Monday, November 25, 2019

Update on the In-Laws: A Serving of Piping Hot Tea

Buckle up, readers, for this post promises to be a bit of a bumpy ride.  I have complained plenty of times in the past about my in-laws and we were overdue for some more drama.

However, I would like to start this post by giving credit where credit is due.  This isn't a post about my mother-in-law, who, throughout this pregnancy, has actually been pretty fucking nice to me.  Maybe it's because of Andrew's firm we're-no-longer-putting-up-with-your-bullshit stance, one he took after last Thanksgiving, where she refused to speak a single word to me, or maybe it's because she realizes that she's about to have another grandchild and if she wants to hang out with him, it would be best to butter us up beforehand.  Regardless of her intent, she's been perfectly polite and even friendly.

I can't help but have a bit of a once-bitten-twice-shy mentality about it; the number of one-more-chances she's gotten has been decidedly more than one.  But I'm trying to appreciate it for what it is and not hold on to any resentment.  They say a baby doesn't fix things but, hey, maybe that old axiom doesn't hold true with mothers in-law.  I would love for my son to have a good relationship with his grandmother, and from what I've seen of how Gail treats people she likes, she's actually a person with a healthy cache of kindness and generosity.  I'm really hoping we can put the bad blood behind us and develop a new relationship going forward.  I almost feel bad about all the times I compared her to a Disney villainess.  In my defense, that was over a year ago and I was being immature because my feelings were hurt.

No, this post is about another of my in-laws: L-- oh what's that, Andrew?  You don't want me to use her name?  Fine.  This post is about Andrew's sister, Voldemort

Andrew's older sister Voldemort has been aboard the not-approving-Tony train since it left the station, along with all the rest of the women in his family, but while Gail and Grandma have been passengers who have kept their resentment at least a little veiled and passive, Voldemort has always been more of a crazed conductor, shoveling coal into the engine and cackling while pulling levers, or however the hell you pilot a train.  Look, I'm a writer, not a trainologist.

Everything I learned about trains I learned from Thomas the Tank Engine Skyrim mods.

Voldemort, my sister-in-law, has a bit of a history of being above-average in her horribleness to me.  For example, last year, when Andrew suggested she try to be less actively hostile toward me, and pointed out that we might someday have kids, who he would like her to have a relationship with, she said any child we conceived would be a, quote, "abomination."  You understand how, now that we're on the brink of having our firstborn, I am not especially pleased with this quote.  Frankly there's no circumstance where this isn't a completely fucked up thing to say about another person's child.  It's a monstrous, dare I say abominable, thing to vocalize.  Shit, even thinking it is kind of fucked up, but having the gall to say it, and to your own brother, about your own nephew, is supremely fucked up.

As I told Andrew, saying this sort of thing aloud is like squeezing all the toothpaste out of the tube.  You can't put it back in, and even if you apologize and offer to help me clean it up, at the end of the day, there's still an empty tube of toothpaste and my whole bathroom still smells like mint.  You can never entirely live that sort of thing down.

Voldemort has gotten away with this shit for ages because "that's just how she is."  I don't think "just being that way" is really any excuse for bad behavior, nor a justification not to work on one's flaws.  With the birth of our firstborn dawning, Andrew decided it was time to confront Voldemort's issues.  At least one of which is her relationship with me.  "Relationship" may be too strong of a word.  In fact, I've met her only thrice, and from my perspective, all three times were positive or at least neutral, but somehow Voldemort has developed an intense dislike of me that borders on hatred and includes occasional funtimes like calling my unborn child a monster.


So last weekend Andrew went to Austin, where Jack currently lives, to have Thanksgiving dinner with his family.  This included Jack, Voldemort, Voldemort's child, Andrew's mom, and Andrew's mom's husband.  I bowed out because I still don't feel very welcome at family functions and had a handy excuse not to fly (eight months pregnant).  Turns out skipping dinner was the correct thing to do because Voldemort was in her usual state of aggressive passive-aggressiveness.

Important note: all the factual stuff that follows regarding what happened in Austin is, of course, hearsay, as I was not there.  Andrew is an honest fellow but just to be safe I have only given the most basic details and tried to avoid direct quotes.

For the first two days of Andrew's Austin trip, I didn't come up at all.  On the third day, Andrew mentioned his concern that Jack has a terrible work-life balance that isn't especially conducive, and pointed out that Jack won't ever get a girlfriend at this rate.  He cited his own relationship with me, his partner, and said that it's a good thing to be in a relationship because it's a good source of emotional support.

