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Archives for August 2006

"Maybe we’ll have some salmon on our salad on Friday…

…or maybe you can go to In n Out right now and then come home and make a cocktail.”

– The Wife

The Fruit Flush didn’t last. It’s one thing to be hungry. It’s another thing to have a headache from the hunger. It’s another thing to be dizzy from the hunger. Especially when you’re raising five kids (one of them nursing). Maybe another time.

Back to my beloved toxins…

What to do…

with abusive priests?

Crows

As if eternally entangled in a reel of the Hitchcock film, my fretful life creeps forward from one restless encounter to the next. Here I attempt to exorcize the dark forces that haunt my twisted life. Twisted by the spirits incarnate in Crows.

Episode Two: The Dog, the Kitten . . . and the Crow

It was an incredibly beautiful dawn; the heat from the previous day had dissipated entirely during the night and the clouds in the eastern sky looked like cotton candy piled high with some sort of golden yellow wrapping paper holding it up underneath. I was taking my morning constitutional around the neighborhood, much as I always do, and as I turned the corner to walk past one of the city parks I heard a plaintive cry.

“What’s this?” I asked myself. “Sounds like trouble’s afoot!”

“Meoowww” was the mournful sound that confirmed my suspicions.

“That’s a cat,” I whispered to myself, “and it sounds like it needs help!”

I turned off the sidewalk and onto the grass of the park. After making my way through a cluster of trees, I found myself in a clearing with just one giant maple. In front of the tree a dog and a crow were staring up at a group of branches about ten feet off the ground. The dog was a mutt of some kind; probably a third or a quarter lab, but about the rest I’m really not sure. It was sitting on its back haunches, excitedly thumping its tail on the ground. Beside the dog a crow quickly hopped from one position to another, and back again, obviously very animated as well. Given my past experience, I naturally wanted to blame the crow, but of course dogs and cats are more traditional adversaries. And if the crow was after the kitten, why didn’t he just fly up to the branch to attack the kitten? Usually it’s the other way around; cats naturally chase birds, and many’s the morning I’ve found a little robin or a finch laid on my front steps as a kind of sacrificial vicitim for more Friskies, but it must be rare indeed for a kitten to take on a crow. In any case, I realized that there probably wasn’t a second to lose. This kitten, a tabby, wanted and needed safety.

“Woof, woof!,” went the dog.

“Caw, cawww!” went the crow.

I then noticed that there was a long piece of yellow, nylon rope hanging from one of the branches. This rope was tied to a red leash that was draped across the one branch and then led to the kitten that was perched on another branch at the same level, perhaps three feet away from the trunk of the tree. The manner of attachment was odd: made out of the same red, leatherish material as the leash was a kind of harness, and metal studs about the size of thumbtacks dotted both harness and leash. Who puts a cat on a leash, let alone such a little kitten? This seemed very strange, but I realized it was a waste of time pondering such insignificant details. I thought that if I grabbed the yellow nylon rope hanging about six feet off the ground, I could gently pull the kitten in its harness from the second branch so that it would then freely swing from the first branch. I made a quick estimation of the length of the rope and the distance between the branches, and concluded that the kitten would be left swinging roughly three feet above my head. Then I could let go of the rope attached to the leash and let the tabby drop into my awaiting arms. It seemed like a good plan. It had the advantage of using some neurotic cat owner’s idea of kitty restraint as help. More importantly, I could act on it immediately.

I made my first step forward and the dog stood up from his sitting position. He seemed amenable to my plan; recognizing that authority and able assistance had arrived, he thumped his tail one last time and moved out of the way. Not so the crow. After changing his jumping pattern from side to side to backward and forward, he then spread his shiny black wings in a threatening show of force while shrieking at me through its horrible open beak. I backed up in a hurry, knowing now that it wasn’t just the life of a kitten that hung in the balance.

