Saturday Morning Post #70: How to Keep a Mistress Happy

In another short story from the 24 Exposures collection, This one, obviously, was born out of my great love of and affinity for dogs.

Alvin was in the doghouse again.

He couldn’t understand what had gone wrong this time. He’d tried everything he knew to make her happy, but nothing worked. The more he tried, the more she seemed to hate him. What else could he do? He had no idea right now, but he’d have to keep trying. He wanted to be liked again, that’s all. It was starting to rain.

He crept backwards as far as he could, curling up, trying to keep his face out of the falling water. He put his muzzle on his paws, infinite sadness in his eyes. He wanted to cry. Instead, he just whimpered a little, wondering. What did he do wrong? He’d thought he’d done everything right.

He closed his eyes and listened to the rain, now coming down steadily, thunking on the doghouse roof. He let out a pitiful whine. From somewhere, her voice yelled back, “Shut up.”

For three years, things had been great. Master was about the earliest thing Alvin remembered, and they had fallen in love on sight. Alvin’s first memory of Master was being lifted out of a cardboard box high into the air, seeing the rest of his litter scampering around below him, being held up to a human face. It was a nice face, big, and Alvin could smell food. He was too young to recognize exactly what the smell was, but there was something edible on the man’s breath, and Alvin licked his nose, tail wagging. That seemed to seal the deal, and then Alvin was sailing along, under the man’s arm, into the big box that made noise. It was a comforting noise, very deep, and the whole thing swayed and jiggled and Alvin felt very safe here and he fell asleep. He woke up as he was being set down in a big place, the cold floor stretching away past what his young eyes could focus on. There was food, there was water, and a hundred fascinating things to explore and smell and play with.

And Alvin grew, and learned the rules and hung by his master’s side when he was there and longed for him when he wasn’t. Alvin made sure their territory was safe from every intruder, except for the ones that Master welcomed. They were the ones who were friends, accepted into the pack’s space, and Alvin greeted them with an excited tail wag, although he’d quickly learned that the usual effort to jump up and wrestle was not accepted for some reason.

Alvin was a big boy by the time he was a year old. When he greeted Master, it was their custom for Alvin to stand on his back paws, and his face came up to Master’s chest. Master would lean down and make accepting noises and Alvin would lick his nose again and would recognize the sound he’d come to associate with happiness and status and everything’s fine in the world. “Good boy. Who’s a good boy?”

Alvin was number two dog, favorite of the pack leader, and he was in heaven. Sometimes, when other people came over, he’d find himself left outside or shut out of the bedroom. He couldn’t understand why, at first, and never knew when visitors came if it was going to be one of those nights. After a few times, he’d finally figured it out. The visitors who took Master away from Alvin all smelled… well, different than Master, but the same as each other. There’d be a strong aroma like the garden out back, but there was also another smell, one that was a little familiar to Alvin from the dog park, but also different. He didn’t have a name for it, but he came to know that this particular smell meant he’d be sleeping outside of his room that night.

The exact smell never quite repeated, though. It was a series of variations with one strong note beneath that only a dog could detect. A series of different visitors who never came back. Then there were the regulars, the ones Alvin had come to recognize from their scents and their voices. When they came over, Alvin was part of the pack. They fed him and played with him and let him hang out while they sat around looking at people running around beyond that strange window in the box in the den.

Then, one day, Alvin recognized the other scent again, a particular other scent that he’d smelled before. He didn’t even have to think it when this one hit his nose. This person had been here once and was back again. And then again, and then more often. And suddenly, sometimes, Master would go away at night and not come back. Alvin had learned to dread those evenings when Master came home from work and spent a long time changing that stuff he wore and came out of the little room covered in smells — dusty wood, sharp mint, something pungent and leafy, something else like pepper and vegetables. Those were the evenings when Alvin would sulk, lying on the bed with his saddest expression, hoping he’d get to go along, his tail wagging despite himself when Master came over to pet him and say the words Alvin had learned to hate to hear. “Take care of things, I’ll see you later.”

Sometimes, Alvin would follow Master to the door, begging with his eyes to go along, but it never worked. Alvin would go back upstairs, shoulders hunched and tail down, lie on the bed and let his sadness drag him to sleep — although he would always awake and lift his head up at the slightest promising noise, even though he knew Master would not return until it was light outside again.

He always smelled different when he came back, and Alvin noticed that it was always a hint of that familiar smell on him, that other scent, that particular scent. And the human who carried that scent started to come by more often and spend more time and Alvin realized the pack had grown. This was the only human with that particular scent who ever sat with Master in the den watching the strange window, and Alvin would lie at their feet, very happy to be with them.

Then, one day, he caught something else in that scent and he realized something he hadn’t known before about humans. This visitor was in heat. Master had never been in heat for as long as Alvin had known him. So that was what it was. Just to be sure, Alvin walked over to the visitor, put his nose between her legs and sniffed. Unmistakable. It was different than the dog heat smell in most ways, but there were telltale aromas that were only associated with that time of year. It was certainly an interesting and complicated smell, although there was nothing arousing about it to Alvin. He sniffed hard, just to make sure he was right.

“Alvin!”

Oh oh. He felt the visitor’s hands pushing his shoulders, then the yank on the collar from Master, the words he hated. “Bad dog. Bad dog. No.”

That evening, the visitor left instead of staying the night. Alvin hoped that this wasn’t his fault. He was only curious, nothing more. But the next time she came, Master put Alvin in the yard before he let her in the door. And the next time, and that became the pattern now, and Alvin came to dread hearing the familiar footsteps, catching that familiar scent from outside, hearing the doorbell.

