I really hate Santa Barbara sometimes

Paradoxes, Pair of Sockses

I was walking to work one fresh morning between rains a week or so ago, enjoying my big warm coat and keeping the mist off my head with my fine fuchsia-colored umbrella, when I approached a man who was pushing a shopping cart full of some thoroughly damp belongings. And because I often deal with homeless folks at work I slowed down as I came up to him and I said, “Hey,” and he looked me in the eye to acknowledge my greeting, and the look in his eye told me he was fucking done with this rain shit.

I had nothing to give him but sympathy, but as I kept walking I started thinking about what I’d do if I had five million dollars. I would pay off my debt and I’d buy a house and I’d set up my finances so I could transition into a magnificently ordinary retirement at age 65. Then I would work with local government and buy a giant lot and fill it with tiny homes, a health clinic, a police shack, and laundry enough to comfortably house (spitballing here) 200 people who for one reason or another cannot catch a break in this town.

The gods must have heard my thoughts because I got to work and it wasn’t long before a nice seventy-ish-year-old lady appeared and sat down across from me at my desk and looked at me sweetly with her curly white hair and told me she needed my help getting into a shelter that night.

The problems of an unfamiliar lady off the street were not what I was hoping for that particular day, but let me tell you: when you work for a religious institution, no matter how small your function, some people look at you like you’re God’s right hand man.

I’ll admit, the miracles of the reception office are small and my ministry often centers on whatever speaks to you from the candy jar. But she came to me at the right time, and without getting into her personal specifics, I was able to help her get into a shelter. But if this nice lady on Social Security hadn’t found me she would have had to sleep in a bush somewhere, and if you haven’t noticed, the way our country treats its poorest people is incredibly fucked.

HERE’S SOMETHING IRONIC

I have a tendency to want to “save” certain items of clothing by not wearing them too much, and this ethic is applied daily and tragically to my socks. I have probably five pairs of Happy Socks that I really like because they’re well made and they’re man-sized so they fit my big feet. I buy them half-price at Christmastime from Marshall’s, where everything’s a little imperfect or odd, but inevitably one or two fantastic Happy Socks sneak through to the bargain bin and I GRAB them and HIDE THEM underneath my half-price Christmas purchases so no one will see them until I get to the checkout stand and then they are MINE.

The navy Happy Socks with red cherries on them are my most precious favorites right now, so naturally I never wear them. They stay lovingly rolled up in my drawer while instead I wear the slightly unpleasant green-and-blue geometric socks that remind me of a dress my Barbie had in 1972.

tl;dr My cherry socks spark too much joy in me, and I haven’t heard Marie Kondo say what I’m supposed to do about that.

SNAKES ON A PLATE

I realized this week while I was dishing out wet dog and cat food that I was also doing this thing where I’d break up the food and mix in the food-sauce, and generally try to make this hideous paté I feed my animals more attractive on the plate. My animals 100% do not care what their food looks like, and now that I’ve accepted that fact I just dump it out for them and their hearts still go pitter-pat at the sound of me clanking the spoon against their dishes to get the last bits off (I don’t want to actually touch it, of course, the horror paté I feed my animal companions) and they are still just as nourished as before, and they go shit in their boxes like it never mattered how much thought I put into whether they should have the Grandma’s Pot Pie or the Cowboy Cookout tonight.

57023881794__D631A86E-B401-415C-871C-44A07F99FBBB.jpeg

COS COB, LOVEY

I was at the thrift yesterday and I found a pair of intensely preppy patchwork Tommy Hilfiger men’s shorts for $2.99. I texted a photo of them to Jackson to see if he wanted them, but all he said in reply was: “Fancy.” (He thought they were women’s shorts for me. Communication is a fragile thing.) I bought them despite his indifference because what a bargain, right? And when I brought them home Jack lit up with ancient recognition of a distant tribe. (Jack spent many of his tender years in the New York/Connecticut MetroNorth corridor.) The shorts fit him like a dream, so he went and put on two Lacoste polo shirts and popped up the collars and began talking as though his jaw were wired shut. “Darling,” he’d say, “I’m going to the package store for some Rheingold.” Then he’d admire himself in the mirror and say, “Lovey, I’m going to the farm stand for some sweet corn and I’ll be back in June.”

