Monday, November 08, 2004


I don't generally consider myself a star-struck kind of person. You know the type - the ones who get so excited upon encountering a celebrity that their voice reaches a pitch normally reserved for pre-teen girls. The ones who have an alarmingly sizeable collection of autographs and photos. The ones who you fear may turn out to be stalkers. Not usually my thing.

Last Saturday, I had a gig with one of the bands I sing with. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a fundraiser for some private school in LA. Then, sometime around the third song of our first set, I noticed him. He sat at a table off to the side of the room. Dark glasses. Long braids. Unassuming, with a surprisingly small entourage. A bodyguard the size of what I can only imagine the abominable snowman would look like (only not quite as snowy white). Arguably one of the greatest musicians of our time. Stevie Wonder.

I had heard he might be there, but when reality set in and he was sitting before me, I froze. I never get nervous when I sing. I've met a few famous people in my life, and I always seem to hold it together pretty well. But this time it was different. Surely, he knows most of the songs we are playing. Surely, he will notice if I forget the lyrics or if I sing the slightest bit out of tune. Not usually things I worry about.

Despite all the self-induced pressure, I made it through the gig with only two minor mistakes. And he seemed to be enjoying the music, singing along and rolling his head the way he does. In the end, I was able to meet him and take a photograph. And I didn't turn into aforementioned psycho. He was kind, gracious, and surprisingly humble. It was a great honor to play for him, and an experience I will never forget.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

A Tribute to Dance Dance Revolution

Watching the kids in the arcades jumping around on the arrows, trying to make time with the music and the arrows on the screen, I always thought there wasn't a thing in this world that could get me to do this. But XBOX, in all their infinite wisdom, has created a way for me to experience the joys of aforementioned game in the comfort of my own home, without fear of public humiliation. For those of you not yet initiated into the cultish world of DDR, it is truly a marvelous thing. Allow me to explain...

With endless selections of clubified beats and helpful commentary, you jump and stomp on a floor pad, trying to snychronize the movements of your feet on the arrows to the arrows that come up on the screen. But don't be misled - it's not as simple as it may first appear. There are varying levels of difficulty, and, as Shannon and I learned last night, you are upgraded without warning to the next level when you master a song. The rhythms and combinations range from moderately challenging to absolutely impossible. If you are skilled enough to pass a song, you are scored and graded. This is the catch. You become addicted to increasing your score, to perfecting your moves, to beating the computer or your friend, depending on how you set it up to play. And then, just when you develop the slightest bit of confidence in your DDR abilities, you make the foolish decision to challenge your friends to a dance-off. (Beware, Emily and Mark - we are going to kick your arses.) So you see, it's a never-ending cycle that we get sucked into.

Therefore, to all of you at XBOX and Konami, we salute you. Thank you for bringing us endless hours of entertainment (and a great workout), and for being so gracious as to accept obscene amounts of money on our behalf.

Lessons in Forgiveness

I haven't always been a patient or forgiving person. I remember babysitting my four younger siblings, a duty I resented since, after all, it was never my choice to be the oldest, and losing my temper on a regrettably regular basis. It seems that two, if not all five, of us were always fighting when my parents returned from their date nights, which I now can appreciate how desperately they needed. Most often, my sister, the baby, was the unfortunate recipient of our constant torture. I remember thinking that I could never be a teacher, and I had serious doubts about my ability to be a mother someday.

And then I met Gracie. My four-year relationship with J had fallen apart two weeks prior. Having lost Bella only months before, my heartbreak and lonliness had caused nearly irreparable damage. So Shannon and I went to the shelter after work one day. I wasn't sure I was ready yet, but what would be the harm in looking, right?! Wrong - I should have known that I can never walk into a shelter without walking out with a new pet. There she was, in the same "featured pet" space that brought me my first fluffy bundle of joy, the death row cage. I had seen her picture on the web site, but she was different here. Her picture portrayed a large dog with a sad face, and here in front of me was a small puppy with a sweet face. I opened the door to say hello, and she climbed onto my lap and nuzzled against my chest. Check, please! I was a goner. That was November 1.

