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For the Game of Throners

3 Jun

Spoiler alert! This post includes spoilers for Game of Thrones and, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, Harry Potter.

I have a bone to pick with Game of Thrones readers. Or, as I’m sure they’ve already jumped to correct me, with “A Song of Ice and Fire readers.”

Sunday night, after witnessing what can only have been the most traumatic, gruesome and aesthetically elaborate death scene in the history of time, I made the mistake of checking Twitter to see how my fellow Game of Throners were reacting. But instead of finding comfort and solace in the mutual grieving of my peers, I found a steady stream of horrid remarks from diehard Game of Throne readers (fine, f*@cking Song of Ice and Fire readers!)

As it turns out, those who read the books many years ago were rejoicing in the fact that we simple-minded HBO folk had stumbled upon a horrifying truth they’d known to be true for many years — that Prince Oberyn Martell, the arguably best (looking) person in Kings Landing, was doomed. With tears streaming down my face and into my goblet of Malbec, I read tweet after tweet from these people who were mocking – and even reveling in – my shock and despair. Really? Is it not enough that my heart has been shattered into a million pieces? And that, should my depression progress, I now know what it would sound like to explode? Is it not completely and utterly gut-wrenching that I’ll never again peacefully enjoy a Bells Oberon* Ale? Or chin straps? Or grapes?

To these people, I say shame on you. With such a feeble upper body and inherent asthmatic disadvantage, I am not one who would normally pick a fight. But (from behind the comfort of my computer), I am compelled to put my foot down this once.

I am allowed to enjoy the HBO series, Game of Thrones. I am allowed to cry, to mourn, to scream and sometimes, to exhibit mentally unstable behavior when one of my favorite characters is killed off. 

Visibly shaken from Game of Thrones and FaceTiming with my boyfriend who, bless his heart, does his best to sooth me.

Visibly shaken from Game of Thrones and FaceTiming with my boyfriend who, bless his heart, does his best to soothe me.

It’s true. I did not swing from the womb reciting Dothrakian poetry, nor am I able to screenprint a map Westeros with my left buttocks. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy and appreciate one of the greatest (albeit craziest) TV productions of our generation. Seriously, what’s the harm?

Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid reader. In fact, I am currently reading the Song of Ice and Fire series (aha! I am your equal!) Yes, you got to it before me, but can I not still enjoy it? Can I not discover the books on my own even though (GASP!) they’re suddenly trendy?

I’ll compare it to this: When I run into someone who hasn’t read the Harry Potter series, I am certainly taken aback by their poor judgment and complete disregard for fine literature (really, who doesn’t like Harry Potter?). But I am nonetheless encouraging. “You have to read the books!” I tell them. “They’re so much better than the movies!” I gush. I want them to experience Harry Potter and love it as much as I do (which I’ll admit sounds super creepy as I’m re-reading this). And yet in all my years of diehard Harry Potter fandom, never once did I find joy in watching movie-goers who hadn’t read the books realize a character’s unlucky fate. Sure, I knew it was coming, but I didn’t point and laugh at them when Dumbledore died. Or worse, when Hedwig died. I didn’t scoff at their tears when they realized that Snape, who they’d come to hate for years, turned out to be Harry’s greasy guardian angel. If anything, I comforted them. I cried with them, mourned with them. I welcomed them into my wizarding world with open arms and a slightly uncomfortable attempt at a smile. It is my way.

So while I realize this is a bit of an angry post (I’ll blame the Malbec), and that this insensitive behavior doesn’t come from all longtime “Song of Ice and Fire” readers, I needed to get it off my chest. George R.R. Martin is an incredibly creative, twisted and talented author with one of the most impossibly imaginative minds of our time. And his work is for all of us to enjoy.

*Yes, I realize the actual spelling of his name is Prince Oberyn.

A Walk in the Park

1 Jun

As I alluded to in my previous post, I was once an athlete. A field hockey player, to be exact.

joannaclark.wordpress.com

A pretty accurate visual representation of my field hockey career.

I realize that most people find this hard to believe as these days, my athletic endeavors are limited to chasing stray cats in my boyfriend’s backyard and the occasional lawn-mow (as illustrated in the photo below). In my defense, I recently gave team sports another shot. But after every tennis team I joined suspiciously “dissolved,” I decided that perhaps I’d better make a lasting transition into individual sports. So, I decided to get into running.

joannaclark.wordpress.com

My lawn-mowing face.

My favorite place to run is Cherokee Park. It’s full of pups, it’s relatively kid-unfriendly, and I always know exactly where I am in relation to the nearest bathroom. A few weeks ago, I was too tired and lazy to run, so I decided to power-walk instead.

But as I began my walk, I couldn’t help but feel a bit self-conscious. The only solo walkers were elderly women and strange men who believed that khaki cargo shorts were still an acceptable item of apparel. Certainly, I can understand the appeal of a nice pair of cargos — who wouldn’t want so many convenient options for storage? I myself was a cargo proponent for the better part of a decade, but I’m also the first to concede that they are in fact an assault on the senses.

