Thursday, December 9, 2010

Last Name Ever. First Name Greatest. Middle Name Cat.

I HAD TO say goodbye to Paulie James Walnuts III. King James, Wally Almonds, Molly Pecans, P Kitty, Juglans paulinus, Paulo, Wognuts, top predator, master of all he surveyed. Light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul. The cat the myth the legend.

House is quiet without him. No one bites me awake to be fed. Nevermore that claw grip to the edge of my bed, the sound that announced his ascension ever since he abjured feline agility and opted for a two-part pawual hoist instead.

He didn't live to be old. But "Die Young, Stay Pretty" was his second favorite song. (After "I Know What Boys Like.") No use trying to get him to slow down and do self care. He'd be all Fuck maintain boy I gotta keep BALLIN.

He left Carmela his full wardrobe, excepting the boas. Those went to Marianne, who had always coveted them. The jewelry went to me. So if you're wondering why I've been rocking all the gold chains with dinnerplate medallions: that's why.

As I leaned into that sad hospital cage he made funereal requests. I honored the reasonable ones two days later, digging his final resting place in his old strawbed nap spot, pouring out tooney, filling his grave with passion fruit and adorning its surface with passion flowers. He wanted "Aston Martin Music" played. (I opted instead for quiet and Kaddish.) And he wanted Crim to come over and help dig, which the latter was glad to do.

Before we parted he rasped some advice: It may look for all the world like you don't know whatthehell you're doing. But I know you do. After I'm gone I need you to know it.
He was selfless really.

Miss you, big friendly orange cat. But legends don't die.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Earffirmative Action

THERE ARE white people in my iPod, a tragically underrepresented minority. I make a sincere effort to support them, because I recognize that they have contributions to make. Cosettina loves to default to GENRES>>R&B/SOUL, which measures like 16 hours. (Cosettina is my iPod. Obv.)

White people doing black music* only semi-count for earffirmative actions. I did get Eminem's last album, concluding a long journey from outright loathing to tepid acceptance to tornado-volcano embrace. My first erstwhile hint of respect for him came when he likened himself to Elvis: To do black music so selfishly/And use it to get myself wealthy. I thought that showed self-knowledge. Recovery is his bar mitzvah album for real though. He is finally making use of those purported eighty pound balls to handle icky matter like love and personal growth. (Also, Em: I was wondering how your day went. xoxo)

*Don't ask me to define such terms. Just like do me this one favor and suppose you know what I mean.

Amy, for her part, has said she never listens to white music, a statement I find unaccountably, characteristically awesome. Looking forward to spending an evening as you soon, babygirl.

I USED TO listen to rap in the closet. Nowadays that's where I listen to rock. Well, not precisely the closet, but just outside it, lazy-splayed across the bed. For such occasions I don my glasses and wifebeaters and wide-stripe thigh socks, in a weak attempt to be as culturally as I am biologically white.

I favor rock bands with definite article-preceded names; there is swagger in such unironic certainty. Not that I select to like them on this basis. Just, having perceived the liking pattern, I thought I'd make up a whizbang rationale for it. And I gravitate toward white music that is soulful,* a quality inevitably, controversially (see Mercedes v. Quinn, S1 Ep XXI) associated with blackness.

*In the best footnote of all time, Zadie Smith wonders, "Is there anything less soulful than attempting to define soulfulness?"

This is what soulful means. (It's Dan!)

UNEQUIVOCALLY QUALIFYING as soulful is everyone's favorite White, my first husband Jack. Dan Auerbach is even soulfuller, and he could be Jewish, in which case we could maybe have a huppah, something bossy Jack was not into. Though I do miss Jack's angry sexuality, like on "Instinct Blues." They can both say "uh" as well as Biggie--the only thing that truly matters.

It's funny how when Jack says, Shake your hips like battleships I'm still tempted to say, "How fast?" We're not even together anymore! I had the same problem when I was with Game. He'd be like, Bounce like you got hydraulics in ya g-string and I'd be like, "How high?" Dan says that's wrong, and he's probably right. Dan also says I'm the only one, whereas I'm pretty sure Game was simulfucking Kim K while we were together. (I'll share a man with you anytime, bitch. High-five booty clap.)

And this, naturally.

Anyway. Much white music does sound soulless to me. Or at least undersouled. Soul suck may result from aloof withholding, grating cleverness, or ironic remove. To my ears, white music has a greater tendency to sound like it's trying hard to be cool; art should strive to be good, coolness being a possible byproduct only.

