Friday, June 28, 2013

A Short Note

I know I've been unconscionably lax in posting recently, but life has been insane. There's some good stuff coming down the pike once things get a little less insane. In the meantime, here's a brief word or two.

My personal philosophies vis a vis writing:

1. If you can't be funny, be weird. If you can't be weird, be irreverent.
2. "If you're good at something, never do it for free"- The Joker
3. Spelling counts
4. Unlike the Pirate Code, a deadline is not "more of a guideline than a rule".
5. Don't plaigiarze. If your ego/confidence isn't big enough that the idea of using someone else's material in place of yours is reprehensible, then you have no business being a writer.
6. When you write something, walk away from it then come back to it the next day. I guarantee you'll find stuff that you'll desperately want to change. Never send in something "cold."
7. Someone reading your stuff for editing/proofreading? Yes. Someone reading your stuff to see if it flows, if it makes sense/interesting? Yes. Someone reading your stuff and bombarding you with unwanted ideas on how THEY would do it if they were writing it? HELL NO. And if they persist, you are legally allowed to murder them.

8. Facebook posts don't count as writing.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Great Cat Poop Crisis of 2013

Yeah, I'm writing about cats again. Bear with me; I've never in my life had a situation where I lived someplace with multiple cats, so this is new and fascinating territory for me. It's an ongoing learning experience; a fuzzy, interesting, watch-your-step, don't-leave-food-on-the-counter, learning experience.

Back when we had just one cat, Spooky, our 19 1/2 year old Dowager Empress, the part of our lives dedicated to cleaning up Her Highness' intestinally-processed cat food (aka poop) was actually rather small. Having slowed down a lot, she was a light eater (although she definitely loved her some deli sliced turkey breast and/or a little ramican of Half-and-Half, or, as she came to know the word, "cream"), and consequently a light pooper.

And yet, lacking perspective, we didn't think she was a light pooper. In fact, when her box got ripe, we started singing our own modified version of Nickelodeon's Catdog theme song. It went something like:

Catbox! Catbox!
Nothing in the world like a stinky catbox!

Well, I'll never understand

And I'll never quite git
How one little cat
Can make so much s**t!

That's about as far as we got, because I think around that time, we both passed out.

But that was Spooky for you. You know, as an aside, she had a litter mate, and we know where that sibling ended up. I wonder if that other cat is still alive. We could ask the owners, as they are former friends of ours, but we're not exactly on speaking terms this day, and it may be rather awkward to contact them and say "Hey, we don't give a screaming, flying, warthog's behind about how the two of you are doing, but can you tell us if your cat is still alive?"

Some mysteries, apparently, will never be solved.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. Cat poop.

So yes, we were accustomed to our elderly cat's slower metabolism, smaller appetite, and decreased activity level. Going from this situation to a clowder of three young, active, and voraciously hungry cats barely out of kittenhood was like going from a leisurely walk in the park while pushing a baby stroller to strapping on a pair of roller skates, getting a rocket engine shoved up you posterior, then having it activated as you stand at the top of a steep ski slope. Wile E. Coyote would be proud.

These three cats eat.  And consequently, these three cats poop.

 Oh, sure, the youngest of our four kids, the one who still lives at home, said she'd help us with the cat boxes, but tell me this: have you ever asked a teenager to do something? When they want you to do something, it always needs to be done now. They call because they need a ride home, so pick them up now. Or they need to be dropped off somewhere, now. Or they need to bring some money to school, now. Or their hair's on fire, and they want you to extinguish it now.

It's always something, I tell ya!

Oh, but when you ask them to do something, they keep putting it off, usually with the wuzgunna's. As in, "I wuzgunna do that after I got home from school!" So, you decide not to nag, and time goes by, and pretty soon they're marching down the aisle on their wedding day, and they still haven't done what you wanted! And of course, if you insist, they get all affronted, as if you're Cinderella's wicked stepmother who's having a particularly bad day as well as a jalapeno enema. Goebbels would be a more genteel parent, compared to your unreasonable demands that they do something you ask them to do without giving them a fortnight's deadline in which to do it.

So, where was I? Oh yeah. Cat poop.

So the rate of cat poop creation was increasing exponentially, with all three cats generating so much crap that all of them would be over-qualified to work as FoxNews commentators. In fact, it gets so bad that the cats barely have enough room to do further business, so the cats begin to express their displeasure in the universal language known as "taking a dump outside the box".

