Saturday, June 25, 2011

what I read on my vacation this year

Spending a week in the wholesome fresh air of the Sierras, with no internet connection, a person can have a lot of time on her hands. This year I decided to do my "guilt reading", and I hauled along the books I've been meaning to read but never get around to opening, plus books from two of my all time favorite authors (Jonathan Coe and Jon Ronson), which I couldn't resist treating myself to.

"The Psychopath Test" by Jon Ronson (Riverhead Books 2011): I love Jon Ronson more than just about any other nonfiction writer (and I was a fan long before George Clooney made "The Men Who Stare At Goats" into a movie), and this is his best book yet. You should all rush out and pick up a copy. Ronson became interested in madness after he was asked to solve the real-life mystery of who was sending cryptic yet expensively printed books to random professors. Ronson visits a man locked up potentially for life after being diagnosed as a psychopath, spends time at L. Ron Hubbard's English country estate with psychology-bashing Scientologists, interviews hippie psychologists who held naked encounter groups for mass murderers in a Canadian prison, and becomes so obsessed with the idea of finding psychopaths that he starts diagnosing his friends and acquaintances. Highly thought-provoking, educational, and extremely witty.

"Opium Season: A Year On The Afghan Frontier" by Joel Hafvenstein (Lyon Press 2007): It took a while for me to get into this dry book by a well-intentioned, energetic fellow who worked for an aid agency tasked with getting Afghanis to stop growing opium poppies, but I was so glad I kept reading. Soon I couldn't stand to put the book down and was thoroughly frustrated that no one around me was also reading it and could discuss it with me. I wish I could command Pres. Obama and the entire Congress to read this book. Hafvenstein explains the difficulties of working in Afghanistan better than anyone else, with the customs, terrain, history, tribal rivalries, etc... His book illustrates so vividly, among other things, the age-old problem that people on the ground -- actually doing the work in war zones -- know better what is going on than those who command them from air-conditioned offices on the other side of the world. Hafvenstein and his colleagues refused to work in a particular town and developed a huge mistrust of that town's tribal elders, but were overruled and sternly scolded by their superiors. The results were heartbreaking and predictable, with several aid workers being killed by Taliban with the obvious collusion of the mistrusted elders. He also explains so clearly why farmers insist upon growing opium poppies: the gum is resilient and easily transported (as opposed to, say, tomatoes, which a farmer laments get shaken to bits in a truck traveling for hours over unpaved mountain roads), the traffickers will finance a crop (who pays ahead of time for carrot-growing?), the crop is easily gathered (as opposed to, say, strawberries, which are backbreaking to harvest). Afghanistan is a big problem, but Hafvenstein has a lot of ideas about what could be done (such as prioritizing training professional police, which he convincingly shows is an ignored yet crucial problem).

"Ritual" by Mo Hayder (Atlantic Monthly Press 2008): I just recently discovered Mo Hayder, and I can't believe I hadn't before found her tightly written crime fiction with its real and engrossing characters. In "Ritual", African traditional medicine practiced by immigrants seems inscrutable to the British police, who find a severed hand which, to their dismay and disbelief, was used to bring good luck to a restaurant. Strongly recommended.

"Long Drive Home" by Will Allison (Free Press 2011): This was the first disappointment of my vacation reading. This book has been so well-reviewed and so lauded, and I'm a sucker for its particular genre, the "one-bad-day-caused-my-whole-life-to-fall-apart" novel. So I got this for myself as a special treat, and then I hated it. SPOILER ALERT: The plot was not believable to me Really? A detective will devote his life and energy to prosecuting someone with no prior record for the murder of a teenager who drove into a tree while over twice the legal blood alcohol limit and talking on a cellphone at the very moment of the crash? And a loving, happy, devoted wife will divorce her husband, the father of her child, the moment he gets into a car accident to protect herself from liability, because her lawyer father raised her to be cautious? I AM a lawyer, and I think that's ridiculous. Aside from the issues I had with the plot and the characters, this book also pissed me off for being too short to be a hardback. (I fully realize that here I sound like the fussy eater from jokes: "the food was so bad, and there wasn't enough of it"). A waste of time and money.