She didn’t like him. He’d done something wrong, but he didn’t know what. He’d even given her a dog’s most friendly greeting, but she’d pushed him away. That was bad. That was terrible. Dogs rarely got along again after that sort of thing. Was it the same with these tall animals?

Alvin and Master were spending less time together. Master and her were spending more. Alvin found himself frequently sitting on the back porch, staring in through the window, seeing them there, so close and yet unreachable and it was his fault. If only he could make her like him again.

But how?

She obviously liked Master. She liked him a lot. Alvin watched them through the window. Maybe, if he was very, very good, he’d get a chance to make up with her. And then he’d make her like him, he really would, and everything would be fine and the three of them would be a pack and Alvin would be in heaven.

Alvin watched them through the windows, studying them, memorizing everything that Master did.

* * *

One evening, a long time after, Alvin heard the familiar sounds and caught that particular smell outside, and he sulked to the back door, waiting to be put outside. Only this time, for some reason, he wasn’t. Master opened the door and she came in. Alvin snapped to attention, his entire body wagging. This was his chance. Now was the time to use what he’d learned. He was very excited. Things could be the way they were before.

He ran over to her, practically bouncing, ears down to show her his proper status. And she reached down to pet him! She scratched his ears and said those words, “Good boy.” And Alvin knew how Master always said hello to her, how it made her so happy. He jumped up, put his paws on her shoulders and licked her mouth, tail wagging furiously.

“Alvin, goddammit.”

And he was outside again.

He didn’t understand. He’d shown humility, he’d given her a proper human greeting. What had he done wrong? He watched them again, trying to figure it out. They walked slowly through the living room, Master’s arm around her. He brought her to the dining room table, opened a box and handed her a bunch of flowers, like the ones along the front walk. And Alvin could tell that this made her very, very happy. They licked each other’s mouths and she didn’t get mad at Master. It didn’t bother her when he did it. Why not?

He watched as they kept licking and sniffing each other in the dining room, and then they started wrestling, pulling off those things that people always covered themselves with. Master won the wrestling match and she wound up on her back, throat exposed, kicking her hind legs as he held her down, but she really seemed to like this. Alvin could smell their happiness, even outside. They sniffed and licked each other everywhere, wrestled some more and then finally just lay down for a long time.

Alvin paced around the porch, circling, thinking. What was he missing here? What was it?

He was still wondering when Master let him in later. She was still here. Alvin could hear her. But he didn’t get a chance to try again, not tonight, and so he fell asleep staring at the closed bedroom door, and he had fitful dreams that made his legs twitch and his lip quiver in a noiseless bark and when he woke up again he was still very sad.

* * *

One day, later, Master took out the leash and said the magic phrase. “Want to go for a ride?” Alvin let out a happy yelp, started jumping up and down, running to the front door. They went outside and got in the big box and the world went past them, Alvin hanging his head into the wind, ecstatic, sniffing a thousand things and seeing dozens of people.

Then, as they started to move slower, he caught a hint of something familiar. He’d never seen this place before, but there was a trace of aroma. Her. They were near her. He’d have another chance. He welped in his happiness and Master laughed as they stopped moving and the rumble died down. Alvin couldn’t wait to get outside, he was practically pawing at the door as Master went around and opened it. Alvin bounded outside, ran to the nearest tall object and lifted his leg, leaving his mark so they could find their way back later. Then he ran up a walkway, toward a door, Master following.

The door opened and it was her. Alvin scampered over, twisting at the same time, head down and ears down, trying to look very small. He approached her and stood there as Master shouted, “Alvin, wait.” She leaned over and scratched Alvin’s ears. He was so happy. She liked him. He was about to jump up and lick her face when something stopped him, a twinge. That’s right. Bad dog. His tongue darted in and out of his mouth, but he kept it away from her and he must have done something right, because she said the words she’d only said once before. “Good boy.” His tail wagged furiously, wapping into Master’s leg as Master leaned forward and licked her face.

They went inside and it was a new place, with a hundred fascinating things to explore and smell and play with. Alvin ran from room to room, sniffing and looking, always coming back quickly to make sure Master was still there. And the place smelled a lot like Master, and like her and… and Alvin was inside. He was part of the pack.

He ran back to where she and Master were standing and watched as Master handed her something. She gave off that happy aura again as she opened the small box, pulled out a small bottle. She gave a little squeal and hugged Master very tight, kissing him. Alvin sniffed and caught a faint hint of that familiar gardeny smell. But where had it come from?

Alvin tried not to do anything, not until he knew what the right thing to do was. He lay down nearby while she and Master sat together, not approaching even though they were eating. Too risky, and he was in a strange place. He didn’t want to be left behind.

They were talking about him, looking his way. He heard his name, heard “Good.” He held his head up, wagged his tail. Master patted his leg and Alvin walked over, put his head in Master’s lap, got his ears scratched. And she reached over, scratched the white spot on his chest. Could it really be? Was it working, did she like him now?

Alvin moved away from them, rolled over on his back, tail wagging. Maybe she’d wrestle with him, and he’d let her win so she’d know he knew who was in charge. She and Master laughed and Alvin barked, then the two of them got up, carrying plates, left the room. Okay, that was odd. They didn’t want to play? Where were they going?

Alvin peeked into the kitchen, where she was standing at the counter, Master standing behind her, making noises in her ear. There was clanking, running water, then silence. She picked up the small bottle Master had given her before. He took it from her hand, and then sprayed her with it and the gardeny smell got very strong. Alvin could tell it made her happy.

