Category Archives: things i worry about

The After Death

Nothing can put the Kibosh/Mayo/Pegleg on one’s day-to-day life than the death of a parent. Not even close. Even when you think you’re holding steady, that you’ve got a nice handle on his memory—*beep*—some trivial detail (Federer wins!), or question (why does road resistance on a bike tire go down as the tire gets wider), or a sudden urge to call (because it’s been so long since you’ve last talked) comes by, and your whole world is shrunk into the emotional space of an open fridge, and you’re just standing there, on pause.

Add to that a summer of coughing, jury duty, and a dead laptop logic board followed by a dead hard drive. Still, just a flesh wound.
Add to that another failed logic board, that of my father’s wife, where she wants to protest my father’s last wishes, including the charge that he gave her herpes, which she claims leads to Alzheimer’s, and finally, rumbles of a savagely guarded secret that my father’s father was not his biological father. OY!

In the dog-to-dog parallel-universe, life took an equally strange and equally fatal turn this summer. OK, so MO’s never known who her father was, but it’s not hard to believe she had a different father then the other three pups that popped out with her. The week my father died the two jindos up the street who were raised on vanilla icing and chain link fence slipped their collars after their semi-annual walk and ran over to our yard to attack our dogs. Yes, I may have laid into the owner a little harsh, screaming bloody murder about his inability to do or say anything, or even take a single socks-with-open-toed-shoes step to get his dog’s tooth out of my dog’s ass. But seriously, putting on the sad face and holding out the collars for us to examine (as his dogs ran away, giving him one of the best displays of synchronized middle fingering I have ever witnessed), doesn’t really fly.

Several weeks later we find out the owners of their house put it up for a short sale and *poof* they’re gone, leaving only one other non-feline nemesis on the block, the pear-shaped man who lives in yet another foreclosed house down the street. He’s the usual type of rude neighbor, doesn’t say hi, or swerve a single millimeter out of his way from dominating the center of the sidewalk. After MO gave him, one morning, what dog behaviorists call a “gift,” ie. a nose bump, he actually acknowledged our presence by saying she bit him. Well, we walk in peace, so since then we have crossed the road whenever we see him coming.

This morning, after passing two very dead cats splayed out in opposite gutters, we found pear-man’s house surrounded by yellow tape, Coroner’s vehicles and LAPD with shotguns out front. Two gurneys were carried inside, and you can claim we’ve been watching too many Inspector Morse episodes but the whole scene smelled like murder-suicide. Two fancy cars parked out front, house in foreclosure, a blistering heat wave, a bitter, bitter morning.

Woes of MO

“It is the nature of scientific study of non-human animals that a few individual animals who have been thoroughly poked, observed, trained, or dissected come to represent their entire species. Yet with humans we never let one person’s behavior stand for all of our behavior… we are individuals first, and members of the human race second…

By contrast, with animals the order is reversed. Science considers animals as representative of their species first, and as individuals second. We are accustomed to seeing a single animal or two kept in a zoo as representative of their species…”

from “Inside a Dog, What Dogs See Smell and Know,” by Alexandra Horowitz.

After reading my friend’s recent blog post titled “And Now for a Little Biracial Rage,” it seems like in actuality some humans do see other humans (of a different race) as representatives of that race first, and as individuals second. But all this “seeing” is in the guise of power, with race simply being the whitest, most convenient ax to wield. Humans tend to privilege vision over everything else, and so that means when one looks different that’s what other people are going to latch onto. Plus it’s simply too hard to take the time to learn about other people’s experiences, which (in my opinion) are really the things that make up one’s identity.

Besides, race and identity are fluid things, and made convenient only when necessary. Notice the recent hubbub surrounding our President coming out for gay marriage. This puts gay Republicans in a conundrum, as it does black conservative Christians. What the conservatives want is for the black community to put race aside (“Aw come on, just this once”) and not vote for the person who is trying his darnedest to help their race, and instead condemn him for something totally abstract like thrusting a rainbow fist in God’s face, whereas the gay Republicans (who I think are Republicans for mostly fiscal reasons) have to wiggle about deciding whether their capital gains tax and other pocket lining issues are more important than voting for the first standing president in the history of the U.S. to support their cause. Yup, it’s a toughie.

