Sunday, July 20, 2014

Return of the Old Lady Concert Rules

There is nothing I like more than going to summer concerts. There's something about listening to music, usually outdoors, on a warm summer evening that makes me feel young and invincible. I remember my first outdoor concert was Huey Lewis & the News one summer in Detroit when I was 12 or 13. I even remember wearing these really ridiculous earrings to that concert. I have no idea why it was important that I wear them but I know it was a big deal. Anyway, I don't remember much else about that concert except that I got to stay up late and hang out with my older brother. Ever since that show, I've made a habit of seeing several shows over the summer months and this summer is no exception.

This year's lineup:
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (July 23 at Constitution Hall)
  • KISS & Def Leppard (July 25 at Jiffy Lube Live)
  • Heart (July 29 at Wolf Trap)
  • Santana & Rod Stewart (August 19 at the Verizon Center)
  • Motely Crue & Alice Cooper (August 22 at Jiffy Lube Live)
It's sort of a random group of concerts but in my head it makes absolute sense. I'm hoping that KISS plays this song although I'm sure they won't.

I have two go-to concert buddies: my brother, Scott and my friend, Anita. I've gone to many concerts with them both over the years including the time all three of us went to see They Might Be Giants at Ram's Head in Baltimore. They're both ideal concert buddies in that they'll go to just about any concert if asked even if they're not familiar with the band. Scott had never even heard of The Decemberists prior to seeing them with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra a few years ago. He liked them enough to go see them with me again the following year. And Anita - she knows exactly four songs by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds but is going to see them with me on Wednesday anyway. I'm hopeful that she'll enjoy the band as much as I do.

What makes Scott and Anita exceptional concert buddies is their adherence to and support of my Old Lady Concert Rules. In fact, they've both helped to create some of these rules over the years. Just to be clear; just because I have concert rules does not mean that I am a killer of fun. I love fun and love concerts and the Rules help to ensure that we all do, in fact, have fun. Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do and I enjoy it more when people around me aren't acting like morons or like we're sitting in their living room. Yes, we all enjoy live shows in our own ways but I feel like we need a social contract we can all agree to when we enter the arena or auditorium. That way, we all have fun and no one gets punched in the throat.

So in the interest of fun, let's review the Old Lady Concert Rules.
  1. Don't wear the shirt of the band you're going to see. Don't be that guy. (Thank you Jeremy Piven in PCU for this one.)
  2. No large bags or backpacks in the pit or other standing room shows. I get that in DC most of us come from work to shows during the week but do you really need that backpack while standing at the 9:30 Club? Doesn't your office allow you to lock up your laptop or something? I'm pretty short so your backpack and my face are probably at the same level so if you do have to bring it at least be aware of the people around you when you're dancing or whatever.
  3. I don't like to stand at concerts. This is why I buy seats whenever possible. I don't sit on the lawn and I don't buy tickets in the pit when there are perfectly good seats to be had. If you also spent the money for a seat, SIT IN IT. Unless every other human in the arena is standing, sit down.
  4. More pit/standing room etiquette: If you are late, stay to the back of the room. I got here at a reasonable time to get close to the stage and you should have too. This is especially jerky if the show has already started and you're elbowing your way to the front with your stupid backpack. Don't tell me your friend is at the front; she's not. You're lying. Show me your friend and I'll let you pass as long as I have confirmation that you know the person you've sort of gestured at. 
  5. Someone has to be the DD for most shows. If you are that friend, congratulations you are a genuinely good person. I hope your friends do you a solid and take their turns at some point. However, being the DD isn't just about driving and making sure they get home safely. You have now been elected the babysitter of the group. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this but it's true. So when your dudes start spilling beer on people and generally being jerks in public, as the sober one, people are going to look to you to rein them in. It's not fair but know that you have a special place in concertgoer heaven reserved for you. 
  6. If you aren't the DD of your group and you've decided to imbibe at the show, please make sure to respect those around you by apologizing if you spill beer on them (especially in their hair - not that this has ever happened to me), know your limits (you don't need that fifth shot of Fireball and a beer chaser), and most importantly watch for stairs. Concerts don't need to end in a trip to the emergency room and a broken nose.
  7. Respect the space around you. Even at outdoor shows, it's still not Woodstock and most people aren't interested in your dancing and space invasion. Dance all you want and dance like no one is watching but be respectful of those around you who are also dancing like no one is watching.
  8. Don't use words like "merch" and "gig"- you're not with the band. And even if you are it makes you sound pretentious. 
  9. Let's keep our cell phone use to a minimum. I like taking pictures of the shows I go to see as much as the next person but I also like watching the show that I'm seeing. So get your pictures done, take a selfie or two, and then put it away. Cell phones and lighters are not the same thing.
  10. Don't yell "Freebird." It's not funny, the band doesn't appreciate it, and chances are the vast majority of the audience doesn't get the reference anyway (depending on the show).
  11. Control the volume of your voice. This is especially true when you're at indoor shows at smaller venues; your voice carries and we can all hear you during breaks or softer songs. Listen to The Velvet Underground Live at Max's Kansas City for the perfect example of why this is a terrible thing to do at shows. Even if you're famous.
  12. And finally, I get that I missed all the great music because it was all made before I was born or when I was small but you know what, these bands and musicians are still playing and we can watch them right now. And it's awesome that we can. Don't ruin that experience just because you think the band has "sold out" or has new members or whatever. Remember what it was like the first time you saw that band and let people have their own version of that experience. 
There you have it - the Old Lady Concert Rules. None of these rules are difficult or impede on your fun.Y'all know I like being a good citizen so these rules are just an extension of my love of civil societies and being nice to one another. That's it - I'm not here to ruin your fun.

I leave you with the immortal words of AC/DC. Get out there and be a good rock and roll citizen!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Short Story Hour: Pickles and the Cabinet of Doom, Part II

Read Part I of this Pickles adventure.

A few days later

Pickles watched her human get ready for work. Over the last several days, Pickles noticed that her human had stopped leaving things out on tables and counters. There was less stuff for her to knock over as she continued her battle with the bathroom cabinet. Since the first day, Pickles had continued to knock things over when she wasn’t able to get the door open. Yesterday she added unrolling a roll of toilet paper. Her human had been so angry that she wouldn’t let Pickles into the bathroom when she was taking a shower this morning. The nerve.