Master squirted her with it again. It was an overpowering smell, a hundred different things mixed together. Gardens and cooking smell and… Alvin cocked his head to one side, took a deep whiff. Was it? His mind processed and he sniffed again. That was very strange, but yes, he was sure that’s what he smelled. Along with all the flowers and spices and other things, he definitely smelled cat pee. That’s what it was, all right. Cat pee? That was very strange.

Master sprayed her neck, then put the bottle down and stuck his face there, inhaling deeply. She laughed, turned her head, looked at Alvin, smiled. She smiled. She smiled at him. She wasn’t mad at him anymore. Alvin rushed over, circling next to them, wagging his tail. She held her hand down and he sniffed it. Cat pee. Flowers and cat pee and she was happy. She liked him now.

And it was Master’s cat pee. Of course.

Alvin gave a happy yip, turned, lifted his leg, and gave her some scent of his own and knew she would be happy and everything would be fine — and then there was yelling, Master swatted him very hard and he found himself in a strange yard again, kept apart and he couldn’t understand it. He just couldn’t understand it at all. Why hadn’t that made her happy?

They left him outside all night. The porch was covered and it was warm enough, but that wasn’t the point. He was outside, out of their territory. He’d been cut from the pack longer than he’d ever been before, and he couldn’t even see inside this place to know that they were still there. Alvin was miserable. Dawn came and he opened his eyes, but he knew it would still be a long time before Master came back. He had to make it up to them, had to say he was sorry somehow.

He wondered, “What would Master do?” Had she ever been mad at him? It didn’t seem like it. He’d realized his mistake, though. Cat pee. Not dog pee. Big difference.

Flowers.

She always had that flowery smell, except sometimes in the morning, and she was always very happy when Master gave them to her. Alvin sat up, looked around. He got up, walked into the yard and did his morning business against a tree, then sniffed. He caught the smell he was looking for, went around the house.

Flowers… There were a bunch of them here, and they always made her happy. How could this be wrong?

Alvin stuck his nose in the flowers, tail wagging, problem solved.

* * *
She screamed.

Alvin had never heard this noise before, and it startled him. Of course, he hadn’t expected her to open the door yet. He hadn’t finished arranging things. He looked up, long uprooted stalk in his mouth, wagged his tail. A clump of dirt shook from the stems and fell onto the porch next to the pile of flowers.

Master appeared behind her, looked down. His reaction was not what Alvin had expected, and he quickly found himself dragged outside and put in the big box, all alone, nothing to do and nowhere to go for a long time. All the way back home, Master didn’t talk to him, didn’t look at him, and when they got home, Alvin got pushed out into the backyard for most of the day, even though no one else was there.

So, it was back to being put outside every time he heard her sounds and caught that particular scent, and she didn’t even really look at him through the windows anymore, no matter how hard he tried to get her attention. She kept coming back and dawn kept getting further from nightfall and it kept getting colder outside until it was that time of year again when Alvin always grew a little fat and shaggy and his breath would fog the window, make it harder to see inside. It had been a long, long time since he’d even gotten near her. Almost forever.

Then, one night when she was there, very late, it started to rain and Master came downstairs and let Alvin into the dark house. Alvin couldn’t remember the last time he’d been inside with both of them. He wagged his tail, but moved very slowly, very carefully, not wanting to do anything wrong. He followed Master up to the bedroom, but the door closed before Alvin could go in. Still, he was inside. He lay down and watched the door, waiting.

He could hear sounds from inside, like they were baying at the moon, and a strange squeaking. Alvin sniffed, moving his nose toward the door. Yes, they were both in there. He sniffed again and then the unimaginable happened. The door quietly popped open. Alvin pushed it with his nose. It swung wider and he lurked inside, headed toward his bed and quietly got in. They hadn’t noticed him. They were too busy.

Alvin watched, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. She and Master were wrestling again, he thought. He could see both of them on the bed, moving around, but —

Alvin lifted his head, stared. No, this wasn’t wrestling. He knew this. Every dog knew this, whether they’d ever done it or not, it was just one of those things. She had her back to Master and he was behind her and they were mating and Alvin could tell both of them were extremely happy. Maybe, then, they wouldn’t be mad at him when they were done.

When they were done, Master got up and went into the small room, not noticing Alvin in his basket. Mistress — that’s who she was now, after all, those were the rules — also got up, went to the dresser, fiddling with something. Then she said, “Dammit,” which Alvin knew was a mad word, but she hadn’t said it at him. She hadn’t noticed him, either. Or had she? She must have, because all of a sudden she was kneeling on the floor, head down, moving her front paws around, sniffing the carpet.

Alvin had never noticed it before, but even though humans didn’t have tails, they had all the other parts that dogs did. And here she was, offering it to him and it had made her very happy with Master. This was it, this was the answer and everything was going to be wonderful again.

Alvin got out of his basket and went to her and now he was in the doghouse and it was pouring rain and everything made him very sad, there was nothing he could do anymore, nothing he could do right, nothing. He whimpered, then howled.

“Shut up,” her voice shrieked from the darkness.

But Alvin just kept howling, louder and louder, a mournful noise. He didn’t care anymore. If he couldn’t make her happy, then he’d make her mad. At least it was something, at least it got him noticed. But he’d have his revenge. After tonight, that was it. He was just going to ignore her, not even say hello. He wasn’t even going to look at them through the windows, and she’d know. She would know how mad he was at her and he would never be her friend.

Alvin stopped howling. Everything was solved, then, and he felt very relieved. He went to sleep a new dog, and even the sound of thunder didn’t disturb his slumber.

His dreams were even pleasant. It was a sunny day, and he and Master were playing in the park. Just the two of them and nobody else.

