Congratulations! You are 40!

 

Hey there, lucky winner!  Look at you! You’re 40! Today, you’ve officially made it to the beginning of the best years of your life.

That’s right. I said best years, motherfucker.

You might think the best years are behind you…trapped in your old yearbooks, perhaps, or lodged between an old stick of gum and a condom wrapper in the back of your  storage bin. But your best years are actually ahead of you. That is, if you truly want them to be.

By the time you’ve reached 40, you’ve eaten  approximately 132 snickers bars. You’ve stood in line at the DMV approximately 42 times. You’ve, attended approximately 3,002 boring procedural meetings at work, written up approximately 572  grocery lists, seen oodles of friends, family,  come and go, some of them sadly gone forever.

You’ve had some hard knocks, but are wiser for it. You’ve experimented with drugs. You’ve got stories to tell. You’ve been betrayed by several, betrayed a few, and betrayed yourself more times than you can count.  You’ve endured painful medical and dental procedures, and keep a few percocets around, y’know, just  for fun. At 40, you’ve  got the wisdom you wish you’d had as a youth, but your body is still youngish and not completely crumbling.  Sure, there’s some aches and pains, and your cholesterol was a bit high at the last physical. But you can still shake it when your power song comes on the radio. You’re in your prime!

The question that might be clanging around your brain by now might be “Well, if my best years are ahead of me,  how do I live the 2nd half of my life?”

I can’t answer that for you. Each must find their own way. Live like a worm,  or live like a king, it’s up to you. However, in the course of my own  measly 40 years here on earth, I’ve come up with a list of general guidelines I try to follow to keep myself buoyant, and ever tottering forward.  

Without further adieu:

GENERAL GUIDELINES  FOR THOSE WHO HAVE JUST TURNED 40

 

  • Stop saying “I’m old.”

Shut up.

We all know in today’s world of fetishizing youth culture, “Old” is anyone over 19. This means, 25 year olds go around saying “I’m so ooooold.”  And yet the average person lives to be near 80! I know I’m bad at math, but this means ¾ of your life is spent in old age! How can this be possible? 

You’re not old. Stop saying you’re old. Besides, Age is never an excuse for opting out of anything.  You’re just lazy.

You know who’s really fucking old? This guy:

.

superold

 

  • Befriend the youth.

Ah, the youth.  Everyone’s favorite scapegoat.

I see a lot of articles ripping on millennials, lately. You know what these articles sound like to me? Like the squawks and beerfarts of someone who’s just bitter because they’re not 22 anymore.  Perhaps someone who sold their dreams out for a comfortable, “sensible” life.  Why do the youngsters bother you so much, eh? They’re just young. They can’t help it!  You too were once a young asshole, with your long hair, and  your black lipstick. You too, once had dreams that seem so foolish now, (dreams which you can’t seem to throw away somehow….). You too, thought you could change the world. Why have you stopped believing? 

Hating the youth is  a song & dance that’s as tired as the hills and keeps society from evolving.  Why not impart your awesome  accumulated wisdom on the youth, instead of being a hater?  Consider this: 98% OF PEOPLE UNDER 30 DO NOT KNOW WHO ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN ARE.

You have work to do, son. Share your wisdom.  Time’s a clackin’

 

  • Do the thing

There’s a thing that you love to do, that you never seem  have time for because you’re so busy doing so many other things, and there’s never any time! You are so busy all the time!  With what? Who knows!  Whatever it is, it tires you out.

By the time you’re 40, you realize how precious time is. That can be either  inspiring, or scary depending on how you see it. And it really is all about how you see it.

You may  realize, at 40, that  the things you spend most of your time on are relatively meaningless, and unfulfilling, and that it’s actually better to just do the thing because if you don’t, the thing will slowly kill you from the inside. The first symptom? Being tired all the time.

“But, but but…”

You’re never  too old to start doing the thing.  Your voice, your perspective, your talent is needed now,  more than ever. Bring it!

 

  • Burn your time lines.

So, you thought you’d have a certain type of house by now, certain type of income, certain number of kids, certain type of career.   You’ve  got precisely zero of these. Other people do! Why not you? Susie seems to be doing so well! Susie has got it made.   But  what you  don’t realize is,  the reason Susie seems to do it all is because she’s actually high on crystal meth all the time, and soon all of  her teeth will fall out.

Does anyone have the exact life they daydreamed about as youngster? I have yet to find one person who can answer yes to this . As for me, I  thought by now I’d be a famous author, or filmmaker, and reading creepy fan mail from my penthouse apartment in New York. Instead, I manage an office, live in a dilapidated bottom floor flat in Oakland with 2 roommates, and my fan mail consists of supportive comments from my parents, on my blogs.  Does that mean my life is shit? Hell no. The life I ended up with is pretty damn sweet–chock full of laughter, sorrow, romance, adventure, and disco. Who is to say that the life thought I’d have, would have been better than this life? Perhaps my pent-house apartment in New York has bad lighting, roaches,  or leaky pipes. Perhaps my creepy fan mail ends in restraining orders and forced subterfuge. Who can say what’s good and what’s bad for a person?

Point is, timelines suck. Burn them down. BLOW THEM UP.   Stop looking at what everyone else is doing. Stop  whining that you don’t have this thing or that thing “by now.” It’s making you, quite frankly, a  pain in the ass.

If all you have at the end of the day is your health, then, as anyone who has suffered great illness or trauma can testify,  you’ve got abundant riches my friend.

 

  • Build a Strong Core

I’ve spent lots of time thinking about disasters that may never actually happen. It started when I was  little, and became convinced that lions would eat me in my sleep. From there, I developed a phobia of rabies, doctors, orgies, deadly spiders, driving cars,  partner dancing, and….. um….I’m kinda afraid of white people–especially the old man next door, who I’m convinced is an Undead.  (I’m afraid of myself too!)  

My imagination runs a bit wild I admit. But I think a good way to channel all of this impotent dread, is to develop the physical strength to escape danger should a deadly spider or orgy find me.   My goal is not to fight, but to outrun, or hoist myself up onto a ledge to safety. And that means maintaining this minimum physical strength requirement:

 

  • Be capable of at least one pull-up.
  • Be able to run one  mile at a good pace  (think about  the bushman in the Gods Must Be Crazy)
  • Be able to easily touch toes.
  • Be able to withstand a light blow  to the stomach by having strong core muscles.

 

  • Don’t get mad, Get Eccentric

By the time you’re 40, you’ve no doubt noticed much of the world’s population is comprised of assholes. You’ve no doubt been on the receiving end of an asshole, and that by-product is what? That’s right, bullshit! Heaps of it, maybe!  The world isn’t fair, as you once naively thought. Good people get shot down. Bad people walk the streets. You work for something, only to have it taken away. How can you stay fresh, when the bitterness of the world  so consumes you, and threatens to turn you into an asshole too?   Yeah, yeah. You’ve tried juice fasting, pilates, reverse osmosis rolfing, self-help books,  and affirmations. Nothing seems to help.  Isn’t it easier to just go somewhere and troll a comments page?   If no, then what’s the alternative?

I’ll tell you:  Eccentricity.

Look, we’re all fucked up–it’s just some of us are better at covering it up and putting on a good game face. None of us gets to 40 without some battle scars–(a majority of them self-imposed). But I contend that living as a fabulous  freak is WAY better AND  WAY MORE FUN  than being bitter and resigned. Find your own cool personality tics!   Declare yourself the Sultan of South Berkeley. Wink at the mailman. Send your enemies buttplugs. Glue some rhinestones on those battle scars—rise up, up, up  and be a glittering monster of doom and glory.

I hope that by the time I’m 80, I am wearing a purple magic genie turban,  and learning how to shoot a glock.  

