Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Goo Goo G'Joob

The walrus does not live in the Pacific Northwest. In fact they prefer a much colder climate. For example, Siberia. Neither are they responsible for leptospirosis (a disease that scientists probably know a lot about, but I don’t. I’m not a scientist.). Walruses are, however, responsible for 90% of Barry Manilow albums purchased from 1995 to present day.

If you leave a walrus alone in your house, it will leave tusk marks in your cheese. If you leave a walrus alone with your roommate, it won’t leave tusk marks in her but the two of them will drink all of your beer and text you at work to bring home tacos. A walrus’s favorite beer is a good, dark stout. Something vaguely chocolate-y without being overwhelmingly sweet. Walruses, male and female alike, think this makes them more manly. Walruses are horrendous misogynists but in an ignorant rather than intentional way.

(It occurs to me that were I to write an actual report on walruses, things would be so easy because wikipedia. Remember when books were a thing, and you checked out books, and magazines, and like 10 National Geographic encyclopedias at the school library, and there would be maybe one sentence about walruses in each of them that you found after reading for hours? Kids these days don’t even know. 

“But b,” you might say, “If knowledge is so accessible, why do you need to make up all of these ridiculous facts?” Because they’re more fun, obviously. Try to keep up.)

Though I’ve never personally spoken with a walrus, I imagine they’d be poor conversationalists. They strike me as the sort to frequently interrupt your stories with side notes about themselves that are only obliquely related to the topic you were discussing in the first place. They also seem like they’d elaborate to a ridiculous and completely unnecessary extent. Here’s how I imagine conversing with a walrus:

Me: “So I was walking to the store the other day for some groceries and…”
Walrus: “Walking, ah yes! That’s almost nothing like the flopping sort of forward flailing my flippers are capable of on-land. Swimming, though. Goddamn if I’m not the fastest marine mammal alive! Why I was telling my wife and sister-in-law just the other day, keep in mind this was right after I had returned from the coast of France after a long holiday following an unfortunate mental breakdown at the ol’ 9-5...”

And so on.

Please note, the walrus is by no means the fastest marine mammal alive. While a swimming walrus can hit 22 MPH (impressive compared to a human’s 4.5), it’s athleticism doesn’t even approach a dolphin’s 40 MPH. Fact. And besides, weren’t we talking about my trip to the grocery store, not the biomechanical capabilities of our self-absorbed mammalian pal?

Many upper middle class walruses will purchase knockoff brands and loudly tout them as superior to high-end products. Not because they believe these generic products are actually superior, or even because they support the capitalist notion of a mass-producing, earth-mangling, socially-oppressive, multi-national corporation succeeding over artisan specialty crafters. The sordid truth: most upper middle class walruses harbor a fierce resentment of slightly-more-upper middle class walruses (said resentment being vaster than their rather sizable girth).  

Walruses frequently misuse large vocabulary words. Most walruses believe “pontificate” is how pine trees reproduce. If you have a walrus friend, they’re probably that friend you see once or twice a year. And when they say something like, “We really should try to see each other more often!” you reply by avoiding eye contact and mumbling vaguely under your breath until they return to talking about their holiday in France.

And this has been my report on writer’s block, I mean walruses. I hope you enjoyed all of these 100%, absolutely true facts.



Thursday, December 4, 2014

November is for Nostalgia

[Note: this one time I wrote a thing, and promptly got distracted without posting it. So, Throwback Thursday: unseen post edition. Cheers, lovelies!]

I am trying to feel how I feel without breaking. Breaking down, breaking open, breaking through. November is for nostalgia; memories coiling tightly around themselves like a writhing knot of snakes at the center of a tree. Lately I have been lonely for people I don’t know. Lately I have been lonely for the people they can’t be anymore. The cells in our bodies replace themselves every seven years, and someday I will be a person you have never seen. I’m learning to be ok with that.

It's fall now and I am in love with a girl who fits like well-worn flannel. When I feel lonely I remember night time, and my body against her body against dirt. Bark cracking like sinew and tendon, the fire’s noisy meal a product of hasty scavenging. Hard-won flames gnaw noisily. Wet logs crumble into ashy pillars. When I lay my head in her lap I’m not cold. Above me, her mouth makes words and above me the sky hangs dense like something primordial and above me three stars call themselves Polaris, dancing cheek to cheek so my eyes can perceive them.

