Thursday, June 29, 2006

Fear, forgiveness and tommyrot

Despite everything, Pretty Lady still harbors a soft spot for the Anglican church. She has fond recollections of her very first day in London, when, jet-lagged out of normal consciousness, she nodded off in the choir loft at Westminster during Evensong. The Anglican church, to her, has always epitomized the principles of Restraint, Respect, Quiet Good Taste, and Moderation in All Things. Those little lamps in the Westminster choir loft were the coziest thing in the world.

And Pretty Lady much prefers not to get embroiled in theological politics. Thus, when the Church of her childhood precipitated a familial uproar by hounding our dear family friend, the Bishop of X, into a premature retirement, over the issue of women in the ministry, Pretty Lady made the switch to St. Andrews without comment, on her visits home. Equally, she bore with maternal ranting on the subject of inferior choir directors with patient equanimity.

However, this week her long-suffering mother forwarded the new Anglican Primate's sermon on 'Mother Jesus,' and Pretty Lady can no longer remain silent. She has no personal issues with the gender of this minister of God; and as she will explain, neither does she challenge the conceptual underpinnings of her theology. However, she must forcefully declare that this sort of sermonizing is tommyrot. An excerpt:

This last Sunday morning I woke early while it was still dark. I wanted to go out for a run. When I ventured out, it was warm and still and quiet. The clouds were just beginning to show tinges of pink. I startled two workers coming out of the service doors of the Hyatt. I encountered a man I had seen at the convention centre. The I found a lovely green park and ran around it. A man in a reflective vest was waiting by some cones. Around the corner I came to a fellow with some bags who looked like he had been sleeping rough. Then I met a rabbit, one of us eyed the other with more than a little wariness. Around the corner was a woman getting out of a car delivering papers. I nodded at two guys on their way of work. There was some degree of wariness in each of those meetings. The unrealised possibility of a real relationship whether out of caution or fear meant we had long way to go.

Can we meet in a stance that is not tinged with fear. When Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world, he is saying that his rule is not based on an ability to generate fear in his subjects. His willingness to go to the cross means that fear has no import. King Jesus’s followers do not fight back when the world threatens.

Pretty Lady says, well, hmph.

Now and again, Pretty Lady will reflect upon the time she and a girlfriend were smeared into the asphalt in a Bay Area ghetto. The experience was an enlightening one in many respects; Pretty Lady was able to observe a whole range of states of human consciousness, to which she had not previously been privy. In addition, the long-term outcome of the event was overwhelmingly positive. Pretty Lady bears no personal animosity toward any of her attackers. This does not mean, however, that she is not in favor of things like self-defense training, heavy police patrolling of suspect areas, and avoidance of raucous party zones next to the projects, by young blonde females, late on Saturday nights. Pretty Lady and her friend simply got cocky, and paid the price for it.

Pretty Lady admits that she has always had the tendency to push the line. She relies, perhaps too heavily, on the fact that 1) she is tall, mesomorphic, and has a sufficiently confident aspect, when walking alone, to look like she'd put up a decent fight; 2) she seems to exude an aura of quiet friendliness that many persons, including potential thugs, find disarming. Witness that when she worked late nights downtown, her shortish male co-worker was mugged twice while traversing the dark alley just outside the office entryway. When Pretty Lady traversed this same alleyway at the same time of night, a disreputable-appearing person emerged from the shadows, handed her an armful of orange lilies, said "These are for you," and departed.

Go figure.

It is elementary street smarts that 'looking like a victim' attracts aggression. When Pretty Lady lived in the Bay Area during an economic downturn, she did not have a single white male acquaintance who had not been mugged at one time or another. The reason for this was simple; muggers assumed that clueless-looking white guys were more likely to have enough money their wallets to be worth the trouble. Since this was the Bay Area and not Texas, these same clueless-looking white guys were equally unlikely to be packing heat--the little twerps.

Similarly, the women who had the most to fear from attackers were the small, fragile ones who tended to flinch and cower when looked at sideways by a stranger. When interacting socially, people create and follow scripts, based upon their ideas and past experience. Pretty Lady knows firsthand the fact that when a sweet, gentle female roommate continually trembles and apologizes when one is speaking to her in a perfectly friendly manner, as though she expects you to paste her on the jaw, it becomes increasingly difficult to restrain oneself from fulfilling her expectations.

So Pretty Lady concludes that a large factor in one's ability to walk without fear is the confidence that one can maintain one's boundaries, if threatened; as well as the blanket expectation that the world at large does not intend to attack, until it determinedly and conclusively proves otherwise.

Jesus Christ, as our new Primate attempts to point out, proved that fear is pointless because he transcended Death. The Resurrection was the ultimate party trick--lookit me! You can beat me, flay me, nail me to a cross and bury me, and Sunday morning I'm all put back together, better than ever! Fie on your Cross, I say! Fie!


All of Jesus' admonitions, then, which were many and various, seem to be directed toward this point--if you follow Me, if you see the way I see, then Death will mean nothing to you, either. You will not even see it. All you will see is Life and Love. You will love your brothers without condition, because you know they cannot harm you.

The truth of it is, however, that most of us aren't there yet. We're still seeing Death and dismemberment everywhere we turn, and it makes us anxious. Some person getting into a pulpit and telling us to 'lose our fear' doesn't particularly help. What we need is practical advice, encouragement, and rhetoric that is not so mind-bogglingly banal that it puts us to sleep.