Or rather, the kitten wasn’t hanging in the balance, which meant that I had to come up with plan B. I ran like hell from the clearing, and not just because of that horrible shriek; through the cluster of trees and back on the sidewalk I hustled back to my house in a matter of minutes. Taking Jonathan Webb’s advice from last week, I grabbed a welder’s mask from the garage, my uncle’s leather jacket, and an old pair of shoulder guards from my high school football days. And a ladder. And a baseball bat for the crow, since I don’t have any firearms in my house. I really do like cats. Especially kittens.

Running down the street in a welder’s mask and shoulder pads while carrying an 18 foot aluminum extension ladder isn’t easy, and I’m afraid I woke up some of the neighbors in my eagerness to help. The end of the ladder clanged on the sidewalk behind me as I ran, but I made my way through the park to the clearing in very short order. The dog was still looking up at the tree, but the monstrous crow had by then taken to flying up and perching on the first branch opposite the kitten. I saw the kitten trembling in terror. I was certainly terrified for her, so I took the baseball bat and began slamming it against the side of the tree, hoping to scare the demon bird away. I knew I was safe in my welder’s mask, and maybe it would also frighten the crow.

Not so. As I watched, horrified, the crow began taking shorter and shorter jumps and quck flights towards the kitten; obviously it was toying with the poor creature before it sank its steely talons through that silly harness and into the soft, feline flesh of a kitten that could hardly be more than two months old. I tried to turn away, but the welder’s mask wouldn’t allow me to move my head from side to side. Sickened and now strangely mesmerized, I was unable to close my eyes to the evil before me. I peered through dark, rectangular window as the crow made its final approach. Fanning its wings in a frenzy carefully orchestrated with its outstretched feet, it perched on the back of the tiny animal. I was prepared for the treading motion to begin, but to my complete and utter astonishment, the big, black bird picked the tabby up off the branch, and continuing to fan it’s wings wildly, very carefully hovered between the two branches. The kitten slumped in the grip of the bird’s talons, obviously in a state of shock. So it must have been surprised to find itself gently lowered to the ground beneath, and having been so carefully laid there by a being from which one can ordinarily expect nothing but harm, the little tiger jumped to its feet and ran off through the trees behind me, red leash and yellow nylon dragging along like a boat and a rope leaving its waterskier behind.

“Woof, woof!” said the dog, hot on the trail.

“Caw, caw, cawww!” said the crow, and spreading its mighty wings again, the black beast flew off into the last vestiges of a sunrise that had just turned milky orange.

Whether for good or for ill is just not for us to know.

Thirtysomething

I didn’t see much TV as a kid, and I only ever saw about ten minutes of one episode of Thirtysomething. I was a teenager, and if ever there was a show for old people, that was it. Golden Girls had more fun and sass. What I remember: two guys on bicycles, and then, later, one of the guys ordering a bran muffin, saying something to his buddy about fiber. The scene has stayed with me over the years, a terrifying reminder that as the body ages, you may benefit from things like ordering bran muffins and thinking about fiber. Gad.

So the Wife is doing a Fruit Flush, which involves three days of protein powder, some salad, exactly one smidgen of meat, and lots and lots of fruit. And no alcohol or coffee. Pretty much what Purgatory will be like. Gentleman that I am, I offered to join her, as long as I could complain the whole time. And of course, I’m remembering Thirtysomething. I am old.

Meanwhile, Immaculate Direction is writing about an entirely more wholesome-sounding sort of fasting:

“The intent of the fast was to identify with the poor and to offer this sacrifice in union with Christ’s. By modern standards it was austere. I won’t share more than this. It was not intended to eat organic food, so we could feel good about ourselves, and then tell you how good we feel about ourselves. The intent is to share that perhaps there are greater cost and health benefits from changing from the normal diet. It was simply an accidental side effect of the fast’s original intent. I’ve concluded that without the austerities this diet can be extended to year round. But most importantly, and why I share this personal thing, it might help families improve their domestic lives. Perhaps there is more benefit than just saving oil.”

