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A stinkhorn by any other name …

August 24th, 2014

I’m a curious sort of person.

So, on a string of late summer nights, when I heard through the open windows a low trilling coming from a thick stand of trees in my neighbor’s yard, I began yet another obsessive search for answers.

I spent some late-night hours on the Internet bird sound databases trying to identify this almost imperceptible sound, almost like moth wings fluttering in the dark. Finally, in late August, I cracked the case. It was an Eastern screech owl. I’d always assumed a screech owl, would, you know, screech, so I’d not considered anything in the owl family in my search. Sadly, once I identified the sound it was never heard again.

But, nature has a funny way of keeping me hopping. Late last week as I was digging a hole in one of my backyard gardens to plant a vine cutting, something odd caught my eye. I bent down to get a better look. That’s when the smell grabbed me by the deviated septum.  With one hand pinching my nose, I used the other (gloved) hand to carefully pluck this phallic fungus from the mulch.  I marched it over to the compost pile. Along the way, I felt a little like Lorena Bobbitt.

Fancy Internet picture

The beige, spongy base narrowed to a green, mottled, rotting-flesh-scented tip that dripped slime.  It is one of the most revolting things I’ve encountered in a long while.

Yucky, real-life shot

After I photographed this fetid fungal specimen I went inside, calmed my stomach, washed my hands, and began Googling Michigan mushrooms.

I didn’t have to look far to find out I’d bagged a big, bad phallus impudicus, otherwise known as a stinkhorn. Turns out the white, slimy, furred thing nestled nearby was a stinkhorn egg.

What would Georgia O’Keeffe have done with these beauties?

Mycologists, or mushroom experts, have a sense of humor about these things. Other names for the stinkhorn are pricke mushrooms, and fungus virilis penis effigie. Then there’s its little red cousin, the mutinus caninus, commonly known as the dog penis mushroom. The sites I visited relished in explaining how the slimy egg’s parts, which look suspiciously female, are edible. At maturity they quickly erupt and thrust a shaft skyward with astonishing speed and force, apparently powerful enough to penetrate asphalt. They, too, are edible, but seem appealing only to carrion eaters.

How have I lived all these years and not heard of any of this? Perhaps the answer rests with this final tidbit: In Victorian-era Cambridge, matrons of the manor ran about the woods collecting in baskets these shameless phallus to later be burned. All this to protect young maidens from encountering the frightening and stimulating objects while on an afternoon stroll.

So, there you have it. My yard is a field of rotting genitals.

 

 

 

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A ‘bridgeable’ problem

December 5th, 2013

While browsing in one of my favorite local boutiques, I discovered these wonderful wallets made of recycled materials, made to look and feel like leather. As I flipped over the wallet, inspected its guts and considered if it was worth the $23 price tag, I noticed a  business card tucked into the clear slot where you put your driver’s license. I pulled it out. It said many nice things about using environmentally friendly products. Then there was this one weird thing: Apparently the wallet was fully bridgeable in 10 years.

lavishy

Bridgeable?

I asked the store clerk if she knew what this meant. Inside my head, I scoured the data bases for a reference. Unabridged dictionary? Bridge card? Bridging the gap?

The clerk and I Googled bridgeable in relation to environmentally friendly products and recycling.

Nothing.

I think the manufacturer of this wallet meant biodegradable.

Bridgeable, biodegradable, what does it matter?

(I bought the wallet in spite of the flagrant misuse of English on its tag. What can I say? It was cute.)

Yes, it does matter. While I love the wallet, and I forgive the typo because after all it’s a wallet, I wonder about mistakes on products and on sites that sell things that could be dangerous if wording was incorrect. I wonder about websites that are hard to understand, that lose their readers, that turn away potential customers with sloppy language and unclear content.

Who’s reading your work? Where are the second set of eyes making sure you look good, that you aren’t saying bridgeable when you mean biodegradable?

There are entire websites devoted to these simple mistakes. Want an alcohol-free way to lift a dark mood?

Check them out.

Blog of Unnecessary Quote Marks

English Fail

You suck at Craigslist

Careful editing of your website and business material is important. Contact me for your website editing and navigating needs: shirley@shirleysillars.com

 

 

 

 

A gift and a lesson

May 14th, 2013

I scan the crowded room for a familiar face. It’s a big room, outfitted with the type of couches and chairs that swallow you whole, heavily ornamented light fixtures, and emotionally neutral paintings. At the front is the box surrounded by floral sprays on stands. Nestled between blooms and leaves are little white cards delivering personal messages. Some of the bouquets have gold and silver script letters labeling the deceased: dear father, beloved husband, dear son.

Beloved. Why is that a death word? Do we ever say that in life?

Is it the flowers or the picture collages that make it hard for me to swallow? Here before me is a Cliffs Notes pictorial of the parts of a person we will miss: the chubby cheeks lacquered in pureed yams, the diaper-clad butt and dimpled knees of babyhood; the gap-toothed smile of elementary school portraits, the sand castles and sunburns of summer days at the beach; the parade of sports team pictures and scouting banquets; the proms and weddings; the chrome-wheeled muscle car parked in mom and dad’s driveway; cheesy tourist shots; hugs and kisses, suit-and-tie days, and, oh, that dear sweet first-born child. We gather like flowers the good parts that happened before the end days, when only scraps are left. Absent are pictures of the medical clinic waiting rooms, the son and daughter crying themselves to sleep, the unhealthy habits, the bar fights, the bad tattoos, the post-chemo haze, the last days in hospice care.

We die and if we are lucky, no, strike that, luck has nothing to do with it. We are born and we die. No one knows why the bastard molester alcoholic chain smoker lives to  100 and the selfless sweetheart is hit by a bus at 22. If we live our lives well, and by that I mean we give from the heart, and give all we have, and think of others before ourselves, and let our lights shine, we will touch lives. Maybe many lives. Maybe millions. Maybe only one. When it’s our time, maybe we blow out of here on a cyclone blast so powerful it brings our survivors to their knees. Not that we want to hurt anyone. But with loss comes pain. If you do nothing in life to make anyone miss you, you miss the point of living. The goal is to love.

And that right there was last Friday’s lesson.

Out of this world is another good person who touched my life and so many others. A person I’d long forgotten until I heard the news. As I left his funeral, I remembered another service many years earlier:

This time a small room, no bigger than a vestibule, with furniture slightly more stiff than the people. When I approached the survivors, I said what we usually say at these things. They said in return, ”Don’t be sorry. We’re not. She was a miserable old shrew every day of her life and now she’s gone.”

Mortified, I didn’t know where to direct my eyes. I looked toward the full box of tissues on the table, the chairs which bore no weight, and the lone basket of carnations.  How could anyone say such a thing at a funeral? Eighty-something years on this rock and all she gets is an unattended wake arranged by duty-bound, bitter survivors?

Forgive me if I sound preachy; it’s not you I’m telling this to but me. As I hurtle toward 50 my biggest fear is that I’ve not lived enough, not loved enough, not done enough of anything with 100 percent of my self. I dole out small portions, saving the best for something in the future.

My second biggest fear is coping with the increasing frequency of funerals of my contemporaries. Apparently I am at that age.

LIfe and death remain a mystery to me. One is a gift. The other a lesson.