Wednesday Wonders: Kenneth Essex Edgeworth MC

Just over 141 years ago, an Irish astronomer, economist, and all-around jack of all trades you’ve never heard of known as Kenneth Essex Edgeworth was born.

You probably have heard of Gerard Kuiper, though, or at least the belt named after him. Since Kuiper was of Dutch descent, that first syllable is pronounced with a long I, so it’s not “Kooper.” The first syllable rhymes with kite. (If you’re an L.A. local, it’s exactly the same as Van Nuys, and for the same reasons that I won’t get into here, because they’re complicated.)

Anyway… Kuiper was about 25 years younger than Edgeworth, died just over a year after him in 1973, and wound up with his name on something that Edgeworth originally predicted and described.

Okay, sometimes it’s referred to as the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, attributing the discoverers slash theorists in the right order, but that’s generally mostly not the case, so that Kuiper really is kind of the Edison to Edgeworth’s Tesla.

But Edgeworth was ahead of his time in other ways. Only eight years after Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 and declared the eighth planet, Edgeworth was expressing his doubts, saying that it was too small to be a planet, and was probably a remnant of the bits and pieces that came together to create the solar system.

He was certainly vindicated on that one, and it was part of the same ideas which gave birth to what should be called the Edgeworth Belt, but which didn’t catch on until Kuiper got in on the act in the 1950s.

Maybe a big part of the problem was that Edgeworth was more of an armchair astronomer. While he published papers, he was a theorists and not an experimenter. Then again, Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist, not a practical one, and his theories changed the way we view the universe.

Edgeworth’s could have changed the way we view our solar system, and he also hypothesized what later became known as the Oort Cloud — named for another damn Dutch astronomer, Jan Oort, who once again came to the party long after Edgeworth proposed the idea.

When Edgeworth was a child, his family moved to the estate of his maternal uncle, who was an astronomer, and had an influence on young Kenneth. Later, the family would move to the estate of Edgeworth’s paternal grandfather, where he would develop engineering skills in his father’s workshop.

He went into the military, joining the Corps of Royal Engineers, and was posted to South Africa, where he served in the Second Boer War. His military career continued through World War I and beyond, and he retired in 1926.

However, between the Boer War and WW I, his uncle submitted his name for membership in the Royal Astronomical Society, and he was accepted for in 1903. By this point, he had already written papers on astronomy, since one of them was read at the meeting during which he was elected. He studied international economics during the Great Depression and wrote five books on the subject in the 1930s and 40s. He also published various papers on astronomy, covering subjects like the solar system, red dwarves, star formation, and redshift.

It was also at this time that he published his thoughts on Pluto, as well as the existence of both the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud.

After he “retired,” he published a series of letters and papers, leading to his book The Earth, the Planets and the Stars: Their Birth and Evolution, which was published in 1961. He published his autobiography, Jack of all Trades: The Story of My Life, when he was 85, in 1965, and died in Dublin in 1972, at the age of 92.

His contributions to the Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud weren’t acknowledged until 1995, although he did have an asteroid named after him in 1978, 3487 Edgeworth. Yes, a comet would have been more appropriate, but those are only named after their discoverers, and after October 10, 1972, Kenneth Edgeworth wasn’t in a position to discover anything new.

But while he was around, damn what a life. And what an unsung hero. Proof yet again that, sometimes, the ideas that sound utterly crazy at the time turn out to be the truth.

I wonder which unsung geniuses we aren’t listening to now, but whose visions will be obvious in a generation or two.

Image: Kenneth Essex Edgeworth, year unknown. Public domain.

Taking to the air

Recently, a new feature popped up on WordPress, which is what I’ve been using to publish this site. They’ve added the ability to generate podcasts directly from posts, and I decided to give it a try, with the first episode going up on June 30.

While it’s entirely possible to read and record everything myself, production of a single podcast is a bit more complicated than just writing and formatting an article, so I’ll be using their AI voices to help. Overall, the reading isn’t half bad, although they do still have a tendency to misread somethings.

For example, the year 2021, when written that way, comes out as two thousand and twenty-one instead of twenty twenty-one. And sometimes, it doesn’t know what to do with non-English words.

For example, in one story, it pronounced the Spanish sauce “mole” like the English word for the burrowing mammal. Unfortunately, there is no accent in Spanish since the emphasis is already where it should be, on the “O,” so no clue that way. Oddly enough, in the phrase “holy moley,” which came later, it did pronounce it the right way but, obviously, spelling the sauce wrong wouldn’t work for the printed article.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to edit the text that’s copied into the sound file generator, which seems like a drawback.

Otherwise, it’s a fun process. I will record the intros and outros with background music and add incidental transition music and the like, but I’m leaving the heavy lifting to the AI because it saves me a lot of time.

Besides, the results are probably a lot more pleasant than people having to listen to my “Where the hell is he from?” accent for a full episode. If you don’t believe me, just listen, and, forgetting anything I’ve told you in this blog, tell me where I’m originally from. I just had too many different regional inputs growing up and somehow picked up on them all.

I am convinced that my hometown has no real accent because it kind of has all of them, and they wind up mixing and matching.

As for the podcast progress, I think I’ll start it out at once per week, and will be recording already existing articles from the blog. Of course, that’s how the system works. The podcast recorder will only pull and convert text from published articles.

At the moment, meaning July 5, 2021, the first episode is only available on Spotify, Pocket Casts, Breaker, and RadioPublic, but it should be available on Google podcasts some time soon.

Spotify seems to be the one that shows up right away, and the rest are listed in the order they were published over a couple of days. Of course, this whole process could speed up with subsequent episodes.

