Saturday, June 8, 2013

Friendship is Magic

 This isn't about My Little Pony.  It could be.  I've been told that I am what is called a Pegasister.  But this isn't that post.

I have a friend who, through a series of baffling coincidences, has been convinced that I lead a much cooler life than reality would suggest.  See, every time we hang out something magical happens.

A few months ago, I invited this friend to a going away party for a friend of mine.  He had specified "black tie" in the invitation, and left it up to each guest to interpret that.  I told my friend this, and she pulled out all the stops.  Velvet cocktail dress, fishnets, swanky hairstyle: she looked great.  I was dressed slightly more casually (since I had to come straight from work) but still nice.

This friend lived downtown, above a wine shop that, to the casual observer, doesn't have apartment above it.  In our heels and finery, we wandered downtown until I pulled her into a nigh-invisible alcove.  I called my host-friend, who came down and let us in through a glass door.  Up the stairs we went, down a narrow hallway, and suddenly we were at a studio apartment with about thirty people inside.  All of the women were dressed to the nines, and the men were in jeans, random shirts, and a few token ties.  Neither of us knew the majority of the people there.  We met a public defender who hands out party-favor-sized bubble tubes to clients who "look sad," and someone struck up a conversation with me about cats based solely on the healing Jude-wounds on my arm.  Occasionally, someone would climb in or out of the one window in the apartment, because that was the only way to get to the balcony.  The party was still in full swing when we left, and my friend made it home still unsure of where, exactly, we had been.

Fast forward a month.  I asked that we have a girls' night, so the two of us and another female friend decided to go to Bear's Tooth, because they have good margaritas.  When we got there, it was packed, so someone suggested we go downtown.

So we did.

We parked at a small string of parking spaces that access an even smaller park and have a great view of the inlet, arriving at sunset.  After admiring nature, we tottered off in our wildly impractical shoes and began our trek.

We started at a fairly upscale place, where my friend accidentally spilled a lavender-based drink on herself.  She smelled delightful the rest of the night.  Incidentally, through the course of the night we found, frozen into the frost on the pavement, two sets of wet, bare footprints leading in a random direction, as well as adventures in dancing where I discovered that I was right, I can't really dance.  And I really can't really dance in 5 inch platform heels.  By the end of our escapades, our feet were so sore from out poor choices in footwear that we sang "The Ants Go Marching One by One" all the way back to our car.

Two weeks ago, my friend called me, asking if we could go shopping together.  I said sure, and we headed to the nearby mall.

Since I was mostly there for the company, I did a lot of lollygagging while my friend tried things on.  In the first shop we visited, I found a series of large sunglasses.  Like, comically large.  Which, normally, I would shrug off, but these sunglasses took themselves seriously.  They weren't novelty items, they were intended to be worn unironically.  I am not exaggerating when I say that the largest pair obscured my face from my cheekbones to my hairline.

So I did what anyone would do, and waited for my friend to go into the dressing room, then stationed myself outside, sunglasses in place, so that I would be the first thing she saw.  She was as amused by this as I was.

Through the course of this shopping trip we found some truly hideous clothes, the most apathetic fast-food worker I've ever met, and got ourselves some giant bouncy balls.  But that's not what makes this magical.

The Harry Potter-themed figure skating expo, however, does.

This mall has an ice skating rink at its center, which hosts, among other things, an adorable junior hockey league and a series of figure skating classes.  Their recital was that day, and they had put together a series of routines based on the books, as well as a short scene referencing Potter Puppet Pals that was absolutely precious.

This culminated in a final battle between Harry and Voldemort, and it was definitely the coolest thing we could have stumbled upon in a mall.

See?  Super-cool.

Now, however, I have a problem.  She's convinced that I lead a life of beauty and mystery, and I have no idea how to keep it up.

I guess I'll just have to leave it up to happenstance.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Today's is a short post, but I have had a couple interactions with children lately that bear repeating.

