What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why Is Everyone Rightly Mad At Mary Worth? August – October 2018


I have a content warning before going into Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth today. It features pet death, and handles it with spectacular incompetence. If you don’t want to read that, I don’t blame you. You might skip the whole thing. Around about January 2019 I should have another plot recap. I trust this storyline will be done before that point.

In non-warn-worthy content, I have comic strips based on mathematical topics discussed over here. I also have a fun series describing mathematical terms, which you might enjoy. Last week included mathematical jokes. And monkeys at typewriters.

Mary Worth.

6 August – 28 October 2018

The running story last time was about Tommy and Brandy’s relationship. Brandy’s father was alcoholic, and used drugs. Tommy’s been addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He’s quit for a year now, and hopes to stay clean. But he’s afraid when Brandy finds out about his past she’ll dump him.

Everybody Tommy knows gives him the same advice. So he takes it. He tells her about his painkiller addiction. That he’s not used anything in over a year. That he has a support group he feels confident in. That he’s found both God and Mary Worth. And she’s okay with that. She loves him, and trusts him. They stick together. So that’s sweet.

[ When Brandy learns of Tommy's past ] Brandy: 'You're not perfect, but neither am I! I love you and I want to be with you!' Tommy: 'I love you too!' Brandy: 'It feels right, being together! Let's keep going and see what happens!' Tommy: 'Only good things ... I promise!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 18th of August, 2018. Not going to be snarky here. I’m glad a couple characters are trying to hope in and trust each other at the end of a story I had no reason to hate.

There’s a week of Mary and Iris talking about how happy everything is and how great Mary is. And that leads to the current storyline. And this one, as I warn, includes pet death treated badly. So here’s one last chance to ditch if you need to.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why Is Everyone Rightly Mad At Mary Worth? August – October 2018”

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Without Denying That we Have More Urgent Problems


And I know I’ve got other stuff I need to do, but have you seen the WikiHow page How To Make A Rat Harness? Because it has more pictures than I would have ever imagined of people holding up string and thread to the body parts of a rat who is absolutely and completely furious than I had ever imagined I’d see all at once. (There’s like four pictures of this. I hadn’t thought about the topic much before and so my expectations were low.) You can see the withering contempt the cartoon rat has for someone who wants to put it in a harness. (Step Four is the most withering, but they’re all impressive displays of contained cartoon rat fury.) Anyone attempting this should know, they are never going to get one of those adorable pictures where the rat is sitting on their shoulder and grooming their hair. The poor rat is going to come over and kick you on the big toe. This won’t hurt physically. But it’s emotionally devastating.

Lost Pet Calls


We got a message about a lost cat on the answering machine. I mean the message was there. I had no idea there was some kind of service in the area spreading the word about lost pets. It was one of those messages created by stitching together prerecorded phrases that I guess they figure can describe a lot of animals. And all delivered in this weird upbeat tone. So what we got were chipper sentences about how this cat “is a friendly talkative type; he’s been neutered, and gets along great with dogs!” I’m still working on whether the logic of that sentence makes sense.

I’m glad to know the service exists. I suppose I don’t expect our pet rabbit to get lost, since he’s quite busy keeping a suspicious eye on me. And our other pets are goldfish. If they make a break for it I’ll be impressed. But I know they’re not likely to, not until they gather a thousand of their kin and manifest a dragon. Which, if they do, I want them to know I’m very supportive of their dragon existence and really want to know whether they have lost-pet messages recorded for that.

In Which I Am Tasked In The Pet Store


I was just getting some rabbit food at the pet store, but I paused to watch the guinea pigs, because they’re always soothing and fun. Someone was there with a little kid, and she was pointing out and naming the animals to him. “There are some rats,” she said, “fancy rats.” And the kid asked, “Why?”

And I understand the kid was just at that age where “why” is the response to any question, including “would you like this extra chocolate we happened to have hanging around?” But I also feel like I’ve been given the responsibility of writing a charming, slightly twee children’s book explaining why some animals are rats.

And I gotta say, I’m not the person to ask that. The best I can come up with, and this is after literally dozens of minutes thinking about it, is that there are some animals who just did awesomely well in Mouse College, and they went on to earn their Masters of Rodent Arts. But they got ultimately sound advice to not go on to a doctorate in Possum Studies or something like that, so that’s left them as well-equipped and highly trained rats prowling around the world and adding to it that charming Halloween touch and also those great pictures online where one’s looking right at you with big, sweet, innocent eyes and grabbing a hindpaw with both front paws. Anyway, this is why my nieces refer to me as “Silly Uncle Joseph”. I’m sorry.

Hack Work for May 2017


I have my tradition of setting free the scraps of writing I couldn’t use the previous month for the big Thursday/Friday-ish piece of the month. And I want to do that too. For example, here’s a bit I couldn’t do anything with all May: “you remember trituminous coal from how it got used to blow up the Amargosa observatory in Star Trek: Generations”. I don’t know what you would do with it either but let me know if you do.

Thing is I’d just got back to something kind of normal-ish with my computer woes when I got a cold. It’s not much of a cold. I’ve been lucky the last couple years in not getting really big colds. Not the kind where you have to stay in bed all day, no longer wiping your nose because the tissues hurt too much and even the lotion-filled ones have abraded your face to a smooth, featureless mass of weeping flesh. Nor the kind where you get a fever that can’t be measured because your thermometer melts into a puddle and your loved one repeats the mention of liquid crystal display until you finally holler that yes, you got it the first time, you just don’t have the power to giggle at a line like that even if you did feel like giggling at it, and then your loved one apologizes for trying to make light and you have to spend the rest of the day everyone in a sullen silence over how they each failed a little bit to be empathetic enough and nobody knows how to apologize exactly.

