Saturday, August 27, 2005

Please don't tell PETA about this

My neighborhood has many large, mature trees, which naturally makes it a squirrel mecca. I've made cracks about the squirrels before--commented that they very likely outnumber the humans and would quite possibly take over if they could just get organized... complained that they eat all the birdseed in the feeder before the birds can ever get to it (which is why I haven't bothered to refill my bird feeder in over a year)... commiserated with my friend Lisa when she had to cough up a large sum of money on a car repair because one of the furry little bastards chewed through her brake line... No, despite their occasional entertainment value, I can't say I'm a real big fan of the squirrels. They are, as Carrie Bradshaw once said, just "rats in cuter outfits."

That said, however, I really mean them no ill will. When they dart out in front of my car (as they frequently do), I always brake. Even when I'm late for work and in a hurry, I don't whip through the streets like Cruella DeVille, a flurry of birds and ground critters exploding in every direction in front of me. I always brake. And I always check my rearview mirror to see them scurry away out the other side, probably a bit shaky, their little squirrel lives having just flashed in front of them, but feeling exhilarated and alive enough to proceed with their nut gathering and bird feeder ransacking and whatever else the little menaces do all day.

I fear that the little guy who ran across my path yesterday, however, did not fair so well. As I accelerated up a hill a few blocks from home, I saw him run out into the street, and I immediately braked to let him execute a quick escape, but when I checked my mirrors as I proceeded, I didn't see him. I felt an instant surge of fear and guilt at the prospect that I'd actually killed something larger than a spider or a june bug, but I still hoped he'd just made a low-profile getaway and was already catching his breath on the curb. I continued on and--I'll admit it--promptly forgot about the squirrel.

I forgot about him until this morning, when I made my way back down that same hill on a return trip from some errands. I suddenly noticed, beside a parked car near my lane, a stiff and still squirrel laying on his back, arms unnaturally frozen in "stick 'em up" position, as though he just stopped in his tracks and fell right over. He was relatively fresh road kill, and I am almost entirely certain that I am to blame.

What's the protocol in that situation? Was I supposed to go back there, scoop him into an empty shoebox, and bury him in my yard? Should I at least have pulled over and moved him to the side of the road, so his poor little squirrel corpse wouldn't be flattened any further?

I left him there, of course, but I still feel a bit guilty about it. I also fear that his friends and family members know what I did, because three of them were mysteriously staked out just beyond my porch steps when I returned home, and another was leering at me from a nearby tree branch as I warily hurried under it towards my house.

I'm sure there are much greater animal lovers than I, who actually would be incapacitated by guilt in this sort of situation and surely would have returned to the scene to make sure the victim had a proper resting place. I take comfort in knowing there is a viewpoint on the other end of the spectrum, however, which I have not yet reached. My sister is, apparently, of that viewpoint. When I spilled my confession of "I think I killed a squirrel!" she paused for only a moment before asking two questions: "When? And... who cares?"

So, there's one less squirrel in the neighborhood, and I'm very likely responsible. If you're an animal lover and this disturbs you highly, I do apologize. If you're like my sister, however, who just sprayed PAM on the post that holds her bird feeder in an effort to keep the bushy-tailed critters away, you're welcome.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I curse you, Bret Easton Ellis

We all have our little foibles... situational flaws and negative characteristics that we're well aware of and yet seemingly unable to change... things we really don't need pointed out to us because it only makes us feel bad, though secretly we hope that the love of our life will one day mention it and smile and say it's one of the things he loves about us because it's cute and charming and "it makes you you!"

I'm sure I have several such flaws, but today I'm going to talk about just one of them. I take board games very seriously. Too seriously, apparently, according to everyone who's ever sat at a table with me, antsy and impatient, asking "Can't we just play??" while I insisted on skimming through all the rules to know the proper modes of play.

It's not that I'm against ever breaking any rule or modifying the rules to make the game more interesting (it was me, after all, who wanted to try a game of Boggle using only slang and phonetic spellings); I just want to make sure we're all clear on what those modified rules are before we commence play. It simplifies things later when the inevitable arguments and bargaining ensue.

