Monday, December 31, 2007

i can't breath

No, I am not choked up because of the coming new year. I have allergies. The number of cats in my mom's house outnumber the number of humans here 3 to 1. The antihistamines in my body are outnumbered by the histamines like the number of mormons would be outnumbered in Panama City for spring break.

At some point when I moved out of Lincoln Park, my mom slowly evolved into the crazy cat lady of the neighborhood. This is partially my fault. In high school one day, the secretary made an announcement that a teacher was giving away hamsters. I don't know why she had hamsters, I didn't care why she was giving them away. I just wanted one, not even because I always wanted hamsters, but because, as many of you who know me already realize, i just like getting things for free, whatever they are. So I hopped on the bus that day with a shoebox and a fuzzy, blonde hamster I named Buckley after the teacher who gave him away, Mrs. Buckley who was a little crazy herself, but that's for another blog.

My mom found out I had a hamster and fell in love with it. She essentially adopted it from me. I didn't put up much of a custody battle. I liked Buckley enough, but no way could I match her love for this animal. He was quite precocious, like the main character in Shawshank Redemption whose name escapes me. He was always trying to escape. I bought him one of those plastic cages with the colorful tubes in which he could run and he chewed his way out. I couldn't fix the hole so I put an extremely thick and heavy book in front of it. One night I was sleeping and woke up to some odd chittering noise. I opened my eyes and found Buckley sitting on my chest, nose twitching. He actually chewed through five to six inches of a book to escape. If that's not impressive enough, I believe the cage was downstairs at the time and my bedroom was upstairs, so he actually climbed a flight of stairs and somehow knew which room was mine, opened the door, and climbed up my bed to sit on my chest. Perhaps the cage was in my room, I don't really remember. But this was a fairly remarkable hamster. And my mom loved him. She even had my uncle build Buckley a mansion of a cage, a split level with a built in exercise wheel and a ladder connecting the stories. No exaggeration, this cage was the size of a cage you'd use for a large dog.

But, even the remarkable in our world are mortal when it comes down to it. Houdini died, not even in some dramatic way as many rumors claim. So to did Buckley go, in winter, flat on his back in a corner of that giant cage. I'll save you the emotional details. My mom was very sad, wouldn't even let me bury him at first, wanted to hold him and asked me how much it would cost to have him stuffed. She relinquished fifteen minutes later and I dug a shallow grave in hard, frozen clay next to my house. My mom put plastic flowers at the site.

This was in January or February I think. So when Mother's Day came around, I thought it'd be a good idea to get her a cat. I thought it would be free, too, because I assumed strays were unwanted and you were actually doing the shelter a favor by taking them of their hands, like orphans. But it turned out to cost some money to get a fat, tuxedo cat named Hattie that my mom picked out. She didn't want one at first, she said. It still hurt too much. But the women at the shelter assured her cats tend to live longer than hamsters which usually peak at about 6 weeks.

So my mom and Hattie hit it off. I went to college, came back one summer and there was a new cat in the house along with Hattie. Bunso was its name meaning "youngest child" in Tagalog if I'm not mistaken. It also has an American name: Patty. According to my mom, it just ran into the house one day and she couldn't get it to leave, so she just adopted it. Maybe the reason Patty/Bunso did not listen to her was because my mom was screaming at her in Tagalog and she didn't understand tagalog. It's more likely though that Patty didn't listen because cats aren't dogs and don't give a shit about what you have to say.

I graduated college and moved to Baltimore, MD. I'd come back every now and then and there'd be a new cat in the house. I moved to Boston, MA, would come back home and there'd be yet more cats. All of them strays. I don't ever remember seeing stray cats in my neighborhood, or my entire town for that matter, growing up. My mom must have spotted one or two in the yard a few years back, put some food out, and of course, they went forth and multiplied and brought their extended and mangy looking family twice a day to my childhood home to take advantage of the hand outs. Leaving food out for strays will attract vermin, of course, so my mom started leaving food out just for the raccoons, too. I don't talk to the neighbors, but I can't imagine they are thrilled about this.