But rather than let my insecurities get the best of me, I decided to put the negative thoughts behind me and make the most out of my walk. If nothing else, it would give me an opportunity to slowly enjoy the park, to see things I’d missed while running. Suddenly, my senses felt heightened. Like I’d splurged on an afternoon latte or, like Bran Stark, I’d opened my third eye. I began to examine every passerby with great attention to detail, realizing that this made me an anthropologist and that perhaps khaki cargos were a viable option after-all. Here are my observations:

1. Toe sock runners are dangerous

With heightened senses, I heard much of the world around me. The squirrels in the bushes, the birds in heat, the androgynous bikers whizzing past me. The only thing that snuck up on me, however, were the damn runners in those toe sock shoes. As an avid crop-duster, I’m fairly attuned to the gentle pitter patter of runners approaching me from behind. But due to the lightness of their footwear and the slenderness of their girlish calves, the men wearing toe sock shoes breezed by me without so much as a peep. It was startling and, quite honestly, unfortunate for all parties involved.

2. Big Foot probably smokes pot

At one point, I rounded a corner and was confronted with the distinct, skunkish smell of marijuana. I looked deeper into the woods to find said pot-smoker and saw what could have easily passed for the Germantown version of Big Foot — a man, casually strolling amongst the trees with long, unkempt locks and what looked like the remains of a tattered linen shirt. I couldn’t see his feet, but from my experience at Forecastle, I deduced that he was likely barefoot. I made eye contact with his chest hair and felt the blood rush from my face. I remained on-edge–practicing what I hoped would come across as a casual, yet passionate iteration of “I’m no narc”–until I realized that this fellow looked strikingly similar to one of sister’s ex-boyfriends. Certainly, a former Clark lover would cause me no harm, I thought. That soothed me. And I moved on.

This is an actual picture of an actual foot that I took at Forecastle.

This is an actual picture of an actual foot that I took at Forecastle.

3. Wildlife excites me

Obviously, this comes as no surprise. But at a slower pace, I realized that I was much more apt to spot critters. At one point, I even saw a turtle breast-stroking along with the current. It was almost too much. I stopped at every bridge to see how many ducks I could count, a treat I sometimes enjoy on my walk to work. To save money, I park in a free parking lot down by the Ohio River, which, for you non-Louisvillians, is the liquid that likely inspired the popular sci-fy series, Alex Mack. The Ohio is certainly no environment for whales, but every morning, I cross my fingers and pray to God that it will be the day I see one. It’s moments like these I know I need to relocate to Seattle.

4. I’m becoming my mother.

About five minutes into my walk, I thought to myself, “This would be really wonderful if I had a book on-tape.” It was jarring. And I rather not comment on the matter any more than I already have.

And those are the four things I observed at the park. To summarize, here’s a picture of my sister and I blowing away the competition at my first mini marathon.

joannaclark.wordpress.com

Return of the Gym Rat

4 Jan

I’ve decided I’d like to get ripped. Nothing too aggressive, just something that would look nice under a spray tan.

The decision comes as a result of several recent experiences, the most horrific of which being the morning my father told me that I looked, “Broad. Like a swimmer, Jo!” While I realize that this was probably a genuine attempt at a compliment, it was nonetheless devastating. I’ve always been a bit self-conscious of my shoulders — I was an early bloomer in middle school and once ripped a shirt in half while clapping. Over the years, I’ve done my best to avoid halter tops and overcome my insecurities. I’ll admit that I’ve even made some progress. But to have my stature likened to that Michael Phelps while wearing a new tennis tank was as a real tragedy, and I was immediately obligated to rethink my entire blazer collection. (I’d like to say that my dad soon redeemed himself from such a tactless comment, but moments later, he referred to my legs as “manscular.” The man has a gift.)

Another reason I’ve decided to get ripped is because I am embarrassingly weak (yes, even with such a “manscular” physique). I came to realize this when I decided to try out the whole “Pure Barre” fad. For the record, I’m not a Barre regular. Not only are the socks alone an ungodly financial commitment, but I’m fairly certain it’s an underground trafficking system for tennis bracelets and Lululemon. However, I was given the opportunity to attend a free class and, never one to turn down a freebie other than communal snacks, I decided to give it a shot.

I arrived at the studio in my trendiest yoga pants and thickest, most expensive pair of socks. I’d heard there was a barefoot component to the class, and I wasn’t taking any chances with potential skin-to-mat contact (ringworm is out there, and it’s only a matter of time before CrossFit sparks a worldwide epidemic). We began the class with a warm up, during which I was unable to complete a full push up. Red Flag Number One. Then, 10 minutes into the first routine, all of my cynical notions of the “Barre method” were completely debunked — that shit is hard. While the women around me were gracefully “pulsing” and “tucking” their “seats,” I was convulsing on the floor, grinning and clenching like a gassy old man. It was mortifying. I was physically unable to lift myself to a proper “tucking” position, so I instead used my free time to survey the crowd — Barre women are a breed all their own, and I was eager to observe them.

I looked around at my exceptionally flexible classmates, using the undercover creepy eye I honed in college, and quickly realized why people paid big bucks for the Barre method. The women were ripped. And I mean seriously cut. Before that moment, I’d only seen arms that sculpted on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, a physical achievement I imagined to be made possible by tricks of lighting and expensive bronzer. But there they were, the arms of my dreams, flexing and “pulsing” before my very eyes! It was breathtaking. More than once, I tried to compare biceps in the mirror, but it useless — I was clearly the runt of the bunch, a travesty that no amount of self tanner could correct.

A young, stylish dog-whisperer. You'll notice my bowl-cut, as well.

“A Bowl-Cut and Bones.” People often referred to me as a style icon of my time.

