Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Who Ya Gonna Call?

These days, when I visit my parents in Southern Oregon, the first thing I say when I walk in the door is, "Where's that damned cat?" If you didn't follow my saga of Lint, my dad's cat, back in January, let me catch you up with the short version of the story (although you can read the entire cat tale right here):

On the very day my mother returned home after a three month stint in rehab after getting hit a car, my dad's cat went missing. And the cat carrier. Things didn't add up, and through some seriously savvy detective work, my sister and I figured out that my mom's hired caretaker for the day was actually a cat burglar. After a couple of weeks we made a few phone calls, visited a few shelters, and eventually called the police. Although she denied involvement with the disappearance, a few days after the police questioned the young woman, the cat miraculously showed up 15 miles away in another city in a random lady's backyard. 

The cat carrier did not miraculously return, so my sister purchased another one. A soft sided carrier that zips open on one end which Lint loves so much she often sleeps in it.

Since her return, Lint has been the subject of a lot of attention, and my dad has finally begun teaching her some nifty tricks that are decidedly un-feline like. If you command her to sit up, she gets up on her hind legs and begs. If she demands entry into the house from a locked door, my dad will say, "Go AROUND, Lint." And dangit if she doesn't do exactly that. All the way to the other side of the house. And she fetches. I wish I had a video of it. If you throw her a ball of paper, she'll run, pounce on it, and then bring it back to you and plop it down so you'll throw it again. I think she learned it from my dogs.

She also generally rushes down the front steps to meet me at my car whenever I pull around the corner and up to the house, her little red bell tinkling as she runs toward us. 

But last time I visited, there was no tinkling of a bell, no little black cat running in our direction to meet us at the driveway. So my first words when I walked up onto the deck and through the sliding door into the house was, "Where's that damned cat? She wasn't there to greet me."

"I dunno," said my dad. "She's around here somewhere."

I plopped down into a chair and started talking to my mom, who likes to situate herself in one of those Scandinavian half barrel leather chairs that swivel around. She always sits facing the side of the house that's all picture windows and sliding doors so she can get the best view of the mountains on the other side of the valley from their house, perched on the side of the highest hilltop in town, looking down into the backyards of all their neighbors below.

A few minutes later something caught her eye, and she yelled for my dad to come look. We didn't see anything - at first - but eventually my mom's finger pointed out something high in a tree on the edge of the property line between my parents house and the neighbor below. It was that damned cat.

We estimated that she was about 30 feet off the ground at this point. But there was a lot more tree if she wanted to go higher. And she did. My dad and I walked out onto the cantilevered deck, and when the cat saw us, she crawled out even further on the branch, trying to get closer to us, but even when she went as far as a cat could go without falling off the end, she was still at least 20 feet away from the house, and even higher off the ground.

The rest of the day was spent trying to figure out a way to coax Lint out of the tree. And I already know what you're thinking. Nobody ever saw a cat skeleton up a tree. I get it. 

But you don't know my mother.

Every few minutes my mom - who stayed in that chair all day long - would say something to the effect of, "Well, what are we gonna do to get that cat out of the tree?"

Using that line about nobody ever seeing  a cat skeleton in a tree didn't work on her.

We devised all kinds of plans. The caregiver (a new and improved caregiver) and I went down into the backyard and stood at the base of the trunk with treats, calling the cat and trying to coax her back the same way she went up. There was quite a bit of movement in the right direction, but at one point Lint slipped, grabbed onto the branch for dear life, and decided she was fine huddled right where she was.

My daughter came over in the afternoon, and we came up with another bright idea that involved a long rope, a basket, a rechargeable battery pack from a remote controlled toy car that no one has played with in years, more cat treats, and my dad's weird rubber band collection. "Finally," said my daughter, opening up a drawer and removing a huge handful of used rubber bands of all sizes that in their previous life were wrapped around a newspaper, "Papa has found a use for these things."  

We secured one end of the rope to the heavy battery pack using about 30 rubber bands.  The other end we tied to the handle of a basket. Then we stood on the deck (and of course the cat was intrigued enough with us that she turned around and headed out to the end of the branch again), and took turns trying to pitch one end of the rope over the branch. The idea was to successfully hoist the basket up into the tree, that the cat would get into the basket by its own free will, and then we'd lower it down to the ground. Instead, we fell short on most of our throws, got the rope tangled in small branches the few times it landed anywhere near the tree, and we decided to stop altogether after almost taking out the neighbor's window. 

Frustrated and defeated, we reeled in the rope and convincing ourselves that if we just ignored the cat, she'd eventually come back down when she got hungry enough, we headed back in the house.

Meanwhile, back inside, mom had turned her barrel chair into a command center, and had surrounded herself with several phone books (who even has those anymore?) and a couple of senior resource directories, and was making phone calls. She was not giving up, dammit. It was 4pm on a cold Saturday afternoon, and she was not going to let the sun set without rescuing that feline. As I slid the door shut I heard mom leaving a message with her phone number, and I asked if she was calling the fire department.

"Don't be silly," she said. "I'm calling the window washers."  

It was kind of a brilliant idea, actually. It just seemed so cliche to call the fire department, but who else ya gonna call? Window washers actually made sense. Guys with ladders who aren't afraid of heights.  I was kind of impressed that mom had come up with this idea all on her own.

And then they showed up.

Three guys. One ladder. A blanket, a can of cat food and a bag of catnip. 

And these weren't just ordinary guys. I mean, they were, but they were actually incredible to behold. I felt like I was in a time warp.

They were freaking rock stars. 

And by that, I mean one looked exactly like a negative mirror image of Guns N' Roses front man Axl Rose with long, straight, jet black hair and a blue bandanna around his head, black jeans and a black leather jacket. Straight out of the 80's. 

The next guy seemed to have arrived directly from a 1992 Nirvana show at the Crocodile Cafe. Shaggy blonde hair, blue and white flannel over a dingy white t-shirt and jeans. He even smelled like weed.

And the third,  oh the third. My favorite. He was a dead ringer for Prince. When he went back to calling himself Prince, in the 2000's, straightened his hair and kept his bangs long. He had the perfect coffee and cream skin, a pencil thin mustache, and if I remember correctly, eyeliner. This guy - who could seriously make a living at parties as an Artist Formerly Known As impersonator - was clad in black skinny jeans and a Batman shirt. Anybody remember when Prince did the soundtrack for one of the Batman movies? Yeah. That happened.

Well, they did turn out to be super heroes.

The sun was starting to go down and time was a wastin', so the Cat Busters scoped out the cat in the tree, grabbed a long ladder from atop their station wagon, and headed down to the back yard. After a short huddle to figure out a game plan, they sprang into action. Axl stashed the can of cat food in his pocket, and started climbing the ladder, as Prince and Kurt Cobain held it in place. 

After he'd reached the end of the rungs, Axl started shimmying higher up the tree and out onto the long branch. Perched 20 feet further out on that branch, the cat just stared at him. Prince and Kurt left their post, and unfurled a thick blanket. I'm not sure if this was a measure meant to soften the landing of the cat or Axl, but either way it was adorable, even if it was futile.

Axl opened the lid, and stretched his arms out toward the cat. He inched a bit further out onto the branch, hoping Lint might get a whiff of Fancy Feast. He coaxed. He cooed. He said, "Here, kitty kitty." He argued with his fellow rock stars about what to do next. 

And then I remembered the cat carrier. Lint loves her cat carrier, right? It occurred to me that there was a slim possibility (instead of an absolutely zero percent chance if it was any other cat in the world) that Axl might be able to persuade Lint to get into the cat carrier, even if it was 40 feet off the ground. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My daughter ran down into the back yard and handed over the cat carrier to the rockers, and Cobain climbed up with the carrier. Axl shimmied back down the branch to the trunk, and grabbed it along with a long metal pole which I believe normally had a window cleaning squeegee attached to the end. He slung the strap around his neck, and climbed back out again in the growing darkness, stopping to rip open the bag of catnip.

