Sunday, September 29, 2013

Best and Worst of September

Well, September was in like a lamb and out like a lion and it's just about time to wake up Greenday.

So what have I been up to?

With detox going moderately well I took up a few crafts, including croquet (which I haven't done in years), painting (just finished a tea box; picture to come), and setting up a terrarium (an installation piece I call “Dry,” featuring a mini-ecosystem that including blooming baby toes, hedgehog cacti, a hermit crab, and a brown praying mantis).

 You can see him on the top.

Things at work are going better than ever. I am to be moved to the other campus of USC sometime this year, which is much closer to my house, will let me bike to work, and will let me have lunch with Jack and Andrew, as well as a few friends I've made there, like Christina. It will also put me closer to AA meetings if I ever feel like subjecting myself to torture/free coffee.

About two weeks ago, though, I got a bit of a scare. Esther (a co-worker) came and found me and said Bruce (supervisor) wanted me. I found Bruce and he asked if I had plans for the weekend. I immediately said no, because I didn't and also because I assumed he was going to ask me to come in over the weekend.

“No, I mean like, in the evening,” he said.

“Er, no,” I said.

“Ramiro wants you to call him,” he said. “Do you have his cell? Do it somewhere private.” Now, Ramiro is Bruce's supervisor. So, so far all I know is that the “Big Boss” wants me to call him, in private, and somehow my Saturday evening is involved. My thoughts were that either things were about to get weird or that I was going to be fired or something. I was in a huge state of panic.

I called Ramiro and he informed me he had a dentist appointment, which seemed like a weird way for him to start the conversation. Then he explained he had 4 Dodgers tickets he couldn't use and asked if I'd like them.

[Pictures to come.]

I was so thrilled by the offer and so excited to take the twins out, and it just completely made my day. Ramiro keeps surprising me with what an awesome boss he is. The reason for the conversation being private? He didn't want anyone to have hurt feelings about not getting tickets. On top of that, Einstein's Bagels fucked up my order so bad they gave me an entire meal free. So all in all I was feeling pretty peppy.

The next week Andrew went to San Francisco for a conference, which would have sucked mega shit dicks in hell forever, if not for the fact that it meant Jack stayed with me that week. I was able to stay mostly sober (lapsed Thursday) but overall came through it well and had a nice time. At the end of the week, Jack caught a cold. He offered to leave but I preferred his company even with the chance of infection.

By Sunday I'd caught it full-on and was wheezing up a storm. Monday morning I barely made it to my car to get to work, and when I did get to work, Bruce sent me home since I clearly couldn't breathe. I asked Andrew to take me to the emergency room, where you get pretty good service if you carve “can't breathe” in shaky letters on the admittance paperwork. I was transferred from the ER to the Marina Del Rey hospital and was there until late Wednesday evening. The whole thing passed like a lucid dream because my blood's oxygen saturation was so low. I have vague memories of the food being terrible, the nurse at one point leaving a sharp in my bed (yeah), and getting the worst IV of all time in the back of my hand. (She was literally trying to force it into the vein and I ended up redoing it after she left.) Jack and Andrew stayed with me in the hospital and that was really the only good part. Chest x-rays determined my left lung had turned into SpongeBob SquarePants and was swimming more than breathing.   Back in the day they'd tell you you had consumption and send you back out to sweep the chimneys, but since this is California twenty-thirteen, a million different kinds of antibiotics, vaccines, and steroids ensued to prevent further infection and swelling.  Thank God for insurance; the whole she-bang only set us back about $600.

SpongeBob Lung can costs tens of thousands without it.

You'd think, after 25 years of breathing, my body would have figured it out by now, but no.

So anyway, Jack didn't get to see my discharge from the hospital since he had to get a flight to Pittsburgh. See, the twins' older sister got married Saturday, and the twins had planned to leave Wednesday. But with me in the hospital, Andrew decided to take a later flight (Thursday night). He called to let his sister know first, and she said, “Don't even bother coming.” But she's pretty emotional and it's her wedding so I can sort of understand where she's coming from. Andrew called his mother next. 

Here pictured socialising with her friends.

His mother, hearing the news, immediately said, “Oh my God that's terrible. Is she going to be okay? Is there anything I can do?”

Ha, ha. Just kidding. She accused me of being lying, scheming, and manipulative. She told Andrew if he didn't come to the wedding (something he never even considered; he was just going to be delayed a day) that it would do “irreparable harm to the family.” Because people totally go into the hospital and fake pneumonia to ruin their boyfriend's sister's wedding for some reason.

