Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

From me and my peeps at work. Guess which one is me?

All beverages pictured are non-alcoholic.



Tuesday, December 30, 2008

La Vie en Noir

The French might make you cringe a little, but it's cute, and oh! so apropos.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Better Than Reality

I haven't played much on the Wii. Technically, it's Anna's, and it's not that easy to pry her away from it. But the games are still pretty fun to watch.

Santa brought the whole family a Wii Fit for Christmas. Again, I've had very little chance to play on it so far. But I've seen enough to think that I might like to be a Mii, and live in Wii world. They seem to have a lot of fun there, and they're always so happy, even though they have no actual limbs, just floating, disembodied hands and feet. But this could make life a lot simpler in many ways.

My favorite game to watch Anna play so far is the step aerobics game. You just step on and off the platform in rhythm to the music, following the directions on the screen, while the Wii scores you on timing and balance. But that's not the cool part. The cool part is that, looking at the screen, your Mii is doing this exercise on stage, in a huge concert hall, in front of several thousand cheering Miis who are bobbing along in their seats in enthusiastic time. Oh, and you aren't alone up there. There are about twenty Miis - and, what with the networked aspect of the Wii, these are friends and family members of yours, including of course Miis that Anna made of all the cats - on stage with you. And everybody is so into this. Think "Riverdance" here, only, you know, step aerobics. And the audience just goes crazy. I mean, you see them and you think these are people who just paid $200 apiece to see, I don't know, Aerosmith. The longer into the exercise you go, the noisier and more excited the crowd is (though I have yet to see anyone produce a lighter or yell "Freebird!" or fling undergarments at the stage), while you are stepping up and down, on and off your Wii board.

You can also go online and download Miis made by people who have even more free time on their hands than you do, if you can imagine. We have Barack Obama, Bart Simpson, and Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris loooves doing those step aerobics.

Another game has you, as a penguin, on an iceberg, shifting your balance to slide back and forth across the surface of the ice to catch fish, trying not to fall off the edge into the water. Chuck Norris looks sooooo cuuuuuuuuute in a penguin suit!

I took an actual aerobics class once, many years ago. It was a lot harder than the Wii game (this is also true of tennis, bowling, pool, and ping pong, to name a few). And it was not nearly as fun, although I'm not sure the lack of adulation from an ecstatic crowd of onlookers was the missing element. It just isn't that much fun to jump up and down on a plastic platform, trying to keep up with the baffling moves ("grapevine," anyone?) being shouted out to you by a leader who looks a lot better from the back in spandex than you do, while the incessant rhythmic pounding of the steps turns your brain to jello.

I bet the Wii ski jump is a lot more fun too. I've tried this one. So far I always end up as a giant computer-generated snowball at the end, but I'm sure this is a lot more pleasant than what reality would do to me.

Well, if Anna will ever go to bed, I have a new hobby! Hit me up if you have a Wii. We could go bowling.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Leave It

As we were at dinner tonight, at Dick's Last Resort on the Riverwalk (don't ask), this song came on:

Naturally it's on my iPod, now. But I wanted to share this with you.

My junior year at UT, I lived in a vegetarian, clothing-optional housing co-op on West Campus, so you can just imagine what that was like. One of the guys fronted a Celtic band. One very ambitious night, he told us, when he and his bandmates were in an alcoholically- and herbally-enhanced state of mind, they decided to cover this song.

They were not, from what he said, overly successful. Or they were about half successful. They got the words and the rhythm down pat, he said. But the actual notes were all over the place.

I happen to think this is an excellent metaphor for life, especially in San Antonio, plus I'm extremely tired from being verbally and emotionally abused and made to wear a silly hat, then spending two hours in a parking garage. But it's still a great song. Enjoy!

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Reader's Digest: Good for Something

My in-laws subscribe to Reader's Digest, which I always read cover-to-cover when I'm here.

Okay, I read the jokes and the blurbs in between the articles. You can't read the articles themselves, because they tend to be inspirational stories of how somebody overcame all the odds to beat a life-threatening disease or got rescued against all the odds from an armed assailant in a convenience store or saved 17 children against all odds from an overturned schoolbus or bravely survived being buried by an avalanche in a cabin in the mountains, against all odds. Or, I mean, you could read those; but why? One is really enough.

