Freaking Out Squares

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Grandma Gloria's Home Cookin'

We wrap up the summer with some PA Dutch recipes belonging to my grandmother, Gloria, whom you may recall as the one who was always after me about my diet and posture, for all the good it did. PA Dutch food has never been a favorite of mine, I have to confess. The quintessential PA Dutch recipe is a stew of sorts called chicken pot pie. No, it's not chicken pie--that's a whole 'nother thing, which the rest of the world knows as chicken pie, the thing with the crust and the succotash and the gravy. Chicken pot pie is not a pie at all but a kind of stew, as I said, comprised of chicken broth, egg noodles, corn, and celery. Thrilling. But PA Dutch cuisine is nothing if not plain--heavy on the starch, with little to no spices to glam things up. I like my salt and grease and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. See why I had to leave home?

This first recipe is heavy on the grease, and it also covers your RDA of vegetables too! (Snark.) You don't want to eat too many vegetables because, as James Lileks points out, vegetables are for Communists, and if you eat too many of them, you'll spend the rest of your life in Esalen flying kites and communing with flowers.

Hot Bacon Dressing

4 slices bacon, diced
2 tbs. chopped onion
2 tbs. vinegar
1 to 2 tbs. sugar
3 cups coarsely shredded cabbage or other torn greens

Cook bacon in skillet until crisp. Drain excess fat. Add onion, vinegar, and sugar to bacon. Heat through. Pour over cabbage, toss and serve at once. Makes 1/4 cup dressing.

This next recipe is a staple of all good PA Dutch women. It's the only dessert I never could stand, but it is very PA Dutch.

Shoo-Fly Pie (Fine sense of irony!)

Ingredients and Instructions:
Make a liquid of:
1 cup old-fashioned molasses
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp. (rounded) baking soda

Make crumbs of:
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
Pat of butter the size of a large walnut

Line a 9" pie pan with pastry. Fill pastry with alternate layers of liquid and crumbs--liquid first, then crumbs. Bake at 450 until crust begins to brown, then finish in oven at 350 until firm--about 1/2 hour.

Don't have a pastry recipe? Use this one, or do the storebought thing.

Pie Shell

4 cups flour
1 3/4 cups Crisco
1 tbs. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 cup cold water
1 tbs. vinegar

Mix ingredients together. Roll dough flat. Line pie pan and bake according to shoo-fly pie recipe. If a pie made entirely of molasses is too much for you, as it is for me, I reckon you can just use canned pumpkin or cherries.

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Happy chowing, kids! Make sure you get back to your regular broiled fish and steamed broccoli schedule tomorrow. As for me, I'll be hitting the road for PA Dutch country tomorrow afternoon, but I'll send dispatches.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Happy Birthday... my grandmother, Trudie, who turns 82 today. She's probably going to throw a fit that I posted her age, but hopefully I can appease her with a handmade Teddy bear or three.

Trudie, whose real name is Grammy, got her nickname during the springtime of my three-year passionate affair with one Gordon Matthew Sumner, known to the rest of the world as Sting, although my fellow fanatics and I can tell you exactly when and where he was born, and what his dad did for a living. (October 2, 1951, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England; Dad was a milkman.) So distraught was I that Sting had bequeathed the bulk of his affections to Trudie Styler, the actress/Tantric chick who would become his legal wife when I was sixteen that I thus nicknamed Grammy Gertrude. The name stuck, and now we all call her Trudie. (Hey, it's prettier than Gert, for heavens' sake.)

Because Trudie lives on the other side of PA (the western side--Harrisburg is located in what local newscasters like to refer to as "the Midstate," a term that drives my dad batshit due to its woeful innacuracy), I always thought of her as my "other grandmother"--the one who didn't live a mile away and didn't tell me to sit up straight, stop eating so much, and act like a little lady. Oh, she might have tried, but Trudie has always been the slop-over-with-sugar type of grandmother, and so any attempts to establish authority fell by the wayside as soon as I said "no" and started screaming. Not that she isn't a tough broad in her own right. Trudie worked as a Rosie the Riveter during WWII (one of the loveliest conversations I ever had with her was one in which I discovered she'd longed to go to college and become a metallurgist), raised three law-abiding, basically sane kids on no money and a lot of canned food, and, after my grandpap Bud died, traveled to Italy, France, Egypt, and Israel on a host of, as I put it, "old Catholic lady pilgrimages." I have a picture of her someplace with her friends in Italy, and they're all grabbing at the Pope like he's Bono. As if this weren't enough, Trudie hasn't been able to eat solid food since 1998, and within the confines of the feeding tube she's stuck on, she still gets out there and does her thing. I think we've managed to convinced her to let her nephews change the lightbulbs in her kitchen ceiling, but other than that, Trudie does what she wants, god love her.

The thing that I loved most about Trudie when I was a kid was that she could sew. Oh, Gloria could knit and crochet and hem, but Trudie was an alchemist when it came to a sewing machine. For my fifth birthday, she made me the dance costume I'd been harassing my mom to buy me for over a year. The pattern included a clown hat--I seem to recall a minor skirmish when I didn't want to wear the hat when I went trick-or-treating. (Parents, listen up: Many, many kids eye clowns askance. They are scary men who paint their faces and pull phallic objects out of their baggy pants. Do not hire a clown for your kid's fifth birthday party under the assumption that she or he will find it funny. Remember John Wayne Gacy? All right. Thus concludeth the PSA.) For Christmas when I was seven, during the height of the Cabbage Patch Kid plague, Trudie made me one when my dad's tireless efforts to score one of those freakish mutants proved fruitless. She went on to buy me like, ten more, long after I'd outgrown them and the plague had diminished to a small, nagging infection that one learns to live with.

I'm pretty disgusted with the way I treated poor Trudie during my teenage years. Nasty doesn't cut it. Bitch barely scratches the surface. No, I was the dreaded "C" word when it came to my grandmother, but she mostly put up with it without ever once suggesting I should be smacked upside the head or transferred to a mental hospital, which is more than I can say for many of the women of my acquaintance during those years in Jesusland, none of whom bore even a fraction of the brunt of my rotten gittishness. Trudie, this is a paltry offering, but I am very sorry for telling you to get the fuck out of my room that time you were visiting Dad and me and I was watching that videotape of my high school's production of Hello, Dolly! This is not an excuse, but the reason I was so horrified that you walked into my room without knocking, besides the fact that I was a rotten adolescent desperate for privacy, was that I had a huge girl crush on the girl who played Dolly, and I didn't know how to articulate that, even though girl crushes are completely de rigeur and even if it were a full-blown, ride-the-pink-glitter-pony type of crush, I doubt you would have cared. Thank you for saying nothing more or less than "I don't know how to please you, Karla," in response, because if you had just yelled at me, I don't think it would have had the impact that it did. And thank you for never once suggesting I should go to church or to a mental hospital to cure my uncontrollable mood swings, even though you are a devout Catholic and you were well within your rights to do so. And please stop trying to change lightbulbs on your own, lest you fall off that ladder again.

Trudie and I are more than cool now. I've stopped being a cunt to her, and she makes a valiant effort to not call me "Precious" or talk to me like I'm five too much. I actually quite enjoy hanging out with her independent of my dad when we go out to see her on major holidays, like when we drop a few bucks at evil Wal-Mart on yarn and beading supplies. My only request to her besides not talking to me like I'm five is to please stop hovering when I make the Durkee's onion and green bean casserole for dinner. She complies about half the time, but she often forgets. Hey, she's 82--I'll give her a break.

So, Trudie, be good to yourself this year. Thanks for putting up with me. I'm going to stop now before we get into Hallmark card territory, because that just won't do. Love you!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chef, What's Shrimping?

Well, children, shrimping is a trendy sexual activity, the likes of which involves…you know, I’m really not entirely sure. I’ve never indulged because…uh…I’m a virgin! Yeah, that’s it. Hee. (I do leave the house sometimes.) Anyway, this is not that kind of blog, but I wonder if those looking for more adult content will give me some hits today. For the rest of you, please feast on the far more appetizing (and tame):

Karla’s Shrimp Curry with Texmati Rice

As with shrimp and black bean sludge, you can use any kind of rice you want. Get a life and stop doing everything I do!