You could say there are values besides soulfulness in music, and you *might* have a point. Even my iPod admits as much. Fairly or not, Cosettina grants wide berth to rappers and R&B cheesemongers, calling their vulgarity real-keeping and their tackiness fun. No white person could say, We don't even clap the same when we livin that champagne life/Sexier than a regular clap. And yet I totally tolerate, even enjoy, Ne-Yo saying so. Because the beat is right and one could be tipsy on the dance floor and really feel, for one transcendent moment, to be living The Champagne Life.

Cosettina is way more judgmental about pop rock. Much of the white music on the radio seems to fail by overwrought, false sincerity. By attempting to be deep whilst lacking actual depth. Every note from the voice of that Hayley Williams chick is a small act of senseless violence to my tender ears. (You know: airplanes...night sky...shooting stars...)

Perhaps the moral here, if I got to generally set morals, would be: If you can't be for-reals awesome, just be trashy awesome. Call it the Pitbull Principle of Know Thyself. (Speakinawhich, did you hear "Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)"? Shit's bangin!)

What I like about the aforementioned soulful whites is their wide-eyed artistic devotion, and the full-heartedness of the music they make. They have found their own roads to soulfulness, not copping anybody else's style. Amy and Em make black music their own, and do so in a way I respect. But Jack and Dan make white music soulful, and that may be the greater feat.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hustle and Cuss

WE SIT DOWN for a finance meeting and Carmela crunches the numbers with the swift ease of a kitty who sidelines as a seasonal accountant. She presents the results in tidy printouts. With the school garden program in the shitter the outlook is grim, and Paulie Walnuts operatically declares that the only remaining option is to send one of us out on the stroll. He quotes a recently-rejected Haitian presidential candidate: Closed legs don't get fed/Go out there and make my bread. I know him well enough to read his assumption of the pimp role as a ploy; he secretly hopes to be pressed into ho service.

Meeting adjourned, Carmela sets out searching for ways to economize. Her first stop is the coop for a little chat with Marianne, AKA the laziest layer of all time. Paulie and I set out debating two related questions:

1. Is it trickin if you got it?
2. Can you make a ho a housewife?

On both I find myself at odds with conventional rap wisdom. Paulie insists it ain't trickin if you got it, and swears he's not just saying that because he's got it. I counter that however much of the elusive It one may possess, trickin is trickin.

On the second question he's the conservative. When the law changes--and I always promise him it will--he does wish to settle down, perhaps adopt a kitten or two from Hopalong. So he worries his reputayshun. I say we should put on our heel boots and have some fun meantime, and promote my viewpoint by taking him out to Easy
, where we pay neither cover nor drinks. He says it ain't trickin if you got it and sweats out his "Fancy" dance.

We're half dead the next day so we do lazy gardening and lie in the sun while Carmela calculates the possible salad savings implied by my fall planting. I observe that there are many types of grinding. Fall Writing Program must go on, broke or unbroke. And I could always go back to SAT tutoring. Paulie observes there are many types of whoring.

I managed to befriend a bank security guard, so maybe we'll heist it and flee in the Beemer with "Sweet Escape" playing and abscond to Senegal and raise goats. To which Paulie says stop being dramatic and unreasonable. Holy pots and kettles, right?

And we are practicing our French. I'll find Monsieur le Noix snoozing on the straw pile that bears his imprint, and he'll lift his lids languidly and say, Ne detestez pas le joueur; detestez le jeu. Then he likes me to ask: Soyant souteneur, c'est facile? And he answers, Hell yeah, c'est facile.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pleasure and Melons (Cold Summer)

Pleasure and melons
Want the same weather
Italian proverb

I DON'T LIKE spring to be better than summer. It implies something unfortunate, like the best of life is in anticipation and planting, and the harvest can never live up. July was tomatoless. August was half over before I saw the first Black Krim breaking, ending the big green stalemate that was interminable this cold summer. If I'd planted some bitchass cherry tomatoes I'd have long been picking, but that simply isn't the way I roll. I'm not into cherry tomatoes and rather resent consolation prizes.