PLINKETY-PLINK / I DON’T HAVE A LINK

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Wet Cement

Well, guess what? After five months of office cake, sitting in a comfy desk chair, and not being on my feet and hefting large bags of books up and down the library stairs all day, by January I was up about fifteen/twenty pounds. Which, frankly, wasn't a big deal, body-image wise, which surprised me. I was totally fine with the chub. What I wasn't totally fine with was that my clothes didn't fit anymore. I liked my clothes, and I wanted to avoid the ferocious waste of time and money it would take to replace my entire wardrobe. Also, my blood pressure had ticked up so much I could hear my own pulse.

Then I squeezed a sensible thought out of my frosting-filled brain: maybe I should stop eating the free cake. I thought walking to work might help, too. My friend Pam chipped in and helped me buy a Fitbit for my birthday. Then I put on my hikey shoes, strapped on a backpack that carried a healthy lunch, and off I went.

Would you like to see what I found as I traveled the sidewalks of my town?

There are decades of important sentiments like this preserved in the cement of Santa Barbara, California. 

Huh. Okay.

We've got all summer, right?

Lotusland

There's this place in Santa Barbara called Lotusland. It was the brainchild of a somewhat eccentric former opera singer named Ganna Walska who went through six husbands and had very little self-control when it came to plants.  She was born poor and at the age of nineteen she eloped with a Russian count. Here is a picture of her I found on the internet.

Ganna Walska

Ganna Walska

 Apparently Ganna Walska was a terrible singer, but her fourth husband, who was chairman of International Harvester, and who once had an animal-gland transplant in the belief that it would fortify his masculinity (and whose first wife, Edith Rockefeller, believed she had been married to King Tutankhamen in a previous life), threw a ton of money into voice lessons and bankrolled lavish opera productions for her to star in. Orson Welles said he used Ganna Walska as the inspiration for the Susan Alexander character in Citizen Kane.  I mean, just look at her. 

"Water stairs"

Ganna Walska bought the Lotusland property in 1941. The guide who led the tour I went on described Walska as somewhat of a hoarder, but her hoarding tendencies veered away from stacks of newspapers and used sponges in rinsed-out Ziploc bags and more in the direction of roughly 3,000 kinds of crazy, crazy plants. She knew what it was like to be poor and she knew what it was like to be rich and she sold her jewelry and her clothes and her Faberge egg so she could buy more plants for Lotusland.

Cactuseses

Cactuses for example. Good lord, she had a lot of cactuses. That's not even the half of it. I didn't notice it until now but those yellowish guys in front look like they have faces on their tops, like happy cartoon penises. Well, now I can't unsee that. Enjoy.

Cactoose

This one lacks the infrastructure to stand on its own, but as with many things that become the object of someone's unbridled affection, it will be propped up until it begs for death.

Cracktus -- because she was addicted to them, like crack. Hilarious!

I once knew a professional feng shui practitioner who told me never to put poky, spiky plants around my front door unless I wanted to uninvite people inside. Ganna Walska's entire driveway is bordered with cactuses, so from that we might conclude that you didn't want to roll up to Ganna's house when you were drunk. 

Spooky

Gah, more cactuses. These are weeping Euphorbia ingens, an African plant with poisonous sap. If you're going to cut these down you need to build a wall of fire around them to "set" the sap so it doesn't eat you alive if you touch it. Fun!

Delft

Here's some Dutch tile for you to look at while you frantically scrape all that caustic African sap off your hands.

Dracaena draco

Dracaena draco, or the Dragon tree, another African import. It's sap is red and is known as "dragon's blood" and it's very thick and useful if you want to mummify someone.  The fruit of the Dragon tree was the favorite food of the dodo bird, but once dodos went extinct there were no other birds to poop out Dragon tree seeds, and so now Dragon trees are endangered, because that's how nature works.

