Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And Makes the World Taste Good

I don’t know how you all spent your weekend, but Daughter and I spent four days in Utah. It was one of those uniquely last-decade-or-so adventures. For the last year, she’s been taking classes online with the same group of kids, and she’s gotten really close to one girl in particular. This girl invited Daughter to stay for the weekend with them in Provo and I was invited as well. Then it got even better; the mother of “Melanie,” the other girl, said they could have a pre-Halloween costume party. We’d arrive on Friday, help set up the party on Saturday, host the party on Saturday night, and possibly die of party prostration on Sunday.

I’ve come to discover that Utah is an incredibly appealing state. Everyone we met commended us on my exquisite timing; it seemed we timed our visit during the best-looking weekend in recent memory. The mountains and multiple parks were swathed in changing leaves of yellows and reds. The sky was an unsullied bright blue. The sun had yellow rays beaming down. It was cool in the sweater-way, not the muffler-way. This was autumn as designed by a Dick and Jane book.

The girls had a glorious Friday night—which to uneducated parental ears sounded like an extended squeal—and then Saturday came and preparations for the party began. The girls weren’t unhelpful, but it’s nearly impossible to remember to carry chips and salsa to the rec room when there is more squealing to be done. In the interest of finishing the prep-work before Tuesday, Melanie’s mother and I set up most of the food. And then there were the desserts. Before I arrived, I had a dim memory of reading someplace that Mormons were crazy for desserts. I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about any group. I will say that on the day of the party, while driving through Provo on a grocery-store run, I noted a doughnut store, a cupcake store, a pastry store and something called a “Chocolatery”.

That was on one block.

Finally, the party started. There was talking. There was a screening of “Despicable Me”. Melanie’s kareoke machine was brought out. To uneducated parental ears, it sounded like an extended squeal. When parents returned to pick up their costumed offspring, most of the guests were pleading to be allowed to stay a little longer, so I’m thinking it was a hit. The hostesses settled in for an late-night session of squealing, and the parents crawled into their beds, vowing to wash the frosting out of their hair the following day.

After a sluggish Sunday morning -- the girls baked and ate cinnamon rolls, the adults drank hot things and squinted blearily at a sink crammed with dishes -- we thanked Melanie and her family for their kindness and headed off to Park City which was, if possible, even prettier than what we’d already seen of Utah. Polychrome trees, sparkling lakes, breathtaking vistas. This was the natural equivalent of four dessert stores in one block. Daughter amended her life-plan to include at least one year of being a ski-bum. Then she noted we were in front of an ice-cream store. I scraped cinnamon-roll icing off her ear and countered in a firm voice, “Salad”.

Our next morning was a spent in Salt Lake City, and then to the airport for the flight home. We were happy but exhausted, feeling the effects of three nights of interrupted sleep, hours of squealing and the introduction of the “dessert for breakfast” concept. Because we were in Salt Lake, we visited Temple Square. Because we aren’t LDS, we were done in about ten minutes. I Googled What to do in Salt Lake City. Google suggested we see Temple Square. There were plenty of parks and hikes we could take but the kid didn’t have shoes up to walking long distances. (She packed assuming all of Utah was breathless to see the last word in cute shoes for girls from Los Angeles). We had three hours gaping ahead of us. I had no interest in entertaining Daughter in the airport for three hours and I couldn’t find a single thing to—


I silently handed the phone to Daughter and pointed at something. Her eyes widened.


Daughter flung herself towards the car. I raced after her, shouting “WAIT! THE TOURS ARE BY APPOINTMENT!”

Daughter shouted back over her shoulder, “THEY’LL GIVE OUT FREE CANDY!”


It was then I noticed we were running and shouting through the gardens of the most revered and iconic real estate in the Mormon world. If either Romney or Huntsman wins the election, I’d just bought myself a lifetime slot on the FBI watch list.

I caught up with her and we agreed to go visit the factory, if for no other reason than it was about ten minutes from the airport. We wouldn’t get a tour, but we’d go to the factory store and buy something delicious if slightly irregular to bring home to Consort. The factory was large, grey, about the size of a city block, very much a normal factory. Not a single Oompa Loompa was seen bustling about. We parked and I said to Daughter, “See? It’s just a place where stuff is made.” She waved a dismissive hand at me and barrelled inside. There was a smiling receptionist and three baskets with free taffy samples. Daughter flicked an eyebrow at me and politely pounced. I asked the receptionist, “I know this isn’t likely, but might my daughter and I get a tour? Maybe just slipstream onto some other group?”

As a matter of fact, we could. As a matter of fact, a tour had just started two minutes ago and were at their first stop. We scrawled signatures on release forms, donned hairnets, handed our bags and phone/cameras to the receptionist and were escorted to the group. Before you could say Halloween Jelly Pumpkins, we were staring at Jacuzzi-sized bags of sugar. I’ve never been on a tour of a candy factory before, so perhaps I’m not jaded enough yet, but this was awesome. I mean this in the most traditional sense of the word, this candy factory filled me with awe.

