Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Island of Misfit Toys Fourth Annual Answer Your Cat's Questions Day

Since discovering the existence of National Answer Your Cat's Questions Day in 2011, I have attempted each year to answer the questions that Pumpkin seems to want answered. She's a pretty smart cat and this year she's got some hard-hitting questions for me. I hope she knows that I did my best.

1. What have you done with my couch? What is this big, red fabric monster that smells funny and blocks the heater?

At some point in every adult human's life, they make a decision to purchase more "grown-up" furniture. Since we didn't move (say thank you) this year I decided to redecorate the apartment instead. The "monster" is my new couch. There are several things that you should like about this new couch: you can hide behind it, it's squishier (probably not the technical term), and it has more pillows. Also, our dear friend Christian made some fantastic memes out of you hiding behind it. You're a pretty funny cat. You should figure out how to put that comedic talent to use. Pet rent ain't cheap.

2. Why have you blocked the sunshine from my life? Don't you love me?

I didn't "block the sunshine," I put up curtains. Not just any curtains, thermal curtains. They're supposed to keep the apartment warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. I hope these will keep the energy bills down and to make our home more comfortable. You can still see the sun and laze about in its warm glory.

3. Okay, I get the warmness but what about my patrol duties? How am I supposed to patrol? 

I leave the blinds open for you so you can jump on the window sill and behind the curtains to continue your patrol duties. The curtains don't prohibit you from keeping up on your patrol. I would never, ever want you to stop your patrol duties. How would I know about the threats of birds that are outside and the bugs you don't seem to be able to catch and whatever it is that you chase around the apartment at 3 am? Your patrol duties can continue. Calm down.

4. What happened to my hedgehog?

I thought you'd enjoy some cat grass; it's recommended by your vet so you can enjoy plants without eating something that will kill you. This is why I bought you the hedgehog planter and successfully grew the cat grass (you know I kill all plants so this is pretty great). Like so many other things, you got too excited and dumped the hedgehog on the carpet making a dirt mess. Thankfully, the hedgehog survived but the cat grass did not. This is why we can't have nice things. I'm sorry you miss the hedgehog but for now, you're not allowed to have things like this. Maybe we can try again this spring.

5. Movie question: Do you think that Jim Jarmusch was implying that Jack White is a vampire in the movie Only Lovers Left Alive?

When did you watch this movie and why are you interested all of the sudden? Is it because I have a minor Tom Hiddleston obsession? Is it because you watch movies when I'm not home? You know I don't like you watching R rated movies when I'm not home; stick to nature programs and reruns of Night Court. The movie takes place in Detroit, Adam and Eve drive past Jack's childhood home and talk about how much they like him, and at times, Adam resembles a later White Stripes era Jack White. I'm not sure if Jarmusch is implying that White is a vampire but he's saying something about rock stars and eternity. And the starkness and beauty of Detroit.

6. Why did you lock me in the bathroom for a whole day? Don't you like me? 

Of course I like you. As a thank you for renewing my lease this year, the apartment complex scheduled a free carpet cleaning for the apartment. Since I can't trust you to just sit somewhere when strangers are in the apartment and I have to you know, go to work, I had to put you somewhere safe. The bathroom was the best option. I put your food and water in there and your favorite pillow. I came home early that day so you wouldn't have to be in there longer than needed. Don't you think the carpets look really nice now? They managed to get the laundry detergent spill stain out which makes me super happy.

7. How many more seasons of Gilmore Girls are left to watch? I was hoping you'd re-watch Treme instead.

Technically there are four seasons left; I started with season four this time and have the final season left and then I should probably go back and watch seasons one-three. I agree that we should re-watch Treme sometime soon but I don't think I can do it right now. I have life stuff to do and watching certain episodes of that show make me homesick and sad. Let's focus on other things like reorganizing the pictures that are hanging up in the house. I know you'll be a big help with that project, ignoring me when I ask if the pictures are straight. You're always a big help around the house. 

8. Last question: Why is there a painting on top of the cabinets in the kitchen? It's sort of in the way.

Remember when we had that other cat visit us months ago and she got stuck in the inexplicable opening up there? After that incident I got the feeling that you might try the same thing so I left the painting I put up there so that you wouldn't end up stuck. I like to think that I take good care of you and this is just one more way to protect you from getting involved in a situation for which you have no exit strategy.

Thanks for joining Pumpkin and me for this year's Answer Your Cat's Questions Day. Hope that you enjoyed Pumpkin's questions; she always comes up with some good ones. It also looks like she figured out that the "monster" is her friend.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lazy Movie Weekend: It's DTV Time!

Let's all jump in the Island of Misfit Toys Time Machine for a moment and take ourselves back to that magical time known as the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. Why is this time so magical you ask? Because we have places like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video to go to whenever a slumber party or a movie night with friends was in the works. I fondly recall visits to Blockbuster to rent the same five movies: The Breakfast Club, Northshore, Pretty in Pink, Shag the Movie, and Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Occasionally I'd get creative and throw in Heathers or Say Anything. It's through these magical moments that many of my friends were introduced to these movies. Throw in our access to WGN movie marathons and USA Up All Night and our slumber parties were complete.

I miss the video store. It's not the same as browsing in a record store but it's just as loaded with memories and fun. I remember there being an alternative video store in New Orleans when I was in college, one of the last video stores that I recall going to. It's there that I rented Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, a film by Todd Haynes that used Barbie dolls to tell the story of Karen Carpenter (you can watch it on YouTube if you're so inclined) and also got the filmmaker in deep trouble with the Carpenter family. I get that services like Netflix and Hulu are the future, but there's something so great about watching a video. I admit that I am too nostalgic sometimes.

