Conversations With The Dog And Cat

I’ve been house sitting for friends while they’re away on an exotic beach somewhere. The conversations with their dog and cat have been interesting, so I thought I’d share:

On coming through the front door

Dog: Who’s there!? Who’s there!? Who’s there!? Who’s there!? It’s you! It’s you! It’s you! Oh my god I’m so excited! I need to find my toy, I’m hungry, where’s my toy, are we going for a walk, are we going for a walk? I need to pee.

Cat: What’s all this ruckus? Oh, I see you’ve come to visit again good sir. I don’t intend to get up from my spot, so be a good fellow and come over here and pet me. Now.

On watching TV

Dog: I know you’re hot, but I need to spread out on the entire couch with my head in your lap. See, isn’t this comfortable? You moved slightly – are we going for a walk? Are we walking? Are we going outside? I might need to pee.

Cat: The dog is such an inferior creature. I really don’t know why you tolerate him. OH SWEET JESUS MOTHERF****ING BALLS ON FIRE I NEED TO BE IN THE OTHER ROOM RIGHT NOW!!!!!

Dog: Don’t let that cat back on the couch.

Cat: This is my house and I’ll go anywhere I please. Right now I intend to sit in this doorway and quote Shakespeare in my loudest voice. Please enjoy.

On sleeping

Dog: I don’t know why they made my bed round. Hard to find the exact right spot to lay down. Turning, turning, turning… there, dammit, almost had it. Just a few more revolutions… turning, turning, turning, drop now! Nope, not it… turning, turning, turning, oh hell I give up. This spot right here will have to do. Sigh…

Cat: You’re not worthy of receiving a visit from me at this point in the evening. I have other business to attend to.

Dog: There’s something stuck on the roof of my mouth. I’ll just make this really loud slurping noise and see if I can dislodge it.

Cat: I’m enjoying the way the moonlight reflects through… MOTHER OF GOD HOLY HELL THE PAIN IN MY HEAD I NEED TO BE IN THE OTHER ROOM NOW!!!!!!    As I was saying, the moonlight is rather delightful this evening.

Dog: I really want to try a  few more turns and find the exact right spot. Ah heck, my legs are asleep. Oh well. Sigh….

Cat: I’m here now. Unfortunately, your head seems to be in my prefered spot. No problem my good man, I’ll just sit on your head. Be a good fellow and lay still.

Dog: What was that? Did you hear that? Did you hear that? Did you hear that? Let’s go look. I’m going to look. What was I doing? Did you hear that? Oh, you’re getting up? Time for a walk? Is it time to eat? I have to pee.

Cat: Whatever.

Goodbye, California

Been a long time coming, but the day is finally here. Tomorrow I pack up my stuff and leave California. I won’t say I’m leaving forever – I already left once and never thought I’d come back, but this time the odds are not in the formerly golden states favor. Why? Two reasons; cost of living and lifestyle. For 2011 the ACCRA cost of living index has my city, San Jose, as the 6th most expensive place to live in the country. A very average 30+ year old track home in a decent school district goes for north of $700k. Property tax is 1.25%, so it’s not unusual to be paying $8-10 thousand dollars a year just in tax. Sales tax is 8.25% and projected to increase in 2012. San Jose has experienced a decade of budget deficits with no real hope of turning that around. Analysts put the overall California budget deficit for 2012 at $13 billion. 17 of the top 25 most expensive cities for gas prices are in California (thank you special-blend gasoline!). It’s a grim picture that’s only going to get worse. The state and cities have only one real option to increase revenue – raise every possible tax and fee they can get away with.

Money is certainly not the only reason to leave. Basic quality of life plays a huge role… and more so the older I get. The irony of living in the bay area is that, on paper, it offers everything you could want. An hour to the beach or the culture of San Francisco. Four hours to the mountains and fantastic skiing or hiking in Tahoe. Marin is the birthplace of mountain biking. Beautiful weather. So what’s the problem? People. Lots and lots of people. My work commute was routinely an hour-plus of stop-and-go, bumper to bumper traffic to go less than 20 miles. Leave for Tahoe on a Friday any later than 3pm and your four-hour drive becomes an eight-hour traffic nightmare. Don’t even think of heading to the beach on a sunny weekend day unless you want to leave super early in the morning to have a chance at finding parking, etc… Enjoy camping? State park reservations sell out six months to a year in advance.