Andrew went off on her, only after I told him to. I'm sick of how he's always saying that she'll come around and that she'll learn the error of her ways with time and actions speak louder than words and so on and so forth. Just once I want him to get angry for me, and he was barely able to do it this time. His mother is one of the most paranoid, cruel people I've ever met and I've never done a thing to her; I think Andrew would rather pretend she's just confused than admit and confront reality. The reason she gets away with this sort of shit is that he and Jack basically allow it and never challenge her. My Aunt Marianne warned me about Jewish boys and their mothers, which seemed a little racist at the time and so far has been nothing but Gospel truth. (See how I made religion the theme of that last sentence there? ...writing!)

Anyway, Andrew got on his flight and went to the wedding. I got left at home since I wasn't invited. Sometimes I feel really disconnected from Andrew and Jack. They have this “real” family in Pittsburgh, all these friends and roots, this whole backstory, and they regularly check in and I'm so removed from that. If I were part of it I wouldn't mind, but I'm not; it's like I live in a fantasy world. Their fantasy world. For me, it's reality and I can't escape it. For them, once or twice a year, they jet off to Pittsburgh and wear nice clothes and drink champagne and dance all night with people who love them, and I cease to exist. I just... don't know what her problem is. She's as tethered to her bigotry and hatefulness as I am to this stupid oxygen tank.

Me: Artist's depiction.

I'm still off work which is just killing me because I love work and I feel especially guilty since I JUST got informed about moving up to quails on the other campus, not to mention Ramiro's generosity and the raise that comes with getting ALAT certified.

In other news, Carlisle had 2 seizures this week, so we're upping his phenylbarbitol.  Not sure whether it was stress or just the good ol' competitive spirit; he's so used to being the sickest one in this house that it must have been a real blow to his pride when I came home with tubes in my nose.

"Oh, so it's a sick-off you want, is it?  ...I'm gonna go get my game ears on."

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Hullo, Blog.  Today is day 4 of sobriety and so far my overwhelming emotion is one of intense ennui.

 It tires you out, like treading water.

Last weekend was magnificent, Blog, and for just a few days the world was a shiny Christmas bauble, rotating slowly on a pine street, reflecting a cozy fire in the hearth.  I wish I could go more into it but I won't because there are some things I just can't write on a public blog.  But since then things had been going well and I felt ready to tackle this detox thing, but now I'm discovering there are too many hours in the day and I'm so intensely bored.  I put together a terrarium yesterday with Jack.  My life seems sterile, like a play I'm acting in, where nothing really matters because it's all pretend and make-believe.  I think I need to talk to someone or maybe just get a second job to occupy my time.  Maybe things will get better the longer I'm sober, but so far they haven't.  So far, I'm just reminded why I drink, because I'm bored, and when I drink, colour seeps back into the world, if only for a little while.  Mind you, Blog, I'm not sad, just tired and... well, bored.  But it's a weary boredom, not a nothing-to-do boredom so much as a why-bother-doing boredom.

On Tuesday I made a new friend.  Anita was supposed to come over this weekend but didn't.  Anita, Jay, Jack, Andrew, and I went camping about two weeks ago.

I don't understand how a person can go through all the motions of being happy and still feel so empty.  I have a very supportive pair of friends (Jack and Andy), a nice home; I'm financially secure; I have a job I love, a car, hobbies, so on and so forth, but I still feel so hollow, as if you might find a ribbon on me and discovered I'm a laced-up doll with nothing at all inside, cheaply manufactured and inanimate.  Last weekend I felt alive.  Now I don't again.  Sometimes I think I know what's missing and I feel like it's so distant and unattainable I can't do anything but type emo blog posts about it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I start detox tomorrow and I'm scared.

Rosh hashana tova!

Enjoy my drunken ramblings, to be followed by detox ramblings!  (Oh, alcohol.  We do have fun, don't we?)

I start tomorrow.  (Detox, not rambling.)  (I'm doing this for me, for Jack, for Andrew, for the future, and above all, for the world.  Enough is enough.  I refuse to be the mess I am when I can contribute to the world instead of merely occupying it.)


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Grump Post Time! (In Which the Author Resents her Friends who Most Certainly Don't Deserve It)

Again, no updates.  Sorry, blog.  I try not to make resentful posts, but here you go:

The twins' mother visited, as you know.

Here pictured pretending to like my dogs even though I know perfectly well what she thinks of them, and me:
that we would make lovely evening gloves, if only she had more of us.

