Monday, August 25, 2008

News from the Natural World

Okay, so before I tell you news of the animals in my neighborhood, let's wrap up the Karl Malden question.

Frankly, good ol’ Karl remains something of an enigma. A few of you knew exactly who he was – remind me never to play Trivial Pursuit against you! But the majority of you were like me: ‘Karl Malden’ sounds familiar but we can’t picture him and we have no idea why we know who he is. He’s a perfect example of why I’m daily grateful for the invention of Google.

Enough of the mysteriously famous Karl Malden. Let’s talk animals. Today when I got home from work I was greeted with the sight of an artistic yet clearly critical editorial comment from the cats. Message: I have not decorated to their taste. I know this because one of them (or perhaps both, working together in what would be a surprising display of teamwork) somehow popped the lid off one of the plastic storage bins under my bed (WITHOUT THUMBS, mind you) and used the 1” opening to liberate a 4” ball of blue wool. Then the kitties used the yarn to decorate the apartment – the result looked like a yarn version of those old ‘Family Circus’ comic strips where you could follow Little Billy through the labyrinth of his day. Modestly, neither claimed credit for this accomplishment. Also, neither rose to the bait when I accused them of being clich├ęd. Huh.

In the much more disgusting animal encounter of the day, I had a surreal moment with a squirrel. I was talking on the phone to my sister, idly looking out the window, when I saw a squirrel walking around on my apartment balcony, just on the other side of the window from me. I tried to get my cats interested, “Look! Kitties! It’s a SQUIRREL!” They heard me and looked very closely at my pointed finger, but missed the bigger picture. So I picked up Dickens and put his little pink nose to the glass. I’m standing there with the phone against one ear, holding my cat up for a better view, when the squirrel sees us.

And then…

Only 5 feet away from us, perched on the edge of my balcony, MAKING EYE CONTACT THE WHOLE TIME, the squirrel peed on my balcony.

Then he ran away. Dickens went off to investigate his dinner bowl. And my sister and I discussed the fact that my neighborhood squirrel is a pervert. I gotta tell you: my opinion of squirrels is at an all-time low.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What Does Karl Malden Mean to You?

I'm taking a quick poll. Quick, if you've ever heard of Karl Malden, please raise your hand.

All right, now if you know WHY you've heard of Karl Malden, please keep your hand in the air.

If you know anything about Karl Malden's claim to fame - WITHOUT LOOKING HIM UP - please enlighten us in the comments section. No sneaking away to Google now. This is a pop quiz, no reference materials allowed.


You may be wondering, 'Why the sudden obsession with Karl Malden?' (And if you aren't, please check the pulse on your ol' sense of curiosity.) It all came about because this week at work I had an allegedly professional, completely sidetracked, highly amusing conversation with colleagues in which Karl Malden suddenly came out of nowhere and took over the discussion. It was a conversational ambush. I still get tickled just thinking about it (seemed a lot like my recently-explained-but-for-so-long mysterious childhood fascination with the Norman Luboff choir) and was inspired to conduct this poll.

So please leave a comment: what does Karl Malden mean to you?!

I really can't wait to hear it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

In a Nutshell

Who am I kidding? I couldn’t summarize the past month in a nutshell even if you broke open the biggest coconut in the world and gave me both halves. But I’ll give it a shot.

I’m in Texas! It’s taken a month to get partially settled and I suspect it will take a full year to begin to feel perfectly home-like. There have been a few things to adjust to, chiefly the fact that it’s been over 100 degrees almost every single day since I got here. Walking outside you get a very clear idea what it must feel like to be a hamburger when the cook uses a spatula to squish it into the grill. Squeezed by heat on all sides.

Also it’s taken a full month to get my new apartment wired for television and internet. For a while there it was like I moved to the past – I never had any idea what was going on unless someone else told me. There was an earthquake in California? Oh. Did not know that. I’m finally connected again and believe me, if I thought they’d appreciate it, I’d have given both my television and laptop huge hugs of welcome. I sure missed them.

Getting to Texas was an adventure. My friend MKA (hereafter known as Nooch) deserves haloes, trophies, treasure and accolades for driving with me the 2000 miles from Boston to Dallas. In 4 days. In a 12-foot banana yellow Penske truck filled with all my belongings. With 2 unhappy cats in the cab with us. While I had a never-ending summer cold. That made me hard of hearing. Seriously – someone buy the woman a drink.

The first day we were a little giggly with the novelty of it: look at us! We’re driving a big yellow truck! You’d better get out of our way! Here comes The Big Yellowness! We figured out how to get our ipods to play on the truck’s radio (believe me, it took figuring out) and we enjoyed the singing-at-the-top-of-our-lungs aspect of the road trip. (The cats really didn’t seem to appreciate that part at all. You’d have thought they might find it comforting, but no.)

We were also really into reading the names of funny towns and snapping pics of funny signs. (We did all the snapping with Nooch’s camera or I’d show you some of them here.) That first day we drove through Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania (which is huge and has a sign on EVERY SINGLE BRIDGE that says ‘Bridge may be icy’. Every. Single. Bridge.), Maryland, and finally stopped in West Virginia. We were definitely a *little* ambitious that first day.

Our first night in a pet friendly motel – um. Perhaps I’ll spare you the details. The cats were frantic. The place smelled a little moldy. But we slept and were able to shower in the morning. Count it a success, if not a monument to aesthetics.

