (oddly, I enjoy this activity). It absolutely terrifies him.

He better get less nervous so I can implement my ultimate plan of sitting in a cart and saying giddyup and having him trot nicely down to the grocery store.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

North Carolina State Fair artwork


Mike does Illustration Friday: "Extremes"

Mike says: If I look at this picture long enough I see after images of lines and squares.

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We're off to the State Fair!

Extracts from
It can take a trip to the NC State Fair in Raleigh to remind some of us Chapel Hillians that we live in North Carolina
by Mitch Virchick

In a misguided attempt to control traffic jams by evenly spacing the twelve entrances, the fair organizers have seen fit to close one of the two original main gates, and its massive wooden doors solemnly forbid entry. At the open entrance, the ticket window, built for the average North Carolinian when the average North Carolinian?s height was about 4'9", is occupied by an unsmiling middle-aged black woman. One of the perks of seniority in a low-paying state job must be a sweet gig at the state fair.

When I ask if I can have my ticket stub as a souvenir, I am told no, I can?t. No apologies. A middle-aged state trooper sits nearby, unsmiling, sidearm holstered. I decide not to press the issue. Welcome to the grand entrance to the grandest of all fairs, the 153rd annual North Carolina State Fair!

To the left, there's gardening and handicrafts, featuring delicately tatted lace, embroidery, some beautiful, some tacky. Jams, jellies, 4-H displays from Anson or Watauga County.

The state Republican party recruiting booth, featuring good-looking, well-groomed young apparatchiks.

Miracle mops. North Carolina honey. The dowdiest handmade clothing imaginable, including a cocktail dress (I envision the wearer at a country club party in some town like Mocksville, indulging in maybe a shrimp cocktail and a Virgin Mimosa) and lots of crocheted vests, worn by old ladies at Christmas and stout lesbians all year round.

Continuing west along Hillsborough Street, we pass through the perfectly groomed 'field of dreams' in full ripening, likely tended weeks and months in advance of the fair by ag students from 'State College' as the old folks call NC State University in Raleigh. It's good to see tobacco treated respectfully here, not as a noxious weed of death as some would have it, but as a proud historical reminder of North Carolina agriculture and industry. I light a cigarette next to a patch of broadleaf, cough, and nod appreciatively.

A tent draws a small but rapturous multi-racial crowd of heavyset backyard chefs and pig-pickers, all wearing baseball caps, while a video featuring the latest in barbecue technology plays on a monitor and a pig-cooking expert answers tough questions about tenderizing techniques.

Food venders selling dripping sandwich wraps, barbecue, Brunswick Stew, ears of corn and shoelace fries for the Lions, Elks or Shriners charities.

Beyond the food vendors, you catch a view of Dorton Arena, the mid-century futurist elliptical and parabolic cow palace where, during the rest of the year, you can see professional wrestling or badly organized hip-hop events that often enough degenerate into fights. During fair week, the event programmers bring in the country acts, guys with names like Josh, Kenny and Trace.

Past the arena, but further west along Hillsborough Street, we reach the so-called 'meat' of the state fair, the livestock buildings. The biggest one is named after the biggest daddy of agriculture commissioners, Jim Graham, who held sway for something like 70 years over all things farming in North Carolina, and always wore one of those big, LBJ-style white hats. Jim Graham retired just a few years ago, and his replacement, Meg Scott Phipps, from an ancient political family of governors and senators herself, was quickly indicted and charged with egregious campaign finance violations, but I wondered at the time if it was because she had the temerity, as one of her first acts in office, to change midway vendors after 40 years of James E. Strates Shows.

In any case, it?s always best to pass through the livestock shows starting with the worst-smelling, and advancing toward the less offensive. That meant stinking poultry, first up. Beautiful, proud, colorful and entirely foul-smelling, the caged roosters and hens peck about their cages, with the prizewinners going for $6 each.

I have always threatened to build a chicken coop in our yard, two blocks from the middle of downtown Carrboro. When we first moved in 12 years ago, Mr. Neal, the last of the old millhands, kept a henhouse in the woods, out of sight but within earshot. His neighbor Phil would feed the birds, and everybody on the street had fresh eggs until some raccoon or fox got in one night and broke the supply chain. In any case, I have always enjoyed the fact or fancy that livestock still has a role to play in small-town life, and I was sad this past winter when my next-door neighbor Vicki decided to give away her two goats to a farm outside of town.

Still, in the back of my mind, I want to keep chickens, or guinea fowl, or goats, or a mule, or even a pair of draft horses to pull a vegetable cart through the old neighborhoods of my town while shouting at the top of my lungs, at least as a performance art piece.

We as a small-town culture need to be exposed to farm animals, not only because we need to think about the creatures we eat as sentient beings, but on another, less moral or ethical level, as we become more and more distant from our food sources, we become less and less exposed to the germs, the bacteria, and the viral infections these animals carry.