Perhaps too much.

They also have well-known urban legends sent in as true by their readers, shallow profiles of second-tier celebrities, screamingly obvious self-improvement tips, Top Ten Things To Get Your Panties in a Wad About This Month, and plenty of amusingly indignant letters in the Letters To the Editor section. (For some reason, Reader's Digest readers are frequently indignant - and one suspects the editorial staff has more than its fair share of spelling corrections to make.) But the only parts really worth reading are the jokes, one in every seventeen of which may elicit a slight chuckle. Here's one that made me laugh and think of Tony, with some minor tweaking:

Four women are taking a cross-country road trip, each from a different state: Texas, Idaho, Indiana, and California. Soon after starting out, the woman from Idaho pulls a bag of potatoes out of her suitcase and tosses them out the window.

"What on earth are you doing?" asks the Indianan.

"We have so many potatoes in Idaho, I'm tired of looking at them!"

The Indianan, inspired, pulls several ears of corn out of her bag and tosses them out the window, as the Texan looks on in amazement. "Indiana is full of corn," she explains, "and I'm sick of the stuff!"

The Texan shrugs, opens up the car door and boots out the Californian.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Time To Pay the Piper

Well, I can't put it off any longer. I'm going Christmas shopping. Oh God.

If I'm not back by nightfall, please - try to remember only the good times?


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This Is My Brain off Coffee

Hey, do you ever wonder if your cat is actually a highly sophisticated robot spy device?

Then again, I don’t know if you would really call Slappy White “highly sophisticated.” Also, robots probably smell better. Still, you kind of have to wonder. Why does he always insist on being in the bathroom while I take a shower? It makes me a little uncomfortable, but I have to make sure I let him in before I start, or he’ll scratch all the paint off the door. Then he jumps up onto the sink and watches me intently through the curtain. Afterwards as I’m putting in my contacts and brushing my teeth, he sometimes reaches out a paw, sinks his claws into my towel, and tries to pull it off. Why would a cat do this?

Or perhaps he was a dirty old man in his last life, and just retains some of those tendencies. This theory has good and bad points. On the plus side, this would be consistent with much of his other behavior. And it’s always nice to believe that death is not the end. On the minus side, what if you had to come back as a dung beetle, or a marketing executive?

Whereas if Slappy were a remote-controlled spy robot, that could also explain the purposeful bustling noises coming from underneath the bathroom floor every morning, which I’ve been attributing to Dave the raccoon.

I’ve seen Dave down there, or at least I’ve seen him go in. One evening as I was pulling into my driveway after a visit to Grady and Margie’s, I noticed one of the cats lumbering, in typical, disdainfully leisurely fashion, out of the way. But then I realized what I was seeing was much too big to be a cat. As he neared the house and my headlights shone full on him, Dave turned and gave me a reproachful glance, then pulled the crawlspace hatch open, with his little raccoon hand, and went inside.

You couldn’t pay me enough to crawl into there. But then, I think Dave is counting on that.

So when I take a shower in the morning, there’s nothing but a quarter inch of cast iron between the soles of my feet and the cold crawlspace air, and Dave – or someone, or something, that sounds very busy down there. What could be going on?!

I think it’s a spy, operating the remote control that makes Slappy White force his way into the bathroom and try to get my towel off. Anything is possible!

Or else Dave is also a robot. I’ve never gotten close enough to smell him.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Martinis Add Up Fast

Okay. Say you drink three martinis at break, and break lasts fifteen minutes and you go twice a day, right? That's six martinis a day. But if you're drinking martinis at break, you can't very well not have them at lunch; and an hour's lunch break, being four times as long as a fifteen-minute break, entails drinking twelve martinis. Say you have another fifteen at dinner - otherwise you'll just run out of steam - and of course, you really should have one or two at breakfast to warm up. So you drink approximately 35 martinis a day, more if you like a nightcap before bed.

What? It's good for you. Puts hair on your chest.

