Sexist Pet Costumes? – or The Unexamined Life is not Worth Leaving

While my dog and I discussed how he will dress for Halloween this year (alright, fine, I was doing most of the talking), this article came to my attention:

The article raises the question of pet costumes ‘offensively perpetuating traditional gender roles’. Whose roles would that be? The pets? (It is ironic that transvestites make great sport out of perpetuating these same gender norms. Don’t tell the dogs!)

The problem seems to be superfluous on a number of fronts. I couldn’t get my dog to take notice at all. (His opinion of modern journalism was explicit when getting house-trained.) But mention Pavlov and you will assuredly get a rise from him.

Of course, pets are not known for buying costumes for themselves. The people spending precious time worrying about this stuff fail to notice that the only choice of costumes available is human-style clothing. Bought by those who have too much disposable income. This is obviously more of a specie-ist issue than a sexist one.

A horse is a horse. Of course, of course.

Has anyone run up against the hideous sight of a cat dressing as a dog? Or vice versa? Hardly.

No self-respecting cat would be caught dead wearing anything suggesting a canine aesthetic. She would receive nothing but hisses as she strolled down the cat walk.

The story I’ve been told goes: that long ago, the primordial dog called the primordial cat a ‘pussy’. The cat, taking umbrage, responded with ‘skinny assed bitch’. Obviously, this was more about poor diction than true animosity.  But at this late date, this gross misunderstanding is impossible to resolve amicably.

What’s sauce for the goose…

I have never encountered any animal with a clouded sense of sexual identity. If they had, they kept it well closeted. These ‘evolved’ gender role concepts appear to be unfocused projections from their human owners.

Imagine taking your ‘animal companion’ to the vet only to be asked, “And what gender does Fido feel like today?” Take a look, Sherlock.

Is it only in America that feelings trump facts?

Leave it to the conceptually un-evolved (no wonder they are called ‘animals’) to take themselves completely at face value – how concrete!

A Dalmatian with a fire-hat? My God! What are you trying to do to the poor pooch?

Un-enlightened (but cute!) animals are incapable of populating their world with abstractions and projections. They are condemned to living life exactly as they are.  How dreary!

And yet they excel at living in the moment! (My dog is a Zen master!)

Dog biscuit micro-aggression.

Little do our ‘animal companions’ know that ever-meddling humans are bent on rescuing them from their ‘specie-ist’ human overlords. Animal rights activists want us to stop tormenting our furry friends with incessant anthropomorphizing.

But they also want animals to have rights without the attending responsibilities. Try collecting a tax from a tick. Or getting any pet to sign a contract, let alone read it.

One organism – one vote, and all that.

Is that a pendejo or merely a dangling participle?

The real problem appears to be one of language, you know, that pesky window through which we perceive the world.

I may be wrong but the Romance languages appear to have bypassed this confusion. Due to its strong gender distinctions, in Spanish one could have a very seductive conversation speaking only of inanimate objects. “The dish ran away with the spoon” might be provocative in Spanish. Or not.

Or, exposed from birth, to natural dualistic notions, perhaps the Spanish have better things to worry about than imposing an abstract fantasy onto gritty reality.

That English has few such gender distinctions may have led to the reputation that the English are ‘sexless’ and alternately, that Americans (those prurient Pilgrims), are obsessed with sex.

One could certainly conclude that about those busy bodies fretting about the “threat of sexist animal costumes”.

A cigar may be just a cigar.

If you read this far, I’ll save you the trouble of reading the initiating article. The crux is over the ‘female’ costumes costing more than the corresponding ‘male’ costumes.

So men, perceived as being less willing to spend on such frivolities are offered the incentive of a lower price. Thus providing an opportunity to put forth a positive (and cost conscious) masculine image.

(Oh no! Not that!)

And so the (marketing) tail wags the (adorable) dog.


Clown Fear Masquerade

It is only September and the Halloween décor already fills the shelves of retail stores across the country.

It is a damned shame that a holiday like Halloween has been commercialized to the detriment of the holiday itself. The original meaning of the day has been lost to this incessant grasping for the almighty dollar.

