Monday, December 3, 2018

Animal Intelligence (and Dinosaur Dumbness)

Last night Andrew and I had a discussion about how smart dinosaurs were, because married life is awesome.

If you've seen a Jurassic Park movie, then you probably assume they're at least smart enough to open doors and teach man ironic lessons about the dangers of tampering in God's domain.  But I own a lizard and she's as dumb as the rock she spends 99% of her time on.

Shout out to Domingo!

She is basically a carbon-based robot, operating on a series of reflexes firing through her dumb lizard brain.  Because she lacks a frontal lobe, she also lacks the ability to have complex emotions or advanced reasoning processes.


So I'm of the opinion that dinosaurs, which existed taxonomically between lizards and birds, were probably pretty dumb.

Yet Andrew points out that some birds are wickedly smart.  Who's to say there couldn't have been one species of dinosaur that grasped tool use, or developed self-awareness?  Could the fossil record have told us this?

More importantly, how does one even quantify intelligence?

Humans, always the center of our own universe, generally try to quantify it using the things we value.  Among these are language, tool use, and complex societal structures.


This makes parrots absolutely goddamn geniuses.  Parrots can use tools; they have language (including using distinctive noises to refer to other parrots; ie, they have names); they live in flocks with impressive social hierarchies.  Plus, a parrot is the only animal alive to have ever asked an existential question.  Alex the African Grey famously asked, "What color am I?"

Crows are smart enough to ask existential questions big enough to prompt existential crises.
No, but seriously, crows have been observably brilliant since the 2nd century.

You might point to chimps, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, or other apes as language-capable animals.  But no ape has ever asked a question.  It's worth noting, though, that through teaching apes sign language, we've discovered their capacity for metaphorial language, as well as a remarkable level of empathy that indicates fairly developed Theory of Mind.

Look no further for this than Koko the gorilla, who was famous for having a kitten named All Ball.  Koko was asked what she wanted for Christmas, and was offered a catalogue.  She pointed to a picture of a woman holding a kitten.  They got her a large toy kitten, which apparently enraged her; she signed "THAT RED" at the toy and continue to demand a kitten.  Out of curiosity, they offered her a litter of live kittens.  Koko picked out a kitten that she named All Ball (in the same way that "red" meant anger to her, "ball" meant "good") and with whom she gently played until All Ball's death six months later (she was hit by a car).

Watch this video of Koko learning of her kitten's death for maximum emotional whammies.

Although Koko was famous for her pets (she had several more kittens after All Ball), Koko was also remarkably good at language for a gorilla.  She could put together two words to form a third, to describe an item that she did not know the name of.  For example, she called a ring a "finger bracelet" and a mask an "eye hat."

 I once forgot the word for "fork" and called it a "food trident."

Koko was self-aware and could recognize herself in the mirror.   And Koko was capable of deception; when asked if she'd torn a sink out of the wall, she blamed her kitten.

"Me fine animal gorilla."  - actual Koko quote

Or take the gorilla Washoe, whose caretaker informed her that she (the caretaker) had miscarried.  Washoe had been angry at the caretaker for a long absence; after being informed that the caretaker had lost a baby, she signed "CRY," a gesture of sympathy all the more surprising because gorillas do not shed tears.  Like Koko, Washoe was capable of putting together two concepts to form a third; she signed duck as "water bird."  Like Koko, Washoe could look in a mirror and sign, "Me, Washoe."

Obviously, humans tend to underestimate animal intelligence overall; we put apes on a pedestal because they look like us and are more familiar, but scientists have found that there are other animals with more complex language than chimps who we never thought to try to communicate with.  Rats, elephants, and pigs all have some form of rudimentary language.  But elephants communicate using infrasound, and rats using ultrasound, so we never noticed.  Rats noticed us talking, though, and they can tell apart separate human languages.  And don't even get me started on whales and dolphins.  And what's more, elephants appear to have grammar, and orcas have pod-specific dialects to their language, indicating that the language is evolving.


Let's also not forget that elephants, at least, also have some understanding of their own mortality, something humans have been trying to teach gorillas for a while.


As far as tool use goes, it's not limited to birds or apes... or even vertebrates.  Octopi can and have used tools.  Also octopi, namely Paul the octopus, showed above-human capability in predicting World Cup outcomes.

