Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gardens in Glass Houses

During a trip to Ikea for a bedframe and a bath rug, I crossed paths with a tiny greenhouse called a “Socker.” Inspired by impulsive thoughts of upgrading Angelina’s terrarium, I tracked one down in the garden section. One month later, after puzzling together all of the essential parts of the apartment, I constructed the flimsy glass structure only to realize that it had no base. Nonetheless, I may be able to fill it with potted plants.

I have placed it on a Socker-sized ledge in front of the window above my sink, where the former tenants kept a large microwave. It will not do much good to put plants in it now as the window is obscured by wood planks. In the meantime I will have to be satisfied with wilted cilantro.

After a month of complaining about the lack of natural light in my apartment, I received a very useful Christmas gift from my mom: An Agrosun Dayspot 60 watt grow light kit. Now I can illuminate the shadowing corners where my plants will dwell and allow them to believe that this tiny lamp is the natural sun that its species evolved under.

Perhaps I should set the light up beside the Socker to create the ultimate underground gardening paradise. I have not plotted what plants to pot, but right now I’m leaning towards herbs. As much as I would enjoy a greenhouse full of flytraps, but I’d really like something I can cook with. For practical reasons, I will not attempt to grow melons.

The aforementioned wilted cilantro was obtained yesterday morning from the produce section an Italian grocery story. So far, I have found local grocery store herbs incredibly underwhelming. In Stop and Shop, I find the herbs shriveled on their death beds torpidly bleeding their last drops of chlorophyll.

At the Italian grocery store, I find the herbs drowning in torrential rains produced by a sprinkler mechanism installed above the shelves. Most grocery stores mist their leafy greens to make them shiny or whatever, but the Italian grocery store sprays theirs every other minute. Three times while I was standing in the produce section a recording of a summer thunder storm emitted from the speakers and a shower of water poured onto the produce.

I picked up the cilantro with two fingers and shook it for a minute or so. To create the same heavily-moistened effect, they might submerge the herbs in a swimming pool and have pool boys in swim trunks fish them out with nets upon customer request.

Cilantro is number one on my list of things to plant, followed shortly after by parsley.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fit for a Fungus

Before I moved into the new apartment, I bought a rosemary bush that was shaped like a Christmas tree. I had every intention of stringing it up with lights and beads like a Christmas tree. Then December came around and I had a brown, spiky bush-skeleton shedding its needles on my windowsill. It wasn't as festive as I had hoped.

What went wrong?

My apartment is in a dusty basement. The last renters were eyeless mole-people. Prehistoric insects creep out of the cracks in the molding and the spaces where the pipes go through the ceiling, the wiggling ancestors of the centipede and mutant spiders that I catch in old ricotta cheese tubs and shake onto the driveway.

The windows are small, but at least there are windows. My landlords left wooden planks stacked in front of the kitchen windows to make me feel like I live in an 1850’s tenement, so very little natural light shines in. I have become a mole-person.

Yet I am not bereft of hope. Angelina, my pitcher plant, is thriving in the window beside this very desk, in full view of a creepy boarded-up garage. The little hairs that are springing up on her lips - her mustache, if you will - remind me of the tiny flesh-scraping hooks on a cat's tongue.

The day I moved in, I announced that I wanted to immediately procure a plant. Having a plant gives me the illusion that I am a responsible adult. “What could you possibly grow in here?” my mom asked.
“Mushrooms,” I declared.

I may have suggested mushrooms in jest, but now I’m completely serious. I stumbled upon this mushroom kit from Back to the Roots. This mushroom garden, which resembles a happy meal for gnomes, purportedly produces a sprawling mass of oyster mushrooms in ten days and produces at least two crops. The spore-filled soil inside of the happy meal box is made of recycled coffee grounds.

The process seems fool-proof, even for one prone to causing small forest fires in terrariums. You spray the coffee ground soil with the spritzer and mushrooms will grow. I may have found the ideal plant (or in this case, fungus) to grow in the dark.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Communicating With Cats

I love you, but I also want to eat you.

I once read that cats have the I.Q. of a two-year-old child. That’s fine with me until they begin acting like a two-year-old child. Like many toddlers, my kitten Olive tends to think that all attention is good attention and all repetitive actions are a game. We’re trying to train Olive not to jump on the table when we are cooking and eating, not to bite, and not to claw the tiny ottoman into to a pile of glistening, red polyester fibers.

Yesterday morning when Dave got out of the shower, Olive latched onto his ankle with the force of a small, furry predator. Innocent, zealous ankle-licking quickly transformed into an impulse to devour Dave’s flesh. Claws and teeth were unleashed and Dave gave her a stern talking-to. For some reason, a freshly-showered Dave really whets her appetite. Perhaps she has the archetypical paradox of loving us, yet wanting to eat us.

