Friday, July 29, 2016

South by Southwest

Recently, I spent a week in San Diego with my father. The flight to San Diego from New York is preceded by approximately 70,293 miles of barren desert. It’s a lot like the Bronx except with fewer discount pharmacies. But fortunately, at the end, you get San Diego. I’m a big fan of San Diego because it features many things we Easterners find novel and refreshing, such as (a) people who genuinely seem not to hate you, (b) the San Diego Zoo, and (c) an anagram generator.

No, wait. Actually, that last one was just something I happened to be playing around with while I was in San Diego. But it was significant nonetheless, not least because although my own name serves up a fairly dreary set of letters, I learned I can rearrange my father’s name to spell “Eyebrow Condom Elk.” This was an important moment for me.

Now back to the zoo, a wonderful place boasting the following features:
  • History
  • Conservation
  • Giraffes who occasionally drink each other’s bodily fluids as they emerge, water-fountain style, causing large groups of gawkers, mostly men, to go “EWWWWWWWWW!” and “HA HA HA!” but mostly “EWWWWWWWWW!”

One sobering element of the zoo is you see many endangered species, such as those who get hunted for bushmeat. Fortunately, one of the zoo’s goals is to breed and repopulate these species. I hope they succeed, since personally, I feel this world could do with more orangutans and less, say, loud humans who make loud sudden noises around zoo animals on purpose. (I don’t know if the bushmeat industry is listening, but if so, take note.)

While we’re on the subject, here are some other

1. Get employed at zoo.
2.     Establish walk-in cheetah exhibit.
3.  When certain patrons prove unfit to be around animals, direct them politely to said exhibit. Sweeten the pot by explaining this is something other people are not getting.

Meanwhile the zoo is celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary, which is very impressive and all, but if they intend to stick it out another hundred years, they’re going to have to “up their game.” That’s why I’ve composed the following helpful


1.     NEW YORK PIGEONS. These pigeons would be considered quite exotic by Californians and other foreigners. Distinguishing traits: Their accents, their complaints about the MTA and their insistence on folding pizza.
2.     CHICKEN-FRIED GREATER TOUCAN. This species has perilously low numbers, on account of I just made it up.
3.     FRIENDLY PARAMECIA. Just go with me on this one.
4.     DALE & EARL, C.P.A’s. Distinguishing traits: Zits.
5.     GAY DOGS. I once encountered a pair of these at Riverside Park, which I will not elaborate on except to say they performed acts on each other that I thought were reserved for behind closed doggie doors. Distinguishing traits: The way their lips curl at your new haircut.

By far the most unsettling animals currently in residence are the semi-dead bugs. There is a whole bucket of them, and they live (approximately speaking) in an aviary at the zoo, where they get eaten by rare birds. The bug motto is, “If you’re going to get eaten by a bird, get eaten by a rare one.” Now when I say “semi-dead,” what I mean is that some of the bugs in the bucket are already dead, whereas others can be seen crawling weakly over the corpses of their friends, presumably checking them for signs of life (“Ed? …Ed? ED!!!!”). It’s great entertainment.

Meanwhile a bird, his species being a bunch of lousy bastards who don’t care about bug friendships, swoops down and devour both Ed and his friend in one gulp. “Yes,” thinks the bird, “these are two of the finer mealy worms I have experienced, as mealy worms go.” Birds’ lives are boring. Fortunately, they’re so pathetic that they don’t even know it. They have no expectations in life whatsoever, as evidenced by the following conversation I transcribed from the aviary:

BIRD 1: What are you gonna do today?
BIRD 2: Eh, fly around and molt. How ‘bout you?
BIRD 1: Hey, what a coincidence! I’m gonna fly around and molt too!
BIRD 2: Hey, COOL!
(They high-five. A momentary beat.)
BIRD 1: So what are you gonna do today?

Also one of the rarer birds pooped on my father. He took it rather in stride. “I feel it is a nice thing,” were his exact words, “to be hit with rare bird poop.” This is bird favoritism at its most blatant, but out of daughterly respect I will gloss over this. After all, we should not forget that his name can be rearranged to spell “Eyebrow Condom Elk” – another species that should obviously be added to the zoo.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Snark Serves Jury Duty

Recently, I was summoned to serve as a proud cog in the American judicial machine. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I feared taking time out from my hard-driving professional life of making puppets talk in silly voices. On the other hand, I was a little intrigued, because I had wondered since childhood what the jury process might entail. (You might infer from this that I was a disturbed child. But that would be reductive. In fact, I was disturbed and weird.)

