Thursday, May 29, 2008

Believe It Or Not

Today I started reading a book that promised to be a witty tome about the (mis)adventures of a safari guide, and as I’ve been reading it, I’ve become painfully aware that the book is quite amusing, but I’m starting to wonder how easy it would be to make the entire thing up. I mean, how many people have enough experience as a safari guide in Africa to contradict anything said in this book, such as the believability of being able to summon lions by wailing like a dying impala? I’m not saying I don’t believe the stories, but I just think it’s a topic that is alien, yet enthralling enough to intrigue readers, and the author could write about animals that don’t even exist and we’d still drool over the stories. Particularly if they’re written with the kind of subtle, sarcastic wit that this book contains.

Long ago I wrote a post about a pseudo intellectual I know, and how he likes to spout trivial facts about things that have no pertinence, or speak a language so obscure that he is the only person in the state who knows it exists, just to seem so uber intelligent as to make common intelligence seem base. He’ll say something in Chichewa and we’re just supposed to believe it means something because there is no one around who can say otherwise. Memoirists are doing much of this now, marketing their books to the masses and writing complete fiction because the masses have no idea if what they’re saying is true or not. No, the average person has no idea what it’s like to survive amnesia-inducing overdoses of drugs, life on the streets with gangs, the torture of escaping a concentration camp, being sent to teen bootcamp in Europe, or schmoozing with Hollywood’s elite. We buy the books, read the books, and try to believe the books, but even objective witnesses remember things wrong, so how can these authors remember these stories with such vivid details as to write these beguiling books about things that happened decades ago? Should we believe them?

It’s like those people, you know the ones, who only like a musical group if no one else on earth has ever heard of them, including their own mothers. I hate these people. They think they’re cutting edge because they love the unlovable, and as soon as another fan joins their ranks, it completely discredits the music. These ridiculous standards are common, and we only value what we think no one else knows about. We crave these stories of backpacking in the African bush, of working as a dishwasher in every state of the Union, and escaping a polygamist compound. I, myself, have read these books for the same reason everyone else did; I know nothing about these lifestyles, am fascinated by the concept, and fantasize a bit that I could be these people and experience their very rare and special triumphs. We could be reading the latest memoir by another politician wanting to tell his side of the story of his life, or we could be reading about yet another bored housewife who reclaimed her identity, but why be a fan of common music when we can be groupies for a band that no one knows anything about? If we haven’t the wherewithal to be cutting edge ourselves, let us at least follow around someone else who is, and trust that they’re more real than we are, living vicariously through them.

And so I’m off to read more of this memoir that is actually quite entertaining and I’m enjoying it thoroughly, but I can’t help but wonder if during a plague of mice, would one really try to scurry into your bungholio, or if elephants really do rattle a branch to warn you that you’re getting too close. I will likely never know. It shouldn’t take away from how fabulous it is to read about it, but it kind of does. I can’t blame modern memoirists who wrote false memoirs because even if their lies hadn’t been revealed, I’d still question if what I’m reading is true simply because there aren’t a whole lot of people who can support or refute any of it.

Yet, this is part of the appeal.

We are such confusing creatures, we humans.

On the other hand, I read the book Tuesday and believed with all my heart that on that night, frogs truly did fly around on lily pads.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Patio Friends for B.E.

Not too long ago, Boyfriend Extraordinaire told me a story that totally tickled me.

He keeps stuff on his patio that he either intends to sell or that he can’t bring himself to throw away; things like old computer cases that have been gutted of all working parts. With only a tarp for protection from the elements, the patio detritus is a veritable minefield of mysteries.

There is a neighborhood cat who we call Kitty Schwee.

He lives next door to Boyfriend Extraordinaire with a guy who lets him out all day long, so Kitty Schwee hangs out with my Schwee all day. For about a year, Kitty Schwee had fleas so bad that he frequently had to go to the vet for treatment, and even had to have his tail shaved. As soon as he received his treatment, things would start to improve for a few days, and then he’d be infested with fleas again. Something was re-infesting him.

Boyfriend Extraordinaire hangs out on the patio with Kitty Schwee daily, and he’s even dedicated a little area of his garden to growing plants Kitty Schwee likes to roll around in. The cat might sleep in a house next door, but this cat has chosen B.E. as his human.