I know, its super hard to see. But that's Axl down at the bottom, a bag of catnip in his mouth, ripping it open.
Way up at the top, that's Lint. The other rock stars are still holding the blanket, out of frame.
Axl climbed as high up and as far out as he dared, and - while holding the pole - reached around for the carrier. He unzipped the end, and then reached into his pocket and pulled out the bag of catnip. He waved it in Lint's direction, and then tossed the bag into the carrier, all while holding on to the tree. Then he unslung the carrier, slipped the long pole through the shoulder strap, and started slowly pushing it along the branch towards the cat.

And damned if that cat didn't just get up off her haunches, walk over to the cat carrier, and climb inside of it. 

She gingerly tested it to make sure the entire contraption wasn't going to tip over sideways and crash down to the ground (although Prince and Kurt Cobain were standing underneath holding the blanket again just in case). And then the second smartest cat in the world - because the smartest would've never gotten stuck up  a tree in the first place - just climbed right in. 

Axl ever so carefully used the pole to pull the carrier back towards him enough so that he could zip the door shut, then he backed himself down the branch, to the ladder and finally down to the ground as the audience applauded wildly, all three of us. 

When they brought the cat inside and let her out of the bag, I was amazed at how unfazed she seemed to be. But the guys were pretty stoked with themselves, and despite the cat's nonchalance about the whole episode the rest of us were totally impressed. 

After all the high fiving and going over their crazy scheme that actually worked, I said, "So this afternoon, were you all just sitting around getting high and watching Ghostbusters or something, and when my mom called, you thought, 'Heck ya, we can do this. We've got nothing else to do. Activate Wonder Triplet Powers!' and then you jumped into the Cat Busters mobile and saved the day?"

Axl, Prince and Kurt looked at each other and smiled goofily and said, "Yep, that's pretty much it!"

I asked how much they wanted, and they said they had no clue, they'd never done anything like this before, usually they were in the window washing business, not the cat saving business. I think they would've honestly done it just to be able to tell the story to their friends next Thursday night at Buffalo Wild Wings. but we took up a little collection and ended up with about $100, which they seemed happy with. They handed us one of their window washing cards, and I told them they should really think about getting business cards made up to advertise their new skill. 

Meanwhile, Lint remained nonplussed. She was stoned out of her gourd now, rolling around in a pile of catnip inside the cat carrier. 

That damned cat.

A crazy cat story like this one deserves a streaming playlist that is just as crazy. Check out Here Kitty Kitty, which weaves together a bunch of popular hits from each of my rock stars, plus some of the best kitty themed songs that I haven't already shared in the past. And then there's the songs that take it up a notch and unleash the catnip, from albums designed specifically to relax cats that are stoned on the stuff. Not even joking. You can't make this stuff up.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Super Blue Blood Moon

Its not just a blue moon. Its not just a blood moon. It's not even just a supermoon. This week we'll be treated to all three at once. Hold onto your socks and get out your cameras people, because what Mother Nature has in store for us this Wednesday evening is a Super Blue Blood Moon. And it should be pretty impressive.

First of all, this month will feature a regular old blue moon. There are a few types of blue moons, but a basic blue moon is when two full moons occur in one month. And yeah, these things only happen once in a moon. Which is not as rare as the phrase might lead you to believe. The last time we experienced a blue moon was in July 2015. And this year we'll actually get TWO of them. The first is January 31st, and the second one falls on March 31st. And then we'll have another in a couple of years.

It's even more rare when a blue moon coincides with a supermoon. And if you're wondering why that's all one word, you can check out all the sciency stuff here. But a supermoon occurs when the moon and the earth come as close as they can possibly can without bumping into one another. This result is one of those moments where you almost run your car off the road while staring at an impossibly large and ultra-bright moon in the sky. That, my friends, is a supermoon. It happens about once a year all by itself, and its superAWESOME. Definitely a highlight for moon gazers.

But wait, as they say on all the late-night infomercials, there's more!

This Wednesday, there's a lunar trifecta in the works, which combines a blue moon and a supermoon and a total eclipse. Or, as they say in la langue de lunar, a blood moon. This happens when the moon passes through the Earth's shadow and turns reddish in color... thus the whole blood thing.

Put all of these things together, and you get a SUPERBLUEBLOODMOON.

But wait. It gets better.

Those of us here in Northern California are going to have the best viewing experience of pretty much everybody. Oh, and here's even more good news. Because this is a lunar eclipse (and not a solar eclipse), it's safe to view. No flimsy cardboard glasses needed.

It really is a once in a lifetime event. In fact, the last time all of these things converged to create an event that was as out of this world, this is what was going on in the world:

Jesse James, circa 1866
  • The outlaw Jesse James held up his first bank
  • President Andrew Johnson vetoed the civil rights bill (and Congress vetoed his veto the next month)
  • Rootbeer was invented by Charles Hires
  • The first rollerskate rink opened in Rhode Island
  • The Civil War was officially declared over.
  • Popular music at the time was being written by Gabriel Faure, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Jacques Offenbach.

That year was 1866. More than 150 years ago. Back when my great great grandfather was ten years old. Maybe he saw it from his home in Pilot Grove, Illinois.

If you're planning on viewing the super blue blood moon, you'll have to get up sort of early to get the full experience, but at least you'll know that Californians, Alaskans and Hawaiians will get the best view of anyone in the United States, with the sky party starting at 3:45am Wednesday morning. I know. That's early. But don't let that stop you from setting up a couple of chairs in your back yard Wednesday evening to take in the extra large, extra bright full moon. The fantastic effects should still be in play until shortly after 7pm (Pacific Time).

If you plan on checking out the display, don't forget to set up some speakers, and stream today's Super Blue Blood Moon playlist on Spotify. I'm a little bit over the moon over it. And a special thanks to Barbara, JoAnne, Adrienne and my dad, who all offered up some worthy suggestions to add to a moon themed playlist I put together a few blue moons ago.

    Thursday, January 18, 2018

    Stay You

    Today we said farewell to our son.

    He stood in a room with eight other young men and women, at attention, hands clasped behind their backs, as a man in head to toe camouflage led them in an oath:

    I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

     And just like that, he's a Marine.

    I had tried to talk him out of it. Well, actually I simply asked him if he was really sure it had to be the Marines. I knew he was bored, not being challenged by any of the things he'd done since graduating high school: a semester at Oregon State, the EMT program at Shasta College, night manager at Tops Market and shift supervisor at Five Guys Burgers in Eugene. I knew he thought going into the service would give him a chance to see the world and hopefully provide some marketable skills. I said that if he really wanted to serve his country, protect our borders and be a hero to Americans every day, that the Coast Guard was an excellent choice.

    But no. He had made up his mind. It was the Marines. And he wasn't doing it alone. He and his best friend Kurt were signing up at the same time, guaranteed to be partnered up together during boot camp in a buddy program. But after that, all bets would be off.

    His dad drove up to Oregon last week to help Jesse clear out his apartment and bring his belongings - and Jesse - back home to spend his last few days of freedom with family. He'd already visited his grandparents and his other mom (his real mom, Krissy, who gave him his eyes and beautiful hair) in Bend before heading down to California.

    Then the three of us headed back across the border again, to the Military Processing Center in Portland. It's located right under the path of jets taking off and landing at the nearby airport, where Jesse and his fellow recruits would head to immediately after taking their oath. Next stop: basic training in San Diego.

    We drove to Portland in almost total silence. What do you say to a young man who's signing over control of his every move, perhaps even his life for the next four years? How do you tell someone you've watched grow from a child to a man that you're pretty certain the president who's orders he is pledging to obey has more concern about the size of his nuclear button than my son's life?

