Pre-Feline Anxiety

Ferret bandannas. I saw a site selling ferret bandannas yesterday and found myself too-long pondering the deep need we humans have to take a creature that is mostly neck and accessorize it.

I feel like ferret bandannas are only one step from snake ponchos and giraffe mufflers. Sure, it's a niche market. But it's also not like without one, your animal bud will feel insecure and unloved while reading her subscription of Ferretista Monthly.

But I didn't actually come to talk about ferret bandannas today. I came to talk about the reason I was even on a site with the odd and assorted ferret bandanna.

See, I'm planning to get my first non-finned pet.

And what I've learned about myself is this. It is just as well that I have no children. Because if I were planning this, I would be researching parenting skills so long, the battery on my biological clock would have completely corroded.

While I love both cats and dogs, I've opted for a cat due to time and maintenance issues. But with the amount of "For Dummies" books I've attained on the matter, and the amount of questions I've asked my cat-owning friends, you would think I was prepping to manage the Lion's Den at the Pittsburgh Zoo or something.

I'm not sure what it is that I'm so worried about. That if I don't train the cat properly, it'll start slipping out behind my back, with a gang of graffiti-spraying tomcats?

That she'll fail all her classes in Scratching, Shedding, and Turning Up Her Nose at Off-Brand Catfoods, and then never get into a good college?

That she'll grab the keys, steal the car, head to L.A. and try to make it big in Fancy Feast ads?

Hard to say. It's possible that I am drawing too much on the sad demise of the only pet I had growing up-- Copper, the psychologically-damaged carnival fish.

Copper had a rough life at the carnie, as part of a game where ping pong balls were thrown into his bowl. It was post-traumatic stress, I think. Weeks after he came home with me to a ping-pong-free environment, he still flinched every time someone would enter the room.

I'm still not convinced he didn't die of a coronary. He was very high strung. But it also might have been my fault. Too many fish flakes perhaps. I might have killed him with foody flakey love.

Now I do recognize I'm not likely to come home to find my cat doing the backstroke like Copper. But you never know. I don't have a lot of previous pet experience. An unsupervised catnip addiction, she goes like Heath Ledger. A slip of the wrong kibble and she could be doing a Mama Cass. I don't think I could handle the guilt. That's why I want to make sure I have all the info I need.

I will promise you this, though. I won't be blogging regularly about my cat. There are enough cat pictures on the internet to satiate a million happy hoarders.

And I won't be buying the cat a bandanna, either. See, I hear they already come complete with a fur coat.

And really, when you're wearing fur, too many accessories just make you look cheap.

Wasting Away in GrammarNannyVille

I suppose it's bound to happen. Whatever your passion or trade, you get sucked into it like a nameless horror movie extra into a giant squid. Eventually, the monster of your making has digested you so thoroughly, you don't know what's you anymore and what's the squid.

It's that way for me with copy editing.

All on its own and often against my will, my brain dissects every TV commercial, all product packaging, every sign, and web ad, and spam email like my salary depends on it.

This doesn't mean I myself am Grammar Goddess in my own work-- typo and flaw-free. Oh, no! Would that it were so!...

I can mis-homonym with the best of 'em!..

My prepositions cling to the end of sentences like nobody's business!...

And my infinitives are totally split, baby!

It just means I will look at an ad like the one for Ritz Crackerfuls I saw recently. Its tagline read:

Real Cheese. Real Whole Grain. Real Satisfying.

And my stupid copyediting brain automatically chimed in:

'"'Really.' It's 'Really Satisfying. The recent informal adverb use of 'real' still isn't commonly accepted as a substitute for 'really' and--"

That's when I considered hitting myself on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. Perhaps negative reinforcement might do me some good.

In other cracker issues, there was my box of Rosemary and Olive Oil Triscuits. Now, as far as my personal tastebuds go, Rosemary and Olive Oil Triscuits are Nature's (or Nabisco's) Most Perfect Food.

I mean, if I were the witch in Hansel and Gretel, I would have totally forsaken the carbs and sugar rush and gone for a stylish cottage of fragrant, savory woven snack crackers.

