Thursday, December 27, 2007

by popular demand

The Christmas carol I wrote for Sequoia, which I've been singing nonstop for the past week to anyone who will listen and lots of people who won't.

Sung to the tune of "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen."

God rest ye, fuzzy goofy dog
Let nothing you dismay
Remember that the Redwood trail
Is hiked on Christmas day.

With sticks to fetch,
And butts to sniff,
And muddy puddles, too.

And pine cones to carry and chew
Carry and chew
And pine cones to carry and chew.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

timeless classics

Melanie's blog entry has been magnified all out of proportion because I immediately stopped posting afterward. I have a half-written blog about the iNano commercial song, but that's about it. Since then, the holidays took over and I've been drowning in soul food, Christmas movies (or what passes for them in my world) and very strange presents.

I've also been reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, mostly because of the subject. The book is about Paul Farmer, an American doctor who does work in Haiti. If you hate all charities (as I do) you'll probably love this book. It replaces the "let's make things slightly less miserable" mentality with a "there's plenty to go around" philosophy. Sort of the third-world equivalent of Project Runway's "Make it Work."

Today was spent struggling to find the will to work, interspersed with fascinating conversation with a co-worker's 9 year old son. (His day was spent dogsitting Sequoia, who now licks the ground he walks on.) So today I learned about the Imperial Star Wars version of Legos, the intricacies of making a binder fit in the correct zipper compartment of a backpack, correct piano technique as well as the definition of a triad (as it relates to pianos), and the entire plot of The Nutcracker.

This last was most intriguing. When I was his age, a teacher mentioned that The Nutcracker was a timeless classic which we would all do well to read. I was a literature geek even then, so I checked it out of the library. There were great, almost overwhelming, illustrations. But I remember sitting on my bed in my nightgown, reading the few last pages while waiting to be tucked in, and feeling that unmistakable apprehension you get when you see that a story simply isn't developing on schedule.

Like that ten minutes into the movie without a plot point. You don't really know consciously that it should be there, you just feel your eyes wandering toward the Exit sign. Anyway, the book ended. It was all a dream. The plot made absolutely no sense, just some war between nutcrackers and mice and none of it was real anyway.

I blamed myself. If this was a timeless classic, and I suffered from a complete inability to comprehend it, what did that say about my future? A lifetime of Supergirl comic books? I promptly burst into tears.

My mom came in, found me in a state, and reassured me by riffling through the book and agreeing that it lacked plot, theme, or substance. There wasn't even much character development. To this day, I'm grateful to her for putting the blame on the author instead of me. I was able to sleep that night by promising myself that I would never expose my brain to The Nutcracker again.

Until today. I was overcome with curiosity. I shamelessly confessed this whole story to Miles, who took it in stride. He hadn't finished the book yet, but he provided updates throughout the course of the day. By 5:00 pm he was done and had readied his lecture notes. Apparently, the heavily illustrated copy I had read was a f***ing excerpt. It was just the dream sequence. There's oh so much more. Miles described a universe peopled with clockmakers and the nephews of clockmakers, dreams and awakenings and entire conversations with toy nutcrackers. The whole thing culminates in marriage, a year and a day after the story ends.

I asked, "Why a year and a day?" Miles shrugged. "Who knows?" Then he shook his head and smiled.

And why couldn't I have adopted that attitude when I was nine?

Monday, December 10, 2007

writing about melanie

Melanie is constantly asking me why I didn't mention that thing she said, or that time she encouraged me, or that great advice she gave. And the real reason (which I've repeatedly explained to her) is that she's secretly pregnant.

That's right, she's pregnant. And I'm not supposed to let that slip to the gals on the American Idol mailing list, some of whom have access to my blog. And since every single person I know made a point of reminding me that I have a tendency toward overdisclosure -- not just about myself, but also about others -- I've been deathly afraid that if I wrote almost anything about Melanie, I would find myself screaming She's Pregnant! to the world at large.

And now I am. I technically agreed to wait another two weeks, until the last of the sonograms or whatever is all complete. But I've noticed lately that whenever I say, "I'm supposed to wait until what date again? When's that test, whatever it is?" she just shrugs her shoulders. Which is code for, "Oh, I guess you could write about it sooner." Which makes sense, because the last test showed about a .000000001% chance of any disease or abnormality. Not only that, but I can no longer think of anyone, including Melanie's students and the women in the Gap dressing rooms, who doesn't already know she's expecting.

I already have big plans for her baby. I want it to wear those little jangly anklets that they make in India, the ones with the silver bells. I also want to teach it to play peek-a-boo with my dog (who I found out loves that game as much as two year olds do, it's weird). Most of my plans are unauthorized, but whatever. None of them involve junk food, because I made that a policy long ago with my nieces and nephews. (Some sort of genetic encoding instructs children that aunts and uncles are the most likely to provide transfat and refined sugar, so you get a lot of requests.)

But enough about Melanie's baby. This post is not supposed to be about baby X. This post is about none other than Melanie Joiwind (named after a science fiction character, and yes, I plan to read the book).

Random facts:

Melanie is better at holidays than any person I know. Last year she threw a party for more events than I can count, one of them being "Hinjew Hanukah." And last night she transformed my Christmas tree into a 19th century masterpiece by insisting on making cranberry garlands. Which, despite my strict Christian upbringing and almost two decades of regular church-going, I've never done. It took a Jew! (She also proudly declared that most Christmas Carols were written by Jews, but I put about as much stock in that statement as I do a random Wikipedia entry. At the time she said it, we were listening to a Bing Crosby song about sex that she mistakenly identified as a "Christmas Carol." How she gets baby Jesus out of "maybe just a half a drink more" I'll never know.)

Melanie is the best writing teacher I've ever had. Any feeble thing I know about plot construction, character development, theme (which should be like "a watermark on paper"), or dialogue, I learned from her. And she doesn't mind telling it to me over and over again, either, in response to my late-night questions. I love the way she describes the "rules" of writing. She never calls them rules, she just says that a certain thing has been found to be "pleasing" or "satisfying" to readers. Even so, her crazed students talk about "her" rules, as though she made them up. She stays patient, though, no matter how arrogant and condescending they get.

I totally worry about the way she talks to her dog. She calls her dog a brat, asks her why she's so bad, and refers to her in conversation as The Beast. This, I fear, will make her child feel very insecure -- if the dog can be called names, then the child will think he/she might do something horribly wrong and get called names, too. When I try to discuss this with Melanie, she laughs at me. Then she goes home and tells Vikram, and he laughs at me, too.

A guy wrote a song about Melanie. It's hilarious, I found it on the web. (He has five CDs!) The song is all mad because she won't have sex with him. It's called something like "Please Don't Be Celibate Tonight." Or maybe that's just the chorus. Whatever, it's a rock classic.

Anyway, that's all about Melanie for now. Look for updates as events develop. Remember there's always a chance that I'll accidentally reveal some deep dark secret she entrusted only to me.*

*In my defense, at one point two close friends (who also knew each other) both told me they had a crush on the same guy. Each swore me to secrecy. And I kept their secrets, until one night when we all went out to dinner and they each revealed their crush to the other. Then they both turned on me and said, "You knew this all these months! And you didn't say anything?" So there, I can keep a secret when it's important. See how I'm not even naming any names?

Oh, yeah, remind me to tell you the story about Melanie's panties and the gardener.

on the advice of

I've gotten all kinds of negative feedback about my "I started this blog on the advice of my therapist" blurb. The first complainer was Kevin, who's been urging me to start a blog for the past five years. He's pissed that Ashley is getting the credit.

Second to complain was Wendy, who said, "That makes you look even crazier than you already are." No mean feat. She also pointed out that it really has nothing to do with my blog, since I rarely, if ever, mention therapy. (I briefly considered talking more about therapy, but decided that talking about my dog is dull enough. I don't need to lower the bar further.)

Then Jackie told me it would be more accurate to say on the advice of friends who, as she put it "want to closely monitor your fevered brain." Other friends told me my blog was useful in the prevention of "3:00 A.M. rambling phone messages" or "as a mood stabilizer."