    You don't say anything, that's what.

    Then suddenly, we arrived. It was hours after he was supposed to be there, and there was barely a hug before he was gone, disappearing into the hotel. All he had was his backpack. He even left his coat in the car, knowing he wouldn't need it anymore.

    It was hard not to cry right then. But his dad held it together. I held it together. We would see him again the next morning at his swearing in ceremony. But now the clock was ticking down its last few minutes.

    When it got really real for me was about five in the morning, in the pre-dawn hours when all my fears magnify and hold sleep hostage. I stared at the ceiling, thinking about how it would go. Would we get to hug him goodbye again? Would I get the chance to express my hopes for his future and my fear for his safety, two violently strong emotions battling a war in my brain? What exactly were those feelings, and how could I possibly tell him how I felt without coming across as inappropriate in a room full of future Devil Dogs?

    That's when I cried silent tears for a son that I hadn't conceived. The son I didn't even meet until he was twelve. I won the lottery ten years ago when I started getting to spend summers and holidays with the kid who later became my stepson. He's smart, he's handsome, he loves to cook, loves to read dystopian youth novels. He watches The Walking Dead with me. He thinks Emma Stone is a babe. When a situation arises, he is always patient, never quick to react. He's even-keeled, never loses his cool. He's a rock-solid natural born leader, and has always stepped in to pick up the slack without whining or even balking. If I ask him for his honest opinion though, he won't hold back. And he's never mean. He trusts me, I trust him, and he's made smart choices 95% of the time. I know exactly how lucky I was to have this relationship with my stepson, and I don't want to lose this prize. I want to keep him safe forever just the way he is. A healthy, whole, handsome, well-adjusted young man with everything ahead of him. And how would I say any of this without crying big ugly tears in the processing center? Might as well get them out of the way now.

    At 9:15 we arrived at the military processing station, which swears in recruits for all branches of service together before shipping them off to bootcamp. After going through an inspection process that gives airport security a run for its money, we were finally allowed in. I got the extra pat down because my shirt set off the metal detector and Eddie was told to take his toy P-38 Space Modulator Death Ray Laser Gun off of his key chain and deposit it in the garbage can outside. We traded our drivers licenses for badges, and that's where we met up again with Jesse and his mom Krissy.
    The P-38 Space Modulator. We plucked it back out of the garbage can on the way out.
    We ended up sitting in a room with a few dozen fidgety young recruits and their families for several hours - long enough to watch Lake Placid vs. Anaconda on a muted TV screen. Bad as it was, at least it got the entire room laughing in unison more than once. The recruits - who looked younger and younger the longer they sat with their families - were finally summoned out of the room, and another hour later we were summoned to join them.

    There they stood, the nine of them, waiting to take their oath.

    Moments later, it was over. We were given a few minutes to pose for photos with our babies, our future soldiers, before they all disappeared into a side room again for another half hour before Jesse came out with all of his remaining personal possessions except for the clothing he had on. His cellphone, wallet, all of his money, even his toothbrush was handed over. He told me he was only allowed to keep his ID and social security card. Even the clothing he had on was disposable, because as soon as he got to San Diego, even that would disappear. Everything from here on out would be standard government issue (which is where the word G.I. comes from).

    He told us to expect a phone call in the middle of the night. He told his dad to answer the phone with Hello, and say nothing else. He told us that he would be yelling. That it would be alarming. But this was standard protocol. He would yell something at us, and then he would hang up, and that way we would know that he had made it to bootcamp (where I assume there will be a lot more yelling, just like the meme below).

    Indeed, that night the phone rang at 11:49pm, from an unknown number in San Diego. The call lasted fourteen seconds, and we barely recognized the voice on the other end, because I've never heard Jesse shout. In fact, we couldn't really understand anything he was shouting at us (so I looked it up). Apparently he was telling screaming at us that he had made it to San Diego, and that we shouldn't send him any packages of food. What we did hear was that we wouldn't get another phone call from him but to "EXPECT TO RECEIVE A LETTER IN TWO TO THREE WEEKS! GOODBYE!" And then the call was disconnected.

    So that's it. Our baby, the young man that Krissy, Eddie and I all share is going through a life changing endurance test for the next 13 weeks, and all we can do is imagine what it has to be like for him. And that's not easy.

    As Eddie, Krissy and I stood with Jesse, hugging him tight and telling him we loved him, I remembered back to early in the morning, when I hoped I'd have one last moment to talk to him, to tell him how important he is to me. And I realized that this was that moment. He was giving me everything but the clothing on his back. He was becoming the property of the USMC and flying off to San Diego, and I only had one more minute to speak my piece. So I grabbed onto him, and blurted it out.

    "Jesse, I've been thinking hard about what I want to say to you; what I wish for you to get out of this experience. Obviously I want you to come out of it alive. And I want you to come back whole. But what I really want is for you to remain the amazing person that you've grown up to be already. What I want most of all is for you to come back the same person as before."

    Krissy's head was bobbing up and down, and she said, "This is exactly what I've been thinking too! Jesse, I want you to come back just the same or better. Don't let them change you, promise me. You're perfect just the way you are."

    And of course, we said this knowing that he will go through incredible changes. Not just in the next 13 weeks. I think for him, bootcamp will be a breeze. He comes across as totally unflappable. I hope he really is. What Krissy and I were really saying is that what we both are hoping for the son we share is that over the course of the next four years he can keep the demons at bay. That he can handle whatever's to come without suffering psychological damage that haunts him for the rest of his life and takes away his happiness and the light in his eyes. We want him to stay sane. To stay emotionally even-keeled, and stay grounded.

    I hugged him one last time, kissed him on the cheek, and said, "Jesse, just stay YOU."

    And then he was gone.

    Stay You. That's today's curated playlist. And although the playlist and the column are titled "Stay You," the songs are all about saying goodbye. You've probably got a lot more to add, so bring it on. My heart's not quite in it this week. I know you'll understand.

    Thursday, January 4, 2018

    The Cat Burglar

    You've heard stories of dogs traveling thousands of miles across the continent to find their families who moved to another state. I even had a cat that once left our new house & crossed two very busy streets to return to his old hunting grounds after I was evicted from my first apartment (ironically, it was for having a forbidden feline).  There's even the famous story of Charles the Cat, who ran away from his home in New Mexico while his owner was gone for a few weeks, and showed up in Chicago eight months later.

    And then there's Lint.

    Lint is my dad's cat. She's about eight months old, a black domestic short hair who was fostered by one of my sister's friends as a teeny kitten before being adopted by my dad. She's a fabulously interesting cat. Not very well behaved, but I attribute that to my dad's parenting style, which is to bellow from his seat on the couch. That's how he disciplined me & my sister when we were teens, and that's how he has disciplined the cat. So, just like me, she's a rebel. She jumps up on the counter tops, she does whatever the hell she wants and leaves a mess of popsicle sticks, candy wrappers and knocked over plants in her wake. Occasionally she draws blood while sharpening her claws on my father's pant legs, and every once in awhile she stays out all night. Just like me when I was a teenager.

    What I'm about to tell you about my dad's parenting style (regarding the cat) is not going to make him very popular with you, and I almost considered leaving it out of the story altogether. But I think it's important to know this information, so I'm not gonna pussyfoot around it. But please, try to hold your judgment until I'm through, and bear in mind a couple of things:
    • My dad is 86, and can barely get around. He's got bad hips and bursitis. So yelling at the cat is pretty much all he can muster up these days.
    • My mom was hit by a car in August, and has spent the past 4 months in rehab.
    • My dad is a rocket scientist. Kind of a mad genius. He's also a tinkerer & an inventor.
    • My dad loves his cat. Photographic evidence below, but as my father's friends have become fewer and fewer during these last sunset years, this cat has provided a lonely man some much needed companionship and both of my parents hours of laughter and joy as they are constantly humored by Lint's constant antics.
    Mom finally came home from rehab in December. My husband and I traveled up to Oregon to help her transition back home.We had already spent countless hours on our last trip to my folk's the week prior cleaning, organizing and moving furniture around to accommodate my mother's limited mobility and her new walker. When we arrived at the house with mom, a young caregiver provided by an agency was already there, waiting with my dad and the cat. 