The last stop in the poultry building is the baby duck station, where little children get to pet the adorable little things, and then put their hands in their mouths.

From there, it's on to the Graham Building to see the cattle. Massive, hormonally enhanced, and unable to conceive offspring naturally. ... I resolve next year to study the issues and engage the farmhands in lively economic discourse without fear of getting punched out by a 210 lb. guy in a huge belt buckle.

Because these huge bovines are taking massive, flopping, dumps all the time, the Graham Building, while not smelling nearly as disgusting as the chicken building, still reeks, so I move on to the next building where they keep the goats, and from there, to the pygmy goats. The goats only smell goaty, and it's not so bad, kind of a pleasant aroma. Plus, college chicks seem to dig goats. They wander by the pens in their own herds, with their sorority sisters or boyfriends. Leggy blondes, they find the animals cute. I find them cute. The girls, I mean.

I love to listen to the monotonous rapid-fire chatter of the auctioneer, and I pause and sit in the bleachers. I am wearing work boots and a cowboy hat, and a normal sized belt buckle, but I am at one with the barnyard crowd. A stranger approaches me and asks me where the horses are kept. Beyond, in another corner of the building, some prizewinning vegetables round out this section of the state fair. I marvel at an 856 lb. pumpkin, some perfect peppers, a table full of fat-assed eggplants, and move on. When I retire, I want to be around the fair during the weekdays, when they judge the pies, the pickles, the jellies, the cheeses, the apples, the honey, and the sweet scuppernong wine, and when presumably, there are free samples.

Inexplicably, there is a photographer posing people for $5 (four photos) with life-size cutouts of your favorite president (as long as his name is either Bush, Clinton, or Bush) in an oval-office mockup. I think about posing with W., and pulling a Three Stooges poke-in-the-eye move, or holding up a couple of fingers behind his head, but I imagine there are probably homeland security enforcers lurking about, and I don't want my loyalty questioned, or my family hounded (well, maybe some members of my family), so I reconsider, and move onward.

From here, you have your choice. If you want to move to the next part of the state fair that doesn't involve fried candy bars or nauseating rides, or games of skill and chance at booths burning 20 kilowatts of electrical power, where you can win a stuffed white Siberian Tiger (Siegfried and Roy may be finished as a Las Vegas institution, but their legacy in American kitsch lives on), you have two choices.

The first choice is to slip behind the tightly woven trailers and cut through Carneytown (my choice, naturally). Because tonight I am accompanied by my wife, and because she does not find the midway as appalling as I do (I am, after all, a man of exacting standards of lowbrow taste, intent on catching the horse-shoe pitching competition or listening to the salesman selling miracle mops)...

After this harrowing experience, I must sit down and have a funnel cake. My blood sugar is low. I'm cranky from swimming upstream in the midway, and I need deep-fried southern comfort food. Some fried sweet battered dough, equivalent to about half a dozen glazed donuts, dusted with powdered sugar, should do nicely. I stand in the endless line (actually, I'm behind one person who seems to be having a lot of trouble trying to decide between the elephant ear and the funnel cake and the fried candy bar), rolling my eyes in supercilious, low-blood sugar, apoplectic annoyance. I want to shove this person aside and order my damned funnel cake, but I wait, impatiently sighing, and rolling my eyes, making sure the person in front of me gets the message. He does, and I instantly feel like a jerk. But I'm still hungry, so I forgive myself. Finally, I order my funnel cake, and it arrives, along with a dire warning about how hot it is.

We're back out in the nighttime air, and we wander into the old farm machinery building. Wagons, Tractors, iron-bound wooden wheels that must have broken all the damned time, and plows, and plows, and plows abound inside. A Prairie Schooner is particularly amazing to Ellen. She doesn't believe that families could have existed in such cramped quarters for a drive across country. I remind her we used to take camping vacations with the kids in a Honda Accord, and besides, don't forget, the average North Carolinian was 4 ft. 9 inches back in the day.

I like old forgotten technology. ... I still retain a life-long love of obsolete tools - a 40-pound manual typewriter sits in my workshop, along with an old check-writing machine. My slide rule awaits my recollection of how the damned thing works.

We can visit the horticultural exhibits or we can visit the Village of Yesteryear, a craft show reminiscent of a bygone era when sane and sober people held positions of responsibility, and the gravity of their moral certitude mattered. ... Lots of bonnets, braids, puffy shirts, and leather vests and aprons. Woodcarving. Tinsmithing (possibly my new 'teeny hobby' as my kids would say when they notice me spending way too much effort and money on a passing interest which allowed me to spend more time in the shed away from the family). Basketry. Marquetry. Quilting. Pottery from Seagrove and Jugtown. Some old bearded guy with falconry gloves carrying a cute little screech owl.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Day two: Jethro resoundingly fails to settle in

Since I'm perhaps arousing in at least one or two readers the desire to purchase a donkey, it would be irresponsible to share only the golden moments. Yesterday, perhaps, was a brief honeymoon - Jethro was sweet, he came whenever I appeared and liked being stroked and groomed, he seemed to be zooming along on the training continuum.