One tablespoon olive oil
One small onion, finely chopped (I usually use scallions, but I didn’t have any on hand)
Two plum tomatoes, finely chopped
A handful each of fresh basil and cilantro, finally chopped (yes, you can use dried)
A half-pound defrosted, cooked shrimp
One cup plus one tablespoon plain yogurt
Juice of one-half lime
Cayenne, turmeric, coriander, cumin, and salt to taste
One cup green peas
A small handful of raisins (optional)
Two cloves garlic, minced
Texmati rice


1. As with sludge, cook the rice according to the package directions.

2. Chop up the veggies and herbs and dump them into your skillet or stockpot, which you should have already slicked with the olive oil. Sauté on high for two minutes, stirring frequently, then reduce heat to medium. Cook until mushy—if the skin is peeling off the tomatoes, it’s ready for step three. Stir occasionally.

3. While the veggies are reducing, defrost the shrimp. When the veggies are reduced, take off the tails and toss the shrimp in the pan. Cover them up with the veggie-herb mix. (“Now, children, you want that shrimp and those tomatoes to be makin’ love like a man and a beautiful woman!”)

4. When the shrimp is suitably covered, add one cup of yogurt and the juice of one-half lime. Mix well. Add the spices according to taste, and mix well again.

5. When the concoction starts to sputter again, add the peas. Let sputter for a while, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for a half-hour or so.

6. If you feel like it, add a small handful of raisins. Any kind will do, unless you absolutely can’t stand raisins. In which case, don’t add raisins at all. Duh.

7. Five minutes or so before the end, add the chopped garlic.

8. The rice should be finished by now, so let it stand for five minutes. Do the same with the curry. This will give you the opportunity to run out to the corner deli for some cigarettes.

9. Serve the shrimp atop the rice, and make sure you have a good-sized glass of soymilk, cow’s milk, or beer at the ready, because that shit is spicy. Namaste!

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    Monday, August 28, 2006

    Are You A Hermit, By Any Chance?

    Why, yes, I certainly am! And so I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to crawl out of my lair and spend a lovely evening quaffing Pilsners with my friend Claudia at the Bohemian Beer Garden in the heart of beautiful Astoria, Queens. The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden (Bohemian as in the Czech region, not bohemian as they claim to be in Rent) is NYC’s only remaining outdoor beer garden, and it’s about what you’d expect—a big concrete yard with picnic tables and a rickety little stage where local rock, polka, and oompah bands can strut their stuff. As much as I swear up and down that I’m going to move to Brooklyn as soon as I get a little money, I like that my neighborhood is home to such an unpretentious watering hole where upper- and lower-case bohemians, hipsters, and even “reg’lar folk” can hang out and get soused without making a huge dent in their wallets. (Astoria is also home to one of the best Czech restaurants in the five boroughs,Zlata Praha, which translates to “Golden Prague.” It’s a similarly unpretentious place, right under the N train, heavy on the beer and starch. If you like German food, you’ll probably like Czech food, too—lots of meat and bread, but spicier than its neighbor to the west. Wonder if I should have my birthday party there? Anyone have any other suggestions? Anyone really hate Czech food?)

    Even though it was raining off and on Friday night, that didn’t stop Claudia and me from making good on our long-delayed plan to grace this legendary institution (we were supposed to go last summer, but I was in the middle of an epic emotional breakdown and, surprise, didn’t want to leave the house), and it certainly didn’t stop a whole bunch of other people, including this one dude who made a point of doing pushups drunk. It probably won’t surprise you to know that I prefer cool, rainy evenings to warm, sunny ones. The New York in my mind is always rain-swept and candy-colored, like a Woody Allen film, and there’s also something about a rainy Friday night in late summer that invokes in me a nostalgia for an adolescence I didn’t have, slipping out to drink skunk water with a bunch of goofy, sweet headbangers and maybe having sex in the back of a ’77 Plymouth. (Why is it parents get so up in arms about their kids hanging out with the so-called “wrong crowd” –i.e. headbangers, Goths, et. al.—? It’s not like every one of these kids is Dylan Klebold, and it doesn’t mean that your own kid is necessarily going to pick up such habits as glue-sniffing and fucking bareback. And what is the big deal about teenagers having sex, anyway? I mean, I didn’t, but that’s just because no one asked me.)

    The only drawback to my new favorite hangout is the seats. Four hours on a picnic bench…oh, the PAIN, the unmitigated agony! Literally a pain in the ass, and on the back. In fact, about halfway through the evening, I seriously considered asking Claudia if we could cut it short, because I felt like I’d put in six hours at the gym, done Vinyasa yoga, and been slammed against a speeding semi. (I’ve been in a lot of pain lately, and I’m not entirely sure why. Sarito told me today about some holistic pain pill she heard about on “60 Minutes” that’s supposed to start working in about a month and after that, cures your arthritic ills. I hope she’s right, because if I’m going to spend my Friday nights polluting my body on a metal bench, I’m going to need reinforcements. Not to mention that I can BARELY MOVE half the damn time. Ugh, I can just imagine taking my complaints to a doctor and having him say something helpful like, “You’re not even thirty! How can you be in so much pain? You need to lose weight.” Yeah, Doc, fuck you in advance.) Thank god I hung on, and not just because the lovely Brits at the table next to us gave us an almost-full pitcher of Pilsner when they decided to take their leave, but because in the midst of regaling me with stories about her year in Moscow, pagan rituals, and the SCANDALOUS, uh, proclivities of distant acquaintances (most of whom I’ve actually never met), Claudia proffered the following tale along the lines of MarkRickSteve’s account of the boutique saleslady:

    “A friend of mine used to work as a travel agent, and one day she got this call from a woman who desperately needed to book a flight for her boss. ‘My boss is going to Portland, and she insists on no stopovers. Okay? No stopovers. So she wants to fly business class, and she wants blah, and bloh, and blee, and no stopovers. Absolutely no stopovers. And she’s flying to Portland. Oh, yes, and she’ll require X and Y and Z, and this and that and the other thing. No stopovers, flying to Portland. And she must have a hooker and a tankful of bourbon [I’m paraphrasing here] and no stopovers, in business class, flying to Portland. Is this all clear?’ My friend’s only response was, ‘Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine?’ There’s a long pause and the woman says, ‘Uh…does it matter?’ Yes, it gets worse. It turned out, because this was right before Thanksgiving, on the only flight this woman can take to Portland, Oregon, business class is sold out, so she’ll have to fly first class or coach. The woman says, ‘Oh…well, does first class fly to Portland, Oregon?’ And my friend just said, ‘Ma’am, have you ever flown before?’”

    High fructose corn syrup, I’m telling you. Just so you know, airplanes do not, as Claudia pointed out, “split in half like the starship Enterprise.” Nor do you, as I pointed out, have to be in the first five cars like you’re taking the 1 & 9 to South Ferry. Actually, they stopped running the 9 after 9/11, but old habits die hard.

    For our next outing, Claudia and I are planning to plunk me in line for tickets to Mother Courage starring Meryl Streep and, in a small part, my boyfriend Kevin Kline. C’s and my friend in the Bronx saw it with another friend of ours, and he was quite laudatory of Meryl Streep, although he said that Kevin Kline, while good, wasn’t as good as you’d expect him to be. That’s mildly sucky, but the odds of my actually snagging us tickets to this thing are pretty low, and Kevin Kline at his worst is still a million times better than most of today’s entertainers at their best. Wish us luck.

    I actually had the opportunity to go out two nights in a row—another friend of mine was hosting a benefit for the Agora dance troupe at the McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn, but I was too stiff and spent to take advantage of the chance to be a geek amongst hipsters on Saturday night. Oh, well, next time.

    Thursday, August 24, 2006

    Beans, Beans, and Nothing But Beans!

    In lieu of the supremely crass and obvious ditty about magical fruit, I give you this lyric from Into the Woods to kick off the second of this week’s gastronomic installments. (Any Sondheim fans care to weigh in here? Is it “nothing but beans” or “the special beans”? Or neither? I’m a Sweeney Todd girl myself, so if anyone wants to bring me up to speed with the fairy tales, please do so.)

    Etruscan White Beans with Penne

    Clever, eh? You’ve heard of Tuscan White Beans, right? Well, this is a little corruption of that, and it works because those white beans have been in the fridge since time immemorial. Yes, very witty, Wilde. Do get on with it.