No, my cold has been the typical sort of light one I get. I spent a while feeling warm, which is nice, because I haven’t really felt warm since 2006 when I last lived in Singapore. Singapore is on the equator, and it has the climate you’d get if you jumped into the middle of an open-faced kiss between a fire-breathing dragon and a smaller ice-breathing dragon, all humidity and heat and sudden surprising blasts of air conditioning and sometimes the food kiosk has an offering that looks like some kind of organ meat. Not everyone’s taste. But at least I didn’t need to wear a little something extra over my shirt.

Also I’ve spent my time coughing. I won’t pretend that I’m a world-class cougher. I never got past the state level (14th place, 2010, New Jersey; 7th place, 1999, New York, although that was later vacated as I’d had a throat infection, a purely administrative change of ruling which does not reflect on my ethics). But serious coughing is tough competition. We do some impressive stuff. Back in the cold of October ’15, without even seriously training, I coughed hard enough in the shower that I threw out my back, causing my spine to rebound off the shower wall, clobber my right shoulder blade, and then sucker-punch me in the kidneys. I think there were deeper issues at work here and the coughing just a pretext. But what a pretext! It was so painful I even admitted that it kind of hurt.

Still, the coughing’s been going on nonstop since Tuesday. It’s triggered by some events, like taking too deep a breath, or too shallow a breath, or trying to say a whole word. I’d be fine with this really, since given the choice I’d like to just sit still and not say anything out loud. But then I have to reassure my love that I’m fine, really, the coughing is just annoying and not something we need to get to emergency care for, and it can take as many as twenty-two minutes to get through a sentence that complicated. Also work wanted me present for a conference call with people who were in the main office’s Echo Testing Chamber. I don’t believe we got any work done, but absolutely everybody has a headache.

I’d like to credit all this coughing to being exercise. I can feel the burn in my abdominal muscles, and I’m all set to smash my head into the steering wheel as I drive to the emergency care clinic. Oh, also I’ve been trying to build some kind of piece around sorting the nightshade family of plants into those that are edible versus those that are deadly, but I can’t figure a way to do it that isn’t just a factually useful chart. It feels a little xkcd-ish to me anyway, and that’s fine, but it isn’t me.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped a point on learning that four percent of Michigan employers will allow their workers to bring pets into the workplace, because this is a fair bit below the national average of seven percent.

207

Why I Haven’t Been Writing As Carefully As I Ought To Lately


So for one thing I’ve come to realize I ought to spend some time petting our pet rabbit. The easy thing to do is brush his head and ears until he indicates he’s had enough by some standard expression of bunny joy, such as doing a little happy shake or biting me to get me out of the way. So I’ve been busy with that for the last 196 hours straight. Also after last weekend when it turned out I didn’t have a 1933 Jack Benny Program where he did a “real old-fashioned style minstrel show” on my old podcasts list, I ended up listening to some 1942 Jack Benny Program where he went ahead and did that anyway. I’m hoping to get back to some nice safe ones like where Jack Benny’s polar bear is eating boarders.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index gained a point, which has got investors all excited about how there’s clearly a new trading floor somewhere around 140 and it’s just impossible we’ll ever see a bear market ever again. They’d probably have gained two points if it weren’t for that whole Jack Benny Program fiasco.

149

Not Explaining The Convention We Didn’t Go To


My love and I were wondering last weekend when MediaWest*Con might be. This is a small but ancient science fiction/TV/movies/et cetera convention that’s been held in Lansing for the past Like 37 years [1]. We had no idea. We only found out about it last year because a friend was going to it and asked if we wanted to meet up for dinner during a slow stretch. It turned out the convention was being held just that weekend, right as we were wondering when it might be.

We couldn’t go. They only sell 700 attending memberships and were sold out. But we found this magnificent question and answer on their web site:

3. Why do you have Apocryphal memberships and allow pets?

We found some people were buying full memberships for their stuffed critters, so we started offering Apocryphal memberships for stuffed or live critters and for alternate identities so as not to take up already limited regular memberships.

As for pets, we had started bringing our dogs to the con so we didn’t have to board them, which cleared the way for others to bring their pets, as long as they get along with the other animals and members (which goes for the humans as well!). Some people miss their pets too much, and some pets don’t do well without their people.

This is my favorite sort of explanation. It’s clear, concise, and doesn’t explain a thing. That thing: wait, there were so many people buying memberships for their stuffed dolls that it was creating resentment in the standby list? How many people was that? Surely not one, because who’d notice that? Ten? Again, nobody would notice ten people not there because toys were instead. 680? That’s more plausible. It suggests there a time in Like 1994[2], when the convention was twenty people and hundreds upon hundreds of plush dolls dressed in Star Trek, Blake’s 7, and Bruce Campbell costumes. All staring at the people who couldn’t get in. And someone declared, “there must be something we can do! And I know what it is!” And that lone person was a stuffed Vulcan-eared teddy bear dressed up like George Francisco from Alien Nation, and was the voice of reason.

Also I like how pets are allowed because hey, pets.


[1] 35 or 38 years depending on how you count some stuff.

[2] For example 1993, 1995, or possibly 1994.

