Ragnorok Cookies

The end of days has begun and the first sign was a bakery. There is an adorable bakery near where I work and I always look through the window as I pass by on my lunch break. It’s brightly lit, with high ceilings, cheerful little tables, and shiny white padded diner chairs with pink accents. The lady behind the counter has a frilly 50s style apron and pink hair that matches their pink and mint sign. The counter always has these perfect cakes on it with the missing slices toward the window so you can see the sugary seduction inside. It’s a cross between Stepford wives creepy perfection and Portland hipster irony.

I have this issue with gluten trying to make my brain explode, so I don’t generally go into bakeries. I just stand outside and try to inhale the soul of the baked goods as they waft past on the wind. This week, I found out that this bakery has gluten free baked goods, so, after an unfortunate episode at work, I stalked over hoping that their GF goodies would be not-sawdust. All the other stuff looked so good, maybe the ‘specialty’ stuff would be at least tasty.

I asked the lady in her perfect apron which things in the case might be edible…All of it. Everything they sell is gluten free: the cakes, the cookies, and (squeeeee) the lunch food. Right then… I’ll have tacos on blue tortillas for lunch and a chocolate cookie sandwich for dessert. I sat in the sunlight on a cream and pink bench listening to spritely music, waiting for my lunch and a cookie sandwich that I was already calling ‘my precious’ in my head.

The red plastic basket with the tacos looked so good. Fresh avocado slices on top of the salsa with a wedge of lime on the side. I picked up my taco and there were beans, salsa and cilantro, fine, but why was the rest of the filling green and orange? I did some discrete archeology with my fork (because glaring at the nice people who brought me what looked like a tasty non-poisonous cookie seemed like a bad idea). I uncovered sweet potatoes, broccoli florets and no meat. None. Who does that?! Ooooohhhhh…. Oh no. I looked at the menu again. It’s not just vegetarian, it’s a completely vegan and gluten free diner decorated like a place with real food. Quietly sobbing in my heart a little, I figured: I’d already paid for my food and if I didn’t eat lunch before going back to work, I might try to gnaw a coworkers arm off before the day was over. That would probably be bad. So…time to try new food.

Here’s how I know the end of days have come. I ate the tacos and enjoyed it. Ok, I did take the broccoli out of the second taco, but it was because my brain couldn’t accept broccoli not being awful, not because it tasted bad. And the cookie sandwich… well… there might have been a foodgasm. Vegans don’t even use butter to cook. How is it possible to make tasty enjoyable food, not just grudgingly edible baked goods without butter?

I don’t think it is. I think, the pink haired lady behind the counter is a harbinger of the end of days. She created the bakery and filled the food with Ragnarok magic to make it tasty because she needed a way to cope with being a bringer of destruction. That totally explains the frilly apron and perfectly coiffed pink hair. And if it’s Ragnarok magic, it can’t really be vegan. Yep, that must be it. Problem solved. The world is the way I expect it to be again. Honey, will you make me steak for dinner?

Puppy Shaman

I think the demon that was inhabiting our puppy has changed bodies to our older dog.  Hanu, our older  dog is the least aggressive dog I’ve  ever met.    He’s willful and distressingly smart, but never ever aggressive.  I’ve seen him run full tilt at an angry stranger dog at the dog park and flip mid-air to land throat up directly under the  angry dog.    It’s pretty high on my  ‘The world is very strange’ list and somewhere in the middle of my ‘Holy crap the world can be scary’ list.  Hanu is also smart enough to figure out how doors work – because he loves the air conditioner.  Being outside in the heat is just too uncivilized, he figured out how to open the door so he can come inside and cool off on the AC vent whenever he wants.

Now, enter, stage right, the possessed puppy.  The puppy is now demon free and a happy, wiggly bouncy sausage on legs.  Because she was ill so long, she’s still not completely house trained.  Which means she’s often on leash even in the house.  Clever Hanu has taken to tormenting the puppy in ways that we can’t really punish.  Technically, he’s not doing anything wrong.  The first example was puppy being leashed to my chair while happily playing with Hanu.  At some point, Hanu took her chew toy and moved at a walk just out her range with her following him as far as the leash would let her.  Then he jogged back a couple of steps and bounded through the room landing inches from the other side of her leashed range.  It gave her just enough room to get up to full speed before the leash yanked her to a stop.  Don’t panic, she wears a sturdy harness when she’s leashed, she didn’t get hurt at all.  Just startled.  Really really startled.  That game continued for a couple of days until puppy mostly stopped falling for it.  So Hanu escalated.  He started leading her around a table or chair leg that would effectively shorten her leash range, then do  the leap from one side to the other.  Resulting in a  few more days of leash stops before she stopped falling for it too often.