So let me explain. Ashley didn't suggest a blog in order to improve my mental health (she, like most of you, has pretty much given up in that regard). She suggested it as a remedy for writer's block. She gave me a bunch of psycho-jumble that involves reprogramming my brain circuitry so that, instead of reacting to the impulse to write with fear and trepidation, I react by simply writing. I'm supposed to write for at least five minutes whenever I feel that "impulse" coming on. (If I actually followed that advice, you'd be hearing about subjects even more tedious than the ones I've regaled you with -- in fact, I've been hankering to write about antiperspirant lately, so thank your lucky stars.)

When Ashley told me that, I said "no way can I keep a journal like some suburban teenage loser." The reason I know that is that I used to keep a journal back when I was a suburban teenage loser. But writing structured, researched articles or cohesive fiction (or any fiction) is not exactly a spur-of-the-moment, I've-got-some-spare-time kind of thing. And emails don't really count. Particularly when all I do on email is ask Eve about her latest thrift store finds. (Martini set, complete with shaker and twizzle sticks, never used.)

That's when dear, sweet Ashley, who once told me that she wished the Internet came with library index cards so you could find things more easily, suggested a blog. I didn't even know she knew the word "blog," (I once had to explain the term "keyword" to her) so I was pretty damn impressed.

Anyway, lately I've been feeling like I've been foisting my blog on a long-suffering audience. Until Jackie told me that she's so unutterably bored at work that she checks my blog pretty much every hour, idly musing to herself, "I wonder what Sequoia is up to."

And that makes it all worthwhile.

queer eye for the homeless guy

On my way to work, I drive under a couple of intersecting freeways around a curved road that leads to an underwater tunnel. (Wow. That just sounded way more romantic and futuristic than it actually is.)

There's a cavernous concrete space above an ivy-covered embankment with freeways overhead and on every side. Sunlight streams in from one side, but the rest is sort of sheltered. That's where the homeless guy lives.

Last winter he set up his apartment there, decorating one room at a time with furniture stolen from the Salvation Army drop-off station that is across the alley. First he just had his shopping cart. Then, a couch. Later, he had a double bed that he always kept neatly made with sheets and blankets.

(Did I ever tell you about the date I had with a guy who made about $100,000 a year but slept on a single bare mattress under an old sleeping bag? Homeless dude could teach him a thing or two.)

Homeless guy kept adding to his decor until he had a complete mismatched dining room set, a couple of armchairs, and a storage closet. I loved watching his progress, but he captured my heart completely the day I drove past and saw him sitting in his living room wearing a Santa hat and chatting with a friend who'd dropped by for a visit. Homeless guy has a joie de vivre we would all do well to emulate.

Imagine how heartbroken I was to drive past one day to see two police cars rounding him up and carting away his stuff. What a waste. He'd taken this post-apocalyptic space that nobody wanted, and he'd made it into something chintz-like and cozy. Then all his hard work was demolished in a single raid.

So! I was quite thrilled last month to see that H.G. was setting up again. Just like last year, one piece of furniture at a time. This year, he has a slightly different decorating scheme. But his housekeeping standards are as high as ever; everything is perfectly in place. I suppose he'll be raided again when the weather gets better -- I guess this is just a winter residence. But just knowing that's he's still out there, decorating abandoned urban spaces with his own personal style, is enough for me.

I might even drop off a Santa hat.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Last night I watched a clip of Ellen Degeneres interviewing Jenna Bush.

I don't know if she's the twin who was caught drinking underage (maybe they both were) but even if not, I'm not inclined to think well of that girl.

Anyway, what killed me is how terribly sweet she seems. I couldn't not like her, determined as I was. She even makes that Bush monkey face look cute. I have no idea what they were talking about (some book she wrote; as though she has anything to say), but Ellen suddenly asked her if she could call her dad anytime she wanted. She said, "sure," so Ellen brought out a phone.

Jenna was totally respectful, worrying that they might be asleep, worrying that it was rude to put her parents on TV with no warning. She had the air of someone who always tries to do the right thing. Which is waaay not the air I expected of a Bush family member.

Not only was she respectful, she joked around with her parents in such a relaxed, natural way. Ellen put up a giant photo of GWB holding the twins when they were born. Jenna said, "Wasn't that the happiest day of your life, Dad?" (in the hopes that he wouldn't get mad about the live TV thing). Even the photo of her dad was hot! And it takes a lot for me to admit that. But he looks pretty good with thick, disheveled hair, pre-bombing thousands of people into the stone age.

Anyway, damn those Republicans. I really didn't want them to be that charming.

ya'll speak french now, y'hear?

I've fallen in love with Tex's French Grammar. The site is a little hard to navigate, but after poking around a bit I found the insanely useful verb tutor, which lets you pick which kind of verb you want to conjugate and which tense you'd like to conjugate for. What's great is that, instead of laboriously writing down verbs, then flipping to the back of some book to check, you just type in your verb, click a button, and get instant confirmation (you know, or not, in case you got it wrong). Then you click another button to erase it all and start over.

I know, I know, this is all basic computer stuff. I've just never seen the textbook model improved upon so well. Usually, computer language courses get all fancy on you. Which is nice, too. But there's nothing like rote memorization when it comes to language.

Thanks to Tex, I finally have a near-instantaneous recognition of all the forms of to be, to have, to do, and to make. The most basic verbs in the language, but they've been driving me crazy for years. Partly because some of them are sometimes interchangeable with our English versions (Here you are hungry, there you have hunger. Here it rains, there it makes rain.)

I also finally grasped that the colloquial "we" uses the same conjugations as he or she, instead of using the conjugation that the formal "we" uses.

And! The main thing Tex, with his graceful web presence, taught me just yesterday is that the past tense is so blipping easy! In the present tense, the verb is different for I, he/she, we, you, and them. Five different forms for one verb, in one tense.

It really never dawned on me before that the past tense has just one form per verb, no matter who you're talking about. That's because you get to conjugate the handy "has" verb all five ways, and then tack on whatever verb you really want to use. (Like: I have read that book, she has read that book, and so on.)

Now that you're in a blog-induced boredom stupor, here's the interesting part. In Texas, "vous" (which is both the formal and the plural version of "you") is translated "y'all."

And that's why you gotta love Texan French.

Note: If anyone out there actually wants to use the site, you should know that it's really two sites: Tex's French Grammar, which is organized like a grammar reference book, and Français Interactif, which is organized like a textbook. They're linked by the verb tutor (aka verb practice). When you click "verb tutor" on Tex's site, the Français Interactif verb practice page appears. You can scroll down on the verb practice page and click a chapter number to go to the Français Interactif textbook. It's all University of Austin, so it's all good.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

'cept sundays

Almond Roca is an odd, crunchy toffee candy dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts. It comes in a pink tin, and each piece is wrapped in gold foil. When I was 11, it was the most sophisticated candy to grace my super-circumscribed world. Even more exotic than Whitman's samplers (which handily had the name and description of each candy written in graph style on the inside lid).

All that changed when I was 12 and went to London for the first time. There we met a wealthy Swiss woman and her handsome, wheelchair-bound twenty-something son (mountain-climbing accident) who had hired the same tour guide as us. We bopped around London with these ridiculously glamorous people. I learned that there are guys who can fit five languages into their head. I also learned that, even so, a young man might not be able to find the English word that describes the thrill a 12 year-old girl feels when attending her first play in London, wearing her first floor-length"evening" gown, accompanied by her first handsome European. He stumbled over "you're shivering" when he meant "enchanted." Whatever, I knew how I felt.

Anyway, his mom -- after two weeks of freaking my mom out by linking arms with her as they strolled about London -- gave us a gift of chocolate. "This is a little sweet of me," her note said, and it was. I'd never seen chocolate like that, tiny dark flat squares that snapped when you broke them in two. Some insanely expensive stuff from Switzerland, it melted fabulously in my mouth, tasting like butter and honey and wine all at once. I was transformed into Charlie pre-Chocolate Factory: I squirreled away a square to take home to Bakersfield, where I allowed myself one tiny nibble each Saturday until it was gone.