What Amazon Thinks I’ll Buy


Yes, it’s annoying that big corporations insist on knowing everything about us. And insist on tying everything into big identity profiles ready to be swiped by hackers or sold to marketers. But at least they repay us by being uproariously bad at guessing what we might want to buy. From a recent Amazon list of suggested things I might give them money for:

Amazon's first four guesses about what I might want: earphones, cocktail food, a power cable, and a clarinet.
Deeper in the e-mail, Amazon guessed that I might want a cabin air filter or an omelette pan. They are right so far as I want omelettes, but not so much as to actually do anything myself about them.

OK. Headphones, I can’t really argue with. I’ve got consumer electronics, I’ve got ears. We have a plausible match here.

Nutritional diet for cockatiels. I don’t have a cockatiel. I never have. I can’t get within four feet of a cockatiel without it eyeing me and opening its beak to figure out how it can eat as much of me as possible before I can react. I get enough of that from my friends, I don’t need it from my pets. My best guess: they worked out somehow that my sister had a cockatiel, back during the Reagan administration, and they’re hoping that she still has that bird, that it’s quite old, and that I want to give my sister pet supplies for Christmas. We don’t have that kind of relationship. She takes care of horses, so her wish list consists of incomprehensible pieces of horse gear that, based on the price, are made of high-grade americium lined with platinum, plus some e-books. I buy the e-books.

Lightning cable. Can’t argue that much. I did buy an iPod Touch over the summer, and of course it can’t use any of the estimated 28 USB cables we already had around. Well, the iPod Touch came with this cable, but I’ll lose that one eventually. They’re just premature here.

Mendini Clarinet. Just … no. Amazon, I hate to break this to you, but woodwinds? Me? I’ll have you know I played violin from third to like seventh grade. I can’t say I was the best violin player in the world, just the best one in my elementary school. I was able to always hit the notes you get by just running the bow across the strings, and I was often able to hit the notes you get by putting your fingers on the strings before running the bow. So if you need a scratchy, nearly-in-key rendition of Jingle Bells, the Theme to Masterpiece Theater‘s Non-Challenging Opening Bits, or the musical Cats’s Memory, well, find me a violin and give me some time to warm up again. But a clarinet? Rank foolishness, that’s all there is to it.

Though looking at it … this does seem like a pretty good deal on a clarinet, doesn’t it? Except according to this a three pound bag of cockatiel food normally retails for over one hundred twenty-five dollars and sixty-nine cents and they’re marking it down to ten bucks? Of all the things they think I might buy, they’re putting that alleged fact on the list?

Our Pet Rabbit Meets A Dog


I’ve been known to exaggerate some aspects of interaction with our pet rabbit so I want to be clear this isn’t one of those times. We had brought him in his little pet carrier to the veterinarian. He’ll put up with being in the pet carrier while he’s actually being carried. Set him on the floor with nothing going on and he’ll give you about two minutes before deciding he should be out. He starts punching the bars of the carrier to remind us that he’s inside the carrier and could be outside instead.

The trouble is the vet’s was crowded, and they weren’t quite ready for us, so we had to wait. He wasn’t into the waiting. I told him, “You don’t really want to go out now.” He wasn’t buying it. He punched again. I told him, “You won’t be happy with what you see out there.” He was unconvinced. I rotated the carrier so its door faced away from the wall.

Our pet rabbit has met dogs before, mostly those of my love’s parents. Those were very senior, very shy, amazingly timid dogs terrified by such things as our pet rabbit, or me, or the existence of sounds. He’s not bothered by them. What he hasn’t seen before is dogs that’re still very good about being dogs, such as a German Shepherd snuffling around and working out what might be interesting in the area.

He stopped punching. And while I turned the carrier back around so he didn’t have to acknowledge the existence of dogs any more, he also didn’t start punching again. Back home, he spent the whole day inside the innermost reaches of his hutch, sulking. He’s only come out to eat and glare at me since.

(The German Shepherd left moments later, but I didn’t turn the carrier back around. The only other dog in the area was some small dog, maybe a Pomeranian, I forget which and called it a ‘chinchilla’ when describing the situation to my father. But it was smaller than our pet rabbit and I didn’t figure anything good could come of introducing that to the situation.)

After Our Rabbit’s Holiday


“So you’ve been a bit of a terror, by reports,” I said to our pet rabbit. He was looking at the open pet carrier, and considering whether to punch it.

“They were desperate times,” he finally pronounced.

“They were times at your vacation cottage.” This would be my love’s parents’ house. They watch our pet rabbit when we have to be away more than a day. Our pet rabbit can’t be left unattended that long, because he’ll run up long-distance telephone calls. The funny thing is they’re not even calls that would make sense, like ordering stacks of particularly tasty hay. It’s like he just gets carried away with the fun of dialing. In many ways our pet rabbit is a little kid, except that he doesn’t give us colds or tell us complicated and rambling stories about what happened in school.

“There were dogs chasing me!”

“I know those dogs. They’re four years older than the letter `W’.”

“So they’ve had time to practice their fiendish ways!”

“They don’t have fiendish ways. They’re barely up to falling down anymore.” He sneezed, because somehow our pet rabbit sneezes, and then turned that into a snort. “They haven’t even been growling at me because they can’t work up the energy for that anymore.” And this is true. When I first started visiting my love’s parents, the dogs would take turns barking furiously at me, because they were afraid that if they didn’t, I might go on existing. Eventually they would settle down, only for one or the other to suddenly realize that I was still a thing that existed, so they had to go through it all over again. Since then, sadly, the dogs have gotten more frail. They’ll wander up to me and mutter a half-articulated hwurmf. I tell them that’s very good barking and then they collapse on the floor where they are. I’d pat their heads if that didn’t seem like taunting.