The next adaptation was clever enough I started to suspect where Puppys demon had migrated to.  He would play and wrestle with her in a small area slowly expanding to use all of her leash radius then lead her around a chair leg and bounce away all at once.  He’d do it for long enough that she’d forget about the leash before he led her astray.  Thats not doggish, thats diabolical.

A few days after I saw that happen, I had puppy leashed at the edge of the dining room while I worked in the kitchen.  I heard a rattling sound and funny gaspy grunts from the puppy.  I peeked around the corner and found that Hanu had gone into the office, opened a drawer, pulled out the only toy he’s not allowed to play with, and brought the toy back to the living room.   Where he lay, an inch from her leash range, shaking the stuffed puppy toy so it rattled.  He was close enough to her I’m sure he could feel her breathing while she strained to get her toy.  And make no mistake, he was not playing with that toy.  He was just moving his head enough to make the rattle sound while he laid on the floor, totally relaxed.

Once I realized I was watching something truly unnatural, I noticed more odd behavior.  Puppies love to run, but this one runs widdershins circles around Hanu at full speed in the yard.  Then there was the parkour incident in the bedroom – None of the surfaces under the puppy’s feet were the floor for 3 circuits around Hanu.  The side of the bed, a pillar, the footboard of the bed, the side of a dresser, the laundry basket, you get the idea.  It looked like magic to me – it was definitely defying gravity.  I have hope for Hanus recovery though.  For every time he torments the puppy, there are a dozen times that he brings her toys or lays quietly while she climbs him like a demented monkey.  A sharp word from either of us to the puppy (“don’t chew that”, “drop the slipper”, “no! don’t pee there!”) is enough for Hanu to spirit his beloved puppy to his cave for protection.  He escorts her to his kennel, then lays across the opening as a guard.  The good dog is still in there and he’s in control most of the time so I  think the demon will be exorcised.  And if ever there was a canine shaman who knows how to remove a demon from a dog, its that puppy.

Possessed Puppy

I think my puppy might need to be exorcised. We were looking for something friendly and mellow. It didn’t matter what breed or mix it was as long as it was healthy. Cute would be a bonus, because it’s harder to hate cute when the inevitable messes happen. We brought home a puppy, cute friendly, bouncy and velvety soft on a Thursday. By Friday, our older dog was happily bounding around the yard with the puppy, totally smitten.

By Saturday, the puppy started excreting a pungent runny leak that I think I could market to the military as a chemical weapon. To start with, this was irritating, but not worrisome. 2.5 seconds after you look away from any puppy, they eat something they shouldn’t. Or pee on something. I think there’s a cosmic coin flip that decides which one you get each time. That should have been my first clue though: isn’t the smell of sulfur a sign of possession? By Saturday night, it was clear the puppy needed to always be close to open windows, running water and the front door.

I took the first night on the couch by the front door while puppy stayed in a kennel right next to me. Puppies with unpredictable leaks stay in comfy kennels that can be hosed down if necessary. That’s when the second sign of possession appeared: our adorable new puppy transformed into a high volume cross between a Star Wars Tauntaun and Dark Crystal Fizgig. Ever seen a sick kid demand a popsicle and deliberately choose to cry when they don’t get their 3rd popsicle? With a terrifying and far too intelligent gleam in her eyes, the new puppy figured out that human trick. It might have been funny if she hadn’t figured it out at 2 am while I figured it out at 4 arm. For the next 2 days, the puppy was taken outside every 2 or 3 hours around the clock. We ran through towels so fast I bought a giant bag of them from goodwill and dubbed them puppy towels. A gallon of Natures Miracle was used up in days. In spite of those efforts, we still had a couple of 3am dog baths. And through all of it (except the baths), the puppy was eating good food, drinking plenty of water and bouncing around playing happily at every opportunity.