For Christmas this year, my brother got me a Blu-Ray/DVD player since I decided that it was finally time to upgrade and to replace the VHS tapes (yes I still have a handful) and start switching to Blu-Ray from DVD. My first purchase was one of my slumber party favorites, Girls Just Want to Have Fun. I have had it on VHS since 1990; definitely time to upgrade. I haven't watched this movie in probably 10 years and it was still everything that I remember it being. So pop some popcorn, grab a Tab, and settle in for 1985's Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
  1. Fun bonus on this version: a preview for the movie we all know and love as Heathers but is being promoted as Lethal Attraction. I imagine this was a way to make a teenage version of Fatal Attraction. How very of them.
  2. I suppose part of the reason I liked this movie so much was that Janey (Sarah Jessica Parker) was an Army brat like me. She moved around a lot ("Eleven schools but the uniform's always the same. Even on Guam.") and was very nice and polite. And of course, she loves to dance. 
  3. Helen Hunt! Y'all, why isn't she in more these days? She was so amazing as Lynne Stone, Janey's new BFF and resident Catholic school rebel. I never wanted to be Janey; I always wanted to be Lynne.
  4. Explain to me why shows like DanceTV (DTV for the rest of this post) don't exist anymore. Why? This is why everything is terrible.
  5. Fun fact: Richard Blade plays the DTV host. He's one of the DJs on Sirius Radio's First Wave station. I don't have satellite radio (I don't get why regular radio can't just be good) but anytime I get a free preview week, I listen to this station obsessively. He's my favorite and I didn't realize until this viewing that it was him.
  6. "Velcro. Next to the Walkman and Tab it's the coolest invention of the 20th century." One of my favorite Lynne Stone quotes.
  7. Lynne's dinosaur hair clips are everything. She takes quirky best friend fashion to a whole other level in the this movie.
  8. Lee Montgomery is the forgotten heartthrob of mid-1980s movies. He was a child actor (he was the kid in the movie Ben, you know about killer rats) and was a model. He is one of the great "bad boys" of these types of movies except that he's not really bad but he has a motorcycle and wears a leather jacket. 
  9. Jonathan Silverman and Shannon Doherty in the same movie? You are not hallucinating. 
  10. "Decisions are the worst." We meet Natalie Sands, the resident rich mean girl who will spend the movie pouting, saying incredibly cheesy femme fatale-esque lines, and sort of dancing. She's pretty decent as the film's bad guy.
  11. The original version of the song "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper is never used in the film. Licensing issues prohibited the song from being featured so cover versions were used instead.
  12. I guess the DTV dance contest is a precursor to American Idol auditions - a bunch of moderately talented pretty people gather in a place to showcase their talents and be randomly picked to dance on tv. It's the American dream.
  13. Drew: She's a punk. Maggie: Do you really think I'm punk? It's not as cool as New Wave but it's better than preteen. Jeff: Do all women throw themselves at your feet or is it just the ones that can't reach any higher? 
  14. Of course Janey and Jeff are matched up to dance together. And of course Natalie paid some dude to get Lynne disqualified. This is the stuff of teen comedies. 
  15. Janey, put your damn hair up! This drives me crazy throughout the entire film. How can she dance and do gymnastics with all that hair in the way?
  16. Biff Yeager! Jeff's dad is played by Biff Yeager. Fans of Gilmore Girls will know Biff as Tom, the greatest contractor of all time. Another fun GG tie in: Kristi Somers who plays Rikki in the movie was also in Hardbodies a movie Lorelei and Rory talk about several times throughout the series. (I do this research so you don't have to.)
  17. Janey: He's just uh. You know, I mean uh! Lynne: Is he gonna call you tomorrow? Janey: Yeah, I think so.
  18. Lynne and Janey get their revenge on Natalie in an awesomely epic way. Punks crash Natalie's birthday party including an uncredited Robert Downey, Jr. (he's the one that flips the table). 
  19. Does Jeff know anything about Catholic schools? You can't just roll up on a motorcycle and think that's going to be okay. That's not how Catholic school works. 
  20. I'd sneak out of my house for Jeff too. Let's all be very honest about that. He and Janey go to a cool teen dance club, have fun, he defends her honor, there's an awkward comment about a motorcycle, and they have their first kiss. All of this leads to the dance practice sequence, a requirement of any 80s movie that includes a contest of some form (you can sub in boxing or rowing if needed).
  21. Of course they have a fight after Natalie's dad threatens to fire Jeff's dad if he doesn't let Natalie win. Janey gets caught sneaking out in an 80s ironic twist by a Sands Security System (that's one of Natalie's dad's companies).
  22. Janey's family is sort of odd: her mother is a 50s housewife stuck in the 80s, her father is General Patton dropped in Chicago, and her brother is a 7 year old extortionist. No wonder she sneaks out and wants to be on tv.
  23. How does one figure out how to wire a security system to a hair dryer so it won't go off? Is this a class they teach at Catholic school?
  24. I love, love, love Lynne. She gets Janey to the station, has the greatest fashion sense, and then gets completely star-struck by Rikki, who has just quit DTV. This is important for later.
  25. You have to give Jeff credit for making us all appreciate the male midriff baring shirt. Not all guys could pull that look off. 
  26. "Dancing in Heaven" is a favorite of mine. It was one of the first songs I bought when I got my first iPod. Every now and then when I'm at the gym it's shuffles through and I'll admit I sing along in my head.
  27. Compared to Janey and Jeff the other contestants are ancient (probably in their 20s) and some are better dancers. And again I say, Janey put your damn hair up!
  28. Of course there's a tie. There has to be a tie because we have to hear two of the greatest words in the English language spoken by Richard Blade: Dance off!
  29. You have to admit those lifts are impressive. This movie predates Dirty Dancing by two years so think about that when you watch this. 
  30. I think we all know what happens at the end. It wouldn't be a 80s teen movie if we didn't. What's great about the end of this movie is not the Janey and Jeff story (although we all want them to win), it's really that Lynne gets to be the new Miss DanceTV. If anyone was destined for dance show glory, it was Lynne. 

I enjoyed re-watching this movie more than any other movie I've done for Lazy Movie Weekend. It was funny in all the parts I remember and a little more adult in parts that I didn't remember. I wanted to be friends with Lynne and Janey and Maggie (more Lynne and Maggie but I get Janey's appeal too) and still have a tiny crush on Jeff Malene. That's what these movies were about; mildly relatable teenagers doing teenager things.

