Monday, June 22, 2009

A Close Shave

In the beginning, there were the original twins, born of the original sin. Maggie's cow-like black and white spots caught the green eye of a marauding black tom, who drug her away by the scruff into the bushes, where she apparently enjoyed the unspeakable.

A litter soon followed: three little Holsteins, and one tell-tale black kitten with green eyes. Two cow kittens were adopted, and I kept the other two.

Like all biblical twins, my cats were exact opposites. Libby the cow kitty was sweet and loving, got along with everybody. Her twin brother, as black on the inside as he was on the outside, was scared of his own shadow, hated being touched, and turned everything into a litterbox. They were Elaine and Abel.

With the same logic that people name cats with white feet "Boots," I named him Putz. Libby was silky soft and healthy. Putz had mangy bald spots and colon problems. They eventually died just four months apart, of old age; Libby's kidneys were failing, and she passed peacefully after an injection. Putz dripped and oozed his way through seventeen years of my life before he gave up, toothless, arthritic and cross-eyed.

With mixed feelings of heartache and elation, I was liberated. I intended to go catless for a while. But as often happens, cats arrive without invitation. At two months of age, Spek fell from Heaven into my juniper bush. Romeo was donated to me by someone who couldn't stand his constant moanings throughout the night, which sounded like a skin flick soundtrack.

Like the twins had been, Spek and Romeo are yin and yang: she is Mary Poppins, perfect in every way. He is Bert, ashy and dusty black, but he wins your heart with relentless efforts. She is lithe and short-haired. When anyone meets him, they exclaim, "Holy cow, he's fat!" I try to explain that he is just big-haired, but the damage is done.

Romeo has always struggled, pawing his way through life. He first came from the Pound with a butchered street haircut that exposed his scrawny ribs. He was always picked last for basketball. Chased by bullies, he escaped by a whisker. His nickname was "Puss."

Romeo’s ’fro eventually got of hand, too long, thick and matted to lick. Slimy hairballs were appearing everywhere this summer, just in time for barefoot season. The first hot days made it all too clear that it was time for Romeo's annual buzz.

Romeo surprised me with this announcement: he wanted to donate his ample locks to a new charity, Sweaters for Sphynxes. They knit coats for those rat-looking hairless cats like Mr. Bigglesworth, who, thanks to the miracles of inbreeding, are born bald, a cross between a wingless bat and Yoda.

The mood was somber as we sheared Romeo like a lamb. He puckered sheepishly as the humming clippers razed around his delicates, peeling off thick sheets of pelt. We filled a garbage bag with enough fur to knit two cardigans, one coat of many colors, and a matching set of gray mittens, which for cats is two pair.

Romeo's good karma is already apparent. Putz, the Patron Saint of The Scruffy, smiles down upon him. When it came time to choose sides for basketball, Romeo beamed as the skins team picked him first.

Monday, June 15, 2009

In One Ear

Q-tips: the crack of the hygiene world.

Sticking a Q-tip in your ear buzzes synapses like being kissed on the back of the neck. Except being kissed on the back of the neck is perfectly good for you, as long as you are not being kissed by someone else’s wife.

Something is probably bad for you if you can’t stop yourself from moaning while you do it. When I pet dogs I sometimes wiggle my knuckle under their ear flap, and they moan the same way. I wouldn’t stick a Q-tip in a dog’s ear, though, because their brains are so small I’m afraid I’d clean them right out.

Q-tips don’t clean your ear very well. I looked up a medical website so I would know what I was talking about, and they said you shouldn’t remove cerumen from your ears. I think cerumen was one of the things the Wise Men gave baby Jesus. If a Wise Man pulled it out of his ear, he was probably just trying to make Jesus laugh, like when my Uncle Milton once pulled a penny out of my ear.

Removing the wax dries out your ear and makes it itch, so you grab for another Q-tip. It’s crack, I tell you. Soon you’re alone under a bridge with a box of dirty Q-tips in a brown paper bag, doing two at a time.

Ear candling popped up briefly as a fad recently. It claimed to remove ear wax by melting it with a candle stuck into the ear. It didn't feel nearly as sexy as Q-tips, and after various people set their heads on fire and dripped hot wax onto their perforated their eardrums, the fad died down.

