Sunday, December 30, 2012

What Were You Thinking About After You Saw Django Unchained?

I’d intended to just write about end-of-the-year stuff until 2013, but this is what I’m thinking about now, so there you go. Spoilers ahead, of course.

Were you thinking about what may have happened in Quentin Tarantino’s life that prompted him to make so many movies that hinge specifically around revenge?

Were you thinking about how frustrating it was that Dr. Shultz refused to shake Calvin Candie’s hand, and how that eventually made Django and Broomhilda’s escape from Mississippi so much more complicated?

Were you thinking about how difficult it would have been for Django and Broomhilda to escape slavery-era Mississippi on their own, even in spite of Django’s cleverness?

Were you thinking that Dr. Shultz could have just cornered Calvin Candie and simply offered to pay, say, $1,000 for Broomhilda, saving everyone a lot of time and trouble?

Were you thinking about Spike Lee’s complaint about the film being disrespectful to the memory of his ancestors who endured slavery in the United States? About Lee’s refusal to see the movie that he regards as a spoof? Lee tweeted, “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western. It was a holocaust. My ancestors are slaves. Stolen from Africa. I will honor them.” And while I understand his objection, I focus on his choice of the word holocaust. While Inglourious Basterds focused more on killing Nazis than the suffering of Jews, it did turn a similarly awful chapter in history into pulpy, hyperviolent entertainment, and I wonder if anyone as prominent as Spike Lee — or at least as famously tied to Jewish culture as Lee is to African-American culture — objected to Basterds. Is it just that it’s awkward to object to killing Hitler?

Were you thinking about how many people left the theater thinking, “Holy shit, humans have done some awful things to each other”? Or were you thinking, “Yay for Django for blowing away those crackers”?

Were you thinking about Kerry Washington, and why she chose to play the role she did in spite of the fact that Broomhilda doesn’t get to do much but receive violence and then wait to be rescued? We see her whipped, branded, stripped naked and tossed into a wheelbarrow like a sack of potatoes. In playing the role, was Washington showcasing the particular awfulness that slavery wreaked on black women? Or was she simply set dressing?

Were you thinking about the symbolism of a slave character named Broomhilda, with an “m,” instead of Brunhilda, as the name would more typically rendered?

Were you thinking about how Django Unchained was conspicuously lacking in strong female characters even though that’s typically something Tarantino seems to relish in creating? There’s no Jackie Brown, no Beatrix Kiddo, no Shosonna Dreyfus in this script.

Were you thinking that the ambiguously incestuous relationship between Calvin and Lara Lee served as a cheap way to underscore their moral baseness as characters?

Were you thinking that Lara Lee kind of looked like Kristen Wiig?

Were you thinking that you’re more or less okay with Zoe Bell’s role as the unexplained, masked, silent female tracker? Or were you wondering how this woman came to join the redneck thugs at the Candie plantation?

Were you thinking that the winking cameo of Franco Nero, the original Django, was a nice touch? Or was it too on-the-nose that he knew that the name Django was spelled with a silent “D”?

Were you thinking about how that exchange tied back into Tarantino’s weird fixation on names and letters of the alphabet?

Were you thinking that damn, Franco Nero, you look damn good for being not only 71 years old but also someone who was a big deal in moviemaking circles in the 70s?

Were you thinking about how Django Unchained’s use of the theme song from the original Django will make a whole lot more people understand the references in that one episode of Bob’s Burgers?

Were you thinking that the comedy surrounding the Ku Klux Klan scene underscored that these men were incompetent idiots? Or did that humanize them in a way that made you uncomfortable?

Were you thinking that you agree with Tarantino — and, really, Django too — that the true villain of the story wasn’t any of the white people but Samuel L. Jackson’s character, who stayed loyal to his masters in spite of the inherent unfairness of slavery?

Were you thinking that the woman gazing down from the window looked a lot like Amber Tamblyn?

Were you thinking, “Wait, that actually is Amber Tamblyn. Amber Tamblyn, how’d you get in here?”

Were you thinking it would be weird if Quentin Tarantino had seen Joan of Arcadia?

Were you thinking, “Wait, Alexandre Dumas was black? Did I know that?”