What annoys me far more than wanton disregard for the rules is when people play both sides. (That's right, Lisa, I'm lookin' at YOU...) If you're on my team, I don't want you helping my opponents by shouting out clues, and if you're playing opposite me, I don't need your team telling me it's a pity win or a cheater's victory if I come out ahead in the end. Does the degree to which this infuriates me mean I take the game too seriously? Maybe. Would it really be so bad just to let someone have an extra, potentially undeserved point? Probably not. But there are very few things I get particularly worked up about, so I'd like to think the people who love me could simply let this one thing slide.

So far I've yet to find the man who finds my competitive streak endearing. My last boyfriend, on the way back to my place after a particularly feisty game of Catchphrase with some friends, actually felt the need to mention, "You know, you get really competitive when you play board games." I don't know what Captain Obvious thought I might like to do with that little insight, but I really didn't need or appreciate the observation.

That was the night I apparently proved myself an insensitive and condescending friend for reveling a bit in what I considered good natured and well-deserved ribbing towards a friend who had what I felt was a pretty amusing episode of brain lapse.

Her word was "porpoise," but all the clues she gave her team were distinctively turtle-related. "It's got a shell, and four legs, and it lives in the ocean... some of them get really big... the little ones snap at you..."

As expected, her teammates kept shouting out various types of turtles, and she simply couldn't understand why they weren't translating her clues into a proper answer. When the turn was over and she revealed the word, I expected she would slap her head in an "Agh! Stupid me!" moment as we pointed out that a porpoise was, of course, an animal similar to a dolphin, and that the turtle clues she was giving would relate more accurately to a tortoise. It was a simple and honest mistake, and one that I thought was grounds for a "we're laughing with you, not at you" type reaction. Instead, I was chastised and berated for making my good friend feel bad or implying she was stupid. I maintain that her mistake was just as egregious as my having no clue who John McEnroe was (a lapse for which everyone felt free to mock me incredulously), but apparently knowledge of sports figures ranks higher on the cultural literacy scale than basic familiarity with the animal kingdom. Clearly I had no idea.

Catchphrase is a fun game because it's one where everyone has a relatively equal chance of succeeding. Sure, there's maybe some skill or strategy involved in knowing how to give a proper clue and feeling comfortable under pressure, but the cards themselves aren't particularly biased towards or against any specific area of expertise. It would be hard to prove that freakishly focused knowledge of any one subject really lends much advantage throughout the game as a whole. This is unlike Trivial Pursuit, of course, where the Sports & Leisure category serves as a crutch to some and an albatross to others. In Catchphrase, your robot recollection of every quarterback in the NFL is only as good as the team members who can name that player, and even if it works in your favor, you may not get another chance to pull a highlight from your database for the whole rest of the game.

A similar game my friends and I recently discovered is The Name Game. The rules of The Name Game are pretty simple. Each card contains a name, and your task is to get your team members to say that name through your clever and helpful clues. The usual rules apply--no "starts with" letter clues, no clues that use the actual name or word your teammates are trying to guess... The rules about "sounds like" clues are kind of fun... no direct rhyming is allowed, but indirect rhyming is OK. For example, if your card says Lorena Bobbit, you can't say "her last name rhymes with Hobbit," but it's completely acceptable (in fact, encouraged) to say "her last name rhymes with the furry-footed little people from the Lord of the Rings trilogy." Of course, in this particular example, you could probably cut to the chase (heh; no pun intended) with a more direct and specific clue to Lorena's identify, but surely you get my point.

An inevitable stumbling block in The Name Game is the occasional mystery person who you've never heard of and therefore have no idea whatsoever how to describe to your team. Since passing on cards is not allowed, your stammering and frustration can quickly wile away all the allotted time for your turn. As you gain more practice with The Name Game, however, you become slightly less daunted by the unfamiliar names you draw from the deck. Your first reaction might be "Who the hell...?" but you quickly gain composure and realize you can simply break the name down into two or more easy-to-guess parts, and then lead your teammates to assemble those parts in a way reminiscent of the two-headed monster sounding things out behind the brick wall on Sesame Street. It doesn't matter if your team knows what they just said; as long as they said it, the point is yours.

I didn't immediately learn this trick, however, so the first time I played The Name Game, I was frustratingly thwarted more than once. The most memorable (to me and probably everyone else at the table, due to the rant that ensued after my turn) was Bret Easton Ellis. As apparently everyone except the five people at my friend's kitchen table in Rochester that night knows, Bret Easton Ellis is the author of the notorious 1980s novel Less Than Zero, as well as several other well-known books, including American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction (all of which were made into movies, two of which I've actually seen). At the time, I didn't know this, however. And since I wasn't yet skilled enough in The Name Game to think of other ways to convey this three-part mystery name, I quickly blew my whole turn agonizing over who on earth Bret Easton Ellis could be. Sure, looking back, I could easily have revealed Bret's first name just by asking for the name of the Green Bay Packers quarterback; "Ellis" could quickly have been deciphered with some clue about where immigrants to the US traditionally arrived; and "Easton" could maybe have been reached through some clue about directional orientation or maybe "the opposite of 'Westin' hotels..." I didn't think of this at the time, however, so Bret Easton Ellis became my most memorably frustrating Name Game clue yet.

At the time, I took some small comfort in the fact that Mr. Ellis's name was unfamiliar to everyone else at the table as well. Five reasonably intelligent, well-read adults with college degrees, yet none of us could identify Bret Easton Ellis without a trip to Google or

Now, of course, I will never forget Ellis's name. He is destined to haunt me, the same way the word "pejorative" did after serving as my ousting ticket at the regional spelling bee in sixth grade. My mother and I looked up the then-foreign word that night, and I never heard it again... at least, not for six or seven years. Then I went to college, where my freshman year Intro to Lit. professor suddenly followed some statement made in class with, "I don't mean that in a pejorative sense..." My ears perked up immediately, as they later did on countless other occasions where professors felt compelled to use that word. Perhaps it was on a word-a-day calendar that the Dean of Arts & Sciences gave to every instructor; I can't provide any other explanation for the sudden prevalence in Hibbard Hall of an otherwise not-too-common word.

Bret Easton Ellis is quickly surfacing in my consciousness in much the same fashion. He's recently published a new novel (Lunar Park), and it's as though the whole of the Internet community is seeking to taunt me for my ignorance of his identity. As if she knows me personally and wants nothing more than to rub my face in my own stupidity, The Old Hag recently wrote...
Bret Easton Ellis needs no introduction. Not because his first novel, Less Than Zero, was a "zeitgeist touchstone," or because he has been profiled in "every magazine and newspaper that existed," or because his name is as "recognizable as most movie stars' or athletes'..."
As recognizable as most movie stars or athletes, eh? Well, my friend the sports computer can name every pitcher in Major League history, and my friend the movie buff can identify nearly every face in US Weekly, but none of us knew Bret Easton Ellis until some stupid game (and my clearly irrational reaction to it) prompted some research.

I had just about gotten over this jab to my literary awareness when I opened my Web browser this morning to see the following lead-in to Salon's cover story for the day:
Savor the end of summer with the season's best novels, including the latest from Cormac McCarthy, Kathryn Harrison, Kelly Link, Bret Easton Ellis and more.
OK, I get it. I'm not as smart as I thought I was. Someone should revoke my English degree. All right.

Or maybe I should, as has been suggested more than once, just stop taking board games so damn seriously.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Teach your children well

Cute fourish-year-old kid at Hollywood Video tonight: "Is that Hillary Duff?"

Cute kid's mom: "Yep, it sure is."

Cute kid: "Why is she on a DVD?"

Me (realizing I don't generally interrupt mother/daughter conversations at video stores but unable to stop myself anyway): "That's an excellent question."

Cute kid's mom (laughing): "Yep, it sure is..."

Thursday, August 18, 2005


  • Sometimes I confuse INXS songs as U2 songs.

  • I don't really know the rules or thoroughly understand the procedures of play for any major team sport.

  • I actually kind of like the cheesy Friday night WB show What I Like About You.

  • Doing math in my head is entirely more difficult for me than it should be.

  • The Godfather completely bored me.

  • I can't get into bed at night without looking under it to make sure no one's there.

  • I rarely floss.

  • I don't remember the last time I ate an actual vegetable in fresh-from-the-produce-department form.

  • I really don't love Lucy.

  • I pick scabs.*

  • The first LP I ever purchased was Tiffany's self-titled debut.

  • Yes, Dale, that time I fell asleep while you and Greg played a marathon game of Playstation basketball, I was, in fact, faking it to get the bigger couch.

