Monday, December 16, 2013

Xmas List

Xmas 1963

1. You can get your tree at the last possible minute from that guy, freezing his ass off, with like four lopsided trees left in the lot. You can leave it up for weeks or take it down in just a few days. You can decorate it with heirloom ornaments or condoms or the little envelopes of spare buttons that come with new clothes or things you found in the recycling bin.  You can hang the lights but no ornaments because your kids won’t help. You can totally skip the tree part of the tree and just hang the tangled lights, half-dark, in a knot from the ceiling fixture. You can just not do the tree thing completely, but you’ll certainly regret not taking one of the aluminum trees when you and your brothers went through your mom’s stuff. 

2. You can make a comprehensive list and hand-made gifts for all the people in your life, including your old nanny who feels like family after all these years. You can also stop at 7-11 on the way over Xmas Eve and bring a six-pack. You can forget to get gifts for anyone this year because, you know what? there’s always next year.

3. You can send beautifully printed custom holiday cards with a professional photo of your family and your dog in matching seasonal sweaters. You can send a long, rambling letter to an old friend. You can do a cheery year-end letter with all your children’s fencing team triumphs and your promotion described in charming language.  You can send a cheap drug-store card that will shower microscopic particles of glitter on the recipient too late for Xmas but just in time for New Year’s. You can skip cards this year, because you don’t want to have to think about someone you lost, or can’t find the right way to describe how you struggled working for that asshole.

4. You can leave cookies and 7-Up for Santa on Xmas Eve, when you hang your stockings. You can decide that Uncle Lenin brings the gifts, or that Santa is a black man, or gay, or both. Maybe your gifts come from Rudolf, or Mrs. Claus. Maybe this year you decide to open them on Xmas Eve.

5. You can make the special lavish traditional meals that are expected of you every year, so that you don’t really get to enjoy Xmas day at all, what with the preparations and table-setting with the special dishes. You can go get Chinese food, too, or make chili because everyone likes chili.

6. You can wear your tacky holiday sweater vest that is so bad it’s not even humorous, or just stay in your pajamas all day.  You can opt not to wrap presents this year, extracting them at the appropriate moment from the shopping bags, pulling the tags off as you hand them over.  You can hand a fat wad of cash to the child who never got around to asking you for anything gift-wise.

7. You can hit every party you’re invited to, bringing a very decent bottle of Oregon pinot noir with a gorgeous red velvet bow around it. You can greet the host and hostess by the wrong names and then get drunk in the corner by the ham. You can lie to anyone you meet and claim to be a screenwriter and leave early because you’ve got to get home to your sick hedgehog because if he doesn’t get his meds every four hours he won’t make it to New Year’s.

8. You can refuse to watch sports on Xmas day. You can treat the day as a religious holiday and be really indignant about all the commercialism. You can be grateful for Jesus as a cool idea because even though you’re not sure you even believe in God or religion, you really like the part about forgiveness and loving others.

9. You can decide to give money to your favorite non-profit at year-end, realizing that without that public radio station, your commute would be even more lonely and soul-sucking.  You can stop feeling guilty about not donating to things you care about because even though you support Planned Parenthood, you might have actually had a tougher year than them financially.

10. You can re-gift without guilt, or even acquire white elephant gifts on purpose so there is a game to play on Xmas night, after everyone is full and feeling slightly agitated. A cube-shaped gift box makes a decent improvised die, and you can write “Take one,” “Steal,” “Take Two,” etc. on the various faces of it. You can even steer your sister-in-law towards the perfectly wrapped and beribboned box of dryer lint, not out of meanness but because you simply want to hear her really laugh.