The reason I bring this up (in case you thought it was completely random) is that, riding back from lunch in my boss' car this afternoon, I saw Andrew waiting to cross South Congress. Andrew used to work in my agency, and though he's long since left, the building where he works now is only about a quarter of a mile away. "Oh my gosh!" I shouted, waving frantically out the car window, "it's Andrew! Hey! Andrew!"

He didn't see me, but my boss' curiosity was piqued. "We used to work together," I explained, "but he left quite a while ago. He's one of the members of the three-martini break group."

"Three-martini break group?!" exclaimed my boss, somewhat alarmed, because this isn't in my job description.

"Well, I don't take three-martini breaks now," I added hastily, "being busy and all. And there were about ten of us back in those days, and now there are only two, so between us we really only get in a few sips."

"I see," she said.

Well, of course she really didn't, but I think if I present the statistics above for her consideration, she might give me a raise. I'll obviously need it to be able to pay my gin bill.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

All I Want for Christmas

Guess what? I'm getting a new water heater!

This means right off the bat that Santa is a lot nicer to me than I am to my Secret Santa victi - I mean, beneficiary at work.

Why yes! We do have a Secret Santa exchange. It's my first Christmas in the group, so it's my first year to participate. This is how it works: for three days running, you leave a little surprise present (but NOT a cat poop - I can't stress this enough) on your person's desk before they get in, or after they've left for the day. These presents should only cost a dollar or so apiece. And lo, upon the fourth day will ye a department luncheon hold, and then you reveal your identity and give them something worth about $10.

Well, I drew my cube neighbor's name. So on the first day I gave him a package of tinsel icicles worth 89 cents. Tinsel icicles are useful at keeping small children away from the Christmas tree because they conduct static electricity so well. Small children, who have a general tendency to shuffle, attract the icicles to stretch leisurely outwards from the tree branches and brush gently against the child, to whom they then deliver a painful electric shock. Trying to guess what's in your packages, are you? That'll teach ya!

This morning I left him a very small, somewhat disturbing Santa-star-shaped Christmas ornament. You'd probably have to see it.

Tomorrow he's supposed to get something good: one of those little candy-cane-shaped containers full of m&ms (no, the green ones have not all been taken out already - don't think I didn't hear that!) but I'll have to drive down there later at night again, as he gets in before I do in the morning, and this evening, for some odd reason, he wouldn't leave.

My Secret Santa is clearly my boss. I'm sorry, I like her and all, but no one else in our department is anal enough to wrap presents that neatly, so it's a dead giveaway. I've gotten one box of herbal tea and one of hot chocolate, neither of which I drink. But the kids like it.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, the landlord has examined our leaky hot-water heater and determined we need a new one. I'm overjoyed! We've really needed one for a long time, aside from the leaking. It rumbles ominously, is probably full of nutshells courtesy of the squirrels in the attic, and only delivers enough hot water for one shower. And if it's cold out, you better hurry.

The landlord also decided we need a new kitchen floor. Again. The house actually needs foundation repair, but that's probably more than I'm worth as a tenant. The existing kitchen floor is covered with vinyl tiles over an old, crumbling subfloor, which in turn was nailed down over some much older, uglier, 1970's era vinyl tiles. I'm glad the landlord wants to repair the problem, but am afraid that if things keep going on this way, you won't be able to get into the kitchen without a stepladder and a severe case of scoliosis.

It's no more than a lousy Secret Santa like me deserves. I'm just hoping that, in the Christmas spirit, my cube neighbor will find it in his heart to forgive me.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Language Lessons

Just when you thought IKEA already carried everything you could ever possibly want to buy, you go back and find that you can now purchase douchecrème.

Fine, fine, call it shower gel if it makes you feel better. I actually wanted to buy the exfoliating kind, because the Dutch name printed on the bottle (via French of course) was "peeling douche," but the instructions said to use it two times a week, max. I figure that goes for Elizabeth too.

They also have a great big long bar of soap that's segmented, like a Hershey bar, so you break off the individual bars. Its label reads:

soap bar
barra de jabón

I can't identify all those languages for sure, but I can tell you that the Danish call shower gel "bodyshampoo." This is very logical and straightforward, and exactly what you'd expect from a people that make such excellent use of cherries and cream cheese.

Another thing I learned during our excursion yesterday is that "DSL" refers to something else besides an alternative to cable.

