Friday, January 25, 2008

Fluff Is Nice

After such a long and stressful week, I think we all need a good fluff piece. No, not in the porno fluffer sense, but rather like news stories about Doris turning 100 years old, the blind boy who paints beautiful pictures, or the cat fashion show covered by Veronica Corningstone. So, if you came looking for something scathing, disgusting, or somewhat incendiary, turn away now unless you happen to be incensed by the sweetest dog in the entire world.

This is Fergus.

Fergus first came into my life about nine years ago when my dad was working for a German shepherd rescue. He was a young stray that they had found in the woods between Kenosha and the Illinois border. Unlike most of the dogs that we took in and fostered, Fergus would not terrorize my sock and underwear drawer or try to knock me over. Something felt special about him, so I went and appealed to my mom and stepfather, hoping that they would want to adopt Fergus, changing their canine-less home. Meeting him, Mom felt it, too. Steppy the Step Dad resisted, but eventually yielded. Thus, Fergus was adopted into our family.

Perhaps Fergus sensed Steppy’s reluctance or maybe he just didn’t like tall men. Either way, Fergus demonstrated equal reluctance to give Steppy his affections or attention. This didn’t last long. One cold day, right after we got him, Steppy took Fergus out onto the frozen lake where other dogs were playing. Oblivious, our Fergus walked too close to the mouth of the river where he fell through thin ice. The more he scrambled, the more wet the surrounding ice became, making it harder to pull himself up without slipping. Heroically, Steppy crawled on his belly to the open water where he pulled Fergus up. Icicles forming on his fur, Fergus leaned against Steppy for the entire walk home. They’ve been best friends ever since.

I once got in an argument with my anthropology professor about anthropomorphism (projecting human characteristics onto something non-human). He said that we anthropomorphize our pets. I told him that my dog IS a person. Here was my evidence.
1. Fergus hates the chicken dance. Just humming the tune makes him go nuts. God forbid that you flap your wings. This demonstrates that he has good tastes and is not tacky.
2. He is easily slighted.
A. Once when the fur on his back legs was shedding, my parents called him “sheep butt.” Fergus stood up, left their room, and wouldn’t come back no matter how many times they called him (he is normally very obedient).
B. Accidentally, my mother had locked him in the back hall. Coming home after running our errands, we had no idea where he was until we heard his rare bark emitting from the back door. Opening it, Fergus rushed in and, not only would he not go anywhere near my mother, but he tried to make her jealous by happily nuzzling Steppy and I.
3. Whenever he sees my dad, he gets so excited and howls in gratitude. He remembers how my dad saved him.
4. He has a full HUMAN name. It is Fergus Bocephus O’Shanahan. He used to be a news reporter and spoke like a film noir character. For example, he might say, “I don’t know who you think that you can bully, cause I’m Fergus O’Shanahan, see!”

Then the professor told me that I was REALLY projecting.

My Fergus is getting long in the tooth. Physically, he’s in great shape, but mentally he’s starting to behave like that old lady in The Notebook, only he is actually interesting. He gets neurotic about smoke detectors, will whine looking at the air, and will sniff the same spot for ages. Last weekend, something in the house was beeping and he pressed against my leg, his entire body shaking. I thought that he was dying and responded in the way I do everything these days, by starting to cry. When I realized that he was just scared, I cried more… and out of frustration.

If you ever get a chance, set up a meeting with Mr. Fergus. He can tell you about his old reporting days and “the cruelest dame” he’s ever met. He will also want to sing with you, as howling is his favorite activity. He may be convinced that you want his toy ball more than anything in the world. You probably do.

Back to you in the newsroom, Ron.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Everybody Poops

In a much different tone from the last entry, here is a conversation that I just had.

Pop Quiz Kid: I'm becoming unsure about this blog thing. I'm not getting the feedback that I hoped to.

Steppy the Step Dad: Maybe you need to write about something more provocative...

PQK: Like what? Being provocative for the sake of being provocative is so insincere.

S: Still, there are some things that you love to talk about, but haven't even touched on...

PQK: LIKE what?

S: Well, the number one you love to talk about is poop.