So Pretty Lady, though she is not ordained by any substantial church (Universal Life does not count), has a few suggestions. In addition to following the Ten Commandments, the Gospel and such--if you are in doubt, follow Love. Not the pretty girl in the short skirt. Love, as in, that little warm urging which is so quiet it tends to get drowned out when the car alarms go off. Love, as in, 'yes, I want this; I look for the best in myself and others; I do not need to put up with this negativity crap.' Love that blossoms in the peace which comes in silence.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Life goes on

the Brat attempts to relieve his once-more inflamed bladder in the newly regenerated rosebush

Morgan, in answer to your question--yesterday I cooked up the first, experimental meal of ground turkey, rice, carrots, vitamins and olive oil. The Brat took one look at it and attempted to relieve himself next to the bowl. The Alpha Cat looked disbelieving, politely attempted a couple of bites, then politely requested that he be allowed access to his regular food.

They're not happy about the feathers, either. Recipe experimentation, vacuuming, and the purchase of a new supply of catnip are in order.

On the bright side, one heavy application of cayenne pepper to the rosebush produced the unmolested foliage you see here.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Get thee back to fairyland, thou figment of fevered imagination

1:20 PM:

Vacuum cleaner borrowed from neighbor.

Laundry and couch cover deposited with same-day laundry service.

Notion of bagging couch cushions up in plastic and securing with duct tape, hit upon.

Landlord called. Will accept rent check. Will not provide lease; thinks month-to-month lease is sufficient, in case he wants go to condo.

Building will never go condo. Landlord too lazy and too much of a fool. Condo buyers would not touch it.

Breakfast at comfort-food deli obtained.

Ingredients for holistic cat meals purchased.

Plan for subletting apartment during July and August, while Pretty Lady departs for rural Points North, decided upon.

So there.

Monday morning

It is important to understand a few things, before Pretty Lady confesses her state of mind this morning.

1) The vacuum cleaner is in the hospital, after Pretty Lady took it apart, changed the belt, bag, and filters, and it still clogged up and dumped goop all over her feet.

2) The vacuum cleaner is one of the most crucial possessions Pretty Lady owns, being a freelance business owner who entertains clients in her home, and also owning a large, fluffy cat.

3) Pretty Lady's most recent ex-boyfriend was very, very good at fixing things like vacuum cleaners. Unfortunately he was also psychotic and abusive, so Pretty Lady doesn't call him anymore.

It is important to understand this context, because Pretty Lady must confess that this morning, she wishes to God that some prince would come and take her away from all this.

She missed her early morning yoga class, because when she entered the living room at 8:40, the Brat was, once again, merrily baptizing the sofa. She rather doubts that it is still the FLUTD; she thinks he's just being a brat. He was hungry, and Pretty Lady has halted 24-hour dry cat food access.

So she chastised the Brat, fed him, and started removing the sofa cover for laundering--only to discover that the antique duck feather cushions within had irrevocably burst. She removed the cushions to the studio for stripping; the studio now resembles an explosion in a chicken coop.

Pretty Lady has a client arriving at 1:30 PM. There are three enormous bags of laundry to be taken to the laundromat, stacked in the living room. The couch is asunder. The studio is buried in duck feathers. The vacuum cleaner is in the hospital.

This is the moment when the prince is supposed to arrive, make the couch go away, send the cats to a kennel and Pretty Lady to a spa upstate. Upon her return, not only will there be an unstained, unburst couch in the living room, but a washer/dryer in the bathroom, hardwood flooring instead of industrial gray carpet, tin ceilings instead of asbestos panelling, and halogen light fixtures instead of fluorescent. (They never get turned on. Ugh.) And of course, the vacuum cleaner will be operating at peak function.

Forgive Pretty Lady for her lapse from stoic acceptance of reality. Mondays can be like that.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The check in the mail

Pretty Lady would like to make a very earnest prayer request this evening.

About seven or eight months ago, her acupuncturist referred a friend of hers to Pretty Lady for a healing treatment. This gentleman, a darling man with a truly generous soul, had been manifesting signs of odd, undiagnosable neuromuscular problems--weakness, pain, loss of muscle control.

As soon as Pretty Lady laid hands on him she knew that something was terribly wrong. She also knew that the problem was beyond her ability to handle; possibly beyond anyone's ability. She knew, however, that the more healing treatments one receives, the better, even if it is simply for surcease of suffering in the most temporary way.

Thus she offered the gentleman a barter--as many treatments as he wished, in exchange for professional photographs of Pretty Lady's artwork. The lovely man insisted on offering Pretty Lady more for less, and when she demurred, he beat his price down once again.

Unfortunately, the gentleman was too modest to insist upon the rights he had so graciously accepted. After one more session, during which he imparted the information that it was, indeed, Lou Gehrig's disease, he did not call again. Pretty Lady worried terribly, but respected his privacy, and did not phone.

A couple of weeks ago, she ran into her acupuncturist in the grocery, and asked after the photographer. The news was, to put it bluntly, dreadful. Our dear friend has been forced to close his studio, has lost the use of his hands, and is making his way occasionally into the street with the assistance of a walker. All methods of attempting to slow the process of the dread disease have been unavailing. This week, a check for the last healing session arrived in the mail.

During our last conversation, Pretty Lady communicated to this wonderful man what she believes to be true; that the soul is immortal, that we take on suffering in order to learn, and that persons who undergo such suffering are to be admired, rather than pitied. Pity, in her view, is a form of condescension. It masks our fear that suffering and pain are contagious, and contains the seeds of a form of judgment which says that such sufferers must have brought it on themselves.

In my view, the most important thing we can do when a loved one is suffering is simply not to abandon them. Trying to 'fix' or 'heal' them does not always succeed; when it does not, the ill person can be made to feel that they have failed, not only themselves, but their loved ones as well. In our fear, pain, and helplessness, we may turn away in the time of greatest need.

This is why I ask all of my friends to send love, simply love, to Mr. O.S. of Brooklyn, New York this evening. To be present in spirit, and not turn our faces away.