So, getting back to dinosaurs.  Could they, like Paul, have predicted the outcome of 12 out of 14 soccer matches correctly?   Probably not.  The fossil records shows that most dinosaur brains more closely resembled lizards than birds, and that the World Cup wasn't around yet.  Measuring brain-to-body size ratio is a common shorthand for measuring intelligence, but there's more to it than that.  Earth's atmosphere used to have less oxygen and the brain is a famously oxygen-guzzling organ, meaning that dinosaurs, regardless of brain size, would never have been able to use those brains.

If you're disappointed, never fear.  Half of the Wikipedia article about dinosaur intelligence talks about fictional anthropomorphic intelligent dinosaurs and includes a horrifying picture.

 Don't remember this from ZooBooks...

In the end, Andrew asked me if it was within the realm of possibility that dinosaurs might have been more intelligent than we've given them credit for.  My belief?  Almost certainly.  Humans underestimate living animals all the time.  Dinosaurs are no exception.  But dinosaurs were unlikely to have ever reached the ability to ask an existential question, as Alex did, or contemplate themselves in a mirror, as Koko and Washoe could.

And having millions and millions of years to evolve did not mean advancement was inevitable; an animal that is perfect for its environment has no need to evolve.  Alligators are one such example of a dumb yet perfect animal; they are apex predators and very effective creatures, and Mother Nature prefers not to mess with success.  Alligators have been idiot murder logs for 8 million years.  Dinosaurs had three distinct periods during the Mesozoic era (four, if you include the paleozoic era) to build themselves spaceships, and did they?  No.

 Goddammit.

Early fossil records for humans shows our intellectual development over time, measured by the complexity of our tools and the organization of our society.  Ancient burial plots show a consciousness of death in the same way elephant graveyards do.

But even without finding crafted artifacts or self-aware gravesites to demonstrate ancient intelligence, we can examine biological remains and draw some conclusions about intelligence based on brain structure alone.  The small brain casing of dinosaur skulls implies a lack of a frontal lobe in dinosaurs, and that does not bode well for the "smart dinosaur" argument.   Paleo-neurology supports what I suspected all along: Dinosaurs were dumb.  I think we can let the fossil record speak for itself.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Rewriting History

We've all heard the phrase, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," or some similar variation.

(The original quote is, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," attributed to George Santayana in 1905. It was paraphrased by Winston Churchill in 1948 in a speech to the House of Commons: "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.")

The phrase makes a pretty big assumption, which is that the past is remembered correctly, and that the right lessons are taken from history.  But another phrase we're all familiar with is, "History is written by the winners."  (This quote is attributed to Dan Brown, who misattributed it as a paraphase of Napoleon's: "What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”  Napoleon never said that, though.  It was Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, who was born a century earlier.  Which just goes to show even historical fiction writers are condemned to repeat things incorrectly.)  (One could argue Dan Brown was being ironic by misquoting a quote about the malleability of history, but more likely, he didn't click on the second page of BrainyQuotes.com.)

And in Dan Brown's defense, researching shit on the internet is hard.

With Thanksgiving having come and gone, I recently learned some disturbing new history.  It seems like lately, people are all about re-assessing history.  Revisionism doesn't have to be bad, of course.  Hamilton is a fucking treasure but does hold some inaccuracies.  (For example, Angelica was already married when she met Hamilton, there are 25 Duel Commandments, not 10, and Lafayette's hip-hop mix tape was not nearly as fresh as it was portrayed.)

But there's a surprising amount of erroneous information not just in our musicals, but also in our history books, which I'd like to examine in today's post.

I first came to realize history books were not to be trusted in a high school AP class.  I, like most students, had been taught the myth of the wise, noble savage, the Native American who uses every part of the buffalo and cries when you throw a candy wrapper on the ground.

No one had mentioned that Native Americans would actually stampede entire herds of buffalo over cliffs as a means of slaughter.  This is a huge waste and, also, it's hard to use every part of a buffalo when it's been smashed into smithereens because you threw it off a 2,000 foot cliff.

The myth of the wise Native American has remained stuck in the modern American maw, in part because of social media.  If you're on Facebook, I can guarantee you've seen some picture of an Indian chief shaking his head at the foolish materialism of the suburban whites.  That picture was probably shared by your typical suburban white mom, a Susan with a kid named Braezzlynn who loves her wine and claims she's 1/18th Blackfoot or some shit.  