Needless to say, I haven’t been back to Pure Barre. Neither my muscles, my ego, nor my wallet could handle a second appearance. I’ve never felt so weak, and I’ve since spent a substantial amount of time researching Shake Weights. In my defense, I’ve never been a particularly strong girl. Sure, I was fast at one point — but that was back in my youth when I was nothing but a bowl-cut and bones. Back when I was a swimmer, and all it took was some desperate flailing and a packet of Fun Dip to propel my lithe, boyish figure to first place. 

Now that I’m a mature woman of 25, I need more than an adventurous creek walk or rigorous talent show practice to maintain my shape. While I can always lean on a strategically applied spray tan to fudge some muscle definition, will that help in the long run? Will it further my dream of becoming a music video celebutante? Or perhaps most importantly, will it prepare my feeble biceps for the heft of an adult cat? I think not. And as I plan to groom the largest cat in the clowder during my first week as an official Humane Society volunteer, I cannot risk physical inferiority. If he’s to truly respect me, I must first assert myself as his queen.

So, these are the reasons that I’ve decided to start working out again. My first goal is to build enough definition to fill out a muscle tank, as I now look a bit like a house elf in them.

How I look in muscle tanks

How I look in muscle tanks

And with that stunning visual in mind, I hereby declare that it’s time to reinstate my forehead vein and revisit my career as a Gym Rat. Below is the proof.

The Silver Fox

12 Sep

Nearly one month away from my 25th year of life, I’m discovering some interesting things about myself. About my aging, to be exact. A particularly depressing revelation occurred about a week or so ago. I’d say it was the worst one I’ve had yet, but earlier this year, my mom asked me if I “did Botox.”  That would be the worst. However, something horrible happened recently that painfully confirmed my rapidly waning youth: my first gray hair.

The proof is in the pudding.

The proof is in the pudding.

A coworker spotted it one morning as we were talking in my office. It couldn’t have been hard to do — the bastard was sticking straight up from my scalp, waving in the AC draft like the white flag of my surrendering youth. To this day, the visual is still unsettling.

After somewhat awkwardly asking her to remove it from my head, we delved into an almost mathematical rationalization of all the things this could be other than a gray hair. We blamed my highlights (which I’ve never had), my potential “scalp birth mark,” and the small pharmacy of hair pills I’m taking to outgrow my Thomas Jeffersonesque bob. Perhaps I’d been particularly stressed out at work, or had a shocking, life-altering moment, she suggested. Almost instantly, I thought of the night I watched the “Red Wedding,” a night so dark and lonely I can scarcely bare to think of it. Certainly, this was life-alerting, but could it have been enough of a trauma to catapult me into early menopause?

My reaction to the Red Wedding. And yes, I had to blur some of the more unsuitable language.

My reaction to the Red Wedding. And yes, I had to blur some of the more unsuitable language.

Since the initial spotting, I’ve done a lot of self-reflecting. Who am I, really? Am I an adult, or a post-grad? I don’t feel like an adult, and I definitely don’t feel old enough to sprout a gray hair. Yes, I boast some elderly qualities, such as my scary witch hands and sensitivity to air quality alerts, but I’m also pretty sure there’s a Wet Seal tube-top still floating around in my top drawer.

The truth is, I am in an awkward stage of life. And as a generally awkward individual, this would seem a natural place for me. But it’s not. Adult life has proven to be as exciting and rewarding as it is uncomfortable and scary (the most uncomfortable moment being when I accidentally said “in fart of” instead of “in front of” during a client meeting.) But although the amount of math involved is far beyond my remedial abilities, and I’ve found myself, on more than one occasion, sobbing hysterically during episodes Downton Abbey, I’m excited for what’s to come in my new-found adult life. 

Wet-Seal tube-top circa 2008

Wet-Seal tube-top circa 2008

The Internet is officially creepy.

20 Jan

I have been called “creepy” on more than one occasion. Perhaps it is because I’m incapable of smiling like a normal person, fantasize about spray-tanning my boyfriend in his sleep, and/or habitually cuddle with a stuffed animal replica of my cat.

Creepy Exhibit A

Creepy Exhibit A

But regardless of my creepy tendencies, I am sad to report that I was officially “out-creeped” this month when an unauthorized photo of me went viral.

Exhibit B: Buster and Buster having a moment.

Creepy Exhibit B

I wrote a blog post a while ago about the strategy I use to weasel my way out of cooking, cleaning and yard-work. It is a tactic I’ve (successfully) used on my family for the last 20+ years. In fact, just last week, I proved its timeless value once again when I tricked my mom into “showing me how” to make scrambled eggs. They were delicious. Anyways, in the blog post, I included my high school senior yearbook picture and quote to prove my longtime commitment to this scheme.

Then, a few weeks ago, someone from high school informed me that a website dedicated to “daily fails” picked up my picture and was using it for an “epic yearbook quote fail.” I went to the link and saw that my yearbook picture had been pulled — completely out of context — from my blog post and used for the website’s daily post. Currently, the link has upwards of 200,000 shares and 20+ comments. Obviously, this creeps me out. While I have full intentions of reaching celebritydom at some point in my life (preferably by means of a music video), I wasn’t prepared to make my viral debut wearing a Wet Seal halter top and side-part comb-over. This was — and still is — a personal branding disaster.

