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How To Fit A Dog Inside A Toaster Oven

Like most people, I have always hoped to develop one of the more glamorous mental disorders, perhaps one that would enable me to effectively count cards in Vegas or unsuspectingly become a piano prodigy.  I would even settle for compulsive hoarding or anything else that might get me my own segment on the Discovery Channel.  But, sadly, my afflictions so far have been limited to the types of anxiety that are easily overcome with a relaxation technique that I like to call “being-ten-minutes-late-for-everything”.  When used effectively, even my impulses tend to procrastinate.

Any OCD issues that I do encounter seem to affect only the areas of life that couldn’t possibly yield a decent TV movie, not even on Lifetime, and this was never more obvious than when I recently spent three straight months taking photos of my dog, Lulu.  Specifically, I was suffering from the shock that new Labrador puppy owners experience when their little one doubles in size immediately after the first meal.  The realization set in that puppyhood days are numbered, and the only logical response was to photograph her every waking moment as if she were Lindsay Lohan showing up for a court appearance.

From then on, armed with my camera and an irrational sense of what constitutes art, I captured the importance of every minute through my lens, forever preserving a digital legacy of shoe sniffing, leaf chasing and staring at the cat.  It didn’t matter how mundane the moment might seem, I could still manage to convince myself that it was somehow different than when the same thing had happened ten minutes earlier.  “She’s never fallen asleep that close to the rubber tree plant”, I would tell myself with amazement, rapidly firing the shutter button as those years of endlessly playing video games were finally paying off.  I understand that it was really just me taking thousands of photos of a dog, but I insist that it’s a yet undiscovered form of addiction.  My therapist referred to it by the more professional terminology, “not having anything better to do.”

 It was during the first time that I photographed her defecating in the backyard that I became aware that there might be something wrong.  My twenty years of photography experience were backing my artistic expression, but the look on my neighbor’s face seemed to be suggesting that he wished he had built the fence between our yards a little higher.  That afternoon, I realized that the nonstop puppy paparazzi experience might have become pathological.  But rather than conclude that I had been taking an excess of photos, it made more sense to blame the dog for not having a more exciting agenda.  After all, she was sleeping 20 hours a day, and her waking hours seemed really preoccupied with finding things to chew.

So I decided to broaden her horizons a little.  It began almost by accident, at least if there is anything accidental about placing a nine-week old puppy on the stove in an 8-quart stockpot.  One minute I was positioning my half-asleep subject on a sofa cushion, and the next minute I was devouring four servings of chili to make room for her butt.  And, to my surprise, the resulting photos possessed a level of cuteness that a puppy could not achieve on its own.  However amusing Lulu may have been rolling around on the floor, she was somehow ten times more appealing when faced with imminent danger or humiliation.  Though I did not realize it at the time, this is the same theory on which every reality TV show is based.

Within days it became difficult to encounter anything without visually measuring it for a puppy fit.  The coffee pot was sized up and found to be about six lattes short of a Lulu.  I checked the specs on the glove compartment in my little Corolla and then suddenly regretted having been so cost conscious and environmentally friendly the day I purchased it.  The microwave was found to be large enough but quickly discounted because, really, who wants to clean a microwave?  Milk cartons and cereal boxes took on new meaning.  Potted plants were upended in the name of irony.  And with each passing day, as my little dog’s fears of the tripod kept growing, so did my fears that she herself was doing the same.  With every appliance that she outgrew, so went another photo op.  And when her belly didn’t quite fit inside our mailbox, I cursed her for not being a pug.  I still find it amazing that she didn’t develop an eating disorder.

At some stage in the addiction process, having checked in vain for any local support groups or twelve step programs, you recognize your inability to stop the pup from growing and so you begin purchasing things with her size in mind.  A salesperson asks you if you need help finding anything and, while rifling through a manual for a barbecue grill, you ask why it doesn’t list which dog breeds it can accommodate.  As security escorts you from the store, you retrace your steps to try to see where it all went wrong.  Had your good intentions evolved into a form of animal abuse?  Was this the final chapter of artistic expression forced beyond its own dimensions?  And is that bread maker still on sale at Sears?