    I walked into the kitchen and noticed a cheap wooden mouse trap -set- on the counter. And another by the fruit bowl. And another on the kitchen table. I confronted my dad, wanting to know why he would set mouse traps out in the open, where a human finger or a cat's paw could easily get broken, and he yelled, "That's exactly what the trap is for...the cat!"

    I know. I was just as horrified as you are. I've got a lot of crazy cat lady friends who are probably tearing their hair out right now. I thought my dad was totally losing it, even though he explained - in rather rude terms - that this was the plan he'd devised to train the cat to stay off the dining room table, and off the kitchen counters. I told my dad that it wasn't cool, not cool at all, and Eddie and I went around and set off all the traps and collected them in a pile. 

    What my dad didn't tell me was that he had altered the mouse traps so that they wouldn't really do any damage to the cat, just make a lot of noise and scare it, with the eventual goal of deterring it from venturing onto the counter and creating more chaos. He didn't tell me this, he didn't tell my mom, he didn't tell my husband, and he didn't tell the young caregiver. I wish he had. It might have saved a lot of drama.

    Turns out, the caregiver - let's call her Jane - loves animals. Jane had animals of her own, she said, and she was somehow connected to a pet boarding facility that also grooms animals. I know this because there was some discussion that afternoon about the idea of her taking Lint to that facility to have her nails buffed, so that my dad would quit springing leaks every time the cat got a wild hair and scrambled up his legs. Someone even went so far as to get the cat carrier (which Lint often sleeps in) and moved it near the sliding door in case she was able to get an appointment with the groomer. I wasn't around for this discussion, because I had to go to work that afternoon. But I remember seeing the cat carrier when I returned, and someone told me why it was sitting across the room from its usual place. That was when my dad told me that the cat had been let out earlier in the day while I was gone, and hadn't come back. Jane told me she was thinking about walking around the block to look for her, and I said, "No, I think you should focus on taking care of my mom. That's your priority. The cat will come back."

    I was wrong about that.

    That evening my husband and I left for a few hours to attend a talent show at my niece's elementary school. But when we returned, mom was asleep, the caregiver had left at the end of her shift, and Dad told us that the cat still hadn't returned. We thought maybe Dad shouldn't have set mouse traps. He thought maybe we shouldn't bring our dogs to visit (but contrary to my dad's thoughts on the matter, we believe Lint really likes my dogs. She follows them everywhere, and for the most part they ignore her).

    This time we were all wrong.

    My first real hint that there was something more going on than the cat pulling a disappearing act on its own was when we realized that the cat carrier was also missing. It took a family meeting to realize that none of us had moved it from its perch by the door, but yet it was gone. It was as if Lint had packed her bag and moved out.  

    Over the weekend, we walked around the block calling her name. We reached out to all the neighbors and asked if any of them had seen her over the past few days. Nobody had. We started looking in places throughout the property where Lint might have become trapped. Closets. The garage. My dad's car. But we also never found the cat carrier.

    My dad was devastated. The trusted companion who was by his side every day, gone. The cat that it had taken him more than a decade to convince my mom (who's slightly allergic to cats) to agree to let him have, had disappeared. Sure, she was a troublemaker. But she was his troublemaker. At first he blamed her distaste for my dogs. But that cat carrier didn't walk out the door on its own.

    Slowly it dawned on everyone. The more we looked for the cat carrier, and the longer we waited for Lint to return, the more we became convinced that Jane the caretaker was an actual cat burglar. It was the simplest, and therefore most likely scenario, and I am a firm believer in Occam's Razor. That's the theory (which I first found out about in the Jodie Foster/Matthew McConaughey film 'Contact') that the simplest answer is usually the correct one. And since all the other theories depended on some pretty complicated concepts, I went with the simplest one. Jane.

    Animal lover that Jane proclaimed to be, she probably thought she was removing the cat from an abusive situation and providing it with a more loving home. In reality, she was committing robbery, and depriving my dad of his best buddy. Setting aside the chaos of the day my mom came home from rehab and my dad's bad decision based on his inability to get around quickly enough to properly discipline the cat, there's a lot of love between these two. All the proof you need is in this photo, snapped while the two were catnapping:

    So you can can see why my sister and I weren't about to let it go. My sister - being in closer proximity - called the agency that had supplied the caretaker to report that we suspected she had taken the cat. They were skeptical and couldn't believe we would make such an accusation...until we told them that the cat carrier had also gone missing. The agency interviewed Jane, didn't think her story completely added up, and suspended her from any future shifts until the catastrophe was sorted out. They also suggested that we call the police. And she did, but not until we called Jane herself to let her know we thought she might know where the cat was, and that we didn't want to go to the police, but that if we were unable to reunite my father and his cat, that we would continue our pursuit.  Jane denied everything, of course. And before contacting the police, my sister may or may not have paid a visit to the pet resort/grooming place, posing as a potential client, asking to tour the feline facilities.

    The Craigslist Ad. I left out the part about the carrier.
    Meanwhile, I created a Craigslist ad, checked the online listings for the local cat rescue organization, the Humane Society and the Animal Shelter (all totally different agencies), then called and asked questions about cats matching Lint's description, and sent my dad on an afternoon-long field trip to check out the cats for himself. Half-grown, female, all-black, short-haired domestic cats are everywhere. And there were a few dead-ringers, but my dad knew. None of them were Lint.

    They say curiosity killed the cat, but I couldn't help myself. I wanted to arm myself with as much information as I could about Jane. So I did a bit of internet sleuthing. I found her Facebook profile, filled with nothing but funny cat and dog videos. I poked around a little further, and found what I believed to be her address. And within a few blocks, her mother's address. I didn't do anything with this information, but I admit that I harbored fantasies of sitting outside Jane's home late at night, waiting to see if Lint might make an appearance. But I didn't. But I thought about it.

    Finally, enter the police. You might think that a case of suspected cat (& carrier) napping wouldn't be taken very seriously. But the police were on it. They interviewed Jane immediately, and I'm betting she was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs as she continued to deny any involvement in the disappearance. There wasn't a lot more the cops could do after that. Other than continue to monitor Craigslist and the shelters, neither could we.

    And then the incredible happened. We got a phone call from the Humane Society. Lint had been found. The way we heard it,  within a day or two of the police interview, a black cat showed up in a woman's backyard, terrorizing her own cat, and demanding entry. But once the woman opened the door, the cat ran into the house, looking for some human love.  She definitely wasn't feral. The cat seemed in good condition, well fed, but was missing a collar (Lint was wearing a red collar with a bell the day she disappeared). The woman pulled out her own cat carrier, plopped the cat into it, and took it to the shelter to see if it belonged to anyone. They scanned her for a microchip, and within half an hour my father and his cat were reunited. Those microchips. They truly are the cat's meow.

    The thing is, Lint wasn't found anywhere near my dad's house. The woman who's backyard Lint ended up in isn't even in the same city. Lint ended up fifteen miles away from my dad's house in the west side of Medford. Fifteen miles from my dad's house, but about a half mile away from Jane's.

    Jane will probably never be collared for her four-legged crime, but I hope she'll think twice before taking it upon herself  to relocate someone else's beloved pet in the future.