After I saw the link, I began to freak out (as any normal hypochondriac would). Was Paris Hilton going to sue me? Was I going to lose my job? Was my right eye really that much bigger than my left eye? Then — as I scrambled to plan Buster’s and my exodus into obscurity — the person who sent me the link alluded to the possibility of me becoming an Internet meme. An Internet meme? Bless him — it was just the silver lining I needed. I heaved a huge sigh of relief as I realized that such a status would significantly up my chances of rubbing elbows with Grumpy Cat. It was the stuff of my dreams.

Feeling slightly better, I decided I was ready to read the comments on my picture. Big mistake. As it turns out, people were angry. Very angry. Because my picture had been pulled out of context, people deduced me to be some kind of socialite-worshiping, pathetic, aimless, sad child of “incompetent parents.” (To this, I can’t help but take offense as my parents are in fact nothing short of amazing. Weird, but amazing.) One commenter even said I was “like a 5-year old.” While I’ve never seen a 5-year-old up close (as I try to keep a minimum of 10-yards between myself and children at all times), I will take this as a tribute to my obsessive sunscreen application and rigorous moisturizer routine.

On a more serious note, my picture and quote sparked a fiery debate about immorality, government spending, my generation’s disgraceful laziness and “what’s wrong with the world today.” (Literally — according to some, am what’s wrong with the world today). I haven’t been the subject of such an attack since the mid 90s, when my own father tried to throw me out of a YMCA basketball game (I can only thank God my b-ball career isn’t on the line again this time). I scrolled through the comments, one more angry than the next, and realized that I was on the brink of becoming the poster-child of the fiscal cliff — it was as if every time I “forgot how” to clean the litter box, iron a shirt, steam some rice or reset the wireless router, I brought our country one step closer to an economic meltdown. Had I known my actions would bear such weight on the rest of the nation, I would have learned how to scramble an egg much sooner.

All joking aside, I realize that I have little room to complain. Yes, I was pissed. And yes, this was scary. But by sharing my pictures, stories and thoughts on the Internet, I am forfeiting a little piece of my privacy, and thus, the right to gripe once its been breached. Lesson learned. No more posting pictures with my name attached. However, as much as I hate to vent in my blog posts, I will say this: if you’re going to use my photos or writing for your own benefit, at least have the decency to cite my work. Or maybe even read the post that you pull something from. If nothing else, it might help you understand the concept of sarcasm.

Updated high school yearbook picture

Accidental squirrel hunting

19 Dec

 (Disclaimer: There’s a pretty gross picture in this blog post — which may or may not surprise you based on the title. Nevertheless, please proceed with caution, especially my fellow vegetarians.)

2012 has been a wild ride in terms of my interactions with animals. I’ve spit up a spider, assaulted a snake, walked a cat on a leash (finally!Taking Milo on a walkand been subject to Buster’s midnight howl-and-hump routine more times than I care to admit. Thus, it is only fitting that a few weeks ago, I truly topped off the year when I accidentally ran over a squirrel with the lawnmower.

It was late November…

I dread Sundays. If there were ever a day for me to inject myself with buckwheat, it would be Sunday, “The Lawn’s Day.” These are the days when my dad has “big plans” for me. The last time he had “big plans” for me, I ended up insulating the garage. Three months later he told me the materials we’d used were carcinogenic. I’d hardly call that quality bonding time.

Sure enough, when I pulled in the driveway that fateful Sunday morning, the garage door began to rise as if I’d triggered some sort of “Dependent Daughter” tracking device, one that monitors my whereabouts and notifies the local authorities when I’m carrying my mom’s debit card within 100 yards of a gas station. My dad then emerged from the garage, all but vibrating with chipperness in his signature head-to-toe denim outfit.

“You ready to mow today, Jo?”

“Meh,” I grunted, shielding my eyes from the blaze of his acid wash jeans.

“Well let’s go! I’ve got you all set up here!” Clearly. He was literally bouncing around the garage on his heels. I hadn’t seen him this excited since the last power outage. His frantic behavior and spastic movements reminded of a manic Carrie Mathison and I was tempted to see how he’d react to the words “green pen.”

Being the dutiful tenant that I am, I agreed to cut the grass in exchange for another day’s cable and shelter. Homeland was on that night, so I was in no position to risk eviction. Ten minutes into mowing, I approached a tree and heard a loud “POP!” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something fly out from underneath the machine. I shrugged it off as another dulled blade (one less reason for my dad to ask me to mow again), but that’s when I saw it: a squirrel thigh directly in front of the mower. A piece of tail to my right.

I screamed and shut off the ignition. Maybe it was a stick — a furry stick with paw-like growths. Maybe it was a cat toy, one that Buster had scoffed at and spitefully attempted to bury in the lawn (he doesn’t react well to inedible gifts). Feeling confident that it was all a misunderstanding, I peered over the front of the lawnmower and saw the following image:Thighs in the grass

Well, there was no denying it — I had definitely mowed over a squirrel. Its lone paw flapped in the breeze, a small reminder of the squirrel that was. I frantically searched my body for bits of squirrel debris that might have landed on exposed skin. I had a developing spray tan in the works, and I wasn’t interested in adding a fur coat to such a premature faux-glow. The thought of a botched, unintentionally tufted spray tan was just too much to handle and so I began to cry — for my tan, for the squirrel and for my soul. Sobbing, I wondered how Buster did this everyday… and then it hit me: I had just committed my first official cat act — the irreversible act that would propel me into a life of eternal Cat Ladydom. I felt like a spry young PNM again on the cusp of sorority initiation: I had no idea what I was in for, but by God, I knew it would be creepy.