Turned out this would have been a season to insure against disappointment, but instead I planted eggplants and edamame and the most ambitious, unreasonable heirloom tomatoes--all of which are now sickly, under-performing, shivering every dewy morning. I even switched from my dependable sauce variety, Super Marzano, a megavirile hybrid impervious to setbacks, to the vulnerable, romantic heirloom San Marzano Gigante. The latter is an old school version of the same fine paste tomato; it lacks the usual hybrid goodies (disease resistance, insane profligacy) but makes beautiful, odd-shaped, enormous tomatoes purported to be delicious. And you can save the seeds. It's an heirloom. That's classy.

Alas, I won't be saving any seeds. My San Marzano Gigantes got verticillium. The lush green tops are a fraud, given away by the yellow-and-brown-chevroned leaves at the base. When I grow the Super hybrids, two plants give me a year's worth of tomato sauce. The lovely heirlooms I planted this time will give me a dinner or two at best. But I can't hate; who knows what they could have done with a bit more bravery, in heat and undiseased soil.

Hot weather makes me want to be superficial. Which can be nice sometimes. If it's cold I have to keep considering serious matters instead of offering my bikini self up to the sun and thinking nothing. Plants worry overmuch in the cold too. They just can't seem to relax.

I like to grouse, so good things often happen just to spite me. This cold summer I grew my first successful melon, over at the school garden. Watermelons always top the kid request list, but I'd never been willing to plant them, because I don't like teaching children that gardening is about disappointment and I never thought we could harvest a damn watermelon. If all warm-weather crops want richness and heat, watermelons want both more. More than zucchini, more than tomatoes, more than peppers, more than eggplants, more than cucumbers--hell, even more than other melons.

In spring's planting daze I snuck two plants of an early, small watermelon variety into an already-overstuffed bed we'd newly constructed at the school, making no fuss so as not to build up childish hopes. The soil was lush, the courtyard location snug and warm, and in late July a softball-sized watermelon occurred. No kid ever saw it, as far as I know. (The school is abandoned to custodians and construction workers in late summer. They all like beans and squash.) Like a dummy I picked the prize when it was utterly unripe and had to feed it to my hens. But I think I saw a couple other set fruits nestled among those hand-shaped leaves.

In the same school bed with the watermelons I grew my first successful Bay Area cucumbers and made a half gallon jar of pickles, which ought to keep until Back to School time. Maybe more watermelons will be ripe for the kiddos by then too. Maybe not.

But there's always picking. Even in a cold summer garden.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quotation for Thursday

It's my life
I'ma do what I do
If you don't like it
It's cool
Fuck you
--words to live by, from the self-actualized Pitbull

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Miss SHao's Cocktails for the Endangered

Because the earth needs a stiff drink.

The Pika Sidecar
2 parts bourbon
1 part grand marnier
1/2 part meyer lemon juice

Shake well. Garnish with haypile of one pika.

Limpy the Wolf
2 parts earl grey infused vodka
1 part gin
1/2 part lillet blanc

Serve in rocking tumbler in honor of poor 253M

The Mountain Pullover
2 parts vodka
3 parts fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 part simple syrup
1 speckled mountain plover egg

Shake vodka, orange juice and syrup. Pour into chilled martini glass. Gently roll mountain plover egg into glass, allowing the incubating chick an osmosis share of alcohol. Remove egg and consume drink while waiting for gangly plover to emerge. If plover has not yet hatched when drink goes dry, repeat with additional drinks until egg watch concludes.
After hatch, crush spent eggshells for future use rimming glasses.
Drink this and drive and you'll get pulled over. What are you doing driving? I thought you cared about the environment.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I WAS PRETTY SURE I hated Saul Bellow, vigorously and justly. Hated him for his sexism, which is to say he seemed to hate me first. My gag reflex was not Bellow-specific. I felt the same revulsion toward other macho American novelists, who struck me as oversexualizing and insulting and apelike.

However I had at some point to admit that I also found these same writers: fascinating. This attraction-repulsion required further investigation, preferably in post form. So here goes.

Bellow seemed like a fitting launchpad for said investigation, and I picked up a copy of his renowned 1964 novel Herzog. Both being Jews, I figured Bellow and I could bond over quaint Yiddishisms, having little else in common. Which worked out nicely when his character Moses Herzog reminisced on singing "Ma Tovu" with his brothers as a child. I was humming it all the next day. ("Ma Tovu" is a pleasant song to have in your head, since it means "How Good." Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mish'knotecha Yisrael: How good are thy tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.)