Upon mentioning my name, Voldemort cut him off and said,"Can we not?"

Andrew asked what she meant and she said she didn't want to talk about that.

The conversation was interrupted by Voldemort's three-year-old daughter.  I have never met this three-year-old but based on pictures she's insanely cute.  Andrew dropped the conversation because he didn't want to argue in front of her.

Later, in the park, I came up again, under happier circumstances.  This story has nothing to do with the rest of the story, but it's cute and I liked hearing it.  Andrew's niece has a doll named "Baby."  Baby has an entire mythology, including that her father works at the hospital, selling flowers.  While talking about Baby's imaginary father, Gail suggested that they could get flowers from him to take to Tony in the hospital when Tony had his baby.  (Tony is me!)  Again, this story has no bearing on the drama at all.  I just think that Voldemort's kid is really, really cute, and also, I think it was sweet of Gail to bring me up in a nice way, as part of the family.

 Mmmm, feels.

Back to the story.  The next day, at brunch, Andrew mentioned me again.  He said that what he said was something like, "We need to address the elephant in the room," and specifically brought up Voldemort's discomfort regarding me.  She reacted to the sound of my name like it was the Cruciatus curse in Harry Potter, and after telling Andrew to stop shoehorning me into the conversation and trying to corner her, she bolted.  Since I wasn't there, I don't know whether or not she slammed into a server carrying a tray of food, Hollywood-style, but for stylistic reasons, I enjoy picturing it that way.

In Voldemort's defense, it did sound like Andrew shoehorned me into the conversation a little bit, but I'm not sure when else he could have spoken with her about it, because she had a plane home the next day and has typically avoided conversations, making it hard for there to ever be a good time to confront her discomfort.

Gail went after her to help calm her down.  Andrew mulled over this whole thing.  At the beginning of the trip, Voldemort had presented Andrew with a large gift basket of presents for the abomination baby.  Considering Voldemort's anaphylactic reactions toward the mere mention of my name, Andrew decided he couldn't accept these gifts.  He called me to get my opinion and I agreed.  Andrew informed Voldemort that he did not want to accept the gifts, that it was not meant to be an insult to her generosity but he felt that their relationship was not close enough to accept the gifts, that he felt really uncomfortable accepting them, and that she should return them.

She went ballistic and said Andrew should just take them, as he could at least turn them into the store for credit, but he refused.  Later, on the elevator down to the lobby of their hotel, Andrew paused to go to his car to get the gifts.  Gail asked where he was going, and he told her, and she immediately, wincingly asked if that was necessary.  (A small correction / clarity on this interaction: Andrew states that "I brought the gifts in the car, told Voldemort, then told Mom minutes later on the elevator down.")

Voldemort erupted again when Gail was told what was going on, saying that Andrew was trying to make her look like the "bad guy" and was purposefully stirring up drama and why wouldn't he just accept her gifts??  The person I feel most sorry for in this story is Gail, who was torn between two of her kids and who probably just wanted a nice Thanksgiving without drama at all.  But I agree with Andrew's decision and wouldn't have felt comfortable accepting gifts from Voldemort, either, because it just feels insincere.

Our love isn't for sale, and you can't put a pricetag on dignity.

So Andrew gave back the gifts and that's where this story ends, for now.  I don't really know where we go from here.  Voldemort's total inability to even talk about me or hear my name seems like it's not very conducive to reaching any sort of peace treaty, and I'm not sure what sure a treaty would look like, anyway, since Voldemort's primary condition for peace seems to be for me to simply not exist.  I'm good at a lot of things but not existing isn't one of them.  I don't know that I could be a different person, either; the issue doesn't really seem to be me but the person Voldemort thinks I am, and since she refuses to get to know me, I can't change that perception.  I guess what I'm saying is, it's a real pickle.

I would love to say it's something I could just ignore but it's not.  For one thing, my son and Voldemort's daughter will be cousins, within 3 years of each other, and I'd like them to have a relationship.  I'd like a relationship with my niece as well.  And I don't think it's fair for Gail to be caught between the Voldemort-Andrew drama.  Ultimately this feud is bigger than just Voldemort or me, or just Voldemort and Andrew; it includes Voldemort's daughter and my son and Voldemort and Andrew's mom and probably a bunch of other family members, none of whom signed up for this, and all of whom would probably like for it to be resolved.

