Thursday, January 31, 2008


Sunday, Lisa and I went to pick up Sprint at the vet. In the waiting room was a giant St. Bernese Mountain Dog (when did I start recognizing breeds by sight?) who enchanted me by the fact that he was twice the size of any St. Bernese I've ever seen.

Several cuddles later, Lisa turned to me and said, "I get it. You're a crazy dog lady."

I totally don't want to face that about myself, but sometime in the past few years, that's what I've become. It started with scanning Craig's list for funny M4W ads I could use to taunt Eve. (Here's your new boyfriend.) Then finding one by a guy who referred to himself and his black labs as "our little crime-fighting trio." Then thinking, "Hmm, I could use some dog energy in my life. To balance all this kitty stuff." Before I knew it, I was discussing operant conditioning training techniques with my friends.

But that's not what this story is about. When Lisa said, "That's okay, I'm a crazy cat lady," I had a flashback to Berkeley in 1984. Catwoman. I'd forgotten about her.

Walking through Berkeley in the 80s, especially in the evenings, you would hear payphones plaintively ringing. You'd pass one, it might go silent. And then you'd hear another in the distance. Sometimes you'd hear four or five on one walk downtown. When I first moved here, I used to answer them. Thinking it was some wrong number and I'd be able to help. "Hello? Hello?" and then there'd be a click. I finally gave up, and pitied the people I saw who were still new enough to try answering.

One evening I saw a guy answer, and was stunned to hear him begin a conversation. Who was on the other end? Why hadn't they hung up on him? A few weeks later I was walking with a group of friends and friends-of-friends. We heard the phone ring, and one of them said, "Catwoman. We can't answer it, anyway. She only talks to men."

That explained the guy I saw! I asked a billion questions, and found out that Catwoman called the phones designated with the graffiti "Catwoman," which I had seen, but not thought about, a thousand times. This woman knew about her because her boyfriend had once answered the phone. And been treated to a lonely, desperate, flirting conversation.

Catwoman had been a part of the Berkeley landscape. Sitting in the vet's waiting room with Lisa, I suddenly wondered when she had dropped away, and whatever had happened to her. Payphones barely exist these days. And Catwoman is 20 years older now. Is she still crying out for attention? Does she use chatrooms and MORGs instead? She's no longer limited to Berkeley. Via the internet, the whole universe is open to her. Is she sated? Is she insatiable?

I miss her now. Those church bell rings of her phones.

parvo pup update

Sprint is resting comfortably. (Perhaps a bit too comfortably, on my couch surrounded by blankets.) The vet said he's pulled through and he'll be fine.

Apparently the cure consisted of Lisa's small fortune, Melanie's babysitting skills (she took Sequoia to her house for the duration), my neighbors' fully-exploited soft hearts (they handled afternoon feedings and cleanup), and my own awesome nursing skills.

I can administer IVs now! And I'm an expert at dog pills, syringe feedings, sponge baths, and diarrhea management. I could totally be a WWII Red Cross nurse. But only if they put me in charge of the horses.

Next step is fattening the calf; he's still a walking skeleton. Then he gets ousted to a new home. In the meantime, I buy another dozen rolls of paper towels and bleach wipes. At least now his diarrhea is brown instead of red. And on that note...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I totally know what I'm doing

Um, well, that was going to be the title of this post. Before I wound up cleaning blood off my bathroom floor at 1:00 in the morning. I think now a better title is "I really need to cry."

Last night, Lisa called me to say a stray puppy had climbed up her front porch and was now huddled shivering in her planter. Lisa has two cats. And no car. She called various friends who all hashed things out, and we settled on the plan where I come to get the dog and take him to the nighttime doggie-drop off at the shelter.

Another friend called her back before I got there. She nixed that plan -- apparently, the shelter's survival rate is worse than Auschwitz. Our new improved plan was that the dog come stay at my house until we got him all hooked up with a rescue society.

So last night -- not tonight, understand -- I was all proud about how much I've learned about dogs. I successfully introduced myself and Sequoia, I brought treats and a real leash and blankets. I read dog body language. I (correctly, as it turned out) guessed his age and could even reconstruct part of his past. We knew he had an owner because he had a collar (just a chain, no tags). But I figured out, from his total technical prowess in dealing with the couch, that he must've been allowed inside. Sequoia, in contrast, fell off both the couch and the bed on his first night at my house, never having encountered furniture before.