    As for Lint, my parents say she seems to be better behaved now. She doesn't jump up on the counter as much, and she spends more of her time purring and relaxing instead of sharpening her claws on my dad's pant leg and knocking cups off the counter. Its as if this whole experience has served as a catalyst to help Lint pull her fur together.

    I was surprised at how many purrfect cat songs there were to choose from when putting together the playlist to go along with today's column. Hope you enjoy the Cat Burglar Playlist by clicking on the play arrow below, and if I've missed any good ones, feel free to list them in the comments section below.

    Thursday, December 21, 2017

    Santa's Secret Is Out Of The Bag

    "By the way, she knows." That was what my sister whispered out of the side of her mouth to me as we walked across the restaurant parking lot after a meal with our families the weekend after Thanksgiving.
    "Who knows what?" I said.
    "Lena. She knows. About Santa."

    My niece Lena, who had just turned ten, perked up at the sound of her name and turned around to see what we were talking about. I called Lena over to me and said, smiling broadly, "Is that true? You know the truth about Santa? That's fantastic! I've been waiting and waiting for you to figure it out!"

    Her slightly befuddled look told me right away that Lena didn't understand why I would be happy to learn that she'd finally confronted her parents to get some real answers to a few difficult questions for a kid. It was actually not even about Santa initially, but she needed some answers about the tooth fairy after discovering an old bag of Halloween candy which the tooth fairy supposedly absconded with the year before, which led to a discussion about Santa (and most likely the Easter Bunny).

    "I'm so happy Lena, I really am."
    "Because now you know that Santa is you." I grabbed her hand as we walked over to the car and I said, "I mean, Santa was a real guy, once upon a time. They didn't call him Santa then...but Saint Nick was a real person. And after he was gone, people kept his spirit alive by continuing on the tradition he'd started of leaving gifts for children at Christmas. So yeah, your parents are Santa. Well, they used to be Santa. But the thing is, now that you know, you get to be Santa. You are the one who gets to carry on the spirit of Christmas by becoming Santa."

    I can't tell you the relief I felt when Lena got a huge, eye brow raising smile on her face as I told her about how, now that she knew the truth, she was going to get a peek behind the curtain and learn the tricks behind the magic of Christmas.

    "It's kind of a big responsibility. Do you think you can handle it? Because now you are going to become Santa just like we have been since we found out. You're going to join the ranks of a lot of big kids and adults. Are you ready for it?"

    She said she was, and so I told her that I had some very special tools to give to her when we saw each other next.

    The Secret Santa Toolbox

    A few weeks later, we ventured north again, and this time I brought the box. A tin box with "Believe in the Magic of Christmas" on the top, and it was filled with everything Lena needed to become Santa.

    Lena inspects the contents of her Santa toolbox.
    If you've been reading the Mistress of the Mix for a few years, you might remember that one of my favorite magical traditions of Christmas is growing candy canes from seeds on Christmas Eve. We’ve been doing it since my college-aged daughter was little, so Lena has been a candy cane farmer since as long as she can remember.

    I went into pretty extensive detail about it in Yes Valerie, There Is A Santa Claus, but as a refresher, all you need are candy-cane seeds (a handful of starlight mints) and a bottle of magic elf dust (red sugar sprinkles). And there’s one more ingredient: the magic of Christmas. Because you can knock yourself out planting candy cane seeds all year long and pouring sprinkles on them, but they’ll only grow into candy canes one night a year, and that night is Christmas Eve, when we’re surrounded by the magic of Christmas.

    I have to admit that I was kind of giddy when I presented Lena with her very special pre-Christmas gift. With nobody else around except for me and her mother, Lena opened the tin as I shared some super secret Santa stuff with her.

     I explained that becoming Santa is a pretty important responsibility, because the job entails becoming the keeper of magic and keeping it alive for younger kids until they learn the secret of Santa on their own. “And once they do,” I told her, “then your job is to pass that responsibility on to them so that we keep Santa alive for future generations. Can you do that?”

    Lena (who had lost her voice that evening during her school talent show) nodded solemnly and whispered, “Yes.” I told her that when Sophia was young I kept the magic. When she was 14 & Lena was 4, Sophia took over the job. And now that Lena was 10, she was going to become the keeper of candy cane magic for her young nieces, 5 year old Maggie and 2 year old Nora, who just happened to be visiting for Christmas this year.

     I told her that it was now her responsibility to share the contents of the tin with Maggie and Nora, and pass on the story of how to grow candy canes on Christmas Eve. In fact, she would supervise the whole operation.

    “But now that you’re Santa, I have something else to give you,” I said, and pulled out a red bag filled with candy canes. I explained that the heaviest responsibility of being Santa was to remember to go out after the little ones were safely tucked into bed to replace the seeds with grown candy canes. “You need to find a special place to hide this bag. Because this bag is only for those who carry the magic. Don’t ever let Maggie and Nora or even any of your friends see what’s in this bag.”

    I told Lena that she also had to be prepared to answer any questions that Maggie and Nora might throw at her. Questions like: Do we plant candy canes inside or outside? With the wrapper on, or off? Lena already knew the answer to that question, because she’d asked it herself the first year she’d planted candy cane seeds, so she already knew that if you plant a candy cane seed with the wrapper on, you get a full grown candy cane with the wrapper on. And if you remove the wrapper before planting it, you get a sticky, sappy gloppy mess the next morning. I told her that I was in favor of encouraging scientific experiments as long as you stay one step ahead, prepared for the outcome.

    I reached into the bag and pulled out a handful of candy canes in wild colors like green, blue and purple. “For example,” I told her, “when restaurants started handing out mint chocolate flavored starlight mints, I started stocking green and brown candy canes. And when Sophia asked me one year what would happen if she planted an already grown candy cane, a giant candy cane appeared in its place the next morning.”

    “One just like this one, “ I said as I handed Lena a two inch thick, foot long candy cane. “Better be prepared for that one.”

     I spent the next half hour passing on all my magician’s secrets, answering all of Lena’s questions, so that she can be as prepared as possible for the enormous task ahead of her. And she's as ready (and excited) as Rudolph on a foggy night. It was like a whole new world had opened up to her, just when she thought that her Christmas dreams would be gone forever.

    Lena shows off her gift.

    I hope the magic of Christmas is alive in your household this year, for the young and old, and those who are just learning the real secrets of Christmas. As you enjoy your holiday, I hope you'll click the play arrow on the Spotify Stocking Stuffer playlist below and enjoy some curated music from Mistress Santa!

    Thursday, November 30, 2017

    The Long Con

    My husband is the impatient type. The kind of guy who peeked at his gifts under the Christmas tree when he was a kid. He's still pretty much that same kid today, a 52 year old Scorpio boy child who finds an odd delight in trying to figure out what everyone has gotten him for his November birthday and Christmas. He's a package shaker, he tries to gaze through the wrapping paper as if he's wearing X-Ray glasses, and weighs the gifts in his hands before boldly announcing what he thinks might be inside. And as much as I hate to admit it, he's right about 75% of the time.  

    So this year, I decided Eddie needed to learn a lesson.  It was a lesson that took planning, a combination of deception and misdirection, dedication, and an accomplice who wanted to teach Eddie that lesson as much as I did: his older sister Laura. 

    For one solid year, Laura and I have been planning my husband's first trip out of the country for his birthday, and to arrange it so that he didn't have a clue until he had to pull out his passport and hand it over to the authorities.

    We had to find a date as close as possible to Eddie returning home from his job refurbishing the road around the rim of Crater Lake, sometime around Halloween. So we found the first available dates in November for a week at the Torres Mazatlan resort. Then I asked for a week off of work, which is no small feat. Before it would be approved, I had to find a volunteer who was willing to cover a classical music radio show for six days in a row. Once that was accomplished, Laura booked our rooms at the resort and flights from Medford, Oregon.