  • I voted for the first Bush in '92.**

  • I once stood up a guy I decided I didn't want to go out with… and then left a completely lame and unbelievable excuse on his voicemail when I knew he wouldn’t be home.

  • The weird burn marks (mysteriously mimicking the treads of a circa 1988 Tretorn) hidden under the stereo speaker in my parents' basement are my fault.

Don't hate me.

* Just my own, I mean.

** I know!! I don't believe it either. In my defense all I can say is I was 18, the whole of my formative years fell under the Reagan/Bush Sr. administration, I'd been out of my parents' house only two months, and I did wise up and vote for Clinton in '96.

Friday, August 12, 2005

We've got to stop doing this

I really don't plan to make a habit out of writing about my activewear, but...

Friday 12:10 Cardio class at the club. I'm in a white tank top and red shorts. My workout Wonder Twin? White tank and navy blue shorts. I'm really glad the instructor didn't show up in a star-spangled sports bra, as that would have been a patriotic spectacle of which I really don't need to be a part.

Maybe someday Denise Austin will show up at my gym to pick demonstrators for her next workout DVD, and at that point, we'll be all ready with our coordinated outfits for filming. Until then, however, this is getting ridiculous.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I'm just Steffie* from the block

12:10 step class at the health club today... The instructor was wearing this:

I was wearing something like this:

So, coincidentally, was the woman directly next to me. And since she just happened to position herself for class in the spot behind and to the left of the instructor, and I slid into class late and grabbed the spot behind and to the right of the instructor, we pretty much looked like her backup dancers.

Our instructor is no Jennifer Lopez, but I still say I don't need that kind of pressure. I'm uncoordinated enough on my own without having some ridiculous wardrobe coordination make me the focus of everyone's attention in the front mirrors.

At one point, I missed a step, and my doppelganger--apparently watching the wrong tall brunette with black-rimmed glasses--stumbled in error as well. Maybe I should have stuck to the elliptical trainer today.

* Please don't ever call me "Steffie." The only reason I wrote this is that Stefanie has too many syllables for this line to work and my J.Lo references are extremely limited.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

A licky boom-boom what?

One of the radio stations in town has been playing a song by a guy called Matisyahu, and the first time I heard it, I was certain that the early 90s one-hit-wonder Snow was attempting a comeback (Warning if you're at work: Snow's site is not silent). Apparently this Matisyahu guy is a Hasidic Jew from New York who likes to slip a little Yiddish into his reggae, but it sure sounds a whole lot like the white boy from Toronto's ghetto rap reggae of my early college years.

I was thinking perhaps the two performers are in fact the same person, and Matisyahu is just another sobriquet Darrin O'Brien is trying on for size. Apparently Mr. O'Brien is too busy with his own pseudo-career to start up another one, however...

I suspect I'm not the only one shocked to learn that Snow's 1993 release "12 Inches of Snow" was not, in fact, the last of his work. He's actually released no less than six full-length albums, one of which was a Greatest Hits compilation that--amazingly--is not simply 13 consecutive tracks of "Informer."

Who knew?

More important, who bought those other five albums? Maybe Snow is essentially the David Hasselhoff of modern reggae; maybe his answer to "you're still around?" is "I'm big in Europe." Maybe.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Note to Self

If, five years from today, when the rate on the brand-new ARM I just signed 72 different papers to acquire is released from its 60-month locked rate and is free to jump around essentially at will... If, at that point, I'm still living life in my spinster shoebox house in Northeast with no plans to sell and move elsewhere... If by then, Jimmy Carter-era rates have returned and my rate does, in fact, shoot up to 10.5%, and I'm envying my friends' safe and traditional 30-year fixed mortgages and wondering why I ever traded my own 30-year loan for an ARM, remember this...

I did this so I can buy new shoes or make an impulse buy at Target without feeling a tightness in my chest... so I can pay for an unexpected car repair without counting the months until my next tax return... so I can go out for a movie and drinks with friends without thinking we should have just stayed in and rented a DVD instead... so I can take a weekend getaway without worrying about how much it will cost me... so I can put money into savings more often than I take it out... so I can stop making jokes about Smack Ramen and Carl Buddig lunchmeat.

I did this for five years of living life like a normal person again.

Note to self: Remember that.