Before Lisa had called me, she created a makeshift leash out of a phone cord. Which led her and her friends to christen the puppy "Sprint." Sprint, a white pit bull with brown eyebrows, looks a little like an unborn calf. But in a cute way.

I was disgusted with myself by how fast I fell in love with Sprint, but there's nothing like a puppy to take your mind off your troubles. And he had this way of snuggling up to both me and Sequoia (who seemed to know Sprint needed him) that melted my heart. He was super skinny and shaking with cold. When we got to my house, he had diarrhea in the front garden (another good sign: he made an attempt at house training even when sick; sort of the doggie equivalent of finding the toilet before throwing up). He wouldn't eat, and he vomited a couple of times.

So whatever. He's scared and cold and he's been eating weird and he probably has worms. I'd take him to the vet on Saturday. Lisa said she'd pay for it. Tonight, when I came home from work, I found him still shivering, and still lazing about like a cat. That's when I started to suspect that I actually have no idea what I'm doing.

I web searched and worried and paced the floor for a couple of hours. Then Sprint managed to rouse himself to go get a drink of water. He walked into the bathroom (he's so potty trained) and blood poured out of his colon.

Okay, then I really knew I didn't know what I was doing.

I phoned Lisa, I texted Lisa (texting is actually difficult -- the phone tries to spell your words for you; I hadn't counted on that. I abandoned a Quixotic attempt at "emergency," struggled with an ill-fated "SOS"-- it resolves to "POP" -- before telling myself to think like a phone. That's how I came up with "help"). When I couldn't get ahold of Lisa, I called the others in our ring of dog rescuers. In the meantime, Wendy (whom I'd called first) was talking to Berkeley Emergency Vet and finding out what the hell this is.

Parvovirus. Which has to be treated with IVs and antibiotics and a bunch of other molecular biology sounding stuff, or there's an 80% chance of death from dehydration. Sprint and I (and Sequoia, who insisted on coming) spent three hours at the emergency vet before he was checked into the vet hospital. He was so lethargic he slipped off a chair at one point without even catching himself.

I called the vet before I took him there to ask how much treatment would cost. She said hundreds of dollars. I once had a cat who had stayed the night there, and it cost $500. I estimated that a bunch of people could chip in and come up with $500 for Sprint. Erin had already offered to help.

Turns out that one night costs $800, and he needs three nights. Or some complicated home treatment, or some combination. I chose option B (0ne night of hospital stay, no extra diagnostic tests, and then maybe we'll do home treatment after that to save money).

The whole time my brain was yelling at me, "How could it not occur to you that a stray dog could be seriously ill?" Of course we should've talked about that possibility, of course we should've taken him to the vet right away, and of course we should've figured out how much it was okay to spend.

And what was I doing exposing him to my dog? (Who is vaccinated against Parvo, so it's okay. But still.) I felt so idiotic. Here I was, all proud about how much I'd learned since I first asked the home visit lady if my puppy were likely to leap out the second story window and how do you keep them from jumping up onto tables? (Seriously. I was used to cats.) But everything I've learned is about dogs who have owners. Owners who vaccinate them against freaking third-world country apocalyptic black plague illnesses. I mean, what am I, a flipping civil war nurse?

I said goodnight to Sprint and his cute little calf fetus face, and drove home to face the carnage that was now my house. A friend of mine recently told me that there is a litmus test to love. The test is: how much you mind dealing with their shit. He was speaking of his cat, and literal shit. But the way he said it implied the test could work for humans, too, on a more abstract level.

Driving home, I wondered what Sprint's litmus test would show, or if it was even a valid test after all. I was pretty sure that no matter how much I loved a dog, I wasn't going to be able to clean up intestinal linings (as my vet oh so helpfully explained) with any degree of equanimity.

