Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I have always loved Halloween, not the way some people do who get into the grimmer aspects of the holiday, and not because of the candy, but because of the creative aspect of it. In grade school, while the other children either wore sheets and went as ghosts or bought expensive commercial costumes, I made elaborate papier-mache creations. My best costumes were undoubtedly Mushroom (first grade) and Unicorn (sixth grade).

At the University, Halloween has always been a big deal, with a huge party down near campus, and one year my best friend and I dressed as a nun (her) and a devil (me). (Although it would have been funnier the other way around, since it would have fit our personalities less!) The next year she told me to find another costume for her, but she didn't make that mistake again! I was a lion, my roommate was a witch, and we found a big cardboard box in the attic marked "CLOTHING WARDROBE" for my friend to wear. Let's just say she wasn't too excited about wearing a cardboard box...

A good base to begin any Halloween costume is one of those little cardboard crowns you can get at a burger chain that will remain nameless, but it has royalty in the name so you can figure it out yourself. One year I took two and made a black and a white castle top, then my best friend and I were the white and black rooks from a chess set. (She didn't like that costume too much either - too much face paint.) Another year I used the cardboard crown as the base for a palm tree top, and my friend used one as the base for the capital of an ionic column. We had another friend who was a pirate, and a friend who is about 6'3" who was a 50's girl in a poodle skirt. Those photos are hysterical: a giant Barbie doll towering over a tiny pirate, a small ionic column, and a little palm tree. At one party a guy approached my friend the Ionic Column and said to her, "That's a capital idea! You must be a pillar of the community!"

I have gotten lazier in my 30's and usually just wear something I have sitting around, like my old Tai Kwon Do ghi, a kimono from a Japanese friend, any of my dresses from my time playing in a Renaissance band, or the Mexican dress I bought somewhere deep in the jungles of Quintana Roo, the one my best friend says makes me look like one of those "Dolls of the World." She just got back from Curacao and brought me a sundress, so today I am a Tropical Girl. Of course, since I am notorious for wearing Hawaiian shirts and tropical sundresses during the summer, I'm not sure my coworkers realize it is supposed to be a costume...

Because I have yet to spawn, I have to borrow a kid to go trick-or-treating, and Hardingfele is my usual source. Last year she got me a little Russian boy. This year she has promised me a little Somali girl. Her daughter is going as a rock star... again. She is going as a cat. I don't know what the kid I'm borrowing is going as. Guess I'll find out tonight! Last year we were really disgusted to see parents driving their kids from house to house, I kid you not. They say kids these days don't get enough exercise, and I guess not, if they can't even walk twenty feet from one house to another. For candy, no less! I can tell you that no borrowed kid of mine is getting a ride like that. She is walking her own self, uphill both ways if necessary, just like we did when I was a girl, dagnabbit.

Famous Hat

Thursday, October 30, 2008

'Tis the Season for Free Junk in the Mail

It's that time of year again, between Labor Day and December 25th, when we should all be thinking about what to get our loved ones for Christmas. And just in time for the holidays, my officemate and I received a very special catalog in the mail: the 2008 Apoptosis Catalog. For all those hard-to-shop-for people on your list, why not get them some cellular self-destruction? For some reason we found this so funny that we laughed until we could hardly breathe. Not that cellular suicide is a laughing matter, and this catalog actually has useful products for the lab, but the timing just struck us as hilarious.

Just when the hilarity couldn't seem to ensue any higher, the next day we received a very useful thing in the mail: a new Department Chair. (We work at a medical school which truly is seeking a new department chair.) The quarter is to give some perspective; I scanned the chair for the enjoyment of all four (welcome, EM!) faithful Famous Hat readers. Some drug company sent us a tiny squeezy rubber stress couch, or chair, or actually maybe more of a love seat since it would only seat two people, if they were about five inches tall. Why anyone would need something like this is beyond our ability to comprehend, but it does have handy holes, one on each arm, for holding pens.

Famous Hat

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


A true story: the little voodoo doll I brought back from New Orleans for my bunnysitter was to help with her career, and right away she got another job. Now everyone wants to borrow it!

Do curses work? When I told the story of the voodoo doll to a friend, she said she and a coworker once put a curse on another coworker they disliked intensely. They just did it for a joke, but she immediately broke her ankle and missed a week of work. Another friend tells me that his father once cursed someone, and the person died in a plane crash not long after that. His father (who was prominently featured in The Godfather II) resolved never to curse anyone again. 

I am not talking about vulgar language. The F-word is so overused that it hardly means anything. It is just an adjective people throw around carelessly. The S-word, which comes from an Anglo-Saxon word for diarrhea, is just as vulgar and overused. (Nobody seems to definitively know where the F-word comes from, but one guess is the imperative for "to do" in Latin, which is fac.) True cursing involves holy persons, sacrilege, and a stated hope that some harm befalls the cursed person. People might not think about what they are saying when they say, "G** d*** you!" but they are actually wishing for your eternal damnation. Obviously this upsets God a lot more than using the F-word; I don't know what He thinks about that, but I will go out on a limb and say He isn't fond of people asking Him to send other people to Hell just because they cut them off in traffic.

In my experience, Europeans (at least in Spain, France, Greece and especially Italy) swear this way much more often than Americans. We are not very original with our cursing while they have some truly colorful phrases that I will not repeat. (The most shocking one is something my father once told me, a Sicilian phrase that involves fornication and the Virgin Mary.) I am not sure why American culture never got into true cursing as much, but that is just as well. I have a bit of a temper and am glad my first impulse when angry is to drop the F-bomb rather than wishing some enormous harm upon the object of my anger down to the fifth generation. Because, judging from the stories above, you just might get what you wish for!

Famous Hat

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

[Your Candidate Here] for President!

In high school when they announced the winner of the class president election, a girl who sat next to me hollered, "Woo-hoo! I voted for him because he's got the coolest hair!" and I thought to myself, "And next year she'll be voting for President of the United States!?" But we live in a democracy, and you are entitled to your vote, no matter how shallow and ignorant you are. So exercise that right and vote next week!

Who should get your vote? There are many factors to weigh: boring considerations like "stands on the issues," cool hair of course, and that ineffable je ne sais quois which I like to call "Keepin' 'Em On Their Toes." The problem is that, in this election, the principle of KEOTT favors both candidates to some degree. For instance, the Diaper Argument (politicians should be changed regularly or they get full of you-know-what) would favor Obama, since he is from the party opposite of that which has held the presidency for the past eight years. On the other hand, Gridlock favors McCain; after all, both parties stink, but in different areas, so to keep either one from inflicting too much damage, make sure the Executive and Legislative branches are controlled by opposing parties. Currently the Democrats control Congress, and they might well gain even more control this election cycle, and wouldn't that be Congross? The American people tend to gravitate toward Gridlock; witness the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and the Democratic sweep in 2002. My guess is that if Obama wins this election, you can look for an enormous House (and Senate) cleaning in 2010. This has history to recommend it - look how well the economy steamed along when Clinton and the Congressional Republicans were busy keeping each other from accomplishing too much!

While I will refrain from endorsing either candidate in this current election, my goldfish Arphaxad and Amminadab would like to remind you that this would be an ideal time to restore the ichthyocracy, so they would like you to vote for Cthulhu in 2008. Why choose a lesser evil?

Famous Hat

Monday, October 27, 2008

Plant World

By popular demand of absolutely nobody, I am posting a couple of pictures of Plant World taken two days ago. One is of a baby Christmas cactus (should that actually be Halloween cactus?) blooming, and another is a shot of Plant World to give some perspective about how many plants are at this plant shelter.