When I was 19, I went back to London with my boyfriend. I tried to launch a search for this marvelous candy I felt sure was available only there and no place else in the world, but I didn't know the brand and besides, we didn't have the money anyway. These days I eat Sharffenberger's or Equal Exchange Organic all the time -- I've even been to Switzerland and bought candy there -- but nothing can compare to that first "shivering" taste.

But Almond Roca pre-dated my sophisticated high-brow experience. I thought the tin made it particularly fancy, despite the fact that it was sold in drugstores. There was a slogan on the package: Brown & Haley makes 'em daily, 'cept Sundays. I found this hilarious; their reassurance that, dedicated as they were, they would never skip church to make candy.

So the other day, when a co-worker offered me a piece of Almond Roca with the apology, "I know you don't really eat stuff like this," I jumped on it. "Brown & Haley makes 'em daily, 'cept Sundays!" I yelled, grabbing a piece. Her look spelled utter confusion. "That's their slogan. It was my favorite candy when I was a kid. Look on the box." We examined the "tin" (which is now made of cardboard), but no slogan appeared. I started questioning co-workers, none of whom had any idea what I was talking about. A subsequent web search turned up only one hit, from someone who lived across the street from the Almond Roca factory.

We went to their official website. A whole crazy history of the candy appeared (Brown met Haley at church) but still no slogan. So I wrote in protest. This important historical artifact cannot be lost! Today I received this email:

Dear Janet,

Yes, Brown & Haley makes 'em daily! Nowadays in the busy season we even make 'em on Sunday. Your suggestion is a good one, and we will add to the history section of our web site in our post-Holiday refresh.

Best regards,

John Melin
Chief Operating Officer
Brown & Haley

I'm helping to preserve the history of my favorite childhood candy! All I can say is: Je sentais un frisson de plaisir.

Monday, December 3, 2007

this just in

Warm moist toilet paper is here!

Melanie found the patent for it -- this inventor went beyond my wildest dreams, adding both lotion and antibacterial ointment. (I don't want either of those things on my butt, but you gotta give him points for trying.)

I told Wendy about that, as well as the fact that Andy found a frozen iced tea patent it took four, count 'em, four Lipton scientists to invent. I was all, "This means my ideas are fantastic!" And she said, "No, this means you're like those crazy people on that late-night TV commercial who say, 'That was my idea!'"

Whatever, wait until I make millions on my Jump to Conclusions game.

sequoia ran away

He's back, he's fine, he was only gone for 15 minutes, but it affected my mental health far more than I care to admit.

It happened last week when I took him for a night hike on a busy trail. We've been on night hikes before, but generally not with eXtreme cyclists, halogen headlamp hikers, and jingly LED blinky dogs. (Actually, LED blinky dogs are more common than you might imagine -- this was a narrow trail, though.)

About a mile and a half down the trail, we met with a couple of growly dogs and their double headlamp owners. I managed to talk the dogs down, but Sequoia high-tailed it back in the direction we came from. (Thanks, pal, you really had my back.) I called and called, I whistled our little private whistle -- but nothing. I couldn't believe he'd run all the way back to the trailhead, so I finally doubled back to see if he was huddled shivering under a bush next to the path. The women whose dogs scared him off said they'd shout if they saw him.

As it turns out, they found him sitting next to our car, barking at anyone who came near. The women sent one of the cyclists back to get me (some super polite Irish guy who not only made sure I'd lost a dog, but checked to see if it was the correct dog. "Is his name Sequoia?" he asked, like there was some kind of lost dog epidemic on the mountain).

When we reunited, Sequoia was sitting with the woman's grip firmly on his collar. "He was edging dangerously close to the road," She said. This freaked me out. Sequoia sitting obediently by the car was in character. Sequoia being scared and timid was in character. Sequoia flipping out, letting panic take over, and going on some suicidal rampage...well, that had never occurred to me before.

I thanked everyone profusely (see "Instructions for Holiday Hikers") and left with my unrepentant dog in tow. On the drive home, I went through a few of the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of his near-death experience. I was PTSDing bad.

The first thing I flashed on was the call I got two years ago from the Berkeley pound, telling me Himalaya had been hit by a car. I was about to ask which vet she was at, about to pay any kind of money to get her well, when the lady told me she had been killed instantly.

That moment of irrevocable loss always feels the same, whether it's a person you love or a stupid pet too crazy to dodge cars. That sort of, "No, just let me push reset." Just a tiny backward twist of the time knob, just a one-second do-over. Your heart stops, and time refuses to rewind. In that moment, your world changes.

I felt all that about Sequoia, who showed no signs of remorse and in fact, clearly thought he'd cleverly escaped hungry predators. I tried to push my feelings aside. He was safe. He was home. Everything was okay.

Two nights later I dreamt that we were taking a walk through London (the subconscious mind terrifies me somewhat) and he loped ahead. I called him back, but he had disappeared behind a corner. When I turned the corner, he was gone. A man told me he had run away, but it quickly dawned on me (in dream realization mode) that the man was actually an evil scientist who had drugged Sequoia so that he dropped alseep. When he awoke later in the laboratory facility, he would have no memory of me or how to get home.

But behold! Just as I realized this, the evil scientist realized I realized this. So he drugged me, too. I started screaming, "You took my dog! You took my dog!" as a sort of mnemonic, so that when I awoke at the lab I would remember to look for Sequoia. When I woke up (in real life), I had to admit that I required some kind of counseling. Perhaps a support group.

Anyway, I managed to recuperate. Until. This morning, when he tried to run away again.

I dropped him off at his sister's house, as I do every Monday morning. But this morning Shasta and Biscotti were leashed to the front porch. I leashed Sequoia there, too, knowing that Irene would come out for them in a few minutes and put them in the backyard. I gave him our code phrase ("Wait here please") and drove off. I noticed he gave me an unusually panicky look as I left.

Ten minutes later I got a phone call. Irene said she came outside in her bathrobe, unlatched Sequoia first, "Because, you know, he's the perfect dog," thinking he would just automatically go inside. Which he started to do. Then he realized he was free and went running down the street -- Irene theorizes after my car. He was halfway out to College Avenue before he let her call him back.

I have two words for him: liver treats. A package of liver treats paired with a refresher training course in coming when called and, oh, yes, he will succumb.

London nightmare guy isn't the only evil scientist in this world.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

inventions i want invented

My growing list of things that need to be invented includes:

1. Robotic tooth flossers. These would be thin metal strips, sort of rectangular, that have scrubbies on their surfaces. (Scrubbies like the ones you use on pots and pans that promise not to scratch.) You'd pop one into your mouth, and it would scrub its way around all your teeth until it's done. Version 1.0 would need to be placed on a back tooth, say, on the lower jaw. Then it would scrub around until it reached the opposite back tooth. You'd have to move it from there to the back tooth on the upper jaw. Version 2.0 would probably be able to navigate itself, and maybe beep at you when it's all done. Version 3.0 would be mint flavored and tooth colored, in case you accidentally smiled at someone during the flossing procedure. Rinse and reuse!

The reason these are awesome is that you can do other things while flossing your teeth. Also, a scrubbie robot would ostensibly do a more thorough job than you and your waxed string.

2. Toilet paper dispensers that dispense heated moist (flushable) toilet paper. Toilet paper sold separately -- I think they make flushable moist towelettes already. You just need to package those in a roll, then come up with a battery operated (or plug-in) dispenser that heats them. The dispenser can be like a metal cylinder that you pop the roll into. The outer layer of the roll gets heated, since that's the layer that is closest to your butt, so to speak. In America, where bidets barely exist, this invention would make millions.

3. Frozen iced tea. This was my first invention idea and I stand by it. It would be just like frozen orange juice concentrate, only it would be tea. Just add water. The advantage over the powdered kind is that the powdered kind tastes like soylent green. The advantage over just brewing some tea is that this would be instantly cold. The advantage over brewing some tea yesterday and just refrigerating it is that it takes very little storage space in your freezer (as opposed to a huge pitcher in your fridge) and it requires no advance planning. That's an important feature for a personality like mine.

4. Club soda in a foil packet, packaged with a little towelette that is slightly scrubbie on one side. Other travel stain removers claim to work. Club soda really does.