So at last count, there are six cats in the house: Hattie (who does not seem pleased with the rest of the cats), Patty/Bunso, Whitney, Jake, Kitty, and one other whose name escapes me. Not all of them just ran into the house. At least two of them are missing eyeballs and when my mom found them infected and near death as kittens, she couldn't bear to let them die, so she brought them to the vet for expensive operations and adopted them as well. I don't have this same compassion for animals. Actually, I'm suspicious these stray cats have heard how good they could have it inside my house and are purposely gouging out their own eyes so they have an upper hand in getting picked to be cat #7. They're no better than soldiers shooting themselves in the foot to get out of service.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Marty and her jacket

Let me start off by saying, I might have sounded harsh talking about my roommate, Eleanor, who seemed upset with me the night we played darts. With any retelling of a factual event, some bias is bound to cause inaccuracies or unfounded insinuations, and I'm sure if you were to ask for her account of the event, it would have a different spin.

With that being said, here's a story about another roommate, Marty and her coat. I will try to be as objective as possible in telling it, because unlike my story with Eleanor, I actually transcribed much of the following dialogue verbatim as she was spewing it. A lot of times, I'll be next to a couple of roommates while they are engaged in conversation, but not get involved myself. This is partially because I don't find anything they are saying interesting. But then again, if you're not talking about the Rocky movies or scrapple, I probably won't find anything you say interesting. But moreso, I don't get involved because no one really addressed me. I would answer a question if someone asked me it directly, but a lot of the times, people seem to be jus talking to the air in this house until another roommate responds. I've become the Chief of this Cuckoo's Nest, sans height. I sit and listen and people forget I'm around or that I can even hear them.

So here's a transcription of what happened:

Marty walks into the kitchen. I'm sitting in a little nook attached to the kitchen, trying to write. Claire is cooking in the kitchen. She's probably the sanest and most pleasant roommate of all of us. I'd put myself at second or third... her impressive tolerance and willingness to listen to someone ramble ad nauseum far surpasses my own, so she is very deserving of the "Best Roommate Award" in our house.

"Hi, Marty," says Claire. "How are you?"
"Ahhh! I'm so depressed!"
"What's wrong, Marty?" asks Claire. This is why she deserves the award. I no longer ask Marty questions like this.
"I'm upset over my coat." She looks in my direction as I type crappy sonnets on my computer, "Don't feel guilty," she says to me.
"Don't worry. I don't," I smile.
"What happened to your coat, Marty?"
"I don't want to talk about it."

Marty has a green winter coat she wears all the time with a faux fur lined hood, sort of like the drug dealers wear in movies about the 'hood. It's cute. One day, she was in a rush for work and asked me if I would throw her sheets in the dryer for her. No problem. I put everything that was in the washing machine into the dryer. I saw her coat was in there, but I assumed she also wanted that in the dryer because she did not give me specific directions otherwise. The coat did not shrink and fits her fine, but the faux fur is not quite as puffy anymore. Imagine girls in the 80's with poofed up Aquanet bangs. That's what the fur looked like before. Now imagine the hairdo of a militant lesbian wearing Doc Martens... that's what the fur looks like now. We went to a bar the night her coat was ruined and she shared with me how she doesn't blame me, but is sort of upset because all the charm of the jacket was encapsulated by the fur and now that the fur is ruined, it has lost all its worth. But she assured me she didn't blame me. I assured her I wasn't worried about it at all.

Claire, the conscientious roommate that she is, does not pry. She sprinkles some ground pepper into a pan of sizzling, quartered potatoes. Marty groans loudly. "Oh God! I want my jacket!"
"Nothing can be that big of a deal," says Claire with a cheerful "The sun will come out tomorrow"
"Yes it is! I want my jacket!"
"What happened to your jacket?" she tries a second time.
"I don't want to talk about it."
Claire looks at me, maybe hoping I will explain what the hell is going on. I smile back, then return my attention to a sonnet, thinking "what words rhyme with syphilis?" It's hard to keep my attention on the poem though because I'm also trying to record everything Marty is saying. Much of it, however, is exasperated gasps, groans, and heavy hearted sighs, which do not translate well to print.
Marty continues: "Where am I going to find a jacket? I'm so upset right now!"
"Ooh, this tea bag has interesting trivia. Did you know that in the United States, 70% of pencils are painted yellow?" says Claire, trying to change the subject.
Eleanor comes out of her room and says hi to everyone and asks marty how she is.
"I had the most disappointing Target experience."
"What happened?"
"They didn't have my jacket."
"I'm sorry."
"I'm so upset right now and it's about my material possessions, the dumbest thing in the world to be upset about*."