And of course, I love to dance (said in a whispery Sarah Jessica Parker voice).

Video cover photo
Helen Hunt photo
Lee Montgomery photo
Janey and Jeff
Helen Hunt photo
Quotes from IMDB (I use IMDB to make sure I didn't miss anything.)
Dancing in Heaven

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What's the big commotion? Finding your television soul mate

Recently I had a conversation with one of my trusted guy friends, Matt, about the possibility of setting up an online dating profile. This is something that I've been hemming and hawing about for some time now and I decided that 2015 is as good a time as any to actually do this. Again. I have to try harder this time or something. Matt sort of agreed to provide his opinion on my profile should I actually go through with this. This is why all women should have a handful of trusted male friends and all men should have a handful of trusted female friends. I'm sure we serve other purposes (I'm excellent at reminding people to make smart life choices, assisting guys with shoe purchases, and serving as a fill in date to weddings) but really it's to make sure that we don't embarrass ourselves in front of people we may or may not have some form of romantic relationship with at some point in the future.

One of the other things we discussed was my criteria for guys - did I want to be with someone who was exactly like me or incredibly different? Was a more middle of the road guy my speed? My response to this question was simple: I would like to be able to watch television with my significant other. I'd like us to have a few shows in common; not every show but enough. Additionally, the guy would have to be someone who would occasionally watch a stupid Hallmark movie with me and I would in turn, watch something that I hate like basketball or procedural dramas. I don't think this is too much to ask but as dating profiles tend to be loaded with garbage and words I hate, I have a feeling this will be more difficult than it should be. I dream of a day when I can be honest in a dating profile in a way that doesn't make me sound like a spinster cat lady or a weirdo who has too many interests.

I'm not helping matters by re-watching my favorite television show of all time, Gilmore Girls. Anytime I re-watch this show, I reevaluate the way I view relationships and what I envision my future manfriend (is that more grown-up than boyfriend?) will be like. I started re-watching over the holidays and have not been able to stop (although I did pause long enough to hate watch the season premiere of Girls - we all need something to hate watch). I started with season four, my favorite season, and finished up season six, my least favorite season, last weekend. Lots of very significant things happen during these three seasons: the Dragonfly opens, Jason Stiles appears, Rory loses her virginity to Dean (sorry for the spoilers but seriously binge watch faster), Jess makes an appearance or two, Luke and Lorelei happen, and Logan enters Rory's life. I am firmly Team Logan and nothing will ever change that.

Both Lorelei and Rory have a lot of stuff going on in their love lives during these seasons so it's easy to lose focus and neglect a very important relationship going on in the background. No, I'm not talking about Kirk and Lulu but Lane and Zach. It's through re-watching the romance of Lane and Zach that I came to my criteria of wanting to be able to watch television with my significant other. Lane and Zach start off as bandmates in Hep Alien and eventually become much more. Lane and Zach are musical soul mates but have enough sense to have a few things that are just theirs (bluegrass music for Zach; Fleetwood Mac for Lane). I wouldn't be able to do that; I have in the past and it's meant having to listen to way more Kid Rock and Enya than anyone should ever have to listen to in their lives. I have learned that I can't make compromises when it comes to music but I am willing to be more open about television shows. It's weird I know, but it's me.

In season five there is an episode entitled "To Live and Let Diorama." During this episode, Lane, Rory, and Paris all enjoy a little too much of the Founders' Punch and end up lamenting their love lives to one another. Lane suspects Zach of having some sort of relationship with Sophie, the owner of the music store, played by Carole King (who is awesome in this role). Lane's suspects this because Zach declines to go with her to buy cleaning supplies, a chore they like to do together. This is how a drunken Lane confronts Sophie:

"You've not only been to New York; you've lived there, so you know where the best coffee and bagels are. But you don't know him like I know him. For instance I know what cleaning products he likes, do you?"

It's in this moment of this episode that it dawned on me that it is something small like knowing the favorite cleaning supplies of a person or being able to watch a television show together even if you don't love it completely that you find love actually. I, and most women my age, have been raised to believe that it is in the grand gesture, the song about them, the elaborate scheme to get your attention that one finds love. We neglect the little things and are disappointed when no one shows up at our house with a boombox to play our favorite song outside our window. Romantic comedies and sitcoms have made it hard out there for a single lady.

At minute 2:07 in the below video, Zach writes a "hit song" with Mrs. Kim (Lane's mom). I've had this song in my head for six days. I hope one day Todd Lowe will be on another television show playing a guy who used to be in a rock band and he makes plans for a comeback. He dusts off this song and it becomes the hit song Mrs. Kim asked him to write.

I plan to be watching that show and maybe, just maybe someone will be sitting next to me enjoying the show not because it's his thing but because it's something we do together.

Lorelei image
Lane and Zach image

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Let's hope The Dreamgirls make it Into the Woods to get to Chicago so they can pay the Rent so we can all be Les(s) Miserables

I listened to the original Broadway cast recording of Rent on repeat from its release in August 1996 until the end of my freshmen year of college in 1998. I had the show memorized by the end of September 1996 and can still quote from it and sing along anytime I hear any of the songs (or they just randomly pop into my head which happens more frequently than you might expect). My parents, being the incredibly amazing and awesome people that they are, got me tickets to see the Rent for my high school graduation. We also saw Miss Saigon (that helicopter landing is legit) and visited all the places one visits when you go to New York for the first time. Most of the original cast was still in Rent at the time so I consider this trip one of the highlights of my life.

I've loved musicals my whole life. I remember seeing my first live musical, Oklahoma. It was the longest musical of all time and one of my least favorite but I do recall the magic of the music and the costumes and the darkened theatre. This moment cemented my love of musicals and theatre (and I did major in theatre in college). I've watched countless hours of musicals on video and PBS and gone to more than I can count. I even met Sebastian Bach from Skid Row because of a musical (no leather pants - shame). Some of my favorites include A Chorus Line, Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin, Cabaret, Once Upon a Mattress, and My Fair Lady. My favorite Stephen Sondheim musical is Assassins and I have a soft spot in my heart for The Sound of Music.

