Monday, December 05, 2011

An Apology To Annie

Shelby died in August of 2000 at the age of 13 or so. Our family will always gauge dogs by Shelby’s example. He and Dean grew up together and were best friends. He was a beautiful, well-behaved collie with a remarkable skill at understanding human speech and intentions. We knew that he was not the sort of dog you could replace, so we didn’t. For a while.

After that while, I missed having a dog around. Not long after we moved across the river to Vancouver, I started volunteering at the Humane Society here, feeding and walking the castoffs. I didn’t want any doggie leftovers until Annie came in. I thought Shelby was the only collie to ever find itself at a dog pound, but here was not only a collie, but a rare smooth collie, with a delicate, feminine look and one floppy ear, maybe four years old (it’s hard to tell for sure with strays). And she was so quiet and sad. I couldn’t just leave her there. So she came home with us.

It turned out that it was not just the loud, desperate atmosphere of the dog kennel that made Annie quiet and sad. She was just quiet. And sad. And chronically exhausted. And embarrassed at having to go to the toilet while there were people watching. And unable to go to the toilet at all if it was raining. Or the grass was wet. And liable to run away in a panic if the door was left open. And a little leaky. We had to give her medicine in an attempt to shore up her weak bladder. It was never really 100% effective. And after a first, growly encounter, terrified of Coco the Basement Cat. If ever Coco felt that Annie’s fear level was waning, she would jump out from behind a corner and hiss-and-bat enough to send Annie back to bed for the day.

I took her for a walk every day. At first, I would have to take the leash to her bed, put it on, and lead her outside. It wasn’t long before she would wait at the door for her daily walk. She seemed to enjoy it (although she never smiled), until I took up running. Halfway through a (very moderate) run, she would lay down. I took her to the vet because I thought there must be something drastic wrong with her, but it turns out that lying down was just her way of refraining from running.

A couple years later when we brought a young Scotty (our third and FINAL collie) home from the Humane Society, Annie spent the first three days in bed in a pout, but Scotty’s bouncy attitude eventually won her over. Annie learned so much about how to be a dog from Scotty it made me wonder from what sort of puppy-mill situation she had escaped in her former life. OR she could have just been dropped on her tiny head. Whichever it was, Scotty’s normal-dog behavior brought home to us how odd Annie was and how we had just accepted her bed-ridden lethargy and blank looks as normal.

Annie has always acted like an old dog, and now she was a genuinely old dog. She had several illness scares over the years - barfing attacks, bloody diarrhea, spells of arthritis that left her even more immobilized than usual - but we always knew that her bladder would go first. It had been getting increasingly difficult to control. We kept upping her dosage of her medicine with no improvement. This summer, we couldn’t take her with us anywhere. If she didn’t barf, she left puddles behind everywhere she went. Our house was increasingly smelling like a kennel. By September, I was mopping up little wet spots and washing her bed cover every morning.

Drew had been threatening for the last couple of years, when she got particularly ill or drippy, to put us all out of our misery, but there is a big difference between saying and doing, when doing means stopping a heart. Even if that heart was inside a mopey, arthritic, senior dog who left a trail of urine like a foul-smelling dotted line everywhere she slowly went. One morning in September, after I filled the washer again with urine-soaked towels and her bed cover before leaving for work, Drew said “I’m making an appointment to take her in.” And instead of “not yet,” I said “okay.”

It was not okay, and it was not the right thing to do, but it is what we did. I couldn’t fix Annie. She was broken long before we were introduced, and I couldn’t stop her further deterioration. But I could have allowed her to deteriorate at her own pace. Washed more beds. Stood in the rain with her while she fought the urge to pee in the wet grass. But I didn’t. And for that I am sad and sorry.

Annie’s Final Appointment turned out to be the day I spoke about below - the day Coco died. That’s right. Two pets. One vet. One day of awful and icky. That was in September, and I am just now able to talk about it without Kleenexes handy. And as I write this, Scotty is curled up in the dining room, in Coco’s old favorite spot.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

She was just a cat.

Coco was supposed to be my Christmas present, but she was bad at being wrapped.

Eleven years ago, Drew and Dean went to the Oregon Humane Society a week or so before Christmas to pick out a cat. Drew figured we could use a ball of fluff to keep our minds off the loss of our long-time best-friend collie, Shelby, who had passed away in August.

They picked Coco out because she had the most spunk. I guess they shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when she did not go along with the “hide the kitten until Christmas” idea. She was little, and skinny, and black with just a little bit of white on her chest, and her face held a look that said “don’t even TRY it.” She kept us entertained by playing with the Christmas decorations, but not by curling up in our laps. She was all action, no snuggling. And that was okay. Dean, in high school at the time, would wage mock battles with her, pinning her on her back and throttling her little neck, or twirling her on a table like a pinwheel. She would always come back for more. She would play fetch, and chase a string, say ack-ack-ack at the birds outside. But she did not care for laps, as much as I tried to change her mind.