What all this means, is that race and identity are tools. Just like the argument of how guns don’t kill people, bullets do, telling someone (who’s half Chinese) “You don’t look Asian to me,” is not a comment on race as it’s a statement proving the guy who said it is a dickwad. Not only is he dismissing her actual identity, he’s also judging her by what she looks like based on an identity of his own fantasy, and in that visual judgement is also an opinion on how she should behave, given her self-proclaimed membership in the race he’s an expert in, and boy let me tell you he knows the Asians, as in he’s received some juicy Asian back rubs and bowls of Moo Goo spicy chicken. And I’m sorry to say, but it’s got to be a guy, a white guy, and he’s probably single (or soon will be), and he’s trolling Southeast Asia for a reason, and in the words of my dear friend living in Hong Kong “These mother scratchers, once they start dating locals, they can never go back to an opinionated western girl.”

The ease of how these things are said and taken lightly reminds me of a recent Meet the Press where Rachel Maddow brought up some facts regarding how women were getting paid less than men. Alex Castellanos answered with the nastiest kind of condescension. He said “I love how passionate you are,” which is just about one of the most belittling responses, one, because it reduces the presentation of facts to a mere display of emotion, and two, because it’s disguised as a complement.

So this brings me to the woes of MO, my bi-tri-multi-racial dog. In the dog world I assume she presents her identity clearly, as dogs tend to do, that of trouble-maker-chase-extremist, and it makes most dogs just want to slap her, but when it’s humans she encounters, they tend to pull the “you don’t look Asian to me” on her because they’re just looking at her, as opposed to watching.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten in terms of raising a rescue dog (or any dog) is to “See the dog, not the problem.”
Or in other words, “Train the dog you have, not the dog you think it should be.”
Or, “If you can’t be with the one you love, don’t fake it by pretending to love someone else who kinda looks the same.”
Clearly this memo hasn’t gotten around very much.

MO (and me, since I have to suffer the human part of the conversation) have had plenty of encounters with people telling me (not asking) what breed she is. Most people that declare what breed of dog I have must feel pretty self-satisfied, but they don’t realize that even if they were right, even if I bent over in a total and absolute kow-tow, it wouldn’t do me a wit of good in terms of understanding MO’s behavior, or MO in terms of how she should live her life.

They say “That’s an Australian shepherd” and when I say “Well, actually she’s got some gouda and aged gruyere and possibly some ham in there,” they say “NO. She’s definitely an aussie. I’ve had two. I’ve a good eye for them.” Some say “Whoa, gotta watch out for that cattle dog,” and when I say she’s “50/50 butter and duck fat,” they say: “NO. You see her coat? (how can you not?) See how she’s trying to herd?” (uh, actually, I’ve seen what she looks like when she is herding.)

Sometimes (when people do ask) I offer this explaination: “MO’s mother bit her owner and was taken to the shelter where she promptly bit a shelter worker right after they found out she was pregnant. There were four pups and MO is the only one with a merle coat, and they tell me the mom was a German Shepherd/Chow.” And they say “NO WAY she’s any of those,” as if they were there in that back-alley-south-central-Los-Angeles point of moogoomaculate conception with a freaking DNA strip.

Even when I had to register her to take obedience classes I was chastised for writing German Shepherd/Chow as her breed. Turns out I should have written “All American.” It’s pretty hilarious to think which part of a German Shepherd and a Chow is American!

All of this is frustrating and stupid and annoying, but the really critical part is, (other then why has no one told, (or asked) me about her double life as Canine Sherman) what difference does it make what breed she is?

What is breed going to explain in terms of her actual identity/experience? Will her being a “full-on” whatever breed explain her permanent fear of strangers and her facility at defusing a naked squeaker? Which is a more authentic part of her identity, the fact she spent the first six months of her life learning all things dog from twenty some dogs and so can read other dogs in an instant, or the fact that she looks, or doesn’t look, like a German Shepherd/Chow?

Even with Stevie, people will often say “My, what a pretty border collie mix.” I just lower my head and say, “Thanks, but she’s only a regular border collie.” Good God. At least I don’t get thanked for being so damn passionate.