Rent is my absolute favorite musical. Unlike the other musicals I love, Rent was mine. It was about people that lived lives that I think my theatre friends and I imagined we'd live when we all became artists in New York after we graduated (minus a few things I'm sure). The songs were more rock and roll than Rodgers and Hammerstein which I loved most as I was forging ahead in my punk rock/hard rock girl identity. I knew everything about Jonathan Larson, the genius writer of Rent, who left this world before his time. I had and still have a crush on Roger. I wish I could sing "Over the Moon" like Idina Menzel. Like all aspiring theatre artists, I was expecting a life of poverty and cold New York apartments and crappy jobs (or no jobs) until I got my big break. The characters of Rent were living and that's exactly what my seventeen year old self wanted to be doing. Damn suburban Virginia and college! I want the Life Cafe and buying coats on the streets of New York and Evita-like dogs and protests that involved mooing. That is life.

There are songs in that musical that still give me chills when I hear them nineteen years later. My favorite is "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" (audio version here; movie version here). I cry every time I listen to this song; I cannot listen to it in my car because I will get in an accident. Collins and Angel (played originally by Jesse L. Martin and Wilson Jermaine Heredia) are my favorite couple in the play. I think their love story is the purest and most touching of all the love stories; there's no conceit, no expectation of anything but what happens each day. This is the song that plays as Angel dies and when Collins sings "When your heart has expired" I dare you not to become a pile of mush. Part of it is Jesse L. Martin (second crush of the cast) and his delivery; most of it is the raw emotion of the song.

So you can imagine all the feelings I had (and all Rent fans had) when it was announced that a film version of our beloved musical was being made. Many of the original cast members would be reprising their roles; Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, Taye Diggs (and his abs), Idina Menzel, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia were all back for the film. Missing were Daphne Rubin-Vega (the original Mimi) and Fredi Walker (the original Joanne). Rubin-Vega was pregnant at the time and Walker declined the role. I enjoyed Traci Thoms as Joanne; she was somehow quieter than Walker but still seemed to be a match for Maureen. I have a hard time believing the Mark-Maureen-Joanne love triangle in the film but it has nothing to do with Thoms. It just doesn't seem as vibrant as in the stage version. I never warmed to Rosario Dawson as Mimi. Technically, she was the name in the film. She wasn't bad but she wasn't Mimi either. The film version wasn't terrible; it wasn't the musical but it wasn't the worst adaptation of a Broadway musical to grace the silver screen. I cried at all the places I cried when I saw it on Broadway and when I listen to the soundtrack. The changes to the film didn't bother me as they did others but the film lacked the spirit of the stage production. It's a musical that needs an audience and a stage. It just makes more sense that way.

I was thinking about this in the lead up to the release of Into the Woods (I have not yet seen it; I'm going this weekend). I've been dying to see the film version of this musical since the first rumblings that it was coming soon to a theatre near me. Stephen Sondheim was going to be involved and the casting seemed ideal. I will confess something now: I'm not an Into the Woods super fan. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a beautiful, dark musical (my favorite kind of musical). I've heard the original cast recording countless times and have seen both the concert version and a version of the show with the original cast (y'all support your PBS station) but unlike other musicals, I was never "captured" by Into the Woods so I'm less likely to get riled up about the film adaptation. The same thing happened when Les Miserables came out; I understood that there would be things that Broadway fans like myself would not enjoy or agree with. My favorite musical theatre actors would probably not be portraying the characters they created on Broadway because that's not the way it works in Hollywood.

Do I agree with this? Not particularly but it's part of bringing musicals to film audiences now versus the 1940s or 1950s or 1960s when film adaptations of musicals were popular and made studios money (for the most part). Theatre actors could, to some degree, make the transition to the film and still go back to the theatre when they were done. There were exceptions to casting of course, Natalie Wood in West Side Story or Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady; maybe those were the first moves by Hollywood to change the game when it came to movie musicals. Unfortunately, Carol Lawrence (Maria from the original Broadway cast) wasn't going to open a movie and that is an important part of making films in Hollywood (at least from what I can tell). It's also what drives NBC to mount two live productions of musicals on tv with unusual casting choices (or really ridiculous ones). They want people to watch.

We (the collective Broadway musical fans of the world) have to remember something: they are not making these films for us. They are making these films for a larger, non-musical loving audience. That larger audience may not have the encyclopedic knowledge of original casts and recordings. They may not obsess over everything Stephen Sondheim has ever written. They may not have an interest in sitting through a three hour movie that involves singing rather than dragons and explosions. But that interest might be piqued if someone famous that they do love (Wolverine or the new Captain Kirk or Superman's dad or the girl that sings the cups song) is in the film. They will come out to see Beyonce be a Dreamgirl or Renee as Roxie. I can have my opinions on all of these things and hate the film version or love it or feel ambivalent about it. That's my prerogative and the prerogative of every musical theatre fan. Get your feelings out; it's healthier that way.

But still go to see the film. Even if you think you're going to hate it (and it's very possible that you will hate it, I'm looking at you Rob Marshall and Chicago). If we don't go to see these films and be vocal, then the next one won't get made. Someone like Stephen Sondheim will say, "Nope. Sorry, I don't want to be involved" the next time someone asks him to adapt one of his musicals for the screen. If that happens, chaos will follow. We'll never see another musical movie again.

My hope every time a musical movie comes out is that in the audience in some theatre somewhere in the world, someone is being inspired by the musical. Maybe that person never had the opportunity to go see a play or musical; that's a reality for a lot of people. Maybe the experience moves this person to find out more about the original musical or go see a live production in their town. Maybe it inspires them to go to Broadway to see a show or two. Maybe they sit down and write their own musical and that musical touches our hearts the way Rent touched mine. Maybe that musical gets made into a movie one day. And maybe that movie inspires someone else.