I never thought I’d have any interest in doing the podcast thing, but I don’t hate it so far! So this could be a short experiment or it could turn into something else. Stay tuned to this space for updates.

And yes, this is a short post, but it’s a holiday weekend in the U.S. as we celebrate our independence — officially, it was on Sunday, July 4, but people have been shooting off fireworks all week long and the Federal holiday is today, Monday.

But happy Independence Days in advance to the visitors from my top twelve countries which are, in date order, January 26, March 26, May 5, June 12, July 1, July 14, August 10, August 14, August 15, September 16, October 1, and October 3. I won’t mention any names. You can figure out who you are.

Image source: Kevin Campbell from Pixabay. (CC) Simplified Pixaby License.

The Saturday Morning Post #69: Pamela Rewarded Part 4

CONCLUSION. Previously: Pamela is an Emmy award-winning TV producer without a show, and she’s been desperately trying to get back in the game, but so far has only faced rejection, because everything she pitches is too much like her old show. Meanwhile, she’s also dealing with her recalcitrant children — son Walter, who took a dive out of his bedroom and seriously broke his arm because of her controlling nature, and daughter Althea, who despite having her every whim indulged seems bitter and resentful. Pamela has arranged for the social event of the season to mark Althea’s 18th birthday, but none of the invitees have replied. Instead, she’s hired 350 extras for the evening, hoping that Althea won’t know. Here’s the last installment.

The extras arrived in dribs and drabs on cue, and by seven-forty-five the party looked like a gigantic success. Althea still wasn’t down yet, but that wasn’t unusual. Strangers made her nervous, and she’d have to be coaxed. Pamela had allowed her to invite a friend, but the friend hadn’t shown up yet. When she did, whoever it was, Althea would loosen up.

Walter was another matter. He attacked the bar the second it opened up, even though Pamela had told him not to drink tonight. He was already weaving pretty well when he stumbled up to her as she stood by the stairs, waiting for the guest of honor to descend.

“No more for you tonight,” she said sternly, taking the glass out of his uninjured hand. “You’re barely 19 anyway. And I don’t want you ruining this evening for your sister.”

“You don’t want me ruining it for you.”

“Walter, what is wrong with you? You used to be such a good boy, but now look. Acting like a cheap drunk, falling down and hurting yourself. What happened? Is this what a year in the dorms has done to you?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going back there.”

“I know, we’ve already settled that. And I think it’s a good thing.”

“No. I mean, I’m not going back there. My first semester, I applied to NYU — “

“But you got accepted to S.C. — “

“No, no. I mean, while I was a freshman and they accepted me. I’m transferring.”

Pamela stared at him, then sipped from the glass in her hand. “You want to run that by me again?” she said.

“I am going to NYU in September. I’m moving to New York next week.”

Pamela laughed. “No you’re not.”

“I’m an adult and you’re not telling me what to do. It’s bad enough I went to a college I didin’t want to. Don’t make it worse.”

“How have I made it worse?”

“Let me live my life.”

“How have I made it worse, Walter? Look around you, look at all this. This house. Your car, expensive clothes. Have you ever not had anything you wanted, and you have the nerve to stand there and tell me that I’ve made your life worse?”

His lip trembled and he bit it, staring at her with barely concealed fury. “I am going to NYU,” he finally spat out, low, his voice cracking.

“Then you’re paying for NYU,” Pamela shot back, “Because I’m not. I’m only paying for USC.”

“Only paying. That’s the problem, that’s the goddamn problem.”

“Watch your language.”

“I’m going.” He pushed past her and started up the stairs. “And fuck you.”

She dropped the glass, screamed for the maid to clean the carpet, then headed up the stairs, going to Althea’s door and knocking as she tried the knob. Locked. She had to find out who kept putting the locks back on after she’d have Oded remove them.

“Sweetie, are you coming down soon?”

“Just a minute.”

“Everybody’s here, they can’t wait to see you.”

“I said just a minute.”

“And you have to open your presents. There are lots of presents.”

Silence, then she heard movement inside, voices. Strange, Althea was supposed to be alone. Then she opened the door, already in her party dress and Pamela saw the boy, standing over by the vanity.

“Mom, Dale. Dale, mom.” Althea noticed Pamela’s horrified reaction, added, “You said I could bring a friend.”

“I meant girlfriend.”

“So I brought my boyfriend. Excuse me.” Althea stepped past Pamela, toward the stairs.

“Wait, wait. What do you mean ‘boyfriend?’” Pamela asked. “You don’t have a boyfriend.”

“Yes I do, his name’s Dale, that’s him.” Dale had emerged from the bedroom and Althea took his hand, pulling him toward the stairs. When the hell did she even meet someone to become a boyfriend, Pamela wondered. And where could Althea have met him? she didn’t know any black people. She didn’t know any people.

But before Pamela could say a word, Althea smiled at her and said the one thing that could possibly shut her up at this moment. “Don’t make a scene in front of the guests,” Althea whispered, and then she and Dale were bouncing down the stairs, holding hands.

Pamela grabbed the banister to keep from swaying. Oded came out of his room, saw her and bounded over.

“Great party, huh?”

“Fasten your seatbelts,” Pamela said. Then, “Oh, never mind.”

* * *
“Surprise!” the extras yelled, hitting their cue and getting their line right as Althea made her entrance.

Pamela had done her best to distract her daughter downstairs, latching onto her and taking her around to meet the guests, but the poor girl looked incredibly bored and didn’t say much of anything to anyone. Finally, she shoved Pamela’s arm off her shoulder. “You’re crushing me,” she said, moving three feet away and signaling for Dale to join them.

“Should we open your presents now?” Pamela cheered.

“Isn’t there a band or something?” Althea asked.

