Saturday, November 25, 2006

Evel Knievel and the
Knittting Needles
Of Doom

Saturday morning, I was at the LYS when a younger woman came in with a little girl in tow. The child, about nine years of age, had a face like a porcelain doll, with straight, shining hair the color of melted chocolate. She wore unsullied jeans and an immaculate hand-knit cabled sweater the exact same shade of pink as a white rabbit's ear. As her mother prowled around the shop, this demure little girl petted various skeins of yarn as gently as if they were newborn kittens.

When the mother had collected up her yarn and was ready to check out, the little girl approached her, held up a skein of fluffy magenta wool, and said, "Mom, will you teach me how to knit?"

Everyone within earshot did what every knitter anywhere does when we hear these words. We all turned to the child, like the Priestesses of the Lady of the Lake smiling upon the prepubescent Morgaine as she set foot on the shores of Avalon for the first time. We were thinking, "Welcome, child. Welcome to the sisterhood."

The mother looks worried. "I don't know," she said. "You can hurt yourself with knitting needles. You have to be really careful. You might fall down, or something. Maybe when you're a little older?"

The child's lower lip grows to the size of a portabello mushroom and disappointment fills her big green eyes.

"Pleeeeeaaase?"

We of the Sisterhood hold our collective breath, in awe of this earnest young acolyte. We glance at each other, trying to comprehend this mother's lunatic reluctance to teach her child to knit.

The mother crumples her eyebrows, looks at the LYS owner and asks, as though it is a perfectly normal thing, like she's asking the guy at the deli counter for a half-pound of salami:

"Do you have any safety needles for children?"

I am a child of the Sixties, when we applied clamp-on roller skates to our sneakers without adult supervision, sailed down steep levee access roads on skateboards, jumped on pogo sitcks, and rode bicycles ... all without helmets, kneepads, elbow pads and pinky-finger pads. We rode other kids on the handlebars and climbed pecan trees and built treehouses waaaaaay up there, out of scrap lumber and odd nails we found.

It's not that our parents didn't care. They cared a lot. In fact, they were damned strict, but they firmly believed that nearly all childhood doom could be kept at bay by cod-liver oil, Flintstones vitamins, booster shots, not running with scissors, staying out of the street, avoiding unfamiliar dogs, not talking to strangers, keeping a dime in your shoe in case you need to use a pay phone, lighting firecrackers on the sidewalk (not in your hand), and coming home the exact instant the streetlights came on.

That was it. Along with the all-purpose, "be careful," those were all the safety rules.


The problem is, they had no idea of the things we could think up while they had their backs turned washing the dishes.

They also did not know that kids could play Evel Knievel without talking to strangers, playing in the street, running with scissors or sticking a hairpin into an electric socket.

Let's get in the Wayback Machine and go to a crowded New Orleans neighborhood sometime in the spring of 1972. I am the world's tommiest tomboy. The only remotely girly thing I do is knitting, but I do not knit girly things. Knitting is cool because you can make hippie stuff out of Red Heart "Mexicali" yarn. I have also taught all of my guy pals how to make I-cord with a knitting spool, which makes far-out, psychedelic streamers to hang from your bike handlebars, especially if you put macrame beads on the ends.


It is a fine, cool, Saturday morning. I am hanging out with my guy friends -- Jack, Sean and Shelley (not that we had any Irish Catholics in our neighborhood or anything like that).

Scooby-Doo, the Monkees, and Johnny Quest are off the air for the morning, and we have all been urged by various mothers to Get Out of The House and Get Some Sunshine.

Without sunscreen.


The four of us considered ourselves to be exceedingly "boss," which meant that we were cool indeed. We had seen Billy Jack at the movies. We had Beatles records and had discovered Led Zeppelin. We had slit fluorescent-colored drinking straws lengthwise, and slipped them onto our bicycle spokes, where they made a satisfying rattling noise. We had baseball cards and glow-in-the-dark Frisbees. We had snuck into the hippies' backyard on the other side of our block, and had seen their marijuana plants with our very own eyes.

Now, dear reader, think back on the young mother in the LYS. What do you think the odds are that the following little drama would happen today, at her house?


What Happens When You Play Evel Knievel

New Orleans Children's Film Studio
Copyright (C) 1972, all rights reserved:

Opening scene: Four kids (three rangy boys and a black-haired, pony-tailed girl in a Notre Dame sweatshirt and jeans), all about age twelve, in their play clothes, sitting on a small front porch, looking bored.
The girl has an idea, and pops her head up.

Dez: "Let's play Evel Knievel!"
Jack: "That sounds boss! How do we make a ramp?"
Shelley: "Let's prop some plywood up on your Mom's garbage cans!"

Director's note: the O'Briens, being a large family, had big metal garbage cans from Sears.

Jack: "Neat! Where are we gonna get the plywood?"
Sean: "Grandpa has some plywood in the alley between our house and Shelley's."

A small parade of children snakes through the cluttered O'Brien family alley to appropriate a large sheet of warped, three-quarter-inch plywood.

