Saturday, October 17, 2015

Avengers: The Musical

I woke up in the dark and began my morning meditations: who am I? Where am I? Do all my limbs work? Satisfied with the answers to these deep questions, I attempted to go back to sleep. Suddenly, Matt's alarm sounded: it was 5:45.

“That time already?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I burrowed deeper under the blankets beside him and pawed at his shoulder, gently scraping his skin with my fingernails, indicating there could be a back scratching going down right now if only he would turn over.

He took the hint and rolled onto his side. I immediately glommed onto him, scratching enthusiastically. It was a symbiotic relationship: he got his back scratched, and I got to be the big spoon - mutually beneficial, as evolution intended.

“How did you sleep?” he asked.

“I had the weirdest dream.”


It was finally happening: Avengers the Musical, and tryouts were local. My sixteen year old niece Kaci and I were ecstatic. I was trying out for the role of Black Widow. Kaci, who likes all those genderbent cosplays that are so popular lately, was shooting for Hawkeye. It was going to be glorious.

The line wound out the doors of the generic dream auditorium and into the street. Kaci and I were at the end of it. Many of the people in front of us, serious actors, were practicing deep breathing, doing simple stretches, and melodically reciting vocal warm-up exercises like “Me Me Me Mo Moo”. Standing in line, doing none of those things, I began to feel woefully unprepared. I looked toward my niece; she was focused on her phone, casually playing Trivia Crack against grandma, who was stomping her.

“I’m not sure we thought this through,” I told her.

“Yeah,” she said, not even looking up, in the unconcerned attitude of teenagers everywhere.

I tried to remember everything I knew about auditions. My limited acting experience consisted of one year of drama in high school more than fifteen years ago. They would probably have us do a cold read of the script – I could do that! I’ve always been good at reading out loud – and we might have to recite a monologue. No problem there, as I have most of the first Avengers movie memorized; there was bound to be something in there I could use.

As I was mentally playing the movie in my head, paying close attention to the scenes I figured would look best recited loudly and with feeling on stage, the line moved along. Kaci and I were finally inside the darkened theater. I squinted, letting my eyes adjust to the lowered lights.

Only the stage was well lit. On it, a man in hipster jeans and ironic glasses sang a sad, slow song. People in the front row made notes on clipboards as he sang. The line snaked down from the side of the stage, through all the people doing their stretches and vocal exercises, to Kaci, who was still on her phone, checking Tumblr by now, and then to me. We were still the last people in line. No one had joined in behind us.

When the gloomy hipster finished, another man took center stage, this one well-groomed and in a tailored suit. He exchanged a few words with the judges in the front row, words I couldn’t hear from the back of the hall. From somewhere, a song began to play, a show tune I didn’t know, and the man on stage sang with gusto.

And that was when it hit me: this was a musical. Monologues were no good here. I would have to sing for my audition. “Kaci,” I said.

“Hmm?” she said, still not looking up from her phone.

“Have you ever auditioned for a musical before?”

“Not really.”

“Did you know we’d have to sing something?”

“Makes sense,” she said.

Yes, of course it made sense. How silly of me.

The line moved slowly forward. On stage, one hopeful after another belted out show tunes I didn't know (which covers everything that isn't from Phantom of the Opera). When we were halfway to the stage, a man with the theater company, whose Captain America shirt barely covered a sizable paunch, handed us a list of suggested songs, none of which I recognized by name.

Kaci looked at the list as well then looked at me, eyes worried, shaking her head. She didn’t know them either.

“Maybe we’d know them if we heard them?” I said, pulling out my own phone. Together, we frantically tried to google our way through the list. Almost none of the songs had videos. The videos we did find wouldn’t load: we both had next to no signal so deep inside this thick-walled auditorium. I found articles about the songs, though none jogged any memories for me. Kaci found lyrics, none of which were familiar. Meanwhile, the line moved up and up. We were nearer the stage now.

“I can't do this!” I said. “I've never had to perform under such pressure before! I don't know these songs!”

A stage manager overheard me and took pity on our plight. “Don’t fret, dears,” she said. “You can sing whatever you want. It doesn't have to be a song from the list. It’s just that we don't have a lot of background music for anything else.”

“What else have you got?” Kaci asked.

The stage manager pointed toward the corner, where an old karaoke machine sat collecting dust, more or less ignored by everyone else. Kaci and I ran toward it, finding a few tattered, stapled pages – the machine’s song selection, containing nothing more recent than 1988.

“Quick!” Kaci said. “It’s almost my turn!” She snatched up the crumpled pages and glanced over them just as a stage manager called, “Next!” She thrust the pages back at me and ran toward the stage.

I didn’t know if she’d found something. I didn’t have time to care. I quickly checked the list for something I could use. The only song I knew was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”.
“I’m saved!” I thought. “I can karaoke the crap out of that song!”