Remember, "Children Will Listen" or so the Witch tells us at the end of Into the Woods. So let them listen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Short Story Hour: Holidays with Pickles, Part Two

Enjoy the conclusion of Holidays with Pickles; Part One appears here. Other Pickles adventures can be found here, here, and here. Pickles will return to the Island sometime in 2015 along with lots of Lazy Movie Weekends, some updates on being a leading lady, and who knows what else. Happy New Year from the Island of Misfit Toys!

The office door was closed. It was never closed. Pickles did not understand why the door was closed. Was it because she knocked over the Christmas tree that one time? Was she being punished for that one small thing? Her human already locked her up at night (and by locked up Pickles meant that she was forced to sleep on her human's bed curled up and comfy). When would she accomplish her cat things if not under the cover of darkness? When would that stupid tree go away? When would this door be opened to her again? Pickles had many questions for her human but figured she'd only be met with pets on the head and sounds that meant nothing to her. She paced in front of the door until her human shooed her away. Pickles was distracted by her new toy; it smelled like heaven (or cat nip) and made noise when she threw it around the apartment. She played for a few minutes until she found a sun patch that was to her liking. She forgot about the door as she warmed herself in the sun.

Pickles had managed to stay out of trouble since the tree incident. Amelia was proud of her little cat. No more tree climbing had occurred. Pickles still sat under the tree but no more climbing. She hadn't even played with the ornaments at the bottom that were there just for her. Amelia had taken some great photos of her amid the gifts during the party. The cat had stayed out of the kitchen while party preparations went on and had stayed off the table. Maybe, Amelia thought, Pickles understood the words "box fort" and "treats" after all. The cat had become very interested in the closed office door but had not managed to get in yet. Danny, Natalie, and Amelia had been working on the box fort for a few days now. It was going to be a great present for Pickles. They should be done by New Year's Eve. Not only was that the day of the next party, it was also Pickles' birthday. Amelia hoped the fort would keep Pickles occupied while she and her friends enjoyed their New Year's Eve feast.

Amelia excelled at lists and dinner parties. In her mind, the two went together. You couldn't throw a dinner party without planning. She was excited to try a few new recipes as well as some old standards. There would be eight people for dinner. Amelia had a final shopping list, a chores list, and a plan for cooking the day of. Some of the menu, like the Italian Orange cake, were already made and other things were prepped, waiting to be cooked. Natalie and Danny would be over to work on the fort later today. While they did that she would work on the other things she could make in advance and start cleaning. New Year's Eve was just one day away and so far she was on schedule.

As she started on her chores list, Amelia sneezed. Not once, not twice, but six times in a row. Her allergies had been acting up again but this was not an allergy sneeze. Amelia could feel that she was getting sick. She opted to ignore it; taking medicine to stop the cold before it started but she was losing the game. Running around for the past few weeks had not helped. She hoped that the cold would stay at bay until after the party. It was only a few more days. She willed herself not to get sick and picked up her chore list. Pickles wandered into the kitchen and wound herself around Amelia's legs. Amelia gave her some treats, scratched her ears, and went about her chores. Pickles took up patrol at the window occasionally glancing at the closed office door.

New Year's Eve - Daytime

"Just stay on the couch. You need your rest and we're almost done. Keep Pickles entertained for a little while longer." Natalie pointed Amelia back towards the living room.

"I just want to see how it's going. I'm not going to do anything. I promise." Amelia appreciated her friend's concern but really wanted to help despite her horrible cold.

"Nope. I know you. You say you won't do anything but the second one of us turns our back you'll be gluing something or moving something around when you should be resting. Now leave."

"I would have a very pithy remark for you if my head wasn't so foggy." Instead, Amelia sneezed three times and continued to look miserable. "Also, don't blame me if either of you get sick." Before either Danny or Natalie could respond, she left and shuffled back to the couch.

Pickles tried to get into the office before Amelia closed the door but her human was too quick. Pickles followed her into the living room. The tree was still there but Pickles had decided against a second climbing expedition. She was going to try her best to be good for a few days; her human didn't feel well and Pickles knew that she needed to help her human feel better. She watched over her at night and stayed by her during the day just in case.

Amelia settled back on the couch under her favorite blanket. She turned on the Hallmark Channel; silly, saccharine holiday movies always made her feel better. The added bonus was that if she fell asleep during the movie she'd still know what was going on since all the movies were a variation of the same plot. She thought the current movie was about bakers competing against one another for something. Or it could have been that they were trying to save the community center. Pickles curled up on her lap and kept her company. The cat always seemed to know when she didn't feel well. If only Pickles could make tea.

"They won't let me help with your present, Pickles. I'm sure you'll love it. And I had to cancel the party. Not exactly the New Year's Eve/your birthday that we planned but I guess it'll have to do. I'm just going to close my eyes for a few minutes. Wake me up if anything interesting happens." Pickles purring put Amelia to sleep.

Danny and Natalie were just about finished with the box fort. The project had taken the trio (now duo) three days to complete. Natalie wasn't quite sure why she was so excited about doing this for a cat that generally ignored her but there was something about the project that made her think of her childhood and building blanket forts in the living room. She and Amelia had known each other since the second grade and had built many a blanket fort together. Amelia was always doing nice things for others so it was nice to do something for her. Obviously Danny liked her friend. She guessed this was why he suggested this project in the first place. Guys needed to learn to ask girls out and not do stuff like this. Oh well, Natalie wasn't going to tackle that conversation today.

"I think we're done. Nice addition with the treat dispenser and the water dish. I'm sure Pickles will love that." Natalie stood back to admire their work.

"I wasn't sure if cats were like dogs in the whole treat department but I figured it couldn't hurt." Danny adjusted the final cardboard doorway and stood back with Natalie.

"You don't know Pickles well enough. I'm convinced she knows one word and that word is treats. Amelia thinks that's why Pickles has stayed off the tree; Amelia threatened to take away her treats." Natalie laughed at the idea but was certain it was true.