A Reply

Isa Hassan wrote:

My name is Isa Hassan, A Bahrain national I have been diagnosed with
Oesophageal cancer .It has defiled all forms of medical treatment, and
right now I have only about a few months to live, according tomedical
I have not particularly lived my life so well, as Inever really cared for
anyone(not even myself)but my business. ThoughI am very rich, I was
never generous, I was always hostile to peopleand only focused on my
business as that was the only thing I cared for.But now I regret all this as
I now know that there is more to lifethan just wanting to have or make all
the money in the world. I believe when God gives me a second chance to come
to this world Iwould live my life a different way from how I have lived it.
Now thatGod has called me, I have willed and given most of my property
andassets to my immediate and extended family members as well as a fewclose
friends .I want God to be merciful to me and accept my soul so, Ihave
decided to give alms to charity organizations, as I want this tobe one of
the last good deeds I do on earth. So far, I have Distributedmoney to some
charity organizations
in the U.A.E, Somalia and Malaysia. Now that my health has deteriorated so
badly, I cannot do this myself anymore. I once asked members of my
family to close one ofmy accounts and distribute the money which I have
there to charity organization in Bulgaria and Pakistan, they refused and
kept the moneyto themselves. Hence, I do not trust them anymore,as they seem
not tobe contended with what I have leftfor them. The
last of my money which no one knows of is the huge cash deposit of Eighteen
Million dollars($18,000,000,00) that I have with a finance House
I will want you to help me collect this deposit and despatch it to charity
N/B:KINDLY NOTE THAT 20% of this funds mustgo to the tsunami victims and
another 10% for your effort andtime.
Isa Hassan

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My dearest Isa,

How saddened I am to hear of your illness, and how inspiring your story. You must have had a great deal of time to think it out, as well as to hone your English language skills, and to search the Internet for a person you deemed worthy of helping you.

Alas, and unfortunately, it is all too late. You see, dearest Isa, there are many fools in the world. Many persons who are willing to let themselves be hoodwinked by a sad story, if at the end of it there comes the mention of a large sum of money. In my opinion, dear Isa, it is proof that IQ is measured by much more than the ability to calculate; if so, my daring love, there would not be so many persons who are bright enough to calculate that 10% of eighteen million dollars is a great deal of money, and foolish enough to believe the rest of your tall tale.

But sadly, darling Isa, I must inform you that I am not one of them. Even if I were the slightest bit inclined to take your letter purely on faith, the dramatic exposé of Nigerian sob story scams that made its debut in the New Yorker last month would have clued me in. Expect a downturn in business. I recommend switching careers; furniture construction and repair might be an appealing occupation.


the Lady

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Metaphors and Analogies

Pretty Lady apologizes to those of her readers who have already encountered this. Rarely does a mass-forwarded email give her this sort of belly laugh.

Every year, English teachers from across the USA can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners.

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Courteous Evangelist

It is with some trepidation that Pretty Lady takes up her pen, to address the issue of Manners in Evangelism. She understands that when one is in the urgent business of saving souls, such petty details as Form may take on less than no importance in the mind of the believer. In addition, she has noticed that when a person is in the throes of attempting to save her soul, such insistence of hers on adhering to a common code of courtesy may be interpreted as 'defensiveness,' i.e. resistance to accepting the Word of Jesus Christ as her Salvation.

In vain, Pretty Lady has declared that she has no such resistance; that Jesus Christ is a close personal friend of hers, with whom she is in daily communication. Form has little to do with Message, and it is dangerous and counterproductive to conflate the two.

Be this as it may, Pretty Lady has some suggestions to offer, purely as a practical insight. These suggestions have been inspired by a visit from a recently converted friend of hers, and as such may be taken with any degree of latitude that you like.

1. Listen before you speak.

When Pretty Lady arrived at the street corner at which she had arranged to meet her friend, the friend was nowhere in sight. Off to one side, however, Pretty Lady noticed a crazy person with a handmade sign around her neck, wearing earphones, ranting with closed eyes into the crowd. Upon closer inspection this crazy person turned out to be her friend.

Pretty Lady tapped her friend upon the elbow, and swept her, sign and all, into an affectionate embrace. Really, a person's temperament does not change after conversion; the form is the same, the message is different. This particular friend has been a Notorious Performance Artist in her former incarnation, and Pretty Lady was delighted to see her using these skills in the service of the Lord.

If it struck her that shouting at people with one's ears plugged and one's eyes closed was not, perhaps, the best way to connect with potential sinners in the crowd, she kept this observation to herself. Pretty Lady feels that as a general rule, it is unwise to criticize before gaining a sense of the Big Picture.

As Pretty Lady has expressed before, it is her view that the most loving action a person can perform is to simply sit and listen. This does not mean 'watching a person's lips move until there is a long enough pause for you to start talking.' It means genuinely attempting to understand where the other person is coming from, without judgment or trying to 'fix' anything.

In addition, a good listener understands how to use questions, both in order to better flesh out their picture of the other person's viewpoint, and to indicate a sincere interest in such. When responding to the information received, it is also a good idea to take a lesson from conflict-resolution tactics, and use 'I' statements rather than 'you' statements. As in, "I have found that accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior helped me to overcome my drug addiction problem," rather than "You are completely messed up and will remain that way until you let God into your life."

Particularly when you are talking to a person who has just finished explaining the large, central role that God has played in her life over the last several decades.

2. Easy on the Apostle Paul.

It is Pretty Lady's recollection, from Sunday School class, that before the Apostle Paul's conversion, the fellow was a rather nasty piece of work. It is unsurprising, then, that in his reformed zeal, the man should have tended toward extremist viewpoints. As she has observed, beliefs have little to do with temperament.

Whatever her personal views on the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, then, Pretty Lady feels that it is tactless and counterproductive to confront one's potential converts with the words of Paul as a starting point. They are far too likely to be perceived as an assault, period.