Caffeinated slugs

We’ve had some good roasts with our buddy the Behmor, but this morning we pushed our luck too far. We tried a pound of Sweet Maria’s Satpura Fold on P4 and it barely made it to first crack. While this makes for a very sad batch—tight fisted pebbles actually, clinging to their chaff the way CEOs are with their IT dollars—I could hear the worms in the compost cheering “More for us! More for us!”

Not so fast little red crawlers, it’s spring time, which means the strawberries are booming, but the slugs are having their way with them before they get a chance to turn red. Turns out the Internet says coffee grounds pass through the slug’s slime barrier and they die of nervous exhaustion!! c-c-c-coffeeeeeee!

Turns out the Internet also says coffee and caffeine have no effect whatsoever on slugs! So true the Internet is bunk for so many things.

In any event I’m game to try, besides, there’s a chance I might be able to trap the largest, most dangerous garden pest, known in these parts as the moogoo.

Why are there no great IT Guys?

Yes it’s Guys, because the two IT Gals I have had to deal with have been so irredeemably mean and scary I can’t bear to meet any more. And if you think I’m throwing down some girl-hate I have to say I think the Gals didn’t start out mean and scary, they became that way because they had to prove themselves in horribly unnecessary ways plus I can only imagine what listening to the Guys go on and on about Honking Network Speeds on a daily basis does for your complexion.

Bad IT guys are not just crotch-pulsing, Mountain-Dew chugging dudes with expanding waistlines. They’re awful inside too. They can’t/won’t explain anything in plain English, which just proves that they don’t understand the concept, they can’t problem solve their way out of a paper bag, and they like it that way. In other words, chances are they don’t understand jack, but because they keep putting Band-aids on their systems rather than solve the problem, it means in a few months they’ll have to re-Band-aid, and in a few months after that they’ll have to re-Band-aid, and all this means job security. In effect they are holding their company hostage because the system they set up is so fucked up it can’t be fixed without a serious headache.
So what? So what.

A good IT guy pretty much works himself out of a job, and this is the answer to “Why are there no great IT Guys?” He does things right from the beginning, then sets up the system with a good eye on the future, and after awhile the powers that be will think he’s expendable. Yes, the boss will hum a show tune every time he passes the network room and sees all the little lights blinking green, but he won’t credit the IT guy. Instead he’ll refer to his own techie prowess, his years of PC noodling, his dog’s tip of the tail splotch of color, his wife’s lovely ass, everything except the person actually responsible.

This boss gets so far into his virtual cloud that he comes to believe he no longer needs IT. And he gets very smug because his first idea was to save money by getting the guy in the mail room to do IT part time without a salary increase. This latest idea, to punt the position altogether, is pure genius. Any douche bag can hit restart, he thinks, the fuckers practically run themselves. And this is where it gets funny.

Everyone knows when you run PeeCees there will come a day when Windows wants to Windoze. And when it does, this particular bossman—of a company so far up the 1% that if you think of the largest company you know, and then go bigger, you’d still be wrong—cannot do his job. But his job is important, it’s about making deals. DEALS!
And just like the question of whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if no one’s around, you wonder whether a boss screaming at his offline computer makes a similar noise.

Let’s give this boss a grossly underestimated annual salary of 2 million (not including bonuses and % of the DEALS). This gives him (roughly) a daily rate of $8000. Let’s say he’s scrambling, bullying, trying to get “any stupid IT Guy” to come in to fix his shit so he can get on with his very important DEAL before it goes sour. Let’s say boss man was paying Good IT Guy $75K (grossly overestimated), so… if the PCMAN temp agency can’t get someone over there and his problem solved in nine days (!) he will piddle away the entirety of the IT Guy’s salary, plus forfeit the deal and his commission to boot.


ghost towns

A friend of mine recently blogged about the self-flagellatory hellhole travelers to third world countries often fall into, the pit of “why the fuck am I here?” and the sorrow of “I want to buy the rock that makes a bell sound when you shake it, but i only want to pay 12 cents, rather than 13, you poor child, you wearer of the butt-less pants.” And I quote her “…you are those kids’ meal ticket, and traveling to their far-flung hamlet is, for you at least, all about “improving” yourself by being witness to a kind of poverty which, if borderline globally abject, is at least presumed to be aesthetically pleasing.”