 

  • Get rid of it.

Give yourself a gift.  Take a weekend, and go through everything in your house. Get rid of, or donate all the tired old shit you don’t really need. Lighten your load, Sally!  Stop hanging on to the past. Let it go.   Make room in your 2nd half of life, for good surprises, and new adventures  to wing their way to you.  If you clear out the shit, I promise, the new cool shit will come. (I don’t make up these rules. They are the law of the universe).

Do this at least once a year, and don’t listen to any of your own excuses, because they are horseshit.

 

  • Love, and love again.

This might be the hardest one on the list.  (God knows, I’ve struggled the hardest with this one).  But it’s also the most important one. No matter what kind of heartbreak you’ve experienced, what kind of disillusionments, disappointments, insecurities….. never cut yourself off from the possibility of  love, sex,  and romance! At any age! That’s right! Even if right now you’re not feelin it. Even if you’ve sworn off the whole thing as something for the youngsters.

Even if you’re not actively seeking…If you’ve got a pulse,  love will hunt you down like a dog. And when  it finds you, will you be well-lubed and ready, or will you turn away, and shut the door, and say “you don’t care” even though you do.

Love is everything, and love is  always worth it.

 

  • An orgasm a day….

 

  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, start feeling  sorry for everyone else because they are not you.

You’ve come a long way, kid. The fact that you are 40, means you have many awesome survival skills. So many things could have killed you by now, including your own two hands.   But somehow, you are still standing, you fucking miracle you!

Your life, y’know, is pretty good. Yeah, there’s room for improvements, here and there. Upkeep is required.   But there are many folks who haven’t figured out half the shit you have figured out by now.  There’s that guy over there, he looks like a miserable fuck, doesn’t he?  Be glad you’re not him. Those kids over there, with their faces buried in their phones, oblivious to the colors of the sunset right above their heads.  They don’t know how awesome it is to be you, and noticing the sunset right now!  It’s sad isn’t it? They don’t know! Because they aren’t you! Pity them,  but  never pity yourself.

Self-pity is a luxury item not even the richest  of sultans can afford. Make a deal with yourself to instead, cobble together a reasonable life philosophy, that includes  plenty of singing, dancing, good food, laughter, friends, and stone-cold freaking.

 

40cupcake

Congratulations! You’ve made it to 40. You’re breathing. You’re alive. You’ve reached the end of this post. It’s time to celebrate.

…….Over the hill, you say? That’s good news.  It means you can roll, run, slide or somersault down the other side of the hill. And when you reach the bottom, breathless, flushed, glowing…. Old Lady Death will be waiting for you with a sack of your favorite sandwiches and a one-way ticket to eternity.

But until then, enjoy your adventure. (And don’t forget to floss and eat your leafy greens!)

 

My Hella Days: Cat Burrito

 

Cat Burrito

What do you do after you put your cat to sleep, and all your friends have gone home? Drink? Cry? Troll pet adoption sites? Look at photos of your dead cat on facebook? Snort some coke and write a frenzied book-long eulogy?  

Whatever you decide do, that’s cool. As for me, I built a cat shrine for Ralph. Skulls, candles, incense….And at  the center of the shrine was the Cat Burrito painting I did earlier that year in Mexico. (Yes, I paint portraits of my cat while I’m on vacation. Doesn’t everyone?)

catburrito

I once had a dream, long long ago,  that I was being held captive in a basement somewhere, along with a hundred other people. Our captors were faceless,  and barked insults  at us via a P.A. system. We were all  starving, and insane. Then, from the ceiling, a  dozen robotic claws descended. In each claw were several foil wrapped burritos.

“Food, food!” everyone climbed over each other, reaching, snatching, unfoiling.

But something wasn’t right. I didn’t trust the food. Why would they want to help us, if they’ve trapped us?  Maybe this was poison!

“Hey, what’s in these burritos?” I shouted, to the faceless captors.

“Meat,” was the reply.

I grabbed a burrito, and unwrapped it. And then, to my surprise, a CAT jumped out! I looked over at my fellow prisoners, and each and every one of them were gasping as cats leapt out of their burritos too. And each cat was headed  directly towards a small, previously undetected opening in the basement.

“Come on, everyone! Follow the cats! The cats will lead us to freedom!”

A dream that stuck with me so firmly, that it  later morphed into a game I’d play with Ralph, called (can you guess??) “Cat Burrito”. It was, in fact, the only game Ralph liked to play. I would wrap him up in a blanket, and poke at him, while he purred and said “Ack!” (His happy sound). Sometimes I’d release him, and shout “Lead me to freedom Ralph!” 

Which led, of course, to the painting I did of Ralph as a Cat Burrito, leading all trapped souls to freedom. (Spanish of course, and in a luchador mask, because  duh, Mexico).  

I lit the candles, and stared at the shrine for a good long while. Then, I crawled into a bed that felt, for the first time in my life, truly empty, alien, cold and unwelcoming.  Nothing purring. Nothing sticking its gross furry butt in my face. Nothing barfing on my bed. Nothing, nothing nothing.

Just as I was about to  blast off into sleep,  I gasped and woke with a start. My heart was beating erratically, CRAZY CRAZY BEATS  like a polka band on goofballs. What the….

This happened several more times throughout the week. Each time as I was drifting off to sleep. Eventually, it got so that I grew fearful of going to sleep, because WHAT IF SOMETHING BAD SHOULD HAPPEN.  I was certain that my heart was about to give out. Collapsing under the weight of it’s own scabs and shrapnel.

Squid Boat

In Mexico,  I stayed in a room in an enormous house on a cliff overlooking the pacific ocean. By day, we lounged on the deck, read, drank coronas, went tidepooling. By day, The pacific  would would sparkle, and dance in the sun, all smiles, all light.

But night was a different beast altogether.

“You’re gonna sleep so well here,” said my friend, who invited me on the trip. “The sea is  like a lullaby.”

How very wrong she was.

On my first night,  I sat up in bed, saucer-eyed, staring at the black hissing sea. The same sea that danced  and played in the sun only hours earlier, in the moonlight  looked oily and dangerous.  I noticed a bright light in the far distance that bobbed above the horizon line. A UFO? A ghost? A supernova? I later learned (from a Marine Biologist who  was staying with us)  that it was a squid boat, and that the bright light was used to lure the squid to the surface. Squid love the light! They swim up to it, all “Hey guys, light! a disco party! it’s my birthday! paaartty!!!”  Then, SWOOP. Death. Gotcha suckers.

The squid boat haunted me.   Every night in Mexico,  I would stay awake, long after everyone else went to bed, staring at that light on the horizon, knowing what it meant to thousands of stupid squid, who were only following their bliss, after all. 

Several months later, on the night of my 39th birthday, two weeks after losing Ralph,  I found myself gasping for breath and clutching my chest  as a wave of panic engulfed me completely and held me down.  This was it. My time had arrived. After struggling for months, I was officially caught while swimming toward the light. Scooped up into the net.  The machete glinting in the moonlight. The fisherman’s face, grotesque and indifferent as he presses my jellyhead into the hull and brings down the blade.

 I clutched my chest. I couldn’t breathe.

Except, to my surprise,  somehow I lived…

Shrimp Lady

“I think I’m dying of heart failure,” I told my shrink.

I went on to describe all of the symptoms I’d had the night before: chest pain, difficulty breathing, irregular CRAYCRAY heartbeat AND ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY OF DEATH.

“You should definitely see a doctor to rule out a physical cause for this,” said my shrink.  But what you’re describing to me sounds like a panic attack.”

“A…Panic attack?”