Were you thinking that Quentin Tarantino’s character spoke with an Australian accent because maybe he couldn’t do a passable Southern accent?

I guess it’s pretty clear, at least, what I was thinking about.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Killer BOB — Just the Guy I’m Never Looking For

I’m spending this second-to-last workday of 2012 at home, doing my job but also making the most of the fact that the series run of Twin Peak is now available on Hulu. It’s not because I’m obsessed, stupid. Obsessed people are crazy, and I’m Drew. Hi. Not crazy.

If you asked most fans when BOB, the horrifying sex demon big bad of Twin Peaks, first makes his appearance, they’d probably say in the second episode, when Mrs. Palmer has the vision of him crouching behind Laura’s bed all evilly and sex demon-like. He actually appears before, and I’d never realized until I re-watched the pilot today. The episode ends with Mrs. Palmer having a different vision — of someone in the forest uncovering the buried half of Laura’s locket — and immediately after, she sits upright and screams. (Not unusual: Laura’s mom often sits upright and then screams.) But in the mirror to the right of Mrs. Palmer’s head, you can see BOB lurking.


My eyes bugged out just a bit when I noticed this — not Grace Zabriskie-level eye-bugging, because that takes years of training, but in the ballpark.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, so I double checked online: Yes, in is in fact Frank Silva, the man who played BOB, though his appearance was accidental. From Wikipedia:
When Lynch shot the scene of Sarah Palmer’s frightening vision at the end of the pilot, Silvas reflection was accidentally caught in the footage. When Sarah Palmer sees her vision of a hand uncovering Lauras heart necklace from the ground, Silva can be seen in the mirror behind her head. Lynch was made aware of this accident, but decided to keep Silva in the scene.
Wikipedia does not cite the source of this information. However, accidental or not, this being BOB’s first appearance on the show makes for a fitting bookend well within the spirit of Twin Peaks, for so many reasons but most of all because the last time we see him is also in a mirror.

And it’s also a nice metaphor for BOB’s presence in the Palmer household: always there, always watching, even if Mrs. Palmer refuses to notice. Hell, he’s even appearing in a frame of sorts, in the same shot at the framed photo of Laura, with Mrs. Palmer situated in the middle.

This, to a superfan like me, is a minor mindhole-blower along the lines of realizing that Nibbler’s shadow appears in the Futurama pilot, long before Nibble was a character on the show, long before the overarching plot provided a reason for Nibbler to meddle with time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to think about what the interstitial shots of changing traffic lights could symbolize.

Twin Peaks, previously:

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things That Actually Happened

(I’m not saying this isn’t a round-up of notable events of 2012. I’m saying that if it is, it’s not a very good round-up or my 2012 was rather lackluster.)

That time my dad ordered “menudo soup” at the Mexican restaurant where we’ve eaten since I was a little kid, only to declare that “this noodle soup isn’t good,” and then he went on to say that the waitress had said “noodle soup” and not “menudo soup” and also who knows what menudo is, anyway, because no one has ever heard of it ever?

That time I was wearing my bathrobe while holding the smaller of my parent’s two dogs and it dove beneath one flap of the robe and then “swam” around my mid-section, above where the robe was cinched, and then popped his head out the other side, and I felt weird and violated about it, and I wondered if pregnant ladies maybe have dreams about this kind of stuff happening.

That time I was in line at the grocery store in my hometown and the two Latina girls ahead of me where arguing about whether Brandy Norwood is Snoop Dogg’s first cousin — she is, by the way, and for some reason people tend not to know that — and so I stepped in and agreed with the Latina wearing the hat, “No, she’s actually right. They are first cousins,” and they both glared at me without speaking, and then I thought about whether my Caucasian heritage meant that I shouldn’t know about the interrelatedness of black musical sensations.

That time Django Unchained hit theaters and the person I wanted to see it with more than anyone else was my Southern lit professor from college, because she would tie everything back to William Faulkner, I’m sure.

That time I helped my grandmother play solitaire, and yes I realize that the card name is by nature a one-person effort, but she needs the help, honestly, and I’d literally never seen anyone so delighted to have unlock all four of the suits.

