Sunday, November 11, 2018

Charles, the legend

As I wrote previously, we inherited a little dog from my wife's aunt when she passed away in June. Charles is, best we can tell, a chihuahua/deer mix. His alertness suggests deer, but I admit that most deer, even fawns, are taller than 10 inches at the shoulder. He has a very deerlike quality, though, in coloring and in skittishness. I wonder if deer also love bananas. 

Four months ago Charles would not abide anyone but my wife. My son and I were automatically suspect. I gradually won him over, so that now he does this coy sidling-up, you-can-pet-me-now-dude move. He comes close, then turns his back to me and looks over his shoulder like Clara Bow in a silent film. I'm ready for your adoration, Mr. DeMille.

He still nips at my son, barks at him whenever he comes in sight. Even the sound of my son's bedroom door opening evokes a volley of vitriol, until he sees it is me coming through. He seems to want to have a dog in the house lower in status than himself, so he has made Ben that dog. Charles himself thinks nothing of taking over our other dog Skipper's bed, the bed he has enjoyed for a decade. Skipper will approach as if to say hey, my bed. Charles will snarl as if to say "fake news." 

Confidence is everything.

In dog years, Charles is probably 80, and he has a cough now, a deafening hack, as if a cat with a hairball has somehow gotten ahold of a megaphone. It seems to be triggered by stress, or a change in the dynamics of a room, good or bad. My wife (Mama) comes home, and it's time for several minutes of is-Charles-dying? Ben heads to the kitchen for ice cream, and it's time for a tiny, furry command performance of "Camille." A vet said he has an enlarged heart, but Charles is fine until somebody gets up from a chair, or the mailman comes. I'm calling BS. 

I think he has Napoleon Complex. We will leave for a walk, go half a block and then Charles sets his heels. The stiff defiance of his front legs brings to mind Max, the dog in the Grinch story, balking at the top of a sheer snowy cliff. He has no idea I could effortlessly juggle him. To Charles, he is masculinity itself; dominant, eternal, unquestionable. It is hilarious. 

I only wish he could be momentarily human, with a human's self-awareness, so we could laugh together over a beer at his comically extreme obsession with squirrels. No sports fan alive has had his level of passion. But my wish cannot be. As I write this, he is unselfconsciously chewing on his own foot. Now he has shaken out his ears, with a soft flapping sound, so that they are, I guess, at their full length and functionality. 

There are critters to hear. And mailmen. And kids on skateboards. Vigilance is key. If you ever doubt this, just ask Bambi's mom. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Liverwort is the new Mary Jane

The journal Science Advances reported this week that an extract from the plant known as liverwort, in a study with mice, produced many of the same effects as the THC in marijuana. Equally important are the implications on these scientists' social lives, as they can now answer the question at parties, "So what do you do?" with "I get mice high." 

And then the followup, "So Jonas Salk can eat my shorts."

According to an article in the L.A. Times, an hour after partaking of the liverwort, some mice apparently "entered a trancelike state" and "lost some of their ability to move," an effect I have often experienced myself while watching a Keanu Reeves movie. 

You are in great luck today, because I have one of the mice from the study with me.

GW: Welcome, Mr. Mouse. Is that what I should call you?

Larry: Larry is fine.

GW: Larry the mouse.

Larry: No, George the human, just Larry.

GW: Got it. Larry, did they tell you ahead of time they would be giving you liverwort? 

Larry: No, but they smiled at each other a lot. 

GW: How did they administer the liverwort?

Larry: They soaked my favorite gummy bears in it.

GW: Wow.

Larry: I'm being sarcastic!. They injected it in my ass. It's called "animal testing," remember?

GW: Did it hurt?

Larry: No more than that last Dodgers game.

GW: Mice follow baseball?

Larry: Only the postseason, like anyone sane.

GW: So how quickly did you feel the liverwort effects?

Larry: Pretty quick. At first I couldn't feel my tail. Then I started to love my tail, like it was some kind of magical paint brush made out of joy. And then I remember thinking that my water dispenser looked like a giant robot anteater, and I don't even know what an anteater is. 

GW: Had they ever given you anything like this before?

Larry: No way. Usually they are putting eye shadow on me or shaving me bald and posing me for bondage pictures. 

GW: Seriously.

Larry: Seriously! They sell them anonymously to those "stop cruelty" organizations.

GW: That's dark.

Larry: Everything is a racket. Every. Thing.

GW: So tell me more about this liverwort.