Just then, on stage, my niece began crooning about a small town girl taking the midnight train to anywhere.

“Damn it!” I screamed. I checked the list again. There was nothing else. I would have to sing something a cappella, something I knew off the top of my head, something from my shower-singing repertoire. If only I had brought my guitar, I thought, and I vowed that I would bring it every time I auditioned for a musical from now on.


“So what did you do?” Matt asked.

“I’m not sure. ‘Oh Danny Boy’, I think, but then I woke up. I don’t know if I got the part or not!”

Matt reached up and grabbed the hand I’d rested on his arm, linking his fingers with mine and pulling my arm around him. “Let’s just assume you did,” he said.

“I did?” I asked.

“Yup,” he affirmed.

“Gosh!” I said. “What a wonderful dream!”

And he let me spoon him a few minutes more before we both had to get out of bed.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Nerd is the Word

“Check out this butterbeer I found!”
No, wait, that’s not right. 
I had been on the verge of hitting the send button on a text to an old friend, complete with a photo of the butterfly from my yard, when I saw what autocorrect had done to my otherwise bland statement.
It certainly made my life seem more interesting, I’ll grant you. But it was decidedly untrue: I was not sitting in the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. I would not be heading back to my job as a charms professor at Hogwarts afterward, because Hogwarts isn’t real and I don’t work there. There were no butterbeers to be had and I could not magic one into existence with my nonexistent wand.
“Phone, why?” I asked, correcting the imaginative change.

Later, it happened again. When my husband was returning from a business trip, he texted to say he was about to board the flight for the last leg of his journey home.
“Text me when you land,” I replied, or I would have done, if my phone hadn’t autocorrected it to “Lannisters,” which is the family name of some characters from Game of Thrones.
“What? ‘Text me when you Lannister?’ Phone, that doesn’t even make sense,” I thought, making the correction before I hit send.

When I started volunteering at the aquarium, I texted my friend Melanie. “Every time I try to text someone about it, my phone wants to auto-complete ‘volunteering’ as ‘Voldemort’. I don’t know what this says about my life choices.” How boring does your life have to be before your phone decides to turn it into a fantasy novel full of magic and dragons and He Who Must Not Be Named? I thought.
“That’s actually pretty funny,” Melanie replied. “What part of the aquarium are you Voldemorting in?”
“Over by the grindylows,” I said, dripping sarcasm.

 “When will you and Kristina arrive?” I started to ask Benjamin when the two of them were scheduled to spend the weekend with me, except that “Kristina” auto-corrected to “Kraken”.
“The Kraken is not coming for a visit, phone. The Kraken is 3000 feet beneath the ocean, and Oklahoma is landlocked,” I said. “Nice try, though.”

Sarah, who texts me all the best library stories, concluded her most recent tale with “And the patron said, ‘Ohhhh, nonfiction!’”
“Haha! Love the silly patrons,” I said.
But my phone changed it to “Silmarillion patronus”, because the Harry Potter references weren’t getting the job done, apparently, and we had to drag Tolkien into it as well.
“Seriously, phone? This is a sickness,” I said.

The phone persisted.
“Matt went on a hog hunt this weekend,” I typed, to tell a friend about the loads and loads of pork chops that now resided in my freezer, but instead, no, my phone decided Matt had gone to Hogwarts.
“Fine, but he still has to do his charms homework. I don’t give extra credit,” I said.

When I texted my mother of my plans to spend the weekend “planting rose bushes”, my phone corrected it to “phantom rose bushes.” “Are they invisible roses? Or are these the roses the Phantom of the Opera leaves on all of the posters?” I asked, but my phone shed no light on this inquiry.

“Grandma and I are taking an architeuthis,” which is the latin name for “giant squid”.
“Really, phone?” I said, overwhelmed by curiosity. I checked my contacts, but I don’t know any squids, giant or otherwise. “Where are we taking it? I thought we were taking an ‘art class’, but if the squid wants to go with us…”

Later, when I tried to text my friend Jentry that I was “On my way” to meet her for coffee, I ended up in “Omnia”, which is not only on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld of all places, it’s also on the unfashionable side of the Disc's Circle Sea.
“Phone, we’ve discussed this: My dream Discworld vacation is the beach in Quirm. Even the Omnians don’t like Omnia!”
My phone retaliated by deciding that every word that began with “D” was obviously supposed to be “Discworld,” and (unlike the Discworld) my phone and I went round and round on this issue for three days.

When I texted grandma to say I was so very tired of “winter” my phone decided to send me to “Winterfell,” a place where I would probably die at the hands of George R.R. Martin.
I shrieked, “I take it back, phone! I’d rather go to Omnia!”

