The Wrong Ass

This is Mystery.IMG_0107

He is a great, friendly, waddling, yellow, seventeen-pound kibble-eating machine who goes through life perpetually perplexed about what just happened, a persistent hunter of catnip mice, a dedicated hairdresser to all other cats, the least mysterious cat on the planet.

Mystery, in the five months or so he’s been here, has become comfortable with the duvet on our bed, and flops there by the hour practicing competitive napping. Mr. Ferguson gets along with him fine now and shares the space or leaves it to him.

Mrs. Nickel Catmium-Ferguson (I can’t remember if I mentioned that they must have gotten married at some point when our backs were turned) is less sanguine. Unless that means “bloody appalled.” She does not scream at him, which is a mercy, because her scream is the sound of a fire siren being gang-ravished, but flies to the top of the cat tree and gazes on in spotted horror when he ambles up to police the crumbs of kibble she and Fergie have left behind. In Nickel’s view, there is only one decent cat in the world, and that is her husband; when she is not snuggling with him in a cat bed meant for one cat, she is following him around the house with her nose beneath his parabolic tail, telegraphing as if it were always a new discovery that Fergie’s ass is the Best. Thing. Ever.


This evening Mystery was enjoying a nice siesta at the foot of the bed when Nickel ambled into the room, stretched up to the level of the mattress, saw a gingery posterior and applied her nose to it, then started back in horror, crumpled her snout in regular pleats like a chef’s toque and uttered a venomous hiss and yowl of shocked detestation. Sniffed again. Hissed again. Mystery turned his head and stared blearily as she let rip a third time: “Uh… the talking bits are up here.”

She’s been stomping around ever since, if cats can stomp, complaining that she was hoodwinked. Or buttwinked. Or something.

Why Don’t Women Have An Army?

Wonder WomanThis is a despairing, helpless, political-style post, and probably something that someone else has said better, so if you are not inclined toward that type of thing and come here for my profane-cynical-gymrat-scholar-with-cats stuff you can skip past it.

Just only, why the fuck do not women have an army? An international National Guard of decently equipped and trained ground troops, fighter pilots, special forces and snipers? We are certainly capable of it. Women serve in the armed forces of beaucoup nations (including nations where they say “beaucoup”), they fly missions, they work in combat zones. I, sixty years old with shit vision, still do a full-time physical job and regard a lingeringly trick hip as a reason to do more handstand push-ups.

So why not? Is someone out there a better political organizer than I am? Someone who can stand talking to more than five people a day? (That does not seem to be most women’s problem, from where I sit, but it is mine.) We need it. Good Goddess, we need it.

I’m not talking about military reprisals against the countries where a man can control his wife’s choice of occupation, or which have no laws punishing marital rape or wife-beating (OK, fantasies are allowed). But in the name of Hippolyta, this, and this. If ISIL or Boko Haram is in the neighborhood you might get shot or beheaded, but if you are a woman you will be enslaved and beaten and raped, lather rinse repeat, in the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate. Yeah right.

Where are the women’s armies taking on these smug, sick bastards selling teenage students in bride markets, beating women and selling them again when they heal, dumping their dead bodies out of windows? I mean, Netanyahu is imploring the Jews of Europe to “come home” to safety in Israel already after a short spate of terror shootings that about equal a bad night in Chicago. (The Jews really figured this out; is there anyone in the world who doesn’t respect the IDF as a fighting force, whatever you think of Israeli politics?)  Egypt didn’t even stop for a pee before swooping down on Libya after this week’s auto-da-fe. NATO nations have a deal: we signed an instrument, someone invades you, I come help. If only the developed world had a Women’s International Guard that would come to the defense of women facing wholesale capture and abuse by insurgents, while the politicians figure out what to do about the everyday wife beaters and rape artists that I guess we are going to have to pick off piecemeal in the courts.

I dream of it, women like the women I work out with, women like the ones on ESPN or UFC, women like the leathery old babes that come to me for massage before entering a triathlon as a seventieth-birthday celebration, quick, fierce, hair cut short or tied in tight braids, lethally accurate with modern weapons, competent in the cockpit, ruthless. They exist. There will be more of them. I want to see them in a strike force,  platoons of merciless Boudiccas, a monstrous regiment of women with skin in the game that male troops can never have, swooping in with sniper fire and tactical airstrikes and oh crap, I don’t know, Wonder Woman’s lasso if someone can find the thing.