There was an unfamiliar closeness to Buster brewing in my heart, as if the sacrificial squirrel had unlocked a new level of our relationship and forged a brethren of hunters. Gone were my afternoons of Real Housewives marathons and cheese quesadillas. My weekends would now consist of prowling around the backyard with Buster, stalking the slowest of squirrels and settling down for a nap within 3 feet of them (Buster’s signature hunting technique — we’re still not sure how he catches anything). We’d hunt for hours until we caught something, or until Buster’s balding forehead could take no more sun.

This is how Buster hunts. Believe it or not, he catches quite a few critters. We call it the Opossum Effect.

This is how Buster hunts. Believe it or not, he catches quite a few critters. We call it the Opossum Effect.

My dad, alarmed at the sound of my non-laboring, jerked me back to reality by yelling out the window, “What’s wrong?”

“I ran over a squirrel leg!” I yelled.

“Squirrels don’t have eggs!”

“No. I ran over a squirrel and its leg.”

“Oh,” he said.

Silence. After confessing aloud to what I’d done, the sadness and panic began to return. I had just killed a squirrel. Regardless of whatever carnivorous kinship I had suddenly formed with Buster, this had to be against my vegetarian beliefs. I began to panic and tried to focus on long, deep breaths before things got asthmatic. After a few steady breathing exercises, I realized that I was inhaling whatever molecules of squirrel still lingered in the atmosphere. Surely such fumes were toxic. If my soul wasn’t blackening by the minute, I felt positive that my lungs were.

I ran inside to escape the tainted air and to call for help. My mom would most likely call a funeral home, and I could still hear my dad cackling upstairs, so I decided the best, most reasonable option would be to call my sister.

“Hey what’s up?”

“I ran over a squirrel with the lawnmower.”

She screamed. Not the consoling reaction I was hoping for. After a minute, she said:

“There’s no way it was still alive, Jo. Remember when we used to try to catch squirrels with our lunch bags? They were so fast! There’s no way you could have hit one.”

“You’re right, I guess…”

I hung up, unsatisfied with her reasoning. No, we hadn’t ever been successful in our squirrel wrangling, but what if this one had been deaf? What if he had been sleeping? Dreaming of telephone wires and bird seed, only to wake up 5 yards from his lower limbs? I searched high and low for a tailless 3-legged squirrel, fully prepared to take him and his thigh to the nearest animal hospital.

In the end, I found nothing but bits of tail and fur, barely enough to knit Buster a modest tunic. The fact that I could find no trace of the remaining squirrel made me feel a little bit better — perhaps he had already been dead, after all. Perhaps Buster had simply forgotten to clean up after his mid-morning snack. This soothed me.

Present day…

It’s been a few weeks and I’m almost back to normal. My conscience feels lighter and I’ve yet to show any signs of toxic squirrel inhalation. I’ve also been excused from all lawn-mowing, which has been nice. I was nearly to a place of peace until my dad discovered what had actually killed the squirrel. This happened a few days ago:

“Jo! I figured it out!”

“Figured what out?”

“What killed the squirrel. It was lead poisoning! Those damn squirrels have been chewing through the roof!”

I know that he meant well by this — he was trying to reassure me that I did not in fact kill the squirrel. But somehow the thought of inhaling a toxic, lead-laden squirrel did not do much to quell my concerns.

Dog-sitting in the Amazon

16 Sep

Last weekend, I witnessed another gruesome attack. Fortunately, I was not the victim this time, but it was still incredibly traumatizing:

On the tail end of a highly successful dog-sitting season, I accepted one final job to start saving for the upcoming opening of Tin Roof Louisville. It was a brief dog-sitting stint — just a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night– but I felt it would give me plenty of pocket change for the indefinite number of cheese quesadillas and Bud Heavy pitchers that would soon plague my bank account.

I arrived at the house around 6:00 last Friday evening ready to romp with the pups. As I put the key in the back door, I heard a rustling in the bushes behind me. I turned around to see a large frog jump out at me from underneath a nearby rock. At first I was startled, but the frog had assumed a fairly non-aggressive stance and so I gave him a slight nod of hello. We made eye contact with each other for a few more seconds, as I thought to myself, “this is awesome.” Surprisingly enough, we’ve never had frogs as pets, so I was eager to spend some quality, one-on-one time with this foreign critter.

Anxious to catch him before he hopped away, I ran in the house, grabbed the dogs and sprinted back outside like an 8-year-old boy scout embarking on a creek walk.

I lead the dogs around the perimeter of the frog as not to disturb him. Once I was certain we were alone, I bent down to offer him a finger of salutation.

I screamed. Sometime between my then and my arrival, a snake had decided my frog would make a much better snack than friend. The snake had the frog’s entire leg in its mouth and was dragging him towards a hole.

For a few seconds, I stood in shock. I’d never seen anything like this before. In fact, I’d never even seen a wild snake before. I didn’t think we had snakes in Louisville. Sure, I’d heard of Garden snakes, but where was the nearby garden? My deductive reasoning lead me to believe that this snake was bad news, probably an escapee or fugitive of some sort, so I scooped up a handful of rocks and began throwing them at the snake’s head.

“STOP IT! STOP IT!!”