During their first couple of hours together, catching up in a sidewalk café, Pretty Lady's friend mentioned that she was doing 'homosexual outreach' in the Castro, to save the hapless victims of the 'homosexual lifestyle.' Pretty Lady found this statement surprising, in light of the fact that among our large mutual acquaintance, there are enough and varied gay persons that it seems self-evident that there is No Such Thing as a 'homosexual lifestyle.'
There are 'promiscuous lifestyles,' and 'monogamous lifestyles;' there are 'loving lifestyles' and 'using lifestyles.' Pretty Lady attempted to express that these distinctions are where she places her attention, when deciding whether or not a person truly needs to be saved from themselves.

Her friend snapped, "Are you defending homosexuals?"

Pretty Lady refrained from retorting, "Are you attacking them?" and changed the subject.
3. Understand and respect other people's limits.

While this appears to be a no-brainer, Pretty Lady has observed that there are many people who do not perceive or acknowlege another person's right to set boundaries. Ignorant of the axiom, "Good fences make good neighbors," they persist in their attempts to show their neighbor the True Path, long after the neighbor has made it clear that their attentions are unwelcome. In Pretty Lady's view, this shows a profound disrespect for the neighbor, and is unlikely to engender positive results.

When she has questioned various evangelists of her acquaintance about this issue, they have invariably responded, "Jesus Christ told us to expect, and endure, persecution." Well and good.

However, there is a difference between enduring persecution and seeking it out--let alone perceiving it where none, in fact, exists. If Pretty Lady may make use of another cliche: "Nobody loves a martyr, not even the martyr."

After a number of hours in the company of her friend, Pretty Lady declared that she was in need of some quiet communion with God and her drawing table. She suggested that we make our way to the park, where we could soak up Nature, the friend could read her Bible, and Pretty Lady could get some work done.

While Pretty Lady drew, then, her friend sought out another lady in our vicinity and exhorted God to heal her. The other lady took this in good part. When the lady departed, the friend turned her zeal toward Pretty Lady once again, and treated her to an extempore discussion on what was wrong with Pretty Lady's life, her views, her friendships, her mind and her habits.

After awhile Pretty Lady mildly requested that she be allowed to work in silence for a bit.

"You don't have to get defensive. I'm just trying to help you," declared the friend.

It is Pretty Lady's sweeping observation that once a person has accused her of being defensive, the conversation is effectively over. It does not matter if the perceived 'defensiveness' exists or not, or whether this defensiveness is a rational response to inappropriate behavior or an indication of psychotic paranoia, and a deep denial of the Truth. The subtext remains the same; it is, in effect, that "I have perceived that you are setting a boundary, and I do not acknowledge your right to do so."

Whether or not you acknowledge another person's boundaries, most people will continue to defend them ever more strenuously until they are firmly established. Ergo the slamming of doors, ending of friendships, and violent acts of warfare.

4. It is in emptiness that God may truly come to us.
The situation between Pretty Lady and her friend continued to deteriorate, through dinner and beyond. Without enumerating all the painful and confusing details of their conversation, let me just say that the evening ended with Pretty Lady becoming nearly hysterical upon a stranger's doorstep, and her friend offering to pack her bags and depart.

"Maybe that's a good idea," Pretty Lady declared.

The ensuing walk back to the car was a silent one. In this silence, for which she had been yearning for hours, Pretty Lady felt healed. Her heart unclenched itself, and she perceived the perfect imperfections in her friend and in herself. Once they reached the car, Pretty Lady spoke again.

"I apologize for getting angry, for being passive-aggressive, defensive and mean. All I needed was a little quiet. I would be happy for you to stay the night, as long as I can remain quietly in the studio by myself for a bit."

Her friend accepted this apology, although her aspect gave Pretty Lady to understand that she was still enduring great agony of spirit. Unable to soothe this agony, Pretty Lady contented herself with vacuuming the living room, and fetching clean towels, soap, and bedding.

In the morning her friend departed before daylight, leaving some inspirational CD's and a written apology for being so judgmental. Pretty Lady bears her friend no grudges, although she suspects that they will remain on their separate pathways for the foreseeable future.

In conclusion: Pretty Lady feels that she must retract an earlier assertion that engagement is necessary for true affection to blossom. There are times when it is much more loving and appropriate to sit in silence.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Deeper wisdom

I am very pleased to report that the Brat appears to be mending. He remained in his ceiling for about 16 hours yesterday; Pretty Lady greatly feared that he planned to die up there, and that she would be forced to appeal to her landlord for some assistance in removing him. Which would have been the nightmare to end all nightmares.

But lo! When she returned from hearing Maceo Parker in the Park (here I must pause to say how sad I am that Hip-Hop won out, culturally speaking, over Funk. There was a time, back in the early 90's, when they were neck and neck; Pretty Lady once saved a friend's girlfriend from getting trampled at a Fishbone concert, having gained a certain strength of arm and stability of balance after years of practicing in mosh pits. Funk, in Pretty Lady's opinion, has it all over Hip-Hop in terms of depth, musicality, and emotional affect. Listen:

There's another cry of murder
Policeman shoot down baby brother
Shot him, shot him down in the street
Did they know the mother's grief?

Were they sure they got the right one?
And did they know it was her only son?
The fact that these lyrics are sung in two-part harmony to a cheery, danceable melody only increases their effectiveness as instruments of social cross-communication, in Pretty Lady's view. When listening to Fishbone, Pretty Lady is inclined to prance, stomp, and ruminate upon the struggle of the individual for dignity and freedom. She does not feel annoyed, she does not feel guilty, she does not feel like a crowd of gangbangers is about to come into her studio and gangbang her. Plus she is very fond of bass and trumpets, particularly when the band members are all wearing snazzy suits.

She managed to acquire a moderate anthropological appreciation for Hip-Hop, after a few remedial dance classes and years of waiting for it to go away, but Funk, in her opinion, is Where It's At.)

