Thursday, March 7, 2024

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume XIII


This is the thirteenth installment in the “From the Archives – Bits & Bobs” series. Volume I is here, Volume II is here, Volume III is here, Volume IV is here, Volume V is here, Volume VI is here, Volume VII is here, Volume XIII is here, Volume IX is here, Volume X is here, Volume XI is here, and Volume XII is here. (The different volumes have nothing to do with one another and can be read in any order, or underwater, or not at all.)

The Bits & Bobs series is the reason I’ve been called “a master of the short, short form” by … nobody! These are excerpts from emails, letters, etc. that I wrote to friends and family before I started this blog and channeled all my literary compulsion into this single endeavor. Read on if it’s bedtime and you’re jittery, or even better, read this aloud from your phone to some rando on the bus.

October 13, 1995

Thanks for offering me the TV, but no thanks, I’m good. I don’t miss having one, and when someone asks something like, “Did you see ‘Friends’ last night?” I kind of enjoy replying, “No, I don’t have a TV.” No matter how offhandedly I deliver this message, I probably come off sounding sanctimonious and superior, which causes my interlocutor to judge and despise me, which of course everyone enjoys doing, so I can feel good about doing someone a favor in giving him that pleasure. Often, I’ll be asked, “No TV?! How do you keep up with the news?” The answer is, I mostly don’t, since we don’t get a newspaper either. I figure if something’s important, I’ll hear about it one way or the other. I get enough news by reading the headline thru the window of the newspaper vending machine while I’m waiting for the bus. What’s the point of being more informed than that? What am I going to do about anything? Is there a cautionary tale in the OJ Simpson murder case? As long as I understand that 1) our country is a vicious planet-plundering machine, and 2) people are dying all over the world and I have it so good, and 3) we won’t know how the Raiders will stack up this season until we see them play Dallas, then I think I’m informed enough.

November 12, 1996

Since I’m not hosting Thanksgiving, I guess it’s really not my call as to whether you invite B—. But since you asked, my personal opinion is ABSOLUTELY NOT. First of all, in the best of scenarios, the guy is a jerk, a pain in the ass to have around, he’s ugly, and he stinks. I know that it’s customary that one’s parent is automatically entitled to bring his or her spouse to a holiday gathering, but with a divorce pending it really seems like we ought to have some wiggle room here. Of additional consideration are the specific facts of the case: B— has zero tact, zero hygiene, and zero sense of humor, and he has shown rising resentment at the fact that we Albert boys are typically kind, tactful, humorous, fun to have around, inoffensive visually, and known either for no odor at all, or for a swarthy, masculine sweat smell that isn’t unpleasant (lacking, as it does, that strange and somehow non-human scent element that makes you want to hurl, that afflicts certain men perhaps at random, or perhaps as a form of punishment). If you said you were considering inviting Charles Manson, I would be more ambivalent; after all, he would at least be interesting company. We could interview him and gain insight into the life of a sociopathic, psychotic killer. But with B—, we’d just have a whining, complaining, jittery, humorless little pot-bellied man lashing out against everything and everyone in his environment, wishing he could be somewhere else—playing bridge, perhaps, accumulating the points necessary to be an All-Time Grand Master Great King and Grand Poobah of that discipline. Finally, I offer you one additional consideration: if B— were to attend (and I don’t know why he’d even accept other than to deliberately be a pain in the ass, in addition to having nowhere else to go), I might be tempted to tell him what I really think of him, without the extraordinary tact and restraint I’ve demonstrated here. But of course, it’s all up to you as you’re the host. So please do feel free to invite him, in which case I will simply cancel my flight and make other arrangements, such as biking over to McDonalds on Thanksgiving, even if I can’t be sure it’ll even be open.

December 12, 1996

Did you hear about this woman who sued DEC for her carpal tunnel syndrome? It’s kind of odd. The reason she won her case is that DEC had done employee training on ergonomics & stress-injuries, but didn’t give the same training to its customers, and didn’t post a carpal tunnel syndrome warning label on the keyboards they manufactured for sale. Flagrant disregard for health and safety! So why didn’t this woman sue her own employer for not giving her ergonomics training? Probably because DEC has deeper pockets. So I’m going to sue UPS (both because I hate them and because I like money). The way I figure it, there’s no way they don’t train their employees to lift heavy objects with bent knees, using the leg muscles and not the back muscles. And yet I’ve received many a heavy box from UPS without a warning label of any kind. I’m also considering a lawsuit against the novelist Danielle Steele because her novels are famously “impossible to put down,” are usually well over an inch thick, and come out a couple of times a year. That’s a lot of reading, and it’s a known fact that too much reading causes myopia (heck, John Milton went blind from it), and yet not one of Ms. Steele’s books (so far as I know) has a warning label about too much reading causing eye strain. Ms. Steele is loaded (her Pacific Heights home is right next to a member of Metallica’s) so she’ll probably settle out of court and I can quickly make some pretty good money.