And the thing is, I sorta get it.  I don't know what Voldemort's deal is, except that she's sort of a high-strung mess and everyone excuses her behavior by saying that's just how Voldemort is and she's just like that.  As someone who was themselves a piping hot mess only a few years ago, I know that it's easy and empowering to feel righteously angry and indignant instead of apologetic, and that working on your flaws is a long, hard, and humbling process.

But the thing is, at the end of the day, I got my shit together.  And so while I feel sympathetic toward my fellow hot messes, I also hold them to a much higher standard.  I know that people are capable of change and growth.  I refuse to be an enabler of shitty behavior, or to tolerate disrespect.  Being a former hot mess means being fully aware of how hard growth is... but also how worth it growth is, and how necessary it is as well.

Instead of comparing Voldemort to a Disney villainness, allow me to compare her to Gideon Gray, a primary school bully who grows up to become the owner of a pastry shop who apologizes to Judy the rabbit for being a jerk back when he was a child and identifies the source of his bullying as his own insecurity, which he has since dealt with.

I hope Voldemort gets her shit together and when she does, I will be happy to turn a blind eye to her shitty past behavior, because everyone deserves a second chance, and taking a mulligan is the least embarrassing way to move forward.  I have myself been blessed with a lot of people in my life very graciously allowing me to apologize and move on from some incredibly shitty behavior in my past.

But Voldemort isn't there yet and I don't know when she will be.  I turned myself around after getting into a motorcycle accident three years ago, and ideally, I would prefer if Voldemort didn't need to have a near-death experience to clean up her act.  I'd prefer if she did it for her family and herself and it was a natural sort of growth that came without any trauma.  I'd prefer if she could just love them more than she hates me.  Maybe someday.  You can't really force these things.

Of course, you can start by making an effort, which she isn't.  You can start by at least, you know, being open to talking honestly about your feelings, which she isn't.

If only there were a way for her to work on herself that didn't involve a motorcycle accident.

If only.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Why I Fucking Hate Yelp

There's an oft-uttered phrase in my household: "There ought to be an app for that."

This is how most apps develop, I think.  People see a niche to be filled and, if they have the resources, they scramble to fill it.  Nature abhors a vacuum, after all.

But one app I don't think anyone asked for was Yelp.

Yelp is a self-described "public review forum" that traffics in crowd-sourced reviews.  Anyone can sign up, and anyone can write a review.  It sounds like a great idea to get reviews from people who have been to businesses and to amass a pile of them for comparison to determine how the business operates.  But unfortunately, in practice, it just doesn't work.

Yelp has a lot of problems.  Don't take it from me; when I Googled Yelp news for this blog post, here are the first four recommended related searches I got:

Not a very flattering list, that.

Some of the arguments against Yelp include the huge impact it has on small businesses.  One study says that going from four to give stars can generate a 5 - 9% increase in revenue. The filtering of reviews on pages, and the filtering of businesses themselves in searches, are done based on a Yelp algorithm that no one quite understands.  And there are, of course, allegations of extortion, some of which came to light in the documentary "Billion Dollar Bully," which in turn led to a 30% stock decrease for Yelp in November of last year.

And that's just on the business end of things.  People who leave bad reviews have horror stories of being harassed by the businesses for trying to leave honest feedback.  And Forbes points out that "anonymous platforms have a tendency to skew toward the negative."  We're not even including fake reviews here, though those do happen, and there's no real mechanism or policy for easily identifying or removing fake reviews designed to artificially alter a business's rating.

 This racial reference is going to be relevant and hilarious later in this post.

I'll admit that I have a Yelp profile.  Mostly, I leave good reviews for places I like, which was the original intention of the platform.  But let's face it; we all love a brutal review because at the end of the day, we're only human, and brutal reviews can truly hurt a business.  It's the small businesses that suffer the most.

This brings me to the bar I work at, the Dragon and Meeple.  Recently someone left a two-star review for us on Google that specifically targeted me.  I was devastated.  Here's the review:

 Let me break down a few parts of this review that really cheesed me off.