As for mountain biking, bureaucracy, lawsuits, and powerful hiking lobbies rule the roost. In my local area there are, count-em, five different park agencies that control the trails. Each with different rules, regulations, and parking fees. Many popular trails sport rangers with radar guns who give tickets for exceeding trail speed limits. California, land of legislation.

Even with all the negative, it’s still hard to go. It is a beautiful place. Leaving family and friends is hard. Social media makes it much easier to stay in touch these days, but it’s certainly not the same as popping in for a weekend barbecue or bike ride with friends. I was born here. My roots are here. I remember when much of the Santa Clara valley was still apricot orchards. I remember surfing at the ‘hook before they put the concrete access stairs in. I remember $21 lift tickets at Sierra Ski Ranch and Kirkwood. Sleeping in my car in the parking lot to get first tracks in the morning. I’ve lived in 10+ places in the valley and watched them all change. Change that’s neither good nor bad – just different. Let’s just say that in many of those places, english is no longer the primary language. It’s the nature of our world these days. My sister the teacher would probably argue that my garbled prose barely qualifies as english, so I guess it all works out.

I first left California eighteen years or so ago, positive we’d never come back. A couple of states and six years later we found our way back. Fast forward twelve years and it’s time to head for greener pastures and new adventures. I’ll save the where for future postings. Suffice it to say that I leave with mixed emotions. Sad and happy at the same time. Nervous about the new direction and adventure, but brimming with excitement as well.

One thing I do know – you only go around in this life once and I’m not going to wait around dreaming of what could be. There’s no guarantee of a tomorrow in our contracts!

Keyser Soze And Social Security

Verbal Kent, in describing Keyser Soze in the movie “The Usual Suspects“, used a quote from a French poet: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” I think it’s a pretty apt description of what our politicians (see Meat Puppet) have done to this country with the Social Security system. The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, created during the depression, is a pay-as-you-go system. Collect sufficient funding (taxes) from earnings each year to make the promised payments to eligible recipients. Seems simple enough, no?

This is the government we’re talking about – the folks who have $1 billion in dollar coins stashed in federal reserve vaults because nobody wants them… yet continue to mint them. Starting in 1937 the fund has collected more than it paid out virtually every year. Beginning in 1982 that surplus got big – Carl Sagan-ish, Billions and Billions big. Every year. The current overage collected stands at $2.54 Trillion. What prudent savers our politicians are! Open up an interest bearing checking account at Wells Fargo (free checks!) and we’re all good, right? As Albert Einstein famously didn’t say, “the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”.

Here’s where sleight of hand that would make PT Barnum blush starts. By law the social security fund can’t keep excess money collected. Instead, they print out a bond / IOU and put it in a special lockbox. All that extra money is turned over to the general fund and the trust and care of our elected officials. What could possibly go wrong? As soon as we’re not collecting enough annually to pay social security benefits, we just go back to congress and cash in some of those IOU’s right?

Those of you with weak hearts or the vapors may want to collect yourself before reading further. Here goes – they spent it. All of it. Like drunken sailors on a three-day pass. Spent on exhibits for the Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids. Spent on mosquito trapping research in Gainesville, Florida. Spent on foreign aid to China (yes, China) and Russia. Spent on U.S. troops in 150 countries. Spent on a war in Afghanistan that has no end, for people who despise us, for no discernible goal or outcome.

6% of your paycheck, every paycheck, year after year, is taken from you. Employers kick in another 6%. All for a promised benefit upon retirement. Now that we need to start cashing in those IOU’s, the politicians are going to have to cut out spending on something else in order to pay that debt. They won’t do it. They are incapable of not spending. Too many promises to too many groups. You can’t get (re)elected by actually cutting spending. You’ll piss off someone who has their hand out. So what do you do?