Only then did I begin to suspect she was possessed by a demon sent to taunt us and drive us mad with toxic gases and sleep deprivation. We finally got her in to see the vet and since they were overbooked she had to stay over night before they could see her. Which (Hurray!) meant we’d get to sleep an entire night through. This is when I knew we were being toyed with by something unnatural. At 2 am, Kris’ phone rang. 2am phone calls mean panic inducing bad news, so there was adrenaline before the ring tone faded. The call told us our phone and internet access had been blocked and that we needed to contact them immediately. I spent the next 30 minutes confirming that it was in fact a phishing call at 2 am. Whatever possessed the puppy clearly had access to the internet and phone lines.

Puppy came home the next day with medicine and instructions that it would be 5 days before she no longer leaked uncontrollably. She would still need to go out every 3 hours around the clock. For 3 days, the toxic smell and chemical weapon production slowed down. I thought we might have forced the horned entity from our cute puppy with medications. But no. It all started getting worse again. So back we went to the vet who I was hoping had a secret identity as a Voodoun priest. This time, they kept the puppy for a night and we got delicious decadent sleep without nightmares of toxic green ooze flowing through the house. The day the puppy was due to come home, I had to be at work 3 hours early at 5 am for a production release. But, I’d get off work a few hours early, pick up the puppy then go home and nap. At 3pm, I picked up the puppy from the vet and was told they couldn’t find anything wrong with her in the 24 hours they’d had her. At 3:06pm on I-205 she violated her kennel and my car with a torrent of something unspeakable. The rest of the drive home was unpleasant as I wondered if there was a puppy in the back or a shape shifting demon who’d been angrily waiting for me at the vet for 2 days. When I got home and looked in the kennel, I saw a puppy, but smelled a demon. I cleaned puppy then set her on the porch next to me while I cleaned the kennel. 2 minutes later, she’d done it again. 4 minutes later, she did it a third time and broke a law of physics. Unless there was a dimensional wormhole in her intestine, there’s no way that much volume could be held by a body that small. So back to the vet we went because that is not a puppy, that’s a supernatural incursion.

The next day, I got a call from the vet. He told me there was nothing wrong with the puppy. I started asking questions because clearly his mind had been wiped by the TonTon incantations of the false puppy. That’s when I discovered that the vet was a wise and kind man, but his staff had been replaced by brainless zombie replicants incapable of conveying information. The vet was in fact a medicine man of many talents and with all of the information he needed would keep her another night and perform the correct medicinal ceremony to start the puppys withdrawal from the dark side.

The next morning I received a call at 8am from the vets office berating me for not having the puppy enrolled in puppy classes. Now that I knew the staff were mindless replicants, I was patient as I explained that the puppy was about 8 feet from the desk she was calling me from and was only fit for puppy classes if they were going to provide respirators and silver crosses to all the humans.

Later that same day, the vet finished blessing puppy and sent her home with an involved series of ceremonies that needed to be repeated 6 times a day for a week. We finished all the unguents and medicines yesterday and now we’re waiting. And watching. Is the demon exorcised for good, or is it hiding quietly under floppy puppy ears? If you don’t hear from us for a couple of days, make sure you have your crucifix when you come looking.

Alien Agent

I think my travel agency has been taken over by aliens doing tolerance testing on unsuspecting humans. The agents’ accent sounded Venusian, but it might have been Martian.  Maybe North Martian near Planum Boreum, it’s hard to tell over a staticy phone connection.  At the beginning I thought she was being helpful, but over the course of the next 45 minutes, it became clear that I was just a subject in ongoing testing to determine if the human psyche was calm enough under pressure to be allowed to interact with other intelligent species.   I don’t know if they’ll admit us to the galactic government based on my responses, but I tried.  I started the incident by asking why the flights I booked were canceled.  She read me a scripted piece about it being entirely up to the airline and she and her company (clearly staffed by raging bean counters with megalomaniacal designs) were completely blameless.  She told me we’d already been rebooked on another flight, and I was elated that she had so kindly taken care of the problem before even contacting me.  Maybe, I thought, this is just a courtesy call to let me know so I don’t worry when the flight numbers change.  But no, that was just the opening salvo in her quest to find the fastest way to make a human start chewing on chair legs.  She had re-booked the flight for a full 10 hours earlier.  When all the people taking the flight would still be at work.  I explained that time wouldn’t work so she said ok (actually, she said zocktl, but that’s Venusian for ‘Ok’) and put me on hold to consult with the ‘airline’.   I’m sure I was on hold for the precise amount of time calculated to make me a maximum of angry without hanging up.