It took me less than 10 seconds to launch into a full-on “PROTECT THIS HOUSE” battle with the snake (an instinct of mine that’s served me well in my lengthy dog-sitting career). I threw the rocks as hard as I could, but because I am like an 8-year-old boy scout in more ways than one, my impossibly soft-hitting rocks did not cause the snake much damage.

“Drop him! I said DROP HIM!” I leaped onto a nearby picnic table to initiate an aerial attack. From my lofty perch, I roared and threw any and all nearby objects as hard as my body would allow. I’m almost certain that any neighbors within earshot have reported back to the homeowners that I’d been abusing their dogs.

The snake was completely unbothered by my attempted attack and continued to swallow the frog inch by inch. At that point, I decided I’d better bring in some back-up. I called my mom — the science teacher — who at the time, I figured was as close to a snake handling expert as I’d ever find.

“Mom! I’m here and there’s a SNAKE eating a FROG. I don’t know what to do. Oh my god this is awful. I’ve been throwing rocks at the snake but it won’t let go!”

My mom hates these types of phone calls from me — she gets them more often than you’d think. About once or twice per month, she’ll answer the phone and I’ll immediately launch into a shrieking and crying episode, the subject of which is completely indiscernible. 9 times out of 10, she’ll assume I’ve been in a car accident, but it’s usually something more along the lines of accidentally taking the wrong highway or thinking about germs in a paper-cut.

“JOANNA! Go back inside. I mean it. Stop it. There’s nothing you can do. He’s gone, Jo. The frog is gone.”

“No he’s not! He’s not gone. He’s still alive, he’s looking at me!”

The snake — with the frog’s leg still in his mouth — was pulling the frog backwards into his cave of doom. The frog was clinging to rocks and branches, but he couldn’t grab hold of anything substantial. The whole time, the frog was staring me right in the eyes.

I then realized that I was literally the last thing this frog would ever see. One more glance at me, and he was off to the promise land. My sweaty, roaring face and bulging forehead vein would be the last thing to ever to grace his eyes. I did not feel comfortable with this responsibility, nor with the thought of leaving him with such an unflattering image of me at my worst angle. I hopped down from the picnic table and took a moment to review my appearance. For the frog’s sake, it wasn’t looking good. In a rush to leave the house, I’d thrown on my rattiest pair yoga pants (which, at least were black) and a dirty, homemade tie-dye t-shirt. I put the “rat” in Gym Rat, even though I hadn’t set foot within 5 miles of a gym.

I tried to calm myself down and adopted a more solemn, gentle expression. Out of respect, I brushed the cat hair off my yoga pants and flattened out my wrinkled tee. I rubbed my cheeks to even out my blotchy complexion, but it was pointless — in my unsuccessful attempt at spear-throwing, I’d already sweat off 2 of my 4 layers of bronzer.

“Mom, this is awful.”

“Joanna, I’m serious, stop looking at it. This is what snakes do. They need to eat too, you know? The frog is gone. It’s over. Stop looking at it.”

We argued for a few more minutes after I told her that this is not what snakes do because we only have vegetarian Garden snakes in the East End.

Frustrated with my logic and nervous at the all-to-possible idea of a self-sacrificing rescue stunt, my mom said, “It’s over. It’ll be quick. Go. Back. Inside.”

Resigned, I bid adieu to my poor frog. To my mom’s point, it looked like this was going to be anything but quick, but I wasn’t in the mood to argue. I thought about his wife, his kids, and I hoped they weren’t nearby to witness any of this. I said a little prayer for him and walked back inside.

I then called the homeowner to tell her that I’d arrived, and to briefly touch on the fact that she had a homicidal reptile living in her backyard.

“Hey, I’m here.”

“You’re where?”

“At the house. With the dogs.”

Silence.

“You weren’t supposed to come until tomorrow. You start Saturday, not Friday. We’re still here. I just left to run a few errands.”

“Christ. Well just so you know, there’s a snake eating a frog in your backyard.”

And it is with this story that I announce my semi-retirement from pet-sitting. While I do plan to take on the occasional job here and there, I’ve decided to put an end to traumatizing events such as this and spend more time with Buster in his twilight years of life.

Old cat ladies and new clients

19 Aug

Gretel

By now, most of you have probably realized than I am a bit obsessed with animals. For reasons most people fail to understand, I am particularly fascinated with cats — more specifically, overweight cats. (Enter: Gretel) Because of this, I get asked nearly everyday if I am a “cat person.” Perhaps it’s because I find a way to incorporate Buster into every conversation. I can’t help it, though — he’s just such a huge part of my life. I am like that girl who name-drops her boyfriend in every sentence, except this is even less acceptable because I am name-dropping my cat.

You might recall this perm.

But regardless of my feelings towards cats, I can’t help but take offense to being referred to as a “cat person.” And that’s because I know what people see when they call me a “cat person”. They see me crouching on a beige, shag carpet somewhere, dressed in a high-collar floral nightgown with dozens of heavyset cats sprawled at my feet. My shoulders and hands are tanned from tending to my garden of Catnip, but my calves bear the scars of kittens yet to be de-clawed. Perhaps I have a perm, perhaps not — but my house definitely reeks of cigarettes and Friskies, a deadly combo for an asthmatic such as myself.

I say all of this because “cat person” is a small step away from “cat lady,” the likes of which I am steadily approaching. Some might think that this is a recent development, but the truth is that I began my journey towards Cat-ladydom at a young age. Buster was the obvious catalyst for my infatuation, but my rightful path was irreversibly forged the moment I brought in the Cats soundtrack for an elementary school show-and-tell.