Eventually, nothing seemed out of reach, and there I was asking Lulu to pose inside the toilet.  It clearly had become less about whether or not I should do it and more about whether or not I could.  Getting a shy Labrador puppy to cooperate with anything that in no way involves treats, naps or tennis balls is like trying to bend spoons with your mind.  All along, the end result each time was still a photo, but the real accomplishment was in convincing the dog that, yes, it is a good idea to be wedged ass-first inside of anything.  I was still getting painfully cute photos, but it no longer felt right – I had somehow taken the simple joy of stuffing a dog into a toaster oven and turned it into a bad thing.

I experienced a similar psychosis over the years each time that my daughter has gone through growth spurts.  Now, in a very short time, my puppy has grown to fifty pounds and has also learned to hate the camera as much as my daughter does.  The difference is that my daughter took about six years to reach that same size, so I never got the urge to put her in that drawer in the fridge where vegetables go to die.  It’s not that I never considered it – it’s just that Child Protective Services seems to have less of a sense of humor than the SPCA. 

In time, I managed to control my addiction through self-hypnosis, behavior modification techniques, and the fact that Lulu is now large enough to talk me out of the trickier photo shoots.  Plus, she got her real teeth in.  I will continue taking photos of her, and I will have to be satisfied capturing all those moments that really might be better left un-photographed.  But some addictions can never be cured, and if she stands too close to the dishwasher, well, I’m not making any promises.

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The Great Weather Thing of 2011 That Never Was

Last night, before going to bed, I boarded up all the windows, hung a crucifix over the front door, and slept with two pit bulls, a wooden stake, and a cheesecake under my pillow.  I was prepared to face all of my biggest fears, including Jillian Michaels.

I managed to quickly snap this photo this morning, before narrowly escaping with my life.

Alright, I did none of that.  I actually fell asleep on the floor next to our Labrador puppy, waking hours later in a puddle of what I’m hoping was my own drool.  But none of those defenses would have seemed so absurd, given the fear campaign launched by local television over the past 72 hours for the dreaded “Alleged Weather Happening of 2011”.  According to all sources, based on trusted, high-tech computer systems, we were expecting a snowstorm of such magnitude and horror that it would paralyze traffic, daily life, and apparently common sense.  This was going to be the absolute, no-holds-barred blizzard of the century, to go along with the one we had three weeks ago.

On every channel, professional meteorologists were promising two solid days of impassible roads, white out conditions, car accidents, flight cancellations, bone-chilling cold, hellfire and brimstone, a plague of locusts, more Keanu Reeves movies, and perhaps a St. Bernard with a cask around its neck delivering brandy to stranded motorists.  The terror level was set to hopeless paranoia, and everyone was told to stay home and to either build an ark or quietly pray that Dunkin’ Donuts would still be open in the morning. 

So, as is the custom, I expected to wake this morning to find the local media outlets scrambling for the most fearsome and indelible moniker to permanently engrave this event into our memory.  They generally want the name to be both catchy and annoying so that it will stick with you forever, sort of like a Miley Cyrus song or a case of herpes.  “The February Snowbeast of Fury”.  “Evil Winter Snowpocalypse”.  “How-Is-It-That-We’re-Still-Alive 2011”.  It’s best to include the year, as the headline will serve as a piece of history, a reminder to future generations that we had a very warped perception of actual danger. 

But the reality was much closer to a mere three inches of snow and an updated weather forecast that read a lot like an apology.  “A small squall of embarrassment will be moving in from the east, and there’s a sixty percent chance that I skipped class the day we learned about Alberta Clippers.”  As the long list of school closings crawled across the bottom of the screen, a nervous weatherman stood before an empty radar map and did little to explain his role in the mass overreaction.  His shock-and-awe broadcast from the day before had turned to a sad lament.  “Blizzard Scam 2011”.  Chicago and much of the Midwest may have spent the day unburying themselves from a foot or more of snow.  But, much like a disappointed woman who ends the date a little early, Syracuse was slowly realizing that a couple inches wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.