Grandpa, alerted by the sound of his plywood bumping and scraping against the brick-paved alley, sticks his Brylcreemed head out the open kitchen window and hollers after the children without losing control of the Keep Moving cigar stub clamped in the corner of his mouth.

Grandpa: "Where y'all goin' with my plywood?"
Sean: "We're just gonna borrow it to play Evel Knievel, Grandpa..."

Grandpa: "Is he that fool with the motorcycle?"
Sean: "Uh-huh."
Grandpa: "Okay, you just put it back where you got it, and watch out you don't get splinters!"
Sean: "Okay, Grandpa!"

Out on the sidewalk, the children prop up one end of the plywood on two metal garbage cans, which immediately tump over.

Jack: "The garbage cans aren't heavy enough."
Dez: "We need to put something heavy in them."
Shelley: "My Dad has a whole bunch of bricks and stuff under our house."
Sean: "Let's get 'em!"

The parade of purposeful children resumes, each child in turn hunkering down under Shelley's house to retrieve a couple of bricks, then crawling back out bearing a pattern of mud not unlike a soldier who's just elbow-walked his rifle through a swamp in Vietnam.

Like ancient Chinese peasants building the Great Wall, the brick-laden children scurry back and forth, depositing bricks into the garbage cans and returning to the gloomy recesses beneath Shelley's house.

While this is going on, a few passing adults walk around the strange construction project -- which is completely blocking the narrow sidewalk -- or call out from their porches while wiping their hands on dish towels. Each conversation goes something like this:

Adult: "What are y'all doin'?"
Child: "Playing Evel Knievel."

Adult: "Is he that crazy guy with the motorcycle?"
Child: "Uh-huh."
Adult: "Be careful, now..."

Once the garbage cans contain about a dozen bricks each, the plywood-and-can ramp stays up.

Now the children need things to jump over.


A rusty push-mower, a battered lawn chair and a barbeque grill are obtained from various neighbors' yards and storage sheds. All of these things are bristling with rusty appendages upon which the children could impale themselves, or, worse, put an eye out.

Again:

Adult: "Where y'all going with that?"
Child: "We're just borrowin' it to play Evel Knievel."

Adult: "You mean that guy with the motorcycle on Wide World of Sports?"
Child: "Uh-huh."
Adult: "Okay, just be careful, and put it back when you're done."


We insert a reminder that the adults in question do care a great deal about the fate of the children, and would forbid the children to do this on the spot, if only they could see the entire array of dangerous objects, and comprehend their intended use.

If only they were thinking like twelve-year-olds, and realized that the lawn chair was really a Cadillac, and that it would not be sat in.

It would be jumped over by a girl on a bicycle.

At last, the sidewalk proudly displays a jump-ramp, barbeque grill, push-mower and rickety lawn chair, all laid out in a tidy row. To any adult looking out from a living room window, this does not look like a glamorous and dangerous motorcycle stunt. It looks like the O'Briens are having a yard sale, or maybe, finally, cleaning out their alley. It would not occur to any of these adults that someone would try to jump over this still life of alley junk.


A tortoiseshell cat on a nearby porch stops licking her rump long enough to regard this spectacle with suspicion and disdain.

Director's note to camera operator: the camera angle, lighting, and cat's expression should all foreshadow a sense of Impending Doom. We want the audience to see the cat thinking, "Man, that looks dangerous. I'm staying right here on the porch."

Sean: "You think that's enough stuff to jump over?"
Dez: "Let's just pretend they're real big cars, like Cadillacs."
Jack: "Okay. I think that's enough to start with. If we can jump over that, we can find some more stuff."

Of course, knowing nothing of engineering terms like "rise-to-run-ratio" or "live load," when the children put the bricks in the garbage cans, they are thinking only of holding the plywood up. They are not thinking of holding up plywood and a ninety-pound child on a forty-pound bicycle charging down the sidewalk at the glorious speed of 14 miles per hour. Nor do they consider anything except the obvious fact that pretending your bike is a motorcycle is sufficient to arrive at enough speed to launch both one's self and one's bike over the obstacles in question.


Jack: "Who wants to go first?"
Sean: "Not me."
Dez: "I'll do it."
Shelley: "Bet you can't."
Dez: "Bet I can."
Jack: "Nuh-uh."
Dez: "Yeah-huh."

Director's note to camera operators and special effects: Zoom in on child as she climbs onto bicycle. Using 1960s fog-filter, fade in transformation of narrow, double-parked New Orleans street into motorcycle arena in California desert. Cue tinkly harp music, and transform purple bike with purple sparkle-vinyl banana seat and ape-hanger handlebars (with purple streamers) into purple metal-flake Harley-Davidson. Transform jeans, sneakers and sweatshirt into purple leather jumpsuit and matching helmet. Insert cheering crowd as child first does an Evel-style practice run around the jump ramp. Crowd becomes silent as steely-eyed child returns to starting point and assesses ramp.

Cue Howard Cosell.

Director: "Action!"

Child pedals furiously, reaches ramp, hits plywood, pedals upupupupupupup.....