Easy! Claim that we need to “strengthen” the social security fund. We need to “save” it. If debt ceilings aren’t raised, social security payments may not go out. Those who can most afford it can contribute more. We don’t want old people out in the streets. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria. (Peter Venkman)  Now that you’re sufficiently frightened that grandma will be down at the soup kitchen, we can raise taxes. Bump up the contribution percentage. Increase the retirement age. Decrease the benefit received. Make it a “means tested” benefit. Gnash my teeth, moan, tear my hair, and wave my hands enough over here that you won’t pay attention to all the spending I’m doing over there. We need to do something about this crisis! We can’t let all those evil rich people collect a benefit they don’t need or deserve. Bastards need to pay their fair share.

Mic check, mic check! We should occupy someplace about this. Can’t let those 1%er’s steal my social security. Occupy is the answer! Right after I find someplace to plug in my iPad. Battery running low.

On Feeling Young. And Tacos.

I don’t know what it is about street food that makes it so good. Grills and pans take on a certain patina when they’re not exactly cleaned spotless each night. Lard tastes better than heart healthy sunflower oil. (write this one down kids… fat = flavor) Maybe it’s the thrill of taking a chance on salmonella or hepatitis. Regardless, Anthony Bourdain has it right – you’re more likely to get sick from the hotel breakfast buffet than a street vendor. Accordingly, a friend and I took a chance on a serious dive, hole-in-the-wall, side of the road taqueria the other day.

I had a couple of pork chili verde tacos. Two small homemade tortillas, pork, onions and cilantro, hot oil dripping down my fingers. Simple. Heaven. Makes me ashamed of the American contribution to Mexican culinary history – the Chalupa Nacho Cheese (si, queso!), beef or upgraded to authentic carne asada. Oh, and Cinco de Mayo. Truly sorry about that one. Since I’m apologizing I may as well throw in blended margaritas. If you feel that you must drink your alcohol like a Jamba Juice smoothie, please have the decency to not call it a margarita. Ice cubes (Cubes DAMMIT!), Cointreau, good 100% blue agave tequila, salt. A lime if you must. Anything else and it’s no longer the beautiful drink Don Carlos Orozco gifted us with.

Since we’re talking tequila, we should probably mention a certain Jose Cervo-fueled night when I was in my twenties. Or not. Let’s just say that livestock, downtown high-rise hotels, and base jumping rarely ends well. What is worth talking about is that feeling you have in your youth.  Joints don’t hurt and backs don’t ache. There’s no such thing as stretching and warming up before you do something. There’s no hesitation when it comes to running, jumping, or climbing things. You just do it. Afterwards muscles aren’t sore. Sleep often comes easy. You don’t blink an eye at starting your evening at 11pm. Roll in as the sun is rising, go to work and repeat it the next evening.

Sitting here at an age that’s probably closer to the end than the beginning (holy crap, that’s a depressing thought), I wonder where those feelings of youth went? Well, not exactly true – in my head I still “feel” like I’m late twenties. I still listen to loud, obnoxious music that doesn’t fit my age. I feel ridiculous the few times I need to wear a tie or a suit, like I’m pretending to be an adult. The thought of going on a cruise just feels claustrophobic and something grandparents do. I like speed and thrills – skiing, mountain biking, motorcycles. I don’t think twice about going on crazy long hikes or trail runs in the backcountry. Unfortunately most of my activities usually culminate in ibuprofen, ice, and being too sore to walk the next day. I am constantly surprised when I can’t do something that I used to be able to do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the morning in pain and been honestly puzzled why I hurt? I never used to have to stretch my hamstrings and calves before spending an afternoon pulling weeds in the garden.

The lesson is that while you can’t stop the physical aging process, there’s no need to grow old mentally. The older I get the less interested I am in becoming a “grown up”. I don’t want to stop riding bikes, going for hikes, or listening to ridiculous gangster rap and 1970’s funk at eardrum damaging volumes. Everyone should resolve to do something youthful this week. Go watch a three stooges film festival. Go-cart racing. Sign up for climbing lessons at the local climbing gym. Wear a baseball hat and flip-flops. Take a spur of the moment trip without planning. Stay up past 10pm. It doesn’t matter what it is… just go do something to prove to yourself that you’re not an old fuddy-duddy.