They had a three-story high silo filled with sugar. They had a large room full of rotating barrels for covering jelly beans with coloring. They had a conveyor belt only four feet shorter than the length of a football field for the boxing of various candies. I defy you to look at it and not see Lucy and Ethel frantically trying to keep up. Consort would have spent the entire tour in ecstasy looking at these immense machines which were both intimidatingly modern and clunkily old-fashioned. I’m no gearhead and I was delighted. Daughter was pleased enough, but her high points were the stops where we were offered a freshly-made sample of whatever each area made. Can’t say as I disagree with her. I’m no foodie, but I’m here to tell you that an hours-old jelly bean or chocolate-covered orange stick is an order of magnitude better than what you usually get.

We gazed in delight at the final bags of Christmas candy getting ready for shipping and the rooms full of jelly-rabbits awaiting April 8th, 2012. Outside, the weather was cooling down, but inside it was warm and sugary and always happily anticipating the next candy-related holiday. And, down deep, aren’t they all candy-related holidays? I just knew that somewhere in this massive structure was a flag-shaped taffy for Veteran’s Day, a blue one for Water Quality Month. Utah had won me over; desserts are for breakfast, candy should be measured by the ton and chocolatery is a word. I chewed my sample happily.

The tour ended and we de-hairnetted. The part of me which notices these things is happy to say that the employees seemed happy and that on the wall they had a commendation for exceptional safety from OSHA. The part of me which stays up late at night surfing the Internet for new reasons to fret was heartened to hear that the candy is run through a metal-detector before being bagged; I’d never specifically worried about metal in my candy before, but it was nice to preemptively check it off the list. The buttered-popcorn taffy tasted pretty much like sweetened buttered popcorn, thereby creating a new Platonic ideal of sugar and salt. We bought bags of mixed taffy to bring home and waved goodbye to the receptionist. Outside, the mountains were tinting a deeper red as the sun set and a breeze rustled my hair in the most adorable way. I felt wonderful and it wasn’t just the sugar. Daughter hugged me and said “This was an excellent weekend.”

Yes, it was.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Can't Escape Slave to Love

About three months ago, Daughter and I arrived someplace early for a class. This isn’t surprising, because I’m pathologically punctual and ever since we’ve started home-schooling, I’m so eager to hand Daughter off to more competent hands that I arrive anywhere academic early. Usually we spend the extra half-hour or so getting Daughter a snack because she hasn’t eaten since we left the house ten minutes before and she’s starving to death. This day, we grabbed her usual hedge again low-blood sugar and walked down the street, past a pet-store. The dog needed food; feeling virtuous at the thought of accomplishing something in what a minute before had been time-killing mode, we turned in.

Within seconds, I knew I wouldn’t be getting food there. It was the kind of store where they sell purebred puppies. I’m not going to stand outside the store and picket, nor am I going to shout at the owner, but neither I’m not going to support a store which supports puppy mills. It didn’t help their case that a Siberian Husky puppy was in the same-sized cage as a Pomeranian puppy and not one dog had a toy or a chewy in with them. It was dirty in there and a little sad and I feel enough animal-related despair without adding starter fuel. I spun around to leave when Daughter pointed to the back of the store, shouted “Cats!” and dashed off to see them. Grudgingly, I walked over.

The cage was in the back of the store, in what appeared to be a converted closet. To this day, I have no idea how she saw it, because it was underlit and out of eye-range. Perhaps it was the smell which drew her; even my marginally senescent nose picked up litter-box. In a small cage were two full-grown, nearly identical cats. The sign on the outside said they were available for adoption, name your price. They had neither food nor water. One cat was curled up, sleeping; the other was sitting up. She looked straight out at me, pleading. In a second, I saw their lives, stuck here, possibly not exactly being abused, but certainly being neglected. I’ve seen worse situations and not meddled, even though I wanted to. I couldn’t fix every animal in the world, but a small voice in my head said “You’re supposed to fix these two.” Daughter said, “I think they need help.”

I did what I do when I’m having a perfectly nice day and then someone needs help. I swore, softly but vigorously. Then I stomped around a little bit. And then I went outside and called Kate, the woman who runs the rescue group where I volunteer and, for the first time in the five years I’ve worked there, asked if we had room for two full-grown cats. Because hey, what rescue group doesn’t clap their collective hands in delight at the thought of two cats who are no longer in the cute kitten stage coming in, possibly for months? Kate heard the story. The only thing she asked was, “Do they need us?”

I squinted back into the darkness of the store and said, “Damn it, I think they do.”

“Then bring them in.”

I looked up at the sky and said “Nice one, St. Francis” and went to drop Daughter off at class and come back and ransom out some cats.

The store-owner looked puzzled for a second when I asked about them, perhaps forgetting they were back there. They were mother and son, both under two years old. The woman who had owned them moved in a rush and had given them to the store, paying their way until they were placed. Since I was paying to spring them, these cats had probably been the best financial decision he ever made. In reward of this, he gave me a cardboard box big enough to hold both of them. They demolished it before we reached the freeway and spent the entire trip to our shelter alternately rappelling up and down the back seats and screaming. We set them up in a nice big cage, got them some food and water; Daughter decreed their names to be Lavinia and Arthur and then she and I went home so I could vacuum cat-saliva soaked cardboard out of the back of my car.