The time I found out there’s a song called “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and it’s sung by a girl named Gayla Peavey, who for some reason didn’t become a household name but who did, in the end, kind of get a hippopotamus.

The time in 1987 when I hand-selected this coffee mug as a worthy representation of my love for my father, and now drinking out of it magically transports you back to a time when rainbow bears didn’t mean gay, and also I don’t hate the design in spite of its datedness.

That time they made the movie Congo and they were all, “We need to make this as Jurassic Park-y as possible so it will make a boatload of money, so we’re taking a Michael Crichton book about adventures in a lush, green place populated by intelligent and dangerous animals, and now we need someone really Laura Dern-y to play an intrepid lead scientist lady,” and then they saw that Laura Linney has the same first name as Laura Dern and that they kind of look alike if you squint, and they gave her the role for those reasons and now this lady from Congo is the one who reminds you that you’re watching Downton Abbey, even though you probably know.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Best Line Ever in a Christmas Carol

By a long shot, it’s the line from “Little Drummer Boy,” The ox and lamb kept time. You can even drop the pah-rum-pum-pum-pum and it’s still pretty awesome, just because farm animals joining in on rhythm sections gets right to the heart of Christmas magic. Its greatness even overshadows the fact that given that the boy was playing a drum, the additional rhythm by the ox and lamb was completely unnecessary and perhaps even obtrusive. But do you think they just kept time with their hooves? Or do you think maybe they also had percussion instruments? I looked it up, but I guess the New Testament is staying pretty neutral on this one.

You may or may not be surprised to know that a Google image search for “ox and lamb kept time” yields a few worthwhile results, but the following was the standout:


Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas in November (or — Strange Stories of Yuletide Unusual!)

I search for the stranger side to Christmas in the shadow that an unlit tree casts on the wall.

It’s not hard to find, this less jolly aspect to the season, but you’re so often too busy with the chores of Christmas to realize how odd this season can be. Take this grinning, bearded old man who suddenly shows up in your home, wreathed in tree branches like some kind of forest god, reminding you about this season’s wildly un-Christian past. Take the songs that you’ve heard so many times that you don’t process the creep. Lyrics such as “Do you hear what I hear?” and “A voice as big as the sea,” out of the context of a carol, verge on damn near threatening, to say nothing about that grim later verse of “We Three Kings” — “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume / Breathes a life of gathering gloom / Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying / Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.” And otherwise, the relentless cheerfulness approaches the level you’d expect from a gingerbread house witch trying desperately to convince the remaining forest children that yes, despite all appearances, you should come in.

All that said, I do love Christmas; I just love all aspects of it — the . Maybe I’m always searching for the seamier side of the yuletide because my own Christmases have been so wholesome. Well, except for my mother’s Santa Claus punch bowl.

When she makes the foamy candy cane punch, the red and white make pink, and the scene gets ghastly — ghastly and minty.

But I was thinking about this attraction I have and whether I’d actually ever experienced anything other than perfectly mainstream, normal Christmases. And I basically haven’t, save for one incident — more weird than scary — that actually happened in November.

Hear me out.

In the wake of the Tea Fire, one of the more charmingly named wildfires to require a mass evacuation in my old home of Santa Barbara, I had packed up my car from a friend’s house and began to drive home. Given how long I’d been up and given how draining it was to work in a newsroom during that type of emergency, I actually probably shouldn’t have been driving. However, the road home was short — oddly so, given how we’d been evacuated to save us from a raging, tea-smoked death — and I just wanted to sit among the walls I felt most comfortable. I’d set the radio to some AM station in order to hear news updates. Wanting to avoid any and all news that night, however, I fumbled around for anything that sounded like music. Now keep in mind this was the last day of the fire — Monday, November 17, days before Thanksgiving yet — but somehow I happened a station that was playing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.” That was a good enough soundtrack. To this day, I have no idea why that song on November 17, but that’s not even the most unusual part: It began to rain ash on my car. I had to turn on my wipers, the windshield was so white with ashes from what the fire had burned. As I pulled into my parking spot, “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” faded out and into some non-Christmas-related oldie. I don’t remember what. But just for a second, I, a resident of Southern California, experienced a white Christmas — in the wake of a major emergency, in November, only for a few seconds and the snow smelled like barbecue, sure, but I’ll take what I can get.