    Half a yellow onion, finely chopped
    Three good-sized plum tomatoes, also finely chopped (you can use canned—drain, or don’t; it’s up to you. If you don’t, you can probably skip the water)
    A handful of fresh basil, chopped…you guessed it (you can skip the fresh basil and use twice as much dried basil, but there’s something so soul-salving about fresh herbs, n’est-ce pas?)
    One tablespoon olive oil
    One and a half cupfuls of cooked white beans (or one 16-oz can)
    Dried oregano, dried basil, and salt to taste
    Two cloves garlic, chopped
    One cup water
    One tablespoon milk
    One cup penne


    1. Slosh olive oil into the pan, chop up the veggies, and sauté until soft.

    2. Add the beans. If you’re using canned, drain them and rinse off the sliminess. Actually, you can probably get away with not draining them—again, you probably won’t need to use the water—but do rinse them, because you don’t need to be eating that ick.

    3. Dump the water in, if need be, and sauté over medium heat until soft(er). This should take about thirty minutes if your oven was constructed sometime after the JFK assassination. If you live in a charming prewar like I do, it will probably take closer to 45 minutes. Sometime in the middle of all this softening, add the seasonings to taste.

    4. Chop up the garlic and scrape it in the pan. If you like, you can leave this step to the very end, because garlic loses its flavor if cooked too long. I like my garlic tasting like it would in that restaurant in The Godfather where Michael shoots that dude who shot the Don, so I added it about five minutes before the pasta was done.

    5. Which reminds me—cook your pasta according to package directions until al dente. Now is probably a good time to get that pasta water a-rollin’.

    6. Bean water: If you’re using dried beans that you cooked a week ago because you were planning to make chili, but you decided to hold off because you puked on Saturday morning (yum!) and you thought you had the flu, but it turned out to be the aftereffects of drinking, like, a whole can of coffee in three days, and fresh tomatoes, you’re gonna have to add the H20, because that bean concoction is gonna be sticking to the pan. Use your judgment. You want to go for a sort of pasta fagioleconsistency, but you don’t want too much of a broth at the end. You’re looking for moist, not soupy.

    7. Swish in the milk for that extra creamy taste.

    8. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and set it aside. If you’ve managed to time it right—and I did, miracle of miracles! —the beans should be at the appropriate texture around the same time the pasta is finished. Scrape the beans into the pasta pot and mix ‘em up. There may be a little bean crust from the frying pan, but that’s just gravy, in a manner of speaking.

    9. Sprinkle some of that rice parmesan cheese you’ve had sitting in your fridge for, like, two years on top—or hell, use the real stuff—and inhale. Salud!

    You can pair this with a nice Chianti (slurpslurpslurp) unless you’re like me, and you have to stay away from wine because it’s like drinking Sierra Mist. In which case, stick to beer or a couple of cocktails whilst cooking, because you want to be able to eat the damn thing without having it come right back up.

    Oh, yes, and make sure you follow up with that yumbly rice custard you should have made with the leftovers from last night’s spicy shrimp and black bean sludge with Texmati rice. I speak of the rice, of course, not the sludge. But whatever gets you through the night, I reckon.

    Wednesday, August 23, 2006

    This Is Not a Food Blog...

    …but hoez gots to eat too, to quote Hollywood Shuffle. And since this blog has “kitchen” in its name, I suppose we’re long overdue for some down-home cookin’, Karla-style (i.e., whatever is in the fridge that we can slap together that tastes remotely Mexican). So without further ado, I present…

    Shrimp and Black Bean Sludge with Texmati Rice

    One tablespoon olive oil
    Half a green pepper, cored and chopped
    Two medium tomatoes, chopped
    One small tomatillo, chopped
    A handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
    Half a pound of large, cooked shrimp, defrosted (I use the precooked kind from WholeFoods)
    About two cups (or one can) of black beans
    Cayenne, cumin, coriander, and salt to taste
    Juice of one small lime
    Mole (optional)
    A few drops Tabasco sauce (optional)
    One tablespoon salsa (again, optional)
    Texmati rice (you can use any kind of rice you want—this is just what I had on hand)

    Hark, kitchen slattern! Whither onions and garlic? Well, I didn’t have any, and I certainly didn’t have the time or energy to run out and buy some, so they got the shaft. Actually, strict Ayurvedics give them the shaft too, on the grounds that they’re too difficult to digest. If you simply can’t do without onions and garlic and you have some on hand, by all means, chuck ‘em in.

    1. Cook the rice according to the package directions. Do not use instant—it’s Ayurvedically unsound. Okay, use instant if you must. If you do, you can wait until the sludge has simmered for a while before cooking it. If you’re using the uncooked kind, start cooking it before you make the sludge, especially if you’re using a sixty-year-old gas stove, like I am.

    2. Slosh the olive oil the pan, chop up yer veggies, and sauté on high for a few minutes. Reduce heat to medium.

    3. Chop up the cilantro and toss that in.

    4. When the veggie mix has softened to a “sludge-like consistency” (the things I learn from this woman! If she’s reading this, she must think I’m a total star-fucking freak), pour in your black beans.

    5. Did you forget to defrost your shrimp while all this exciting activity was going on? That’s okay; so did I. Just fill a bowl of warm water, plop in the shrimp, and soak them for five minutes. Don’t forget to give the sludge a stir or three, and pay attention to that rice, for god’s sake!

    6.Take the heads/tails/appendages off the shrimp and add it to the sludge. Stir well.

    7. Add the cayenne, cumin, coriander, salt, and lime juice per instructions. Turn up the stove for a quick spin, stir, then reduce heat to medium.

    8. Check email. Decide to add some of that mole that’s been hanging out in your fridge for nigh on to a year. Get kicked offline.

    9. Hey, some Tabasco sauce might taste good here too!

    10. And you know, this salsa’s in here taking up room and gathering dust…

    11. Oh, fuck! The rice is sticking to the pan, and so is the sludge! Add water to both.

    12. Tell cats they can’t have any of this, even though they think they want it because it contains shrimp. Ignore plaintive mews.

    13. When rice and sludge are at their proper gustatory consistency, shut off the burners and let ‘em stand for five minutes. Have a fag, take a piss, whatever.

    14. Wash hands, pour sludge over rice, and eat. Muy delicioso y caliente!

    If you have any leftover rice, put it in the fridge and use it to make rice custard. Guess who has an awesome recipe for that? You’ll have to buy her book to get it, though. Hell, I did.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    My Brain Hurts

    My friend MarkRickSteve was in town last week visiting his brother, and he told me the following story:

    "This morning, we were in this little boutique in the West Village and I started talking to the cashier. She asked me where I was from, and I said Chicago. 'What time zne is that in?' she asked me. I didn't think too much of it--some people might think it's in Eastern or Mountain. So I said, 'Central' and I told her that it's an hour behind Eastern, so it would be ten-thirty there. So then SHE says, 'Is that a.m. or p.m.?'[Loud, profane expression of disbelief from me.] No, wait, it gets worse. I told her the reason I was so tired was I'd just taken the red-eye from L.A. 'Oh, what time zone is that in?' she asks again. I tell her, 'Pacific, which means it's THREE hours behind, which means it would be eight-thirty in the morning there.' And then she says, I swear to god, 'A.M. OR P.M.????!!!!!'"

    MarkRickSteve also informed me that his brother's generation--he's ten years younger than we are, so I guess that would make them Gen Y--prefers Leno to Letterman. But...but...but...Leno's not funny! (Here I must confess: The one time I was in L.A. myself, I was coming back from the awesome Buffalo Exchange with my friend Thomasina's Human Mother when we saw a silver-haired man standing on a corner signing autographs. "Maybe it's Bill Clinton," THM suggested. Of course it was not; it was guess who. I don't know if it was the marine layer or the magic of the desert air or WHAT possessed me, but I leaned out the window of THM's car and yelled, "Jay, you rock!" Four seconds later, I smacked myself upside the head. Please let the record stand that I hate, hate, hate Leno.)

    Personally, I think these Gen Y kids eat too much sugar and play too much XBox. That's why they hold these Kafkaesque ideas about Leno being funnier than Letterman. Which reminds me--you probably already know that the U.S. government pays farmers to plant a surplus of corn. Guess what they do with it? Turn it into high fructose corn syrup! So if you buy a can or bag of something or other and you see high fructose corn syrup listed as one of the top five ingredients, throw it away. This is a government plot to make you stupid and convince you that Leno is funnier than Letterman, and that ain't America, kids.