5. The invention that I'm not at liberty to disclose, because Andy keeps improving it. Soon to be in markets near you.

6. GPS devices that go in your car and come with recorded tours. The first versions would be professional tours of famous places, like the city of Rome. Later, people could record their own tours -- like your parents could create a tour of their honeymoon trip. Wait, no, that's too sexy. Your dad could create a tour of the route he took escaping from Germany during World War II. Too much of a downer? Whatever, people can come up with their own ideas.

Before software that teaches you to sing existed, I invented that idea, too. Note: I just invent ideas, not the actual inventions themselves.

My parents both invented things (they invented actual things, not ideas.) Well, maybe "invented" is too strong a word. Improved upon or found new applications for. Like my dad drilled a hole into bar of soap, looped a string through it, and wore it during Boy Scout troop hiking trips. (He was a Boy Scout leader.) My mom came up with the idea of freezing clothes that had been sprinkled with water in preparation for ironing. (All the other moms refrigerated their laundry, which exposed it to mildew risk. Long story.)

My learning disabled sister invented "socks for Sequoia," which consisted of simply putting socks on his damp paws so he wouldn't track mud through the house. She used grippy-bottom socks, which worked surprisingly well. I know these have already been invented for backpacking dogs, but she didn't know that. It was her own independent scientific discovery.

In the 1960s, whenever my mom was frustrated by something that was hard to clean, hard to reach, hard to use, she said, "This was invented by a man." In her mind, there was no worse condemnation. I didn't know how right she was until I learned that chairs, counters, medicines, pretty much everything, is optimized for a 160 pound, 5'10" man. Those safety car airbags that kill anyone under 5'1" tall? Invented by a man.

But then again, so was the internal combustion engine.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

exposure therapy

There's only one thing I can't talk about. Let's call this thing "the thing." I've managed to make it this far in life without ever talking about the thing with anyone. Sometimes conversations start, but I quickly leave the room, change the subject, or cover my ears and yell, "no, no, no, no, nooooooo." I've found that people tend to respect that.

Whatever, I decided that my story wouldn't be complete without the thing. It was a hard decision to make, but I've always respected writers who put incredibly painful human experiences in their writing. (The thing doesn't even come close to "painful" but, hey, everything's subjective, right?) I had a writing teacher who told our class that she can tell when a subject is painful for beginning writers, because that's when they begin summarizing.

Facing that stuff is what makes reading such a profound experience. I mean, if J.M. Coetzee had committed suicide instead of just writing books that make the rest of us want to, there would've been no Nobel prize in 2003.

So, with my eyes squinted almost shut, I wrote a paragraph about the thing. Afterwards, I felt like vomiting. It occurred to me that I would never be able to edit that paragraph without some sort of anxiety-reduction therapy, much like the kind administered to OCD people who compulsively wash their hands because they fear germs.

I turned to Lisa and Dan. "Desensitize me!" I pleaded. I confessed the thing. They laughed at me. Then they immediately launched into a military-like, cult-deprogramming rapid crash desensitization program not approved by any psychiatric organization known to man. I curled up into a tiny ball, squeezed my eyes shut, began rocking back and forth, and yelled "nonononononooooo" until they backed off.

"Too much too soon?" Lisa asked.

We all agreed to take it a bit slower. After I obeyed Dan's command to breathe, we started again. They asked questions about the thing. Does this part of the thing bother you? What about that part? I started to feel better, realizing that I could deal with many aspects of the thing that I hadn't previously considered. Clearly, I still can't blog about the thing. But thanks to Lisa and Dan, I could eat dinner, periodically joke about the thing, and not throw up a little in my mouth even once.

words help me graduate

Walking through the Mission tonight, I saw a billboard that said "My friend doesn't know her words help me graduate." Because, you know, graduating is an ongoing act that requires continuous help.

That sentence structure reminded me of my several weeks of trying to sort out French verb tenses. French has only one present tense, whereas English has three (I walk, I am walking, I do walk). Which is why the French sound hilarious when they say things like "I am taking the bus to work" (present progressive; implying that you're doing it or are about to do it right now) when they mean "I take the bus to work" (every day).

Strangely, the billboard message was apropos because I was walking with Lisa and Dan, whose words were a tremendous help this evening when I was banging my head against the back of our cafe booth, trying to edit my story. I told Dan that because I'd written the first draft with no edits, I now had to go back and rewrite nearly every sentence. (My point was that I must've done something terribly wrong, otherwise I wouldn't have to do it all over again.) His response was, "Yeah? So? That's just editing."

Flashback to my best bizarrely reassuring comment ever: When I was 17, I had to have eye surgery. The night before my operation, the woman in the next hospital bed told me some horror story about how, as soon as you're unconscious from the anesthetic, they shove a plastic tube down your throat to help you breathe. This was the part of the procedure she was most afraid of, so she was going to make damn sure the young helpless girl next to her became afraid of it, too.

When the nurse came in the next morning to take me to surgery, I asked if the story were true. She misunderstood which part scared me. "Oh, of course, honey, we'll make sure you have a breathing tube." I found her answer weirdly comforting. Sometimes, all you need is to see someone making not at all a big deal out of something you think is really, really frightening. Suddenly I saw that a breathing tube is an excellent thing to have handy during those times when you're unconscious.

Anyway, that's what Dan's "just editing" pronouncement did for me. Afterwards, I rewrote the first third of my story (complete with my "hey, this is cool, I'm editing" insight). Before, I felt like I'd fucked up my first draft so much that I wanted to crumple my laptop up into a little ball and throw it in the wastebasket. Now I felt like I had successfully passed into phase two: the status-filled editing phase. I got to play with all the words and sentences, rearrange paragraphs, add detail, decide on an interesting opening sentence...and if I didn't like it, I could change it all over again. I loved this "just editing" stuff.

So my friends don't know it, but their words help me graduate.

Friday, November 23, 2007

instructions for holiday hikers

1. Say hello on the trail. This isn't BART or downtown San Francisco or the gynecologist's waiting room. This is a lovely day out in nature, a day of thankfulness and joy. Smile and make eye contact once in a while.

2. When someone talks to your dog, your child, or you, do not react with distrust and suspicion. People walking through the Redwoods on a sunny day are a self-selected group of upstanding citizens. And if not, there about 78 other people around to stop them from whatever heinous act you imagine they're about to pull.

3. This is an off-leash trail. Take your damn dog off leash. His leash tenseness is bringing all the other dogs down.

4. The proper dog greeting consists of four steps: nose touch, butt sniff, circle, and goodbye. Don't stand there letting strange dogs get tangled in the morass of your leash until everyone is yelping and freaking out. This is a trail; keep walking.

5. Quit zigzagging all over the place. Keep to the right. Cyclists can and will mow you down, taking the rest of us with you.

6. Learn to cycle. Clue: when you hear me call to my dog, "Right side!" and see my dog go stand at the edge of the path to let you through, pedal your damn bike. Do not stop, boxing in my dog, and wait for us to try to go by. This only confuses a dog who has just been told to get off the bleeping trail in order to accomodate your sorry ass.

7. If you are a lycra jogger, you should've done this at 6:00 AM so you didn't have to mingle with us mere mortals. Since you're here at noon instead, stop being so snotty. Smile and nod like all the regular cotton t-shirt joggers.

8. Here's a handy hint: when you're off the trail, put your dog back on the leash. Almost crashing my car into two separately-owned dogs is less than festive for all involved.

9. When someone spends a half hour braving bite wounds in order to rescue your lost dog from near-certain death, say thank you.

10. Slow down. You drive this windy road four times a year, tops. You have no idea where the crosswalks or hairpin turns are. You don't even know where the memorial is for the cyclist who was killed here. This is its busiest day of the year. Your tailgating is an audacious display of ignorance: the drunken, disgruntled, and overfed are running rampant.

And now, with that out of the way, I'm off to buy a Christmas tree.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

snack seminar

There were 70 pounds of candy (or 1/2 pound per person) at the Night of Writing Dangerously. I ate two pieces. I don't like candy. In fact, I fear snacks in any form. This confession was met with anger and disgust.