I suppose I could have been listening to the one radio station that slips the occasional Christmas carol into the mix, just to be fun, just to liven things up, but I feel like it’s more likely that the deejay simply played the wrong song — or at least the right song a few weeks prematurely. But in bed that night, finally, I wondered if anyone besides me had experience that coincidence. Maybe one other, I’ll guess.

And that’s the strangest Christmas story I have.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Alternatives to Being a Hobbit

I’d always just assumed that J.R.R. Tolkien invented the word hobbit. And while he apparently did, his story about how he came to use it allows for the possibility that he maybe didn’t. As he recalled in a letter to W.H. Auden in 1955, “On a blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why.” And if that’s the true story, isn’t it wild that what amounts to a nonsense sentence grew into a book that spun off into The Lord of the Rings and was therefore responsible for the movies, worldwide awareness of New Zealand and endless debates about the dramatic strengths and failings of Liv Tyler?

In the same way that embiggen appeared in print 112 years before The Simpsons popularized it, there’s exactly one instance of hobbit appearing in print before The Hobbit was published in 1937. Excerpted on Etymonline, the passage is folklorist Michael Aislabie Denham’s extremely long 1895 list of British supernatural creatures (and thereabouts). And it’s one of those chunks of text that overwhelms language-lovers like me with dueling reactions of “So quaint!” and “So British!” and “What the hell?”

My curiosity got the better of me, and I did some poking around Denham’s list, broken up onto separate lines with links and notes explaining what weird folklore Denham is talking about. In some cases, I had no idea, and in others the term doesn’t need any explanation, but I threw in some history if it seemed interesting. Like in the very first one, for example. But here’s the thing: I could not find anything about the term hobbit, and its presence on this pre-Tolkienverse list makes for a neat little linguistic mystery. (I go on a bit about it at the very end of the post. Hit the jump and scroll to the bottom if you’re interested.)

First, the list, in strange, jumbled order that Denham wrote it:

ghosts (According to Etymonline, we get it from the Old English gast, which could mean “soul, spirit, life, breath, good or bad spirit, angel, demon” but which took on the current meaning, “soul of a dead person,” when it became the word chosen to translate the Latin word spiritus in Christian writing.)

boggles (the critter of the British supernatural world, basically, a word that’s closely related to a ton of others on this list, thanks to the Middle English bugge, “something frightening)

bloody-bones (According to Wikipedia, a boogeyman used to “awe children, and keep them in subjections” and that “lived in a dark cupboard, usually under the stairs. If you were heroic enough to peep through a crack you would get a glimpse of the dreadful, crouching creature, with blood running down his face, seated waiting on a pile of raw bones that had belonged to children who told lies or said bad words.”)

spirits (worth pointing out the connection to the Latin spirare, “breath,” and all the words we get from that, and the very obvious connection to breathing and not being dead yet)

demons (from the Greek daimon“deity, divine power; lesser god; guiding spirit, tutelary deity”)

ignis fatui (literally “foolish fire,” but referring to the burning methane more often called will-o’-the-wisp, a natural phenomenon that appears many times on this list, with many different names)

The rest of the long, long list after the jump.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Sad, Shitty Fact of Living in Des Moines

Really, you present yourself with your own difficulties by living in a city whose name actively thwarts pronunciation by anyone speaking English as a second language. But that’s only a small part of the problem, linguistically speaking, for Des Moines may mean “shitface.”

According to an etymological theory sponsored by, the name of this Iowa metropolis may derive from the Miami-Illinois word mooyiinkweena, which is fun to say even before you learn that it translates as “shitface” — frommooy, “excrement,” and iinkwee, “face.” According to Etymonline, the name was given to the inhabitants of the region by the Peoria Indians, in a grand Native American tradition of making fun of your hated neighbors. (Etymonline, by the way, points out that Peoria itself has become a dirty word in American pop culture, however.)

There’s another theory that the city name comes from the French des moines — “from the monks” or “of the monks” — but what is the fun in that?

Friday, December 14, 2012

TV Party Tonight!