    Sunday, August 20, 2006

    Jesus Loves Me, This I Know Part 2

    I've been doing a little digging into my mom's family's religious background of late. My mom's family is, for the most part, from Lancaster County, PA, which everyone knows as ground zero for the Amish. My great-grandmother Olga was from a small town called Falmouth, right on the Susquehanna River, just south of Three Mile Island, which you'll recall as the nuclear power plant that almost blew up in 1979. (You wouldn't believe how many people try to tell me that's the nuclear plant up the Hudson River. Do you think I can't tell the difference between TMI and Indian Point? Someone also tried to tell me once that TMI was in San Francisco.)

    I've always assumed that Olga was raised in a strict Dunkard or Evangelical United Brethren home. A little Internet research told me that this was impossible, because these sects weren't established until 1928 and 1946, respectively. So I asked my grandfather the heretic what sect Olga belonged to as a child, and his answer was "None, really." Whoa! "That whole thing about how religious Olga was is mostly a myth," he continued, explaining that her collection of crucifixes and Jesus needlepoints was mainly "to impress people." That sounds like Olga. She was immensely proud of my grandpa, her rich son-in-law, when he made a small fortune in insurance in the early 1960s--never mind that she'd call my grandma every day when they were first married and tell him to leave the bum. So I guess Olga was a bit of a moral relativist, to put it kindly.

    My grandpa is a passionate believer in God who is equally as passionate in his nonbelief in organized religion. He used to take a whatever-gets-you-through-the-night kind of approach, but the emergence of the Tim and Beverly LaHayes and their ilk in the past decade or so has morphed this into something perilously close to antipathy. (Hey, if George W. Bush could make Grandpa leave the Republican party, anything is possible. Not that he didn't vote for that stool sample, mind you.) I suspect the last time he set foot in a church was when my parents got married thirty-six years ago. Although Jesus is his favorite prophet, I've discovered (and borrowed) several books of his on Eastern religion. His, I think, is exactly what the fundamentalists go batshit over--a salad-bar approach to theology, with a firm belief of the power of the Almighty in nature. His solo journey toward this recognition is a bit too Ayn Rand for my taste, but I respect the hell out of it. It makes sense to me in a way that accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior do not. (As AF put it, "What does that mean, anyway? That you believe that stupid story?" In case you're wondering which one, AF is talking about the resurrection. I'm sure my grandpa can explain that metaphor for you.)

    As for me, I guess I'm what you'd call a foxhole agnostic. Meaning, if I'm ever in a foxhole in Belgium, with Bing Crosby singing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" on the Victrola in my mind, I'm not going to get religion just because the Nazis are dropping missiles on my head. I'm particularly amused by the instructions on the back of the Jack Chick tracts that instruct you on how to become a Christian. They're so vague, and yet so repressive. "Talk to God in prayer every day"? "Tell others about Jesus Christ"? "Read your Bible every day to get to know Jesus Christ better"? Look, I talk to people about Jesus Christ. I've also read bits and pieces of the Bible (and bits and pieces of what other folks have said about the Bible), and from what I can glean about Dear Mr. Jesus, he was a Commie! Imagine that--the only born son of God a Commie Jew. If you've read Al Franken's book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, you'll probably remember the chapter in which the evil Jew Franken talks about how, when he was in rehab, George W. Bush favored passages from Acts. You'll also remember that portions of Acts were ripped, word for word, by one Karl Marx. I believe it was the part about "each according to his ability to each according to his needs." Hmmm. Somehow I don't think this is what Mr. Chick has in mind...

    Nor is it the faith of most of the Harrisburgers I knew. The prevailing relgious dogma in Harrisburg seems to be "I've got my seat on God's train; tough titty toenails for you." Oh, I think they're required to witness their faith in front of three people or something like that--sort of like Amway--but it's still all about them and securing that place on the bus to Heaven. (When I was maybe three, I asked my mom how my great-grandpa Karl got to Heaven and she replied with a distracted, "I don't know...I guess he took a bus.") I don't recall Jesus ever bringing solace to most of the people around me. To me, Jesus seemed like a big dick--someone who hated me for my "sins" that I was, nonetheless, supposed to love and worship. Being a Christian seemed to give folks a license to be nasty--to me, that is. Because we didn't go to church, because I lived alone with my dad in a rented tract house on the wrong side of town, because we kept to ourselves. The Christian adults around me seemed to demand that I protect them from the awful thing I was, from the horrible things that had happened to me when I was a kid, because they were Decent Christians who simply couldn't be tainted by such filthy information. (Did you people skip over the part in the Bible about Lot's daughters getting him drunk and seducing him to preserve his seed? That there is some filthy information, if you ask me.)

    It's been only in the past few years that I've been able to realize that what I experienced was not pure Christianity, but a bunch of emotionally immature adults enacting precisely that which they purport to condemn, the salad-bar approach to theology, and using it to abuse their authority, like Stalin did with Marxism. What I'm not entirely sure about is if this was calculated on their part or if it was something with which they'd been raised, something they'd heard for years and unconsciously translated into a gut response. And while I'd like to think I adhere to the whatever-gets-you-through-the-night approach, I'm emotionally immature myself, and too often I fall back on the idea that if it doesn't get me through the night, it's probably not working for you, either. But at least I can admit that I have no way of knowing that for sure, just as I can admit that I have no way of knowing if there is a God or not. But I can't simply believe.

    Now go in peace.

    Saturday, August 19, 2006


    The author and sole employee of this blog would like to state, for the record, that she is not opposed to people from Pakistan or any other Middle East countries in any shape or form. Nor is she opposed to people of non-Caucasian races. She is not even entirely opposed to small liberal arts colleges, although she encourages parents and kids to base their decisions on something more substantial than a cool brochure, ivy-covered walls, and a beautiful lake view from every window. She is, however, opposed to religious fundamentalism, men ruling the roost, and such practices as female genital mutilation. And if that cabdriver had been named Paul McCall or Owen Bowen, she would have found that amusing as well.

    The author would also like to hear your thoughts on your understanding of the term "cultural sensitivity," especially if you, like she, did the small liberal arts college thing. If you'd like to see what it is not, go to the forums on this page.

    Back to you in the newsroom.

    Friday, August 18, 2006

    Taxi Driver (You Talkin' to Me?)

    I hailed a cab driver today with the name Malik Sadiq. No, I'm not going to go all Mike Royko here and make fun of the dude's name, but I did find it a tad amusing.

    Usually, I don't mind making small talk with a cab driver. When the cab driver is listening to Air America, we're guaranteed a pleasant twenty minutes or so of Bush-bashing and Cheney-hating before I arrive at my destination. When they start asking me about my (nonexistent) boyfriend, I tell them about a friend of mine in the Bronx, who is six-one and looks like a biker. He's a real person, but he is not, alas, my boyfriend, although he's cool with my claiming he is in order to prevent cab drivers and skeevy dudes on the subway from hitting on me. (He's also not really a biker--he just plays one on TV, so to speak.) Malik Sadiq was not listening to Air America, nor did he hit on me, but I was too exhausted to talk. So he pretty much left me alone until we landed on the Queens side of the 59th Street Bridge, at which point he says to me, "I don't like your culture. Oooookaaayyyy...and what might that mean, Malik Sadiq? I don't much like my culture either, if what you're referring to involves "American Idol" and Bud Lite and thirty-second rutting encounters with pink frat boys. Is that what you mean?

    It was not. "Women in my country do not work like here," he says. "They work in girls' schools; they are nurses in hospitals. They do not work in shops. They are not police officers. Men work. Women are wives. They stay home and take care of the children."

    Had this been a pink frat boy at an Upper East Side Irish pub telling me a loud, fat chick like me was never gonna get any better than he, pumping away at my intimate parts and groaning, I would have loudly and fatly told him he was a sexist prick whilst dumping a keg of Bud Light on his filthy white baseball cap. Because my cab driver was Pakistani, and I was hauling a week's worth of groceries from Whole Foods in Chelsea, I refrained from mentioning the Pakistani girl I once heard about who had the temerity to marry the man she loved and is now forced to live on the lam because her father and male cousins are trying to kill her. Instead, I said, "Well, I wouldn't mind not working..." to which Malik Sadiq let emerge a hearty chuckle. "You are tired," he affirmed.