Can you imagine if we humans expressed our displeasure at others in this way? Dissatisfied with your job? Walk into a meeting where your boss is talking with other higher-ups, jump up on the meeting room table, drop your pants, and let your duodenum do the talking.

Or if your boyfriend or girlfriend cheats on you, you go over to their apartment and leave a little (or a big, if you've had a large meal) surprise on their living room carpet. It gives the phrase "carpet steamer" a whole new meaning, I tell you.

Are you angry at the psychos from Westboro Baptist "Church"? Take a dump on their lawn. See how they protest that!

So, yes. Cat poop. The cats began leaving what Carol and I call "protest poops" just outside the litter box, to indicate their displeasure. Humans think outside the box. Cats poop outside theirs.

But, thanks to the acquisition of another large litter box, we think the crisis is at an end. This is a covered box, incidentally, which 1) makes sure that the rest of the cellar isn't subjected to an ammonia-smelling, poop-laced sandstorm when the cats use the box and scratch at the litter, and 2) it offers the cats privacy. Apparently, cats don't like people watching them when they do their business, unlike dogs, who'll blast a ten pound turd right in front of you, then turn around and enjoy it as a hot hors d'oeurve, and then jump up and lick your face! FUN!

It looks like, at least for the moment, that the House of Terra has weathered the latest cat poop crisis, but knowing this clowder, they'll have another challenge waiting for us sooner rather than later.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Our National Anthem...

There are people who hate the United States' national anthem because they hate America or are ashamed of it. That is not the case here. Then there's those who hate the national anthem because it's a nigh-unsingable chunk of musical diarrhea that doesn't do justice to this great country. That is the case here. While I love my land, the national anthem makes me want to crawl under a (Plymouth) rock.

Seriously, what's it about? It's based on the poem "The Defense of Fort McHenry", written by Francis Scott Key, who observed the British bombing the American fort during the War of 1812. The words were set to an English song, and there you have it. President Herbert Hoover signed a law in 1931 that made the song our official national anthem.

We didn't win, but we didn't lose either! Woo! USA!
Here's how I understand our current national anthem:

"We're getting the crap kicked out of us by the Royal Navy
They're bombarding us non-stop
They didn't take the fort, but on the other hand, we didn't hurt them either
Hey, our flag is still flying!
Is it still doing so today? Just checking..."

Really now. That's it? And never mind trying to sing it. Wow. How many millions of hours of Youtube has been dedicated to the endless flubbing of the national anthem? Hell, even most professional singers, you know, those people who are paid to do this, can pull it off without embarrassing themselves, our country, and our ancestors.

And it really gets painful when famous singers try to put their own spin on it, improvising their way into the ninth layer of Hell. What's their rationale? Ego? Trying to make it sound better or easier to sing? It's like trying to make a cow dung sandwich more palatable by adding random spices that everyone hates.

A national anthem needs to inspire. It needs to extol the virtues of your country and make you proud. And last of all, the damned thing needs to be singable.

What America (chief exports: reality shows, obesity), needs is a stirring national anthem the likes of those from some our friends oversees. Check out Great Britain (chief exports: Monty Python, Dr.Who). Their national anthem is God Save The Queen, whose melody we Americans adopted for My Country Tis Of Thee (which would make a better national anthem for us, for that matter!). It's much easier to sing, though admittedly it really doesn't talk much about Great Britain itself; it's more of a "Hooray for the inbred royalty types who really don't contribute all that much to our country these days!" type of anthem. In my humble opinion, they should go with "Rule, Britannia".

Well, France (chief exports: snails, brothels) provides a better example. Have you ever really looked at the words to La Marseillaise? Holy crap, these guys mean business! This is one of those "rise up, patriots and kick the enemies' asses and bathe in their blood!" type songs. Speaking of the French national anthem, if you haven't seen Casablanca, first of all, shame on you, you ignorant Philistine! Second of all, see it, if only to see that amazing scene in Rick's Cafe, where the bar, filled with French expatriates, gives a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise, drowning out the German soldiers who are singing "Wacht Am Rhein". I tell you, once you sing that song, you just want to reach over and punch a Nazi (and sadly, you only have to travel as far as America's heartland to find the nearest ones)!