Her human left with a curt goodbye, a reminder to behave (which sounded like weird meows to Pickles), and a slam of the front door. Pickles was left on her own. Since setting the goal of getting into the cabinet, she had adjusted her daily schedule. There was less napping and sun patch time and more staring at the cabinet door time. She had made no progress in opening the door; every time she got her paw under the door it wouldn’t budge. Something was keeping her from getting the edge she needed.

As Pickles entered the bathroom, she was prepared for another day of staring and no progress towards her goal. She was surprised when she saw that the left side cabinet door was slightly open. Open enough for Pickles to get in. Her human must have left the door open! Pickles didn’t know what to do with herself. She had been dreaming of this moment for weeks and it was finally coming true. Pickles took a moment to savor this small victory. She wasn’t sure what was on the other side of the door but she was finally going to find out.

With tentative steps, Pickles walked towards the open cabinet door. She could see that it was dark behind the door but had no fear; she had excellent eyesight in the dark. She approached the door slowly and with cautious excitement. She didn’t want to accidentally hit the door and close it. It might never open again.

Pickles pawed at the door and got it opened enough to slide into the cabinet. She had always been a lean cat and her petite size helped with squeezing into tight places. The door closed behind her with a soft click. Pickles was in the cabinet! She had made it!

And now she was in total darkness.

Cats have better nocturnal vision than humans but can’t see perfectly in total darkness. Pickles sat very still for a few minutes to let her eyes adjust to the abrupt change in light. She hadn’t anticipated the darkness. She wasn’t really sure what she had anticipated. Her eyes adjusted somewhat and she started to sniff around. There was also a funny smell; it reminded Pickles of those times when her human would tell her to get off the off the bathroom counter and then she’d wipe something on it. The counter was always slippery and smelled weird. Pickles assumed it was clean but all it really meant was that she had to roll around on it some more to mark it as hers. Being a cat was so much work. 

That was the smell in the cabinet. Pickles didn’t like it. The smell was ruining her under the cabinet adventure. No, she was not going to let that stupid smell ruin this. Pickles turned around and started sniffing the bottles and boxes. She found a plastic box and rubbed her face on the edge. She knocked some bottles over. That was all there was. Pickles had expected more and somewhere soft to nap. Pickles was disappointed. All that planning had led to this - a horrible smell and nothing to do. She couldn't believer her bad luck.

She walked back to the door and tried to get out. Whatever had kept her out for so long was now keeping her in. The door wouldn’t open; it would just pretend like it was going to open and then close again. She pushed on the door a few more times. She tried to get her paw underneath to keep the door open. None of it worked. She didn’t know what to do.

Pickles resigned herself to her fate. She would have to stay in here forever. She would never see her human again or cuddle on the couch. The birds would take over the ledge due to the lack of patrol. Her sun patch would fade into a mere shadow of itself. Her penguin toy, her most favorite toy, would be all alone. Pickles was trapped in the darkness with the smell of doom.

That evening

The first thing Amelia noticed when she came into the apartment was that Pickles didn’t run out to meet her. Amelia wasn’t entirely surprised; Pickles seemed to know that she was mad about the messes. The cat had been hiding a bit more since Amelia had last scolded her. The second thing Amelia noticed was that there were no messes today. Nothing had been pushed off a table. There were no bottles on the floor in the bathroom. One less thing she would have to clean up this evening.

Amelia went into the kitchen to fix dinner for Pickles and start on her own. Normally, the cat ran into kitchen the second a can of cat food was opened. But no Pickles. Amelia called out to the cat. No meows or anything. She grabbed the treat box from the top of the refrigerator; shaking the box was Amelia’s go-to way to get the cat out of her hiding place. She shook the box a few times. Still no Pickles.

“Pickles, where are you?” Amelia started looking in all of Pickles’s regular hiding places. She wasn’t under the bed or on top of the cable box. She wasn’t on top of the refrigerator or the cabinets in the kitchen. She couldn’t get into the cabinets under the kitchen sink and the door to the hallway closet wasn’t open. Amelia checked her bedroom closet next; no Pickles. There was no way the cat could have gotten out of the apartment. She had been perched on the window sill when Amelia left for work. No one had come into the apartment. There was no where else for her to go.

There had to be somewhere she hadn’t considered. The cabinets all had safety latches on them so they were secure. Pickles couldn’t have moved the board covering the hole between the kitchen cabinet walls. Just to be sure, Amelia climbed up on the counter to check. No Pickles. Panic was setting in. She sat quietly for a few minutes. Where else could Pickles be? Amelia ran through her mental list of all the places that Pickles could be.

The reality was that Pickles was here somewhere. She had to be. Amelia figured that if she gave the cat some time she would come out on her own especially if she got hungry. Amelia calmed herself down and went back to the kitchen to start making dinner. The cat was here she was just being a cat.

Under the cabinet
Pickles heard her human come home. She had spent the entire day laying in the corner of the dark, smelly cabinet. Occasionally, she would try to get out. Every time she failed. She heard her human calling her. She mustered her loudest meow but it sounded like a whisper. She tried a few times but her human clearly didn’t hear her.

She was starting to panic again. What if her human never found her? What if she really had to stay here forever?

No, she was going to get out of this. She was an industrious cat and was going figure a way out.

A little later
Normally when she cooked or baked, Amelia listened to music. Since she still hadn’t figured out where Pickles was, she kept the music off in case her little cat made noise and then she would be able to find where the cat was hiding. She was in the middle of chopping vegetables when she heard a whispered meow.

She put down her knife and dried her hands. Where was the meow coming from? She started in the living room listening, checking places as she went. She checked the cabinet in the entertainment center. She looked under the couch. She looked under the bed. She even opened the dresser drawers thinking the cat could have somehow wiggled in. She looked in her closet again. No Pickles. That brought her to the bathroom. As she got closer to the bathroom, the meows grew louder. The only place Pickles could be was under the cabinets. How could she have gotten under the cabinets?