Our rabbit put his paws together and shoved on the front of his carrier, a traditional rabbit way of expressing the concept “I want this shoved over there a little”. It works better on hay and towels and light vegetables. I picked him up by his hind legs and shoved him in the carrier, a traditional rabbit-keeper way of expressing the concept “if you won’t go in I’ll just put you in”. He turned around and punched the carrier’s bars.

Finally he said, “I can scare dogs away.”

“You can scare those dogs away. They’re very timid dogs.”

“I didn’t even have to bite and the bigger one ran away!” The dogs are the same size, but perhaps there are rabbit ways of classifying dogs I don’t understand.

“That dog’s been scared away by clouds. You’re not saying you’re just as ferocious as a cloud, are you?”

“Bring me a cloud and I’ll see who scares who!”

“You’re figuring to make a cloud quiver its knees? What has got into you?”

“I had to spend forever fending off dogs!”

It struck me: the “larger” dog came up to the edge of our rabbit’s pen before running away, while the “smaller” one was too afraid of the interloper to get that close. By “running” I mean “kind of shambling about in a way that isn’t technically falling over most of the time”.

“Luckily,” he said, “I know what to do with dogs.”

“You know what to do with those dogs. You’re an expert at existing.”

“I spent my whole life getting ready to exist!”

Our pet rabbit, partly standing --- paw resting on his exercise pen's frame --- while he nibbles at a tree branch.
Our pet rabbit, existing, with panache.

“You could be in trouble if you had to face other dogs, you know.”

He almost stopped wriggling his nose a moment. “What other dogs?”

“You know there’s more than two dogs in the world.”

“No, I heard them both.”

“Did you ever notice the dogs going over to the window and barking like crazy, then stopping and hiding from the window?”

He nodded, which is the sort of thing that involves a lot of ear-flapping. “When they forgot where I was!”

“No, that’s when they saw there was another dog walking past, outside. They stopped when the other dog noticed them.”

He pushed the carrier door with one paw, letting his fingers melt through the bars. “So there are … 98 dogs in the world?”

“More than that, even. Some dogs they didn’t notice.” I figured it not worth mentioning some of the dogs were walked past the house several times, mostly on different days.

He sniffed. “More than 98 dogs seems like too many. Let’s get home.”

I don’t agree with him on the dog count, but getting home was what I hoped for too.

Robert Benchley: Hedgehogs Wanted


Reading the newspaper has always been a great source of inspiration for humorists. For example, in this piece from My Ten Years In A Quandry And How They Grew Robert Benchley sees brilliance in an ordinary-looking advertisement. It’s a short but perfectly-crafted piece.

Hedgehogs Wanted

An advertisement in a London paper reads: “5,000 Hedgehogs Wanted.” Of course, it’s none of my business, especially as it is an Englishman that wants them, but I trust that I may speculate to myself without giving offense.

One hedgehog I could understand, or possibly two, to keep each other company. There is no accounting for taste in pets, and I suppose you could get as attached to a hedgehog as you could to a dog, if you went about it in the right way. I, personally, would prefer a dog, but then, I’m dog-crazy.

But 5,000 hedgehogs seem to be overdoing it a bit. When you get up into the thousands with hedgehogs you are just being silly, it seems to me. And, aside from the looks of the thing, there is the very practical angle that you might very well find yourself hedgehog-poor.


There must be something that hedgehogs do that I don’t know about that makes them desirable to have around in large numbers. They may keep away flies, or eat moths, or even just spread out in a phalanx and prevent workmen from lying down on the ground, or picnic parties from camping out on private property. Whatever their special function, it must be preventive.

Of course, there may be something in the back of the man’s mind about quills. He may be forming a gigantic toothpick combine or starting a movement back to the old quill pen. In this case, he has his work cut out for him. Shearing, or plucking, or shaving 5,000 hedgehogs is going to be no sinecure. And he is going to run out of swear-words the first day. Just the plain, ordinary “ouch” is going to get him nowhere.

On the whole, my advice would be to give the whole project up, whatever it is. Unless, of course, the advertisement has been answered already and he has his 5,000 hedgehogs on his hands. In that case, I don’t know what to advise.

Discovering Stuff About Guinea Pigs


A history of the local zoo mentioned that the place used to have a guinea pig mound. It supported this claim with one of those slightly blurry black-and-white photos you get in local histories, showing what is certainly a mound maybe twenty feet across and not so high in the middle. This inspires all sorts of questions, like, why don’t more zoos have guinea pig mounds? An individual guinea pig might not be a very exciting animal, what with it mostly wanting to stand where it is and stare back at you with the expression that says, “I have some projects I could get to too, if you wanted to leave”. But get a big enough mass of them together and at any time you’ll have maybe two of them scurrying along as much as two feet before deciding they could just stop and stand where they are instead.

Another question it raises is: so, guinea pigs live in mounds, then? And I don’t know. Back in middle school I bred guinea pigs (the guinea pigs did most of the breeding, while I did the hard work of explaining to my parents why their cages didn’t need cleaning, even as the odor melted my bagged Star Trek comic books off the walls where they’d been hung as horrible decoration) but that’s in the highly unnatural environment of ten-gallon aquarium cages. I now know ten-gallon aquarium cages are terrible places to keep guinea pigs, and I wouldn’t do it again, but that’s what the guide books back then suggested was perfectly all right. I should have known their research was suspect, since the books were published by leading manufacturers of rodent scuba gear, but I was young and the guinea pigs thought they looked great in wetsuits. Plus several of them said their favorite superhero was Aquaman. Who would be suspicious?