I opened the test case macho novel with apprehension. The plan was to face the erection, hoping I'd know what to do with it. And mostly I did, noting the sense in which the hyperactive male sex drive ought to create a happy situation for us heterosexual women. I suppose the rub lies in our ambivalent role as object of those desires. Desire can beget derision, as I am wont to lecture. And too, horniness may beget creepiness. Reading Bellow was at times like being inside the head of some lecherous great-uncle; I did not want to know what was going on in there.

In the Herzog era, the Mad Men era, there seems to have been some glamorous sexual crackle, and simultaneously the sexes were warring. Usually it seems we get along better nowadays, but sometimes it seems men are stewing in their caves while women appear smugly victorious but are privately unfulfilled.

And I worry that our present era has warped and vilified some of the natural distinctions of gender, and that certain prevailing wisdoms attempt to subdivide relationships into unrealistically tidy, sterile compartments (sex, communication, housework, and so forth), neglecting the pulsating, organic whole that is the ever-tenuous but uniquely magical bond between men and women.* I kept these ruminations to myself, however, until I read a wonderful essay in the book review section of the New York Times.

Sorry, beloved gays. This one's not about you.

IN HER ESSAY "The Naked and the Conflicted," Katie Roiphe observes that today's male novelists "have repudiated the aggressive virility of their predecessors." Predecessors like Norman Mailer, John Updike, Phillip Roth and Saul Bellow. (Among these Bellow is, incidentally, the most demure, as indicated in the below graphic, which accompanied Roiphe's essay.) She goes on:

The current sexual style is more childlike; innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex...Rather than an interest in conquest or consummation, there is an obsessive fascination with trepidation, and with a convoluted, postfeminist second-guessing.

Of that last she provides an excellent example from Jonathan Franzen in The Corrections: "He could hardly believe she hadnt minded his attacks on her, all his pushing and pawing and poking. That she didnt feel like a piece of meat that hed been using.

Ladies, if we have given guys the impression that their sexual aggression is loathsome, we have failed grievously to communicate. And communication is supposed to be our specialty. Furthermore, if we have given such an impression, that we want our men de-balled, does that not betray a cowardice of our own?

It is fashionable to speak of men being *threatened by strong women,* but what of insecure women feeling threatened by strong men? Mightn't we women be quick to judge a delicious specimen of masculinity as a jerk or a dolt or a cad, similar to the way some men are quick to condemn a dauntingly attractive woman as dumb or bitchy?

Speakinawhich, check out Herzog's flagrantly displayed desire/derision vortex in this passage from the book:

He saw twenty paces away the white soft face and independent look of a woman in a shining black straw hat which held her hair in depth and eyes that even in the signal-dotted obscurity reached him with a force she could never be aware of. Those eyes might be blue, perhaps green, even gray--he would never know. But they were bitch eyes, that was certain. They expressed a sort of female arrogance which had an immediate sexual power over him; he experienced it again that very moment--a round face, the clear gaze of pale bitch eyes, a pair of proud legs. [Emboldenings mine.]
Sheesh! What threat can this stranger possibly represent? She's just like sitting on a bench in a train station and he hates her.

I found a possible answer in a description of Herzog's ex-wife, Madeleine. Recalling the beauty of the woman who left him, Herzog is flooded with venomous resentment. "Such beauty," he thinks, "makes men breeders, studs and servants." Stands to reason that Bitch Eyes, likewise, would be a threat to power. A threat to freedom. Bell Biv Devoe said it straighter: "Never trust a big butt and a smile."

Here's another Bellow desire/derision gem, describing a photograph of Madeleine as a child: "In jodhpurs, boots and bowler she had the hauteur of the female child who knows it won't be long before she is nubile and has the power to hurt." I assure you, no twelve year-old girl has ever thought any such thing.

But I appreciate knowing Herzog has these notions. What makes the insidiousness of the contemporary male novelists is their reluctance to be real for fear they'll be caught thinking wrong. This is artistic cowardice, though also understandable. By contrast, in Herzog Bellow ruthlessly exposes the twisted consciousness of an often-despicable character who seems a damn lot like Bellow himself. It reads like plain truth; artless, and thus good art.

Funny thing--Franzen tries to do this, or something akin to it, in The Corrections*: creating a mildly despicable doppelganger with whom the reader must inevitably empathize. But Franzen's Chip comes off wanting to be pitied or sheltered or something. He backhandedly begs absolution, whereas Herzog is (at least in his stream of consciousness narration) guileless. Herzog's not trying to manipulate the reader into secretly liking him; he owns to being half schmuckish and is strong enough not to whiningly finagle your forgiveness. He only asks that his faults be accepted. Who can say no to that.