"Should we go get them? Is Amelia sleeping?" Danny moved to clean up the last of their tools and the cardboard remnants.

"I told her to go rest. I heard a Hallmark movie so she's probably asleep." The pair finished cleaning up and left the office, closing the door behind them. Pickles perked up at the sound of the door. She could see the closed door from her guard position on the couch. Another missed opportunity.

Natalie didn't really want to wake Amelia but she did anyway. "Did I fall asleep? I promise I was just resting my eyes for a few minutes." Amelia sneezed a few times.

"I'm sure you were. The box fort is done. Do you want to let Pickles in now or later?"

"Let's do it now. It is her birthday and I want her to have plenty of time to enjoy her fort today. Give me five minutes to make myself slightly more presentable. You two can decide what to have for dinner." Amelia knew she was a mess. Her nose was red from the sneezing and she had the dazed look of someone who was taking regular doses of cold medicine throughout the day. The least she could do was brush her hair. Pickles followed her into the bathroom and perched on the sink. "Are you ready for your birthday treat?" Pickles meowed at her favorite word and headbutted Amelia's arm.

"I'll take that as a yes." Amelia picked up the cat and joined her friends in the hallway. "I think we're ready for this."

Danny opened the door and there was the box fort. Amelia had never really stood back and looked at the fort as she was now. What had once been a pile of boxes was now a castle for Pickles. Danny had designed an actual castle. It had a drawbridge entryway and turrets. There were walkways that looked out over the room. Some of the boxes had been reinforced with scratch pads and ribbons and feathers were hung in strategic locations to keep Pickles entertained. The castle fit in one corner of the room near the window so there would be sunlight and sun patches galore. Amelia also noticed a treat dispenser and water bottle.

Pickles had been squirming in her arms since the door opened. Amelia put Pickles down and the cat ran straight to the "front door". She sniffed at the boxes and rubbed her face on everything she passed. The feathers tickled her nose and she could smell treats somewhere in the depths of these boxes. Her own kingdom! The last rays of sunlight hit the top of the castle and Pickles made her way there. She looked regal and proud in her castle. She looked at her human and meowed her approval.

"A treat dispenser? We're never going to see Pickles again! I think she likes it; you got a meow of approval." Amelia gave Natalie and Danny hugs. "Thank you for finishing this. I'm sorry I wasn't very much help today."

""I was worried she might not like it." Danny said.

"It's boxes and treats. Those are two of Pickles' favorite things." 

Pickles jumped down to the first level of the castle and explored the rest of her kingdom. She found the treats and water and helped herself. There was a little blanket and some of her toys in the back too. She curled up on the blanket and fell into a contented sleep.

The three friends peered into the castle to see where the cat was. Amelia took a few pictures of napping Pickles. "Happy Birthday Pickles!," she whispered. Her little cat looked happy and that was really all Amelia wanted. They left the cat to her nap and went back to the living room to discuss dinner and movie options. Amelia left a desk light on for Pickles. "Don't stay in here forever, Pickles."

Pickles stretched and curled back into a ball to continue her nap. She had not expected such a wonderful treat. New adventures awaited Pickles and now she had a place to plan and plot in peace. There were new cupboards and closets to explore and bookshelves to climb and patrols to keep and her kingdom to protect.

Or maybe she would try to be a well behaved cat and not get into any more mischief. If a cat could laugh that's exactly what Pickles did at that moment. Mischief was her favorite. To mischief  and adventure!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Short Story Hour: Holidays with Pickles, Part One

Happy Holidays from the Island of Misfit Toys! As this Buzzfeed article proves the Internet was designed solely for us to enjoy photos and stories about cats. Since I don't want to disappoint the Internet, I thought we'd close of 2014 with a story about Pickles, your favorite "fictional" cat.

The holiday season brings many things: cookies, a frenzied focus on shopping and card mailing, crowded stores, and of course, a twenty-four hour marathon of A Christmas Story. Depending on what you celebrate, you might also enjoy putting up a tree and decorating with priceless ornaments you've collected over the years. And who doesn't love getting packages in the mail? All the suspense of what's in them can be agony (in a good way) for some. Or annoyance for others.

Amelia was over the boxes. Her parents decided that this would be the Christmas they went on a cruise so they sent her box after box of gifts. Between their ten boxes (her parents were clearly feeling guilty about "abandoning" her during the holidays) and the few she received from friends and the boxes from gifts she ordered for others, she must have amassed at least twenty boxes in her small office. She hated taking out the recycling so they just sat there staring at her. Pickles seemed to enjoy jumping in and out of certain ones so Amelia decided to deal with them after her Christmas and New Year's celebrations with her friends. She was playing host for both parties this year.

She had never hosted both Christmas (she refused to call it Friendsmas as Natalie was doing) and New Year's in the same year. Usually she was gone until New Year's Eve so she always went out with friends or over to someone's house for a party. She had spent several weeks planning menus and cookie baking schedules. Christmas was going to be potluck style and New Year's was a fancier affair. Amelia purchased a tree for the first time ever. She had the most fun picking out ornaments and lights. And a wreath. According to her mother, it wasn't Christmas unless you had a wreath on your door. Amelia worried about how Pickles would react to the tree; she was always very well behaved when visiting her "grandparents" but their tree was fake so Amelia suspected it wasn't as enticing as a real one would be. Pickles mostly sat under the tree and looked cute. Amelia braced herself for climbing and ornaments breaking.

Pickles was mesmerized by the tree. It smelled like the outdoors and birds and squirrels (mostly in her mind). When she walked near the branches they scratched her little face in just the right way. She wanted nothing more to climb to the top and survey her kingdom like the regal cat she was. She knew that she would get in trouble for doing so (Pickles had learned much about getting in trouble this year) so she did not immediately scale the tree. She would bide her time and do it when her human wasn't around. She opted instead to sit under the tree like she did when they went to the other house and occasionally rubbed her face on the branches. It was her tree and everyone needed to know it.