    And then the misdirection began.

    When we were visiting Laura last January, she started talking about how much she'd love to have us join her in Puerto Vallarta where she usually spends a few weeks at her timeshare.  We sat down within earshot of Eddie - all part of the plan - and looked at availability. We put on authentic sad faces when we couldn't find anything within the timeframes that might work. Nothing in November. Nothing in December. Nothing in January, February, March or April. How about Mazatlan? Nothing there either? Oh well. It was a wonderful thought, we said. But just in case something opened up, Eddie would get his very first passport, and I would renew mine.

    The pool, restaurant & bar at Torres Mazatlan Resort.

    Then life went on for almost an entire year. In the summer, Eddie went back to Crater Lake, and while he was gone his sister and I would touch base occasionally about our top secret plan.

    The entire mission almost fell apart more than once. First, the volunteer who had agreed to cover my radio show suffered a fall that left him with a severe head injury, putting him on the sidelines. But since my vacation had already been approved and the non-refundable tickets purchased, other staff stepped in to cover the shifts. Then Eddie called one day to tell me that his crew might have another job lined up in Eastern Oregon as soon as they wrapped up their season at Crater Lake. As it turned out, the job never materialized, but in a moment of panic, I told Eddie that he wasn't allowed to make any plans for the week before or after his birthday, and that he would just have to tell his boss he needed that time off.

    I came to regret that. It unleashed the curious little boy in my husband, who - from that moment forward - hounded me day and night for the next 6 weeks about what we had planned. And it drove him crazy that I wouldn't tell him. I eventually got so tired of him demanding to know, that I started making up places. I told him we were going on a mission trip to Puerto Rico. We were going to Mall of America, home of the largest indoor water amusement park in the world. We were taking a cruise to Alaska to visit my old hometown. We had rented a chateau in France. We were going back to Hawaii to rent the submarine that was used in the TV show "Lost" which has now been turned into an AirBnB (I'm sure it actually hasn't). I told him I had rented one of those homes perched on pilings over a lagoon in Fiji. I even told him I had rented a palapa on a beach in Mexico with hammocks for beds, which was about as close as I ever got to the truth. I told him we were going to Cuba, where I'd rented a '57 Ford Fairlane, and I told him that we were finally going to use the 3 night stay at a beach house my mother had gifted us for our wedding anniversary at Ken Kesey's home in Yachats.

    It was at that point that Eddie proudly announced that he had everything figured out.

    The Yachats Theory

    His hypothesis - and it was a good one, I'll give him that - was that we were going to drive to the Oregon Coast, stay with his sister near Coos Bay for a few days before driving up to Yachats to the Key-Sea Koast House, and then continuing on to visit his nieces and nephews in Astoria, one of whom had just provided Eddie with a new grand nephew that had still been cooking in the oven the last time Uncle Eddie visited his family.  I told him I could neither confirm nor deny, which had become my standard answer whenever queried about the trip, which was about every 3 minutes.

    To prove his hypothesis, when I was out of the room, Eddie started a con game of his own. He called his sister and proclaimed that I had come clean with the whole secret, and told him about our travel plans. His sister did her best to seem shocked that he knew everything, then said she couldn't wait to see us. Then when I was home, Eddie Face Timed his sister while I was in the room, and laughed gleefully as he told me that he'd tricked her into acknowledging our trip to see her, proving his hypothesis. Then it was my turn to play shocked, as I told his sister, "How could you fall for his ruse, Laura?! You were supposed to neither confirm nor deny!" and then I played hurt, bummed that Eddie had, once again, figured out his gift.

    The End Game

    The night before we left town, I began packing Eddie's bag for him, selecting a mixture of warm and cool weather clothing. He too-casually said, "Hey throw my cologne in there, would you?" and I did. To which he replied, "Ha! I knew it! We're definitely not flying to Astoria! The TSA would never allow a bottle that big!" I smiled and said, "Oh, you got me. But I will neither confirm nor deny." And then I added another mental item to my checklist (which included grabbing our passports after he was already in the car warming it up) which was to remember to remove the cologne bottle from his bag as we headed to the airport, and give him his only physical birthday gift this year, a travel sized bottle of Armani Code I had purchased from Macy's that day. Because I know my husband and I'm hep to all of his tricks.

    I let him pack our winter coats and boots. I let him heft an armload of bottled water and snacks out to the car. And I told him he couldn't bring the dogs, because NO, and let him think that it was because pets aren't allowed at the vacation rental. Eddie's sister texted him that she couldn't wait to see us, and she'd been getting our room prepared. Then she sent a few random photos of plants in her yard, showing Eddie all the hard work she'd been doing landscaping. All part of the con.

    Visiting my family in Ashland that evening, Eddie continued to brag to everyone he came into contact with that he had figured out our plans. He told my daughter's boyfriend, who said, "Wait. I thought you guys were going to Cuba. You're not going to Cuba?" He thanked my mom for the gift of the beach house stay, and my mom said, "You know, there's more than one bedroom, you could take me with you." I finally played the last card in my hand by saying, "You know, I'm okay with getting an early start. So we can leave as early as you want tomorrow morning," before yawning and heading off to bed at 9pm. Because I knew how early that alarm clock was going to ring.


    "It's go time," I proclaimed as I shut off the alarm. "Time to get up."
    Eddie asked me what time it was (I misdirected, with "It's early, I couldn't sleep."). He said he needed a few more minutes, and I obliged him as I hastily dressed in the dark and got everything ready, but by 3:15 Eddie was already in the car, warming it up. Ready to head to the coast. I came out, sat in the passenger seat, and as he started to put the car in reverse, I said, "Honey, you need to get out of the car."
    He told me to quit playing. Told me to fasten my seat belt and shut the door so we could leave. I told him he needed to come out to the back of the car and help me with something. He grumpily got out of the car and into the rainy night. Standing under the carport, I handed him the little red Macy's bag with the cologne and said, "Here's your birthday present, now take the other bottle of cologne out of your bag, then turn off the car, and put the keys in the house. We're not driving."

    Eddie was dumbfounded.

    In fact, he simply didn't believe me. He told me to stop playing again, said there was no use playing this game any longer because he KNEW where we were going, and it was freezing out so let's go. I grabbed his phone, started to film him, and said, "Do you think your sister and I don't have you pegged?" And I'll just let the video below speak for itself...but beware, there are a few uncharacteristic F-bombs dropped by my sleepy, impatient, bewildered husband in his hazy state of denial:

    Eddie was still sitting in the car, engine on, when the shuttle van came around the corner two minutes later. I wish I still had the camera going, because that's when he realized that his theory wasn't correct, and that he really didn't have a clue about what was happening. His first reaction? "I gotta poop." And he ran back inside.

    I greeted the shuttle driver and he started grabbing our bags. When we arrived at the airport, Eddie tried to bribe the the guy into telling him where we were going, and the driver said, "Dude, I got no clue where you're headed." And of course, he did. I'd told him as we were transferring our bags from car to van, removing the cologne, winter coats and anything else I knew we didn't need for the trip.

    Because I had sneakily checked us in the night before, and had our boarding passes digitally downloaded onto my phone, Eddie still didn't know where we were headed as we went through TSA screening at the airport, but knew we were headed northbound via Portland when we got in line to head out to board the plane. He asked me where we were going. I asked him, "I don't know, where ARE we going?" He said, "Either we're going to Hawaii, or Alaska."

    When we arrived in Portland, Eddie said he thought we might be renting a car and driving down the Oregon Coast instead of up. Then I headed to another gate (honest mistake!) that was boarding a flight to Honolulu, but got directions to the correct place and finally boarded a flight headed in the right direction, to Los Angeles.