Director's note to camera operator: cut to extreme slow motion:

Garbage cans collapse. Bricks tumble to either side as bike hits barbeque grill, which topples onto push-mower and spills both child and bike onto lawn chair and sidewalk. Child goes elbows-over-teakettle. Bike lands on child, who realizes that her wrist is broken and she needs stitches on her knee because a brick shard is sticking out of it, but who fears howling out in pain due to fear of reprisal from grownups.

Camera: Close-up of "OH CRAP" look on child's face.

Cut to parents bundling child into Pontiac and racing to hospital emergency room, where mother hovers over bed while father stands silently, making his Chief Thundercloud face.

The following conversation takes place:

Child: "But I was careful!"
Mother: "I can't believe you want to copy that horrible man who says sacriligeous things about the Virgin Mary! What will people think?"
Child: "What!?"
Mother: "You could have killed yourself!"
Child: "But I didn't!"
Mother: "Here comes the nurse with a tetanus shot."
Child: "But that's gonna hurt!"
Mother: "Well, remember that next time you get an idea like that in your head!"


Fade to bruised, bandaged, and exceedingly grounded girl, tucked into bed with plaid coverlet, upon which is curled the tortoiseshell cat from the earlier scene. A worried-looking border collie, sitting on the floor next to the bed, licks the cast on the child's right arm.

The anxious child can hear her mother in the next room, phoning the mothers of the other children involved in the debacle. From what the child can hear, they are all grounded, too, and their respective mothers have no idea how they got this Evel Knievel idea in their heads.

It appears that Grandpa O'Brien is in some sort of disfavor as well, having allowed the use of the plywood. Apparently, a certain amount of beer was involved in his decision-making process.

Cut to scene of Grandpa talking into O'Brien kitchen wall phone (with rotary dial):

Grandpa: "How the hell was I supposed to know they were gonna jump over anything? I thought they had toy motorcycles they were gonna roll around on the damn plywood, or something like that. Besides, I was listenin' to the radio -- I had five bucks on 'Mama's Boy' in the first race."

This is all the girl's fault. Closeup of anxious child. Fade to black.

Cut to schoolyard scene on Monday morning, where grounded friends assure girl that it wasn't her fault that they are grounded, and that grownups are just plain mean.

Camera: Fade to closeup of arm-cast being autographed by classmates with multicolored Flair markers, while a stern-faced nun frowns in the background.

THE END.


Grownups have no idea how cool a broken arm is in seventh grade. It is so cool, it is worth being grounded for. Especially if you broke it playing Evel Knievel.

So I ask you, Worried Knitting Mommy: having read this -- exactly why don't you want your un-scarred, un-scraped, girly little girl not to handle knitting needles at the tender age of nine? It's self-evident that she doesn't do much running at all, much less with scissors or knitting needles.

Listen here. Just pick up those blunt-tipped plastic Red-Heart needles with the kittycat faces on the ends, buy the magenta yarn and do exactly what the nice LYS owner says.

You have no idea what that child might think up if you don't.

--Mambocat

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America, a day set aside to give thanks for the fact that the original people of this continent took pity on the badly equipped and woefully inexperienced white settlers, and shared enough of their food and farming methods so the new people could survive their first few winters here, and, eventually, show their gratitutde by importing smallpox, measles, cowboys, and 300 million of their friends.




















Most Amercians will celebrate this day of thanks by eating far more than we should, watching American football, and sampling various beverages that the original Puritan settlers would frown upon mightily.

Cheers.

Before I get too busy today, I want to mention a few things for which I am grateful:

I am thankful to have my health, to still be here, and that my husband is doing better with his health. I am thankful that we have been able to repair my mother's house after Hurricane Katrina. I am grateful for our pets. I am thankful for our friends and relatives, and I am grateful that I can have such luxuries as a computer and Internet service in a world where most people don't even have enough to eat and can't be sure if their little mud-brick house will be bombed out from under them today, or not.

As a knitter, I'm glad that I live in a place where I have an abundance of knitterly supplies to choose from, moreso even than some other first world countries, like Ireland, where most of my ancestors came from, two blinks back in history.

I'm quite grateful for my readers here, who brighten my day with their comments and just by being around to read my offerings, something every writer craves.

I'm also grateful to the original people of the nation I live in.


If you are an American, look at your Thanksgiving table: turkey, potatoes, corn, pumpkin, tomatoes, squash ...

that's all Indian food. An astounding percentage of the food Americans rely on was the original food of the original people.

So take a moment today to thank them in some knitterly way.

If you have one, spin some yarn on a Navajo spindle.

Cast on for a hat or pair of socks for the Adopt-A-Native-Elder program:

http://www.anelder.org

If you live near one, go to an Indian casino after dinner, have a drink and spend some money.

Call it, "rent."

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone ... enjoy the day, the feast and your family.

--Mambocat

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rear Ends and Loose Ends

Before I get started about what happened to the rear end of my car and some thoughts on tying up loose ends for the holidays, I'm going to show you a nice and exceedingly soft cat. Her name is Annie, and you can pretend she is sitting on your lap and purring in a comforting manner, which might turn out to be helpful as you read along.

I suppose I have kept y'all in the dark long enough regarding the matter of my car, what with the election and getting some things done on Mom's house and trying to get some of my own work done as well.