Amelia was impressed with Pickles. No tree climbing had occurred and she hadn't gone near the water. She invited a few people over to help decorate the tree, other "orphans" who would be at the Christmas party too. Natalie was her oldest friend; Meredith was a work friend, and Danny was a friend of Natalie's who recently moved to the area. It was odd to bring together different friend groups but Amelia was getting good at it.

"So Pickles hasn't tried anything yet?" Natalie asked as she helped Amelia string the lights on the tree. Pickles was currently sitting on Danny's lap. She ignored everyone else in the room the second he arrived and had not left his side or lap since. He was stuck on the couch, directing decorating rather than helping.

"Nope. Mostly she sits under it. For the first few days, she just stared at it. Now she sits. And if she's not under the tree, she's in the office hiding in one of the millions of boxes that have accumulated. She's being so good. It's weird." Amelia looked over at the couch where Pickles was napping. "Sorry she's made you her pillow. She rarely takes to a person so quickly."

Danny smiled, "It's okay. Animals tend to like me. I don't know why."

"You can move her if you want to get up. It's fine. She'll meow at you and then resettled herself as if nothing happened."

"I'll keep that in mind. So she likes the boxes too? Have you considered making her a box fort?" Danny asked.

"A box fort? I hadn't thought of that. She always jumps in boxes so I just left them as is." Amelia liked the idea of a box fort for Pickles.

"I saw one online and it looked pretty fun. You know, for a cat. I could help you build it." Danny offered.

"Danny is our graphic designer and resident builder at work." Natalie chimed in.

"You should definitely build her a fort, Amelia. Think of how much fun she would have and you could maybe make her a famous internet cat." Meredith started unwrapping ornaments for the tree. "Wasn't the internet designed for cats?"

They all laughed at the idea and continued decorating the tree. By the end of the evening, Pickles had finally let Danny off the couch and the tree was transformed. Pickles settled underneath it and stared out at the group amid the shiny lights and ornaments. Amelia purposely placed plastic and felt ornaments at the bottom so Pickles could play with them without doing any harm. So far, she just stared and looked content. Amelia had also agreed to the box fort idea. Danny did a quick box inventory before leaving and said he'd email her an idea before the end of the week.

Pickles may have looked content and calm but it was just an act. She was plotting her ascent to the top of the tree. She just had to pick the right time and be extra careful as she climbed. While it would please her to bat the balls and toys off the tree, she knew she'd need to avoid them to avoid detection. She figured if all she did was climb to the top and avoided damaging anything, her human couldn't get too mad at her. After all, cats climb trees. If her human didn't want that to happen, she shouldn't have brought a tree into the house.

Later that night

After seeing her guests out and cleaning up the kitchen, Amelia got ready for bed. Since moving into the new apartment, she had made a habit of keeping her bedroom door open a bit so Pickles could come and go as she pleased during the night. Amelia didn't really know what the cat did so late at night but figured cats do cat things at night so she wanted to let Pickles roam. They had more space in this apartment and the cat should enjoy it too.

Amelia read for a bit before going to bed. So far the holidays were going well and she was excited for the parties and the construction of the box fort. Danny was a nice enough guy. She would see where this was going and hope that he at least came through for Pickles. She called to Pickles before turning out the light. The cat didn't come but that wasn't a surprise. "Just doing her cat things." Amelia said aloud. She settled in and promptly fell asleep. Decorating was exhausting.

Pickles was exactly where Amelia didn't want her - attempting to climb the tree. She knew she could wait until it was light out but Pickles felt she did her greatest work at night when her keen eyesight was at its best. She decided to approach her climb from under the tree; she could climb up and hopefully avoid as many of the balls and toys on her ascent. If she was successful tonight she'd do it again during the day so that her human could see her.

She started her climb with the skill of all of her cat ancestors, lithely moving from one branch to the next. She stopped about midway up to peer out from the branches. The living room looked different from this height. Pickles felt powerful and more catlike than she normally felt. She could just see the open door of her human's room. She had to move even more carefully as she moved closer to the summit of the tree. Pickles could see the top and it was beautiful. The star was so close she could almost touch it. Just as she was about to emerge from the tree to her triumphant perch at the top, Pickles began to feel the tree move and sway. It hadn't done that as she climbed but now that she was at the top, the tree couldn't take the weight. Pickles was only eight pounds but those eight pounds were throwing off the tree's balance. Pickles took one last look at her living room kingdom and held on as the tree crashed to the floor.

Amelia bolted out of bed at the sound of the crash. She immediately noticed that Pickles was not in the room and knew exactly what had happened. She turned on the living room light and found her tree on the floor and Pickles struggling to free herself of the tree and decorations.

"Pickles! You just can't help yourself can you?" Amelia picked up the cat and took her into the bedroom. She was ready to scold Pickles but the cat looked sort of guilty and sad. "You'll have to stay in here at night until after the holidays. You can't be trusted." She closed the door behind her and the one from the bathroom so Pickles couldn't escape that way. Amelia went back into the living room and began cleaning up the mess. She was able to put the tree back up and fix the few ornaments that had fallen off. Miraculously, nothing had broken. She straightened the lights and placed the star back on top of the tree.

"Please let Pickles behave through the rest of the holiday. Please keep her from knocking over the tree again especially during the party. Please let her be the good cat I know she is." Amelia turned off the lights and returned to bed where she found Pickles curled up on the end of her bed.

"You have to behave for the rest of the holiday or no box fort for you, Pickles. Or treats." Amelia rubbed the cat's ears and slowly feel back to sleep.

Pickles curled up next to her human. She was proud of herself for making it to the top of the tree even if the tree fell down. She would wait awhile before her next attempt. She didn't know what a box fort was but she knew what treats were. She wanted her treats so she would try to behave.

