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Tread Carefully, O Muse, or at least wear shoes…

So last week I talked about the joys of mowing my lawn.  This week I want to talk about maintaining my lawn.

These are not the same thing.

You know what’s stressful? Trying to keep your kids from drawing on every single flat surface they can find once they’ve gotten their little hands on a crayon.

A crayon, to a toddler, is an invitation to leave their mark on the world. And by mark, I mean marks. And when I say marks, I am not conveying clearly enough the extreme plural nature of the marks. These kids draw on walls, floors, drawers, doors, windows, screens, television sets, chairs, shoes, other crayons, and occasionally, themselves.

And this is an extremely small subset of the things they will draw on with those god-forsaken crayons.

(It’s a well-known fact: every time a child is handed a crayon, a demon gets his horns.)

What does this have to do with maintaining my lawn? I’ll get there.

I own dogs. This means that they leave lots of little presents for me on the lawn in the backyard. But that’s okay. Because I knew what I was getting into when I decided I wanted to own dogs. So while I don’t exactly enjoy cleaning up these little pee-mail attachments, it comes with the territory.

My front lawn is a different story. Maintaining my front lawn is extremely stressful. Almost as stressful as dealing with my kids and their crayons.

Why is maintaining my front lawn extremely stressful? Let me tell you.

Maintaining my front lawn is extremely stressful because I live in a Third World neighborhood.

What do I mean by that? Let me tell you.

My neighborhood is overrun by cats.

I’m not talking about the fluffy Persian cats that turn their nose up at the wrong brand of cat food, or that sashay back and forth across their house’s front window, showing off their ‘Best In Show’ ribbon.

I’m talking about feral cats.  And when I say cats, I am not conveying clearly enough the extreme plural nature of the cats.

This confederation of feral cats is thriving because I have a well-intentioned neighbor who insists on feeding them. He loves these cats. LOVES them. He leaves out several bowls of food for them each day, and he leaves the door open to one of his cars, so they have someplace dry to stay during the rainy season.

Aw, how touching.

Despite this affection, he avoids all other aspects of pet ownership, such as tags and collars, regularly scheduled veterinary visits, and, more importantly, being responsible enough to neuter said feral cats. And as the old saying goes, “An unneutered feral cat community that lives together loves forever, eventually producing enough offspring to overrun an entire neighborhood.”

Why, you ask, do I care? Let me tell you while I sit here, serenaded by the yowls of a couple of feral cats rutting just on the other side of my fence, driving my dogs into an apoplectic barking frenzy that I am convinced is going to end in an aneurysm, either for one of the dogs, or for me.

You know the one thing the cats won’t do in the area where they are fed? If you said, “Go to the bathroom,” then ding ding ding! you win a prize.  Instead, they go somewhere else to do that particular business. Which is where my front lawn comes in.

(If you’re one of those lawyer types and you’re going to start shouting about getting your prize, just send me your address. As soon as I get it, I’ll go out to my front lawn and scoop up your reward.)

I’ve tried everything to keep them off my lawn. I have a spotlight on a motion sensor. I’ve left out mothballs. I’ve sprinkled the essence of jalapeno pepper around my lawn. I scattered granules of a particularly nasty smelling repellent on my lawn (made with, among other things, spoiled egg and dried blood). I’ve even tried watering my lawn every single night so that it’s soaking wet.

(I have even thought [SHUDDER] of leaving food out for them so they’ll do their business elsewhere.  But that’s just forcing the problem onto someone else.)

The cats don’t care what I do to discourage them. They love my lawn. It is the best kitty litter box they have ever encountered. They tell other cats passing through the neighborhood, “Hey dude, if you ever need to take a dump, have we got the perfect lawn for you!”

It’s driving me crazy.

Oh, I’ve thought of more extreme measures. I looked into traps so I could take them to the local shelter and have them fixed (and let me be clear – by fixed I mean neutered, NOT euthanized). Traps cost $65. And one of my neighbors, who’s already tried this approach, reports that the local shelter simply brought the cat back unaltered.

I’ve also thought about slingshots, pellet guns, even a .22 rifle (they’re not that loud). The old SNL yard-a-pult skit has also come to mind. But as a pet owner and all around decent human being, I could never harm another animal. Even if I have just stepped, barefoot, in that animal’s still warm and most-recent-in-a-long-string-of fecal deposits on my lawn.

However, I think I’ve finally come upon a humane solution. It involves my children and crayons.