"The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim" by Jonathan Coe (Alfred A. Knopf 2010): Jonathan Coe is a genius, and this isn't one of his finest books, but it's an enjoyable read if you can let go of your sorrow that he'll probably never again write anything so perfect, so unforgettably flawless as "The House of Sleep" or "The Rotters' Club" or "The Winshaw Legacy." Coe's protagonist is a deeply depressed toy salesman/customer service representative who mulls over his divorce, his estranged relationship with his father, and his growing obsession with a man who faked sailing around the world.

"Lit" by Mary Karr (Harper Collins 2009): the third memoir from the well-celebrated author of "The Liars' Club." This is no "Liars' Club", but I guess there is an unsatiable demand for memoirs from Mary Karr. Here she writes about her alcoholism, a stay in a mental hospital, her unsuccessful marriage, and her conversion to Catholicism. I enjoyed the first half of this book but got really irked and frustrated by the end. Her account of the failure of her marriage was so one-sided that I longed, longed for some objectivity. In particular Karr lost my sympathy when she refers grandiosely to "remembering the day of my suicide." What suicide?? All she did was buy a freaking hose and have a drama queen freakout on the phone to a friend about how she intended to hook up the hose to the exhaust pipe of her car. That is not a suicide. That's not even full-on suicidal ideation. Anyhow, I will always love Mary Karr for "The Liars' Club" (one of the most moving and powerful memoirs ever written), but this book was irritating. Unfortunately I can't even sell my signed first edition because Lola knocked my glass of red wine over it. Sadly I think my own cold, workaholic ex-husband (I'll take on Mary Karr in a Battle of The Standoffish, Selfish, Emotionally Withholding Ex-Husbands any day) took my copy of "The Liars' Club" when he moved out.

"Serpent Box" by Vincent Carrella (Harper 2008): I usually hate fiction set in the Appalachians which indulges in folksy writing, elegizing old women who know "medicine plants", and endless yammering about the Bible, but somehow Carrella sucked me in for all 455 pages. I should have hated this book: it kept telling the same story over and over again of how a pregnant woman is caught out in a thunderstorm and crawls into a gap in the trunk of a hanging tree to give birth, including from the point of view of someone who wasn't even there. And then there was the flowery, overly-stylized country writing. I can't believe I finished a book containing such sentences as "She did not know that autumn's first snowfall ripens that part of a woman where the lifeseed will catch, or that the wandering spirit of a true love will seek out the first child of spring." But yet somehow I was hooked, hanging in there for all those 455 pages. This is undoubtedly the best novel in the "deformed Appalachian child whose ambition in life is to be a snake handler" genre.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Camp Mather this year

Because the Sober Husband had workish commitments, I ended up taking the children to Camp Mather alone. The Sober Husband had helped us pack the day before, and frankly that turned out to be a mistake. By the time he left for his own trip in the afternoon, we'd been working for hours at packing, and it felt really wrong not to be leaving ourselves. We drifted about for the rest of the afternoon, disaffected and out of sorts, finally wandering down to the Spaghetti Factory for some pasta.

On Saturday we had only our last minute cleaning to do. Because I use the world's most professional petsitter, one who worries greatly about my poor mangy cat Al and about my parrots' nutrition ("Most people have me cut up fruit for their parrots." "Umm, my parrots hate fruit"), I have to try to hide my shame. I had both girls restrain poor Albert while I throughly groomed him, and I tried to give the parrots' cages an extra good scrubbing. I made sure to put out the parrots' calcium supplement very prominently, sort of a Potemkin Village of avian nutrition.

We hit the road with our car loaded so heavily that there would have been no room for the Sober Husband. "I thought we weren't bringing more than last year, but we must have," I said. The car was so densely packed with things that I couldn't extricate the Harry Potter tapes I'd planned to play on the road. We stopped at a supermarket for some snacks for the road ("We can't get too much, "I cautioned. I don't know where you're going to put it"). At the store, I realized I had forgotten my checkbook, and I always pay by check for the children's riding sorties. I drove back home. My beloved next door neighbor, whom we'd cheerily bid farewell earlier, laughed at me. "Didja miss me?" he called.

I ran into the house and quickly got both some checks and a different set of Harry Potter tapes and spent a few minutes giving Frowst, our most glamourous cat, some belly rubs. "I hope you don't see us again," I called to the neighbor. This time we really were on the road.