She spends the next thirty minutes looking online for a duplicate of this jacket, groaning, and shouting, "I'm so fucking depressed!" I don't think she ever explains to Claire what happened to the jacket in the first place.

Two or three days later, marty came home with a brand new jacket, complete with a hood of luxurious faux fur. She was very happy. I was happy for her. But, as you may have guessed, the elation that came with the new jacket was short lived and, as of this last week, she's currently depressed again. "I'm so fucking depressed! I hate winter!" she's screamed on numerous occasions. I'm not one to doubt the physical and mental impact cold and darkness can have on a person. But since she grew up in Alaska, you'd think she'd have some coping mechanisms by now. And I'm not confident that her attitude will change tremendously when the sun comes out, if that ever happens in Portland.

Another thing she likes to complain about is work. Here's another conversation Claire got caught in. Someone please give Claire a Humanitarian award for her patience.

"Okay, let me just tell you about this bitch at work," she starts. Marty works at a residential home for teenage mothers and their infants. Very stressful work... I have all the respect in the world for anyone who works in that field. She started there about a month ago and was very excited when she took the position because it was exactly the kind of job she wanted. She said she loved all the girls who lived there... they were all so sweet.
"Is this a coworker?"
"No, one of the girls. I had just gotten in and she immediately starts screaming at me that we need to call the doctor for her baby. And she was being so mean to me." I'm in the kitchen cooking, but I rush for a pencil to jot some notes down on this conversation. Marty continues, "Now, granted, his penis was bleeding, but I mean, she didn't have to be such a bitch to me. I mean, he wasn't dying of blood loss."

If you are Claire would you say:
A.) Um, if my son's penis was bleeding, I think i'd be a little frazzled, too.
B.) Marty, you did realize when you accepted this job at a residential home for at-risk teenage mothers and their infants that some of the work might involve at-risk teenage mothers and their infants, right?
C.) Nothing and nod sympathetically.

Correct, St. Claire chose C. I stopped jotting down notes after a while because my asparagus and cashews dish burning. It would have been repetitive if I retold it all to you anyway; the gist is that these residential teen moms who have had horrible upbringings and are completely too immature to raise kids on their own are not being nice to her all the time.

Marty isn't always upset. For every ten times I hear her yell, "I'm so fucking pissed off," I've heard her say, "I'm in a fucking great mood." That's not true, actually. The proportion is closer to something like 50 to 1. But it's good to know her crazy-o-meter can tip to the complete other end of the bipolar scale. I need to stop typing this entry now because she keeps saying more interesting things as I blog that deserve to be recorded as well, but when can I finally stop? Her first words coming into the house five minutes ago were "I'm so pissed with the world right now!"
Then, ten minutes later in a more subdued tone, "This is not a good life. I'm bored."

Marty, as long as you're around and there are jackets, work, or boys to give you something to talk about, I'll never say I'm bored.

* I don't want to give you the impression that Marty is this really shallow person. She realizes feeling this emotional about a jacket is rather silly when you consider there are people being tortured and beaten at this very moment. I never got the impression she was really materialistic. It's just interesting me that even though she can rationalize this, she cannot prevent herself from talking about it over and over to roommates she met on Craigslist. But, I've been this way before, too. Many of you may remember a hat I found on the ground at a gas station. It was a black knit hat many sizes too small for me that said "Hottie" in blazing fire colored print. I loved that damn hat. I wept bitterly many nights since I lost it. So don't think I can't commiserate with marty and her jacket.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

radical leftists and a friendly game of darts

I guess I did so well at Koji Osakaya that they gave me a month long vacation. Or, you could argue, they made this decision after I gave them my two weeks notice because I guess it doesn't make sense to train a new employee for two weeks, then have him tell you he can only commit to working two more weeks... and of course, he'll still need heavy supervision and training during that stretch.

But, it was an amicable split and I told them I would call if I could fit a few hours of teriyakiing into my 2008 schedule. So now, I have ample time to do things like play darts with a roommate on a weekday night.

I don't know if there are internet laws against putting people's real names on public space without their permission, so I'll just call this roommate Eleanor, which is her real name, because I'm not creative enough to come up with a pseudonym.