The skies had broken, the roads were clear, and it took the normal half hour of shoveling for my lower back to seize up.  This just felt like a normal Wednesday in February.  It certainly did not feel like a good enough reason to check the Doppler radar on the internet every six minutes as I had done the night before.  I was left with several perplexing questions.  Where had all the snow gone?  What the hell is Doppler radar?  And did the storm interfere with my DVR recording American Idol last night?

I wanted answers, and I wasn’t getting them from my local newscasters.  Specifically, the hometown meteorologists were citing a warm pocket of air over Cleveland for the lack of snow here in upstate New York.  I can’t verify their theory, but I’m thinking that one way to discourage people from questioning your logic is to blame Cleveland.

As bothered as I was that the television had lied to me, I felt much more betrayed by my fellow central New Yorkers, who seemed to have once again succumbed to the media buildup.  Despite winter after winter of unrelenting snow accumulations, most people here still seem to follow the weather hype as if it might be magically generating ice cream, heroin and orgasms.  Everyone stays glued to their televisions like weather is the new ultimate reality show, forgetting that weather broadcasts are only slightly more interesting than Big Brother. 

The real confusing part is that we do this several times each winter.  After all, this is Syracuse, where annual snowfall gets measured in feet, if not hernias, snow days, and pounds of rock salt.  If there is one thing we should be used to by now, it is snow.  In fact, just this past December, over a 12 day span, we received 66 inches of snow and no one really noticed.  And now it’s as though the city’s entire population wants to forget 2010 as much as Mel Gibson does.  They embrace the panic and threat of a supposed storm, pretending that for the past two months they had no access to a TV, the internet, or a window.   And the real victims are the random strangers they will assault with pointless comments about how extraordinary our very ordinary weather is.  “Isn’t this snow insane?”  “Yes”, I reply.  “For Miami.”

But something about an official weather advisory creates delusions of grandeur among the upstate residents.  For years and years, what Syracuse has lacked in culture or entertainment, we have always attempted to make up in snow.  It’s our thing.  Sure, we don’t have a decent concert venue or a professional sports team, but we can plow the hell out of our roads, and we have the pot holes to prove it.  Being the fourth snowiest city in America should come with some bragging rights, so we develop this inferiority complex after watching one Nor’easter after another trample the big coastal cities.  Williard Scott reports live from Central Park, and we all go out to our driveways and wait with our snow blowers idling as if praying to some blizzard god.  Believe me, I’ve spent time in Boston and New York City so I realize that Syracusans have a few things to envy, but snow is not one of them.

What we seem to be forgetting is that a wet white winter is what makes Syracuse what it is.  Snow is such an important part of this city’s soul that it should simply become background noise.  And you don’t have to take my word for it.  Just look around, and take the hints.  Our football games are played inside a dome, and we have a mall that you can fit that dome inside.  The penguins at the zoo have no idea they ever moved.  And in mid-June you can find pickup trucks with the plow still attached – those truck owners aren’t being lazy, they’re being practical.

What I’m suggesting, Syracuse, is that we all band together to end the madness.  Stop the panic now before it happens again.  Quit boring your coworkers with your predictions that the city is going to shut down, because that rumor of a universal snow day back in the 70’s isn’t true.  Stop going up on your roof with a shovel, because you just look crazy.  Don’t sleep with your boots on.  Don’t put chains on your tires.  And most especially, don’t come up to me at the gym and say “Wow, can you believe this weather?”  Because my answer is always going to be “Yes, dumbass, this is Syracuse.”

When Pets Die (And How To Resurrect Them)

 

“I’m having trouble summoning my unicorn.”  As unlikely as it might seem, my girlfriend has actually spoken those words aloud, and with genuine concern.  She said them with the same frantic tone that someone might use if their child had fallen into a well. 