~nAtIvE aMeRiCaN pRoVeRb~
 
Hey Karen can't wait to see the kids on Saturday want to buy some essential oils? ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

 That sound you just heard?
That was 800 white suburban moms scrambling for their checkbooks 
to get the whole family matching Mindian sweatshirts. 
I'm sorry you had to see this.

This, perhaps more than anything, is something history failed to do: distinguish the tribes.  "Native American" is a huge, broad term, and saying that all Native Americans held the same cultural values or practices is doing a huge disservice to the individual tribes and nations.



That being said, it's easier to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day than to replace Colombus Day with Cherokee Chippewa Sioux Navajo Pawnee Apache and Like Two Hundred Others Day.  

Did you, as I did, craft cute little turkey and Pilgrim buckle hats, and participate in a play where the hapless Pilgrims were rescued by the generous Native Americans?  Total bullshit.  Plymouth Colony wasn't the first group of colonizers to attempt to settle North America; Roanoke Colony was an unmitigated disaster.  Plymouth Rock wasn't even the first successful colony.  (That honor goes to Jamestown.)

The local tribes were NOT fans of the Pilgrims.  The persistent myth of the Patuxet being friendly with the Pilgrims is pretty much entirely thanks to Squanto, who was captured by Thomas Hunt in 1614, sold into slavery in Spain, and returned in 1619 having developed a wicked case of Stolkholm Syndrome and converted to Christianity.  Squanto-- whose real name was Tisquantum-- might have been willing to teach the colonists about planting maize because he was just really fucking lonely.  See, when he returned to his tribe in 1619... his whole tribe was dead thanks to an epidemic brought to them by, wait for it... Thomas fucking Hunt and his European slave traders. 


This was the horrible discovery that I only made this year, which prompted this blog post: the smallpox blankets were on purpose.

I had always assumed that, since Germ Theory didn't rear its head until the late 1880s, the idiot Pilgrims had no idea that their blankets would make the local tribes sick.  Turns out, even though they did not know the cause, they knew perfectly well the consequences, and they were actively engaging in primitive biological warfare.


In fact, during the French and Indian War, the tokens given to the Shawnee were literally pilfered from a small pox ward, with Lord Amherst writing, “Could it not be contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians? We must, on this occasion, Use Every Stratagem in our power to Reduce them.”

Like most historical facts I've had to relearn, this one caused me a fair degree of distress.

(If it makes you feel any bettter-- and it shouldn't-- the Pilgrims were actually pretty terrible at germ warfare.  While they did actively try to give the Shawnee small pox during the French and Indian War, back in settlement times, they were far more likely to use poison or guns than blankets; smallpox is difficult to transmit using only fomites because the virus doesn't last long outside of the body, with over 90% of it breaking down within 24 hours.)

The last time I felt this way was during a discussion about Robert E. Lee.  Having gone to an elementary school in Virginia, I had been under the impression that he was a kind gentlemanly person, a sweet grandfatherly type who, while obviously on the wrong side of history, wasn't an inherently bad person.

Oh, boy, was I wrong.  Robert E. Lee was ruthless, cruel, and a total dick to his slaves.

Since this post is serious I will refrain from memes.  Mostly.

So why the reputation?  Turns out, it had everything to do with repairing the relationship between the North and South.  After the Civil War, restoration meant inviting Southern generals to the White House and shaking their hands and forcing a grin for the camera (or sketch artist... did they have cameras back then?)  Part of mending the nation was mending personal relationships between powerful political individuals... but the myths created by the diplomatic chess game that was the Restoration persisted and ended up being preached as fact.

I learned this in a Facebook conversation about what to do with the old Confederate statues.  I grew up next to Washington & Lee university, where Robert E. Lee is interred, which features a statue of him that I have fond childhood memories of.  When I asked for historical sources or evidence that Robert E. Lee was, in fact, terrible, my friends provided them, and I changed my opinion on the matter, feeling grateful for a non-judgemental interaction wherein I was corrected politely and without malice, for misinformation I was not responsible for.  Ideally, that's how every discussion should go, in my opinion.


This was literally down the block from my house.
I went to check on Google Maps if it was as close as I remember.  
Yep.  One-fifth of a mile... about a 5 minute walk.
I remember visiting it as a child; it felt like a hallowed place, not unlike a historical cathedral.

I understand now why the statue should perhaps not be publicly displayed.  But why not take these historical statues and put them in, say, a Civil War museum?

