Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Artisanal Excuses

"Artisanal: pertaining to or noting a distinctive and classic art or product made in small quantities, usually by hand and using traditional methods."

When I was a freshman in college, I met a nice-looking senior on the quad. Actually, he was the friend of my former boyfriend, once removed. We shared an hour-long conversation. We made out, a little. When he told me he'd been accepted at the U of I School for Dentistry, my first thought was, yuck. My second was, I don't care, you're really cute. Or maybe I have that order reversed. In any case, we mainly talked about foreign films. Wrapping up the conversation, he mounted his bike and asked for my number, which I wrote on a sheet of notebook paper.

He never called. Which was fine; I had three dates a day, we all did, and somehow squeezed in a class now and then, if there was nothing better on offer. We fell in and out of interest or infatuation in less time than it took to eat an Arby's.

A semester went by, and by chance, I ran into him at the library. He looked embarrassed and said, "Oh hi, I meant to call, but my dog ate my papers." The explanation was longer than that, something to do with having safeguarded my number between the pages of a textbook, in between chapters pertaining to the root canal and diseases of the gums, I suppose.

This was my first exposure to the Artisanal excuse. Something hand-crafted, clumsy and homely, certainly with a long proud history, probably practiced alone, then in company; refined, added to and subtracted from over the years. Based on tradition, yes, but improved with a personal twist.

"Give me a kiss," he said, "and tell me I'm forgiven."

And I thought, fuck you, Doctor Cavity, go suction someone else's spit.

The reason this sticks in my mind, resists the mental floss of sweet forgetfulness, is that recently an English professor friend of mine outlined some rules for new students, including, something to the effect of, "If you miss class, for god sake's, don't tell me that your grandmother died."

Well, I found this a complete shocker. You mean others have encroached on the grandmother excuse? My grandmother-excuse, which I've effectively trademarked? My poor grandmother, who fell on the sword more times than I ever made it to French class? My grandmother, the one who died before I was born? Damn these poachers. I invented the grandmother excuse. Molded, crafted it, year after year, spun it on the wheel, adding pigment here and there, bringing up the grain to a rich patina, worthy for all my future jobs.

Well, that's life, right? A narrow aspect for invention, and likely someone beat you to it.

I don't lie, much, but only because my lies have a very irritating habit of coming true. I'm not religious, don't believe in Karma -- and yet, if I call work and say my tire is flat, it will be flat, or the battery dead. If I say I'm sick, I get sick. On and on, my lies have proved unforgiving.

So I only hit on the already dead relatives. They've never complained. And now, usually, if there's some commitment I can't meet, I say, "*I just don't want to." It's a very unpopular response. On the upside, I'm healthy and my car starts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Just another day in Altadena: Yogi visits Doris

(cr: Doris Finch)

When my friend Doris told me she had a bear in her backyard, I assumed this presented certain challenges in terms of etiquette. Is it ecologically kosher to offer a bear a tub of water? I know, I know, let wildlife be wild. But half our bears have been raised on the crap people leave behind in Eaton Canyon, and have eaten enough pizza to know that's not where a pineapple slice belongs. Besides have a heart -- the temps are in the triple digits.

"Water it did not need," she said, and sent this photo.

I think our bears must swap maps and post Yelp reviews of the best dumpsters and pools. "Doris and Tuck are a five-star, just don't overstay your welcome."

Monday, September 15, 2014

What we remember

For sure, I got spanked, as a child. Though spanked meant spanked, and didn't include any attendant device, such as a switch or a belt. It was a manual operation, and the hand never hit my flesh. Never my face; it was all on the butt, through whatever I happened to be wearing that day.

My mother, when she spanked, would grab my arm, and I'd run around her like a maypole, so she had trouble meeting the intended target, and after awhile gave up, exhausted. If Mom steamed about whatever my transgression might have been that day, then she'd tell my dad, when he returned from work. Dad could hit a target.

My sister, brother, and me -- we didn't have many moments of solidarity; but spanking was one. My sister never got spanked, because she'd swoon. My brother, he took some tush-time, but had the very good sense to scream and repent. They were the smart ones. I took my swats like a soldier, as in, "Is that the best you can do?"

When I was disciplined, usually they wanted me to give up the names of my co-conspirators. Not a chance. At the end of the exercise, the three of us kids would gather together, I'd pull down my pants, to see if we had a perfect five-finger red imprint on my bottom. If so, we'd giggle. "Yeah, I see it."