    Will someone please tell me, once and for all, what "cultural sensitivity" means? Does it mean keeping quiet when someone brags about women in his native country knowing their place? Because let me tell you, I feel like a real bigot just recounting this incident. Parents, do not send your kids to small liberal arts schools. They will graduate with nothing but a useless degree and a sneaking suspicion that they might be the next David Duke.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006

    What A Bitch!

    I just realized that the story I'm about to tell involves my admitting I take Paxil. Amazing how old habits die hard, because I'm sitting here thinking, Should I admit that? No one will ever talk to me again! even though something like, oh, I don't know, ten million people in the world probably take it. In East Jesus, you don't talk about that sort of thing if you want folks to speak to you.

    Anyway. A few days ago, I had to refill my Paxil prescription. The pharmacy on the corner is notoriously incompetent. Oftentimes, I'll go in there around 4 in the afternoon and they're closed already, even though they're supposed to be open till 9. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now, but no. So I go in there, check to see if the gate is down, and when I see it isn't, I plop my prescription down on the counter. The young pharmacy intern comes back. "We have to call your doctor," he tells me. They've pulled this shit before for no fathomable reason, so I tell him, not very nicely, "No, you don't." I myself work a job at which I have to swallow all kinds of rudeness, and so I try to be polite to those who are in similar straits, but when the pharmacist gives me shit about my prescription, s/he stops being human and becomes a vicious cyborg standing between me and my sanity. As my neighbor Mrs. Rosewater (the lovely wife of Feline Bill) pointed out, "It's not fuckin' Demerol, for god's sake!" Seriously, this isn't a buyer's club. Do you really need to call my doctor to verify that I'm dying of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and I'm feeling the need for weed? Well, yes, apparently. "Your doctor wrote that you're supposed to take a minimum of 80 milligrams per day," says the youth. No shit, I tell him, that's what I'm supposed to take. "Well, we need to verify that with her, because she's never done that before," he says. As I'm about to rip this young turk a new one (that's turk as in "punk," not as in "from Turkey," lest anyone start accusing me of bigotry), a regular pharmacist butts in and says, "Besides, we don't have any Paxil. We need to order it." What the fuck? Again, this is not Thorazine, for god's sake. It's Paxil, a very common SSRI that,again, probably ten million people take. Is it too much to ask to have that shit on hand?

    So I yank the prescription out of the dude's hand and stomp six blocks down to the other pharmacy, and it's the same story. Oh, they have it, but they ain't gonna give it to me. "Because your psychiatrist blah blah blah and we have to verify that because yak yak yakkity blah." At least they had the decency to call my psychopharm (who, I neglected to mention, is not in the office on Mondays), but the receptionist there wouldn't talk to her. So they put me on the phone and she says give her fifteen minutes, she'll give my doc a call. Okay, fine. Well, not fine fine, but I'm freaking out and I'll take what I can get. During this whole battle, I run into a girl I knew in college. She's the complete opposite of me--quiet, pretty, and responsible. I tend to freak her out anyway, because I'm such a lunatic even when my seratonin levels are where they should be, and I'm standing there buggin' out with this demon grin on my face, trying to get my crazy pills out of these people, just one little dose, pleasepleaseplease, and I'm thinking, looking at her poised, married, pregnant self, I am gonna cause this chica to have a miscarriage. Anyway, she wishes me luck and leaves with her stash. God, I wish I could be normal. I wonder what she told her husband, who was briefly my housemate back in the day. He probably had a good laugh.

    After a few false starts and another conversation with the pharmacist, in which she tells me my best bet is know, I don't even remember what my "best bet" was supposed to be, because all I could think was my "best bet" was for them to give me my damn meds tout de suite, I get my pills, pop them, and wait for them to take effect. By this time, I'm so frazzled that I end up having a minor freakout at work (fortunately, everyone at NYCO is a frustrated artist, and they don't snap at you for "being unprofessional" if you happen to start crying because some prick pharmacist won't give you your pills). I think I should take the advice of this lady and bake my pharmacist some cookies. Anything to wake these cyborgs from their bureaucratic stupor.

    I feel like a right rotten bitch about the whole thing, because I really don't like being nasty to folks like pharmacists and waitresses and others in the service industry, because I know what a difficult job it is. On the other hand, I don't see why they couldn't have given me one dose. Paxil is not a controlled substance. And it wasn't even Paxil CR, it was regular old generic Paxil. I'm not going to smash it up like Oxycontin and sell it to teenagers.

    Amy Sedaris once said she "cringe[d] when [she] heard people use the expression 'meds,'" because "when you hear someone say that, you know they have to be takin' a whole lot of medication." Listen, Amy, don't make me hate you. I am a huge fan of yours. Strangers With Candy is among the many DVDs on my birthday wish list. But you should know that I am on a whole lot of medication. I'm sure many of your fans are taking a whole lot of medication. I would like not to be taking a whole lot of medication, but my brain is all fucked up. I wish I didn't have to worry about falling for some fellow and have him ditch me when he finds out I take pills for my "mood disorder" (I ask you, how can a mood be disordered? Fuck the DSM-IV for deciding this shit!) and/or that my mommy hurt my head when I was a kid, because nice people simply can't associate with crazies like me. But that's not the way it worked out. So Amy, cut that shit out, and take a look at your brother, of whom I am also a huge fan but who clearly could have benefitted from some kind of obsessive-compulsive drug back in the day, if that one essay in Naked is any indication.

    And finally, if anyone reading this wishes to tell me something like I don't need those pills, I just need Jesus, or something equally brainiacal, please keep it to yourself.

    Monday, August 14, 2006

    No Fat Chixxz

    My friend Sarito and I were just having a little discussion about "that woman on TV who's so breathless about getting down to a size 2." I assume she's talking about Kirstie Alley and Jenny Craig, both of whom/what/which Wendy McClure did an awesome job of lambasting in BUST last year. One of my favorite quotes went something to the effect of "At Pier 1, you buy overpriced crap made out of raffia; at Jenny Craig, you eat it."

    As someone who has struggled with both her weight and the allegedly well-meaning but incredibly nasty remarks about my weight from those who claimed to be "just trying to HELP!!!!!", I find the whole weight-loss industry at once necessary and repugnant. I certainly can't fault Ms. Alley for wanting to shed tonnage--although I can certainly take umbrage with her spiritual practices and her lack of talent--but I wish to hell someone in the mainstream besides Naomi Wolff would finally just come out and acknowledge what this starve-yourself-to-Auschwitz-proportions marathon is really all about: Dicks.

    Look. I'm a feminist, not a man-hater. These two things are not synonymous. Obviously, all men are not created equal in the sense that they do not share one immutable, collective mindset about how women should look. (Case in point: my awesome dad, who married my mom before she went batshit, and who even at her thinnest sorta resembled an apple propped up on toothpicks.) But we can't dispute that it's a bunch of totally phallocentric, well, dicks who are making these decisions about how women should look and think and be, and that we've bought and continue to buy into it, and then act like a bunch of Alexis Colbys when some skinny bitch steals our man. Okay, yes, this is extreme, but some of us never do outgrow junior high.

    Think about it: If Kate Moss and her ilk were not shoved down your throat every day, if everyone from that asshole football player on down to your well-meaning but misguided Aunt Ethel weren't telling you that fat is bad and no man will love you if you don't lose some weight, would you give a good goddamn? No, of course you wouldn't. You might want to lose weight for other reasons, like diabetes prevention and the fact that you can't do certain yoga poses as easily as you used to, but if pissing off men were not the dangerous business that it is, if you weren't so utterly brainwashed (and I include myself in this, in spades), you would not be pinching your barely existent thigh fat and moaning about how corpulent you allegedly are. Hell, you might even like yourself, hard as it is to believe. I once told a therapist that I wouldn't care if I was fat if it weren't for the fact that everyone made such a big fucking deal about how godawful it was, and I don't think she believed me. But why not? We're humans, after all. We create this stuff, folks. If female bonobo monkeys can go against all traditional ideas about sex as purely reproductive and fuck each other bald, then we can get together and decide that we're not gonna take it anymore, can we not?