“Band first, then presents?”

“Okay.”

And the show went on and Althea stood by her mother’s side during the first song, then whispered in her ear, “I’m going to dance with Dale,” and wandered away. Pamela nodded, keeping an eye on them. Althea stopped briefly to talk to Oded, and then she and Dale faded into the crowd and onto the dance floor. She turned to watch the group play and then Oded popped up with a drink, standing at her side.

“They’re pretty good, huh?” he said.

“Not really,” Pamela told him, “They only charge like they are.” And it was true. The second song sounded just like the first, which sounded identical to the third, all of them variations on the theme of “Ooh, do you love me, girl? I love you.” It was all so hormonally puerile, except that these five boys all looked like virgins, and one of them was obviously queer — not that he’d know it for another decade.

It was over soon enough and then it was time for the presents, except that Althea was AWOL. Pamela and Oded looked everywhere for her, but she was nowhere. Pamela stomped up the stairs, beelined to Althea’s door and knocked as she grabbed the knob. It wasn’t locked. She flung the door open, finding the room empty.

Finding the room almost empty. There was an envelope on the floor, addressed simply, “Mom.”

She read the letter three times, stunned. The short version was, “I’m leaving. You suck.” The long version was three handwritten pages, every sin Althea thought Pamela had ever committed, every normal thing she hadn’t let her have. She shoved the note in her pocket, went downstairs and grabbed the microphone.

“Okay, thanks, party’s over. Everybody, out, out. Go. Home.”

And the extras scattered like ants, Pamela’s one-hundred-dollar guests, boy band long gone and unopened presents stacked on tables. The yard was devoid of partiers in five minutes, Pamela standing on the stage, alone as the caterers began to clean up.

She didn’t remember starting to do it, but certainly enjoyed it when she found herself in the middle of flinging boxes to the ground, kicking in fancy wrapping paper, hurling expensive foreign electronics into the pool, heaving fragile items hard into the flagstones, half-screaming all the while.

She’d trashed everything and overturned all the tables and had turned toward the car, which was concealed under a huge drape on the back lawn, when Oded raced up to her, grabbed her arm.

“Pam, stop it. This isn’t helping. She’ll be back.”

“No she won’t,” Pamela sputtered, pulling out the letter and shoving it in Oded’s arms. He took it but didn’t look at it. He was staring at her.

And then Pamela knew. Oded and Althea had been talking at the party. And Oded hadn’t seemed particularly surprised to meet Dale. Oded knew, he knew everything, he was in on everything. Just another one in a long line of people to betray her and plot against her, and it all made sense now. That was why Walter did what he did, why Althea had run away.

She raked her nails across his face, drawing four long red gashes down his left cheek. He jumped away. “Ow. What the hell did you do that for — ”:

“Get out.”

“What?”

“This is all your fault.”

What?”

“You know what I’m talking about. You hate me, you always have. Well, I’m done with you. Good-bye.”

She turned her back on him.

“Come on, Pamela. We’ll find Althea, we’ll bring her back.”

“You have fifteen minutes, and then I’m calling the police.”

There was a long silence, then Oded finally spoke. “All right. Okay, I’m gone. But you know what? You are one severely fucked up lady. And you can just kiss…” He balled up his face in rage, then shook his head, turned his back and walked away.

But Pamela wasn’t looking and she didn’t acknowledge him at all, and finally she heard him stomp across the patio, into the house. It was Dennis all over again, in its own way.

She went inside later, making sure Oded was gone, then poured herself a drink and stood in the living room, just staring at the Emmy. It was a beautiful statue, really. Majestic and hopeful. A Grammy was stupid, a Tony was way too small and an Oscar was too plain. But this one was perfection. It was all she’d ever really wanted.

She thought she heard a strange buzzing sound from somewhere, cocked her head to listen, but then it stopped. Maybe she’d had too much to drink. But then something hit her nose and she sniffed. Smoke? Was somebody smoking in the house? Great, she thought, Oded is back.

She went into the foyer, but there was no one there. The front door was locked. But she could still smell the smoke…

And then the buzzing again, and she knew what it was. One of the smoke detectors, the one at the top of the stairs. She looked up, and saw the smoke billowing down the hallway, gathering in a slow-forming pool at the top of the stairwell. She raced up the stairs, looked into the hall, which was already obscured. There was a flicker of flame from the distance, heat drifting toward her.

And there was Walter, emerging from one of the bedrooms, coughing. He stumbled toward the stairs, stopped and looked down at her, still holding the burnt-out match in his hand.

“Walter…” was all she could say.

“You’re going to pay for it,” he answered. And then the door to Pamela’s room swung open on a gust of flame and huge ball of black smoke coughed into the hall, drifting around Walter, above Pamela. She reached forward, grabbed for him and got hold of his bad arm, pulling him toward the stairs.

“Out,” she said. “Get outside. Now.”

But he sat down, refusing to move.

“Walter, don’t do this.”

“Which one do you really care about more?” he asked.

“Which, who?”

“Which thing, mommy. Me or the house?”

“I care about you, Walter. Now get out of here.”

“Don’t you think you should be calling 9-1-1?”

“Get your ass downstairs right now.”

She could hear the crackling flames, roaring into the hall, the smoke getting thicker, every alarm upstairs going off. She didn’t have to call 9-1-1 and Walter knew that. The security company had already been notified.

“Who’s paying for NYU?” Walter asked, waving smoke away, his eyes watering.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Pamela said, grabbing the front of his shirt, trying to pull him up.

“We’ll talk about it now,” he replied.

“You can go to NYU if you get out of this house right now.”

“Swear?”