By some standards, it was equally disturbing that I reacted with sincerity and quiet understanding.  “I’m sure it’s something simple”, I replied encouragingly.  “Maybe you’re just using the wrong crystals.”

I should explain that Mary is not a sorceress nor mental patient, but rather a four-year veteran of a multiplayer online role playing fantasy game called Lineage II.  The game recreates a medieval war-torn land called Aden, where humans, dragons, elves and other strange creatures gather to kill one another in a mutual quest to see who can stay online the longest without showering or having any actual human interaction.  It is a basic escape from reality, similar to a coffee break or a good massage, but likely involving more wolves and weaponry.  And occasionally it means that our evening plans get altered when she announces “I have a siege at nine”.  Like the Roman Crusades, clan warfare waits for no one.

Having spent a year sitting next to Mary on the couch, with her blood-spattered laptop maxing out its RAM in the name of The Kingdom of Gracia, I have slowly come to appreciate the full extent to which she is devoted to her virtual life.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was caught somewhat off guard, as the diehard gamer within her clashes abruptly with the reasonable and down-to-earth girl that I had first met.  But I guess it’s true that you don’t really know someone until you’ve lived with them.  However aware you might be that your loved one has a fascination with hot air ballooning and a deep passion for music, that knowledge still will not prepare you to find out that they spend most weeknights as a light elf named Civita who wields an enchanted sword. 

More accurately, the elven version of Mary is categorized as a level 80 Mystic Muse, which from what I gather is the medieval equivalent of a modern day Lady Gaga in her third year of a pharmacy internship.  She dresses like an ancient figure skater for an impending apocalypse, or what you might envision Victoria’s Secret supermodels slipping into for a photo shoot in Middle Earth.  Like traditional old world protective armor, Civita’s bejeweled sheath is designed to display as much cleavage as possible.  This in itself can be as much weapon as defense, considering the likelihood that any beastly opponent is really a pubescent boy.

Mary is quick to point out that her elf race should not be confused with the “dark elves” who practice black magic and look a lot like that goth girl in your math class who was rumored to have bitten the head off a snake.  Dark elves aren’t necessarily evil, but they wouldn’t be caught dead at either the North Pole or in a hollow tree making E.L.Fudges.  See, the game encompasses a highly political class system reminiscent of every hostile and conflicted society that has caused civil unrest throughout history, and the same tragic philosophies which caused the IHOP to declare jihad on the Waffle House.  All characters are loosely ranked based on which level they have achieved, and there appears to be a continual yearning to gather more “experience points” which eventually elevate you to the next level.  You earn experience points by slaying dinosaurs or attacking a fortress, much like how you might earn them today by taking a pottery class or successfully parallel parking a minivan in downtown San Francisco.

So, over time, I have grown to understand the basic premise of the game, and have garnered an appreciable respect for Mary’s involvement.  For her, it is much more than a place where animal bone and the stone of purity are cherished possessions.  It is her second home, a departure from everyday life, and a community where she can unleash the naughty elf inside of her.  And still, no amount of sensitivity could have prepared me for last week’s virtual tragedy.

“No, this cannot be happening”, Mary pleaded.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, thinking perhaps that The Jersey Shore had gotten cancelled.

“My kooka just died”, she said.  And a horrible calm fell over the room.

Generally, when Mary narrates bits of her fantasy life, it leaves me wishing I had a translator.  She will express some elation and then my inquiries get answered with something like “I just finished Mimir’s Elixir quest, so now I can subclass.”  As much as I would like to share in her accomplishments, I most often find myself nodding in bewildered compliance.  It has become another language, of which I can fake understanding about half.  The ten percent that I actually understand is about as much French as you might need to know if taking a trip to Paris, perhaps to ask why the croissants aren’t filled with chocolate like the ones at Starbucks.

So I have learned not to take offense when my questions are responded with “you wouldn’t understand”.  She’s not suggesting I’m incompetent, but simply knows that I won’t get the significance of taking the Crystal of Purity to the High Priest Sylvian.