    Here's a weight loss commercial I'd like to see: "Okay, here's the deal. I'm fat. Well, not really fat, but heavy enough that I can't get acting jobs that don't call for some incredibly degrading role as the 'Fat Chick,' which the script writer includes to make the skinny people feel good about themselves. Now, I'm damn sick of this, but I can't singlehandedly change the culture, and I've got to pay my rent. And I just don't have the balls, or ovaries, or energy to keep making my 'Fat Chicks are people too' speech to seriously fat, hairy, patriarchal prick producers, and I don't have the talent of Kathy Bates or Tovah Feldshuh to pull this thing off. That's why I choose Weight Watchers!"

    Pretty good, huh? Cuts right through the bullshit. So next time someone tells you "No fat chixxz" and then has the unmitigated audacity to chide you for not eating that slice of cheesecake, recite this ad, and then kick them in the balls. Or ovaries, 'cause it ain't just men perpetratin' this shit.

  • *** *** *** *** ***

  • Calling All Geeks!: My friend Zoie requested some pictures of the cats. If someone has a "real" scanner (meaning one that is not part of a fax/printer/copier gadget) and the time to show me how to futz with HTML code, give me a shoutout posthaste.

    Saturday, August 12, 2006

    Will You Shut the Fuck Up About the Damn Cats Already?

    Oh, ALL right. After this one, no more posts about cats for at least a week unless there's some dire emergency. But damn it, they're just so cute!

    This morning, as I was heading to the corner deli for my morning provisions (cigs, coffee, soy milk, the Times, I saw two stray kitties being attended to by a very sweet woman about my dad's age. I've seen the little buggers before when I take the long route to the deli. They're tabbies, with long snouts and scrawny stray bodies. The fellow (lady?) who greeted us this morning looked to be part Maine coon, with a big, bushy tail that looked like someone or something had taken a bite out of--and who knows, perhaps someone/thing had. After I helped the very sweet woman feed the little beasts, we chatted about our own felines and she told me that down her way, on the south side of Broadway, there were quite a number of "cat colonies" to which she attended. Astoria does seem to be quite the feline hotspot, kind of like the Coliseum in Rome. We have our own little kitty hangout in the backyard, presided over by none other than Feline Bill, of course. In fact, every spring, Feline Bill rassles up the new kittens, cleans them up, domesticates them, and then unloads them on willing friends. Many, many times I've been tempted to spirit one of the little babies up to my pad, but I have an uneasy feeling that would set off all kinds of trauma for Hissy and Fitz, who would either hide in the closet or take a chunk out of the interloper's neck. At some point, though, in the distant future, if I'm ever in the market for another pet, I'm going to have to get a little female kitten and name her Maggie. I'm a theatre geek--it's in the contract, just as it's in the contract that on the extremely off-chance I ever get a dog, I'll have to name him Benjamin Barker, which, if you aren't a theatre geek or Sondheim nut, is Sweeney Todd's real name. When I was nine years old, my mom and I had a cat named Felicia, whom she never bothered to get spayed, which led to Felicia sneaking out of the house and getting knocked up. (You Catholic girls start much too late...) Anyway, the litter emerged on Beethoven's birthday, much to the delight of my bass-playing mother, and we ended up naming the surviving kittens Toby, Lovett, and Ben after various characters in the aforementioned musical. Toby's new owners renamed him Rusty, and my mom changed Lovett to Cecile on the grounds that it sounded too much like Lovey, and no cat of hers, blah blah blah. As for the runt who died, poor thing, well, my mother threw it in the trash. "What else was I supposed to do with it?" my mother said when I asked her why she didn't, um, bury it in the yard or something. "That ground's frozen as a hard as a rock!" Yes, but isn't there some city ordinance against throwing a cat in the trash? Oh, well, that was Vikki for you, all the sentiment of steel.

    That was twenty years ago, and I assume all the cats in that litter are dead now. When my mother herself died, my dad and I took Cecile, while Ben went to live with our vet's housekeeper. Cecile was a case, man. She and Ben were left alone in my mom's house for two months after her fruitless surgery and before my equally sentimental grandfather figured he'd better find these little bastards new homes. (I can't exactly hold that against him--his only daughter was dying of colon cancer at thirty-nine, and he was trying to clean out our house and settle her estate and come to terms with the horror of it all.) Cecile never did get over being left alone in that house for so long, but the upshot of the situation was she became a true people cat. She loved her humans to the point of obsession, following us around the house and meowing a strangely bitchy little "r-a-a-a-h!" when she felt we weren't paying enough attention to her. My mother had had all the cats from that litter declawed, and so Cecile and my dad used to engage in "boxing matches" together. And how, you may ask? It was pretty simple, really--my dad would lie on his side on the floor, waving his hand back and forth between Cecile's front paws, and Cecile would bat at it. Nothing so exciting as the film clips of the boxing cats that "The Daily Show" likes to screen when they haven't anything better to do, but charming nonetheless. We called her "the goat cat" because when my dad lay down on the sofa to watch TV, Cecile would lean up against him like a little mountain goat. My dad and I used to laugh that she had nipple anxiety like the dog in Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Are we the only people who remember that scene? Because I swear, whenever I mention nipple anxiety and that film in the same sentence, people just look at me like, the fuck you talkin' 'bout, Willis?

    Cecile lived to the ripe old age of 17, finally succumbing to a stomach tumor the day after Easter, 2003. I still miss "talking" to her on the phone--she purred so loudly my dad could hold the phone up to her neck and I could listen to her. And I still miss our big Buddha cat, Faron, a champion purr-er himself, who departed this life the same year as my mom, attempting to protect his humans from a pack of stray dogs that roamed the neighborhood (and which, I believe, was also responsible for the disappearance of our guinea pigs, Ginger and Mocha, who my mother saw fit to leave on the stoop, presumably so they could absorb fresh summer air. Mother, wherever you are, what the fuck were you thinking?). Faron was the mellowest cat ever--he was, after all, a stray from my parents' Vermont days in the early 1970s--and he used to put up with all kinds of crazy shit, like my dressing him in doll bonnets when I was a kid. When he wanted my mom to feed him, he'd walk across the piano until she put the meat on the floor. Our friend Deb lived upstairs from us, with her parents across the street, and one day Deb's mom called to let her know that Faron was sitting in the middle of the street with his tongue hanging out. "Is he sick?" she asked Deb. "Should I call Vikki? Is he going to get run over?" Deb just laughed and explained that was just Faron, nothing to worry about. And until he got into a tussle with the dogs who claimed his ninth life at 17, there really wasn't. He was just a stoner, protected by some cosmic force field.

    I think Sally is the one I miss the most, though. Sally was the little white cat my dad got from a co-worker who lived on a farm after my mom split and took Faron and his "sister", Daisy. She was easily the sweetest, most well-behaved cat I've ever known, completely free of the bad behavior of Cecile and Faron, who chewed old newspapers and picked on the stereo speakers, respectively. With all due respect, I can't say Sally was especially interesting or social, but maybe that's why I have such a soft spot for her. Poor little gaffer developed diabetes late in her life and stopped cleaning herself, so my dad and I would have to bathe her. She hated it, but she was so good. And I will always cherish the memory of her wrestling with our then-new cat, Hades, a stray I unloaded on my dad when I was in college, with her front legs wrapped around Hades's neck. Who knew such a sweet little baby had such balls, so to speak?

    As a foxhole agnostic, I'm leery about the concept of the afterlife, although I do like the Native American perspective of meeting your beloved pets after the final curtain is rung down. The only problem I have with that is, if my mother is there, who gets to play with Faron? I mean, I have nightmares about this woman surfacing from the dead and screaming at me that she knows all the "slander" I've been spreading about her (FYI, it's all true, so shut up, Vikki), so what's going to happen when I bite the big one? Maybe Faron will be able to share us. He always did like his humans. Maybe he'll even help us reconcile, but I doubt it.

    Okay, let's wrap up Cat Week here at KT with some links to feline rescue organizations. And remember to do as Bob Barker tells you and spay and neuter your pet. (Not to mention spaying and neutering Bob Barker.)

    New York
    Grateful Paw Cat Adoption Center
    Animal Welfare Adoption Network

    Stray Cat Alliance (in Harrisburg, no less!)

    Cats Are Purr-r-r-sons Too
    Tree House Animal Foundation

    Northern California
    Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County

    Southern California
    Los Angeles ASPCA
    People and Cats Together

    And, if all else fails, check in with me and I'll let you know what/who Feline Bill and I can rustle up from the backyard.

