Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Chicken or the Egg: Which to Kill First?

At dinner with my tween niece tonight, I was thrilled to hear her school has a bit of a farm-to-table project going: they're raising chickens and selling the eggs.

Unlike me, she's being raised as a city child (with the exception of horseback riding, which I don't count), and this seemed like a good development where she'll learn more about what food looks like on the hoof (or claw), as opposed to packaged up in the grocery store, or worse, as chicken McNuggets.

The plan's had a few glitches though. For the chicks they're supposed to be hatching in the classroom, somebody turned the incubator ten degrees too high one night, and then ten degrees too low the next night to compensate. Her mother and I were none too optimistic about the outcome, but she assured us "oh, there's movement."  And we felt worse.

"Those chicks might not be....ok," I explained. 

"Like, what do you mean," she asked. "Like they might have three heads? Because that would be awesome."

"Well they might," and I added, "It wouldn't be awesome. Because then you'd have to kill them."

"I'm not killing anything," she protested. (We'd already had a discussion over appetizers about how some of the dogs she knew from childhood aren't really "living on a farm in the country.")

Her mother clarified helpfully, "Not you personally." So I reassured her, "Right. Not you. 'One' will have to kill those chickens. You don't have to do it yourself, but yeah, they'll have to be destroyed."

"So you'd just kill anything that was deformed?" she asked, and I could see where this was headed.

"Emma," I said, "them's mean streets out there for a chicken with three heads." (It turns out she'd seen a stuffed two-headed calf at some point, and explained in great detail how the vet said the calf had died of suffocation because they were feeding the wrong head, and apparently it was the head it was using for breathing. It didn't exactly make sense to me from an animal husbandry perspective, but whatever. The taxidermied heads were, as one would imagine, "awesome.")

"What if it just has six toes?" she asked.

I allowed we could probably live with six-toed poultry... again, seeing where she was headed with this line of questioning.

"So where do you draw the line?" she asked.

"I don't know," was my answer. "That's an excellent discussion on moral relativism for another day."

She weighed this for a few seconds before responding, "So...an extra head is out of the question?"

"Yes, Emma. An extra head is out of the question."

I just hope I don't have to be the bitter Aunt who visits the school for Show and Tell and has to clobber a nest full of baby chicks. 

Monday, March 14, 2011


It's been a long time since the days of college housesitting where every gig brought with it the prospect of new revelations. Did a dean like it rough? Why did the mild-mannered humanities professor stow a vast array of birth control options in her kitchen... behind towering pyramids of pink Whiska cans? (Seems like the cats alone would've done the job.) Which faculty members were so smug they didn't allow TVs in the house (presumably they performed masterpiece theater for the children after supper)? Who was on the road to divorce?

That was the last time it was exciting. Now it's just an occasional weekend here and there where everybody swaps houses and pets based on travel plans -- nobody looks for anybody's toy drawer or porn stash or naughty pics -- those already get swapped via iPhones over dinner. It's the facebook/twitter era: what don't we know?

This weekend I was in charge of three dogs and a few fish (who live on sophisticated oceanic-style timers anyway), so no special challenges were anticipated. I stored all my weekend's worth of work up in the Cloud, where I could pull it down as needed. In between, I figured I'd catch up on this season's Californication (since I always kill the Showtime once Weeds ends), and that'd be that. I was looking forward to raiding the lovingly stocked fridge, and maybe reading a new book I'd brought along.

Everything was going according to plan til the most senior, elderly dog wanted out at 2 am Saturday, which was no big deal, until he had a tough time negotiating the stairs to come back inside. But when I went to give him a boost (as I've done a hundred times before), "CHOMP." He clamped down on my right ear.

Blood spewed everywhere in true Dan Akroyd-as-Julia Child style. But, not to be undone, I quickly grabbed one of the dogs' "wee pads" and fashioned myself a turban/burka that would staunch the blood and at least avoid ruining the floors and furniture.

I needn't have worried, because the dog wouldn't come back inside anyway. I checked him lightly but thoroughly for injuries and he wasn't hurt; he just wasn't moving.

My first thought was: "I'll fashion a travois."  Seriously. That's because I remembered nearly every word of the 1960s children's thoroughly non-pc classic The Indians Knew, which taught other assorted miracles like painting from berries and that kind of thing. You drag the travois (a blanket between two poles) behind a horse, and haul stuff on the blanket. There, the plan pretty much fell apart. I had a giant quilt, but once I'd scooted him onto it, and then experimented with dragging him a few feet, I realized we were getting nowhere fast without the horse or the poles.

I tried carrying him, but couldn't get much of a grip because I was trying to dodge the snapping and keep the one good ear out of his reach.

The exotic fish stared out at the escalating debacle from their saltwater aquarium, judgmental and a little smug.

The other two dogs waited reproachfully in front of the fish, silently rebuking me for leaving the door open while I figured this out, having been chided by me, more than once, over the years, "In or out! IN OR OUT! We can't air condition the whole goddam world!"

While I knew nobody would have their ringers turned on at that hour, I did check twitter and facebook to see if anyone was up, but no one was except my BFF, who admitted she could provide little assistance from AFRICA. 