She was unhappy when Annie came to live with us, and she took it out on Annie. Meek and damaged Annie did not have the tools, mentally or physically, to oppose the onslaught of kitty rage, so she would scurry back to bed when Coco would hiss and bat at her, which, I’m sure, made Coco feel like a badass. And she was a badass. At the time the black Basement Cat was becoming a meme on the web, Coco WAS the Basement Cat. If she hadn’t been so black, I would have better pictures of her. Her blackness seemed to absorb all the light in a camera and I would be left with a photo of a cat-shaped blob.

Unfortunately, she was unable to intimidate our second dog, Scotty. Now SHE was the chasee, and the balance of power fell out of her tiny little paws. I felt sorry for her, being relegated to the margins of her own house, so she and I developed a routine. When the dogs were outside, in the morning during breakfast and right before bed, it was time to Pay Attention To Coco. If I did not Pay Attention To Coco, I would pay. The warning sign was a set of whiny cry-meows. If that didn’t change my behavior, then she would jump up and bat at one of my paintings on the wall, and then race around the house like a trapped badger, bouncing off the walls. At night, when the dogs went outside for their last chance at bathroom time, she would run to me to start our evening Pay Attention to Coco time. I would sit down and she would rub against me and do a somersault or two, and I was hers completely for a minute or two. She only needed a minute or two, and then I was dismissed to finish brushing my teeth.

Coco eventually acquired a taste for lap naps, especially in the winter when laps were warm, and after vacations, when we didn’t seem so annoying for a while. In the last few years, she would even run to meet me when I came home from work.

In August, we had to make an unplanned trip to California, so we cobbled together dog-and-cat sitting help, and left for about a week. When we came back, we noticed that Coco had not eaten much. And then she didn’t eat the next morning. Or at dinner. Was she mad at us for leaving? Had she grown tired of her favorite food? I got her some new food. Nothing. I gave her table scraps. She would try, as if she felt bad for me, but she wouldn’t eat much, if any. And now, we started to get worried, because it’s been like two weeks.

I thought maybe she has a bum tooth, so I took her to the vet. The vet could find nothing wrong with her mouth or throat, and couldn’t feel anything funny in her innards, but he suggested that I take her to get an ultrasound of her liver, because when cats stop eating, something is often up with their liver or pancreas. By this time, she was showing signs of muscle wasting.

So I took her to get an ultrasound and a biopsy because the specialist was pretty sure she had cancer. The ultrasound was inconclusive, and the biopsy was negative.

The problem had gone beyond expensive, but the thought never occurred to me that Coco might not pull through. Even though I went through with the specialists and the ultrasound and the medicine, I was sure that all Coco needed was time to pull herself through this, and that my job was to make sure she didn’t die of something dumb like a toothache or an impacted bowel.

The vet gave her anti-nausea pills, liver-calming pills (in case it would help - they weren’t sure), and antibiotic pills (in case it was an infection - they couldn’t tell), but they must not have ever attempted to give a pill to a cat - a cat who couldn’t even bring herself to eat fresh salmon. I tried hiding them in treats, I held her by the scruff with one hand and held her little jaw down with the middle finger of my other hand while attempting to slide the pill in with my thumb and forefinger, just like they tell you, I tried syringes. By the end of a week, by hands were torn and bloody, and Coco had maybe won half the battles. Coco, who had never scratched or bit us in anger, fought like a tiger to keep the pills away. And she would drool so much at my attempts, we would both be covered in goo by the time one of us won. She now looked like a fluffy, gooey skeleton, was still not eating, and was getting weak.

When the pain and the fear of losing her overwhelmed me, I would cry “SHE’S JUST A CAT!” Like that would somehow reset my love to an appropriate level.

One day I went to work, and when I got home she was gone. She had lost control of her bowels and begun to moan in pain, so Drew took her to the vet to end her suffering.

I just never thought it would happen to Coco. For someone as obsessed with her own death as I am, I just thought Coco was stronger than death. After all, she was the Basement Cat. The Basement Cat is the Bringer of Death, not the Receiver of Death.

And now the house is haunted with the memory of her. I can read the paper unassisted now, but I would rather not. If I don’t get up on time, nobody meows at me, but I didn’t mind it that much. I don’t have to stop every night in the dining room for a rub and a somersault, but I would if I could.

We got Coco to keep our minds off the death of our dog, and now she has gone and died. The joy of dogs and cats is so muted by their stupid life spans, it seems like a dumb idea all around. Just a cat. Just a cat. Just a cat.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

$3 Book Report: The Sea Wolf by Jack London. Less Wolf, More Poof.

Jack London is a famous dead writer. However, he is not famous for having written The Sea Wolf because it is a poorly written book. I took someone’ recommendation and read this recently, even though I should have known better, considering the source.

The Sea Wolf is a salty, homo-erotic adventure aboard a seal-hunting schooner with a chaste, yearning nineteenth-century romance grafted onto the back.