A mother and toddler came into the toy store a few days ago, and the following took place:

Me: "Hi, how are you ladies doing today?"
Mother: (to daughter) "Do you wanna tell her why we're here?"
Toddler: "I get a prize!"
Mother: "Now tell her why."
Toddler: "I pooped!"
Me: "That's really good!"
Toddler: "In the potty bucket!"
Me: "That's a good place to do it!"
Toddler: "Twenty times!"
Me: "That's a lot!"
Mother: "We're all really excited about it."

Last week, a young girl came in with her dad, trying to pick out a book to give to her friend.  She and her friend were both eleven, but while the friend had a higher-than-average reading level, the girl shopping for her had a slightly below average reading level.  This didn't deter her, though.  Since I know the books we carry better than anyone who was there that day, I was fetched.  Turned out, both little girls LOVED reading.  For the gift, the girl told me that her friend loved "funny books about middle school."  I showed her I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President.  I recommend it to anyone, really.  It's hysterical.

The girl was so excited to get her friend a book that her dad let her pick one out for herself.  This was when she told me her reading level wasn't quite 6th grade.  However, instead of being discouraged by this fact, she was very forthright.  She loved reading, and knew what was and wasn't beyond her.  I showed her Redwall.  It's about a fourth or fifth grade reading level, and after she flipped through it with her dad, agreed that it was just challenging enough to be interesting, but not too challenging to be frustrating.  It was so cool to see how excited she was.

The next one didn't happen to me, but to my coworker.  We sell little mystery Lego minifigures, and just got a new set in.  Kids love coming in and trying to guess which one they're going to get, based on the parts they can feel.  A little boy, about nine or ten, came in and was determined to get "the paintball guy."  My coworker told him that she was hoping to find "the bee guy," which, yes, is a minifigure that looks like an anthropomorphized bee.  The kid spent about fifteen minutes feeling all the little packages, finally picking two.  About five minutes later he came back, bee guy in hand.  He didn't want that one, so he wanted my coworker to have it.  She was so touched she bought him a new one.

Lastly, I got to talk to my friend's two year old last night.  She was very polite, shook my hand and said "Pleasetameeyou."  She is adorable.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nesting Season

My mom has an African pied crow.  His name is Piper.  The floors in the house are laminate, which is necessary when you have a large, free-range bird.  He's about twelve, I think (they live to be 25-30 in captivity), and isn't the tamest of creatures.

We bought him from a place called the Corvid Ranch, in Alabama.  The guy who owns it breeds exotic corvids (ravens and crows) that can be kept as pets, used in movies, etc.  Have you seen the Windex commercials with the large black and white birds, talking about how grumpy they were that they couldn't tell when the glass door was open or closed?  Those were pied crows, and they came from the Corvid Ranch.

Most of the time, if they're selling a bird as a pet, they send hand-raised chicks.  This way, the bird has imprinted on humans and acts kind of like a super-intelligent dog.  They can even be taught to speak!

Not Piper.

See, before Piper, my mom had worked for years with wild ravens and crows.  She was part of a rehab team that would keep birds that could no longer survive in the wild (usually due to some human-inflicted injury), and they would then take those birds to schools, fairs, etc, and teach people about whatever bird that particular handler dealt with.  When we were looking for a pet, they didn't have any hand-raised chicks.  However, since my mom had experience taming wild beasts, the guy sent us one of his breeder birds.  So Piper came to us about as tame as a raven you'd encounter in a parking lot.

This was about eight years ago.  While Piper is still not as tame as we'd like, and never will be, he's mellowed out a lot.  He makes contented noises when you talk to him, he'll take food from your hand, and he only tries to bite you if he wants something you have.  Or he thinks you're not looking.  Or he's feeling ornery.  And he pulls the cats' and dogs' tails.  It's entertaining.

But right now, it's nesting season.  For a crow, that means stealing EVERYTHING.

So far, in his cage an various places around the house, we've found two spatulas, two pairs of scissors, the stand off a globe, several knives, five or six forks, three spoons, and anything else he can get his greedy little beak on.

That's pretty entertaining right there, but then today he learned how to use my mom's computer.