PQK: I don't love talking about poop!

S: Oh, yes you do.

PQK: Fine. What's number two?

S: Exactly.

And scene.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ode to Heath

On my computer’s desktop sits a folder marked “bloggies.” This is the folder where I save all of the blogs I have written, but also where all of the blogs that I tried to write but failed to complete sit and wait for some divine act of inspiration to strike me so they can finally be completed. One of these incomplete entries is a list of all of the male actors that I obsessed over from middle school to present. I, though not the creator of this term, call them my celebrity boyfriends.

Listed under 8th grade is Heath Ledger. Today, via an exclamatory text message, I found out that he died. Now, I’m not actually delusional. I know that I didn’t actually know him. I know that my fourteen-year-old mind projected traits onto him that were possibly unlike his actual character. Still, I was surprised with how the news affected me. A part of me feels guilty for sadness I felt on confirming the news. Stories of death pass by me everyday. There’s the ongoing war, the Sudan, starvation, murder, accidents in cars, accidents falling through ice, falling off cliffs, and on and on. Do I cry over these people? Rarely. Do I write long-winded blogs about them to post on the internet? Not yet. But here I am, sitting in bed, feeling so bad for Heath Ledger’s baby, his lost promise, his exes who probably found out over the news, for my fourteen-year-old self. Looking closer, I see that my angst is less over Heath the man, but rather Heath the concept.

Middle school is perhaps the truest crisis in identity that anyone goes through. Whereas in college you’re trying to differentiate yourself from the rest of the world and in high school you’re simply trying to differentiate yourself from your parents, middle school is the opposite of differentiation. All you’re trying to do is look and act like everyone else so that you sit at the popular table, be asked out at the dance, and, if you keep your head low enough, no one will talk about you or write about you on the bathroom wall. I was no exception. I got the Jennifer Aniston haircut, shopped only at Old Navy, and said mean things behind people’s backs, all the while feeling uncomfortable and out of place, knowing that I wasn’t cut out for this.

It was during this time that I first saw 10 Things I Hate About You. I remember the day. It was hot outside and my mom and I went to see it at the cheap seats. To say the movie changed my life is rather melodramatic, but I can say that it dramatically changed my perception of self. Julia Stiles’ character Kat was smart, strong-willed, self-reliant, and eccentric. She was all of those things and, still, she got the boy. That boy was Heath Ledger.

The change was gradual, but after seeing the movie, I grew more resilient. My wardrobe changed as I changed. I got the haircuts that I wanted (I’m not saying that they were good haircuts, however). I stopped spending time trying to get mean Regina George-types to like me. Strangely, after that, they started liking me more. To say that I didn’t doubt myself would be an absolute lie, but I always knew that, no matter how different I felt, there would always be someone to serenade me with Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You during soccer practice (no one ever did).

I never forgot whom to thank with my inspired sense of self. My locker, like my room, was a tribute to Heath, created mainly out of black and white screen stills printed off of the internet and a couple of print ads from YM or Seventeen. When A Knight’s Tale hit theaters, I saw it at least three times, my heart ablaze with juvenile yearning. On a Super Singers trip to Six Flags, I rallied the other Ledger fans to bring his movies and the entire drive to Gurnee, Il was spent watching The Patriot, 10 Things, and Knight’s Tale, as we ate Heath Bars like they were the Eucharist. His picture was taped on the Van Galder bus window. I even kept this picture in my pocket as I rode on all of the roller coasters.

Like I said, I was fourteen. While I never stopped liking Heath, as the years passed, so did our imagined romance. Moulin Rouge came out and I left him for Ewan McGregor. Saved! came out and I left Ewan for Patrick Fugit. Real life came around and I started thinking about real boys. Still, thinking back on those Heath days are like thinking about a past relationship with a great boyfriend. He helps you grow, but one day you’ve found that you’ve drifted apart. When news of his success reaches your ears, your happy for him. He’s the one you look back on and can’t remember why exactly you broke up. I know that sounds pathetic and juvenile, but I was so lonely doubtful back then that I guess I was pathetic and juvenile. He was necessary.
How will the world remember Ledger in the next ten or twenty years? Will he be like James Dean or River Phoenix, remembered for their talent not yet fully fulfilled? Or will he be like the girl from Diff’rent Strokes, a mere blip on VH1’s I Love the 2000s? We’ll have to wait and see, but, rest assured, 10 Things will always remain in my top favorite movies and I will always watch A Knight’s Tale when it’s on TV. I could jokingly end with some “I wish I could quit you” remark, an attempt at reversing the sappyness of this post. I won’t though. Instead I’ll leave you the moment that I first fell in love.