The original spirit of Halloween has been completely obscured. Why can’t innocent children be allowed to celebrate the eternal damnation of their souls without someone making an unseemly profit from them? It’s un-American. Well, it’s completely American but it just ain’t right.

Halloween was approaching and some co-workers and I at Roger Corman’s movie studio, got to talking. I happened to mention that I didn’t like clowns. My co-worker admitted that she hated clowns. Further investigation proved clown anxiety, ranging from discomfort to sheer terror, to be universal. And I had thought I was alone.

This was decades ago, in a more innocent time. Clowns were not commonly portrayed as evil or malevolent beings back then. This was soon after the shocking revelation of the John Wayne Gacy serial murders. Who would describe a time when 33 children could be murdered by a clown as ‘innocent’?

Mr. Gacy may have started something regarding public perceptions of clowns. Could it be that clowns have been unfairly maligned in the aftermath of Mr. Gacy’s crimes? I don’t think so.

Please understand, I don’t hate clowns. I’m not a hater. I dislike them though. And I admit I used to ask women about their potential for bozophilia, as a filter, before considering any serious relationship with them.

I have always been a fan of the classic clowns of the cinema. The great silent movie stars, Chaplin, Keaton, Fields, Harpo and Laurel and Hardy were my favorites. But they were funny. Danny Kaye, in the “Court Jester” still makes me laugh. In high school I excelled in prat falls, some intentional.

Back in the studio, our course was clear. Halloween was nigh. I had always seen Halloween as an opportunity to face our fears with the aim of purging them. How better than to host a clown party? Everyone was welcome but no one would be allowed entry unless dressed as a clown.

To set the scene, I provided a poster of Ronald Reagan in clown make-up surrounded by a field of jelly beans. I borrowed a mannequin from a friend and dressed it up. I attempted but failed to become a scary clown. Thankfully, the concept eluded me.

In Sarasota, Florida, the Ringling Circus sponsors a clown college. Imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents and getting asked the inevitable question, “What is your major in college?”

Quite a variety of clowns showed up to the party. There was a punk clown with a Mohawk fright wig. There was a lady ventriloquist and dummy. She cleverly pretended that the dummy was pulling her strings. Many people gave clownishness an honest try with more or less elaboration. Multi-colored fright wigs abounded.

There was a mime, who wouldn’t shut up. It was a party after all.

In my youth, friends needed to restrain me when mimes chose to provoke me. Why did they pick on me? You don’t see mimes too much anymore. Now, its gold or silver robotic guys. They don’t follow me around. They are okay, I guess.

Mimes are not really clowns. They are more like tools of the devil. There is considerable literature about the nature of mimesis and how primitive societies used to kill those prone to mimic as diabolical. What is so primitive about that?

Masks are the origin of the concept of ‘plausible deniability’. But masks have long held the power to reveal as well as to disguise. How many stories depict those attending a masquerade and feeling liberated to act without fear of exposing their true identity? The mask becomes a metaphor for the inner self, and reveals the true character of the wearer. But of course, those are just stories.

One guy from Corman’s studio showed up barely meeting the entry requirements. Wearing street clothes, his only gesture to the theme was a red nose. Too cool for the room, he observed rather than fully participating. But standing amidst a few dozen clowns, he stood out, an imposter. Was that big red nose masking his true mask?

The other guests, in bizarre or cute costumes, were relaxed and felt liberated to be more themselves than they might otherwise be. This guest, masked only with his spongy red nose, (squeak not included), seemed more masked than anyone. And ironically, he was more transparent in his discomfort and his desire to only participate in word but not in spirit.

Nowadays, no one takes clowns seriously. All this negative portrayal in the media has thankfully diffused the anxiety produced by clowns. The world has changed. There are truly scary things out there now. Clowns are not so scary as once upon a time, except perhaps for those clowns in the U. S. Congress.

For me, it all started when my mother sewed a clown costume for Halloween. It was brightly colored motley with enough material to make a tent. My two older brothers rejected it and so did I. We wanted to be scary. Halloween is supposed to be frightful. Mom said she thought it would be “cute,” or “darling”, or some other repugnant term. Yuck! Who wants to be cute on Halloween?

Hmmm. Cute? Darling? Repugnant? Maybe Mom knew more about how to be scary than I gave her credit for.