The second day we felt like old pros. Also, we were motivated by a goal: we were headed to Pigeon Forge, TN. That’s right: DOLLYWOOD!!!!!! Having that as our goal made the day’s driving bearable. Virginia is a big beautiful state to drive through and Tennessee was very green. Turning off the interstate to head to Dollywood, Nooch and I were amazed by the succession of incredibly tacky billboards and crazy stuff we kept seeing. Every new thing on the strip left us gaping slightly more than we were before. It was a truly amazing combination of gorgeous green natural scenery and the tackiest entertaining crap ever put up by humans. Amazing.

Another night in a pet-friendly motel. Not a bad place. Certainly had a challenging parking lot for people driving a large heavy truck. There were some perilous moments in reverse on a steep incline that neither Nooch nor I ever really feel like we need to re-live. We were just glad to get through them that one time. And then in the morning we left the kitties in the room while we went to Dollywood.

What can I say about Dollywood? It made moving more enjoyable, that’s for sure. We loved it. The rhinestones, the red-white-and-blue, the singing, the pink and purple stuff – it was all just awesome. The best part was the museum of her life story. You could see many of the costumes from her movies, reproductions of the cabin she grew up in, lots of photos from her early days as a television performer – it’s all there. Even the tiny little coat of many colors her mother made for her – it’s so little! Plus videos of Dolly and recordings of her voice telling you what things are. I tell you. It was fantastic.

So after Dollywood things were less enjoyable – perhaps we should have seen the let-down coming. It’s not like a 4 day road trip in those circumstances is just going to keep getting better and better. And in fact, it did not. Day 3, driving through Tennessee, was just hell. If you look at a map, Tennessee is a very short state to drive through if you’re going north to south. But if you’re driving from the top-most eastern corner to the lowest western corner it is a VERY LOOOOOOONG green boring state. Oh dear heaven it is boring. Not many signs. 10 million trees on your left side. Another 10 million trees out the right window. Always the same. After a few hours it’s enough to make a girl homicidal. Unfortunately the two of us were tired already so it made both of us homicidal. Looking back I’m just grateful we didn’t kill each other. Day 3 was a low point.

About this time Nooch and I reached some conclusions about American highways and truckers. 1) Truckers tend to be creepy and weird. 2) Proof: one trucker drove by us with a rubber penis on his nose just to see how we would react. Ew. 3) In the cities highways belong to people who live there but interstates belong to truckers. Cars are just there on sufferance. 4) A 12-foot truck, while huge to us, was really just a pipsqueak to the real truckers. 5) Nooch and I started referring to ourselves as ‘baby truckers’ when we realized we weren’t anywhere near the same league. 6) It may have been small by truckers’ standards but that yellow monster ate gas like we breathe oxygen. We must have stopped for gas a thousand times in 4 days. Sheesh.

We stayed that last night on the road in Memphis. Apparently without even trying we found the sketchiest part of Memphis and stayed there. Lots of uncomfortable surveillance (on our part and by the people who watched us driving our in our conspicuous yellow truck). Memphis is also the place we made a startling discovery: of my two cats, the one always thought to be kind of the dumb one is actually the smart one. We found out like this.

Our last morning on the road we were pretty cheerful. Wohoo! Let’s get out of Memphis! Let’s get to Texas!! But as I finished getting ready Nooch came up to me with the Big Eyes and the Quiet Voice (never a good sign) and said, “I can’t find Wilkie.” I wasn’t too worried at that point because neither of us had left the hotel room. Wilkie had been there when I went in to take my shower. She couldn’t get out. She was probably hiding because she recognized the signs of departure and didn’t want to get back in that truck. (We could hardly blame her.) So Nooch and I started searching everywhere. Dickens lay on the bed and watched us. Wilkie wasn’t to be found. Then we started poking around under the beds. Being a pet-friendly motel the box springs had been laid on solid metal frames – they looked like a box and were meant to ensure that no animals could get under the bed. Ah but Wilkie was desperate. She REALLY didn’t want to get in that truck again. So she’d ripped a hole in the gauze on the bottom of the box spring and climbed up into the bed in order to hide inside the metal frame. Nooch and I had to take apart motel beds (wordless shudder of horror at the memory) in a pet-friendly motel (extra layer of horror) in order to find her. Two beds – she was hiding in the second one.

Once found we scooped her right into her travel bag – she was swearing and crying the whole time. And Dickens just watched with this look on his face like, “Huh. Wonder what’s going on there. Sure glad I’m comfy on this bed. Hey, what are you doing? Not the BAAAAAAAG!!!!!!” And then he was surprised to find himself in the truck again. Wilkie had seen the pattern. Dickens did not.

As we left Tennessee (shouting hallelujahs of gratitude) we crossed into Arkansas. Did you know that the motto on the Arkansas license plate says ‘The Natural State’? I was afraid there would be a lot of nude Arkansans but thankfully no. Just a lot of very grim billboards about not committing adultery, usually right across the highway from the numerous XXX stores. (Again, truckers are creepy and weird.)

So we finally got to my dad’s place, north of Dallas. Where Wilkie promptly buried herself inside the guest room bed. (We had to take it apart to get her out when it was time to move to my apartment.)

The rest of the story involves settling into my new place, but I’ll tell that one later. I’ve run out of room in this nutshell.