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!

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