Q-tips mash down the tiny hairs inside your ear, and that’s bad. You end up with more dirt, more infections, and the most annoying affliction of all, more people saying, “I told you so.” Dr. Rod Moser states that the safest tool for cleaning your ear is your elbow. Dr. Moser is as funny as my Uncle Milton.

The Chesebrough-Pond company, makers of Q-tips, is very quiet on the subject because they know 99% of people buy Q-tips to stick in their ears. The company walks a delicate line: they can’t tell not to stick a Q-tip in your ear because they’ll go broke. But they can’t encourage you to do it because you’ll sue them when you drive one through your eardrum into your brain, which would somehow be their fault. The box claims that Q-tips are “the perfect tool for uses outside the ear.”

That’s like saying heroin is the perfect drug for uses outside your veins. What uses are there, outside of the ear? Mouse barbells?

Their website doesn’t offer any helpful tips, so to speak, probably because there aren’t any. But I did learn the glorious history of Q-tips. They were invented by Leo Gerstenzang. Judging from his name I think he also invented the ricochet.

He started the Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Company, which was a pretty smart idea, since everything is a novelty to an infant. Q-tips were originally called Baby Gays, which near as I can tell is the only clue they give as to alternate uses.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Break a Leg

Laura is an actor, and was recently in a very significant play. Big stage, good role, full house. Friends lined up to wish her "good luck!"

"Aaack! Never say 'good luck' to an actor!" she'd reply in wide-eyed alarm. "It's bad luck. Say 'break a leg.'"

"Sorry," the friend would reply, sorry mostly that he wished her good luck in the first place.

"Break a leg" is a superstition I struggle to understand. Tradition or not, saying "break your leg" to Laura is like telling my daughters, "I hope you knock out a tooth!"

Some say the tradition started with John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor then and a famouser assassin now, who broke his ankle jumping from the elegant box seats of the Ford Theater, after successfully shooting Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head. Most of us wouldn't wish him good luck in any form and are glad he broke his leg. If any advice was to be gleaned from the experience, it's "Don't hide in barns full of flammable hay!" Or, Our American Cousin? Save it for DVD!"

But those take too long to say. We need something snappy, concise. "Break a leg" has a nice ring to it. Actors know a hook.

The French, Spanish and Portuguese wish each other "lots of merde/mierda/merda." That is, shit. "Merde!" is also a good luck wish in ballet, commonly used worldwide. It is considered bad luck to say "break a leg" to a ballerina.

The theoretical origins of "break a leg" are too numerous to list, and they all sound like they were made up by actors.

Actors have more superstitions than anyone, even pitchers. They think they'll learn a script better if they put it under their pillow while they sleep. I tried that for junior high English class. Sleeping over the Cliff's Notes worked about as well, which is to say not at all, but I finished sleeping in half the time.

A bad dress rehearsal fortells a good opening night. If only in comparison.

Peacock feathers are never be allowed on stage, even as a prop. This superstition was probably started by peacocks.

Actors never use real money on stage. That's no surprise. Actors never use real money anywhere.

Green is an unlucky color for actors. This is said to be because most shows used to be staged outdoors, and actors may be confused with bushes. Unless, of course, the bushes are better actors.

I witnessed a rehearsal where the play ended and all the actors suddenly glared agape at one hapless member of the troupe. They hollered that she was never to to utter the last line of a play until the audience is in attendance. To everyone's astonishment, the building did not burn down. It almost did, but they hired Carl Beck back again.

Never mention or quote Macbeth while in a theater. This is because the play is cursed. They used real witches for the first production. That turned out as badly as their decision to use real swords for the fight scenes. The show Mystery Hunters tested the Curse of Macbeth by walking around in a theater whispering "Macbeth!" Nothing happened. They concluded the superstition was unfounded. The rest of us concluded that they weren't good enough actors.

Actors always leave one light on in the theater at night. This practice has spread to society in general, as we all discovered it is bad luck to stumble around a cluttered, pitch black room.

Theaters are always closed one night a week to allow ghosts to perform their own play. Usually it is a Monday. No one has ever witnessed a ghost performance, but only because it is so hard to get people out on a Monday night.

So "good luck" is bad luck. With all those superstitions, my dad found it easier to just say the opposite of what he meant. "Don't get a real job!" "Don't go back for your MBA!"