She was about as good as she ever gets.  A few little snippy comments, here and there, but overall pleasant.  All the same, my drinking went through the roof and hasn't yet gone down, and I'm worried.

The last month has been, well, everything it's supposed to have been.  Hanging out with my friends.  Camping trips, beach visits.  Museums and gardens and exercising with the dogs.  Work is fine, too.

But I'm not happy, Blog.  I don't know why.  I drink too much, every day.  I feel anxiety bloom in the pit of my stomach and well into my throat.

And the only reason I'm writing now is to keep you updated, keep you posted, and because my friend Tom has begun a blog and posts his updates on FaceBook and it reminded me of how badly I neglect you, and I felt bad for that.

But I have to say I'm annoyed at Tom, too.  Early on, when I knew Tom, I was in awe of him.  He seemed like the smartest, deepest person on the planet.  But now I feel differently.  His current thing is that he's walking across the country.  His blog has a "donate" button, which makes me angry.  And why's he doing this, anyway?  Tom is a restless spirit who creates his own prisons and then whinges about how restless he feels.  Him, with a home, job, family, and loads of friends.  He's not solving his problems.  He's running away from them and hoping they'll dissipate while he's off dicking his way across the country.  You ought never run away from anything, only towards better things, in my opinion.

But I think this represents how I feel about everyone.  I feel like the world has lost its shine.  I feel like the average person no longer interests me, only bothers me with what seem like superficial emotions and problems.  And I resent myself even more, then, because my problems have ended.  I won.  It's over.  I came out ahead in the war I waged, and now I have everything I ever wanted, and even now I can't claim to be happy.  I look at things through burned-out eyes and ask, was any of it worth it?  I did what I did to be happy and I don't feel happy and I don't feel anything else.  I lack sympathy toward everyone, and my world has shrunk to the home I can get drunk at peace in and the two people in the world I can do it with, who will take care of me, who I still have feelings for, but wish I didn't.

*cue sad Disney music*  
*so emo*
Thanks for letting me get that out, Blog.  I promise I'll bring back some cheer and humour next time.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What I've Been Up To, What I've Thought Up, and How It All Relates to Our Misunderstood Friend, Social Anxiety

Well, I haven't updated in a while because we're just been up to too much.  Andrew is a pretty active person and sometimes I find it hard to keep up with him.  In the last month, we've been to Masquerade Ball...

 ...and diving...

...and hiking...

I call this one "Seamus Scaring the Shit out of Mommy."
 These little girls were very polite about asking to pet my dogs.
 I asked the littlest one if she'd like to hold Carlisle.
 She did a pretty good job!
Carlisle will never forgive me for betraying his trust.

...not to mention to a half-dozen other outings.

Like the Venice Beach Freak Show.  Actually, that one was my idea.

And the truth is. I just cannot keep up with him.  Being out and about with the twins is fine, but lately leaving the house at all seems like a chore, and going to dinner parties and visiting people all the time is really pushing the limits of what I'm comfortable with.  (Excuse the poor grammar.)  The only social interaction I feel like I really need is the 50+ hours a week I spend at work, combined with outdoor activities we three do.  I don't need more than that.  Actually I've been developing a touch of social anxiety.

What does social anxiety feel like?  It starts in your throat and your heart.  Your heart is pounding and you can't catch your breath.  Your muscles tense, but feel liquified at the same time, and you no longer trust them to work properly.  Your bowels gets a hollow, hungry feeling, a dropping sensation like a fall, but one that doesn't end.  Your mouth is too wet and too dry at the same time, and that lump that rose into your throat is expanding and cutting off your air, and you feel suddenly like just beyond your vision is something with impossibly long fingers that wants to get you.  You want to scream but that lump is still there, silencing you, and you ignore your jelly legs and your taut jaw and you smile and get another drink.  That's social anxiety.

I guess there are a lot of things I can blame for causing this.  There's Jenny, for one thing.  I thought that had been resolved, but then Jenny started calling up Andrew again and asking to go out.  Mind you, just the two of them!  Of course, Jack was welcome, also.  But not me.  I had an anti-invitation.  Andrew didn't see anything wrong with hanging out exclusively with his ex-girlfriend who still likes him and went out with her a couple times before I finally was like, fuck this shit.  He's in a relationship with me and needs to put my feelings first, not hers. If Jenny would rather never see Andrew again than tolerate my presence (or even just extend a friendly invitation; I might not even want to go!) then I think she's a pretty shit friend.  I feel like she used her "hurt feelings" and frailty in a very manipulative way, a way that made both me and Andy feel bad.  I felt awful for being excluded and Andrew felt awful for excluding me but we went against that for her sake, which is nutso, as she isn't a member of our relationship (thank God).