IKEA: is there anything it can't do?

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

At Your Fingertips

I just don't understand why anyone watches reality TV, when you've got a perfectly good convenience store on every other street corner.

Not that I spend a lot of time hanging around in convenience stores. But if I wanted to, say, quit my job and devote myself full-time to writing - and who doesn't? - I can't think of a better place to find material.

This isn't actually true. Work is the best place on earth to find material. But whenever I blog about work, or at least the traveling aspect of it, several hits from the city I have just written about immediately show up on my web stats, spending several minutes and out-clicking to my profile. Some of the visitors' referring URLs are mailboxes. I just can't do it. Traveling is the second-best thing to blog about, and traveling for work? Oh, my gosh! But I just can't.

There's also something absolutely hilarious and ridiculous that happened at work yesterday that I can't possibly write about, because there's no way to explain it without making it much too abundantly clear where I work. You'll just have to take my word for it that my agency did something particularly absurd and boneheaded. I know it's a stretch.

But that's neither here nor there. This morning, as the coffeemaker gurgled comfortably and sent its gentle aroma wafting through the house, I realized that we don't have any cream; and, not being a 1970s-TV-type cop with a gravelly voice and a superfluity of body hair, naturally I had to run out to the 7-11 to get some.

There was in fact a cop car in the parking lot. But that's nothing special. 7-11 has doughnuts: not good ones, mind you, but after spending all night on patrol, I bet you're not picky. So I walked on in and found the cream.

People are funny, or had you noticed? Something extraordinary can be going on right under our noses, but unless we really ought to be doing something about it (and of course often then too), we all have to pretend nothing's happening. In this case, two men were arguing heatedly towards the rear of the store. Heatedly, but not violently, presumably due to the presence of the police officer who was standing between them, watching each one in turn as if he were at a tennis match and frowning upon them with stern authority.

The clerk, a middle-aged woman, was visibly tense and anxious; but customers were coming and going, all pretty much like me - pausing only for a fraction of a second in the doorway to take in the scene, then making their purchases - and fortunately the cream is right up front - and checking out, passing a few nervous pleasantries, and leaving. Probably all of us wanted to say something sympathetic to the poor clerk, but her expression was tight and closed, and besides, anything anybody could have said would pretty much have boiled down to "Wow - sucks to be you!"

It would suck to be a convenience store clerk. Traveling a couple of months ago, I stopped in at the convenience store next door to my hotel to pick up a bottle of wine. But all they had was Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill, so I got a six-pack of Shiner Bock instead. I normally drink wine out of a box, but for God's sake, I do have some standards.

At the checkout counter, a handsome young black man was good-humoredly arguing with the clerk, who was very young, Indian or Pakistani, and didn't speak much English. The customer, who had a British accent slightly tinged with Jamaican (Yum!!! but never mind) was explaining that where he comes from, people don't get carded to buy alcohol, so he doesn't carry any ID, so the clerk is just going to have to go ahead and sell him the booze, okay mon? He smiled and winked at me.

He was pleasant and charming, but clearly wasn't going to take no for an answer, so the clerk miserably sold him his beer and let him go on his way; but as I was checking out he asked in broken English, "What was I supposed to do? I don't want to get in trouble!"

Poor little guy. My heart went out to him, partly because I relate so well to the feeling of being easily overruled, and partly because he had carded me; so I just smiled and said, "Don't worry about it, it's all right. You did fine!"

What? I'm not his boss.

I guess the point of this post is that if you ever think your job sucks, you should probably go hang out in a convenience store for awhile, unless you work in a convenience store, in which case you might want to think about finding another job.

Or just start a blog. The tales you'd have to tell!

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why Don't They Sell "Mailman-B-Gone"?

'Tis the season for catalogs full of products you didn't know that you or anyone on your Christmas list needed; but hey, you have to get them something - and hey! Everything on this page UNDER $20!!!!!! (You know - $19.99.)

I've actually ordered from the Solutions catalog before, once, I think, four addresses ago. God knows how they've managed to track me down. The cover claims that these are "Products that make life easier." For instance, there's a miniature plastic gypsy-in-a-box that tells you what lottery numbers you should pick. "Don't leave it to chance... let this turbaned seer select your 'winning' lotto numbers!" says the copy. I assume the quote marks around "winning" are ironic, or perhaps just to keep them from being sued. "He'll even repeat them if you missed them the first time around!"