    Friday, August 11, 2006

    Cats 'n Blogs, Part 2

    Yeah, I know, genug already with the damn cats. But come on! Fifty years ago, I would be firmly set in cement as a crazy spinster, what with my utter lack of romantic companionship and feline fixation, so give me a break.

    Anyway, Hissy continues to improve. She seems not to notice the fact that her wet food is further saturated with medicine--a painkiller and an antibiotic, for the record--and she's been rubbing against my ankles like a regular ol' mushball. As for Fitz, she's mighty rankled that her sister is getting all this attention and 9 Lives to boot, and she's been hissing and growling and generally behaving like a crazy-ass bizzotch. I hope these two come to some kind of truce, because I feel terrible seeing little injured Hissy receive such hostile treatment. Not that the cat actually understands this, but still. Feline Bill and I will be conducting a roundup later today so Hissy can get her surgical drain removed. I have a feeling it'll go about as well as the last one, so if you really want to know how it goes, just read the previous post.

    Oh, here's some non-cat, non-blog related ruminations: As we all know, Ned Lamont roundly and soundly trounced Senator Joseph I. Lieberman in Tuesday's primary. My acupuncturist friend is, I'm sure, tickled pinko about this, because she can't stand Joe Lieberman's voice. (And I can't stand referring to her as "my acupuncturist friend," but she hasn't given me permission to use her real name, and I can't think of a suitable pseudonym. AF, if you're reading this, let me know what's what.) AF has a particular reason for why she can't stand Joe Lieberman's voice, which has to do with--you guessed it--Chinese medicine. See, in Chinese medicine, the human voice has five elements: a weep, a groan, a sing, a laugh, and a shout. One's voice is typically comprised of more than one of these elements and/or a lack thereof, leading to such combinations as "sing with lack of laugh" or "somewhere between a shout and a groan." What sends AF into anaphylactic shock is the weep, which is what Joe Lieberman has. During the 2004 primaries (oh, those halcyon days when we thought we might have a soupcon of a chance at getting rid of Bush once and for all!), AF made it clear that if she had to listen to "THAT MAN'S" voice for four years (Lieberman's), she would have to put NPR on mute, which rather defeats the purpose. "So," I goaded, "does that mean you're gonna vote for Bush if we run Lieberman?" No, AF assured me, she would vote for a salamander over Bush. She would just require a morphine drip if she had to listen to Lieberman. Crisis temporarily averted when we nominated Kerry, and I'm not about to rehash what happened next. Anyway, as soon as Garrison Keillor (weep) decides to retire, NPR will be safe again.

    As for me, I don't have a huge problem with either Lieberman's or Keillor's voices, although I do wish they'd crawl under a rock for other reasons. Obviously, I have nothing but contempt for a Democrat who decides to play Carpetbagger, and my memories of Garrison Keillor involve having to sit mute on my crackhead mother's couch while she listened to the "News From Lake Woebgone" on Saturday nights. My lord, woman, it's not real! God forbid you pay attention to your only kid for two seconds. My apologies for being a flesh-and-blood child and not a trained puppet violin prodigy. (And no, my mother is not reading this. She died in 1989. And don't you dare tell me I shouldn't still be angry at her, especially when I have PMS.) No, my visceral reaction is for the sing, a trait that seems to be shared by local female newscasters the country over. Oh, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard--"A WO-man was RAPED TO-night in the BEN-son-hurst neigh-bor-hood in BROOK-lyn." Lady, she was raped! Quit crowin' about it! Inject some gravitas, and wipe that damn smile off your face! (Of course, I don't know that I enjoy their moues of woe any better. Just stay poker-faced, like they do on the BBC, and we'll all be much better off.)

    So, blogs. My friend Sarito has started one of her own, Shredding The Envelope, which link will remain in the sidebar in perpetuity. I met Sarito in my acting class a few years ago, and we became friends the day we worked together on a mirror exercise. Since then, we've slapped together a scene from Alan Ayckbourn's Table Manners, quaffed tea, and smoked many cigarettes together. When she's not acting, Sarito edits manuscripts for a sort of New Age guru fellow (not Deepak Chopra, that's all I'll tell you), and her blog is, in addition to being much better than mine, is rather a rumination of all things, well...coincidental? Spiritual? Metaphysical? All/none of the above? Whatever--check her out and send her some love.

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Cats n' Blogs

    So, Hissy's back home from the vet. What an ordeal.

    Monday afternoon, my friend and neighbor Feline Bill came on up to the ranch and helped me wrangle the cat. We have a host of feral cats in the backyard that FB is used to grabbing by the scruff of the neck and hoisting through his kitchen window, and that's just what he did with Hissy, after a five-minute struggle that mercifully ended with Kitty in her carrier and no one sustaining any injuries. He ain't called Feline Bill for nothin'.

    And not a moment too soon, either, because as I was waiting with Hissy in the exam room, I saw that the blood I'd thought was coming from her mouth was, in fact, from a puncture wound on her neck. The only thing I could think at the time was that somehow, during her two-week hideout in the closet, that she'd caught her neck on a coat hanger. Turns out the thread she swallowed two weeks ago HAD A FUCKING NEEDLE ATTACHED TO IT and the puncture wound was from the needle trying to work its way out. Lord Jesus shit. How the hell can a cat walk around for two weeks with a needle stuck in her throat and not die? She never stopped eating the whole time, either--I knew she couldn't be that terribly off when I plunked a can of 9 Lives in front of her and she snarfed it down. But still--good lord.

    In addition to excavating the needle from Hissy's trachea, the vet also had to yank a rotten canine (feline?) tooth from her mouth and put in a fake one, clean her gums, excise the abscessed flesh around the puncture wound, put in a surgical drain, and update her shots. I am a shitty parent. I have not taken my cats to the vet once since I've had them--not counting this crisis, of course--because it's been damn near impossible to get them in a cage. Why I didn't think of Feline Bill sooner is beyond me. I mean, I've only been here five years!

    FB graciously declined any payment save a bottle of beer, which was doubly lovely because that vet bill cost more than a plane ticket to Singapore. But it's well worth it to save the life of my little beast, whom I hope will think twice before she ingests thread again. I did a thorough vaccuuming of my room yesterday and dug about five needles out of the rug (shudder!) and put away the thread so she won't be tempted.

    Hissy's getting back to her normal schizo self--she's been kinda puttering around the apartment, drinking a little water, eating a little Meow Mix, lightly brushing against my ankles, and bothering her sister, who meowed so piteously upon her absence but hissed in her face the moment she tried to bother her. And, oh yes, if I may so brag, everyone at the vet loved Hissy and said she behaved extremely well, and wasn't she a gorgeous little cat. Aw! My little munchkin is so precious. (I allow myself mushiness over cats, stuffed animals, babies, and assorted other blameless species. Oh, and the elderly, as long as they're not poking me in the back like that crotchety old sonofabitch at the Strand three years ago.)

    Thanks to Dr. Glasser and the staff at Steinway Court Veterinarian, Feline Bill and his lovely wife for lending me the cat carrier, and the various friends and fellow bloggers who've offered their comfort and condolences the past few days. Of course, I can't express just how grateful I am to the financial/psychological/veterinary/technical/parental unit who footed the bill without batting an eyelash. Thanks, Dad. You're the best.

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    Monday, August 07, 2006

    Animal Crackheads

    Medium crisis here at the ranch: My cat, Hissy, whom I praised to the skies for treating my ankles as a tree trunk, swallowed a hunk of thread a couple of weeks ago. She's been weird ever since, but since she appeared to be eating I decided to let her hide in the junk closet in the spare bedroom and come out of it on her own. A couple days ago, I noticed some strange stains on her neck and thought, Shit, I hope that's not blood. Lest you think I am some kind of awful, neglectful maniac, I fed her some wet cat food, and I thought it possible that she got cat food stains on her neck and couldn't clean them off. This morning, I was drinking coffee in the kitchen (!) when Hissy came in to drink some water. When she finished, I saw a stream of blood dribbling from the cat's mouth. Since she's semi-feral, just shoving her into a cage and toting her the four blocks to my local vet is not an option. I need the assistance of an experienced cat wrangler. Fortunately, one of my neighbors is the Buffalo Bill Cody of cat wrangling, and in about forty-five minutes or so Hissy and I (and possibly my neighbor) are about to undergo some serious trauma when we rassle her into the cage and get her to the vet. Now, since she's scarfing down wet food like she bagged Templeton the rat, I know it's not internal bleeding. The consensus of both myself and the lay veterinary department here at Kitschen Table is that Hissy still has some of that thread lodged in her teeth, and she's trying to get it out, and/or it's cutting her gums. I hope it's nothing more serious than that. Keep your fingers crossed for the poor little beast, and please don't send me any hate mail--I can't take it.