Then you combine that ridiculous drama with the fact that I'm in a new places, meeting new people, with no real friends of my own yet, except maybe Ted, who I've hung out with a couple times and who is damned awesome.  I'm very in friend with Ted right now.  He, too, likes comic books and superhero movies, and he invited us to a pool party at his place and we went and had a swimming time (pun intended).

And then on top of all that, we have Andrew's mother visiting this week!

Pictured here plotting Snow White's death.

Andrew's mother and I haven't interacted much since she kicked me out of her house a couple years ago, unless you count her being rude to me the day after the twins' dad's funeral.  (Classy!)  I'm not looking forward to seeing her again because she always gets snippy and impolite to me, but always when the twins are in another room.  It seems very intentional.  Ideally, she and Jenny could hook up and spend the five days she'll be here complaining about me, thereby leaving me and Andrew alone to get in some more hiking.

So having all these conflicts made me come up with a couple great ideas, as follows:

A Bar "Where Justice is Served"

Concept: A bar where all the bartenders and waitstaff wear black shirts that read "moderator" on them.  If two people have a conflict/argument/friendly disagreement, then they get a set amount of time to present their case (timed with a tiny sand hourglass, I like to imagine).  The barkeep (an unbiased third party) then chooses the winner based on the cases, and presents the loser with the cheque.  At the bar, you get 2 minutes, and at tables, 5.  Reservations required for peak hours.  You can "appeal" decisions to other bartenders as you like.  This combines people's love of complaining, arguing, sharing shit with bartenders, alcohol, friendly competition, and gimmicks.  It also encourages people to bring their friends to Arbitration, and to come during non-peak hours, when the barkeeps might give you additional time to present your case if they're not busy.

Inspired By:  Noticing how everyone I explained the Jenny conflict to sided with me and wishing I had a platform to argue with him on.  Also, wanting to drink over the argument and have an unbiased third party back me up.

"Moving On"
A Movie about a Women Whose Husband Is a Ghost But Is Less Stupid Than It Sounds

Concept: What if a woman's husband died and returned as a ghost to haunt her because he can't move on until he's sure she's going to be okay without him?  Only she can see him.  Unfortunately, she can't move on because she can still interact with him.  Everyone around her insists she should move on and find a new partner, including her dead partner, but she simply can't get over him while he's there, but he can't move on until she has. 

Inspired By: I still love Jack, a lot.  We three have a solid understanding of our relationships and boundaries, and that understanding is resting on a solid rock of friendship, but the thing is, it still hurts after all these years.  Unlike so many other people, I've been given a second chance (Andrew), but I'm scared to give it my all because I can't go through a second heartbreak after the first one.  We're getting very serious, him and I, and I have a vague idea that I might end up in a completely normal, happy, fulfilling life, which I'm both eager for and terrified of.  The whole situation is really beyond what they teach you in school about Healthy Relationships.  (What they teach you is, specifically, nothing.  Fortunately, if you get too confused, you can always go to Arbitration.)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Today I had a strange and morbid thought.

Babies are usually bald and as they grow, so does their hair.  A person with long hair has been growing it out for a long time; you can tell how long by the length.

What if it worked in reverse?

What if you were born with a full head of hair and it grew inwards very slowly, and you could tell how long a person would live by the length of their hair?

"We don't care if it's a boy or girl, as long as it's got hair!" they'd joke.

If a baby were born with very long hair, everyone would congratulate the parents and pat them on the back, but if a baby was born with very short hair or none at all...

"Jim had a baby last week," one coworker would murmur to another by the water cooler, "Didn't have any hair."

"Oh, poor Jim," they'd say sympathetically.  "I'll have my wife bring them over a casserole... that must be so hard."

"Give his wife my condelences," says the first co-worker.

"Of course.  God, I can't even imagine.  All my children had hair down to their knees."

Weird, I know, but I felt like this was a cool idea.  Someone ought to make a flash animation or a short story about this.  (Not it!)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day-to-Day in Sunny L.A.

Not updating your blog is a bit of a vicious cycle... you don't want to, but the longer you leave it, the more you have to say, and a more daunting task it is.

The way to break the cycle is through Resolve, which is a type of wine.


