THE SHEPCAT CHRONICLES

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So That Happened: A Vignette in One Act

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Doorbell rings.

It’s the kid next door. Good kid, unfailingly polite, takes care of Maow whenever I’m out of town. Always rings the doorbell like this to ask if he can get a ball out of my backyard, as he does today. I’d be fine with him just going back there to retrieve his wiffle and tennis balls whenever I’m not quick enough to get out there and toss them back over the fence, but him always ringing to ask is a sign of his polite upbringing, so it’s worth the trip to the door.

But this also happens: He comes to door alone, but as often as not, it’s him and one or two other kids I see running past my windows in the backyard, ostensibly to retrieve a ball.

One ball.

Once, one of his friends was parkouring onto and off of the rocky terrace in our backyard, and all I could picture was the kid twisting an ankle and eating rock or crashing to the yard below and breaking a tibia and some parents suing me for medical damages because their kid’s a spastic moron to whom I didn’t give express permission to be in my yard.

Today, though, it’s only two of them — the neighbor kid and one friend — who go darting past my windows. The friend — these are 12-year-olds, by the way — is carrying some sort of clear plastic container in one hand and its lid in the other. And they’re back there awhile — like, long enough that I wonder was I really so engrossed by work that I didn’t notice them leaving the yard. So I get up and walk toward the dining room, and I don’t see them through the curtains in the part of the yard where I expect them to be.

But I hear voices.

Now I go over to the living room–side window, where the blinds are completely clapped shut and I’d look really obvious and creepy if I try to separate two of the slats to look out there and see what they’re doing. Still, this muffled conversation is taking place that sounds a lot more detailed and intricate than anything involving the retrieval of a ball.

One ball. With a lidded plastic container.

I should note that there’s absolutely nothing of value in the backyard that they could cart out without my noticing. So honestly, whatever’s back there that they can fit into this container they’re welcome to.

But the mystery persists.

And yet I’d be the creepy asshole in this picture if I just asked them point blank why are they really back there and what the hell’s with the container.

… and scene.

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Written by Shepcat

August 29, 2017 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Life, The PNW

Shepcapitalism

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I’ve always respected the principle of living within one’s means, so my concept of wealth has never revolved around living in a big house, belonging to a country club or driving an expensive car.

My idea of perfect wealth is the ability to buy 200 pairs of boxer shorts and put 185 into storage, hedging against the absolute certainty that, by the next time I need to buy underwear, the manufacturer of my preferred brand will have completely changed its design to something uncomfortable or otherwise objectionable, if not ceased production altogether.

Thus, the cornerstones of my capitalist manifesto are:

  1. True wherewithal is measured by one’s ability to outpace and outthink the free market.
  2. No matter where you live, no matter where you go, you’re always at home in comfortable underwear.

Written by Shepcat

August 6, 2017 at 11:35 am

Posted in Life

The Long and Short of It

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On the April 7 episode of her podcast With Friends Like These, journalist Ana Marie Cox and her guest, author and political commentator Thomas Frank (What’s the Matter with Kansas?), briefly digressed in their conversation to talk about Donald Trump’s sartorial habit of wearing his ties so long that he has to Scotch-tape the narrow end that isn’t long enough to go through the loop in back.1

That’s the how of the Scotch tape, but it doesn’t address the why of Trump wearing his ties so long.

Naturally, I point to writer-director David Mamet’s 2000 comedy State and Main, in which drunken town doctor and bow-tie aficionado Doc Wilson (Michael Higgins) promotes the following thesis to dissuade someone from taking his advice:

It’s the truth that you should never trust anybody wears a bow tie. Cravat’s s’posed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why’d you wanna trust somebody’s tie points out to accentuate his ears?

 
I mean, think about it: This is a man who attempts to dominate everyone he meets with a weird, jerky alpha-male handshake that puts his counterpart off balance and yanks him toward Trump, in whose mind this practice — what? makes him appear stronger than the other guy? This flabby asshole who eats KFC on his private jet and doesn’t get any exercise aside from walking to and from his golf cart after hitting a 7-iron shot on the fairway? He’s precisely the kind of asshole who would want your eyes drawn toward his junk.

So yeah: Good luck keeping that thought out of your head next time you look at Trump’s necktie. Go with God.
 
 
 
 
 
1 It’s also notable that the ties Trump wears in all likelihood come from his own eponymous menswear line. I mean, they’re certainly not bespoke, but it’s his name on the back of each one. So why does this couturier, this clothes horse, this man of fashion not have his own personal neckties customized with the loop stitched a few inches higher to accommodate his preference for unwieldy length?