Amelia opened the cabinet door and out ran Pickles. The cat weaved around her legs and meowed loudly. Amelia picked up the cat, “How did you get into the cabinet? Those latches were supposed to keep you out of the cabinets.” Had she left the door open this morning? She had been distracted this morning so it was possible she didn’t notice the latch didn’t catch. So it was her fault Pickles was missing. She would have to do a better job ensuring they were safely closed.

Pickles wiggled out of her human’s arms and made her way to her food. She was starving and ate everything in her bowl (a first for Pickles as she was of the “I ate five pieces now I have no food” school of eating). Her human returned to making her own dinner. Pickles stayed close by and avoided making eye contact with the bathroom cabinet. She felt that it was staring at her and laughing. The great adventure she had envisioned had been nothing but darkness and boredom. And fear. She had really believed that she would have to stay there forever with the smells and no soft things to lay on. It had been torture.

Amelia finished dinner and decided to start re-watching season five of Gilmore Girls. Pickles settled on her lap for a little while. The cat wanted lots of attention tonight. Amelia had a hard time being mad at Pickles; she was so freaking cute. The cat had avoided the bathroom since being let out, only darting in once to use her litter box. Amelia realized that today’s mishap had taught Pickles a lesson. Or she hoped it had taught Pickles a lesson. She was a cat and Amelia realized a long time ago that cats did whatever they pleased even if it was something that was dangerous. So maybe Pickles would try again; Amelia was hopeful that she would avoid the cabinets forever.

As episode two began, Pickles moved from her human’s lap to her favorite pillow on the couch. She was exhausted; she hadn’t really gotten a full 18 hours of sleep today. It had been too stressful to really nap under the sink. She flumped onto the pillow and fell into a deep sleep.

She couldn’t help herself when it came to taking pictures of Pickles. The cat was contorted into a weird sleeping position and looked adorable so Amelia snapped a picture and posted it on several of her social media accounts. The caption read: “A well deserved nap after facing the cabinet of doom. #adventuresofpicklesthecat”

The next morning
Pickles was on patrol. There were three birds outside and they kept landing on her window sill like they owned the place. Pickles couldn’t do much to them from inside but she kept an eye on them and occasionally batted at the window to make them fly away. They knew who was boss of this window. She planned to patrol for a little while longer and then it was sun patch time. Pickles loved a regimented schedule.

Her human was home today. Earlier she had brought out that horrible monster that made loud noises as it rolled across the carpets. Pickles stayed under the bed until it was done. She hated that thing. She ended her patrol and settled into her sun patch and reflected on the events of the previous day. By chance she had gotten into the one place she was not allowed to go and it had been a major disappointment. Now Pickles understood why her human shooed her away and kept those cabinets locked tight. Nothing good happened in the cabinets under the sink. She had to concede that maybe her human was right about this. She would try to be a good cat and stay out of trouble for awhile.

The thought quickly left her mind when she glanced up and realized something. She had never been on top of the very high bookcase in the living room. What would the world look like from such heights? How would she get to the top? There were many possibilities for climbing and jumping from other places in the room. She didn’t even consider how she would get back down; that was unimportant. Pickles began plotting her ascent to the top and her next adventure.

Cats never learn.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: This movie has everything

We live in a world where we have become used to the idea that our favorite fictional characters can be killed without warning and for no reason but that the creators of these characters seem to enjoy the agony that these deaths cause across the fandoms. I have still not come to terms with Buffy's mom's death and half expected a character to actually die in the film version of Much Ado About Nothing. That's how Joss Whedon rolls. Now that I've started watching Game of Thrones, I have decided not to care about any character. That way, I can't be sad when they die.

It's with this idea in mind that I began my first full viewing of the 1996 classic Independence Day in probably five years. I usually come in somewhere in the middle whenever it's on TBS for the four hundredth time during the month of July. The late 90s where an excellent time for action movies especially if you liked volcanoes, asteroids, and plots that only had one or two differences. Independence Day was unique-ish at least at the time. The movie is patriotic without being nationalistic and uplifting while still having some sad moments. The pace is quick so while you like the characters and empathize with them, you don't get attached. You expect that some of them are not going to make it and it's okay. When aliens are attempting to exterminate the human race causalities can't be avoided.

This movie has everything: explosions, science, aliens, Harry Connick, Jr., the White House, comedy, tacky dolphin jewelry, Robert Loggia, cute kids, Data from Next Generation. Everything.