On the patio, B.E. noticed that there were tons of fleas, so one day he chased off Kitty Schwee and set off a flea bomb on the patio to kill the fleas once and for all. After all the fleas had died, B.E. decided to clean the area of some of the extraneous junk, and he hauled a bunch of old computers to the dumpster behind his house. One felt a little heavy, but he didn’t think much of it.

Well, that computer wasn’t empty. It was someone’s house.

I introduce you to Possum Schwee.

Possum Schwee survived direct exposure to a flea bomb, living in a computer for who-knows-how-long, and seems to have been a good buddy of Kitty Schwee’s for quite some time. So, um, B.E. carried Possum Schwee to the dumpster inside his home, a computer, and never even knew it. On the next trip to the dumpster he saw this cute possum peeking out of the computer he’d just placed there and the reality of it hit him. I would be lying if I said it didn’t freak him out quite a bit. Possum Schwee climbed out and trotted off, accepting his eviction with dignity, newly de-flea’d and perhaps a little disoriented. B.E. fictitiously told stories of Possum Schwee living in a nearby field, but I always worried about him.

A month or so ago, B.E.’s roommate spotted a baby possum in the backyard and B.E. didn’t believe him for a few days until he saw the baby himself. I was convinced Possum Schwee was a girl and she’d had a baby, which she brought back to the patio where she’d lived with her friend Kitty Schwee.

B.E. wasn’t too keen on possums. He said they were not cute and had scary teeth, so I spent lots of time sending him pictures of cute possums. He, in turn, sent me pictures of evil possums with sharp teeth. Let’s just say it was a draw.

Today I received this collection of photos B.E. took on his patio tonight. How cute is this?!

Possum Schwee and Baby Possum Schwee!

And then there was this shot, which I think was a yawn, but it drove home how wildlife has a serious side to it that’s not all cute and fuzzy.

So, now he has a Possum Schwee Family on his patio. I hope they get along with Kitty Schwee.

What I don’t understand is that this is a man who comes all the way here to see wildlife because he doesn’t believe there is much near him, and he has a zoo on his patio.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Babies Make Things Better -- ANIMAL Babies, That is!

Wheee! Baby geese! I made some friends in the woods today, and while I know many people don't like Canada geese, I really am hard pressed to dislike any species of animal, particularly babies. Tell me these little fluffy things aren't adorable!

Tabblo: Baby Canada Geese

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lessons From an Unlikely Source

As hard as I try to avoid watching Gene Simmons: Family Jewels, not only do I seem to end up turning my television on right when it airs (and I don’t even know when that is), but the other cable networks choose to air things I don’t want to watch at the same time, so I end up watching it again and again. And much as I hate to admit it, I really enjoy it.

Last week I caught an older episode that had me laughing out loud repeatedly. What you have to understand if you’ve never watched the show is that Gene Simmons is not the same character he was in the 70s and 80s. He’s a putz. He’s the only one in the family without a wicked sense of humor, and most of the time he’s actually the butt of the jokes being told. As his daughter describes him, he’s usually in his “onesie” by 7 p.m. and asleep by 8. He could easily be the most un-fun person on reality television, who just happens to be surrounded by people who are really fun.

So, this episode I caught saw Gene and Shannon go to Vegas to attend her sister’s wedding. First they all attended a show by the comedian (and I use that term loosely) Carrot Top. When the show was over, the girls had a bachelorette party and Gene went backstage to hang with Carrot Top.

I need to interject something first. I haven’t seen Carrot Top in a good decade or so, and when he appeared on this episode, I almost threw up. Here is a man in his mid-40s wearing gobs of makeup and so grotesquely muscular in the chest and shoulders area that he looks like a clown on steroids. The more I looked at him, the more I felt certain he was going to go into a ‘roid rage and turn into the clown from It. Just when you think the freakish can’t get freakier…

Gene and Carrot Top cavorting around were as funny as watching paint dry. Perhaps the two unfunniest people in the same zip code had teamed up to entertain reality T.V. watchers, and for some reason, the camera operators didn’t fall asleep while on assignment. But then, something happened that I like to think was unscripted because it was hilarious.