Ahem. So when Pretty Lady returned home, bearing a DVD of 'The White Countess' and a pork burrito, the Brat was waiting cheerily for his supper. In her delight she fed him a can of solid light albacore tuna, hang the expense. Later that night, he resumed his nightly ritual of accompanying her to the loft, purring fiercely and requesting Reiki. She noted that his joy at communion with his horizontal patroness appeared to be more forcefully expressed than usual; he has never been one for extended displays of affection, but there was a depth and throatiness to his communications that had never been there before.

This morning, his relative cheer continues unabated. He still makes the occasional superfluous trip to the litter box or the flower pot, but thankfully his attentions to the couch have ceased. He has a look of superior knowingness on his face, as well. "I know what it is to Suffer," you can see him thinking. "I have Transcended. I am Wise. I Appreciate the Breeze on my Cheeks."

Pretty Lady's ad hoc diagnosis is that he passed a kidney stone. If anyone has any suggestions for palatable homeopathic feline diets that prevent kidney stones from forming, she is all ears.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

In which the Brat has a Problem

Pretty Lady's household is in an uproar. Chaos and distress are the order of the day. The Brat's FLUTD has returned.

The Brat's first episode with this noxious syndrome happened a little over a year and a half ago. It appeared to resolve itself after a trip to the emergency vet, and a course of antibiotics. Well and good.

The next time it happened, then, Pretty Lady simply phoned the vet and got a renewal of the prescription. Unfortunately, two courses of pills later, the symptoms returned. We obtained expensive urinalyses, which were inconclusive. We journeyed to another vet for an X-ray, to determine if he had a bladder stone; the X-ray came up clean. The second vet prescribed an expensive cat food, which both cats utterly refused to consume. The urinary problem seemed to clear up on its own.

Then, all thought of bladder problems paled when the Brat came down from the ceiling one afternoon, frothing at the mouth.

(I must pause to describe what I mean by 'came down from the ceiling.' Once upon a time, long long ago, the Brat was making an unholy racket on the floor of the studio. The Angry Atheist happened to be inhabiting the loft at the time, and asked the Brat to stop--being fluent in common alley-cat. The Brat said, "Oh, yeah? Make me!" The Angry Atheist, a vocational rock climber, took the Brat at his word, and descended suddenly from the loft, in the manner of an attacking panther. The terror which this produced in the Brat caused him to literally hit the ceiling, as he scrambled atop the kitchen cabinet in his dash for safety, whereupon he serendipitously discovered that the ceiling panels were unsecured. He made his way into the crawl space in the attic, and stayed there for 18 hours. Since then, he retreats to his ceiling whenever under stress. The ceiling panels are, regrettably, unsecurable.)

When the Brat came down from the ceiling that fateful afternoon, he was not so much frothing as drooling copiously. In a panic, Pretty Lady raced him to the emergency vet once more. He vomited twice in the car, a distressing green slimy substance. The emergency vet performed expensive, inconclusive lab tests and sent him home. His condition continued to worsen; he was unable to retain any food or fluids at all, and even an eyedropper of water triggered a copious attack of green slime.

Subsequent visits to the regular vet produced no improvement in his condition. Lab tests indicated a strong suspicion of distemper, despite the fact that he was duly vaccinated, in his birthplace of Mexico. The vet wanted to do more tests; Pretty Lady asked, "Will they DO anything?"

The answer was, of course, no--there is nothing one can do to treat distemper, except wait. So Pretty Lady requested a subcutaneous fluid injection apparatus, with which she was able to keep his system hydrated, and returned home, where she installed him in his Mexican cat basket and administered daily doses of fluids and Reiki.

The Brat slept almost continuously in the basket for three months. He ate almost nothing, and dwindled to a small bundle of bones. Pretty Lady suspected AIDS, despite his celibate lifestyle.

Then one day, she opened a can of tuna. The Brat gave tongue, and consumed it. Six weeks later, he was back to his rambunctious self--with a newly acquired tendency to ask for Reiki at bedtime.

Thrilled to have snatched her darling from the jaws of death, Pretty Lady fed him anything he wanted after that. She figured that any remaining bladder crystals would certainly have purged themselves during his long fast.

Evidently, they are back. For the last three days, the Brat has been emerging from the ceiling only long enough to leave bloody stains on anything soft and receptive; Pretty Lady has been following him around with a bottle of lavender bleach and a pile of rags. She has administered leftover painkillers and leftover antibiotics from the fruitless journeys to the vet, but is loathe to take him in again.

The unfortunate fact is that vets, in Pretty Lady's copious recent experience, have a tendency to spend thousands of dollars of her money on tests, without doing anything to help her cat. An Internet search on FLUTD confirmed this phenomenon:

A diagnosis is not usually found for most cats with FLUTD. When a diagnosis is not found, veterinarians must use treatment plans that seem to have worked in the past or which seem to be consistent with current disease theory. This approach is called “Empirical Therapy” and does not always work. As newer information is revealed, treatment protocols will be revised. FLUTD is an especially dynamic area of research today and new information and fresh theory can certainly be expected in the next few years.
This time round, Pretty Lady simply does not have a thousand dollars to spend on pretending to take care of the problem. So she is administering Reiki, the occasional painkiller, removing access to dry cat food, and waiting. It is miserable for all of us. Please pray.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

How to Throw a Dinner Party

Pretty Lady was recently conversing with a dear friend of hers who, unfortunately for them both, lives on the West Coast. This friend indulged in a rant upon the dereliction of social responsibilities among her circle of West Coast friends. "I'm the only one who throws dinner parties anymore," she bemoaned. "I stopped doing it for awhile, but that just meant we had no social life. Nobody else goes to the trouble."

Pretty Lady commiserates entirely. Her dinner parties, at one time or another, have been modestly famed in the communities in which she dwells. These parties have run the gamut from four-course, invitation-only, sit-down affairs, to completely impromptu beer-and-taco parties that lasted until 3 AM. In latter days, however, she has become Cast Down, and for various reasons has refrained from attempting them. She is very sad that this particular friend does not live on her block; if they ever do so, she looks forward to years of mutual dinner party reciprocity.