    It wasn't until we were landing in L.A. and I pulled our passports out of the secret pocket sewn in my purse that Eddie found out where we were headed, and then he didn't believe me. Thought I was still misleading him. Then suddenly we were in the plane, headed to Mazatlan, and Eddie advanced into the next state of dumbfounded disbelief that he'd been had.

    By the time we'd landed in Mazatlan however, Eddie had retained his earlier smugness, proclaiming that at least he was going to experience Mazatlan before his sister did, since she always vacations a few hours south, in Puerto Vallarta.

    I let him think that, until the moment we walked through the gates of the resort, and a bell hop greeted us with "Buenos tardes, you are meeting friends?"
    "No," said Eddie confidently. "We're here alone."
    "Actually," I said, "We're not meeting friends. But we are meeting family."
    It was then that Eddie's sister came around the corner, all smiles and already tan. She'd beaten us to Mazatlan by a week, and while she was indeed getting our room ready for us, it was our oceanfront condo, not the hideaway bed in the basement.

    The look on Eddie's face at that moment was worth everything Laura and I did. He was stupified. The man who made it his mission to always figure out was going on so that there were never any surprises, was surprised. The whole way. This was one present that stayed wrapped until his birthday, even though it took the help of literally every human I came into contact with for a month to pull it off. And now Eddie knows just how far his sister and I are willing to go to pull off a long con.

    It was a glorious week. The sound of the surf was so loud that we had to close the sliding door at night so we could sleep. The fresh banana margaritas were delicious enough that I could sip on them all day long in the pool, and weak enough that I never had a hangover, and the gracious and kind staff appreciated my attempts to recall four years of high school Spanish classes (¡ Muchas gracias, seƱora Brewold!).

    We launched another surprise on Eddie when Eddie's friend Luis - a native Mexican - showed up a few days later with his family, increasing our group to seven. Then we grew to nine when more family from Guanajuato showed up. A third of us spoke only English, a few spoke only Spanish, and a few of us spoke in varying levels of both languages. That was when the fun really started, because we were living life like a Mexican on vacation showing off for his family (because that's exactly what was going on).

    Half of our gang: my partner in crime Laura,
    la chiquita Layla, la abuela, Blanca y yo

    The gang ended up (more than once) in the back of a pick up truck outfitted with benches, a cooler full of Pacifico Clara and a big bag of chicharrones, singing Mexican songs at the top of our lungs (as well as making up my own lyrics to Despacito after hearing it for maybe the 8th time) while driving around the city. We ended up surrounded by two mariachi bands (because uno mariachi band was apparently not enough) who serenaded us while we put away huge platters of ceviche y pescado at a restaurant with tables in the middle of the street across from a car wash, and I have a vague memory of singing karaoke on our last noche en Mazatlan to one of the canciones I was exposed to during that lovely semana en Mexico that - lo mismo que yo - gets the point across in a blend of English y Espanol, and just happens to reference driving around in a truck with chicharrones and having a very very good time! You'll hear a version of that song, "Las Mulas de Moreno" kicking off the accompanying Mazatlan Long Con playlist below, filled with the music of Mexico that I was surrounded with as part of the incredible pay off to the Mazatlan Long Con. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to share your favorite songs of Mexico as well in the comments section below.

    A short note to my tale: Now that we're back from Eddie's birthday surprise trip, he's seemed a little worried over the past couple of days. My birthday is less than two weeks ago, and Eddie says he just doesn't know how he'll be able to come close to topping his birthday present. Plus, all he got me was a new pair of boots. At least I'm pretty sure that's what's in the box.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2017


    Me too. But I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know if you're a regular reader of this column. You already know about a handful of experiences I've had, starting at the age of 8, where men took advantage of their position of privilege and assumed superiority to make extraordinarily inappropriate and lewd sexual suggestions, because I shared them a year ago this very week in The Trouble With Boobs. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read it again, because it is just as relevant - if not more relevant - today.

    And of course you know why it's so relevant, unless you've been held hostage in Afghanistan for the last few years or have spent time running for your life from a raging wildfire recently. If so, you're excused. But pretty much everyone else has heard by now about the rich and powerful man in the entertainment history who was caught on audiotape saying some very sexually inappropriate things, followed by scores of women coming out of the woodwork to say that they had been assaulted and pressured sexually by this same man. The fallout from the exposure of that tape has been massive. 

    For Harvey Weinstein, famous Hollywood producer and studio boss who was caught red handed trying to pressure a woman into a sexual situation with him in his hotel room, the fallout has included the opening of several criminal investigations, being fired from his job, losing his wife, coming under fire from his children, being expelled from the Academy, and finally landing in a rehab facility to be treated for sex addiction. The fallout for Weinstein has landed squarely and solidly onto his shoulders in a spectacular fashion.

    Oh, I'm sorry. Did you think I was talking about that other famous rich and powerful man in entertainment who was caught on tape talking about pressuring women sexually, followed by scores of women saying that they had also been assaulted and sexually harassed by this man? The fallout for that guy was being promoted to President of the United States by the electoral college (I think it's important to always remember that 'we the people' didn't elect Donald Trump. By several million votes, 'we' elected Hillary Clinton. The electoral college elected Donald Trump). The fallout for Pussygate has fallen directly onto us. Or, to stick to the theme of this column, it's been forced upon us like a tongue down the throat after a bad date.

    But there is some good news. At least that's how I'm going to look at it. Bear with me. I'll get there, eventually.

    In the past, many men accused of sexual assault have blamed the victim. In fact victims have been blamed for raping and abuse for eons. Maybe its because - caught red handed -Weinstein admitted to his behavior, admitted it was wrong, and never tried to blame his victims. He is (for the most part) accepting total responsibility for his actions. But the Weinstein situation has opened the floodgates to a wave of women who are coming forward with stories of their own sexual assault. It's shining a big spotlight on just how prevalent sexual assault, abuse, harrassment and humiliation is.

    Actress Alyssa Milano is credited for getting the #MeToo movement to go viral on Twitter and Facebook less than a week ago. Since then, other Hollywood heavies have come forward with their own stories of sexual assault in the entertainment industry. Jennifer Lawrence. Reese Witherspoon. Angelina Jolie. Jessica Chastain. Gwyneth Paltrow. Rosanna Arquette. Cara Delevingne. Lady Gaga. Rose McGowan (especially Rose McGowan).

    But what's more important is the millions - yeah, millions - of other women who are speaking up and sharing their experiences of sexual assault and harassment. The official statistics say that 1 in 6 American women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. But looking at the staggering number of my own friends sharing their #MeToo stories, I think those statistics are off by a long shot. Especially because women I'm close to that have privately shared horrific stories of sexual abuse (especially by trusted family members) have not made those stories public by sharing. And that's ok. Its not ok to pressure women into sexual situations they aren't comfortable with, and its not ok to pressure them into publicly sharing something that causes them great pain if they don't want to. I even joked on Facebook that it might be easier to ask women to post a status saying #NeverMe to make easier to see how few people haven't been assaulted or harassed (so far exactly two of my acquaintances have done that).

    In the meantime, I've seen #MeToo posts from Julie. Hilary. Gretchen. Kate. Buffy. Lisa. Haley. Lyn. Melyssa. Linda. Jennifer. Chellie. Ashley. China. Sue. Keri. Quincy. Gini. Jean Marie. Ursula. Kimberly. Carrie. Noelle. Amber. Rhonda. Laurie. Angela. Pogo. Sarah. Mimi. Anna. Dee. Lori. Francie. Jan. Brandi. Laura. Amy. Danica. Debra. Rachel. Judy. Jenny. Maggie. Dana. Dondi. And another Linda, another Amber, another Angela, another Julie and another Jan. By the time you read this I know the list will have grown longer. And each of their posts are followed by a long stream of hundreds of comments echoing similar situations.