Stars like pinpricks in the elasticity of the everything.
Stars like flecks of sand in black tar.
Stars like marshmallows bobbing in black water on the lake where I fished with my father.
Stars like powdered sugar sprinkled across asphalt.

When I feel lonely I think about two months ago. How we slipped out of our clothes and scrambled naked into clear, cold water. Cold knocking against our lungs, locking up limbs while traffic grumbled behind the sparse trees that can’t hide naked bodies, perched indelicately on sun-warmed rocks. Sleepy, yawning, stretching rocks. Rocks just beginning to wake up. Sunlight illuminates flecks of moisture caught in the fine raised hairs of her arms and backs as wind coaxes goosebumps out of hiding and the clothes huff in an impatient heap.

I want to unfold like something that unfolds slowly. Slip back into this business of breathing. I am more Me now than any version of this person. I am only lonely when I let myself be. I write letters to myself, all the words nobody else will say. I say:

"Here's the deal: you might not die this year… Maybe one day you will be old. You can say that now, right? Like you used to say 'Maybe one day I will be happy' and look: you wake up every morning, and you're grateful."

All my love, dearhearts.


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Dog Owner**

The reactions varied from amused to horrified when I informed people I was getting a puppy.
“A puppy? What kind of puppy” they’d either demand suspiciously or squeal excitedly, depending on how they took the news.
“A Doberman puppy! 7 months old!” I’d exclaim, exclamatory, hoping to assuage their fears and stoke their excitement. At this point Carly almost always felt obligated to step in with a “But really the term ‘puppy’ is kind of misleading. She comes up to here.” Holding a hand flat near waist-level.
“Well yeah” I’d concede, “I mean sure. Mila weighs like 65 pounds. But she’s the sweetest little thing!”

Several years ago I reached the conclusion I wasn’t really a “Dog Person”. Hold the horrified gasps and let me state for the record: I love dogs. Hell, until I was twelve I wanted to be a dog. I’d lumber around the house on hands and knees, diligently sniffing every houseplant and burying the remote control under couch pillows.
I spent hours memorizing dog breed encyclopedias, fantasizing about Rover’s Rescue Resort: a giant parcel of land where I would grant society’s outcast dogs a second chance. I imagined dogs lifted from hopeless and meaningless existences transformed into doting canine companions under my stern but gentle leadership. I figured thirty dogs was a good place to start, after that I might need to hire help.
I grew up with dogs. Big dogs. Rottweilers and Labradors with their blocky heads, guileless slobbering smiles, and boundless energy. When I left my parents’ house for college I longed for nights curled up by the woodstove with the dog and a book. I missed long, rambling walks with nowhere to be but everything to discover.
Then I worked in a Doggie Daycare. Every day I was surrounded by dogs. Herding dogs, hunting dogs, companion dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, and everything in between.  Barking dogs, humping dogs. Dogs that ate poop, and dogs that ate puke. To say nothing of the dogs that puked up the poop that they’d eaten. There were dogs obsessed with tennis balls, and dogs obsessed with dogs-obsessed-with-tennis-balls. Now, I loved my job 90% of the time. But there was always immense satisfaction in closing up shop, biking the five miles home, and spending a quiet evening with my cat.
(Sidenote: or not spending a quiet evening with my cat! Turns out that’s the great thing about cats. If the food bowl is full and the litter box clean, they frankly don’t give much of a damn what you do after work. Try explaining that to a dog. “I’m sorry I delayed coming home to dote on you, I just wanted to grab a quick drink! You know, unwind with coworkers!” and his unconditional love and forgiveness will burn a hole in your guilty, booze-sodden soul.)

This peculiar tension between being a Dog Lover, but not quite a Dog Person culminated in what I call the “Deejo Incident”.