It is a social tragedy of no minor proportions that modern Americans fail to appreciate the value of the dinner party. Well, they DO appreciate it, at least at the end of one, when--mellow with wine, good food, and excellent conversation--they congratulate the hostess with earnest emotion welling up in their eyes. But this appreciation generally fails to extend to 1) reciprocity or 2) courteous, considerate behavior when invited to the next one. If excuses are ever offered for this shameful dereliction of duty, they boil down to 1) it's too hard, and 2) I'm too busy.

For shame.

In Pretty Lady's view, dinner parties represent the epitome of Life as it is meant to be Lived, with grace, depth, enjoyment and affection. They are the ultimate reason for everything else--the daily slog of the job, the headaches of traffic, bills, childbirth and intrusive medical procedures. Failing to throw or attend dinner parties is akin to baking an elaborate cake, after growing and processing all the ingredients from scratch, and then forgetting to eat it. Thus, the petty excuses of difficulty or busyness seem, to her, to be wilful self-deception of the highest order.

However, she understands that the modern would-be hostess may suffer merely from a default of education. She may find herself thoroughly intimidated by the intricacies of menu planning, cookery, place setting, and getting all her friends to agree on a place and time to arrive. Particularly the latter. But I shall address that in a moment.

So first, it is necessary to understand that in order to throw a dinner party, one does not have to be a professional chef. It is not even required that the hostess know how to cook, though it is considerably cheaper if she does. It IS required, however, that the hostess have a modicum of ability to plan and anticipate, even if this planning only extends to a run to the corner store, fifteen minutes before the doorbell rings, or a timely phone call to the nearest Chinese food delivery service.

(Upon more than one occasion, Pretty Lady has found herself invited to a dinner party, and upon arrival, found herself throwing it instead. That is, she was the one to plan a menu, shop, and cook dinner. She didn't particularly mind at the time, having a talent for this sort of thing, but it would be nice if she could actually relax now and then, and let somebody else do all the work.)

So. When throwing a dinner party, it is paramount to understand 1) how many people will be in attendance and 2) how to feed all of them. If one is planning to cook, it is best to use a pre-tested recipe, preferably one which is so familiar that it can be assembled on autopilot. The ingredients for this recipe must be purchased in advance. It is permissible to send a guest to the corner store for emergency beer and cilantro, but it is execrably bad form to say to a guest who has arrived at 8 PM, bottle of wine in hand, "So, what do you want to eat?"

As regards such niceties as place settings, candles, decorations, music etc; these are all fine and dandy, but not worth stressing about to the extent that one neglects to converse with one's guests. There is nothing more annoying than being absorbed in a deep discussion about quantum physics with the chiropractor next door, and being interrupted by a neurotic hostess who exclaims, "Oh-oh-oh, I forgot the chocolate sprinkles, don't touch that, it's not perfect, oh, oh!"

It is inappropriate for guests to be subjected to 1) music which is so loud as not to permit easy conversation; 2) forced entertainment, such as slide shows, readings of bad poetry, and Star Trek videos; 3) nasty personal fights involving one or more of the hosts. This is why dinner parties are infinitely superior to socializing in commercial venues, such as bars and restaurants. The host who endeavors to mimic the atmosphere of a bar is displaying his or her own bad upbringing.

In fact, the entire purpose of a dinner party is to provide an environment which permits and stimulates an easy exchange of comfortable conversation. This is not the time for grandstanding.

So, when throwing a party, the minimum requirements are: 1) food; 2) wine; 3) comfortable places to sit. All else is optional and left to the discretion of the hostess.

Now, as far as the responsibilities of those persons INVITED to a dinner party, Pretty Lady has some strong words for you. Shape up, people! Failing to RSVP a dinner invitation until two hours before arrival time, or failing to RSVP at all, or bringing extra people without asking, are UNACCEPTABLE. This behavior is arrogant, inconsiderate, gauche, and punishable by never being invited anywhere again. So is showing up at 11 PM when dinner was scheduled at 8, showing up in such a chemically altered state of mind that conversation is impossible, and failing to show up at all, because a more attractive opportunity presented itself.

In fact, Pretty Lady's West Coast friend has taken to writing on her invitations, in place of the usual RSVP: "If I do not hear from you by this date, you are DISINVITED. I will assume you are NOT COMING. You MAY NOT bring extra people."

Horrifying, I know, but desperate times require desperate measures.


The inimitable wit and aesthetic authority of our well-beloved associate Jack the Dandy is becoming recognized afield:

MM: So you would definitely call your self a dandy?

JD: I don’t have to, the ladies do it for me.

MM: What are the main qualities one should have in order to be considered a dandy?

JD: Utter aplomb, a concern for presentation, a sense of proportion, self-discipline, and an attraction to mischief.

No wonder we get along so well!

Friday, June 09, 2006

What a Good Date Looks Like

Pretty Lady is pleased to report that the gentleman she met on New Years' Eve has returned from Ecuador, and dropped her a line.

It has been a slightly odd and hectic week. The situation with the landlord is still hanging fire; Pretty Lady is forthrightly ignoring the situation. She figures that if the landlord wants his rent, he can call and ask nicely, after he's fixed the front door. If he wants to throw her out, he can call and ask nicely, and she will call a tenants' rights lawyer. Until either of these two eventualities come to pass, there's not much she can do.

Additionally, Pretty Lady was surprised and delighted by a flying visit from her beloved sister and cuñado, who were unexpectedly stranded at LaGuardia Airport overnight. Oh, the fetchings in the rain! Oh, the crackings-open of French wine, the throwings-together of exotic salads, the extracting of futons from the decrepit sleeper-couch, the cat-fights in the corridor! (Pretty Lady must pause to praise her Alpha Cat. He was the most polite host, despite the fact that her cuñado's cat was suffering from a fit of extreme spleen, and insulted him most grievously.) Pretty Lady adores her family. She more or less shares a common brain with them, and the occasional intense download of laughter, conversation and insight is one of her primary reasons for continuing to exist.