First of all, let's talk about "Smokey" here.  He's a guy who comes in once a month for Magic: The Gathering.  On his previous visit, he and his pals worked up a $180 tab that they almost accidentally walked out on.  It was comprised of $120 worth of peach Berliners and a $60 pack of cards.  They left no tip.  The reason I remember this so well is because 1) $120 is a lot of peach Berliners, 2) they nearly walked out, 3) they didn't fucking tip.  They were also generally rude.  (I will say that this is a LOT of Magic players; it may not be rudeness but just general social anxiety, or total absorption in their game.  I don't know, but whenever I check in on Magic players, they never seem like they can be bothered to look up and say, "No, thank you, I don't need another drink," or, "Yes, please, I'd like another drink."  It's more like monosyllabic grunting or pointing to an empty glass.)

This isn't how our business model works but it would still be nice.

Since tipping is, essentially, paying for table service, I am disinclined to prioritize non-tippers.  This doesn't mean you don't get service.  It means that, on a busy Saturday, you're going to get slightly slower service since my attention will be on other tables, many of whom aren't there for 4 or 5 hours of card games and who manage to look me in the eye when I ask them if they need anything and treat me like a human being.

Second, let's talk about me.  Not that Smokey knows this but I don't identify as a "lady," thanks, and his description of me as some short-haired blond Karen type is not very flattering.  Also, maybe he failed to notice, but at the time he wrote this review, I was 7 months pregnant, so, yeah, I'm gonna be a little slow.  Sorry not sorry for that; I can't help it and I'm doing the best I can.  You might notice, at this point, that his being rude and my being pregnant both have nothing to do with race.

That brings me to my third and final complaint about this review, which is his ability to call me racist based on absolutely nothing.  He didn't even really say I was racist, just that he sorta-kinda "felt" that way.  It's an effective tactic to smear the restaurant without actually having anything concrete to complain about.  Our restaurant has a crazy diverse staff and prides ourselves on being an inclusive environment, and I, for one, have never been called racist.  I checked out his other reviews and, lo and behold, there were two more that claimed racism based on "slow service" with zero actual racism or context.  Personally, I think calling someone a racist without any foundation for it is a really, really, really shitty thing to do, but that's just me, a person who abhors racism.

And despite rating us two stars and complaining, he continues to come back every month and order peach Berliners by pointing to his empty glass, as if he didn't leave a review that could hurt our business or jeopardize my job.

Now, this is a Google review, not a Yelp review, but the problems it demonstrates are the same.  And despite proudly maintaining a 5-star rating, the D&M has gotten some crappy reviews, like these:

Interestingly, you'll notice the only reviews that claim our food is only "okay" are also ones that bitch about the gaming fee.  Gaming fees are standard at gaming bars; they exist because 1) patrons who play games will spend far longer at the tables than patrons who are only eating, 2) the games themselves cost money to obtain and keep in good condition, and 3) our bar has a game curator who will actively help you choose and learn to play a game, and his salary ain't free.

The first review fails to mention that the kids knocked over 3 glasses of water in one meal, ruining said deck of Uno cards and demonstrating why we have a game fee.  The game fee is something we explain to guests when they come in, and it's printed on the menu.

And let's not forget this nice little review here:

If you don't feel like reading it, don't worry, I'll break it down.

Her complaint that the beer selection is "meh" is based on us not having beer that she liked.  We have 16 local, craft beers on tap and another dozen beers in cans or bottles.  That's a selection of over two dozen beers.  (In another review of a restaurant, she gave 2 stars because they didn't have eggs Benedict on the menu.)

Her complaint that we expected a customer to pay for the food they ordered is... a bizarre complaint.  Her mention of the customer's disability seems unnecessary.  I mean, disabled or not, that's how businesses work: you order food, we serve it to you, and then you pay for it.  We have no idea who can or cannot pay for food; we take it on good faith that people can, and that's why they order it.  If we had refused to serve someone because of an apparent disability, that would be discrimination... and she probably would have complained about that, too.  No one asked her to step in to pay for someone else's meal, and trust me, the situation was uncomfortable for us, too.  It's not pleasant to tell someone their card was declined.  Not at all.

As for the lack of inclusivity of her gal group, well... we can't help that.  We can't help it that the group she didn't like chose our venue for their meeting place, but she began and ended the review by complaining about the group she was with, so it really felt like the D&M was being punished for her bad experience that we had no control over.