Before I'd left home, I'd thrown down a couple of white men's t-shirts to soak up the blood (take that, ex-boyfriend!) This proved to be a tactical error. When I got home my bathroom floor looked like the site of a gang war and smelled even worse. Snow on Mt. Diablo or no, I threw open both the front and back doors. A half an hour later, everything bleached and disinfected to within an inch of its life, I decided that it doesn't matter whether or not I love Sprint. I just don't think a puppy should go out that way.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I suck at breaking up

Wendy once told me that I break up like a lesbian. I suggest, as an alternative to continuing our romance, we become roommates and start a business together.

I was musing about that this morning and realizing that breakups always, always, always require you to throw out the baby with the bathwater. And your success at that (assuming the baby is not the demonic spawn of Rosemary) depends on how well you deal with loss. Some people, maybe most, are way better at dysfunctional unsatisfying relationships than they are at loss. I've experienced both, and I gotta say: it's a toss up.

On the other hand, if you do manage to end a go-nowhere romance, nothing quite compares with the friendship of an ex-boyfriend. He knows every single foible, he calls you on them, he forgives them, he makes fun of you for them. You have old jokes, old fights, you have memories that are particular and specific to you.

Through no fault of my own, I have enough dead ex-boyfriends that they could start their own band. (Long story, but the statistics of random chance prove me innocent.) One hot summer night, lying in bed on the tops of the covers with a (still alive, even now) guy I was dating, I noticed that his legs reminded me of one of those exes. Brown and strong. In that moment, I had a rush that there was no one alive but me with that particular memory. Or any of the years of private memories I'd shared with that boyfriend. When I died, those memories would be gone.

It felt very apocalyptic. I had a history teacher who lectured that the atomic bomb introduced humanity to the threat of not just death, but annihilation. For the first time, entire cities could be wiped out in an instant. Not just you, but everyone who had ever known you, every record of your existence. It changed the way people thought about life and about war.

So breaking up, walking away, never speaking feels like my own private emotional version of Hiroshima. The nuclear capability you only use in case of dire emergency. (You know, or for testing on a bikini atoll somewhere.)

Except you totally do have to break up in order to get to the incredible lifelong friendship part. I used to volunteer at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. As part of our training, we learned the average number of times a person leaves and returns to an abusive relationship before permanently ending it. Nine. I've heard a similar number for how many times people quit smoking. If it takes that many times to leave stuff that noxious, I guess I shouldn't feel so bad that I hate ending relationships that are "almost, but not quite."

I think the trick is to develop some sort of relationship-ending method short of an atomic bomb. Economic sanctions?

Monday, January 21, 2008


Last night Wendy not-so-silently watched while I made some really basic linguine (olive oil, shallots, garlic, and basil). The way this kind of thing usually goes (and last night was no exception) is that she grabs the pan, adjusts the heat, tastes the pasta, and offers a lot of unsolicited and barely comprehensible advice that ends up barely saving my meal in the nick of time.

It's not her fault. She was the chef at her friend's chi chi Los Angeles restaurant (where Jodie Foster burst in screaming at that Amish chick during their bad breakup), then later she worked at Spago. She knows stuff she doesn't even realize she knows, and talks in a language I only pretend to understand. She can tell the difference between a cookie sheet and jellyroll pan and God help you if you can't keep up.

I already knew she was going to freak that the pasta was boiling in a too-small pan, and that the temperature of the olive oil was getting dangerously high. I didn't dare add the garlic until the last minute because she's got a big thing about that imperceptible moment when "sweet" garlic turns to "burnt" garlic. I maneuvered my way around, deflecting criticism before it was deployed (skills my mom taught me, but not in a good way).

I did accidentally expose a vulnerability when I expressed mild surprise at one of her clever cooking techniques: taking the pasta off the stove as soon as it was done. However, she appeared to think I was just joking so I quickly breezed on to the next subject.

Still! She tripped me up at the rinse stage, when she asked if my pan was going to be big enough.
Wendy asks me how I feel about the size of my cookware (in relation to what I'm cooking) I'd say every 2 out of 3 times she visits me. I know this question well enough to realize that the answer is and always will be a resounding "No!" If it were up to Wendy, all cookware would be manufactured by giants and require wooden spoons the size of push brooms. Ironically, she has my largest pot on extended loan because I never use it and it's the only thing she can make black beans in.

