Monday, April 30, 2007

A something of your imagination

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Zoe. Zoe was a sweet, quiet girl who one day grew up to be a smart, funny, beautiful, confident, progressive young woman who attracted admiration wherever she went.

Long before all that though, Zoe loved dragons. She loved elves and hobbits and dwarves too, but most of all she loved dragons. Her favorite movie was Dragon Slayer, and her favorite video game was Dragon's Lair, and her favorite song was "Puff the Magic Dragon." Zoe loved "Puff the Magic Dragon" so much, in fact, that sometimes she would put on her pajamas and lip synch the song into a microphone with her eyes closed. This became a problem one day when her older sister Meaghan rode up behind her on her Big Wheel and launched an unanticipated kamikaze attack, but the attack was quickly thwarted by their mother, and Zoe was once again free to mouth "frolicked in the autumn mist" to her heart's content.

Zoe liked stuffed dragons too, and kept several of them around the house. Her favorite stuffed dragon was Figment, the very special purple dragon mascot of Epcot Center. Zoe had never been to Epcot Center, but she dreamt of going there and meeting Figment, and talked about it all the time with her mother and father.

One day, her father took Zoe aside and, with a big smile, told her they were finally going to Epcot! Zoe was the happiest little girl in the world. She rushed to her room and packed all of her favorite clothes, including her camouflage shorts, and began thinking about what she would say to Figment when she met him.

When Zoe and her family got to Epcot Center, however, she soon discovered that Figment was a difficult creature to find. His image would pop up in gift shops and on the occasional breakfast menu, but the real Figment was nowhere to be found. Zoe wasn't worried though. She knew it was just because Figment was shy, like she was, and that they would find each other eventually, as they were meant to.

Finally, towards the end of their trip, it happened. Zoe saw Figment from afar, held tightly by a large bearded man with a top hat. Zoe had no idea why Figment was letting himself be restrained like that, but it didn't matter; Zoe rushed right up to Figment.

"Hi, Figment!" she said. Figment did not reply, but Zoe thought that he was probably shy around the big bearded man. So instead of pressing Figment further, she asked kindly that their photo be taken together. And so it was, and once again, Zoe was the happiest little girl in the world. When she got home, she put the photo in a frame and made sure her father hung it on a prominent place on their wall, and there it stayed for many years for all to admire.

The years passed, and Zoe grew up, as all little girls do. Her love of dragons waned, soon replaced by a fascination with ventriliquism and, later, feminist and gender studies. The photo of she and Figment became a forgotten relic of a long-ago time, unnoticed by those who entered her home.

Then, one day, her older sister Meaghan, at that point in time a brilliant, enticing college coed but no less of a malevolent creature, took a quick glance at the photo and made the following observation:

"Zo, it totally looks like you're giving it to Figment!"

And so it was that from that moment forward, anyone who entered the Agnew home was invited to view, and subsequently speak reverently of, the Fisting Figment Photo.

Zoe never really forgave Meaghan for her observation, but she also understood that some things are bigger than strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff, and should be immortalized as such. Still, she spent her years plotting her revenge, hoping that one day, technology would allow her the chance to reveal to all the world the photo of an eight-year-old Meaghan posing as the sixth Celtic starter alongside cardboard cutouts of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale et al. If only their mother hadn't packed it away into storage. If only.
Sunday, April 29, 2007

"From Chimpan-A to Chimpan-ZEE..."

Sometimes the New York Times Book Review makes me feel like the most uncouth, unread, uncultured nincompoop who couldn't make it past the first round of the "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader" tryouts if her Perez Hilton-addled mind depended on it.

And then sometimes, the NYTBR just makes me mad. Witness the first line of this brief review of the book Mr. Thundermug from a few weeks back:

"Although a book in which an intelligent baboon is set down amid human kind inevitably brings Kafka to mind, the protagonist of Medvei's slight, whimsical first novella is luckily more Stuart Little than Gregor Samsa."

Really? A novel introduces an intelligent ape to the human race and the very first thing you think of is a man's literal-following-metaphoric transformation into a big ol' bug? Because, just off the top of my head, when I think "intelligent monkeys among humans," here's what comes to mind for me:

-Clyde, King Kong, Dr. Zaius, King Louie, Dunston, Project X monkeys, Ben Stiller etc., but also more complex movie monkeys like the Nazi monkey in Raiders of the Lost Ark, who broke my heart just a little when he revealed Marion's hiding place in the basket and, together with my nursery school's guinea pig Perseus, first taught me that not all animals are kind and good. (I was still sad when he ate the poisoned date though.)

-The TV show after "Banana Splits" that featured "talking," driving, cigar-smoking, crime-solving chimpanzees who tripped around in human gangster clothing and made me deeply depressed for reasons I couldn't pinpoint at the time.