The Seminar on Snacks began as just a few spirited opinions. "Gummy Bears are the best!" "Dig these toffee chews!"Then the Seminar grew more introspective: "What are chocolate lentils? Is that a fake M&M?" "Who likes these ice-flavored cough-drop type ones?" "I wonder how many of these I can eat before I throw up?"

However, when repeated attempts to get me to try peppermints (a gateway drug) failed, the Snack Seminar turned ugly. It's not that I fear snacks for health reasons. It's that they're non-food. Doesn't anyone else find that creepy?

Snacks have nothing to do with hunger, nutrition, or time of day. Without any of those motivations to eat, which mechanism triggers snacktime?

You might say, "taste!" But taste is always on. Ergo, so is snacktime. Or if taste can get switched off, how? And if it ever gets switched off, how does you switch it back on again?

That's why snacks confuse and frighten me. I can't deal with the idea of figuring out when to start and stop eating something that clearly has no relationship to 99.99% of my survival instincts. They just make no sense.

Try explaining a snack to a blind person. I mean a space alien. (Don't try explaining it to dogs; they'll understand.) Better yet, try explaining it to me.

If hunger is the trigger, why not just eat actual food? What differentiates a snack from a meal? And let's not bother with a nutrition-based line of reasoning, since virtually all snacks are made from a combination of low-grade drugs and cardboard.

What schedule are snacks on? My guess is that you can't start your first snack until after lunch. And then maybe you can have one after dinner. (Although at that time, depending on the high-fructose corn syrup content, it could conceivably be labeled "dessert.") So that's, at most, two snacks a day. But the aisles at Trader Joe's belie this argument. About 75% of their store is devoted to snacktime. As if that weren't enough, people are inventing new snacks all the time. To what end?

When I was a kid, the Dr. Pepper bottlecaps had 10-2-4 printed on them. To tell you what time you should drink a Dr. Pepper. Their commercials showed people looking at clocks and drinking Dr. Pepper at 10:00 AM, 2:00 PM, and 4:00 PM. You can still see old Dr. Pepper clocks at public pools, with those times marked in red.

You see, this is what I want for snacks. Clear instructions. How do you choose which snack to consume? When do you consume it? What's the serving size? (Particularly for small stuff like candy or chips.) And most importantly, what might inspire a person to try chocolate-covered edamame?

If you can adequately answer even one of these questions, please post below.

Easy Bake Era

I picked up a lot of odd factoids during the Easy Bake Era. Such as...

The danger continues. As of July 2007: New Easy-Bake Oven Recall Following Partial Finger Amputation; Consumers Urged to Return Toy Ovens.

Easy Bakes cost about the same today as they did in the 1960s. Between $15 and $20. But because of inflation, they're way more affordable now than they were back then.

There have been 11 different Easy Bake ovens.

EBOs used to look like the fashionable ovens of their day. Now they're all hot Barbie pink. What does that say about feminism?

The best part of the Easy Bake Era is that a lot of people shared their EBO impressions with me...

One guy said it was the perfect toy because it made you feel like you could survive on your own without your parents.

My therapist, who is from the Dominican Republic, asked me what an Easy Bake oven was. Before that moment, I had no idea she was foreign. As soon as she asked that question, I figured it out. "You didn't grow up in the U.S., did you?"

Later, my theory was tested when a friend of mine could not identify an EBO. "Were you raised by communists?" I asked. Turns out she was. (I'm not making any of this up, btw.)

Boys love Easy Bake ovens! Almost every guy I talked to sneaked in to the kitchen and used his sister's. This generation's boys are finally starting to get their own. When I tried to get my nephew to give me his old EBO, he complained, saying he might want to use it sometime. His best friend heard us arguing and said, "What are you talking about? Easy Bakes? Gosh, I never play with mine any more. I should drag it out."

but wait there's more

The way the eBay ads for EBOs declared that their ovens worked was with statements like, "I turned it on and was almost blinded" or "I let it warm up, then accidentally burned myself." I don't think even my brother's wood burning kit can compete with Easy Bake for world's most injury-inflicting toy. Basically, you're being encouraged to play with a 100-watt light bulb.

I was soon overpaying for an antique, rusted-out toy oven, despite the fact that I hadn't used my own actual oven in several months. After pestering the seller countless times over email, she wrote back, "Don't worry! You'll be baking in no time." It was shipped to my office soon thereafter, and I set it up on my desk for all to behold.

When it arrived, I remembered my disappointment that the stovetop part of it was just for looks. But, bonus! It came with a user guide that kept informing me to "ask Mom" for stuff. Plus it contained truly horrific recipes for microscopic food items. There was a slight problem in that I was a lot more vegan back then than I am now -- I had to modify a regular-size vegan organic chocolate cake recipe and serve it with coconut sorbet. By dividing the recipe into six batches and using 10 minutes of bake time per batch, it took only an hour to get dessert on the table. (About 15 minutes longer than baking the cake the normal way.) Oddly, lots of people always had to leave just before it was served. But that happened a lot during the vegan dessert years, so I paid it no mind.

For what I'd like to say was a few weeks or even a few months (but was actually several years), I baked at pretty much every gathering I could think of. I created new gatherings, such as the pint-size pretzel break at work. My oven was going full steam in the office, at home, and even at friend's houses as I brought it along to any planned event. One friend, in all seriousness, forbid me to pronounce the words "Easy" or "Bake" in her presence.

When I bought my condo, I celebrated by inviting my friends and family to an Easy Bake extravaganza. By this time I had collected two additional ovens -- the hot pink microwave one (complete with cheese melter for nachos), my old one, and a brand new superpowered one (two 100 watt light bulbs worth of baking power). My brother's wife was enchanted. "We should get one of these for the girls" she mused, as she spilled cake mix all over the inside works, thereby permanently jamming the oven.

Rookie mistake. EBOs are notoriously sensitive, and the "Unplug!" operation had to be performed on a semi-regular basis. An experienced baker knows when to bail out. Baking with a toy oven is delicate process that involves pushing each tin pan through with a new tin pan. Pans frequently "go off rails" causing jams and spills. If your push-through was successful, the stovetop acted as a cooling rack for the just-baked goodies.

Always problematic was getting the first batch cool enough to empty the pan in order to refill it and use it to push through the next batch. And God have mercy on you if you tried to speed up the cooling process. The only way to get the last cake out of the oven was to push an empty pan through. I kept meaning to order extra pans, but they're a hard-to-find item.

Anyway, shortly after Shara accidentally destroyed the superpower oven, I came to a realization. My condo, the largest I could afford, was too small for both a real oven and three pretend ones. Besides, most of my friends were avoiding me at mealtimes. I packed everything up for Goodwill and bid a fond farewell to the Easy Bake Era. Growing up had never been so much fun.

Monday, November 19, 2007

easy bake part 1

Last Saturday was the Night of Writing Dangerously. A complete blast; I finished my story (in highly experimental unedited tell-don't-show form) and got my wrists massaged. At some point during the six-hour evening, my friend Jackie (familiar to you through the Buttered Cat Incident) began regaling our table of 14 writers with stories of my Easy Bake oven. Immediately all the writers, eager to increase their word counts, placed my embarrassing Easy Bake oven stories into their novels. I'm only blogging about it in order to prove prior use in the upcoming copyright suits.

So. When I was a kid, my eldest grown-up sister brought me Easy Bake cake mixes for Christmas. As soon as I opened them, I knew that meant that either Santa Claus or my mom had gotten me an Easy Bake oven. One full hour of giftwrap ripping later, I found out my logic was flawed. When I asked how I could possibly bake the EB cakes without an EB oven, my sister said, "Just use the real oven." This is the kind of make-do frugality I grew up with. (Btw, my sister is now an accountant who votes Republican.)

So I totally used the real oven. As proof, there are photos of me standing in the front yard proudly showing off tiny chocolate cakes with candied sprinkles. (I'm also wearing a fringed suede vest and psychedelic socks, but hey, it was 1970.) The big joke here is that, at age 9, I'd already baked and frosted countless outsized cakes for our family of seven, on top of handling my weekly cookie preparation duties as part of the regular Thursday night snack effort. I was also in charge of table setting, dish drying (I was too short to put them away, too little to wash them properly), and cheese grating. Why I would sign up for microscopic cake baking is beyond me. But a toy that simulates a chore is very different from an actual chore.

