Friday, March 31, 2006

Scared Straight.

The catnip toy looks cute and innocuous. The packaging on the catnip toy has no instructions, per se. It merely says things such as "Hours of fun" and "100% organic."

The packaging does not say "Guaranteed to trip your cat out until the break of dawn" or "Will set your kitty a-humpin'" or "Watch this instead of whatever you have from Netflix tonight." But the package should say those things.

Until the other night I had never seen a kitty with catnip. I had also never seen a kitty hump a shoe, stare spacily as if he'd seen the feline Jesus, and all but ask me to smack his ass and call him Judy.

First of all I don't think I've laughed that hard in weeks. Second of all I felt wrong the whole time. This graceful, reserved creature was helplessly chasing a little 'nip-stuffed chili pepper, occasionally losing his orientation and generally freaking out. He was making an ass of himself, if a cat can in fact make an ass of himself.

"Don't worry, Dusty, it's happened to a ton of people at frat parties," I said. Could this be healthy? I mean sure, cats should be allowed to get fucked up just like the rest of us, but did it have to be so intense??

Just like a frat jackass, Dusty kept me up with his partying antics half the night.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


bunnyGenerally speaking, I don't like spring. People are vocal about their yearning for the change of season, but here's what it means to me: rain, fluctuating temperatures, crippling hay fever (the only kind of "spring fever" I know) and pressure to clean things even more than I already clean them (which is plenty, thanks).

My feelings about the season can be best expressed by this photo of an Easter display at Duane Reade that I took a few years ago in New York. At the time, I was rounding the corner on a depressing walk through the Flower District from my depressing apartment in Murray Hill to my depressing job near Penn Station. I don't typically pay a ton of attention to drugstore window displays, but something about this one struck me when I looked closer.

I'm guessing that the third bunny to the right was a "Secret Surprise" indeed, judging by his companions' appearance. Godspeed little ones, I know your pain!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Family Values.

Right now I am living at my parents'. It's only for two weeks (honest), but that doesn't make it any easier to watch the trailer for Failure to Launch, among other things, while sitting on the couch next to my mommy and daddy.

I thought I'd transcended all of the discomfort I might be expected to endure the other night, after realizing that The 40-Year-Old Virgin had way more jokes about erections and porn than I wanted to enjoy in the company of my parents. But that was before Oscar night.

Anyone watching last night's ceremony may have blocked out Ben Stiller's bizarre yet unfunny green-suit moment, if not the entire show. The bit is not worth recounting, except to note that it involved a very tight unitard. Jon Stewart made a joke about how Ben Stiller had proved the fact that he was Jewish to everyone.

Then my dad said: "I don't get it."

There was a pause, during which my mom and I both mulled our options for enlightening my dad using the fewest words possible. Before I could offer my explanation, my mom said with a tone of authority, "It's because Jewish men are supposed to be so well endowed."

After I recovered from my bewilderment, I said, "I think he was referring to circumcision," and hoped the subject would be dispensed with not only because, well, suddenly I was talking about penises with my parents, but also because my fiance is Jewish.

I learned at a young age that before embarking on a trip or transition, you should always try to anticipate anything bad that could happen, as a preventive measure. Obviously if I had considered the idea that I might come down with chicken pox on our family vacation to the Bahamas, for example, it would not have happened, because the things that really get you are the things you didn't think of beforehand.

So it's obvious in retrospect that I should have worried about the possibility that my fiance's anatomy might come up in conversation during my time at my parents', but I failed in this regard, and now the moment was trundling right toward me.

Now we were squabbling over my mom's assertion, a stereotype neither my dad nor I had ever heard before. It emerged that the source was her best friend's ex-husband, a man unafraid of blatantly lying to serve his own interest, but a Jewish man nonetheless. Still, my mom's revelation of her source for this information produced howls of derision from my dad and me.

Well, hmm, who else might know about this? Who in the room had seen a Jewish man's member recently? I resolved to remain silent.

My mom didn't like they way she'd been argued down and waited before delivering the inevitable last word: "I'm sure Mike would be glad to back this up," she said, laughing. I said, "I'm sure he would," and laughed too. Then I proceeded to block the conversation from memory for several hours.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Buyer's Market.

When I decided to move from New York back home to the D.C. area, it was a precarious situation: I had neither a job nor any apparent prospects. But I did have a sister who was partnered in an upstart coffee company. So I offered to help out.

My sister’s company participated in “road shows,” where they took up weekend-long residence in kiosks at Costco stores and sold as much coffee as they could, earning stock space on the shelves. I found myself, not unhappily at first, standing on the concrete floors of various Costcos in the sub-suburbs, brewing and handing out little cups of coffee to shoppers.

Working those road shows made me feel a new tenderness for humanity. You see people who are disintegrating before your eyes: old people who haven't washed in a very long time; women with skewed wigs; trucker types who don't give a shit about your damn coffee because Folgers wakes them up just as good and costs a lot less. Lots of unspoken spousal weariness. Nobody is looking at one another. In fact, everybody is actively endeavoring not to look at each other. Why bother with other humans when there are so many vast shelves of product that you never knew you needed, until you found that it was larger and cheaper than you ever imagined it could be? It is disconcertingly impossible for anything in Costco to look alive, unless it is stuffed.

Samples of all kinds are plentiful at Costco. Food demonstrators -- mostly older, pillowy, lunch-lady types in hairnets -- distribute mushroom ravioli, mozzarella sticks, chicken taquitos, juice, chocolates, anything from the aisles they populate. After awhile, you develop your own sampler peeves. For my sister, it was foreigners who motioned at the pots and grunted but would not pick a specific coffee to sample. For me, it was people who openly grimaced or made disparaging remarks after drinking it. It was also both frustrating and saddening to watch the same person making the sample rounds without a shopping cart, multiple times in one weekend.

Here are my top 10 least favorite things people would say when they would approach our kiosk, which usually offered four different types of coffee for sampling.

You got cognac to put in that?
I'll have a tall half-caf latte with hazelnut syrup!
Which one is the best?
Gimme sumthin that'll put hair on my chest.
I'll try the Mo-tscha.
Is this grounded? Can you ground this for me?
This tastes bitter.
This tastes like Starbucks.
I want to try the expensive one!
Yes, regular please.

In the warehouse, I felt more tied to the word "worker" than I ever had in my life. When I got home I was literally sick from the smell of coffee. I don't think I had spent that many consecutive hours on my feet in many years, if ever. I slept a better sleep than I had ever slept. It seemed, after working in a series of offices at sending messages into a vacuum called the Internet, like the most honest work I had done in a long time. It also felt even more invisible.

It became very important to me that the person I was serving at least acknowledged my existence: gave me some eye contact, ideally said thank you, maybe even asked an intelligent question. The low occurrence of this behavior became excruciating, to the point where I began saying snarky things to those who failed my courtesy standards, as they were walking away. Often they were still dangerously within earshot. But of course, they never heard me.

A year later, when I was back to being gainfully employed by the Internet, I asked my sister if her company needed any help with the holiday road shows. "Are you insane?" she said, and certified me as such by not entertaining the offer for a second longer. Sure, the question had some validity. Why on earth would I want to repeat, again, the experience of being on my feet for 12 hours in a drafty warehouse, giving away coffee shots to harried masses? I don't know why. But I really did.