Deejo was a regular daycare attendee, a 4 yeard old Australian Shepherd/Pug X who vaguely resembled the lovechild of a mastiff and a baby seal. His owner was in the process of relocating from Missoula to L.A., where she intended to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. She mentioned her intention to rehome him one afternoon, while Deejo trotted happily around the room inspecting every dusty corner for biscuit crumbs.
“”Poor little fella” I thought, “being uprooted and sent to live with strangers.”
In what I considered a magnanimous display of generosity, I offered to adopt him. I’d recently moved into a house that allowed dogs. I’d also recently taken to having organic vegetables delivered to my doorstep, and re-paying my student loans. With these steps in the general direction of adulthood, I was hungry for more. A lingering part of me suspected dog ownership was nearing the pinnacle of Responsibility. Likely in the realm of marriage, and childbirth.

Fast forward six months: sunrise on a weekday. I’m lying in bed, staring hard at the ceiling while Deejo burns guilty holes into my booze-sodden soul with his unconditional love and admiration. The second I woke up I could feel his eyes peering over the edge of the bed, begging me to love him. This had become a point of contention between us, his need to constantly gaze at me. For months I’d been shifting my knee, or book, or laptop to break the direct line-of-sight. And for months he’d been subtly, creepily shifting his body weight to reestablish it. That morning, waking up to his horrible, penetrating gaze the thought crossed my mind: I’d rather kill myself than deal with you right now.

I know it sounds dramatic, but it was a real turning point. Two weeks later, Deejo was uprooted and living with strangers. I mean, a nice family on a farm. Don’t worry! I didn’t kill my dog. There really is a nice family, and they really do live on a farm. A mastiff farm, where they bred giant working dogs. Deejo was the perfect fit: a miniature mastiff more easily coerced into a 4 year old daughter’s princess tutus and tea parties.

Three years since the “Deejo Incident”, the memory of his probing gaze and unwarranted affection still haunts me.

But when my Work Wife approached me with her dilemma, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to dip my toes into dog ownership. As a newly enlisted police cadet, she would be training in Salem for several months. Though her family supported the career change, they were less than ecstatic about the prospect of caring for her 6 year old child and a rambunctious 65 pound, 7 month old Doberman puppy.

The plan was simple. Sunday evening through Friday morning I’d be responsible for feeding, walking, and chauffering Mila to and from daycare. W.W. would foot the bills, purchase the kibble, and supply any tools deemed necessary (ex. treats, chew toys, and the despicable Gentle Leader that made walking Mila even remotely manageable). Friday night W.W. would pick Mila up from daycare, leaving my footloose and fancy-free social life unencumbered. Cadet training would end mid-February, and Mila would go back to her normal life. This timeline guaranteed I couldn’t slip into the helpless pit of depression evoked by the prospect of nursing Deejo into old age.

And really, maybe I’d enjoy dog ownership! Of course there would be hiccups. That Cat’s absolute hatred of dogs, for example. Or the fact that I habitually spent 3-4 nights per week at Carly’s house instead of my own. Perhaps the fact that I’d be juggling the stress of 50 hour work weeks, Sober October, and dog ownership simultaneously. But I wasn’t deterred.

The first week, Mila liberated me from the alarm clock. Who wants a shrill sound when you can have a giant, clumsy paw clobbering you in the head? Or, better yet, a cold damp nose somehow finding your exposed, sleeping flesh? My alarm served as a negligible afterthought. I never had to “set” the puppy. I could rest easily knowing she’d wake me up well before dawn.  

The most interesting mornings were the mornings I forgot to drape clothes somewhere near the bed. Waking up I’d find 65 pounds of unrestrained joy standing between my naked body and sweatpants. Over the course of three weeks I perfected a lumbering stagger, something between a pirouette and an advanced martial arts feint. It’s a sport, really, keeping your bare ass out of reach while an inquisitive cold nose looms torpedo-esque in the dark. 

And that nose. Never underestimate a Doberman’s nose. I swear she could stand with all four feet in the living room, and still rest her nose on my dinner plate in the kitchen.

I would like to see a study proving that dog-ownership hones humans’ perception skills. I can now easily discern the sounds of Mila sneaking from her bed into mine, or tip-toeing up to the cat food dispenser. From my second story loft I can differentiate between when she’s hurdling the couch, and when she’s simply using my roommate’s bed to come off the top rail on an unsuspecting roommate's dog. Walking into a room, I feel equipped to interpret each displaced crumb, unusual puddle, or kitty litter pebble like a seasoned detective evaluating a crime scene.