Hey. Years ago,  ago if you’d  asked me if I’d ever had a panic attack, I would have said, rather flippantly,  “Oh sure! Tons of them.”  It was true that I often had “fits” of anxiety. Mostly related to my former job working in the tenderloin, and bumping into anything that reminded me of that time. (Which was why I sought out a shrink in the first place.)

What I didn’t realize,  ACTUAL ANXIETY ATTACKS are like dying, but without, y’know, the death. When you are finally released, it isn’t to heaven, it’s back to the prison of your own mind. To the captors who are never seen, but always heard.

I had a battery of medical tests done at Kaiser, following the episode on my birthday, to determine what was wrong with me.  Turns out, I was perfectly healthy. Leaving only one option left: INSANITY.

“I’d like to propose a more aggressive treatment for you,” said my shrink, after I reported back the medical findings. “No more regular talk therapy. You’ve been here for several months now, making very slow progress. You tell  me stories, stories, stories. In your stories, you control the narrative, you control the meaning. What good is it to have me here,  and throw your money away when you’ll tell these same stories anyway to your friends and to  your blogs? I’d like to guide you to the roots of your trauma and rebuild those parts of your brain that are threatening you at night. It will hurt, and it will get worse before it gets better, but it will get you faster results.”

At the end of my rope, I was willing to try anything.

And so (in addition to being prescribed a low-voltage antidepressant)  I began doing something called  EMDR therapy. Every week, while lights flashed in my eyes, and buzzers thrummed my kneecaps, I was led on a journey to my darkest places. It was painful. I left sessions bleary-eyed.

Oh! Are you sitting down?  I also went sober.  The incident on my birthday scared me straight. I wanted to clear the crud from my head for the work I was doing with my shrink. Not only did I refrain from booze and bud for three whole months,   but  I discovered, not long after my birthday panic attack, that I couldn’t ingest caffeine IN ANY FORM (including chocolate!!!)  without becoming dizzy and nauseous.

A week into my sobriety, and sleep-deprived X1000,  I was hateful, dark, and daydreaming about suicide.  I decided to cheer myself up by going to a day spa to soak in a tub. It didn’t help.

After the spa, I met my best friend Adriana for lunch at a trendy Vietnamese joint somewhere in the Fillmore district. It was packed, bustling.  We took our seat across the table from a middle-aged yuppie couple. When my food arrived, the lady across the table clucked and said “Oh no, shrimp.”

I gave her a quizzical look.

“I’m allergic to shrimp,” she said to me, as if I should have known.

I grunted,  grabbed my bowl and turned away from her. Eating from my lap. (So deferential!  So quick to accommodate!)  

“What are you doing?” asked Adriana. “Put your fucking bowl back  down on the table, mama.”

I did as told. This only incensed the woman further, and sent her into a full  kerfuffle.

“You don’t have to eat it,” joked my friend, to the woman.

“I’ll do my best to keep it in the bowl, I promise.” I said, trying for humor.

The woman clucked, and frowned. “You don’t understand. I  can’t be NEAR shrimp.” she said. In a huff, she got up, announced loudly to her husband “ Well, I guess I’ll have to PACK UP MY LUNCH NOW, and leave.” And that is exactly what she did. Thank god.

“Jesus, the shrimp lady!” said Adriana, as we exited the restaurant. “What  kinda waspy white-privilege bullshit is that?”

“Can’t be near shrimp,” I said.

“Does she realize she lives in a coastal city, surrounded by shrimp? AND WHY THE FUCK WOULD SHE GO TO A VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT OF ALL PLACES?”

I thought of the shrimp lady as I brewed my special morning detox drink every morning. A drink made of boiled ginger , lemon rind, turmeric and cayenne. Sometimes I’d bring a mason jar of this concoction with me to friend houses, refusing an offer for a beer. “Oh, I’ve got my own jar with me.” I would say, while jealously eyeing everyone else’s drinks and feeling like a loser. 

I braced myself for further aversions emerge. What’s next, dust? grass? Air???  SHRIMP??  Those who don’t live in the Bay Area may not be aware that we are an empire of Special Needs, Sensitivities,  and Triggers. Some cannot be around perfumes or scents. Some can’t do soy, or gluten. Some can only sleep facing due East.  Others can’t gaze upon the color green without going tingly in the spleen. Hell,  I’ve been to some gatherings where, instead of clapping, people are instructed to “snap” because clapping can trigger migraines in some individuals.   

Let it be known, If I’m going to be special, I want it to be because I have magic super powers of sexual prowess,  not because I have to reverse-osmosis my urine in a special hypoallergenic organic glass jar before I leave the house.

Fuck you,Shrimp Lady.

Golem Finger

Then, there was the scary gray poop.

Once again, trying to cheer myself up, I bought a Groupon for a massage. While in the waiting room, I received a heart-breaking email from my best friend who (lovingly, but firmly, ) laid out some issues she’d been having with our friendship. For one,  I was kind of a dick to her the day of the Shrimp Lady. Not surprising.  On top of that, I’d generally been disengaged and preoccupied with my own sanity struggles for the last, oh, say, three years. Her marriage was falling apart. She needed me to step up and be a better friend, and I was too engrossed to offer much in the way of support.

Shitty.

I layed on the massage table face down, watching tears plop down onto the floor below.  My best friend! My love! My rock! How could I have been so self-absorbed?! What a dick. What an asshole. How cunty of me.  While the massage therapist kneaded the stiff muscles in my back, I beat myself up good and bloody on the inside.

“You might have strange physical symptoms,” said the massage therapist, after we finished.  “You had a lot of tension in your shoulders, and the toxins will need to be diluted. Drink lots of water, and relax if you can.”

Almost immediately, I felt a dull pain in my belly. I ran to the toilet, and pooped a frightening, solid gray turd. Pale, like unbaked clay. Ominous. Like a golem finger pointing to hell.

When I went home, I typed “gray poop” in a search engine and turned up many results for pancreatic cancer and gallstones. I chugged nettle tea, and prayed I wouldn’t have to go back to Kaiser for more testing.

All that  night, that night I lay awake…Worrying I’d lose my best friend…Worrying about my gray poop.  Certain again that I was dying. REALLY DYING NOW. Super dying. Each time I’d get up to go (and I had to go A LOT ) I’d check for a normal color, but it was always gray, always golem, always anemic.

It got so bad, after a day, that I was actually yelling at my poop, reaching a new level of eccentricity.

“Come on, let’s show some color and spirit on that bowl!” I’d shout, to the gray limp finger.  “ I’ve fed you chia seeds, nettle tea, kale salads–COME ON BROWN DON’T LET ME DOWN!!!

Fortunately, the poop went back to a normal color (confession: this is the closest I’ve ever come to actually kissing one of my own turds). This happened after I  stopped taking some  useless (and expensive)  herbal sleep supplements I bought at the health food store.

Slowly, painfully, over the course of several months, things got better and better.  My gasping and panic fits subsided. My best friend and I patched things up. I began to sleep better. And now, I’m 1 week away from my 40th birthday, and three sessions away from “graduating” from my mental health treatment. Thank you.

I remain ever grateful to my close friends, family, and  doctors for helping me get through this rough patch, and for encouraging me to stay strong and  face the scary things that lie in the shadows. Please know that if  any of you out there are lying awake at night, clutching your bedsheets while your brain holds you hostage…. Please know that there is a cat somewhere who can lead you to freedom. All you have to do is peel off the foil. 

 

My Hella Days: Death of a Cat Lady

As I washed my hands in the Minneapolis Airport bathroom, I cringed at my reflection in the mirror. After 24 hours of projectile vomiting while home for the holidays, my face looked like it had been put in a time machine and sent to my post-mortem years.  Blue bags under my eyes. Busted capillaries all around my nose. And my skin was the color of wet chalk.  I half expected a maggot to crawl out of my ear.