He Pushed him Across the Room without Touching him

On entering the Chinese Martial Arts Association gym in East Hollywood, I couldn’t ignore the slippery waxed floors. One could always tell newcomers because they would walk as if on ice. Heavily waxed floors ensured that all maintained their balance at all times.

Sifu James Wing Woo told me that when the Japanese invaded China he was about twelve years old. Everyone was studying with the local masters then. He studied with about five of them. “They would cover the floor with motor oil. You didn’t want to fall.”

Traditional martial arts didn’t serve to resist the brand of warfare waged by the Japanese. His family returned to the United States.

I studied tai chi with Sifu (Master) Woo too briefly in the eighties and learned much. He was a direct and practical teacher who observed everything and missed nothing. He dismissed attempts to label him a ‘master’ by saying a master is someone who has stopped learning.

Students would ask him about Chinese mysticism or the ‘secret touch’ that killed Bruce Lee. He smiled and said Bruce Lee wasn’t murdered by any secret touch. He killed himself believing his own press. There is no secret killing touch, there is self-discipline, he said.

Sifu Woo dismissed the I Ching and other oracles but he was known to enjoy a trip to the race track.

He didn’t put any stock in colored belts or marks of status either. “Those things won’t help you in a fight”, he said.

He wasn’t one for long theoretical explanations. Someone asked him the best move if you are attacked with a knife. “Run.” That said it all.

Sifu always taught us to ‘root yourself to the center of the earth’. That advice came in handy one night at a party when three people decided it would be amusing to throw me into the pool. I didn’t struggle or resist them. I told them not to waste their time and rooted myself to the center of the earth. Don’t ask me how I accomplished that but they could not move me, lift me, knock me over, or throw me into the pool.

I witnessed something one session that sounds like the stuff of legend. There were about fifteen of us practicing in the gym when an exchange between Sifu and a new student drew our attention.

Sifu and a new guy were standing in the middle of the gym. Apparently the newbie challenged Sifu in some attitudinal manner. Rather than throw the bum out Sifu used it as teachable moment. Sifu produced a pair of chop sticks and placed the pointed ends up to his throat. He told the newbie to hold them firmly with the palm of his hand and not to let them fall for any reason.

Suddenly Sifu walked forcefully toward the newbie. The guy could hardly back pedal fast enough. Between the slippery floor and keeping the chop sticks in place it was all he could do to stay upright. Sifu backed him to the wall and stopped.

Sifu grabbed the chop sticks and turned with a chuckle. “See? I pushed you across the room without touching you.”

“No you didn’t. I had to back up. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“You don’t get it. You couldn’t hurt me. I wouldn’t let you.” There was nothing more to say.

No one knew what brought on this confrontation. But the results were evident. The guy left and everyone returned to their practice. I never saw the guy again.

Halloween Fun

Disclaimer: Do not try this at home!

I know this is a few days late but it just came to mind.

My Dad would amuse my brothers and me with stories he told about how he celebrated Halloween when he was a kid. My Mother would let us know these stories were for entertainment only and we were not to emulate his behavior in this regard.

Most of his exploits were pretty benign being done back in the mid-1920s. He taught me how to string a button and get it spinning very fast like a flywheel. A great way to terrify and “trick” the unsuspecting occupants of an “non-treating” home was to get the button spinning and then press it up to a window pane. The noise it produced was startling, bizarre and incomprehensible to the victims of the prank.

I don’t know about then, but nowadays a young goblin is taking his chances on getting shot for doing such mischief.

The really funny story he told was about the mean man at the end of the street who attempted to squelch the trick or treating by blockading the street and standing with his arms crossed defying the children from crossing his barrier. My Dad would laugh  as he described the look on the old man’s face as, undaunted, the crowd of twenty or so kids charged him while screaming for all they were worth. His face changed from defiance to doubt and then fear as he realized the kids would not stop. He finally retreated into his home and the kids took over the night.

Perhaps this same man was the recipient of this other prank. My Dad said he and some friends filled a paper bag with fresh dog waste and put it on his front step. They set it on fire and rang the doorbell. When the man came out and saw the burning bag he, of course started stomping on it to put out the fire and covered himself with dog waste.

Such are the innocent pranks of our parents.