The first chapter promises a rollicking love-hate war between the first-person protagonist, a literary prancer shanghaied off a sinking ferry in the San Francisco Bay, and the captain, a veritable perfection of Man, embodying a veritable parfait of Predatory Animal, although one with an intellectual streak. In noting that this is written in first-person, I stress that the paragraphs and paragraphs devoted to capturing the wild-animal bodily incredibleness of our Captain, Wolf Larsen, is all told to us by our prancing protagonist, Humphrey. Every creamy word.

Captain Wolfy’s aforementioned and self-taught intellectual streak allows the author to pit the two men in constant brain-battle, discussing the nature of man, the existence of the soul, and, well, the value of values. Captain Wolfy interprets all he reads to bolster his theory that life is a big Hill, and the only purpose of it is to play a life-long, full-contact, no pads, knives-and-power-saws-allowed, game of King of the Hill. Humphrey simperingly disagrees.

If you like that, along with some bounding main thrown in, then bully for you, you will have a half of a book of it.

Then, when you are ready for a final throw-down, the ship takes in a shipwrecked lifeboat full of sailors and one tiny, ever-so-womanly woman, and COINCIDENCE of COINCIDENCES, she is known to Humphrey as a fellow writer. And BACK OF DAINTY HAND TO DEWY FOREHEAD! Wolfy attempts to force his perfect self upon her. And does Humphrey save his damsel from a fate worse than death? Well, he tries but in the end, Wolfy gets a headache. REALLY!

So, instead of a throwdown, Humphrey and his chaste, chaste lady escape in a lifeboat, get blown to an uninhabited island and spend the rest of the book plotting and effecting their escape and salvation. Do they get it on? Hell No. Is there a lot of talk about windlasses and halyards, riggings and hoisting tackles? Oh, yes.

Wait, no more Wolfy? Why, yes. COINCIDENCE of COINCIDENCE of COINCIDENCES, the ship wrecks upon the very (up to now) uninhabited cove in which the two lovebirds landed, as the ONLY SURVIVOR. So THEN, do they throw down? No, because Wolfy has a TUMOR. WHAT?

I know. Ridiculous. I think Mr. London gave up half way and finished it because he owed his publisher another book. I’m re-mad just writing this.

Consider this your warning. Read Call of the Wild.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

$12 Book Report: Damned If You Do.

(I know. My book and movie reviews are usually of the $3 variety, but I didn’t want to wait for the paperback of Damned by Chuck Palahniuk.)

I’ve followed Chuck Palahniuk since his unknown days. I am one of the few who can honestly say I read Fight Club before it became Brad Pitt’s Fight Club. I still follow his work, although, when he takes artistic chances (which artists should), I may not always choose to take those chances with him. And some of his later works, such as Rant, I found stuffed with great ideas and characters, but too full of plot holes to be taken seriously. Let’s just say I’m an affectionate critic. Or a skeptical fan.

His newest book, Damned, has an interesting premise and a 13-year-old girl as a protagonist. His last try at a feminine protagonist, Diary, was uneven at best. I was curious to see if he could pull this off (although by choosing a pre-pubescent girl, he at least made it a little easier on himself, difference-from-males-wise).

So here’s what I think, in short, because I hate long book and movie reviews that could serve as a miniature version of the book or movie. None of that here.

Even though the book opens with our 13-year-old hero, Madison, in a filthy cage in Hell, and the wordsmithery is fun and, well, Diablo Cody-esque, I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading until about halfway through, where the one important bit of plot intrigue is revealed. From page 1 to page 124, our author relies on Madison’s snappy banter with her Hell-mates, her memories of her jet-setting parents and her tours through Palahniuk’s concept of Hell, which, if not exactly biblically based, is very Palahniuk-y, being equal parts jolly and gross. It’s a long set-up to the payoff. A slow burn. I understand. But it made the first half of the book less than a page turner.

By the end I was thoroughly on board. However, Palahniuk’s use of dropping the reader into a scene with few linear time-line cues gave the book a dream-like hue, and I became more than a little worried that I was heading toward one of those “and then she woke up smelling eggs and bacon” endings. Luckily, he did not disappoint me with one of those, but he disappointed in a larger way with the last sentence, as he certainly had not hinted that this would be a BOOK ONE in a SERIES.

My final thought was to wonder why he had not collaborated with an artist and made Madison’s story into a series of illustrated novels. His imaginative imagery of Hell and the super-hero qualities Madison eventually develops are ideally suited for illustration. Okay, Chuck, I’LL do it if you can’t find anybody else. But think about it. Pictures of Hell’s ever-growing lake of semen? The dunes of discarded nail clippings? A conquering 13-year-old heroine with a belt of spoils, including Hitler’s scalped mustache? That’s comic book stuff right there.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I am the 99%

Mark this day: the first day I marched in the streets for anything. 