And speaking of the Germans, (chief exports: Volkswagens, odd porn), they, too, have a "rah-rah, we rock!" sort of song called Deutschlandlied, and most of us Americans mistakenly call Deutschland Uber Alles, or "Germany above all", a phrase only found in the first stanza. Well, after World War II and eventual reunification, Germany adopted the third stanza as the national anthem, thereby removing the first stanza's whole uncomfortable "We are above the rest of the world", a sentiment which was really popular before World War II ended, and the second stanza, which appears to extol the virtues of German wine, women, and song; oh, and loyalty too. Of course, that stanza may not play well to German feminists, teetotalers, and people who can't carry a tune, so yeah, it was probably a better idea to just go right to the third stanza, which talks of justice and freedom. But however the lyrics go, it's undeniably a stirring piece of music that makes you want to go right out and annex the Sudetenland be proud of your country.

Hell, even our friendly polite neighbors to the north, Canada (chief exports: Mounties, hockey) have O Canada, where they basically assure their nation that, "hey, Canada, we got your back, eh?"

Uh..wrong Celtics there...
Now, being of Irish-Portuguese-Bermudian descent, I have to admit that I have no idea what sort of anthems they have. With the Irish, I'm sure it's either some Celtic thingy called Tir Og Na Blargh, or something like "Where the Hell did my Guinness go?" As for the Portuguese, I'm sure it's some sad lamentation like "We were really hot stuff way back in the 15th century; what the Hell happened?". An as for Bermuda, since it's a British possession, I'm sure that when it comes time to perform the national anthem, they all just wave vaguely in the direction of Britain and utter "Um, yeah, what they said..."

Here's the alternatives for our national anthem:

America the Beautiful- You know this one. Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, amber waves, fruity planes, etc. This one actually mentions our country by name, and says "Hey, this is an awesome place!" Unfortunately, it's a non-starter because it mentions God, which is sure to get some people's panties in a twist.

America- Also known as My Country Tis Of Thee. This could work, though I don't know how popular it still is. Fun fact: When I was a kid, I thought the line was "Land where my father died, land where the pilgrims cried". All I could picture was these guys with muskets and buckle hats, sitting on Plymouth Rock and crying their eyes out. Well, no wonder they were crying; their fathers were dead! Of thee I sing, indeed! Problem with this one is that it already copies the melody from God Save The Queen.

God Bless America. This is a nice song with a sweet sentiment, but nope, there's that "G" word again. Wouldn't want anyone's head to explode, now would we? I mean, it's not like any other country uses "God" in their lyrics, am I right? Oh, hello, Britain! How's it going?

Stars and Stripes Forever. Not really very singable, though still very stirring. And it was composed by John Phillip Sousa! Yay, Portuguese Power!

Columbia, The Gem Of The Ocean. Now here's an oldie. But it may be too obscure.

God Bless The USA (by Lee Greenwood). Oh, sweet merciful crap on a stick, not THIS one! Please!

Coming To America (by Neil Diamond). NO! Stick to Sweet Caroline.

American Pie (by Don McLean). Oh bloody Hell, now you're just messing with me. UGH

Well, not to brag, but I've come up with my own entry, and it's called 'Murica! It goes something like this:

'Murica! We're Number One! (repeat 13 times, once for each of the original colonies)
'Murica! We rule!
Huhhrr duhhhrr
Derp! F**k!
U!S!A! U!S!A! (repeated an indeterminate number of times)

Short, sweet, simple lyrics that can't possibly be screwed up, and bordering on incoherence. It would be a winner at sporting events, and really now, wouldn't you like to see Beyonce belt out "Derp! F**k!" before a baseball game? I know I would!
photo credit: S. Yodo via photopin cc

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Our Cats, Part 3: Avishan

It's a well-known made-up historical fact that Al Gore created the Internet for the purpose of facilitating us talking about our cats. This is the third in a three-part series of the Cats of the House of Terra. Enjoy.


AKA:  Little Bit, Avi-Girl, Avi, Kitty Ninja, Paddlepaws, Flopishan, Fluffishan, Count Kittytoes
AGE:  9 Months

So Kyrian is "my" cat, and Felix is "Rhiannon's" cat, but that left Carol without a cat (or a kitty overlord, let's just call it what it is!). Even though Carol was without question the hardest hit when Spooky passed away, she wanted to first make sure that the other two of us had "our" cats, so that we both could savor the whole special bond with one cat thing.

But as last Christmas loomed, it was apparent that Carol was ready. We needed that third (and final!) cat for the House of Terra. So, on Rhi's birthday, coincidentally enough, we headed off to the Bedford Animal Shelter, since we had so much success there with Kyrian.