Still, do guinea pigs live in mounds? A friend wisely noted that of course they do, if all you give them to live in is a mound. But if a mound weren’t at least tolerable, the guinea pigs would have words with their keepers. Most of those words would be “fweep”, with a couple “wheep” phrases included for good measure, but it would get the point across, especially when the keepers needed to sleep.

In the hope of finding some dubiously sourced, not-quite-grammatical sentences that were almost but not quite on point, I went to Wikipedia. Their article mentioned how guinea pigs aren’t found naturally in the wild. They’re creatures of domestication. That’s a heady thought. There are things it’s obvious there would never be if humans didn’t exist — Saturn V rockets, Dutch stroopwaffel, competitive Rock-Paper-Scissors leagues, Elvira-themed pinball games, Phil Harris’s novelty song “The Thing” — but how many such items would you have to list before you thought to mention “guinea pigs”? I needed at least six.

But the guinea pig article says that cavies, which is how people who want to sound like scientists but are not actually scientists refer to guinea pigs (scientists just say “guinea pigs” and giggle at people who say “cavies”), or their wild counterparts “are found on grassy plains” with no mention of mounds. So guinea pigs are perfectly camouflaged to live on mounds and not so perfectly for grassy plains. It also mentions guinea pigs “occupy an ecological niche similar to that of cattle”. It’s been days since a sentence delighted me so much.

Now my mind swirls with thoughts of herds of guinea pigs roaming the plains like ankle-high cattle. Itty-bitty cowboys, possibly costumed mice, watch over the herds, with lassoos made of dental floss and perhaps riding the backs of hares. All the cowboy-mice stay alert, listening for the sounds of mass “wheep”ing that marks the start of a guinea pig stampede. It’s a massive, thundering squirming of the critters that can get as far as four feet before all the guinea pigs remember that instead of running, they could be not running. And all this could be going on just underneath our line of sight, at least if we live near grassy plains or mounds. It’s inspired me to spend more time looking down.

Really, Though, Comic Strip _Momma_ Going Quite Mad


I don’t mean to harp on this too much, but, did you see Mell Lazarus’s Momma for today? No, because there’s only fourteen people under the age of 50 who read the comics and most of them have better sense than to read Momma. But, well, just look at the strip for the 17th.

Momma notes yesterday was Presidents Day; someone agrees and points out it was Heritage Day in Canada. Another woman says we shouldn't compete with Canada, 'After all, they're always our allies', and two women beyond her say 'true' three times. That's it.
Mell Lazarus’s baffling Momma for the 17th of February, 2015. Also, I question whether it was actually Heritage Day in Canada.

While I criticized a couple strips last week for not making sense, I have to admit that at least the comic from the 13th is a joke-like construct: Francis talks about how his boss yelled at him for seven hours, Momma asked a question about this, and we get back a non sequitur response. Momma’s question doesn’t make contextual sense, but it at least has the grammar; the structure is right even if the humor is lacking.

Francis says he made a mistake at work, his boss yelled at him for seven solid hours and threw him out of the office; then the scene teleports from the front porch to the living room.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 13th of February, with a setup that just … I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The Lincoln’s Birthday one hasn’t got the structure of a joke, but it does have the pop-cultural-reference form of things, by showing off a thing (Abraham Lincoln) and then some things that remind you of that original thing (“four score and seven years”, “civil”, “mint julep” — well, he was born in Kentucky). This “here’s a thing that reminds you of another thing!” form in brilliant hands gives you Mystery Science Theater 3000, the movie Airplane!, and those Bugs Bunny cartoons stealing jokes from then-current radio comedians. In clumsy hands, it gives you the Scary Movie franchise and Animaniacs and the like. These might be the humor equivalent of junk food — a quick laugh that, on reflection, you really can’t justify having found funny — but it is at least a form that inspires a giggle.

Lincoln, I guess, tells Francis he's thirsty, so Francis asks Momma to bring him a mint julep, which is 'very civil' of us. It doesn't make more sense in the illustration. Sorry.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 12th of February — Lincoln’s birthday — 2015.

But this, well, I don’t know what there is even to giggle at. Maybe some vague nervousness at elderly people acting kind of daft? That seems cruel in an abnormal form for Momma, though.

So as not to be too negative on an otherwise decent day, let me close with this picture of our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off but keeps waking himself up when his head droops too fast. Also he might be melting through the bars of his play area.

Our Flemish giant, nestled up against the bars of his play area, as he naps.
Our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off, but keeps waking himself up because his head droops too fast.

Why I’m In A Good Mood (Pet Store Edition)


I was in the pet store and after spending enough time watching the guinea pigs (who just had a litter of six! Six! Can you imagine?) I wandered into the aquarium supplies, to get food for our goldfish. There they had a gadget for catching snails, which apparently people need to do every now and then.

The Snail Collect was labelled, in English, as a “snail trap”. Fine enough. It was also identified on the box as, in French, “piège á escargots”, which is maybe better. And then in German it was “Schnecken-Falle”, and I can’t decide whether the French or the German is more wonderful. I have got to find out what this is called in Dutch.

The Big Insecurity


Our pet rabbit, as seen outside in the yard.
Our pet rabbit, as seen outside in the yard.

“I can’t put food in your bowl if you don’t get out of the way,” I told our pet rabbit.

“This is more important,” he said back, and don’t think that was something I expected to hear him say. I’ve seen him judge getting food as more important than sleep, not going up the stairs, getting out of the pet carrier, and eating what he already has.