“Yes, I swear, goddammit, now move.”

With a smug grin, Walter got up and hurried down the stairs, Pamela following. He was at the door when she suddenly remembered, turned back toward the living room.

“Leave it,” he said.

“No,” she answered.

“Okay,” he replied, walking back to the bottom of the stairs. “You can take it or me out, not both.”

“Stop screwing around.”

“I’m not screwing around. Which one is more important to you, me or that lump of brass? It’s D-Day, mommy. Or maybe that should be V-Day. You know. Victory. Yours or mine, but not both.”

There was a sudden creaking from the back of the house, then a crash. Pamela could see the flicker of flames through the dining room doors, and then the smoke started pouring in. Something in the kitchen had gone up fast, and then flames exploded through the dining room, licking at the living room doors, flanking the display case.

In the far distance, sirens trembled, approaching and receding slowly, up the canyon roads.

The flames were advancing, crawling around the walls now, crawling toward it. They were reflected in the polished gold, highlighting it, making it shine.

Pamela stepped into the living room, started toward the statue, but then the flames roared up, cutting her off. There was nothing she could do but watch as the walls blackened and the fire crawled ever closer to the winged lady.

She backed out of the room, heading for the front door. Walter wasn’t sitting on the stairs. Maybe he’d finally done something sensible.

She opened the front door and the flames in the house roared up, jumping at her. She ran, down the drive, hearing now the terrible crackling of shattering wood and the wail of the sirens finally arriving on the other side of the front wall. Walter wasn’t there. But he had to have gotten out. He had to.

She turned and looked at the house, which was belching hot yellow and black smoke from its entire upper floor, downstairs windows glimmering. From where she stood, she could see through the front window, through the living room doors, could just catch a glimpse of the edge of the statue, flames now dancing at its base. And then the vision was gone, buried in the cataclysm and firemen were racing past her, two men in white uniforms taking her arms and leading her to a stretcher and an oxygen mask.

But they couldn’t save the house, nobody could, not even Pamela. Everything burned, even the garage, the Emmy reduced to a melted, blackened thing and Walter… Walter gone.

And Althea and Oded. She had worked so hard to make everything exactly perfect, and it was all gone so easily and despite the oxygen, or because of it, she started hyperventilating and wound up in the hospital anyway. The baskets of flowers and the Things Executives Sent were lovely, but none of them came with job offers. They all wrote notes about how terribly tragic her loss was, and if she needed anything blah, blah, blah. But the blah blah blah meant nothing. None of it had meant anything. And six months later, somebody else produced her story, fictionalized, as a movie of the week.

It won four fucking Emmys.

* * *

New Year’s Countdown, Sunday

T Minus 5

Sure, it’s after Christmas, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be the “It’s not Just Christmas” theme. I’ve covered Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Diwali. Hell, even Festivus Now here’s a song that combines all of them, all of the Christmas carols, and provides a reminder of the annual madness we’ve all just survived.

I give you the group Straight No Chaser, which in some ways echoes another group seen here several times, Out of the Blue Oxford, performing both Santa Baby and All I Want for Christmas Is You. Both started as college a cappella groups, but the British version stayed with the university as an organization with an ever-evolving cast while the American version struck out on their own. As they describe their evolution, they went “from an undergraduate singing group at Indiana University to a beloved Atlantic Records act with a devoted international fanbase.”

Their first release was the holiday album Holiday Spirits from 2008. This song was the lead track from their 2009 holiday release Christmas Cheers.

Check out the previous post or the next, or start from the beginning.

New Year’s Countdown, Saturday

T Minus 6

Christmas is over, but doing this countdown has been so much fun that I decided to reset the clock to bring us into New Year’s and the first day of 2021, which is also the first year of the second decade of the 2000s. A lot of people don’t get this and think that the 20s started a year ago, but time doesn’t work that way. Otherwise, the day after December 31 would be January 0.

Besides, after the giant dumpster fire that was 2020, do we really want to let it be part of the decade that could truly represent a new beginning.

I think the confusion over when decades begin and end comes from how humans count their own ages. Yes, on the day someone turns 20, they are no longer a teen, but that’s because we start counting at zero, and on their first birthday they turn one. Decades, centuries, and millennia all start on the first day of year one and you have to have all of the digits, so it runs 1 all the way to (1)0.

But forget that for the moment. Happy Boxing Day, everyone! This is more celebrated in the British Commonwealth than the U.S., but in honor of this most British of holidays I bring you the most Irish of bands, Dropkick Murphys, with The Season’s Upon Us. The song may be a day late for Christmas, but it’s probably a more honest depiction of how a lot of you celebrated yesterday. Plus it continues the Christmas Countdown theme of Funny Thursday. Enjoy!

Watch from the beginning, see the previous post, or experience the next.

Christmas Countdown, Thursday #4

Day 14

Thursday’s theme is Funny Christmas, and while this one isn’t a Christmas carol per se, it’s kind of a meta take on the whole theme, as SNL imagines a whole series of celebrity Christmas songs that, honestly, aren’t all that far-fetched. This dates back to December of 2013, but it’s still relevant today, and seemed most appropriate for Christmas Eve.

Of course, SNL has had a long history of doing Christmas episodes and sketches, and this season marks their 44th, which is pretty remarkable if you think about it. Yes, it’s had its ups and downs over the years, but when it nails it with an amazing cast, it really nails it — and this is something that the show seems to manage to do at least around every Presidential election year.

We certainly saw it in the 2019 lead-up to 2020, and then it just exploded in 2020 — no mean feat considering that a lot of the season was performed remotely, with the cast in their own homes, but it still worked.