Famous Hat

For a guided tour of Plant World, watch this:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I Confess

They say people don't go to Confession any more. What they don't say is where this place is, unless all the people who still go are following me around and rushing into line ahead of me. Because, seriously, I can hardly think of a time when there were less than three people in line ahead of me for Confession, and half-hour waits are not uncommon around here. So I really wish they would reveal the location of this mythical place where nobody goes to Confession, so that I could go there.

Ironically, people are not very kind when it comes to waiting in line for Confession. I have had more little old ladies actually cut in front of me in line than I could count on both hands even if I were Ann Boleyn! An observation, not a stereotype: little old Italian ladies are the worst about this. In Lourdes they kept cutting in front of us to get into the baths, and it got so bad that we weren't even moving in line, so we just gave up. At least in the confessional line, the timing is good, because then you don't have much time for that mortal sin: "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, including plotting to kill a little old lady."

At my church there are a number of families who have about 600 children, more or less, and they ALL get in line for Confession. There's nothing like standing behind a bunch of tiny kids, knowing you could go straight to Hell if you died because your sins are so serious, yet you have to wait for all 600 of them to confess about how they didn't pray the Rosary yesterday and said No to their mother last Tuesday. And this is on regular Saturdays! On the First Saturday of the month, or during Lent, you can just forget about getting anywhere near the confessional. I once saw a line at my church (fortunately I was not in it; I was up in the choir loft, practicing music for Easter) and it snaked around one whole side of the church, and a bunch of people were still waiting in line two hours later when our choir practice ended. I think there should be two lines: one for us craven sinners who really need it, and another one for little kids and people who don't really have anything serious on their consciences but are just going for some devotional thing. They think they will skip Purgatory if they go every First Saturday - great, but if I'm going to Hell so you can skip Purgatory, how fair is that?

I have, as so many of us do, an Archirritant (Richard Bonomo says she is not my Archenemy), and she is right up on top of my list of causes for having to go to Confession. I pointed out to RB that it would be more economical, sin-wise, for me to kill her and then confess that, then to have to go to Confession every week because I was mean to her, gossiped about her, etc. He didn't think too much of that logic, and someone else pointed out that I would just find a new Archirritant. (Another example of my logic that caused RB to practically fall off his chair laughing: he said the federal government might print more money to help offset the latest economic crisis, and when I said, "So how is that different than some guy cranking out 20's in his basement?" he said - once he stopped laughing - that one is legal and the other isn't. I knew that, but abortion is legal and infanticide isn't, yet the only difference there is in one case the baby is in fluid and in the other it is in air.)

Speaking of abortion, just a quick reminder: half of all people involved in them die. I would think this would disturb feminists, especially since a great number of those people are being killed specifically because they are female. Yes, that is the #1 handicap that causes babies to be aborted in many parts of the world. As a TRUE feminist, I find this outrageous.

So please, if anyone out there knows of a place where nobody goes to Confession, let me know.

Famous Hat

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ypres Creepers!

When I was a little girl, World War I vets were, if not plentiful, at least somewhat easy to find. On Veterans' Day they would stand outside of stores and sell those little plastic poppies. At that time I had no curiosity about what they had been through, but now that they are virtually all gone, how I wish I'd had the chance to ask them about their experiences! There is no more fascinating war to me than World War I, which seems so immediate and yet so distant. We can still watch footage of it, and yet it is already part of the irretrievable past. In the US we seem to have so little collective interest in this war. Once I went to the local war store (and was already getting funny looks for being the only one without a Y chromosome in there) and I finally had to ask where the World War I section was. While there were large and prominent sections devoted to the Civil War and World War II, and respectable sections on the Revolutionary War, Vietnam, and Korea, yet World War I, the War to End All Wars, merited only half a bookcase off in a corner. In my high school history class, we skipped right over the World War I chapter in our textbooks. When I looked up the World War I monument in Washington, DC on Google, it asked me, "Do you mean World War II monument?" No, I saw the monument when I was in DC and know it exists, yet Google itself thinks nobody would look for it. Why is that?

I have always thought World War I is a far more interesting war to study for precisely the reasons that it seems to be shoved off in a corner by the general populace, the unacknowledged cousin of the war family. Don't get me wrong, I hate war and don't find it glorious at all, which may be part of WWI's lack of appeal for people. What could possibly be less glamorous than trench warfare? Then there is the moral ambiguity: which side was right or wrong? It is easy to oversimplify the Civil War and say the bad guys were the ones who kept other people in bondage, and of course WWII has a fantastic villain to blame everything on... as if WWII didn't arise directly from the ashes of WWI. For this very reason, we have much more to learn from studying the causes of WWI than WWII. The latter could have been prevented if the Treaty of Versailles had not been so harsh; but how would we have prevented the former? And who was the Bad Guy? The US dithered for a long time about joining, and though they do not tell you this in history class, part of our indecision was which side to join. That's right, we almost sided with the Kaiser. Not a fact we wanted to remember 20 years later when Germany was definitely the enemy!

Also, because the US had such late involvement, we lost fewer lives. The War is regarded with much more interest in Europe and Canada. I think it is time we got more interested in it too. It is a very real war - grimy, disgusting, no clear good or bad guys - and it was the first war on such a massive scale. Sometimes I feel it is disingenuous to call WWII by its own name; maybe it should just be WWI, Part 2. It is a sequel. If, God forbid, there is ever a World War III, the circumstances leading up to it will be much more similar to things in 1914 than those in 1937! Which means that if we want to keep WWIII from ever happening, we had better stop skipping over those chapters in the history books.

Famous Hat

Monday, October 20, 2008

I Wanna Be Like King Louie

As a child I loved the movie Jungle Book with all those cool characters like Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther, but my absolute favorite was King Louie, the "King of the Swingers." He is an orangutan who lives deep in the jungle, in the ruins of an old temple, with a bunch of monkeys who all play jazz. There is hardly a cooler cartoon character to be found! King Louie sings a song to Mowgli the man-cub called, "I Want to Be Like You," but I wanted to be like King Louie! Then a college roommate ruined the fun for me when she said King Louie was a racist characterization. She said, "That song is about black people wanting to be like white people." This roommate was, of course, white herself. As a matter of fact, so is Louis Prima, who does the voice of King Louie and is presumably the model for him. What I am wondering is, who is more racist, the white child who watches a cartoon without any notion of race, or the adult white woman who sees racism in the depiction of... what? An Italian-American? If King Louie is a stereotype, would he not then be an Italian stereotype?

This same roommate was once bemoaning the fact that several people in her class were in favor of welfare reform, and when I said, "I am too - I saw a lot of abuse of the system," she immediately accused me of racism. I was shocked, since the cases I had in mind were all white folks. When I said that, she backed down, but I wish I'd had the presence of mind to point out that assuming everyone on welfare is a minority is the truly racist position. She was raised in an upper-middle class family and was sent to a school across town when the one near her became too "problematic" (read: diversified), while I grew up in a 'hood and had actually interacted with people of all sorts of colors and saw how the minorities tended to lift themselves out of poverty while the whites stayed mired in the system.

Another roommate in that same houseful of college girls once turned off a college football game my friend and I were watching. We found this incredibly rude and demanded to know why she had done such a thing, and she replied that she hated Florida State. Her reasoning? Their team name, the Seminoles, was racist. They had been playing Notre Dame, so we asked if Fighting Irish wasn't more offensive than a team name that is simply the name of a tribe, and she said, "Well, the Irish have never been suppressed." We just stared at her in shock, so she must have realized how stupid she sounded and quickly added, "I mean, not in this country." Guess she never heard about all those "No Irish need apply" signs businesses used to put in their windows.