Shortly after, we found ourselves huddling around my laptop asking the Google how to train cats. This led to a Wiki-How or Ask.Com page about communicating with cats, complete with a how-to video. (Not that we aren't experts in speaking cat.) Soon we were immersed in the world of translating meows with a phrasebook and deciphering meaningful feline body language.

We learned that a low, deep MRRRRooooowww is a sign of displeasure and a high Rrrrrooooowww! is an expression of terror. Subtle differences in the angles and movements of the tail may reveal anxiety, excitement, and aggression.

The subject of clawing and biting was most important to us, so we scrolled down. The article informed us that “a cat will drive his/her claws in and out of you as a sign of happiness or playfulness.” It continued to say, “Either way your cat knows and loves you.” The phrase “drives his/her claws in and out of you” brings to mind more of a stabbing motion with adamantium claws. I’m actually quite glad that my cat doesn’t know and love me that much. I considered editing the article so that it would be less stupid, but then I realized that ninety people already did.

His body language indicates that he knows and loves you.

As far as disciplining a fighting, biting kitten goes, we were advised to shake cans of pennies at her, squirt her with a spray bottle of water, and pick her up by the scruff of her neck and growl in her face like a bear. I have many spray bottles lying around but they are all full of caustic vinegar. “That’ll show her,” thought I.

The idea behind the penny can and spray bottle is that you sneak up on your criminal kitty, catch her in the act, and assault her with loud noises and a shower. We don’t have any cans to put pennies in, but we do have a huge glass fish full of spare change that is Olive's best friend. We considered turning the fish against her and shaking it in her face when she claws the desk chair.

Since the fish is always in the room, whenever she considers leaping onto the table to knock off a plate of poached eggs, she would look back and think, “I can’t do this now. The fish is watching me. The fish is always watching me…”

Today we dropped her into her cardboard carrier and brought her to the veterinarian. The entire car ride was accompanied by the seething sounds of a screaming kitten. At the office, we scooped her out onto a cold steel table. The veterinarian stuck things in her ears and poked around her eyes. He told us that our kitten has conjunctivitis and that there’s only a 95% chance of recovery. Then he said that some cats get a strain of the virus that never goes away and they walk around for fifteen years with trailing eye mucus behind them like hairy snails.

“Any tips for teaching a kitten not to bite?” I asked.

“You’re not encouraging it, are you?” he asked. “My brother used to play tug-of-war with his cat, and now the cat is insane.”

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

“I would pick her up by the scruff of her neck,” the vet said, snatching Olive up by the neck-skin. “And I would shake her and say, ‘Good kitties don’t bite' in a sterner voice than I’m speaking in now. Because that’s what a mother cat would do if Olive bit. The mother would pick her up by the neck... and throw her.”

The vet decided that today Olive would get a rabies shot. Olive panicked and looked for an emergency exit as the veterinarian produced an enormous syringe and wiped an alcohol pad across her back. She desperately moved towards the carrier, probably trying to communicate something to us through meows and body language: “Okay guys, I’ll get in the carrier! I love the carrier! Look at me! I want to get inside of the carrier now…”

The vet called in his assistant, who grabbed Olive by the scruff of her neck and, once again, began to shake her.

“The kitten might cry a little,” the veterinarian said as he plunged the syringe into her back. Once again, the kitten screamed. I quite nearly screamed myself.

When the vet and assistant released her, Olive stumbled towards Dave. He lifted her carefully into the cardboard carrier. I comforted her with my shrill female voice that cats love all the way to the apartment. “We’re almost home. Far away from that bad, bad man who kept shaking you and sticking needles into your skin. What a bad, mean-spirited person.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Hole in my Ceiling Where Drills Escape

"Groovy pad," said the construction worker.

I thought the loud roaring above me was merely the construction that has been going on upstairs for the past several days. It turned out it was a drill coming through my ceiling.

The landlady and construction workers paraded down to our apartment door. They suspected that they had drilled a hole through the ceiling. I led the crew inside. We meandered around the coffee table and the bookcase to the bed, which had a little pile of paint chips and plaster.

“See that?” said the handyman, pointing upwards. “That’s a drill coming through your ceiling.”

The landlady jokingly said that she hoped we wouldn’t notice, but we probably would have noticed a threatening, protruding spiral of silvery metal gleaming above our heads as we slept.

They decided that the best thing to do would be to fix it right away, in case dust and liquids leaked out of the hole as we slept below. I agreed. Before I knew it, the crew was stripping away the comforter and pillows, carrying my mattress into the kitchen, and pushing the bedframe against the wall. They draped a plastic sheet over the bookcase and taped it into place.

“Groovy pad,” said one worker, looking from the psychedelic rug to my tie-dye rainbow leggings. I was walking around dressed comfortably because I had anticipated a long day of kitten cuddling and quietly copywriting. It was not meant to be.