Forty-three takes and this was the best of the bunch.

I can't decide if it's funnier to imagine the cool kids dressing up especially to be photographed by the L.A. Times or if this constituted casual wear in 1949.

(Via the L.A. Times, via UCLA, via a magical time machine.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How I Met John Cheever

Toward the end of college, I posted on this blog a reminiscence about Eudora Welty, whom Prof. Waid made me read often and whom I had previously only known about from The Simpsons — from that one crossover episode with The Critic, in fact, in which she’s revealed to be a champion belcher. Eudora Welty was still alive at the time. She could have seen the episode, I suppose, or at least had one of her nurses could have related to her the gist of it.

At the moment, I’m reading John Cheever, who entered my life similarly: an episode of Seinfeld, “The Cheever Letters,” which people today probably remember as the one with the line “the panties your mother laid out for you.” It’s also the episode where George has to tell Susan’s parents that Kramer burned down their cabin, but the matter worsens considerably when the sole surviving item from the Ross family getaway turns out to be a cache of love notes that John Cheever wrote over the course of an affair with Susan’s father. (Sample line, from Mr. Cheever to Mr. Ross: “I fear my orgasm has left me a cripple.”) Cheever was not alive at the time the episode aired, and knowing what I know about his life now, it’s strange that his predilection for dudes would be my only takeaway, since Cheever kept quiet about it during his life. As for Seinfeld, it’s also strange that the matter never arose later, when George drove Susan to lesbianism, but only temporarily, proving that bisexuality runs in the Ross family. The Rosses recur throughout the series, and their marriage seems none the worse for the Cheever revelation, but perhaps their union is built the unshakable foundation of hating George Constanza.

But back to literary matters.

Now I know more, and I can respect Cheever as a writer and not just as the butt of a joke on Seinfeld. Of the short stories I’ve read so far, my favorite is “Metamorphoses,” a series of four short(er) stories that riff on Greek mythology — or at least seem to. The fourth one, featuring a man who quits smoking and then loses his mind, doesn’t seem to work in conjunction with any myth I know. Anyone got a thought about what mythological character Mr. Bradish is supposed to be?

The third story spends one long paragraph describing Nerissa, the daughter of a glamorous, high society woman who has inherited none of her mother’s graces, and I can’t remember a passage that more beautifully details someone so unattractive. Cheever’s words introduce the character with equal amounts of disdain and affection, and I like it so much that I’m now sharing it with you. And you should read it.
Enter Nerissa then, into her mother’s drawing room. She is a thin and wasted spinster of thirty. Her hair is gray. Her slip shows. Her shoes are caked with mud. She is plainly one of those children who, without bitterness or rancor, seem burdened with the graceless facts of life. It is their destiny to point out that the elegance and chic of the world their mothers have mastered is not, as it might appear to be, the end of bewilderment and pain. They are a truly pure and innocent breed, and it would never cross their minds or their hearts to upset or contravene the plans, the dreams, the worldly triumphs that their elders hold out for them. It seems indeed to be the hand of God that leads them to take a pratfall during the tableaux at the debutante cotillion. Stepping from a gondola to the water stairs of some palace in Venice where they are expected for dinner, they will lose their balance and fall into the Grand Canal. They spill food and wine, they knock over vases, they step into dog manure, they shake hands with butlers, they have coughing fits during the chamber music, their taste for disreputable friends is unerring, and yet they are like the Franciscans in their goodness and simplicity. Thus, enter Nerissa. In the process of being introduced, she savages an end table with her hipbone, tracks mud onto the rug, and drops a lighted cigarette into a chair. By the time the fire is extinguished, she seems to have satisfactorily ruffled the still waters of her mother’s creation. But this is not perversity; it is not even awkwardness. It is her nearly sacred call to restate the pathos and clumsiness of mankind.
I transcribed it myself. I actually couldn’t find this text anywhere online, aside from the not-especially-copy-and-pastable scan of the original article, as it ran in The New Yorker on March 2, 1963.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Things I Did Not Purchase While in New Zealand

(A round-up.)

Bovil, because I presumed it tasted about as good as it sounds.