I certainly believe racism is real and widespread; almost everyone has some unreasonable prejudice against another group. What amuses me so much is how so-called "liberals" seem to be the quickest to display assumptions while denying that they possess any prejudice. I once had a boss reprimand me for asking someone if she were so-and-so with a Hispanic last name. She said, "Just because she is dark, you shouldn't make assumptions." I replied that I had been talking to the woman in question for 40 minutes about her "abuelita's" Mexican cooking and then realized we had never been introduced. She kind of backed off, and then I thought... hellooo, who's making ASSUMPTIONS?

I will leave you with a true example of racism. (Why make up issues when so many real ones exist?) When I was in New Orleans, I learned a tiny bit about Voodoo, and some aspects struck me as objectionable (spirit possession, anyone?) but many people there are Catholic while bringing some vestiges of African religions into their Christianity. I don't care if someone depicts St. Peter as an old man with a hat and a cane. Who cares if he looks like Legabe or some other African god? I care more about what points a person towards God and what separates him, not the outward trappings like that. The ironic thing is that the people who holler loudest about synchretism in New Orleans Catholicism are the ones who are most into bizarre rituals that come straight from pre-Christian European religions. (Can you say "May Crowning of Mary"?) Either one can be a help to lift our sights to God or a hindrance by getting in the way of what is essential to faith, and to treat one as pious and the other as devil worship is racism at its worst.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No Blog Today

I am not feeling ambitious today and figured it's Friday, I'm not going to blog. Nothing to blog about anyway, since I'm too busy teaching Charlie and Cashmere to do tricks. I was inspired by a YouTube video of rabbits doing all sorts of tricks, and I thought, "Mine couldn't do that!" but I decided to start simply, by having them stand. They got it, all right - I couldn't get them to stop! As soon as I got home, they would stand up, waiting for a treat. So I acquired a small hoop (actually a child's frisbee ring that was sort of pay for a gig) and taught them to jump through it. "Hah!" I thought, "they can't demand treats from me now! I control the hoop!" And do you know what they do now? They go and stand beneath the table where the hoop is and look up at it wistfully. Yesterday they were doing that before work, so finally I gave in and said, "Okay, ONE jump through the hoop!" When I put the hoop back on the table, Cashmere makes her "snotty teenage" sound: "Uhh!" and stamps her foot, just to emphasize the point. So the hard thing about teaching rabbits tricks is not actually teaching them to do tricks but getting them to stop!

Charlie isn't quite as bad about that, but he is terrible about begging. No matter what I am eating, he comes up and begs for some. Heck, even my little goldfish at work come to the edge of the bowl and stare at me whenever I eat a carrot, because they want some. What does it say about me that all my pets know how to beg for treats? It's probably a good thing I have no children!

That's about all I have not to say.

Famous Hat

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Music for Awhile

If you didn't catch the Purcell reference in the title, then you can just ponder how I don't have much time to discuss this, having spent most of my lunch hour at a going-away potluck for a coworker. One thing that has always puzzled me is how others decide what a person's taste in music should be. For example, right now I am listening to Pandora, an online station. Today I am listening to my salsa station; I also have stations dedicated to flamenco, old-school R&B, and New Orleans-style jazz. Pandora works on a fascinating premise: you type in the name of the station (in this case, El Gran Combo Radio), and it finds music by that artist and plays similar things. It works really well... if you are vigilant. For reasons I cannot explain, if I am gone from my desk for an hour, say at a meeting, and cannot say which songs I like and don't like, every one of these stations will have gone nuts and started playing alternative rock music. Huh???

Since Pandora rates songs on certain qualities and guesses whether you will like them by how many of these qualities it has, allow me to give all three of my faithful readers a quiz: what do the following songs have in common?

"Rapture" by Blondie
"Concerto in A Minor for Four Violins" by Antonio Vivaldi
"Cowboys from Hell" by Pantera
"Azuquita pal' Cafe" by El Gran Combo
"Didi" by Khaled

This is where I find things getting very interesting. To me, it is not strange at all that I would love every one of these songs. They are all minor key, fast-paced, and the words are either in Spanish or Arabic, totally incomprehensible anyway, or there aren't any. Because that is how I like my music. I am not a lyrics-focused person by any means. Let me just state two things here: I can totally understand that people do love music that is about the words, or country music which is major key and has a very basic rhythm; and I do not understand why people would think that I would like music that does not fit my style because of "genres." Now if genre is really specific, say Baroque music or New Orleans-style jazz, then you can make a pretty safe guess I would like it. "Classical" music as a category is meaningless to me. Where is it written that, because I love Vivaldi, I must also like Beethoven and Schubert, or even more mystifying, that I must hate Pantera? To me, Baroque and heavy metal music have much more in common, with their tight structure, than the meandering piano concertos of Beethoven or the schmaltzy sound of Schubert. Of course you might love those composers, and that is fine. But if you are really into Beethoven, my guess is that Vivaldi would seem too simplistic for your taste.

My question, then, is what do people listen to music for? Some people clearly listen for the words. I listen for the purely aesthetic quality of the sound. I can understand both of these, but what are people listening for when they categorize music not by actual characteristics of the music but a vague category like "Classical" or "jazz"? I am extremely curious to hear from someone who loves both the simple, fast-paced Baroque composers and the Romantic composers but then does not like any non-Classical music. Or someone who likes both Prohibition-era jazz and the free-form stuff but doesn't like anything non-jazz. I have never understood this, but I am certainly willing to learn!

Famous Hat

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Addiction

I am suffering from an addiction that wastes tens of dollars and dozens of minutes. This affliction can be blamed directly on my native language, which is of course English: a horribly unphonetic language which is a real pain to learn but is perfect for word game puzzles. Yes, I am a word game puzzle addict. Of course, I also am addicted to the logic puzzles and Sudoku, which are not dependent upon linguistic quirks, but English is a perfect language for cryptoquotes because of its bizarre spelling. When I spent a summer in Spain, the only puzzle in the newspaper was a crossword puzzle so simple even I could solve it. Spanish would not make good cryptoquotes: how many words could this be? XWBWPW - but English has lovely words like QRRTTLLXZB which can only be "bookkeeping."

This is a replacement addiction for reading, which I used to do until all hours of the night, especially murder mysteries. It's odd... my brother was the one they said had a "reading problem," dyslexia, yet if reading were alcohol, I'd be the one with the problem. A readaholic, if you will. I can't say "bookaholic" because magazines, pamphlets, religious tracts, cereal boxes, or anything with words can capture my attention. It's like I can't not read! So I gave up reading fiction on work nights... and started buying Penny Press Variety Game magazines at the store. It's gotten so bad that every time I go to a store, I come back with a new magazine. That's $2-5 dollars a pop, not to mention all the space it takes up in my house! And the lack of sleep... I should create a support group. Anyone else out there with an addiction to word game puzzles? (Penny Press, if you are reading this, I would be happy to work out a deal with you where I create puzzles in exchange for free magazines - I have a totally great idea for the British-style cryptic crosswords!)

Famous Hat

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Get Around

One of my very favorite things is mass transit. When I returned from Paris, people asked me how it was, and I raved about the Metro system. Granted, Paris does have other things to recommend it, like beautiful churches, the Arc de Triomphe, and delicious food (I was underwhelmed by the Eiffel Tower, which really just looks like a big radio tower), but the Paris Metro is a wonder of mass transit. It is so efficient and so well laid-out that you could probably use it without knowing a word of French (I'm not the best judge of this, having studied the language for many years) since everything is color-coded. The Montreal Metro is very similar; however, my native language is English and I couldn't make heads or tails of the New York Subway System. The signs made no sense: "R Line this way. Q Line this way." Yes, but where do they GO? We waited forever for a train going our way; three passed going the other way, then we heard one coming our direction, but it went down the middle track instead of stopping. But this story does have a happy ending, because one finally stopped and we got where we were going.