But Triscuit's marketing copy on that beautiful yellow box made my petty, picayune brain complain.
"We like to think of Soft White Winter Wheat as a cashmere of wheat because of its soft texture and delicious taste."

Now, I don't know about you, but while I love the softness of cashmere almost as much as I love Rosemary and Olive Oil Triscuits... I personally haven't tasted it.

I do appreciate you, Triscuit People, I truly do-- but your metaphor? It applies to moths

Then this week I noticed my One-A-Day VitaCraves-- basically Gummi bear vitamins for adult people-- are serving size... two.

The marketing contraditions of taking two One-A-Days daily required another newspapery whack to the nose just to bring me back from GrammarNannyVille.

And last-- because you all already can see the sick life a compulsive copy editor leads...

You know the ads for the Capital One Venture Card with the band of medieval ruffians getting into trouble on the slopes?

Well, in one scene, these Vikings-on-holiday purchase tickets for themselves and beloved livestock for the ski lift.

"Two adults and one goat, please?" Olaf the Impulsive asks.
And every time I hear this, the annoying Brainy Smurf in my head pipes up:

"You know, it would have been so much funnier if they'd said 'kid' instead of 'goat'.

"Like two adults and one child... only it's a baby goat which is also called a 'kid'?

"It's a pun, you see, and so..."

And that's when my inner Brainy Smurf gets tossed on his head. No one likes a Grammar Nanny.

Tell me- is there anything you go compulsive on whether you like it or not?

The Great Dad's Day Doorknob-a-Rama

A new tie... Some hot electronics... Power tools...

These are the traditional Fathers' Day gifts for dad. Unless, of course, you were my Dad in the 80s. And then, I knew, gifting success might very well depend on finding...

(Wait for it.)

..A weird antique doorknob.

No, truly.

Among many, many other things, Dad collects doorknobs-- though not as avidly as he once did. I guess once you've checked out all the knockers that are out there... once you've gotten your hands on knobs of all sizes and types... you begin to realize you've seen it all. You settle for what you have. You become complacent.

Interest wanes.

But when I was around 12 or so, doorknobs took center stage in my family's weekend antiquing travels...

Also the dining room.

Yep, my father's dad had been a residential contractor, so I suppose the initial inspiration (some might call it "blame") for Dad's Doorknob-a-rama lies with him.

A pack rat in his own right, he'd brought home the leftover antique hardware from the places he'd renovated, and my good ol' Dad had taken a shine to them.

So it wasn't long before, displayed upon the walls as proudly as you please, there was a veritable museum quality timeline of door hardware. Doorknobs carved from minerals, doorknobs made from brass, doorknobs crafted from mercury glass, and some handpainted with delicate porcelain flowers.

There were knobs with glass beads embedded into them... Crystalline knobs that had turned amethyst from years in the sun... Black knobs, brown knobs, knobs from public schools in the 1800s... Each example was bolted to the giant Doorknob Display Boards that covered the walls of the room my long-suffering, doorknob-silent Mom used for entertaining.

It was initially always a little hard to explain to guests.

But what was more challenging-- at least for my pre-teen self-- was being around Dad when he was in doorknob scouting mode.

We'd go to quaint historic towns in Bucks County, PA, and good ol' dad was there with his camera, prepped to take documentary souvenir photos of...

Peoples' old door hardware on their homes.

It's not the easiest thing to sum up tidily for folks who spied him... the ones with questioning stares, the raised eyebrows. Was he casing the joint? No, he was just trying to get the lighting just right on that great octagonal pewter beauty.

Now, this was a time of my life when I pretty much was already embarrassed about... oh... everything. Like the fact Dad insisted on wearing black dress socks with Bermuda shorts.... The fact Mom always wore widebrimmed hats and big sunglasses, looking like Audrey Hepburn trying badly to evade the press...

The fact that I was, well, me.

So having people actually see me strolling the streets and waiting quietly while my dad spent time trying to get just the perfect shot of someone's brass knobs...

It was a special form of Adolescent Hell.

Add to that, any additions to his collection purchased for keepsies at the local flea markets went --not into the trunk of the car. No, see, that would be easy. We could almost have pretended we were normal then.