...because they're not historical at all.  This, too, is revisionist history.  The Civil War monuments of Confederate generals were mostly put up in the late 1800s and early 1900s, in the Jim Crow era the followed the 1870 amendment that allowed black people to vote.


Which really throws a big ol' monkey wrench into the cogs of the "Heritage, Not Hate" argument.  (In fact, only 11 of the estimated 1,500 were put up during or immediately after the Civil War; the vast majority were erected between 1900 and 1920, less than a century ago.)  (By the way, for all of his bad traits, I will point out that Robert E. Lee famously opposed Confederate monuments.)


All of these shocking historical revelations-- that Robert E. Lee was a mean person, that Civil War monuments aren't as old as people think they are, that Pilgrims were dicks, that Lafayette couldn't rap-- are evidence of a broader problem than mere historical revisionism.  Their persistence is evidence that people do not question what they are taught and that childhood lessons, even wrong ones, stick.  The solution?  For people to speak up when they see history being portrayed incorrectly (lookin' at you, Aunt Susan), and to open our minds to being changed in light of new evidence.

History is written by the winners.  Let's be winners, and write it ourselves... correctly, this time.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Opting out of the In-Laws

It's been a while since we've heard much about the in-laws.

That's probably because I have not seen much of them, lately.  Putting aside the fact that Andrew's family lives in Pittsburgh, when his mother visits every few months, I politely recuse myself from the situation.  That's because: 1) I don't see any point in subjecting myself to negativity, 2) I don't see any point in subjecting Gail, my mother-in-law, to my company, which she clearly dislikes.

It's been mostly win-win.  I had not seen her for well over a year (at least, not until last week), and that seemed to be working for us.  It allowed us to pretend that we were respectfully disinclined to force ourselves to undergo any awkward interactions with the other... but that we were at least capable.

Well, that all changed.

When the Fire Nation attacked.

I mentioned, briefly, in my last post, that Gail was in town the same weekend as LA Pup.  I was not thrilled that Andrew's attention was split between my competition and entertaining his mother, but I understood.  And Andrew, poor candid fool that he is, was more than happy to explain to his mother that he couldn't stay with her all night, as he had to go to the Bullet, a gay bar, to support his husband's gay leather dog contest.


Funnily, Gail is not exactly a prude.  She was the owner of a lingerie shop for decades and she enjoys the Savage Love podcast.  The husband of Dan Savage, Terry Miller, is a leatherman whose Instagram Gail follows.  So she's not exactly squeamish or naive.  No, the issue, ultimately, is me.  Not gays, not leather, not even human dog contests.  It's just... me.

Andrew asked me to come to a pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner the day after the contest.  I agreed after asking him if it really mattered to him.  (He said it did and he actively wanted me there.)

Red flags emerged immediately; the dinner was going to be held at Si's house.  Si is a friend of ours and I was at a loss for why we were having a family dinner at a friend's instead of Jack's residence, or Andrew's.  (Reminder for those just joining us: my mother-in-law, Gail, is the mother of Andrew, my husband, and his twin brother, Jack, who lives blocks away from Andrew and I.)  Even more confusingly, I discovered that Si has been invited to every Thanksgiving dinner for the last couple of years.  (Ones that I had not attended for reasons that will soon become obvious.)

Because dogs aren't allowed at the table?

We went to Si's house and I was immediately greeted by Gail's husband, Harry, who congratulated me on winning my contest.  Harry's a stand-up guy like that.  Gail ignored me, but that was okay.  We settled down to eat.

Over the course of the meal it became apparent that Gail was on a crusade to make me feel unwelcome.  She hyper-focused on Si, asking her all sorts of pleasant, normal questions to get to know her.  As if to say, "This is how I would treat my son or daughter in-law.  ...if I had one, which I don't."  Remember, Si is my friend, and I felt irritated that Si was being used as a sort of buffer or aide to ignore me.  It wasn't Si's fault and Si had not been asked to be part of the drama.

Worse, Andrew spent the whole meal trying, desperately, to get his mother to acknowledge me.  "Mom, did you notice Tony lost weight?" he asked at one point.  (Gail and I had pulled out our phones to log our calories... and were using the same app.)

"No, I didn't," she said curtly.  This was as close as she got to acknowledging me at all.

(To my credit, I had a brilliant save.  "Well, I'm wearing a baggy sweatshirt," I said.  Although, you know, if someone tells you they lost weight, at the very least you're supposed to say "Really?!" or "Oh, congratulations!")