Ham-and-tongue-flavored spread, because not only would ham and non-animal-specified tongue make for a nasty flavor combination but also this isn’t even ham and tongue. This is just the flavor of ham and tongue. So what is the spread, exactly? That’s a great fucking question.

New Zealand’s weirdly personalized Coke, which encouraged me to drink with a bunch of people I don’t know. The biggest strike, however? No “Share a Coke with Drew.” Sure, there’s “Share a Coke with Meena” — Meena! — but not Drew.

“Come on, kids — don’t you want to eat Santa’s legs?”

No joke here. I just don’t understand the tagline. Is “See how it runs” supposed to underscore that the salt pours smoothly out of the container? Is that Cerebos table salt’s greatest virtue — pourability? And is the kid pouring salt on a frog?

“Come on, kids — suck on something gay!”

If I were an inanimate human-shaped object and not a real human, I’d look less self-satisfied.

Having visited New Zealand since childhood, I’m heartened to see that it’s developed a real national culture to rival that of the other colonies.

I suppose the existence of a New Zealand pig-hunting magazine called More-Pork is weird enough, but it gets even weirder when you consider that there’s a native New Zealand owl called the morepork. So it’s a pig-hunting magazine whose name is a pun on a native animal that is not a pig. Just baffling, really.

What I hope happened is that this dog belongs to the owner of the company, and this is the best picture they could get, because the owner has not realized that his beloved canine is a criminally insane monster who only wants to sink his teeth into soft child-meat. Because if that’s not the case, then it’s just unknowable how anyone would have okayed this photo for the box design.

I pray he does not haunt your dreams as he does mine.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Soft, Green Light, Drawing Pictures on the Ground That Change With the Blowing Wind

Something I am nearly embarrassed to own up to: The post title is a haiku. One of those moods, I guess — like the ones that made me post about other words for beautiful phenomena that you might not expect have a name, such as psithurism or petrichor.

In some ways, I haven’t changed much since I became an adult, or maybe I still haven’t become an adult, but I have this habit of wandering off from the group, camera in hand, hoping to score a snapshot of a tree or a rock or that one squirrel — the one who looked at me! — that no one else would have considered remarkable. As a kid, I would get lost. As an adult, I still get lost. For better or worse, I often manage to wander off somewhere private and special, and I find something that no one else has. While in New Zealand last week, I spent a good fifteen minutes on my own, trying to capture the interplay between the sun and the leaves on this particular tree. This was the most successful photo, which isn’t to say that it’s a successful photo, exactly, but nonetheless it’s what I got:

Damn leaves, fidgeting about all nervously, but then again the movement made it beautiful. I guess a still photo just can’t reproduce the elusive sparkle of the sun shining through here and there, for a moment at a time. Anyway, I was curious to find out if anyone, anywhere had a word for this. Someone did.
komorebi (koh-moh-reh-bee) — noun: sunlight shining through trees.
You Japanese-fluent out there might have a better definition, but I went with the straightforward one from this site, which also points out that komorebi is not unique in Japanese: The language has other words that refer to specific natural phenomena, such as samidare, “early summer rain,” or nagokaze, “gentle spring breeze.” And those are neat. As for komorebi, other sites suggest “the scene produced by interplay of sunlight and trees” or “the light that filters through the trees,” but I think you get the idea.

I can’t offer any more. Someone else could take a stab at the etymology, I suppose. I can only send you in the direction of this link, which should probably improve your day.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Meet Patty Marx

Hi. Do you know Patty Marx? She’s a lot cooler than you’d expect from a lady named “Patty.” She is the first woman ever elected to the Harvard Lampoon, for one, and she’s written for Saturday Night Live, Rugrats and Clarissa Explains It All. (She is not, I regret to inform you, the Brazilian singer PatrĂ­cia Marx, but now that I mention it, doesn’t the name sound like it belongs to a Brazilian lady?) Anyway, Patty (American version) write one of the funniest short essays I’ve ever read, and in lieu of anything special from me, I’m sharing it with you.

You will not regret reading this.