December 17, 1996

Well, our office holiday party just finished. It was at this place called MacArthur Park, a restaurant with a large lobby area that my company rented. E— wasn’t able to come because she had a city council meeting to go to. Because of my injured foot I spent most of the time sitting down instead of milling about. There were these “crab” cakes that tasted kind of like tuna salad—they were definitely stretched. There were also these ribs that were remarkably bland given that MacArthur Park is famous for its ribs. There were also these sautéed mushroom sandwiches, open-faced, which were startlingly good. Finally, there were these half-baked apples with bacon around them that were okay. You’ve never seen such a sober bunch, not in terms of spirits but . . . boy, it’s hard not to commit double-entendres here. Let’s just say that nobody was even one sheet to the wind. Very non-drunk, and therefore non-rude and non-embarrassing, which I like. Still, it’s not quite as festive as when you have a sit-down dinner and people get up and make sentimental, half-clocked, maudlin speeches like at my old work, where people were desperate to eat as much food and drink as much booze on the company’s dime as possible, out of spite. Anyway, I behaved myself as well; that is, I managed to keep from eating so many mushroom sandwiches that I became gassy or hurled or something. The only problem is that now my best suit smells a bit like cigarette & cigar smoke. But I’m back in the office and it’s not even 7:00 p.m. (And what am I doing in the office? That’s a very good question and I’m afraid I have no answer other than I decided to walk home and it’s on the way.)

Undated, ca. 2004

We are up visiting Mom. When we arrived here, I was surprised by two things. First, she was not here to greet us—turns out she’d been called in to work at the hospital. Second, there was something really wrong with S— [her cat]. His entire body was trembling, and he struggled to stand up. There was a frightening jerkiness to his movements, like early Hollywood animatronics or first-generation CGI. He had a wild, feral look in his eyes and was emitting low, metallic yowls. He was like half cat, half Terminator, and it seemed he could be capable of anything.

E— led the kids to safety while I called Mom at work. She told me S— had been recently diagnosed as diabetic and put on new medication, and given the crisis she’d come right home. In the meantime I called the veterinarian, who determined that the cat’s blood sugar had crashed and that he probably wouldn’t survive the trip to her clinic. She told me to try rubbing corn syrup into the cat’s gums with a Q-tip. It was his only chance, she advised. Corn syrup? Seriously?

Hoo boy. This wasn’t going to be easy because as you know, S— is a bit of a tricky cat to begin with, having that strange tendency to occasionally turn on you. Like, he’ll be contentedly sitting in your lap, relaxed as could be, and then will suddenly try to bite you. And that’s when he’s behaving normally, not when he’s having a life-threatening blood sugar issue. Heck, if my own life were in danger I might try to bite people, too.

I set out the Q-tips, poured corn syrup from the jug into the cap, and steeled myself for the ordeal.

The beast must have known that his life was in danger but without understanding why. His reaction was to mount a strong defense. In other words, he was in full kill mode. As I approached him, he lunged, narrowly missing, his teeth snapping audibly together. “Aren’t you afraid he’ll bite you?” E— asked. Um, yeah. Of course.

I wrestled the poor creature onto my lap, trying to pin down his windmilling hind legs. S— was making good headway on my forearms with his barbed-wire claws. My base impulse was to hurl him away from me, but with great resolve I stayed at it. When I was able to overpower the animal and hold him still, I felt less panicky. A human, I reminded himself, is stronger than a cat.

A long moment passed, S— straining uselessly. Still pinning him down, I inspected the deep scratches he’d made on my arms and considered the etymology of “cat-o’-nine-tails.” Eventually S—, exhausted, went limp and I set about rubbing the corn syrup into his gums with the Q-tip. I worked quickly, carefully pulling back his lips with one hand and working the Q-tip with the other.

Suddenly the stricken creature came back to life, as though hit with a thousand volts, snarling and trying again to bite his tormentor. I got a good grip on his body. I could feel the knobby bones across his back. His front legs were a blur as he flailed, and I jerked myself back to keep my face out of biting range. This attack, too, petered out and he slumped again. I pried his jaws open and rubbed some more syrup in. He still trembled, and periodically he weakly tried to bite, but he was too weak to fight anymore. Eventually, amazingly, as I continued rubbing the syrup into his upper and lower gums, the treatment began to work. S—’s shaking stopped, and in time he seemed to relax. By the time Mom arrived, he seemed stable, and he survived the trip to the animal hospital. They gave him some basic treatment and now he’s sound as a pound. It seems he had developed some kind of fleeting diabetes, and when it went away, the medication he was still on messed up his (now non-diabetic) blood sugar. Wacky!

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