Carrot Top was creating one of his dumb props, which he said was supposed to represent Paris Hilton in jail. It was comprised of steel bars and he was attaching long, silver vibrators to them. Dumb. But Carrot Top walked away, and fluffy-headed Gene wandered over and picked up one of the vibrators. A moment later we all find out that this vibrator has epoxy on it and it is now glued to Gene’s hand.

Twenty or thirty years ago, this would’ve been a good shot of a gratuitous lifestyle epitomized by a rockstar who helped define the sex, drugs, & rock ‘n’ roll era, but this is 2008, and he is so far removed from being a cool, hip, wild rockstar that seeing him holding a vibrator was funny enough, but to know one was adhered to the palm of his hand was hysterical. They’d show him standing there, annoyed, insisting it be referred to as a “back massager”, whining about the pain of his skin being stuck to this sex toy, and the dead-pan delivery of it was so convincing that I can think of no one worse for this to happen to. That’s how unfunny this guy has become. However, he could not get the vibrator off his hand. The hotel nurse tried to pick away at it, but he whimpered about the pain so she gave up. The next day he had to attend Shannon’s sister’s wedding with his jacket held over his arm because the vibrator was still stuck to his hand, and what’s worse was he didn’t want to tell Shannon about it because he thought she’d be furious. How does someone as unfunny as Gene Simmons hide from the world the humiliating fact that he’s accidentally glued a vibrator to his palm?

Anyway, he finally came clean with Shannon and ended up at his plastic surgeon’s office to have it removed.

I wouldn’t have even mentioned how funny that episode was if it wasn’t for the fact that the one I saw before that one was so incredibly moving. I never would’ve imagined this silly show would be so emotional.

Sophie had a paper due on the military, and after a pathetic and unsurprising look at how Gene performed in some bootcamp exercises, he and Sophie visited a veterans hospital, where Gene talked with some of the patients to hear their stories and thank them for their service. The stories were absolutely heart wrenching. One soldier said he volunteered to serve in the military so no one in his family would ever have to, and here he sat in a wheelchair in a VA hospital. I was choked up just listening to their stories, and then Gene started talking to an older guy who was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and in an attempt to thank him for everything he gave and everything he did, Gene started to cry and had to take a moment to collect himself.

By then I was sobbing because I was thinking of how seldom these people probably hear any kind of thanks for their service, and no matter where the motivation to do this came from, Gene seemed to be genuinely moved by how very much it costs each individual who joins the military. You hear statistics about how many people have been killed or wounded in the War in Iraq, but you don’t get to see what those numbers mean, which I think is largely a political ploy to ensure support of the war. Seeing the aftermath is a whole different experience, and while I know plenty of people who have served in various branches of the military, they’ve all managed to come through intact. However, there are plenty who don’t, who won’t ever live normal lives again, and it’s difficult to think about what that means to them.

As much as I hate to admit it, this episode really got me thinking about how forgotten the wounded soldiers become and how much they sacrificed to answer an honorable call.

Here we are, about to enter Memorial Day Weekend, which is more about grilling out than remembering and paying tribute, and I’m thinking it’s about damn time I stand up and say something.

Thank you to all the folks who are currently in the military and all the folks who have been in the military. Thank you for your sacrifice, for your service, and for doing all of this despite the lack of appreciation you receive from most of the civilians. Thank you to the families of servicemen and servicewomen who support their loved ones and take care of one another in their absence so that they can do this job that is too great for the rest of us to do. Thank you to the doctors and nurses who could make a lot more money in the civilian world, but choose to devote their careers to helping our military when they need it. And as weird as this sounds, thanks to Gene Simmons for bringing this home to some of his shallower fans, who might never have thought about what a huge commitment it is or what it can cost people, and to his non-fans who sometimes forget all this.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's All Relative

We’re number one! We’re number one!

But not in a good way.

