Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Insurmountable Odds

When we went to Florida recently, my son took me to visit the bird rescue facility where he works. The cages where wounded birds are held until they can be returned to the wild, if ever, are large and roomy. The place is situated on the edge of a mangrove swamp and borders a shallow inlet. There is a veterinarian on staff. There are owls and hawks and pelicans and herons and ducks and gulls....

Oddly, the captive birds attract wild ones so that outside the cages are large numbers of free ones feeding in the inlet. We saw two Roseate Spoonbills, which I gather a lot of  serious birders would be thrilled to add to their life lists since they are rather rare.  As you walk the wooden paths that lead past the cages, a wild heron stalks past you or a busy little cormorant waddles along at your heels. A gang of  wild pelicans crowd around at feeding time trying to lure the workers into throwing them a fish.

As I understand it, a wealthy benefactor subsidizes the refuge and beyond that, the railings along the pathways are studded with signs honoring contributors, large and small. There are significant donations from estates and smaller ones from visitors who simply appreciate the work that's being done here.

I didn't ask John how many employees there are but in addition to the doctor, there is a veterinarian's assistant and the bird keepers and maintenance people and groundskeepers and a receptionist. Some of them are volunteers but there is also a paid staff.

John said what has impressed him most is how much all these people care about the birds. Some of them could make more money elsewhere but concern for the welfare of their charges is what keeps them there.

You complete your visit with a positive feeling about the goodness of life, in general, and the generosity of human kind in particular.

Until, that is, you get home and turn on the television and watch a vast oil spill spreading ugliness and death to everything with which it comes in contact.  The efforts made by the people at the sanctuary to rescue an egret here, a hawk there, seems like the tiniest drop in the ecological bucket in comparison to the incredible amount of destruction caused by the oil, which will overrun whole colonies of birds, whole feeding beds of marine life, whole livelihoods of fishermen and those who earn their bread by catering to tourists.

And you are shown, below the Gulf, thousands of gallons of oil continuing to spew furiously into the water. I'm not especially religious and I tend not to believe in the Biblical version of evil but if anything ever struck me as evil, it is this ongoing outpouring of ruination.

And the folks at British Petroleum say, "gee, we never had a clue anything like this could happen and we don't have a clue how to fix it." And the folks at whatever administrative agency is supposed to regulate and monitor oil rigs (I could make the effort to look it up but they're all the same) says, "gee, we never had a clue something like this could happen and we don't have a clue how to fix it"

And the voters, who try as best they can, say - "gee, we never had a clue this could happen and we don't have a clue how to fix it." Because it seems that no matter what we do, what party we put in place, the big money multinationals always step on us and squash us under their heel like so many bugs. Whether they are banks or credit card companies or HMOs or mines or the oil industry or utilities , they win and we lose. Whether they are tearing the tops off our mountains, despoiling our oceans, making off with our pensions, fixing the prices we pay to keep the lights on or perpetrating the kind of financial practices on us that would have made the moneylenders at the temple blanch with shame, we are the helpless chickens at the mercy of the foxes, with the government that's suppose to guard us bought off to turn a blind eye.

Several years ago, I worked as a mayor's secretary. I can't remember what the name of my power company was then but it was a few incarnations ago. I remember that they took the mayor, along with many other officials, to the both the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 that year. The guests rode in limousines and enjoyed the races from a sky box and ate choice foods and drank high end alcohol in a hospitality tent.

When he came back, I asked the mayor why they did that when they were a freaking monopoly. It wasn't like I had a choice about which power company to sign up with, so why did I have to help pay for him (who had plenty enough to pay his own way) to get the star treatment at two prestigious races via my electric bill when I couldn't begin to afford to attend those events myself?

He laughed and said, "don't worry, Vic, I can't be bought that cheaply."

He couldn't but a lot of people can. It probably didn't even cost that much in the power company scheme of things to stroke a small town mayor....but multiply that by thousands.....of dollars and officials... and it leads to unbuilt levees and unsafe mine practices and shoddy bridges and oil spilling by the millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

To counter that, you only have a small bird sanctuary working to save an ibis here, a pelican there. Pretty heavy odds.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

NASCAR Fan-atic

We had a baby shower for one of the girls at work today. She was telling us what a Colts maniac her husband is. They planned their honeymoon around an off football by-week but coming home on the plane, he asked the pilot if he could find and announce the score of the game (which he did).  When they had their first son, Hubby lobbied to name him Peyton or Eli, after the Manning brothers. Andrea said absolutely not. Finally, he suggested the name Cooper which she liked and Cooper it was. Not until the baby was a few months old was she told that Cooper is the name of the third (unknown) Manning sibling.

Everyone else at the office smiled at his craziness but I told her I understood perfectly because if I was still young enough to have a son, or a daughter for that matter, his/her name would be Jimmie Johnson Williams. My colleagues all laughed. They thought I was kidding.

Having come to it late in life, I am sometimes amused by my own unsuspected capacity for being a NASCAR lunatic. A few years ago, I would have probably condescended to people I thought must be of somewhat less than average intelligence to get so caught up in cars going around a track, who actually owned whole wardrobes of gear with a driver's name on it, who would go out of their way to buy certain products at certain stores because they support NASCAR and sponsor teams. Now I do all those things.

