Thursday, October 22, 2009

Public Sighting

Sunday, November 1st, I'll be reading at Chevalier Books in Larchmont Village here in Los Angeles at 11:00. It's a charming neighborhood, it's an adorable bookstore, and they have a Farmer's Market up the block on Sunday mornings. You know, in case my presence alone wasn't enough to motivate you to get out of bed. Also, there's a very real possibility I'll say something inappropriate. History has shown this to be true.

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Under My Thumb

First, I’d like to thank everyone who gave me their code phrases which makes their loves ones put on lead-lined underwear. It’s amazing what a bounteous language English can be when you want to scare the hell out of someone. Now, on to my life or, as Consort summed it up, “Oh, look. Kittens.”

Yes, kittens. I’ve been told by certain caring readers (Actually, Consort) that it’s a little cat-centric around here and for this I apologize to anyone who doesn’t check in at four times a day. If you’re not a felinophile, come back next week, I’ll try to have run into something or done something socially questionable by then.

Three weeks ago, a quick email request went out from the animal-rescue group with which I work. Someone had dumped seven kittens at our doorstep and the cages were full; could people take cats? I quickly conferred with the unbelievably patient Consort and offered to take two.

I went in and saw the temporary pen with the kittens in it. Some litters are affectionate, some are playful; this litter could be declared fratricidal. If you’ve ever come across cage-fighting on one of the higher cable channels, you’ve seen this litter. Sports drinks are missing a valuable sponsorship opportunity. I pointed to a rolling ball of screaming fur and said, “We’ll take that one and another one.”

The rolling ball was uncoiled and it turned out to be two kittens. The other volunteer held them arms-length apart. They made mean eyes at each other. I said feebly, “Should we get two who hate each other less?” and the volunteer laughed. “These two like each other. Look at the runt,” she said, pointing into the pen. One kitten, no longer than my thumb, was riding around on the head of the biggest kitten, trying to lance her eyeballs. Well, at least they were healthy and attractive.

Daughter named one Anne and the other Diana, because she’s reading Anne of Green Gables. My suggestion of North Korea and South Korea was politely overridden. As it turned out, the kittens are cloyingly affectionate to anything which isn’t another kitten from their litter. They catch my eye, they purr. Daughter talks to them and they knead and bat their lashes. The dog gazes at them neutrally and they practically cavort. And then we all leave the room and they notice there’s something else in the cage and then the beatings commence. Later, I sneak into the laundry room and find them asleep across one another, sleeping deeply, a baby tooth still sunk into an abdomen, a nail a millimeter away from a jugular.

After a couple of weeks, I decided that maybe the reason they kept trying to kill one another was they were stuck in a smallish cage together and I declared the entire laundry room their domain. This certainly improved their mood, because it gave them many more places to hide behind and wait for the other one to walk by. Whatever the cat versions of “Ha-HA! We meet again!” and “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die” are, I’ve heard them an average of sixteen times a day. But they seem pleased. And the laundry room’s floor is very nearly perfect for the countless ankle-wrenching little plastic toys they love to chase.

And then Lupac comes in and they are riveted. For the first week, I would hustle Lupac from the back door to the kitchen, covering her like a PR flack assuring reporters that Ms. Shapurr would love to talk to them if only she weren’t running late for her appointment with stinky wet food. After a couple of weeks, I grew tired of writing out her press releases and started letting her go rogue. Lupac would come in from the outside, leap on to the dryer and eat her dinner. Anne and Diana would sit on the floor, watching her so closely and with such absorption they’d even stop trying to disembowel one another. It occurred to me that the kittens, without ever having seen her work, instinctively knew Lupac was the Real Deal. She carried on her fur a whiff of the outdoors, of things barely conceivable to the indoor cat, a life of excess and danger and dark pleasures. In sum, Lupac is Keith Richards to the kittens. She’s a cigarette dangling from her lips and a skull ring away from starring in the next “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

For several days, they were respectful; she ignored them. But, as all Westerns have taught us, eventually someone will come gunning for the big guy. Two nights ago Lupac, having finished her wet food, jumped down on to the floor and started to leave. Anne, the braver or possibly more stupid of the kittens, snuck up behind Lupac and placed her paw on Lupac’s tail.

The next few seconds passed as a series of glances. First, Anne looked to Diana, Diana looked to Anne. “Are you actually touching her tail?” “I am totally touching her tail.” “I’m so impressed that I almost don’t want to kill you right now.”

Then, I looked at Anne and thought, “You aren’t that dumb. Krill isn’t that dumb. Take your paw off her tail, run for someplace small and pray to whatever God takes your calls that she’s doesn’t eat you.” Anne looked at me in triumph. “I’m the boss of her!”

Finally, I looked at Lupac, who was already looking steadily at me. “Please,” I implored her with my eyes, “don’t eat her. She’s very young, it would be disturbing for me to watch and I think she’s nearly all gristle.” Lupac looked at me, meaningfully and silently and then, never looking at Anne, pulled her tail out from under the kitten’s paw, swung past her, walked to the kittens’ food bowl, ate their wet food, mumbled something unintelligible under her breath and walked towards the door. At the door, she took a second to whack one of the baby’s toys backwards, which hit Anne between the eyes. The kittens stayed frozen in awe for at least a minute.