I was speaking with a couple I know about the price of gas recently and we were laughing (mostly to keep from crying) about the marketing and ploys used by the evil, greedy oil companies. Last week gas near my house shot up to $4.07/gallon and I actually screamed when I drove past the gas station that morning. This couple pointed out that we all wigged-out when we saw $4.07 because it went up 40¢ per gallon overnight. OVER! NIGHT! And then two days later it was down to $3.98/gallon. What did we all do? We felt relief and filled up our tanks. We were HAPPY that gas went down to $3.98, which was still 30¢ over the cost of just a few days earlier, but because it was under $4 again, we were actually okay with paying $3.98. What a brilliant game of manipulation, making us happy to pay $3.98 per gallon by just charging a little more for one day before settling on this still exorbitant price. Fuckers.

Briana and I were chatting about it and I said that if we’re going to pay Canadian prices for gas, I want to see some of the benefits Canadian citizens have. How about we get some decent health care down here, which I blame for the economic crisis we’re in? Maybe we could borrow their conscience about how to treat the planet. Would THEY have a governor FIGHTING the declaration of polar bears as a threatened species? How exactly are they going to respond to the American refugees seeking asylum across the border in a few years when endemic warfare becomes our system of government? Will they build a fence along their southern border and put up signs for Canadian drivers to watch out for Americans trying to illegally enter their country, dashing dangerously across streets and hiding out in the backs of trucks? Makes me wonder. Will they one day soon be developing specific laws on how to deal with all the illegal Americans living in their country, sending them back to the U.S., where the druglords rule, clean drinking water is unaffordable, and where you can die from a sinus infection because medical care and medications are so overpriced that the black market meds, which are mostly placebos, are actually killing people due to a lack of treatment? I wonder.

Today I was at that place I’m not going to talk about anymore, and it was so quiet that I was reading the online news. I came across an article that actually had me in tears.

Homeless Mom.

Now, it’s sad enough that in California, the Unemployment Rate for April was 6.2% (only Alaska and Michigan had higher rates in the U.S.), and the cost of living is obscene, but to know that there are so many middle-class employees now out-of-work and homeless, that there are entire parking lots that are devoted to providing safe places for people to park when they live in their car. It breaks my heart.

I think about Boyfriend Extraordinaire, who rents an average three-bedroom townhouse and has two roommates who stay in the other two bedrooms because rent in this average suburban neighborhood of townhouses almost two hours outside of L.A., runs about $1,700/month. It makes me sick. And B.E. handles all the repairs in the house because he’s afraid that if he complains about anything to the landlord, the rent will shoot up. What he’s doing is fairly common because there is NO PARKING at all in his neighborhood. The area was designed to provide appropriate parking to one working pair of adults in each house, but that situation just isn’t realistic, and even the families rent out their extra rooms, throwing extra cars into the streets for parking. As well as landslides, earthquakes, wildfires, traffic issues and smog, I guess California is also known for having insufficient parking, which I didn’t know. B.E. has already lost one roommate because the parking situation is such a nightmare. On top of all the other things he worries about, both of his roommates have recently lost their jobs due to downsizing and lay-offs. One recently started selling his stuff (of which he has little) to have gas money for job-hunting. These are people about $1 away from living in their cars, too. When I say “these…people”, I include B.E. in that mix as well, because if the roommates have to leave, what are the odds that he’ll find a new roommate immediately? Not good. He could just as easily be out of a home because his roommates are out of work.

By me, the Unemployment Rate is better at 5.4%, but I know many people who are unemployed, underemployed, or unhappily employed and “looking”, none with any success. A more frightening thought is what I found in the public records database. In the area my library serves, just for 2008 so far, there are 461 foreclosures on private residences. In 2006, the Census folks estimated the population to be right around 53,000, and according to, the average home houses 3.53 people. That means of 15,000 homes, 3.1% are in foreclosure. I know I see 100 people each day, and statistically, three out of those 100 are losing or just lost their home. Yikes!

Many people have it much worse than I do, and I don’t pretend for one second that my life sucks because it could always be so much worse. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I live with my disabled mother and my deeply depressed and unemployed adult brother. They both had breakdowns when my dad died, and I’ve kind of taken over the lead of my very fucked up little family because otherwise they’d be living on the street. Mom declared bankruptcy last year because of all the bills from my dad’s business, which became hers when he died, and the house is still in his name because my mom can’t prove a sufficient income to have it put in her name. I never know when the roof might be yanked out from above us. Between my mom’s Disability check, the assistance she gets for the utilities, the food she receives from the food pantry, and my income, we’re able to survive, but each month something doesn’t get paid. I’m the only driver and I have to do all the chauffeuring, so even though I really need an additional job to make ends meet, I can’t do it because I need to be around to take them to doctor appointments or for whatever the household needs. One day I’ll have my own life. However, I’m afraid that it wouldn’t be a windfall that would make that happen, but another tragic loss. I can honestly recognize myself in the faces of the people living in their cars, losing their homes.