Happily, I can't say I have too too much to say. The last month has been a whole lot of just living in Los Angeles, a place where the air shimmers like fool's gold and smells like fried chicken. A place like that is easy to live in, as long as you don't take it too seriously. This is probably why everyone buys such tiny, ridiculous dogs.  Not that I should talk; we have a rabbit.

And there's a guy who shops at Ralph's who has a parrot named Taco.  Cause, you know, Los Angeles.

Undaunted by this city's eccentricities, I've been taking care of business lately; since my work insurance has taken effect, I've set up optometry, dentist, and ob/gyn appointments, which is probably more than you wanted to know. Today I got new glasses! 

"Please, no photography." 
Funny incidental story: Went to a bar, ordered food.  Accidentally took the delivery guy's pen.  Ran out of the bar to return it and was ushered back in by the bouncer, who I'd met earlier this evening.  Got asked by someone in line for the bar what I'd "been in."  In Los Angeles, it's more likely that you're famous than simply nice.

Fernando continues to be a bit of a prick. Truth be told I think he might have Intermittant Explosive Disorder, because he's a nice guy, generally, but when he gets mad, there's no real control; he's just really reactive, over every little thing. If the dog gets out, he goes berserk. Never mind that it was an accident; he's going to come over, yelling his head off, threatening us, et cetera. This puts us in a bad position: do we beat up a crazy old man with a heart condition or let him flail at us while we shrug comically to each other and wait for the laugh track to play? So far, I always manage to talk him down, and in a way, it's nice for me (the reactive one) to be challenged to be put in that position while Andrew (the pacifist) gets provoked. Still, we've discussed moving, because we shouldn't have to worry about being yelled at every month. There doesn't seem to be anything we can do to appease him and I think the real reason he dislikes us is for three factors we can't control: we're young, and we're white, and we have dogs. (He's a cat person.)

Never have an Otherkin neighbour... they hate it when you throw parties on weekends.

Other than Fernando, my commitment to a drama-free life is panning out well. Jenny has decided to butt out forever, and while I feel guilty that Andrew's lost a friend, I'm also aware that it was not my decision, or his, but hers. I haven't hung out with Brandon since he went Full Fernando on me, which is alright, as I've been socialising a lot at work and also have made a new friend, Ted. I met Ted online and he's 1) not a serial killer, 2) also recently relocated and looking for friends, 3) clever and quippy, and 4) strongly opinionated on comic books.

You might say he makes a lot of boners.

Aside from that I've been doing a fair share of socialising at home. getting screamed at by Fernando.

Jack and I are doing well though I'm worried our relationship hasn't quite been repaired since our fight. This is exacerbated by the fact that Jack hangs out with Brandon a lot and I just can't respect Brandon anymore. He is not part of my new drama-free life. Andrew and I, however, are doing better than ever. Andrew's a great person to emulate if you're going for low drama because he's so good at being positive. Speaking of J&A, the twins' birthday was last month and I took them out to Medieval Times.

And for my birthday, Jack got me Whipped Lightning.

He couldn't resist doing a "Blue Steel" look for the camera.

So if you've never been to Medieval Times in Los Angeles, go, because their princess (“Catalina”) has an inexplicable valley girl accent so thick it could be cut like butter if butter weren't so super, like, awful for your butt. “Catalina” was matched only by the Black Knight, who was like, dude, totally not cool, man. 

The three of us also went camping last weekend in Cooper's Canyon, just outside of Pasadena. Cooper's Canyon is a picturesque place of boulders, sands, soaring pines, and a sky so blue you wish you could drink it. 

I much prefer hanging out with just them (and sometimes Ted) than others. We went to a pool party last month, for example, with one of Jack's friends, Anita, and it was dreadful. All of them were strangely immature, even the 40-yr-old guy who was dressed like a pirate but also in a kilt (a Scottish pirate?) and thought it was okay to hang out with all of the kids in their shitty apartment where the main decoration on the walls were anime posters. It was... bafflingly. It was something of a reminder that Jack,while the same age as Andrew, is so much more immature than him and at a different (lower) level in this video game we call life. Personally I'm getting comfortable with being an adult and balancing my chequebook and going to bed early and figuring out what my mortgage will be when I buy a house, and I'm less and less willing to hang out with people who are not at that level.

"That Level" here refers to a bar in Los Angeles.

But seriously, example: 16-yr-olds. Andrew's cousin (Heather) and her best friend (Dylan) came and stayed with us last month, and while they were alright, I couldn't get over the idea that their mother had sent them across the country alone for a mini-vacation. They weren't particularly great guests: didn't offer to help with dishes, didn't offer to pay for dinner when we went out, left an ENORMOUS mess when they left.

