Monday, November 11, 2019

Ever after

...and they lived happily ever after.
--the ending of way too many fairy tales to count
Within the last three decades, a specific genre has gradually emerged into the public consciousness: the alternate-take fairy tale. Novels like Nicholas Stuart Gray's The Seventh Swan or David Henry Wilson's The Coachman Rat, story collections like Tanith Lee's Red as Blood, movies like Maleficent, even smash Broadway musicals like Wicked (I could make the argument -- in fact, the Library of Congress already has -- that L. Frank Baum's Oz books are American fairy tales) all provide variations on a well-known story, often told from another point of view. Some are silly, some shocking, but nearly all are compelling. But what I've come to notice is that most of these alternate-take stories don't end with the well-worn six-word phrase at the beginning of this piece.

Because most familiar stories look very different when they're told from someone else's point of view. What would A Christmas Carol be like if told from the point of view of Jacob Marley, or Scrooge's sister Fan, or his former fiancee who broke off their engagement because Scrooge was becoming too miserly? What would Gone With the Wind be like if told not from the point of view of vivacious, spoiled, conniving Scarlett O'Hara, but the slaves of her father's plantation? (If you're really curious, you can find out.) What would the Harry Potter books be like if J.K Rowling had written Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, or even Draco Malfoy as the primary protagonist? Simply changing the point of view can alter a story dramatically, even without changing any of the events that took place in the story.

Perhaps that's the reason why so many alternate-take fairy tales are shot through with melancholy. Many traditional fairy tales are about a protagonist going through terrible hardships and emerging victorious -- but if that victory involves, for instance, a scullery maid achieving an unlikely marriage to a royal ("Cinderella and the prince were wed and lived happily all their days"), one person's triumph can translate to many other people's tragedies. It's not that difficult to imagine the reactions of the other princesses invited to the ball, the king and queen horrified by their son's choice, the stepmother whose brooding ambivalence about her stepdaughter's good fortune could hardly be kept hidden, the tradesmen who had noticed with quiet delight the kindness, generosity and beauty of the scullery maid with the tiny feet, or the little palace chambermaid who had kept up a secret friendship with the prince and who had to be kept from throwing herself off the castle tower when she learned he was to be married to someone else. There are always other people in a story, and their feelings are never as clear-cut as "happily ever after" suggests.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Crossing the line

(I've been sitting on this minor rant for a while. Enough time has gone by that I'm not actively angry about it any more, but I still think the experience is worth sharing.)

It's early June, 2015, and I'm looking for dorm appliances for my college-bound niece at our local Bartell Drugs. In the next aisle over, an old man -- probably in his eighties, tall, skinny, with wavy gray hair and glasses -- sidles up to a Bartell's clerk in a red vest. "You're working late," he says jovially. She stares at him.

So far, there's nothing really untoward in the exchange. He could just be an old family friend. But something about it doesn't feel quite right. And while still looking through the rice cookers and electric teakettles, I can sense that the conversation in the next aisle is already getting strained. I don't hear everything he says, but I notice the old man is blowing raspberries with his mouth, a weird, off-putting compulsive act. And when he gets a little too close to the clerk and says, "You're very pretty, though," in a tone that has nothing to do with being polite or complimentary, I suddenly have the sensation of my stomach being flooded with ice. I know what I'm witnessing isn't a friendly conversation, or even playful banter. It's harassment.

The clerk knows it too. She snaps into him immediately. "You were already told that if you ever came back in here again to bother me or anyone else, you'd be banned from this store," she says, loudly enough to be heard by other customers. "I want you out of here right now."

And as I watch, the old man's demeanor changes completely. His tone and expression switch from lascivious to innocent in less time than it takes some sports cars to get from 0 to 60, and he begins to protest, gently, that he doesn't understand, that his words must have been misinterpreted, that he's done nothing wrong. And I can feel myself getting angry. I've seen this behavior before, and I've seen it often, because the people who regularly get away with harassment have discovered that it works for them.

Direction of Creeping
Let's just say that it didn't work for him that day.

The manager on duty got a full report of what I'd witnessed. I also indicated that I'd be happy to make a statement to the local police, backing up the clerk, if she chose to press charges. Separately, I sent a message to the Bartell Drugs corporate offices reporting what I saw and repeating my offer to speak to the police if necessary. (They later indicated to me that, while the clerk did not press charges, the man in question had been permanently banned from the premises.)