I know. Wonder Woman’s lasso was made up. But all the rest seems theoretically possible.

Any retired women generals getting fed up with home life out there? Let’s talk.

Bring Me The Head Of The Concept Designer

I mean, for several minutes there at the beginning of the final aria, I was starting to think that — for eighty-six dollars, yet — I wasn’t going to get any head at all.

I’m not sure if it was down to the director or the concept designer, who had already done a good-some bad-some job of visuals for the Virginia Opera’s Salome whoever had decreed that the silver charger on which the head of John the Baptist was presented should remain covered until Salome was most of the way through her apostrophe. There was a far too long moment of uncertainty over whether they had cheaped out on the properties at the last minute, and were just going to wait till the moment when the stage is supposed to go dark before Salome kisses the head on the lips, and make a clanking noise with the dish cover, like you hear through the doors behind a steam-table line.

Instead, to their credit, they had pungled up a pretty good prop head — convincingly like the baritone who sang the role of the Baptist — and, better late than never, Salome got her chemise good and bloody with it. You were just left with the dissonance of her wondering aloud “Why do you not look at me, Jochanaan?” when it was damn obvious why he wasn’t looking at her, dead or alive, with the lid still on the tureen and all.

Concept productions always annoy me a bit even when I like them. This one jarred us all nicely with sets and costumes lifted from Iraq or Syrian war coverage on the nightly news — desert camo on the soldiers and rubble around the rust-hazed bunker entrance that stood in for John the Baptist’s cistern. It gave a frisson to lines like

Rejoice not thou, land of Palestine, because the rod of him who smote thee is broken. For from the seed of the serpent shall come forth a basilisk, and that which is born of it shall devour the birds.

The Baptist himself emerged into the light swaddled in a black hood and chains that recalled Abu Ghraib, and it worked; it worked when Salome snatched away the hood to reveal the bearded and bespectacled countenance of a Talmudic scholar.

But why, oh why, just because this opera is scandalously erotic — the text is made over verbatim into German from Oscar Wilde’s extravagantly affected, stylized 1891 play — must we have Salome humping her own arm (while the Baptist is haranguing her to go find Jesus) and, later, his prison door? Admittedly the last was an impressive feat since it required her to chin herself a fair way up off the stage. For a moment I really thought she was going to vault to the top. I love a good athletic stage performance but really, at times, less is more. They should have saved the verismo for the end, where, instead of having “the soldiers rush forward and crush beneath their shields Salomé, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judæa” — an action which is explicit in music like abrupt, irregular blows — the whole stage is bathed in red like a disco and large flakes of what might be an acoustic ceiling rain down on the lustlorn Princess, the horrified Herod Humbert Humbert, and his royal wife.

And see, that’s what happens when you let a concept design mentality run away with you. Update to the twenty-first century and the soldiers have no shields with which to get the job done. The Engineer speculated on the way out that rifle butts would have worked, which I think they would if you did interrupted lighting as a trompe d’oeil so the soprano could come out of it in one piece. I notice that people tend to edge away from us when we are having these kinds of conversations.

Never mind. It’s my favorite opera, the singers were the best I’ve ever heard in a regional company*, and I can’t think of a spiffier Valentine’s date — mwah to my brave little engineer, who drove us there through what threatened to become a whiteout almost as soon as we left my driveway. If it had just been Pagliacci or even Traviata I would have asked him to turn back.

Here’s the opera company’s quick Idiot’s Guide to the libretto, if you don’t know the show.


*I do have a sort of litmus test for the sopranos. Just before kissing the severed head, Salome sings that “the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death,” in German declension two syllables, Todes, and that last note is an F sharp below middle C which even some altos emit as an unmusical moan; if the soprano can get that, she has my respect. Even some of the big names can’t nail it so the Virginia Opera’s principal in this production is forgiven for an almost inaudible vibration.

