Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Happy Feather's Day

Last week, I had the honor of visiting my physician. I love visiting my physician, but passing through the impediments leading to his office is like overcoming a series of obstacles for Fear Factor. Or at least it feels that way to a germaphobe.

His office is inside one of those downtown Chicago giant hospital complexes that houses 30-plus floors of clinically unwell people. Just getting through the oversized rotating doors challenges me. I choose the fastest revolving door that has the most momentum to try and duck through without touching any surfaces. I usually have to push the last few inches though, because everyone else is trying not to touch too.

Then there’s the elevator. Where else in the world do I ride shoulder-to-shoulder with people coughing like tuberculosis? Where else do I hope someone else is going to the same floor as me so I don’t have to touch one of the dirty floor buttons? Where else do I breathe recycled air exhaled by the person next to me who probably has the Chicago strain of a rare influenza infection?

The elevator turned fun that day. It came as quite a surprise. On the first floor, I had to reach over and touch the 18th floor button. What a let down. But on the second floor, we stopped to let in more people, and two war veterans stepped on. The one had a baseball cap stating his company and division, but I couldn’t see it clearly to read. What struck me—and everyone else in the elevator—so much about this man was that stuck into the mesh of his cap, he had two large feathers placed on either side of his head, like Mercury’s wings. I couldn’t help but smile.

“I like your hat,” I said. I tucked down my head and gestured at my forehead like adjusting the bill of a cap.

“Oh thanks,” he said smiling but casual.

Another woman wanted to get into the fun too, “What are the feathers for?”

“It’s Feather’s Day,” he grinned.

“Feather’s Day?” I asked.


The other woman had the wherewithal to ask, “What’s Feather’s Day?”

“It’s to celebrate the one that didn’t get away.”

Sadly, the elevator opened at 18 at just that moment. I was sorely let down. I really wanted to hear the answer to that line of questioning.

What didn’t get away? The feather that stayed? The bird that stayed? A day that didn’t get away?

I’d like to think it was the day that didn’t get away. The opportunity that wasn’t missed. I’d also like to find Feather’s Day within me every day. I’d like to always celebrate what didn’t get away. I wonder if I need to stick feathers in my cap to remember though.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Number 51

You know how you're driving a new car and you reach that point where the odometer says "666"? Or when you're driving an old car and the odometer says "100,000"? You know it's coming, and you always mean to carry a camera to the car with you and take a picture for laughs later. But somehow you always forget, and the next thing you know the odometer says "672" and you totally missed your chance.

I just did that with the blog. I meant to point out, "Hey, check it out, this is post number 50! Whew!" But I totally forgot. In the spirit of mile "100,012," I give you ... blog post number 51. Thank you 51. You're an inspiration to us all to push harder for the next milestone. And hopefully to remember to take the camera to the car this time.

Hell-bent on time

I am hell-bent on destroying inanimate objects. Like a lightning-rod for my wrath, one class of things becomes the vent for my rage.

Take, for example, the lowly kitchen timer. An innocent household utensil, correct? But no! The kitchen timer is the bane of my existence. I curse you kitchen timer!

The first kitchen timer I surreptitiously destroyed was a classic blue turn-knob egg timer. I knocked it off of every surface it found itself upright on. On top of the kitchen counter--shazzam--on the floor! On top of the microwave, oh, you thought you could hide from me there--fwack--on the floor! Over by the sink? I don't think so--bleck--on the floor!

What I learned from my wanton annihilation of the egg timer is that the blue timer face is just a simple knob that you can pop back onto the mechanism�if you can find it. The knobby part will fly all over the place, but the timer mechanism is easy to find because of the built in bell. It makes a lot of noise when it hits the floor. After severe damage, the egg timer will often still work if you turn the knob past 10 and then set it to the time you need. But, after three years of my abuse and a few years of semi-retirement, even the bravest blue egg timer must give in.

"Where's the other timer?" Matthew asks.

"Mm. It's really dead now. It doesn't work at all. I think I threw it away, or it's on top of the fridge."

Which brings us to the digital kitchen timer. A state of the art timing machine from Williams-Sonoma, this early Christmas gift from a few years back has withstood significant trial at my hands. It has a magnetic back, so I keep it high up on the refrigerator, mwah-ha-hah, which means it has much farther to fall to hit the ground. There's a crack in the plastic face, and every once in a while it freaks out and the timer won't accept instructions about counting up or down, but for the most part, it has been a worthy adversary. Not so weak as the puny old timer, but not so simple to doctor after a calamity either.