My only solace, as  I  boarded my plane home to Oakland, was that I’d get to crawl in bed with my elderly cat Ralph, and let his warm, purring softness  restore my skin to a human color. Three days left of holiday vacation, and I vowed to make every day a day of recovery.

“Ralph!” I cried, when I got home. “Ralphie Ralph!!”

I had never been happier to greet a cat in my entire life. Our reunion was sweet. I picked him up, held him close, and he purred so hard that he squeaked. Then, ice leaked into my guts when  I noticed all around the house, little piles of cat puke everywhere.

“Oh no, Monkey, what happened?” I asked, knowing the answer already. “No, monkey. What is all of this?” Ralph left no area of the house uncovered. The only thing missing was little christmas bow toppers on each pile.

His food bowl was full, and untouched. Always a bad sign.

As I walked to the dumpster, a sack of cat puke in my fist,  an evil  wind whipped through my skeleton.  Funny how I’d just spent five days in Minnesota, enduring temperatures well below freezing, but  this wind was colder than anything I’d experienced in a long time. It was a wind… with an agenda.

“Be gone with you, evil wind!” I shouted uselessly to the night sky. 

But peace did not come. Nor would it come for months. I was, in fact,  only at the beginning of a time of terror.

I put on several layers of pajamas, crawled into bed, and played a  Netflix movie. I needed a distraction. I needed solace.  When he wasn’t barfing, Ralph sat on my lap, offering what he could in the form of comfort. It didn’t help.

The wind continued to howl through the night. I couldn’t get warm. I couldn’t sleep. The demons that had visited me just a week ago, on  Christmas, returned to beat and kick my brain while it was weak.  It wasn’t until Ralph crawled under the blankets and lay against my belly, that I managed to drift off.

When I  awoke the next morning, there were three little piles of cat puke on my bed. Ralph still hadn’t touched his food, and he was now looking tired, and dull in the eyes. If you’re ever in doubt about a cats health, look into their eyes. Are they bright? Or do they look like warm beer? This is how you know. 

I brought him to the vet that afternoon.  After several absurdly expensive tests, the official diagnosis was acute pancreatitis (which is, incidentally, what killed my beloved cat–and Ralph’s gay lover– Henry, only a few years before.)

“Well…There’s a slight chance he may make it,” said the vet. “We’ll send you home with some pain medications, and some fluids you’ll need to inject. If he’s not showing any interest in food after another day or so, we’ll need to discuss….. other options.”

When I got home, I spent approximately three hours sobbing into Ralph’s fur. Slimy sobs, that left him looking like something that crawled out of a lagoon.

“Oh, Monkey” I blubbered. “My sweet monkey.”

By 5:00 PM my eyes were bone dry, and my skull was cracking.  Ralph was chilling,  blissed out on cat narcotics. I wished I had some narcotics to send me off on a cloud of bliss, but all I had was a joint and a mostly empty bottle of whiskey. I hadn’t touched either since my episode back at my parents house, the night the Gingerbread Universe imploded. But maybe it was time. 

“Happy New Years Eve!” Shouted my roommate Kathline and her friend Audrey, bursting in the door.

“Oh fuck. It’s New Years Eve” I said. I had been so out of it the past few days,I had completely forgotten it was the last day of 2014.

New Years is not my fave. I much prefer Christmas, in all her fat flamboyance. You can stay home and drink all day on Christmas, and hang out with a tree.  On New Years, you’re supposed to get dressed up and go Somewhere. Pay $25.00 or more for a cheap glass of champagne at some club full of fake-ass bitches.  And at midnight,  because I’m always single, I never have anyone to kiss.  So, there are approximately 60 seconds of painful awkwardness where I’m standing there toasting the empty space around me. “Happy new year everyone,” I’ll say, smiling kindly like an old man. “Have fun, ya crazy kids”

“You got any plans for tonight?” Asked Audrey.

“You know,  ha ha, I only  just realized it was New Years Eve.” I said. “Rough day. So, no. No plans. What are you going to do?”

“We’re just going to hang out here, and bake banana bread.  Maybe watch something on Netflix.”  

“Ah, that sounds perfect,” I said. It really did sound perfect.   Truth be told, I’d done all the crying I could possibly do for that day. I’d found the boredom on the other side of sadness, and was ready for something else.  

I smoked some festive greens, and sat next to Ralph, who was gazing up at me in a narcotic love haze. Ralph was a truly awesome cat. Not a mean bone in his body. All he ever cared about in life was snuggling as much as possible. The quintissential Love King.   Suddenly, I envisioned crowning him with the most blinged out new years hat any cat has ever worn. The thought grew into a compulsion to act. And the compulsion to act led me to the crafting supplies drawer, where I fished out some glitter, and a glue gun, and some accoutrements, and sat down with the ladies baking in the kitchen.

As far as crafting is concerned, I’m much more of a visionary than a builder. I like organizing craft nights, setting up crafting tables, and giving advice about crafts.  However, with some glue and glitter and construction paper, my hands turn to stumps,  and my creations end up looking like something Martha Stewart would shit out after juice fasting for a week.  But this does NOT stop me from the joys of crafting. No sir. The power of glitter always compels me. 

Ralph came out, and  sat on my lap while I hacked away at some foam core and wrestled with the glue gun.  The ladies of the house cooed and clucked over him. After about an hour or so, I’d completed my project: Two special-ed art project new years eve hats.. One for me, and one for Ralph.

“C’mon Monkey, let’s take some selfies.” I said, dragging him into my room.

Ralph was always a good sport about me putting shit on his head, and snapping his photo. He had the temperament of a dreamy poet, and viewed every weird thing I did to him with studied amusement. He was the perfect photographic subject.

For example:

ralphbra

ralphspinachking

ralpheenmoney

And finally, our New Years Eve photo:

eenralphNYE

I didn’t realize, until I posted this photo on facebook for all the world to see, that I’d actually wrote down the wrong year. Technically, it  was NYE 2014, not NYE 2015! Doy.

New Years Day was quiet, cold and dark. I had a variety of  veterinary tasks on my to-do list I was deeply dreading: Injecting the cat with fluids, and forcing a pill into into the cat’s  face.  After a long dreadful struggle, (which required back-up support from my friend Julie) I completed the list. I sighed, wiping tears from my face.

“God,  this shit is shitty.” I sighed.

“Hey, why don’t you get out of the house for a little bit,” said Julie. “Come over to my place for dinner. I think Ralph will be okay for now.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I need a little break. That was intense.”

I filled up a hot water bottle, and placed it next to him to snuggle with. While I was putting my coat on, and saying goodbye to Ralph, he looked up at me and then, he  gave me…… the signal.

What’s the signal?  The signal is  a telepathic message from my cat, letting me know his time has come.  The signal is Ralph’s part of  an agreement we made, about a year ago, when his health began to fail. The agreement was put in place to quell the constant free floating dread that banged around in my heart whenever the cat so much as sneezed. Quite simply the agreement states that:

Ralph (the undersigned) will  let me know  when it’s the end,  by giving me the signal. (And how will he know? What is knowing for a creature with only a walnut for a brain? I will leave that part in the hands of the great mystery). My end of the bargain is  a:  not to spaz out constantly over his health, proclaiming loudly “THE CAT’S GONNA DIE!! THE CAT’S GONNA DIE.”  until the signal and and b: upon receiving the signal, make the arrangements to send him, quickly and painlessly, to the “warm lap in the sky” as my Dad calls it.