Pop Quiz Kid Endorsed

Please read this book.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ridin' Diiiirty

Cars are bad. Perhaps I should rephrase so I don’t sound like a typical Madisonian biker (I’ve been guilty of this in the past). Cars and I together are bad. Even more specifically, cars and I, in the last 6 months, together are bad. Here is a brief timeline.

August 2007. Vacationing in Los Angeles, I was terrified to walk across the street for fear of all the traffic. Every time the walk sign signaled for me to go, I would run across, not moving my arms and torso, looking like a complete idiot. My friend thought that it was hilarious and would leisurely follow me, only to mock me once we were safe on the other side. Slowly (and foolishly), I acclimated myself to the busy streets. Approaching a crosswalk, I noted the walk sign signaling me to go, looked both ways to see that there were no cars about to run the red light, and stepped off the curb. Taking a couple more strides, I found myself in front of a Dodge minivan. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the car suddenly lurch forward. At first I thought that the driver was just trying to scare me, but, then, realizing that he wasn’t going to stop in time, I thought that he was trying to kill me. Luckily, he wasn’t going very fast and I was able to bend my knees before impact. The bumper hit me mid-leg and I was knocked onto the van’s hood. That’s when he braked. Standing upright, I looked at the driver. All he did was shrug. Whenever I recount this story, people tell me what they would have done had they been in my shoes, but, in reality, you don’t act how you’d expect. For example, I just started to run. I wanted out of the road. Drivers kept yelling instructions at me, but I just wanted to be as far away as possible. My friend didn’t do anything. The only person who took action was a guy walking behind me. He leaned in the driver’s window and yelled at him. That guy is my hero. By the time I got my wits together to call the police, he was speeding off and I missed a digit in his license plate. Luckily, I only had a scrape on my knee and felt a little bit stiff. A couple of minutes later, I saw William H. Macy. Hollywood? More like Holly-weird! Harhar!

October 2007. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was riding in the bike lane of the street that I live on. From behind me, I heard that obnoxious heavy base omitting from a car, making my skeleton vibrate, and soon the car was level with me. Approaching an intersection, I kept peddling along my merry way, anxious to be home. Suddenly, the car cut in front of me. Unable to turn, lest I get run over by rush hour traffic, I slammed on my breaks, all the while thinking “OHGODOHGODOHGOD!” Unable to stop in time, I hit the car’s trunk. While I fought to control my bike and stay upright, the driver sped off. Amazingly, I didn’t fall over, but again I failed to get the license plate number or the make of the car. All I managed to do was make it home before bursting into tears.

Since these last two events transpired, I’ve been seeing phantom cars left and right. Anytime I walk past a driveway, I imagine a car darting out of it or whenever I start to cross the street, I can picture a car blowing through the stop sign. You’d think that these phantom cars would help make me more aware and so did I until…