*I read The Corrections several years ago and did not re-read it for this essay. That was wrong, I know. Just I was loathe to rekindle so odious a relationship. By way of apology, I offer this interesting recent Franzen article.

At any rate, this business of shipping one's self-loathing out into the world in charismatic written package is an excellent trick, one I use often. But I digress from the point, which is:
I'd sooner do Saul Bellow than Jonathan Franzen. And the former is dead. (Counterobjectification. Try it.)

I LEARN things from Bellow because he tells the truth, however ugly. I have some idea now how a person of Herzog's ilk, a muddled misogynist mid-century man of ideas thinks. Communication can only be born of honesty, of course. If someone avoids saying in order not to be caught harboring incorrect (politically or otherwise) thoughts, only frustration can result.

But it wasn't only Bellow's honesty that I appreciated. Reading Herzog, I felt a less inhibited version of the attraction to mid-century macho novelists that had formerly evoked feminist shame. Indeed the very things that might make men sexist--strength, dominance, a bit of brutishness--might also make them sexy.

The loins are rarely in accord with the politically correct brain. Trust me. I've read Superhead's memoir. (Sup's writing game can't match Sup's head game.) But I do believe this conflation of sexy and sexist, what we might call the Nigel Tufnel Paradox, can be overcome. It just requires effort on both sides. A male friend once told me it is not easy to find the balance of being a guy. And I believe him. Just as, he kindly added, it is surely not easy to do same as a woman.

In saying such things there is always the fear one's fellow woman will accuse one of letting men off easy, indulging in another pathetic effort to please them. Herein paragraph constitutes my plea for sisterly mercy, so let me reassert that yeah Bellow's sexist. Classically so. Herzog's ideal woman is geishesquely servile, delighted just to please him, bathe him, remove his shoes. And he thinks some mean shit, like, "But this is a female pursuit. This hugging and heartbreak is for women. The occupation of a man is in duty, in use, in civility, in politics in the Aristotelian sense." Ouch! (Resolved to watch PBS News Hour each evening in full. No TMZ.)

And yet Moses Herzog, wandering the existential desert, is also a decent person. And indeed decent people have often been sexists, racists, slaveowners and Nazis. How many must there be today who hate gays? Prejudice is one of those peculiar quirks of humanity.

CHEST-THUMPING authors, like Mailer especially, do also use sex and misogyny the way certain rappers do: to flex a disfigured masculine pride. I distinguish such cheap knocks from genuine expressions of imperfect sentiment. And as Roiphe points out, contemporary male novelists can be sexist too; just their version is "wilier and shrewder and harder to smoke out." Which is kinda worse, for its camouflage. (BTW, if you ever make your girlfriend mad, just drop five stacks on that makeup bag; it worked on my cat.)

My unsolicited advice to male authors: Writing is not macho. Novelists are not rock stars, not boxers. If writing novels threatens your manhood, perhaps prescribe yourself some other activity to restore it rather than jizzing all over the manuscript. Oh, and tell the truth. Even if someone might hate you for it.

To all the ladies worldwide, I say
we have to be strong enough to let men have their strength and know we can handle it. They, in turn, have to promise not to be assholes and to treat us with respect. But the respect has to be genuine. As in literally 'look again'--not some blathering bullshit self-congratulatory fake sensitivity. Beware the man who announces his feminism. I never ever tell people who are not white that I'm nonracist.

What do women want? wonders Herzog. "What do they want? They eat green salad and drink human blood." At another point he lists what women around him seem to expect: "nightly erotic gratification, safety, money, insurance, furs, jewelry, cleaning women, drapes, dresses, hats, night clubs, country clubs, automobiles, theater!" But a woman of Herzog's day could easily have made a much longer list of what men then expected from women, including but not limited to: looking pretty, being the cleaning women themselves, rearing young, smoothing down hackles, pleasing in bed, living in suburban traps and resigning themselves to the denigrating attitudes and limited roles of their time.

I presume to speak for all contemporary women in saying we want strength without oppression, sensitivity but not 'paralyzed sweetness,' to be protected and appreciated and understood. And I cannot know but can guess that the men want care without stiflement, independence but not indifference, to be nurtured and appreciated and understood. Tall orders on both sides, but something can probably be worked out.