I had in front of me a saute pan with a few shallots in a little oil. She had in front of her a colander full of pasta. What pan? Too small for what? Turns out that the Spago way (which she assumed had seeped into our collective unconscious) was to toss the pasta into the saute pan at the last minute. My pan wasn't going to stand up to that amount of pasta, so I had to use a less effective, decidedly ungraceful method. While she watched, groan.

It always amazes me how much I can learn from just five minutes under Wendy's observation. She's taught me how to roast bell peppers, which oil to use for Cha Han, what the name is of those weird little salads I make (structured) and about a billion other things. Even so, I still can't cook.

Because I have no common sense. For the past several days I've been announcing to all my friends that I'm going to make "this really cool mashed bean recipe I found on the web." Not a single person reacted with "yum." Even though I talked about white beans, sage, rosemary, garlic, and how great mashed potatoes are but wouldn't they be even better if they contained 9 grams of protein?

But no, they were steadfast that anything called mashed beans (I even reverted to Mollie Katzen's "Bean Heaven" name, but there was no fooling anyone) was not fated to turn out well. How are people so clear-sighted?

I spent a couple of hours tonight boiling and mincing and sprinkling and pureeing. When it was all done, I had a lump of mush that reeked of raw garlic. There was a brief hallucinatory moment when I considered giving small amounts to each friend as "bean dip." I came to when I pictured them in paroxysms of laughter.

So now I'm sitting here wondering. What goes with lumped mush?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

the trouble with...

My biggest ridiculous frivolous expense, besides my dog, is going out to eat. Lately I've stepped up my program of bringing lunch to work and taking Nancy Reagan's advice (just say no) concerning dinner invitations, but it's dawned on me that cafes are harder to avoid than spare-changers on Telegraph Avenue.

I was seriously wondering about my willpower before I added up the number of invitations I receive each week. A typical week is seven. The number can easily go up to twelve. The absolute minimum is four. And if I don't accept the minimum number of invitations, I don't see my friends. We have no backup plan. Even if I persuade them to take a walk with me (not an easy sell with my crowd), it's rarely instead of going out to eat. On the contrary, hikes just make us hungrier.

Last weekend a friend of mine, without warning, simply bought my lunch. I racked my brain but couldn't think of any reason for him to do that (Did I drive? Did I edit something? Did I pet-sit? Did I overpower him with my inordinate charm?) None of the usual free-lunch triggers fit the occasion, particularly that last one. Which means that now I'm obligated to take him to lunch soon. This is how lunch dates multiply. Like tribbles.

I have another friend (let's call her Lisa) who always, always offers to cook. And she's an incredible cook who can whip up a vegan meal and show me the online profiles of all the cute guys she's dating at the same time. Very cool, except she once made the fatal mistake of introducing me to the Ethiopian restaurant a brief walk from her house. So now I'm like a Pavlovian dog when it comes to dinner with Lisa. I can taste the spicy sweet potatoes as soon as she says "get together." Besides, I'm never going to figure out the knack of bringing wine. And I'm only going to cook dinner for friends once a year on Christmas. So how in the world do I pay her back? (More cafe dinners, that's how! I pay her back in tribbles!)

Even for the once-a-week let's-watch-trash-TV event at my house with Wendy, I'm too tired from work to put together a meal. Ordering takeout has become part of the weekly holiday tradition.

And this is not taking into account my own weaknesses, like going out by myself to read a novel at Filippo's or Jenny's. Or forgetting to eat breakfast or replenish my always-diminishing supply of bananas, thereby having to stop off at the deli. Plus! I'm not even dating anyone right now. Dating always adds two or three meals to the week.

Wendy, who reads financial websites the way I watch YouTube, sent me a link to a blog by a woman who budgeted herself out of debt in an amazingly short period of time (hint, hint?) The blog talks a lot about not going out to eat. Wendy said, "And can you believe her friends were really unsupportive of that?" Um, er, yes. Because how else do we all hang out? I can't even see the guys I work with unless I walk out with them for coffee.

When I was twelve, I went to England with my cousin who was undergoing an experimental treatment for cystic fibrosis. The treatment involved drinking these horrible thick gray beverages in place of meals. All meals. The thought was that starting at age twelve, she would never eat regular food again. Eventually, the beverages (which contained some sort of glucose-y simple sugar) induced type 2 diabetes. Which meant her teenage years were spent giving herself insulin shots on top of dying from an incurable disease.

