Monday, January 28, 2013


It's difficult to think of a kitchen appliance as mundanely necessary as a microwave oven. It wasn't always that way. One of the first trickle-down gifts of the space age, I remember mother breathlessly reciting to her coffee klatch the highlights of the Amana Radarange commercial. "The food cooks, but the inside of the oven stays cool. Cool to the touch!"

Gasp! I mean, Yawn.

It would still be a few more years before mother finally got her own microwave oven. She would delight in putting a cold hotdog into a stale bun, rolling it in a paper towel and voila, dinner was served.  The real technological miracle of the 70's was knocking hotdogs from kids' #1 favorite food down to #179, between beets and black licorice.

That was also when we had to stop buying the cheapest generic paper towels and step up to Bounty or Brawny or one of those quality brands that didn't hide metal filings within their plies. Sure, they were good enough to scour our grubby faces clean, but incinerate a couple of hotdogs and the bargain dissipates.

Fast-forward to the present when, with sentimental remorse, I had to say goodbye to our 1996 Kenmore over-the-range microwave oven. It wasn't my childhood memories which attached me to this particular appliance. I'd inherited it from my ex, Joe, when he upgraded his kitchen to stainless-steel in 2002. (Joe is always upgrading something, and I'm never too proud to be the beneficiary of his hand-me-downs. I got my Eddie Bauer bedroom suite when lodge-style rustic became passé.)

Now in 2013, the old Kenmore was showing its age. It still worked, but it's plastic white facade was tinged yellow and the loose door handle finally broke off completely. The inside was scorched, with melted plastic brackets where an oven rack used to be.

I remembered when the Kenmore was brand new. It was 1996 and Joe had just closed on the swanky new condo he's still so proud of. After a long day helping him move his furniture in (that Eddie Bauer shit is heavy!) I picked up some beer and frozen pizza. We opened two beers and toasted to Joe's first night in his new place. That's when we smelled the smoke.

I guess I neglected to check inside the oven before turning it on to pre-heat. The brand new oven still had its owner's manual in a plastic bag which was now in flames visible through the tinted glass door. After putting out the fire and opening all the windows until the smoke alarm stopped screeching, Joe snapped. "GET OUT!!!"

"Uh, my car's at my house." Joe drove me home and dropped me off without a word. It was two weeks before he'd speak to me again. But it would be two more years before Joe disclosed how the rest of that evening went down.

It seems that on the way back to his brand new condo, Joe -- very upset and still hungry -- made a stop at Wendy's drive-thru. By the time he got his burger home it was only lukewarm, so he popped it into his brand new Kenmore microwave oven and turned his attention to filling his brand new Jacuzzi bath tub with hot water. That's when he heard the smoke alarm... again. He ran to his brand new kitchen to see his foil-wrapped burger in flames though the microwave window.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

View From The Bottom

After making the decision in 2002 to go from renting an apartment to owning a home together in Midtown, JB was adamant about one thing: he didn't want to live in a high-rise. I teased about how strange it was that a flight attendant would be afraid of heights. But he explained it was a matter of convenience. He didn't want to park his car and still be five minutes away from home.

I guess that made sense. Not to mention the obligatory expense of a non-astronomical telescope.

While I thought it would be neat to have an expansive city view, it wasn't a main concern. I wanted to be as close to the park as we could afford. I could pretend it was my own back yard which I magnanimously chose to share with the entire city.

When we settled on our close-to-the-ground condo, I did worry a little about feeling closed in. Like living in the bottom of a canyon, with not much of a view to speak of. Not that it would matter during most of the year when the trees around us are in full foliage.

But when the leaves fall, I have to say I really like our view. I just have to remember to wear pants.

I think it was a good choice. While an impressive view can certainly add value, it's not guaranteed to last in this neighborhood. Just ask our friend who lives in the building next door. We used to have drinks on his tenth-floor balcony and envy his 180º vista of Downtown Atlanta. One day we noticed they were knocking down all the old houses below him. Eight months later all he can see from his window is someone else's big-screen TV.