Saying goodbye to a pet is tough. It rips your heart out in ways you can’t imagine. When I  put down my first cat Henry, three years ago, I felt a part of myself died in that room with him. It’s a part I’ll never get back. And that’s okay. I’m willing to let that part of myself go to the warm lap in the sky too.  Why not? A warm lap sounds awesome. And the hole that is left behind can just stay dark and empty. Like a boarded up room in a house. 

Ralph looked deeply, lovingly into my eyes and blinked slowly.

“Monkey. Is that……. the signal?” I asked.

The signal.

“This is it?” I asked. “For sure? Forreals? For superrealls? The signal?

The signal.

“Okay then,” I said, and kissed his head. “No more tests, no more x-rays, no more probing and poking your pathetic old body. Tomorrow, you die.”

I dined at my friends house with peace in my heart.

The next day, I made Ralph’s final vet appointment. My best  friend Adriana, who had  been in Mexico for two months and JUST returned a day earlier, showed up at my door, dressed head to toe in all black. My personal Grim Reaper with a heart of gold.

“Fuck. I wish we were reuniting under better circumstances,” I said, wiping tears away, as we loaded Ralph into his carrier.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m just happy to see you,” she said.  “Really. It’s an honor to do this shit.”

The details of Ralph’s  death are not worth sharing. As anyone who’s put a pet down knows: The process is quick, painless, and sweet.  The kind of death most humans are denied unless they’ve got access hardcore drugs. The debate over legal euthanasia for suffering humans drags on and on….muddled up with religious ideals, rugged individualism,  and a dismissal of the inevitable. Why not guarantee every person (who doesn’t die in a car wreck or something) a painless, sweet, passing to the next dimension?  Would would we sleep easier at night if we knew? Would we live  life more fully? Eat more ice cream?  Take more risks? 

When I got home from the vet, Adriana and I shared a very stiff  drink.

“Do you think you’ll get another cat one day?” asked my roommate Kathline, when I told her the news. 

“I don’t know,” I said, thinking of the harrowing events of the last few days “I can’t imagine my life without cats. But….”

“Maybe you could take a break from being a crazy cat lady,” offered Adriana. “I mean, we all know you’re good at that. Have you ever NOT  had a cat in your house?”

“No,” I said, taking a brief look back at my life. “I was a cat lady since BIRTH.”   As a matter of fact, my first official  word was not mama, or dada, but “kitty.” Kitties of all shapes and sizes filled my days and nights from the very beginning of my time on earth. Meowing, purring, fighting, barfing cats. Grown cats, kittens, deformed cats, humpy homo cats, even dead deformed kittens hanging out of a cats vagina.  I could not possibly fathom a life without cats.  And yet, the suggestion intrigued me. Even in my deepest grief, I’m always up for a challenge. “We’ll see,” I said, finishing my drink.

“You’d still be crazy” offered Adriana, sensing my softening reluctance. “Just….without  the cats. For awhile. As an experiment.”

I slept heavy and deep that night. Dreamless. Cadaverous. Unfortunately, it was the last good night sleep I’d have for months. 

A few weeks later, on the night of my 39th  birthday, I had my first full-blown panic attack, complete with all the whistles bells and death knolls. But that’s an adventure story for next time.

Happy New Years!

My Hella Days: Diary of an ugly Christmas Sweater

I know it ain’t hip to admit, but I dig Christmas.  The shopping, and obligatory gifts I can do without. But the gluttony is divine!  The sparkly lights, the pumpkin pies, the boozy warm drinks, and the smell of pine in the air. Ahhhhh.  I go around, shovelling  it all into my face holes like a sugar plum fairy just released from santa’s root cellar.  Hell, I even like the Christmas carols, as long as they are classics.  

 

So  carol goes: “There’s no place like home for the holidays.”   This is true, there IS no place like home for the holidays. Of course,  if you live anywhere other than your hometown, going home for the holidays can bring it’s own cruel shade to the silver and gold eggnog party. Even if you’ve got a friendly family like mine, nostalgia can sneak attack.  Memories come unbidden! Right in the middle of watching Rudolph on TV! Or, noticing your reflection in a shiny tree bulb and BAM! Suddenly you’re back in 1992, and standing in a snowbank crying, without pants on. EVEN IF YOU HAD NOTHING BUT GOOD MEMORIES—-TIME  ITSELF is a bitch.   If you haven’t  seen your relatives for a while, you’ll note that they all  look older. And this must mean that you look older too. Why not? Bitch, you ARE older.   And then,  And in the din of perry como’s chorus, you have this thought: “We’re all getting older,  and someday we’ll all……. die.”

reaper.jpg

 

Last year, in anticipation of this strange wave of home-for-the-holidays blues,  I bought a neon red christmas sweater.  I hoped that it would act as a talisman  to  ward off my demons–at least until I was safely back home in the Bay Area, and able to process everything with my shrink.  

I’m happy to report, my talisman worked well!  For awhile. Until the night the Gingerbread Universe exploded.

Last year, on Christmas Day, my parents and my little sister Laura picked me up from the airport and brought me home to St. Paul.  After opening our Christmas  gifts, and having some chili,  we all proceeded to get loaded and descended to the basement for karaoke. Some midwestern dads have tools and guns and prize fish mounted to their walls in their man caves. My dad has disco lights, vintage beer signs, a hundred santa candles,  and a karaoke setup.  

My family may have its differences at times, but karaoke  is where we can all find harmony. We’ve always loved singing together. And, when things get whipped into a frenzy–say, with a Crosby Stills and Nash three-part harmony song— out comes the maracas.  WE HAVE THREE SETS OF MARACAS PEOPLE. Want to try out a song you’re too embarrassed to try at a karaoke bar? Why not try it in a festively lit  basement that smells faintly of cat urine while shaking a set of maracas?

karaoke

 

After karaoke, everyone retired to bed. Since I was still on California time, I laid awake for awhile. Without my glasses on, the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling looked like bioluminescent  blobfish. I tossed, I turned, I twitched and groaned. I stared at the blobfish until they melted into the ceiling.  The more I struggled, the more I felt something distinctly dark and oppressive pressing down on me. Something…sinister.  Was it indigestion from my mom’s chili? Or was it  the ghost of christmas future, pointing a skeleton finger toward some dreadful fate?

The next day, the promise of pancakes erased all the previous night’s ills.  After breakfast,  I donned my neon red gay apparel yet again, stuffed myself into my parent’s car, and we all drove out to Ridgeland Wisconsin to the big Skjerly Christmas gathering.  

It was the first time seeing some of my aunts and uncles in nearly 15 years!  I hugged everyone, and I gabbed with everyone. I ate some of my aunt Annette’s hot prune soup (which was the best thing at the buffet table, by the way) and sang “Have yourself a merry little christmas” with my cousin Sam.

eensweater

 

“Man, I’m getting really good at this christmas cheer shit,” I muttered to myself, as we left the party. “All thanks to my trusty sweater.”

I fell asleep that night  happy, and with no forebodings of evil pressing in on me. The next morning, I awoke to a fresh blanket of snow outside.

“Ooh, so pretty!” I said to my sister Laura, smiling at the blinding whiteness.  “Sparkles!”

That’s the thing about living in California. Snow is a novelty item you can enjoy, and then fly away from. And December snow is the best snow–fresh, pillowy, and glittering. By March, it’s  just one grimy dog-piss snowbank after another. By march, everyone secretly wants to off themselves. But then, that one magical day comes along, somewhere in  Mid-March, that creeps into the 60’s, and the promise of spring saves millions of lives once again.

“You think it’s pretty. I think it’s a pain in the ass cuz I’ve gotta shovel it.”

“I’ll shovel it!” I said to Laura,  gulping down my coffee. She just stared at me. I stared back.

“I’m serious.”