I should have done more to get Al Gore elected but I didn’t. I should have marched in the streets when Bush picked a fight with Iraq but I didn’t. I should have joined the fight to throw Bush out of office in 2004 but I didn’t. I don’t know if my one voice would have made a difference, but if I’m thinking this now, how many others are thinking the same thing?

Look at all these law-abiding, God-fearing Vancouverators. Not a hippy in the bunch. Okay, I saw one hippy.

It turns out that I got my answer today, because the Occupy Vancouver protest was filled with people who looked a lot like me. I’m guessing the average age was 40. Maybe 45. Lots of union signs, shirts, and jackets. Many vets. Some young people, but more seniors. The surprising thing was, in this red pocket of a blue state, Protest organizers’ hopes of getting 200 attendees were satisfied three or four times over, as the crowd was estimated at 600 to 700 people (although those of us spread out for blocks and blocks through the downtown area were wondering whether it was closer to 1,000).

You might be able to tell in this photo how the line of marchers snakes around the traffic circle up ahead and winds back around. Lots of Vancouverators!

One thing I learned was that protesting takes a lot of patience. In an ultra-democratic group like this one, it is important (apparently) to hear from everybody who wants to speak. So put your spongiest insoles in your shoes and prepare for some standing around while clapping and wooting. That is an hour and a half of clapping and wooting before the march and another hour after. I wandered off to the farmer’s market during the final hour, but I felt my body was counted in that attendance number by then, so my mission had been accomplished.

This was not the only octogenarian in attendance.

During the march, since I didn’t have a sign to hold or a drum to drum, I took it upon myself to be the Designated Cop Thanker. Vancouver Police had our backs at all the crosswalks, stopping (sometimes grumpy) drivers to let us pass. After the march we were told that the all the VPD members volunteered their time to patrol the march. Double thanks, then.

This speaker was quoting from Matthew 31 - 46. Look it up.

What was I marching for? I was marching because we have all but given up on thinking that our votes mean anything anymore. We don’t own the government. The lobbyists do. And Wall Street and the multibillion-dollar, multinational corporations own the lobbyists. We don’t have a real voice any more. We are being sold our next representative, senator and president by whoever has the most money to make the most ads. And we as humans seem powerless to resist doing whatever the majority of the ads on TV tell us to. Hell, Murdoch’s machine bought a cable station that he can run political ads on 24 hours a day and call it news! So many humans seem unable to question the veracity of what they are seeing on TV.

That’s what I was marching for.

What should we do? There’s a lot to do, like pushing for meaningful wall street reform. However, the thing that would make the most difference in our nation’s convalescence from its current corrupt state is the banning of campaign donations of any kind. It would pay us back a hundred-fold if campaigns were solely state financed. Not only would every candidate have an even playing field, but no candidate could be purchased with campaign money.

That’s a start, although an unfeasible one. Matt Taibbi has some ideas. They can be found here. I’ll stop taking up your time so you can go there now.

P.S.: Here is some more reading material about the scary income inequality and middle class income stagnancy in the country:

P.P.S.: Oh, and all the signs were spelled correctly.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Watching Football By Myself

Watching football by myself is less fun, mainly because I feel less superior.

When Drew is here, we will watch a kickoff return, and Drew will say “clip,” then the ref will throw the flag a second after and announce the penalty a few seconds after that (“clipping’), and we will go, “pfff, duh,” and I get to own the knowledge too.

Without Drew, I watch the play (keeping my eye on the ball because that’s the best I can do), am surprised by the flag, hear the ref announce the penalty (“clipping”), then wish they would replay the clip. They don’t. Then I wonder whether I should just pick up my book.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tasty and my Son

Dean and I have the best new tradition ever. He chooses a new hipster Portland restaurant to take me to for my birthday, Jenny and I eat and drink, and The Captain pays. Best!

Off topic: Dean’s latest hipster jeans are straining at their job. His coach has him spending more time in the gym and it makes his jeans look like the sidewalk next to a fast-growing maple tree. We may have to take up a collection for another pair of pants.

This year it was Tasty and Sons - a restaurant wedded to a butcher shop. BEST: pork chop with spaetzle BESTER: spaghettini carbonara. BESTEST: bouillabaisse. Or maybe the other way around. Coming in a distant fourth, but still better food than I’ve had for weeks: the grilled asparagus.

BUT WAIT - THERE’S MORE. After dinner we walked up the street to Pix, a Frenchy dessert place with Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside on the turntable and a gooey chocolatey thing called the Queen of Sheba in my tummy.

The weather is perfect. The garage-door-style south wall is rolled up and there is no barrier between us and the sidewalk. Cyclists cycling by. Walkers walking. A van dragging its exhaust (ah, sad van family).

Portland is a fun city. I like hanging out there. Dean and Jenny are fun people. I like hanging out with them. Aren’t we lucky?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm Calling it an Homage.