11. You can spend the weeks before Xmas obsessing about your mother who was annoying and intimidating in her love of Xmas.  You can be grumpy about the whole season because you’ll never be as good at Xmas as she was, with her hundred rolls of different wrapping paper and ribbons in every color and tiny gift cards depicting animals in Victorian clothes. You can hate Xmas. Or you can take it or leave it.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Still Yet Another Absolutely True and Completely Unexpected Message #2

Dear Sir,
On behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria FGN/ Presidency and the Federal minister of Finance (FMF), I wish to bring to your knowledge that the Federal Government of Nigeria FGN, have decided to bring a lasting solution to all long delayed payments. We have received a lot of complains from different Countries saying that the Nigerian Government refused to release their payment and we want to correct that impression. Right now the Federal Government of Nigeria has instructed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to offset every payment owed all the foreign beneficiaries through Atm-Card and it will be monitored by me to ensure accurate and decent delivery to every beneficiary to avoid any hitch. This method of payment has been tested
and confirmed as the fastest and safest means of paying foreign beneficiaries their money. I am Her Excellency, Mrs. Patience Dame Goodluck representing the Federal Government of Nigeria/Presidency to make the announcement for 2013 payment.
The Federal minister of Finance (FMF) in joint venture with the Central Bank of Nigeria, will commence action immediately we hear from you.
President, Jonathan Ebele Goodluck (GCFR) my (husband), has made funds available through our FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL, just to make absolutely sure that the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN offset all debts. We have the official list of all the beneficiaries whose names are listed down. Now we are getting in touch to all the beneficiaries who have not received email regarding their payment. Please do not inconvenience us if you have received your payment. But if you have not, kindly contact us back in your return mail with your full information for immediate action, this was the order given to me by Mr. President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (my husband) & the Honorable Minister for Finance. Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
Mrs. Patience Goodluck,

Her Excellency, First Lady Federal Republic of Nigeria,

I started laughing after, "Dear Sir," and had to collect myself after seeing, "Nigeria," in the first line. I wonder if there is some sort of scam inside Nigeria where people are taught how to make these mass emails at some cost to themselves.

I might also point out that if you set an automatic "out-of-office" reply on your work email, you will automatically reply to any incoming messages of this kind. 

Mostly, I wonder who does reply to these, and how the fraudsters benefit.

Lastly, if you enjoy these kinds of posts, you can check out others here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cat's on the Roof and He Won't Come Down

My father told two jokes that I remember, though he was devoted to the practical joke as an art form, with particular fondness for April Fools’ Day. One of the jokes he liked to tell, or told once, or I’m pretty sure he told once, maybe, was about a guy who went out of town on vacation for the first time in a long time, and left his brother as a house and pet sitter.

After just a couple of days, the guy on vacation calls his brother to check in, “Hey, how’s everything?” or something like that.
The brother’s like, “Oh, shit, man, your cat died.”
“WHAT!?!” says the guy. “Died! What are you doing, going and ruining my vacation and telling me the cat died?! Now I’m gonna be upset the whole trip, I’m gonna have to tell the wife and the kids why I’m upset, and they’ll get even more upset, and it’s all because of you! First vacation I’ve taken in years and you’ve ruined it! Man, you gotta learn to manage the information, you know?”
The brother, he doesn’t know.
“Manage the information! It goes like this,“ says the guy. “It makes no difference if I know exactly when the cat died. I’m on vacation! You can feed out the bad news a little at a time, see? Like breaking it to me slowly, like that. I call today, you say, ‘Oh, the cat’s on the roof and he won’t come down.’ I worry, but not a lot. I call back in a couple days and you say, ‘Cat fell off the roof, he’s at the vet, we don’t know if he’ll make it.’ Like that, see? You tell me the news, it gets worse bit by bit, and then right before I get back you tell me he died. But you don’t ruin my whole vacation over it. Jeez.”
After a pause the guy asks his brother, “So, how’s Mom?”
And after an even longer pause the brother says, “Uh, Mom’s on the roof, and she won’t come down.”

So last night when I tweeted, “The cat’s on the roof and he won’t come down,” my brother recognized the old joke as something he knows I like to tell, and he had to text me to ask, “…are you joking around or did something bad just happen?”