Carol has always had a soft spot for black cats. After all, they are beautiful cats, emblematic of Halloween (her favorite holiday), as well as her tendency to stick up for the, since many people are prejudiced against black cats. Although she wasn't ruling out any color cat, if there was a preference, she'd go for a black cat. Also, she really wasn't interested in a kitten.

After checking out a few adult black cats, the attendant invited her into the "kitten room", a special place set apart where the kittens could roam and hang out. The attendant pulled out a black kitten, shyly hiding, and Carol placed the kitten in her lap. The kitten then flopped over, relaxing in her lap like it was something she'd always done. I was watching Carol from the glass window, and when I saw the sheer look of a heart melting, I knew she was hooked. She had found her black kitty.

Avishan had been born in a feral colony, captured, checked out, spayed, and had her ear clipped, so she could be adopted as a barn cat. Someone apparently decided that she was tame enough to actually be adopted into a regular home.

And about that ear clipping...

In order to identify a barn cat as having been spayed or neutered and checked out, vets remove a small portion of the cat's ear. Someone apparently got a little too enthusiastic with the clippers, because her left ear is missing quite a chunk. One hopes that the person who performed the procedure never goes into the hair-cutting industry.

Oh, and her original name was "Horse". We have no idea why. And just when we thought that Kyrian's original name of "Nugent" was strange enough.

The name had to go. While Carol helped me out by suggesting the name "Kyrian", I returned the favor by suggesting "Avishan", the name of her half-elf Druid from one of our older Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Avishan it is!

As a feral, Avishan proved to be shyer than your normal kitten. In fact, as soon as she got the measure of the house, she dashed through the cat door and down into the cellar, where she remained for most of the day and night. After a few attempts to keep her up here, I suggested we seal the door and bring the litter boxes upstairs (gag). We enacted the plan and kept the door sealed for two weeks. She eventually got the hint and her habits changed.

Avishan is a poly-dactyl. She has 24 toes, with enormous front paws and what almost looks like opposable thumbs. We expect her plans for world domination to be enacted soon, and I for one, welcome our kittycat overlords.

Assimilating Avi was a challenge. Kyrian, already having gotten used to Felix, was now finding his patience tested again. You could almost see the "Oh no! Here we go again!" vibe coming off him. He greeted the new kitten with half-hearted swipes at her, and lots of hissing. Felix, no doubt remembering how he was initially greeted with hostility, was a different...oh, who the Hell am I kidding? Felix hissed at her too, the little bugger. What was sad was seeing Avishan approach the boys and flop over, exposing her belly, no doubt trying to be friendly, only to get hissed at and batted.

But again, we tried doing the group play, the mixing of their scents, and one day, it was like a switch thrown. It's almost as if the boys suddenly decided at once "Okay, we can let girls in the club".

With Kyrian as the alpha male, Avishan soon learned the things to do. As a shy kitten, she wouldn't dream of jumping on counters- until she saw Kyrian do it. She wouldn't beg for food scraps- until she saw Kyrian do it.

Avishan still has the adorable habit of suddenly flopping over on her side in order to be petted. It's called the Avi-flop, and has given birth to a new song:

Do it in the night
And do it in the morning
Do the Avi-flop
And fall over without warning!

As a black cat, Avishan has that whole "blend in with the shadows" shtick down pat. Those big paddle paws of hers somehow make her footfalls silent, hence the appellation of Kitty Ninja. One moment she's not there, the next, she's sitting behind you, big yellow eyes looking up, acting as if she'd been there all along.

She also shares the same characteristics, coincidentally enough, with our dear departed Spooky. She loves to eat paper (the more important papers the better), loves eating turkey, and has this fascination with the shower after someone uses it.

If there's a downside, and it's a small one, it's that her shyness makes it so that she doesn't like being picked up, or sitting in people's laps. In fact, many times we've walked in on her, she's had this guilty look as if to say "Oh, I don't belong here? Okay!", then she takes off. But happily, she's been taking baby steps (kitten steps?) and is gaining confidence and trust. She's gotten to the  point where she'll follow Carol around, and she prefers Carol to the rest of us, which is what we've been shooting for all along.

And so, the House of Terra is now complete. Each of us has a cat that enjoys a special bond, and all three cats are good friends. And yes, we're stopping at three cats. Being Crazy Cat People is not a career path we're interested in taking!