It's kind of pathetic when one of the cats has to guest-blog just so my readers won't think I've fallen off the planet entirely and gone spinning off into space like Major Tom.

Actually, I was lucky that I didn't go spinning at high speed across the median and into the oncoming Interstate lanes, but this is what happened to the rear end of the scary metal thing that takes Shamu and his comrades to the vet:

I was driving down the Interstate one rainy fall morning a couple of weeks ago, and, like any sensible adult who wants to arrive in one piece at her destination, I was staying below the speed limit in the right lane and several car lengths behind the 18-wheeler in front of me, when I looked in my mirror and saw a black object increasing in size behind me, with no sign that any sort of slowing-down activity was in progress.

This black object became recognizable as a car, and, as things turned out upon later investigation, it was getting closer in way too big of a hurry because the driver was arguing with her boyfriend, smoking a cigarette and drinking a diet cola, all at the same time.

Now to my way of thinking, this leaves her at a four-hand deficit for driving, because you need one hand to smoke with, and the other hand to hold your drink, and at least two hands to wave around while you argue with your boyfriend. Not having enough free hands to safely have an argument on the couch is no position to be in while sailing down the Interstate above the speed limit in a slamming rain.

She also did not have insurance.

Anyway, like a sensible middle-aged adult who wants to arrive at her destination in one piece, I considered my options real fast. Hopping over to the other lane was out of the question because cars were in it. Going off on the shoulder was risky because I knew the road would narrow any second now for a bridge over a bayou, and besides, the rain was coming down as hard as a carwash, and cautious drivers sometimes pull over to the shoulder to wait for the rain to break when it's like this, and I couldn't see what might be on the shoulder up ahead due to the 18-wheeler being in the way.

The black car had grown quite large by this time, so I did what any sensible middle-aged adult would do.

I sped up as much as I could manage to reduce the black car's closing speed, and got as close to the 18-wheeler as I dared, and yelped at the top of my lungs, which was right about the exact same second when the black car tucked its nose under my car's behind and there was no choice except to go off the road.

We came to a stop and disengaged with no further automotive trauma. I wasn't hurt. My airbag didn't even go off. My knitting bag was intact. So I got out and checked on the other driver, who turned out not to be hurt and who had that expression on her face like Wile E. Coyote when he runs off a cliff, and who was still holding her diet cola and her cigarette.

And her car looked a lot worse than mine. VW Golfs may be small, but they are built like Munchkin Army tanks.

I won't bore you with all the muddy details of calling the cops and assessing each other's damage in the rain, but I will admit that I entertained some unkind thoughts about the young woman's possible occupation being that of Emergency-Back-Up Stripper at an airport service-road bar, and her boyfriend's apparent rejection from Central Casting for looking too sleazy to be a pimp.

And I will also spare you the exceedingly foul language of the young woman in question, not to mention the boyfriend -- who sported a cleverly slicked-back mullet, I might add.

But I will not spare you the amazing fact that while she did not have any insurance at the moment of impact, she apparently got on her cell phone and bought some insurance while we were waiting for the police, and thought she could get away with it.

It gets better. Over the past couple of weeks, my sensible, grown-up insurance company has decided to cover my repairs without raising my rates because the accident wasn't my fault, and they also launched an investigation into the other driver, who, in fact, turned out to be an actual stripper, as I learned today from the insurance company she called after the accident, when their representative called me to get another statement from me and to explain the chain of fraudulent events the young woman in question apparently tried to set into motion.

Anyway, I thought y'all deserved some sort of an update. I'm feeling bad for my poor little Golf all by itself in the cold, dark car hospital, mainly because in all the time I've had it -- up until I got rear-ended, that is -- I only had two small dents on the driver's side that were caused by road hazards, which I had been too cheap to fix . Junk falling off lawn trailers is a common road hazard here in the South, and since there's never two without three of anything, I figured that I'd be tempting Fate for Dent Number Three if I got those two little dents fixed.

Besides, when forced to choose between buying yarn and paying for minor cosmetic repairs to the car ... well ... you know. But I digress.

So now that it looks as though everything, including the rental car, will be paid for by someone other than myself, my gut has untangled itself from latticework cables to plain old garter stitch, and I can start thinking, and carrying on, about knitting again.

This is the time of year when people who knit can been seen with a work in progress at hand everywhere we go, so we can make use of those 17 minutes waiting in line at Home Depot to get in a dozen rows on Uncle Earl's Christmas scarf.

It's usually relatively easy to think of things to knit for people we love and know well, and many of us ("many" being knitters not involved with this blog) get an early start on holiday knitting every year with the Perfect Thing in mind for spouses, brothers, kids, sisters and parents.

But how to fill in the loose ends in the gift department? What do we do about those people for whom we do not knit?

Problems arise with what to do for those curious individuals who simply do not welcome knitted gifts. You know the type -- you could discreetly inquire as to color preference, choice of fiber, style of garment, exact fit, and every other conceivable detail, and still have your offering greeted with an ice-cold reception, because it is "homemade" or "not a designer item."

There's no pleasing such people.