    It does explain Hissy's sister Fitz's agonized yowls of the last few days, though. Fitz has always been my "spokescat," the one who mrrr-ooows at me early in the morning when the food bowls are empty. Her meow is very high-pitched, and at first I thought something was wrong with her. But she lets loose with it whether she's hungry or she's just jumped down from the windowsill, so I've always figured she just talks that way. But over the past few days, she's been unleashing these pear-shaped rooooowwwwllllls that have just sounded positively abnormal, but which all made sense today when she sniffed at the water from whence her sister had drunk and just let loose. Oh, of course. Cat's blood. Jesus. I wish I spoke cat. What a dunce I am.

    The vet department and I tried to get Fitz to the vet once, about three years ago. She was constipated, and she looked it. As I told a friend, "She's walking around like she's got a load in her pants--I mean, of course, if cats wore pants." Unmitigated disaster. Not only would Fitz not get in the cage, she chomped a hole in my finger and sprayed pee all over the living room. (Who knew a girl cat could spray?) So we ended up in the ER at Mount Sinai, waiting for a tetanus shot for like two hours or so. I don't know which was more discomfiting--watching "Soul Train" in the waiting room, or watching KT's vet department watching "Soul Train" in the waiting room. Anyway, a tube of Femalt finally did the trick with Fitz, and we haven't had any problems since. Until now, of course.

    Sigh. Again, wish us lots of luck. I'm taking off work for this--not that my little feline isn't worth it a million times over.

    PS. Just discovered, when I was looking for a link for Templeton the rat, that they're making or have made a live action version of Charlotte's Web starring Dakota Fanning as Fern. Might have to go see that, except I really. Don't. Get. Dakota Fanning. How old is she now? Does that kid ever age? It seems like she's been about eight for like, three years now. It's like she's some kid version of Dick Clark.

    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Department of Corrections

    Hmm, maybe I should write more articles. Procrastinating has done wonders for my blog. This is the first time I've posted something only two days after posting something else. Hot damn!

    A few errors that have now been rectified: Actually, it's only one error, but there are some updates. In my "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know" post, I spoke briefly of John Harris, the fellow whose only claim to fame appears to have been establishing the outpost known as Harrisburg, PA. As a fan calling herself "marcia" pointed out, I wrote that he "found Harrisburg in sixteen hundred and something." Well, "marcia" (is that your real name? Sounds a little sketchy to me!), John Harris did not, as you suggested, happen to be strolling along and find Harrisburg "sitting there being boring," as if he were some kind of grade-Z Magellan. At least, that I know of. Also, your question about Harris Savings Bank (now known as Sovereign Bank) is a fine one. I would wager that John Harris was the chicken and the bank one of his many eggs, along with John Harris High School and...uh, anything else named Harris, including the Burg itself. Does that answer your question?

    As for the updates, I've included links to Harrisburg, Lancaster, Three Mile Island, and Philly's Main Line, among others. Why is it that whenever I discuss Pennsylvania with non-PAers, I feel like I'm trying to describe some remote mountain region of Nepal?

    Anyway, back to work...

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    But Seriously, Folks

    So I'm working on this article, which is due Wednesday (of course!), and yesterday I'm scanning the TV for some background noise. Turn on CNN and watch a few minutes of the Israeli/Hezbollah coverage,when the reporter shows a Lebanese woman forced out of her small farming village just one day after missiles killed most of her family. As I watched her gathering her few remaining belongings and sobbing (she still, as she told CNN, believes that what Hezbollah is doing is "right"), I thought, My god, how the hell can she stand moving just one day after her family is killed? I wondered, too, when the enormity of this would hit her, if it hadn't already, and my stomach literally turned. Of course, I'm incredibly lucky--all I have to do is turn on VH1 and watch Peter Brady get married to a woman half his age, and in a half-hour or so I'm okay again. And that's what I did.

    Fast forward to evening. I'm curled up in bed with Stephen Colbert (metaphorically speaking), and he's got a fellow named Ned whose last name I insist on remembering as Rorem, even though I know it's not, who's running against Joe Liebermann in the Connecticut senatorial primary. Rock on, Ned! It's such a relief when someone from my party displays a pair the size of brass symbols and portrays Bush as the dick splint he is. And contrary to Mr. Colbert's penchant for "truthiness," Ned busted out the fact, most of which I can't remember, except for "We're nine trillion dollars in debt." Nine fucking trillion.

    I am not a political blogger. I don't pretend to be. In fact, I deliberately portray myself on here as a rather irresponsible, artsy-fartsy, self-absorbed smartass, mainly because that's what I am, but also because it spares me the responsibility of having to fact-check, which is not easy to do when one has dial-up and one's blog post might well disappear into the ether if one breathes wrong. My political education began in 1980, absorbing my parents smack-talking Reagan. I don't remember it, but both parents have assured me that I used to prance around in my Wonder Woman Underoos, declaiming, "When Ronald Reagan comes here, I'm gonna tell him he's a jerk." The '84 election, when I was 8, was a watershed for me, because that was when I realized there was Something Wrong with my mother's parents. Republicans! How could this be? I mean, I would have expected such aberrancy from my grandmother, who was always telling me to sit up straight and act like a little lady, but my grandpa? The same guy who let me chase him around the pool table? Oh, man, how devastating. Seriously, it was. I love my grandpa dearly--remember, he was the guy who got fired from teaching Sunday School--but I've never been able to look at him the same again. Yes, I know that's a normal part of growing up, but how painful to love someone so much and to exist on the other side of a wall constructed from platitudes gleaned from a 1930s civic textbook. (My other grandparents, thank god, were and are yellow-dog Democrats. Those damn unions!) Anyway, that's pretty much the reasoning I've used most of my life. Republicans bad, Democrats good. That's what Old Tyme Religion does to you--which, by the way, more on that this weekend. I've since amended that to Democrats, a bunch of panty-waisted twerps trying to become like their abusers, Republicans, unspeakably godawful. Of course, there are exceptions, but you know, if you're looking for in-depth analysis, click here.

    So I'm a member of the Neo-Know-Nothing party, it seems. But nine trillion dollars. Nine fucking trillion.

    I couldn't credit what I was hearing. Oh, I mean I know we're nine trillion dollars in debt, just as I know about the my-god's-better-than-your-god bullshit that's been seeping into my brain space since I was a wee tad. But having spent most of my life stuck in my head, largely under the victim's credo of "What's in it for me?", these things were just facts, things I could use to prove that I, unlike my brain-dead counterparts, watched the news. This is what two years of group therapy has wrought, at last--a gut reaction to seeing a Lebanese woman bury her dead and flee her home, and to hearing the words "nine trillion dollars in debt" spoken in conjunction with the waste of space that presides over our country. Seriously.

    Spoke to my dad briefly this morning, and I told him about the nine fucking trillion, and I said I wished there was a word that could do justice to the damage that one puppet and his puppeteers have done, aching for the halcyon days of a government surplus and a president who could speak in complete sentences. ("Come on and marry me, Bill...I got the--" Oh, never mind.) The best description I could come up with was likening it to a MAD magazine cartoon, albeit a really, really dark one. And my dad agreed that this administration is so bad, it's a satire of itself. Or at least that's the way our brains have made sense of it, anyway. It kind of reminds me of when I was on the staff of my college literary magazine and we'd be reading some poem that some poor person had obviously put his or her heart and soul into, but was just so abysmal that all we could do was laugh at it. At some point, we would end up taking the position of what-the-hell-it's-so-bad-it's-good, much like two of my cinematic faves, Bachelor Party and Midnight Madness. Of course, I'm not saying anything new here--I believe Jon Stewart himself has said that they really don't have to work hard to satirize the news. But I'm a gut person, and when that bit of knowledge moves you where you live, well...what's left to say?

    Oh, yes, except nine fucking trillion. And fuck you, Bush. Seriously.