The review felt entitled and, looking at her other reviews, I found this gem, in which she left a one-star review of a children's clothing store because, when her child was playing destructively with one of the store's (free for community use) toys and roaming around free-range, the owner instructed the child to stop.  The owner responded, politely explaining that based on their years of experience in children's education, this is a pretty standard interaction with a child.  Jena S. proceeded to edit her review in order to go ballistic on the owner for their response.

My point is, Yelp gives people a platform to hurt small businesses and doesn't seem especially trustworthy in terms of its reviews to begin with.  It's bad enough to have gotten a South Park episode mocking it, and to have its own anti-Yelp website,

I appreciate, of course, the irony of complaining online about a platform that allows people to complain online.  And so in the interest of trying to be fair, I will make an effort to make my criticisms constructive in nature, and suggest a few improvements Yelp could make that might improve it.  But I don't think these measures would be enough, and the truth is, I'd prefer a world without Yelp.

Suggestion #1: Allow people to respond to reviews.  Currently, only the business owner can respond to a review.  This means that the way the restaurant responds to criticism is up to a single person who may or may not choose to respond, and whose response may vary.  This is a social media platform, sort of, so why can't you respond to reviews?  I, for one, would love to be able to respond to reviews I've read.

Suggestion #2: Crowd-source the filters.  Currently, Yelp operates on an unknown algorithm that takes into account user metrics like number of reviews left, length of account, et cetera in order to filter reviews and "suggest" "good" reviews.  I think a crowd-source filter would be better; this could be a simple upvote/downvote button, as seen on sites like Reddit.

Suggestion #3: Include more "reactions."  Currently, Yelp allows you to click one of three reactions to a review: cool, useful, or funny.  These are all positive and don't have nearly enough diversity to allow people to react to reviews.  It's the closest thing other users have to responding to other people's reviews and it's severely lacking.  Also, the "funny" reaction appears to be used both to indicate that the review itself was funny as well as to indicate that the reviewer is being mocked.  (Jena S.'s review of the toy store, for example, got a TON of "funny" reacts despite not being written in a comedic style.)

Suggestion #4: Modify the algorithm for small businesses, as opposed to franchises or chains.  This one is self-explanatory; franchises and chains don't give a shit about Yelp, but for small, independently-owned businesses, Yelp reviews can make or break a place.  Yet they all get the same algorithm.  This seems unfair.

Suggestion #5: Get a better system for rating.  Right now, it's based on "stars."  There are two problems here.  First, saying it's a "five-star" restaurant implies it's nice when it could, in fact, just be a really clean, fast Wendy's.  Second, Yelp, like many other platforms that use star ratings (i.e., Lyft or Uber) artificially selects for five-star ratings.  Realistically, not all restaurants can have four and five stars.  And people are going to assign star rankings in different ways; Jena S., for example, is much more critical than me.  I tend to leave 5-star reviews and Jena tends to leave 3-star reviews.  Some people will only ever leave 2-star reviews.  There's no standardization.  I propose a different system of voting.  Perhaps a point total, similar to Reddit's "karma" scores.  I don't know.  But trying to get every business to strive for 5 stars puts undue pressure on those businesses, and it hits small businesses the hardest.

 I assume The Hotel California went out of business because of The Eagles.

In conclusion, Yelp gets a two-star rating from me.  It's a handy way to find restaurants near me, but the harm it does seems to outweigh its benefits, and there's a ton of room for improvement.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Strange Case of Louie, Louie (and the Profanity You Missed)

When I was a kid I had a couple of books by Dave Berry, a humor columnist for The Miami Herald, and I remember one joke in particular that I didn't get until years later.

I don't recall the context, only the punchline: that readers should submit an essay on whether or not the song "Louie, Louie" had any swear words in it.

Being a column for the general public, and printed in a widely circulated, mainstream newspaper, most of Dave Berry's humor was easily, readily accessible, and it was rare for me not to get a joke.  But this one flew over my head.  I discovered Berry's books when I was only ten or so, and that joke wasn't meant for my generation, but for Berry's.  Berry is a boomer, born in 1947, and would have remembered when the song was catapulted to number two on the Hot Billboard 100 in the early 1960s, ultimately selling over a million record copies and getting banned from being played on the radio in the state of Indiana.

It's been about twenty years since I read Dave Berry's challenge to write an essay about "Louie, Louie," but better late than never.  Without further ado, I present my answer to the question, "Does Louie, Louie contain any swear words?"

(But not the way you think.)