Olive, our kitten, encroached upon the scene curiously as people came in and out to survey the damage. Then the drilling began and she dove behind the mattress. This happened several times. Once the drilling stopped for good, she ventured quietly into the construction zone and pattered through the plaster dust. A worker found a pile of her dust-coated toys that were under the bed and tried to throw them to her.

I scooped my brave little kitten up from behind the construction worker’s back and eventually barricaded us in the kitchen with a drawer unit and a tiny ottoman. Olive is not thrilled about our current living arrangements. As far as she is concerned, all of the things worth playing with are part of the construction zone. When she gets bored with her feather toy she tentatively bites my foot an act of revenge.

Not so long before the drill broke through the ceiling I was sleeping off a terrible headache and Olive kneaded my shirt to wake me up. If Olive hadn’t roused me with her cuteness, I might have awoken to a silver drill bit spirally relentlessly above my head, spitting a snow of plaster and paint chips. PTSD and nightmares reminiscent of the better Saw films would have likely followed.

The construction worker that is here now says that he will be another twenty minutes, and then the rest of the crew will return to patch the hole. The patching process will continue for another forty-five minutes. Perhaps I should follow Olive’s example and take a nap on a kitchen chair. It’s going to be a long afternoon.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kitten Sunday

Yesterday was Kitten Sunday, the day that Dave and I designated specifically for adopting a kitten. Our apartment is full, but there is a kitten-shaped void. We picked up two friends and went to a local animal shelter to enjoy some feline company and find our match.

I got the feeling that the volunteers really didn’t want to give us a kitten. We told the receptionist that we wanted to adopt and she tried to talk us out of it.

“Are you sure? What if your landlord doesn’t want you to have pets? What if you break up? Are you just going to bring the cat back here?”

But we are no cat novices and already took these things into consideration. She reluctantly slid a clipboard with a questionnaire reminiscent of, but for cats.  Then she directed us to the cat rooms. In the first room, we played with black kittens and temperamental tiger cats. I was quickly horded by adult cats demanding my attention. The volunteers in the room paid us no mind, ticking the kittens with Salad Fingers gloves.

The second room contained several adult cats that didn’t get along. A white cat got comfortable between my feet and tailless black cat nuzzled my leg, and they proceeded to fight. The other cats wanted looked on with indifference.

The third room contained the cats in cages, pacing and roughhousing and slipping their paws through the bars of the cage. Some of them came to greet us and others didn’t give us the time of day. The volunteer in the third room told us that we could play with individual cats that we liked in another room.

We went into the visiting room and waited for the first kitten that we wanted to get to know better – a fluffy, gray boy-kitten. The volunteer released the kitten onto a chair and quickly shut the door behind her, leaving the kitten in a new environment with four enormous strangers.

The kitten all but wet itself. It leapt off of the chair and darted to the safety of a carpeted cat-cave. The kitten was not amused my attempts to lure it from its hideout with a furry tail on a stick, seductively spiraling just within its reach. Nor was it thrilled when one of our friends attempted to scoop him up. When I tried to pet him, he slinked to the door with a panicked expression.

The prospect of adopting a kitten that was terrified of us was just too sad, even under reasonable circumstances, so we moved onto a gray girl-kitty with huge greenish-blue eyes. She seemed a little frightened when the door closed behind her, but soon she started brushing against my legs. We took turns dangling the furry tail on a stick in front of her and she played along. She found a chair cushion in the back of the room and maniacally kneaded it with her claws. When Dave picked her up, she purred and crawled onto his shoulders and ran down my back.

We were unanimously sold on kitten #2, but I wanted to give an affectionate adult kitty a chance, too. The volunteer brought us a third cat. It turns out he was seven months old but the approximate size of a Shetland pony. He seemed agitated out of his cage and allowed us to pet him for a while, but he mostly appeared annoyed and ready to return to the comfort of his cat cushion and the predictable bars. Before he left, he also maniacally kneaded the cushion. It’s his cushion now and nobody else’s.

After a thorough hand washing, followed by some absentminded kitten petting and some more thorough hand washing, we returned to the front desk. We told the receptionist the kitten we wanted.

“We need to see a copy of your lease before we can give you this cat,” she said.

I wish we had known about this before we spent hours playing with them. So we drove home, grabbed the lease, begged our landlord for a letter of recommendation, and quickly returned. The receptionist and other women who worked there looked it over carefully. They discussed the adoption in doubtful whispers. Then one of them went to the third room.

When she returned, she said, “You’re going to have to choose a different cat.”

In saying this, she ripped my heart from my chest, trailing behind it other important “feeling organs.”

“This cat hasn’t been spayed," she continued.

Well, yes, she was only a baby and cats can’t be spayed until they are six months old and fertile. I don’t know what to make of it. I hoped that we could work out a deal, or put her on layaway, or arrange a betrothal between us and our kitten that would go into effect on her six-month birthday. Fortunately, Dave was able to reason with the receptionist and we needed to provide the information for a veterinarian that has Dave on file. Hopefully that really is all we need to bring this time, and not our birth certificates and records of our whooping cough vaccinations.