Slag

These chunks of green glass were everywhere. They are actually slag left over from glass manufacturing. Ganna Walska used to get truckloads of them from the factory where they made the bottles for Arrowhead water. Now Arrowhead comes in plastic bottles, and also California is in a drought and I am going to write a letter to our dear governor Jerry Brown so he will tell Arrowhead to quit pumping water out of our aquifers and selling it to the rest of the country. Tap water, people! Get one of those Britta jugs and quit dehydrating us. Also, I have magenta shoes.

Topiary is the tops

I will never not love looking at topiary. It makes so little sense.

Grrr

Somebody gave this one a laser eyeball! Run!

This topiary is extinct

Dinosaur topiary is among the best topiary, even if it lacks eyes that shoot lasers.

Astrology

Astrology.

Julia Child is not buried here

This is a terrible picture but those are Julia Child roses. She let them name this rose after her because its yellow was the same color as a perfect egg yolk. And also butter. Julia Child lived out the end of her life in a nursing home just down the street from Lotusland. Butter, eggs, caustic sap: the circle of life.

Mesmerizing

Another thing Ganna Walska collected? Rocks, of course. "I want to make a display for all my rocks," I imagine her telling the gardeners one morning as she stood on the patio outside her bedroom wearing a sheer white negligee and an ostrich-feather hat. And then some devoted employee of hers tumbled all her rocks so they'd be the same size and she could fiddle with them until they turned out like this.

I once went to a bullfight, did I ever tell you that story? It was pretty awful.

"I need some of your divine hand-painted tiles!" she said over the telephone to a man in Spain. She had to shout because long-distance connections were terrible back then. "There's a little skirmish near here," he replied, holding a phone to his ear with one hand and beating back fascists with the other, "but I'll get them to you as soon as I can."

Phyllis Diller's husband's name was Fang

"We have some Dracula-themed tiles," he went on. "I can't seem to give them away. Do you want those, too?"

"They're horrible," she said. "Send me everything you have."

That is one sexy Poseidon

Mer-men! Put your tridents in the air like you just don't care.

Friend!

This guy. Look at that face. He was standing in a little outdoor amphitheater area getting worn away by time and the elements and I couldn't get enough of those eyes. All the little statues in this area were so-called "grotesques." But this one I wanted to take home and prop up his little feet and make him a hearty stew and let Peewee snore in his lap. I think he deserves it, he's done enough.

You can't see me!

Then the one in the bonnet was all, "Wait, why can't we come, too?" But the little egg-headed guy was like, "You can't take me, I have a clever little stone wig!" I don't know what happened to his arm but at least it was a clean break.

The birds

Part of the property has a "blue" garden where all the plants have a blue tinge to them, which is really just a coating you can scrape off with your thumbnail that protects the plant from the sun. Someone put some giant cut-out crows in the area. There was a bird-art exhibit back in the main house. It was actually quite good but I don't want to talk about it, this post is too long and I need a snack.

You eat the clam before the clam eats you

We will remember Ganna Walska as she was, busy pillaging the South Seas for its giant clam shells and making hideous yet somehow elegant fountains out of them while her last and much-younger-than-her husband, an early American proponent of yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, lay dead somewhere in Pakistan, his body never to be recovered. Here's a picture of him that I found on the internet.

Theos Barnard

Lotusland.org if you want more information. This post was not sponsored, I just felt like writing it.

Close to Home

I had an unexpected reaction to the shooting that happened a week ago out at UCSB. I spent all last weekend reading all the articles and opinions and tweets that ran past me, and none of it was good news, but the thing that finally got me was when I went to work Tuesday morning and heard that one of our patrons claimed that the shooter had been hanging around the library the last few weeks. "Didn't you recognize his car? It was out in the lot all the time." That was some chilling news. And of course, it was possible to imagine a black BMW parked just about anywhere if you wanted, this is Santa Barbara, black BMWs are as common as frisbees. I don't ever remember seeing the guy's face, but sometimes people sit out in the lot in their cars before we're open and after we're closed, just to use the wifi. It's possible one of them was him.