By the end of last week, the weather was cold enough at night that we were waking up at the farmhouse and finding it was 55F in the kitchen. Time had come to take the AC units out of the windows, store them in the basement and turn on the heat. This was accomplished by the Bacon Provider, doing his gender-normative best to uncomplainingly lift heavy objects and carry them downstairs.

The next day, after a long drive back from our youngest son’s school’s Parents Weekend (that included both a bank of overwhelmingly positive teacher conferences and a very sunny autumn soccer game where the youngest son was observed running, participating in defense, and kicking the ball), the Bacon Provider found that the sun into which we had been squinting in Connecticut had heated our Dutchess County farmhouse bedroom to an uninviting stuffiness, and opened the windows (including the one that had previously housed the AC unit, and had no cat-restraining screen). When Schwartz walked into our bedroom, he did not hesitate to jump up onto the windowsill, and did not further hesitate to disappear out the window into the dark night.

When you are sitting five feet away from a particular window and it is completely dark outside and it is a house you know but don’t know especially well, you are not immediately sure if--when your cat leaps out of that particular window--he lands on the roof of the porch below or if he falls to the grass, two stories down. I suggested, as one such person, sitting five feet away from the particular window, on my tired butt (worn out completely by a barrage of teacher conferences, by witnessing an athletic spectacle completely ordinary to parents the world around but actually quite out of the ordinary for me, and by driving back the two plus hours from the Connecticut school), and pretty determined not to move, saying aloud, “Hey. The cat just jumped out the window,” in the least alarmed voice I have, given that I haven’t actually been practicing sounding unalarmed. The Bacon Provider got out his tactical flashlight (which he carries at all times just in case, because you never know, and I might have a history here of rolling my eyes about it), peered into the darkness and assessed that the cat was already far from the point of his initial roof access from that particular window.

The cat, having left through the particular window in the dark, was, I felt, responsible for getting himself back in.
The cat's on the roof and he won't come down
The cat’s failure to promptly return was blamed on me. The cat’s ability to have left in the first place was blamed on the Bacon Provider.

I obtained a different flashlight, on principle, a large flashlight belonging to the owner of the house, for which I had recently purchased replacement batteries when I discovered that its had run down, changed the batteries, and went outside to assess the cat’s situation from the ground. I could hear the snuffling of horses in their overnight turnout paddocks, and then, the frantic call of a very frightened black cat, alone, in the dark, on top of the house. With the flashlight I revealed that the cat had ascended to the highest point of the roof.

The cat was on the roof, and he wouldn’t come down.

I may have tweeted this. Probably right away. Maybe.

Strategically chosen windows were opened, and lights were arranged to illuminate the cat’s easiest re-entry into the house, but no amount of our coaxing from these windows would persuade Schwartz to take even a single step down.

Bacon Provider made a persistent effort, sitting on the windowsill for a while, trying to reason with the cat, and finishing by telling him he was “a fucking idiot.” We went to sleep knowing that the cat was on the roof, and he wouldn’t come down.

Just after dawn, Schwartz had shifted away from the chimney and was demonstrating awareness of the illuminated window (you could see him from it). I pointed out to him (the cat) that I would be able to reach him if he would just take a few steps towards me. The cat tried to take a few steps, but the crumbly feeling of asphalt shingles and the steep-ish pitch of the roof was too much for him. Schwartz retreated to the peak of the roof.

Next, the Bacon Provider got up and gave the situation some serious analysis (this is not unusual behavior for him). Obtaining a towel to change the objectionable footing, and opening the top of the window so he was reaching across the gap to the top of the dormer, my husband thought he could grab the cat if he could get him do the unthinkable: to come to the edge.

The cat had come out to the dormer of the roof, but he still wouldn’t come down.