So with a week left until Independence Day, toast some marshmallows and make a s'more or two and enjoy the most patriotic movie of the 1990s Independence Day.
  1. I don't know the last time I watched the movie from the beginning. I did not remember that the movie started on the moon. The entire invasion is obviously retribution for astronauts walking on the moon. Thanks Neil Armstrong.
  2. Excellent use of R.E.M's "It's the End of the World As We Know It". Do you remember when it was a badge of coolness to actually know all of the lyrics?
  3. Literally everyone is in this movie: the guy who plays the museum director in The Mummy (Erick Avari), Jim Piddock (from several Christopher Guest movies), the older daughter from Mrs. Doubtfire, the cute guy from Detroit Rock City oh and Will Smith, Robert Loggia, Bill Pullman, Mae Whitman, and Jeff Goldblum. And Harvey Fierstein.
  4. Bill Pullman is the President! I think we should all dream hard for a world where this is the truth. Lone Starr should be President.
  5. "Daddy let me watch Letterman." "Traitor." Mae Whitman is so adorable as the first child. 
  6. I've never reconciled the fact that the women in the film are pretty stereotypical: the graceful, smart First Lady, the uptight communications director, and the stripper with a heart of gold. Couldn't we have done a little better?
  7. If you didn't have a crush on Jeff Goldblum when this movie came out, you did after you saw it. He's nerdy and funny and still in love with his wife who happens to be the President's communications director. And he's nice to his dad and is an excellent chess player. Of course he also saves the day. No big thing.
  8. OMG Harvey Fierstein is in this movie! I forgot he was in this movie. We're only fifteen minutes in and if the movie ended right now, it would be worth it.
  9. Randy Quaid has built a career on playing idiots and this movie doesn't disappoint in that department (at least in the beginning). I like his character's story arc and his family. More on his alien abduction later on.
  10. I like the special effects in this movie. They're classic and wonderful and not overwhelming even when the monuments and significant American symbols are being destroyed.
  11. Mae Whitman doesn't actually cry in this movie but I feel like this movie was another great place for her to hone her crying skills. Don't believe me? Check out this Buzzfeed article on her epic cries.
  12. The pacing of this movie is one of my favorite parts of the experience. The run time clocks at 2:25 and the aliens make their first move 24 minutes into the movie. You'd think that you'd get bored but you don't the movie moves between the connected stories at an excellent pace and actually moves. I have been to more movies in the last 3 years that should be a good 45 minutes shorter than they are. We could learn a lot from ID.
  13. We finally meet our two doomed characters: the First Lady (Mary McDonnell) and Harry Connick, Jr.. You know that the First Lady is doomed in her delivery of the line "I love you" when the President tells her to come back home. Something bad is going to happen to her and it's okay. Not okay that she's doomed but okay because you have time to process that it will happen. Same for HCJ: he's comic relief that might interfere with Will Smith's mugging so he has to go. He does deliver one of my favorite lines, "You're never gonna get to fly on the space shuttle if you marry a stripper."
  14. Fun fact: the White House interior scenes were filmed on the set that was built for The American President. This is my dad's favorite movie (it's his You've Got Mail). It was also used for Mars Attacks!
  15. "You punched the President?" I love Judd Hirsch in this movie too. Literally, everyone is in this movie.
  16. If you're trying to disaster plan for alien invasions, move to Des Moines. L.A., New York, and DC will go first so move to Iowa. 
  17. Jasmine's dog is awesome. 
  18. So let's discuss Will Smith: this is the only Will Smith movie that I enjoy him in. He's one of those actors who annoys me because he has little to no range and yet is in every movie (or at least was in every movie). Ali and Six Degrees of Separation were pleasant surprises but everything else is terrible. He's smug and mugs the entire time. At least in this movie he plays a pilot so I expect the smugness. Like Tom Cruise, I never willingly go see Will Smith movies. I only saw the first Men in Black because I adore Tommy Lee Jones. I do enjoy him in this movie especially the scene where he's dragging the alien through the desert and talking to it. And his "Welcome to Earth" before punching the alien. Beyond that, Will Smith in a movie makes me irrational. I want to punch him in the face because than he would stop being so freaking smug.
  19. Jasmine (the amazing Vivica A. Fox) drives a huge truck through destroyed L.A. and finds the First Lady. Of course, Jasmine voted for the other guy.
  20. Y'all it's Adam Baldwin. This movie should have 100% more Adam Baldwin. Basically, there should be a movie within a movie just about Adam Baldwin's character. I would totally watch that. And never be bored.
  21. And then Data, I mean, Brent Spiner, appears as the creepiest scientist who is not really a bad guy. He's just lived at Area 51 (yes that Area 51) forever and is really into aliens. Of course, this isn't going to end well. Shady.
  22. Fun fact: the US military was originally on board to provide technical advisement on the film UNTIL it was revealed that part of the plot involved Area 51.
  23. "You just have to get through their technology." So basically getting to the actual alien is a lot like helping one of my clients navigate the internet?
  24. Helpful tip: Don't dissect an alien if you don't know if it's dead or not. Bad things will happen.
  25. You know what this movie could use? Harvey Keitel. I don't know what he'd do in this movie but I feel like he'd be really awesome in it. 
  26. The President tries to convince the alien that peace is the answer. The alien declines. Obviously the only answer is to have Adam Baldwin kill it.
  27. I like the four love stories in the movie: Connie and David, Jasmine and Will Smith, the President and First Lady, and Randy Quaid (Russell) and his family. They all make sense.
  28. I find it incredibly amusing that Houston is where they decide to launch a nuclear attack against the aliens. Houston - just let that sink in for a minute.
  29. Have I mentioned how much I love Jeff Goldblum in this movie? He figures out how to give the mothership a "cold" and saves the day again (this is the second time so far). Connie's comment, "Now he gets ambitious" is also perfect. 
  30. This is the greatest speech of all time:

31. And then he suits up and joins the other pilots on their mission. Because he's a former combat pilot and the best president ever.
32. "I picked a hell of day to quit drinking." Russell - the unexpected hero of this movie. Again another great story element to this movie. I like everyone. Except the aliens.
33. Did I mention that they use morse code as a way to communicate with armies around the world? Take that aliens wiping our our technology. We've got morse code.
34. "Didn't I promise you fireworks?" Will Smith ends it for us with a mildly smug comment while we watch alien ships burn. Thanks Will Smith. Just keep smoking that cigar.

And that's Jenga. (Bonus points if you get that movie reference.) There you have it - one of my favorite movies from 1996. I was still in high school and did not yet feel like suspending disbelief while watching movies was for the weak. If you just can't help yourself and need to question the believability of this movie, check out this video (courtesy of Jessica).

Poster image
Gratuitous Adam Baldwin photo

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Short Story Hour: Pickles and the Cabinet of Doom, Part I

“Goodbye Pickles. Have a nice day.” The door closed and Pickles could hear the key turn in the lock. Her human was gone. She finally had the apartment to herself.

Pickles knew that she should probably be sad that her human made the choice to leave her alone for periods of eight to nine hours a day. She didn’t know where her human went; she assumed it was someplace un-fun and without cats. Her human probably didn’t get to nap or lay in the sun or any of the other fun things that Pickles got to do all day.

But Pickles didn’t really feel sad. When her human left Pickles was left to do all the things she wasn't normally allowed. She was able to jump on counters that always got her in trouble. She could go into the closet in the hallway and knock towels and pillows down and then lay on them (sliding doors were super easy to open). Or if she was really up for adventure, she could scale the refrigerator and the cabinets above the refrigerator. Sometimes Pickles liked to do that late in the day when she suspected her human would soon return. When she did, Pickles would jump down and her human would scream a little bit. Pickles liked a good scare.