My local Bartell's did a great job of taking this case of harassment seriously and taking quick action to make sure it wouldn't happen again. Other businesses or organizations may not display as much concern. This is why I'm convinced it's vital for everyone to report every case of harassment whenever it's witnessed, and to as many people as possible -- managers, corporate, local police -- until someone takes the report seriously and acts on it. I know it's uncomfortable to do this, and that most people would prefer to look the other way and pretend nothing happened. But harassers have been emboldened by years of people looking away. In fact, they depend on it. The way this particular old man operated, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that he'd successfully harassed people for decades, with little or no consequence to himself.

To my mind, there's an interesting behavioral correlation between harassers and shoplifters. Both are curious to see what they can get away with, and neither want to pay the real price for their activities. And just as stores prosecute shoplifters for theft, serial harassers need to be told that they've crossed the line, to be made just as uncomfortable as they make their victims, to understand that there's a real, steep social cost to their actions. Otherwise they'll go right on acting creepy and playing innocent for as long as they're allowed to get away with it.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

ow. dangit. ow.

UTIs suck. They're hurty. That is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Illustration of autumn tree on hillside
Autumn has come to the PNW. It was colder today, with a fair amount of rain. Charlie-cat was busy trying to find warm spots all over the house. (He's currently in his favorite place, curled up on the back of the sofa.) And I mostly stayed in to do various household-related tasks.

One of those tasks was taking care of some apples. I bought a bag of slightly imperfect apples from the Used Food section of the QFC a while back, and they were getting to a stage of flavor development best described as "wizened," so I needed to do something with them fast. That something turned out to be pressure-cooker applesauce, and it also turned out to be super easy.

Peel, core and cut up apples (welp, that was the hardest part). Throw 'em in the Instant Pot insert along with a half-cup of water, a tiny sprinkle of salt, and some cinnamon and cardamom. (I could have also added some lemon juice, but I didn't have any... and maybe some sweetener, but these apples were plenty sweet enough on their own... so out of necessity I kept it simple.) Clamp it down, cook it on high pressure for 5 minutes, let the pressure drop naturally 5 minutes, then vent the rest of the way. I zapped the cooked apples with an immersion blender, et voilĂ , homemade applesauce.

It's easy to forget because it's ubiquitous, but store-bought applesauce is a convenience food. In my 1950-reprint Betty Crocker cookbook, any recipe that calls for applesauce first directs the cook to make some, indicating whether it should be thin or thick, plain or spiced, etc. for the recipe. And because it's so often bought instead of made, it's also easy to forget that homemade applesauce is delicious in a way that store-bought applesauce will never be. I grew up with home-canned applesauce made from the sweet-tart Gravenstein apples growing in my auntie's back yard, sweetened and spiced perfectly, and it's spoiled me for life. (It's also why I add cardamom to my applesauce because, hello, YUM.) Tonight's batch of homemade sauce was made with all sweet apples, so it doesn't have the complex flavor or the little tart kick that my auntie's applesauce had, but even so it's still better-tasting than 90% of the bland, watery, mass-produced gunk at the grocery store.

And now I have applesauce to make my great-grandma's chocolate applesauce fruitcake! Um, or not.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The cat in the trap

OXY is still missing. It's been two months.

