Saturday, October 31, 2015


Not to get all TMI, but yesterday I had a routine mammogram.

"I'm not worried," I had remarked to Dave, days earlier. "I honestly don't think I'm going to get breast cancer. Nobody in my family's had it, that I know of. This is not how Batman dies."

I was referring of course to The Lego Movie (2014), in which Batman -- the most arrogant Lego, preoccupied with the romance of his own Batman-ness -- is in a spaceship under enemy attack. While the other characters run around trying to fix things, Batman simply announces, outraged: "This is not how Batman dies!"

I love that guy.

And, indeed, he does not die. At the end of the movie, he is still very much alive and fabulous.

In perilous circumstances -- like the log ride at the state fair, or any ill-considered carnival ride for which you are, you realize too late, too old -- TINHBD is a bracing rallying cry. Not this day, log ride! Not this Batman!

* * * * 

When I was a child, my parents told me I would live until age 96. It was that specific -- not "a long time"; 96 -- and based on Vedic astrological calculations.

Since then, with my own eyes, I have witnessed the fallibility of Vedic astrology. My parents were supposed to die in 2007 and 2009, respectively, but the actual date (in one's case) was 1993.

Yet I was assured of this fact (96!) so many times, by my own parents, some part of me thinks I will probably just go ahead and survive till 96. As I have a long way to go, I may as well start hitting the gym and flossing, or by the time I hit 80, I will be a hot mess . . . for 16 years!

Dutifully, then, I went to my annual mammogram: for the non-news. As the x-ray machine mashed and beeped, I thought idly of other things. How many Halloween sandwiches would I need to make for the potluck? Was the new Brad and Angelina movie out yet?

What, done already?

As I put my hospital gown back on, the radiology technician informed me there was a small bowl on the table filled with "breast cancer awareness keychains," and I was welcome to take one.

"Do you have a bat symbol?" I asked.

"Excuse me?"

"Do you have one with a bat on it? Like the Batman logo? Or a miniature Batmobile? Or some kind of commemorative black cape -- you know, like Batman wears?"


"Okay, I'm good then. Thanks!"

"You'll receive a card in the mail in two weeks with your results. If you have any ques--"


(Image: "The Joker is Back!" by Bruno from Roma, Italia [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Keeping up

Two Friday nights a month, when the kids are with their dad, I settle in for a quiet night of "emotional eating" and bad TV.

These are carefully planned events: Like Mardis Gras or a controlled burn, they take place within set parameters so they don't wreck everything in sight.

Sometimes it's sushi, a small cheesecake, and the entire first season of Girls (which, in fairness, is great TV). Sometimes it's tikki masala and eight slobs' worth of What Not to Wear.

Last night (Goldfish crackers and Keeping Up with the Kardashians) represented some kind of peak. I never thought I was the target audience for KUWTK, but not only did I like the show, I liked the Kardashian/Jenner clan as people.

Rather, I liked them as a family, whose members were always dropping by each other's houses (read: mansions) and confronting each other -- through steely, heavily-mascaraed gazes -- about minor upsets. Not for the Kardashians the indifferent shrug or the tactful silence, the thin-lipped retreat to another part of the mansion, or a different mansion. Instead, they were always "up in each other's business."

While a typical, repressed family would make for dull TV, the Kardashians -- alive to the dramatic possibilities of daily life -- were constantly tossing their long, black hair and having it out.

Although they all looked alike and had "K" names, the sisters' personalities were distinct. Kim -- whose surgical enhancements gave her an over-the-top, drag queen quality -- was a know-it-all and busybody, goading her sisters to divorce their husbands while maintaining a prim silence about her own marriage to Kanye West.

Kourtney was the dim bulb sister who got by on her looks. She was married to a fool who, occasionally -- in fits of manic energy or drunkenness -- got in a good one-liner about another member of the family.

Khloe was the feisty one with a heart of gold. She continued to love her estranged and troubled husband, Lamar Odom, despite Kim's disapproval and Kourtney's blank expression with nothing behind it. It was Khloe who rode into the breach to confront Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce, her stepdad) about her unkind remarks about the family in Vanity Fair. 