…Last Saturday. Not wanting to wait for a cab in the negative degree weather, I asked to borrow my step-dad’s car to go to work. Usually I adjust the seat and go, but, ironically, on Saturday, I took a little extra time to adjust the mirrors and make sure that the radio was set to Saturday at the Seventies. Pulling out of the driveway, I looked left and noticed a man parking, looked right and noticed how sunny it was, then pulled out of the driveway. Turning right, facing the sun, I thought, “Man, that’s quite the glare. I should get out my sunglasse—” BAM! I was hit on the driver's side. Looking behind me, I saw the face of the other driver, mouth open in a scream, as her car ricocheted away from mine. Throwing the car into park, I tried to get out, only to realize that the door was dented in. Instead, I scrambled awkwardly over the passenger seat. Luckily, I found the other woman had not been hurt. My parents called the police. Both cars were pulled off of the road. Pulling me to the side, my mom told me what might happen, how I might need to sit in the police car to give the accident report. After she said that, I started crying on the street in front of all my neighbors’ houses. This wasn’t a sympathy cry. Rather it was one of those cries that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t stop and you only make it worse. The cop arrived and didn’t make anyone sit in his car. My mom invited the woman inside to trade insurance information. I was told that I was getting a ticket for failure to yield. I said I understood and waited outside for the cop to give it to me. I should have waited inside, but I thought that I couldn’t leave the scene of the accident. I waited on the cold sidewalk and cried some more. Now I have a little bit of frostbite on my toe…or maybe it’s just a corn. Finally, I was told that I could wait inside and that the other woman could leave since her car was able to run. After a few more minutes, the police officer knocked on our door, ticket in hand. Through my girlish weeping, I managed to choke out, “What’s the damage, Capt’n?”

So there you have it. Cars and I are like oil and vinegar, black and white, or Kanye and 50 Cent. We just don’t mix. It is with that that I have decided to live in an Amish community a lá Harrison Ford in Witness. Be careful whose face you rub ice cream in.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

She Always Wears the Cutest Sweaters

I’ve often felt that my blog was the ultimate form of online masturbation, but apparently I was wrong. Turns out, having someone write a guest blog about me on my own blog is the ultimate virtual jerk-off. Back up before I spurt all over the keyboard and onto your screen names. Hopefully, my graphic introduction won’t scare you away from this extremely thoughtful non-graphic entry by my good friend Rachel:

Approximately two years ago I enrolled in my first college level creative writing class. The large group sat in front of lumbering Dell desktops, half of us crafting stories from prompts like “Describe a man’s walk to execution,” half of us online shopping. We were a group of not-totally-invested tech-college kids.

I sat in the second row, on the end, so everyone could see my raised hand. It was raised a lot. I was kind of a know-it-all. Next to me sat a guy in his mid-twenties, with long hair and even longer fingernails. I thought he was cute and spent the moments before class making sure I looked the CUTEST EVER. Except there was a problem and she sat directly in front of me. Her name was The PQK and she was always way cuter than me.

My first memory of talking to The PQK doesn’t exist. It was probably boring. While I don’t remember what I said, I do remember my thoughts, which were something like, “This girl is so cool. This girl is cooler than me. I want to be this girl. How can I trick her into being my BFF?”

The class wore on, every Wednesday night, and soon the long-nailed boy, myself and The PQK were usually grouped together. We were the cool kids, at least in my mind. We’d write funny stories, and communally roll our eyes at the work of our fellow classmates, who liked to write about vampires and depression. During the class-wide critiques, The PQK would sit next to me (Or I would make sure I sat next to her?) and I’d turn to her with a “gag-me” expression whenever someone just didn’t get my vision.

We’d discuss the upcoming Project Runway episode, and I would compliment her on her sweater or her hair or her top or her shoes or her skirt or her dress. Someone would come around with a towel to wipe up my drool.

Let’s be clear: it wasn’t a girl crush. It was a “I want to be you” fascination. She lived in Italy for a year! She was younger than me! She was born in Madison! She liked cool music! She rode a bike! It seemed that every time I found out something new about her, it was more awesome than the last fact. Despite this, she deigned to continue associating with me for a few hours each week.

That semester we never managed to get together outside of class. Maybe it was because she thought I was an arrogant weirdo. When the class ended, I was most sad that I wouldn’t get to bask in her glory anymore. To my pleasant surprise, however, the following fall I walked into my much-loathed Brit Lit class and GUESS WHO WAS THERE. She smiled and said, “Hey!” I’m not totally convinced there wasn’t a touch of dread in her voice. I sat next to her and we continued our routine of eye-rolls and know-it-all comments and Project Runway recaps.