My foray into part-time dog ownership lasted two weeks, five days, and approximately 12 hours. And, surprisingly, I wasn’t the reason it ended. Mila upgraded. She traded in her 10 hour days of daycare for a 2-acre fenced yard and a stay-at-home girlfriend in Wilsonville. I can’t blame her. In all honesty, I’m a little jealous of her.

This experience has taught me two things. 1) You can simultaneously love something desperately, and still want to throw it out a window. 2) Responsibilities are better when you don’t have to shoulder them alone. I would have cried more than once without Carly patting my head while murmuring reassuring things like, “She’s just a puppy. It’s only going to get worse. Accept it.” And accepting it. Accepting that there’s only so much a human can control, and a puppy isn’t one of them 99.9% of the time.

Unless you have a Gentle Leader.

All my love, darlings. 

**Title inspired by Sherman Alexie's book, which I 100% guarantee you will enjoy. Please go purchase it immediately. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dear David Foster Wallace:

Nine months ago I picked up Infinite Jest for the second time with every intention of powering through. I believed my first failed attempt had prepared me for this undertaking. Now, cocooned in my bed on an autumn afternoon, it’s apparent that didn’t happen in the timely manner I’d hoped for.

Let’s start with the physical proportions of your behemoth. Over 1,000 pages with 388 endnotes, and a whopping 3.5 pounds. David Foster Wallace, your book is inconvenient. I couldn’t prop it up on the elliptical while mindlessly churning out miles of sweat, or pace around the house with it loosely grasped in one hand while brushing my teeth. From the start you demanded my full attention, and settled for nothing less. I frequently felt like a child: sitting upright, clutching the book with both hands, reading until my arms ached.

It’s safe to say this book left its mark on me. Literally. Remember the sunny day I vowed to read 50 pages in one sitting? Sprawled on the beach with 32 ounces of beer, a bottle of water, and ample snacks I was mentally and physically prepared. Six hours later, after emerging from the tangled vortex of a 10-page endnote, I hit that 50 page mark around the same time my second degree sunburn started blistering.   

Before now I’ve never read a book and the dictionary side-by-side. I have no doubt you did this intentionally. I’ll admit there were times I resented you for stretching the boundaries of language beyond good old Merriam-Webster’s capabilities. You manipulated the etymology of myth and medicine in ways I may never fully comprehend. Portions of this story read like a lexical temper tantrum. Do you realize there have been whole dictionaries dedicated to your creation?

It’s aptly titled. The joke is that you spend an infinite amount of time reading it.

Perhaps the worst things about reading this book was the inevitable question: but what’s it about? There’s no concise answer. The main characters are a prodigious teenage tennis player, a recovering drug addict/ex burglar, a subversive Canadian wheelchair assassin, and a horrifically beautiful veiled woman. Themes include depression, substance abuse, athletics, marketing and media, suicide, teenage angst, politics, pollution, and familial tension. You also managed to touch on incest, materialism, agoraphobia, love, and genetically mutated feral hamsters the size of Volkswagons.

As isolated as I felt reading it, I can’t imagine how you felt writing it.

David Foster Wallace, human beings are absurd. We’re repellant and alluring. We’re self-conscious and vain. We’re occasionally noble and martyred and affected. We wake up in gutters covered in our own shit and vomit, and still sell our last shred of dignity for another ounce of pleasure. But of course, you knew this. You possessed a concise and poignant view of the human condition, and chose to leave it of your own accord. I know, I know. The only advice I received when I started this book was to avoid reading it through the lens of your suicide. But you unknowingly cast the shadow of your death across every page.  

"Any man can slip out there. All it takes is a second of misplaced respect." pg. 169

I hope you’ve found more resolution than this story. Honestly, Infinite Jest is one of the most ridiculous and horrifying pieces of entertainment I’ve ever consumed. But also challenging. But also rewarding. David Foster Wallace, thank you. I know you’re responsible for this overwhelming and unexplainable feeling of accomplishment. I have to get back to my Real Life.