The vet was not open on Kitten Sunday, so we must wait. Perhaps today is our day.

UPDATE: The next day we went to the shelter again and they gave us cardboard carrier full of kitten. "Is this for real?" we wondered. The sound of screaming kitten confirmed it. Olive is all ours, our squeaking and crotch-nuzzling bundle of joy.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Last week, Dave and I viewed two apartments.

The first apartment was a stucco building in view of a cemetery. There was a stone owl on the roof, which Dave explained was meant to scare away real flesh-and-feather owls and evil spirits.

We were greeted by an older man with a Magic School Bus T-shirt. Until that moment I had forgotten that Magic School Bus and Miss Frizzle existed. Do you suppose she’s married now? I should have asked the landlord, since he seemed to be a diehard Frizzle Fan.

We passed a tiny front yard full of Fisher-Price toys (probably belonging to the landlord) and followed the landlord into the building. The first sound I heard was the wail of a crying infant.

“Already?” I sighed.

After three flights of stairs, we reached the Lucite crystal door handle of our apartment. Inside, the dark hardwood floors were newly installed and recently waxed. The powdery walls were freshly whitewashed and blinding. Every surface was fuming. I looked to the windowsill, where a bottle of Orange Glo, Windex, Lysol, and a box of Raid conspired. I slowly quickly became unpleasantly intoxicated by household chemicals. The window panes beyond the sill displayed the somber view of a cemetery.

The landlord began to glide his Swiffer mop around the parameters of the living area.

“I just discovered Swiffer mops,” he explained. “They’re amazing.”

We opened the bedroom closet, which had been nonsensically whitewashed from top to bottom. I began to suspect that a heinous crime was being covered up in this apartment.

“What do you think?” Dave asked.

“I can’t think,” I responded as 1,966,254 of my brain cells fizzled to a combustible pulp in a single second. Dave informed me that my face was turning unusually red.

“Do you have any questions?” asked the landlord from the other room, swiffing his Swiffer.

“Can I paint it?” I asked.

“That depends. I don’t want you painting the walls some obnoxious color, like black. Just give me a color and I’ll tell you if you can paint it.”

I suggested yellow as the most inoffensive color I could produce without a functioning cerebellum, and permission to paint was granted.

“Yellow,” he said thoughtfully. “I actually like yellow. That’s nice.”

The kitchen was green and yellow, with appliances that were older than my parents. I glanced at the stove, missing two spiral burners on the range.

“Does the stove work?” I asked.

He told us it did, and to prove it, he set his Swiffer against the counter and turned on the gas. I cringed, expecting the volatile apartment air to ignite. Luckily, it did not.

The landlord showed us the inside of the refrigerator, which seemed to have yellowed with age like a fine artisan cheese.

Dave and I thanked the landlord and took the forms for the apartment to the car. We drove around the area, admiring the parks, the ponds, and the proliferation of Dunkin Donuts establishments. There was a nice indie movie theater and a university, but otherwise the area was rather barren.

We talked ourselves into the apartment, which was pretty reasonable for our price range.
Just as we came to a conclusion, Dave’s phone rang and the landlady of a studio apartment invited us for a viewing.

Perhaps I was still loopy from the first tour, but the second apartment seemed great even though it was in the basement of somebody’s house. Perhaps it was the neutral aroma in the air, or the owner’s furniture filling the rooms, but I actually could imagine this apartment sustaining life. Little ceramic mushrooms decorated the fully-functional stove.

The couple that lived there had a closet full of board games and a hallway stacked with DVDs and CDs. Dave and the owner bonded over a board game. In the end, we were chosen to be the lucky tenants because of Dave’s good taste in obscure board games.

I imagined someone viewing the first apartment, chatting ecstatically with the landlord about the superiority of the Swiffer and discussing educational television. Somewhere out there is the ideal tenant for that place, too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Spoonful of Neutrons

I know a precocious young boy with an IQ of bazillion. One day he walked up to me at my retail job and said, "Let me guess: this is your holiday job. You graduated from college and you work here?"

I recently spent a long, intimidating ride home eating ice cream with this young fellow. As usual, he made me question the value of my college education as I stuttered out answers to his questions with my palms sweating profusely. After spewing out a mouthful of scientific trivia, he said, "It's amazing what you can learn on Yahoo, isn't it?"

At one point we argued fiercely about whether zombies would be considered human and attempted to draw parallels between cells and viruses. We discussed the probability of the apocalypse in 2012 and whether the local drive-in movie theater would bother tacking up a “Closed Forever” sign in the event of such a global catastrophe occurring at the end of the season.

He asked me many questions, some with familiar answers, others which merely baffled me.

Do you know how much a spoonful of neutrons would weigh on Earth?