Moments later, I was cheerfully cutting my way around the perimeter of Laura’s house with a shovel. The snow was fluffy, and mercifully light. I hummed a little tune as I shovelled, pausing here and there stretch my arms, and  to admire my work.  

eenshoveling

After shoveling, my sister and I had second breakfast. Then, we held a strategic meeting about the Gingerbread Universe we planned to build later on, with my cousin Terri and her family. I took out a pen, and wrote up a checklist.

“Okay, we’ve got the jellybeans, the  gumdrops, m&ms  and pareils. How much powdered sugar?”

“A bag and a half.”

“Hmm. we might need more.  Do we have any licorice whips?”

“No, but we’ve got pixie sticks.”

“That will have to do. “What’s the status of our gingerbread?” I asked.

My sister and I had stayed up late the night before, baking endless batches of gingerbread shapes. We used all her pans, and all the flour. 

eenlauragingerbread

making gingerbread for the gingerbread universe

“Oh shit!  It looks like Dewey got into the gingerbread overnight.”

She gestured to an entire table of gingerbread shapes that had gotten busted up overnight by her troublemaking cat.

“Fucking cats,” I spat. It was not the first, and certainly not the last time, that a meddling cat attempted to foil my creative vision.

“Please…Please  don’t tell me you want me to make more gingerbread, or….I will kill you.” she begged me. My sister knows me well–especially when I get  blindly demented with a vision. I actually HAD done some quick “could we still bake some new gingerbreads in time for the party later?” calculations. Damnit. 

I sighed heavily.  “We’ll have to make do. But we’ll definitely need more frosting to patch the broken bits.”

Why a gingerbread universe, and not, y’know,  a simple gingerbread house like everyone else? Please don’t insult me. That’s for pansies. Nevermind that I’ve never built anything out of gingerbread in my entire  life! Nevermind that my spatial skills border on the retarded end of the spectrum and I can barely screw a top on a jar.  I’m shitty at following directions, and even worse at keeping my creative ambitions humble. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I think far outside the box, but once I am there, I realize I’m standing in a dirty snowbank without my pants on. Fortunately, I’m also a good improviser and at least half of my projects turn out awesome. The other half explode or collapse, or start on fire.

When my sister and I  arrived at my parents house that afternoon, with our sacks full of gumdrops, sugar, and busted up gingerbread shapes, I revved my engine a few times, and put on my neon sweater for the third day in a row.  PARRRRRRRTY!  I cranked some festive tunes, and  carefully laid out all of the bobbins and gumdrops on the credenza in individual dixie cups.I then proceeded to set up the hors d’oeuvres and white wine in the kitchen and prepared for magical togetherness family times.

About a half an hour before my cousin Terri and her family arrived, I began to feel suddenly very, very fatigued.

“Well, it’s no wonder” said my mom. “You’ve been going on like a frikkin maniac the last few days with the gumdrops and gingerbread and the whores devours.  Why don’t you sit down and rest for a few minutes for Pete sake.”

“I know!” I said, thinking I’d just hit a temporary wall. “A coca cola will perk me right up.”

I sat on the couch drinking a coke, watching the football game on TV, feeling my life force hemorrhaging out with each sip I took.

A half hour later, my cousin and her family arrived. After showing them the gingerbread universe activity station, and getting them settled in with some drinks and snacks, I sat back down on the couch. It was a strange and ominous kind of tired.

Terri and the kids began futzing around with the gingerbread, strategizing on what to create. I wanted desperately to join them,  to share some of my big ideas about the castle, and parapets, etc. Unfortunately,  I couldn’t physically get up from the couch.  

“Are you okay?” Asked my sister. “You look kind of….gray….”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I feel really weird. I think mom’s right, and I just need to rest for a bit.”

“Well, at least pizza is coming soon.”

“Yeah. Pizza.”

As if on cue, a pizza commercial appeared on the television. As soon as I saw a slab of greasy cheese stretching across the TV screen like Freddy Kreuger’s face in a taffy-puller,    I clutched my stomach, ran to the bathroom, and violently exploded from every corner of my body.  

When I  finished emptying myself, I wobbled out of the bathroom.  The gingerbread universe construction  was now  in full swing, with everyone gathered around the dining room table holding a broken gingerbread shape in their hands . I whispered in my dad’s ear, in the voice of a small child: “Daddy. I threw up in the garbage can. It’s behind the shower curtain. I’m sorry.”

I  sat on the couch, trembling. How could so many things come out of me at once, and with such velocity?  Is my body waging a war on christmas?  

My sister Laura  sat at the edge of the couch, and offered me some water.  “You know, sometimes bud helps with nausea,” she said.  (Note: Never take medical advice from a stoner. Especially if you are yourself a stoner. ) “I left a doobie up stairs.”

I partook.

By the time I descended to the dining room, high as fuck and sweating icicles, I saw that  the gingerbread universe had already collapsed in on itself, like a gingerbread black hole. The giant gingerbreadman who had appeared so lordly the night before when we baked him, was now broken in several  places,  and  being mended together with globs of white frosting. The gingerbread house had apparently been erected, but then fell,  and was being similarly repaired.  There was frosting and candy everywhere.  When I sketched out the  gingerbread universe in my mind a month ago  I saw it as something out of willy wonka. Something with castles, parapets, forests, and churches made of marshmallows. Like this:

 

gingerbreaduniverseideal

????????????????????????????????????

 

 

What it actually ended up looking  like was this:

gingerbreaduniversefail

 

God bless my cousin and her family for making the most of this overambitious experiment. They truly put in their best effort.  But as soon as I fixed my bloodshot  eyes on white frosting oozing out of the heart of giant gingerbread man, I ran to the toilet to hurl yet again, this time in superstoner technicolor. Hooray!

After the gingerbread universe  explosion, the  karaoke party started up in the basement. I sat upstairs on the couch watching TV and feeling death very near.  Every 15 minutes or so, I’d get up to barf again.  As I held my wastebasket full of bile, I could hear my cousin Terri singing Margaritaville at the top of her lungs. In the midst of my exorcist moments,  was glad someone was enjoying themselves.

At about 4:00 am, I stopped barfing, and became lucid again. My face in the mirror was nearly transparent. I was completely empty. I  was a ghost. The ghost of christmas future! Perhaps the evil presence that visited me that first night in my old bedroom  was GOOD OLD ME.
I peeled off the red  sweater, threw it across the room, and crawled into bed, shivering. Visions of vomiting sugarplums fairies were soon replaced by visions of going home to Oakland, and snuggling with my cat Ralph for the next few days. I started mentally planning the netflix movies we’d watch together , and drifted off to sleep, unaware that my  Hella Days were only just beginning.

Helping out the Elderly is Dangerous

Helping out the elderly is a fine idea, and good for society. As long as you don’t lock yourself out of your friends house like I did last thursday night when I spotted a frail oldster struggling with a heavy bag, and rushed out the door to be his girl scout hero.

Turns out, my friend Julie’s door locks from the inside. I was cat-sitting, and all my belongings were locked inside, deaf and dumb to the crisis. I had no phone, no wallet–just a couple of useless empty pockets.

But at least I had real pants on! When I spotted the old man moments earlier from my perch in the livingroom, I was wearing my pajama bottoms. I’d settled in for an evening of drinking my friends booze, eating her ice cream and staring out her window at the parade of Bad Berkeley Fashion: Tevas with sundresses, yoga pants, multi-kulti quilted handbags, and those ubiquitous, horrible patterned leggings that flatter NO LEGS ON EARTH.

And then I spotted the old man! Humping painfully along with his overstuffed bag.  Stopping every 20 feet or so to rest. Then humping along some more.

“Christ,” I said, taking a swig  “Someone should help him.”  