We made record time driving up to the Sierras. "See how much faster it is when Mommy drives," I gloated. Ahead of time I had cautioned the children that since they were traveling with only one grownup who had no sane adult backup, it was very important that they not plague me with cries of "how much longer" and "how far are we", as is their custom. With unbelievable self-control, only once were the syllables "how much" heard, and the child who spoke them bit them off before uttering "longer" and quickly changed the subject. I was never so proud.

With the Drunken Housewife at the wheel, we were able to stop for lunch. (The Sober Husband, for mysterious reasons of his own, is bitterly, solidly opposed to ever stopping at any restaurant while driving between any Point A and Point B, regardless of how far apart those points are or how whiny the children may be).

Up at Camp Mather the children rose to the occasion and helped me unpack the crammed car and set up our cabin. I was initially a bit dismayed to see our cabin. The last couple of years, we've had really plum locations, cabins with plenty of space and pleasing views. This cabin was jammed check-to jowl with other cabins, and the picnic table from our neighbors' cabin was right up by our tiny front porch. I recognized the neighbors, who were grimly playing cards on that picnic table abutting our cabin. It was a large family who have often been at Camp Mather the same week as us, a multi-generation family which is given to lots of shouting at the children. I quailed. “It's going to be SO NOISY,” I whispered to Iris. “Listen, that woman has SUCH A LOUD VOICE.”

This reaction made me feel horrible about myself and guilty. A better person, a warmer, friendlier, kinder person, would have been happy to see these familiar faces. After all, every time I'd ever interacted with that family, they had been polite and friendly. Only a bitter hag wouldn't welcome being next to a large and exuberant clan. [And of course my higher self was right: these people were delightful neighbors. I'd love to be next to them again].

We decided to move our picnic table behind our cabin, which would hopefully be quieter, and create a hangout zone there. I hung up our two hammocks by the picnic table, and Iris helped me figure out how to set up our bug tent, which was tricky. We moved the furniture around in our tiny cabin and unpacked all our things, organizing everything as we went.

And then we were done. “Look! We got everything done faster without Daddy!” It was amazing. “I want you to be sure to tell Daddy that Mommy got you here faster alone and got our camp set up faster alone."

We tried out the hammocks. The children swung in reclining ecstasy. Then we were off to dinner and the welcoming bonfire.

At night we heard the unmistakable sound of bears poking around the outside of our cabin. We were home here, all right.

The next day the children swam a lot and ate a lot. I read and enjoyed the hammock, as well as watching the children. We called their father collect from the little payphone by the office, and it turned out that he'd been worried we'd gotten into an accident. “We got here in record time! And we had a really great lunch in Oakdale on the way. I found a great Mexican restaurant, “ I bragged.

The mother in the cabin behind us (not the big, noisy family beside us, but another, less friendly neighbor) had a meltdown of sorts in the evening. “You will find me much more accommodating after I've had a gin and tonic,” she said repeatedly to the many small children surging around her. Her language grew plainer and plainer, until she sent them all away and forbade them to approach her until she'd had at least one gin and tonic. Over her gin, she fretted to her husband about how they'd manage their cocktail hour the next day. Evidently they had planned a daytrip, and the woman was really tightly wound over how she'd manage to fit in her drinking. “Should we bring the stuff for cocktails with us? Can we do that? What time will we get back?”

“And your father thinks I drink too much, “ I whispered to Iris. “Get a load of that woman!”

On Monday the Sober Husband was due to arrive, riding up with the father of one of Iris's friends who were coincidentally also at Camp Mather that week. All morning the children were on edge, waiting for their father. The other family's wife told me that she “wondered if they were going to stop at our favorite thriftstore on the way up. Chainsaw and I got three bags of stuff there on the way. We always stop.” She predicted her husband would be excited to show this thriftstore to the Sober Husband.

I said to Iris later, “I can't imagine them thrifting.” I thought it was more likely they'd stop for ribs on the way up, before the Sober Husband was reunited with his vegetarian family. As it turned out, they had only stopped for gas. The other husband drives slowly, like an old person or my husband, and doesn't like to stop for lunch or snacks, also like my husband. “You're my husband's driving soulmate,” I said to our friend. “He's much better off driving with you than me.”

Having their father back made the children lose their industrious, uncomplaining attitudes. Soon they were lolling on the hammocks and calling for their father to bring them chocolate milk. These were the same children who had taken turns being a self-proclaimed “Service Robot” and laboring for the good of the group. I suggested to the Sober Husband that he was influencing the children to be lazy and poorly behaved, but he instead took credit for their prior good behavior. “They did that stuff because I told them to. I told them to be good on the drive and help Mommy.”