Maybe that semester I charmed her with my enormous knitwear. Maybe I weaned off The Crazy and tried to be more agreeable. Whatever happened, it apparently worked because we saw each other outside of class!
We further bonded by both transferring to UW the same semester and establishing a weekly meeting time. I freaked her out by having my tarot cards read around the question, “What’s in store for my friendship with The PQK?” but you know, we recovered. We started watching Project Runway together, with fellow blogger and friend GiganticDrumKit. We have brunch and do friend things. She inspires me to shower. You know what I have to say about all this? Victory is mine.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Don't say the A-word in front of my unplanned baby

Sitting over the breakfast table, I recently told my roommate, newly back from vacation, that I had finally seen the movie Juno. Rather than react with the expected “WOW! That’s almost as awesome as you are,” he instead answered me with an eye roll and said, “Isn’t that the exact same movie as Knocked Up?” While I shot down his comment and totally emasculated him as per usual, his comment did make me think about how 2007 did seem to be the year of the unwanted pregnancy. In addition to Knocked Up and Juno, there was the late Adrienne Shelly’s Waitress, not to mention a slew of real life unplanned pregnancies among Hollywood elites (and their siblings).
To clear this out of the way, I loved two of the three aforementioned movies and do not hate (most) babies. Still, after leaving the theater or, in Waitress’ case, my couch, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was abandoning my feminist roots in my enjoyment of them. Only in Juno is the idea of an abortion even touched on, demonstrating how, even in “liberal” Hollywood, an abortion is still viewed as a taboo procedure.
In Knocked Up, written and directed by Judd Apatow, Allison (Katherine Heigl) drunkenly has sex with stoner slacker Ben (Seth Rogen), who happens to bust a nut all up in her and WHOOPS! she gets a little pregnant. Allison is a successful and beautiful woman who is recently offered a job at E! and has her entire future ahead of her, whereas Ben sits around with his friends watching movies for nude scenes and thinking up new and clever ways to get high as his funds shrink rapidly. While Allison has multiple reasons to not have Ben’s baby, the suggestion of an abortion is only brought up once,only to Ben, by his friend Jonah and, even then, it’s only referred to as something that rhymes with “shmashmortion.” The thought doesn’t even once flicker through Allison’s pretty blonde head.

In Waitress, Keri Russell’s Jenna gets knocked up by her abusive husband, played by Jeremy Sisto (Side note: Does Sisto ever tire of playing crazies?). Once again, the word “abortion” is barely uttered and is only recognized when a bumbling Nathan Fillion (sadly not playing a some variation of Captain Mal) says, “We don’t perform… those… here.” In the film’s defense, Russell’s character Jenna is a sheltered Southern woman and probably doesn’t recognize the big A as an option.

In Juno, the girl who lends the film its namesake at least contemplates an abortion. Still, the clinic is represented as a cold lackadaisical place, as Juno’s head is invaded by the thought of her unborn baby’s fingernails. The fact that the precocious Juno’s disposition could so easily be punctured by anti-choice misinformed propaganda seems out of character as she demonstrates or at least creates the façade of a stable resilience throughout the remainder of film. I think that this would have annoyed me more had she decided to raise the baby rather than give it up in the end. Overall, I felt like the film was non-judgmental which gives it a little more room with my principles and me.