So I don't know if the patron who claimed the shooter had been that close to us was making up this story just to claim his own piece of the drama, or if he really saw the shooter, or what. I do know that anyone can come to the public library and most of our patrons are interesting and kind and grateful for what we provide. Underneath that, I've learned that some of them are terminally ill, and some of them are mentally ill, and some are homeless and some are the most polite racists I've ever met, and I do my best to treat them all the same.

Of course, this shooter who felt bullied and ignored, me being nice to him wouldn't have helped. A woman my age would have been invisible to him. But so help me God, this is what I ended up clinging to in the wake of all this: Be nice to everyone. Listen. Be present. Say something funny whenever possible. Help them if you can, and if you can't, refer them to someone who can. Of course, that's my job, but I'm taking it more seriously than ever right now.

It's not a philosophy that will bring any of those kids back to life, and I don't know if it will prevent any more from dying, but at least it helps me feel like I've done my best by whoever shows up in front of me. And I refuse to live in fear of any of these gun-obsessed assholes.

END OF SERMON

On a brighter note, one of my friends from college died this month, and there's nothing like one of your peers taking off for points unknown to make you wonder if you're secretly growing a tumor or two of your own. I was commiserating with another friend who was in the same class, and we began to marvel at how many people from our relatively small circle at college are dead. Like, out of a loose coalition of 12-15 people, six are dead. Five of them went before the age of 40. One in his 20s, thanks to AIDS in the 80s before all the good drugs showed up. So, take care of yourselves, everybody! The darkness is closing in!

O.K., NOW THE SERMON IS REALLY OVER

The other weird thing is when a library patron dies. I mean, we work with a lot of old people. You get to know everyone, over time, and what they like to read, or what they're willing to try when they can't find anything they like to read. And then the day comes when you ask your coworker, Have you seen Mrs. X lately? And you check her record and see that she hasn't checked out anything in the last seven months and your heart sinks a little. People have strokes and become homebound, or one of their children comes in and hands us their card and asks us to delete their account. I used to marvel at a sprightly 99-year-old who used to come in every few days. He stopped coming in at some point, maybe I was on vacation or I just didn't really notice, it's not like I have a checklist although maybe I should. And then last week, seemingly overnight, another one of our regulars stopped being the guy who always brought us jars of homemade jelly at Christmas and turned into a thank-you note from his wife telling us how much he loved the library.

I'LL STOP, I'M SORRY. FORGIVE ME?

May is fucking beautiful in Santa Barbara, these jacaranda trees bloom with purple flowers all over town and it's heavenly. Unless you park under one and your car gets covered in smelly, sticky, godawful blossoms that ruin your paint. But apart from that: so beautiful! Here's a picture! Cheer up! Would you look at that!

jacaranda

A progression of healing thoughts

This morning I was driving down Alamar when I saw a slightly ragged-looking couple on the street in front of the Alzheimer's home. The man looked upset and the woman waved at me violently and shrieked, "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO GO 35, BITCH!" with a horrifying expression on her face. I glanced at my speedometer -- I was going 37 m.p.h., and my first thought was a prim, "Clearly that woman does not know what a car going approximately 35 miles per hour looks like." I braked slightly and looked in my rear-view mirror -- she was still glaring at me, and my second thought was of a photograph from one of my dad's books about the Holocaust where a woman with the same expression of fury and disgust on her face was yelling at a group of Jews being rounded up.

And then I was mad that seeing my brake lights might have made her feel like she'd won. The truth was that I braked because the light on the corner was red and I didn't want to roll into oncoming traffic, and now I was thinking about Nazis.

Thought #3: "Nazis!"

Thought #4: "That bitch."