He tried multiple times to engage the whole table in ice-breakers and little party games, but whenever it was my turn to talk, she turned to Si and began talking over me.  I took a hint and shut up, quietly focusing on eating my pie.  Andrew tried to force any sort of acknowledgement over and over, finding every opportunity to mention me and get a conversation going.  It was like watching someone try to lead a mule somewhere.

I made this handy graphic of what the meal was like.

As the night came to a close, Andrew came to stand by me, jaw clenched.  In a low voice, he informed me that he was going to insist that she say good-bye to me when she came to hug him.  That he needed her to say at least a few words to me, instead of cold shouldering me all night.

The opportunity never presented itself.  She hugged Si and then informed Andrew she was leaving.

"Mom.  Mom.  What the hell?  You're not going to hug me?" asked Andrew, aghast.

"...I already called the Uber," she said as she blustered out of the door.

Andrew's resolve crumpled into disappointment.  For the next twenty-four hours, he turned over the events of the meal, always arriving at the same shocked conclusion that his mother should have just missed the goddann Uber to hug him good-bye, as she was returning to Pittsburgh the next morning.  She had opted not to say good-bye to him rather than be forced into a confrontation with me.

Andrew called her, full of righteous fury, and told her she needed to get her shit together, because her behavior was unacceptable, and he knew she knew that, as she'd raised him with better manners than that, and that he hoped she could love him more than she hated me.


She tried her usual tactics: apologizing (but as usual, to Andrew, not me), then defending (she said I was "rude" and hadn't been talking to her), then simply saying how very uncomfortable I make her.  Andrew was having none of it; he told her, in no uncertain terms, that it was time to get over her discomfort, because we've been married over two years, and this sort of highschool mean-girl behavior is unbecoming in a woman of her age, upbringing, and social class.


He canceled his trip to Pittsburgh for Hannukah and, later in the week, canceled a trip to Tuscon to visit Charlotte (his father's wife) with Lily (his sister), after she said I wasn't welcome.   (In case you, the reader, are not convinced of Lily's general shitty attitude, you should also be aware that, when Andrew said he wanted to cultivate a positive relationship between her and I because, someday, he and I planned to have children, she said some... less than nice things about our future children.) (She had a two-year-old herself, who I have never met.)

The hardest part of this whole thing has really been watching Andrew struggle to navigate these waters.  My own family has had their rocky times (and that's putting it lightly) but they have always treated Andrew with respect (and that's putting it lightly; they actually fucking love Andrew).  Andrew has been shocked and hurt by his family's unwillingness to at least tolerate me, and on my end, I don't know how to help.  I can't make people like me.  I've only ever met Lily thrice; I have had no negative interactions with Gail in years and I feel like we ought to, out of a mutual love for Andrew, agree to bury the hatchet and treat each other nicely.  But apparently that's too tall an order.  And I'm left feeling powerless and a little guilty, because I don't want to be the source of any trouble, especially not for Andrew, who is my favorite person in the whole world.

 Favorite real person, I mean.

I don't know how or when these in-law issues will resolve.  They're somewhat disgusting in their stereotypical, clichรฉ way: the mean sister, the disapproving mother-in-law, the unwelcoming upper-class snobby Jewish family.  Ultimately, I think all I can do is remain impartial and let them work through whatever issues they have.  I can't be bothered with people who want to marinate in their own personal conflicts.


That being said, I hope this all comes to a close sooner than later.  Everything in my life is really coming together, and Andrew and I are happy.  Ours is a relationship that is fulfilling, sustainable, and mutually supportive... which should really be the ideal for any relationship, and the hope any in-law has for the partner of their child.  I thought that enough time had passed for us to be able to act cordial to each other and I was disappointed (but not surprised) by her behavior at dinner.  (Also, just as an aside, I think I was really cool with Andrew spending half of my title contest weekend entertaining her.) Maybe this was the catalyst we needed, though, to finally bring our problems to a head and resolve them.  These petty family feuds aren't sustainable and we (by which I mean Gail, mostly) need to get over them.  Eventually.

Right?

...right? 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Los Angeles Pup

This weekend was a BIG WIN for me!  And I mean literally!  (Spoilers.)