Written by Shepcat

April 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Movies, Politics

Tagged with

Perchance to Dream

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Last night I dreamed I was entering a beachfront bar when Susan Sarandon approached me and said hello. I was surprised she remembered me. (In the subtext of the dream, we had apparently met briefly or worked on a film set together once.)

After a moment it became apparent that she wasn’t merely being gracious but actually wanted to continue our conversation, so I asked if I could buy her a drink.

At the bar we ordered, and as I opened my wallet I discovered I had misplaced my credit card. So I reached for cash, and instead of a couple of neatly folded 20s, I produced a wadded-up fistful of small bills, counting to make sure I had enough, then handing the lump of cash to the bartender, as though I was a 9-year-old who had been saving up his allowance, not to put toward a baseball mitt or a new bike but to buy drinks for Susan Sarandon.

This has been a story about how even in my most sensational dreams I exude the same suave, worldly sophistication I possess in my waking life.

Written by Shepcat

April 8, 2017 at 10:41 am

Posted in Life

In Which Maow Throws Up on Some of the Things but Not All of the Things

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gak \ˈgak\ v. to whork up a hairball or other vomitus, as a cat does; also, n. the substance thereof
gakked; gak•king; gak•ker

 
I’m a fairly heavy sleeper. As such, I long fretted fatherhood, certain that I would most likely sleep through the wailing of my child and later face the wrath and recriminations of my sleep-deprived wife.

Then cats entered my life.

At which point I learned that the clutching, gulping, premonitory sound of a cat in the throes of gakking up a hairball — though much subtler and more subdued than a baby’s shrill cries — is enough to pierce my veil of sleep and catapult me into action.

Of course, Maow used to sleep with us, right there on the bed, so we were more likely to hear her when she went into her prelaunch countdown. But as we fumbled out of our slumber, from zero to 60 in mere seconds, we still faced two immediate challenges:

1. Could we get the lights on quickly enough?
2. Could we find a magazine quickly enough?

The latter of these, of course, is the critical element. The availability and proximity of a magazine or newspaper — long since read and kept on hand only to be sacrificed so that our carpet or comforter might be stain-free — is paramount, particularly the part about proximity. Because every second counts, and the fewer seconds devoted to a panicked search, the more time available to give one’s cat an approved target.

Because periodicals tend to be filed away neatly, tossed aside indiscriminately, or relegated to the recycling bin, I had suggested that perhaps we should buy a dustpan and hang it from a nail or hook on the wall. A solution dedicated to a singular problem, situated in a place where we’d always be able to find it when time was of the essence. One for the bedroom, one for the TV room — the two rooms in which we passed the most time — should do the trick.

We never executed this plan. We fumbled for light switches and darted across rooms and back again, sometimes more successfully than others. But we never followed through on any kind of emergency gak protocol.

And so it occurred last April or thereabout that the Spring 2016 issue of my alma mater’s magazine, The Jayhawk Journalist, arrived in the mail. After I had paged through it and read at length about the retirement of a favorite professor of mine, I set it aside and didn’t think much about it … until the next time Maow started to gak.

There it was. Right place. Right time. That time and, well, every time thereafter.

Because after the magazine caught the first of Maow’s gaks, I just rinsed it off at the bathroom sink, let it dry, then returned it to a discreet but convenient location until such time as it was again needed. For the next eight or nine months I did this, and over time the magazine became warped with repeated usage, rinsing and drying.

The spring issue’s cover subject was a fellow KU alumna who is now associated in some capacity with a vineyard and winery in Oregon. More than once I entertained the notion that I might someday cross paths with this woman and pause — “Excuse me. Don’t I know you from somewhere?” — until it occurs to me that, “Oh, yeah, you’re the woman my cat throws up on,” at which juncture I must sheepishly remove myself from the conversation.

Finally, a month or so ago, I sojourned to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up a few items, and at long last I procured a new plastic dustpan. It’s a little bigger than the task requires — I had only the one to choose from, as, oddly enough, Bed Bath & Beyond doesn’t offer a selection of dustpans that aren’t attached to brooms — but it is an exemplar of its form, a damn fine American-made dustpan.

Except that Maow is terrified of the thing.

The drill has always been, whenever she begins expelling something from her esophagus, I’ll kneel beside her and put a hand softly on her back — partly to calm her, partly to keep her in one place — then slide the magazine in front of her until she defaces it. There are usually two or three stages to this, so I may have to follow her a few steps while she works up her next expulsion, but she’s always been pretty cooperative.

Until now.

Now when I slide the dustpan in front of her, she bolts from it, wide-eyed with terror, as though I’m the feline Grim Reaper bidding her to gaze upon her reflection in the blade of my scythe. Which, in the absence of a readily available alternative, is how I ended up with puke in three places on the TV room carpet today.