Then I forced myself to calm down because it's unhealthy to let a stranger fuck up your day when you weren't even doing anything wrong. (Anything that wrong. After all, she was correct in pointing out that I was not going the speed limit. LET'S GIVE HER THAT.)

Thought #5: "OK, wait. What if she's really upset about something, let's look at it from her point of view. Maybe her dog just got run over."

Thought #6: "OK, but it wasn't me who ran over her dog, or ran into her mother who wandered away from the Alzheimer's home, and all that anger should be directed toward the people who are truly responsible for her having to put her mother in a home where she's dying of Alzheimer's without remembering who her daughter is. I know how that feels, lady, but at some point you've got to suck it up and quit yelling at strangers driving by in the street."

Thought #7: "What Law of Attraction bullshit have I done to have a stranger yell at me like that?"

When we were about a mile away I asked Jackson if he'd remembered to put his homework in his backpack, and he hadn't. So we drove back home, got the homework, and passed the Alzheimer's place again but the woman was gone.

Thought #8: "I have no way of knowing what the truth of her situation is, so I need to let go of this whole thing, Byron Katie. She absolutely should have been in the street yelling at cars, that was exactly what needed to happen at that point in time, given a series of events that are totally invisible to me, and it would be insane for me to try to fly back in time with super mind control and try to change it. RADICAL ACCEPTANCE, COMRADE."

Then I had a happier thought.

Thought #9: "Maybe she has a superpower that enables her to detect when a car is going two miles over the speed limit."

Thought #10: "Well, at least I finally have something to blog about."

 

I'm not even sure what racism is anymore

Me: I need to go to the Water Store and get more distilled water.

Jackson: That is the whitest thing anyone, anywhere has ever said.

Me: Oh, well, excuse me, the first person who told me that we should all drink distilled water was black. His mom was super into it.

Jackson: It's still the whitest thing I've ever heard you say.

Me: Well, I am pretty white.

Jackson: Yes.

Me: But how can it be a white thing if black people drink distilled water, too?

Jackson: Are you calling me racist?

Me: I don't know, am I? Or are you saying that "white" is a synonym for "living in a privileged bubble."

Jackson: Yes, yes I am.

Me: And I am a privileged person who will pay for something that comes out of a faucet for free.

Jackson: Pretty much.

Me: OK, but if doing that is "white," are you saying that a privileged black person who buys distilled water is "white," or are you saying that black people can be just as privileged and deluded by health fads as white people?

Jackson: . . . the second one.

Me: So, maybe just say privileged in the future if that's what you mean.

Jackson: Mom, you are so white.

Me: Okey dokey!

 

So I might have been at this for a year now

This is for a person who wasn't sure what they wanted me to draw. "A hedgehog?" they wondered, or perhaps, "Peewee!" So I drew Peewee and two hedgehogs, and then I misspelled Peewee and painted the hedgehogs purple.

watercolor peewee

I've got ants in my pants and I need to talk to someone in Finance

So, ants. I don't know if it's because we spent the previous 17 years living on the second floor and we're new to this whole ground-floor business, but suddenly we seem to have ants just streaming through the house. What did we do? What do they want? To hoard delicious crystals of sugar (if Chris Van Allsburg is to be believed), and to have me slap the shit out of myself when I feel one crawling on my neck? Jack inadvertently discovered that ants hate Pledge, so he keeps spraying the lip of the garbage can under the sink with Pledge, and every time I take out a full bag to replace it I'm newly surprised that my hands are slick and lemon-scented. I recently realized that I have Alzheimer's disease on BOTH sides of my family (my dad's brother, Harry, and my mom, who I was told had dementia but whose doctor wrote Alzheimer's on her death certificate, which suggests to me that the two are interchangeable? I must remember to Google that when I'm feeling less vulnerable). So while I'm trying to take care of my brain health, I'm also trying to accept that I'll be hiding my own Easter eggs sooner or later, and I'm working to be okay with that. It's a pretty awful thing to try to accept, though. To the people of the future who might read this and wonder how all these words came out of the angry, withered husk drooling under a moth-eaten lap robe sitting before you: maybe playing some Elvis Costello will calm me down? Try anything from Taking Liberties or Get Happy! and I will probably stop yelling at you. Recently I had to go to our storage locker to look for my tax stuff because our taxes are due October 15 and I always like to do important things at the last minute. We got an extension instead of filing in April, and when we moved I'm sure I did something clever with my W-2s and my 1099s ("I know, I'll put them here in this special place I will have completely forgotten about in six months") (the one thing that consoles me about losing my mind is a quote from Meryl Streep I read once where she said that when she hit 50 she became unable to memorize scripts anymore, so either this memory bullshit is a normal part of aging or I have Streep's disease, in which case I will become progressively blonder and be offered amazing roles as a sign of Hollywood's shift toward featuring more mature women HA HA HA HA HA). But while I was digging through our storage locker, looking for tax stuff, I happened to find another box that I'd been looking for for seven years:

Yay, old photos! That is my kindergarten class, helmed by the lovely Miss Jackson. I did not name my son after her but it would not be weird if I did, as I remember her as a wonderful teacher who once helped me put an Archies 45" (which I'd cut out of the back of a cereal box) onto the classroom record player, and then laughed when I did the Mashed Potato to "Sugar Sugar." I have clear memories of at least half the kids in this picture, thanks to the fact that a lot of them continued at the same schools with me for the next ten years. (For example, the boy on the left side of the front row in the blue sweater's name was Bobby and his father played for the New York Jets. The girl on the far right side of the second row was named Phyllis, but the boys called her Waffles. :-( Sorry, Phyllis.)

Anyway, I ended up finding my receipts in our garage, in a box supporting a table saw (?), and then I spent half of yesterday begging various freelance agencies to go back through their records and e-mail/fax me the rest of what I needed. I'm already planning on hiding next year's 1099s in an empty Comet can under the sink. Financial time capsule!

How to be a fan of problematic things

I've been Popcorn Whispering again.

Barack Obama can swear like a motherf*cker.

I love being part of the problem

I've lived in California for more than 20 years now and yesterday I was finally able to admit to myself: I don't ever want to get out of my car. I was at work yesterday and instead of taking an hour for lunch I arranged to take two 30-minute breaks, one at 12:30 to have lunch, and one at 3:15 to pick up Jackson from school. I didn't bring a lunch so I decided to go over to the sandwich shop because they're close, they're cheap, and they're fast as hell. They're cheap and fast because they don't bother with vegetables. You get meat, bread, cheese, something to make it all stick together, and that's it. The first time I went in there and asked for lettuce and tomato on my sandwich, the girl at the counter pointed at the menu taped to the side of the meat counter and said, "No." She didn't say, I'm so sorry for the inconvenience but we only make sandwiches out of things that don't bruise when you drop them. She just pointed to a list of meats, breads, and cheeses and said, "No." NEXT.

The actual point of this story, however, is the fact that the sandwich shop is about 350 feet away from where I work, and I drove to get my lunch. I got in my car, pulled out of the library driveway, turned onto the main road, took my foot off the gas and coasted 40 feet, turned into the sandwich shop driveway, and parked in a spot that had a wonderful view of the bench I would normally sit on while eating my lunch, and you know what? Fuck that bench. Yesterday it was windy and cold and that bench is made out of cement. Did I want to shove my napkin under my leg to keep it from blowing away? No, I did not. Nor did I want a bug to fall into my coke, grizzled pedestrians to veer inappropriately close, or my skirt to blow up and expose my pink thigh-highs to the people staring at me from the warmth of their cars while they ate their sandwiches and wondered what the hell was my problem.