The kind of mess normally only made when yuppie assholes who are texting while driving slam their SUVs into fire hydrants.  In Los Angeles, the nicer the car, the more of a danger the driver is.  This happened last month, about six blocks over.  This month, all the fire hydrants are okay, although someone got shot on my block two days ago and the crime scene investigation was phenomenally involved.  Lots of cops and yellow tape and all that, just like on telly!  The coroner was wearing brown slacks with a grey suit, indicting that he either dressed poorly because he works with dead people, or vice versa, or perhaps is actually super scared of death and constantly requires brown pants.  
Having people visiting was hard because of my social anxiety, compounded by the fact that after working a 10-hr. day I don't want to come home to entertain anyone or show them about a city I don't know well yet. Also Andrew's family in general makes me uneasy ever since his mother had a meltdown a few years ago and kicked me out of her house and has taken ever opportunity since to be really rude to me. The worst part, though, with having the kids around, was that I couldn't cut loose and do any of the things I normally do when I get home from work: take off my shirt and bra, uncork a bottle of wine, et cetera.

Speaking of drinks, we went to a bar last month and tried an Old Spanish, which combines tonic water and riesling with a few jumbo green olives. Shockingly... not terrible. Mind you, I don't want you to get the impression we do nothing but go to bars. We went to Ikea recently, which was alright but I was somewhat disappointed because everyone had set the bar so high.

Jack, for example, lost his shit over these coasters, which were made of 40% recycled material and 60% Swedish horse meat.

We got picture frames and hung up some pictures about the house, including Carlisle's “certificate of bravery,” which he got from his last surgery, and a series of 6 drawings Jack did of us three and the dogs hanging out together.

In closing news as temperatures continue to climb, we got Seamus got a haircut.

Before: The dog who loves unconditionally and drools uncontrollably.  He leaves drool-hearts frequently, which is endearingly gross.

After: The poster boy for shelter dogs everywhere.  "Consider adopting your new best friend TODAY!"  ^_^

(This is what prolonged living in California does to you... MAKE OVER!)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Working in an Animal Research Lab: My Perspective

Today I'd like to tell you a bit about my work, in part because I think I have a pretty unique perceptive on a hot-button issue, and also because I feel rather proud of myself for getting my career off the ground.  In an economy where everyone bitches constantly about unemployment, it only took me three months and ridiculous tenacity to get my dream job.


Mind you, I haven't updated in a while because I don't feel like I have much to say but I don't want to disappoint my adoring readership (which, based on my IP tracker, is a combination of my boyfriend and my overly nosey parents repeated reloading my page.) (Hi Mom.  Hi Dad.  Just a friendly reminder: Don't read this blog if you don't feel like getting upset, and let's face it, you're going to find reasons to get upset.  Please don't use my own words against me.)

So things are going exceptionally well here in California.  Andrew and I painted the mailbox (robin's egg blue with a white fleur-de-lis... pictures to come, I'm quiet proud of it) and planted a cactus garden, and went rock climbing last weekend at the Malibu State Creek.  We took Carlisle because why not; he and I went swimming down a canyon because I didn't trust him on the traverse (you have to climb a vertical ledge to get to the climbing site), but on the way back we just carried him in a backpack because he was tired.

Also, we've really managed to resolve things with our grumpy neighbour, Fernando.  Turns out that putting your enormous pet rabbit in a floral dress harness and walking her about the neighbourhood is a fantastic way to engage your neighbours in friendly conversation.  And, as far as Jenny goes, she's finally agreed to stop bugging us, which is nice, because getting bitchy letters in the mail every week was getting to be old.

I attribute most of the good things in my life right now to my gainful employment.  They say that money doesn't buy happiness, but what it does buy is security, and it's very difficult to be happy if you don't feel secure.  Also it's regulated my sleep cycle, my eating, and my drinking, which is doing wonders for my health, although my generous benefits package has probably contributed on that front as well.

"Nine out of ten doctors said, 'Who is this?  Why are you calling so late?'"

My job (and I hope maybe career?) is as an Animal Technician, which makes it sound like I manipulate tiny animal robots but is actually less interesting.

Could've put a clip of Flipsy from the Simpsons here, or Robopuppy from Futurama, but instead watch this ketchip robot.  I laugh every time at this.

My job has three major components: directly working with animals, cleaning their poo off of everything, and then doing some very light paperwork and communication.