There was one place in the apartment that Pickles wanted to go beyond all others - the cabinet in the bathroom. Every time she tried to get into this particular cabinet, her human shooed her away or stopped her before she could get the door open. Even when her human left, Pickles was never able to get the door open enough to get in. She could make a lot of noise trying it but never seemed to get the door to open; it was just too heavy. In recent days, she hadn’t been able to even open the door a little bit. Something had changed and she couldn’t figure it out. She couldn’t make the door bang late at night or early in the morning. She had to resort to pawing her human in the face to get any attention. Pickles was determined to figure out this mystery and pursue her dream of sleeping under the sink.

Pickles began her morning routine: basking in the sun, patrolling, napping, a snack, and more patrolling and napping. She was, like her human, a stickler for a plan and a schedule. She began with basking in the sun in the living room by the chair. She swished her tail a bit, rolled around, and decided she was bored. The curtains were open so she jumped on the window sill to patrol for a bit. Her human didn’t know just how much time Pickles spent patrolling their home. She couldn’t let the birds think they could just land on the ledge and stay there. This was her window. It was like that time with the mice; they didn’t belong in her house. She had to teach them a lesson. It was her job.

There were no birds today. Pickles was disappointed that her patrol was so short but there was no sense wasting time staring (although she considered herself an exceptional starer - it creeped out the other humans that visited). She had other tasks to complete today.

The bathroom cabinet was calling. Pickles had to figure out how to get in.

Later that afternoon
The key jangled in the lock. Amelia was finally home after a long day at work. Two last minute student interviews had thrown off her day so she was late coming home. She was looking forward to relaxing on the couch with a book and a glass of wine. She should go to the gym but that could wait until tomorrow.

She finally got the door open. Pickles sauntered towards her. Amelia liked to think that it was because the cat missed her during the day but knew that her affection was more than likely related to food. She could never quite figure out where Pickles came from when she ran to the door. Amelia picked up her cat and gave her a hug. For once, Pickles didn’t try to squirm and get away.

“How was your day? Did you do anything fun?” Amelia had long ago stopped feeling silly about talking to Pickles. Everyone talked to their pets; everyone should admit it. Pickles meowed at her and purred loudly. She was happy to see her human. She liked this lady except for the whole "not allowed in the cabinet" rule, Pickles had a nice human who took excellent care of her. Amelia walked into the kitchen and got Pickles her dinner. The cat weaved around her legs and meowed some more.

“Well aren’t you chatty today?” Amelia often wondered if Pickles needed a friend. Maybe she was lonely. She never made the move to get another cat; she didn’t want to be perceived as a cat lady. More importantly, she wasn’t convinced that Pickles would actually like another animal in the house. She seemed like a loner cat and Amelia respected that.

Amelia moved through the apartment, going through her mail, kicking off her shoes. She needed to straighten the apartment but decided to wait until the weekend. She walked into her bedroom to change (just because she wasn’t going to the gym didn’t mean she couldn’t change into super comfy yoga pants) and stopped abruptly. Amelia was a bit of neat freak. She always made her bed and rarely left things out so she was a bit surprised at the disarray she now faced. Books had been pushed off the nightstand, her jewelry box was spilled on the floor, and as she looked through her walk through closet into the bathroom, she could see a trail of cotton balls and several bottles of moisturizer and soap on the floor.

“Pickles!? What did you do?” She was used to the cat pushing things off tables and getting into plastic bags but rarely did Pickles make such a mess. Amelia began straightening up the rooms. She didn’t see Pickles and figured the cat was hiding from her and would only come out only when Amelia went to bed. At least she hadn’t gotten under the sink. The safety latches she put on the cabinets seemed to be working. Pickles was so curious about that cabinet but Amelia didn’t want her to get into any of the cleaning products.

Pickles peeked around the bedroom door. She knew she was in trouble but didn’t care. Her human was keeping her out of the bathroom cabinet. That was totally unfair and Pickles was making her feelings known. She would continue to do this until she was allowed in. 

Part II of "Pickles and the Cabinet of Doom" will appear next week. Enjoy the first Short Story Hour before next week.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Gibbs probably doesn't feed birds

The blue jay circled above the house. He could see the bird feeders in the backyard and a few birds fluttering around. He was unsure if this space was safe or if he should move along on down the line. Then he spotted it - the symbol that let him know that all was safe and good. He landed on the edge of deck and then made his way to the food. It was a good place and he knew he would return.

There are three things you should know about my dad:
  1. He likes to watch NCIS reruns on USA (even if he has seen the episode multiple times)
  2. He maintains three bird feeders in his backyard, including one for hummingbirds
  3. He has a high tolerance for the ridiculous and the silly which serves him well in our family
My parents really enjoy the birds that seem to flock to their backyard. It's probably the one thing that they truly like about their house and where they live. The bird feeders are on the back deck and you can watch the birds from the kitchen table. I imagine it's a nice way to start your day - a little coffee or tea, some cereal, and the baby woodpecker and it's mama. Nature - that's what they get for living out in "the country." My mother likes spring best (I think) since all the baby birds are around and it's fun to watch them figure out how to fly. My father seems to enjoy identifying the birds and even has a bird book (although I don't know that he uses it all that often).

Here's the thing - I think that my parents, particularly my father, are helping to create an entire generation of lazy birds. What happens when my parents move? Will instinct take back over and the birds will remember how to forage and find food on their own? Will the squirrels remember how to store food for the winter? What will happen? My dad usually laughs at this, ignores my comments, and moves onto another conversation. He knows that they're birds and they'll figure it out. No need to worry. Cue "The Circle of Life."

Hobo symbols
It's a common conversation I have with my dad whenever I visit. One day, a few years ago, I was watching a re-run of Criminal Minds and the episode's plot had to do with a killer that was murdering people along a train line. Dr. Reid (it may not have been him but I think he's adorable so I'm going to pretend that it's him) discovered some marks along the tracks. He tells whichever other agent is with him about how hobos used to use symbols to communicate with other hobos about the area. They might share if there was a kindhearted woman (with a cat of course) or if the police were a problem. Anyway, the killer was doing something similar along the train line and killing people. I may be off on the plot but the second Dr. Reid started talking about the hobo trail and the symbols, I figured out what was going on at my parents' house.

Their house is a stop on the hobo bird trail.