Hello, Lunch.*

In our many months of travel through China there were several days when one of us felt like it was absolutely impossible to leave the hotel room. It wan’t anything in particular, just a feeling that if we saw one more worker hiking rice up the mountain (because the government designated the use of the telpher for tourists only), rice that would feed us, or one more family tossing a watermelon carcass out the train window, or one more wealthy couple plucking each other’s chin hairs to the theme song from The Titanic, we were simply going to die.

So it’s funny, or maybe not, that on the drive last week from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, I got a similar feeling somewhere around the site of Occupy Tucson which lasted all the way to Las Cruces.

Which brings me to the Turquoise Trail. About 15 miles south of Santa Fe is the ghost town of Cerrillos, where Native Americans mined turquoise and galena since about 600 A.D. They used turquoise for its medicinal power, and extracted lead from the galena to paint their pottery. In 1540 the Spaniards came and found silver and gold in the area and forced the Pueblo Indians to work their mines until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 which sent the Spaniards ass over tit back to Mexico for twelve years. When the Spaniards embarked on their reconquest of New Mexico, they fought over Santa Fe, forgetting completely about the Cerrillos mines, which lay dormant for about 150 years.

When the gold rush started a couple of miners on their way to California found traces of gold in Cerrillos and soon the town was “rediscovered” in 1879 by everyone and their dog, including Louis Tiffany, whose boxes I mistakenly used to call “robin’s egg blue” are actually designed after the “gem-worthy” color of turquoise he extracted from the hills by the truckload. Soon, coal mining began to take over as the state’s economic mainstay, effectively ending the mining boom by the end of the century.

The short version of this history is: where the Spaniards had victory there are tourists,

and where the Spaniards met defeat there are holes in the ground.

Being a tourist in a place like Santa Fe, which really is a theme park, is slightly less emotionally painful than being a tourist in a ghost town. There’s less hate in the air, you don’t get the weird feeling like people are spitting on your car after you walk away, and the cheesiness doesn’t hit where it really hurts.

The fat man from the fancy knife store on the plaza told us he used to bring his dog to church with him and they’d sit in the pew together. All in all, it seems right that if you have to go to church, you might as well be able to bring your dog.

* “Hello Lunch” was a common greeting we received in China, often accompanied by the hand gesture of shoveling food into one’s mouth. After crossing into the south, where dog meat is a speciality, we greeted every dog we met with the same words.

Xmas Weekend

as a child my family never really celebrated Xmas, though we did send cards (ideally without any mention of God or Jesus) and my Mom sewed some velvet stockings with our names on them for our white brick fireplace, and they occasionally grew fat with things like staple removers, pocket calculators, and… Hanukkah chocolate money (i didn’t realize how funny this was until a few years ago—child-appropriate and shiny representations of money—a great hit with the Chinese). i do have memories of a fake tree with a red metal stand and nice glass globe decorations but presents were optional, especially since my dad (starting on the day after Thanksgiving) stormed about the house ranting on how if everyone agreed to buy presents after December 25th then everyone would save a shitload of money.

over the years my Dad has had a lot of ideas of “getting a pact together,” and though they all have good intentions, they somehow don’t resonate well in a world where not everyone (thank God) thinks like him: in Los Alamos where i grew up in there was only one supermarket, and one day he found green plums for sale, his favorite, a total rarity in that town. he bought several bags worth and then came home and called all his friends to go get them, in order to send a message to the manager that there was great demand for these plums. instead what happened was that after a few days the store ran out of green plums. more often than not his call to arms are political, usually to “clobber” the Republicans, teach the Communist pigs a lesson, or elevate the political power of Chinese Americans (the majority of which—to his dismay—tend to be in the Republican camp).

this year my Xmas weekend started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Mid-morning Xmas Eve i got a call from a client and after a few comments about the holiday and the weather, he asked if “we” had an offsite backup of his computer files. i asked if this was a “if someone were to firebomb the office” type of question and he responded, “actually, more like if the Feds come and raid the office.” he was serious, by the way.