I wonder what units they use to measure human anger.  Twitches/Second?  Growls/Minute?  WallKicks/Sprain?

When she came back, she told me good news (‘Maxzra!’) there is a later flight that day we could have, and it was only 4 hours earlier than the one I had booked.  After taking a moment to press my finger under my eye to make the twitching stop, I told her again that the flight couldn’t be earlier than I’d booked, it had to be later.  And she put me back on hold.  This time with terrible muzak and a scratchy connection so bad that I thought she’d hung up on me twice.  I’d passed from angry to seething during the second hold experience, so I’m sure the test was going splendidly from her point of view.  After my third pass around New Seasons trying to find food (Did I mention I was on my lunch break and trying desperately to find something I could eat?) I noticed the clerks were eyeing me rather closely.  Since I was on Hawthorne, and the scale which clerks on that street use to start watching a customer is… expanded from average, I took a deep breath and tried to look less homicidal.  This time when she came back online, she told me the only possible flight after the canceled one was at 5am the following morning. There were no other options at all.    I thought about it decided that only a sadist would cancel a 6pm flight and make its only possible replacement take off at 5am.  5am flight means 4am arrival at the airport which means getting up at 3am.  No one but a seriously a**hole sadist would do that.

So, ok.  5am flight.  At least there’s still a flight even if it’s a godforsaken time of the morning.  I gave the go-ahead to the agent, she pushed the button, then started giving me an upgraded version of ‘The spiel’.  You know the standard one: be at the airport early, plan ahead, yada yada yada.  In the upgraded version I was subjected to for experimental purposes, I was told that all customers for domestic flights must arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before the flight.   International flight customers must arrive 3-4 hours before the flight.  Sooo.. a flight from Eugene to LAX which will last approximately 2 hours requires me to be at the airport 2-3 hours early.  Between 2 and 3 am.  I was picking up my lunch but when that sunk in, I just stopped in mid reach for my sandwich.  Is security so tight that the Eugene airport needs 3 hours to clear security before 5am on a morning that would be weeks away from any holiday?  I don’t think so.  I think that was the closing salvo in her attempt to drive me into a frothing gibbering fury before the call was over.   She almost had me there at the end.  It was really close, but I will not be driven into a screaming rant by jaded alien auditors from the outer solar system.  Instead, I’ll do my part for galactic peace and go eat a ragnarok cookie.

Brownies

When I was very small, I was a brownie girl scout.  The uniforms were tiny brown pinafores with wool beanies.  Even I thought they looked old fashioned and I was 4 years  old.  In hindsight, I think I assumed they were old fashioned because anything that made old ladies barely bigger than I was coo and talk to me like an infant had to be old fashioned.  There’s really nothing quite like going from reading Dune and wondering how to pronounce Kwisatz Haderach to being demoted to imbecile by a complete stranger burbling baby talk at you and attempting to pinch your cheeks.  I’m sure the found me just as disturbing as I found them so in the long run, I think we’re even.

Aside from the songs I learned as a brownie, the only other thing that really stuck in detail was the tale of the brownies.  I haven’t read it in years, so my recollections of it may have been skewed with time.  It  went something like this:

A nice old shoe makers business was doing poorly and he and his wife were about to lose their home.  They didn’t have any children so there wasn’t anyone in the world to help them.  One night he was finishing the last pair of shoes he had supplies for and he was making them as fancy as he could so someone would buy them.  He went to bed before they were finished.  When he woke up the next morning, the shoes were perfectly finished and fancier than anything he could have done.  The stitches were so tiny he and his wife figured a brownie must have done it.  The shoes sold for a great deal of money and he and his wife were saved.  Each night afterward, the shoe maker would start a pair of nice shoes and go to bed leaving them unfinished on his workbench.  When he awoke, the shoes would be beautifully finished.  Business boomed and the couple were happier and wealthier than they’d ever been.   When she couldn’t stand it anymore, the shoemakers wife hid where she could see the workbench at night and saw not one, but two tiny people wearing rags and sewing merrily on the shoes.  When she told her husband, they both wanted so badly to thank the tiny brownies who had helped them, but they knew they couldn’t – because if they thanked them, they would leave.  One day, when they’d saved enough money to live out the rest of their lives, the shoemakers wife made two sets of tiny tiny green clothing, put them on the workbench where the unfinished shoes had been.  This time she and her husband hid in the closet watching the workshop.  Long after dark, two tiny figures found the clothes instead of unfinished shoes. They put the clothes on, danced about singing in the candle light, then left.  Never to return.