But this was different.  This was her kookaburra.  For those who don’t know, the Lineage version of a kookaburra is like a two-headed cross between a chicken, an ostrich, a velociraptor, and a young Chuck Norris.  And it was her baby, the virtual pet which she had nursed from a little hatchling all the way up to level 69, her partner in crime as they together pillaged the digital countryside.  And it now lay dead at her little elf’s feet as she clicked with her mouse in a mad panic.

“What happened?”  I asked as if I was staring at a 38-car pile-up.

While I waited for the answer, I stared back at my own laptop screen where a floating daisy hovered in suspense over a winding stream.  About six months ago, at the urging of my daughter, I had begun playing Webkinz online, a website where children get to play with animated versions of their stuffed animals.  Three feet away, while my girlfriend slaughters demon knights for sport, I navigate a hamster through an adorable forest full of collectible prizes, where the biggest danger is having someone find out you are forty years old.  My hamster talks a good game, but the reality is that he wouldn’t last five minutes in the Lineage world.  He would stop to ask an Orc for directions and quickly get eaten.  But in Webkinz World, the risks were no greater than mushroom trampolines.  If I was looking for a way to relate to Mary’s dilemma, I wasn’t going to find it on my computer.

“I forgot to feed him”, Mary said. 

As interesting as that seemed to me, I wasn’t nearly as concerned as our Labrador, Lulu, who looked up at me and then over at her dog bowl.  I think we both had the same thought: if Mary couldn’t keep her virtual pet alive, what hope did Lulu have?  As Lulu and I shared a moment of mutual concern, Mary scrolled back through messages from the game that repeatedly asserted “Your pet is very hungry.”  Somehow, it seemed a poor time to point out how that mimicked the message that Lulu communicates by drooling on your leg.

I imagined that Mary’s reaction would be to tear through the valleys of Aden in a vengeful rampage.  Her elf had recently acquired S-80 grade weapons, powerful enough to make you forget all about the assault rifle that you think your neighbor has hidden in his pickup, and it seemed appropriate for her to declare a sudden and misguided retaliation against an unfair world.  But instead, with tears welling up in her eyes, she typed a strongly-worded but heartfelt e-mail to the game managers, pleading for the return of her beloved kooka, promising to be a more responsible pet owner in the future.

When Mary’s kookaburra died, it was like a small part of her died as well.  When I say a small part of her died, I of course mean a small part of her sanity.  She was, after all, mourning the loss of a collection of illuminated pixels.  This wasn’t a real pet. 

Or was it?  The kooka itself may have been a mere avatar of a loyal companion, but Mary’s sense of loss was not the least bit imagined.  This pet, be it ever so nonexistent, had come to symbolize a basic human comfort, not just for Mary’s elf, but for her too.  And it was then and there that I was reminded that Mary remains that same girl that I had met and fell in love with, caring almost to a fault.  She might spend her free time slaughtering primeval beasts from the underworld, but her heart still remains in the right place.

Within days, through the magic of the internet, with the Gods of Lineage shining down upon her, Mary’s kooka was resurrected.  Together they went back out across the terrain, side by side, to rid the kingdom of monsters.  And Lulu breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Save Me, Drew Carey! (The Unemployed Person’s Guide to Surviving Daytime Television)

I have never been the type of person who needs to fit in.  In my younger years, I didn’t fully appreciate the ramifications of being last in the dodgeball draft hierarchy. The kid invariably picked after me was the size of a Prius, and I took pride in the unearned athleticism that might be attributed to me simply for being the smaller target.  In high school, against every bit of teenage logic, ignoring the cute-girl-to-dork ratio, I joined the math club literally because I liked math.  It was sort of like foolishly watching the Superbowl for the game itself, rather than the associated hype, new commercials, and deluge of chicken wings.  Then college came, and I quickly recognized fraternities as the height of social acceptance, because at the university level social acceptance is measured in embarrassment and ritualistic vomiting. 