But instead, they went straight into Dad's jacket pocket... To be brought out to gleefully show the waitress at whatever restaurant in which we enjoyed dinner that day.

I recall him once asking some poor unsuspecting server, "Have you ever seen a pair of knobs like these?"

You can imagine, there really is no good answer to that.

So, as Father's Day is upon us once again, I think back to the days of Knob Hunting.

Now that the Pop has downsized, he has pared down the overall Doorknob-a-Rama quantities. His collection fits, these days, in one small display cabinet in his Florida home.

And that's okay by me. Because I no longer feel compelled, on a yearly basis, to venture into antique stores, peer into their glass cases, and force myself to ask to see their knobs.

Yep, these days, I get him a gift certificate for Ebay. Because, hey, on Ebay, they really have seen it all.

So tell me, what makes YOUR dad happy on Father's Day? I bet it isn't doorknobs. :)

Humor Blog News, Brain Dissection, and Mom Turns Japanese Chef

Happy Friday, Friends o' Cabbages!-- (or Happy Whenever You're Reading This; let's not be Day Discriminatory)--

To start today's bloggy humorificness, I first have a happy bit of business I want to share.

It appears for the last two years, my brain has been partitioned into many sections. There is:

  • The Cabbagulum Obligata-- The part of the brain that plans Of Cabbages and Kings humor posts. It keeps track of, and writes up, blogly humor three times a week on a fairly rigid, entirely self-dictated schedule
  • The Instantaneous Deadlinula NowNowNowus- The area which handles all the last-minute work writing panics and customer service tasks that inevitably crop-up, drawing energy away from sections one and two
  • The Novelium Guilticanus- The part of the brain that pushes me to finish the humor space adventure novel I've been writing, knowing full-well it's a pretty fun tale and will, at least, be better in someone's hands than in a drawer. It's the part of the noggin that says once you have a back-breaking 363 manuscript pages and a complete outline, you are a stupid, lazy bugger if you don't finish the rest of the tale. Then it chains you to your computer desk and serves you bread and water until you crack.
  • The Novelium Procrastinatorius- The part of the brain that assesses the other parts of the brain and determines that, yes, I can actually put off finishing my novel for another year, even though I enjoy the project, don't have much more to write, and know I need to get my posterior in gearior.
  • Steve- The part of the brain that has no idea what all the hustle-bustle is about in the other Brain Locales, and really would prefer to just turn off, chill out and watch some Netflix with a beer. Steve lives in a jar on my endtable.

So, with all of these brain parts vying for attention, it occurred to me that I could eliminate the Novelium Procrastinatorius once and for all-- and truly concentrate on the frigging novel using an attention span slightly longer than your average fruit fly-- if only I had a few less blog posts to write a week.

That said, Cabbages will now be published once a week-- I'm thinking Tuesdays, but am open to suggestions taking into account Readers' personal convenience-- until I get this novel wrapped up. I imagine, it'll be the summer.

The good news here is, having freed up this bit of space in the brain (which is dusty and still full of clutter and probably needs Clean House to stop by), I have already written up about 20 new pages of novel content, and am pleased with the progress so far.

In some ways, I feel like I'm copping out in not being able to balance it all in quantity. But that's probably just the Cabbagulum Obligata speaking.


In other completely different news-- like the actual press-- I just read that a Japanese restaurant in Australia-- called Wafu-- has ruled that all guests must finish everything on their plates under threat of a penalty fee. Those that waste food will be asked to never darken the restaurant's door again.

Future restaurant policies under evaluation include making patrons sit in the corner for not putting their napkins in their lap, and having them write, "I will use my salad fork for salad only" 100 times as punishment for rampant utensil misuse.

Okay, so I made those last two up. But I did have to double-check that my mother wasn't actually still alive and just hiding these past twelve years as a Japanese chef in Australia.

I recall vividly having a Battle of Good Versus Evil with Mom about mashed potato consumption, as a child.

Our War of Wills led me to sit at the kitchen table until bedtime, with a plate of potatoes before me reminiscent of a particularly memorable scene in Close Encounters.

We also enjoyed a sequel the next evening, featuring the very same all-spud cast.