the whimper came Xmas day just as the sun was setting and we were lounging on the deck. Something scrambled up a tree which startled both dogs and even Bing-Bing the cat, otherwise known as Bing-Bing the Brave, who had ventured on the deck to view the farolito lighting,

stepping outside for only the second time since her accidental procedure several years ago which turned her into a Manx, despite knowing that one dog is convinced she morphs from “tolerable roommate” to “prey” the second she crosses the threshold. anyway, if you were a small thing, say a baby possum, and you were in a tree, and down below were two dogs with four front paws on the trunk and it was dang close to dinnertime you wouldn’t go DOWN the tree, would you? would you?

a little about our client. i don’t know what happened and apparently it’s an innocent mistake, (not like the two-year sting operation on rawesome, who did have their computers confiscated) and i certainly hope so. these people are the coolest people on the planet. they have their holiday dinners at places with this kind of art on the wall (faces blackened to protect the innocent, but gawd that world map! that flag! those paintings! and the photos aren’t showing the bowl full of non-dairy creamer, the Sutter Home red or white option, or the other carafe filled with what tasted like bong water)

but i wouldn’t miss their holiday party for ANYTHING in the world. and i am dead serious. if you know me, that means a hell of a lot. plus, how can the Feds bust a company where the Office Manager has to remove this from under her desk, in order to stash things, like…

dead body parts?

in-between dealing with the off-site backup system, i went on a good hike, ate a bucket of latkes with lox and homemade applesauce, became addicted to a fudge called Fungus Amongus, converted a Scotch naysayer into an Islay lover, painted bookshelves, talked to both parents, one of which couldn’t believe you could just email some blogger to ask him what Chinese writing software he used (“i DON’T know him personally!”) and the other said “Guess where i am calling from?” before revealing that she was sitting at L’Atelier at the MGM about to eat a soufflé with a scoop of pistachio ice cream dropped in the middle (“It’s falling into the center of the Earth”), pulled weeds (while on the phone), brined a pheasant, took a recipe for butterscotch budino seriously when it said to finish everything within three days, figured out our New Year’s card (late this year – holler, or rather, send us your address, if you want one), and best of all, got to see the Star of Beeflehem.

excessive scandinavians

i’m sorry to lump the Swedes and the Norwegians into the same lump but they share the same chunk of land, have similar languages (if you know one, it’s a snap to learn the other), and are home to cows that produce horribly delicious butter and cream. turns out in Norway this year the unmentionable, the ungodly, the total apocalypse has happened: BUTTER SHORTAGE! apparently a fad diet is the culprit, turning normal citizens away from carbs and onto large wads of fat.

well that’s the way the cookie crumbles. i’ve always thought the Scandinavians to be a one-extreme-to-the-other lot, and i’d always figured it was because they have all-sun part of the year, and no-sun part of the year, but then i met a bunch of really intense-all-the-time Russians from St. Petersberg and that blew my theory out of the water.

many years ago i visited a friend who lived in Stockholm and we decided to have a dinner party (“can you cook Chinese food?”) while i was there. my friend was at work but he gave me directions to get to the wine shop, which, by the way, was government controlled (heavily taxed), and they kept a detailed list on who buys what and have quotas to cut people off. i asked him how many bottles to get and he replied “two each,” meaning two bottles for each of us, which meant four bottles total. in addition to my friend having a really funny Swedish accent he liked to exaggerate it, so what i heard instead of “two each” was “twelve.” so off i went to the store, worrying more about my name being on some list then how i was going to drag a case of wine home by myself.

i managed to get it all back to the apartment, and my friend was plenty surprised to see so many buddies waiting for him when he got home, but he was even more glad when he realized the name on file for all this booze was mine and not his. turns out these Swedes liked vodka before dinner, and dinner involved pork dumplings (skins made from scratch – come on, i’m in Stockholm) and cutting up a whole chicken and so on, so by the time dinner was actually served the crowd was rowdy and drunk as hell. i actually have no memory of whether or not we managed to open even one bottle of wine, but it’s been so many years since that trip i think my quota must be refreshed by now.

all creatures drunk and sober

it’s said you can learn a lot from animals, but you can also learn a lot from animal shows, especially if they’re produced by the BBC.