Attention: Lost Cat

Reward if you find my cat, Sally. Sally is eleven, but she has the face of a cat much younger. She is taffy-colored and has no distinguishing features except for the spot on her lung. Sally understands eight commands. Nine, if you count “Drop it! Drop the baby!” Sally loves a good steak but will gladly have whatever you are having. If she seems to have trouble swallowing, call Dr. Sidarsky, at (570) 555-1212. Dr. Sidarsky calls every day to ask if Sally is back. Once, Dr. Sidarsky invited me to a tennis match where a little girl who could not speak English beat the defending champion. If you ask me, Dr. Sidarsky has a crush on me. Before Sally was lost, Dr. Sidarsky nominated me for Pet Owner of the Year. When the judges came to our house, Sally would not come down from the breezeway. I’m not saying that was the reason I lost the title, but it cost me points.

Sally was last seen in Kansas, where she fell out of my car — a 1998 yellow Toyota Corolla, Indiana license plate FJ3-JR57. To tell you the truth, Sally didn’t actually fall. My ex-husband was trying to push me and my suitcases out of the car and Sally was in the way. I’d opened the door to throw out a pair of pants and some other garbage of my ex-husband’s. I hate a messy car. My ex-husband says he was leaning over to close the door, but I definitely felt a nudge. Sally and the gourmet-cooking cassettes that I had taken out of the library landed all over Route 23 in Kansas. Sally ran toward Nebraska. We were on the ramp toward Missouri. My ex-husband’s sister Sugar lives in Nebraska. I don’t like Sugar and I know Sugar does not like me. She sent me a bathroom scale as a wedding gift. Normally, I have nothing to do with Sugar, but I called her just in case Sally had turned up there. Sometimes animals have a sixth sense about knowing who your relatives are and how to get in touch. As usual, Sugar was unpleasant. She said I sounded like I had gained weight.

Sally has been missing for more than a year, and I am losing hope. Her mother belonged to my grandfather, and now my grandfather is dead. Sally is my last link to my grandfather. If you find Sally and she is dead, send her back anyway. My parents are dead, but I have their steak knives. Once, I had a locket of my grandmother’s. I gave it to my daughter for Christmas, since my daughter was named after my grandmother, who was named after her grandmother, who was named after Sally, but not that Sally. When I lost my daughter in the custody suit, I lost the locket, too. I lost everything. Well, not all of the steak knives. Or the weight — I didn’t lose that, either.

In spite of what the judge said, my ex-husband is not fit to care for my daughter, pony or no pony. The only things my ex-husband can cook are Texas Tommies. My ex-husband’s girlfriend cannot cook, either, but I have to admit, she knows good food.

If I still had Sally, I think the judge would have let me keep my daughter. Pets are a sign of a loving home life. I know the judge would have been impressed if I had been Pet Owner of the Year. I might have gone into politics if I had been Pet Owner of the Year, maybe alderman. I am not too old to get into politics, and I have a lot of ideas. Let’s not forget that after the Russian Revolution they turned the stock exchange into an aquarium. For the people! We could do something like that. If Sally came back, I would take a picture of me holding her and use that on my campaign poster. And if she didn’t my slogan could be “Help me help you find my cat!” Even if you don’t find Sally, please send cash. It’s not the same thing as a cat, but it is a consolation.
This essay is permitted without permission from The New Yorker, but given the relatively small readership of this blog and the age of this essay, I feel like The New Yorker doesn’t really care. Do you, New Yorker? Wait — don’t answer that: I’m conflicted about how I want you to answer.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Paint the World Red

Today, Angelenos could look up at the Hollywood Sign with an additional unit of pride, for the sign’s restoration was completed and its renewed state was unveiled. I say this knowing that from where most people live, they could not actually tell that the paint on the letters was peeling in the first place much less recently fixed, nor would many of known about the sign restoration unless Mario Lopez had tacked it onto the end of Extra, and he would have only done that because the C-lister who was supposed to appear got run down by the trolley at The Grove. And really, when you talk about the Hollywood Sign being restored, you have to overlook the fact that this project didn’t include the reinstallation of the “L-A-N-D” that once appeared at the end. I suppose everyone’s over that. But whatever, they redid the most easily recognized landmark in Los Angeles.