You really can't be annoyed at those who are honest and vocal about their disdain for crafts -- I always feel glad to be warned in advance about people who despise handmade items, before I waste any valuable knitting time or good yarn.

So, what to do with such people -- who may come in the form of relatives, spouses of relatives, co-workers, or neighbors -- with whom the annual exchange of gifts is expected?

Re-Gift.

I do not believe that Miss Manners approves of this, but I think re-gifting is a great way to recycle something you really don't know what to do with, or can't use. Especially -- and this is important -- if you put a sticky note on the package so you know who you got it from.

It's really not rude, cheap or thoughtless. Miss Manners finds it perfectly acceptable for me to exclaim profuse thanks over a gift that does not fit or suit me, and then either landfill it in a closet, give it to charity or exchange it for something I like better.

Now I agree wholeheartedly with the important part -- exclaim your thanks, by all means.

Even if my great-aunt's idea of what sort of handbag suits me is drastically different from my own, I will purr over it because she thought enough of me to buy me a nice gift, even if it's a gift that would really be nice for someone else.

I try to warn people, too: "aw, Aunt Tillie, you don't need to ask what I want. I'd love anything you give me, you know that. But whatever you pick out, just try to imagine it with muddy paw prints all over it."

I think it's insulting to the giver to allow a gift to linger unused in a closet, when it could please someone else. And I don't see how recycling a gift is any ruder than exchanging it.

My own rules for gift recycling are pretty simple:

First, I think it is only polite to recycle a gift to someone with whom gift-swapping will be expected, but who you don't know well enough, or see often enough, either to knit for or to shop for a unique item. Everybody has to deal with at least three people like this at Christmas, and it's usually a mid-level supervisor at work, your cousin's third husband, and Great-Aunt Tillie's best friend from church, who always brings everyone "a little something."

Second, the recycled gift must come from an entirely different group-source than the person to whom it is given. While I sincerely appreciate the fact that Co-Worker X thought enough of me to give me a gift two Christmases ago, I only have room in our house for a certain number of candlesticks before people start to think we've gone Goth. Therefore, I will recycle the candlestick in question, but not to someone else at work. Instead, I will give the candlestick to Aunt Tillie's best friend from church.

I think it's okay to recycle nice gifts you cannot use to Aunt Tillie's best friend from church, your mid-level supervisor or your cousin's third husband, if they haven't been used and are still in the box, of course. Weird gifts you can't use should only be recycled to extra-persnickety people who are crabby, belligerent, snobbish and impossible to shop for. Everybody has someone like that in their family, too -- maybe your oldest brother's impressively implanted 25-year-old second wife, who only buys from Saks, frowns on popular fiction and popular wines, and who thinks the fact that you knit is "quaint."

So give that nice little Japanese ceramic floral vase to your mid-level supervisor, and recycle those musical penguin salt-and-pepper shakers to the second wife.

Such persons are also a good target for fruitcakes.

I subscribe to the theory that there is really only one fruitcake in each family, and that it just gets passed along to a different relative each year. In fact, that's how you know the family finally thinks you're a real grown-up: the first time you get the fruitcake.

Don't tell me you've never done this: dust off last year's fruitcake, open the tin, pour more rum on it, slap a new gift tag on it, and give it to whichever relative you're at odds with this holiday season.

If someone ever actually ate a piece of the fruitcake, they would probably die of alcohol poisoning from the 37 years' worth of concentrated rum in the damn thing.

Hmmm. Maybe I should send a fruitcake to the woman who rear ended me.

--Mambocat

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Kitchen Looks Funny
Without A Tree In It, And
The Living Room Just
Doesn't Look Right
Without The Refrigerator


I know I'm scandalously overdue for a blog update, but this is what I have been doing with my free time since my last post:

























No, the knobs aren't on the cabinets, and the new door needs a frame, and the cover plates aren't on the electric switches yet, and the wood trim isn't painted ... but the kitchen at Mom's house in New Orleans is painted, tiled, grouted, plugged in, hooked up and can be used. All the little things should be done by Thanksgiving -- electric cover plates first. Meanwhile, everything works, and Mom can cook dinner on her gas stove for the first time in more than a year.

And there are the refrigerator and the microwave, back in the kitchen where they belong. I'm really grateful for how well the repairs have come along on a shoestring, so far. This business of making a house in New Orleans livable again is tiresome, folks. And Mom was one of the lucky ones, with relatively minor damages.

Seeing things starting to go back into place after fourteen months makes me think of growing up during the Cold War. Among the few things we were allowed to learn about the people of the USSR was that they spent about half their lives waiting in various lines for bread, milk and basic supplies ... and that they displayed their appliances in their living rooms by way of bragging rights, because they were so hard to come by.


The people of New Orleans are doing exactly that right now. If you want Sheetrock, you'd better be in line at Home Depot whent he sun comes up.

I'm just glad Mom has a kitchen she can use.

You may have noticed that in my exuberance I am posting a photo of the kitchen before it's quite done, just as I often blog photos of completed knitted items prior to blocking.

I am nothing if not consistent.

We shall return to our normal knitting content presently.

