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.