I accidentally got a look at the restoration project a few weeks ago when I hiked up there with Nate and a vagrant we met. Here’s a photo:

I realize it doesn’t show the most important part of the sign — that being any part of the sign itself — but that’s because we’d actually hiked above it. Below the ridge you see behind us, a chain link fence separated us yokels from the sign itself, and as if to compound the indignity of it all, the letters appeared backwards because we were standing behind them. Once done scoffing, we noticed the banners identifying the company that had sponsored much of the restoration: Sherwin-Williams. The banner had the logo. It looked like this:

Isn’t that… creepy? It looks like a some sinister twist a protestor would put on the actual Sherwin-Williams logo at some anti-paint demonstration. I mean, sure — any fool with an Icee stand can tell you that red and blue make for an eye-crabbing pair of colors, but when I see the color red dripping like that, I see blood. And if any company should have foreseen this potential association, shouldn’t a paint company be it? Even if I strain to just see red paint and not a crashing tide of human suffering, the idea of coating the earth in it still seems like it would end all life.

And then the slogan “Cover the Earth” — at worst, that sounds like a command the alien queen gives her army, and at best, it sounds like something a prude would tell the planet if her South America were showing (which it is). Fast Company design writer Rick Barrack agrees that the slogan smacks of ill omen, and he suggests “Color Your World” as a substitute that essentially means the same thing without sounding scary. And The Stranger can’t extricate it logo from oil spills. So clearly I’m not alone in finding the Sherwin-Williams logo odd, but how can it be that no one at Sherwin-Williams has suggested that they revise the logo to evoke something other than a world domination plot by a Roger Moore-era Bond villain.

… Right?

Monday, December 03, 2012

A Family Plot

Had you told me the weekend before Thanksgiving that I’d be soon flying to New Zealand once again, I would have told you that nothing could convince me to make the journey on such short notice. And then had you told me that I’d be enduring the long, sleepless flight over and back within the span of a single week, I’d laugh again. However, when you’re told that your grandmother has died, you act accordingly.

For the most part, I’ll skip the trite observations about the impossibility of death — the cognitive disconnect between the box at the funeral and the tall, bunheaded, rugby-loving woman who used to come visit her American grandchildren. It does cross your mind, though, doesn’t it? — where there was once a person, there’s now just a body, suddenly and simply, and you just want the person to jump back into this newly empty vessel. Why can’t it be so simple? Just. go. back. in. None of that occurred to me as I carried the coffin in — bore the pall, I guess you could say, even though no one ever states it that way — but that maybe resulted from the fact that we walked in, the six of us and Granny-in-a-box, to a reworking of “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, and no, I’m not kidding, and yes, that’s the most ridiculously New Zealand thing to happen ever. No, it was strangest after the service, when the coffin just sat in the back of a car where anyone who wanted to could drop flower petals on it. People talked. I couldn’t really, not while knowing that my grandmother was in a wooden box in the sun on an unseasonably warm New Zealand spring day. Whenever I thought about it, my head swam in a manner that I’ve only experienced once before: in a medical lab with a partially dissected cadaver. I suspect that I’m keenly allergic to death.

The photo I’ve posted above shows my dad’s family’s cemetery plot — a single rectangular acre surrounded on each side by paddock and currently containing the remains of only about ten of my family members. It’s serene, but only if you can accept mourning your loved ones in the presence of cows. Really, the family plot represents an older, less settled New Zealand, when private cemeteries made practical sense. Nonetheless, it’s where members of my family can choose to be buried today. And nonetheless that, it’s not where my grandmother chose to be: She opted instead to have her ashes scattered around the house where she raised her children. And while I can understand the significance of this location to her, I can’t yet understand why she’d decide against giving her descendants a permanent spot to mourn her — a site like a gravestone that would be forever dedicated to her memory.

Or am I just thinking about death in a more old-fashioned way than my grandmother did?

No one talked about this, before or after the service, though I did answer more than once about whether I participated in team sports and where Californians put their sheep.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Hand-Washing — You’re Doing It Wrong

At least according to the more fastidious minds of New Zealand, who think that hand-washing should involve more steps than you have fingers on your hand.

Click on the image to enlarge, because it’s really worth your time to determine if you’ve been cleaning your dorsums properly. Have you?