So I kneeled down to about his level and said, in my most sincere voice, “What’s wrong?”

He stood up on hindpaws and looked left and right, and in a soft voice said, “Am I big?”

I nodded. “You’re quite good at being big. You’re bigger than I was through fourth grade,” which is my normal hyperbolic answer, since he’s only actually bigger than I was through third grade, when I grew considerably thanks to discovering if I was quick about it I could have two bagels for breakfast, lunch, afterschool snack, and dessert.

“But that’s still big, right?”

“Oh, yes. Quite.” He’s a Flemish giant, a genre of rabbit that’s known to grow to as much as 26 feet long not counting ears and whiskers, although he is a smaller example of the breed.

He pushed his head into my hand. “And I’m not getting any smaller, right?”

For once I had a flash of this thing I think the humans call empathy and didn’t say he wasn’t going to start shrinking for another year or two. “Not a bit. You still are remarkably big.”

He dropped back down. “Then why didn’t he?”

“Why didn’t who what?”

“Why didn’t he remark?”

“Which he?”

“The one you had in to come make all that noise on the ceiling!” A couple months back we had some roofers come over. They replaced the nearly four square feet of perfectly good shingles we still had on the house, as well as a bunch of others that looked like someone had spilled a deck of cards into a nauseated food processor, and put on a bunch of new ones in a different color. From inside all you could really tell is there was a lot of noise from up top and then stuff being thrown into the driveways, which might have got us in trouble with the neighbors except they were going through a monthlong stretch of having just vanished. We still don’t know about that.

“The roofer? He only came in to talk about the work, give us an estimate. What did he do?”

“He didn’t remark! He didn’t say anything about how big I am!”

“Everybody who comes into the house mentions how big you are. I would’ve thought you’d be glad for a change in the conversation.”

“But he didn’t say anything! What if I’m not … big?”

I sat down so I could better pet his head, which he likes, and his back, which he supposes is better than nothing, most of the time. “But you are. You’re the biggest rabbit I’ve ever known personally. You’re big enough you could — ” and I thought better of mentioning how he could easily yoink the remote control off the coffee table if he really wanted, because I didn’t want to encourage that — “probably push me over if you tried. You’re so big we joke that the Sparks song `Big Boy’ is about you.” And that’s true, although the Sparks song is really more a chipper tune about the Biblical story of David and Goliath and I didn’t want to mention how Goliath probably didn’t care for how that story came out.

“But why didn’t he say anything?”

“Well, maybe he didn’t notice you. He was only in the living room a short — a little — a brief while, and he was thinking of shingles and maybe rain gutters at the time. That throws off your ability to notice rabbit bigness.”

“If he didn’t notice me how big can I be?”

“Aw, bigness isn’t any guarantee you’re going to be noticed. I’ve seen things many times your size that I never noticed,” and he looked at me the way he does when he suspects I’m imitating his chewing. “I mean until they were pointed out.”

“Would you tell me if I wasn’t big?”

I rubbed his ears. “I promise. Look, you wouldn’t be nearly so scary to squirrels if you weren’t big.”

He rubbed his chin on my knee and hopped off to nibble on some hay, apparently soothed. I left the room, crawling on my knees.

How Our Pet Rabbit Celebrated His Birthday


“Happy birthday,” I told him.

He was staring at some sheets of paper in his pen and just grunted a little. Or maybe he sneezed, because he sneezes a lot and it sounds like the buzzing of the restraint bars on an old-fashioned roller coaster.

“Um … and many more?”

He got up on all fours and hopped to the edge of the pen. Then he stood up on his hind legs, using the pen to brace his forelegs, looked at me, and rolled his head to the side while yawning, and sticking his tongue out. He left his tongue sticking out — the shape of rabbit mouths means this comes out from one side, and tilted — dropped back to the ground, ran back to his paper, and flopped over on his side, exposing his bright white belly in a flurry of adorability.

“What was that?” I had to know.

He pulled his tongue back in. “Homework.”

“You have homework?”

“Internet course in advanced cute.” I tried to peek at his paper, but it was printed out in rabbit, but I had some idea now why we keep running out of printer paper too soon.

“You’re taking cute classes?”

“I take my responsibilities around here seriously.” And he licked a paw, to groom the side of his head, while flopped out like that, and reaching for the end of his ears.

“Excellent work,” I admitted. “Good luck.”

He splayed his front paw’s fingers out and licked between them. “Thanks!”

Our Pet Rabbit Is Proud


“I have a stick.”

I nodded to our pet rabbit. “Stick-wise, that is indeed a thing you have.” The phrasing seemed to confuse him; he shook his front half out and set down the chew stick again.

“It’s my stick and I have it,” he said, “And I can do anything I want with it.”

“I know. For instance, you can chew it.” This stopped him in the middle of chewing on it, so, that’s how I knew this conversation was going to go. “Or not, if you don’t want to,” and that should have him completely flummoxed.

“You know why you don’t have a stick?” My thought was that I could in some sense be said to have every stick on the property, including as a subset the sticks that our rabbit has. But is that the same conceptual theory of having that he was working with at the moment, and if it’s not, is it compatible enough for us to have a meaningful conversation? This is the kind of thing that goes through my mind whenever, say, the waitress asks which kind of bread I’d like for my toast, which is why I’m always running about four minutes behind the conversation. Here, for example, our rabbit answered, “Because I have it!”

“I know you have the stick. I gave you the stick.”

“As well you might!”