I'm sure many solutions would've presented themselves had I thought them through, but I went with what now seems a fairly stupid option. I dragged all the dog beds out to the patio and we all slept in the yard, (except for the fish). I bled copiously into the dirt, all night long, once my turban untied itself. This is consistent with my memories of  what "camping" entails. We watched the stars. They howled every so often at the neighbor cats. They wrestled me for the covers. Like me, they are most assuredly House Dogs.

By 5 am, my soul-sister "Evangeline" who just happened to live four doors down, had checked her facebook and sent a text, "BRT." I wasn't sure if that meant Be Right There, or was possibly a new variation on a BLT (maybe a Bacon, Rutebega, Tomato sandwich), I was just happy the Cavalry was on the way.

I instantly knew things must not look so good to an outsider when she said, "oh please, please, please let me take an iPhone picture." Flat NO. "I won't even get your face... just all the blood and dirt and your ear... hey, is that urine in your hair? You don't smell so good."

Luckily, she is both a dog person and a mom-person, which means, she's not easily grossed out, and she's prepared for emergencies. First things first, she'd brought along a giant towel, which we used as a sling to haul the dog's hindquarters up off  the ground, whereupon he then scampered right up the steps and trotted into the living room where he flopped down dramatically to take a nap and catch up on Showtime.

That left me. She plunged my head into the sink and irrigated my ear punctures with alcohol. That stung, but not half as much as it did when the alcohol trickled into my eye, and then we had to flood that too. I wasn't that worried about my sudden inability to ever wear earrings again, but I did briefly fear going blind. Then she polysporin'd the whole affected area, bandaged it, and decided she needed to wash my hair -- she was afraid I'd just re-route all the caked-on mud and blood right into the wound she'd just cleaned til it sparkled. (She was right; I couldn't really see at this point. Plus I didn't want to look.)

We finally settled on the orange Dawn dishwashing soap as shampoo, for its antibacterial properties, though she "made no representations, warranties or claims" about what it might or might not do to the color of my hair. I think I might've signed an indemnity waiver. She washed it; blew it out; and then "styled it" with an array of her preschooler's pink barettes and headbands to keep my hair from getting stuck in all the bandaging. I suspect she really, really wanted to shave my head, but somehow restrained herself.

After a day of treatment, it looks a little better. It actually hurts worse though. And I find myself wishing he'd at least bitten me somewhere more visible or prominent -- someplace that would earn me a little curiosity and maybe sympathy. I can't stick a big CAST on my ear. It's not like I'm going to go to a doctor. What's he gonna say? "Stay off that ear."

The good news is, my newly anti-bacteria'd hair is pretty shiny. The bad news is, some of it seems to be falling out.

Trapper John and Wild Kingdom

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pink Socks and Candy

I am unmoored since my BFF left for Africa yesterday. She was in London and Dublin for two weeks at Christmas and I did not get through that well at all. On about the tenth day, I was emailing her testily, "this is bullshit. When are you coming home?" (Eventually, I took to watching re-runs of Barefoot Contessa - in - London and Oprah-and-Gayle in Yosemite episodes, because as I always say, we are just like Oprah and Gayle, if they were straight, or if we were rich.)

Actually, I fell apart before she even got off the ground that time, because her flight got delayed while she sat for hours on the tarmac in a giant snowstorm. I wasn't so much worried about the snow or ice or flight conditions (though I should have been), I was just projecting my claustrophobia onto her, and hyperventilating in sympathy. As her battery ran down, I kept texting her "CALL ME ON THE SKYPHONE," (I don't even know what a SkyPhone is.) Several people pointed out, she is the most capable person we know, and would've flown the plane if she needed to. (Now I have a flighttracker app where I can watch her as a little green dot floating over the ocean. It's soothing.)

I can relax a little knowing she arrived safely; that she watched two Coco Chanel movies on the plane; and that it's night there now.

But this will be a long two weeks, for a million reasons. She's the one who keeps my Rainman in check ("snap your rubberband Rainman!" or "get off your hamster wheel Rainman!") Who else will drop by the cave and watch the Parking Lot Movie with me (and be able to identify all the rockstars)? Who else will care what new documentaries will be on HBO this week? Who else could drop by my classroom to wrestle the online access into submission? (Well, technically, there's an IT department, but they would laaaaaughhhh.)

Who will bring me pink socks and  candy? Whenever she sees pink socks on sale, she buys them and drops them off. I love my pink socks. And I can never have too many, because the dryer eats most of them. I hope I don't run out of them while she's gone, because I don't know where they keep the pink socks. They just appear here, like magic. (Once she brought me a "lardon needle" -- for threading more bacon into my recipes I guess -- and she's a vegetarian.)

She and BFF94 are the only friends I have who are willing to clear out Target's entire stock of Oatmeal Express and bring it back to me because I looooove Oatmeal Express, but haaaaaate to go Outside the Circle (and Target's the only place that has it). They are hunter/gatherers. I tend the homefires, and will cook whatever they kill. Preferably, Cinnamon and Brown Sugar flavor.

On her way to the airport this trip, she left a big bag of pink candy on my door. She knows cherry is my second favorite flavor (after coconut), and that when I was a kid, I somehow got it into my head that strawberries were what poor people ate because they couldn't afford cherries, but that everybody knew cherries were the superior fruit. That is why I don't like strawberries. I might know everybody's favorite flavor in our social circle, but only she knows everybody's second favorite flavor.

At any rate, the Pink Candy's almost gone.

I should've paced myself.
Also, my feet are cold.