-That chimp owned by the couple in California that brought him a birthday cake on his birthday, and then all those other chimps who got jealous and attacked the couple and ate the man's face and fingers and eyes and nether regions. (Intelligent monkeys know: you always share cake!)

-George Michael's "Monkey," because when the song first came out I imagined Mr. Michael to be lyrically grappling with a complicated human-monkey relationship.


Someone recently suggested I write the comprehensive guide to monkey pop culture, and it's misguided idiocy like that of the New York Times that just may drive me to do so. First though, I'll need to check in with my trusted advisor, occasional sleeping partner and all-around (stuffed) best friend, Big Monkey Head. He always knows what to do.
Thursday, April 26, 2007

Then why can't they transfer knowledge about how to replace the toilet paper roll properly?

Granted, I'm a humorless, domestic dominatrix of a wife who, on the few occasions I let him outside, leads my husband around on a short halter leash while making verbal whip noises behind his back, so I may not be the best source on this, but when you're quoted in an article about how you'd like to attract more women to small-plane aviation, you may want to avoid comments such as this:

“Women learn differently from men,” [Matt Kauffman, the chief flight instructor at Aero-Tech Services] said. “If two men go up, they will scream and shout, and a transfer of knowledge occurs, and we’d get back on the ground and go have a beer, and life is good,” he said. “If you yell at a woman, she’d start crying, and she’d never come back.” He would like to hire a female flight instructor but can’t find one, he said.

It's really for the best, Matt. A female instructor would menstruate all over the plane anyway.*

(Tip of the hat to a long-ago Onion joke on this one.)
Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Learn something new every blog entry

Apparently, in hound mixes, Artic Monkeys cause paroxysms of bark-y glee that can only be halted with the offering of a peanut butter-smeared dried cow ear.

But I'm sure they get that all the time.
Thursday, April 19, 2007

My mom's American life

Three and a half years ago, my mom had a very bad accident. She was in the hospital for three months, and we didn't know if she'd walk again. But she persevered through her physical rehab and made a remarkable recovery, surprising even her doctors.

A year later, she was looking for a new place to live that could accommodate her still-lingering physical issues. She read about a new living facility for those 55 and over that would focus on cultivating its residents' artistic backgrounds and skills. She wrote a funny and ingratiating letter to the creator of the center and charmed her way into to the facility off a waiting list of hundreds.

My mom had been taking writing classes for years and wanted to continue in that vein. So she signed up for a screenwriting class. One week my mom wrote a short film script about an older woman who has recently had an accident and decides to rob a convenience store to pay her medical bills. My mom read it aloud in her class that week; the teacher, a longtime TV and movie producer, thought it was outstanding. He sent the script to a director friend of his, who also adored it and decided he wanted to film it. It was no idle promise; a few months later the parts were cast, the rewrites were finished, and a filming crew was assembled.

Meantime, the living facility, and my mom's story in particular, started getting some major press, including a front page story in the Sunday New York Times. Ira Glass of "This American Life" caught wind of all of it and decided to film a segment on my mom for the TV version of his radio show. Before my mom knew it, "This American Life" was filming the filming of her first film, and interviewing her on-camera to boot. And six months later, my mom finds herself the subject of Episode 5 of Showtime's "This American Life," titled "Growth Spurt," airing tonight at 10:30 p.m. Here's a preview:

If ever you feel like there are no more surprises in store for you in this lifetime or that the achievement of personal or professional success has a cut-off date, take a grateful pause and remember that it's never too late to start living your life forward instead of backward. My mom has taught me to make that choice more and more over this past year, and for that, she's my forever hero.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Secret squirrels

For Christmas, I bought my dumb dog an intelligence-building toy: three stuffed squirrels stuffed inside a stuffed tree stump. Your dog is supposed to be so titillated by these squirrely squirrels that he starts devising ways of removing them from the stump, which will make him smarter over time.

After I opened the toy for Watson on Christmas Day, and then assembled it for him, and then took out one of the squirrels for him, and then crawled around the house squeaking one of the squirrels at him while he gave me that sorrowful "give it UP, already!" look, the stump has settled into its rightful place as an aesthetic blight on our living room.

Last week I was at a friend's* house and saw the same toy in the corner. I asked my friend if his dog plays with it.

"Oh no, he hasn't touched it in months."

Ah ha! I thought. A plush stump filled with plush squirrels engages NO dog.

"...he got so good at removing the squirrels that he finally got bored with it."

It still crushes me to know that my dog is considerably slower than his canine brethren. But as a helpful reminder to this fact, Watson ate an entire frozen burrito yesterday when my back was turned and still has not recovered. I suppose I should be thankful that he works overtime to squelch my overly great expectations.

*If I reveal my "friend" was actually my therapist and the "dog" was actually my therapist's dog, I imagine the story becomes a wee bit funnier.