My niece has a new blog:

If it were anybody else I would be very huffy at the lack of originality in the name. However, Katie is the sweetest, jolliest, smartest, cutest little niece ever and an excellent oncology nurse to boot, so she's welcome to share half of my blog name.

Besides, their (Katie and Amy's) blog is much better than mine because they go places and do things. They are currently on a three-month globe-trotting adventure, hence their bona fide inability to call.

Go ahead and see for yourself. There are elephants.

One Weird Trick to Self Denial and Pain

I’ve been thinking a lot about my weight. I’m not happy about how many pants I have that don’t fit.

There’s a huge divide between thinking about what I should do and doing it. Eating feels so much better than not eating at any given time. Dieting is denying myself what would make me feel better at all times during the day. Food is available to me all day. It’s not like I just have to push myself away from the dinner table at the proper moment. It’s an all-day every-day denial of pleasure.

Holy crap. If you put it THAT way, then forget it.

I’ll just keep eating and spend all day, every day wishing my pants weren’t so tight and that my tummy didn’t pooch out a little, even when I’m lying on my back in bed, obsessing over it.

Hey, waaaait a minute. That doesn’t sound better at all.

I wish there was an actual “one weird old trick” that would make your tummy pooch go away, like those internet site ads always promise. I’ve never clicked on one because I’m not a dummy, but I’m still curious. Or want to believe. Kind of like religion.

Drew and I are thinking of trying a weird trick: cut out sugar. You’re right - that’s not weird, and it’s not a trick. It’s just wise eating. Sugar is full of empty calories, sends my blood sugar on a flight and then a steep dive, and increases LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

If you don’t count chocolate, I’m not a big fan of sweets. But that’s like saying, “if you don’t count my driving my car every day, I’m not much of a gasoline consumer.”

Well, yes, I’m baking cookies right now, but it’s leftover dough from the other day that was sitting in the fridge. You wouldn’t expect me to toss that out, would you? Be real. It’s oatmeal chocolate chip.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Canine Butt Sniffing Unit

I was wondering today, while vacuuming up enough hair to cover a standard bison, why we feed, board, and serve two dogs when they don’t DO anything, like herd sheep or sniff bombs.

I can only hope that after the apocalypse, dog hair will become a form of currency. Dog hair and a slobbery optimism without any basis in reality. I’m not sure how they might set up a standard for that last one, but I suppose that would be up to the post-apocalyptic fed.

Damn Kids Sneaking Around to Win at the Line when I Had the Lane

So I thought I was going to give Dean something to feed his fury which would feed his speed at Worlds by beating him soundly and effortlessly in Words with Friends. Now I can only hope I have fed his taste for winning by losing on the last play of the game.

Damn kids.

Playing a game of Inter-Continental Scrabble has made me feel horse-and-buggy old, as I remember sending Drew air mail letters from Germany in 1982 because a phone call was prohibitively expensive and difficult to schedule.

Next step: Intergalactic Scrabble!

Wino With Limits

If you want to play Words with Friends with me at 2:30 a.m., just give me three glasses of wine before bed. I am guaranteed to be awake between 2:30 and 4:00. Just two glasses? You’ll have to wait until morning. Guess that’s my liver giving me a gentle nudge. Or a cry of desperation. I prefer nudge.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I like Lincoln, but Maybe Not That Much

I bought a biography of Lincoln by David Herbert Donald. It won awards and stuff, and it is a thorough and readable biography. I read the Gore Vidal biography years ago, and enjoyed it so much that I thought I would enjoy a “real” Lincoln biography. But I’m afraid in the years since, my attention span has collapsed in upon itself to leave a tiny hole through which information must travel at steam-whistle speed. I can’t tell you how many times I checked Twitter in the two hours I devoted to reading this afternoon. I can’t tell you because it would be embarrassing. Suffice it to say that I am on page 73.

My mind wandered. I really should have given up and committed to spending the afternoon painting, or given my restless state of mind, sanding a frame or cleaning my studio.

I wish I had better control over my state of mind. I hear you say “learn to meditate.” That is good advice, imaginary person, but since my mind’s restlessness is based on my compulsion to learn and do everything before its too late (miming the international fake knife across throat motion), I have trouble sitting still and commanding my mind to do the same when it feels that every moment spent sitting still is a moment lost.

Well. It didn’t long for me to make the link between a Lincoln biography and the race towards death. Wait. That’s pretty much what any Lincoln biography is.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Actual World Championships

Dean goes to LA tomorrow to prepare for World Track Cycling Championships.

We always joke about the weekly race series down at Portland International Raceway being the “PIR Championships of the World” because beginners and Master level racers on $5,000 bikes take it so seriously, but THIS is the ACTUAL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS.