I'm convinced that the birds have figured out some version of the hobo symbols and fly around the country making the marks on houses and other buildings or whatever to let other birds know what's up. Other birds flock to the house and enjoy the food and then they leave a mark for birds that come after them. I'm not entirely sure what the symbols look like but I'm convinced that my parents' house has every single one of the positive symbols that are available. Squirrels apparently know about it too; there's one there now and he's enormous. If the hawk is still around, it will get him at some point because he won't be able to run away.

So I told my dad that I thought his house was a stop on the hobo bird trail. Because my father is used to the ridiculous things that I say and think up, he didn't really react at first. He thought about it for a few minutes and then asked me a bunch of questions about how I had come to this conclusion. I told him about the Criminal Minds episode and he said, "I watch NCIS." I love that my father completely ignored the ridiculousness of what I was saying and focused instead on my choice of television show. He seemed okay with the idea that he was a stop on the hobo bird trail AND that a hobo bird trail even exists. In fact, I think he was sort of proud of the idea that he's helping the birds.

Some takeaways from this experience:
  1. I haven't watched Criminal Minds since this conversation. Now I watch reruns of NCIS but only reruns on USA. I don't keep up with the current season.
  2. For all you dads or soon to be dads out there: develop the ability to accept the weirdness of your children. I appreciate that my dad doesn't judge any of the weird things my brother and I have come up with over the years and on occasion, he joins in.
  3. There is a hobo bird trail. If you want to be a stop on it, make sure to always stock the bird feeder and be kind to the squirrels that figure out the game. 
  4. Learn something new everyday even if it comes from an unusual source. I wouldn't know about hobo symbols without Criminal Minds. I also cannot leave the shower curtain closed when I leave the house because I'm concerned that Tim Curry's serial killer character will be waiting there when I come home. Thanks Criminal Minds.
Happy Father's Day Dad! Enjoy the birds and continue to cement your place as a prime stop on the hobo bird trail. Maybe you should add a bird bath. I'm sure they'd enjoy the new amenity.

Coming soon to the Island: More summer themed Lazy Movie Weekends (including one on my favorite John Waters movies), Pickles the cat will get into more trouble in an adventure about the end of the world, and I'll visit an amusement park for the first time in 10 years.

 Hobo symbols

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Short Story Hour: Pickles

"How do they know? It's like every time I'm on the site, the posts have been specifically written for me based on my mood and what happened to me that day. Oh look - baby animals from Australia. Yes, I'm going to click on that because I had a bad day and I need some cuteness. A post about everything we learned from John Hughes/Molly Ringwald movies? Of course, I need to read that. It doesn't matter that I sit in front of a computer all day at work and that I have life things to do, I can still waste hours on that site and not even notice. Especially in the winter." Amelia sipped her wine. Her friend Natalie paused before responding, sipped her wine, and sighed.

"Are you implying that FuzzLife is spying on you?" Natalie was used to hearing insane things from Amelia. They had met freshmen year of college in a World Religions class and bonded over their ability to determine which class member was going to launch into some random and useless tirade about religion and the professor's bias. Amelia was right 96% of the time. It was amazing.

"Spying is such a strong word. I'm not likening FuzzLife to some shady government agency; there are too many baby otters and cat videos on the site for that to be true. I'm sure they track clicks and can analyze data on popular posts. My issue is not that. It's when something that I've discussed with someone shows up on the site a day or two later. That seems too coincidental to me. It's not like I have the app on my phone or something. They just seem to know." Amelia's cat, Pickles, jumped in her lap. The cat took her time getting comfortable. The she flumped into Amelia's lap.

"Cute collar. When did you decide Pickles need a pirate look?" Natalie asked.

"I bought it a few months ago. I couldn't resist a pink cat collar with a skull and crossbones motif. You know Pickles is a killer." The women laughed, thinking back to the story of Pickles killing two mice and leaving them at the foot of Amelia's bed. The sweet, tiny cat had viciously attacked the mice. They had been referring to Pickles as "Killer" ever since.

Pickles acknowledged her nickname with a loud meow and repositioned herself in Amelia's lap. She promptly fell asleep as the women moved onto another glass of wine and a new topic. Pickles figured she had at least an hour of nap time before her human would disrupt her by getting up. Her human was normally very accommodating when it came to being a pillow. But sometimes she didn't understand the cat/human contract and made sudden moves that disrupted Pickles and her precious nap. In those instances, Pickles made sure to run around the apartment at 4:30 am and knock things down. She wanted her human to understand that there were consequences when a nap is disrupted.

Cats are jerks.

Later that week...

"14 Cats Who Just Can't Anymore" Click.

"Which Sweet Vally High Character Are You?" Click.

"The Only 47 Waffle Maker Recipes You'll Ever Need" Click.

"35 Places You HAVE To See Before You Die Or Else" Click.

Amelia glanced at the clock on her computer and realized that two hours had passed since she sat down. Normally, she didn't bring work home with her but her intention had been to get ahead on a few projects she was working on so that she could leave work early on Friday. She had plans to go to open mic night with some friends at a local bar and she didn't want to have to rush from work to meet them. Her plans had been completely derailed by one click on a FuzzLife link. One click was all it had taken. She wouldn't have even bothered except that the post was about ways to organize small spaces and Amelia's apartment was exactly that. She figured the post would be helpful (and to some extent it was; she planned to implement two of the ideas over the weekend) but that one click had led to another one (when to throw out beauty supplies) and then to another (something to do with unlikely animal best friends) and finally to a post about her beloved Gilmore Girls. She had just finished re-watching season four (her favorite) and the post was about the hidden gems of the Dragonfly Inn. It was creepy how on point FuzzLife could be.

"Pickles, why did you let me waste so much time on this site? You should have stopped me."

The cat cocked her head to one side and meowed at Amelia. Normally Pickles got fed up with the lack of attention when the square box that makes noise was out. She would jump in Amelia's lap or lay across the warm box so that her human couldn't make the click-clack noise. Or she'd rub her face on it marking it as hers. When Pickles would do these things, Amelia would stop what she was doing and give Pickles the pets she deserved.

But Pickles didn't seem to care anymore. If her human wanted to use that click-clack maker all the time and laugh to herself, Pickles didn't see any reason to stop her.