Q. Where do you go to church?

A. Assembly of God, the abbreviated one.

https://korrektivpress.com/2006/08/524/

Kakutani Brings the Harsh

The NYT’s chief book critic calls Jonathan Franzen’s latest (a memoir) “an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass.” And she’s just warming up. Here’s how she ends things:

“Just why anyone would be interested in pages and pages about this unhappy relationship or the self-important and self-promoting contents of Mr. Franzen’s mind remains something of a mystery. In fact, by the end of this solipsistic book, the reader has begun to feel every bit as suffocated and claustrophobic as Mr. Franzen and his estranged wife apparently did in their doomed marriage.”

Two things to note: One, a remarkable quotation: “He describes reasoning that ‘not having kids freed me altogether’ from having to worry about things like global warming: ‘Not having kids was my last, best line of defense against the likes of Al Gore.'” This sounds like he is saying that not having kids helped him to regard himself as an island. Kids: the anti-solipsist?

Two: “There are two extended riffs in this volume where Mr. Franzen momentarily puts aside his fascination with himself to give the reader some wonderfully observed musings on two subjects that have long preoccupied him: Peanuts cartoons and bird-watching.” I could stand to learn more about bird-watching, but I put repeat this here just to express a sort of friendly jealousy. When you’ve written a National Book Award-winning novel, you get to do something like riff on the brilliance of Peanuts (and back in the day, it really was brilliant) in a memoir, and folks will still line up to publish it. Not that it’s not worth writing, or reading – not at all. I think it is absolutely worth writing, and reading. But fame has a way of granting legitimacy to one’s endeavors. People are more likely to accept that a thing is interesting because you, the famous person, are interested in it.

I’ll stop now.

Funny Papers

“Love me, love my rubble.”

– the ruins of the torn-down school, after Linus has lamented its destruction.

Movie Chat

“Oh, Hi. You’re young, you got your health – what you want with a job for?

– Evelle, Raising Arizona

Ben’s Signature Sin

From the pages of Land of the Blind by Jess Walter:

My little brother Ben would whisper under his breath: “God’s noggin, would you hurry?” He had recently become an inveterate taker-of-the-Lord’s-name, and he’d taken to jotting down new ones when they popped into his head, eager to amaze and thrill us older kids with the range and poetry of this one sin. Even then, Ben planned to have this sin be his signature. “Christ on a bike, what is taking so long?” (p. 26)

… “Sweet cheese of Jesus…” (p. 27)

… “Hot Christ buns…” (p. 41)

… “Jesus meet the neighbors! …” (p. 42)

Gods

Okay, so I can’t actually recommend that anybody rush out and rent Season One of Rome – I find the graphic depictions of sex problematic, much moreso than, say, The Sopranos. Lots of eye-averting at Casa Godsbody. It’s a pity, really – I Claudius managed to depict decadence in all its fleshy indulgence, yet steered clear of coitus on camera.

BUT, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about why Rome is so much more interesting than Troy. Well, one of the reasons. Or rather, a bunch of them: gods. No, Rome doesn’t feature meetings in the heavens, a la Clash of the Titans, but it does feature religion as it functions in the lives of people, and a host of differing attitudes towards it. (Troy seemed to take a scalpel to that part of the Iliad.) You’ve got Marc Anthony, who clearly doesn’t believe in any of it, tolerates religion as a formal show. You’ve got Pullo, who prays when it suits him, has no use for priests, and is willing to blaspheme when the gods don’t perform. You’ve got Caesar, who clearly doesn’t think much of religion – he bribes the chief auger – but who sacrifices to the gods when he needs help, and who spares Varenus’ life because Varenus seems to have “powerful gods on his side.” And you’ve got Varenus, who’s straight-up pious. Honors the priests, honors the gods – even has faith in them.

And those are just the men. The women also sacrifice – and almost more interestingly, they make curses. When they cannot act for themselves, they ask the gods to strike for them.

Rome is that much stronger, that much richer, for its willingness to treat religion as a real part of human life, and to present a world in which certain events could be interpreted, by those with eyes to see, as being signs of divine action.