If the battery cover flies off during a fall, I have to search all over for the triple-A battery and white plastic hinged cover. I'm surprised I still have all the pieces. Sometimes after a bad fall, it helps to remove the battery and let the digital mechanism reset itself. I usually let it rest for a while under the theory that it's had a bad day and deserves a break.

Kitchen timer incidents are so common in our household now that when I make a terrible clatter and Matthew asks, "What was that?" The simple answer "Egg timer" suffices.

Why do I want to destroy all the timers? I don't know. It's a good question though. When I get desperate and need to use the microwave as a timer, will I break it? Will I knock it off the counter every time I set "Timer-minute-plus thirty"� I hope not. I bet it would make a much bigger mess than the flying knob of the little blue egg timer that couldn't.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sorry Christine Wy fan club

Dear fans, After the trip to Canada, I've been very busy with a class I'm taking for fun. It's final exams time and all our projects are due. And I was in Canada reading road signs! I promise I'll be back to the keyboard more regularly in no time. I'll be stunning you with my effervescent wit like no time has passed at all. I pinky swear it.


Christine Wy

Monday, May 22, 2006

The gentle maple leaf

I have discovered the perfect place for me. A place with European chocolate and base ten measuring systems. A place created by a legion of neurotic sign makers. Canada.

Canada is a neurotic country obsessed with safety. Cigarettes come with huge warnings that say "SMOKING KILLS" and a tiny logo says "marlboro." The amber alert sign over the highway says "High winds on Skyway. Drive carefully." Driving under the influence is a felony offense in Canada. Signs posted on the QEW say "Fatigue kills. Take a break."

I love it. Canada is watching out for you while you're there. I'm sure it's the country I am destined for because it's so darn uptight and polite. Surely I'll fit in there. Except for the accent. Gotta work on that. Eh?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


A woman left a message on our answering machine some time this past Friday. She said, “I’m sorry I missed you. Many people think the world is coming to an end very soon. Your Bible tells you how to prepare, Zephaniah Chapter 2 Verses 2 and 3. God bless.” She said this in a mild, even tone, as if she were informing me that elections for city water reclamation district were coming soon, and I should refer to the local newspaper, page 2, columns 2 and 3, for more information on candidates. Seriously, that dead pan.

My thoughts follow: “How many people really think the world is going to end?” “What would I have said to her if I actually answered the phone?” “Haven’t people always thought the world was about to end?” “Who is Zephaniah and what does he have to say about plastic tarps and duct tape?”

Zephaniah is actually interested in humility: “Before you are driven away like the drifting chaff, before there comes upon you the fierce anger of the Lord, before there comes upon you the day of the wrath of the Lord, seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the wrath of the Lord.”

That calm, mellow woman, telling me I needed to become humble to survive God’s coming wrath smacked of arrogance. I hate false humility. She called my home to tell me that she knows how to be saved, implying that she indeed will be saved, and thereby stating that she is the most humble of God’s creatures and will therefore be spared. But I don’t think that someone who calls to tell me that I am not humble is actually herself humble, and this irks me.

Have you ever had someone say to you, “I thank the Lord every time I wake up in the morning and get out of bed!” Does your skin crawl as they smugly smile at how devout and humble they are? This is mock-humility. A truly humble person who actually lives in fear of not waking and getting out of bed every single day leans in close to you and whispers, “I pray every night that I will wake in the morning and rise, and I thank God every day that I do.” Their eyes will shine with unshed tears as they are truly grateful that God has once again seen fit to spare them in all His divine mercy. They do not expect to be rewarded for humility; they hope to be. Like Zephaniah said, “maybe you will be hidden from the wrath.”

But where is the humility in “I thank God for all my gifts,” shouted loudly for everyone to hear?

Paula Abdul also values sincerity in humility. On an “American Idol” audition episode a year or so ago, a very self-satisfied young woman pranced into the try-out room and sang a country song with yodels. The girl finished singing and smiled broadly, very smug, as if she’d just said, “I thank God every morning I wake up and get out of bed!” Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson gushed about her wonderful talent, and Paula demurred, “I don’t think so. That is a very humble singing style, and nothing about you says humble. I think it’s very insincere.” Randy and Simon were outraged and the girl looked stung—stung like Paula Abdul was utterly insane and didn’t appreciate glaring humility when it sang right in front of her.

Ultimately, I don’t think humility is something Zephaniah can really preach, or that he can even adequately prepare us for the end of the world. Humility comes from a small place, so quiet, it looks like a whisper.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Astral advice

My best friend’s horoscope is always wrong—dreadfully, dastardly wrong. It says things like “Venus gives you a swinging lifestyle, you player you. Go ahead, date around,” but really he’s in a fight with his steady girlfriend. It’s always way off to what’s really going on in his life.