To wit: when I was eleven, with a penchant for writing stories that contained not one shred of actual sense, I wrote a story called “Ted Serves Jury Duty.” I do not know why. But I do know that I asked my mother where they put the jurors, and she must have said “in a box,” because I went on to describe the judicial process as follows:

"Jury Duty," said Tim, "Is where you sit in a cardboard box with a bunch of dolts who do not know anything about law and you watch a judge bang a hammer on a table and say things you do not understand.  There will be someone in handcuffs there.  The judge will ask this person questions...and then ask you if you agree...and if you do not agree you will be handcuffed too."

"Cool," said Ted.  "So, what do I do to get out of it?"

Disappointingly, it turns out this is not 100% accurate. For one thing, there is no cardboard box. Instead, there is the Bronx Superior Courthouse, kept at a brisk 852 degrees below zero for your comfort and cryogenic preservation. And though the people there may know nothing about law, they are far from dolts. One fellow juror observed that she’d rather go to jail. “It’s probably warmer there,” was her logic.

It’s probably warmer in hell, too, or so you’d think. But in fact I was half-convinced we were already there, and I can tell you why in one word: coffee. Indeed, one vitally important issue with jury duty that I must raise – and as a proud cog, I take this VERY seriously – is the coffee. Courthouse coffee is not coffee. It is vile swamp scum of death. Maybe no one ever actually died from drinking it, but I assure you they wish they had.

All of this got me thinking, in my resourceful way, of other ways to be let off the hook. One approach would be simply to plead your stupidity:

LAWYER: Ms. McEldowney, you –
ME: Can I bang your gavel?
LAWYER: I’m not the j—

But this lacks nuance, and besides, I had time on my hands in the cryogenic chamber. It was the perfect time to compose this


  •       “Okay, if you don’t mind that I have a squid disorder. On the half-hour I spurt ink. Like clockwork.”
  •       “Just so you know, my religion mandates the death penalty for anyone found guilty of writing musical theatre. AT MINIMUM.”
  •       “Bear in mind I’m prone to explosive diarrhea when you least expect it.”
  •       “I really really really really reeeeeeeeeeallyyyyy wanna serve jury duty please please please please pleeeeeeeeeeeease OHHH WHY WON’T YOU LET ME.”
  •     “I’m sorry; I’ve decided to sentence you to death.” (Beat.) “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
  •       “Okay, but I won’t be able to restrain myself from passionately fondling everyone else in the room.” (NOTE: This might actually get you selected.)
  •       “I recuse myself from jury duty on account of I’m ovulating.” (Long beat.) “Pterodactyl eggs.” (Burst forth demonic-looking puppets, apparently from groin, and make everybody scream.)
Meanwhile they kept calling names, but never mine. I was left to make my own fun. On which note, here are just a few of the exciting things you can do to pass time at the Bronx Superior Courthouse:
  •       Wander back and forth 9,649 times
  •       Visit restrooms featuring the most violently flushing toilets known to man
  •       Watch instructional video featuring stirring patriotic music, really bad acting, and the statement – actually delivered by the narrator with a straight face – that you will want to go home and tell your friends all about it.
  •       Wander back and forth 8,372 more times
  •       Attempt to remember all names of trains on Thomas the Tank Engine
  •       Write snotty blog post about how boring it is not serving while knowing full well other people have it worse than you and are actually serving

You may think this story has no point, but I’ll have you know that finally, at the end of the second day of not serving jury duty, my name was called. And then… AND THEN…

Well, and then I was sent home with a certificate stating I had served. That was literally it. It was somehow bittersweet because now I would never, ever – despite my prognostications at age 11 – get to experience the following dramatic court scene:

"Manly McTestosterone,” [said the judge, Bob], “You are being tried for cutting photographs of a woman's breasts out of Playboy magazine and pasting them on your nose so it looked like some boobs were hanging out your nostrils.  Do you plead guilty or not guilty?"
"Which is cheaper?" replied Manly.
Bob's face flamed.  "Both of them will cost you a lot.  Do you plead..."
Manly interrupted.  "Um...not guilty.  I didn't do it, OK? Now will you let me go?"
"And now," said Bob, "a question for the jurors!" [He addressed the question to Ted.] "Is Mr. McTestosterone telling the truth?"
"Ask him," said Ted.
"Are you telling the truth?" asked Bob.
"Yes," said Manly.
"Okay, then, case dismissed.  You may go."

I missed out on this. Instead, my own story has a more humdrum ending, wherein I returned to my cherished daily routine of (a) avoiding writing and (b) getting bitten by a criminally insane cat. But the judicial experience has stayed with me. So, you ask, would I recommend jury duty? The answer is sure, for a lark. Why not? Assuming that the lark can stand the temperature.

But I would NOT recommend the coffee. No courthouse offering up that substance has any business calling itself “superior."

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Low Adulthood Tolerance

I have this thing about alcohol. Basically, my body can’t accept it. If I drink too much, defined as “any amount,” I get a migraine. The result of this is a comically low tolerance. I can get drunk merely by walking past a bar.