So, over the years, I came to the realization that my life was not going to be defined by the company I kept, hoping instead to harness the sublime enlightenment that comes with having nothing to do on a Friday night.  Some would say that I had a Fonzie-esque coolness that allowed me to circumvent the nuances of basic human interaction, though looking back it might have been more properly diagnosed as ADD.  Refusing to join the Columbia House Music Club because it might be a cult is one thing, but refusing to do homework as a ‘conscientious objector’ might be taking the misunderstood rebel thing a bit too far.

Now I am older, presumably wiser, and I have maintained the freedom that comes with not having to get labeled as part of any particular group.  However, it was that exact sense of identity that I felt I lost when I recently got laid off.  Despite that work can be tedious, dispiriting and, well, stupid, I still had come to partially characterize myself based on who I was on the job.  I had been coworker, colleague and friend to many people with whom I shared common interests and goals, and with the loss of my job so went a large part of my self-definition.  The universe might as well have been telling me that I was no longer Irish, atheist, perpetually tardy, and suspiciously lax in signaling turns.

So suddenly I had no idea who I was, but it wasn’t quite as kickass as The Bourne Trilogy, nor anywhere near as hilarious as when it happened to Goldie Hawn in Overboard.  And the most frustrating part was in attempting to redefine myself under these new circumstances. It was just me here alone with a dog, a cat, my thoughts, and a growing need to feel connected to something.  Like any desperate American looking for direction and hope, I did the obvious thing: I turned on the TV.

 That was where it all went wrong.  I had just gotten comfortable on the couch with some lunch, my faithful labrador Lulu staring intently at my plate with eyes that screamed of the unfairness of the situation.  I grabbed the remote and began flipping through channel after channel, searching hopelessly for just one show that wasn’t painfully unwatchable.  click!  Dr. Oz and his Vulcan-like good looks standing in hospital scrubs, miles from a hospital.  click!  A contestant on The Price Is Right bidding on a combination karaoke machine/sausage smoker or equally useless appliance.  click!  Maury telling a young man that his girlfriend’s goat gave birth and that yes “you are the father!”  click!  Dr. Phil making people face their own demons while somehow rationalizing that moustache.  click! 

As you may know, my search was futile.  I surrendered to the idea that I wasn’t going to find anything to suit my interests, slamming down the remote as I said aloud “wow, there is nothing on TV.”  With an unsettled tension on her brow, as if to express her understanding of my dilemma, Lulu glared up at me with her trademark scowl that clearly said “seriously, dude, would it have killed you to make another turkey sandwich?”

Over the last few weeks, I have discovered that, being a forty-year old unemployed male, I am not the target demographic of daytime programming.  It feels as though I have unwittingly been inducted into a club in which I don’t feel remotely welcome.  In other words, I experience exactly the same inadequacy that Elizabeth Hasselbeck feels every time she walks onto the set of The View.  Sure, her heartfelt fears of gluten and the morning after pill are admirable, if not alarming.  But, as many a Jersey Shore cast member can confirm, when your abs start getting more airtime than your face, people might not be taking you seriously.

So I never asked to be part of this club – out of work, begrudgingly playing homemaker, and sitting relatively idle during the eight hours that normal people are busy not caring what Ellen is giving away to her audience.  And I seriously doubt that any thread of daytime television, also known as Satan’s cruel joke on the unemployed, is going to offer much redemption.  For starters, The Today Show is four hours long.  There could not be a more blatant reminder every morning that the programming bigwigs are aware that I have nothing better to do with my time.  What they don’t realize is that there are only a few things that I wish I had the ability to do for four hours straight, and none of them involve Al Roker.

Most daytime TV is specifically geared toward lulling the viewer into a near comatose state, keeping everything too bland to ever offend anyone and too routine to ever change.  It is for this exact reason that Regis Philbin is still on television, and thereby proof that the terrorists have won.  Furthering the catatonia, the program directors at TNT and the USA Network have thrown in the towel, airing a continuous onslaught of syndicated courtroom dramas.  Viewers mistakenly think that they can somehow catch up by watching these shows 24/7, despite the fact that, against the immutable laws of the time space continuum, new episodes of Law and Order are somehow still being made.