Well, dear reader, they don’t call him the Bacon Provider for nothing. He went to the kitchen and brought to the theater of cat rescue operations a bit of cat kibble in a cat dish, with that cat-familiar rattle and cat-enticing smell. This was all Schwartz needed to take the steps down the scary slope, just enough to be grabbed by the scruff of his fat, black neck, re-grabbed (and possibly almost dropped from a great height), and pulled, confidently, inside. Along the way, the entire enticement of cat kibble was scattered all over the roof. When Bacon Provider put the cat down on the carpet, the cat sat down and licked his shoulder as if nothing had happened—nothing at all.

I hope that crows find the cat food on the roof and enjoy themselves.

Not long after giving himself a temporary pass on self-coat-inspection, Schwartz joined me in my room, going directly-- without pausing to say “Hello!” or “Look! I made it!” or even, “Meow!”  --to that particular windowsill where he made his initial escape, checking to see if maybe that particular window was still open so he could do it all over again.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Some Reasons Why I Have Not Been Blogging

  1. Hours and hours of checking train schedules
  2. Re-learning how to canter
  3. Sunset o’clock comes about a minute earlier each evening
  4. I am saving my best stuff for my memoirs
  5. Flossing
  6. Trying to get rid of a strange refrigerator stonk
  7. In the keening of the red-tailed hawk I hear a warning
  8. Lack of sleep makes it hard to concentrate
  9. Needing to re-read Tobermory  (by Saki)
  10. Motion sickness on Amtrak
  11. Re-gluing broken chair legs
  12. Fun new hashtag games with Twitter friends
  13. Riveting daily developments in the New York City mayoral race
  14. Deciding which socks to wear
  15. Panic attacks about eroding civil rights
  16. Working on a novel
  17. Buying more eggs and rootbeer
  18. Contemplating PhD programs I am unqualified to apply to
  19. Dirt roads have bigger ruts
  20. Persistent meteorological conditions favorable to outdoor cooking
  21. Acquiring corny knock-knock jokes for future project
  22. Dogs are setting a bad example


Saturday, June 22, 2013


There are people who really won’t eat a raisin. I’ve never seen them object to a grape, or a glass of wine, or a sun-dried tomato, but the raisin inspires a gag of revulsion from some people, two of them my raisin-hating relatives.

There are other shriveled foods, like, as I said, the tasty sun-dried tomato or the sugar-coated pretender the Craisin® or beef jerky or apricot fruit leather. Raisins, usually being almost black, do have the both shriveled appearance and the blackness to surmount. The blackness of raisins means that they might appear to be an errant rock or burnt bit, and makes them easy to identify and pick out. They are minimally processed and so lack the uniformity of beloved foods, like the shapely whip and twist of RedVines® (all the same length), or the sculptability of mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, or the colored domes of the trendy fancy macarons or even old school Fig Newtons or Oreos or any doughnuts really. Perfect, uniform food appeals to the particular palate and the infantile. “No,” screams the toddler, “I want it the SAME.”

So raisins. Wrinkly. Shriveled. Black. Big ones, small ones, occasionally long ones. Sometimes in one of those tiny boxes of Sun-Maid™ raisins you get one that’s shrunken to the point of seeming a first cousin of gravel. Not so nice. Lots of little kids hate them, though a few little kids recognize that raisins are mostly sugar in a little black chewy shrunken nubbin. The rest pick them out of oatmeal cookies, pick them off of otherwise gooey and completely delicious cinnamon rolls, and leave them on the table, on the napkin, in their hair, on their clothes, on the side of the plate, on the floor for the dog. The dog will eat the raisins, though grapes and raisins and onions and chocolate are all pretty toxic for dogs. Dogs don’t care. Dogs are happy to eat toxic things. If a toddler drops it, or a ten year old drops it, or an adult sneaks it under the table, a dog will eat it.