Bruce Jenner was a sweet old guy who sent his teenaged daughter's car to the shop on a pretext just so he could drive her around, like old times. The daughter (Kendall?) rolled her eyes, called the shop, and got her black Range Rover back.

Caitlyn Jenner seemed unprepared for the complexities of the bitchfest she had entered, as when one of the girls stopped by, tossed her hair, and cooed "Nice purse!" as an opening power play.

Maybe it was all for the cameras, but the Kardashians seemed to genuinely care about each other -- within reason. "I hate to see my sister living like this," said Kim to Khloe in one episode, referring to Kourtney's rocky marriage. "If I think about it, I'll start to cry." She dabbed a few times at one smoky eye.

"First thing in the morning," she remarked to Khloe, pulling herself together. "With a full face of makeup. I'll cry at the end of the day."

Khloe nodded, because that totally made sense.

See you in two weeks, ladies.

(Image: Khloe Kardashian Odom in Sydney, by Eva Rinaldi (Flickr: Kim and Khloe Kardashian) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Edgy humor

Yesterday I was driving downtown with my daughter when she said from the backseat: "It's the Stop and Go lady."


"I saw the Stop and Go lady. From my school."

After a second, I realized she meant the crossing guard who directs traffic at school pick-up and drop-off times. For this important job, she wears a traffic cone on her head like a witch.

"Oh. What was she doing?" I asked, before a rogue impulse made me say: "Knocking back a brewski?"

There was silence from the backseat. Then I heard a small titter:"Hee hee."

"Hee hee," I snickered.

"Hee hee hee," she snarfed.

Good times.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Good dog

To me, the most important part of owning a pet is naming it. (This is also true about having kids, and let me just say, I nailed those names.) 

Something about naming brings out the braggart in me, such that I have been known to refer -- not once, but many times -- to my "gift for naming."

To be honest, aside from the kids' names, my record is spotty. It began long ago with Twinkle (parakeet), hit an early high mark with Wallis (cat named for Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor), lost steam with Daisy and Oscar (short-term dogs), ventured into the literary with Seymour (parrot named after Seymour Glass in Salinger's Franny and Zooey), and finally achieved distinction with a couple of cats in my twenties, named Pick and Meter for no reason except that I was done with dull pet names, forever. 

In this, I was strongly influenced by a Dorothy Parker biopic that showed the authoress slinking around New York with a cigarette and a boozy drawl, having affairs (oddly this part had no influence on me at all) while carrying a terrier named Rags. This seemed like the best possible name for a dog.

The resulting Rags Theory of Animal Naming had two rules: 

1. No human names. To name a dog "Mabel" or a cat "Jack" was to insult its animal nature. Names like "Misty" were borderline, since no human being should have that name.

2. Names should be offbeat and poetic, with only a loose association with the pet. "Rags" was perfect because a hairy white dog looked, just a little, like a pile of rags. 

[Bonus rule #3: Ironic old-school names like Spot or Rover were better than human names, but marked you as a hipster with no real ideas of your own.]

These days, my kids and I can endlessly discuss naming the dog. We do not have a dog. We are just putting in the legwork for that day. 

(In much the same way, my mom used to sit around talking dog names with us. Her favorite name was Go Away, allowing the owner to say: "Go Away! Come here!" This not only met the Rags criteria, but suggested an entire model for human relationships. Though when we actually got a dog, we didn't name it Go Away. We named it Trouble.)  

So the kids and I kick names around. Because my son likes Asian culture, his choice is always something like Yin-Yang. Because my daughter is six years old, her choice could be anything: a random series of sounds, the name of her teacher's dog, a four-word catch phrase from a TV show, a food she ate for lunch, or she could simply say: "Let's name him . . . Puppy!"

Not to boast about it, but my dog names are much better than theirs. I am just operating on a "different level." 

While puttering around today, I thought of another good dog name. The kids' first dog(!), it would be Uno. Their second dog, Dos.  And so on.  

As we collected dogs over the years (the old ones dying off or running away), we would soon get to where we could say: "Quatro! Cinco! Sit!" That would be fun.