Mom would totally have been on board with the idea of a wasted food fine. Docking, I dunno, ten cents out of my 50 cent per week allowance for doing the dishes for each potato glob left behind would have definitely had an appeal to her.

Food for thought for you parents with fussy eaters out there! :)

Anyway, that about wraps up Cabbages for today. Hope all the parts of your brains are currently hanging out, having a blast and ready to party for the weekend.

If so, can I send Steve along? His schedule's free and he'll bring beer.

When Did Monty Python Start Working for the Gas Company?

And now for something completely different!

Well, okay... not entirely different.

Well, different in that it's a new post. Which is freshly baked and tasty! But similar and, in fact, somewhat non-different because it's a post about me still battling the Comedy Troupe some laymen like to call The Gas Company.

So, not very different. It's the same illogical bureaucracy you might recall from... oh... just last week or so.

Just more of it. And in such large portions.

When last I left you, Friends o' Cabbages, I had been-- under threat of having my gas shut off-- trying to schedule the gas man to come and read my inside meter. This apparently needed to be on a day where:
  • The planets aligned
  • The shui was feng
  • The moon was in Uranus
  • And the gas company didn't have a headache
When it was convenient for me, the customer?... Not so much.

So this took three phone calls (and one threatening letter, tucked-in for fun, telling me I had neglected to contact them at all). And my brain imploded and I was dead for a while due to my body's inability to process the Hulk-like rage.

Then I got better.

So during the last phone call, I pointed out to them that in this Age of Reason, and Technology, and Not Making the Customer Take Off Work in Four Hour Windows Every Six Months, all other utilities seemed to have remote reading capabilities.

And that's when the female Eric Idle in customer service said, "Oh, we have remote reading capabilities. But you have to pay $116 to have it installed."

"What? You have remote reading capabilities?! But for years you guys have been telling me I have to spend:
  • "Several thousand dollars to put the meter outside, or
  • "To give you a copy of my house key for keepsies no tradesbacksies...
"...No one has ever mentioned, in the many years of charming Utility Harassment I've been enjoying, that there was remote reading capabilities for $116. Let's do that!"

"Oh, but it's $116," Erica Idle insisted.

"But it is not $3,000. Which is more."

"And if they find something wrong with your line," continued Erica Idle in a nervous fear of remote reading, (perhaps she was scared by a remote reading meter as a child) "they'll shut your gas off entirely and then you'll have to call a plumber to get it fixed. And then pay a fee to get it back on again."

We left it that I was free on Monday morning to set it up.

Or so I thought.

Monday morning, in my Four Hour Window, that's when the Gas Man-- let's make him Michael Palin-- came in. He was friendly. He was cheerful. He popped down and read the meter. And then I asked him the question.

"Um, what about installing the remote reader?"

"Remote reader? I don't have anything here about a remote reader."

"I'd asked to have a remote reader installed so we wouldn't have to go through this every six months and have my head implode and die, and then it take days for me to get better."

"Why, I don't know anything about installing a remote reader. Are you sure you asked about having a remote reader installed?"

No, I called the Gas Company to ask whether the donuts were fresh this morning. "Yes, I was pretty enthused once I finally found out there was this option."

And I explained the situation.

"Well, from what you say there," Michael Palin told me, "it sounds like you might not have made it clear you wanted a remote reader installed."

I was on allergy meds and looked at him blankly. I had vague flashes of waxing joyous on the phone about the remote capabilities. I recalled making an appointment for something-- which had to have been real, since the gas man was, in fact, here.

Given I arrange many, many details successfully for my own clients each week, I didn't imagine I hadn't articulated my needs properly. But could it be I had a complete and utter Gas Company Mental Block?

"And you know," continued the Gas Man, "if they find anything wrong with your line, they'll shut off your gas and then you'll have to call a plumber to have it fixed, and pay to have everything turned back on again."

"So I've heard."

"So we have this insurance you can get for just $3 extra a month, and that would mean if they find anything, the insurance would cover it. So what I would do is get that insurance first, and then have the remote reader installed and..."

I never expected to feel Shook Down by the Gas Man.