The only problem is crayons don’t work very well on cat fur.

Does anyone have any advice on how to minimize the level of injury sustained while shaving a cat?

 
 

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Diaper Noir: Pulp fiction’s dirty childhood secret

What the heck is diaper noir, you ask?

I stop and count to ten. I must remind myself that not everyone is as scholarly as me, not everyone has spent years in the dark, dank basements of long-closed and long-forgotten libraries, failed institutions that still have copies of the now nearly extinct works. I must remember that most people are victims of the cover-up, the dark conspiracy to hide the truth about noir’s origins.

So.

Diaper noir is the precursor to noir. An immature form of pulp fiction. And an important part of literary history. (Yes, noir is literary. If you don’t agree, you can sulk over in the Historical Romance section of your local Borders and stay there while the empty building is razed.)

The famous noir writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler had to mature into the genre (Virginia Woolf also tried her hand at it, but her writing in the genre never matured beyond the embryonic stage). Before they cranked out those celebrated pulp fictions, they cut their teeth on diaper noir.

Properly known as petite noir (it was the pulp magazines like Black Diaper that popularized the more common name), the genre was not started by Hammett, Chandler, or their contemporaries. It was actually H.P. Lovecraft who started this genre, though he did not remain with it very long before moving into horror. Fortunately, Lovecraft’s bastard child was not left abandoned to cry alone in the night and slowly starve. Hammett and Chandler readily adopted the genre, making it their own and eventually growing it into the pulp fiction so recognizable today.

Critics and the buying public stayed away from le petite noir in droves, but I think the genre is worth revisiting, if not for the quality of the stories, then for the influence it had on le gran noir.

Still you ask, what is diaper noir? I have drifted into the history without delving into the actual mechanics of the genre. It is the noir we all know and love, but with toddlers and babies as characters instead of adults. Diaper-wearing sleuths, hence the moniker. It’s easy to scoff now, but without diaper noir, we would never have gotten Sam Spade or the Millenium Falcon or Ace Ventura.

In fact, Sam Spade’s first appearance was as a three-year old in Hammett’s novella, Toddler Trouble.  Who can forget that incredible opening?

It had been a long summer, the heat spilling over like my temper after mommy took away a favorite toy, and today promised more of the same. The fan wheezed overhead, pushing around the sticky air, thick like my favorite blanky, without providing any relief. I fumbled open my drawer, pulled out my bottle, took a hit. Burned going down. Whoever said warm milk goes down easy was a liar liar, pants on fire. Then I burped as she crawled in.

Couldn’t have been more than a week over eighteen months. Her diaper stank and she eyed my bottle. She looked hungry. Real hungry.

Hammett and Chandler, as evidenced by correspondence with friends, family, and each other, had a vicious rivalry going when it came to diaper noir, and were constantly trying to one-up each other. This resulted in a string of dark as a dirty nappy stories such as Terrible Twos, I’ll Nap When I’m Dead, The Poison Bottle, Buddy’s Feral Cat (the inspiration, incidentally, for Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat”), Dirt Nap, and Bad Baby, Bad!  Long forgotten now, but as the genre matured into the noir to come, with its adult characters but lighter themes, these ‘childish’ stories served as their templates.

But the undisputed father of diaper noir is H.P. Lovecraft, with his twisted short, The Nursery From the Shadows, followed shortly after by The Squid In the Crib.  Horrific mysteries that drove insane the handful of readers foolish enough to finish them. I can’t even provide an excerpt here, the contents are so dangerous in their non-Euclidean eldritchness. Which is a shame, because having read them, I can attest to their awesomeness.

So I urge you, the next time you pick up a Raymond Chandler or a Dashiell Hammett or an Erle Stanley Gardner or an L. Frank Baum, think about where they came from, what literary exercises and explorations spawned them. Think about diaper noir.

Does your library carry these titles? They’re worth a look (except for the Lovecraft stuff – just too dangerous, and I’m pretty sure the only copies are locked up in the Dark Arts research stacks at the Miskatonic University library, guarded by a very stern librarian with a Colt 1911 and a silencer (it is a library, after all)). If you can’t find them at your library, demand they get copies. Don’t let the librarians tell you there’s no such thing. If they’re saying that, they’re part of the conspiracy to bury this nascent work and it is your duty to stand at the circulation desk and scream at the top of your lungs for them to put these influential works back into circulation. Tell ’em ianmdudley sent you.

 
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Posted by on 19 May 2011 in Noir, Other Blogs

 

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