He’s had a lot of help, and yet, and also, he’s done it all by himself. Godspeed to him. I hope he has a blast.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Getting Dressed: More Difficult Than You Might Think

In our last Goodwill clothes drop, I included an expensive jacket that I bought at a chi-chi 23rd Street boutique no more than four years ago. It was artfully frayed and patched in spots, with extra bohemian touches like charming artisan buttons. Yet when I recently put it on and looked in the mirror, the age of my face didn't match the age of the jacket.

It occurred to me that I am at the age where I could actually embarrass hipsters by wearing clothes too similar to their own.

I'm not sure when I stopped looking in the Juniors department for clothing. I'm not sure when I stopped feeling self-conscious about shopping at Coldwater Creek (well, actually, I still feel self-conscious about shopping at Coldwater Creek). It may have come on slowly but at this point, my taste in clothes have skewed so much toward the soft and elastic-waisted that even though I have long since thrown away my 90s-era velour tracksuits, if you offered me one today I might not turn it down (as long as there was nothing written fetchingly across the ass).

I know I'm not taking this aging thing well, but I think I'm beginning to dress the part.

P.S.: HOWEVER. You'll pry my Maximum Fun hoodie out of my COLD DEAD HANDS.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Comedy Nerd Adventures.

Now that we're living IN THE FUTURE, we can spend most of our free time in a pursuit that our friends and relations have only the vaguest idea even existed.

Me: I'm a comedy nerd. I know the best comedy podcasts to listen to. I know the best places for live comedy in LA, New York, Philadelphia, and Austin (even though I've been to none of them). I know which household names have no respect in the business and which ones do. I know that Rooster T. Feathers is an actual comedy club.

And why is it important to me? I don't know. Why was it important to me to collect all the Peanuts comic strip collections as a kid? Or all the Tumbleweeds comic strip collections? Or Bloom County after that? Or Calvin and Hobbes? Why did I quote Steve Martin throughout high school? Why are nine of my top ten movies of all time comedies? Laughing is important. It may be the thing keeping me afloat.

Speaking of floating, Helium Comedy Club opened in Portland this last summer. I was excited because although Portland had a comedy club, it was (is) a dump and doesn't draw top names. This new one was an offshoot of a popular club in Philadelphia and the word among the comics I admired was that they would try it out. And advance notice from the first few comics was good.

We saw Jimmy Pardo last August. We drank in the bar before we went into the showroom - rookie mistake, as those drinks don't count toward the two-drink minimum required in the showroom.

The comedy club two-drink minimum custom is an annoyance, and seems like a rip-off after you've paid good money for your tickets, but the sad truth is that ticket sales do not cover expenses. It's like the airlines with their goddam luggage fees. They could charge you a fair price for the whole service up front, but they are afraid you might not buy the ticket at that price. Same holds true for comedy clubs. It works, too. I remember recently deciding not to go see comic Mike Birbiglia because the theater tickets were like $100 for the two of us. Last night at the comedy club, we spent $50 for the tickets, and another $40 for food, drinks and tips. Comedy club win. Honest theater ticket price fail.

Back to Jimmy Pardo. Luckily for us, food orders count towards that two-thing minimum, so I still remember the evening. If you ever get a chance to see Pardo in person, I highly recommend it. He does very little touring as he serves as Conan O'Brien's warm-up act on the Conan show (as he did for Conan's short run as Tonight Show host), but we were lucky to catch him between gigs, so to speak (after the Tonight Show ended and before Conan began production). Pardo should have his own television talk show. He hosts an excellent one via podcast - one of the few pay-per-view podcasts that is a going concern, and the only podcast I pay to download (see Never Not Funny at

We saw Greg Proops in September. He made a tactical error by starting off the set by mocking Portland's large bicycle riding community. Especially all those bike riders wearing helmets. Huh? This was met with a few laughs and A LOT of icy stares. After that, he seemed to retreat into tried-and-true material and did better, but never really won back the crowd. Pleasingly multi-syllabic? Certainly. Comfortably left-of-center? Sure, but never hilariously so. In the meantime, all I can think about is how hungry I am. Our waitress forgot to take our food order, and as we were in the front row (which in this room is practically on the stage), there was no way we could have tackled a waitperson without causing a scene. So hungry.

Another digression about comedy clubs: why do they have to deliver the check for your table JUST as the comic is ramping up to his big finish? We're all following the comic, happy to be in his or her head instead of our own, and then, just as it's getting good, we all have to stop and do math! That's bullshit. And it cools down the room for the comic - that rapt attention is lost just when it is needed most. There must be a better way - like a McMenamins movie theater system, where you order and pay for your food up front and then go in and sit down, and the waitress brings it out. Do I have to think of everything?

Back to Proops. So he's working hard, trying to get us to commit, and here comes the waitress with our bill. FOR TWO DRINKS EACH. What? We might have ordered two drinks if we had had the chance! Drew throws his credit card on the bill without putting his glasses on to read it, and I say nope, not paying. This catches Proops' eye, which gives him a focus for all the frustration he has amassed up to this point. He spits something like, "look at these out-of-towners trying to figure out what to tip. They must be from Gresham!" A cheap, old, easy laugh that he paid for with our icy stares for the remainder of the set, which ended with another elderly bit about how when we were growing up, we didn't need any of those dumb seat belts, and we grew up just fine. No, seriously, that's what he closed his set with. Ouch. HIS new podcast is called The Smartest Man in the Room. It has received a lukewarm reception from critics of such things.