Even as a young girl, I wasn't one to swoon over actors or rock stars. I liked a lot of them but you''d never have found me standing in a miles-long line to see the Beatles come off an airplane.  I bought most of his albums but I didn't have a poster of Elvis on my wall. My most admired characters have mostly been authors, along with a few politicians, but I wouldn't exactly call it a grand passion, more like a low-key kind of esteem.

Now, here I am at 64, practically having a heart attack at the end of every race if the number 48 Lowe's Chevy is in the lead, trying to push Jimmie to the checkered flag by sheer strength of will. Now, instead of election results, my mood soars or plummets based on Sprint Cup point leads.

I'm joking about naming a baby Jimmie Johnson Williams though....I think.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New Political Party?

Forget the Tea Party and the Green Party and whatever other parties rise up now and then to threaten the Democrats and Republicans. I'm ready to start the "Leave Me the Hell Alone" party.

Mom got a letter from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles informing her that it would soon be time to renew her license, which she already knew. They also made her aware of the new rules in place for obtaining a SecureID. Namely, that you must have in hand:  1) a certified copy of your birth certificate to prove who you are, 2) something official with your social security number on it, such as a tax document, 3) two pieces of paperwork showing your current address (like utility bills, bank statement....) and 4) a document showing how your name got to be the name you now use. Naturally most men won't be inconvenienced by this last since they don't usually ever change their last names, unless they are actors.

Coming up with these items probably also won't be a big bother if you are young and live and were married in the same area in which you were born.

My mother is 91 years old. She was born in Illinois and married in the early 1940's. She and my father criss-crossed the country because of his work. There is no attic with important family papers neatly stored for easy access in case the BMV decides they want them in 2010. Her birth certificate and wedding license are around here somewhere, so she says. We have torn the place apart. There are papers scattered across every room in the house, like the detritus shown on t.v. after a tornado touched down. She and I are both savers of sentimental flotsam and jetsam but the key is that we save without any attempt at organization.

If you want to know what she paid for a new Buick Roadmaster in 1952, we can tell you. If you want to see my Glendale, California library card from 1958, we can show you. We can offer the Bureau of Motor Vehicles antique birthday cards and valentines. My old report cards? Yep. My first speeding ticket (1964). Her award for Outstanding Service from the Dept. of Defense, the plaque naming me Citizen of the Year by the Machinist's Union. I could go on and on. But, can we find any of the important stuff, like birth certificates and wedding licenses? No, we cannot, despite hours of desperate searching.

The BMV will still re-new your current license even without all these things but they will stamp it "non-secure". It will still allow you to drive but it may not be accepted as identification, say, for cashing a check or proving your identity at at airline ticket counter. If you're profiled as a terrorist, you could have trouble proving that you are really a harmless 91-year-old American widow.

I told Mom to just go ahead and get the non-secure license but she's adamant that she wants to be secure. She's blaming me for losing her birth certificate since she distinctly remembers giving it to me for safekeeping, oh, maybe 30 years ago.

I have a problem of a different kind. My second husband (or at least the person I thought of as my husband) and I never officially, got married. We just started living together and never bothered to take the final step. We talked about it now and then but we never got around to actually doing it. Well, it was the 60's, for God's sake. We never gave much thought to the fact that we weren't married in the "eyes of the law". I started using the name Williams but I have no documentation to show the BMV how that happened.

I have two choices. One is to settle for a non-secure i.d. I travel a lot and for that reason and others, I don't believe being non-secure is a viable option. Second is to take the steps to legally change my name to Williams, the name I've gone by since 1969. Changing your name is pretty easy to do although not inexpensive. You can get the form off the website and do it pro se for the cost of a $140 filing fee. But the kicker is that you have to run a legal ad in the newspaper (another cost, of course, but I couldn't get a quote from the newspaper without sending them specifics) notifying the world at large of your intentions, should anyone care to object.

I'm neither ashamed of or proud of not having gotten married. If I'd known the trouble it was going to cause later, I'd have gone ahead and done it. I don't go around telling people about it but I've never particularly tried to keep it a secret either. Still, I resent the government forcing me to out myself about something that is no one's damned business but mine.

The BMV says they are doing this for our benefit. I wish the government would quit doing so much for my benefit. I wish they'd just Leave Me the Hell Alone.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Frigate Birds

Pelicans have long been my favorite birds. I have a large collection of pelicans, from tiny crystal ones to large plush ones. I still like Pelicans but I fell in love with a new bird when I was in Florida this time although I think it will be hard to collect them.

My kids live in the Florida Keys. I believe this was the first time I ever saw Frigate Birds and what awesome creatures they are, soaring through the sky like giant black Batman logos. Frigate birds weigh only about three pounds but can have a wing span of 7 to 8 feet. Although they are seabirds, they can't take off from water so you'll never see them diving, like Pelicans or Gulls. Instead, they swoop down to capture their prey, sometimes without even getting their wings wet.

Frigate birds also can't walk because of their short legs. They can perch but mostly what they do is fly, which they can do for hours or even days without landing, scarcely ever seeming to have to beat their wings.

Frigate birds are bandits. One or two of them will attack another bird that has just caught a fish and harass it until it drops or disgorges  its meal so that the Frigate bird can make off with it. That's how they got their name: after the ships British pirates used. Sometimes they steal from the nest of turtles or other birds.

Male frigate birds have scarlet pouches on their necks that they can inflate when they are courting females. Females have white breasts. They watch after their babies longer than any other bird so that they hatch a chick or two only every other year.

Watching them, menacingly ebony against the blue of the sky and the ocean, they are a study in pure grace.