It may also explain her historical disdain of our kitchen lineoleum, which has always been right there, just a few steps away. Slick surfaces. Who knew?

The good news? It’s March. The Spring 2017 Jayhawk Journalist should show up in the mail before too long.

Written by Shepcat

March 8, 2017 at 11:13 pm

Posted in Life

Tagged with

The Night Of: August 20, 1994

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a pre-Chronicles tale adapted from the journals of Brent Shepherd
 
The place: a coffeehouse called Insomnia Café, on North High Street in Columbus, Ohio, across from the university, with décor that I described as “sterile … with metal-topped butcher’s-counter tables and artsy, architectural-metal chairs. They served me a giant cappuccino that may have been brewed in hell and express delivered — it stripped the nerves off my tongue and still hasn’t cooled down some 30 minutes later. …

“There’s a huge American flag on one wall that may have been stolen from a Perkins restaurant. At any minute I expect George C. Scott to stand up over there and tell us not to let the bastards get us down.”

The time: Our story begins in earnest around 11:15 p.m.


 
I had decided I wouldn’t stick around long because I had an earlier-than-normal (for me) flight to catch the next morning, but I ordered an Italian soda and turned my attention to the book I had brought with me. Across the room, a lumpy, dirty but comfortable-looking garage-sale sofa was vacated by the trio of girls who had occupied it since my arrival, so I made my move.

I had read only a few pages when the guy whose picture appears next to the word dreg in the dictionary sat down in the chair opposite me with a mug of steaming-hot tea. He wore abused work boots, some kind of fatigue pants with cargo pockets, a T-shirt, and a leather jacket, even though the temperature was 80+ degrees in Columbus that day. He was attempting something like dreadlocks with his hair, which had aluminum-can pull tabs tied to the ends. (Don’t ask. I was hoping you’d tell me.) He had a sparse and stringy excuse for a beard, dirty teeth, and a glazed expression that extended from his eyes to his whole face. He looked like he had bathed once or twice that calendar year and had maybe been released from jail as recently as that morning on someone’s recognizance other than his own.

He took from his fatigue pockets a rolled-up graphic novel that was as ratty, stained and disheveled as he was. He unrolled it, opened it and read as he fiddled with his teabag. Occasionally he would mumble some question about the café to me as though I were a local.

He asked if Insomnia had a chess board. I told him I didn’t know. He asked if I’d be up for a game if he were able to find one. I said sure, why not. Much to my eventual chagrin, he found a board and pieces and we were all set to play.

I tried, somewhat successfully, to feign concentration while we played and thus kept conversation to a minimum. I spoke to him only when spoken to, which was difficult enough given his slurred speech. Nonetheless, he found things to talk about, asking me still more questions about Insomnia Café which I was unable to answer. Only much later in the proceedings did I venture to explain that I was from Kansas City and therefore not intimate with my surroundings, if for no other reason than to assure him that I was merely ignorant, not an imbecile. I chose to let my chess strategies speak for the imbecile in me.

To this point, I have neglected to mention one important feature of my opponent’s costume, a prop, if you will: the knife tucked into his belt.

Apparently no one in Insomnia minded that this most unsavory character was walking around with a knife handle in conspicuous view. You’d have to be Ray Charles not to notice this detail. Then again, probably everyone figured he could do more harm to himself than to anyone else, because of the way he wore it, the blade pointing straight down toward his genitals. (I have no idea whether he was wearing a sheath of some kind in his pants and was really in no hurry to ask. I didn’t want to know him that well.)

This detail is important because early in our chess game we were approached by a trio of his friends, the leader of which was a perhaps more unsavory-looking punk with a carelessly groomed green mohawk, nose rings, a leather jacket and — you guessed it — a knife handle sticking out of his pants, also aimed precariously toward his genitals. (At this point, I wondered whether this was perhaps a local characteristic that I hadn’t been hipped to yet, and I glanced around the room to see if anyone else was wearing a knife in their crotch.) The mohawk punk’s knife had an elegantly curved silver handle, obvious without being glaringly shiny.

At one point in the conversation, the mohawk punk blurted out, “Oh, dude — I got a new knife.”

“Do you have it with you?” asked the dreg. “Let’s see it.”

At which point the mohawk punk grabbed the buffed silver handle and withdrew his new weapon to reveal …

“Aw, man — that’s a steak knife,” cried the dreg. Indeed, it was a steak knife that may have been lifted from a Shoney’s or a Ponderosa or some such place.

“Yeah,” spat the mohawk punk defensively, brandishing the knife. “But I could still fuck someone up with it.”

“But it’s a steak knife,” repeated the dreg.