Amelia had noticed the change in Pickles. At first she thought Pickles was just being a cat - that's what Amelia loved about cats. They had the right mix of neediness and aloofness. It suited her fairly introverted personality. Amelia loved that Pickles didn't always need to be petted and paid attention to; they could "ignore" one another or cuddle up on the couch. It was perfect. But the ultra aloof behavior continued and seemed to worsen. Amelia had taken Pickles in for her annual checkup a few weeks earlier and the vet had told her it was normal. Pickles still ate like a champ and played with her toys and wanted attention so she was fine. Just getting older was what the vet had told her.

She thought about it for a few minutes. Amelia noticed the changes in Pickles right around the time she got the new pirate collar. Pickles was the rare cat (so Amelia thought) that enjoyed wearing a collar. This was one of the reason Amelia tried to find "statement" collars. Pickles wouldn't wear costumes or sweaters (and Amelia would never make her) but she could rock a collar. Amelia thought Pickles strutted a bit more when she got a new one that she liked. The pirate collar had been a good choice. The pink stood out against her orange fur and it was a little cheeky and badass, just as Natalie had pointed out. Amelia thought Pickles like the collar; she was always positioning herself so that you could see it when she napped. Her cat contortions always seemed to leave that collar exposed. She wanted everyone to see it. On more than one occasion, Amelia's friends complimented the collar.

Maybe Pickles was just getting older. Amelia had to consider that and prepare for what that meant. She wasn't going to that today but it was something she kept in the back of her mind. She shook her head and refocused on her computer. She clicked away from FuzzLife, picked a new playlist to listen to (entitled So Tell Me What You Want - A 90s Pop Primer) and finally started her work project.

Pickles settled herself behind the computer against the warm part in the back. From her vantage point she could hear the click-clack but also other noises that sounded like cats howling. The Spice Girls, Stroke 9, The Soup Dragons, and Better Than Ezra played in rotation until Amelia finished her work.

The following Saturday...

Amelia's phone chirped - a new email awaited her. She checked her inbox; it was from a work friend and the message contained a link to a FuzzLife post. The message read:

"Thought you would enjoy this given our conversation on Thursday. Thanks for having us over for dinner!" Maggie

The post was about 90s fashion trends that were making a comeback. During her dinner party on Thursday, Amelia and several of her friends discussed the unfortunate return of high-waisted jeans and stirrup pants. None of them could fathom why hipster kids wanted to wear such horrible things. Amelia broke out some photos from her middle school years that featured an array of stirrup pants in every color. Why would anyone want to relive that?

The post was funny but Amelia also felt something else as she read through it. The list was eerily similar to the list of fashions her friends discussed. The article featured side by side comparisons of the look in the 90s with its 2014 twin. She though one of the 90s pictures looked Maggie and another one was definitely a picture of Amelia from the 8th grade. She knew that horrifying purple and green sweater. She clicked on the photo credit link and sure enough, it linked to her blog site and some photos she had posted when she wrote about attending her high school reunion.

"Okay. That's how FuzzLife does it. They read my blog." Amelia talked to herself. "That has to be it."

But it didn't make sense. Her blog could only be an explanation for a few of the posts she felt were directed right at her. Several of them were related to conversations she had with friends or family when they were visiting the apartment. When had she started to notice the posts and their "personalization"?

Amelia opened her computer and went to her browser history. She hadn't cleared it in a while so she was able to go back almost six months. She started to go through the history, looking at the links for FuzzLife articles. She grabbed some paper and started jotting down the titles that seemed to be the most personal. She noted the dates.

"How much time do I spend on the Internet? I could have learned a language or how to tango with the amount of time I waste online." Amelia was intrigued but also a little disgusted with herself.

Pickles jumped on the desk and startled Amelia. She had been so deep in thought that she hadn't noticed the cat come into the room. Pickles began to rub her head against the computer and purr loudly. Amelia reached out to pet Pickles. Pickles loved to be petted under her chin. Just as Amelia moved to do this, she noticed something on the pirate collar she had never noticed before. To a casual observer it would appear to be a flaw in the pirate design; an extra black circle next to one of the skulls. What had caught Amelia's eye was that the extra circle appeared to be blinking.

Amelia picked up Pickles and removed the collar. The cat immediately settled right across the keyboard as she had done in the past. Until Amelia bought the pirate collar. She placed the collar on the desk next to her notepad. She got up and walked around her apartment for a few minutes. It was both improbable and impossible that the cat collar and the posts would be linked. That's not how the world worked. At least that's that Amelia wanted to believe.

She sat back at her desk. She picked up the collar again and stared at the circle. It was definitely blinking. There was no doubt in her mind that it was blinking. Amelia glanced at the list of posts and dates again. The earliest post was dated one week after she bought the cat collar. That week there had been a post about holiday desserts for the Star Wars fan in your life. She and her brother had discussed making Star Wars cookies two days before she saw the post. The entire conversation flashed before her eyes: she and her brother had been shopping for their parents' presents and stopped at her apartment to drop the gifts off before meeting up with mutual friends for dinner. Amelia purchased Star Wars cookies cutters that same day and they were trying to decide if they could convince their parents to add the cutters to their annual cutout cookie making extravaganza. Amelia figured it would be easy as long as the Star Wars cookies didn't dominate the day. As long as mom got her angels, dad got his trees and blobs, and there were enough Belushi snowmen to go around, they would be fine.

Then two days later she emailed the link to the FuzzLife post to her brother with some comment about not going overboard. Amelia pulled up her calendar and started comparing post dates to her social plans. Almost every time she had friends over, a post would align to something that they had discussed or a song they listed to or a movie they watched. She thought back to her re-watch of Gilmore Girls and the Dragonfly Inn post. That was too specific not to be related.

Pickles meowed and rubbed her face against Amelia's hand. Pickles! Pickles had been trying to tell her all along. The cat's behavior had changed right after getting the new collar. It wasn't that Pickles liked the collar; she knew something was up and was trying to get Amelia to pay attention. She wasn't showing off; she was calling attention to the weird, almost unnoticeable transmitter in her collar.