Even if the experiment had not gone awry, I gotta wonder at the adults who considered this an acceptable treatment. How could they think that anyone could comply with such a program? My aunt's faculties (she's normally the most sensible woman I know) must've been overcome by grief at her impending loss. Otherwise, she never would've packed her child off to a foreign land for such an ordeal.

But because of all this, we talked a lot back then about the place food holds in social interactions. Food is always present, at every event from movies to ball games to cocktail parties. Food is what we all gather around now that campfires have been replaced by halogen bulbs. We spent the year I was twelve trying to figure out how to be together without food. We never really found a solution, and I still remember my relief when I heard that Betsy ended the treatment and could rejoin the party.

Okay, didn't mean to go off on such a bummer. The point is, it's really hard to avoid going out to eat unless you're Zarathustra or somebody like that. I've already suspended all solitary dining out for the duration of the war, but I can't put off my friends any more than I have already and still expect them to be around to listen to my diatribes about men and work and life.

The blog girl's workaround is to eat first, then order something like tea (cheaper than cappucinos) or water and a snack. Or take half of it home. I love the concept of workarounds, because abstinence definitely isn't working for me. Cheap restaurant meals are to budgets as free clinics are to unprotected sex.

Reminds me of The Shop Around the Corner, a depression-era Jimmy Stewart movie where Jimmy can't afford to marry the girl he loves. He asks a married-with-five-children co-worker how he manages. "And what about when friends come over for dinner? What about that?"

He replied, "If they're real friends, they'll come over after dinner."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

gender up

Earlier today my friend Paul and I were arguing about which of us had to do this thing that both of us were afraid to do. After a prolonged discussion, Paul said, "Look, one of us has to gender up and do this."

Such a cool expression! That he just made up on the spot to replace "man up"! (Or its copycat wanna-be counterpart "woman up.") Which brings me to why gender up is so brilliant. Those female-specific takeoffs on sexist slang (example: it takes ovaries) are like the 4th sequel to a B movie.

The absolute worst in the history of pseudo-feminist revisionist English? Ms. Pac-man. Parallelism dictates Pac-woman. But how cool if they were Pac-people? Then they might've even earned interesting first names, like Percy and Penelope. Mr. and Ms. Pac-person. Or even just Pacs! Penelope Pac. (Okay, now I'm insanely curious about the etymology of the word Pac.)

Ah! Just looked it up on Wikipedia. It's from a Japanese word that means the sound you make when you open and close your mouth. I had no idea Pac-man was Japanese, but that's because they changed the giveaway Manga-style graphics (you know, big eyes without epicanthal folds) before localizing to North America.

Moving on.

Even if it isn't sexist or pseudo-feminist, I'm annoyed by body part neo-slang. Like how an incredibly vivid description such as "pain in the neck" became "pain in the ass" in some insecurity-laden attempt at emphasis. Who ever actually feels ass pains? (That's not a real question, though. I don't want to know the answer.)

If we had all gendered up earlier, we would never have had to listen to Demi Moore tell the army to suck her dick. Which! By the way! Should never be used as an expression to demean or humiliate -- not if guys want women to want to do it.

Anyway, gender up has the wonderful connotation of maturity (whatever gender you are, it only fully blossoms when you're grown up) without regard to gender identity. No need to be specific about which chromosomes are involved, just that they're powerful and not afraid of anything.

On a terribly insignificant sidenote, Paul gendered up way before I did.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

into whatever

I just finished reading Into the Wild, a book ostensibly about Chris McCandless, who starved to death at age 22 on his trek into the Alaskan wilderness. But since Chris dies in the first chapter, Krakauer has to fill the rest of the book with comparisons to other wilderness freaks -- including himself. It's a weird book, and it bothered me in more ways than one.

First, the trivial: each chapter starts with not one, but two long-ass quotations, usually from Walden Pond. On top of the embarrassment I feel that Thoreau was one of my high school heroes (along with Tolkien and the rest of that crowd; yes, I spoke Elvish), I'm annoyed by reading interminable, out-of-context, totally outdated musty passages in tiny little italics. In my memory, Walden Pond shimmered with elegant, stern beauty. (Most men do lead lives of quiet desperation, well said!) In reality, Thoreau is a blowhard who badly needed to get laid.