Larry: They made the cage floor hot to see if you'd jump, like normal, but I was loving it. I tend to run cold. 

GW: So you were feeling no pain.

Larry: Exactly. Then this guy put my legs up on this bar, which I guess is another test of discomfort reaction times, but I was like whatever, dude. 

GW: You were chill.

Larry: I was like stick my whatever wherever, dude. 

GW: Have there been any lasting effects?

Larry: Not unless you call a non-stop craving for Flamin' Hot Crunchy Cheetos an effect. 

GW: So what's next for Larry?

Larry: I overheard one of the white-coaters saying I was due to be retired, so that's good. I've heard nice things about the Bahamas. Is that where anteaters are?

GW: No, but there are some nice beaches. Retired, huh? They said that?

Larry: Yes. It's happened before. Some of my friends have retired. The nice lady carries them out in a special cage and I heard her say once, "It's time to go on a little trip." Why are you looking at me like that?


Larry: Anyway, wherever I end up I hope there's liverwort. 

GW: Is there anything else you would like to tell the people?

Larry: Elephants are not afraid of us! That's a myth. Oh, and Bigfoot is real, man. But that's a story for another day.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Thank you-thank you

I know this is supposed to be a humor column, but indulge me. It is a me column, really, and sometimes me has a bad week.

My mother-in-law Sindy died Monday night, holding hands in bed with her daughter, my wife, asleep at her side. She was 77. The hospice nurse woke Jen up to tell her that her mother had left the building, the city of San Diego, the planet. 

She did not leave me, though. When Sindy's other daughter Robin closes her eyes, Sindy is there. When my kids hear granny's name, she has not left. She is still offering up fudge-sicles, lollypops, breakfast crepes, any fantastic snack she found at Costco. Right about now she is saying to God, "Oh my God, you gotta TRY these..." And laughing at herself for what she said, and to whom. 

She loved her sweets. "I'm a kid," she would often say. "I'm just a kid." 

Sindy sounds like the name of a cheerleader, but her name was really Sinclair, and how cool is that? It is a family name, a surname, rekindled out of respect, no doubt. You don't call a girl "Sinky," though, and "Sin" was certainly off the table, so "Sindy" it was. There is no record of her ever leading a cheer. 

Sindy was an identical twin. Her sister Sue was born shortly after her, and Sindy, of course, never let her forget it. The pecking order starts in the birth canal, and does not end until the pecker and the peckee have pecked their last. 

They were a lot alike. They were rescuers; of animals and of people. They liked bright colors, tie-dye, rainbows. To open their closets was to feel like you were witness to the costuming wardrobe for a Skittles commercial. 

There are pictures of them as girls, pre-tie dye, dressed alike in church clothes. What parent in the 1940s could have resisted dressing twins alike? 

One wonders what their little sister, Barbara, who came along a few years later, first made of the Sindy and Sue Show. Those twins had some escapades, famous now in family lore, like the time they stole bunnies from a neighbor's garage, and had to return them and apologize. I always loved Sindy's face during the story, guilty, but also as entertained as if the heist had been perpetrated by her best friend, which, I guess, it had. 

Sue died in June, after a horrendous bout with cancer. They say twins have a special bond, and losing Sue seemed to take the fight out of Sindy. Sindy had been battling lung cancer herself for a couple of years, holding her tumors at bay with chemicals. 

"I smoked for 40 years. What did I expect?" she would say. 

She decided to stop taking her unpleasant drug therapy not long after Sue died. 

"We came into this world together and maybe that's how we should go out," Sindy said. 

My wife took an extended leave from work and spent the last two months caring for her full time, with help from hospice care and Barbara. 

Sindy was not perfect. She had the flaws a human has, and beat herself up about them sometimes, more than she should have. But one thing the long goodbye allowed was hearing from so many of her friends of her acts of kindness over the years. She feared Hell, having been raised Catholic, but was able to see from her friends in the end, I think, that the check-marks in her lifetime "plus" column far outnumbered the "minuses." 

She could be a bit obsessive. She had an entire closet of movies, DVDs, perhaps a thousand titles. She filled her house with sea-themed objects. Every wall and most flat surfaces, has seahorses, coral, shells, mermaids, dolphins. For years she patiently hand-painted colorful tropical fish and gave them away. Her Christmas tree always looked like it belonged to Poseidon. 

In the last year she began collecting glass and metal singing bowls, which give off an otherworldly tone as you run a wooden mallet around the rim. She spent many hours inside that hum. They brought her some measure of peace. 