I don’t recall there being a reason for the brownies arrival in the first place.  I’ve always assumed the details of who the people were was mostly irrelevant to the brownies.  They were just people in need who they could help.

Gypsy BearCute story right?  Well stories like that told repeatedly to small children will leave weird permanent scars on their psyche.  I’ve developed this hobby over the last couple of years and even I think it’s a little strange, but I can’t seem to stop.  I get stuffed animals and make teeny tiny ridiculously elaborate costumes for them.  Then I give them away to people who I think will be delighted by them.  The kind of delight that makes a grown up swallow a happy squeeing sound before anyone notices.  Getting anyone over the age of 12 to almost make a sound of unexpected delight feeds my soul, I’m convinced.  Under twelve is good too, but its not nearly so much effort.

The brownies convinced me when I was young and defenseless that no matter how old you are, magic can suddenly appear in your world.  You can’t ask for it, or expect it.  It can make you smile and dance and hide in the closet watching ‘til dawn.  And maybe most importantly, that It has to be freely given without any expectation of payment or thanks.

So the next time someone asks me about the bears, I’ll tell them the brownies made me do it.  They won’t look at me any less strangely, but I’ll know why I do it.  And really, being looked at strangely started with those old ladies, so I guess that’s fitting too.

An Unexpected Morning

This morning isn’t what I expected.  I left a few minutes early this morning so I could stop at the grocery store and pick up a thank you treat for a co-worker. That grocery store, with its breakfast bar and coffee shop doesn’t open until 8am. Weird.

So, on I go to drop my car off at the mechanic. I love that mechanic shop. The guys working there are several varieties of rough looking and based on stereotypes, you’d think they were biker gang drug runners or something similarly distressing. But, they are unfailingly polite, treat me like a customer instead of an inconvenience and as far as I can tell, completely honest. A friend of mine has done their accounting for them for years because he was so impressed by them. Yes, he gets paid for it, no, he’s not their bookie.

I was 2 miles from work with no car after that, so, I thought I’d try out the Street car. It’s only a dollar and I was feeling a little too lazy to walk. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again. At a little before 8am on a weekday, in downtown Portland, there were only 2 other people at the stop. When I got on the street car, it was the three of us and 2 other people. The streets were packed with cars, and the streetcar was nearly empty. Somewhere, something has gone wrong with this part of public transit. The next stop was a good clue about that. 3 people got on: A quiet lady with a walker, a large man with many bags and a tall thin man who moved frenetically around. The large guy carefully picked out a seat and spent a couple of minutes arranging his bags around him, then started muttering to himself. As we passed a group of men standing on the sidewalk, his volume increased and the words I could understand involved ‘get a job’ and some racial slurs. The frenetic guy started moving from person to person asking if their cell phone worked. When he got to the section I was sitting in, he sprawled across the seat in front of a lady and leaned over the back of the seat to get within inches of her face while demanding to know about her cell phone. I’m guessing she commutes on public transit regularly, because she didn’t flinch or respond. Although I’m pretty sure I could hear her mental eye roll and sigh. And that was my stop so off I go to walk the last block to work.

I walked through the parking garage a couple of feet behind one of the security guards apparently startling him. He spun around and a prescription bottle of pills flew out of his pocket. They’re probably something innocuous like blood pressure medicine, but an easily startled, slightly guilty looking security guard makes me wonder. It felt a little like that moment early in a movie when the director leaves the camera on an inconsequential object for just a second too long.

Waiting for the elevator an older lady joined me. She was probably my height when she was my age, but now, she’s 4 or 5 inches shorter with a bowed spine that cants off to the left a bit. Her hair was perfectly arranged, she was wearing impeccably applied makeup and she’s probably in her 80s. She’s not retired, she works here and she was on her way to her desk. We had a pleasant conversation on the ride up. It sounds like she enjoys her job and isn’t interested in retiring.

Afterward, at my desk, I kept thinking: I may not feel pretty, but I am. And it’s temporary. I may not feel as healthy as I want to, but I can still move and reach and bend. I should enjoy that, because it’s temporary. I may feel like my mind is coming apart at the seams sometimes, but it’s really not. And I’m grateful.

And if the grocery store had been open, I wouldn’t have been thinking about this before I finished my coffee this morning.