If you want to buy his telescope, it's on Craig's List.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Messin' With Science

While on my sick couch I got tired of watching the news on television, and set out to scan for a channel of pure, non-controversial entertainment. I stopped on Animal Planet to watch a team of intrepid hunters as they expertly tracked their prey.

Oddly, I didn't see a single rifle or sidearm between the four of them. A curious omission for a band of hunters whose quarry could rip off a man's head without breaking stride. Theoretically.

They were hunting for Bigfoot.

I was transfixed. I must have watched five straight episodes of the Finding Bigfoot marathon. It turns out five episodes was more than enough to understand the gist of this show.

Each episode starts with a reported sighting of the mythical beast, often with grainy, blurry video. The team tracks down and interviews the source of the report and attempts to validate the sighting by recreating the circumstances. Then they wait until dark when they split up to run around the woods in infrared light, hooting at the top of their lungs. They call this activity "squatching". During this time they almost always hear Bigfoot, but they never, ever see him. The episode ends with the team congratulating themselves for another successful expedition.

Evidently, their definition of "success" is completely uncoupled from the name of the show.

What's striking about Finding Bigfoot is the veneer of scientific respectability supplied to the endeavor by calling it "research". When in fact it's three fat guys whose belief in Sasquatch is absolute, joined by one female "scientist" who isn't quite convinced yet.

I don't know whether to feel sorry for the woman for having her views constantly dismissed and ridiculed by the men on her team, or pissed at her for ceding any credibility to these guys whatsoever. As nice as it is to see a female scientist on television, the treatment she endures by her "teammates" resets any progress made by women to 1972.

It's obvious she's there as a token voice of reason, meant to balance out the crazy. And it's obvious that task is too much for one person alone to handle.

The other members of the team dismiss her as mean and insensitive when she implies some redneck is probably making up the story of his bigfoot encounter. Then they dismiss her as obtuse and ditzy for not immediately jumping to the conclusion that every howl in the distance or snapping twig is "so obviously a 'Squatch".

But then, if she really is a scientist, why doesn't she try to bring the discipline of the scientific method to "squatching"? Since stomping around the woods making as much noise as possible obviously isn't working, why does she never suggest, just once, that they set up in one place, camouflage themselves and the camera crew, and try to be as quiet as possible?

I suspect it's because that would be too boring for television. Then again, doing the same thing over and over again without success gets kind of boring too.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Suck It Up, Pac

The first week of the new year I took a couple sick days to contain my cold germs to my own house. (I try to be considerate that way.) This downtime gave me an opportunity to consider how commercials on daytime television take a different tone during the week day than they do on the weekend.

Obviously advertisers make every effort to maximize their air-time purchases by matching their message to a targeted audience. That's why you see beer commercials during football games and why Fox News Channel is awash with ads for hair transplants, testosterone boosting supplements and erectile dysfunction pills.

As I reclined on the sofa in an over-the-counter haze, I flipped through the channels and found it interesting how many commercials target people who, like myself, obviously aren't at work right now.

I understand why vocational schools would target this audience. Who wouldn't dream of attending the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu? And isn't it convenient that, unlike back in Julia's day, you don't have to go all the way to Paris to do so? Not when there's a branch campus in Tucker, Georgia.

Then there are all the places that really want to buy your "excess" gold. Or who will happily pay you one lump sum to take that annoying annuity off your hands. Even more off-putting are all the commercials by various competing disability lawyers. Hurt in a traffic accident? Slip and fall at work? Shafted by your insurance company? Does your trans-vaginal mesh make typing difficult and intercourse painful? One call, that's all.

The more I watched, the more I felt like a ginormous pussy, sloughing off work because my nose was stuffy. Until finally I got up from that couch, turned off the TV, took another slug of NyQuil straight from the bottle, and moved to the bed.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


"Why, my sweet little tot," the fake Santy Clause lied,
"There's a light on this tree that won't light on one side.
"So I'm taking it home to my workshop, my dear.
"I'll fix it up there. Then I'll bring it back here."
("How The Grinch Stole Christmas", by Dr. Suess, 1957.)