Mass transit should always clearly state where it is headed. Here is a good example: in Montreal, I told my friend we could just take a bus up the mountain instead of walking. She said, "Which bus, though?" and just then we saw a bus that said "Montagne" coming toward us. I said, "Probably that one." Sorry, but "R Line" doesn't tell me anything - if you're heading to the mountain, just say so.

In Venice the transit were all watercraft. They had boat taxis for those in a hurry, and the rest of us took the boat bus. It went down the Grand Canal, stopping on one side and then the other every few feet. (Gondolas are only for tourists, not for getting places.) When friends asked how Venice was, I told them how great the boat bus was. I love boats, so it was like Heaven - mass transit and boats all in one wonderful package!

In New Orleans you have a choice of trolley cars or buses. If you are in a hurry, take the bus. However, if you want to see anything, take the trolley. Not only is it way more adorable than the bus, you can also see out the windows better. However, it is slow and more limited in scope.

Mass transit has so much to recommend it. If you are a tourist, it allows you to get more of a feel for the place than driving around ever could. If you use it to get to work, you save money AND reduce your carbon footprint, and of course there is the social aspect. I only know the neighbors who take the bus, since we have ample time to chat while walking to the stop and waiting for the bus. Sure, you might have to wait in the cold during the winter, but is that any worse than getting into a cold car and having the windows frost up when you turn the heat on? And in really bad weather, it feels good to be in such a large, heavy vehicle that travels slowly by nature. Not to mention that you can leave the driving to experts!

In my town, we have decent mass transit, although there have been times that taking it was a labor of love for me. At one point I had to transfer buses and often missed my transfer, which meant a half hour wait. That was when I had free parking at work, and it was very tempting some winter mornings to just take the car, but I soldiered on. Everyone else thought I was crazy, but I felt it was better for both me and the environment. My current place of employment strongly encourages taking the bus, even giving us free passes and charging a fortune for parking, so my days of waiting alone at the bus stop (and getting a seat on the bus!) are over. It does annoy me, however, that there is construction around here and provisions were made for cars to get by (of course), but the sidewalk on both sides is torn up. Excuse me, if they want us to take the bus, shouldn't they at least make it possible to walk from the bus stop to the front door? And why do pedestrians not merit the same forethought as drivers? Can you imagine if the road were completely blocked off? There would be riots! But now all pedestrians are forced to walk in the middle of the road because they have left us nowhere else to go.

Kudos to our local bus system for installing bike racks on the bus. Gone are the days when I had to consult the weather forecast before biking to work; now I can bike on a beautiful morning and just throw the bike on the bus if the weather turns bad later in the day. Unfortunately, the racks are so popular that those of us further down the line generally don't have a prayer of finding a bus with an open rack, since they can only hold two or three bikes. I know people who will actually bike AWAY from their final destination to get to a bus stop further up the line, just so they can get a space on the bike rack.

I LOVE mass transit! Give it a try, and you might too!

Famous Hat

Monday, October 13, 2008

Will My Housemates Go to Heaven?

I currently have three housemates. Charlie is the most agreeable guy you could imagine, and he only wants to please everyone. Cashmere is brilliant, beautiful, athletic, and moody. Sylvia is sort of prickly until you get to know her, and she keeps strange hours so we don't see much of each other. So why is it that I am concerned about whether or not they are going to Heaven? Are they not "saved"? Is it because they never help me with the bills? Is it because they make messes and expect me to clean it all up? No, and I have no doubt they will go to Heaven someday, but you would be surprised how many people consider this controversial. Because, as you have probably already guessed (or already knew, since only people who know me read this), they are not humans.

Surprisingly, many devout Catholics fervently believe the Church has spoken on this matter, and that what she has proclaimed is that only humans have immortal souls. In fact, the Church has never made an official statement on this matter. Jesus said only that a person is worth more than many sparrows, not that sparrows are worthless. In fact, He said not one of them falls to the earth without God's knowledge. What part of that implies that sparrows therefore don't merit space in Heaven? While I would never deny that humans have a special relationship with God, I find it hard to believe He has no interest in His other creatures. Besides, how many people would really want to go to Heaven if there were no plants or animals there?

Do animals have free will? That is an interesting question; most theologians say no, but I suspect many pet owners would say yes. Granted, Sylvia the Hedgehog doesn't do much beyond eat, sleep, and recycle her food, but Charlie and Cashmere, who are rabbits, seem quite capable of sinning... and knowing their own guilt. For example, they both get annoyed when I talk on the phone, so one day Cashmere took matters into her own paws and chewed through the phone cord. I couldn't figure out why the phone was dead until spotting the chewed-off end, and my first reaction was to holler, "BAD bunnies!" Charlie just looked at me, but Cashmere thumped her foot and bolted under the couch. If that wasn't an admission of guilt, I don't know what it was! And of course there are the times I come home and wonder why they are acting so subdued... until I discover what they have chewed up or broken this time. I would challenge anyone who says animals do not experience guilt to spend a weekend with Cashmere and anything she can sink her teeth into!

Do animals feel gratitude? I would say they do. Charlie and Sylvia were both given to me by friends who could no longer care for them, but I adopted Cashmere from the Humane Society, and I suspect her previous life was not an easy one. When she first became my housemate, she could be very difficult to deal with, but gradually she realized I was not planning to hurt her. One day I filled an empty toilet paper roll with hay and set it in front of her, and I have never seen such a look of gratitude from any human! If she could feel a slight inkling of amazement that I loved her enough to give her gifts despite her bratty behavior, maybe she has a vague comprehension of how God loves us in spite of our imperfections.

Do animals experience awe? Charlie and Cashmere certainly looked awed when I flipped on the switch to Plant World for the first time and my living room was flooded with fake sunlight. They both love music, and my parents used to have a parakeet named Linus who seemed genuinely moved whenever we played a music box of "Swan Lake." The experience that most convinced me that animals have a sense of beauty that has nothing to do with instinct was one summer evening when two friends and I were watching a spectacular sunset over a northern lake, and a black-crowned night heron alit only a few feet away from us. It stood staring toward the sun until the glowing orange orb slipped behind the horizon, and then it calmly flew away. What was it doing if not watching a beautiful sunset, just like we were?

Do animals feel sympathy? Pet owners would certainly say they do. How many of us have had a pet show concern when we were sick or sad? I have seen animals mourn the loss of friends and comfort one another. It is a well-known phenomenon that animals of one species will adopt orphans of another species. Some of this may be instinctual, but is all of it?

The point is, we don't know whether or not animals go to Heaven, so I am tired of people saying they know for a fact they don't. Personally, I'd rather spend eternity with animals than with those people! Anyway, if we really think what makes us superior to them is that we have morals, ethics, and reason, then we had better start treating them (and one another!) morally, ethically, and reasonably, or we will be the ones who won't get to Heaven.

Famous Hat

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ramblin' Post

One of the great things about the place where I live is the abundance of farmers' markets. Every Saturday morning is like a mini festival with free coffee, live music, and beautiful produce. I try to buy the majority of my food at the farmers' market for a number of reasons: when you think globally but buy locally, you reduce your carbon footprint; the food is very fresh and organically grown; and there's always that satisfying feeling that you're sticking it to The Man. Because seriously, even the health food store is a chain.

Speaking of chains, what's with the proliferation of "stealth chain" restaurants? You know, the ones that are a level above fast food and try to seem unique, but you know they have three in the nearest big city. Is it because people are beginning to distrust chains? I for one try to go to locally owned businesses, and I would have to be VERY desperate indeed to buy anything at Wal-Mart.