And it scares the shit out of me. I honestly think about defecting on a daily basis.

Yet, today I was having a conversation with someone about a citizenship assistance program, and how each meeting sees at least one person who previously attended and that person has become a citizen. They return to the class with their good news and treats, so there is a party going on at each meeting, with food, drinks and the kind of high spirits I’ve never known in my life. It’s contagious and inspiring and I want to be a part of this. I want to help people become citizens. I already register voters, and that thrill is enormous for me, but to help someone become a citizen would just be awesome. One of the people who became a citizen said that 27 different countries were represented at this person’s citizenship ceremony, and each and every one of those people coming from those other countries was thrilled to tears to now be American citizens. This represents so much to them, so much hope and promise that they didn’t have from wherever they came from, and it’s hard to believe that as bad as I feel things are here, it’s a lot worse in other countries.

This leaves me emotionally confused, because while I’m saddened that a 67-year-old professional woman is living with her two dogs in her car, making $8/hour at a part-time job, at least she has the safety of her car on a protected lot, with the companionship of her beloved dogs. Maybe that’s something.

It’s amazing to me where people find hope.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

...We'd All Have Old Bicycles

Boyfriend Extraordinaire had a bicycle that he was selling, and given that it’s a popular line of bikes and of the mountain bike genus, it’s fairly difficult to gauge how old it is. He guessed, based on wear and style, that the bike was about 4 years old. So, given what he knew and what he guessed at, he placed an ad for the bike, complete with photo and as many details as he could.

Right away, someone emailed him about the bike, only this was not an interested buyer, but a self-appointed fact-checker of the Internet. The guy, in a very hostile manner, demanded Boyfriend Extraordinaire change his ad, because this guy said he had a bike that looked identical to this one, which was at least 8 years ago, and he estimated the bike to be more like 20 years old.

At first, B.E. was a little concerned. Could it really be 20 years old? He started doing a little research about it and inconclusively decided that he wasn’t going to be able to find out the exact age of this bicycle, so he left the ad alone.

Not long after, he received another email from the hostile guy, who reiterated the age of the bike was wrong and told B.E. he had to change the ad.

By now, B.E. was getting irritated. How can anyone, who is also guessing at the age, demand that his guess is better and send such emails to a stranger? People have a lot of nerve what they ask of others in this world, under the false pretense that they are righter than anyone else. It’s another reason why Web 2.0 infuriates me so.

Don’t get me wrong. I love receiving the comments and feedback from my readers after I write a post, but have you ever read a news article online that has opened itself up to reader comments? Dear Spaghetti Monster, people are not only vicious, but they’re fucking stoopit!

There was a murder recently in my town, and it was in an area with low income renters of every possible nationality. One of the commenters said that the article needed to identify the race of the victim so that reader could know if he should care about the dead guy. This sparked a veritable war of comments where some claimed that you should be colorblind, and others insisted that race was a factor in whether or not the murder was worthy of their attention. Sadly, this was a claim made by people of multiple races. What a horrific end to this horrific story!

The same thing happens on the police blotter. If there is a police response of any kind that involves someone with a Hispanic-sounding last name, commenters go hog-wild insisting that this person be deported under the pretense than anyone with an Hispanic-sounding name is an illegal or unworthy of living in this country. Even if it was a speeding ticket listed in the blotter, people responded this way, or worse, when the Latino name was one of the victims. Absolutely no compassion.