And resolve to skip a chain restaurant this week in favor of street food. Preferably not in the best part of town. Take a chance. Have a real taco.

Thinking About Zombies

So, lately I’ve been thinking about zombies. No, not the political meat puppet types in congress but rather the walking-undead-face-eating type. I’m a big fan of the AMC series “The Walking Dead“. It’s evolved to the point that it’s now less about zombies and more about human survival and group dynamics. Seriously – will Rick really be able to forgive his wife? Is the baby really his? Will there be a showdown between Rick and Shane? Riveting stuff.

Which leads me to another show – Doomsday Preppers by the National Geographic channel. Truly awful TV. Unwatchable. Nat Geo needs to exit the reality show genre and go back to lions eating zebras. Finding a few serious nut jobs who are convinced the world is ending and rating their survival preparations is dumb. In the last episode they featured a guy who’s convinced the magnetic poles will flip and cause world-wide chaos and continents to move. I’m not a scientist, but I’ll hazard a guess that we’ll have adequate time to prepare for the North and South American continent breaking free and slamming into Africa.

If there’s going to be an apocalypse to prepare for, zombies are just as good a reason as any other. Pandemic, world economic collapse, the big earthquake, Yellowstone super volcano, Al Franken running for president, nuclear armageddon, they all share a few common preparedness steps you should be making:

Food and Water

Roughly speaking, your local grocery store is only stocked for three days to a week. Looking at what happens to store supplies every time there’s a hurricane warning in the gulf… it’s not hard to imagine that when something really bad happens you’ll be out of luck if your preparedness plan relies on running to Safeway for a few things. You need a one month supply for your family. Period. Don’t forget your pets! It’s not as much storage as you’d think. Remember we’re talking about sustenance, not gourmet meal preparation.

Word goes out that the local water supply is contaminated. Whatcha gonna do? One gallon, per person, per day. It may be weeks before a reliable source of fresh water is available. Remember the mob scenes during Katrina and attempts to provide water to people stuck on the overpasses? That was only a few days. Figure out where/how you’ll supply your family with water and do it now. No, you can’t substitute 100% with Red Bull’s.

Protection

During extreme events (tornado, small earthquakes, etc…) we often see the best of humanity. Communities and neighborhoods pulling together for the common good. I’d like to think the best of people, but history shows that’s not always the case. Eventually when people get hungry, thirsty, or desperate enough they are going to come take your shit and they will do it by force. Accept it and be prepared to defend yourself and your family. Up to you how you choose to do it, but realize that a stern talking to won’t stop someone who doesn’t share your morals and wants your stuff. In my opinion there’s not many problems that double ought buckshot won’t solve. You’re welcome to use eco-friendly pepper spray if you’d like – let me know how that works out for you.

Everything Else

What else would you want/need if you had to hunker down at the ‘ole homestead for a month waiting for the government to figure out what to do? Toilet paper? Medications? Do you have a way to boil water if the power is out? No electricity = no ATM’s. Do you have enough cash in the house? Can you take care of medical issues like cuts, fevers, a sprained ankle? Something worse? What if a family member fell and broke an arm? How about light at night? Heat if you live in a cold weather area could be an issue. Scotch. And red wine. May as well enjoy your time waiting for FEMA to spring into action.

Beyond a month? Hmmm… things have gone terribly wrong. I’m afraid that in the “civilized” world we’d be in trouble. I can deal with a few weeks without American Idol, but beyond that we’re stretching the limits of human endurance. Read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy and decide if survival is worth it (spoiler: be prepared to be depressed for a week).

Have I taken any of these survival preparation steps? Of course not! My plan is to loot the nearest Starbucks and drink as many peppermint white hot chocolates with whole milk and whipped cream, at 750 calories per, as I can force down. Then I’ll come knock on your door and beg for food. And to use the restroom.