“In fact, I gave you all those sticks,” pointing at a partially-tied-together bunch of chew sticks, most of which were scattered around his front paw, and a couple of which were rolling out of his pen, and one of which he was taking turns holding in his mouth and putting down to lecture me about.

He nodded and said, “I chewed the twine off them!”

“And we were glad to see you do that. It proved to us that you’re not a fascist.” And here I have to point out that while I exaggerate certain aspects of my conversations with our pet rabbit for dramatic effect, the “not a fascist” joke is one that my love and I actually did observe while watching him chew the bundle of sticks loose, which shows you what kinds of jokes we have flying around the house.

He scrunched forward, looking kind of like a sack full of rabbit flowing forward under the tides, pushing his front paws onto the sticks, which was adorable. It struck me he’s been doing a lot of adorable stuff lately, more so than usual.

“This is about the mouse, isn’t it?”

He jerked his head up and back. “You think?”

“Are you worried we kept that mouse in here?”

“Why were you keeping a mouse right on top of my cage?”

“He wouldn’t fit underneath you.” The mouse we had found wandering around the dining room, at the height of winter, and we caught him and put him in a cage because we weren’t so cold-hearted as to release him to the wild while it was still too cold for molecular motion out there.

“He smelled.”

“Male mice can’t help how they smell,” I said. “Biology dictates that they use an atrocious body wash so that female mice know they’re engaged in important male activities.”

He barked, somehow, which might just be his way of snorting. “He made that wheel squeak all the time.

“You can’t blame the mouse for following his biological imperatives of running on a wheel, smelling bad, and hoisting things.”

He flopped over on his side, which is again, adorable, and said, “Mice follow too many gender-normative stereotypes.” I allowed that. But I reminded him, we let the mouse go several weeks ago, and he hasn’t been back. “And I’m better than a mouse.”

I had a hunch. “Are you worried we were going to get a mouse to replace you?”

“No mouse could replace me! Not ten mice mousing together could replace me!”

“I’d guess not. We’d never think of replacing you.”

He rolled up onto all fours and cried, “Ah-ha!” So I gulped. “If you never thought of it then how come you just asked if I thought you were thinking of it?”

There might be no way out of this. “Well. We once got to talking about what would be the worst thing that could possibly happen” — he frowned a little less, which is how rabbits smile — “and we agreed the sudden and irrevocable failure of the electromagnetic force would be the worst. But having to replace you with anything would be one of the four or five worst things.” He actually came in third, but, I didn’t want to swell his head too much after comparing favorably to the complete dissolution of the laws of physics.

He looked satisfied, and announced, “I have a stick,” and picked his chew stick up again.

After Our Pet Rabbit Had A Day Outdoors


“The floor isn’t food here!” complained our pet rabbit.

It was a complaint I knew was coming. I couldn’t realistically pretend otherwise. So I said, “I agree with you.”

He sat up and rested his front paws on the cage, the traditional pose for indicating this was a major issue or it was dinnertime. “So make it better!”

We had taken him outside a couple days ago, when it was warm and sunny and we had some work to do on the yard. So we set up his pen and then pulled him, against his express wishes, into the pet carrier for the trip outside. Once there, and convinced that we weren’t going to take him anywhere in the car, he came out of his shell, or at least the carrier, and judged that this was all not intolerably bad.

Our pet rabbit, as seen outside in the yard.
Our pet rabbit, as seen outside in the yard.

“You don’t want me to do that.”

“I know it means going in the box but it’s so short a ride in the car I’ll forgive it!”

“Yes, but it’s cold out today, and it’s rainy. You wouldn’t like having water drizzling all over your body all the time you’re out there.”

“I’m not scared! I drink water all the time.” It’s possible we haven’t let him outside quite enough to understand.

“You’d hate it. It’d tamp down all the fur you were planning to shed for a couple days and nothing would get into the air. It’d set you back by days.”

“Oh.” He’s still recovering from when we vacuumed out his cage, filling nearly two bags and reducing the amount of fur in the room not at all. “Are you fibbing?”

“ … Fibbing?”

“Because you’re afraid of what I’ll do out there!” I brushed his head, which made him squinch his eyes a little, and made enough fur shed that I had a loose glove when I took my hand off. He shook it off and said, “I’m ferocious!”

“I saw you out there. You really mowed down those dandelions.”

“I ate a tree!”

I nodded, but, “Technically.”

“All the way, too, leaves down to roots!”

It was a weed maple, something with about two leaves and maybe three inches tall, including the roots. It’s been a banner year for weed maples, with something like four hundred thousand growing in the driveway alone, and their getting even denser on the ground where there’s dirt or soil or older, less self-confident plants to grow on top of. We don’t know why; maybe it was the harshness of the winter, or maybe the local innovation center gave the maples a seed grant. Anyway, our rabbit had spotted it as a thing, and hopped over, and started eating before we could wonder whether he ought to be eating itty-bitty little maple trees.

He noticed how impressed I wasn’t. “Did you ever eat an entire tree?”

This seemed like something I’d have to answer no, but, could I be quite sure I hadn’t ever eaten something which could be taken as equivalent to a tree? I thought about whether eating an acorn could qualify as eating an acorn tree, except that I couldn’t think of myself eating an acorn, unless I did it when I was very young and so put anything in my mouth. Later, of course, I’d realize that I have eaten apple seeds, and any definition by which acorn-eating qualified one for tree-eating status would be satisfied by apple-seed-eating (I don’t share a birthday with Johnny Appleseed for nothing, though I haven’t got much out of the coincidence), but that’s the kind of idea that comes to me too late. This sort of thinking is why it can take me up to five minutes to answer a question such as “would you like to buy this pair of pants?” There’s too much to ponder about the issue of “like”.

