Fearless

I have to say that I am continually astounded with the fearless manner in which Cecil, the Assistant Assistive Feline™, approaches life.

Abigail at his age (and even now) was much more cautious and amenable to correction. One squirt from a water pistol and she knew not to get on the couch again — and if she does, then just the sound of my priming the water pistol is enough to get her down.  Cecil? He flinches at being squirted, but then looks up with a curious look on his face… WHAT WAS THAT? OH YOU’RE GOING TO DO IT AGAIN?  HM.  WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘GET DOWN’? OH WAIT YOU DID IT AGAIN. THIS IS MAKING ME DAMP. OH WOW YOU DID IT AGAIN.

Last night I built our first fire of the season.  It was over a year before Abigail would get any nearer to a fire than the other side of the living room, and even so she has to reintegrate the concept every year.

Cecil?

Yep.  He’s an idiot, absolutely fearless.

Meanwhile, Abigail sits cautiously on the other side of the living room.

Changes in the herd

A couple of weeks ago Abigail, my Assistive Feline™, went missing.  I was working in the back yard, and the basement door — which has a habit of not latching — had been blown open by the wind.  Abigail saw her opportunity and strolled out.

She has done this before, but I’m generally around and spot her.  She will go all OH NO YOU WILL NEVER CATCH ME HOOMAN I WILL WALK THREE FEET THIS WAY AND SIT DOWN WHERE YOU WILL NEVER WAIT WHY YOU ARE PICKING ME UP AND TAKING ME BACK INSIDE WHERE I’M SAFE CURSE YOU PURRR. In other words, she is not a wild beast yearning to be free.

This time, however, I was not around, and she had escaped.  I checked all around the house and the adjoining shrubberies, but she was not there.  It was worrisome.

Night came and she was still nowhere to be found.  I (and my Lovely First Wife) were frantic.  Abby has no survival skills that we know of, and it was easy to imagine some horrific fate befalling her.  The next morning I plastered the immediate area with posters, and the next evening she showed up at the front door, utterly unconcerned.

Somewhere she had gotten snagged on a bush or something, because she was missing her purple halter, which I use to hook her up to a lead in the back yard so she can lounge in the sun and pretend to hunt chipmunks.  Fine, I thought, you’re grounded anyway.

Then two nights ago she did it again, this time hopping down from the back porch, where she is allowed to go mean-mug the birds of a morning.  This time I was not too worried; clearly she was able to hunker down somewhere and find her way home.  And there she was the next morning at the back door, acting as if she were a big girl now and why was I all torqued even?

I decided to go buy her and Cecil, the Assistant Assistive Feline™, collars with nametags.  That way if they were ever lost they’d be identifiable and returnable, and even more, as Cecil reaches his adult size, we could tell which tuxedo we were yelling at as they scampered away from the scene of the crime.

All of the preceding was background info.

Cecil the Pest, temporarily nonplussed

Cecil has earned himself the nickname The Pest for his annoying behavior: pouncing on Abigail and gnawing on her; careening across the dining room table — while we are dining; the usual. Good thing he’s adorable. Abigail, in response, has become withdrawn, hiding from Cecil and often begging to be let onto the back porch to escape him.

So it was extremely interesting what happened when I put their new collars on them.

Cecil of course freaked out because there was this new sensation.  He did the normal flippy thing trying to see it or get to it. Also there was now this tinkling noise that was always there right at his ear!  Aieeeee!!!!

Abigail, being older and wiser, just nodded calmly at her new adornment.

That’s when it got interesting.  Abigail was suddenly lounging out in the hall, or strolling around rooms where people were, being sociable.  Cecil was in hiding up here in the study. When he emerged, he mostly tore around rooms, still jingling and completely unnerved.   When he encountered Abby, he meekly walked up to her and stood and allowed her to groom him.  When it was supper time, he didn’t do his usual adorable meowing as if he were starving.  He was a completely changed cat.

We figure Abby is feeling secure again with the feeling of her collar, since she’s worn a halter all of her adult life. Cecil, on the other hand, is simply weirded out, and we’re assuming that’s only temporary until he gets use to hearing a jingle bell every move he makes. Then he’ll return to his regular goofball Pest persona.

And that’s a report on the state of the herd.

I can’t even.

Isn’t this lovely?

This is the open stairwell to our basement playroom, featuring a really spectacular photo of my Lovely First Wife kayaking in the marshes on the coast.  One day when I was not paying particular attention, she had the photo enlarged onto canvas and hired an electrician to install the very attractive lighting fixture you see here.  What’s not to like?