An average day begins for me at 5:35 am, when I leave the house to get to work at 6.  Although I don't think of myself as a morning person, the truth is, I am.  Once I'm out of bed I enjoy getting up early, I enjoy putting on a cardigan and walking the dogs in the cool morning air, and I enjoy driving on an uncrowded freeway toward the Los Angeles skyline, lit up like a Christmas tree and crowned in a smog-blurred sunrise.  I also like the K-Earth 101 morning segment "Dude's Little Joke of the Day," which comes on a 5:40 am when the city is just to my left (right after the exit for the 60 to Pomona).

Announcer: It's time for Dude's little surfer joke of the day.
Dude: HEEELLLLOOOOO, everybody!
[prattling for 5 seconds]
Dude: What do you call a camel without a hump?
Announcer (sort of condescendingly): What do you call a camel without a hump?
Dude: ...HUMPFREY.
Announcer (groaning): Duuuude.
Dude (laughing): Ha-ha, dude.

...only in California.

Anyway, I get into work and punch in at 5:55 on the dot, and immediately change into scrubs and a bunch of protective gear.  Think shoe covers (blue), hair covers (white), a disposable gown (yellow), a respirator mask (blue but not the same as the shoe covers), and gloves (purple or tan).  The scrubs are red.  I hope that nightmare colour combos aren't distressing to animals because otherwise we have a serious confounding factor in all of the research., you know, whoa, man.

The facility ("vivarium") is in a secured basement, which you need a keycard to get into, and move around in.  It's a very nice clinical setting, rather like a high-tech Avengers movie where maybe they're developing something awesome.  Oh wait.  They totally are.  Like the artificial retina that can make blind people see.

Behind closed doors, each locked (you need a real key in addition to your keycard) are the animals.  Most rooms are just racks with self-contained units of mice or rats, up to 70 cages on each side of the rack.  Most of them aren't isolated; they like to have buddies in there with them.  And yes, they have toys; mice get little fluff squares to rip up and make nests with, and the rats have tubes and pipes to play in.  The racks are hooked up to air and water so the animals have controlled air flow, temperature, humidity, fresh water, et cetera.  They're like condominiums, in a way.  Aside from the racks, most rooms only have a hood, which you need to use if you're going to change cages or pull out mice to examine them.

In the mornings, I go to the rooms I'm responsible for and either change cages (hundreds and hundreds; mice get changed weekly and rats biweekly) or just check the mice to make sure they have food and are doing okay.  I have to report overcrowded cages, separate mice that have been fighting, report any sickness, injuries, new litters (baby mice look like meat jellybeans), and change flooded cages.  (If you ever change a rack, occasionally one or two water valves will leak.  Since the mice get checked at least every 24 hours, they won't drown, but they will be soggy and grumpy and sometimes we'll put them on a heater to fluff them out and make them feel better.)

I found this picture of a mouse on a floaty on a page titled "The Benefits of Astaxanthin for Endurance and Fat Loss."  Apparently flooding mouse cages are a big problem in other labs as well.

After checking on my mice (or rats; I have about 33 cages of rats) (we have all sorts of animals but currently I only work with rodents; the vast, vast, vast majority of our vivarium is rodents), I clean the rooms and fill out some paperwork.  How many were dead, injured, sick?  Is everyone okay?  Most days, everything is fine.  The most common injuries I see are dermatitis, usually caused my excessive barbering (when a dominant mouse or rat chews hair off the submissives).  I e-mail both vets and contact people to let them know if I found anything off or needed to move an animal.

The second half of my day is cleaning.  The facility's core is an elaborate assembly-line-type washroom.  Well, two rooms.  One is "dirty" and the other is "clean."  Cages go in one room, are loaded on a conveyor belt, and move to the other side, clean, where we put bedding and toys in and then autoclave them for good measure, then put them away for the next time we need them.  It seems like a little bit of a laugh that I needed a college degree to scrap poo off of cages, but hey, whatever.

"Thanks Penn State!"

Ultimately, though, I love my job.  The characters are great; my boss announces himself when he walks into a room via birdcalls, and gives out candy on Fridays.  Everyone is pleasant and kind and happy.  The work should be tedious but isn't; you fall into a lull and get a lot done and it passes in a happy time warp of looking at animals gambolling about in furry piles.  I like the hands-on type of work it is, combined with the science behind it.  Also there's the sense of importance, knowing you're having some small hand in helping cures diseases, that you have to take your work seriously and be careful because you're the first line of defense for both the comfort of the animals and the integrity of the research.

