Sunday, November 28, 2010

Anthropomorphism, Or, Plant! Watch Your Language!

I have always had a vivid imagination. I also am an avid dreamer of fantastical, intricate adventures. And I have the best memory of anyone I know (save our managing editor, who has photographic recall of everything he's ever read).

Put it all together, and my life can be a bit like a Disney movie, with my cats -- in my mind -- running for mayor, setting up side businesses, threatening to call their union rep; and my dog affecting a Spanish accent and decreeing that some days, she wants to be called "Lady" or "Betsy," depending on her mood.

Everything in my life, be it animate or inanimate, tells a story. I guess that makes me an anthropomorphist. Fortunately for me, the people I truck with are, too.

Lately, I've been spending more time with my dear friend and college and post-college roomie, Vicky, who says things like, "Oh, Stove, you're just not simmering well" and "Poor Purple Chair, you're going to have to go downstairs again when we get the Christmas tree." We weave hilarious tales of our cats -- my Big Bear and Jasper are brothers to her Little Bear and Maurice (making us mothers from another brother, but I digress). Convinced her Little Bear is a genius, she even purchased him a Baby Einstein piano. I told her today of the sudden movement among my felines to demand middle names. Apparently, it's all the rage, and it's in the "contract" and so forth ...

Long story short, as Vicky would say, I've been in a fantastical mindset of late.

As those who are familiar with San Francisco weather will know, it has begun raining. And rain = ants. (Oh, and these disgusting earthworms that literally crawl up the house, sometimes even depositing themselves into my windowsills, but I digress.)

I understood when they came for my dirty dishes in the sink on the first night. That made total sense. But then the next day I came home from work to find a line to the paper grocery bag into which I deposit my recyclables.

I furrowed my brow (which, at 43, I cannot afford to do) and for a moment was confused: This was the recycling, not the trash, didn't they know that the items in the bag would have the least foodstuffs on them? And then I had to laugh: Yes, Sue, of course the ants know that they are marching into a recycling bag. They're San Francisco ants, after all, and demand that their edibles be organic and disposed of in the proper manner.

It put me in mind of when I was working at Mother Jones years ago and was waiting in the morning for the BART train at 24th and Mission. Alongside me were a young mother and her daughter. The mother glanced down at the tracks and said to her daughter, "Look at the mouse on the tracks!" as the vermin, which I happened to be watching, too (a habit picked up on the Red Line in Boston -- it was the deepest under ground and had the most critters), scampered across the rails.

The girl took her mother's hand and, looking confused, pointed to the sign above the tracks. "Doesn't he know he's not supposed to touch the third rail?"

Her mother tried to contain her merriment and said, "No, sweetie, mice can't read."

I thought of that today, as I was leaving Vicky's, and we both regarded one of her indoor plants. "Poor Plant," she bemoaned. "He's looking droopy. He needs a big drink."

To which I rejoindered, "Yeah, he's like, 'Who do I have to &*%$ in here to get a drink?!' "

Vicky channeled more of Plant's salty exclamations, and I turned to it and said, "Plant! Watch your mouth!"

We dissolved into our trademark giggles and hugged and she walked me to the door. Halfway in and halfway out, I turned to her and said, "The funny thing is, on some level, I still think the plant was cussing."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

They Call Me Heat Miser ... I'm Too Much

Received my first Christmas card, from Shaken Mama, steamed the season's first batch of Dungeness crabs and nabbed me a 7-foot-tree.

Kittens Jasper and Bear got their first taste of crab -- Lucy already has been treated enough with the Thanksgiving outing to Aunt Vicky's.

My friend John and I are stringing the lights on the tree, wondering what is a sugar plum? And how did figgy pudding gain such a cult following among carolers? And why would someone want to be married by the Rev. Snowman?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Somehow, Not Only at Christmas ...

Somehow, not only at Christmas, but all the long year through, 
The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.
    -- John Greenleaf Whittier



Somehow, not only at Christmas, but all the long year through, 
My sis and I sing this song -- and never fail to crack up. Wait, that doesn't rhyme.
    -- Doodie and Sue Sczubelek 


This Whittier quote was on a Christmas card our Aunt Bet once sent us. It was scotch-taped up on the front door of 837 Lehigh with all the rest of the holiday greetings my parents received each year.


One night, feeling silly and inspecting all of these cards, mostly from people we didn't know, for some reason my sister and I turned it into a song (I think it was more of my goofball doing). The most notable parts are how high your voice has to rise for the "joy that you give to others" phrase, and then how low it has to go to end with the decisive, formal "Whit-tier-rrrr."


As an adult, when my sister found this verse on a Christmas card, she bought the box and informed me that I would be receiving one every year until they were gone. I think I have 12 so far.


I have always loved, loved, loved Christmas. That and my birthday, with Christmas edging out even the miraculous entrance of moi.


When I was a kid, we would get a tree a few days before Christmas, but it would remain undecorated until Christmas Eve, when my parents would string the lights and hang the ornaments while we were sleeping. Christmas Eve, we would each open one gift, and share the Oplatek Christmas wafer around the dinner table, which would be filled with cold salads and meats. The older of the six kids would go off to Midnight Mass.


The next morning, after opening our presents stacked in individual piles around the living room, we would line up by age -- me first -- and Dad would descend to the den to plug in the tree lights. We would file down into the magical darkness, to the glowing tree and more presents, along with our stockings -- each nailed to a stair in descending order of age. Mine would be filled with barley pops; bell-shaped, foil-wrapped chocolates; Lifesaver "books"; a toothbrush; and other precious treats.


Ever since junior year in college, I've gotten a tree and decorated for the holidays -- whether I had to ferry it home in a taxi in Boston, or with my convertible top down in San Francisco.


Until last year.


You see, I have my own tradition -- and that is, when I wrap up all the Christmas decorations after the holidays, I think about what the coming year will bring. When I unwrap the decorations next year, what will have transpired? Will I be single? Will I have a new job? A new house?


Last year, in the wake of the attack, I was so weirded out that 10 months prior, when I had been packing away the Christmas decorations, I had had no idea that I might not live to another Christmas ... that I couldn't do it. No tree, no decorations.


This year, however, I'm making up for it. The minute those divinely scented pines are tagged for sale, one is coming home with me. I'm going to ice skate on one of the outdoor rinks they set up for the season in the city. I'm going to sing along to the Messiah at Mission Dolores church. I'm going to have a holiday party (you're invited!). I am going all out.


After all, time is the present.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry?

My friend Elliot calls me Iggy, short for Instant Gratification.

I have always hated waiting: Waiting for the new Adam & the Ants album to be released, then waiting to save up my allowance to buy it, then waiting to be allowed to ride my bike up to the record store.

I want what I want, and I want it now. I am, after all, an American.

Lately, however, I find myself valuing moments, and things that take time, things that remind me how incredible my existence is, how wondrous -- and how fleeting.

Mundanely enough, this line of thought started with the microwave-in-bag potatoes I found at the Safeway last week. Looking at them, I realized that there is virtually nothing to wait for anymore (Muni excepted). In the words of Kenny Chesney, I've been living in fast forward.

The elimination of waiting, I think, has come at the cost of a near extinction of mindfulness.

I hate walking down the street and seeing white earbud tails snaking down everyone's neck, or the ubiquitous Bluetooth earpiece. It feels disrespectful and droid-like. My friend Vicky and I a few weeks ago had dinner in a restaurant where virtually everyone was not talking to the people at the same table, but texting someone else.

We spend so much time distracting ourselves from where we are that, while it may seem as if we're stuffing our lives chock full of experience, we're draining the miraculous, Tweet by mundane Tweet.

This is one of the reasons I was delighted when Chronicle folks were given tickets to Cavalia last week. For those unfamiliar, it's a Cirque du Soleil-type show, but with the addition of beautiful, majestic horses.

Sitting in the dark, watching the amazing feats of the acrobats and trick riders, I felt part of something greater than myself. A connection, perhaps, to ages gone by when people entertained each other just like this: with comedy, beauty, stories and dangerous stunts that celebrate the fragility of our existence -- but also the immense, magical promise of being alive. Not alone, each on our own iPod, but together.

That is ... I've been living in fast forward ... but I need to rewind real slow.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Harriet the Spy, at the Flea Market

Harriet the Spy being my inspiration, I was charmed by this girl at the flea market yesterday. Spy trench coat (despite the fact that it was near 80 degrees), an inexplicable hat and notebook under her arm. Watch out, world! 


Rock-a-Bye Kitty, on the (Toilet) Tank-Top ...

Disclaimer: No live animals were harmed in the following mishap. All cats appearing in this work are fictitious, and any resemblance to the mortified tabby who streaked away after being rescued is purely coincidental. Right.


So, every morning when I can no longer stand my freakishly long-armed cats swatting my nose like a cat toy, rescue Peke Lucy has awoken -- as evidenced by a distinctly ladylike eruption of sneezes and snorts -- and I have administered the requisite number of belly-rubs as prescribed by the union contract, I feed my critters.

I try to get a few things done before Lucy finishes her dainty snarfing and has to go outside. In today's case, that was scoop the litter box, which lives in the bathroom. It's a big enclosed number, and I haul it up onto the toilet to make scooping easier. Only, just as I set it down, Lucy click-clack-danced down the hardwood-floored hall and I stopped what I was doing to spirit her outside for her constitutional.


Upon returning and opening the front door, there arose such a clatter that I rushed inside to see what was the matter. Nothing appeared out of place in the living room or kitchen and Bear, the black cat, threw me a withering glance as if to say, "What? Racial profiling again? It wasn't ME."


Whereupon I discovered that tabby Jasper apparently had climbed into the litter box as it was perched on the toilet seat, disrupted its balance and pitched forward whiskers-first as the commode nosedived onto the bathroom tile, effectively trapping the furry pooper inside.


I broke out laughing -- which cats will hold against you for more than one life, as cat-lovers everywhere know -- and lifted the box to see a blur of stripes whisk through my legs to safety and anonymity.


After cleaning up the mess, I took pictures that better illustrate the hazard.


Before:


After:
Professional actor hired to re-enact the event:

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Ground Zero for Greatness!

Our boy Timmy.

This has got to be the only city in the United States where a ballplayer can wear his thong on his ... well, anywhere he likes ...

SF is crazy!