So Krakauer ruined Henry David for me on top of straining my eyesight. What's worse, the quotations are often not even tangentially related to the book. It's like he took a bunch of wilderness books with expired copyrights, tore them up, tossed the pages in a bag, blindfolded himself, and pulled a couple out at random each time he started a new chapter. As if that weren't enough, most of them say the same thing. Nature is beautiful, I like to wander around in it alone. There. Done and done, I can be in his next book.

And another thing: it's not cool to write quasi-dialect simply by mispunctuating the speakers' words. "Would've" and "would of" sound the same, so don't try to tell me they're Okies for speaking that way. You're a snob for hearing them that way.

All right, enough Krakauer bashing for now. Let the Chris McCandless bashing begin. Well, er, not exactly "bashing" -- I don't really know how to bash Chris McCandless. And that's what makes me uncomfortable. There's too many ways to think of a person who survives 112 days in the wild, but not the last 19 days required to escape death. I don't know how to understand Chris. The creepiest part is that he reminds me of myself.

When I was his age, I was hopping freight trains, walking barefoot through London in December, living without a phone, staying out of touch with my parents, and generally not being very sensible. I did manage, though, to hold down jobs, attend school, and survive my early adulthood. The thing is, he sorta did some of that, too. He got along with all sorts of people way better than I did, and he graduated from college with a 4.0.

I think about this kind of thing a lot: what is different about people who had a sensible youth? I work with people who got their first career job before they even left college. Who got married at age 25 and are still (seemingly happily) married 20 years later. How did they know so young what kind of lives they wanted? How could they look so far ahead?

Maybe they seem a bit passionless, but there are other people who threw themselves into their passions at a very young age in a positive, productive way. People who wrote books or became doctors or composers. As opposed to people who wandered aimlessly around the country, reading Tolstoy and, in Chris's case, killing squirrels for food.

Krakauer makes the argument that if Chris had survived, we would've thought he was cool. He probably would've gone on to law school or written a book about his adventures (two of his possible goals) and we would've admired him for his resourcefulness and independence. I totally buy that argument, and that pisses me off even more. I want to believe that Chris spelled his own doom, and luck had nothing to do with it.

I guess I don't like to remember how unmethodical I was back then, how little I knew about how to go after what I wanted. Reading about Chris throws me back into that world: the land of pointless passion.

I did, however, thoroughly enjoy reading Anna Karenina. So maybe it was all worthwhile.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

sam the hippo

A friend of mine from Bake just sent me the obituary for the man who used to own Larson's Dairy. Larson's was--wait for it--a drive-thru combination dairy and gas station. As a child, I didn't find that weird.

Although we never bought gas there (hilariously, too expensive -- only the best petrol served at Larson's) we stopped there about once a week. You drove past the cow pasture on your right, then into a large, two-lane, arched tunnel. The milkman would take your case of empty bottles from the car, then fill whatever order you had for the week. They carried all varietes of milk, including chocolate and buttermilk, as well as various other dairy products we never purchased, like cottage cheese.

We were pretty much there for the milk. And the occasional bottle of fruit punch, which came in a glass 1/2 gallon milk bottle and was bright pink. I have no idea what it was made from or how it came to be there. The association between milk and punch was never explained.

There were lots of oddities at Larson's (which we never referred to as "Larson's drive-thru" because the fact that it was a flipping drive-thru dairy didn't make the slightest impression on the humorless population of Bakersfield). The biggest oddity was the hippopatumus, complete with his community-built pool, in one corner of the cow pasture.

Sam the hippo arrived when I was about 10 years old. He lived at the dairy for a few years until they donated him either to Cal Worthington or the San Diego Wild Animal Park, depending on which rumor you believe. Apparently Sam was some flagship animal for a sad zoo project that never got off the ground.

For a while, all our milk cartons at school were printed with information about the "Save Sam" campaign. I suppose all the schoolchildren were expected to donate their pennies or something, or go door-to-door collecting. There were even, according to my friend Richard (amateur Bakersfield historian), bumper stickers.

Then Sam mysteriously vanished. Shipped off and soon forgotten. It makes me a little sad.