"You've been trying to tell me. Pickles, you're such a good cat." Amelia held the cat close to her and heard the familiar purr that she loved. Pickles rubbed her face against Amelia's and didn't squirm as Amelia hugged her a little too much.

Amelia looked at the collar on her desk. No one would ever believe her. They'd call her crazy and paranoid. Or worse - a crazy, paranoid, cat lady. She stopped hugging Pickles and picked up the collar. She went to the cabinet where she kept the cat litter and cleaning supplies. She picked up a plastic bag and proceeded to clean out the cat's litter box. She dropped the pirate collar into the bag, tied it up, and took it down the hall to the trash chute. She returned to her apartment.

"Pickles, how would you like to be a collar free cat for awhile?"

Pickles meowed a few times and weaved around Amelia's legs. It was nap time and there was a sun patch waiting for her.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: It's cookie time

I was a mediocre Girl Scout. When my family moved to Alabama, I joined the Troop 453 and enjoyed most of what I remember about being part of the troop. I'm fairly certain that my Super Seller patch was one of those "give everyone a patch moments" because I don't recall being very good at selling cookies. We had to go door to door and I wasn't good at trying to convince people they needed Thin Mints. Camping was not my thing but I do remember really loving the friendship circle and singing a song about friends. I still have my patch sash; my favorite is the one about visiting the nuclear power plant. I did not join another troop when we moved. Despite my Girl Scout mediocrity, I love the Girl Scouts and support them by buying cookies every year. I would totally be a troop leader if I had a daughter. I think the organization is a great way to teach girls and young women about leadership, positivity, and being awesome. And we all know Samoas are the greatest cookie ever made.

Today we celebrate the official start of summer with a trip to Beverly Hills, circa 1989 and meet the fabulous Phyllis Nefler and her Wilderness Girls. In true Phyllis style, let's pop open the champagne and break the Girl Scout cookies for Troop Beverly Hills.
  •  I miss animated opening sequences in movies. Mannequin has a great one and so does Troop Beverly Hills. My favorite part is when they use hairdryers to combat a swarm of bees.
  • Shelley Long! She's so funny in this movie and it's definitely her personality and her attitude that makes you love Phyllis Nefler. She might start out as vapid and shopping obsessed but she grows into the ideal Wilderness Girl troop leader. She also has no shame in this movie which serves her very well.
  • This movie marks the big screen debut of Jenny Lewis. Before she was became an indie band front woman and solo singer (Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins, Jenny & Johnny), she was Hannah Nefler. I would say this is my favorite Jenny Lewis role but I would be lying. Her best film? The Wizard - a movie about a Nintendo competition.
  • Remember that being a Wilderness Girl (like being an actual Girl Scout) is about being a good citizen. You know that I love being a good citizen.
  • Do you think that if you are the head of the Wilderness Girls you get to eat cookies every day? 
  • Why do all the movies that I write about feature women who can wear hats? You go Phyllis!
  • Side ponytails, shoulder pads, scrunchies, and Jane Fonda workout attire - you know you want to rock all of these looks right now.
  • This was also Carla Gugino and Tori Spelling's first movie. While I like Carla here, her best role is in the Pauly Shore epic, Son-in-Law.
  • Y'all Kellie Martin's dad was Vince Fontaine in the movie version of Grease
  • I love the parents of the Troop Beverly Hills - there's the dictator and his wife (based loosely on Imelda Marcos), the romance novelist and the lawyer, and movie director. They're all fantastic and awful all at the same time. 
  • I lost count but if anyone knows how many time Phyllis says "fabulous" during the movie, I will bake you cookies.
  • Velda Plendor - the Wilderness Girls district leader. Velda is funny scary. My favorite Velda line is "I'm a mother. I'm a widow. I'm an ex-Army nurse. First and foremost I'm a Wilderness Girl." 
  • Poor Hannah - "Mom, could we spy on dad in the morning?"
  • Phyllis Gem #1 - "In the wilderness of life we can never be too prepared."
  • Phyllis Gem #2 - "I may be a beginner at somethings, but I've got a black belt in shopping.
  • Phyllis's version of camping is closely aligned with my version of camping. I love the ghost stories around the fireplace, room service, and what I'm sure are fantastic sheets at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
  • Jasmine's Phyllis impression is the best.
  • It's Pee-Wee's Playhouse! It's Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello!
  • One of the things that's so great about this movie is the difference between Velda and Phyllis and how each of them defines the Wilderness Girls. Velda may have been with the organization longer but Phyllis truly understands what it means to be a Wilderness Girls.
  • Mary Gross! This movie has so many wonderful people in it.
  • For Jessica, "I haven't been to Jazzercise in three weeks!"
  • I recall crying a bit when Chica's parents forgot her birthday. Phyllis and Rosa came through.
  • Remember y'all too many accessories clutter an outfit.
  • And now for a video break - it's Cookie Time! 


  • Pia Zadora and Robin Leach and Cheech Marin and Ted McGinley too! This movie is so 1989 it actually has its own shoulder pads.
  • If I did the math correctly, Troop Beverly Hills made something like $20K selling cookies. I think we're all in the wrong business.
  • "Thank you. I'm a grownup person. I think I can take care of myself." Phyllis, I would like to believe this about myself but I'm not sure that it's always true. 
  • I love that Phyllis gets drunk on Evian and there's a Valley of the Dolls reference that I'm certain I didn't understand when I was 10.
  • The Wilderness Jamboree - 
    • Phyllis becomes the leader that we all knew she was including a moment when she using shopping on Rodeo Drive to figure out directions.
    • Velda is the absolute worst and gets what she deserves.
    • the Red Feathers show their true colors.
    • Troop Beverly Hills saves the day and proves that they have wilderness skills - the backpack stretcher.
  • Phyllis Gem #3 - "We already won. We didn't quit. We didn't cheat. And we didn't call home when we were in trouble. We were a team."
I think we can learn a lot from Phyllis and Troop Beverly Hills - the value of friendship, being a good citizen, looking fabulous in hats, and of course, that we're all Wilderness Girls at heart.

Wondering which Troop Beverly Hills Character you are? There's a Buzzfeed quiz for that. For the record, I'm Emily (played by the adorable Kellie Martin).
    Phyllis photo