He also explained to me that even with the remote readers, they will still want to get into my house every year or so to check the remote meter is still working properly. Meaning one time less a year than before. Meaning I will still have to take off a half-day a year to wait for the Gas Man.

And there we left it. I have, with three phone calls, and two personal explosions, managed only to put off this saga until the next six months. So, I ask you, Readers:

  • Do I succumb to the shake-down, pay for the insurance and try having the remote reading installed again?
  • Do I have the remote reading installed without insurance, with the implied threat that something is almost destined to happen to my lines in the process, (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) so they get to shut it off and make me pay?
  • Or do I decide to go Amish, and heat my hot water the old fashioned way-- y'know, sitting it in a pan in front of a Heat Surge electric heater?

How to Annoy People on the Internet

While some folks make enriching hobbies out of cruising discussion forums and blogs and posting the comments that inflame, it is possible to enrage people on the internet, mortally wound their feelings, and cause them to question whether you have a 666 birthmark on your scalp, without that deep dedication.

Perhaps you've been thinking lately about how you can make more people blow a gasket during the course of their days.

Or perhaps you yourself are looking to become temple-throbbingly angry over words typed on the computer screen by complete strangers, but you're just not sure where to turn to get that fix.

Here are some tips to get that steam shooting from the ears without delay!
For writers/bloggers/forum participants:
  • Type stuff. It really doesn't matter what. Eventually you'll hit on a combination of words that will make somebody believe you're a cruel and nasty individual trivializing their beloved pair of socks, the death of their childhood cat Mittens, or their lifelong love of cheese wheel rolling. Remember, this is the Internet, where colored pixels of light on the screen translate directly into personal insecurity and outrage.
  • Be yourself. There's nothing that makes people on the internet more angry than someone who has ideas, or opinions, or types stuff (see above). It wouldn't matter if you were Gandhi, Kermit the Frog or Mr. Rogers. It's only a matter of time before someone finds you to be the most vile creature Satan ever shot into the Great Spittoon of Life. Be patient.
  • Write the words that come to you without thinking of them from 47 different angles first. Be hasty. A careless, off-the-cuff phrase from you might just be the big Internet scandal that triggers loathing and threats against your nether-regions.
  • Talk about controversial topics. Or lint. You might think that to really make people mad on the internet, you need to talk about things like politics, religion, gender issues, dog fighting or who should win American Idol this season. But you may not realize, you also have a great opportunity to make people spit blood by bringing up things like: breast feeding, animal breeding, favorite soups, the color puce, liking something, not liking something, and bits of fluff you might find in your armpit after wearing an angora sweater. The chance of annoying people regularly on the internet by talking about topics is virtually limitless.

For readers:
  • Examine all content from news articles to blog posts to Twitter entries as if it relates directly to you personally, and all aspects of your life. Assume the writer was knowingly talking about you, even though the only thing they've seen of you is your screen name and your Winnie the Pooh avatar in the comments section.
  • Fixate on one or two small details in a larger piece. Then super-size its importance for maximum impact. If you're skilled with this, you might be able to trigger a whole sub-discussion flame war where commenters on both sides begin to dwell on this minor issue instead of the topic the author actually intended. You may be working up a good froth for days!
  • If there is nothing in a piece to fixate on, make assumptions that could be related, and rage about those. For example, if an article is about kittens and there is a white and a black kitten in the accompanying photo, you have an opportunity to discuss the author's obvious neglect of including tabbies in the piece, and how tabbies are just as good as black and white kittens and how the author is clearly an anti-Tabbyist. This places you in a very powerful position, because it is difficult to defend a statement that wasn't actually made in the first place. Your blood pressure can then elevate nicely due to their refusal to accept your accusations.
Yes, friends-- typing, words, thinking, not thinking... these things and more will soon put you on the road to annoying people on the web.

And for my guests today who have already begun this process, how have you inadvertently made others find their inner rage online? I hope you'll share with us today.

Wrath of Mom Versus Hall Pass Liberation

One was a methane molecule. And in retrospect, I now understand that it was also, technically, a bathroom joke our class would have found really funny if any of us had actually understood it.