At the farmers' market there are often political booths set up, and they are without exception of the left-leaning variety. Why is that? Why do they think that anyone who shops at a farmers' market must be politically liberal? I don't care for either major party and have no idea what to call myself: a crunchy conservative? A Leftist for Life? How about the Anti-Giuliani? If they could come up with a politician who disagrees with me on absolutely everything like he does, you'd think they could find one who does agree with me on the basics, like protecting the environment, a fair living wage for workers, and ending the heinous practice of legal abortion. Why do "feminists" think abortion is so great? I am a woman of child-bearing age, and I see abortion and birth control as suppression of women. Like, why are there so many ways a woman can fill her body with bizarre chemicals so that men can have sex without consequences? If things were truly equal, there'd be a Pill for men. Explain that one, Feminists!

It seems that if you look at all down-to-earth in this town, people assume you have liberal leanings. I was once approached at a different farmers' market in my same town about voting against a bill protecting marriage. When I said I was in favor of it, the girl looked shocked, then she said, "This doesn't just affect homosexuals. It would also protect heterosexuals who are not married." To which I replied, "Why don't they just get married? I'm not in favor of unmarried people living together." Just because I am female, a member of Generation X, and like to wear sandals and my famous hat, that doesn't mean I don't have old-fashioned morals.

One of my favorite things about Saturday morning farmers' market is going to the bank first and getting "funny money." One of my goals in life is to increase the circulation of $2 bills and dollar coins. Of course spending money is fun in any denomination, but why not make it extra fun? Especially when vendors go, "I said TWO dollars!.. oh, never mind." To be fair, the vendors actually always seem delighted with funny money; it is in commercial establishments that it seems to throw people. Maybe because they don't have a section in their cash register for it...?

So I've been at the same bank for many years, but it has been bought out several times, most recently by a mega bank - let's call it "American Bank." I have never overdrawn my account before, but because of my recent excursion to New Orleans and my habit of paying off my credit card bill the moment I receive it, my account was going to be a little short this month. I moved some money from savings to checking but underestimated the amount by $5 and some change. Now my understanding was that I have overdraft protection and would not be charged if there is enough money in savings, but I was charged $5. I called them to complain and they said it wasn't an overdraft charge, it was a fee for moving the money... which they then did by dumping ALL my savings into my checking account! I said I didn't care what they called it, the fact is they lied to me and said I wouldn't be charged for overdrafts, period. They refused to back down, even though the fee is the same as the amount I was over, so now I'm going to Local Credit Union. Fortunately I already had accounts set up there, but extricating myself from American Bank is proving to be quite a chore. I am still amazed that, after nearly two decades of loyalty, I was basically told to kiss off, but Local Credit Union is happy to deal with my money, no matter how little I have. And American Bank is always playing games, like I had an automatic payment set up to withdraw from savings to three little gift accounts for underage relatives, and one month they changed the date of withdrawal without my permission so there were six withdrawals, and then they hit me with a fee. It took me an hour of arguing with them to get it back, but at least that time they did refund it. This time they were not moving - so I am! And I would invite you all to come with me. After all, I hate chains, and this bank is no longer the little local one I started with.

Famous Hat

Friday, October 10, 2008

Smackdown: Boethius vs. Heisenberg

B: (sitting alone in jail cell) Philosophy has finally helped me reconcile predestination and free will. God doesn't affect our choices by His knowledge of which path we will choose, because He sees all our actions - past, present, and future - in the Eternal Now.


B: Werner Heisenberg, my mortal enemy!

H: So, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius - we meet again! Don't you know that the act of obervation directly affects the act being observed?

B: Yes, but is that effect in every reference frame or only in my own reference frame?

H: Certainly in your own reference frame.

B: And could God not exist in ALL reference frames?

H: Hmm... I'm not certain.

So you, my loyal readers, get to weigh in. Who takes this round: philosophy or science? Inductive or deductive reasoning? Since there are only three of you, it shouldn't be a tie!

Famous Hat

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Does Bright Make Right?

"Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics, and the Catholics hate the Protestants, and the Hindus hate the Muslims, and everybody hates the Jews!" - Tom Lehrer, National Brotherhood Week

"Oh, the atheists hate the Christians, and the atheists hate the dolphins, and the atheists hate logic, and most of all they hate God. Isn't that odd? How do you hate what doesn't exist?" - Famous Hat, Does Bright Make Right?

Years ago I happened to pick up a copy of Wired magazine and turned to an article by Richard Dawkins about how "atheists" should call themselves "Brights." "I'm a Bright," he wrote. "If you're reading this, chances are you are too." Nice try, Dick. The implication that if you aren't an atheist, you therefore are not... bright is odd in light of the fact that Atheist Logic as set forth by Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is an oxymoron. (Should that be "Oxybright"?) Allow me to give you several examples:

"Atheists are less violent than Christians." I have heard this argument put forth by both Dawkins and Hitchens. They argue that Christianity - and indeed, all organized religions - are responsible for the bulk of death and mayhem in the world. Interestingly, if you point out to them that the deadliest regimes of the 20th century were atheist, they say that this has nothing to do with atheism. In logic this is a fallacy called "special pleading," that your argument does not apply to you. Look, either governments are horrible to people independent of belief systems or because of them. If they argue that these governments didn't kill people BECAUSE of belief systems, I reply that many Christians (Buddhists, Muslims, etc.) were executed PRECISELY because of their beliefs, and not just in the obvious places like China and Russia but even in Spain and Mexico when Communist regimes were in power. If that's not persecution based on belief system, then what is? Or does Bright make right?

"Atheists care more about the environment." While it is true that some Evangelical Christians have an unfortunate tendency to think environmental stewartship is tatamount to devil worship, most Christians do believe that caring for God's creation is important. Are atheists more concerned about the environment? Let's look at an example: the Yangtze river dolphin was an ancient, peaceful, lovely species recently declared extinct. Was this because of pollution in the Yangtze River? (But wait, China is an atheist regime! They must care about the environment, right?) What they don't tell you is that in the mid-20th century the Chinese government made a concerted effort to wipe out the dolphins because - are you ready for this? - people living near the river worshiped them as an incarnation of a river goddess, and the government did not want people worshiping ANYTHING. If this isn't destruction of an entire species caused specifically by atheism, then I don't know what it is. Or does Bright make right? Because I can guarantee you that if Christians had purposely wiped out a species, Dawkins and Hitchens would never shut up about it.

"There is no evidence for God." Let's face it, being an atheist is as much a leap of faith as being a believer. If you were truly logical, you'd be an agnostic and just shake your head at our foolishness as if we were worshiping the Easter Bunny. I know people like this, and they don't bother me. It is the evangelical atheists, if you will, who annoy me, the ones like Dawkins and Hitchens who say children should be taken from Christian homes, where they are being brainwashed, and raised by the state. Then they can be brainwashed as atheists. But wait, that's totally different because Bright makes right!

"Believers are being controlled by their genes." This argument actually does follow logically from Dawkin's position that we are all just vehicles for DNA. However, it doesn't explain why he and Hitchens are busy writing books to persuade us fool believers to change our minds. Hello-ooo, if it's programmed into our genes, then by your own logic we can't change it! Why not just get birds to stop singing or plants to stop growing toward the sun? Speaking of genes, if we are all just vehicles for DNA, then why do atheists reproduce at lower rates than believers? Aren't they disobeying their DNA overlords? Sure, the human body has some design flaws (where's the wisdom in wisdom teeth?) but do they really think we should go extinct? Now I am no seven-day creationist (starting a war on two fronts? Didn't I learn anything from Germany?) and I certainly believe biological processes drive much of evolution, but I do not think evolving per se is our reason for existence. If I did, at least I'd be consistent and would have 28 babies with the best sperm donors money could buy.