I have not poll-tested these ideas with the kids, but there is plenty of time for that. Till then I will just bide my time, inventing and stockpiling names . . . 

When we finally get a dog, I wonder who's going to take care of it? 


(Image: Franz Marc, "Dog Lying in the Snow" [c. 1910, public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Friday, October 9, 2015

New boots?

One of my all-time favorite movies is the Shrek spin-off Puss in Boots (2011), starring Antonio Banderas as Puss, Salma Hayek as his enemy/love interest Kitty Softpaws, and Zach Galifianakis as his treacherous stepbrother, Humpty Dumpty.

As far as I'm concerned, it is Banderas's role of a lifetime. If he were revealed tomorrow as a zany Hollywood type who believed in astral projection, 9/11 as an inside job, and "green" colonics, I would still consider him a great guy  -- all is forgiven, Antonio, you nut! -- because of his fantastic work in Puss in Boots.

Eventually, my young children (both in preschool at the time) grew weary of the jokes in Puss in Boots, but I never did.  At one point the camera pans to a bar sign that says "Dance Fight: Tuesday Night," and then Puss and Kitty (in disguise) fight a duel while doing a gravity-defying Latin dance.

For a while the kids and I would announce: "Dance Fight: Tuesday Night!" and cue up our favorite scene. I'm not sure they realized what was funny about a bar posting a "dance fight" sign, or even what a bar was, or that a dance fight was not a real thing that people did, on Tuesday nights. As a bit of visual humor, it worked for us on different levels.

Similarly, the complicated relationship between noble Puss and his conniving brother Humpty was mostly over the kids' heads. Meeting Humpty again after a long estrangement, Puss wants to believe his brother is reformed . . . but is he just "playing" Puss again?

"You look good, Puss," Humpty says awkwardly, trying to ingratiate himself. "New boots?"

"No," says Puss with barely-contained rage. "They are the same boots I wore when you betrayed me!"

Is there a medal I can award to the person who wrote these lines, draping it over his/her chest like Princess Leia in a distinguished public ceremony at the end of Star Wars? No?

Anyway, I got some new boots. They arrived today in the mail and are fabulous.

The only thing that would make them better is one person to whom I could say, in a withering Spanish accent:

"They are the same boots I wore when you betrayed me!" 

Memo to self: Wear boots & learn Spanish & get betrayed.

(Image: Fierce cat dressed as a swashbuckler by Archibald Tuttle (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Soup & sandwiches

Not long ago, I added a "soup and sandwich" night to the dinner list. Between the chicken terriyakis and beef-and-broccolis, the raviolis and flatbread pizzas, my kids -- I realized -- would be happy to have Campbell's Chicken Noodle-O's for dinner, plus whatever I guilt-served on the side.

That thing was sandwiches, which seemed to make it into a recognized "meal."

I worked out the math as follows: Each child would have noodle soup and half a sandwich, according to preference (son - turkey, daughter - grilled cheese). I would have a bowl of split pea soup and both the other halves of their sandwiches. This was a lot of food, but I felt I could handle it.

Next to each combo, except mine, I would throw a few baby carrots, as if to say: I'm feeding you three things! Message: I care. 

It worked out perfectly, except that the kids would only eat a few bites of their sandwiches (message: they didn't care), despite my protestations that both sandwiches were delicious, were they kidding me?

Then they would take their bowls to the kitchen -- "No, no, leave the plates," I'd mutter -- and scamper off, while I devoured the remaining two halves of their sandwiches in a voracious spray of crumbs, like Cookie Monster.

Then I would have to go lie down.

Obviously, S&S night needed some tweaking. Could I perhaps not make the sandwiches quite so yummy? Could I omit the grilled cheese -- my greatest nemesis -- altogether? "You kids are having soup. Ya hear me? Soup."

Chances are, the only change to S&S night will be that I serve homemade soup (sausage and white bean: coming up) so that the kids eat neither their soup nor their sandwiches, but only three carrots, which they will supplement at 9 p.m. with a sleeve of crackers.

Cookie Monster will be very pleased.