Because of this surprise visit, Pretty Lady was forced to put off the gentleman from Ecuador. One notes that he did not pitch a fit of the sulks about this; he was cheerfully understanding, and called the next day to confirm that they were still on for the evening.

So, description of a Good Date: We met at the little French bar on Ninth, decided it was too noisy, strolled to the Cocoa Bar, had three pots of tisane and a chat, and strolled home again. Simple.

What is more extraordinary is what did not happen. We did not talk about the Same Thing for three hours; the gentleman neither monopolized the conversation, nor sat in adoring silence while Pretty Lady entertained both of them. Pretty Lady did not have to fend off unwelcome advances on her doorstep; neither did she have to walk home alone at midnight. The gentleman did gracefully pick up the check, but did not get himself in over his head, either intellectually or financially. He did listen to what Pretty Lady had to say; he did not always agree, but did adjust his attitude according to additional information received.

In short, we had a nice time because nobody had an agenda. Good dates, my dears, are just good company. Perhaps they do not make good stories, because nobody is getting skewered; but then, good stories are the Consolation Prize anyway.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Pretty Lady has Screwed Up. When she went to talk to her landlord, she forgot to:

1) Get the lease renewal signed BEFORE she brought up the junkies/front door issue.

2) Open her large blue eyes beseechingly as she described the terror she feels at the idea that she might encounter a Dangerous Person in her unlighted foyer at 2AM.

3) Let the landlord find out on his own that the front door needs to be re-hung if it is going to be lockable; also that the intercom system will have to be moved, or tenants will be forced to prop the door open anyway.

With the result that she has no lease, and is now being threatened with eviction. Drat, drat, drat. One drops the feminine wiles for ONE SECOND, and one is out on the STREET.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Danny has sent some pictures, which seem appropriate for this weeks' topic.

Friday, June 02, 2006

On platitudes

Pretty Lady has spent the last couple of days feeling vaguely creeped out. She got into an Esoteric Wrangle with a gentleman she knows slightly. Usually, Pretty Lady thrives on Esoteric Wrangles; in fact, these are some of the major joys of her existence. But not this one; not this time. She feels, though, that perhaps she has learned a profound lesson about Not Going There.

This particular gentleman is a friend of a friend, who was introduced to Pretty Lady back in January. After piecing together the psychodynamics of the situation, Pretty Lady concludes that what actually happened was that this gentleman had an unrequited interest in her friend, and the friend tried to scrape him off on Pretty Lady. Being just slightly too young to understand what a bad idea this generally is.

At any rate, in the beginning, Pretty Lady took the gentleman at face value; a shiny-eyed, 'spiritual' martial artist with a strong predilection for intellectual metaphysics. Just her type, in fact. The two of them got into a rousing debate on the relative historical staying power of Christianity and Judaism, with side forays into the different methodologies of pranic healing, and the karmic psychomechanics of random assault. Fun, fun.

Pretty Lady casually bestowed her card upon this fascinating man, and prudently awaited a phone call, which did not materialize. Ah, well. Philosophically, she moved him into her 'friends and acquaintances' file.

After one dinner party and a couple of emails, however, even the acquaintanceship foundered. When Pretty Lady bothered to remember it, she was mildly irritated to note that even though this man purported to be interested in fostering 'community,' and lived a bare few blocks away, he could not be troubled to RSVP her open house invitation. This, in Pretty Lady's book, crosses the line from 'not interested' to 'needlessly rude.' She prepared to delete him from her address book.

Then, out of the blue, she received an email, sent from him to his entire acquaintanceship. It read, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." --Mahatma Gandhi.

This was too much.

Pretty Lady has been thinking, in latter days, about the fact that it drives her quietly bonkers when people bombard her with spiritual platitudes. Usually, her instinct is to smile, nod, and say, "Of course Love is all there is. Of course Jesus Saves. Of course we need to Be the Change we'd like to See in the World. Absolutely. No question. You go, there. Whoopee."

But truthfully, she doesn't FEEL particularly loved when some stranger tells her earnestly that Love is All There Is. She feels as though they haven't taken the time or trouble to get to know her; she feels as though they're firing clichés in her general direction, in order to prove what a Holy Person they are. And when she smiles and nods her head, it is with a certain contempt, and resignation that no real connection has, or will be, achieved.

So when she received this cavalier note, for once she decided to BE the change she'd like to see in the world. She decided to say what she really thinks about this sending forth of indiscriminate spiritual platitudes, and sent the gentleman a paraphrase of the three paragraphs above.

He responded, 'LOL! i am very happy that you chose truth and honesty above social mores.'

Would that it had ended there.

But no. Pretty Lady, in her eternal optimism, made the mistake of attempting to engage further. She replied with a thoughtful note on the characteristics of a Spiritual Master, such as Jesus Christ. She propounded the notion that a true master Pays Attention, and Listens, and Knows All, so that whomever he is interacting with, he will say the precise thing to unlock that person's individual loving consciousness, no matter how bizarre that statement may sound to others.

In any case, what he says will almost never be a platitude.

Well. The gentleman, evidently aspiring to Masterhood, send Pretty Lady a ream of the most abstract, clichéd, inappropriate, disconnected spiritual rubbish she's ever been privy to. She will not reproduce either the rubbish, or her insouciant reply, in this context. It was nobody's finest moment.

However, what chiefly struck Pretty Lady was the total absence of personality or feeling in the gentleman's reply. It was as though he were channelling abstract verbiage from a Higher Being from Alpha Centauri, with only a tenuous grasp upon the English language. One wondered how, or why, he'd managed to write it at all.