What lessons can we learn from that mean ol' Grinch? I can think of a few:
  • That the "War on Christmas" was already well underway the first time Bill O'Reilly was in diapers.
  • That my protruding gut and disproportionately spindly legs may be indicative of a congenital heart defect.
  • There's something about Christmas tree lights that can make even the most sociopathic bah-humbugger obsessively anal retentive.

It was bound to happen. Just as our six-year-old artificial Christmas tree was nearing break-even on its return on investment, shit hits the fan.

I knew we were taking a risk buying a Christmas tree with the lights built into it. I remember learning my first non-repeatable words at the foot of my father as he struggled to figure out why the Christmas lights that worked fine when he carefully packed them away last January came of of the attic in November tangled and dead. Just as he learned to cuss from his father.

Once again this year, the tree went up okay. As per tradition, I handle tree assembly, limb fluffing and dead bulb replacement, then hand it off to JB for trimming. But this year I finally exhausted the included supply of spare bulbs.

I tried to find a local supply of replacement bulbs to no avail. It seems that during the past six years Christmas technology has ascended beyond quaint incandescence. It's all about cold, energy-efficient, semi-conducting LED lights now. Our once-state-of-the-art General Electric faux-fraiser has been suddenly rendered Dickensian.

Even though a casual observer would hardly have noticed the handful of burnt out bulbs out of the 750 total hard-wired tree lights, I knew they were there and they bothered the shit out of me. And not just because the instructions clearly warn that burnt-out bulbs must be promptly replaced. It seems that when one bulb burns out, the remaining bulbs in the string have to pick up the electrical slack. As more and more soldiers fall, the entire line risks collapse.

And just before Christmas Eve that's exactly what happened. Great swaths of tree went dark as entire strings of lights fizzled out. It went down exactly as the Mayans predicted.

"I guess it's time for a new tree," JB said mournfully yet matter-of-factly as he packed away the holiday decorations earlier this week. I reminisced about buying that $300 tree six years ago. And how my 401(k) has barely recovered from where it was then. And how, while the past six years haven't been the easiest, this tree has been the center of some mighty fine holiday cheer.

"Not yet," I said.

I spent these past two days with a pair of wire snips de-lighting our pre-lit tree. It'll be back in our living room in 46 short weeks with new lights. Incandescent, if I can find them. And if the lights don't work the following year, I'm not going to to swear. I'll just buy more.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Code Easy?

On Wednesday at work I sneezed. I know my sneezes, and this wasn't a "too much pepper on my paprikash" sneeze, nor a "who's wearing the caustic cologne?" kind of sneeze. This was the sneeze of an intelligent parasite attempting to launch millions of its offspring into the wind.

Parasites grow up so fast.

Another cold? It seems like I'd only just gotten used to nose breathing again. Last cold season I purchased a small bottle of Cold-Eeze spray. I'd bought into the marketing hype that the timely application of zinc ions to the mucous membranes will stop an incipient cold in its tracks. I searched my desk and my computer bag. What did I do with that bottle?

Later JB called and asked if I needed anything from the store. I asked him to pick up a new bottle of Cold-Eeze spray. That night when I got home, JB told me he wasn't able to find anything called "code easy" in the pharmacy section. I tried not to blame him, it was probably my AT&T connection.

The downside of having a partner that never gets sick is a distinct lack of empathy.

I ransacked the medicine cabinet and found my bottle from last year. Still full! Does homeopathic crap expire? Too late to worry about that now, time is of the essence. My rhinoviral load may already have passed the tipping point. I spritzed my scratchy throat with the faux-cherry mist. Humans: 1, highly evolved RNA polypeptides: 0.