She came home to find that he'd opened files, surfed the web, and written jibberish on a word document.  I can only imagine what kind of havoc he'd wreak if he could spell.

About once every other day, my parents go around and retrieve whatever he's stolen.  Almost immediately he has everything back and then some.

Spring is weird in my house.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day and a Raw Chicken

Today is not Mother's Day, but Sunday is.  Seeing as I work from now until forever, I thought I'd go ahead and share a story about my mom.  If y'all have any fun momecdotes, leave 'em in the comments!  I love knowing there are other odd families out there.  Okay, story time.

As I've shared before, my dad has an interesting approach to life.  Though different, my mom's approach to problems can be similarly...unique.

When I was eleven, my mom and grandma conspired to give me a miniature longhaired dachshund puppy.  His name was Ogden Nash Rambler, because Ogden Nash was an awesome poet and a Nash Rambler was a car.  We called him Oggy Doggy, after the Hanna Barbara cartoon dachshund.  When we first brought him home, he was eight weeks old and the size of my mom's 7 1/2 shoe.  He grew (minimally) and topped out at 16 lbs.  Do you know what a dog that size is called in Alaska?

Eagle bait.

This is because every once in a while, eagles do make off with house pets, usually small dogs and cats.  Unfortunately for us, eagles are also fairly common in Anchorage.

So it came to pass that one day, an eagle saw the tree in the fenced part of our yard, and thought "Oh hey, that'll be a cool place to hang out for a few hours."

My mom saw the eagle, and immediately called Oggy and our collie, Beulah, inside.  The collie was in no danger, but my mom figured she'd be better off inside with Oggy anyway.

I should probably mention at this point that my mom has, off and on, been affiliated with various wild bird rehabilitation centers around Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, and kind of has a soft spot for anything with feathers, razor-sharp beak and talons notwithstanding.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that my mom's second reaction to the eagle, after ensuring the safety of our pets, was, "I wonder if it's hungry."

She had been thawing a chicken for dinner that night, and figured that would be the best thing to feed the eagle.  So she tossed it outside and waited.

The eagle couldn't have cared less.

It sat in the tree for a while longer, preening and doing eagle things, then took off.  My mom kept the dogs inside for a while after that, leaving the chicken where it was on the offchance the eagle came back.

Well, it never did.  But a cloud of magpies descended on that chicken like teen girls on a pop star, and had it torn to shreds within minutes.

Maybe an hour after that, I came home from school and saw the mutilated fowl remains (see what I did there?), and had the following conversation:

"Mom, why is there chicken all over the backyard?"
"Oh, the magpies did that."
"...You were feeding magpies?"
"No, there was an eagle."
"Oh...okay.  Shouldn't we clean up the chicken?"
"Naw, the magpies will finish what they started."

I think my dad ended up cleaning up the yard so we could let the dogs back out.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Backwards Cap: Not Always Cool

Ladies, Gentlemen, and cats, I did it!

I graduated on Sunday.

It's kind of interesting, actually.  At my school, they hold the ceremony before final grades are in.  It makes me wonder how many people go through all the pomp and circumstance (and, on our case, Native Alaskan dancers and a truly horrible Alma Mater song) to find out that oops, never mind.  

But sometime in June I should receive a paper saying that yes, I completed the courses necessary to earn a bachelor's degree in English.

This will be a short post, because the first thing the real world decided to do was hit me with a horrendous, godawful cold, four days before I have to sing at a benefit concert.  But I wanted to tell you about my experience as a graduate who is really, really bad a time management.

"Oh, I don't need to be there until 2:45?  It's only a 20 minute drive from my house, if I leave at 2:00 I'll be golden," I thought to myself.

At 2:18 I found myself facing the sisyphean task of making it through the epically long line of cars, finding a parking spot, and making it into the arena before the processional started.  At 2:35 the line had finally advanced enough that I was able to pull into an empty parking lot several blocks away, grab the bag with my cap, gown, and tassel, and hotfoot it over the the arena.  I made it, barely.