Do you understand how the Mayan calendar works?

Do you know any “yo mama” jokes?

Did you know that a virus isn’t a living cell?

In fact, I did know that a virus isn’t a living cell, thank you very much. So that is one point for me against an elementary school child. You think you can beat me at this game? There must have been at least one biology class that I did not spend drawing cartoons of myself sleeping.

The really shameful thing is that I don't know any yo mama jokes off the top of my head. Not even one.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cell Phone Pictures

My mother is having a difficult time with her new cell phone. The keyboard makes too much noise, texting quickly is complicated with the buttons in different places, and the icons have moved around only to spite her. She covets my antiquated phone of yore in all of its low-battery glory. She wants to trade her sparkling new phone for my elderly one.

Will lose all my pictures in the process of switching? Just in case, here are a few masterpieces worth preserving, save some snapshots of pointy men’s shoes and expensive upholstery fabrics. I’ll also spare you the site of me waking up from my wisdom teeth surgery, still high on laughing gas with gauze bulging from my tingling lips.

The Lunchables of the Jewish community, now available at your local Italian grocer. I will eat it in a box and I will eat it with a fox.
Inspiration for a fan fiction I would like to write.
This is the commemorative cookie cake of my senior year of college. It tasted like yellow dye and accomplishment.
Speaking of hairy dogs, Rene Magritte and I have the same taste. (Pomeranians are delicious.)
A frisky Native American in front of my grandfather's grave. Perhaps someday I, too, will be inhumed behind his enormous erection.

One day in the land of my ancestors (Whitehall) I found the grave of my great great great great great great great great grandfather, a general in the Revolutionary War, on a secluded hill. It was sort of obscured by a bush.
Perhaps my great great great great great great great great grandfather would look like this debonair actor from the Last of the Mohicans in casual attire.
This assesses the damage done to my bike after I ran over a bottle of Gatorade, fell onto the blacktop, and nearly got flattened by a car full of old people.
Golf outfits are just as silly now as they were one hundred years ago.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Driver's Ed

I’m sitting in a desk in my old high school and surrounded by sixteen year olds. To my surprise, I am not the oldest person in the room. One guy in the back is probably my mom’s age.

The instructor pops a VHS into the rolling television on the cart and presses play. Cheesy music invoking the eighties quickly fills the room. The dark screen flickers.

A boy is at an arcade, playing a SEGA racing game. He sways back and forth with excitement as his red sports car sweeps skillfully through the course. But then it becomes a real car, and suddenly the car is no longer invincible. This isn’t a game anymore. This is LIFE.

The narrator walks solemnly through a junkyard of crumbling automobiles stacked in ominous towers. He places his hand on a car folded accordion style, knowing that he looks deep and brooding yet boyishly attractive. He knows that, because of this, kids will listen to his message. He presses his neatly combed hair aside and says to us, “Driving is just like a video game, but you’re playing the game of YOUR LIFE.”

These chilling words introduce a scientific study on the recently discovered effects of alcohol on driving. A number of brave Canadians volunteer to drive a car through an obstacle course lined with cones in the wastelands of Canada, and then get hammered and drive through that same obstacle course again.

The experiment begins with the group of strangers grouped casually in the parking lot. Each of the participants slips into the driver’s seat and glides through the meandering path of cones, swerving gracefully to avoid a padded wall.

When they return, they sip from plastic cups of beer administered by scientists and chat civilly. After consuming their first serving of beer, they weave through the course with a few minor scrapes. A second round of beers is passed around. The participants laugh and tell stories that are hilarious. They drive around the course again, tipping over a few unlucky cones.

The method repeats itself until their BACs reach the legal limit, .08. The horde of participants cheers as they take turns funneling beer into each other’s mouths. A male participant gets into the car with his beer helmet still strapped to his head and pounds the gas pedal, careening into the padded wall and laughing uncontrollably. A whole family of cones is sacrificed to science and one remorseful doctor weeps. The male participant continues to drive around the bends of the course with the padded wall still attached to the front bumper and fails to stop at the end, speeding blindly onward to a remote town in the Yukon with two flailing scientists trailing behind.

The narrator appears once more in the junkyard of woe and tosses his cardigan casually across his broad, muscular shoulder. “Teens have too much confidence. They think they're invincible. Do you really think it won’t happen to you?” he asks in an accusing tone.

The scene shifts to the living room of an orange traffic cone that lost a child during a Canadian study on the effects of alcohol on automobile drivers. “He was a good cone,” she says tearfully.

The boy innocently playing the racing game suddenly finds himself in a pair of goggles meant to simulate the blurry vision of a drunk driver. He swerves from wall to wall of the simulated Grand Canyon, loses control of his wheel, falls out of the padded seat onto the arcade floor. He rolls on the dusty concrete desperately trying to ply the goggles from his face, but they are permanently fused to his skin.