Let's start by talking about which version of "Louie, Louie" we're even talking about.  The original was recorded by Richard Berry (no relation to Dave Berry) in 1957.  Like many great rock songs of the time, it was a calypso song that had been refitted into an R&B pop style with a strong brass section. Berry more or less stole the riff from the Rhythm Rockers' "El Loco Cha Cha," but don't worry, the Rhythm Rockers borrowed the riff from RenĂ© Touzet.

And Berry was heavily influenced by other artists of the time who were taking Calypso-style songs and turning them into R&B hits.  Look no further than Chuck Berry's Havana Moon.  (No relation to Dave Berry or Richard Berry.) (Another great example of this strange trend: the 1965 Dixie Chicks recording of "Iko Iko.")

But back to "Louie Louie."  It was put on the B-side of Richard Berry's album, "You Are My Sunshine," and received little attention.  Berry sold the copyright for $750 in 1959 to pay for his wedding.  The marriage lasted 11 years.

Louie, Louie went on to become the most recorded song of all time, with about 1,600 known covers by popular artists.  The version you're probably familiar with, by the Kingsmen, is arguably the most popular because of what Wikipedia called "its nearly unintelligible (and innocuous) lyrics, widely... misinterpreted as obscene."

The only lyrics you probably remember are "we gotta go," "we gotta go now," and the screeched, "Alright, let's give it to 'em, right now!"  If you listened to Richard Berry's version then you were treated to the gentler and more intelligible (though not more intelligent) lyrics, which include such lines as, "Me sailed the ship all alone / Me never think I'll make it home," and, "Three nights and days I sailed the sea / Me think of girl constantly."

There was never any swearing in the song lyrics; it was a case of people hearing "Paul is dead" when there was nothing to be heard.

But in fairness to the listeners of the 1960s, the Kingsmen's recording is truly completely unintelligible.

It all began when the Kingsmen heard it on a jukebox in 1962.  Remember, this was after Richard Berry had already sold the rights.  The cover heard by the Kingsmen was by Rockin' Robin Roberts, the earliest known cover of Berry's original, recorded in 1960.  It was a dance hit, and the Kingsmen decided to learn it for their own gigs.

 They were correct in their estimation that it was a dance hit.  It was the 1960s version of The Macarena.  People loved this song.  In fact, on April 4th, 1963, the Kingsmen played a 90-minute "Louie Louie" marathon at the Chase club in Oregon.  That marathon had two major consequences:

1) Their manager, Ken Chase, owner of the club, decided to book them a recording session the very next day.

2) Their lead singer, Jack Ely, blew out his vocal chords.

 Jack Ely is the one with braces.

The band staggered into the Portland recording studio at 10 a.m. for a one-hour session, paying $36 (or $50, depending on who you ask) to cram into a tiny, three-microphone room.  Their warm-up went disastrously; Jack Ely throat was ruined and he was screaming to be heard over the instruments in the tight space.  His timing was off, too; he went too quickly, forcing the drummer to struggle to match the time frame.  When the warm-up was over, the band discussed out they would do better next time.

Unfortunately, there was no next time, because that was it.  The recording session covered only a single take and their "warm-up" was what they got.  The band was dissatisfied with their performance but they didn't have another $36.

They needn't have worried.  The song's mysterious, garbled lyrics quickly became the stuff of legends, with people insisting the lyrics were obscene and requesting plays on the radio for specifically that reason.  The song was a hit.  In fact, it was so successful that it ended up with its own FBI investigation to determine if the lyrics were obscene or not.  (You can read the 119 pages of declassified files here.)

When all was said and done, the Kingsmen's version of "Louie, Louie" was - and still is - regarded as one of the most popular and influential rock n' roll singles of all time, with recognition by Rolling Stone, VH1, the National Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, NPR, and the Grammy Hall of Fame.  There's an International Louie Louie Day (April 11th), and have been Louie Louie parades, festivals, and street fairs.  Louie, Louie has an hell of an origin story and has had an incredible impact on pop culture, and it deserves an essay to be written about it.

"But wait," you say.  "...wasn't the point of this whole thing to talk about the naughty words that were supposedly in the song?  You said there were.  You promised us profanity."

The ultimate conclusion of the FBI investigation of the song was that it was "unintelligible at any speed."  Aside from being unable to determine what the hell Jack Ely was saying in the popular Kingsman version, they interviewed the original artist, Richard Berry, who handed over the simple and inoffensive lyrics.  In the end there was, they determined, no cause for concern.