Once into the lobby of the place, I hastily donned my gown and scurried, cap in hand, to where the College of Arts and Sciences was supposed to line up.  Though really, line was a strong term.  It was more an amorphous gathering of hot, sweaty 20-somethings, all of whom were trying their best not to get smudgy fingerprints on their namecards.

I put on my cap, exchanged pleasantries, and off we went.

My parents were late, but wound up arriving in time to see me receive the empty case that will eventually hold my degree.  I'd been futzing with my cap the entire ceremony, because no matter what it wouldn't stay on.  It was like a drunken toddler, leaning this way and that, doings its level best to no longer be on my head.  After I sat down I decided to take matters into my own hands, and removed the cap, once again, to try and get it into a more stable position.

Then I looked around.

For anyone who hasn't worn one, or hasn't in a long time, the part that actually fits onto  your head is specifically shaped.  The rounded part goes on your forehead, and the longer, pointed part goes on the back of your head.

It had been a while.  I was in a hurry.

I'd put the thing on backwards.

Slowly, I turned the cap around in my hands, trying to surreptitiously move the tassel so it would be on the correct side when I put it back on.  After I got the cap re-situated on my head, the guy sitting next to me leaned over and said "Don't worry, I didn't notice.  I don't think anyone else did either."  I really, really hope he was right.

The ceremony ended, and I was able to make my way out of the arena, into the bright May sunshine.  My parents greeted me and snapped pictures.  Friends hugged me.  I smiled, accepted their thanks, and made my way out into the world.

It's on correctly, but still wasn't the most stable thing.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Importance of Spaying Ebony (and Locking Doors)

This is a story for The Meowpocalypse.  We share stories of our critters, and sleep a little better knowing that, for instance, Jude's habit of not burying his poop is his way of asserting his dominance, and not just laziness.

But this is not about Jude.  This is about Jude's predecessor, Ebony.


Ebony came to us a shell-shocked kitten with a kink in her tail, which I still believe was the product of it getting slammed in a door at some point.  Once out of the tiny cage Petsmart provided to the no-kill shelter she came from, she spent the first few weeks hiding under various pieces of furniture.  I'm still not sure how six-year-old me pulled it off, but with patience and coaxing I got her to trust me.  This was kind of important, because the biggest rule of having her was that she had to stay in my room at all times.  We had two other cats, and until I could tame her my parents didn't want them getting all up in her business.

A few months and yet another kitten later, October rolled around.  The people who ran the foster program told us that they didn't foster or adopt out black cats during that month because apparently people are cruel.  They said she could either stay at the shelter the entire time, or we could keep her permanently.  We kept her.  And loved her.

Even if she did wind of giving me hives

Now, we've always considered ourselves responsible pet owners.  The rest of our animals were spayed or neutered, we always kept current on their shots, and declawing was a dirty word.  But for reasons I can't quite remember, it took us awhile to get around to getting Ebony spayed.

This became a problem when she learned to open doors.

At first, it was endearing.  "Look how smart my cat is!" I told my friends.  "She can open all the doors in our house."  After that, she was no longer confined to my room, and became queen of the castle.  My dad's tomcat, Percy, would sometimes butt heads with her, but for the most part the two alpha-cats had a truce.  All was well in Southern California!  And then she went into heat for the first time.

It really didn't occur to us to be worried.  We didn't let her out, and the rest of our animals were fixed.  Aside from the annoyance of her yowls, there didn't seem to be an issue.  But remember, the doors.

All of the doors inside our home had handles, not knobs.

Kinda like this, but curlier

This included our front door.

So it came to pass that one evening, my dad took the family out to dinner.  We came home to find the front door ajar.  This was in Buena Park, which wasn't the best suburb, and my dad went on instant alert.  He made my mom and me back up, then he cautiously approached what could very well have been a robbery in progress.

Instead, an orange tabby streaked out of the house like his tail was on fire.

We recognized him as the neighborhood stray that would occasionally come and yowl at us to let Percy out, and were puzzled.  He'd never even come to the front door.  Why on earth...?

Enter Ebony, stage left.  My dad looked across the living room and spotted my cat, lying on the carpet, a very satisfied look on her face.