--Mambocat




Thursday, November 09, 2006

Did Y'all Go and Vote?

We are in the South, so we "go and vote." a

Usually, I bring some knitting along, for standing in line. Of course, I bring knitting almost everywhere, but that's not germane to my point. It's especially nice to have a sock in progress tucked in your bag on a fine fall day while you wait your turn to cast your vote. Something feels right about that.

Here's what I had in my walking bag on Election Day -- clockwise, from left: sock in progress, completed sock as reference for second sock, apple in case I got hungry, calming aromatherapy spritzer (in case I was beseiged by overly enthusiastic campaign workers en route).




















Of course the ID is tucked in there too.

On Tuesday we went at an odd time, and few people were there, so I didn't even get to crank out the usual three or seven rounds on a sock while we waited.

But we went and voted, and that's what's important.

All Southerners double-verb sometimes, regardless of accent or educational level. But it's especially important to double-verb on election day.

If you're from Atlanta, you put on your best Scarlett O'Hara voice and you say, "ah gotta go an' vote, honey." If you're from New Orleans, you say it in a Brooklynese voice: "Hey boss .. I'm goin' out fer a toikey samwitch at lunchtime, and I need to go an' vote while I'm out dere."

But either way, you go and vote.

Even Southerners with PhDs from Hahvahd, who have divested themselves of every other double-verb or triple-negative, go and vote.

It somehow sounds more deliberate and purposeful than just "voting."

But it's okay if you live in a place where you just "vote" -- as long as you hollered out Tuesday night before the polls closed, "Honey, it's getting late, get in the car, we have to vote."

If you don't like the outcome, and you didn't vote, don't bitch at me (or anybody else).

We went to the polls and we thought about a lot of things when we voted, especially the ongoing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and this miserable war that too many young people are dying for and nobody fully understands.

One thing I thought about with a great deal of sorrow is how many of my fellow Louisianians still can't walk down the street to their familiar neighborhood school to go and vote. Most people who have returned to New Orleans had to cast their vote in a different location in town, because their neighborhood polling place remains unrepaired. Last week, there were billboards all over the city reading, "Need To Know Where To Vote?" and a number to call.

Many New Orleanians are still far away, and wish their polling place was across town instead of across the country.

Some are gone forever, and will never go and vote in New Orleans again.

It is painful to imagine how I might feel on Election Day if I were displaced from my home, with important things going on here that needed my input. Things going on in my state, my city, my school district, my neighborhood.

I would be paralyzed with depression if I lived in an apartment in Houston or Denver and I couldn't be home, to go and vote at the American Legion hall, and say "hi" to Mrs. LeBlanc and Mrs. Washington, who have been checking off names and re-setting the voting machines since God had baby teeth.

Don't get me wrong, all you other 49 states. Y'all are nice and all that. In fact, you've been terriffic. Most people around the country have taken in our displaced neighbors with open arms and incredible generosity, and we're grateful.

But it's still not home.

It's hard to re-birth your culture someplace else. The food isn't the same, the music is different, and the way people interact with each other feels a little bit off. It's different when you can find only a few families in your new community who share your culture, when you're accustomed to sharing it with half a million people. We have our own rhythmn in this corner of the world, our own way of letting our hair down at night and getting up in the morning.

It makes me think of that old reggae song ... I think the Melodians wrote it originally, but Peter Tosh popularized it...

"...by the rivers of Babylon,
where we sat down,
and where we wept
as we remembered Zion...

...they carried us away to captivity,
required of us a song,
but how can we sing the Lord's song
in a strange land?"

On Tuesday night, I imagined the people I grew up with, scattered all over this sprawling country of ours, watching the election results come in. They've been in their strange new towns for over a year now. They have found new jobs, made new friends, and enrolled their kids in new schools. Most have never lived anywhere else but New Orleans, and are voting in an unfamiliar place for the first time, pushing the electronic button for candidates with last names like "Walinsky" or "Martinez," instead of "Broussard" or "Jackson."

Each time the news anchor said, "and in Louisiana ..." there was a collective intake of breath, and they felt that curious little skip-crunch underneath the solar plexus. In apartments all over Houston and Raleigh and Los Angeles, kids were shushed and adult heads swiveled to see who went and voted for who, back at home.

"Home" is still in a shambles.

But, as always, the local politics are interesting.

Particularly important for New Orleanians is a state amendment to have just one tax assessor for the City. Right now there are seven of them, and they each make $90,000 a year. This is an astonishingly ancient and screwed-up way of doing things, and it needs to change. I'm glad most other people agreed.

A remarkable state amendment passed -- to exempt art on consignment from property tax. The current tax structure is way more Byzantine than I care to go into (I do want to keep what readers I have), but right now the short version is that the owner of art that hasn't previously been sold is responsible for property tax on it, so this amendment is a good thing for the arts community, including knitters. Can you imagine having to pay tax on your consigned work if it didn't sell? It may seem like a tiny thing in a big election, but art happens here in a way that is very different from most parts of America that I've seen. New Orleans is a city where art belongs to the people. Art is not something that happens mostly to high-end gallery owners and the people who can afford pricey, edgy art. New Orleans has artists and street musicians like Maine has lobsters and Chicago O'Hare has airplanes. Sure, there are painters here who gallery their work for the price of a house, but the city is mostly populated with artists who rely on storefront galleries, coffeehouses and taverns, and these are the people who can least afford to pay tax on their unsold work.