However - and here's my favorite part of the story - remember how I mentioned the disastrous recording session, wherein Jack Ely began the third verse three bars early and rushed through the song, frustrating the other members of the band, in particular the drummer, Lynn Easton?  If you listen right at that error, you can hear, in the background, Easton yelling "FUCK!"  Turn up your volume all the way; it's at the 56-second mark.  People are so used to hearing the garbled, rushed version by the Kingsmen that every subsequent recording made for radio and public use has re-created the errors, including the background noise.  So Louie, Louie does have at least one swear word, which has been played on the radio for over fifty years ago and was somehow missed by the FBI investigation.

Just another classic case of missing the forest because of all the trees.  Sometimes, what you were looking for was right beneath your nose all along.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Greyhound Shuffle: Sun Down, then Bounce Back

I have the worst breed of dog.

The kind that takes selfies in portrait mode.

It's called an Italian Greyhound, and it is a nightmare beast whose very existence spits in God's eye.

Don't get me wrong.  I love my "iggy."  I love him like a son.  He's an attractive, gentle, affectionate dog and a lovely companion.  It's not his fault he was put into the frail, skeletal body of a joke breed that has no right to exist.

A bit about Italian greyhounds, before I begin speaking about my own specifically.  The smallest breed of sight hound, this breed is a couple thousand years ago.  They are called "Italian" not because they originated in Italy, but because of their popularity during the Italian Renaissance, when you might recall seeing various paintings and tapestries of noble women in elaborate, frilly dresses holding one of these bug-eyed gargoyles.  They were bred by clever Turkish traders who figured out that Italian noblewomen were gah-gah over these dogs and would pay top dollar for puppies.  (There's some debate about their origin, as we've seen primitive sighthounds at sites like Pompeii.  However, it seems like the modern Italian greyhound has a genetic origin further east than Italy, and the "original" sighthounds of the Mediterranean have been lost.)

The reason for the dogs' popularity was simple.  Sight hounds were a symbol of nobility... for men.  For women in the 16th century, your options were rather limited by your gender, especially if you were someone important.  But one thing you could always opt for was as a nurturer, caregiver, and/or bearer of children.  And what better way to express your maternal prowness than with a dog that was literally designed to emulate the helpless, pathetic, baby-like need for attention? 

Catherine the Great loved iggies like Queen Elizabeth loves Corgis.

Italian greyhounds are one of the few breeds truly bred solely for companionship.  They were never made to hunt, race, or be useful in any discernible way.  What they're great at is being affectionate, and to be honest, they're sort of annoying when you get right down to it, because they are demanding of affection.  They will cuddle you whether you want to cuddle them or not, and because they are so pointy, their snuggling comes with a lot of sharp edges.  They're all elbows.

The funny thing about dog breeds is that people who are really into breeds don't like to speak poorly of them.  So there are few Italian greyhound enthusiasts who will tell you the honest truth about this breed, which is that they are mind-bogglingly stupid and resplendent with health problems.  Their teeth are a nightmare and they are difficult, if not impossible, to house train.  Their spindly little frames and bird-like bones are eager to break, and their voices are shrill and sharp and unpleasant.

The lifespan according to the AKC is about 13 years, but the average lifespan is actually about 9, because a quarter of these dogs die from accidents, which, if you're an Italian greyhound, can be something as seemingly innocuous as jumping off the couch and breaking a leg.

Why, then, would anyone want one of these creatures?

Well, they're cute.

Not necessarily this one.

Make no mistake, they are really cute.  Their buggy eyes, their body shape and weight, their human-like mannerisms were all designed to evoke a fierce desire to protect.  They are the dog equivalent of a cuckoo egg; even the most rational of humans can't help but feel a deep, instinctual, material desire to protect these little baby imposters.  And they get cold so they have to wear clothes.  And their skin, paper-thin and overly warm, is as soft as velvet.  So there are definite pros to this dog.  None that I would consider a big enough boon to justify the continued breeding of them.  Frankly, if not for human meddling with the natural order of things, their obvious inbreeding and terrible genetic problems should have wiped them out centuries ago.

But although I think we should allow the breed itself to die out, I also think that the individuals who exist currently should be taken care of, and that brings me to Carlisle.

Enjoy this rare photo of Carlisle in good health.  
All that follow are a hell of a lot less flattering.