And with that in mind, I’d like to share a few photos of my newest client, Milo:

With Milo, it was love at first sight. He was big and beautiful, with a full, orange coat that Buster (victim of male-patterned baldness) would kill for. At first, I was afraid that Milo’s girth was an illusion from his excessively long locks. But as I picked him up, I felt my biceps strain under the weight of his substantial frame. He was a prime example of my ideal body type for animals: small head, delicate ankles and portly midsection. If there were a pageant for plus-sized creatures such as he, he would surely have taken the crown. I looked around for a brush to groom his whiskers, but then I saw it: a cat leash and harness sitting on the kitchen counter. I do believe a small tear fell from my eye at that moment.

I managed to pull myself together in time to document the experience for your viewing pleasure:

A brief rest from our walk.

A tender moment.

My last day with Milo was a sad one, but I take solace in the hope that our paths will one day cross again.

Life as a Gamekeeper.

10 Aug

My sister and I on our last family vacation. Neither of us was asked back this year.

Apparently, I’ve now reached the age at which I am no longer allowed on family vacations. This came as quite a shock, considering that my parents took my sister and me on vacation a mere 12 months ago. I’m not sure what happened between then and now, but somehow, I must have accidentally tricked my parents into thinking that I am now a mature adult. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve enjoyed a few Masterpiece Classics or that I’ve developed an appreciation for fine bourbon. If anything, I seem to have skipped my mid 20’s and plunged full-speed-ahead into my mid 70’s. At this point, I feel almost obligated to make a sizable contribution to NPR.

Because my sudden age spurt has deemed me ineligible for family vacations, my parents requested my house/pet-sitting services for a full 2 weeks. Of course by “requested” I mean “demanded”, as I did not have a say in the matter whatsoever. Had I been given a choice, I would have said “hell no” in the most unmistakable of terms. House-sitting for my parents is somewhat comparable to what I imagine it must have been like babysitting for the Lohans: complete chaos and reasonable cause for a tetanus shot. My dad is an avid gardener and my mom is a compulsive pet purchaser, the result of which is a botanical garden/dysfunctional petting zoo that I call home. The only foreseeable silver lining in this deal would be the opportunity to add “gamekeeper” to my resume.

The night before their trip, my mom drafted a two-page document with detailed instructions regarding the feeding and maintenance of her creatures. The highlight of this document was specific instructions on how to keep Tommy regular. As if I didn’t already have enough to worry about, I was now responsible for a lizard with IBS.

Thomas the Irregular

On the way to the airport, my parents excitedly rattled on about their trip, completely ignoring the fact that they had failed to invite me. My mom sensed my depression and thus offered me the rights to her Prius while they were gone.

“But you’ll have to take some things out of the back, Jo.”

“Like what?”

“A crate of rocks. They’re fossils!”

I sighed and continue to drive onwards, calculating how many steroids I’d have to ingest in order to lift the Falls of the Ohio from my mom’s backseat.

Never one to empathize, my dad proceeded to fire off a list of last-minute advice he expected me to remember.

“Only give Tommy the biggest, fastest meal worms. He won’t eat them if they’re slow.”

“Like a gladiator match!” My mom chimed in.

“And if Buster — you know, dies — Jo, don’t do anything too crazy. He’s old. We don’t need a huge medical bill to keep him around any longer.”

The Huntsman…lurking in the sheets.

In his old age, Buster has begun to exhibit a few behaviors that have really compromised his and my dad’s relationship. Much to my father’s dismay, one of those behaviors is a late-night habit of searching for a romantic companion. From dusk till dawn, Buster howls from the top of the stairs, begging for someone to feed him and/or console him in the most erotic of ways. As soon as 7:30pm hits, his eyes (both good and bad eye) widen in a frightening gleam of lust. He turns into an insatiable huntsman at night, prowling from room to room in search of hump and snacks. I’ve had to sacrifice both a Pillow Pet and a memory foam neck pillow to his cause. At times he can get so forceful and loud that I’ve heard my mom cry out in fear from her bedroom. When we had family in town last month, my dad locked Buster in my room with me so that he wouldn’t attack our guests in their sleep.

Anyways, a few days into their trip, my dad called to check on the house and to inquire about the mortality of his prized possession, Darcy.

Darcy the Douchebag.

Avoiding the question all-together (Darcy had stopped singing 2 days prior), I informed him that I’d had an interview that week. We started to talk about it until I heard:

“I mean, Jeez, just a minute, we’re talking Carol. Ok, hold on. Jo, your mom wants to talk to you.”

My dad handed the phone to my mom, who I assumed was dying to ask how my interview went. Instead, she breathlessly whispered into the phone, “Jo. I pet a wolf today.”

A gift from Mom

Most of our phone calls went like that for the rest of their trip. “How’s Tommy? Is Darcy alive?” were the focal points for about 90 percent of our conversations. My dad would tell me where they hiked that day, and I’d make sure my mom didn’t eat any unidentifiable plants she found on the trail. I tried to imagine what kinds of gifts they’d return with, but knowing my mom — the woman who once gifted me with a microwavable, aroma-therapeutic stuffed animal raccoon — these types of questions are better left unanswered.