I will leave you with yet another example of Bright Logic: When it was revealed that Mother Theresa had suffered decades of spiritual aridity, when she didn't feel the presence of God, Hitchens sneered that she was like a woman whose husband went off to buy cigarettes twenty years ago and never returned, yet she keeps waiting for him. Christopher baby, what point are you trying to make, that God does exist but He abandoned Mother Theresa, or that the metaphorical husband never actually existed either, and the woman is waiting for an imaginary man whom she fantasizes abandoned her? Because, really, that is what you are saying, unless you are comparing apples and oranges here.

There you go, folks. Bright Logic in action. Remember, when you have no sensible arguments for your positions, just remind us believers that Bright makes right.

Famous Hat

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hagiography: The Quiz, or A Tale of Two Twelve-Year-Olds

Relating to my post from yesterday, I read something fascinating this morning. There are two accounts of saints, both martyrs, young girls of twelve. One was written well after the fact and cannot be verified, but her martyrdom is reputed to have happened in the fourth century. The other account is based on actual eyewitness accounts of an event that happened at the beginning of the twentieth century. See if you can fit the account with the martyr:

Martyr A: She lived in a non-Christian country and was arrested on suspicion of being a Christian. Asked to deny her faith, she gave a spirited rebuttal and kept going on about her faith during her torture until her examiner said in exasperation, "Just behead the horrid, talkative thing!"

Martyr B: She was stabbed while trying to preserve her chastity. On her deathbed she forgave her attacker.

Can't you hear the heavens opening and the angels singing as a bright light bathes Martyr B? But she is actually Maria Goretti, who was murdered in 1902. It is the account of young Saint Reparata that has her miraculously chatting on and on about her faith from within a furnace, where the flames don't burn her. I just read about her this morning in Magnificat and was struck by the fact that here was a saint I can relate to! Thinking of the 12-year-old girls I know (and the one I was sometime back in the Triassic Era), I can imagine the young, vivacious girl not shutting up until her head was cut off much more easily than the sweet thing that forgives her vicious attacker. I find it hard enough as an adult to forgive petty slights; I cannot imagine the average self-absorbed preteen being big enough to forgive someone who had first tried to rape her and then stabbed her. Maria Goretti is a saint we mostly admire from a distance, say, "Wasn't that amazing of her," and then go about our business. Little Reparata is someone I can empathize with: faced with the prospect of being tortured and killed for her faith, she works up all her courage not to apostasize and then can't shut up about not denying her faith. To me it is just fascinating that the unreliable, ancient account feels more true to life than the modern one.

Famous Hat

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hagiography: The Musical

I have a great idea for a Broadway show. It was inspired by the old saying, "Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company." Most of us can understand that sentiment! Who wants to spend eternity with a bunch of sanctimonious, self-righteous people? What we all keep forgetting is that actual SAINTS are not like that. Ever read the autobiographies of St. Augustine or St. Theresa of Avila? These are some VERY cool people! They were far from perfect in this life, and they knew it, but they were hard at work at being what God wanted them to be, and I for one would have loved to hang out with them and toss back a beer or two. I like to think Heaven will be more like that: a lot of fascinating people having great conversation over a few drinks and a fabulous meal that goes on forever. Because, really, the people who are actually in Hell are not exactly people you want to hang out with. I don't know what happens to the sanctimonious people, but as Richard Bonomo always reminds me, everyone is perfected in Heaven, and being sanctimonious is not a symptom of perfection.

The whole hagiography thing hit home for me a few months ago when I was reading the meditation of the day in Magnificat (a magazine worth checking out). It was an amazing reading about why it is so foolish to think of Mary as some simpering girl you would never want to meet. I figured it was by a woman and thought, "You go, Sister!" wondering if it were Theresa of Avila or Catherine of Siena. I was stunned to learn it was St. Therese of Liseaux! It just goes to show you should never judge a saint by her most devoted followers. Poor Therese - a victim of the same sugar coating she deplored! Here she is a brilliant theologian, a Doctor of the Church, and all I had known of her was The Little Flower who rains down roses on those who pray for her intercession. This is why we should learn about saints from their own writings. And so my idea for Hagiography: The Musical was born.

Plot Summary: There is a priest who devotes his life to researching the lives of those the Church is considering for canonization. He is hindered in his research by people who focus on apocryphal and downright weird stories instead of the real merits of the believers' lives. Song-and-dance numbers would feature people telling this priest how holy a person was because she had bees flying out of her mouth, or because she refused to play with the other children and would only build little altars, or because he would float up into the air in the middle of Mass. The priest would alternate verses about how the person was actually holy because she bore suffering bravely, he offered his life up for someone else, etc., but the other people sing louder and drown him out. Discouraged, the priest falls ill and dies. When he arrives in Heaven, St. Peter thanks him for all his hard work for the Church. "Check it out," he says, and they both watch as the priest is being canonized. His scholarship and dedication is extolled by the clergy, but the final scene is the crowd outside the church singing about some ridiculous and patently false story from his boyhood that they think makes him sound holy but that would get most children trotted off to a child psychologist. The new saint turns to St. Peter, who shrugs and says, "Hagiography! We can't none of us escape it!" The End.

Famous Hat

Monday, October 6, 2008

Stuck on a Roof in Roon!

France, 1997. This was in the days before Famous Hat, back in my youthful days of Floppy Hat. A group from my parish had gone to France to see Pope JPII in Paris for World Youth Day, and we visited several other cities as well. When the natives would ask which places we had visited, I'd respond Paris, Chartres, Lisieux, and Lourdes, and they somehow understood that, but there was one city I could never pronounce to their satisfaction. French is a perfectly phonetic language - IF you're French - and though I spent six years studying it in high school and college, I could not pronounce "Rouen" in such a way that they could recognize it. I'd tell them I'd been to "Paree, Shart, Lizyoo and Loord," and they would reply, "Ah, wee! Say boh!" but no matter what I tried: "Roo-eh? Roo-ah? Roon?" they never knew what city I was referring to. Finally I would give up and tell them the capital of Normandy, and they would reply, "Ah - Rouen!" something that sounded to my ears identical to my FIRST attempt at the name.

The hotel we stayed at in "Roon" was set into a hill, so that ground level in the front was the third story in the back. My partner in crime, "Ethel" (names have been changed to protect the guilty) and I gazed out the back window at an enormous fountain in the courtyard below, which beguiled us with its promise of cool water in the August heat, as well as the shirtless men collected around it. We set out to find some stairs down to the courtyard, but the only stairs we found led us deep into a parking garage. Finally we decided to go out and around. We had to climb onto a roof which was about four feet up and walk across it, and on the other end we were faced with an eight-foot drop into the courtyard.

"If we hang and drop," said Ethel, "it should only be about a three-foot drop."
"Or," I pointed out, "we could just slide down that conveniently located light post."

A word to the wise: if you are going to slide down a light post while wearing a sundress, do NOT let your partner in crime go first unless you are absolutely certain she does not have a camera on her person. Yes, I am immortalized on film sliding down this lightpost in a bright yellow sundress. This is NOT a picture I would put on a dating website! But we had succeeded in our quest, so we splashed around in the fountain until being joined by Richard Bonomo. When we asked how he had reached the courtyard, he pointed out the extremely obvious set of stairs leading from the lobby where we had lately gazed upon the fountain with such desire. How did we miss them? I will plead blonde, but I don't know what Ethel's excuse is since she is most definitely a brunette.

Ah well, as Richard Bonomo always says, "C'est la vie, c'est la guerre, c'est la pomme de terre," or that's life, that's war, that's the potato (literally, "apple of the earth").

Famous Hat

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I'm a Poet and Don't Realize It!