Shortly thereafter, Ebony had a little operation and my mom explained to me that we already had enough cats, and didn't need more kittens.  Being six, I failed to see the logic of "less kittens," but as I grew older I came to understand.

Funnily enough, Ebony became the least maternal female animal I have ever met.  As she mellowed towards humans, she became less tolerant of other animals.  When I removed her to the garage apartment I still inhabit, she was finally free of the other cats and (all but one of the) dogs, and was in heaven.  She met a kitten a couple years after that, and growled at him so hard he still looks surprised.

This.  This was the evil she felt compelled to stop.

Anyway, that's my first Ebony story.  She lived for seventeen years, so there will probably be more.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spiders Are Sometimes Hilarious

Spiders and I have a truce: they don't bother me, I release them outside instead of squishing.  I'm not particularly fond of the (sometimes) little brutes; the one thing I'm afraid of in regards to moving to Oklahoma, above all other dangers of tornadoes, drought, and baffling laws, is that I'll be in proximity to fiddleback spiders.  Also known as brown recluse, these mini terrors live in dark, dry places (like my grandmother's garage), and have a highly venomous bite.  I've never been bitten by one, and I hope to keep it that way.

But whenever I start to think too much about how creepy spiders can be, I try to also remember that, sometimes, they are awesome.

The Jumping Spider of Buena Park

I'm an only child, and spent my early childhood in an area that wasn't known for niceness.  Since I wasn't allowed to play with many kids from the neighborhood, and both my parents came from a long line of animal lovers, my playmates tended to be furry (or scaly, or feathered...).  Enter Bottle-Bright.

Bottle-Bright was a jumping spider who lived on our windowsill for a week.  I named him for his eyes.


Jumping spiders are adorable.  They're also harmless and eat flies.  The only awful thing about them is that yes, they jump.  As I got older, I grew nervous around jumping spiders, but for the week Bottle-Bright graced me with his presence, I had a new friend.

My First Tarantula

I mentioned earlier that I'm afraid of fiddleback spiders in Oklahoma, and that much is true.  But Oklahoma has a wide variety of spiders to be afraid of.  The brown tarantula, for example.

This dude.

Tarantulas are more harmful than jumping spiders, but they're still fairly docile creatures that can be handled (if you're careful and not a jerk about it).  They also migrate in herds, which is something I'll touch on in a moment.  For now, I wanna talk about the first time I heard my father's middle name.

Like most people, I have two grandmothers.  My mom's mom lives in Tulsa, which is about twice the size of Anchorage, while my dad's mom lived (until a few years ago) in an incorporated township in rural Oklahoma, called Enterprise.  For those of you not in the know, and incorporated township is a place that has people, but only, like, five.  It's barely even a wide spot in the road.  To get to Grandma Dowdy's house, you first drove down this long back road that was mostly overhung with trees.  Then you drove up a long, winding driveway to the faded yellow house with white trim, within which one could find four VHS tapes (Forrest Gump, Driving Miss Daisy, and a few Looney Tunes collections), an old piano, and my grandmother.  In this story I was either five or six; my grandfather had already passed away, but I was still young enough for this memory to be largely hazy.

My grandmother had one rule when it came to playing outside: don't go near the big boulders along the side of the house.  There were copperheads under there.  Since all the best lizards could be found in her backyard flower beds anyway, I happily complied.  So it came to pass that one day, I was lifting rocks and looking for blue-tailed skinks --

This adorable critter

-- when I noticed a giant, fuzzy hand sunning itself on the cement patio.  I screamed, more in surprise than anything, and my grandmother came running.  She, too, saw the tarantula and gave a scream of her own, shaking her hands and hopping from foot-to-foot: the traditional Southern Lady in Distress dance.  Within moments my dad joined us, probably expecting a mountain lion (I had also been warned about roaming the woods at night).  The second he spotted the arachnid he sighed, rolled his eyes, and went to fetch a small branch to scoop up the thing.  

