While I don't follow current fads and trends the way a responsible social animal ought (question #3 in the Empathy Test, which gives a score called a quotient; is this a bit of academic finger-pointing at those of us who feel somewhat divided in our opinions of others?), I have noted mention lately in headlines of a new 'madness industry' wherein simple verbal tests are used to predict if this, or that, lad is indeed "born to be hanged".  (Years ago his tatts would have told the tale but these days the general populace of mouth-breathers seem entranced with Asian design and tribal markings and give vaguer signals of their immediate intent to maim; signs such as chronic rude behavior being the norm are indicative of nothing.)  It is even rumored that in order to qualify for position as an upper echelon banker the applicant must have scored correctly on the Sociopathy Index.  Being rapacious is not equal to being rude in our society, it is a tool of business wielded best by the most successful. 

The fact that I got into this empathy testing at all is due to a friend of Pat's mentioning it on the dreaded facebook, home of the Clone People.  Pat wanted to see how I would score and encouraged me to answer the harmless 60 questions.  I knew going in that while my score would not instantly cause my name to be forwarded to Water Boarding School - a different sort of boarding school from the one mother threatened us all with, it would possibly cause me to come up as a potential candidate for Assassin Training.  You might think water boarding to be a gentler occupation than hit man, but I would disagree.  I do believe in kindness, abhor the thought of inflicting pain on fellow travelers in our best of all possible worlds, but the kindness I believe in does take into account that death may be the greatest kindness of all.

The editor passes on the above with the caveat that I stand to alienate the 90% of my readers who habituate facebook.  Sorry, but I simply don't have enough empathy to edit that remark.  The editor, who rather likes facebook, admits she has called it the hypocritical Hallmark-howdy home, and has been heard to say it is a place where perfect strangers can remain perfect because they remain strangers. 

My score on the empathy test was 32, and while I scored well above the Asperger's folk who are notching around 20, it does seem to validate my misanthropic inclinations.  I sent the link along, in jest  of course, to a blood relative.  This individual, to remain unnamed as he might actually be dangerous given his own score of 28, said he 'blamed his parents.'  Hmmmmm......  I believe he might now harbor suspicions that the entire thing was a scam, a setup to undermine his self-esteem. Not so! esteemed kin.  His score does rather surprise me as I would think any score lower than my own might act as a brake on normal social intercourse, and the young man actually does have friends.  Should I warn them??

My advice to you, readers, is ignore this test and go on about your lives believing you are as normal as the next person; Joe Sixpack is averaging 42 from his spot on the tailgate, and his missus at the grill is popping 47.  Should you do worse, don't blame me if you get referred to boarding school.

If you go to the home page at the above link you will find some other tests.  I didn't search to find the sociopath test; last test I want to take, that one. 


The days roll by as if oiled, maybe an old habit forgotten, now recently rediscovered and once more worn comfortably; life in town is easier than I thought.  And maybe I am secretly relieved to have the onus of all sorts of little lives perched precariously atop my shaky shoulders removed:  neither will chickens expire if I don't pour water or close the door of a night, nor tomato and green bean wither and succumb to vicious weeds should I stay away three days running.  I think a secret laziness is taking hold in my heart, so that I can sit in a big chair by the front window with a cup of tea and watch the neighborhood slide past on its errands, deliverers of packages and letters on their routes, dog-walkers and the independent cats as well, children to and from school, and the occasional lout slouching along.  Oddly, I feel so very American these days.

We have joined the ranks of good citizen and good neighbor by taking up the mantle of keepers-of-the-yard.  Not us those ne'er-do-wells who fail to mow with regularity, weed haphazardly, or do brake jobs in their yard.  Though I am so recently graduated from those ranks that I sometimes fail to see the sin in living the way I want to.  I have spent day upon day weeding the front and side of the house, revealing interesting plants we had no prior knowledge of and many granite boulders, and building a green stack needing removal to the dump that is the size of a compact car.  Much of it came from the campaign to thin the ivy on the fences.  I purchased an electric trimmer, and immediately put it aside in favor of the more expeditious chainsaw.  About 2 feet of evil vine was removed from the sides of the back fence and another 2 to 3 feet from the top.  Stems up to 5 inches in diameter regularly presented as I hacked along.  I imagined renting a shredder to turn all to mulch and as easily imagined such mulch all beginning to grow rampantly once spread, into new ivy; such, I imagine, is the power of ivy that it would reconstitute itself from its own death to overwhelm.  The only thing I have ever dealt with to equal it for tenacity and dogged viableness is bamboo.  Even at that I am tempted to plant some bamboo.