That’s why I felt pretty foolish the other day, going to a massive liquor store. I didn’t do this on my own, you understand. I went with a friend who is a “mixologist,” which for you laypeople is defined as “a person who practices mixology.”

My goal, as an alcohol-illiterate woman-child, was basically not to come off as an arrested weenie-head. I didn't want to remark on how orangey an orange liqueur was, or whatever. (Answer: pretty orangey, and I know because the very first thing I did was remark on how orangey it was.)

I maintained a distance from all other humans present, who trotted around the store making remarks like “This one is grotty, but with undertones of nepotism.” I was out of my depth. The universe (having nothing better to do) was clearly telling me to go home and play with My Little Ponies.

But I don’t have these at home (rather, they are in my parents’ basement). So instead I walked the store and thought. I was thinking about all the “adult” things we should be versed in by our late twenties, yet aren’t. To clarify, I should explain that by “we” I mean “I.” Here is a list of adult tasks with which I have, shall we say, differences:

Hammering a Nail Into a Wall. I am a thoroughgoing wimp when it comes to this. This is because hammering a nail into a wall (a) makes noise, (b) damages the wall, and (c) worst of all, you run the very real risk of hanging up a picture. Fortunately, I have found a tried-and-true technique to help. It consists of asking my roommate to hammer in the nail for me. If you are similarly afflicted I urge you to do the same. She is available for a fee.

Issues With My Apartment. This one also involves my roommate. Every so often my chest fills with dread when she informs me something is wrong with the apartment. This is because I have a condition called Apartment-Problem Deafness, which means that every problem with the apartment sounds like this: 

“The sloon is fnurking again,” she’ll say.

And I’ll say, “What?”

“I said the sloon is fnurking again,” she’ll repeat. “Do you think you can talk to the super?”

The problem is, she’s not actually saying “sloon” and “fnurking.” She is saying something perfectly sensible that MY ARRESTED BRAIN, being unable to deal with the situation, REFUSES TO HEAR.

I try my best to play it cool, though we both know I am bluffing. “Sure, I’ll talk to the super,” I say, knowing full well all I can say to him is “Super, the sloon is fnurking again.”

Fortunately, the silver lining in all this is that the super and I do not speak the same first language and have trouble understanding each other anyway. So he does what he would do regardless, which is come over with a big filthy bucket and whack around randomly at things until the problem, somehow, is solved. So far our little system has never failed. I consider it a miracle of life.

Consumption of Breakfast. I always wake up ten to thirty minutes after I actually need to. This means my eternal plan to eat breakfast at home is never realized. Instead I end up grabbing a bagel at the Bunny Deli, where I appear so often that the entire staff has memorized my order of a bagel with one scrambled egg and one tomato. In some of them it’s so ingrained that they see my face and mutter immediately, “Egg tomato.” That’s who I am to them. One pulpy fruit and one infertile ovum. It’s what I always wanted to be when I grew up.

Small Manual Tasks, Including But Not Limited To The Operation of Coffee Makers and the Opening of My Door. I was once fired from a job because I did not know how to operate the boss’s coffee maker. I grew sixteen extra fingers and causing coffee to flood the premises. This caused her to throw a Mach 5 hissy fit, then dismiss me later that day for “lack of common sense,” which is code for bad Mr. Coffee skills. The present-day manifestation of this is that I cannot open my front door. I mean, I can open it, but not on the first or sometimes fourth try. This is because one lock goes one way and the other lock goes the other way, and – follow me closely here – neither of them goes the same way. I suspect that during the day, while I am gone, they switch themselves while giggling evilly. You can imagine the trial this was when I first moved in. But I’m pleased to report that today – following a mere three years of hard work and persistence – I am still not quite sure how to open my door.

After awhile of thinking about these things, you start to feel pretty damned incomplete as a human. At the very least you feel comical and bumbling, like a jack-in-the-box playing backwards. But then, as you go about the world, a funny thing happens. You start to observe something: EVERYONE is a jack-in-the-box playing backwards. Sure, some might play different tunes, and some might play faster or slower than others.* But not one, I assure you, is playing “correctly.” In other words, none of this keeps you from being an adult. Everybody is an adult. Nobody is an adult.

Which is why I say: give yourself a break. So what if you can’t open doors? So what if you have no breakfast talent? So WHAT if you can’t operate a coffee maker with which you don’t have a personal, deep relationship, especially if the owner of said coffee maker is a raving sphincter-head? The point is, you have value outside of these things. ... Or at least I assume you do. I don’t know you.

Is any of this a revelation? I feel confident it is not. And frankly, that’s how I prefer things: I like my insights non-revelatory, my doors needlessly complex, and my liquor minimal. But when I do imbibe, I prefer something grotty, with undertones of nepotism.

* This is profound.