Of course, we don’t believe in horoscopes, we just like to read them together for the entertainment value. Mine are always eerily on target. Here’s an actual example I have taped to my cubicle: “It’s important to live in the moment. An intense solar eclipse is scattering your mind in a hundred different directions. Stop asking yourself if this is 'the one' (as if we only get 'one' anyway). Just enjoy being with this soulmate today.”

Being a horoscope, this entry does require some interpretation. Matthew is “my one” and I enjoy being with my soulmate every day, so that half is bunk. If I focus on understanding the relationship advice in terms of the mental state description, I can read it this way: “Your mind is scattered in a hundred different directions. It’s OK to have lots of ideas, let it flow; this doesn’t have to be “the one” idea.” Pretty good advice, huh?

But my pal, oh, his are bad. “Domestic tranquility is yours for the taking,” and stuff like that. On that occasion he was moving into his new house and having problems getting the floor repaired. Not really tranquil when they bring in giant sledgehammers! It doesn’t matter what’s going on his life, his horoscope is always polar opposite, which has become a favorite joke for us.

He’s out of town right now, and he has the most perfect, spot-on horoscope I’ve ever seen for a human being. I teared up a little when I read his horoscope because it made me sad that the one time it’s on target he’s not with me to share the awe of this moment.

“Libra: Stop asking your friends, ‘What should I do?’ When did you decide that everybody else knows better than you? Neptune is reminding you that you are perfectly capable of brilliant … insights. You don’t need your therapist, your friend, or your mom to provide advice.”

Requiring no interpretation, this horoscope lays it on the line. When did you decide that everyone else knows better than you? It’s kinda harsh, but hey, stop it already. You don’t need anyone to provide advice.

He never reads my blog, and I’ll probably forget to tell him about the most perfect horoscope ever, but I’ll remember to tell him the next time he asks what I think, “You don’t need my input. You know what to do. You are perfectly capable of brilliant insights.” Remember that, Zodiac watchers, you are perfectly capable of brilliant insights.

Colonizing movement

My philosophy is to always listen to what my animals have to say. They are always talking, but it's hard to hear to them. If you pay very close attention though, they will tell you many things you need to know.

Around 1999 or so, Matthew and I lived in a garden apartment. In Chicago, this is a euphemism for "basement." Our apartment really was more garden-y than basement-y, but it still had basement features. Like being an appealing destination for insects. We got a steady stream of mind-bogglingly determined tiny red ants. Our cat, the amazing Loki, was the first to know.

"What is the cat looking at?"

"Nothing. He's weird," said Matthew.

"I don't think so. Look at him. He's really into something."

Cats often have that look of intense concentration when they stare at what looks like nothing, but this was a full-on feline mind meld. His entire body poised into looking at one laser sharp object, whiskers forward and ears aimed front. Something was definitely happening.

I walked over to check out the scene; "Oh my God! There's ants! A ton of 'em!" Loki found the entry point. Through careful caulking, we were able to stop the stream of ants from coming once Loki showed us where to look.

Tonight, coincidentally, we had another ant related incident. I walked past the couch after trying to look for my white guitar pick (it's my favorite), and the dog looked intensely interested in something. You've probably seen pictures of my dog. She looks like a limp dishrag lying on the couch most of the time. She's a couch zombie. She only wakes up long enough to take your spot if you get up. But walking past the couch, I could see the same laser guided focus, ears forward, eyebrows up, feet aimed front. Everything about her body language said that she was watching something.

I leaned over to see what she had gotten into, and a great big black ant walked out from under her paw. She mouthed at it a little and tried to paw it again, but it's like the story of the lion and the mouse. The lion is too big to remove the tiny thorn from his paw so the delicate mouse has to do the close-up work. Blanche is too big to make a move on an ant. The ant just walked in between her giant furry paw pads and kept on going. I could even see a couple of mouth marks on the couch where Blanche had tried to bite the ant, but it just walked right through her great big teeth.

Poor Blanche. I scooped up her quarry in a half-used tissue and flushed it down the toilet. Blanche didn't notice at first, she kept looking for the ant, just like Loki used to go back and look at the place where the ants came in through the window sill. I think Blanche is probably asleep again, and Loki moved on years ago. He has a multi-color feather dancer for entertainment now, but I bet he still dreams of eating those ants.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Beta bugs

Chicago has been having some beta testing problems. City weather recently rebooted Month version 3.06, March. It happens in Chicago pretty frequently: the weather resets itself on the wrong month. It’s actually May now, of course, and after a few tester days of early June type weather, Chicago reverted to a previous version to test for errors.

My birthday is in July. I like to do things that are air conditioned or that involve swimming to celebrate my birthday. One year, celebrating in Chicago, I had the coldest birthday on record. 65 degrees. Can you imagine? 65 degrees on July 5? I was miserable. All of my 65 degree weather clothes were in storage (ie: at the bottom of the clothing pile). It didn’t help that I refused to acknowledge that it was cold on my birthday, so I ended up freezing to death. We ran around on all of my self-planned birthday treats wearing shorts and t-shirts, not nearly enough armor against stiff lake winds.

I remember going to the Museum of Contemporary Art and then going to Chinatown afterward for dinner, and all I could think was that I couldn’t wait to get home and snuggle under a warm blanket. I bought a flimsy sweater in Chinatown, but it really wasn’t enough. I also remember not understanding the art exhibit of the two Thai Hindu wooden statues with a paper clip suspended on a string between them. It seemed like a pretty lame interpretation of the tenuous connections between modern people

This weekend’s weather has been a lot like the cycle of weather Chicago has been stuck in for several months. It only got bitterly cold over the winter a few times and mostly stayed pretty warm (for Chicago winter) and just gray or rainy. Same thing now. Moderately temperate, gray, and rainy. I’ve always thought Chicago was the right place to be settled down when global warming takes effect, because then the climate here will finally be tolerable. But if weather changes are just going to make Chicago drippy and chill, I don’t think I’m as eager to buy real estate as I was.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Mind games

I love to play games with myself. I establish goofy challenges and criteria to entertain myself. I make up elaborate stories about strangers and create tiny worlds with any little facts I can glean.

I worked for my little sister for a while, and my job involved data entry of customer contracts. Making up games about people in the contracts distracted me so much I’d rush into my sister’s office to tell her the story: “Look! This guy’s birthday is this weekend! Oh my God, he’s almost 70. I bet his kids don’t love him enough and that’s why he’s alone. Look where he lives. I bet he’s going to throw a party for himself this weekend. Isn’t that sad? His kids should throw the party. I hope people go to his party. I hope his co-workers show up.”

She’d look up at me from her computer for a nano-second, “Mmm-hmm.” We’re sisters. We have decades of experience at tuning each other out.

My current favorite game is one you can play too—in addition to making up facts about strangers. It’s called “Next Blog.” I didn’t actually invent this game, but I swear it’s tons of fun anyway. At the top of my blog on the right hand side in the Blogger toolbar, there’s a link that says “Next Blog.” Click on it. But then use your back arrow to come back here!

Every time you click on that button, you’ll get a different result. I love it. Now I get to make up stories about the bloggers who went to the trouble to create such wildly varied destinations for me. I went through a phase where every time I played “Next Blog,” I’d end up on a site written in a different language. That made me sad. I felt left out of the fun. It added a new dimension to “Next Blog” though because I’d try to pick out the words I knew and see if I could figure out what the blog was about. Lots of the blogs were in Spanish. I know “corazon,” cerveza,” “bano.” Not really helpful at the blog game. Once I found an Asian language site that was all about flowers. Oh I loved that one. The flowers were beautiful and exotic confections of swirling pink, but I didn’t know where they were or what they were.

The only “Next Blog” game website I’ve bookmarked was a self-help site about finding your spiritual center. I got there by following a link from a clinically depressed person’s blog. The site made me laugh because it was so serious, but it kind of scared me because some of the self-improvement tips were deeply inspirational. I don’t really want to be inspired by the “links I enjoy” on a blog that says “Today I found a new guru.” It just sounds too out of context to my life.

Tonight I “Next Blogged” I Heart to Blog. It’s kinda weird stuff about graphic design and Apple computers, but I like it. It looks like there’s some entertaining links on there that I look forward to following.

So what’s “I Heart to Blog’s” story? I thought he was a guy. My first made up story starred “I Heart to Blog” as a guy. Guys like Apple computers. He’s not. He’s she. I think she thinks about stuff too much like I do cause the title is tongue-in-cheek. She also thinks too much about shoes. I also think she’s the go-to-guy at her company for computer questions the tech support crew can’t handle. Or she’s totally free-lance and that’s why she loves Apple. I don’t think she’ll ever “Next Blog” me because she doesn’t have the standard-issue Blogger toolbar. It’s a shame. She’s missing out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

RPM overload

I got to test-drive a Porsche last Saturday. It changed me. I understand things now that I didn’t before.

I like to drive fast. I like driving 1995 Honda Accord on I-65 fast, which has all the thrill of Japanese speed trains arriving at their destination on time and efficiently. Which is to say it thrills someone neurotic like me who adores efficiency, but doesn’t inspire aspirants to convert to the church of velocity worship.

Driving around my neighborhood, I learned that the Porsche is a cheetah and the Accord is a house cat. I had no idea. The guy with me kept putting his hand softly over mine on the gear-shift knob, “You’re shifting too soon.” Over and over, saying gently, “You’re shifting too soon; you’re not feeling it.”

I turned left onto the north side of the Square, “OK, there’s no stop signs here. Don’t shift until I tell you to.” I got uncomfortable and twitched the gear. “You’re still shifting too soon,” a hand on mine again to get me to stay still.

“This car, you don’t understand yet, you don’t drive it like a normal car. It can do things.”

I listened patiently at the red light because I could tell how eagerly he wanted to communicate this experience to me. I tried hard to hear what he was telling me.

“OK, when the light changes, really push it. Really push it. Don’t shift until I tell you to and you’ll feel it.”

Green light, first gear and turn left. Two blocks on the straightway, no traffic ahead of me, no signals, no disruptions. I shot out at 50 mph in second gear. My jaw dropped, my shoulders relaxed, my pupils dilated, my stomach lifted into my heart and my heart lifted into my throat.

“You still had room to push it harder,” he said quietly.

I barely croaked, “I think I’m finished.”

I understand many things now. I understand why celebrities and business tycoons become race car drivers. I understand “0-60.” I understand James Dean.

I am not a thrill junky, but I touched the edge of real thrill for just a moment, and it was enough for me to see and to understand. Pushing your life, your boundaries to get every rush you can, racing adrenaline to the peak of performance before chemical breakdown. I see that appeal. I understand that need to get the next big fix from the next base jump or the next drag race.

Understanding has changed me. It has given me sympathy where before I felt derision at giving in to baser instincts. Instincts feel good. Instincts feel right. Especially at 50 mph in second gear.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spring fever

In 1996, I took the only spring break trip I’d ever take in college. It was our sophomore year, and my longest term roommate and I decided to go on spring break. We didn’t have a lot of cash, so it had to be driving distance, and we were very serious girls, so it had to be contemplative and out of the ordinary. We chose Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky. It was probably my idea.

We booked a room at the Hemlock Lodge; it was so early in the travel season by state park standards that cabins in the woods weren’t available yet. We weren’t that disappointed--we couldn’t wait to start the trip either way.

My roommate didn’t have a car, and mine was manual transmission, and she couldn’t drive stick. I was in charge of driving by default. It didn’t matter; we weren’t going that far really.

The morning of our trip, I started sniffling. “It’s just my allergies,” I told her. As we got closer and closer to Natural Bridge, the sniffle became a runny nose, and the runny nose became a full-on Christine Wy nasal assault. I drove us through winding two-lane roads with no painted lines and few signs, one hand on the wheel, one hand holding a tissue to my face. The sun shone so brilliantly and trees arched overhead, and I kept feeling worse and worse.

I had to stop for more Kleenexes and some decongestant. “It’s probably just allergies,” I kept telling her. Yeah right. My face was exploding with snot.

We finally found a store tucked into one of the curves of the road at the bottom of yet another terrifyingly steep hill. The store had a cheap wood exterior, I think it’s called wafer board, weathered all around to look gray like all the tree trunks surrounding it. It was decorated to look like someone converted their house into a store, but I don’t think it really was. It had a fake front porch and wagon wheels leaning up against the walls and horseshoes hammered up in rows and old kerosene lanterns hanging from rusty hooks. Hand made signs proclaimed “homemade maple syrup,” but I really never thought of Natural Bridge as maple syrup country. Other signs said “souvenirs” and “gazing spheres.”

“What’s a ‘gazing sphere?’” I asked my roommate, incredulous.

“I dunno.”

I drove into the soft parking lot covered in last year’s leaf litter, and I saw lots of little cement critters and yard decorations all around the outside of the store. Perched perfectly atop special cement holders were chrome-shiny electro pink and blue and yellow globes, reflecting all the trees and cement critters and wagon wheels around. A gazing sphere.

We were mesmerized and repulsed. Here stood the perfect symbol of low-brow Kentucky interests that we prided ourselves in being so far above, but it was the most beautiful and enchanting thing we’d ever seen. We couldn’t help it; the gazing spheres had all the attraction of something forbidden, like a boy you’re not supposed to date, and we couldn’t quit walking toward them.

“What the hell do you think that thing is?”

“I guess it’s for putting in your yard,” she said. “It’s weird. You can see everything upside down.”

We walked around the cement critters as silent and poised as if we were walking through a cemetery reading the oldest monuments we could find.

“Look! That one’s multi-color!”

We saw them all then walked away thinking hauntedly about the gazing spheres, both of us imagining sitting on a front porch looking out into a yard and staring at your own gazing sphere. Paradise?

“Did you like pink best?”

“Kind of,” I said. “The blue was cool too.”

“Yeah, I didn’t like the yellow.” I agreed with her. Something too jaundiced about the yellow.

We found decongestant and Kleenexes, and we joked with the store owner about how we were on vacation and of course I was sick.

We drove to the hotel and checked in. In our room I took the decongestant and washed it down with Killian’s Red, my favorite beer at the time. We laid down for a nap with the curtains open, watching the hemlock covered hills. My roommate made quiet sleeping sounds. I stared out the balcony windows and watched as the sky grew darker and darker, unable to sleep because of the sinus medicine.

The moon began to rise directly in front of me. Huge. It glowed more white than I’ve ever seen before or since, and it looked close enough that I could walk up the hill and just keep walking til I was twenty feet from the moon and maybe reach out and touch it. I wanted to wake my roommate, but I couldn’t speak. I saw every crater and pock-mark and lunar sea, glowing at me with more brilliance than a satellite that doesn’t generate its own light could ever deserve.

The moon at last rose above the hills, diminishing in size, greatness, and beauty. I quit holding my breath. I relaxed my eyes. I let go of trying to keep the moment frozen forever, and I let the moon go. I felt grateful, peaceful, certain I was the only one in Hemlock Lodge to see the most spectacular lunar show ever.

No more than a year later, that roommate and I quit living together, having had a tiff over something we probably should have resolved instead. I sat in the dorm room she had just moved out of and that I was stuck in alone for the rest of the semester, and I read the Wall Street Journal while sitting on the floor smoking cigarettes. There was an article about the humble Kentucky origins of the gazing sphere and its growing popularity. There was no photo to accompany the story, but I remembered instantly the power of watching round globes, vacationing in a hemlock forest.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Flying for first

My poor mom tried so hard to make me presentable as a kid, but I resisted at every step. I hated having my hair brushed, I hated having my teeth brushed, I hated cleaning up my toys. I absolutely would not cooperate. I can just see my poor mom struggling to make me look all shiny and adorable like other people’s kids when she’d drag me along to my brother’s little league games. I wanted to wear my rattiest t-shirt, my brother’s old shorts, leave my hair in a rat’s nest and leave the dirt streaks on my cheeks. I was happy that way.

Every year my mom would try to sell me on one or two new “special” outfits. Some years it was a nice Easter dress: “Look at the pretty flowers on the dress Christine! You love the flowers out in the garden, it’s just like wearing the garden!” “Christine! Look, it’s just like your sister’s dress! You two look so cute together!” Some years it was a dress for Christmas, "Oh Christine, this is so adorable!" Bleck! I did NOT want to be cute. Matching was the worst form of torture, no offense to my little sister. Matching was for cutesy kids who put away their toys before bedtime, not me.

The one outfit my mom really got me to buy into was my sky blue suit. Straight-leg trousers and a matching super soft cotton t-shirt and even two matching ribbons for pigtails in absolutely perfect robin’s egg blue. I loved finding robin’s eggs because they looked like such a magical gift that a wild bird could make eggs like a chicken but in brightest blue. So perfect.

I loved the sky blue suit. I loved the soft cotton of the shirt and the grown-up sophistication of trousers. The ultimate little-girl tom-boy dress-up outfit, a sky blue suit.

The sky blue suit was saved for special occasions though, which made it even more magic, like robin’s eggs only came once a year. I convinced my mom to let me wear the sky blue suit to my last day of kindergarten.

“OK Christine, be very careful. Keep your outfit clean.”

“OK Mom.”

I felt like the coolest girl in kindergarten in my sky blue suit and matching pigtail ribbons. I felt so grown-up and put together. But Miss Geffenbach planned a day of physical activity for our last day as half-day students, a major transition in a five-year-old’s life. Normally, I was the first to challenge the fastest boy in class to a race or the strongest boy to pushups, but I thought a sky blue suit day would be coloring books and number songs.

I was reticent. I was scared for the suit. “No chocolate ice cream drips on the shirt. No grass stains on the pants. Don’t lose a ribbon.” I gave myself lots of rules to preserve my suit like a precious egg. But I couldn’t resist the lure of the foot race. I had to use the last day of kindergarten to beat David Allen once and for all, to prove I was the fastest five-year-old in school.

The race was charted half-way around the school, ending just past the front entrance to the church after going past a sharp turn at the rectory. Miss Geffenbach even had two kids who never won races hold up a length of ribbon to be our finish line so we could blast through like we really had won the Olympics.

We lined up for the race. I forgot about the sky blue suit, my precious robin’s egg charge, and I focused on beating David Allen. We launched out of the start, the fast kids pulling out front from the start, and the slow kids falling behind immediately. I pumped my little legs so hard, but there was David and even Matt Callahan and holy moly Erin Pendle still up ahead. I got past Adriana Tower and I was closing in so fast, pushing harder than I even thought I could, passing everyone but Matt and David, but there they were, and the turn coming into the rectory---

I slid out of control. I hit gravel on the turn going for a risky outside maneuver to come around and cut off the fast boys. I slid out of control, and I landed on the knee of my sky blue suit.

Did I lay there crying? Did I leap up and try to hop across the finish line? Did even the slow kids pass me up? I don’t remember. I remember Miss Geffenbach picked me up and held me in her arms as I cried. I didn’t win. There was gravel in a big hole in my knee, and I ruined the sky blue suit.

My mom, my perfect mom, as precious as the robin’s egg that only comes once a year, didn’t mind that I ruined the suit--she was sad I hurt my knee. Mom hemmed my pants legs to make them shorts, and the outfit converted to summer casual wear. But it was never the same sky blue suit.

Remember to rinse thoroughly, a tale in 25 steps

Tonight turned out to dog bath night. Dog bath sounds like a simple canine washing procedure, but it actually entails many, many tedious and sometime laborious steps.

Step 1: Put dog bed in washer.
Step 2: Take dog outside with you while you garden to make sure she gets dirty before the bath, not after.
Step 3: Disassemble dog crate
Step 4: Wash the barest minimum of dog crate surfaces with extreme vigor and very hot water.
Step 5: Remember to check dog bed in washer. It has been unbalanced the entire time.
Step 6: Rearrange huge, heavy, wretchedly soaked dog bed and blankets into balance and pray the washing machine will work this time.
Step 7: Ignore dog. Rest. Pretend like she doesn't really need a bath--it will make you feel better for a little while.
Step 8: Vacuum under the dog crate. Since it is disassembled for cleaning, this is the best time to get in there. Then, what the heck, you've got the vacuum on, so you may as well do the rest of the apartment.
Step 9: Do a crappy job of putting away the vacuum.
Step 10: Remove the dog's collar.
Step 11: Police the bathroom for cat food and feces.
Step 12: Prepare bathtub for the fraidiest huntin' dog ever.
-water temperature warm
-sprayer on low volume (too much water scares her)
-sprayer already in lowered position (running water scares her)
-cover drain with stopper (the sound of water draining scares her)
Step 13: Remove dog barrier from the bathroom door and use it to cover the cat box.
Step 14: Dog enters bathroom of her own volition.
Step 15: Dog panics when she realizes where she really is.
Step 16: Reach arms around her and lift to dog into the bath (Very difficult. She's wiggling all 50 lbs of extra long awkwardness against you.).
Step 17: Step yourself into the bath and close the sliding glass doors. It's just easier this way.
Step 18: Wet down the dog and start to scrubbing.
Step 19: Use way too much shampoo for the job and wonder how you'll get it all rinsed out before she reaches her threshold and freaks out.
Step 20: Dog emerges from shower stall streaming wet, leaving huge, sopping puddles pretty much everywhere. The bathroom is destroyed, and everything else needs serious mopping up.
Step 21: Pawn off wet dog on spouse for toweling.
Step22: Return to the scene of the crime to do wet dog stampede damage control. Mopping, wiping, rinsing, wringing.
Step 23: Wonder if you really care what Blanche sleeps on tonight because it's so late; don't plan to re-check the dog bed in the laundry room til tomorrow.
Step 24: Sleep like a little lamb all through the night.
Step 25: Wake up and discover gleamingly clean, odor-free dog wagging her tail. It was worth it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

More useless celebrity insight

Tom Cruise acts super-creepy for a Louisville, Kentucky home-town hero.* I think Mr. Cruise’s behavior demonstrates that he has completely broken with Louisville traditions and values, but I also grudgingly respect him for his crazy stunts and press statements.

A real Louisvillian would not be likely to jump on anyone’s couch, except his own and in private, with the curtains drawn. A real Lousivillian would say that psychotropic medication is your own business, though he abstains, personally. A real Louisvillian would not make statements of fact regarding other people. A real Louisvillian would be oblique and vague, never really giving you the full truth.

Sounds like a recipe for major Hollywood celebrity PR, huh? Which is why Mr. Cruise fails so spectacularly at the PR game and makes such a great celebrity gossip dynamo. His statements are absolute and unequivocated.

Take for example the latest factoid from the mouth of Tom Cruise: “’Katie is a young girl’s name. Her name is Kate now. She’s a child-bearing woman.’ –Tom Cruise, explaining to reporters why he renamed fiancé Katie Holmes.”

There are many things to dissect here, so let’s start with an obvious one: Why is Tom Cruise making public statements about his fiancé’s name? Isn’t it her announcement? Here’s another one: Why is Mr. Cruise changing his fiancé’s name? It makes her sound like a toy doll who gets a new identity for a new game of make believe. Isn’t it hers to decide? Another good one: Why does Kate/Katie let Mr. Cruise make decisions about her personal identity for her? Does she let him? And finally, if Tom Cruise made the statement and the media reported it, why didn’t this media outlet honor the change in its reportage? Is the media belittling Mr. Cruise by mocking the validity of his statement?

Despite all these questions, my ultimate reaction is “Kudos to Mr. Cruise!” I’m glad that he is neither vague nor oblique. I’m glad that he makes bold statements, no matter how bizarre they come off sounding. So many celebrities hem and haw at every niggling little detail that it’s nice to see someone make an actual revelation. Too many people are afraid of alienating this or that section of their fan base and they say bland, superficial things. Tom Cruise may sound super-creepy for a Louisvillian, but at least he’s got meat in his words.

* It’s true; he’s from Louisville. His real name is Tom Cruise Mapother, Cruise being his mother’s maiden name. I went to grade school with his bratty stuck-up Mapother cousins who thought all they had to do to be famous was share his real last name. Sadly, it was true, in our school at least. His mother or his aunt—I don’t remember which—was a substitute teacher at our school. He was a total nerd as a student at one of the local Catholic boys’ high schools.

Five star frog splash

Blanche got sold down the river years ago.

Blanche has two speeds—fast-forward and pause. She throws herself around in glee, looking like she’ll fly out of her skin she’s so happy. She runs up and down the apartment and jumps into the air and twists around. Her eyes open wide, and her pupils dilate, and her tail wags in a clockwise circle. Blanche looks like the veterinary training manual depiction of canine happiness.

But I sold Blanche out.

Loki is a mysterious cat with a dark, sinister past. He’s a thorough gentleman, don’t get me wrong. He always shows up in formal wear: black tuxedo, pressed white shirt and tie, white cuffs of his shirt barely peeking out from his jacket sleeves. But Loki’s youth was a troubled childhood. Constantly moving from one apartment to another, fighting parents, verbal abuse creeping too close physical violence, and, eventually, a broken home.

Loki’s with me and Matthew now, and at least he doesn’t have to deal with the abuse anymore. I try to respect Loki’s boundaries, appreciate that he’s been through some tough times and let him dictate the terms of our relationship. Matthew’s approach is a similarly well-reasoned philosophy, but completely opposite—treat Loki like he’s a completely normal cat. To Matthew, treating Loki like a normal cat means playing with him in a physical way you might treat a kitten. He imitates professional wrestling.

“Half Nelson! Oh! And Cactus Jack reverses out and sets up for the flying elbow!”

“Matthew, please quit wrestling the cat,” I ask him.

Loki stays put for the most part and lets Matthew wrestle him, but it just doesn’t look like the cat’s having fun. He tenses his body in fight or flight mode, drawing back onto his haunches a bit. He presses his ears back against his head. His eyes widen and his pupils dilate in the manner of a veterinary training manual depiction of feline discomfort. It’s suplex time for the American Standard Shorthair.

“Let’s make a deal. When we get a dog, you can wrestle the dog any time you want.”

“Done,” Matthew accepts.

We had to wait a while before the time was right for us to get a dog, and meanwhile, every time Matthew had the choke slam gleam in his eye, I’d intervene; “No way Matthew! Don’t touch the cat; we’ve got a deal.”

Matthew would whine a bit, but he knew that glory days were on the horizon.

And finally, Blanche came into our lives. A fifty pound, good natured, white with red spotted basset hound, Blanche will stand and politely wag her tail through just about anything. Including professional wrestling. As Matthew sets her up for another pile driver, sometimes she looks me in the eye as if to ask, “Won’t you help me?”

I always say, “Nope. I sold you out years ago to protect the cat. I can’t do a thing for you,” as I rub the cat's ear, and he purrs, eyes closed, in tranquility.