A few months ago, back in September, I signed up to be a contestant for LA Pup.  LA Pup is a title contest in its fourth year and I was asked to run the previous two years.  I declined because I was worried about being a token representative and didn't feel confident in my abilities to take on a huge role.  Being a titleholder isn't just a beauty pageant anymore.  It requires event organization, fundraising, and community outreach.  Even running in a contest requires a fair bit of work, including getting sponsorships for the travel fund.

 Here's the pack.

This year, I threw my hat into the ring.  I was aware that there was some fierce competition.  The previous titleholder, Rush, had set a high bar; last year's runner-up, Apollo, was running again with renewed vigor and was a favorite to win.  (Aside from having a lot of experience, Apollo is GORGEOUS.)

 Look at these champions!

The thing I was most worried about was sponsorships; after I got 14, I realized this was not a realistic anxiety.  The bigger thing I was worried about was the fantasy portion of the competition.

 That rubber dog hood alone is worth about $500.  Thanks, RubberDawg!

Larger title contests have multiple parts.  The night before the contest, there's a meet and greet, where the contestants are expected to interact with the judges in a casual setting.  The tradition for LA Pup is to include a roast of the outgoing contestant.  I felt rather proud of my set, a tight two, which included the zinger: "A lot of people don't know that Rush was in the Navy.  But we already know that most of the Navy has been in Rush."


I felt that the informal, inprov-y style of the meet n' greet was well-suited to my talents, which include not actually planning for anything and winging important moments of my life.  (See also: my wedding vows.)

 
This is the face / dog mask of a man who did not learn good study habits in college.

The day of the contest, there are several segments to the contest: the introduction of the contestants, a couple of questions (one "serious" and one "funny"), and a fantasy scene (ie, a performance).  In between, there are auctions and performances and awards and all sorts of other stuff.  It's a big thing.  And, before the contest with the whole audience watching, there's an interview with the judges, a more formal process than the meet n' greet.

Here's a group photo of the judges, producers, and winners.
Several international title holders.  
No pressure, though, these are only, like, pillars of the fuckin' community.

Now, I'm pretty good at thinking on my feet, but the fantasy is supposed to be planned out well in advance, and I slacked off in a big way, only committing it to paper about ten days prior.  There was no rehearsal.

As if my general anxiety wasn't enough, Andrew's mother was in town, which meant Andrew was not around for large portions of the contest.

 
"Don't worry, sweetie, I'll come to your gay leather dog show eventually."

The contestants go in the order of a random number draw, and I had drawn the last number.

I jokingly told the other contestants that my plan for going into the interview was to saunter in, shakes hands, introduce myself, spin the chair around like in Dead Poet's Society, and then throw up.  Funnily, I did do the chair-spin part.  (Protip: sitting in a chair backwards is a real crowd-pleaser.)  I didn't throw up, though, which I assume the judges were impressed by.

Although Andy wasn't present for most of the afternoon, 
some of my other very close friends / leather family were.
Including my Inland Empire family, all the way from the high desert!

Andrew showed up just as the contest was starting.  One contestant had dropped out earlier in the month, and another failed to show up due to a medical emergency, leaving only 6 of us.

 
 Back row: Volta (the emcee), Rush (LA Pup 2018), Dazzle (LA Pup 2017), and Zero (LA Pup 2016).
Front row: Apollo, Indyana, Flip, Rex, Faun, and me.

I started out strong.  My serious question was about mental health, which was an easy topic for me, considering all of my own personal demons and my (winning!) fight with them.  (Hey, remember this?)  I later found out that I was the only contestant to get full, perfect marks in any category, and it was in my answer.

I also scored some big points after sassing a drag queen.  Among the more nebulous categories to be judged are "personality" and "confidence."  It doesn't get much more confident than mouthing off to a queen.  (She asked me if she should read my question for me, or if I would like to read it myself.  "I mean, you can read it, if you really need more attention," I said.)

My funny question was not funny.  Fortunately, making shit funny is... sort of what I do.  The question was, "If you were stuck on a desert island, which judge would you want to be stranded with?"  As I said on stage, this is a real Sophie's Choice of a question.  I mean, you're asking me to single out a judge, for better or for worse.  Andrew said watching me answer it was like watching someone solve a Rubik's cube, because the task was not just to answer the question, but to make it amusing.

And then came the fantasy portion.  Oh, boy.  The fantasy portion.

Reader: "I had no idea that this shit was so serious, damn."