There's also a dietary supplement for ornamental dogs which eliminates unsightly tear stains, a Santa-shaped tissue box cover, a correcting-tape dispenser shaped like a duck, and other such indispensable products.

This one actually looks pretty handy, except these bastards stole my idea!

I guess they didn't really, since my idea was to have every object in the house beeping loudly and flashing at all times, which is much better. They want the objects to beep and flash only when paged by the remote, and have even taken the precaution of including a magnetic-back holder or wall-mounting screws so you won't lose the remote, but whatever. That'll last about three days, tops, and then it's wedged behind the sofa with everything else you can't find.

We also get Figi's catalogs, which are full of very tasty things and things you are not quite sure about, like tubs of whipped flavored cheese product, petits fours, cheese logs, sausage logs, fudge logs, nut logs, fruitcake, meat, meat, meat, pies, candies, and chocolate covered potato chips.

Yes way!

I'm not checking the mail again until January.


On Second Thought

Okay, so it turns out there's just one slight flaw with enclosing the back patio with plastic sheeting for the benefit of the plants; namely, that the back of my house faces a direction from which the sun does not, strictly speaking, ever shine.

So what this means is that the back porch is now shrouded in impenetrable gloom, which it turns out is an environment generally contraindicated for plants. (Mushrooms aren't plants, they're a fungus. And I am not growing those, so don't even go suggesting that I am.)

It also gives you the uncanny impression, when you look out the kitchen window, that you have suddenly become a character in Stephen King's "The Mist," which frankly is not very high up on my list of movies I'd like to be a character in.

Being a character in a porno seems like it might be fun, though I've never seen one and actually I suspect it would just be really gross. Also, I hear the music and lighting are terrible. Never mind.

Anyway, it's time to go to Plan B: either rotate my house about 87 degrees to the north, which might raise some objections for the neighbors, not to mention the landlord, or build a greenhouse in the backyard. I don't think I have any other option.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Look! I Did a Thing!

I don't mean to brag or anything, but it's not just anyone who can claim to have constructed a patio enclosure using nothing but leftover cloth diaper supplies.

The idea is just that I have this covered back patio that, due to the house having been rather haphazardly added onto a couple of times, is very small and narrow and enclosed on three sides. So rather than haul all the plants inside every time there's a threatened freeze, and drag them back out every day to get some sun, maybe I could just keep them here in the shelter of the porch for the winter. With poorly-insulated, eighty-year-old house on three sides, and a nice sheet of 2 mil plastic on the fourth, I doubt it'll ever get down to freezing back there. If it gets really chilly I could plug in a table lamp.

So today I climbed up on the landlord's insanely wobbly ladder and tacked Rip-N-Grip (like Velcro, but a different brand) hook onto the eaves, and then I stitched 12 feet of RNG loop along the edge of the plastic, et voilà! I have an enclosed porch. Tell me I'm not a genius.

Actually I had very little choice, because the addition of a gigantic, aggressive Christmas tree to the already cramped living room brought things to a fairly desperate pass. I can't line up the plants by the front windows like I did last time.

Could I have a Scrooge moment here, please, and state for the record that I do not like having a Christmas tree? Honestly. I'm so over that shit. They take up huge amounts of space, they shed needles that you're still cleaning out from the corners by the time next year's tree arrives, and the ammonia-laden aroma of pine induces the cats to do things that - well, you should probably keep your Christmas presents somewhere else, if you catch my drift. I think it would be fun just to festoon all the plants with tinsel and tiny Christmas ornaments, no?

No. We have to have, not just a tree, but the biggest, fullest, lushest, most magnificent tree on the lot. It completely blocks out the front windows, and now you can only move about the living room by edging carefully sideways. Well, I don't like it. And I just got this place clean, too.

Oh well, I can always hang out on the back porch with my plants. My plants understand me.

2 mil plastic might not be enough.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ork Ork Ork

We've been watching old "Mork and Mindys" lately.