Instead, I bought my Fritos, my Diet Pepsi, and my turkey-on-wheat-with-mayo and then brought it all back to my nice, warm aging-Volvo privacy bubble. I put my soda in my cup holder, balanced the Eastside Branch Library's copy of Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) on the steering wheel, and didn't talk to, look at, or think about any of the strangers on the other side of my tinted windows for 25 glorious minutes. I was so delighted and relieved to finally be vulnerable enough with myself to admit that this was the most relaxing lunch I'd had in years that I don't think revelation is too strong a word to describe my feelings. For so long I'd felt guilty about cutting myself off from the energy of nature or whatever it is hippies say to convince you to get out of your car, take off your shoes, and let the wind blow ecstatically through your hair. Hippies of the world: I love shoes and I don't have that much hair, and the energy of nature is unpredictable. As a matter of fact, it smells like jasmine mixed with B.O.

So, sorry all you city planners who spend your lives sweating over designs for usable, friendly, safe public spaces! Tomorrow I might take my car to the beach parking lot for lunch, and then maybe we'll hit a drive-in this weekend. We can double date with my husband's truck.

The view from the bench, which I could see just as well through my windshield, frankly.

We're having some fun

I appreciate the fact that no one's called me out for not posting ever day like I said I would. It turns out that committing to daily writing, keeping your editors happy, working a straight job, getting a condo into escrow, and looking for a new place to live all at the same time is kind of a drain on mental resources. The good news is, I've managed to keep all of those other balls in the air, if not this one. The bad news is, the emotional roller coaster that is packing up all your shit and finding a new place to put it is not one I feel good about sharing online. One minute I'm swept away with excitement and possibilities! And the next I have abandoned all hope and am picturing myself living under a porch with a sleeping bag and a flashlight. Jack is the one keeping us all together emotionally, physically, and spiritually at the moment. Jackson's job has been to stay home sick all week, complain about homework, and be exceedingly huggable. Here's a photo he took of his nurse the other day: Actually, maybe Peewee is the one keeping me together spiritually at the moment. His expression here conveys more about patience, humility, and acceptance than I could ever put into words.

In other posting news, here's a link to the latest Popcorn Whisperer, where the cast of Twilight continues to discuss recent plot developments in season two of Downton Abbey. Special guests this week include Robert Downey, Jr. (in the same photo as last week because I can't remember where I put all the Iron Man action figures) and the Incredible Hulk, who I love because you'd think he'd just be screaming all the time, but he's actually very thoughtful.

Fun with retail

Yesterday, I returned my birthday cake. This was not at all Jack's fault, he bought it in good faith from what is normally a fine bakery that today shall remain nameless *cough* on West East Figueroa Street *cough*. We came home from dinner on Tuesday (birthday) night and I said, "WHO WANTS CAKE?" Nobody did, because we'd eaten too much at Trattoria Mollie, so the cake sat on the counter for a half an hour while we all looked through the giant Helmut Newton book Jack had given me as a present. All the most gracious homes have naked ladies on the coffee table.

So, whatever, it was getting late and I'd be damned if I was going to bed without any birthday cake, so we lit candles, sang, made a wish, etc., and I got my cake.

"How is it?" Jack asked.

"It's good. It's okay. Maybe the recipe changed. It's different than it used to be." More eating. "It's weird."

The next morning Jack and Jackson both decided to have a slice for breakfast because that's just what you do.

"This isn't that great, Mom"

"This is bad," said Jack. "It's stale."

"It tastes like it was in the walk-in too long, right?" Because it would be too depressing to throw away a cake I'd been looking forward to all week, I decided to take it back and ask for a new one, because by God if you spend $30 on a cake anywhere in the world it should not taste like ass.

"Good luck," said Jack ominously.

I went to the bakery, cake in hand, and asked for the manager. A tall, energetic thirtysomething fellow appeared before me. I explained that I believed he had sold my husband a stale cake that tasted like the inside of someone's refrigerator.

"Did you have it straight out of the refrigerator?"

"What? Your refrigerator?"

"No, yours."

"Oh. No, it had been out a little while, I guess. I don't know." I didn't have my stopwatch handy.

"You need to leave our cakes out between one and two hours before you eat them, it gives the butter cream time to [I forget what word he used here -- flourish, maybe, or come to life]."