Like I said before, I really liked most of these movies. I have watched Knocked Up more than once and laughed uncontrollably at the intra-friend banter and rejoiced at the Freaks and Geeks/Undeclared reunion that the film holds. I love Judd Apatow and YouTube the film's special features when I need a lift. I have refused to dismiss Juno as the indie flick du jour and have recommended it to everyone that I know. I loved the film’s heart and didn’t find the characters contrived, not to mention the movie has a bangin’ soundtrack. Looking closer, these movies aren’t exactly broaching new territory. 2004’s Saved! is one of my favorite movies and is also about a high school girl’s unwanted pregnancy (this movie’s saving grace is its message of love and acceptance and the presence of my celebrity boyfriend Patrick Fugit).
The most important thing about being pro-choice is in the title itself, choice. Women’s choices should be both protected and respected (maybe this can be the chorus of my abortion rap, entitled “My Pussy Is On Lockdown, Bitches”), whether their choice is to maintain or terminate a pregnancy. It seems, however, that Hollywood is extremely biased toward the former and almost dismissive to the latter. Thinking of examples of big screen American abortions, only two come to mind. Claire on Six Feet Under has an almost-rational abortion (in the operating room, she is haunted by images of the fetus’ unknowing father (before we feel too bad, keep in mind that their break-up followed his affair with their art teacher)). Carrie and Samantha on Sex and the City talk openly and thoughtfully about their abortions and, by the episode’s end, Carrie realizes that her abortion was the best decision that she could have made (please ignore that these are both small screen examples). Canada’s Degrassi: The Next Generation deals with a character’s abortion and U.S. channel The N refused to, until recently, air it. Embarrassingly too old to enjoy that show, I had to watch it online.
My main worry is that young girls and women watching these movies will not even realize that they have multiple choices or, if they do recognize abortion as an option, that they’ll view the procedure as unseemly. Even talking with supposed pro-choice friends over a gossipy coffee session, I’ve noticed the disdain in their voices as they mention a friend who found herself pregnant and, making the responsible choice, had an abortion. The recent announcement of Jamie-Lynn Spear’s pregnancy sold for a million dollars and her show Zoey 101 has experience a recent spike in ratings proving that pregnancy is SO hot right now. Two years ago it was dogs, then it was Blackberries, and now it’s babies. You know what, I’ve changed my own mind. How hard do you think it would be for me to get pregnant by that guy from Sum 41 or Zac Efron, cause I really want one of those celebabies that are always dressed in Armani Kids.
While it pains me to admit this, none of those movies could exist if the characters’ gestations hadn’t been completed. Had Juno’s vag been vacuumed, she never would have met Jason Bateman and driven into the sweat-banded arms of Bleeker. Had Nate Fillion offered to baby-be-gone Keri Russell, they’d have never had inappropriate sex in his office. If abortions existed in fictional California, we’d never get to hear Katherine Heigl tell Seth Rogen to fuck his bong. So I give in, 2007 can be thee year of the kept unwanted pregnancy, but only if 2008 can be year of the abortion. I have just e-mailed Apatow with a comedy entitled First Trimester Isn’t a Trimester at All if It’s The Only One (I’m working on a shorter title) and am hoping to see the likes of Carrie Underwood and Sophia Bush gracing the covers of Cosmo and Allure under the headline reading “How I lost My Baby Weight By Having an Abortion” or “My Lifestyle is Too Self-Centered for Motherhood.”
Please feel free to e-mail me virtual pipe bombs.
For your enjoyment

Friday, January 4, 2008

Welcome back, amenities of my modern world

You’d think that, with the end of the semester and all of this free time on my hands, I would be bloggin’ like a fool, but, obviously, that hasn’t been the case. Truth is that I have been away from this modern world, on vacation with my extended family in Kona, Hawaii. I would like to say that my distance from everything from phones to TV to computers was an easy one and, for the most part, I can. Still, there were moments that I really wanted to do some blogging from the beach (can you believe that there isn’t worldwide oceanfront wireless yet?), I had this whole alliteration thing planned, and there was the time when the concierge scoffed at me for asking where the in-room DSL connection was. It’s unfair to bitch about such a minor lack of amenities when you’ve managed to escape the major Wisconsin winter for 75-80 degree days spent swimming with the sea turtles, drinking mojitos, and catching up on your pleasure reading while lying in the sun. One thing that I discovered while there is that shuffleboard is awesome and that I am pretty awesome at it. Hawaii is beautiful, the volcanoes are hulking and smoking, the Pacific Ocean is intimidating, I ate at Allen Wong’s restaurant at the Four Seasons, and my grandparents celebrated their 50th anniversary. The last three days were full of rain and my hair erupted into spiral curls, I spent less than $100 in all 10 days, saw the movie Walk Hard (you can wait until it comes out on video), played with my little cousins, was embarrassed by the tokenism of the resort’s luau, and got to know my grandma a little better. Now I am home and it is cold, but I’m happy to see my friends and family again. There. We’re all caught up.