"Minor" stomach upset?
Twenty minutes later I began to remember why the Cold-Eeze bottle was still full from last season when JB had to turn up the television to hear his real housewives screeching over the sound of my stomach cramps. Still, I stuck with the therapy. I was going to kick this cold's ass even if it meant getting in touch with with my feminine side in full-blown PMS mode.

By Friday my hubris was self-evident when my boss told me at noon to go home. I got a text message from my buddy Gilbert saying he'd been bed-ridden all week. And not in a good way. Now it made sense. To the best of my recollection, I only kissed two people on New Years: JB and Gilbert.

Damn holiday traditions.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I Can Has Isotopes?

He cracks me up when he does his
Orson Welles impersonations.
Many people think of their pets as their children, I know I do. Which leads me to feel like everyone is judging me. Like I do that Honey-Boo-Ham kid's mom.

Every time I bring my full-figured cat to the vet, I prepare myself for the lecture. It's been that way since he was kitten-ball.

I used to get defensive about it. "But I don't overfeed him. Really I don't." I'd say this as we'd watch Fat Aggie go through the instinctual motions of grooming himself by raising one hind leg in the air and half-heartedly waving his tongue in the general direction of his crotch before flopping onto his side in exhaustion. (I know what you're thinking, but that scene in the Shrek movie is based on Aggie.)

At this point the vet would hand me the yellow "How To Care For Your Obese Cat" pamphlet. Every time.

We'd go home and I'd try to withhold food. But Aggie would make it perfectly clear that the only reason he keeps me around is for my opposable thumbs. As I sheepishly cranked the can opener, Aggie would slowly drag one fang across the back of my calf. His way of reminding me that carnivores aren't really all that picky.

My friends would diagnose my cat with metabolic syndrome. They'd warn me that Aggie was on the path to daily insulin injections.

Feed me!
So last year when Aggie got sick, I thought for sure I was that kind of mom who gave my kid Type-II diabetes. He gave up using the litter box in favor of the bath mat or hamper. Then he'd drink another gallon of water. And even though his appetite became even more ravenous, he started loosing weight. A lot of weight.

I took him back to his doctor. "Help my fat baby! He's melting away!"

To my relief, Aggie wasn't diabetic at all. It turned out he was suffering from an overactive thyroid. I learned this is a relatively common health issue with cats. In fact, there's a nationwide chain of clinics which specialize exclusively in the treatment of feline hyperthyroidism. It's called Radiocat. I shit you not.

You drop your sickly cat off at Radiocat and in three-to-five days when your check clears and/or the cat stops glowing, you pick him up permanently cured. It's a miracle! Thank you Jesus and Iodine131! Best keep him off your lap for a few weeks. (Julie insists that's how she lost her uterus.) And here are some lead-lined baggies to scoop his litter into.

JB and Aggie. They both
know they get treats when
they're adorable.
I thought "RadioCat" sounded cool. I pictured a feline cyborg with lasers and Bluetooth. But the whole radioactive pet thing horrified JB. No way was he going to subject his kitty to such barbaric, painless, life-saving torture.

Given JB's reservations, we opted instead to give Aggie hormone pills. One in the morning and another at night. Every day. Forever. No need to worry about fissile poo. Just remember to scrub your hands thoroughly after handling broken tablets and call 911 if you start lactating.

Immediately Aggie's health improved and his weight stabilized at ten pounds below his max. Last week I took him back for a follow-up exam. The vet said his blood levels are perfect, but he could stand to lose a few pounds. "Keep it," I said when she reached for the yellow pamphlet.

As JB paid the bill, I took the carrier to the car. It was a nice day and Aggie doesn't often get out of the house, so instead of putting the carrier inside the car I popped opened the hatchback and we sat down. This was when I was accosted by an old lady.

"You are NOT going to put that cat in your trunk!"

Getting scolded by a grandma instantly snapped me into childhood mode. "Uh... no... Of course not, ma'am, I'd never..." It wasn't until Grandma huffed away having done her good deed for the day that I thought of what I should have said to her...

My car doesn't have a trunk.

What are you looking at?