Several seconds later, I found myself  stripping down, and changing into my real pants, gearing up for some good samaritan action.  There is nothing short of an actual five alarm fire that would cause me to run out into public wearing my pajamas, okay? The old man may have been trapped under his bag of potatoes, and squeaking for help, but I have my religious convictions.

When I finally made it outside, pants on, I spied  the old man, grunting up the stairs of what I assumed was his house.

“Ah,  very good, he’s home” I said. “What a relief.”

But when I turned around to go back into the house, the door was locked!

(insert expletive thought bubble here)

Some keep a cool head  under crisis,  and know just what to do. My instinct is to shriek and run around in circles until I pass out and wake up in a soft, psych-ward bed, where I’m spoon-fed jello and benzos by a hot nurse. However, in that moment, nature was calling me to rise above my usual hysterics. “Just pretend you are at work,” my inner voice said, referring to my Office Management day job where I deal regularly with crises such as broken water coolers, fruit fly infestations, mysterious leaks, and ordering last minute lunches for executive staff meetings. “you got this!”

It didn’t help much, but it got me moving forward.  My plan was to go to Rex Key and Security on University Ave–The guys at Rex know me, because I often call them when one of my cube-mates gets locked out of their desk drawers.

It was 7:00 PM, and I had no idea what Rex’s  hours were. Nor could I call them to find out or look it up on my phone. I had to just go. Go!

My walk quickly turned into a scamper. I artfully weaved in and out of herds of slow-walking teenagers, and idling passersby. Then, I got stuck behind three broheim Cal students carrying on a discussion about Epigenetics.

“But when the chromosome changes it alters the DNA sequence, breh.”

“That’s what epigenetics is, breh.”

They were a solid mass of nerd meat. No matter how I tried to dodge them or get ahead of them, they were always just ahead of just behind me, following close, and going on and on about heritability and shit.

I wanted to turn around and shout FUCK EPIGENETICS!!!!!” As loud as I could–if for no other reason than being the first human being to ever shout that. Also, I hated them in that moment. Burning hate.

I arrived at last at Rex Key and they were CLOSED. However, there was an after hours number to call. If only I had a phone!

Fortunately, I’d formulated a back-up plan while I was scampering down University. Go directly to my office and pray that someone is working late and can let me in. There, I will use my office phone to call a locksmith. A plan!!

As I rounded the corner onto Oxford street, I heard a bum saying to another bum “Even the sun shines on a dog every now and then.”

I took it as  a good omen. Yes! I’m that dog!

Then I discovered the office was closed. Fuck good omens, and fuck dogs and also:  fuck the sun.

At this point, my steely determination began to melt away into a stream of molten panic. I suddenly wanted to tear my shirt off and eat it, and then run directly into traffic.  I wanted to beat up the bum for giving me false cosmic hope. I wanted to throw poop. It took some serious, I mean SERIOUS intervention by my rational voice, combined with a  keen awareness of my white privilege to talk me down from that ledge. I knew at this point, I would have to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me out of this mess.

“Look. You are a nice white middle-aged lady with real pants on. Real pants!! The most anyone is going to accuse you of being is peri-menopausal. As long as you don’t hyperventilate or mumble incoherently about epigenetics, you will be FINE.”

As I rounded the corner down Allston street, I saw that the David Brower Center (our next door neighbor) was holding a fancy event. Glittering globes of wine, and earth-toned linens. Elaborate snacks with curly-cues. Dare I enter?

I edged closer, and peered in the window like an orphan. And then I saw him. A vision from heaven!  Stan Ramos, the Brower Center Facility guy. Someone I totally know! Stan. STANN THE MANNNNN!!!!! Stan  is a  husky,  salt of the earth motherfucker with a Brooklyn accent. I regularly meet with him, and a city of Berkeley chick about three times a year to discuss what’s happening on our city block. When I needed help, some months back, with writing an Emergency Plan for my office, Stan sent me their emergency plan and let me use it for” inspiration” (pretty much copied it word for word),  Then, when we had our  big annual emergency fire drill, Stan and all of his trusty Emergency David Brower Center Minions in orange vests were efficiently directing their staff safely to the other side of the street. Meanwhile, my staff were just roaming around. Some went to get coffee. One asked if we should take a head count or something. A few came straggling out a minute or two later after the alarm had gone off. If it had been an actual emergency, I would have lost some people.

Suffice it to say, Stan Ramos from the Brower Center  is the guy you want around in an emergency. I marched into the fancy event (trying– dear god– to ignore the table of snacks) and explained my situation to him.

“Sure thing, I’ll hook you up” He said.

And hook me up he did. The locksmith told me he would meet me at the apartment in ½ an hour. Since it takes only 15 minutes to walk to Julie’s apartment from the Brower Center, and since I had no money, and was therefore not a real human being who belonged anywhere really, I decided to just walk home very very slowly. It would be good for me since I was in a state of near panic for the last ½ hour. A nice slow contemplative walk.

As I walked down Allston, I peeked into the window of the Hotel Shattuck Five Bar. I’ve never gone into the Five Bar. Mostly because it’s an upscale place, and I’m more comfortable in sleazy dive bars tended by barkeeps with open face wounds. However, since I was walking extra slow I peered more intensely at the people inside, and I noticed three of my co-workers! I’d totally forgotten that they invited everyone out for an impromptu happy hour at the Shattuck Five.

Not missing a beat, I marched right in and sat down with them, under a big glittery chandelier.  

“Guys, guys… You will not believe the evening I’ve had….” I announced, and proceeded to tell them the whole story,

“Wow, that’s quite a tale,” said my co-worker Blake, after I finished. “Would it make you feel better to have a meatball and some fancy potato chips?”

Is the pope catholic? Is the sky blue?  Do birds shit in the wind? FREE SNACKS?

“YES.”

“I think your evening is about to get much, MUCH BETTER,” said Christopher, patting me on the shoulder.

“Yeff, I beleff  it is,” I said, stuffing food in my face hole.  “Dank god. Wellf, I gotta run!”

Revived by free snacks, I stepped merrily into the early evening light.  The locksmith was on his way. And soon, I would be back in my pajamas, cradling my iphone, and telling Fritz the cat all about my lock-out adventure.

I took about 20 jaunty steps and was then stopped by two women in their late 20’s.

“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” Asked one.

“Sure,” I said.

“Are you in a relationship?”

What is the right answer. Yes? No? It’s complicated? I should reframe; What is the RIGHT answer to elicit the quickest response, and not invite further dialogue.

“Yes?” I said.

“See, I told you!” Said one to the other, jabbing her with an elbow.

“Can you help us?” asked the first one.

“Yeah, can you help us FIND LOVE?”

Normally, I would not decline such a thrilling invitation– after all, as someone who hasn’t been in a relationship in over five years, I obviously have plenty of good advice for how to find love. Unfortunately I had a date with a locksmith and I was now running late.

“Sorry, I’d love help you, but I  gotta meet a locksmith!” I shouted. “But, believe in yourself, don’t give up, and all that bullshit.”

Onward.

One block later, I found myself being circled by two teenage boys on bikes. I don’t know about you, but teenagers scare the living shit out of me. Much like how someone who has lost a limb often feels phantom limb pain,  I suffer from “phantom adolescence” pain. That is–The mere sight of a teenager makes zits appear on my soul. Phantom pubes start to sprout from my brain stem, and then  I am suddenly transported to a crowded high-school lunchroom–carrying a tray of hamburger gravy to a table of misfits, misshapen nerds, foreign exchange students, deaf mutes, and special ed kids. My people.

Finally, one of the teenage boys stopped in front of me.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, what,” I said, trying to feign indifference, though I was sweating profusely.