Of course, being the hyper-rational, analytical green that I am (Greens: 98% Right!), my first question was, how do we replace the bulbs?  There was a vague answer about a ladder and boards, but since these were halogen bulbs it would be years before we needed to worry about it.

Two weeks ago I noticed we were down to only one of the bulbs.  It was time to worry about it.  About the same time we had electricians in to reconfigure the outlets in our two guest rooms — different long story —and I asked one what the solution might be.  He opined that I might need one of them foldy-bendy ladders one sees on the TV.

Well then.  An excuse to buy an expensive foldy-bendy ladder?  I’m in.

This of course necessitates a drive to Home Depot, which is not convenient.  Remember that fact.  I buy a likely-looking Gorilla Ladder™ and stuff it in the car and bring it home and set it up in the living room. It is immediately apparent that none of its configurations will work in our stairwell; trust me on the geometry and physics of this.

It is clear that I will have to go buy boards to lay across the stairwell to the little ledge that for some reason our contractor built in there, possibly because he foresaw a day when my LFW would have such a fixture installed.

It dawns on me at about the same time that I do not know what bulbs I need to buy, which means that after I drive out to Home Depot — inconvenient, remember? — and buy two 2x8s and lug them home, I will have to set up the whole thing in order to climb up and remove a bulb, then MAKE A THIRD TRIP OUT TO HOME DEPOT TO BUY THE BULBS.  It is at this point I decide to congratulate myself on what a superior husband I am.

So today, I have errands to run and I cleverly figure out that I don’t have to drive all the way out to Home Depot because there is an establishment right next to the grocery store that sells bulbs.  And batteries.  I will refrain from naming this establishment, because the previous two times I went there, they did not have the bulb or battery that I needed.

This time, however, they did have the exact bulb I needed.  They had four of them.

I needed five.

And here we are.

And from below:

I don’t believe I’ve mentioned that the bulbs are tricky to remove and install, have I?  Or that for the fifth and final one I will have to edge my way to the other side of the ladder to climb up to reach it?

Or that I am a really, really superior husband?

Shame! (a warning)

I have a complaint.

Yesterday I was minding my own business when I got a text from a phone number with which I was unfamiliar.  That’s not unheard of, of course, but this was the text:

I mean, what the heck, right?  Who among my friends was doing this to me?  After some consideration I clicked on the link, which took me to a legitimate Apple App Store webpage for an app called Gather—In Real Life.

Gather—In Real Life purports to be an EASY FUN FUN WAY to arrange get-togethers with your friends.

But Gather—In Real Life is a vile piece of crap.  I went to the App Store itself, where, as I suspected, the app was rated around a 1, and the top review said bluntly that if giving a 0 were possible, the reviewer would do so.  They went on to describe in detail the app’s spammy practices: merely downloading the app allows it to take all your contacts and send the above spam text to them.  Imagine: your family, your business associates, your random contacts—all of them get a text saying they’ve been “invited.”

It’s actually worse than that: the app will seize all your info from your phone.  Horrific details here, here, and here.

Needless to say, I did not download the app.  I texted STOP, then sent an excoriating message, then texted STOP again in case they thought I was saying it was okay to talk to me ever again.

I have more complaint: at some point in the upgrade process, Apple has done away with the Report button in the App Store.  If you’ve downloaded an app and need a refund or something, there’s a webpage for that, but after a day of searching I can find no way to let Apple know that this app is offensive, intrusive, and needs to go.

So here’s my blogpost on Gather—In Real Life.  Any response from the company will be posted and ridiculed here.

A memory

We’re rearranging about half the house and in doing so are coming to those decisions one comes to when one has a metric tonne of stuff.

You know what I’m talking about: those tubs of t-shirts and sweatshirts that commemorate things like shows you were in or GHP summers or (now) burns.  I understand completely that I have not worn any of them in probably a decade and I am not likely to wear them ever again.  Even I understand that they need to go, even if it means — to me — cutting the ties to that event.[1] 

But that’s a discussion for another day.  Today let’s look at this sweatshirt, which we made to advertise the Newnan Community Theatre Company’s production of Comedy of Errors, back in 1993.

First of all, I am still delighted when I see my tagline: deadpan hyperbole of obvious truths that say nothing about the quality of the show itself. (One of the younger cast members asked, quite sincerely, “How many twins does Macbeth have?”)