The reintroduction of the Sober Husband brought up another age-old source of conflict: waiting in line at the dining hall. The days he wasn't with us, Iris and I waited patiently in line for each meal. “We are linefolk,” observed Iris. We allowed Lolz to read her book nearby as long as she kept an eye on us and joined us when we got to the front of the line (there is a tall rock near the dining hall where last year Lola had the best reading experience of her life, “The School of Fear”, and she was determined to recapture that magic). But the Sober Husband thinks lines are for idiots, for sheeplike people. On one morning I chose to skip breakfast in favor of a quiet cup of coffee outdoors alone, only to have Iris storm up in a state of outrage. “Daddy won't wait in line! He says that if we wait long enough, there will be this magical time when there isn't any line but they're still serving food! And Lola just ran off!”

I advised Iris, “Ignore them. Just get in line and get your own breakfast. Let them do what they want.” Iris trudged back, still in a rage.

Later the Sober Husband tried to make up for this. He pandered to Iris by getting into line before lunch began, so the children were practically the first ones in. “See how good I am?” he pointed out.

“We waited in lines every day before you got here!” Iris and I informed him. “And we didn't brag about it!”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

no internet, only quality time, first with children and now with Al

Last week was our annual week up at Camp Mather, the rustic retreat run by SF Rec & Parks. For one week we have no internet and no cellphone, and we spend our days swimming, playing board games, waiting in lines for meals, reading in hammocks, and interacting with one another.

Afterwards we have a passionate reunion with the internet and our pets. Henry and Frowst were especially glad to see us, but Al, my weird skinny freaky cat who normally spends his whole live sitting on my chest and shedding, was standoffish for a couple of days. Al has a special relationship with Rhonda the professional petsitter, while I think Frowst doesn't let her touch him at all. After a few days of not going near me, pining for Rhonda, Al is now back to spending every possible minute sitting right on top of me.

Rhonda falls into that small category of people, people who are not repulsed by poor dimwitted, literally drooling Al and who imagine that if he were their cat, they would transform him into a sleek orange beauty. (The Sober Husband has suggested that I pawn Al off on the next person I meet in that tiny category, saying to them, "Why don't you give it a try?"). Al was found covered with oil in a commercial garage as a kitten, and his only sibling didn't survive. He has never weighed more than five pounds and usually weighs in around four, a skeleton covered in cheerful orange fur.

Many of his problems come from one underlying issue: Al is allergic to plaque, the bacteria that form on teeth, and as a result, he has a sensitive mouth and drools. This may be why, unlike most cats, he does not groom himself, but he did manage to clean himself for the first year or two of life before giving it up as a bad job. I have to cut the mats off him, brush him, and clip off soiled fur, which he hates (once he bit me on the arm when I was grooming him). His health is a lot better since we paid a huge sum of money to have almost all of his teeth removed (keeping only the front teeth so he can defend himself if necessary). Before that, he regularly became very ill and had low energy, but he's been perky ever since he recovered from that surgery.

There are other weirdnesses about him, though. For instance, he can't wear a collar because, unlike every other cat in the world, a plain, non-flea collar will cause his fur to fall out. Due to his extreme skinniness, I used to fear people would mistake him for a stray, and so I kept a loose collar on him. Even though this was a very loose collar, he lost the fur on his neck, and although it's been over a year since I gave up the collar, he still has a wide naked ring of pink flesh around his neck where no fur will grow.

He also has oddly waxy ears. I used to mistake this peculiar condition for ear mites and haul him down to the vet, but it never is ear mites, even though it looks just like it. Often I have both children pin the poor orange freak down so I can clean out his ears (it's especially important to do that before anyone comes by who will think I neglect him and don't take care of ear mites).

Al is also like sugar to fleas. Even though he virtually never goes outside (he only ventures out on the few truly hot days a year; he's too thin to be comfortable outdoors), he all-too-regularly gets fleas. The other cats almost never get a flea, but Al is infested every few weeks. How? How? How? I put those once-a-month flea death drops on him regularly, but they don't last an entire month on poor Al. I worry about the dosage given how thin he is, but we can't have fleas. I tried rolling him like a biscuit in nontoxic diatomaceous earth for a while, but it's such a nuisance.