They put raisins in the traditional Moroccan tagine at Barbes, a midtown New York City restaurant. This place is a few blocks from the temporary apartment we moved to when we first got to New York, and so we ate there a few times and had a lovely meal even when they lost their Grade A and had to be Grade Pending and then even spent a few weeks as Grade B. These things happen. We kept going there, the MaĆ®tre D’ kept opening the door to us, we kept ordering couscous and scalding hot sweet mint tea that they pour from as high up as they can reach and oh so delicious traditional tagine. But when my sister in law--a real live adult who saves people’s fucking lives—came to town and we met up with her there, she wouldn’t eat anything that might have raisins in it. I don’t even know how she knew to ask.

I think raisins are offered to young children and that is where the revulsion begins. My solution when my children were young and I still did things like bake cookies on a regular basis was to use golden raisins that are softer and lovelier and easily disguised within the texture of an oatmeal cookie.  But people will still ask, “Do these have RAISINS in them?”

I think the main problem that raisins have is the apparent consensus of their peers: most little kids hate raisins, and will complain about raisins being in things, and once the crowd has declared itself anti-raisin, that’s it.  They’re wrong, of course. Raisins are yummy. Oh well, more for me.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Things I Find in my Basement #37

Back when I still had a house of my own, I also had a basement. 

The police came about a noise complaint
In 1988, as now, we were renters, the Bacon Provider and I. We lived in Burlington, Vermont. 

On June 19, 1988, we played Pink Floyd's "Time" as loud as we could. It was a record we had. Back then, we played records, and we made cassettes to play in the car.

Someone nearby must have called the police on account of the noise.

I remember thinking this was all pretty funny.

These days, we have a storage closet in the basement of our apartment building, and we have to go down there to "take out" the trash. There is a fellow who lives down there who looks and sounds and seems a bit like Young Sideshow Bob. He seems to be about the age we were in 1988 when we played music too loudly.  The sounds we hear coming from the basement of this building are mechanical;  Pink Floyd's "Time" would fit right in.

I think Young Sideshow Bob also smokes in the basement because the smell of cigarettes comes up into our bathrooms late in the morning when most people have left for work and the building is quiet. We usually see Young Sideshow Bob when he goes outside to smoke; he stands next to the building, or sits on a low wall there. This spot outside our building is visited by many people, and serves as the Crying Lounge for the McDonald's employees who work around the corner. 

My very first paying job, outside of babysitting, was working the night shift at an Arby's in the late 1970s. This was my opportunity to learn that I was actually a "white" person, and I learned how to count change, to punch a clock, and to smoke. Even though I wish the folks who work at McDonald's would go someplace else to smoke or have words with each other or talk on their phones, I do understand that working the register at a fast food joint is hard and sad and worth complaining about.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Turtle in the Road

 A few weeks ago, I tested the brakes of my car when I saw a small turtle in the road; my car has excellent brakes. My middle son, Art School, was with me, and I instructed him to lift the turtle out of the road, keep it facing the same way, and put it down in the grass. He was surprised that the turtle scratched his hands with its desperately waving paddles, but he was more surprised than harmed. We drove to dinner with the excitement of having done a good deed, and though we were late picking up the Bacon Provider at the train station, and Art School had to wash the wild turtle germs off his hands, we were glad we did it.
Gregor, Soup Turtle

Back at the farmhouse we have rented in Dutchess County for the season, we are playing host to a pet turtle named Gregor for the second summer in a row. Gregor is a third year student at Bard College, having been enrolled after being purchased by other Bard students from a Chinatown street purveyor of “soup turtles.” Now he is an overfed beast, a red-eared slider, the kind of cheap pet that finds itself living in the green ponds at Central Park once it exceeds the normal dimensions of an apartment-sized aquarium. Somewhere in Gregor’s future there is no doubt a real pond and an old age spent basking in real sunshine instead of a propping him/herself on a small pile of rocks under a light bulb, and eating real insects and pond weeds instead of Rep-to-Sticks and wilted lettuce. But for now, he is our houseguest at the farmhouse.

Last summer Gregor’s aquarium sat on a shelf out of view or reach from our permanent pets, but this year he was placed by his exhausted owner on a little trunk in the mud-room, just inside the door. And there the aquarium has remained.