“I can’t this weekend,” I texted my boss at the library. “I’ll be at the castle,” because I also work at the renaissance faire, and that was honestly true. But it wasn’t good enough for my phone.
“Phone? For real? ‘I’ll be at the castle’ is the nerdiest thing anyone can ever say with a straight face! ‘Castiel’ from Supernatural has. Nothing. To do. With. The ren faire. Like. At all.”

I texted my niece to “Check out this rainbow!” with a picture of said rainbow.
“Phone! It’s a freaking rainbow! It is not related to Ravenclaw! Or any other Hogwarts house, for that matter! You are SO getting extra charms homework if you keep this up.”

Responding to a funny text with a “hehe” almost became “beheadings” but certainly became shock and bewilderment.
“WTF is wrong with you, phone? Who hurt you?”

Dinosaurs are a safe topic, right? Surely I can text Benjamin about dinosaurs without my phone changing it?
“Dinobots,” said my phone, trumping my nerdiness levels yet again.
“Bull shit,” I said in reply.
My phone changed it to “Bull shark.”
“You can remember my favorite exhibit at the aquarium, and yet every time I type the word ‘aquarium,’ you change it ‘Aquaman’?”
“Your move,” said my phone, or it would have, if it could actually speak.

When I texted my husband with a couple of “questions” about an upcoming vacation (alas, not to Quirm), my phone decided I was going “questing,” like an adventurer out of a storybook, and when I asked Jentry if she was “willing” to lend me a book she’d been telling me about, my phone wanted her to make a “Will Save” because D&D? Like my friend is going to have to roll some twenty-sided dice to see if she's lending me the book?

“I don’t know what to tell you, phone,” I said to it, sincerely and from the bottom of my heart. “My life isn’t a magical fairytale. These words just don’t come up in the real world that often! I wish they did, but it’s simply not so!”
A chime indicated a new text. It was from Melanie, saying “Look what’s on sale at Reasors right now!” along with a picture of the grocery store shelves, full of cases and cases of delicious butterbeer. She had as good as said, “Check out this butterbeer I found!”
My phone, for all that it can’t make any expressions, radiated smugness.
I glared at it.
Then I said, “Don’t think for a minute that this is going to get you out of that extra charms homework.”

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Anti-Mouser

In the shadows under your bed, a monster gnaws at the edge of reality. Do you hear the munching sound?

It is the anti-mouse.

Every mouse killed by poison could become one. Most mice are quite simple creatures: they eat because they're hungry. But a very few are bad mice: they eat because they can.

You see, it is only with cleverness that the capacity for good or evil exists. Dumb beasts destroy because they don't know any better, but when the clever ones destroy something, you can be sure they do it with intent. And sometimes that intent lives on after them.

A clever mouse dying of a poison trap dies slowly and painfully, and he has time to think. He thinks about how unfair it is that he should die while so many others live. He thinks about how much he hates you for killing him - oh, yes, he knows. He is clever after all.

And when a mouse is clever, he thinks about eating the whole world.

After the mouse has died, and you have carried the small furry body to the trash heap, the cleverness stays behind, and with it, the ill-intent, and it flows together and forms a mouse-shaped hole in the universe. Thus is born the anti-mouse.

See how he's nibbled away the night just there, unraveling the corner of that pleasant dream you were having? They really will eat anything.

Given time - and what else do dead things have, really, but time? - they will eat everything.

Oh, you cannot stop the anti-mouse. Not you, and not I. That takes cats. But not just any cat will do.

All cats are born to hunt. Not only mice, but anything they can catch. It's in their nature, and in their form - the shape of their teeth, the spring in their legs, their lithe and twisty bodies, these are the hallmarks of a predator. Every cat is a little lion, and every cat knows it, until we convince them otherwise.

It is a cruel thing we do, to keep them as pets, as cruel as any cramped and confining cage, no matter how many cat treats we offer, no matter how many scratching posts we provide. The wildness in them grows fat and content and they forget what it is exactly lions are for.

Sometimes we can make it worth their loss, but only a very great love can do this. When a cat knows that you would move the moon and stars for them, it makes a minor inconvenience like the loss of their identity seem quite tolerable, for a while at least. All cats think they have nothing but time, you understand. That is why they sleep all day, and laze about, and move with such unhurried grace. And a cat who is loved - who is petted and praised, whose owners tell him sincerely and often how perfect he is, how beautiful he is, and what a clever boy he is (Ah, do you see?) - well, such a cat will think, "I shall enjoy this attention for now. I will have time later for the whole predatory thing."

But only the dead have that kind of time.

And when such a cat dies, a new thing emerges from the cat-shaped hole they leave in your heart: a little lion with all the time in the world, who finally remembers what he was born to do.