We borrowed traps from MEOW Cat Rescue the first day she was gone and started setting and baiting them immediately, putting in catnip and the smelliest food we could find. We set and checked traps around the neighborhood for weeks. We reported Roxy as missing to the microchip company. We put up huge pink LOST - PLEASE HELP posters all through the neighborhood so that no one could miss them. We put up "Lost Cat" alerts on social media sites and in specialty groups on Facebook (Lost Cats of King County, etc.) We bought an infrared camera to try to catch sight of her next to a trap. We tried to hire several pet detectives to come out and help us search (none of them would come to our part of Washington). We hired a man with a cat-sniffing dog ($300) who could not find her. (If you have a lost cat, we strenuously do not recommend this service -- he will probably end up chasing your cat further away, which is what happened to Roxy.) We performed two house-to-house searches, one in our neighborhood and one around my friend Wendy's house where Roxy was spotted. We put out traps and food near Wendy's house (Roxy didn't touch them). We borrowed a drop trap and stayed up two nights running with it trying to catch Roxy (she didn't come near it). We printed more than 1800 flyers asking people to help us find Roxy and hand-delivered them to every single house in the neighborhood. (If people had "No Soliciting" signs up, we took note of their addresses and mailed the flyers to them, so nobody was missed.) We went through the neighborhood at night looking for her, sometimes silently, sometimes calling softly. We bought an e-book from a pet detective in Texas to try to figure out things we weren't already doing. We changed our voice mail message to mention we are looking for Roxy and checked the phone multiple times a day for leads. We followed up on every lead every time someone called to say "I think I saw your cat." We asked people to check their security cameras for signs of Roxy. We offered $50 to anyone who could provide a verifiable picture of Roxy within the last 24 hours. (So far, no one has.) We created a Pawboost alert for social media that went out all over the greater Seattle area. We put up "lost cat" ads on Craigslist. We checked and continue to check the shelter websites every night and morning to see if Roxy has been brought in. We gave flyers to local vets, pet stores and MEOW Cat Rescue. We let all the local shelters know we were looking for Roxy. We left water and a little cardboard "kitty house" next to the door in case she found her way home. We left the door open all day and night in case she found her way home. We prayed, had many others praying for us, we fasted for Roxy, and I put a cat's name on the temple prayer roll. (I'm not sure if it's allowed, but I did it anyway.)

All in all, we have spent nearly $2,000 so far to try to get Roxy home. We've also lost many hours of sleep and I dropped about 10 pounds from constant worry. And nothing has come of it. Roxy remains missing, and we are trying to come to terms with the fact that we may never see her again.

Yes, it hurts. Every day. And yes, I'm bitter about it. If you went to this much trouble to find a lost pet and had absolutely no success, I guarantee you would be too.

While the traps didn't work as we'd hoped, they did yield some surprises. We caught two different opossums in various locations. We also started leaving a trap baited in our front yard in the vain hope of catching Roxy if she found her way home again. And while we didn't catch Roxy, on the morning of July 11 we found something interesting in the trap.

First picture of Charlie the cat
It was a young cat (the vet estimates 10 to 11 months old), a brown tabby with a white ruff and socks and green eyes. The cat was relatively small and underfed, but had the long legs and big paws of a lerpy teenager. He had no tags or collar, no microchip (we checked at two vets with three different chip readers), had never been neutered and probably never had his shots. He was also ravenously hungry and would eat almost anything, he had fleas and showed other signs of having lived on the street for months. But the most impressive thing we noticed about him was the level of fight in him. Somehow, after having followed the siren call of sardines into the trap, he managed to pull the entire heavy oilcloth trap cover into the trap with him -- probably while trying to escape. He then vented his frustrations on the cover, which was pretty mangled by the time we found him. (We're going to pay for a replacement... sorry, MEOW.)

He appeared to be a little street cat, but he wasn't feral -- he didn't hiss when humans approached his cage...

Charlie does his best kitty smile
... he liked being close to us, and he loved being petted and brushed, so we knew that at some point in his past he'd been around people. Our best guess is that this cat was part of an unplanned litter of kittens from someone's unspayed pet. He was obviously played with and socialized, but when he grew past the "cute kitten" stage he was probably taken to a neighborhood far from home and dumped out to fend for himself.

A level they reserve for cat dumpers and people who talk at the theater.
I'm just gonna leave this here
All the signs pointed to this being an unwanted cat. Nobody had given him an indoor home, no one had chipped or even collared him, nobody seemed to be looking for him. I guess we could have decided it wasn't our problem, opened the trap and let him run away. But that's not what we did. We know firsthand what anguish it is to lose a pet. Besides, we've seen coyotes in our neighborhood. We weren't about to let this kitty run headlong into predators, no matter how much fight he had in him.

"Hi! You got treats?"
"Hi! You got treats?"
Also, he was really cute and a huge flirt.