As someone who owns animals and hasn't eaten meat in 20 years, I think it's interesting to consider animal research.  I've always thought of it as a grey area, but having worked at this facility for the last five weeks or so, I can say my experience has been positive.  When asked about it, though, I think it's important to note that, if ANYONE is qualified to work with research animals, it should be animal lovers.  Animal lovers are the ones most likely to care about the comfort of the animals; these are the people you should be most willing to trust with the handling of your subjects.

One thing to consider is why test on animals.  The simple fact of the matter is that in vivo studies are far and away the best models we have to see how things work.  Experimental surgical procedures, for example, really have to be done on a living creature to know they work.  You can't test pharmaceuticals on a cadaver; no amount of cold medicine will make that guy feel better if he's already dead.  The "why" of animal testing is because it's the best and last resort for researchers, and the more we learn, the more that benefits all living creatures as a whole.  Most of our animals are used for drug testing, drugs that should work and we hope work, and most of them don't appear to suffer any real side effects at all.  Remember, most of these mice were bred with various conditions.  A mouse might be born with diabetes and we're the ones curing that diabetes.  That's a good thing.

It's also worth noting here that the president of PETA is a diabetic who takes insulin, and that that insulin injection research is a result of testing on dogs.  And all that allergy and asthma medication that I take to allow me to work with the animals?  Also a result of animal research.  You'd be amazed at what's come out of animal research. 

I don't want you to think I'm biased in any way toward or against this, though.  It's still a grey area for me.  I'm not trying to champion it or to change anyone's mind about it, but I do think that the public's general opinion is uninformed and very unfounded.  These are just my observations.  At the end of the day, animal research and testing isn't the same as it was twenty years ago (at least not in America and not at prestigious universities).  It's not like in the book "Plague Dogs," that's for sure.  In fact, I would definitely argue that the animals at our facility have better lives than the average "pet" mouse picked up at Petco by an eight-year-old's mother wanting to teach "responsibility."

You know how kids are.
When I was 7 and got a pet kitten I played "Kangaroo" by stuffing him down my pants and jumping down the stairs.  In the lab we would never do that.  Not enough funding, for one thing.

It's true that, on Thursdays, I euthanise animals, but even that is done respectfully and humanely.  (For example, when I go around the facility with a cart collecting the animals to be euthanised, I don't yell "BRING OUT YOUR DEAD!" or "DEAD MOUSE WALKING!" even though I just know it would be hilarious.)  (For those wondering how we do it, gassing, followed by a secondary method just to make absolutely sure they don't wake up.  The gassing is done in their cage with their buddies so they never really know what's happening; they just go peacefully to sleep. Secondary method is usually cervical dislocation, which I learned last summer at an internship working with injured owls who had to have their mice cut up for them.)  This is not even the worse part of my day; the worst part is the commute home on the 10, which takes about 20-35 minutes depending on traffic and is a reminder that some people would be better off without artificial retinas since they clearly aren't using them to watch the goddamn road anyways.

So that's a pretty solid run-down of my average experience in a day.  I get home from work by 4 at the very latest, affording me time with my home, dogs, and boyfriend, a nice evening meal, and a relaxing night of reading and sex.  I have full benefits and weekends off, and truth be told I'm not always sure what to do with myself.  I have had passing thoughts of joining a bowling league or getting a second part-time job just to sort of occupy my time.

Sorry for a moderately serious post, but you have to admit, this sort of perspective is rare.  Last summer Dan and I went to the National Animal Rights Conference and the stigma associated with animal research is, at least in my opinion, completely undeserved; I think this is one of the most humane treatment of animals I've seen and I'm really glad to be a part of it.  This combines perfectly my love of taking care of animals while contributing to a scientific endeavour; on Wednesdays we go to lectures in the afternoon and listen to topics like "Swine in Trauma Research" and "Clinical Signs in Rats."  It's just what I imagined my adult life to be like: working with animals and diseases, working with my hands and hauling heavy stuff but also being in a very clinical setting, being active but also intellectual, and all the while knowing that I'm helping to minimise suffering in the world, not just for the animals whose bodies we're using, by also for the people who might one day benefit from that research and testing.

You know how good it's been?  I baked a cake.  Yeah.  Me.  A cake.  Devil's food with cream cheese frosting that I put on before it was cooled so that it melted into an ooey-gooey moist mess of incredible confectionary wonder.  If that doesn't spell out hopeful for you, I don't know what does.

Huzzah science.