The reason I think of bamboo is the five Japanese Maples I have found amongst the rocks.  Such trees are a favorite of the whole neighborhood.  Tacoma is a garden-city.  I go walking now not to look at the houses so much as to see what is growing round them.  Rhododendron season is finished, but the sheer bulk of flowerage in the area was wonderful for a few weeks.  The opium poppies are pretty well done, too, the seed pods disappearing everywhere I watch.  We have three clumps of bright orange poppies under the kitchen windows; I have been watching red, pink and white types to get some seed when the pods have dried enough to begin to split and spill, but they vanish.  I am not sure what use the green pods are put to.  I have heard that the growing of these poppies is not a problem, but if you begin to slice the pods to harvest the opium-ooze there can be questions asked.  I may have to buy the seeds unless I can find a neighbor with plants not easily accessed who will let me have some.

We went out to the big rhody-garden to see the blooms in June but were late by weeks to catch the full glory of them.  Grumbling about paying to see little I then found the free Bonsai Garden next door. Fabulous place.  I have loved Japanese garden design since I first visited there as a teenage sailor.  Very few things begin to approach the lovely simplicity of Japanese style.  There are dozens of bonsai, all set apart enough to let you see them uncluttered or crowded.  Really got me to thinking about our own yard.  It seemed the Bonsai tradition ought to be applicable to plants in the ground, not just to those in containers.  There seems to be only one book in English that addresses this topic; I have it on order.  The practice is called Niwaki Pruning.  My maples are quite overgrown and demand work, though I can't do much before autumn. A dwarf pine and Hinoki Cypress have been put in for future shaping.  

Something of an epiphany was borne to me via the sound waves from my TV set - light waves, too, since I use the subtitles whenever available, even in English, as I listened to the delicious dialogue of Deadwood.  A treat to see all three seasons in back-to-back episodes for a long as I could stave off exhaustion over a period of several nights.  The awakening was to realize how absolutely beautiful language can be even when every other word is 'fuck'.

As I write a hiphop band is playing at a festival on the far end of the block; every time I hear this non-music I am taken aback.  It is all punch with no style, or none that these older ears can discern.  Equally disconcerting was listening to a young girl walk by as I was weeding.  Fuck was the epitome of adjectives in her speech:  every noun sought to be fucked over twice if not more per sentence.  I bemoaned the loss of agility in speech that seems so prevalent in the young.  Time was when fuck was still a word of at least mild surprise, the slight evocative shock you felt when it was inserted into general conversation - at least when not speaking with sailors, was worth its use.  We used it sparingly, a sharp point in vocabulary's arsenal.  Today it is very tired and worn out, one more pointless pellet in a shotgun-pattern of speech that conveys almost nothing.

Then I watched Deadwood.  What a relief to see that even the most overused of descriptive words can be part of a lovely line of patter.  So long as there are writers who can  wield the mother-tongue with such glib assurance all words have a home.  When the still-dreaded 'cunt' becomes an exhausted household term of only mild disgust we will still realize this language is alive and well by tuning into an episode of Deadwood to view the cunt-struck hoopleheads at play.


On a more domestic note I happily report that Zoe, who has lived in the basement like Monte Christo prior to his counthood - according to the sun-starved girl, has rented an apartment of Edisonic stature. It lies on the water on the edge of Seattle in a seedy beach town; since my time in pastel stuccoed beach towns of very seedy appearance around L.A. in the fifties I have had a dreamy inclination toward such places.  There is an other-worldly aspect to them that I can never quite point to.  She is in Germany now, working from her airplane to make the world safe for bankers, but will return soon and will begin to move on the fifteenth.  I am pleased for her. And I can finally expand my shop by one room.

The editor reads the above and says "yes."  No higher praise exists.  Sorry if it seems long between my letters but the dog who licks my face is name Lassitude.  don and pat and all.
Thinking of bamboo