Here is a poem I wrote at age 23 called (appropriately enough) "The Ingenue":

I want a closed-casket wedding and a shotgun funeral;
I'm eternally mortal and obscenely ethereal;
I possess a godlike beauty, if you know what I mean...
(You have to take it on faith because it can't be seen.)
Call me Muffy or Buffy or some other fluffy name.
I was doing my laundry when my 15 minutes of fame
Finally came, and Opportunity knocked on my door,
But I was buying generals at the general store.
I always drink my Dixie from a Dixie cup.
Would the real Dionysius please stand up?
The beatniks won't snap for me because my poems rhyme.
I gave five bucks to Greenpeace one time,
Now I've got every charity asking me for ten;
They figure, if I did it once, I'll do it again
(Just like men). My faux pas turned out to be fake,
But taking things for granted is a big mistake,
Like that ace skydiver who forgot his parachute.
(The point on my #2 pencil is moot.)
I'm Proclaudianus and antifessional,
And I have to admit my feelings never were chemical
Or mutual; the future will soon be the past.
Setting off explosives is always a blast -
While they last - and the thoughts of a puddle aren't deep.
I get my best ideas in other people's sleep.
I was once first-chair chicken in a rubber band.
If I'm dying of ennui, do I get a trip to Disneyland?
But on the other hand, I wore a benzene ring.
You can get the cherry bombs in maraschino or bing,
And that's why I dot my i's with a question mark.
Did Corelli's friends call him Angie or Arc?
I dig hidden treasure, man, it's outta sight!
I'm tone-blind and color-deaf so I sing in black and white.
The corner laundromat suggests you use apartheid -
Keeps whites and colors separate until they're all dried -
Well, I tried to decipher your zip-coded plan,
But there's no place for a dame like the Isle of Man!
They pay minimum wage down at the local eggplant.
Could Hieronymus Bosch get an NEA grant?
Yeah, I've seen it all, and I wasn't impressed
(Or even stamped) with a pope's or a cardinal's crest.
They offered me a joint before the firing squad.
I'd rather wear a fig leaf than a piece of cod,
Or a coat of mail, even if it's nothing but bills.
I'm in my uncles' won'ts but not in their wills.
My fridge is electronic but my TV is quarky.
Rule by margarine is called oligarchy.
I quit divinity school, because, you see,
It's just too damned much work to be a divinity,
But the counterfeiter told me there was money to be made.
How did you guess my favorite gemstone is jade?

Copyright 1995 by the author

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hey Hollywood! Here's a Movie Pitch for YOU!!

I have an idea for a movie pitch - Beowulf updated for today! It would be the first Anglo-Saxploitation flick. It even has a theme song:

(high hats) ch-ch-ch
(flute) doodle-oo
(guitar) wackita wackita

Who's the famous Medieval knight who never runs away from a fight?
Beowulf! Right on!
Who is the man, chop up Grendel for his homies, man?
Beowulf! Can you dig it?
They say this cat Beowulf killed one baaaaad mutha-
Shut your mouth!
But I'm talkin' 'bout BEOWULF!
We can dig it!

Plot premise: B.O. Wolf, Private Eye, has to come over from Jersey to help the NYPD foil the notorious drug lord Jose Grendal. Everyone is eager for his help but a jaded veteran, who feels Wolf is all talk and no action, so Wolf immediately springs into action to prove himself after a lengthy monologue regarding his feats back home in Jersey. In a dramatic fight scene, he shoots Grendal, whose last words are, "You can kill me, but you still have to deal with Mamacita!"

Mamacita Grendal is an old Cuban lady who tries to take Wolf down with santaria. After a terrific struggle, Wolf is victorious and is named commissioner of the NYPD.

After many years of keeping law and order in the Big Apple, B.O. Wolf finally meets his match in the shadowy Draco, who runs a crack house. (Or a crack home, depending upon who you ask.) In the tragic denouement, Wolf and Draco shoot each other fatally at the same moment. The final scene is a typical cop funeral, with the bagpipes and all that, and Wolf's #2 gives a touching speech about how he gave his all for his job, never even marrying, because just like in the original epic, B.O. Wolf shows absolutely no interest in chicks with the notable exception of Mamacita Grendal, and that ain't romantic. Of course, to make this movie marketable, it might be best to really make Wolf a composite with Shaft, so that he has babes falling all over him, because while closeted homosexuals showing off their masculinity may have gone over big in Medieval England, they aren't so popular in modern Hollywood.

Better yet, let's make it a Bollywood flick with lots of random song-and-dance numbers right in the middle of all the action.

Famous Hat

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bisectual - Singin' Both Ways!

You know, when you sing in two church choirs, a triduum just isn't enough time - you really need a sexduum!

I am an Anglo-Celto-American, which means I was raised a devout Cathopalian. My father's family has been Catholic since St. Patrick converted the Island, and he was in the seminary, studying to be a priest and learning to cook from a real Sicilian, when he met my mother, a former trapeze artist. (Note: I did not inherit any of those genes, so whatever you're fantasizing about right now, just stop it.) Dad left the seminary and became an Episcopal minister, but he did retain his Catholic outlook and his ability to make lasagne and eggplant parmesan that would make any real Italian proud. I grew up, went through that Buddhist stage in college that everyone goes through, and which has nothing to do with real Buddhism, and then I went back to my roots. Thinking my roots were Episcopalian, I went to an Ash Wednesday service at a nearby church and was shocked to find the place nearly empty. So I thought about it: do I want to belong to a church that was founded by Jesus Himself and has somehow withstood 2000 years of various amounts of mismanagement (if that doesn't point to divine intervention, I don't know what does), or do I want to belong to a church founded by a guy who wanted a divorce? The answer was obvious, and when I saw the Catholic church packed on Ash Wednesday by all those fools who mistakenly think it's a day of obligation, I knew I was in the right place.

I grew up one state to the left, a place even colder than my current home, and everyone knows the population of Lutherans in a place is inversely proportional to the average yearly temperature, so my whole life I have been surrounded by them. Like ice cream, Lutherans come in three basic flavors (ELCA, Wisconsin Synod, and Missouri Synod), but some places have the less popular varieties. (Note: so far as I know, there are no Neopolitan Lutherans; I don't think the ELCA stripe and the Wisconsin Synod stripe would mix well.) I don't have issues with Lutherans. Hey, at least Luther had real theological complaints and he didn't just want to throw over his wife for some French floozy. They are a generally peaceful people known for their good food at potlucks (with the notable exception of lutefisk, which I have never actually been brave enough to try) (and I have tried haggis!) and their beautiful music. Where are the tone-deaf Lutherans? Do they hide them away somewhere? They all seem to be born able to sing in four-part harmony.

For the last decade, after my own church's Mass has finished, I have run over to the ELCA church down the street (I'm thinking that's the vanilla option) and sung with their choir. Most of the time this just makes for a long Sunday morning, but during major holidays it causes some complications, as I have not yet mastered the art of bilocation. (Lutherans have holidays we don't have in my church, like - go figure - Reformation, and then something called Cantate Sunday which is all about music. See? They even have an entire holiday dedicated to it!) At Easter I simply choose to sing with my own kind, but because our church has "Midnight Mass" at 5 pm on Christmas Eve, I have always gone over to the Lutheran church for their vigil service. During those years when the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve, which has happened twice now since this insanity began, I have to sing at five services in 24 hours. (Luckily the Lutherans don't have a big choral service on Christmas Day, God bless 'em.) After the late Lutheran vigil, which finishes around midnight, the choir director has a bunch of us over for Swedish fruit soup and champagne, then I fall into bed around 2 am and hate my life the next morning when the alarm goes off at 8. What happened to those days when, as a kid, I could barely stay in bed until 6 on Christmas morning? If only Santa would bring me some time to sleep...