Now, our county has laws about what to do if you find a stray cat. You can't just say "o well, finders keepers" and merrily yoink him off the street. The law stipulates two options: either you take him to the county shelter, where they try to find his owners for THREE WHOLE DAYS and then put him up for adoption, or you can keep him in your own home at your expense for A FULL MONTH, advertising him as a found cat on local bulletin boards and on the shelter website so that his owner -- if there is one -- has every chance to come forward and claim him. Once the month has passed, you're then free to pay the licensing fee and keep the animal if you want. Because we're kinda dumb (and because he was really cute), we chose to do it the hard way and foster the cat in our home. (And if you're reading this, it means a full month has passed with no contact from an owner.)

So was this a cheap way to get a cat? Well, not the way we did it. This kitty has already been to the vet five times -- to scan multiple times for a microchip, to find out why he was coughing, to check up on an enlarged heart (his heart is unusually big, but it works just fine)...

Alas, the Cone of Shame.
Alas, the Cone of Shame.
... to get him neutered, microchipped, screened for FeLV and FIV (negative on both), given all his basic shots and treated for fleas. You know, all the stuff owners are supposed to do for their pets.

Charlie in the tunnel with a Rollie toy (rubber bands, best cat toy ever)
And since he's going to be an indoor cat, we also put a bright orange collar on him and a tag that says "I'M LOST!" If you'd like to know why, read this.

This cat has been through several name changes. Because we trapped him on July 11, which in the USA is 7/11 (aka Free Slurpee Day at the 7-Eleven convenience store chain), we first called him Slurpee, but we soon decided that was an insufficiently dignified name for a masculine cat. Then, as the call of the wild began to tug at him and he came up with novel, loud and annoying ways to attempt egress from the house at 2 a.m. ...

Charlie at the window
"Some day, window. Some day."
... we toyed with the idea of calling him Hairy Mewdini, Escape Artist. But one day I just realized he looked like a Charlie cat. So we started calling him Charlie, and it's stuck.

It's still possible that Roxy will come back. If she does, we'll need to find a good home for Charlie. While we think Charlie is social enough to tolerate another cat, Roxy is far too timid to handle other animals in the house. But if she remains missing, we intend to keep this guy. He's stopped trying to escape (well, mostly), he's well-fed, well-groomed and flea-free, he gets to play with toys, randomly attack the sofa, and chase Tigger (a catnip-filled knitted tiger toy)...

Charlie asleep on the bed
... he sleeps anywhere he wants, and he has people who give him lots of love and attention and who think his occasional naughtiness is more endearing than it is annoying.

Charlie under the bed
Local street cat makes good. Film at 11.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Roxy is missing again

Recent picture of Roxy, a tortoiseshell cat with yellow-green eyes
Domestic shorthair mix, 5 year old spayed female, weighs about 10 pounds, black and light reddish-brown tortoiseshell with "split-face" markings, yellow-green eyes
Microchip number: 0A13737525
Date missing: 9 June 2019, 10:30 p.m., in the 6200 block of 156th Avenue NE, Redmond, WA (near the Meadows subdivision)
Last spotted: 25 June 2019, around 1 a.m., in the lower section of NE 59th Way, Meadows subdivision

Roxy is an indoor-only cat. She has been lost once before and was gone for the better part of a week before we were able to trap her. She was wearing her collar and tags and is microchipped. She is very timid and will probably not come when she is called. We hope she is hiding somewhere close by in the neighborhood, possibly under a deck or tarp, next to a house foundation, or in a shed or garage.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you live in or near the Meadows subdivision and you have a motion detection security camera, you may have footage of Roxy. Please check your logs for the past week, and if you see her, contact us immediately.

We borrowed a humane trap from a local cat rescue organization on Monday and have set and baited it every day since. Although there is some indication that some animal is eating food near the trap, we have seen no sign of Roxy.

Please help us find our kitty! We are heartsick at losing her.

If you have found or seen Roxy, send an email and reference her microchip number.

And if you pray, please pray for us, and for Roxy to be found quickly. Thank you.

UPDATE: June 28

We have seen Roxy in the Meadows area, but have not been able to trap her or lure her with food. Not only is she naturally timid and prone to hiding, but there are predators in our neighborhood, so she's a smart kitty. While that timidity probably keeps her alive, it also makes it really hard to get her back.

It's been three weeks since Roxy disappeared, and the experience has been physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. CM and I haven't been sleeping well and we can't focus on anything else. We just want her home.