I rolled with the Easy Bake incident. I figured that, at some point, I'd be presented with my own toy oven. Until then, I wasn't going to worry about it. Sometime the next summer, my friend Veronica down the street invited me over to bake something in her EBO. I was enchanted by the opulence of it all. We baked. Then I went home. Never realizing that that was the only Easy Bake oven experience I would ever have.

Until I met Jackie. One day at work she casually referred to her childhood EBO hijinks, including unscrewing light bulbs from living room lamps whenever she needed replacement bulbs for her oven. When she got to, "Every year I'd break that oven, then ask for a new one. Then that one would be broken within two weeks after Christmas."

Hold on here. The broken Easy Bake oven was replaced? Replaced? REPLACED??? In my wildest dreams, I could not imagine requesting a new version of a toy I had callously broken the year before. In fact, I think my Velvet doll (the creepy one that grows hair when you turn a knob on her back) is still around in my Mom's box of toys for visiting grandchildren. I know the Barbie I had was the original, complete with zebra-striped swimsuit, that was new when my eldest sister owned it 12 years before I did.

Jackie's nonchalant statement let me glimpse a world of luxurient grandeur. I pictured her parents lingering over dinner, lighting dollar bills on fire. "Pass some more name-brand cola, please," I could hear her father say.

I queried her intently. She countered with her own interrogation. Her advanced questioning technique allowed me to access "recovered" memories. I had never owned an Easy Bake oven. A further stunning realization followed: I had played with one only once. My entire childhood had slipped by without this rite of passage. I felt like a Jew who had skipped her own Bat Mitzvah.

Suddenly, I had to have an Easy Bake oven. Not the new, bright pink, microwave-looking kind. The old steel and plastic turquoise kind that Science tells us cannot be used without inflicting second-degree burns. I was overbidding on eBay before you could say, "add one teaspoon of water."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

thin mints

Before I continue rambling on about how I wish there were a sandwich named after a female serial killer, I'd like to give you all a big shout out for supporting me (both in words and dollars) for the Night of Writing Dangerously.

This morning I met my target goal so I'm in, in, in for this kooky write-a-thon.

This is my first fundraiser since I sold Girl Scout Cookies (a project that went horribly awry when they under-ordered Scot T's). It was touching to get your emails and donations, supporting me in this crazy project. It meant a lot, and I want you to know that.

Friday, November 9, 2007

the janet special

Last night I was watching TV with Wendy when a commercial came on in which a guy asked a cafe to name a sandwich after him. "I totally do that," I casually commented. Half expecting her to say, "Yeah, me too."

Instead she yelled, "WHAT???" like I was some kind of mental patient.

"I try to get sandwiches named after me," I repeated calmly.

"Like, where? What sandwich? What do they say?"

That's when I had to confess that no one will ever agree to my proposal. And that furthermore, no one in their right minds would want to eat the sandwiches I concoct. In fact, the cafes don't even want to make them. They usually involve some combination of avocado and red onions (resulting in a temporary reduction in popularity), involve a complicated preparation procedure, and are scandalously lacking in protein.

For example, Jenny's Cafe on Grand makes for me: a veggie sandwich on toasted portafolino bread, no mayo, substitute Italian dressing, Dijon mustard not regular mustard, hold the cream cheese, add avocado, with red onions. Jenny noticed that after she serves my sandwich, I perform a whole salt-and-pepper ritual. So she tried adding that. The results were devastating; I had to explain that that's *my* part of the sandwich creation process, not hers.

At the Marina deli next to where I work, Esther and I developed: a twice-toasted onion bagel with butter, avocado, tomato, and (you guessed it) onion, made open-face with melted provolone on top. The utter decadence involved in this sandwich makes me ashamed (butter and avocado?). And the preparation time is ridiculous. Esther only makes it because she's grown fond of me.

Clearly I'm going about this the wrong way. People don't get their own sandwiches by dictating ingredients. They do so by becoming famous, and then letting the cafe owner construct something inspired by their celebrity personality, a sense of what will sell, and which leftover ingredients are on hand.

My most embarrassing moment occurred last week, when I was begging Esther for the umpteenth time to put the Janet bagel on the white board. A guy walked up next to me. Esther gestured toward him and said, "He keeps trying to get his own sandwich, too."

We smiled wanly at each other before we both slinked away from the counter.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Tonight I met a couple of friends for dinner at their opulent workplace, where dinner is always free. (Even for Sequoia, who was offered organic homemade dog treats from a basket.)

My friend Kevin (the girl with the boy's name) bowed her head and prayed silently for a moment before we ate. I love stuff like that. That serene moment of thankfulness. Particularly about food, which is so vital to our continued existence, yet so easy to take for granted. (Although, personally, I would've made sleep the traditional "thank you" time. Or hot showers. I would totally thank the creator of the universe for hot showers.)

If you stop for a second (like, say, during a 5.6 earthquake) and try to figure out how to go without food for three days, you remember how incredibly lucky you are to have it. Anyway, neat to see someone who spends 40 hours a week in utopia remembering to be grateful.

I'll post more about utopia tomorrow -- tonight I'm too sleepy to properly analyze a place that posts software code (for debugging/QA purposes) next to the toilet.

Monday, November 5, 2007

buttered cat aerodynamics

Buttered cat update! My geeky co-worker just told me about the Buttered Cat Principle.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

clarified butter

Someone at a party told me that when cats feel relaxed, they lick their paws. So if you move to a new house, for example, and you want your cat to feel comfortable in its new surroundings, you should butter its paws. That encourages licking, which, in turn, supposedly triggers relaxation. The feline psychology equivalent of electro-magnetic induction.

That all sounded great to me. I had a new cat, Himalaya (pictured), and an old cat, Galaxy (not pictured in order to respect her privacy) who weren't exactly bonding the way I had hoped. Partly because Himalaya was a couple of pounds of puppyish idiocy with an annoyingly operatic meow, whereas Galaxy was a quiet, timid cat who enjoyed closets and blanket tents.

I figured butter was the answer. If butter could get a cat to lick its own paws, I postulated, what might it do for two cats who just want to pee on each other? The problem is, cats don't lick each other's paws, no matter what the attraction. I would have to apply butter on more accessible areas.

I couldn't find Galaxy, so I started with Himalaya. I sliced off a pat of butter and went to work, rubbing behind her ears. Himalaya, when fully grown, weighed only six pounds (about half the size of an average cat). At the time, she was a 2-pound kitten.

It turns out a pat of butter really goes a long way. Whatever, the more for Galaxy to lick, right? So I kept rubbing. Sides, back, paws, chest, belly, tail. The cold butter started sticking to her fur in unspreadable chunks. Also, she seemed annoyed.

At that moment, my best friend dropped by from across the hall. "What are you doing?" she asked.

I looked up, stricken. The butter hypothesis is difficult to explain under the best of circumstances, and currently the project wasn't going well. Himalaya had turned into a greasy ball of fur. Nothing could explain that away. I did my best to act like this was an old, tried-and-true cat owner's trick. Wendy saw right through me.

She punched my theory full of holes.

"But...just because they lick their paws after they're relaxed, doesn't mean that licking their paws relaxes them."

"And just because they lick their own paws doesn't mean they'll lick another cat's paws."

"And you're buttering your entire cat. Not just her paws."

Goddamn critical thinker from a fucking Jesuit college.

I never could capture Galaxy long enough to spread butter on her, and she pretty much ignored Himalaya, who smelled like movie popcorn for the next couple of weeks. Himalaya herself, who generally wasn't bothered by stuff, walked around shaking her paws and looking sort of damp and depressed. Although in later years I could feed her cheese, she never accepted tastes of butter from me again.

Wendy was like a one-woman reverse 911 system, informing all my friends of what became known as the Buttering Incident. You'd be surprised how often a casual conversation topic acts as a natural introduction to the subject of buttered cats. To this day, it comes up at parties, get-togethers, even innocuous trips to the grocery store. (Well, especially there, what with the dairy case and all.)