The narrator enters. He says, “I want to play a game. The game of your LIFE.”

The boy screams and uselessly tears at the goggles.

“The only thing that will remove the goggles is time,” says the narrator as he crosses the arcade. He casually tucks his hands into the pockets of his pleated pants. The goggles are locked to the gamer’s face until the next morning, when he wakes up in a strange bed with a strange traffic cone and no memory of the terrible things that happened that night at the arcade.

“Driving is the hardest thing in the world. You have to make the right decisions,” the narrator croons from the hood of a totaled car. He is naked from the waist up, but for an ascot.

It’s a sunny summer day in the Yukon and bunch of friends with bushy perms picnic in the Canadian wilderness. A car drives up with a padded wall attached to the bumper. A passenger’s legs are hanging out the window. Five or six people in white coats are running and flailing behind it. This is Stacy’s ride home.

“Stacy, get in the car,” barks Stacy’s boyfriend. But she doesn’t want to get in a car full of angry drunks. Finally, she gives in to his demands and hops into the passenger’s seat. They speed through the scenic country road, drinking and giggling, swerving from one lane to the other, missing a moose by mere inches. A minivan is driving down the same road in the opposite direction. Inside, a family of traffic cones is having a wholesome discussion of gymnastics.

I cannot see what happens next, my eyes are too tightly shut. When I open them, bagpipes are playing Amazing Grace. One doctor is on screen. “If I knew then what I know now about the impairing effects of alcohol on Canadian drivers, would the knowledge be worth the lives that were lost?”

The screen goes black.

What have we learned today?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Prostate Cherries

One day in Montreal, Dave and I went to the Jean Talon Marketplace near Little Italy. On either side of us wine vendors passed out samples and wedges of smelly cheese were plopped onto scales. We stopped in front of a produce stand that displayed cartons of an unusual green fruit with a papery outer layer, similar to onion skin.

“I think it’s a tomatillo,” I said, recalling a similar fruit I had on one of my last nights in Prague with a kiwi-like flavor.

A French-speaking man gave us each a piece of the alleged tomatillo to sample. Peeling the skin off, Dave asked the name of the fruit. The French-speaking man sent us an English-speaking man to deal with our English speaking.

“It’s a ground cherry,” the English-speaking man announced, baffling us both, for neither of us had heard of a ground cherry before. “It’s called a ground cherry because you don’t pick them off the tree. You wait for them to fall on the ground. That’s when you know they’re ripe.”

The French-speaking man pushed a half empty-carton of ground cherries towards me and I picked them up. Dave and I each took one cherry and attempted to return the carton.

“No, take them,” the English-speaking man insisted. I took the free food. “He gave them to you. And they’re good for you, but especially for you.” He pointed to Dave.

“I eat a carton of these every day,” the English-speaking man continued. “They’re good for the prostate.”
I passed the carton of ground cherries to Dave. Perhaps he needed them more than I did.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Montreal: Puffins, Penguins, and Pitcher Plants

If I ate too much in Montreal, I must have cancelled it out walking. Montreal has some delightful brightly colored buildings and old architecture. Rue Duluth, off of Boulevard St. Laurent, was a street of eccentric facades with elaborate murals and a restaurant resembling a ship. We found a shop devoted entirely to things made of alpaca wool, including small alpacas.

On the second day in Montreal, Dave and I wandered the paths of Montreal’s Botanical Gardens. Inside of the conservatories, we saw the flora of the rainforests and bananas growing in a peculiar upward fashion that is apparently normal for bananas.

From across a room a spotted a large terrarium containing some of my pitcher plant Angelina’s estranged cousins.

I didn’t have to imagine the sort of insects that would get swallowed up in those pelican-mouthed plants; I saw them shortly after in the Insectarium. Most of the bugs in the Insectarium were tacked up under glass, save a few startling tarantulas tickling the sides of their tanks. Some of the tacked up critters made me wonder if Fern Gully was based on a true story.

Nature never ceases to astound me.

The Botanical Gardens provided me with dozens of opportunities to dust off my French skills, to Dave’s dismay. I used every opportunity to ask the whereabouts of the W.C. and order ice cream flavors that I don’t know the words for. Every time I got stuck, I found myself looking to Dave as though he would explain the whole situation in Spanish and everything would be alright.

We spent about a quarter of our time outdoors photographing this fat squirrel eating cookies.

After a long walk through the bonsai forest and the thrills of the shrub garden, we decided to take a dinner break. Chinese lanterns are lit up throughout the botanical garden when the sun goes down and I intended to see them glow. We asked a woman at the information desk where we could have a quick dinner before the lanterns lit up, and the woman at the desk directed us to Sherbrook, an alleged commercial street full of eateries. This barren highway called Sherbrook led to a steakhouse in one direction and tumble weeds and broken dreams in the other.

By the time we gave up on walking this road to nowhere, we were too famished to look at anything at all.