I don't know why I say old ones, as if there were a new one; though there probably eventually will be, what with the ongoing trend of remaking favorites from decades past into new TV series or movies. Which reminds me! I never did see the new Get Smart. But I think Zooey Deschanel might have made a better 99.

Anyway, they're fun to watch, and not just because whenever they show the outdoor shot of the house I am reminded of my friend Billy. The overall premise is an interesting snapshot of its time: Mindy's dad is totally freaked out that she has a guy move in with her, and keeps on being freaked out even when she reveals that Mork comes from another planet and sleeps hanging upside down in the closet.

That might actually constitute reasonable cause for freaking out, even in Boulder, I guess. But Mindy's dad doesn't really care about that. He's still freaking out because they are living together, unmarried. Various early plot devices (I haven't got very far into the series yet) center around old high school friends of Mindy's trying to steal her "boyfriend," and the difficulty she has getting dates when guys find out there's a man on the premises. Does it ever even occur to her to tell anybody they're just roommates? That's legitimate enough. Why doesn't she just tell her suitors Mork is gay? He wears rainbow suspenders, for God's sake. She shouldn't even have to say anything.

That said, it's actually a reasonably funny show, and I can remember how completely off-the-wall it was for its time. Remember, this was an era when we were all supposed to believe that ring-around-the-collar was the worst social calamity that could ever befall you, and that Sara Tucker put big globs of Cool Whip on her pies at what was supposed to be a good restaurant.*

It's kind of weird how badly Robin Williams cheesed out as he got older, though. Did he have to? Do we all have to? Sometimes it looks that way, but then I remember that I know lots of older people who didn't: my maternal grandmother, for one, I always thought was very cool, except for a brief period in the early nineties when she really liked Dan Quayle. But nobody's perfect.

As I recall - and we haven't gotten there yet - Mork and Mindy did eventually hook up, and have a baby in the form of Jonathan Winters. And if that doesn't teach you about the perils of living together before marriage, I'd like to know what does?

*100% stolen from Dave Barry, who was also well ahead of his time.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

What's the World Coming To?

There is no escaping the affection of Slappy White.

Why doesn't anything I've ever written about my damn cat show up in Googlisms? I type in "Slappy White" and get the exact same results I got four years ago. Frankly, I don't think they're even trying.

Slappy is, though. I sit down at the kitchen table, and he comes up and jumps in my lap. Never mind that I'm crossing my legs and sticking out my feet and holding my hands palms-out in front of me and shouting, "No, Slappy, no, no, no!" He just jockeys for position, eyeing my outstretched hands to gauge his leap. Within moments he's curled up on my lap, purring loudly, bestowing his baleful yellow gaze, occasionally reaching out a paw to pull my hand down to his head and pet him. The paw has pointy bits sticking out. Slappy White is not screwing around.

Go on, check back in a year. I guarantee that sentence won't be there.

Small children are no better. Well, Anna is, if you don't mind the fact that you have to dress her and get breakfast into her and transport her to her second-grade classroom while she is still technically fast asleep. But she's a good-natured enough kid, and quite easygoing, as long as she gets her way. Aren't we all?

A coworker of mine told me a story this morning about how he took his six-year-old daughter shoe-shopping over the weekend. About the 58th pair of shoes, he said, he was starting to get a bit tired. "Can't we just get these?" he asked her. "These are cute."

She looked at him, my coworker's little six-year-old cherub. "Daddy," she said evenly. "Why don't you just hit me with a stick?"

Anna is particular about footwear too, though not at the store. No, she'll let you buy the shoes, she just refuses to wear them once they've been bought and paid for. This might be worse.

But she's learned her lesson, I think. Last week we were dancing to Stereolab in the as-yet-uncleaned living room. (They are of course an English band, fronted by a French lead singer.) Anna was showing me how she's learned to do an Irish jig, but she tripped and hurt her foot on her Dora the Explorer doll, which had been left lying on el piso. If that doesn't teach you not to go barefoot around the house, at least it demonstrates the perils of multiculturalism.

But those are nothing to the perils of Slappy White's unquenchable cat breath. Slappy White is muy malodoroso!

Bet you a new pair of shoes it'll never show up there.

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