To be Giada

'I just grab some thyme from backyard...'
‘I just grab some thyme from my backyard…’

This is how it goes on vacation days: Mrs. Upinthevalley comes home from yoga, makes something green and crunchy, assumes the lotus position in front of the TV, and watches the porn for women that is Giada De Laurentiis.

Giada! Isn’t she wonderful?

Giada makes crab ricotta cannelloni.  Giada has perfect orthodonture.  Giada shares her holiday recipes. She has a teeny-tiny waist. Giada makes lemon-smashed potatoes. Giada has gorgeous hair.  Even her stray tendrils fall in an orderly manner. Giada makes stracotto with porcini mushrooms.  Her kitchen has spotless glass tile and nothing drips on the counter. Ever. There are no animals underfoot in Giadaworld.  No oily finger stains surround the drawer pulls.  No mismatched countertops. either. No cobwebs lurk in the corners of the window to catch the light just so whenever anyone pulls out a camera. Giada’s pots and pans look like they’ve just emerged from factory shrink-wrap.    There’s no grease splatter behind her unscuffed stovetop. She cooks in outfits, without an apron.  Her outfits remain….unsoiled.  No flour smudges appear on her temple.  The forks goes in, the fork comes out, nothing sticks to her teeth.  Her lipstick remains unpreturbed.  She is unflappable. All her obscure yet useful utensils are available at Target!  Along with Giada-endorsed table wine.

Don’t you wish you were Giada?  You should buy her stuff right now.

Why should a show designed molecularly to make women feel bad about themselves maintain such a hypnotic hold?  Perhaps we Americans are an aspirational people. Perhaps it is because the kitchen she works from on TV is actually a soundstage. A replica of the kitchen in her Malibu home, with a rear projection of the beach outside a fake window and a surfboard placed strategically on a fake patio. A replica of the house she leaves each morning at 6 AM and returns home to, by her own admission, long after her daughter is tucked into bed. All part of her balancing act between work and family.  A balancing act which requires a well concealed squad of assistants to swat away life’s little uglinesses like misfit flies. A life which began as the granddaughter of a billionaire.

Giada is cooking for one now.  In sympathy, Mrs. U is watching a marathon of Everyday Italian and cooking up a storm.  She’s vegan.  She doesn’t eat 90% of what Giada makes. Doesn’t matter.  In Van Nuys, Giada can do no wrong.

'John Mayer? I don't believe a word of it.'
‘John Mayer? I don’t believe a word of it.’

One hundred narrative report cards

The cozy spot
Thirty-four down. Sixty-six to go.

Also one hundred papers to grade, and a few dozen thank-you notes to write.  Plus letters of recommendation.  Plus lots of e-mails to answer from parents who need status updates. Right away.  To keep abreast of any developments over vacation.

This is why man invented Facebook breaks and Scrabble moves.  Also, the cozy spot in the house.

Alternatively, one could be spending the Day after Christmas navigating the parking lot at the mall.

Mr. Inscrutable

My terms are my terms.

File this under Urban Naturalism 101, otherwise known as common sense:  One Crazy Cat Lady + Two Cats + Refusal to Spay = Feral Cats.

Feral cats begat more feral cats.  That’s pretty much what they do. More feral cats means….cats everywhere. Cats under the house. Cats in the trees.  Cats exploding out of bushes when you pull into the driveway.

With cats come leavings. They are not indiscriminate, but they particularly enjoy a well-tended yard, with lots of shrubbery. At Casa Upinthevalley, the area beneath the elm tree is a favored place to do business, where they make a pretense of burying their leavings…underneath the grass.  Little claws make for ruthless roto-tillers. Soon even the most plush, abundant carpet of St. Augustine is converted to an ammonia-reeking moonscape of mulch.  Even if we could afford to re-sod….well that’s not exactly getting at the source of the problem.