"Robert Lee Dowdy, you put that thing down!  I mean it!  Right this instant!  Just kill it!  It's only gonna come back, kill it!" The litany lasted until my dad reached the edge of the yard, where the trees started, and he set the now-deaf (if it had had ears) spider in the undergrowth.  I had never seen my grandmother be anything but calm and collected, even when I insisted on bringing all sorts of reptiles into her home, and had started laughing almost the instant my dad came out.  Like most daughters, I was completely secure in my belief that my dad could handle any threat nature could throw at me.  Unlike most daughters, I had also seen mine decapitate a rattlesnake, douse an actively-swarming and stinging (me) wasp nest in gasoline, and now remove a giant spider from my immediate vicinity--so I had a little more evidence to back up my claim.

I later asked him why Grandma had called him "Lee," and he told me it was his middle name.  Then we discussed middle names for a while (my parents have called me by mine since birth) and the incident was put behind us.  Later, I recounted this story to my mother, and she told me the following one.

My Grandfather, The Troll

Like I said before, my mom's mom lives in Tulsa.  Specifically, the house my mother grew up in, from the age of eight on up.  I spent more time there than anywhere else (aside from my own home) when when I was growing up, and I couldn't begin to picture the gated community across the street having once been a field.  But I took her word for it that Tulsa used to be moderately wilder than it is now.  When I told her about the tarantula at Grandma Dowdy's house, she told me about her father, and his reaction to tarantulas.

See, when my mom and uncle were small, my grandparents were great believers in family vacations: road trips, camping trips, you name it.  On one such camping trip, the tarantulas were migrating.  The way my mom told it when I was little, my grandfather waited until nighttime, collected a box of the things, and then brought it back and shook it at my mom, causing the spiders to jump out at her.  She's hated spiders ever since.

As much as I love the image of my grandfather bringing a box of tarantulas to his young daughter with the sole purpose of frightening the bejeezus out of her, I've since uncovered evidence to the contrary.  I think.  They could very well be different incidents--but really, how many times did this man collect giant spiders?

Last year, my Grandma Bennett and I went through all of her old photographs.  We found some dating back almost 100 years, up through the generations, ending with my cousins and me.  The vast majority of these photos are from the 1950s and 60s, because my grandfather was a prolific photographer.  He died in 1975 of lymphoma, so the pictures tapered off after that.  However, two of them caught my eye.  In one, my uncle (looking scrawny and adolescent) was looking at the camera while a tarantula made its way up his arm.  In another, my grandfather was holding the same spider, but his gaze was focused on it instead of the camera.  My grandmother said that he'd found two tarantulas in the woods and had brought them home to show the kids.  My mom had refused to touch them, but my grandfather had fished out the mellower one and snapped a few pictures.

I kept those photos, and they're currently in a stack awaiting the tedious process of getting scanned and stored digitally, but if/when I see them again I'll include them on here.

And this brings me to...

My Last Tarantula

I was between the ages of ten and twelve, and we were once again visiting Oklahoma.  We'd moved to Alaska by this time, and since there were no exotic pet stores up here back in the 90s, my mom took me to one down there.  I liked looking at all the different creatures I couldn't have.  This particular store held mostly reptiles and amphibians, but it had some exotic insects as well.  This included a rose-haired tarantula.  A bald rose-haired tarantula.

Because their bite isn't a big deterrent, tarantulas have a back-up defense in case they get attacked.  They rub their legs against their abdomen, shooting the hairs into their would-be predator's eyes, which is irritating as all get-out and can sometimes give the spider a chance to flee.  I knew this, but most young girls don't make a habit of knowing about spider defenses, so when a clerk saw me staring he came over to explain.  I stopped him halfway-through his unintentionally condescending description of the flying butt-fur, and he relaxed, simplifying his story.

"Yeah, someone dropped her cage and she freaked out so bad she shot off every single hair.  I don't know if you can scare a spider to death, but we're trying to be extra-soothing when we have to handler her and stuff so she doesn't stress out any more."

My cat once jumped off the roof of our garage, and every hair on her body stood on end for a good half hour.  I sympathized with the spider.

I also laughed because, hey, bald tarantula!