Dave and I spend the rainy last day in Montreal at the Biodome, a giant dome in Olympic Park that replicates five different ecosystems and fills them with native plants, birds, and the occasional porcupine. As with any animal sanctuary, the best room replicated the artic climate and was populated by penguins. Luckily for us, we arrived at feeding time for the aquatic birds.

The puffins are my favorite. They flap their wings like undersea pterodactyls when they swim after scattered scallop shells. When on land, Dave sees the look of British royalty in their faces, forced to endure the humiliation of sharing a room with the common mure.

You can read about food and chocolate in Montreal in my last two posts.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Montreal: Le Menu

Crepe Nutella served on a beautiful woman.

Montreal is a delicious city. The streets are paved with maple syrup and smoked meat sandwiches and all of the restaurants play Arcade Fire. Here are more highlights of my epicurean eating experiences, for to describe each individual meal would be rather self-indulgent.

Dave heard that bagels from Montreal were even better than NYC bagels, so we went to two different bagel shops to seek the truth. The first shop, Fairmount Bagel, had a impressive variety of bagel choices, such as caraway seed and chocolate chip, although the chocolate chip bagel bin had nothing to offer us but crumbs. St. Viateur Bagels didn’t have as much variety, but one could sit down in the cafe with a hot buttered bagel and a side of cantaloupe and watch Looney Tunes. That’s what I did.

The biggest difference between the Montreal bagel and the New York bagel seems to be the thickness of the “O.”

New York Bagel: o

Montreal Bagel: O

Make of it what you will. A good bagel is tasty wherever it may be baked.

At Canadian Maple Delights, a tasty tourist trap in Old Montreal, I savored a scoop of maple gelato. This combined two of my favorite foods: maple syrup and gelato. It put a smile on my face for several hours that nothing could squelch.

On an ill-fated search for a chocolate shop on Rue Duluth, we stumbled upon a café called Soupesoup. It was as though someone suction cupped wires to my head while I slept, tapped into my imagination for recipes, and served them to me upon a bed of mixed greens. The menu was mainly things I would cook myself, like beet and quinoa salads, squash soups, and fancy grilled cheeses.

Dave was on a mission to find poutine, a Quebecois specialty that consists of a pile of fries and cheese curds sopped in gravy. To my delight, we found Patati Patata, a restaurant that serves poutine as well as food that is not slathered in meat and gravy. I had a spicy bowl of borscht on my last night in Montreal and have craved beets ever since.

I ate a lot of crepes this past week. My favorite was the maple syrup crepe. I realized the obvious: a maple crepe tastes exactly like a pancake with maple syrup – and it essentially is a pancake with maple syrup. But that doesn’t make me want one any less.

If your wondering why I did not discuss chocolate, it's because I have a whole post dedicated to chocolate hedonism.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Juliette et Chocolat

I awoke in Montreal after a night of wide-eyed half-sleeping with a piercing headache and sour stomach. The sunlight seared my eyes. My skin emitted a nuclear heat underneath the sheets. While Dave smuggled some eggs, toast, and herbal tea from the continental breakfast, I took a long, icy shower. Doctor Dave diagnosed my disease: I had a chocolate hangover..

How could I have managed to eat that much chocolate? Excess seems to be my forte, especially when I’m travelling. For instance, I just ate most of a wedge of cheese that isn’t even mine. Dave bought it today at the Jean Talon Market. Neither of us knows what sort of cheese it is or what animal produced it – the vendor spoke almost no English – but that did not stop me from shaving most of it into my mouth while Dave was researching crepe restaurants.

And now to the source of the inevitable chocolate hangover: One dark chocolate fondue pour deux with an array of sliced fruit and one 78% dark Tanzanian hot chocolate at Juliette et Chocolat. This was, essentially, my dinner after watching Dave eat a smoked meat sandwich at the Schwartz’s on Meat Street. I was the lonesome vegetarian in a famous Jewish deli with a slice of buttered rye in my hand and a frown in my heart. I deserve chocolate; I deserve a lot of it, thought I.

Juliette et Chocolat specializes in hot chocolate and other melted sorts of chocolate. Pastries and little chocolate engravings of Kama Sutra images that I find very, very amusing are also available for the chocolate voyeur in us all.