And this morning during what otherwise would've been a delightful Sunday brunch, my friend Jackie revived the anecdote.

"Janet, why don't you blog about that time you buttered your cat? I think people are always interested in that story."

Saturday, November 3, 2007

artificial intimacy

I just read this news article about how Twitter (some thing involving text messaging to strangers; I don't fully understand it) is being used to post about relationship problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc. Which means, of course, that people are getting all kinds of unexpected help for all those things.

The big news story is how some kid was prevented from jumping off the Tallahassee bridge (writer's embellishment, but there actually was a bridge involved) because his Twitter community saved him.

Anyway, some woman wrote an article all about the dangers of Twitter, and how it creates "artificial intimacy." And yeah, yeah, it's sad that the Twitter people have to reach out to strangers, and no, no, of course those exact same people won't be there for them through thick and thin. But who cares? If something with a name as stupid as "Twitter" is acting as an impromptu volunteer crisis hotline slash daytime soap opera, then what we have here, people, is civilization at its finest.

I have a soft spot for stuff like that. There's a part of me that will never forget what it's like to grow up in a pre-internet desert (both literal and figurative). Isolation does strange things to you, like drive you to attend art shows at the mall. This kid who tried to off himself eventually realized that he didn't want to die -- he just wanted to get the hell out of Florida.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

you're a female serial killer

So I borrowed (read: stole) from Vikram a book on female serial killers. I was okay until I got to the curry-stained chapter on women who partner with their boyfriends and husbands in order to rape, torture, and kill other women. That's when I realized that Vikram is a female serial killer.

The curry stains are solid evidence. And Melanie, by association (she's married to Vikram), is also a female serial killer. She laughed when I explained this to her, thereby providing me with further evidence. "Anti-social personality disorder," I silently noted.

A couple of flaws in my theory: neither of them really have time for any extensive killing sprees, what with all the mild-mannered teaching they do. Plus, my dog likes them, and aren't pets the first to be dismembered? Another thing. As a single woman who Melanie met on a wilderness trail, wouldn't I have been the first to go?

And thinking it through, the fact that I was eating a bowl of cereal while reading the section on Karla Homolka implicates me as well. I'm a female serial killer!

And so are you. See, this is the big trouble I have with porn. (I know, my mind is capable of making giant, unsubstantiated leaps, try to keep up.) If porn gets creepy, which porn is often wont to do, then I feel like I get creepy with it. The serial killer chapter that got to me was the one that started out to be about sex and then devolved into violent, icky, horrible, murderous sex. (Not that I shouldn't have seen that "coming," so to speak.)

It's just that I'd rather have a clear delineation between my own human emotions and those of monstrous killers. I don't want to think, "Yeah, if I'd been abused like that as a kid, I'd be pissed, too." I want to be like those British 19th century explorers, talking about natives as though they were animals. Or those lab technicians, talking about animals as though they were objects. I want to separate myself. I want to be better. I want to be unassailable. I can't do that while I'm consuming serial killer infotainment. Reading about victim disposal while petting your dog? C'mon, how "lack of empathy" can you get?

On the flip side, it's pretty intellectually freeing to be able to read and think and learn about anything you want. Some of the most haunting novels I've read are politically incorrect (Their Eyes Were Watching God comes to mind). And there's nothing I love more than pop songs, like Tracy Chapman's "For My Lover," or the Gin Blossoms, "Hey Jealousy," that side with the loserish character.

Real life (as well as good art) is messy and interesting. Sometimes you find yourself empathizing with the serial killer.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

a whiter shade of pale

Okay, first I have to confess that I watched (pretty much in its entirety) a commercial for the Flower Power CD "hits from the sixties" collection. Not exactly an infomercial, because no information was to be had. But the same length and talk-show format.

I don't even want to get into the circumstances of why that's what I'm doing on a Saturday night. Suffice to say, I had my reasons.

Anyway, you know how they play clips of the songs? (Or maybe, if you're not as pathetic as I am, you don't.) Some of those songs I was barely familiar with, since I was a little kid when they were popular. I was all curious, so I looked up the lyrics.

An aside -- it never fails to amaze me how few pop songs manage to be comprehensible from beginning to end. Some are worse than others -- at least 5% of those songs are just fucking with our minds. I've noticed that when all else fails, people chalk up the song theme to "drugs" and move on with their lives.

Okay, A Whiter Shade of Pale. A haunting, Bach-like tune. An incredibly poetic phrase. How beautiful must this song be? I looked it up. It seems to be about a drunken rape, although who can tell? And it turns out the one shimmering phrase it contains was something the songwriter overheard at a party. No doubt some alcoholic trying to say "a paler shade of white."

Whatever. Through my usual process of free association, thinking about 1960s music made me think about That Darn Cat, a 60s Disney movie that was remade in, um, the 90s? The remake had a punk version of the That Darn Cat song. It's so cool how pumping up the tempo and shout-singing in a gravelly, nasally boy voice can instantly transform a song. It's like stirring a powder into a glass of water. (Despite my description of punk rock, I truly love that version of TDC.)

Thinking about TDC led me to think about The Parent Trap, another 60s Disney flick (also starring sex-kitten-but-we're-supposed-to-pretend-she's-just-cute Haley Mills) that was remade in the 90s.

The Parent Trap held a particular meaning for me. You know how schizophrenics are always saying the TV is transmitting secret messages to them? Well, without the crazy part (or, er, you be the judge), that's what TPT was for me.

It's the story of twin girls, separated as babies when their parents divorced, who meet at summer camp. They figure out that they are sisters, and in order to reunite with their estranged parent, switch places when they go home.

So get this. In the 1960s version, one of the girls is told her father is dead. What kind of macabre mind conceived of this children's film? There's a scene where the girls are lying on bunks in their cabin, talking. You can see fir trees out the windows, and pretty much smell that "camp" scent of wood, pine, maple, and wool. You can feel the summer heat, that stillness in the air. In that scene, the girl finds out her father is still alive.

I saw TPT for the first time when I was eight, in the summer after my dad passed away. I wasn't so naive to believe that he was actually living on the Eastern seaboard, waiting for the right moment to reveal his whereabouts (after all, I had seen him in his coffin). But I was wistful.

That movie was like grief masturbation for me. My mother never noticed that there was anything weird or inappropriate about it, which left me to find solace in the whole "he's alive!" fantasy. Brian Keith, blond, blue-eyed, and rugged, looked enough like my father to make for excellent grief porn.

But like any consumer of porn, I switched between characters. For example, in one scene the girl who was estranged from her mother greets her maternal grandfather. He's wearing a suit and smoking a cigar. (Two things my dad did during most waking hours.) She runs to him, hugs him, and then ... wait for it ... smells him. I think she says "peppermint and tobacco" but I may have been too busy substituting "Old Spice" to accurately remember the line.

To this day, I marvel that TPT was ever made. It's almost as if the idea that a child could lose her father was so outrageous, so unheard of, that it never occurred to anyone that such a theme might be a bit, well, crass. Ironically, I was consoled by its non-normalcy. Haley Mills was my home girl. I could watch the screen and think, "Hey, that's just what I would do if my father suddenly returned from the beyond!"

All this makes me wonder if any kids' movies today have wildly insensitive themes, somehow invisible to adults. Or was that simply a feature of the 60s, along with dangerous toys made with chemicals, sharp edges, and swallowable parts? I miss those toys, too, by the way.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


I've been thinking about writing a lot lately, what with National Novel Writing Month coming up and all. I'm only writing a short story, but for me that counts as a challenge. The thing is, my story (so far) doesn't really have a plot. And despite how many times Melanie's explained to me what constitutes "plot", and shown me examples of both the clunky and the sublime, I'm not sure I'll ever manage to work one into this story.

One of my favorite novels is Never Let Me Go. The plot consists of the main characters passing up every single plot point opportunity and, instead of changing events, just letting them happen. I simply adore that. I won't tell you what Melanie thought.