Let me start off by saying that I get along fine with my roommates. They all seem like pleasant, good hearted people. I have never seen any of them carve swastikas in their foreheads or embezzle millions of share holder dollars. We all say hi to each other, invite each other to activities, and at times, even cook for one another. I don't have any of the freshman college naivete to think we're all the best of friends because we live together. But at the same time, I'm very pleased with my living situation.

And this roommate in particular is funny and friendly and I have nothing against her whatsoever. I just want to share with you this story of last night because it's funny to me how little you know about people you meet on Craigslist and how people slowly start to reveal fascinating personal qualities at odd moments.

Since I'm unemployed and Eleanor gets out of work by four, we decided to go to a local bar that has free tater tots during happy hour. She suggested we play darts and seemed very gung ho about the idea "I want to play darts. I love playing darts!" so we headed to another bar to play. I'm pretty sure she also said she's a big trash talker when she plays. So i was assuming we'd have a fun, but competitive, game of darts. nothing serious, a bit of ribbing perhaps, but all for fun.

Before we started playing, she warned me that I could not scream "FUCKKK!!!" every time I missed because this was her favorite bar and she did not want to be ostracized. About a week prior, we had played a gentleman's game of beer pong, and i guess i was loud and profane every time I did not sink a cup.

Admittedly, sometimes I get a bit animated when i play certain games like darts or beer pong. But that's just because i know what I'm capable of doing and want to duplicate the brief moments when I've attained greatness. I'm sure none of us will forget the night at The Last Drop when i stuck 4 bulls eyes in a row to complete an inspirational come from behind win against the heavily favored Robert O'Campo, henceforth to be known as the "Miracle on Cork."

More than even being disappointed, I just get excited. And sometimes, for me excitement manifests itself as screaming or breaking things.

It took a lot of self control, but I did not scream out while we played. However, I did take to pounding my fists into my palms or punching my forearms if I blew a shot. We played a couple games and it was obvious there was a disparity in skill. I am certainly not a great darts player, but I do TRY to hit a specific target. In other words, I don't just aim for the board as a whole, but try to hit one of the pie slices corresponding to the number i need, which she clearly did not like to do. That's fine if that's how you play... I just personally want to try.

After a second shut out win, I asked Eleanor if she wanted to play doubles together against a very nice couple that was putting in the most awesome songs on the juke box like "Midnight at the Oasis" and "Time Bomb." So i thought it would be a nice opportunity for us to make friends... friends who have awesome taste in music, except for their pick of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." That's right. I hate that song and anything you say to defend it will just make me hate it more.

So I was surprised when Eleanor said no. Then she explained that I took the game too seriously and that I needed to calm down. And she didn't want to play on a team with someone who would get mad at her for missing a shot.