Carlisle has been with me for 11 (going on 12) years, and according to my brother-in-law, he has both the frailty and yet the surprising robustness of Mr. Burns.  Also according to my brother-in-law he has "Three Stooges Syndrome," the same condition as Mr. Burns.

But we've finally hit "the big one."  In California, "the big one" refers to the earthquake that will someday plunge us into the Pacific ocean.  Here in my house, "the big one" refers to the seizure that will finally do Carlisle in.

It started a few weeks ago, when Andrew observed that Carlisle had lost weight.  This was true.  At his biggest, Carlisle was 12 pounds, but he had begun to get skinnier.  Sight hounds aren't a dog with a lot of weight to lose and, within a month, Carlisle had begun to look emaciated beyond reason, as if he'd made a political mistake in North Korea and been sent to one of those camps.  (This isn't a joke; this is both how he looks and how things work in North Korea, and someone really ought to do something about the latter.)

It was something we had partially overlooked because it was a gradual, and also because, in the "cold" months, Carlisle, like most Italian greyhounds, wears fleece sweaters to keep himself warm.  But at a certain point his weight loss became so obvious that we had to take him into the vet.  That, and he had stopped eating, further concerning us.

This is after he regained a pound.
I have more graphic images but honestly they're too sad.
A general rule for dog owners: you should be able to see, but not count, the ribs.

There, they diagnosed him with the usual handful of disorders but could offer no solution as to why he had lost so much weight.  A blood test revealed his albumin levels were in the garbage.  Albumin is a blood component your liver makes that helps blood maintain its viscosity; without it, blood gets thin and watery, and can leak out of your veins.

This explained it when, a few days post-vet, Carlisle began throwing up blood.  Weak from hunger, he staggered around the house, his back end barely holding him up.  It was hard to tell how much of his condition was muscle loss and how much was motor control loss; Carlisle's epilepsy has always made him wobbly, but now, he needed a box to step up onto the couch and bed.  Jumping was out of the question.

It seemed like it was time to say good-bye.  But, as has happened before, Carlisle simply didn't die.

He's alive in this photo, I swear.

He slept for a week, getting up only when we roused him, usually to try to entice him with food: chicken nuggets, scrambled egg, Pop-Tarts.  (The Pop-Tarts were a bigger hit than the chicken, for some reason.)  (Maybe the colorful grey sprinkles on top?)

And then, suddenly, he got better.

He spends most of his time sitting like this, eyes unfocused and tongue hanging out.  

There's no rhyme or reason to how Carlisle operates.  Every few years, he teeters on the edge of death, and then comes back with a sleepy innocence that implies he has no clue what just happened or why everyone seems so upset.

"The greyhound shuffle is not just a dance, 'k?'s a state of unrest."

Now, I will say his bounce-back wasn't entirely 100%.  It wasn't even 50%.  He only gained back one pound and he's still underweight.  His balance is atrocious and he still needs his box.  His tongue hangs out the side of his mouth now, and his general functioning seems slower and... well... worse.  But he's alive.

The "greyhound shuffle" is steps back, then steps forward, but never quite as far forward as he initially was.  Carlisle has been back-and-forthing for over a decade on the precipice of death, sort of in the same way he'll go back-and-forth as he tries to figure out how to jump onto the couch.  (Solution: he never gets there.  He gets caught in a neurological loop and keeps up the repetitive behavior until another dog attacks him, at which point the humans intervene to muzzle the other dog and help him up.)

We're happy he's "better" (a relative, not accurate, term) but also emotionally wrung out.  With a baby on the way, Carlisle picked a bad time to start yet another slide into the grave.  We don't have as much money, time, or energy as we normally would.  I would argue the emotional cost is the worst.  But none of them are inexpensive.

The most important thing, to us, is that he's not in pain.  He doesn't seem to be.  He seems relatively happy, all things considered, and we're trying to give him a peaceful transition.  But it's a slow one and it's hard to watch.  Especially as his motor control and mobility get worse and worse.

The moral of this story, of course, is not to get a fancy dog, because purebred does not mean "healthy," nor "smart," nor "trainable."  Carlisle has been staggering around the house in diapers for weeks with his tongue hanging out and his clothes loosely draped over his boney frame while the Seamus the mutt, who is two years older and was found in a dumpster, runs circles around him.

I love my dog.  I just don't love what he is.

A beautiful fucking disaster.
Hang in there, little guy.