By December 5, I was ready to take her back. I realized I was in over my head. Buyer's remorse, I guess. She was not 1-1/2 like they told me - she was a puppy, still apparently teething and chewing on everything! That, coupled with the worst case of separation anxiety of any being on this planet, caused destruction approximating that of warfare and natural disasters. My roommate's couch, my roommate's phone (later I would learn that my roommate was mean to her, causing the chewing bias toward her things over mine), electrical cords, shoes, lingerie, a brand-new sweater, my down comforter, just to name a few of the unfortunate items left in ruins after encountering the unnatural strength of her young jaws.

I soon learned to puppy-proof the house, and we moved into our own apartment, away from the horrible roommate, and her behavior noticeably improved. Now that we've practiced our routine for two years, she is finally starting to trust me. She knows that I will always come back when I leave for work. She has learned the difference between the kennel and the shelter. She understands, for the most part, what things are off-limits. But every now and then, she inexplicably reverts to the terror that I first brought home. There is no rhyme or reason, no way to predict when and what she will do. And when it happens, she looks at me apologetically, with that same sad look from the photograph, a look that begs "do you still love me?" And I cave. And I realize that her snuggles on cold winter nights, and her excited bouncing when I first open my eyes in the morning after she patiently sits at the foot of my bed awaiting her walk, and her thankful kisses when I play with her, and her gentle paw on my leg as she sits quietly next to me when I am sad, and the way her whole body wags when she is happy, are worth more than anything I may ever have to replace.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Puppy Love

I remember the day I met Bella. It was April 28, 2001. J and I had decided to stop by the shelter, but we were just looking - we weren't ready for a pet just yet. She was the first one we saw - you know, the one in the "featured pet" cage, a euphemism that we would soon learn meant she was on death row. "Adopt me today," her card read, "I'm ready to go home." Her name was Brandy then. I remember how fluffy and soft and cute she was. I remember how sweet her disposition was when we let her out to walk and play a little. I remember how we decided maybe we were ready, and how we couldn't wait to take her home.

My family always had pets when I was growing up - dogs, cats, rabbits, even a chicken. But they were kept outside, not really a part of the family, just animals that we had to clean up after, feed, and often fear. But Bella was different. She was our baby, our little one-year-old sweetheart. And the first pet that was really mine.

She stayed in the house with us, even slept on our bed, we spoiled her lavishly, we loved her deeply, and she was perfect. I remember how quickly she was housebroken after a single accident. I remember never having to worry when we left her alone at home, and I remember crying the first time we left her at a kennel, seeing the sad look in her eyes as we went away. I remember how she hated baths, and how when her fur was wet, she was so small. I remember how we could never find a toy that she wanted to play with, and how there was nothing that she wouldn't eat. I remember trips to the bark park and the dog beach, and the thousands of compliments on our little social butterfly.

But most of all, I remember July 2, 2002. I remember waking up late and not taking her for a morning walk, a ritual we had never missed until that day. I remember wishing that she hadn't been so well-behaved that morning, waiting patiently until I awoke instead of jumping on me when the alarm went off. I remember rushing home to my apartment, without so much as a pat on her head or an "I love you," to get ready for a very important meeting. I remember the horror in J's face when I answered the door and he was screaming at me. I couldn't hear what he was saying. Maybe I didn't want to hear it. And then I remember running, falling to the cold, hard asphalt and disappearing into J's embrace. And my fists pounding on his chest. I remember looking through the thick wall of tears to see her lying on his car seat, motionless. And collapsing again. And how every time I looked, I hoped she would move. Breathe. Grin. Lick my face. Just one more time so I could say goodbye.

I remember her little ceremony - just J, his mother and me in a little room, Bella in her little box. I remember how perfect she looked - not like she had been hit by a car, but like she was sleeping. We laid her on the blanket that she first came home in, we gave her the one toy we finally got her to play with, we gave her one of her favorite treats, we gently placed a photo of the two of us in the box. It was quiet in that little room, just like she always was.

But now the flowers on her grave are wilting. The photo on her headstone is fading. The lines in the grass are long gone. Her face is blurring in our minds, sharpened again only by photographs that never did her personality justice. We see her in our dreams. We remember her only in our hearts.