it’s been a flu and cough ridden season so far at our house, so we’ve been streaming endless episodes of All Creatures Great and Small, full of great animals, lots of practical jokes and “lashings” of scones, tea, bacon and whisky. (and please – Tintin fans: Captain Haddock’s favorite brown drink was Loch Lomond, which is Scotch, which lacks the “e,” as in “whisky,” Steven Spielberg couldn’t even get that right. so sad.)
anyway, ACG&S is set just before WWII and features James Herriot, the veterinarian who wrote the original books (amazing) and his co-vets, Siegfried and Tristan. on this episode, oh, the best out of the lot! we meet Roddy, a hobo with longish Occupy LA hair, who roams the shire with his dog and a pram, does odd jobs and moves as the wind blows. both James and Siegfried romanticize this life, and they ask him how nice it must be to be without a care in the world, and Roddy always answers with an “Aye,” and says that it’s just him and Jake, the dog. Roddy helps James innoculate a bunch of sheep and when James offers to buy Roddy a drink he says he never touches the stuff. James decides then that he’s going to live the life of Roddy and decides to refrain from drinking. Siegfried and Tristan support his decision with a toast.

the next day Siegfried and James are invited to a fellow vet’s house for lunch. the vet is a big drinker and in trying to be polite James takes a drink and he gets full on loaded. blitzed! they try driving to a restaurant for lunch and end up not being able to leave the driveway. oh the expanse of the English countryside! they have gin and tonics, then champagne cocktails, then beers, and James is so drunk he goes home and almost pukes in the dinner Tristan has made, a stew made mistakenly out of dog food, and passes out, while Siegfried has to perform an emergency surgery on Roddy’s dog who has a pebble lodged in his esophagus.

this is crazy. and this would never have been made in the US. basically there’s an overromaticization of the hobo life, and an attempt to equate a free-willed life with a non-alcoholic one, and then they make fun of drinking, and then they make fun of not drinking, then the guy who doesn’t want to drink gets drunk out of his mind, only to miss being able to help out the man without a care in the world as he swallows his hobo pride to accept the services of the man who would never give up drinking to save his actual one care in the world.

it’s just so awesome. it’s all about not allowing something negative to have power over you. this is a weak paraphrasing of something a wise man named Cormel West said, and, skeptical as i am usually of these guys with two first names: Bryan Adams, Bruce Wayne, etc. Cornel West isn’t so much two first names as it’s two geographical points/directions, so he’s well worth listening to. anyway, he says to be careful giving something negative too much power and control over one’s life. like some people who decide not to drink, or some Chinese people’s over-obsession with not buying Japanese cars and cameras. OK, so don’t buy one, but don’t covet a Lexus and then feel ashamed at wanting one and then deny that you’re coveting one and then falsely feel good about denying yourself of something you want but know you shouldn’t have and so on. this negativity will own you, and pretty much eat you alive. you are giving it exactly what it feeds off of: attention, negativity, power.

please don’t get me wrong, i’m not talking about alcoholism and other serious issues of wanting what you can’t have. i’m talking about people who make a private lifestyle decision but make it everybody’s business. they don’t give it a rest. it’s the people who go to restaurants and insist—since you do drink—that you order a drink. oh, but no, not for them. no no no, they don’t drink. but they will pore over the wine list or say specifically that this restaurant has a great bar, and so on. i’m talking mental health here. them basically forcing you to order a drink is pretty much denying you of your choice as to whether you actually want a freaking drink or not. it’s like, they have to see you drink in order to feel satisfied. on top of that it’s annoying as hell.

the same story goes for a friend of ours who thought she would apply for citizenship in Europe and leave the US rather than pay her student loans back. we told her she was letting her student loans determine where she was going to live, which was giving the idea of money an awful lot of power over her life. needless to say she exited the house and has never spoken with us again. (but wait – blog post on dinner parties, narcissus, psychosis and Puer Aeternus (Latin for Eternal Boy) due to be posted any day)

somehow this applies to the Occupy Movement. for example, i feel if they get too focused on the police, or the beatings, or rioting or fight over a tent stake, then they are letting the negative have power. it’s a tight spot they’re in, and endlessly fascinating. since on one hand if they do come up with specific demands, chances are those ideas will be nicely appropriated and pick up some sort of corporate sponsorship, and on the other side is obsessing over concrete, negative things. staying in the abstract is very hard indeed.