Which is also funny, because it's not like we lived in the Vanderbilt mansion, where the parents would retreat to the third floor. They must have heard us. And known, I made my siblings laugh.

Outlasting the spanking without a single sound from me, gave me, gave us, a sense of power.

The spankings stopped, entirely, by the time I was about nine years old. I like to think my parents realized we wouldn't recall the cause, only the effect.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The books and the dream

In college, and it was maybe midnight, perhaps a little later, when the DJ said, "Who do you think is the best guitarist, ever. Call and let us know."

I was all over the moon about this -- who? How should I cast my vote? John Mclaughlin, Julian Bream, my current boyfriend? Or someone definitely in the running, so my vote would actually count.

"Julie, what do you think?" I asked, all in a dither, flapping my hands, "I'm going to say Clapton. No, wait, maybe Jimmy Page." It seemed so important at the time; we were very high.

Which is sort of the way I've felt when the Facebook thingy has come around every so often, asking for a list of 10 favorite books; the ones that have influenced our lives. "Don't think," they say, "just throw out some titles."

Don't think? Books are my life. I read, therefore I am. Which is why I've tucked the question in my head since at least 2010, and every so often realized a title or two. Tossed one in favor of another; re-appropriated the one that's been tossed, and tossed the interloper. Then reconsidered them both.

I don't know how many books I've read, or partially read, in my life. Gotta be thousands. And really, the only way to excise this exercise out of my brain is to lay down a line in the sand.

The best bit of literary criticism I've ever heard came from Des Zamorano. When she read Breakfast at Tiffanys, at my suggestion, she came back with, "What I love about this book, is that as soon as I read the first two pages, I knew I could relax; I was in good hands."

Good hands.

A writer is a pilot. With the bad writers, the middling-to-serviceable writers, the maybe they'll write something good in the future writers, there are layovers. Times when the prose jolts you awake, and you find yourself stuck in an airport, drinking a watery Bloody Mary, eating a runny grilled cheese, and feel a taxi back home might be in order.

The exceptional pilots never stop -- they take you on a journey, on a dream, their dream, yes, but their dream becomes your dream. A dream you'll dream until the last chapter, the last page, and the final line. And then you crash.

The Glory of My Father and The Castle of My Mother - Pagnol
The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Kundera
Long Ago in France - MFK Fisher
Among Friends - MFK Fisher
Emma - You know
The Great Gatsby - Ditto
Mary Poppins - Travers
Breakfast at Tiffanys - Capote
Stones for Ibarra - Doerr
EB White (anything, it's all perfect)
Wodehouse (anything, they're all alike)
Cross Creek - Rawlings

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Good Dog

Albert's had a rough day. He had to get all his vaccinations -- 3-year rabies, parvo, measles, mumps, polio. Ok, maybe not the last three, but something that sounds like Italian sandwich meat -- mortadella, portadella? Bortadella? He's whacked; too weak to excavate the trash, bark at the UPS, or chase the bird around the house.

Here's the good thing about Albert, why he is Prince Albert. Aside from food, inexpensive, non-prescriptive food, the guy only costs $100 a year in vet bills.

My other main guys, Bru and Phoebe, they cost the earth, or at least a mortgage payment, monthly.

With Bru and Phoebe, a visit to the vet meant a line of assistants bringing in the tomes, documentation of their doggy medical history -- volumes 1, 2, 3, 4a -- refer to notes in volume 3b -- and lay them "oofda!" next to the examination table. Heartworm, roundworm, skin cancer, ear balloons, bladder infections, fungus, athlete's foot, pancreatitis, kennel cough, allergies. And wounds, stitches from all the fights, and stitches ripped out after the fights.

Albert? The vet walks in with one single slip of paper, no thicker than a Ralph's receipt. His history: an embarrassingly pudgy year in 2010, perfect weight over the past four, and the current efficacy of all his shots.

"Albert looks great," Dr. Dawson says.

A hundred bucks. That's all.

When I found him in 2007, Albert looked at me and seemed to say, take me in and you won't regret it. Eventually. Eventually -- well, that was the key.

If I were to attempt an ROI, a cost-to-benefit analysis, weighing his powers of incredible indoor and outdoor furniture destruction those first three years, our toilet-training arguments, and what seemed an impossibility to ever get the god damned guy to heel, versus his perfect health, manners, and affable nature today, I'd have to admit he turned out to be absolutely right -- I don't regret it now. We had to stick around for the eventually.