A couple of other good amendments passed, giving veterans a break on property tax, and removing taxes on leased hospital medical equipment for rural non-profit hospitals.

Like most people in this country, our polling place is in the gymnasium at our neighborhood grammar school. People lined up and signed in, and chatted with the familiar election day workers. We learned some things about people around the neighborhood who we don't see often: who moved, who died, who is remodeling their house.

Then we went into the booths, to push the electronic buttons that still feel strange to me. I miss the satisfaction of flipping the levers, and I miss the "ka-chunk!" when you pulled the lever to cast your vote and the mechanically operated curtains parted dramatically.

It made you feel like something real had happened.

Now you have to push your way in and out of the booth through a plastic shower curtain, and the machine beeps when you're done.

Not the same.

After we went and voted, we came home and ate some beans and rice.

If anybody reading this is from Louisiana or the Mississippi Gulf Coast and you're living someplace else now, I hope you get to come home soon.

--Mambocat


p.s. -- Shamu has reminded me that y'all are worried about my well being. I am uninjured and the car is not severely damaged. Details later, and thanks for your concern.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

i found some soft stuff ... hah!


















the female human left the drawer open where she selfishly hoards some soft, silky stuff i hardly ever get to take a nap on.

hah.

she left the computer turned on, so i'm writing the "blog" today, too.

hah.

she's running all over the place because something bad happened to the scary, fast metal thing that takes me to the vet.

she is upset about this.

not me.

hah.

it's in a place called "the shop," and she has to go "downtown" and she needs to go see somebody called "adjuster." She also has to go to someplace called "bank."

there's a different fast metal thing in the driveway. i can see it from the kitchen window.

i wonder if she's trying to trick me into going to the vet again.

right now she's talking to the black plastic thing that lives on the wall -- it has a loud, unpleasant voice and it goes off with no warning whatsoever, frequently disturbing my sleep.


she's making mad-faces because the person who mashed her scary metal thing didn't have something called "insurance." it seems that they lied about this when the metal thing got hurt.

wait a second ... she's putting those leather things on her feet ... and she has that ring full of shiny, dangly things ... and she picked up the bag she keeps "money" in.

good.

i can stay in the soft place for a nice long while.

I hope she remembers to get more of that mushy chicken-flavor food.

--shamu


p.s. --

she also told the male human, "we have to go and vote." it sounds pretty important, and i know she's always carrrying on about how humans who don't do it have no right to complain after "election day." so you better go and vote too.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I Bet Y'all Think This is A Door



To the untrained eye, this appears to be an ordinary door. In this case, it is the door outside the tiny, weird vestibule outside the bathroom in our oddly-constructed house. Don't ask me why they just didn't make the bathroom bigger, or give it a closet, when they built it back in 1946. Instead, we have two doors, and a funky little space between them.

So it is one of those doors that is always left open. Every house has such doors. Doors left permanently ajar, with dead space behind them.

That bit of vertical wood you see on the right? That is the doorframe for the bathroom itself, which I am standing in as I take the picture. So the white door remains open at all times, as there is no need to close two doors to go to the bathroom, unless you have alarmingly serious issues with modesty or privacy -- issues requiring therapy and medication.

When you live in a small, strangely constructed house outfitted with small, strangely constructed closets, you clearly need to come up with desperate solutions for your yarn stash.

I like to make use of whatever dead space I can find. And the dead space behind this door is perfect for yarn-stash storage.

Look how much stuff you can hide behind a permanently open door which ordinarily wouldn't even provide enough useful storage space to hide a Boogeyman. Not even a skinny Boogeyman:

Yup. All those Tidy Cats buckets are full of yarn. Sure, I could go to Ikea or Office Depot and spend a whole bunch of money for more attractive storage units.

And I just might, if they were going to be out in public or something. But when you get all these handy, airtight, cat-proof buckets for free every time you buy cat litter, why let them go to waste? And when that door is open flat against the Wall O' Buckets 99.4% of the time -- creating a virtual closet -- why worry about decor?

PSSSSST: just in case someone in the product development division of Tidy Cats, Inc. happens to be reading this -- as you can see, we use your litter -- or at least our cats do -- but it would be absolutely fabulous if y'all used a shrink-wrap label, which could be removed, so your customer can have an unmarked, translucent storage container after the litter is used up. You could still emboss "Tidy Cat" on the lid. And you could put one of those little starburst things on the (removable) label that says, "Free storage bin with every purchase!" Don't worry, I won't forget what kind of litter to buy. Just include a peel-off coupon for the next tub of cat litter, and be sure to use the kind of label adhesive that doesn't leave sticky gunk behind. See? I just saved you the trouble and expense of a focus group. You can pay me now -- in cat litter, please.

Hanging on the hook on the back of the door is one of my favorite knitting bags ever. It has precisely the right dimensions to hold a sweater-sized project. I got it at the Dollar Tree. A dollar for a knitting bag is good. Very good. Especially if you are a bagaholic.