Here is Karita Mattila in 2008 at the Met, getting it spot on at about 3:46:

Dental Hygiene

tooth fairyThirty years or so ago I got a wart on my gum. I have never met anyone else who knew this was a thing, as the young folks say, but apparently it is. Some random virus gets into one of those divots where you dag yourself with the wrong side of the toothbrush, say, and if the stars are right and Great Cthulhu is rising you get, well, as a co-worker of mine at the time called it, Star Wart. It hurt like a bugger every time I brushed, and I found myself in the hands of an oral surgeon who apparently wasn’t the best in the West, because two decades after the wart was removed with much fanfare and lashings of Pentothal, the equally numb-nuts dentist I was seeing at the time told me I had an erosion in my jaw bone and I needed to see a periodontist.

The first thing I did was throw away his referral (he was a crank-em-through discount dentist I had consulted as a stopgap because my last dentist had started putting in fillings that flew out of my teeth after about three years, which was getting irritating, and I just needed someone to do maintenance until I could get a decent recommendation). I ended up with this expensive, brilliant guy who promptly announced that he was going to drill holes in my jaw bone, which had developed a sort of a saddle in it under the surgical site because the long-past surgeon didn’t really sew the gum back together all that tight, and insert either porcine or cadaver growth hormone to reconstitute the missing bone, take your pick. I am a vegetarian, but not a martyr, and you can get all sorts of disgusting things from cadavers so I opted for the pig. They have not yet reported Mad Pig Disease to my knowledge.

I cannot describe exactly what it is like to listen to a drill burr through your actual bone while you are sitting there in the dental chair trying to think beautiful thoughts, except to say that I have no zeal to ever get one of these implant things. The whole thing worked a treat though and I started going back to this guy for every other teeth cleaning, twice a year, since anyone who drinks Darjeeling and Assam at the rate I do has more or less Palomino-colored teeth after about three months. Also he has done a pretty damn good job warding off the sort of gum insurrection that most people my age seem to have endured by now; instead of disgusting incursions with flaps and stitches and things, I just had to have the root of the goofball warty tooth planed about a year back.

Last October when I reported in the nice hygienist from Bahrain who has been doing the honors for years wasn’t there. Instead a twentysomething women’s field hockey fullback chivvied her way in, introduced herself, looked at the chart and said chirpily, “Okay, I see you always get numbing gel!” No I don’t. I loathe all those flavored unguents that get slopped into your mouth in dental offices, and one reason I stuck with this practice (and the primary dental one that I sent me to it) was that, for the first time in my life, getting my teeth cleaned was not an utter bloody white-knuckled hell. Never mind. Fullback Mary insisted that I always got numbing gel. “It says so right here! You must just not have realized it!” Nothing I said would change her mind. How confrontational are you prepared to get with someone who is about to go spelunking in your mouth with sharp instruments? I considered walking out, but I was getting stalgamites on my premolars. She slathered me with goop that tasted like out-of-date Hawaiian Punch and proceeded to go over my mouth with a hammer and chisel. In between blows, she said, in tones that a special ed teacher might use to a particularly recalcitrant little ‘tard, “You know if you want good checkups you need to use the sonic brush for two whole minutes!!! Do you use it for two minutes?”

“Did Mary do a good job for you?” asked the gum doc when she had finished, while she stood right there, smirking. As I was freed from the chair, she glanced back at her computer screen, and remarked “Oh I see!!! You just got that numbing gel when they did the root planing!” I guess that was an apology. Or something. My mouth tasted like fruit-favored dogshit for hours, even after the obnoxious blubber-lipped numb feeling wore off and it became apparent that she had used barb wire to floss with.

I decided to wait a few weeks and check back to see if they had canned her already. That stretched out into months, on account I was moving an engineer into my cats’ bedroom and all and had other things to think about. Oh no. She’s the only one there who can clean my teeth now.

This is a bit difficult. The doctor is top-notch, but there is no way in hell I am letting that woman back near my mouth. I mean, if the next argument is about something a little more critical than numbing gel, like say drug allergies, it could get ugly; she may have the field hockey look but I still shove 500 on the leg sled most workouts, give or take, and in the dental chair I have a position of leverage, and there is a big plate glass window on the opposite wall, and it’s on the sixth floor. I made my case to the office manager, but she said the scheduler would have to call me back to book me for the week that The Reamer is off. That was the last I heard from them.