Now I can commiserate with this feeling. I've played fourth grade kickball and been relegated to far right field and screamed at for missing a pop up fly. I've been chewed out for not grabbing a rebound. I've watched people who I consider super competitive and hate playing games with them. I have never considered myself that far on the spectrum. But i guess, by her standards, I was.
"I never get mad at teammates who miss shots," I tried to explain. "I don't care as long as you try."
"But i'm not going to try."
"Oh, okay. I just thought it would be cool to make friends with these people who also love 'Sailing' by Christopher Cross."
"I just don't understand why you get so mad about something like darts. Sports are not something worth getting upset over*"
"I'm not mad, per se. I'm just disappointed because I know what I should be able to do. I've played enough times to be better than that."
"I'm not good at darts even though I've played 500,000 times. And that talk of how you can get better if you practice is bullshit."
"So you don't think people can get better at sports?"
"Not really."
"Well sometimes, I think if you feel you should be able to do something and have done it in the past, but can't do it the next time, you feel disappointed. What's something that you are naturally good at?"
"Standardized tests."
"So say you did badly on your LSATs. Would you be disappointed in yourself?"
"That would never happen."
"You can't hypothetically picture yourself doing badly on a standardized test?"
"No, I can't imagine it. But I'm not good at math and I said a multiplication problem out loud and Malex [our other roommate] got the answer before me, but that's okay because I got it a second later**."
"Fair enough." I had many other questions for her, but wanted to end the interrogation because she seemed to be getting upset.
"I just don't understand people who care about sports. I mean, it's fine if people do--I can respect that--as long as they respect that I don't care. My husband won't watch sports."
"So sports have no value in this world?"
"No. People should not be paid millions of dollars to play a game." I was not arguing this point; i was just trying to clarify whether she really thinks sports (not professional sports) are worthless in this world, especially after she had been raving about how much she loves darts. "People should take jobs that help others... not for money."
"So no one should be a writer, artist, or musician?"
"No, those things are important. They make you think."
"But sports do not make you think? Sports don't inspire?"
She admitted she was biased towards art and music.
"So no one should take a job to make money?" I was baffled by this statement so I asked it again to make sure I understood her. I assume she meant sports stars shouldn't be paid millions of dollars to play a game. "Is it wrong to take a job as an accountant or a lawyer to make a living?"
"I'm not going to be a lawyer to make money. I'm going to help the environment and make less than $25, 000.***" I knew she was applying to law school but i did not mean that as a dig. I was just throwing out jobs that people to do, not because it's the most fun thing in the world, but because they need to feed dependents. It just seems impractical to me for everyone to do a job they are passionate about because we really just don't need that many cowboys and ballerinas in this world.
"Well I just spent the last week working with a woman named Gladis who cooks at a japanese restaurant not to help people, but because she needs money to feed her kid. Is there anything wrong with that?"
"Yes, she shouldn't have to work. The whole system is screwed up. That's why I don't like getting into this. I'm very radical****."
"So what will fix our society?"
"Not using corporate merchandise."
"Like computers?" Now that I did mean as a dig because I've definitely seen her use a laptop which I assume is not organic or sold at a farmer's market. She admitted she's at fault, too, because the system has been built in such a way in which we cannot help but contradict ourselves (my words, not hers). Then the conversation spiraled into her apocalyptic rant of how we as a society are doomed, a massive creature swallowing its own head (i don't think she actually said that, but that's the impression I got as she got more and more upset with me).
"That's why I drink and go to bars, because I don't want to think about it." she said at last.


"I don't like showing this side of me," she said. No shit, honey.

We played one more game. I was much more subdued so as not to elicit more wrath. It was another rout and she seemed rather unhappy. Thankfully, another of our roommates had just joined us after she got out of work, offered Eleanor a cigarette, and I bid them farewell.

I am certainly not arguing that she has to be passionate about competitive games and sports. Nor am I saying that my self abusive behavior and yelling is within the realm of ordinary or even acceptable. What I am saying is it seems her intense aversion to my passion is masking her own fear of competition.

I am in no place to presume facts about her life since I barely know her, but I just get the impression that she had a lot of pressure to do well in things, so if there's something she's not good at naturally, she'll revert to the "I don't care, I'm not even trying" attitude that perfectionists tend to adopt. How could you say you failed if you never even tried, right?

But then again, this could be a time to break out Ockham's Razor because maybe I'm missing the obvious: I might just be really obnoxious to play darts with.

I'd like to hear other people's opinion on this. Have I misinterpreted everything? Are sports useless? How do they rank in importance amongst literature and art? For anyone who's played a game with me, am I a more competitive person than i think? Am I irrationally competitive? Am i unpleasant to play with? Is there anything wrong with doing a job to make money to buy things such as food and hot water?

*soon after saying this, she lamented "I wish i was playing someone who was at my level, but no one ever is," which makes me feel like she would have liked to win, or at least have been close in the game. If you really felt sports or games were not worth getting upset over, would you care who you played or how badly you got beat? She also said, "I'm playing a fantastic game, but when you hit yourself it makes me feel bad because you're beating me."

**This statement is interesting: she's trying to use this anecdote as an example of a time when she didn't mind doing badly, but she put in the caveat "I'm not good at math" which makes it safe to fail, and also said, "I got the answer one second later" to show she really didn't fail all that badly.

***a quick search on Yahoo! of "environmental lawyer salary" puts her earning somewhere at $60K-90K. The lowest figure I saw was $40,000 for a government job.

****my political viewpoints, while fairly wishwashy and lacking conviction, have been leaning more and more to the left since i graduated college. but being around people like Eleanor make me realize how incredibly middle of the road I am and completely undeserving of the label "liberal."


Q & A

Q: I don't touch the california roll. Is it really even considered sushi?
A: Since they can charge something like $7.00 for what amounts to a few tablespoons of rice, a strip of carrot and cucumber, and a couple avocado slices with fake fish, I guess you could call it sushi.