For several years the cats had the upper hand on the raccoons and the owls of the neighborhood in the Darwinian war of natural selection. It was like the cat lady was dosing their feed with pheromones or something. With the descent of darkness a strange yowl-a-rama took over the block.  They enacted West Side Story-like intrigues from the rooftops. Screeching, macabre-ish sounds would send me to the yard with a flashlight and a baseball bat, dreading a scene of disembowelment, only to interrupt two cats in the business of making little ferals.   They climbed through open windows and looted from the kitchen.  I’d walk in on them licking plates at 3AM, and they would tear crazy eights across the countertops and leave claw marks on the table. Neighbors put plastic jugs of water around their yards to scare them off, in vain. The ferals sunned themselves atop cars, tails twitching contentedly, bellies bursting with fresh payloads of kittens.  They mulched their caca wherever they wished.

I’m going to take action, announced Mrs. Upinthevalley.   I’m a girl on a mission!

A campaign of trapping, neutering and release began in earnest.  It was slow going.  It took six months, and many long rides to FixNation, but eventually 46 cats in all were trapped.  Time, raccoons and owls did the rest. The cat herd was reduced to a stable dozen.   They wandered down the block from the Cat Mothership to gather on our steps each morning and evening for kibble, courtesy of Mrs. U (herself a bit of a Cat Lady in Training), squat and gobble, then go about their day. For a few years the equilibrium held.

Then one day Tangerine showed up.  From the ranks of the in-bred and mal-formed, the ratty-haired and hinky of eye, a housecat emerged, made to order.   Our housecat.

Plump, apple-cheeked, with a well-groomed look about him.  Nice coat, too.  Plush. Or so I imagine, were I actually allowed to run my fingers through his fur. A big butch tomcat head that announces: rub your knuckles right here, and I will purr for you. 

To simplify matters, he established our porch as his living room, morning, noon and night.  We opened the door, and there he was, circling the food bowl, tail up,  not scattering off like the others.

Well, come on in, dear boy… 

Uh, not exactly.   You can leave the door open. You can place a trail of cat treats leading right up to the couch. Getting him to place the first paw across the threshold into the lair of the two-legged, fur-less, food-givers is another matter.  For that represents a breaking with the tribe.

Months of effort by Mrs. U has yielded but fleeting moments of inter-species contact. A stealthy rub here or there. Acts of shoplifting while he was distracted by food. ‘It’s purely transactional.  I’m paying for his services, for the privilege of rubbing his cheeks.’

No longer feral exactly,  nor domesticated, either.  A messenger from the other side of the River Styx.  An enigma.

The Standoff


You cut me off, pendejo. Now you gonna say something under your breath?

Whathefuckyou say?

Whadjyou say?

Say it to my face, cono.

You ain’t talking tough now.  I don’t hear nothing out of your mouth.  You keep pedaling, tough guy. You pedal on your side of the street.  I’m biking here.

Never mess with a chica who rides a bike with a cigarillo clamped between her teeth.

Davening, iPhone, Boulevard


When did this happen to us?  When did communing with the handheld device take the form of liturgical prayer?  How did we come to worship our devices in public with the same fervor we once gripped the wisdom of the Patriarchs, and without embarrassment?

No, that’s not quite right. Embarrassment requires an understanding, or perhaps a mere awareness of those sharing the space around us.  Gadgetry has obviated the membrane between the public and private sphere.

Our spines crumple forward in submission to our appetite for escape. Our necks droop like penguins in the zoo, staring down at a created Antarctica balanced on our webbed feet. Time travelers from the 1990’s would be puzzled by the sight of us.  They would wonder if all the Vitamin D had been removed from our diet in a diabolical plot.

I’m hardly one to comment.  Even perched upon the stern unforgiving yoga stool at which I labor, inevitably my posture sags, shell backed and slack-jawed, as I type.  Occasionally I catch flies in my mouth.

There is antidote for this,  in Van Nuys, where one can re-establish the plumb line from the back of the head to the heel.

MacLeod Ale.  Calvert Street. No screens. No gadgets. Just British Ales, peanuts and conversation.  Occasionally music.  Remarkable what a little fellowship conducted eye-to-eye, standing upright, glass in hand, can do for your spirit and your love for your fellow man.


Christmas, Light and Dark

Christian Mennonite singers, Broadway and Sixth St
Christian Mennonite carolers, Broadway and Sixth St


Meanwhile, not a block away, an angry group of men calling themselves the Black-Hebrew Israelites were milling about in robes, haranguing passerby and holding up signs like this one:



I have no idea what this portends…

They seem to, however
They seem to, however. It’s awfully specific.