Yes, our chemistry teacher had been creative and his bathroom pass was one of those Tinkertoy styled molecular models. CH4. One little round thingie surrounded by four other little round thingies on spokes. I remember it to this day. Which was, I suppose, my chemistry teacher's whole point.

Sending out a twenty-years-too-late High Five to him now. Woot!

Other teachers went for the Piece of Wood on a Keychain pass. Or the Piece of Cardboard Hastily Scribbled Upon pass.

Or, if I recall correctly from band, the Metal and Fur Flute Cleaner Pass-- which being a flute player myself, I know to be something no one really should want to touch for long. Thus ensuring a very quick trip to the restroom.

But then at some point-- because when you think about it, half the student body was walking around brandishing items which otherwise should have belonged in a yard sale-- there seemed to be some kind of global switch-over to the Official Pink Signed and Dated Hall Pass Slip.

And it was this that added undue complexity to my days at Edgar Allen Poe High School.

See, as I'd mentioned earlier, I was in band. And for half the year, most of our activities were not, in fact, inside the school-- but far, far out in a weedy, goose-poop-littered field to one side of the school.

There we would march in precision formation. ("Precision" here meaning "a couple of kids will be chewing gum, while some lag to talk about copying math homework, while a few more try to kick the goose poop off our shoes.")

And we rehearsed our tunes with driven dedication. ("Driven dedication" here meaning "paying attention enough so our band director wouldn't single us out and yell.")

But the bell would ring, to signal the switch of classes, and we had a few scant minutes to do this before we would be labeled "Tardy."

("Tardy" here meaning "old people came up with this term for being late and didn't really understand how we would enjoy inappropriately using the phrase.")

So I had to go from Goose Poop Central, put away my flute, grab my stuff, and head to the gymnasium at the opposite end of the school.

We were supposed to be across a certain line in the hallway by the time the second bell rang. We knew, because Mr. O'Neill would watch for it like he was timing the New York Marathon. And every day for a year I had managed to just slip over that line in time...

Except one.

"You! You're tardy! Detention!"

Well, I had never had detention in my life. There was a reason for this, too. Detention meant being detained. Which meant my mother, who would be picking me up after school, would have to wait for me. And my mother did not so much wait. I would call it more of a slow boil.

I believe I mentioned this before, I was an only child and Mom didn't exactly have what you'd call perspective in child rearing. ("Perspective" here meaning "any sort of concept that children weren't just lovely quiet plants that you could put in window, water occasionally, watch them bud into something breath-taking, and which never, ever would inconvenience you by dropping leaves on your carpeting.")

So I had done all I could do to avoid this. My own significant lack of perspective knew it would be The End of the World as We Know It.

Detention meant that not only would this go on my clean School Record, it would trigger the Wrath of Mom.

Which almost guaranteed my having to explain and apologize for the error of my ways, AND a loss of TV and/or phone privileges. This meant missing vital 21 Jump Street time.

(For my younger readers, there was no TiVo or TV series videos in the 80s. If you missed an episode, it was lost forever. Weep for us.)

Well, I spent the better part of this day in a panic. I wondered at the various punishments I would receive at home, and in what combination. I pondered whether my detention would prevent me from getting into a good college. And I worried that Detective Tom Hanson of Jump Street and I would be separated from each other for the rest of my young life.

So after school, I ran to Mr. O'Neill's office as fast as my pink high-top sneakers could take me. And there, Mr. O'Neill saw a girl who he'd never, ever seen even speak before. The one who sucked at almost every sport he trotted out, but had an unnaturally wicked volleyball serve.

And she began to speak in tongues. She said something about goose poop and running marathons... And the unreasonable expecations of academia... And logic and imaginary lines... And impending doom and tardiness...

And she concluded with a phrase rife with rage and exasperation and all of the injustices of youth, "And I've never had a detention and I'm not going to have one now."

Well, poor Mr. O'Neill. He didn't know what to say. And really, what was there to say? I had said it all.

I avoided detention that day, and every other day, as I think Mr. O'Neill was a little afraid of me after that. Plus, I eventually got ahold of the most prized items of all items in the school...

On pure accident, I ended up with an undated, un-time-stamped Official Pink Hall Pass.

And that's when I knew, nothing could stop me now.