Just the other day I was feeding Gregor, and Cherry (who is a dog interested in all things small and squeaky, and has recently caught herself two baby rabbits) suddenly noticed the soup turtle for the first time, and now she actively wants to smell, watch and taste the aquarium of said small animal. I don’t want to find out if turtles squeak like baby rabbits.

Yesterday morning, because there was a train to catch, the dogs were roused when we got up. Even though the dogs should be exhausted from oh-so-much running around, wasp-catching, bunny-chasing and sun-bathing, they will leap to attention from a sound sleep if we make a gesture towards the door. So out they were sent, and they galloped about, did their morning business on the grass, and Cherry, being the senior and more obedient dog despite her predilection for hunting, presented herself promptly while Captain went off for an early morning adventure.

There was no time for an early morning adventure yesterday.

Once again I had made an incorrect calculation; I was wrong about what time we needed to leave the house to have the Bacon Provider to the train on time, and so we had lots of yelling anxiety in the car on the way there. The problem had started when I wasn’t ready to go at 7 am, got a bit worse when I was found at 7:08 stripping the sheets off the bed, and got worse still when Captain didn’t come back in. Captain finally took an out-of-the-way route via the open garage, and was shooed into the house. As I fired up the engine of my car at 7:12, the Bacon Provider leapt out again, because in my haste I had put Captain in the closed mud-room with Gregor, the turtle.

The yelling anxiety got more intense at the long stoplight in Rhinebeck, where all directions of traffic go red for a pedestrian, and then it always begins with green for the direction you don’t need. We should have left at 7 a.m. and it was my fault that we didn’t.  Good thing I’m a multi-tasker; I can simultaneously offer an apology, articulate a bland re-assurance that the clock in my car is fast, and drive like a bat out of hell slightly exceed the posted speed limit without crashing into anything. We made the train, just in time.

On the way back from the train station delivery, I met a large snapping turtle in the road, about 1½ miles from the farm. It was bigger than the last one we encountered.
Last year, we were still in North Dreadful, where we had a swimming pool and some scenery but were still surrounded by people who didn’t want to know us, I witnessed a woman in a large white SUV purposely driving over a large snapping turtle. It made a loud popping noise, turtle guts were strewn all over the narrow pavement, and I let out a shriek of horror. What kind of person goes out of her way to run over a snapping turtle? Oh, yeah. North Dreadful.
Angry snapping turtle, still ready to bite me

Yesterday’s snapping turtle was actually on the other side of the road, and almost all the way across already. I stopped my car and put on my hazards. I opened my window and tried to make a frightening noise. The turtle didn’t move. I opened the door and clapped my hands at it. The turtle didn’t move. I touched the back of the turtle’s shell with the toe of my shoe. The turtle spun around, snapped at me with its enormous mouth and scared me. I jumped left, hoping to get around it again. It hunkered in. I tapped it again, thinking that now I had its attention I could herd it off the road. The turtle spun and snapped again. Now it was pointed 180° from its original destination. I tapped the turtle once more, hoping to get a course correction. Now it was pointed towards the road’s shoulder, and looked ready to move.

I got back in my car and sat with my hazards on, waiting to watch the turtle make it to safety. A car came up from the other direction, and the turtle was directly in its path. I waved them down. I told them about the turtle. They thanked me. I told them about the turtle rescued by Art School. They told me they saw a man throw a jacket over “one of the big, aggressive ones” to be able to move it safely. I told them this was one of the big, aggressive ones.

The approach of their car inspired the turtle to rise to its greatest height, stretch out its neck and start booking it, turtle-style, up the road. I said it looked like it had an appointment in Rhinebeck. The other drivers laughed and said they could give it a lift since that was where they were headed. Another car arrived, and I pulled forward to tell the second driver about the delay. He was as good-natured about letting the turtle make its way safely across the road as the people ahead of him were.

Today I am back in New York City. I saw a green leaf on the sidewalk this morning and mistook it for a frog.