I suspect this is just how Keith would have handled it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Keep Talking

Daughter observed last night, "Mom, when you start a sentence with the word 'Candidly,' it's not going to end well for me."

This proves two things. My daughter is very observant and I have a limited vocabulary. So, I ask you, what's the word or phrase in your life which alerts everyone near you to duck and cover?

Monday, October 12, 2009

And the Tree Was Happy

When a friend was recently thrown a baby shower for her first child, a boy, I got a little thrill of anticipation about buying a baby present. It had been a while since my last shower, since my friends are more in the “Shout at husband until he gets a vasectomy” phase than the “Ooh, I hope the stick shows two lines!” phase. Her family is extended and squealingly eager for this child, so I guessed there was nothing clothes-wise I could buy they hadn’t already bought in triplicate with a matching Burberry parka.

I went to a children’s bookstore, in search of inspiration. Something classic? Something new and fun? I went to Vroman’s, one of the few rest stops in the relentless Angeleno race to the intellectual bottom. The saleswoman in the children’s section showed me the wealth of toddler books geared towards boys; they were about trucks, or dinosaurs, or dinosaurs that were happiest driving trucks. I dithered, because it was possible this baby would be the only boy born this year who didn’t quickly show a preference for things which are loud and large. If he turned out to be the kind of boy who liked noticing the use of Helvetica fonts in advertising, my presents would just clutter their house and annoy the baby. Classics? I flipped through Beatrix Potter, Eric Carle, the oeuvre of Dr. Suess. All seemed possible. Then the saleswoman held up a green book and said, “How about this?”

I expostulated loudly “Oh God, no.” Then, realizing my shouting, blaspheming and pointing in horror in the children’s department of a century-old bookstore probably didn’t raise the bar socially, I moderated my tone, lowered my shaking index finger, and said in a quavering tone, “I don’t do ‘The Giving Tree.’ Ever.”

I’m sure you’ve read it. I know you’ve read it. I’m going to cover the content briefly for those people reading this very far away (Waving “Hi!” to Dubai and Turkmenistan). The boy is friends with a tree. Friends, in this case, means that he climbs the tree, eats her apple, sleeps in her shade. Then, he grows up, and the tree is lonely. He comes back; the tree longs for his company, but he needs money. The tree offers apples for the young man to sell, which he takes. When he comes back, he is a man, too busy to play with the tree, only interested in making a house for his wife and family. The tree offers branches for house-building, which the man hacks off. Years later, when he comes back, he denies the wish of the tree to play, asking instead for a boat. The tree suggests he cut the tree trunk down, hollow it out, make a boat. “And then,” the tree says, “you will be happy.” He hacks, he sails, tree starts life over a stump. Surely, you Azerbaijanis reading this are thinking, he’s done with abusing this tree’s good nature? Oh, no. Because much later the man comes back, old and feeble. The tree apologizes for not having apples, or branches, or a trunk he can use (And whose fault is that?), but the man explains that he’s so very old that all he wants in a place to sit. Joyfully, the tree offers the stump, all it has left, and the old man sits on it and they are very happy.

Oh, did I mention the tree is identified as female? That even those people who haven’t taken Women’s Studies classes can pick out the underlying theme where the female character gives and gives and gives, diminishing herself in the process, so the male character can heedlessly get everything he needs or believes he needs? That what is presented as a happy ending is the idea of a very old man’s butt plopped down on the one thing in his life who wanted nothing more than to encourage and support him? If I grant you that love is about giving without expectation of reciprocity, can we agree that reading a book to children which exalts selfishness on one hand and masochism on the other is some seriously broken logic? And who wants to guess that most boys having this read to them identify with the one who gets stuff as opposed to the one who endlessly gives?

And yes, I’m sure some kids absolutely love this book. I’d love a book too if it told me that love means getting whatever I want, whenever I want, from something which doesn’t have muscles to make a frowny face at me. Nearly every parent I know with a child between three and...well, teens is trying impress upon them that they are loved, but that still doesn’t mean they get everything they want. This classic and well-loved book is all too pleased to tell them otherwise.

For what it’s worth, Shel Silverstein’s bald head/big beard look bothered me as well. It was like that game we played as kids with the magnet filings you could move around and create hairdos. In sum, I find Mr. Silverstein icky, which I have no problem saying because I’m the only one who does so and besides, Mr. Silverstein and his weird facial hair made a great deal more money than I did last year. But his popularity and tax returns notwithstanding, I grabbed a couple of suitable-for-gnawing books on Amazonian animals and later a CD of Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang music for the new arrival. Maybe the music is annoying after a year or so, but at least Gwendolyn calls the Selfish Shellfish on his behavior; she’s not doing squat to enable his bad behavior.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Blog Book Tour: A Book in Hand

A Book in Hand asked and I answered. It's a blast from the past! And she's having a giveaway!