We had done Tartuffe back in the spring of that year.  Jeff Bishop directed, and he wanted to do it in straight-up period style, so we built a raked stage with wings and all those costumes.  I love costumes, I love period costumes, but these got to me for some reason, and one day as we were all furiously cutting and sewing, the subject of Comedy of Errors came up: would we do Elizabethan costumes for it?

Aghast, I joked that no, we would put everyone in sweatpants and be done with it.

And then I thought: why not?

In a play about identity, what could be more appropriate than a mise en scene where all the characters are identical? So I decided that everyone would wear grey sweatpants and sweatshirts, and that each character would have a different color of facepaint.  The twins, of course, would have the same color as each other.  (We came to refer to the show as “the Smurfs do Shakespeare.”)

This concept had the advantage of being astoundingly cheap, of course, but it came with a cost.  As I explained to the cast as we began work, the facepaint would obliterate any but the wildest facial expressions.  They were not going to be able to rely on subtle glances or grimaces.  This was going to have to be the broadest slapstick ever, with Shakespeare.

This was the first time that I auditioned a show and didn’t cast it right away.  The actors and I spent a couple of weeks working with the text, playing with it, and developing a physical language, a shorthand that we could call on when we began putting the show together.  Finally, the actors began to panic and demanded that I assign roles, mostly so they could start learning lines. Fair enough.

Somehow it all worked.  The actors all became extremely free in their physical work, and that spilled over into their ability to interpret the text as well.  One night I had to leave rehearsal for a short meeting, and I told them to play around with the scene in II.2 in which poor abused Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, confronts the wrong man in the marketplace with her complaints.  When I got back I was presented with the astounding spectacle of Judy (Adriana) doing the entire long speech pursuing Mary (Ant. of Syracuse) as if they were in a professional wrestling match, ending with both on the floor.  Mary dragged herself free, panting, stood, and barely gasped out, “Plead you to me, fair dame? I… know… you… not.”  Brought the house down.

More: Blue (Pinch) being flipped on his back by Jeff (Ant. of Eph) in a cloud of white hair powder.

More: the performance when Jeff, refused entry into his own home, hurled himself at the door three times during his long speech (with the elders of Ephesus nodding complacently behind him)—only this performance, on the third run he suddenly grabbed Brady (Dromio of Eph.) and hurled him at the door.  Brilliant.

So yes: the sweatshirt is a physical reminder that we did good work.  But it has to go.  If nothing else, I’ll need to make room for my Peter & the Starcatcher sweatshirt, won’t I?

—————

[1] Yes, yes, I know: make a quilt. Now I have a quilt I have no use for and have to store. But that’s what I’ll probably do.

Gin Number Two

You will recall that I made gin a couple of weeks ago.  It wasn’t horrible, as the label proudly proclaims, but I wanted to see if I could make a more nuanced version.

To that end, I took one of my new, handy-dandy Field Notes Brand “Dime Novel” editions and began taking meticulous notes—as opposed to just dumping stuff into vodka like I did last time.

With that strategy, I think I was more successful.  I now have a recipe that I can reuse if I decide this is a good one.

Mostly, it is a good one.  Whereas the first one was almost overpowered by the lovage and had a huge bitter finish, this one is more herbal and has an interesting wood note as a finish.

That would be because as I finished up steeping the botanicals (gentian, angelica, lemon zest, lovage, coriander, burdock, and star anise), I rediscovered a jar of what I think is tincture of cedar chips.  I boldly added 30 ml of that to the mix, and lo! it makes a lovely difference.

So here’s Dale’s Gin No. 2.  Not objectionable at all.

A new cocktail, maybe

I made vanilla vodka a while back and promptly stuck it in the hall closet and forgot about it.  I rediscovered it over the weekend and it’s been sitting out on the counter bugging me.

Consider this an abortive attempt.

Vanilla-Suze Something

  • 1.5 oz vanilla vodka
  • .5 oz Suze (gentian liqueur)
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • barspoon grenadine

Shake everything except the grenadine with ice.  Pour, then pour the grenadine in; let it sink.

It’s not bad, but it’s not very distinctive.  Or it may be that I’m not into citrus juice cocktails these days.  More work is required.

Also, I’ve made a second gin.  I need to blog about it.

UPDATE: The cocktail is growing on me.

A free idea

If you’re sitting there trying to come up with the central idea for your next science fiction novel, have I got an idea for you!  Feel free to use it.  If it makes you rich, invite me to your yacht sometime.

Imagine a planet like Saturn, with huge gorgeous rings.  They would have to dominate the sky, right?