Oh, and we convinced the management not to charge us for drinks or food that we weren't able to order.

After the Proops Incident it took some arm twisting to get Drew back to Helium, but when I heard Patton Oswalt was coming, I said "please" and he gave in because he likes to make me happy. This time I didn't pay extra to get reserved seats, which means we would have to line up like cattle to get our seats and share a table with two strangers, but it also meant that we wouldn't be sitting up front in danger of stand-up push-back. Luckily, it's a small enough room that even if we were seated at the back, it wouldn't have lessened the experience.

We got fairly good seats, and our waitress took our order! Yay! The feature act was good for a beginner.  He was 26. My son is 26. If you had lined them up side-by-side, you would have thought that (a) they couldn't possibly be the same age, and (b) they may not even be the same species. But I think that's due to the fact that they were both outliers - in opposite directions. One a full-time athlete and one a full-time gamer.

Patton Oswalt is one of the great stand-ups working today. If you only know him from King of Queens or Big Fan, do yourself a favor and Netflix one of his recent stand-up specials. Or just go see him live. Or watch this You Tube animation. As much as I enjoyed Jimmy Pardo, I laughed more at Oswalt. Just a flawless set - whether from prepared material, or riffs on Portland, or crowd work, or marveling at the (pretty bad, but very colorful) backdrop mural, it was funny.

And therapeutic. Better than a spa day. I think. I've never actually had a spa day. But if you want to get to the bottom of this, you can always arrange one for me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Last Night in Twisted River: The $3 Book Review

I'm a slow reader. I can speed up for something really exciting, but for the most part, it's a slog. What's worse, I'm fussy about the words that go into my eyes when it comes to books (as opposed to, say, the words I encounter on Facebook). I can't abide preternaturally beautiful heroines, premises that could not survive outside New York City, teenage vampires, or science fiction that takes itself seriously. But one thing I can always count on enjoying is a John Irving novel. Yet this last one was a slow go.

I managed to finish Last Night in Twisted River, even though I didn't feel that it picked up steam until page 371 of its 554 pages.  It was a lot of Irving - so much so that it would have benefited from more rigorous editing.

It is the story of a father and son, beginning when the father is a logging camp cook and following their travels and travails through New Hampshire, Boston, Iowa and Toronto. As I grew up in a logging community, albeit on the other side of the country, the technical aspects of the logging activities rang true. The wacky accidents that propel the story are signature Irving, and elicit an occasional what-the-hell smile.

However, even with all 554 pages of words, I didn't feel like the characters were fleshed out enough to make me feel fond of them. It seemed like I was watching them move about a vast board game - not living their lives alongside of them. Throughout the coincidental mayhem that is a hallmark of Irving fiction, the only time I felt a tug at my heart was at the climax of the story, and even then, the sentiment was quickly diluted by a series of clumsy call-back references (as if he was afraid we hadn't been paying attention and had to be reminded how neatly he is pulling this all together).

By powering through this one, I'm pretty sure I've earned a master class certificate in the John Irving Writing Style.

The John Irving Writing Style requires the following literary features:
  • Start with sentence structure: combine every other sentence with a semicolon, then polish the corners until they fit together.
  • Add a bear. Even better, two bears. And maybe a case of mistaken identity involving a bear.
  • Include references to a lost hand - the grizzlier the hand lopping, the better (grizzly!).
  • All protagonists must go through trials, but YOUR protagonist's trials must be by comedically random and fluky accident.
  • Somebody has to go to Exeter Academy.
  • Now throw in some large women.
I liked Last Night, but I wouldn't reread it. If you haven't read any, here are my top five John Irving books as of today:

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany
  2. The World According to Garp
  3. Setting Free the Bears
  4. Trying to Save Piggy Sneed
  5. A Son of the Circus
If you're curious about John Irving, and don't mind a few bears in your fiction, try one of these. You won't be sorry. Irving at his best can be life changing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dean's 26th Birthday Dinner.

Squid jerky is surprisingly delicious.

I ask Dean, "how was your servant?"

He looks at me uncomprehendingly.

"Your runner?"

"Oh," he says, realizing he's Talking To Mom. "He was fine. His name was David."

He offers nothing more.

Runners are the riders' drivers, minders, and General Dogsbodies. Think Baldrick. Think Mark Linn-Baker in My Favorite Year. I read this story about a reporter-slash-runner, and it made the job sound much more Upstairs, Downstairs than I had been led to believe by Dean's previous Six-Day appearances. I'll never get to the bottom of this. He's not telling me the whole story. I guess what I really want is my own servant.