Did you ever spend ten dollars on a single glass of hot chocolate that made you sick the next day? I did, and I regret nothing. This is not Swiss Miss. The last time I ordered a hot chocolate so thick that it required a spoon was in Prague, but this stuff had an entirely different taste and a clumpy, moussy consistency. The fondue pour deux came with two different percentages of dark chocolate and was entirely too much on top of the hot chocolate, but as I said before: I regret nothing.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to go to another chocolate shop that was closed today. A tip for anyone going to Montreal: Almost everything is closed on Monday, so don’t bother.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Inflatable Travel Companion

Sometimes I fantasize about dressing up as a man and travelling around the world, possibly on a pirate ship. I would hack off my side braid, let my leg hair flow freely, and wear unflattering pants. Perhaps I would also don a top hat and waistcoat, like George Sand. After the metamorphosis is complete, I would probably look like this:

Perhaps a woman can legally travel anywhere save the interior of a mosque, but she has to fight to justify it every time. People always make a tremendous fuss about a woman who travels alone. The world is not her oyster. More than half of the world – Asia, Africa, most of South America, the frequently forgotten Antarctica, and even half of Europe – is considered too rugged and volatile for the gentler sex. If her exploration destination is at war and she is going to have to wear a burka, it almost seems like too much of an effort anyways.

It is commonly accepted that a travelling lady needs protection beyond the soothing warmth of a cast iron pan clutched in her lily-white hand.

With whom are you travelling? the inquisitors ask the travelling woman. For less threatening sojourns, like the Jane Austen museum or a day-trip to suburban Iowa, a small group of women will suffice, as long as they hold their rape whistles firmly between their teeth while crossing parking lots. Sometimes other women are acceptable companions for a trip to New York City or touristy European cities because there is safety in numbers.

For more extensive or long-term excursions, a travelling woman is expected to have a strapping and assertive male companion, gifted in boxing and the martial arts, a sort of white knight to protect her from baby-punting gypsies and the sex trade. But women, be wary, for white knights only want one thing… unless they are gay. God forbid the travelling woman should be ravished by her white knight.

Therefore, a woman needs a strapping and assertive homosexual boxer. No straggly arms and plucked eyebrows for this job. A woman needs a burly, gay boxer to escort her through the gritty, dangerous world and give her the freedom to wander where she will. Paul Bunyon meets Paul Mitchell.

But there is a sore lack of burly, gay boxers in this country. The demand far exceeds the supply. And this brings me to my ingenious invention: The Inflatable Travel Companion. Think Autopilot, but more lifelike.

Rather than posting an ad on Craigslist for a “Travelling Woman seeking Gay Boxer for trip to India,” the travelling woman can dial a phone number, talk to a friendly automated representative named Heather, and purchase what is essentially a blowup doll that respects her need for platonic camaraderie. A male companion that isn’t going to poke her awake in the middle of the night to request that she “help a guy out.”

The Inflatable Travel Companion is made of 100% LEAD-FREE vinyl manufactured in the USA. For $39.95, you will receive one Inflatable Travel Companion with a drawstring nylon storage bag and a free bicycle pump. A hundred dollar value, yours for only $39.95, plus shipping.

But can you really put a price on that kind of freedom?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Villa Villekulla

I’m trying something new and scary called “organizing.” In spite of what I may state in cover letters, I have no talent for it. I firmly adhere to the aesthetic of rubbish. However, there is a fine line between a charming mess and an unsanitary pit of chaos, and the feng shui of my living space is careening towards the latter. Piles of books, piles of paper, piles of fabric, piles of receipt tape with notes scratched in the plastic coating – I cannot live a Zampano-esque lifestyle; it will not do. It's no wonder that I spend all of my time in the kitchen.

My bedroom contains six full shelves of books, and those that cannot squeeze onto these shelves are scattered in six piles in various places in my bedroom. These shelves are also a haven for kitschy fairy statuettes dismembered by the strikes of mischievous cat paws. It is the home of stuffed rodents, fortune cookie fortunes, and desiccated wisdom teeth in an envelope. There is a preserved rattlesnake head in a glass paperweight and a sizable collection of squirrel paraphernalia.

How do I go about organizing the books? I suppose I could organize them by color and put all of the green covered books on the north wall. I could alphabetize them by name. I could construct signs that will point me to the proper section of the alphabet.


I suppose I could sort them by genre. Perhaps I could squeeze all of the fiction into one bookcase. I can group the French language books and the Czech language books together with the travel guides somewhere between the hollow chocolate Satan and the Eiffel Tower figurine. I can put the mime technique books with the face paint. I can stack issues of the theology journal directly above the Vishnu paper lantern.

Or I can group all of the works by the same author together. My Oscar Wilde books should be set in front of the mirror so they can continually gaze at their own reflection. Books by Mark Dunn should be arranged so that the first letter of each title spells out a morsel of semantic vocabulary.  I could hide Mark Z. Danielewski’s books under a pile of newspapers inside of a trunk.

I will make a bookcase shaped like a three-tiered birthday cake for Leonora Carrington’s books and a UFO for Kurt Vonnegut's.My Edgar Allen Poe collection will naturally sit beside the bust of Pallas above my chamber door.  I will give Virginia Woolf a room of her own. Books by Samuel Beckett will be stuffed into a drawer full of bananas. And I could tuck the Amelia Gray books into a tangled nest of my own hair.

It won't be long before my bedroom becomes a superbly hygienic and navigable place once more.