But imagine that this planet has a smallish continent at one of its poles.  (It’s close enough to its sun that it’s warm, etc.)  It’s isolated enough that they’ve never had any contact with any other cultures on any other continents on the planet.  And they cannot see the rings.

Viz.:

So they hit their Age of Exploration, and an expedition sets out.  (No, I don’t know why they’d go sailing off the edge of the world if there weren’t pepper involved, leave me alone.  I’m not going to do all your work for you.)

What happens when they sail south and these rings begin to slide up over the horizon?  What is their reaction?  What do they tell people back home? How do they explain and incorporate this thing? Is there religion involved?  How much might this affect their society and its worldview, so to speak?

Anyway, there’s the idea.  That’s all I got: the look on their faces when they first encounter the rings.  (Or maybe the entire novel plays out on ship, their society in microcosm…)

KENNETH!

Recently I have been asked by a couple of people: whence Kenneth, the guy I’m always yelling at in my blog.  I thought I had already written about his origins here, but I can’t find it and I need a blog post for today anyway, so here we are.

In 1986, CBS broadcast journalist Dan Rather was attacked by a man who was convinced that CBS was beaming signals into his head.  For some reason, the man kept calling Rather “Kenneth,” demanding to know the frequency of the signals so that he could adjust his tinfoil, I guess.

The band R.E.M. picked up the phrase and turned it into their song, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”  From there it entered the public consciousness.

At least it entered mine.  I will confess that I don’t know R.E.M.’s song, but the Rather attack and the song both made sure that a crazy person without a firm grasp on what we laughingly call Facts yelling at KENNETH stuck in my head.

A second piece of Kenneth comes from the hysterical, vulgar, and deadly snarky Wonkette blog, in which house style creates an acerbic Valley Girl voice which takes, for example, half the nation opposing the GOP’s efforts to kill poor people and asks “how is that even fair, even??”  Again, the humor comes from the gobsmacking (assumed) cluelessness of the speaker.

The final piece of Kenneth comes from the Monty Python characters they called “Gumbies”:

“My brain hurts!”

So all of this gets combined into my head into a voice that, when faced with the inexplicable inability of amygdala-based lifeforms to grasp very plain reality, or when very plain reality has become gobsmackingly preposterous, has no recourse but to yell at KENNETH in a deranged, Gumby-esque way.

It helps if you read it with your head cocked a little to the side with your eyes wide open and glazed over.

New Cocktail: The Afterlife

The other night I was privileged to drop in to Barnes & Noble to a book signing by a former student, Blue Cole.

Blue, who is actually the son of a high school classmate, was one of those charming, good-looking teenagers who you feared might amount to nothing.  Dimples and blue eyes will only get you so far, after all.

However, Blue has grown up to be a fine upstanding citizen who is only a little worrisome when his wife takes him to big box stores and leaves him unattended.  This novel, Evil Upriver, is Blue’s third, unless I’ve lost count.

But Dale, I hear you musing, supernatural horror is not your thing.  You even write about it in the chapter on AUDIENCE in your own upcoming book, Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy.  Indeed it is not, but 1) I go to book signings for all former students; and 2) Blue personally invited me to come and asked me to wear my pearl earring, since that’s what the bartender named Lyles in the book wears.

How could I not invent a cocktail and take him a small box with said cocktail and other mini-bar accoutrements?

Actually, I was going to bring him the Smoky Topaz, which should be good enough for any normal purpose, but then my Lovely First Wife suggested that I invent a cocktail called The Afterlife because reasons.

It was a rush job, but I did it:

The Afterlife

  • 1.5 oz bourbon
  • .75 oz Amaro Angostura
  • .25 oz Ancho Reyes Liqueur
  • dash 18•21 Havana & Hide Bitters

The idea was that it would be at first taste an interesting take on the Manhattan with a somewhat toasty finish (GET IT, KENNETH?), but however, and also too, I felt it was lacking.

So tonight, I futzed with it and now it’s pretty solid:

The Afterlife, redux

  • 1.5 oz bourbon
  • .75 oz Amaro Angostura
  • .25 oz Ancho Reyes Liqueur
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • .25 oz 18•21 Blackberry Peppercorn Shrub
  • dash 18•21 Havana & Hide Bitters

Stir with ice, strain, serve on the rocks with an orange peel.

Rather more ingredients than I normally prefer, but it’s tasty. Quite tasty.

(Sorry, Blue, about the recipe I gave you last night.  Feel free to use it, but this is the recipe that will appear in my second book.)