Last night was the first cold night after a month of record-breaking hot days (and nights). Jethro was shivering when I went out just after dawn to take him some breakfast hay. Then Paco arrived and we started putting siding on Jethro's shed, not a hundred feet away. He did not like the circular saw and he did not like the hammering. He started stamping and snorting.

I wisely thought: "This is just a bad day - all this racket - and I don't have time for peaceful training - I should just let him be." That was smart. Then the stupid thing was, I decided to take him for a walk.

I put his halter on him and led him down the driveway and he even waited while I opened the deer fence, clever good donkey! However, he stopped dead at the sight of our (completely empty) street. The next stupid thing was, I tried to get him to keep going. My neighbors across the way gaped as I urged him about twenty feet down the road. But that was the end. He turned around and headed back the way we came, at ever increasing velocity. When we got through the deer fence, he broke away from me with an effortless shrug and headed off through the woods, dragging his lead line.

One rule of donkey training - never chase a donkey. It teaches him that you like to run around like an idiot. Relieved to see he respected the deer fence (one day he'll realize he can just walk right through it), I left him to his own devices for a while. He realized the grass was greener and went on a munching rampage. He ran, trailing his lead rope, any time he suspected (incorrectly) that I was after him.

Then, while I was watering the almost-dead dogwood, I realized Jethro was between the hose and his round pen. Taking advantage of this arrangement, it was ready, aim, fire! The hose, gently spritzing in his direction, was a powerful convincer.

Yes, he went in his pen, but by then Jethro was in such a lather that when I (the next stupid thing) went in behind him to add fresh grass to his bin, he circled rather wildly and kicked me in the hand (maybe by accident). My supersonic shriek was the last straw. He sulked for the rest of the day.

Obviously I have a lot to learn.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

... and here's a lurkers' theme song

Also from Laudator Temporis Acti. (As the blog's author, Michael Gilleland, says, a blog makes a fine filing cabinet - I stash things at Pratie Place that I'll want to be able to find again.)

One could say the philosophy reflected below is a little too risk-averse. However, if you believe, as I do, that the easiest way to be happy is to stop wanting things you can't have - well, this is just the ticket.

Let Me Enjoy
Thomas Hardy
Let me enjoy the earth no less
Because the all-enacting Might
That fashioned forth its loveliness
Had other aims than my delight.

About my path there flits a Fair,
Who throws me not a word or sign;
I'll charm me with her ignoring air,
And laud the lips not meant for mine.

From manuscripts of moving song
Inspired by scenes and dreams unknown
I'll pour out raptures that belong
To others, as they were my own.

And some day hence, towards Paradise
And all its blest -- —if such should be --—
I will lift glad, afar-off eyes
Though it contain no place for me.


Found at Laudator Temporis Acti (Gilleland's post contains other amusements of this ilk, too.)

David McCord

I know a little man both ept and ert.
An intro-? extro-? No, he's just a vert.
Sheveled and couth and kempt, pecurious, ane,
His image trudes upon the captive brain.
When life turns sipid and the mind is traught,
The spirit soars as I would sist it ought.
Chalantly then, like any gainly goof,
My digent self is sertive, choate, loof.


Jethro arrives

Thanks to those who've been asking, though I feel like an old bore showing off snapshots of a new grandchild...

Craig rolled up my driveway a little before noon today with the long-awaited donkey.

I could see Jethro was calm and curious despite his 2+ hour ride bumping down the highway.

Ahh, he was just as cute as I'd remembered.

Here are two of the three famous turkeys raised by Craig's kids for the 4-H competition. The third one was so big he completely filled up a separate dog crate all by himself.

As it turned out, Craig hadn't finished, uh, restoring this fine donkey cart he had, but I'm happy to have it even in this condition. We won't be using it for quite a while. Maybe I should paint on it, "Harris Teeter or Bust."

The cart and the turkeys out of the way, it was time to haul the donkey out of the trailer. He came happily, his head held high.

I put him in the new "round pen," a small enclosure I plan to use until he reliably will come when I ask him to. The idea seems somewhat preposterous.

Jethro went a little nuts at the sight of all this new, never-been-munched verdure. Craig's pasture, due to the drought, has been a brown dustbowl for months.