    A few of their stories:

    "I was 21 I had just graduated from community college with my certificate in cosmetology and was a brand new bride.  As I stepped into the hallway en route to the bathroom, the owner of the neighboring business also entered the hallway. We exchanged our typical morning greetings when suddenly he stopped and turned back towards me. "So, where were you yesterday?" he asked me. "Remember? It was my birthday so I took the afternoon off?" He smiled a strange smile and then stepped in close to me. In an instant, both hands reached for the wall behind my head as he pushed his pelvis and entire body into mine, trapping me against the wall. He leaned in and pressed his lips hard into mine before he thrust his tongue in my mouth. After a 2 - 3 second assault, he stepped back and with a gleam in his eye said something to the effect of, "yeah, I forgot to give you that. Happy Birthday." I was terrified, I was disgusted, I was humiliated and I felt dirty. And for a variety of reasons, I internalized the situation as being my fault. That somehow I had earned the right to be violated. And because of this, I told one person but then kept my silence. This was not the first time I was sexually assaulted in my life. Nor was it my last."

    "First time I was 12 and blamed myself. Hard to write this." 

    "In 7th grade I was lying on a family beach in Hawaii with my best friend, who noticed that a guy about 12 feet away was watching us and masturbating. We got up immediately and wrapped ourselves in our beach towels and walked away grossed out.
    * In 8th grade the dad I babysat for drunk-drove me home and put his hand on my leg and tried to kiss me. The next week when his wife called me to sit again, I said no and told her why.
    * In 9th grade there was a classmate who in the hallways grabbed girls by the pussy. He got away with that.
    * In 10th grade I worked in a country store on a poultry farm, and the guy who delivered eggs from the barns told me if I didn't watch out he would take me into the freezer. I told the boss's wife, and he was banned from the store."

    "I still remember the very first time I became aware of sexual harassment. I was very young and my mom was pushing me around the grocery store in the shopping cart. I began to notice her behaving oddly as she kept looking over her shoulder and tried to choose aisles in the store that this strange man was not already occupying. But he continued to follow us around the store, exposing himself to us from beneath his long coat.
    And in case you think this is an isolated incident, something similar happened only a couple years ago when I was on a date with a 41-year-old man. When I politely turned down his multiple advances after our date he proceeded to pull his penis out of his pants and tried to force it on me."

    "I was one of the 40% of employees that were subject to this in the National Park Service. In addition to sexual harassment, I faced extreme workplace bullying because of being a woman. When I fought back, work life because ugly and no one even at the regional or national levels would take my complaints seriously. "It's just part of working in a man's world," is what I heard a lot. Bull$hit! I hope my daughter never has to deal with this and I will raise my son to never participate in that kind of misogynistic culture."

    "I was on Canner St. walking from my apartment toward Yale Divinity School to start my shift at the Circulation Desk at the YDS Library when it happened. Walked 2 more blocks to school, and decided to call the campus Police in case it would keep the guy from doing it to someone else. I still think of walking this block. That day the campus Police took a report. That was that.
    I was/am so lucky to have such strong support structures in my life. It is my responsibility to teach my son to treat all people with respect."

    I did say there was some good news in all this, right? OK. Take a look at the last sentence of the last two stories. These are women with sons. Women who are empowered and motivated - with loving, woke partners fortunately - to raise their sons to be better people than the generations of men before them. Because that is what it's going to take. To raise our boys to be respectful of others' sexuality, and raise our girls to be confident that they are worthy of that respect.

    I believe we're already shifting in that direction, because as I talk to my daughter about sexual trends in college, she tells me that it is becoming the norm, rather than the exception, to get an acknowledgement of mutual consent before two (or more) people engage in sexual activity. That gives me great hope. I think we have the ability to raise our children to understand that they can achieve success in life without being coerced or forced into sexual situations they don't want to be in, and that they can achieve success without forcing or coercing others into a sexual situation. It's happening already, we just need to keep the ball rolling.

    Also, another important hashtag is starting to make the rounds on social media, and it's an important one. #ItWasMe. Men who's eyes have been seriously opened by reading the stories shared by women around the nation are now reflecting on their own sexual history, and owning up to behaviors that they've always known were wrong. A couple of my male friends have expressed just that over the past few days, and I hope they understand that it doesn't make me think worse of them. Instead, I feel they have become more enlightened, and are ready to be part of the solution. For that, I respect them more. Here's a few examples:

    "I have touched without consent. I have been complicit in my silence. I have pushed people past their comfort zones. I have objectified women. I have benefited from a misogynist culture. I am sorry. #ItWasMe"

    "I am so proud of all the woman in my life publicly declaring "me too."
    I struggled with whether I would post my own. Publicly admitting victimization is so hard, and I stand with the women who have come forward and those that haven't. But, honestly I think as a man its more important to say "IT WAS ME." Its a harder thing to admit. But this is our part as men. Patriarchy gives us a privilege that women will never know. And while I am a gay man, I know I have harassed woman; even if inadvertent, unintentional, joking, or in kinship. So for every bra I unsnapped, or ass I've slapped, or comment I have made on appearance. For every "hey slut," or "hey hoe", or sexual joke... I am sorry. This a behavior that paves the way for worse harassment. Its a new world and time to change."

     "I'm seeing many brave women (and some men) posting "Me Too" signifying that they have been victims of sexual harassment or abuse. Although I have also been harassed what stands out to me is that I have been a perpetrator. Maybe some fellas will look at their behavior as well. I'm not proud but unfortunately I HAVE."

    I want to acknowledge that this is not simply a male/female issue. There are women in power who abuse it, taking sexual advantage and putting pressure on those beneath them. And the victim is not always a woman, nor a member of the opposite sex. This is a global sexual issue about not respecting boundaries.  However, since the beginning of time males have dominated the world in terms of power (white heterosexual males in particular), and although the scales have shifted somewhat to give power to others, these males still dominate the world in a position of privilege and power, and therefore still lead the way as the largest abusers of their position of power. If you don't like what I'm saying, chances are you're probably a straight white dude.

    Straight white dudes, you've had your time, and look what you've done with it. The world has not become a better place with you in charge of it. I'm not saying all straight white dudes are bad people, of course. Some of my best friends are straight white dudes. I married one. But you know what he did on our first date? That man - who will be the first to admit that he is as straight and white and ape-brained as they come - asked me if he could kiss me. While sitting two feet away from me. He never touched me until he knew that I absolutely wanted to be touched by him. It wasn't unsexy, and it didn't take the fun out of it. But ultimately, it's why I married him. Because I knew he respected me enough to make absolutely sure I was cool with it, because he didn't want to fuck up the chance to be with me.

    But I'm digressing a little bit again. Getting back to the point, things are shifting again right now. Women are becoming more empowered. They're still trying to figure out just how many women participated in the Women's March in January 2017, but so far their best estimate is around 4.5 million. Taylor Swift kicked some serious ass on a radio DJ who thought he could get away with grabbing hers and proved that she is not just a pretty voice, she is a strong woman who demands respect. I wonder what will happen next. Maybe next we'll be ready for a president with a vagina, instead of one who likes to grab women by the vagina. #SophiaMiller2032 #beengroomingmydaughtersince1997

    The last time I wrote about sexual assault and harrassment, I couldn't curate a playlist. It just didn't seem right to set my own person humiliations to music. But this time things feel different. I guess I feel that not only am I part of a movement that is gaining ground, but we're growing bigger because even those who have never suffered - those who have been part of the problem in the past - are now joining with us, wanting to make things better in the future. So it seems like the perfect time to share a streaming #MeToo Playlist on Spotify featuring women artists with some incredibly fierce and empowering songs.

     I don't want to force it on you though. I'm just putting it out there, and hey, if you like what I'm puttin' down, think about picking it up and consenting to a good time for your ears!