He then proceeded to explain that how his employees should have told us to leave it out longer, because that was the problem. "How was the texture, was it dense?"

I had no way to judge how appropriately dense my cake was or wasn't supposed to be according to him, so I said, "I don't know, it just didn't taste like it was supposed to. I mean look at it, it's kind of gray."

"Well, it's too bad no one told you to bring the cake up to room temperature before you served it, it's the most important thing you can do . . . " blah refrigeration blah density blah butter blah, I didn't hear the rest because at this point that I literally threw my hands in the air and turned to walk away because he could keep his fucking cake, I didn't need to be lectured anymore about how I had made my own birthday cake taste like a mild case of Satan's halitosis.

"No no no, wait! I'll give you another one!" He said. Reluctantly, I returned to the counter and watched him box up a fresh chocolate cake with mocha frosting. "They should have put these instructions on the box," he said, placing a gold-trimmed sticker on top of the box that had a paragraph of text about treating pastry nicely, implying that they could not be held responsible for the certain destruction your ignorance of butter science would cause.

"Well, thanks," I said half-heartedly, as you do when someone else has spent a great deal of time telling you how wrong you are. I left, went to get my car washed, and then, since it was a mild day and the cake had been in my non-refrigerated trunk for two hours, I went home and had a piece. It was delicious. I talked it over with Jack (who then revealed his own bizarre experience with the uptight bakery manager when he picked up the first cake) and I decided to be a good guy and call the manager and thank him and tell him that the replacement cake was great. Bygones, etc.

I don't really want to relive my second conversation with the guy but I will tell you that it was still very important to him that I know that I was wrong and he was right. He told me that after I'd left they'd cut into the cake and tried it and, "We all thought it was fine."

If I'd had a little more presence of mind at this point, I might have said something funny, or sympathized with the fact that it must be hard for him and his employees to bake their cakes using the furnace that's been built into Satan's asshole, but I didn't. Instead, I revisited the stunned silence that had become so familiar to me earlier in the day.

"Do you want to come get your cake back?"

Fuck me. Really? Come get it back and do what with it? Throw it on the floor and roll around in it, crying and apologizing to you and all your employees for doubting its stale, gray excellence? I've worked in customer service for years and witnessed some amazing moments of passive-aggression on both sides of the counter, but man. This guy takes the cake, and I am not even going to apologize for forcing that phrase into this post. The only thing that makes me feel a tiny bit better is reading the other terrible online reviews the place gets for its service.

Lepidopterology

Every year the monarch butterflies migrate to this one stand of eucalyptus trees north of Santa Barbara, and then they fuck their brains out.

And then they flap around in ecstasy because OMG BUTTERFLY PROMISCUITY. It's like when all those people were cast as Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz and they got to mingle with people their size, some for the first time ever. The whole thing turns one big (and it the butterflies' case, not-terribly-explicit) orgy.

Naturally, we had to take Jackson.

We're progressive parents, after all, and why just talk about the birds and the bees when you can actually watch butterflies fuck until they die? I think that's how it works.

We asked Jackson all the important questions (Do butterflies lay eggs? Do they bury each other at sea?) since he had a unit on butterflies three grades ago, but he was all, Really? Do I look like Google to you?

Winter sky

This may be a bad idea, but I'm going to try to post every weekday of 2012.

So, yeah. How about that!

(The exit is behind you, try not to knock anything over on the way out.)

New Year's Resolutions

1. Get stronger (back to yoga) 4. Love everyone and tell the truth 2. Stop eating M&Ms for lunch 5. Blog like it's 2002 3. Get a pet porcupine and let Jackson name it. (Jackson says he would name a porcupine Quill. He would name a guinea pig Oink, and if we had a white bunny he would name it Frost. If we had a white bunny named Frost then we'd have to get a suspicious mole and name it Nixon.)

So, okay! One day down, 261 to go, more or less, this being a leap year and me not being interested in precision.