The most serious misconception perpetrated by the networks is in assuming that everyone at home is obsessed with what to make for dinner, and that we are all certain that it should be both foreign and made from nothing that is already in our kitchen.  This is what allows Emeril to go on GMA and convince unsuspecting viewers that their lives will be significantly improved by whipping up some baked flounder and sautéed escarole.  There are also no fewer than seven television judges, and I can’t believe that no one has thought to integrate cooking into each different brand of justice.  I am certain that the day is not too far off when I turn on the TV and find Judge Judy braising a pork loin.

But perhaps I am looking at the problem backwards.  Maybe I need to embrace daytime TV as my new survival guide, and assume that it will lead me to some sort of salvation.  See, I can probably think of a hundred reasons why I should never make gazpacho, not the least of which being that I am not currently Spanish, hungry, nor vaguely aware of what gazpacho is.  But here is Rachel Ray in the middle of my living room telling me that I should right now stop what I am doing and puree some tomatoes, and it suddenly sounds like the best idea in the world.  In my defense, her down home charm is a Chris-Angel-mindfreak-like supernatural force that could make even the most steadfast non-believer want to reorganize their own closet or cheer on an ambush makeover.

If I were a minivan-driving mother of three and concerned about bedbugs, weight loss, the price of floor polish, and how to make a good chutney, I might better understand.  But for now, I remain convinced that daytime TV, the Xanax of entertainment, will be the downfall of the United States.  It is a special weakness of our country to allow its unemployed workers to think that Oprah not only has the answers to all our problems, but also that she isn’t already secretly running the country.  She is living proof that your dreams can all be realized with the right combination of optimism, determination, gumption, and a billion dollars.

I had turned on the TV seeking refuge.  I wanted the Price Is Right crowd shouting advice to me, just as eagerly as they scream their best suggestion on precisely where to drop the plinko chip.  But what I got was Tyra crying every time someone spoke.  And that will have to do for now, because I have Moroccan meatballs, eggplant and squash curry on the stove.

the vampires made me do it

I’m unemployed. 

I keep trying to wear those words as some kind of badge of honor, but it’s really a tough idea to get used to.  My former employer gave eighteen months warning that they were relocating our department out-of-state, and then even emptied most of our building’s contents several months before my last day.  But somehow it still came as a shock to me when I had nowhere to go one monday morning.  Denial is like a Jedi mind trick that attacks its host.

I’ve been out of work since the beginning of the year, and I’m still struggling to determine what that means.  To my dog, it means a bare minimum of hours spent within the unholy confines of the crate, where time is measured in spent rawhide.  To my cat, it means probably nothing – to be honest, we are lucky if he acknowledges us at all (I’m not sure if he would notice if the Macy’s parade, lead by a team of flaming rhino, marched through the living room).  To my girlfriend, it means her never having to make dinner, or at least that is what she keeps telling me.  To me, I suppose it means a fresh start, an opportunity to reassess and perhaps change my career path, not to mention the priceless wisdom of fully comprehending that no one is missing a single moment of even remotely tolerable television during the daytime.  Most importantly, to the department of labor, it means that if I want to continue my unemployment benefits then I might have to show that I am using this time effectively in my job search.  Let’s hope they do not find this blog.

The associated guilt of being home each day can be very accommodating.  It allows me to pretend that I have molded my agenda around activities that will effectively embellish my resume.  After a few weeks of solitude, you start to correlate couchlife with its usefulness in the working world.  Deleting episodes of ‘Celebrity Rehab’ from my DVR list becomes “background in database management”.  Interpreting the precise moment that the cat intends to puke on the carpet and subsequently moving him to the more vomit-friendly hardwoods translates as both “impeccable communication skills” and “experienced problem solver”.  You get the idea.

See, I was determined that all of my time was going to be used effectively.  Or at least that was the case until a few days ago when I sat and watched, in its entirety, “Twilight Saga: New Moon”.  This, I suspected, had to be the absolute epitome of squandered time.  If you haven’t yet seen the movie, I can tell you that it centers around characters of such depth and overwrought drama that in order to really sympathize with them, you need to be a 15-year-old girl.  Or Dr. Phil.  Or maybe a veterinarian.  Sadly, I am none of these.