It’s not just racism. I have seen with my own eyes that when someone posts a picture of him/herself online, it’s like half the globe thinks this is an invitation to pretend like you’ve lost 100 IQ points and are now part of some radio shock jock challenge to come up with the most creative insult. Even on seemingly peaceful photo sites, I’ve read comments by people who will rip others to shreds for posting a character picture of a homeless guy, or even a kid with crooked teeth. On YouTube, it’s as if every 12-year-old with security issues and bad spelling skilz has made it their mission to find every video uploaded and leave a shitty comment about it. I uploaded a video of some birds squawking, and I misidentified them as plovers when they were actually killdeers. JEEBUS, you’d have thought I deemed them “Yo mamma!” People left me the nastiest corrections in my comments. And one was not enough. Even when three or four people had pointed out that the bird was wrong, others would still add to it in their own shitty way. What the hell? I had to go through and delete the comments, and then more showed up! Finally, I turned off the comments altogether. The more I deal with people, the more certain I am that not only is there no god, but if I was a god, I’d be ashamed to call the human race my creation.

I am really starting to hate the Internet.

B.E. gets comments like this about ads he places all the time. Everyone feels like their opinion should count for something, but frankly, it doesn’t. He’s wise beyond his years and doesn’t respond to it unless it’s racist garbage, and then he does something else, like put up an ad that makes fun of racists. He doesn’t respond directly to people. He doesn’t email them his opinion and state it as fact. He gets it. He really gets that by and large, people suck, and sometimes you have to be above it.

This was tested when he received his third email from this jamoke, who was now so livid that the ad hadn’t changed to reflect his own guess at the age of the bike, that he was accusing B.E. of intentionally defrauding the potential buyers (and he was not a potential buyer, but a nosy ad reader). Well, B.E. could take no more. We talked about what a retard this guy was, but we also sat down and invested some real time in researching this line of bikes. Guess what. It only began 12 years ago, so there was no way the bike chould be 20 years old. Also, the design hadn’t changed one iota in those 12 years, so this bike might be as old as 12, but given the condition and lack of wear and tear, it was just as good as a bike that was 4 years old.

I asked B.E. what he was going to do. I sincerely expected him to bombard the asshat with corrected information about this particular bike, proving the guy wrong and calling him a bunch of names in between the facts. That’s what I would’ve done, which is likely why of late I've been suffering with anxiety, insomnia and high blood pressure.

B.E. is much more civilized. He said he was not going to respond directly to this guy, wasn’t going to address him in any way, but he was going to place the ad again and change the age of the bike in the ad to say that it was 400 years old. No sincere buyer would ever believe it was 400 years old, and B.E. could laugh it off and say it was a typo, which should’ve read that it was about 4 years old instead of 400.

I was still angry and I didn’t think it was enough. I thought the moron should be made to suffer the words of an eloquent and scathing response, which surely would’ve created an email war of epic proportions. At some point, I’d report the guy as spam and be done with him. This concept of trying to poke fun at the guy by making the bike so old that it was not to be believed seemed too, I don’t know, subtle, or too suave. This was not something that needed a delicate hand. This was something that needed a brutal, cerebral blow!

Once again, I was wrong.

The ad for the 400-year-old bike was a success on all fronts. Not only did B.E. swiftly sell the bike for the asking price without so much as a comment from the buyer about the typo in the ad, but the dickhead who sent him three emails demanding the age be altered actually sent him another email, and this time he said that the ad was funny and he apologized for his previous emails.


People don’t back down. People don’t apologize. People don’t realize they were shitheads. What’s this? What’s this anomaly? What is this event that has caused a black hole in my image of society and driven doubt and optimism into a chasm that was happily chock-full of pessimism and misanthropy? What the fuck?

And so, this week I’ve learned that some of the meanest, most imposing personalities can actually respond well to a slight nudge rather than being beat about the head with more insults, the likes of which probably made them into what they are. And I’d like to add that I am likely one of the mean, imposing personalities of which I speak, but I don’t step into other people’s lives to deliver my worthless opinions about whatever it is that sparks me up. Nope, I blog about it and use my words to purge myself of my fury. But that doesn’t solve problems and it just makes others defensive. Now I get it. A 400-year-old bike makes a good argument for taking a step back, coasting for a while, and not taking things too personally. No one’s perfect, not even close, and I’m doing myself more harm than good by being ready to pounce on people when they piss me off, which they do constantly. I need a 400-year-old bike. For my own well-being.

And so, that’s what I’m going to do. Coast for a little while on my ageless bike.