Next up: Does Pickles keep her promise of behaving for the holidays? Will she get her box fort? Find out in Holidays with Pickles, Part Two coming before the end of 2014.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

You're Doing Everything Wrong: Furniture Shopping Edition

I'm not a big shopper. A person looking at my closet and listening to me talk about Target might think differently but I've never been big on malls and shopping. I like to think of myself as a stealth shopper - I know exactly what I want/need, go into the mall at the closest entrance, buy, and leave. I don't stop for free samples of pretzels and I rarely wander beyond a three store radius if possible. I'm the type of shopper that online shopping was designed for. I think that this stems from two reoccurring shopping experiences from my childhood: car shopping and furniture shopping.

Shopping for cars and furniture are the height of adult consumer responsibility. You do research, you test drive, you test sit, you haggle, you shop around. All of these steps are designed to make you a better informed consumer and to make sure you purchase the car/sofa/bedroom set of your dreams. And to annoy salespeople. I can only imagine the thoughts going through a car salesperson's head when someone comes in with all this "research" they did on the interwebs before buying a Kia Soul. In this situation, the research probably amounted to watching the hamster commercial and deciding you had a new desire to drive a box. To each his own.

Both car and furniture shopping are boring activities when you're a kid. The two most important aspects of car shopping for me were the quality of candy the dealership made available and the amount of real estate that would be between me and my brother in the back seat. Our two-tone blue Ford Aerostar was the best for real estate; we both had our own row. At furniture stores, it's even more mind-numbing. You're not supposed to put your feet on things or jump on the beds but there is an entire room devoted to new mattresses. It's right there! And you don't want a 10 year old to jump on them? Furniture stores always had bad candy (peppermints and butterscotch - amateurs) and it always took years for my parents to pick something and buy it. Of course, by "years" I mean an hour or two. It wasted valuable kid time.  

My dad is a car guy. He was the type (and still is to some extent) of car buyer who traded in his car regularly, waited for the latest release information from Ford (we're a Ford family), and will occasionally opine about the color options for interiors and how the body colors have been crap since 1978. He has very strong opinions on weird paint colors (please don't ever bring up orange Mustangs). In all the times I experienced car shopping with my dad, I could always tell that the salesperson enjoyed working with him. He knows his stuff and is a decent enough negotiator. When I bought my first car I felt like a feral child who had just been brought back to civilization. I'm not entirely sure I formed a coherent sentence during the entire process. I felt overwhelmed by the experience and like the Ford dealership was judging me despite the fact that they were super nice and patient with me. Apparently, I did not learn anything about car shopping from my father.

As for furniture shopping, I never really had to do any actual furniture shopping until I was in my early twenties and settling into my first apartment without roommates. Up until that I time, I was in college furniture mode which is comprised of "inheriting" furniture from older friends who graduate or from parents who decide to redecorate after their children leave home. My roommates and I were excellent at what I'll call "Wal-Mart chic" (Target didn't come to Louisiana until after I graduated around the time of my need for solo expression in decor). We could make those crappy particle board bookcases and dressers look fancy and expensive. We were theatre design majors so our entire world was thrift stores and making something out of whatever was around. Our apartment was cozy and comfortable. It resembled the nicer furniture section at a thrift store. Most importantly, it was ours. That was what was significant. We were forging identity and responsibility one coffee table at a time.

When I moved to northern Virginia in the summer of 2006, I made a decision to buy a real couch (no more futon for me) and invest in some actual furniture. I went to where every person in their early to mid-20s goes to buy furniture...Ikea. I bought a nice loveseat from the Ektorp line. Ektorp has survived several moves and was all I needed for this stage in my life. However, Ektorp and I are at a point in our relationship where I need to move on and he needs to find a new home. I often fall asleep on my couch at say 9:30 and Ektorp is no longer that comfortable.

And this brings us to why I'm doing everything wrong when it comes to furniture shopping. Like Corky in Waiting for Guffman, I have a vision when it comes to my new living room. I want classic and modern and comfortable. When I watch television, I see all these apartments of characters my age (or younger) who don't have jobs and yet have fabulously decorated apartments. That's what I want in my life. What's difficult is realizing this vision since I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on my living room. I have to work within a budget and that is cramping my vision's style. Did everyone else know how expensive coffee tables are? For real, I've only found a handful that will A. fit in my small apartment and B. don't cost $400. It's insane. Then there's the couch. You could buy a car for what some of these couches go for. It's astounding. One site, that will remain nameless, had a price meter that went from $80 to $3500. I quickly closed the window and returned to my less expensive options.

Another thing that I was troubled by was the number of sites that listed no prices at all. This made me uncomfortable on many levels. Was the price for the couch so astronomical that simply listing it would cause my eyes to burn and the Internet to explode? What I learned from the helpful salesman at Ashley Furniture was that the no price policy existed for one of two reasons (typically): 1. the item could be customized so the price might depend on fabric choice or some other option or 2. each store location is independently owned so pricing while suggested is often controlled by the franchise owner rather than the chain itself. This is actually the case with Ashley; not listing prices allowed the location to offer additional discounts and special offers. I appreciated this as I continued the search to complete my vision.

I went to several places and sat on many couches. I dragged my brother along for several of these research trips. He put up with my questions ranging from the bizarre to the practical: "Do you think Pumpkin will like it?" and "Do you think it will fit through the door?" I didn't purchase anything that first weekend. I went back home and remeasured everything (including the front door). I went back online and read reviews and looked at countless ways in which people had arranged the two finalists (pictured here). 

As much as I would have loved a couch with a chaise lounge for my living room, the reality of my apartment is that I need a normal sized couch with no wild and crazy accoutrements. I opted for bold color instead. A red couch is statement of a different kind. It'll make my mildly drab apartment more vibrant and fun. I can have fun with rearranging my photos and pictures and whatever else makes sense. I'll finally hang curtains. My apartment will become more of a home and I will fall asleep at 9:30 on my new couch like a real adult.

What I've been doing wrong when it comes to furniture shopping is neglecting to take into consideration that I do not have a set dresser and unlimited funds. You can still have a nice place to come home to without breaking the bank. I can still have a vision; I just have to have the vision that fits into my apartment.