Despite his skinniness, he's the worst moocher. He often manages to steal food from the children (you'd think he'd put on some weight), as no one wants to eat anything which has been touched by the drooling orange skeleton.

He also is the only one of our cats who pees out of the litterbox. When we have extra cats here, I put up extra litterboxes, and Al seems to believe that this means that wherever a litterbox has been, he is authorized to pee for life. There are two spots upstairs where he routinely pees, though even an idiot cat should be able to see there's no box there. (So why don't I just permanently keep boxes there? I would, but the Sober Husband strongly objects. He wants as few litterboxes as possible in the house, in as few rooms as possible).

So what does Al have to offer? He loves people, far too much. As I write this, he's purring on my chest. He spends as much time as he can sitting directly on me or a child or a favored visitor. His affection is so vast that it's annoying. I get so tired of having him on me, and I'll try to pawn him off on a child, but they never want him sitting on them due to the drooling and spattering (Al often whips his head around to clear up his drool, and this results in some spraying of whoever he's sitting on).

Sometimes, though, Al takes a strong dislike to someone. One year we had a housesitter, a friend-of-a-friend, whom Al disliked so much that he moved into the backyard and lived out there like a stray for a few months, refusing to enter the house for weeks after a sensible cat would have realized that the feared housesitter was long gone. After I finally lured him back into the house, he followed me around like a skinny shadow.

Even though the children don't want Al touching them, they profess a huge love for him. Recently there was some thought by the grownups about whether we should get rid of this poor dumb animal due to the peeing-where-once-a-litterbox-stood problem, and the children were appalled. "We love Albert! You can't get rid of Albert! We don't care if he pees in our room." Their protests were so strong that we gave up any thought of rehoming Al (and honestly I can't imagine who would realistically want to take him on).

The children's love has limits, though. Iris has taken to talking about how when she is old enough to move out, "I will take Frowst, and Henry, and Pigwidgeon." I protested: "But then I won't have any pets!" "I'll leave you the evil green bird and Al."

Friday, June 10, 2011

not smarter than lab rats

At the Maker Faire this year, I spotted a reasonable looking line. Meanwhile a nearby line for watching the "Battle Boats" was intimidatingly long. It turned out that the short line was for a sensory exploration environment housed in a truck. This sounded fun to me, but no one else wanted to wait in a line, even a short line. The day before the Sober Husband and Lola had spent over an hour and a half waiting in line so Lola could go into a "Space Treehouse" for kids. Lola still felt that the Space Treehouse was the best thing she'd done at the Maker Faire and worth the wait, but the impatient, line-hating Sober Husband (who was too large to go into the Space Treehouse) didn't want to spend one more minute waiting in any line.

I encouraged Iris to try the sensory exploration project, and I got into the line. Although the line was very short, it was a very long wait. The people in charge of this exhibit often walked along, silently holding up a sign which explained that the activity took five minutes per person and encouraging us to count the people ahead of us and calculate our waiting time accordingly. There was also something heavily crossed out on this sign. The delicate, pashmina-swathed woman holding the sign explained to someone that "this was a rule we had to have yesterday, but we don't need it today. It's a different population we're getting today." Intrigued, I asked. She rolled her eyes and laughed. "Yesterday we had a lot of people making out in the middle of the maze, so we had to make a rule: no making out for extended periods of time. Today we're not having that problem." We looked at the line together. It was all pre-making-out-aged kids and tired-looking, middle-aged parents. None of us in the line looked ready for a moment of passion. After she moved on with her sign, Iris and I turned to each other. "So it's a maze!"

While Iris and I waited and waited, the Sober Husband and Lola napped on a nearby patch of grass. They looked happy. Iris sometimes felt like quitting our line, but I encouraged her to stick it out. Ahead of us a young teen freaked out when it was her turn and came out without finishing the maze. She was really upset looking. "There was something by my foot, and I just couldn't handle it!"

The boy just before Iris bolted through the maze and came out in record time. I fully expected us to finish quickly as well. Iris went in ahead of me, after I asked if we could go in together. I thought we'd have more fun doing it together. The pashmina-wearer turned out to be the creator of this environment, and she recommended that we go in separately. "It's better to do it alone. We like to have someone get halfway through, then we let the next person in." Iris went in, and I waited. The creator shared a funny story with me. "My dad was here yesterday, and he couldn't solve my maze! He was in there so long. Finally I told him we needed to get him out, because it was taking too long and there were so many people waiting. He couldn't do my puzzle!"