UPDATE: July 14

It's been nearly three weeks since the last time we saw Roxy in the neighborhood and a total of five weeks since she was last home. We've distributed fliers through the entire neighborhood, letting them know our neighbors should call us at any time of the day or night if they see her. We've asked people to look for her on their security cameras. We've been keeping all the websites of the local shelters hot, checking and rechecking to see if she's been brought in. We've offered $50 to anyone who can provide a verifiable photo of Roxy taken within the last 24 hours. But there's been nothing. It's as though she just evaporated.

If anyone knows what happened to Roxy, please let us know. Even if you have awful news for us. We want to know what's become of our sweet, shy kitty.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Dance like nobody's watching! (Freak.)

Ah, internet aphorisms. They're always fun, aren't they?

Within my lifetime, the phrase "Dance like nobody's watching" has passed into aphoristic immortality. (You can tell a particular affirmation has achieved this level of notoriety when it gets attributed to multiple wits, and this one has been pinned to both Satchel Paige and Mark Twain -- I guess it isn't quite smooth enough to be believable as an Oscar Wilde. For what it's worth, the phrase originates from the lyrics to "Come From the Heart," a country song written in the '80s by Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh.) Despite the wild popularity of this phrase, I suspect a lot of people don't understand it very well. Too many people seem to think that this phrase assumes your ability to channel your inner Michael Flatley -- that if you dance like a spaz in public, people will be impressed by your sweet moves, whoop and rise to their feet and cheer you on like that scene in Napoleon Dynamite.

Not even sorta.

Truth is, if you dance like a spaz in public, most people will raise their eyebrows but say nothing. Others, Nelson-like, will laugh and point at your mad gyrations. A few will be mean and call you a freak or worse. So why tell people to do it at all? Why encourage them to boogie down like a complete goofball and endure public humiliation for it?

Polychrome dances and is thought a freak by passing rabbits.
Well, I'm going to make the argument that the public humiliation is not a bug, but a feature of this advice. Goofball dancing in public (or other forms of gotta-be-me silliness -- about which, see more below) isn't necessarily going to win you lots of new friends. But it does work pretty well at winnowing out the people in your life who don't "get" you, or who are too concerned about being cool to put up with your unique weirdness in public. And it helps you build up the mental toughness to handle that rejection (which is inevitably going to happen) and keep being who you're meant to be.

No, it doesn't have to be dance specifically. I don't usually dance in public or private, since dance is not my preferred form of creative expression. But if I'm in any public place and they play Billy Joel's "Tell Her About It," my life will temporarily turn into a musical as I break into song for the next 3 minutes and 52 seconds. If you have to make yourself scarce during that time, I'll try to be understanding -- but it's still gonna happen because nearly four decades on, that song (and pretty much everything else on the Innocent Man album) is still A BOP. #sorrynotsorry

The other day I picked up an oversized bubble wand for $1.10 at a craft store, because reasons. I was set to pick up a few groceries and go home, but it was a nice cool evening, I didn't need to be anywhere right away, and the bubble wand needed breaking in... so for about half an hour, people got to laugh at this crazy middle-aged lady randomly blowing bubbles in a grocery store parking lot. Some just sped past me not making eye contact, and I thought, "Welp, there lies the man with heart so dead." Some, such as the Francophone couple who didn't know or care that I could understand what they were saying, got into their car making arch comments about "the idiot blowing bubbles." A few teenagers laughed, pulled out their phones and filmed me from a safe distance. (No, I don't want to know if I ended up on social media.)

But most people got it. Their eyes lit up. They smiled. They sang "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" at me. They giggled and chased floating bubbles on the wind like sugared-up kindergartners (and not just the kids, either; a couple of big, beefy, heavily-tatted guys who looked like they could have been in a gang were grinning and popping bubbles like it was going outta style). Or they just walked by to say, "That looks like fun!" At the least, I made their Monday night grocery run a little more interesting. And how many other fun things can you do in public for just $1.10?

Yeah, I live in my own little cosmos. So do you, probably. And doing silly stuff that makes you happy, in a place where other people can see, helps you decide who you can trust inside that cosmos and who gets denied entry. That's what I think "dance like nobody's watching" really means. Because people do watch... and the ones who like you anyway, even after seeing you flail about like a dork, are the ones who deserve to get in on the fun.