Donkey training commenced forthwith. After a pro-forma period of stand-offishness Jethro proved himself very affectionate. He let me brush him and scratch his ears and I am dusty all over from donkey hugs.

Tomorrow Paco and I will put siding on the donkey house and I may try to put a halter on the donkey.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Vocabulary word of the day: cockalorum

Discovered at, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn's opinion of Mark E. Brennan:
"In over 19 years on the bench, I have seen nothing comparable," the judge wrote. "Such disrespectful cockalorum, grandstanding, bombast, bullying and hyperbole as Mr. Brennan exhibited throughout the trial are quite beyond my experience as a jurist, and, I fervently hope, will remain an aberration during the remainder of my time on the bench."
That would have been worth seeing...

Manhattan duo

Sign in window of bus reminds me of speeches on high holidays.

This piece by my daughter, who now blogs for, reminded me of the view below, which I stared at for an hour in the bus from JFK to Manhattan. click for larger view.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Last minute purchases before Jethro arrives

As I mentioned in my report on visiting Jethro the donkey with my daughter and her boyfriend, my donkey dealer has to make the long trip from Mooresville to Raleigh Thursday. His children raised turkeys to be entered into 4-H competition at the NC State Fair, which begins this weekend.

Craig ruefully told us that, first, he hates turkeys (evidently they have nasty dispositions), and second, he resented having to go pick up them up - it's a very long way - in Raleigh in early spring, and, third, they were expected to put on 50 pounds (each) in the intervening months. He even had to special order expensive "Show Chow" for them. Nevertheless, it was obvious he was pleased his kids are interested in farming and therefore it was worth spoiling them (the kids, not the turkeys) with a few hundred-pound bags of boutique turkey food... I hope they win...

So, anyway, sometime between 10 and 12, Craig will be dropping Jethro off on his way to the fairgrounds. I'm nervous and excited. I thought it might be of interest to see the odd last minute purchases I made today:

Two galvanized buckets, this little one for hauling and a big big one for Jethro. Donkeys drink about 13 gallons of water a day and they're fussy, they want it to be nice and clean.

A bag of cheap apples (not really so cheap). The training method I plan to follow word-for-word says that, in general, one should not train with food after the first couple of days. Still, one casually burns through quite a few apples in the beginning when trying to attract the donkey's interest (and good will).

This is a 25-pound block of salt and minerals. I read it was a necessary dietary component. This may be the dullest picture I've ever posted on this blog.

I went into a "tack shop" (a kind of store I'd never exactly heard of before this current project) where you buy expensive stuff for your horses. Keeping a donkey beautiful is serious business. Here: a curry comb, a body brush, a hoof pick, and a ring to screw into a post in his shed to tie him to when his hooves need attention.

Finally, some inspirational reading for when I can't sleep. Fortuitously these books all arrived in the mail today: "Travels in a Donkey Trap" (a lady even older than I am decides to spend a year tooling around the country); "Travels with My Donkey, One Man and His Ass on a Pilgrimage to Santiago" (self explanatory); and "Packin' In on Mules and Horses." It's very reassuring that people have written books on this subject. I wonder if they were best sellers.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Drought in North Carolina

It was already very dry here in central North Carolina when I left for Bulgaria at the beginning of August, leaving the air conditioner off. When I got home in mid-August, it was so hot in my house that the floor tiles in the bathroom burned my feet. The soap was melted. The dental floss was melted. The battery in my laptop computer, which had been in a dark place, was fried. My mattress was hot all the way through.

There was the longest run of days over 90 degrees ever recorded in August. We are in what is for this area, I believe, a historically unprecedented drought.

There was one, just one, rain in September. There is no rain forecast for October and the rest of the winter is supposed to be dry. The farmers' crops have died in the fields. The dogwoods are dying. Everything is dying. The grass is crunchy underfoot.

Farmers are getting rid of their flocks - there is no grass to feed them. There is a panic over hay - it has to be brought in from the North (that's where my donkey's hay for the winter came from).

I have always had a dread of dry places. I've never wanted to visit the Southwest, or Israel, or any other place which is usually dry. I abhor yellow, sere landscapes. Now I live in one. Maybe it's time to move. But where?

I wake up every morning thinking, "it didn't rain again." It starts my day off in a condition of despair. Will it never rain again?

The news people have long since tired of talking about the drought, it's not news any more. But every day that goes by, the story is actually bigger and bigger. Like, well, the melting polar ice caps. The thawing tundra. That boring global warming they have also tired of.

So who was hoping if we didn't talk about it, global warming would go away?

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Donkey shed #2

Paco and I put this one up today. It won't be much good till we add purlins and tin. I used a trick I learned from the gentleman farmer in Greensboro and put in "hurricane clips" made of 2x4s - they make it easier to position the rafters and also help keep the roof from blowing off in a hurricane. If it ever rains again.