The girl who had arrived with the mohawk punk spoke up then, something to the effect of, “You’re probably gonna end up stabbing yourself with that thing,” thus prompting the mohawk punk to threaten her with the excision of a certain part of her own genitalia. The girl seemed undaunted, but as the mohawk punk repeated his threat a few times, I imagined myself getting tangled up in violence among complete strangers. The girl wasn’t very attractive, but it seemed to me she could certainly do better for herself than present company. In any event, the steak knife was eventually resheathed (yikes!), and the trio bade their farewell.

The dreg and I resumed our chess game, which lumbered on toward closing time.

At perhaps 1:30 a.m. another of his derelict friends approached the table. This one was older, at least in his late 30s, unshaven and largely toothless in a hockey player sort of way, wearing thick-lensed horn-rimmed glasses. They greeted each other amiably, without wielding cutlery, and talked while the dreg and I played.

“Hey, look what I got,” the dreg said, producing the disheveled graphic novel from his fatigue pocket.

“Cool,” said the derelict, apparently recognizing it as subject matter in which they shared a common interest. He began to page through it. “When did you get this?”

“Today,” replied the dreg. I almost couldn’t conceal my surprise. This ragged, stained, shredded stack of pages had possibly been a crisp new periodical as recently as 12 hours ago. Maybe I care about printed material a little too much.

A digression: Earlier that evening, when I overtook the sofa, the group before me hadn’t picked up after themselves when they left. The table, nothing more than some particle board suspended by two milk crates, still held a mug, a cup and saucer, and a bottle of Arizona Iced Tea that was still about one-fifth full. The dreg and I had sat the glassware aside to make room for the chess board, but at some point during our game, he reached for the iced-tea bottle.

“Is this yours?” he asked.

“No.” I shook my head.

“Mmm,” he grunted in acknowledgement, then proceeded to top off his own still-steaming mug of tea with the bottle’s contents. “I’ve gotta cool this shit down. It’s too hot to drink.”

I was (probably visibly) appalled, thinking, You have no idea who might have backwashed into that bottle before you came along. Then I caught myself and imagined that, if the girl who’d left it behind returned to witness the spectacle, she would’ve been more grossed-out by the concept than the dreg would ever be.

Anyway: Closing time was drawing near, and the dreg and I were in a standoff. I knew we had to wrap up the game quickly, so I started playing kamikaze chess, trying to make things happen and force one of us to win or lose the game. Insomnia employees urged us to finish but were gracious enough to put up with us. I went after the dreg’s king.

The derelict became more actively involved and actually made the dreg’s final five or six moves until they were able to checkmate me (or I allowed myself to be checkmated). There wasn’t much fanfare. I bade an unceremonious (and probably unnoticed) farewell and vacated the premises.

It was 2:10 a.m. So much for getting to bed early.

At 3 a.m., back at my hotel, I called to request a 7 a.m. wake-up call. The night manager didn’t seem to find the request unusual.

Written by Shepcat

November 27, 2016 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Life, Travel

Jon Polito 1950-2016

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Allow me to share with you again one of my top three all-time L.A. memories:

On Tuesday, January 6, 1998, I attended the New Beverly Cinema’s 9:25 p.m. screening of Miller’s Crossing, Joel and Ethan Coen’s essential 1990 entry in the gangster genre.

I had scouted out my closest-as-possible-to-dead-center seat and was slumped down, settling in, waiting for the movie to start. And who should walk in and sit down in the next row, directly in front of me? Jon Polito, who plays Johnny Caspar, the Italian mob boss and foil to Irish mobsters Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney in the movie I am there to see.

By the standards of the New Beverly — which at that time and for some time afterward was rundown and a little seedy, with squeaky, rattily upholstered seats and dim lighting that hid any number of other flaws and scars — Polito was impossibly elegant. He wore pressed trousers and a blazer with an open-collar shirt and looked as though he may have come over from a party, although it was such a comfortable look on him that — who knows? — probably he was just that casually elegant in everyday life.

I was a fan, not just of his work with the Coens but also his role as Det. Steve Crosetti on Homicide. And yet I couldn’t work up the nerve to say anything to him — even though he was right there. But a braver audience member approached to say hello and give voice to the question burning in all our minds: “What are you doing here?”

Polito replied that hadn’t seen the movie in years and noticed it was playing at the New Beverly, so he came down to check it out. Just that simple.

And so it was that I, who love character actors, had my most meta experience in a lifetime at the movies, sitting behind one of the best, who laughed loudest at some of his own lines, as if he had forgotten what a great part the Coens had written for him.

We lost Jon Polito yesterday. And thus endeth our lesson in — hell, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word — ethics.

Jon_Polito

Written by Shepcat

September 2, 2016 at 10:59 am