I scheduled with the virtuoso who works at my regular dentist’s office. Meanwhile I can’t decide whether to make another phone call, or write the periodontist a letter which will probably get used against me in court in a wrongful firing cum slander suit, or something.

This bites. So to speak.

Linguistic Ambidexterity

OK, this is interesting.

From the User’s Guide to the Brain by John Ratey:

If you want to verify the lateralization concept [of language dominance in the brain hemispheres] for yourself, take this test: Try to repeat a passage of poetry while you simultaneously tap a finger on the table. It is significantly more difficult to tap a finger on your right hand than your left, because the movement of the right finger is controlled by the left hemisphere and competes for neurons with the language areas there. The brain is not limitless. If you found the reverse, you may be one of the few people whose right hemisphere dominates language. If you can tap fingers on both hands equally well, you may be linguistically ambidextrous.

I had a shot at this under my breath, tapping fingers on my knees because I was in my favorite reading chair and there was a math tutoring session going on at the nearest table. I used my own poem, the one from my bouquet of love lyrics that starts out “Be damned and double damned, you cur…” Sonofagun if I didn’t blank on some of the words around the second line while I was tapping my left forefinger. I tried the right. Everything rolled out. Went through the sequence again. Same result. Not dramatic, not a total block, but it was easy tapping on the right, just a bit of work on the left, like speaking your own language versus your fourth year of foreign language in high school.

Apparently my brain is on backwards. Who knew?

This is even more interesting because although I am a kinetic bastard — ask anyone in the gym — I am also a klutz who can trip over a chalk line on the sidewalk and have all the grace of an intoxicated wolverine. There is some information enfolded here about language crowding into every crevice and interstice of my Mercury-intoxicated brain* and crowding out motor fluency, if I can figure it out.

Try it and see how your mileage varies.


*The Olympian patron of language, not the heavy metal. I deplore heavy metal.

Intellectual Property

If you have really been reading this blog for a long time, you know that I love science fiction — the only thing I remember reading before a raft of juvenile SF titles was a biography of Marie Curie and another of Joan of Arc, which could explain a lot about me.

And you know that I have a special bump of horrified fascination for the lyric dystopias of Philip K. Dick.

Possibly it’s for that very reason that I never sat down to watch Blade Runner, or Total Recall. For one thing, what was wrong with the original titles? That matter alone was practically a black-bordered warning label that Hollywood was going to get Phil Dick wrong.

But this. This. Just watch it, if you are that kind of person and have an hour. If it grabs you, switch to the Amazon video page so  you can vote it up at the end. I have to see what they do with this.

(If YouTube — which was just easier to embed — takes this down over some intellectual property issue, just get straight to Amazon while the pilot is still up there for free.)

The sets alone have reduced me to rubble. That is a vision of the world that was slipping away as I was growing into awareness, the midcentury world that Dick inhabited, and to see it recreated with such perfect clarity softens the ground under my feet, as if that world is coming back with a persistent undertow to claim me. Depending on your age, your mileage will vary. But since watching it last night, I feel, like almost all of Dick’s characters, as if the world is fluid and sliding on mudslicks of regression and entropy.

Good stuff.

Anniversaries, or, Entertainment For Both Coarse And Refined

I discovered yesterday, late in the day, that two important birthdays had all but eluded me.

January 27th, the classical station informed me, was the birthdate of the sublime, the celestial, the prolific Mozart. If you lie down feeling pummeled at the end of a long day and this is what you hear on the radio, you have pretty much gone to Heaven:

After a while I revived, only to learn as I made a last check of my inbox that — according to the Roto-Rooter company, which once sent me a flirtatious technician to clear my foundation drain (yes, I know that sounds rude) — yesterday was also the death date of Thomas Crapper.

(Why they chose to commemorate his demise I am not sure, though my old EMT boyfriend used to refer to mortal expiration as “shitting the bed.” That is EMT talk. I only report the news, I don’t make it.)

Apparently Roto-Rooter has a small line in this kind of thing.

Given what we know about Wolfgang Amadeus, he would have loved it.

NSFW, but only if they speak German where you work.