It is made out of some sort of thick plastic shower-curtain material (all the better to shed Louisiana rain) and it sports a panoramic view of tropical fish cavorting about a reef. It even has a little matching zippered coin-purse thing inside which holds stitch markers and stuff.

And it is soooo magpie-gaudy, my head immediately sprouts pink curlers every time I pick it up.

Speaking of Gaudy...

Crazy Aunt Purl (www.crazyauntpurl.com) is right. The clothing manufacturers have clearly lost their minds again with the formal-shorts thing. It was wrong when it was inflicted on us by Boy George in the '80s. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now. It will never, ever not be wrong.

I live in Louisiana, babygirl. Home of the Great Outdoor Convection Oven. I know all about shorts, and here is everything you need to know about them:

There are six basic categories of shorts:

1. Dress shorts, tennis shorts and golf shorts, which are essentially tailored pants made out of khaki and twill and stuff like that, cut off at the knees. Golf shorts and tennis shorts are acceptable only if you are actually playing golf or tennis. Dress shorts are usually worn by people who have inherited money, when they go to eat lunch at the country club or when they have tailgate parties before football games. You can tell they have inherited money, because anybody who runs around in lime-green shorts and a navy-blue polo shirt with pink anchors all over it clearly doesn't have enough sense to earn any significant money by their own reckoning. They also are not smart enough to wear long pants in an open football stadium when it's 45 degrees and there's a stiff wind off the river. Do you really want this guy to choose a mutual fund for you?

2. Daisy Dukes, which are essentially denim bikini bottoms, which nobody has any business wearing unless they are 19 and can be sent home for summer vacation in a mailing tube.

3. Sports shorts: surf shorts, boat shorts, running shorts, hiking shorts, bike shorts, that sort of thing. Also known as athletic shorts, sports shorts are perfectly acceptable casual attire on hot days and for knocking around the house or running errands in mild weather. Sport shorts, unlike golf or tennis shorts, are not Real Pants Cut Short. They started out life as shorts, they were meant to be shorts, they are usually made of nylon, cotton or some sort of microfiber, and they are intended to be sweated into. Sports shorts are acceptable attire at your neighborhood pub or coffeehouse.

4. Ho shorts. Do I really need to explain this one? Okay, just in case you have never been to the big city, Ho Shorts are similar to Daisy Dukes, only a lot shorter, and not made of denim. Ho shorts are narrow strips of shiny material which are worn around the hips for about five minutes before they are taken off.

5. Bush shorts. No, not the President. He doesn't need the wrong kind of shorts to look stupid. Bush shorts are made of khaki and have lots of pockets and flaps and stuff. Unless you are Steve Erwin, Jeff Corwin, a geologist, an archaeologist, a zoo employee or a wildlife biologist, don't wear bush shorts unless you are prepared to look extra-stupid when someone runs up, rightfully expecting you to know what kind of brown bird that is up there in the pin oak, and you don't know what kind of bird it is or which tree is the pin oak.

6. Work-uniform shorts. These are uniform shorts worn in hot weather (not in winter) by people like bike patrol cops and the UPS guy, and are only appropriate worn by the abovementioned people while they are on duty, especially if the UPS guy has good calves and is bringing you more yarn.

People up north -- or at least most of the ones in New York who design clothes -- seem to think that "dress shorts" are something that Southerners and Californians can actually wear in the winter to go to work and parties and stuff like that. I can't speak for California culture, but ...

NEWSFLASH: Real Southerners (unless maybe they are in Miami) don't wear shorts of any sort in the winter, even on mild days, because, by January, unless you are lucky enough to have an ethnic heritage where you have some pigment in your DNA, your legs are too damn white to be seen in public.

Another thing to consider: Southerners do things the traditional way. You simply cannot wear Formal Shorts to a Formal Occasion in the South. Not if you ever expect to be invited to another one. If you do get invited to a wedding or a coming-out party or a Mardi Gras ball or a fundraising dinner, you damn well better have on a suit or tux with Real Pants if you are a guy. If you are a gal (or the entertainment), you'll need a cocktail dress or a gown. Yes, even if it's August, and the wedding is outdoors, in the daytime.

If you are from the North, and you visit the South in the winter, you can tell the Real Southerners from the Tourists because the Real Southerners are the ones wearing long pants, mud boots, a sweater and a raincoat when it is 38 degrees and drizzling. The Tourists are the surprised-looking people in golf shorts and flowered shirts. They usually have to buy real clothes about fifteen minutes after they get off the plane. In fact, you can buy real clothes at the airport -- that's how confident we are that people from Wisconsin will show up in January with nothing but shorts and flip flops.

What, you may ask -- and rightfully so -- does any of this have to do with knitting?

Mambocat hereby issues a formal press release:

November 2, 2006: The Knitting Asylum wishes to announce that we have no plans whatsoever to design sweaters, knee socks or any other garment or accessory intended to be worn with, to coordinate with, or even to be in the same closet with, the latest incarnation of Dress Shorts.

--Mambocat

Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: