Friday Free-for-All #74: Cute animal, wild animal, proportion, this or that

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What animal would be cutest if scaled down to the size of a cat?

There are a lot of possibilities here, but I think the winner would have to be a brown bear. A polar bear would have been my choice, but they prefer colder climates and living on the coast in the Arctic, so short of keeping the bathtub constantly filled with cold water and floating blocks of ice, they’d be hard to keep.

But brown bears are cute as it is — other than the fact that they can kill you. So cat size would be good. They’d probably be less inclined to be aggressive toward humans, especially if raised from cubs, and would probably manage a job equal to cats of getting rid of various vermin.

Plus there are bonus points: brown bears kind of look like dogs, so taking your cat-sized bear on a walk could get some interesting reactions.

“Oh, that’s so cute. What kind of a dog is it?”

“Brown bear.”

“Really? I’ve never heard of that breed.”

“That’s because it’s not a dog.”

“Then what is it?”

“I told you. It’s a brown bear, but it’s cat size.”

“Really? Where can I get one?”

“You can’t, actually, because I just made this one up for a Friday Free-for-all article.”

“Oh. You’re that guy…”

They slowly back away and I continue the walk with my cat-sized brown bear, now thinking about all of the ways it would probably still make a really bad pet.

What’s the coolest animal you’ve seen in the wild?

Well, it wasn’t exactly that “wild,” at least not in nature terms. Oh, there was plenty of wildlife in that neighborhood, but it was mostly of the human variety.

Still, it was about the closest I’ve ever gotten to a truly wild animal and it was kind of amazing.

I was living in West Hollywood at the time, over on the west end of the city in the part known as Boy’s Town, since a lot of the bars and clubs were right down the hill and ran a few blocks to the west from where I lived.

I was in a third-floor studio with a balcony that faced west and was standing out there one night when I looked over at the condo building next door and closer to the street — my apartment building had been constructed around an obvious hold-out. There was a single family home taking up the footprint in the L-shaped building I lived in.

Anyway, this condo had these big red Globes on the top corners as decorative features — it was tossed up in the 90s, after all. And on top of one of those globes that night was something that, in silhouette, looked exactly like a cat.

Well, a slightly large cat, but it was the right shape and had pointy ears. I wondered how it got up there, because the globes themselves were bigger than the bases they were sitting on. Just as I was wondering this, the cat turned toward the edge of the globe and started leaning, as if it were going to jump off.

I just stared in terrified fascination because there was nowhere for this cat to land between the top of that globe and the pavement below and the cat was the equivalent of about five stories up. But it was too late. It leaned over, jumped off of the globe… and then spread its wings and soared to the across to the front southern corner of my building.

It wasn’t a cat. It was an owl. A pretty big owl at that.

Now I was fascinated and really wanted a closer look, so, remembering that owls like to eat rodents, I started to make what I thought sounded like mouse noises.

It must have worked, because all of a sudden that owl took off, flew over and landed on the branch of a tree only a few feet from my balcony, giving me an intense once-over.

It startled me so much that I stepped back inside, but then I thought, “No — an owl isn’t going to attack me, especially once it realizes I’m not food,” so I went back out, and the owl and I considered each other for a bit.

It was a truly majestic creature and also seemed genuinely curious. It was probably wondering, “What the hell is this human doing way up here in this tree? Can this son of a bitch fly?”

But then, after what seemed like long minutes but what was probably more like thirty seconds, the owl flung itself into the sky and flew off.

It wasn’t the last owl I’d see in West Hollywood, and I still hear them all the time in my current neighborhood in the Valley. And something that people not from L.A. don’t realize is that despite being a huge city in the most populous county in the U.S., the place is full of wildlife.

In the county, we have owls, woodpeckers, crows, coyotes, mountain lions, (full-size) bears, raccoons, opossums, rats, deer, skunks, rattlesnakes, roadrunners, lizards, and on and on living here — and probably a lot I haven’t listed because they’re in other parts of the county.

n my lifetime, I think that I’ve seen every one of these in person at least once except for mountain lions, bears, and rattlesnakes, but I’ve seen most of the others multiple times.

That owl in WeHo, though, was probably the most up-close and personal I’d ever gotten with one of the many resident critters in these parts.

What has been blown way out of proportion?

Short answer: Everything. We’re suddenly living in an age where absolutely everything becomes a source of drama. I think, to some extent, the media is to blame, although it’s been to blame for a long, long time. The phrase “If it bleeds, it leads,” goes back to a 1989 article on broadcast media by Eric Pooley, published in New York Magazine.

If you ever do watch broadcast news, you’ll see that the biggest disaster of the day or the moment tends to be the lead story, and it takes up a lot of time. “Local school bus crash claims 17 lives!” screams the graphic behind the news anchors at the top of show.

Never mind that a landslide the same day killed 250, with a hundred more missing. That happened in Bolivia, so the audience here doesn’t care.

So the local bus crash gets blown out of all proportion to the landslide in a far-off country.

This idea wasn’t limited to just news media, though. Take it to entertainment media, and it’s the same thing: The train-wrecks get the attention. One Britney meltdown or Lady Di car crash is worth five hundred stories about celebrities doing charitable work or rescuing people from landslides in Bolivia or generally doing good things.

Then there was Reality TV — the worst thing to ever happen to that medium — in which case every single thing because dramatic as hell and got blown out of proportion. We largely have MTV, after it decided to stop playing music, to blame for this one.

I’d argue that the “M” in “Music Television” went from what it meant to what it currently is now: “Mindless Television.”

But those early reality programs, like all the incarnations of Big Brother, were the epitome of blowing tiny shit out of proportion. “Oh no. Eight young, beautiful people living in a house together and on camera 24-7. Whatever will we do if one pair has a slight disagreement?”

That’s right — lose our collective shit over it.

And so the drama and overblown nature of things continued to grow and percolate and then along came the internet, and it threw all of this shit into hyperdrive, so that average folk could now get in on the drama-queening and the overreacting and the blowing everything out of proportion, from the most minor of verbal gaffes to some celebrity admitting that they don’t do things like most people.

Wh-wh-wh-whaaaat??? No, we can’t have that. Take them to the court of public opinion.

It’s all gotten rather tiresome. I mean, when everything is blown way out of proportion, all perspective vanishes until we all just become voices screaming into the void.

Stop it. Stop it now!

Speed round: More “This or that?”

Okay, a few easy ones to end with:

  1. Hamburger or Taco?

I do love me some (American style) Mexican food, but given my choice, I’d go for the hamburger any time. Well, as long as it’s a cheeseburger, at least half a pound, cooked medium rare, and ketchup gets nowhere near it.

  1. Couch or Recliner?

There’s something to be said for both, so while the well-appointed living room should have at least one couch, if not a corner sectional, and a recliner, it really depends on what’s going on. If it’s just me alone, gorking out in front of some streaming entertainment while also futzing around on my pad, laptop, or phone, then it’s definitely a recliner. And if I’m having friends over for movie night or just to hang out, then it’s couch. But no reclining sofas, thanks. With a group, that can just get…


  1. Passenger or Driver?

I’m a very nervous passenger, so I’ll take driver every time, at least if we’re talking passenger vehicle. Seriously, if I’m a passenger, and especially if I’m riding shotgun, I can’t keep my foot off of the invisible brake pedal on the right side of the car. I think this all stems from the time that my mother’s mother was visiting us and my dad took us on a tour up in the winding canyons between the Valley and L.A. proper. Because I was a little kid, maybe six years old, I couldn’t really see straight out the windows that well, so from my point of view, it looked like we were right on the edge of a cliff and ready to go over. No thank you. Once I was old enough, I tended to always take the wheel.

  1. Tablet or Computer?

Generally speaking, computer, because I have yet to meet a tablet that I think would be better for anything. I don’t do a lot of work that involves a touchscreen — I try to use keyboard shortcuts as often as possible and avoid the mouse unless absolutely necessary because, being a writer, moving my hands off of the keyboard really interrupts the flow. And tablet keyboards generally suck. They’re too small for my giant hands, the keys are way too shallow, and they don’t give any kind of haptic feedback at all. I may reconsider if I get back into video editing or graphic design again, but those are two fields where the keyboard confers no real advantages.

  1. Most important in a partner: Intelligent or Funny?

Intelligent, hands down. I’d rather have a kind of straightforward and boring partner who was very intelligent than a life of the party who was stupider than a stick. Then again, I tend to gravitate toward very intelligent friends, and it wouldn’t be fair to bring a partner into that kind of situation, even if they had supermodel good looks. It doesn’t matter what they look like if their response to most of the conversations you have with others in front of them or try to have with them end up being met by nothing but blank eyes and a slack-hawed stare.

“Have you heard of Einstein’s theory of relativity?”

“Hey, I heard that the dude married his cousin.”

Sorry. Next!

Friday Free-for-All #72: Horror job, movie cry, two questions, humanity on trial

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What horror story do you have from a job you’ve had?

There’s one particular job I had that was a complete horror story from start to finish. It was a temp gig via an agency for an attorney, and my start date happened to be the Monday after the week of martial law during the L.A. Riots ended.

When they offered the job, I definitely needed work — I’d been unemployed since the October before — and they told me that it was at a law office Brentwood, so I said okay.

It turned out to be at a law office in Inglewood, and if you know L.A., you know that there’s a huge difference and, particularly at that time, it really could have been dangerous for me to show my pale white ass in that area.

In fact, I found out after I started that the attorney I worked for was on his way to court downtown when his car was attacked in an intersection a block away from the office, and he was lucky to have managed to drive his way out of it.

In retrospect, knowing him, I have no doubts that he would have had no qualms about running people down to save his own ass.

Anyway, the location turned out to not really be a problem, and there was a period of time when my car was in the shop that I spent several weeks making the arduous bus trek from Inglewood to West Hollywood, which took ages.

Side note: Why do so many city names within Southern California have “wood” in them?

No, the real nightmare was the attorney himself. He only handled bankruptcies and evictions, but he represented the banks and the landlords, so that tells you what kind of a person he was.

I was his accountant, so my main job was to track his hours and compile his bills for him to pay.

He padded the fuck out of his hours, and it was obvious. Several of his big clients were government agencies, like the RTC and Fannie Mae, and he honestly defrauded the hell out of them. That, or days actually had 72 hours in them, and weeks had 15 days.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of every month, I’ve give him the stack of bills that were due, and he sure as hell had the money in the bank to pay them. There were the normal things like utilities, rent, payroll, office supplies, and so on, and the specifically lawyer things, like the subscription to his law library — people came out to physically add updates to the books every month as laws and legal precedents changed.

He’d go through the stack and bitch and moan, always sign off on payroll (because he pretty much had to), then blow off the bigger bills, sign a couple of checks, then ask me to give him a check for a $200,000 draw — meaning a check payable to him, and he did this more than once a month.

And keep in mind that his bread and butter was being the enforcer for banks and landlords who weren’t getting money from people who owed it to them.

In short: Gigantic hypocrite.

And who got to deal with all of the calls from the bill collectors from the people he blew off? That would be me and his very beleaguered paralegal.

The finale to the gig was one of the more bizarre weeks of my life. I’d flown to Dallas, presumably for the weekend, because I was in a long distance relationship at the time. Just before I left, I got a phone call from a major regional theater to let me know they were going to produce my play in their next season, and then the airline I’d flown out on went bankrupt before my scheduled return flight on Sunday.

Now, I’d been given my “fuck you” card with that call from the theater because it was going to be a paid gig — and pay a lot more than the attorney did. So I called him up on Monday, explained what happened, and told him that I wasn’t going to be back before next Sunday because that was the earliest that the bankrupt airline could do a make-good flight.

He went ballistic, demanding that I fly back immediately, but I explained to him, “Sorry. They want 900 bucks for that, and you don’t pay me enough that I can afford it,” then hung up.

Since this was long before cell phones, he had no way to contact me. I stayed the week in Dallas, had a great time, then on the Monday morning after I came back, I gave him my two weeks’ notice.

Now, since unethical people tend to project, he’d had someone come in to do a total audit on the computer drive and the books because, in his mind, I had embezzled a shitload of cash from him and then used the “stuck in Dallas” excuse to make my escape.

I hadn’t. But the fucker accepted my notice immediately, so I walked.

A couple of days later, I got a call from the receptionist asking whether I could call them back because they couldn’t figure out my accounting system.

Oh… did I mention that I’d cobbled together a combination of Word and Excel Doc macros and an ancient DOS-based version of Quicken in order to enter and keep track of the finances? And that in my two week notice letter I had specifically mentioned that I would need to train people on how to use it?

The Thursday after I gave notice, the paralegal called, begging me to come back to help. On Friday, the attorney called, and was somewhat threatening. But, hey… I’d made the offer and he didn’t accept at the time, so he was shit out of luck.

I never called back. I just left him with his own karma and went on to do something that I truly loved instead.

What was the last movie that made you cry?

Honestly, what movie doesn’t? I’ll just admit it — I tend to cry at movies that have emotional scenes. The last actual movie I think I watched was Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe because it showed up on Amazon Prime, and I remember crying several times.

What seems to trigger me the most are moments when the protagonist finally succeeds, so it’s very similar to a good wedding cry — and oh yeah, I do that all the time, too. Just the sight of the happy couple entering the venue and heading toward the altar gets me every damn time.

What two questions would you ask to get the most information about who a person truly is?

The answer to this question is subject to change based on timing, but currently, my two questions would be these:

  1. Who won the U.S. presidential election of 2020?
  1. What is your favorite reality show?

Obviously, to me, anyone who answers anything other than Joe Biden to the first question is not worth me wasting my time. As for the second, my most preferred answer would be, “Oh, I don’t like reality shows,” but then I realize that reality shows do come in different categories and… OMG… a couple of shows I like are, in fact, reality shows.

So… if that favorite reality show is any kind of of celebrity or bachelor/ette or attention-whore white trash fest, or any kind of New Age woo woo holistic healing GOOP-adjacent utter bullshit, then you’ve also told me, “Okay. B’bye.”

As for the reality shows I actually do like, they tend to be sciencey and the kind of things that would make the heads of People magazine fans explode. Two that I can think of are Mythbusters and Gadget Man.

If humanity was put on trial by an advanced race of aliens, how would you defend humanity and argue for its continued existence?

The only argument I can think of is this one: We’re not all complete idiots, and a good number of us have been fighting for the betterment of everyone since forever. Sometimes, we make advances. Other times, the scared, ignorant morons prevail.

But our species does have this bright and hopeful altruistic streak, dedicated to the idea that all of us who share this planet are one, because we all come from two single ancestors, more or less. If anything, we would ask that you judge us each as an individual, acquit those of us who want to accept all humans, and condemn those who don’t.

What you’d be left with should be that part of humanity that is worth saving and welcoming into the galactic or even universal community.

I rest my case.

Friday Free-for-All #57: Reality, inanimate, huge tracts, best and worst

Do you like reality TV shows? Why or why not? If so, which ones?

Oh, hell no. There’s nothing I find more boring than watching other people drama. On top of that, I worked for a reality show star for ten years, so I’m very aware that there really isn’t a single bit of “reality” going on. Everything you see on every one of those shows has been planned, scripted, carefully edited, and reshot when necessary.

The only possible exceptions are shows like Punk’d or other prank shows, but even then, they still have to get permission to film the “victim,” either before the fact, or get clearance to use what they shot afterwards.

In short, there are so many rules and openings for liability that nothing you see on TV other than live news coverage is “reality.” So, no, I don’t like reality shows because they aren’t, and I find most of the people who star in them to be self-centered and vapid wastes of oxygen.

If you had to become an inanimate object for a year, what object would you choose to be?

This is one of those questions that really needs the rules well-defined. That is, by definition, if I’m inanimate, then I’m not conscious and have no senses, right? In that case, the only real requirement is that I’m something very durable that’s going to be around for at least that year so that I can come back to human form intact.

So, in that case… I’d go for something really durable, like a mountain, or maybe a beloved local landmark with historical protections in place.

Now, on the other hand, if this were a Beauty and the Beast situation, and I had all or most of my senses and was aware of what was going on, then I’d want to be a patio umbrella, awning, or inflatable at one of the many small gay-male nudist resorts in Palm Springs — preferably one with a twinkier crowd.

What? If I’m going to be stuck in inanimate form, I might as well get some enjoyment out of it.

If you were given one thousand acres of land that you didn’t need to pay taxes on but couldn’t sell, what would you do with it?

Okay, here’s the math for perspective. A thousand acres is 43,560,000 square feet, which means a square that’s 6,600 feet on a side, or a mile and a quarter. That covers a pretty decent chunk of neighborhood, and so I’d turn it into an art village.

Yes, I would be greedy and grab maybe four acres for my private enclave which would actually be the brain center for the place. But a lot of the rest of the acreage would go toward single family homes or bungalows on either a quarter or half acre

Qualification for residency: a demonstrated proficiency in one or more the seven lively arts, or similar in a related tech skill. Note: not “a ton of professional experience.” Just “are you good it?” Bring receipts or talent.

So if you’re a writer, director, actor, singer, dancer, musician, composer, painter, sculptor, visual artist, designer of sets, costumes, or lights, make-up artist, producer, electrician, grip, PA, stage manager, best boy, gaffer, caterer, PR or marketer, accountant…

Well, fuck it. Tell us what you do and how you’d like to do it for the arts. I’m setting aside 750 acres of this place to create half and full acre lots that will either house families (on the acre) or individuals or roommate groups on half acres, which would allow for about a thousand units.

That’s following the ideal of each residence being free-standing, with its own private yard and outside space. Now, if interest got really big, it might be worth setting some of that acreage aside for multi-family housing, but not too much of it, And there’d probably need to be at least one hotel-like facility for visiting artists.

Okay, so that leaves the other couple hundred acres, and that would basically be the arts “campus.” That’s where the theatres, studios, classrooms, galleries, and whatnot would go in order for everyone to have space to do what they came here to do.

Now, again, I cannot sell the land, but I can make it self-sustaining without making it ridiculous, so the basic deal would be that residents would only be required to cover their utilities, and some minimal housing charge that would go into a co-op to support the art campus and maintenance of the village itself.

Of course, any profits that came from productions and public exhibitions on that campus would go back to reducing the resident fees. Any kind of HOA would be prohibited. Yes, I know that technically we’d be charging an HOA fee, but screw the idea of a bunch of busybodies making stupid rules. This is an art colony. There are no rules!

Oh yeah — although sort of renting and despite my not being able to sell of the land, each resident would still get a deed giving them ownership of their place as a $0 value land-grant.

Damn. Okay. Now who wants to give me a thousand acres free of property taxes?

What’s the best and worst thing about the country you are from?

Talk about two sides of the same coin. I’m from the United States, and the absolute best thing about this country is that it was built by immigrants. I’ve seen the meme online, and it’s something like this: “If you’re an American, then you’re either an immigrant, a refugee, a slave, or a Native. There is no other option.”

And that is absolutely true. In my case, I come from a combination of immigrants and refugees — although I do find it weird that “invader” isn’t included on the list.

But… I live in a city with a lot of people who fall into at least three if not four of those categories, and I love it. That is the beauty of the USA. Go to any big city, you can find any culture in the world represented, and hear any language, and it is awesome.

Sure, for the last year or so, I haven’t been as free to travel around L.A., but one of my joys before the Dark Times was to hop on the Metro, ride to an unknown neighborhood, and then just take in the community.

Los Angeles is not alone in this, but it is a really good example of a truly international city. Name an ethnic food you want to eat tonight, and I will find you a place that serves it within a mile of my front door in two minutes.

Ask me where we can go to see art or performance of a particular culture within a half-hour drive, again, boom. Done.

Los Angeles has everything. So does San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and a whole lot more.

And… surprise, surprise… it’s not just the Big Blue Liberal Cities that are such melting pots. Okay, the key word is probably “cities,” so that blue dots in red lagoons, like Austin, Texas, stand out.

But the point is this: The best thing about my country is that we are a mosaic of every other country, and our diversity is what makes us so special and so strong.

And the worst thing about my country? The white racist assholes who just don’t get this part. They have this really warped fantasy that America was founded by a boatload of Puritan WASPS who landed on Plymouth Rock, and that was it.

But the joke is really on them, because chances are that their ancestors are really more likely to be German, Irish, Italian, or Eastern European and, at various points in time, each one of those “white” groups of immigrants was considered to be less-than, and shunned and ridiculed.

And the shunning and ridiculing was done by those stuck-up WASPS from whom none of the later immigrants were descended.

They also like to ignore the fact that for a lot of its early history, ‘Murica only consisted of a narrow band on the east coast, especially after the Founders kicked out the Brits, during which time Ohio was considered to be the far west frontier — q.v. Case Western Reserve University, located all the way over in… Cleveland.

Otherwise, the rest of the continent was owned by Spain, France, and England and, if you did go far enough west, Russia.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that we managed to either buy a ton of shit from France so that Napoleon could attempt to take over Europe, then kill off enough Natives to sweep west screaming “Manifest Destiny!” and then finally curb stomp Mexico (after they’d kicked France’s ass) in order to steal the bottom third of the western two thirds of the country back form Aztlán.

So… let’s recap. Best thing about my native country: It was created as a place for all, and as far as I’m concerned, all are welcome here. Worst thing: We still are plagued by a pack of assholes who just don’t get that part.


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