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.