Everyone who worked with them agreed; Lavinia and Arthur were lovely cats. Attractive, social, interested in humans. Of course, that didn’t mean there weren’t some quirks. It took two days to determine Lavinia hated her son. They might look like an exercise in cloning, but you could always tell which one was the mom; she was the one slapping the other one. His very existence drove her insane. Her attitude seemed to be “You’re grown and yet you’re still around, keeping me from making your room into a crafting room!”

They were separated and peace prevailed. Within a month, Lavinia was adopted by a family and was whisked off to a life of affection and post-spaying actualization and A Room of One’s Own. One Saturday morning, I came by to work and I passed by Arthur’s cage and stopped to give him a scritch on the head.

“Someday soon, Artie,” I said, “Someone will take you home and love you.”

Another volunteer snorted, “You mean Arthur the feline pedophile?”

The what now?

Silently, the volunteer opened a cage and let two half-grown kittens frolic around the store while she cleaned their cage and indicated I should let Arthur out. He leapt down, raced toward the marmalade kitten and commenced to...

Oh, it was unsettling.

And there was a great deal of noise.

I really don’t think the marmalade was consenting.

A spray bottle was utilized to help Arthur rediscover his composure, but as soon as the kitten started to walk away, off he went, a feline Humbert Humbert trapped in the longing for his own Dolores Haze. The volunteer continued blandly, “He has a type. It’s always male marmalades, about five months old.”

“But,” I offered feebly, “he’s spayed.”

“You know that and I know that, but ol' Arthur over there, he...oh, God. Get the spray bottle again.”

Perhaps this was why Lavinia didn't want to share a cage with him. Maybe the look she first gave me at the pet store was "Please save me from the slow death by indifference," but I'm starting to think it was “Please call my son’s parole officer.”

Saturday, October 08, 2011

I Know What I Know, If You Know What I Mean

I'm guessing that in your life, there's a person you call if you want a recommendation for the most romantic restaurant in your nearest city.

Perhaps there's another person you call if you need to find a kidney doctor for your aunt.

Possibly, if you have a wide-enough range of friends, you have someone you can call to make that certain troublesome person in your life disappear, if you know what I'm saying.

I think you know what I'm saying.

Today, I clarified who I am. My friend Lynn called this morning. She needed me to walk her through how to bathe a cat.

This isn't completely dispiriting. She was very grateful to have someone in her life who knew this. Also, if you did have someone troublesome in your life, I could make the disappear by having you say to them, "Hey, I need you to come over and help me bathe my cat."

They'd be gone forever and it wouldn't require a shovel and a bag of quicklime.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Every Girl Crazy 'Bout a Sharp-Dressed Man

Imagine this. It's midday. The child is learning. The Consort is off discussing arcane things. The dog has a little gas. I am doing what I do to stave off domestic entropy: Swiffering. Out of nowhere, possibly while cornering a gopher-sized  lump of spent fur, a thought explodes in my head: "Where's Squee?"

[Squea used to be Anne of "AnneandDiana," but she is chatty and eventually became known as Squeakers, which shortened to Squee because, really, in this modern, go-go world, who has time for two syllables?]

I look on the giant amoeba couch. Much fur, one Diana in a sun-Jacuzzi (slightly larger than a sunbath), but no Squee. There is no Squee patrolling the back room, praying for spontaneous kitty-star combustion. There is no Squee behind the curtain in the living room, under the dresser or in the kitchen sink. I bite my lower lip. There is one last potential nest...

Those are Consort's polo-shirts. That is Squee. There is a shelf just above with Polarfleece sweatshirts and jackets, which my ignorant mind would assume to be far more comfortable than polo-shirts and which would have the added benefit of not showing claw marks. The shelf just below holds jeans, which I would find perfectly comfortable were I of the feline persuasion; and which also would not show claw marks. In sum, I see no earthly reason why, three times a week, Squeakers somehow opens the closet and embeds herself in Consort's shirts the way you tuck sage leaves under a turkey's skin.

And yet, she does. When I remove her, carefully extracting her nails from the shirts, she cries and carries on, her paws stretching back towards her homeland, the Auld Sod, the Land of the Free, the Home of the Placket. I put her outside. I remind her how fun it is to stand in the kitchen sink. Finally, I do a load of wash, heavy on the polo-shirts. Diana, the fluffier one, walks past me. I look down at her and think, "You and your sister are both delightful but you, in all candor, are my easier, dumber child. Thank you for being my easier, dumber child." I then watch Diana stroll across the laundry room, leap deftly into the basket of clean clothes and proceed to give herself a variation of a sitz bath.

I know when I'm beat. I hereby declare the fashion colors for 2011/12 to be orange and tortoiseshell, and the hottest look on the runway this season to be mohair polo-shirts.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

She Blinded Me With Science

A friend is doing at study of identical twins and Alzheimer's disease. If you have a family member affected, reach out to her at JSteuer on Twitter. If you know a family, could you pass this along? Let's make the Internet useful.