But I do have a television and the internet, so I am well aware of how vampires have seeped into pop culture and become the new definition of sexy.  Or is it just a reworking of an old definition?  Vampire Edward has that brooding, angst-ridden rebel thing down to perfection, but wasn’t that whole act established two decades ago by Dylan McKay?  Unless he was secretly lathering in SPF 400, only a vampire could be that vitamin D deficient in the 90210 zip code. 

It was the Dylan connection that really made it dawn on me – none of these mainstream 21st century vampires have jobs.  So maybe this whole unemployment thing is part of the new sexy.  I just need to embrace it, start ordering my steaks rare, act aloof and disappointed, and get overly annoyed at absolutely anything that anyone says.  Then maybe I can forget about having to ever find a job.

Or, maybe, I could just start a blog.  Although, to assume that I began this blog simply because I lost my job seems to undermine the sincerity of my intentions, not to mention the sincerity of my sofa’s cushions.  I had briefly kicked around the idea of blogging about the plight of the laid-off worker, examining in detail my life from the living room, my unwaveringly resolute search for another job, and the shame that a labrador retriever can convey when she fires that ‘really, dude, again?’ look as I lean back on the couch with my laptop.  There is no humiliation more effective than when your own dog notices that you have been spending too much time at home. 

Unbeknownst to me, this is amplified tenfold when you get the same sense of disappointment from a movie werewolf.  In my mind, the wolf version of Jacob kept giving me that same Labrador cocked-head chagrin.  It was logical therefore when I started thinking that if I had Taylor Lautner’s abs, I would already have found a job.  Damn you, Twilight, and your stranglehold on American culture.

Aside from my determination to not write that type of poor-me-I-got-laid-off blog, there was also this biting need for me to not identify myself as someone who needed to write a blog at all.  Yes, I like to write and I have some free time on my hands, and it seems that current societal laws almost require me to post my every waking move to a back corner of the internet where six people might (thanks to my blog title) accidentally stumble across it while searching for a way to escape from prison, a caesar salad recipe, or both.

Somehow, in our search for practical uses of the internet, we as a society have collectively decided that our resources (when not following Justin Bieber) are best spent cataloguing the mundane nuances of everyday life.  In fact, that absurd premise is the lifeblood of Facebook’s billion dollar industry, and how can I argue with the seemingly tireless need for everyone to see the status updates of their two or three hundred closest friends.  ‘Taking a bath.’.  ‘Finally found my ferret’.  ‘Loving the grape Four Loko’. ‘Giving my ferret a bath in grape Four Loko’. 

I don’t pretend to understand the fascination with minute-by-minute briefings of things having nothing to do with Justin Bieber.  But, if nothing else, this has confirmed my suspicions that the internet is evolving us into a nation of vampires.  We can keep tabs on all of our ‘friends’ and we never again have to go out into the sunlight.

So sitting here, watching Twilight forge new ground in the area of teenage heartsickness (while setting a record for scenes in which boys pointlessly appear shirtless), I had this sudden flash-forward to my next job interview.  I envisioned the person across the table saying something like “It says here on your resume that you think Bella was only using Jacob to get Edward to come back to her”.  Each time I picture it, I see myself struggling for the correct response, only to humbly reply something like “you’re right, that’s not really much of a revelation”. 

I guess what I am saying is that a huge step in surviving this downtime has been admitting to myself that I am not a vampire.  I can find a job, keep a blog, downplay the criticism of an astute labrador retriever, and I can do it all without ever having a territorial pissing contest with a pack of werewolves.   And in doing so, I think I’m learning that every waking moment doesn’t have to be incorporated as part of my professional experience.

And thank God it doesn’t, because I plan to be unemployed at least through the next season of “True Blood”.  Don’t tell the Department of Labor.

Or my dog.