“Look, even if it weren’t pouring out, it’d be unfair to take you outside because you scare the squirrels.” And this is without exaggeration true. There are normally anywhere between two and fourteen hundred squirrels are in the backyard. When we took him out, the squirrels all vanished. Yet within a minute of his going back in, they’d come back. None of the squirrels said they were afraid of him specifically, but, they were.

“I’m ferocious!” he said. “But I’ll let squirrels share the floor with me. Tell them that.” I nodded, but he said, “Wait! I’ll share it just as soon as the floor is food again! Work on that first.”

I peeked in his dishes. “You’ve got lettuce left over from the morning. Eat that first.”

“But that’s just lettuce,” he said.

“You’re not hungry if you’ve got lettuce left.”

He hopped over with some ka-dunks that rattle the living room floor, and said, “I can eat whole trees.”

“Technically.”

“And any time I want.”

In Which I Do Not, Repeat Do Not, Poison Our Pet Rabbit


“This is poison, isn’t it?” said our pet rabbit, as he chewed on the leafy part.

I’d had the accusation before. “It’s Swiss chard again. There wasn’t anything poisonous about it last time either.”

He hopped up and shook out a little, which is the sort of happy thing rabbits do and didn’t match his tone at all. “Why are you trying to poison me?” He sniffed and then chewed some more at the leaf.

“Why on Earth would I even want to poison you? You’re too darling to poison.”

He pulled his head up, which is some new behavior he’s picked up and exposes this adorable dark-colored patch in the middle of the white-colored patches of his chin, and it’s only his quick reflexes that keep it from being tickled. “I can’t know your motivations. If I make the a priori assumption you’re a rational agent I could expect you to inevitably come to a sufficient moral awareness to keep you from choosing to poison me, but for all I know you’ve had a partial or a defective moral upbringing. And I know you’re not fully rational because I heard that awful movie you watched Saturday.”

So this explained why the bookmarks in my Beloved’s books of Kant keep getting moved around, and maybe why there was a nibbled corner of the Critique of the Power of Judgement. I should probably mention here that not all pets kept by philosophers end up acting like. Ludwig Wittgenstein, for example, famously kept a pet squirrel who did little but kick the him in the shins, less because of the squirrel’s treatise on the origins of ethics and more because Wittgenstein was the sort of person who inspired people to kick him. Also in my defense I was watching Foodfight extremely ironically and felt a little bad for even doing that.

“I can’t prove to you that I’ve got a functioning moral compass” — and he interrupted with a sharp HA! — “but if you really suspect the chard is poison you don’t have to eat it.”

He stopped chewing and looked up indignantly. “You yelled and laughed when I ate that dog food!”

“We didn’t think you’d really eat it! We thought you’d sniff at it and refuse. That stuff contains meat, you know.”

“Then why’d you put a kibble out for me?”

“Well, it’s cute seeing you sniff at things you rear back from.”

“Because you figure I won’t eat poison!”

“Again, though, you haven’t suggested a reason for me to poison you. And just saying I’m irrational doesn’t excuse the need for a reason. You need an irrational reason.”

He huffed a bit, the way he does when he realizes he’s being pulled into the pet carrier. “You envy my superior lifestyle. I can just hop around the house and eat and nap all day.”

“That argument won’t obtain,” which sounds like a smart thing to say, because it’s a weird use of the word “obtain”, one I’m not sure is defensible. “I’m a telecommuter. Functionally we’re equivalent.”

“If you’re not envious then why don’t you ever name me when you write about me on the Internet?”

Ah, that. Probably best to go with the honest answer. “I don’t want people getting your name and ringing up fraudulent credit card charges. It protects you.”

“Oh.” And he started chewing on the stalk of the chard. “You could give me a stage name.”

“I can’t think of any that could capture your personality.”

And he did that little shaking hop.

“You know, when I bought that chard, the cashier asked if red or white tasted better.”

He let the stalk of the chard drop. “What did you tell him?”

“I told her I didn’t know. We just buy it for you.”

“And she asked why you’re poisoning me?” He picked the stalk back up and started inhaling it, like a log disappearing into a buzz saw.

“She asked whether you liked it.”

“And you said?”

“I said you were still working out your policy regarding Swiss chard” — he snorted again — “but you look so adorable chewing the stalk that we couldn’t resist.” And he finished the last of it.

“I name you when I write about you on the Internet.”

“I’m flattered.”

“If this isn’t poison why don’t you eat some?”

“The last time we ate any vegetables we bought for you you called it the end of the world.”

“Well, that’s honest at least,” and he flopped out on his side.

The Monster In The Living Room


“I can’t help sensing a certain coolness in you toward me,” the savage, bloodthirsty monster said.

I agreed with our pet rabbit. “Well, I have felt a bit put off by you lately.”

“It wasn’t my fault!” He shook his head, flapping his ears together, in that way that starts out being dramatic and ends up comic because, you know, rabbit ears flapping. “I didn’t have any choice when you went and attacked my tail.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, and scratched the part near my knuckle where the scar was. “Me, one of the two people who’s spent the past fifteen months bringing you all the food you could eat — ”

“Not nearly all!” he protested. “I could have a whole box more of raisins if you gave me a chance!”

“— and who gets rewarded for brushing you out with an attempt to sever my finger.”

Continue reading “The Monster In The Living Room”