“So, there’s a dead body over there,” he said, pointing. “And, it’s in a plastic bag, and it’s starting to smell bad, and it be all dripping and shit. Do you wanna go…smell it?”

I stared uncomprehendingly. I’d apparently moved past phantom adolescence into some other realm of absurdity. A place where strange women asked me for love advice. Where meatballs and potato chips rain from chandeliers. Where teenaged boys want me to smell a dead body. Where the sun shines on a dog every now and then.

I had lost my capacity to absorb it all, and therefore my ability to speak correctly.

“Ugh, no,” I said. “But, uh, good luck with that dead body and the stuff.”

They erupted into a sinister combined cackle which sent chills down my spine, and continued to slowly circle me as I walked back to Julie’s house.

By the time I got to Julie’s it was completely dark. The teenagers on bikes thankfully dispersed to somewhere. I sat on the porch steps and waited with the elderly cat, for the locksmith to appear.

“What a fucking evening,” I said to Fritz. “and all because of an old man with a big bag.”

The locksmith arrived at last! Unfortunately he was the chatty type.  

“How long have you had the cat?” he asked, shoving a pin into the lock.

“Uh….Since he was a kitten,” I said.

“And how long have you lived here?”

“Oh, uh, ..several years now, I guess.”

I’d debated what to tell the locksmith if he began asking questions like this–In the end, I concluded it would be much safer to just lie and pretend it’s my apartment, rather than explain about the cat-sitting, lock-out, etc etc. After all, what’s stopping me from paying someone to break into a stranger’s house? What if I had bad intentions???

“Do you like it here?” he asked.  

“Sure, it’s a great neighborhood…

The locksmith grunted and swore. “This lock is upside-down! And also, it’s really hard to get open. I gotta go to my truck and  get a different tool. Be right back.” 

This scenario repeated itself several times.  Him swearing and getting another tool, and then asking me more questions. The further into the lie of being Julie I sunk, the more elaborate my lying became. I was a lying machine.

“Did you notice your lock was upside down?” He asked.

“Well…I’ve grown so used to it, I don’t really notice. But it is a sticky lock sometimes. I find that dry weather causes it to stick even more.”

“Do you work around here too? Shit, this lock is….”

“Yeah, I work at the UC Berkeley Library.” (Note: there was NO REASON to lie about this, but I was on a roll)

“Oh yeah, doing what?”

“Uh…Historical….stuff..”

At that point, Julie’s neighbor stepped out onto the landing. He was in his pajamas, rubbing his eyes.  

“What is going on out here?”

I’d completely forgotten that Julie’s neighbor’s living room is RIGHT outside the stoop where I was sitting there, loudly impersonating Julie while a strange man swore and jabbed wildly at her door lock with a series of hooks and prods.

“Uh….Hi, I’m Arlene. I’m watching Fritz the cat while Julie is on vacation, and I  got locked out.”

“Oh. Gotcha….Hmm. Well….uhh…let me know if you need anything…”

“Will do.”

Fortunately for me, the locksmith stopped asking questions about shit,  because he finally got the lock open.

As I was signing the invoice, the locksmith said “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yyyes.” (Lying— AGAIN!!!)

“Well, you better tell your man to spot you some money to cover this expense,” he said.

“I certainly will, sir. 150 dollars is nothing to sneeze at.”

And with that, I bid him goodnight, slid into my pajamas, ate a dozen ice cream bars, and shook my head at the crazy crazy world.

The Great Bay Hay Ride

 

Here’s my idea to help the Bay Area save water. Feel free to use this letter to write your elected officials! 

 

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Dear Mayor /City Councilmember/Congressperson: _______________.

As you are undoubtedly aware, California is facing one of the most severe droughts on record. And yet, a recent survey by the California State Water Resources Control Board reveals that water use has only declined by 5%. I myself have been doing my part by letting my yellows mellow, and taking shorter showers. However, I’ve noticed many people in my neighborhood and beyond, contintuing to water their lawns, and waiting in line at car washes for their giant hunks of metal to be hosed down with gallons and gallons of water. 

This is unacceptable. I am making the assumption that these people are aware there is a drought, but choose to remain ignorant to it. Even though the Governor has issued a Severe Drought State of Emergency, it is hard to believe if you live in the Bay Area. Nobody is dying in the street of dehydration. Showers never run out, leaving people stranded with soapy hair. Toilets flush on command, accomodating the most germphobic obsessive flushers out there, who need to do it once before they # 2, to “clear the runway” and at least 18 times afterward for fear the remnants will leap out of the bowl and follow them home. 

Clearly, Californians are not going to change their habits based on anything the government is telling them about the severity of this drought. Distributing helpful fliers and internet memes about water conservation is useless. Even fining people for using too much water, is useless. Why?Because  a: people don’t actually read or listen or think too much anything anymore and b: we know that some way, somehow, all the water we need will be magicked to us by a team of aquatic wizards, and we can safely ignore all the suggestions to change, because that doesn’t apply to us.(hose that bitchin’ camaro, dude!)

But there is hope. I believe you have to offer people an incentive, if you wish them to change their habits. And this is where the Great Bay Area Hay Ride comes into play.

Here’s how it works.

Bay Area citizens are notified of a new program encouraging them to let their lawns die and turn into hay. For each person who turns in a bag of hay to a designated “hay drop off” they will be given one ticket to the most fabulous hee-haw honky tonk hayride the nation has ever seen. (Scheduled for October sometime). Because, Californian’s love to “party” (If I may quote Tupac Shakur) almost as much as they love a long wasteful soapy shower.

The key is to get people excited enough by the hayride to follow-through. So, I have created a list of possible hayride activities and events so exciting people will stop looking at their phones, and gaze upon  their slowly dying lawns, daydreaming about which gingham frock to wear to the hayride.

Possible activities include:

FOR KIDS:

  • Festive harvest sing alongs 
  • Spooky stories (especially about the gruesome horrors of dehydration) 
  • Seasonal clowns
  • Waterless bobbing for apples
  • Complimentary gingham bonnets for kids under 5 
  • pumkin pinatas filled with dehydrated snacks
  • Visit the aquatic wizard and tell him what you want this year for Drought Christmas
FOR ADULTS

  • Fiddlers 
  • AWARDS: The “hay bag” award for most hay turned in. The “auto-grit” award for dirtiest car. “Mellow Yellow” award for toilet water conservation (presented by Donovan)
  • Guest appearances by either Dolly Parton, Robin Williams, or Donovan
  • “Make Hay, not Cray!” (a seasonal swingers party) 
  • Miss “Gay Hay USA” beauty contest
  • “How to shower with friends” –water saving demonstration by Bay Area sex educators
  • The selfie trailor- pose with a drunk scarecrow, or a giant pile of dust and make your ducklips and gang$$igns and post that shit online playa!!!!!
  • The “dry dunk” tank–hit the bullseye, and Robin Williams falls into a pile of old socks. 
FOR THE ELDERLY: 

  • Polka bands
  • Straw hat weaving and apple bong carving
  • Scantily clad men in gingham thongs, serving cider and snacks
  • Chili cookoff
  • Narcotics 

 

I haven’t worked out the funding sources for this project, nor the logistical details of the hayride route, but I am sure you can make some adjustments here and there. Maybe you could ask google for the money! (hey, maybe the flat bed trailors could be pulled by the google buses!)

In conclusion, I hope you will consider this idea. If there is one thing I know about the citizens of the Bay Area, it’s they love a good party more than anything. Especially if there is gingham and nudity involved. If you offer them this incentive, I am positive you could save a hundred thousand gallons of water and prevent a water war from happening. The last thing I want to see is someones grandmother shooting a kid over a bottle of gatorade. (Actually, that would be kind of awesome.) 

Your loyal constituent,
Leena Shirlee