I had written out my fantasy less than two weeks before and shared it with only about six people, who unanimously agreed that they didn't quite get it.  This did not make me feel especially confident.  But 90% of a good performance is plowing on through it even if things go awry, so we barreled in with the devil-may-care attitude of an action movie hero who is supposed to be a lovable renegade but is really toeing that "douche" line in the sand.

Fortunately, the crowd devoured it.  In seeing it, it came out much better on paper.  The five-minute scene involves Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) meeting Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) and loudly and condescendingly explaining to him what puppy play is, to the tune of a musical number (aka, "Whatever It Takes," by Imagine Dragons).  At the end, it's revealed that Steve understood Tony's fetish all along, and he walks offstage with Deadpool.  A simple concept, one that showcased several of my main fantasies squashed together:
  • Steve Rogers is a leather daddy.
  • People are not only accepting of weird hobbies and interests, but actually understand and embrace them.
  • I got to have facial hair and sorta-kinda not look like the assistant manager of a Blockbuster.
My fantasy was largely designed to be funny and I was scared to do it after Apollo gave an insanely heartfelt and personal interpretive dance number that basically involved him bearing his heart and soul to the audience.  (Whereas mine was like, "haha, Marvel, you guys.")  But the Deadpool bit was really the punchline; he crept into the audience, eliciting giggles during the dance bit, which was okay as a standalone piece, but was really brought together by Deadpool arriving flagging orange.  (For those not in the know, us queers have a secret flag code.  No, really.  Orange is "I'm down for anything, baby.")

Alas, I had more still shots, 
but the person who took them deleted all of them, (or maybe Facebook did),
and I have not been able to get back into contact with them.

With my fantasy over (I had been shaking so hard onstage, I had some trouble with my wardrobe... probably the only time in the world that "wardrobe malfunction" referred to NOT poppin' out parts), I went backstage with a sigh of relief.  It was finally over.

Or so I thought.

Rush had some last-minute surprise awards and I got an award for LA Service Pup, 2019, an unexpected joy which I (very awkwardly) accepted.  It was a hefty piece and I was ready to go home, since winning awards of this nature are an indication that "you did good, kid, but didn't win."

"Thanks for the award but I gotta get back to my shift at 1989 Blockbuster,
before going home to a TV dinner and some Tom of Finland magazines."

But, to be a good sport, I joined my pack onstage for the final announcement of the winner.  Flip got second runner-up; then, Apollo got runner-up.

Apollo had been my favorite to win and I was suddenly uncertain.  I had fully intended to get runner-up.

In the audience, Jack turned to Andrew with a wide-eyed expression of "oh no..."

A moment later they were calling my name.

 

It felt surreal; I had been preparing to lose gracefully for weeks.  This was one of the only things I had truly prepared for.  (I'm a notoriously sore loser.)  I had not spent a lot of time thinking about winning, only so that, if it didn't happen, I wouldn't feel disappointed.

But I had won, all right.  I was-- I am-- LA Pup, 2019.

Ann rushed up on stage crying.

 Not all heroes wear capes.  
But I do.
Rush passed down his cape to me.
It is a legacy item that I will pass on to the next winner.



 Left to right: Matthew (producer), Apollo, me, Flip, Dan (producer).

 *airhorn noises*

The next day was a whirlwind of victory parties.  Well, it was really just one victory party, but I ended up going to multiple functions throughout the night.  Being a title holders means being seen and not slacking off.  I'm great the first one; the second one, uh, needs some improvement.

At the victory party, I got to mingle with the judges in a way that felt a little less formal than the meet n' greet; later, at night, I sat down with Rush to plan out my year.  As I told Andrew, my plans for the year wouldn't be vastly altered whether or not I won; there are events I throw every year, like Puppypalooza, which is basically Eukanuba but for people.  (Although arguably, Eukanuba is for people even when it's for dogs.)

 
The producer slapped together a palm flyer at 3 am the night before the party, 
having been awake for 72 hours.  
Now THAT is impressive!

Over the next twenty-four hours, I went through a whirlwind of emotions, settling on "overwhelmed" as the presiding one.

Actual footage of me at my victory party.

The outpouring of congratulations, love, support, and delight was more than I had fully prepared myself for, and at the end of the weekend, I could honestly say something that I rarely say: I felt humbled.

 Me n' some of my boys at the victory party.

Here's to a great year from your favorite piping hot mess of a dog/Iron Man mash-up!  I have events to produce, fundraisers to create, and conventions to attend.  My goal is to do that as any dog would: with enthusiasm and the hope that there's free food.