Anyway, I think my story is a lot like that. But that's just an aside -- the real point of this entry is that, in thinking about writing, I fell asleep last night wondering how the form of the novel will change because of the Internet. Because information these days is so modular: you click a link and choose your own adventure. By contrast, novels are hopelessly linear.

At work I write onscreen help (bias alert!). I love how help is organized into topics that can be read either in a linear way (by going through the table of contents) or a "loosely associated" way (by following links) or in a "this is what I'm interested in" way (by clicking the topics you want to read.) Onscreen help is sort of Dada.

An old boyfriend of mine worked as a copier clerk at a law firm. For a few weeks, he was responsible for copying confidential papers about a case involving the improper disposal of bodies at a funeral home. It was grisly and fascinating and he smuggled copies home for us to read. The papers, coming from different sources at different times, were a jumble to begin with. Even more so after he jammed them in his backpack to sneak them out.

We spread papers out on our bed to sort through pieces of the puzzle. At certain points, there were character closeups -- a cremator whose mother had died and who cried because the funeral directors didn't send him flowers. Other papers discussed procedural overviews -- how the cremator had systematically stolen rings and fillings from bodies. The effect was that the story took surprising twists and turns. Dada at its best.

Recently, Melanie's husband Vikram told me about a book he was reading, The History of the Novel. He said most novels are about a person; they are stories of personal change. (I'm paraphrasing heavily, making it sound simplistic. And this is probably old news to everyone else.) Anyway, last night I thought about how you get to know people in real life. How you learn their stories.

You don't get to know someone in a linear fashion. You build impressions, gather images, ask questions, see that person in different situations. Like the court case my boyfriend and I spied on. Like onscreen help you click to learn how to set up an equation in Excel. Like Dada.

the seventies

I just watched Gracie, a God-awful teen chick flick conceived by Elisabeth Shue. There are too many things bad about this movie to list, so I'll narrow my focus to: why the hell can't people accurately remember a decade?

The seventies are completely accessible to me, right down to the lyrics of Seasons in the Sun. Here is an incomplete list of what they got wrong:

1. Idioms. No one said "It's not gonna happen" or "Bite me." And teenage girls (except the pregnant, cigarette-smoking kind) never, ever swore. In fact, hardly anyone ever swore in front of them.

2. Backpacks. We didn't have them yet. Don't argue with me, because there was a foreign exchange student at my school who nearly got stoned to death for carrying one. At least this movie had people carrying JanSports, which was a backpack brand someone might buy had backpacks been thought of. Ridiculously, we carried our books in stacks in our arms. I remember wishing it were the 50s so we could use those satchels or book straps.

3. Sports bras. I don't know if the movie really got this wrong, because the scene in which Gracie asked her dad to hold her bra was a little indistinct. Was he holding her regular bra because she was putting on a sports bra? Was he handing her a regular bra because sports bras were yet to be invented? I'm not sure. (Actually, the "jogbra" was invented in 1977, and the movie was set in 1978 -- but in truth, we hadn't made the leap that the jogbra could be used for anything other than jogging.)

4. Big t-shirts. Yeah, you could sorta wear them. But more for nighties, not for playing soccer.

5. Brown eggs. Weren't sold here in California. Maybe in New Jersey.

The part they did get right, which was the school board meeting to decide whether or not Gracie could try out for the boy's team, I kind of wish they hadn't. I hate remembering the way they talked to us back in those days. At my school, they canceled the annual Powder Puff football game because girls might get hurt. And they had the temerity to blame Title IX, saying they would be sued for not providing adequate sporting equipment like shoulder pads and helmets.

In this movie, the "she could get hurt" argument was launched, (it took a few more decades for parents to realize their sons were being bashed to death in football, but whatever) as well as the "boys will be afraid to play hard and do their best." Reminded me of the national debate over female airline pilots. People said that women's menstrual cramps would interfere with their ability to fly a plane.

There are some things about the seventies I'd like to forget. Rampant sexism, and "the stars we could reach...were just starfish on the beach."

Friday, October 26, 2007


My kitchen has turned into an abattoir.

My dog is at fault. Or rather, my friend Melanie, who recently decided that a raw meat diet was just the thing to cure her dog’s pesky behavioral problems. Since our dogs hang out together, my dog Sequoia had to follow suit.

It started when Clio spent a few days with us. I thought I’d feed Sequoia some chicken just to “see how he liked it.” What the hell was I expecting? Do women like ice cream after breaking up with their boyfriends? The chicken, bones and all, vanished within minutes of being placed near Sequoia’s jaw.

Melanie convinced me it would be the same price as kibble. (I forgot how bad she is at math.) As of this writing, despite the various co-ops we belong to and meat scrap discounts we’re in the know about, raw meat costs about twice as much as our designer dog chow. Not only that, it’s gross.

This isn’t just garden-variety meat. It’s hearts, hooves, necks, chicken feet, tripe. And my 80 pound dog, who should theoretically be fine with 1.6 pounds daily, chows down 3 pounds a day and still retains his figure. He should publish a diet book.

Meat has taken over my formerly vegan refrigerator. The stench of it hits me whenever I open the door, go in the backyard (where mealtime is relegated), or take the lid off the (what used to be innocuous) kitchen trash can. I spend a good quarter of an hour a day spritzing with vinegar. At this rate, I’ll be penalized a harsh fine for the eco-damage I’m causing due to overconsumption of paper towels. The things you do for love.

What gets me – more than the fact that there’s no turning back without causing permanent emotional damage to my dog – is that all this meat has been there all along, sterilized and processed and dried into the form of cardboardish kibble. Kibble that won’t offend our sensibilities. As a vegan, I’d rather have the carnage be up front. I’m keenly aware that keeping one carnivore as a “pet” means choosing which animal gets to live (with toys and affection and medical care) and which animal will be treated as food. Sanitizing that reality into palatable dog biscuits is more offensive to me than facing the blood and guts (no pun intended) of the issue.

Blood and guts are hard to face, though. I tell myself at least I’m using the animal parts left over from human consumption, and it least I’m not supporting unnecessary and un-eco-friendly processing. But I feel sorrow and disgust and just plain pain every time I handle my dog’s food. I haven’t solved this problem in my mind yet, or maybe ever. Next time I shop for pets, I will seriously consider getting a bunny rabbit.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

co-dependent vegan

My dog is hopped up on meat.

Tonight he consumed raw beef hearts in blood sauce topped with egg yolk and crushed shells. I figured after dinner he'd curl up in front of the fireplace and pass out.

Instead he jogged in, rubbed his forehead vigorously on the couch, tried to lick his gross e coli salmonella giardia saliva on me (I dodged in time), and began doing this funky new thing where he prances and shakes his head at the front door.

We've taken, so far today, one hike and one walk. He's spent the day playing and lounging with his girlfriend. The backyard is always open to him. There is absolutely nothing fun going on right now on our block.

That's how I know it's the meat talking.

I open the door, tie him to the porch leash, and shiver under a blanket on the couch while he lies on the entry rug, basking in the moonlight. He occasionally raises his head to growl at imperceptible threats.

Heartbreaking, really. To see a fine mind like that (he can discern between "ball" and "frisbee") be destroyed by a deadly mixture of enzymes and amino acids. Tomorrow I'm going to try to bring him down slowly with some chicken wings and a turkey neck.

In the meantime, I'm pouring hydrogen peroxide and vinegar all over my formerly vegan kitchen.

web fear

Several years ago, I sent my brother a link to my website. He immediately, and without permission, forwarded the link to every single one of my relatives. I come from a big family. My mother doesn't know I like sex.

So I suffer from a little post traumatic web disorder. I'm deathly afraid that someone will read my blog. This, despite overwhelming evidence that no blog in history has ever actually been viewed. I also fear publicly making fun of someone I end up marrying. Or rather, realizing I want to marry after he leaves me for a woman discreet enough to refrain from blogging about his underwear.

But PTWD seems manageable in comparison to, say, being pointed at by an Aye Aye. (A scary-ass lemur that lives only in Madagascar.) Wikipedia says the natives are superstitious about Aye Ayes. Like that's weird or something. Listen to the creepy tap tap tap sound they make.

Now tell me that creature isn't a minion of Satan.