So, in her reply, Pretty Lady joshingly attempted to get him to be a little human. She asked, in effect, "Is there anybody in there?"

He answered, "No."

Let us leave, for today, any discussion of why Pretty Lady was wasting one second of her time on this self-avowed shell of a human being. That is between Pretty Lady, her closest friends, and her wisest of sisters. She's working on it.

No, regardless of any remaining Aces of Spades on her forehead, Pretty Lady wishes to discuss, in a general way, the fact that it is unbelieveably horrific--mentally and emotionally abusive--to freely discuss Unconditional Love with a person toward whom one's actions are anything but loving.

You see, as M. Scott Peck so astutely puts it, "Love is an action, not a feeling." Love requires time, patience, and above all, attention. Primarily, in Pretty Lady's view, love is about listening; listening in such a way that one is open to changing one's mind about things, if truly convinced by what one hears. It is about giving the other person the credence of an equal.

This is why Love is not a platitude. Platitudes are words flung forth into the void of effort; they are alibis and excuses. When they are cast in the direction of a lady to whom one has failed to RSVP an invitation, they are a studied insult. In effect, such a person is saying, "this is all the love you're entitled to. If you want me to read your blog or attend your party, that's your ego problem."

This is why Pretty Lady has vowed in future to pay closer attention to people in general, but particularly to those who do not talk so bloody much. She realizes that she herself has been guilty of spiritual narcissism, as much as all of us are. But she is past the point of thinking that narcissism in others is her particular cross to bear.

My new heroine

Do you ever have the feeling, when reading a biography, that "I am this person, except that I'm not?" Pretty Lady just had this feeling when reading a profile of Orianna Fallaci.

Fallaci’s manner of interviewing was deliberately unsettling: she approached each encounter with studied aggressiveness, made frequent nods to European existentialism (she often disarmed her subjects with bald questions about death, God, and pity), and displayed a sinuous, crafty intelligence. It didn’t hurt that she was petite and beautiful, with straight, smooth hair that she wore parted in the middle or in pigtails; melancholy blue-gray eyes, set off by eyeliner; a cigarette-cured voice; and an adorable Italian accent. During the Vietnam War, she was sometimes photographed in fatigues and a helmet; her rucksack bore handwritten instructions to return her body to the Italian Ambassador “if K.I.A.”
Of course, Pretty Lady's existential rage is not nearly so intense or well-developed as Orianna's; Pretty Lady came to the conclusion, in her late twenties, that if she didn't do something about her existential rage, it would kill her. So instead of continuing to smoke filterless Camels and bombarding the likes of the Ayatollah Khomeini with difficult questions, Pretty Lady took up meditation and yoga, and is all the happier for it.
Although she is no longer at risk of incarceration, she invoked the possibility. “Because, you know, I am a danger to myself if I get angry,” she said. “If they were thinking to give me three years in jail, I will say or do something for which they give me nine years! I am capable of everything if I get angry.”
Pretty Lady does not necessarily wholeheartedly support Orianna's radical, take-no-prisoners stance against Islam, but she can rather see her point. As with dear VD, she is glad that somebody is out there, forcefully propounding non-politically-correct points of view, attempting to balance the debate, and that occasionally it isn't her.
She is an excellent cook, and she made us lunch—cotechino sausage, polenta, mashed potatoes, and delicious little tarts with pine nuts and dried fruit—and served champagne. I’d never seen anyone approach certain kitchen tasks with such ferocity. “I must CRUSH the potatoes,” she declared. ...I mentioned Hugo Chávez, the President of Venezuela. “Mamma mia! Mamma mia! ” Fallaci shouted from the kitchen... “You cannot govern, you cannot administrate, with an ignoramus.” When I left, she insisted on giving me a bag of chestnut flour and dictating a recipe for a dessert that she says children love. “If you make a mistake, you spoil everything,” she instructed, adding, “Get the good olive oil—not the kind they do in New Jersey.”
You see? Still, there exist Real Ladies in this world.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

'Domestic terrorism'

It has come to Pretty Lady's attention that a member of her community has been 'disappeared.' Pretty Lady does not know Daniel McGowan personally, but according to his biography, he sounds like a very nice person, if a bit naïve.

"He [was] hoping to practice acupuncture on a sliding scale, or even for free, to those in need. The interest dovetailed with his work on so-called 'really, really, really free markets,' including one set up at a church in the East Village to allow people to contribute and take anything they wanted...The premise behind the market is that everyone has skills, ideas, objects, smiles, talents, friendship, excitement and many other things to share and that if people would share these resources there would be less need to buy new things and everyone would live a more balanced and full life using fewer of the Earth's resources and fewer working hours, leaving more time to devote to ourselves and our communities."
--"Linewaiters' Gazette," Park Slope Food Co-op, May 25, 2006
Unfortunately, Mr. McGowan is currently under house arrest for "eco-terrorism." Evidently he has a Past, which the federal government suspects included 'arson, conspiracy, use of destructive devices and destruction of an energy facility.' Highlights include the $12 million arson of Vail Ski Resort and the sabotage of a high-tension power line in Oregon.

My oh my.

Supporters are referring to his arrest as part of "a well-coordinated, multi-state sweep of numerous activists by the federal government, who has charged the individuals with nearly every earth and animal liberation case left unsolved in the Northwest." They are calling this "an FBI offensive that appears to be only the beginning of a nationwide 'green scare.'"

Pretty Lady doesn't doubt it.

Mr. McGowan may indeed be naïve, but naïveté is not a crime, and it tends to call forth its own brand of salutary corrections. Pretty Lady sees no reason to waste taxpayer money by keeping this nice person in jail. She feels that Daniel's chosen life path has enough self-selected hardships to resolve any possible karmic debts he may or may not have accumulated.

Plus, if everyone were sentenced to life in prison for their youthful indiscretions...well, best not to go there.