But… when they’re not doing politics, they’re nailing human foibles and pop culture, which the video below does. Their aforementioned Christmas sketches do, too, and if you’re interested, Refinery 29 has a list of the best of them.

Check out the previous post or see the next.

Sunday Nibble #44: A short guide to knowing your shit #8

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This poop will most often occur after you’ve binged on party food (particularly pot luck), when you’re on certain medications, or have had certain things to drink. It can behave like any other poop on this list, but it’s a secondary property that puts it into a category all its own.

The distinguishing feature is that what hits the water has a color that bears no resemblance to standard brown, or sometimes just for fun it may be two-toned or multi-colored. In fact, it can cover pretty much the whole rainbow.

If you’re getting red from your rump, it could be that you’ve recently eaten too much Red Velvet Cake or other foods dyed red, but if you haven’t and you don’t have hemorrhoids, then you should probably see your doctor.

Yes, it’s possible to have orange output, especially if you eat a lot of foods with beta carotene in them, like carrots or sweet potatoes.

One color not caused by food is yellow. If this starts happening, then it’s definitely time to doctor up, as you may be developing serious liver problems.

A green growler is usually caused by eating a lot of green foods, like gorging on spinach, or can also be due to food with green dye, so it can be quite common right after St. Patrick’s Day. On the other hand, green poop can also mean that your food is making the trip portal-to-portal through your body way too quickly, so that the bile in it hasn’t broken down enough to turn dark brown.

And if you would have normally had a yellow dump, you can get green instead if you have a lot of red wine or grape juice — although you really shouldn’t have any of the former if you’re already pooping yellow.

Blue butt blasts are also a result of eating a lot of food that is dyed or naturally blue.

The only one lacking is a purple poo, although you might get that one if you gorge yourself on Red Velvet Cake and blueberries. Don’t try this at home, though.

Finally, if you blow mud in black and you haven’t had Pepto-Bismol or black licorice lately, or your waste is white at all, it’s definitely doctor time. The former could indicate internal bleeding, and the latter probably means hepatitis or liver failure.

So there are many reasons you may find out that you missed the bus to brown town, but it’s not always something to worry about, and it can be an expected event that livens things up.

This is why we call this kind of poop La Caca Sorpresa

(Shout out to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research for their explanations of various possible colors, and/or colours.)

* * *

Sunday Nibble #43: A short guide to knowing your shit #7

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This is the rarest poop of them all, and one you’re lucky to encounter once in a very blue moon. You go to the toilet as normal and begin your routine. Of course, none of us ever knows what to expect. Will it be a cheek-ripping Decepticon, or the disappointing Phantom? Is it time to bless the Chocolate Rains down on Aquaman, or experience the wonders of an endless Anaconda?

Every time you come here, it’s literally a crapshoot.

Then comes that magical time when you squat and everything comes out almost immediately, in two or three solid plops that follow one after another like paratroopers leaping from the plane. No muss, no fuss, barely any clean-up, and you’re done. You didn’t even get a chance to open your browser.

This is Nature’s way of telling you, “Yes, you are getting enough fiber, and your diet is good.” This is the one that starts your day off right or makes your afternoon a thousand percent better. This is the one you want to share with friends, co-workers, or family by proudly stating, “I took the most satisfying dump today!”

By the way, did you ever wonder why the expression is “took” and not “left?” But I do digress.

When you experience this poop, it’s as if the heavens open and choirs of angels sing. You almost expect this one to smell like rainbows and cotton candy. You plan to buy a bunch of lottery tickets as soon as you get out of the bathroom, and you might even let someone else have the remote tonight. It’s just that good a moment.

If this happens for you every single day, then your gastrointestinal tract is truly blessed and your colon is probably more sparkly than the clean-room at JPL. You most likely pity your fellow humans.

But if this is a rarity for you, like it is for most of us mere mortals, count it as a lucky day when it’s snap, crackle, plop, and done, for you have just had the most wondrous poop of them all.

This rarest of poops is called The Unicorn

* * *

Sunday Nibble #42: A short guide to knowing your shit #6

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This is possibly the worst of the poops, especially if it happens when you’re stuck in a public restroom stall with only TP on hand and no sink within reach. It tends to feel pretty normal right until it gets to wiping time, and then…

You slip the paper between your cheeks, take a swipe and feel a sudden and unfortunate warmness on your finger. For whatever reason, this particular poop didn’t nosedive out. Instead, it used its little hands and grabbed the sides, leaving nasty palm prints on the door jambs, as it were.

Think of it as a Play-Doh pumper when you’ve gotten the dough wet first. No matter how small the opening is, that stuff is going to smear sideways on the way out. And if you have any kind of butt hair at all in your crack (which you should keep if you do) ta-da — instant Velcro® that’ll hang onto the mess tightly.

The causes of this disaster are uncertain, but it would seem to be a combination of a Decepticon and a Traitor. The solidity of the former keeps it from becoming the latter but, at the same time, the squishiness of the latter expands and turns the former into something else. And, ta-da, it’s peanut butter jelly time.

There’s really no good way to deal with this one other than using about six tons of TP to scour your crack and your hand, over and over and over. It’s either that or waddle to the quite public sink with your posterior out for all to see, hoping that no one else comes in while you try to aim the water up your crack. It’s also a reminder that bidets are an excellent idea, and why they haven’t caught on in America is a complete mystery.

Once you’ve managed to feel clean enough downstairs, you’re still going to have to awkwardly re-dress with your non-wiping hand, and then go play Lady Macbeth at the sink until you once again feel pure, all the while swearing that you are going to drink more water and eat more fiber.

You have just been a victim of The Sloppy Joe

* * *