Sindy always loved my homemade gingerbread men, so the last time I visited I brought her a batch, knowing she would not make it to Christmas this year. A couple of weeks later I was on the phone with my wife, and she told me Sindy had just eaten the last cookie. How she had made them last so long I do not know. 

"Thank you for the cookies," I heard Sindy yell off in the distance. "Thank you-thank you."

The double thank you was a Sindy trademark. Jimmy Durante had "A cha cha cha." Jack Nicholson had "You can't handle the truth." When I think of Sindy years from now, I have no doubt it is this catchphrase which will come to me first.

A ton of friends and family visited and called those last two months, so she got what a lot of people don't, which is to say goodbye and know it is goodbye. A lot of Yahtzee was played, a lot of laughs were had, good food enjoyed. Jen cooked for her a lot, and once she even said, "This is so good. You have to give me the recipe before you go," before remembering that Jen would not be the one doing the going this time.

She lasted longer than I expected. Each week I would think well, this is the week, and then four weeks later, well, this must be it, but no, and this went on for so long that when Jen finally called to say she had died, the first words out of my mouth were, "What happened?"

No, this is not a humor column, but as it celebrates one 77 year dance, celebrates a girl, a twinny, a mischief-maker, a mom, a wife, a cat lover, a granny, a dolphin/mermaid/seahorse tchotchke collector, there is humor enough. 

"Thank you-thank you" Sindy. You were just a kid.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Rebranding for better or worse

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recently decided to de-Mormon its name. Since being openly mocked on Broadway, the word "Mormon" seems to have become, according to some church leaders, a liability. Rebranding is the new black, apparently or, now that black itself has been rebranded, the new mauve. KFC famously removed the "fried" from its name. The Anaheim Angels tacked on "Los Angeles" to its brand, I guess to confuse any future cruise missiles.

Now the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will be called "Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square" (TCATS!)   The choir had been known colloquially as "Mo Tab," which is the best nickname for a choir ever, and is also coincidentally what my mom used to yell at the waitress in the '70's when her soft drink ran low. 

TCATS is just as good as Mo Tab, especially since I coined it. Please spread it around. 

Man in bar: "So what are you doing tonight?"

Other man: "Heading to the temple to hear the TCATS!"

Bartender: "I'm going to have to cut you off, sir."

Here are some other things I would like to re-brand:

Wells Fargo. I would like to call it Splork. Splork is the flopping sound your soul makes when you decide to withdraw your funds from an institution because of its massive ethical breaches but then are too lazy to. I picture a new logo with maybe a guy holding his hands out, palms up, and just sort of hunching his shoulders. 

Starbucks. I know what you are thinking. The last company on Earth to need rebranding is Starbucks, but that just means now is the perfect time. Nobody expects it. Imagine if they just, across the globe, suddenly called themselves Duncan. The Dunkin folks would crater. The coffee wars would be over. The new logo could be a guy who, like all Duncans, looks vaguely Canadian.

Coke. Since poké bowls are a hot culinary trend, I think Coke could attract a new demographic by rebranding itself Coké ("Co-kay.") Updating the signage and products would only require a small accent mark, which, for already-existing product, could be hand-inked by out of work Environmental Protection Agency staffers. 

Yahoo. When I was growing up, we said this word only when ecstatic. Checking email does not evoke the same joy, so right off the bat the name elicits falsely high expectations. I suggest re-branding Yahoo as "Yay." Yay, I have email, but also yay, ironically, like "Great, more political spam from my nutjob aunt." And at least we could get rid of that terrifying yahoo-yodeling. Yay!

Chipotlé. Most people mistakenly pronounce it "Chi-poltay" anyway. (I wonder if they are the same ones who can't say "nuclear.") No judgment, but why not just re-brand it Chipoltay! New slogan: "No matter how you pronounce it, it's delicious and pretty much Mexican food."

Mercedes. That is a lot of syllables. How about cutting it down to just the first one, "Me." That is, after all, the message. Who's got money to burn? Me! Who's unafraid to flaunt symbols of superiority? Me! Who could have fed an entire village in Africa for a year but instead went with the Iridium Silver model? Me! Who is starting to sound bitter that he can't afford one? (Me.)

A brand is powerful, and rebranding is sometimes iffy. I wish the TCATS the best, and I hope that their deMormonification brings them everything they desire. And if not, they can always resell their brand to a roller derby team.