Once a coworker of mine was bemoaning how commercial the Christmas holiday had become. She asked if I didn't feel the same way, and I replied that to me, Christmas was more like too much singing than too much stuff. She said, "You are so lucky!" and I agree. Although music is not the Reason for the Season, it does allow you to focus on God and not gifts, unless of course your Christmas repertoire consists of "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." So for everyone out there who is tired of Christmas decorations going up the day after Labor Day (and then coming down December 26th - haven't they heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas?), I suggest joining a church choir. Or two.

Famous Hat

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Famous Hat Goes to New Orleans

My goal was to make a pilgrimage to each of the Jazz Cities: Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, and the queen of all jazz cities, New Orleans. I had visited all the others when in September of 2005 my best friend and I had plans to visit the Crescent City, but a little thing called Katrina ruined our plans (and many other things!). I cried every day for a week and then got on with my life, thinking I had missed my chance.

Three years later, in September 2008, my best friend was sent to a convention in the Big Easy. Did I want to come down? You bet I did! She flew, but I took the train because what better way to get to the city of New Orleans than on the City of New Orleans? I brought with me four Hawaiian shirts, a violin I had found in the trash, and Famous Hat. At the train station there was a slight complication in that the station master said the train was only running as far as McComb, MS, which he claimed was a nothing little town you wouldn't want to get off in unless your Great Aunt Sally lived there. (This is not an entirely fair characterization of McComb - why, it has its own suburb, South McComb!) I was so determined to reach New Orleans that I was even willing to FLY (and I hate and fear planes), but the station master claimed there were no flights going in or out of NO due to Hurricane Gustav or Ike or whoever. I briefly entertained the notion of driving, but that is a VERY long road trip by oneself, even in a car as wonderful as Erin Caitlin O'Honda. Finally I decided to risk McComb, and that worked out fine because a couple of firemen on the train who were going down to help rebuild houses in the 9th Ward convinced AmTrak to let us passengers ride on the same bus with the employees, who of course had to get back to their homes in NO.

New Orleans is a place you either love or hate, and I definitely fall in the former camp. OK, Bourbon Street at night is a little disgusting, not so much because of the strip clubs (I mean, I was expecting that), but what's up with all the clubs featuring cover bands butchering Journey and AC/DC tunes? I mean, who goes to New Orleans to hear arena rock??? And the drunken tourists are not a plus either, but I did acquire quite a few beads without even having to show anyone anything beneath my Hawaiian shirt.

There is one fantastic club on Bourbon Street called Fritzel's, it's a European-style jazz club featuring groups that play really old-school jazz, like Prohibition Era. It's awesome to see a banjo used in a tight jazz ensemble, hardly anything better! We tried absinthe there (like drinking a black jellybean) and saw a guy wearing a monacle, I kid you not. On St. Peter, just off Bourbon, is Preservation Hall, which also has old-school jazz acts. No food, no drink, no bathroom, and hardly any seats, it's a tiny fire trap of a place with one door in and one door out. Next door is Pat O'Brien's, where the Hurricane was supposedly invented, and they have a wonderful courtyard with a fountain that has fire on top of it. Every night on the corner of Bourbon and Canal we saw a band of young guys playing New Orleans style jazz, with the tuba and lots of horns, just playing on the street for tips. Our hotel concierce sent us on a mission to Frenchmen Street to find Ready Teddy; we did not find him, but we did find someone who claimed to know him, and we also found lots of real jazz clubs like Snug Harbor (with the very cute bartender, Jeff) and the Spotted Cat. And of course there are always random street musicians playing in Jackson Square in front of St. Louis Cathedral, or by Cafe du Monde. (Shameless plug - best beignets in the free world, and probably in the world you have to pay for too.)

We accomplished many of our tourist goals, such as a mule-drawn carriage ride through the French Quarter and a paddleboat ride, but our plantation tour was canceled. We did take a tour of St. Louis Cemetery and actually encountered a voodoo guy in front of Marie Laveau's tomb. He was starting to tell us some stuff about voodoo when a tour guide who was channeling Sam Kinison hollered at him to stop defacing the tombs, since the voodoo people always draw three X's on Marie Laveau's tomb as if it were a bottle of moonshine. We thought there was going to be a terrific dustup, but the voodoo guy just kind of... vanished. We asked our tour guide if it was all planned for our amusement, but he swore it wasn't.

We also did some less touristy stuff, like taking the free ferry across the river to Algiers, which is an adorable neighborhood full of shotgun houses with tropical gardens, and we also took the bus to the zoo. Tourists may take the trolley cars (we sure did), but only real people take the bus. It was a rainy day, so I had my sunglasses on Famous Hat. If you don't want anyone to mess with you in the Big Easy, just wear a hat wearing sunglasses. It either makes you look tough or renders you completely invisible, I'm not completely sure which. At the zoo we saw a fake bayou full of alligators, and they were so creepy that I didn't feel any guilt about eating them on po' boys. (Not those particular alligators, of course.) Yes, the food in New Orleans is every bit as delicious as you have heard. Gumbo, jambalaya, muffalettas, bread pudding, okra, crawfish etouffe, oysters, shrimp - yum! Speaking of sea creatures, let me put in a plug for the aquarium down on the riverwalk, which has an especially extensive collection of jellyfish and seahorses.

People will try to sell you all kinds of things on the streets of New Orleans. Here is a list that is far from comprehensive of what I was offered: paintings, CDs, balloon art, and a live bird that some guy caught and tried to sell me for $20. (I offered him $5 so I could let it go, but he wouldn't come down on his price.) Then there are all the identical stores full of Cajuncrap, with names like Voodoo Jambalaya. They are open until all hours of the night, blasting zydeco music and selling obsene T-shirts and bead strands, cheap masks, and dried alligators. I did buy a voodoo doll for my bunnysitter. It was terrifyingly cute.

My biggest disappointment was not getting to meet the Trash Magnate of New Orleans, Sidney D. Torres IV. Check out his website (SDT Waste Collection or something like that) - he is one fine specimen! But his shiny black trucks were everywhere, cleaning up the French Quarter every morning with lemon-scented water. (Sidney, if you're reading this, call me!)

So now I am back home with my extensive collection of beads; in fact, I have them in so many colors that my first week back I resolved to wear beads with every outfit I wore to work. It's important to have goals. Would I go back again? You bet!

Famous Hat

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why me? Why not?

You may be asking yourself two questions:

1. Who am I?
2. Why am I writing a blog?

The answers are:

1. Nobody in particular, but I bring the following to the table: a depth of knowledge on a breadth of subjects, Plant World, and a famous hat.

2. Because a banjo player said I should.

Plant World is a plant shelter, I won't say the only one in the world because I don't know that for a fact, but it is the only one I know of. I don't have any photos of Plant World, being a Luddite who does not own a cell phone, TV, or working camera, but if there is any demand for such a thing, I have friends and they have cameras. Living in a college town, I have acquired quite a collection of thrown-out plants, some of them quite large, and now I am wondering how to get tax-exempt status so I can write off my electric and water bills. Feel free to send donations to help the abandoned plants! Here is a heartbreaking true plant story:

Nola was thrown from a balcony in the French Quarter and landed right in front of Famous Hat. I was beneath Famous Hat at the time, and since I cannot stand to see a plant suffer, I offered to take her home, a distant place with cold winters. Luckily during the bleak months I have a warm, safe place called Plant World where Nola and dozens of other unwanted flora can flourish.

My hat truly is famous. It is featured prominently on a state park website and will appear in a textbook that is required reading for all 4th graders in my state. It was also featured on a segment of the local news about Catholic reaction to the Pope's funeral. The next day everyone said, "I saw you on TV!" but really they just saw my hat. My hat has been all over, including Teotihuacan, Cozumel, and of course New Orleans. That will be the topic of my next blog since, being a Luddite, I do not have internet access at home and will have to write this on my lunch break, which is almost over.

Famous Hat