By the end of the trip, I’d established a sort of rapport with the creatures. Left in my charge, Darcy had lost his will to live and thus became noticeably quieter (a feat I’d been working towards for years). Tommy and I developed a cordial relationship with each other after I saved his life one afternoon —  he’d eaten a wasp (something I can’t imagine bode well for his IBS) but I managed to wrestle the majority of it from his mouth in a remarkable act of selflessness. From that point on, we managed to put our differences behind us and I agreed to substantially overfeed him for the rest of my stint as gamekeeper.

As expected, my mom returned from the trip with a few gifts for me, including a box of wolf fur. She said she collected it from a fence, but I had my doubts. Almost more alarming than the box of wolf fur was my dad’s face — he’d used his vacation time to grow a full-blown beard and mustache, something I’d never seen him do in all my 23 years of life. I screamed when he climbed into the backseat of my car at the airport — the initial shock of his tufted face had me fighting an innate instinct to spray him with Mace.

“I got bit by a bear!” It looked more like he’d been bitten by a rabid Billy Bob Thornton.

“You’d better shave that off,” I said once I’d recovered. “Buster might take a shine to it.”

He shaved it the next night.

Spider Attack Follow Up Report

15 Jul

I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who expressed their genuine concern for me when they heard the tale of my gruesome attack. Physically, I’m doing ok. My symptoms subsided shortly after the incident, and I’m confident that I am no longer on the verge of death. Mentally, I’m still a bit shaken up. I’ve yet to take a sip from a cup that I’ve neglected for more than three seconds, and I’m still only able to eat dry, solid foods, as these items seem less likely to house living creatures.

While it pains me to say so, my family has been less than compassionate in consoling me. After the attack, my mother helped me to convince myself that I’d been bitten by a rabid species of spider, and my father tricked me into believing I’d been attacked by a baby Brown Recluse. Below is an account of what happened when I called my mom to explain my misfortune:

“Oh my god, Jo. Oh my god. I’m going to need a minute.”

Silence.

“You should take it to pest control. Seriously.”

“Pest control?? Why, do you think it’s a Brown Recluse or something?”

“I don’t know, Jo. I just don’t know.”

“It was acting strange. Don’t animals exhibit strange behavior when they’re rabid? Oh my god, do I have rabies??”

I’ve always had a slightly skewed understanding of rabies. When I was in elementary school, my mother was dropping me off one morning when a raccoon stumbled out of a nearby bush. My mom was immediately nervous, as she knew how hard it was for me to resist interacting with wild critters. (Every morning before school, I’d run around the neighborhood with brown paper bags in hopes of capturing slow-moving squirrels.) She saw the manic gleam in my eyes as I reached for the car door and yelled, “Don’t touch it, Joanna! Stay away from the raccoon, it has rabies!” She proceeded to explain to me that any animal wandering around in the daytime and/or exhibiting “strange” behavior is rabid, and thus, deadly. While I’m sure she had good intentions, my understanding of rabies was forever tainted. For years I was convinced that Buster, a daytime creature exhibiting incredibly strange (if not violent) behavior, was rabid. But I’ve since come to realize his crotchety behavior is the result of low blood sugar, easily rectified by a steady stream of delicious treats and snacks.

Buster with low blood sugar.

Buster after a snack.

“Only mammals can carry rabies, Joanna. Not spiders. But tell your father to call an exterminator before I come home.”

We bickered for a few minutes, but by the end of our conversation I was fully convinced that I’d been infected with a rare strand of insect rabies.

My father, sensing an opportunity, told me to go online and Google pictures of Brown Recluses. As he’d anticipated, the first few pictures that popped up were of flesh-eating wounds. When I broke out into a cold-sweated hysteria, my dad sensed that his joke had perhaps gone a little too far.

My sister dragged me away from the computer and immediately began scolding my father for his tactless approach.

“It’s not a Brown Recluse, Jo,” my dad said. “If it was, it says here that you’d already be having ‘nausea, itching, vomiting, severe pain…’ Oh. Hmm. Maybe keep it in a jar for a while, you know?”

“Why? So we can see if it grows into a Brown Recluse?”

“No, no. Just to….see…..”

My mother’s distress and my father’s cryptic advice were not doing much to quell my concerns. I did not want to keep this deranged spider as a pet, especially since it was so obviously keen on my own blood. What was I supposed to feed it? Espresso beans and bits of my own flesh?

My new life.

Still coming down from a recent ABC Family “Harry Potter Weekend”, my mind immediately went to Aragog, Hagrid’s enormous, carnivorous pet spider. My god, I could all but see my fate unfolding before me: If I continued on this path of spider husbandry, I’d soon turn into a bewhiskered gamekeeper living in the tool shed of my parents’ backyard. My father would command me to hunt the squirrels attacking our bird feeder, and subsequently, I’d clothe myself in a cloak of squirrel pelts and scraps from the compost pile. Buster would become my only companion, though I sensed his loyalty would stray once my mom called him in for lunch.

For these reasons alone, keeping the spider was simply out of the question. So, being the decent, animal-loving vegetarian that I am, I decided to set him free.

As I carried him to the front door, I felt good about my decision. My forgiving, altruistic behavior would be rewarded. What goes around, comes around, etc. But before I could give myself a solid pat on the back for a job well done, the bastard escaped.

In the days since, I’ve tried not to think about it. But I know he’s still out there. Recruiting his friends, waiting for the next opportunity to leap into one of my dishes. Perhaps I will ask my father to call the exterminator after all.

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