We are at Tanuki in Portland. Dean, Jenny and I trade knowing looks about the name of the bar.  Having inhaled every Tom Robbins book in existence, we recognize the Tanuki as a Japanese trickster of legend, looking like a cross between a raccoon and a panda, like the coyote of Native American lore, only with more booze.

Drew agrees to pick up the check for a prix fixe plate evening. The agreeable waitress agrees to keep bringing the goods.

We eat quail eggs. They are small eggs. Adorable, but, you know, eggs. High cuteness factor.

"So did the crowd eventually expect you guys (Dean and Netherlander Yondi Schmidt) to put on a show?" As the video and photo evidence attests, Dean and Yondi often bumped and wrestled, trading helmet paint during the nightly Kierins, usually during the prelude to the sprint while everyone was going a governed speed behind the pace motor.

"The announcer played it up a little bit," he said. "But Yondi played it up more on Twitter, tweeting before the races how he was going to "take it to Dean Tracy tonight."

Dean and Yondi enjoy the old-school contact-sport style of sprinting. Not everyone is into it, or good at it, and the UCI increasingly frowns on it; but it is spectator candy, and at the Six-Days, the refs look the other way. It's mostly for fun and/or show. Note that most of the argy-bargy is done during the slower laps before things turn serious.

Netarts Bay oysters on the half-shell with kim chi shave-ice.  They were gone fast. I think I liked them.

We talk about the multiple-personality music that blasts from the speakers at a Six-Day nonstop for hours-upon-hours each night: oompah music, electronica, disco, hip-hop, more Dutch oompah music, a baffling European hit in which "Barbra Streisand" is the only lyric, and for every win, "Stand UP, Stand UP, for the Champions, for the Champions." It makes for long nights for the riders, as it takes time for the brain to calm itself after hours of pumped-up music and laser lights.  Special after-race riders' bars help to ease the pain.

The whole grilled pike eel is a puzzle to, um, open, but an experienced Dean uses his soup spoon to open the top layer of flesh, so that we can attack it with our chop sticks. Salty and satisfyingly fishy.

We talk about the benefits of having an agent, something that Dean has not had much access to or need of so far, but something, with his slow-building popularity and fast-developing speed, may be the wise next step.

Seaweed wraps with tomatoes and something-or-other (I wasn't paying attention) is delivered. The seaweed is so thin and crispy, and the tomato whatever is good. The sake, sipped from a tiny, adorable cup, is beginning to have an effect.

The bar television is showing Japanese cartoons. A hamster complaining about his owners' (explicitly depicted) sex techniques, and a family of American style mannequins say shockingly explicit things. Now the boy mannequin is on fire. Fascinating. The Japanese will eventually implode in a ball of self indulgence, or they will rule the world.

Kim chi fried rice with shrimp. We dig in. This is good.

"So, when you win, are the people in the winner's photo with the flowers and the Lovely Ladies the people from the company on your jersey?"

"Yes. Companies pay something like $5,000 Euros to have a table in the infield, and like $40,000 Euros to get their name on your jersey. It's usually the president of the company and his wife."

Korean marinated rib-eye with mushrooms. It just keeps getting better, and I keep getting fuller.

"So, do you have to go shmooze with the infield tables?"

"Oh, yeah. That's part of the show. They can pay even more money and have a guided tour of the riders' cabins, then they get to talk with the big stars one on one."

I mentioned that he's probably pretty good at this part with his sales background. He confesses that his sales-smooth schmoozing technique has not gone unnoticed. We dish a little about the very successful love lives of the single sprinters.

A final miso soup with fresh tofu.  A little salty, but we are so full that we don't complain.

Dean gives me one of his sponsor jerseys. It smells like sweat. I love it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Sim Me

Rain over ice. Add dogs on leashes. It's a recipe for coccyx disaster. Although I'm sure the ERs are full of cracked cocci this morning, my personal coccyx is intact, as is Drew's, but only because he turned back half a block into the walk, after his first foot-flinging flirt with the concrete.

I took both the wet dog leashes and slid along the rest of the way to the park. Drew seems completely out of sync with both gravity and the ground and braced for the pain when ice is introduced, either by nature or by skates. I, with my lower center of gravity, lower emotional age, and innate boogie-woogie muscle memory, find it exhilarating. It made me wish I lived closer to an ice rink. Which made me spend much of the rest of the walk planning my dream neighborhood.

There would be an ice rink within walking distance, but not right across the street or anything. A) they're ugly and b) I would like to walk there with my skates over my shoulder.

There would be a Trader Joe's within walking distance.

There would be a coffee shop on the block. A nice one. Not too snooty and not too mermaid-y.

Powell's Books would be within biking distance.

There must be NO CUPCAKE SHOPS within walking distance. I'm not mature enough to handle that sort of temptation.

There would be a back yard for two dogs and a goat to be named later.

Personal Coccyx would be a good name for an indie band.