Finally it was my turn to go in. She put a whistle around my neck so I could call for help if I freaked out. I climbed awkwardly up some boxes and slid down a short slide into complete darkness. I fumbled about, crawling and groping. After some time I found a sliding doorway, which I managed to open and crawl through. Around this time I heard Iris blow her whistle ahead of me. She shouted that she was stuck and couldn't get out. I didn't worry, because I knew from my conversation with the artist that people could be extricated midway through and because I heard a calm voice from one of the assistants (who was outside the maze, monitoring people's progress) reassuring Iris.

Then I became stuck. I could not figure out how to progress, but I stayed calm. It was completely dark where I was, and I concentrated on methodically fumbling in every direction. After a while, a voice asked me if I was okay. "I'm fine, just figuring it out." After a while longer, evidently I was judged incompetent to do this unaided, and the assistants turned on a lighted arrow showing me which way to go. What I had failed to figure out was that I needed to climb up and out of where I'd been crawling.

After I got out, I felt humiliated that they'd needed to turn the arrow on for me. Iris felt humiliated that she'd felt stuck and called for help. Humbled, we discussed our shortcomings together. "I really thought we'd be better at this," I said. "We are dumber than a pair of white rats in a lab." Iris agreed heartily. We took a moment to ponder our relative moronic-ness compared to the boy who went through just before us (whom we now considered a genius), as well as to lab rats. "Still, that was really great", we said. "Best thing we did today."

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Squirrels of the ocean (by Iris)

Sharks are awesome. They are like squirrels of the ocean. Here is proof:


Friday, June 03, 2011

a very different sort of child indeed

Yesterday I took eleven year-old Iris uber Alles on a special visit to the school she'll be attending next year. Iris has been deeply concerned over whether to continue Mandarin or switch to Japanese next year, and I got permission to take her down to sit in on some sixth grade language classes.

In the Mandarin class we visited, the kids told us why they had picked Chinese over the other languages. "I want to learn Chinese because there are so many particle physicists in China," one said.

I can't imagine a child at the girls' current school giving that answer. The closest would be one of Iris's friends, who picked French because so many clothing designers are French.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

be careful what you wish for

Pigwidgeon the dimwitted African grey woke us up this morning, shouting her first words over and over again: "STEP UP STEP UP STEP UP STEP UP" as the sun rose.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

so very very wrong

My dear, angelic-looking little Lola is a terrible influence on me. She's leading me straight to hell (which may be appropriate, as around the age of 5 she kept informing us that she was the devil).

Last night eleven year-old Iris uber Alles told me that one of her friends has insulting nicknames for her parents. Iris felt it would be funny to make up an insulting nickname for me as well and started trying different ones on for size. "Two can play at that game, Iris", I informed her. Pulling out all the cliches, I went on: "I wouldn't go down that road if I were you."

Iris was unmoved by that threat. In response to her insulting nicknames for her mother, as well as her failure to do her chore for the day (sweeping around the parrots' cages), I informed Iris that from thereon she would be referred to as "Crapchild", after "Betachild" failed to get enough of a rise out of her.

"Hey! That is not fair!" shouted Iris.

"Finish your chore, 'Crapchild," I said. Lola, having already done her own chore, basked in a sense of superiority, giggling nearby.

"Don't call me that!"

"I won't if you stop calling me things and if you do your chore," I said. Iris balked. I upped the ante: "I can think of worse names than 'Crapchild.'" Angelic babyfaced little Lola leaned in and whispered confidentially in my ear, in a lilting little voice, "Like 'Fuckchild'?"

I spat out my Vitamin Water.

"What? What?" an incensed Iris demanded. I shook my head at her. "I'm not going to repeat that," I said. I looked at sweet little Lola. "How can a cute little child like you say things like that? How do you even think of them?" Lola beamed proudly.

Iris glared at me even more fiercely after getting Lola to whisper the nickname into her own ear. I tried to defend myself. "It's not me, Iris! It's Lola! I didn't even say that." Fighting back, Iris tried calling Lola "Gammachild", but it failed miserably as Lola found it pleasing to the ear and failed to pick up on the more insulting implications. Iris's anger reached greater heights. Pandering, I offered, "Finish your chore, and I'll promote you to 'Sugarchild.'"