Thursday, November 18, 2010

I sing the feline electric


Bran was the kitten who never grew up. Oh, he got older, but he was always ready for action, always prepared to create a little deviltry. His little motor was permanently set on extra-loud purr. Vets had to blow in his face to get him to shut up so they could listen to his heart.

When I first got Bran from the shelter I thought he'd be Branstookah, reborn. I was wrong. He was actually someone from Obiwan's past. Bran worshipped his older brother. I have lots of folders of pictures labelled "Bran and Obi," and few labelled just one or the other.

I'd been hoping Bran would be a pal to Bella, who was now without her beloved Morgan, but Bella wouldn't have anything to do with him. So I went out seeking a buddy for Bran and found Molly. It turned out she was probably a week younger than what her owners said, still a little too young for adoption, and when I got her home she was much smaller than Bran. I'd thought I'd gotten a like-sized kitten.

So Bran, in his exuberance, terrorized her. He was always trying to play rough and she could only try to hide—until she got older and grew larger than little Bran. She would hiss at him like crazy, but still he'd try to play. They both might not like to admit it, but they had a lot of kitten adventures together. And since Molly idolized Obi as well, they were the Three Musketeers when he was around.

When I moved to the new house I also had to move seven cats. I stuffed 'em all (except the timid, much-put-upon Bella) into the master bathroom and closed the door so the movers could come in, so I could keep track of them, etc. But when I turned my back, Bran—always the smallest—had slipped UNDER the door and zipped out into the strange yard.

I almost freaked out. There was no knowing how far he would run, confused not to be in the home he'd known all his life. So carefully I walked toward him, trying not to frighten him. He stood in the middle of the forest and meowed at me piteously, then came to me. He knew who his Mama was.

As the herd dwindled down to two, Bran's bond with Obi deepened. The two were inseparable, except when Obi got jealous. On the rare times when Bran wanted to be petted NOW, Obi would either slink away in a huff or nudge him out of the way.

Bran liked to go out at night and come back in when he thought breakfast should be served, so I got used to Obi changing sides of the bed. He'd try to be on my left by the pillow, but when Bran came in and jumped to that spot as well, thinking nothing about two cats piled on the same point (it just made things friendlier, didn't it?), Obi would move to the right. It got to be such a routine that Obi eventually changed places in the middle of the night so as not to be bothered in the morning. Bran would come in, purr purr purr (the loudest purr you've ever heard) (except that Moosie, on the rare times he purred, was louder), and then pat me gently on the nose or eyeball to inform me that it was breakfast time.

At night he had an uncanny sense of time. As I sat at the computer, pretending to write my novels, he'd come in at 8 and start patting my leg, proceeding to a scratch if I did not accede to his wishes, and scratch and scratch until I got up and distributed snackies like a good Mama does.

I often called him "my little Duck," because he loved the rain. The worse the storm, the more he wanted to go out. And of course if Mama was home, he'd skip the kitty door and sit at the front door, looking back at me, awaiting valet service from his human. Once out, he'd give a quick look around and race down to sit under the back of my car. (Unless I saw him inside before I left for work, I always slapped the back of the car to flush him out of the way.) Don't know how he accomplished it, but even in the worst of storms Bran would come back inside without a drop of water on him. Usually. Every so often he'd arrive drenched, and kick up a fuss when Mama toweled him off.

As Obi's health has declined (he's 18 now), I've worried a LOT about Bran. What would Bran do when Obi was gone? Would he be sentenced to long, lingering years of loneliness? It seems Bran didn't want that. Obi is old enough that he sleeps most of the time, and won't suffer as much, I think, from the separation as Bran would have.

It all went so fast. He'd slowed down in the past six weeks, enough for me to get bloodwork done, especially when he stopped being enthusiastic about his meals. He got more bloodwork last week, just before I left for Art of the Carolinas. When I got back on Saturday, he was not eating to a worrying degree, though he was drinking a lot of water. Then he started to bump into things as if he couldn't see well. His urine had blood in it. He got X-rays Monday morning, ultrasound Tuesday, and on Wednesday he made his last trip to the vet.

I got the impression that he had a huge group of friends waiting to welcome him to the Other Side. When I asked him about his next life, he said that he'd wait for Obi so they could go together. I hope that wherever they wind up, they have a lot of fun, a lot of places to explore, much sunlight to lie in, and much love to surround them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rumble in the Wonder—Marketing Smackdown!

This column was originally run January 20, 2010, on .

With a "ho ho ho" in my heart and credit cards already smoking in my wallet, I set out in December to fulfill my Angel Tree kid's list. While the Angel Tree doesn't literally exist any more, its spirit lives on as an envelope of holiday wish lists from underprivileged area children.

I'd chosen someone who didn't want a Tour de France-ready bicycle or complete Wii system with snorkel and shotgun add-ons or $300 tennis shoes autographed by Michael Jordan (who, btw, lived in the next college dorm over from mine). (Okay, there's a five-year difference in graduation dates, but even so...)

My young Angel wanted a modest number of modestly priced items requiring both brain cells and motor skills to use. I approved and bought exactly that, but I wanted to add a little something extra to the pile. I was going to get her a gift that would not only help her in her reading, but introduce her to a lovely new world of fantasy and possibilities: a Wonder Woman children's book.

A few years ago Nina Jaffe and Ben Caldwell put out a playful series of Wonder Woman kiddie books through HarperFestival. They're out of print now (why???), but still around in used book stores. I checked 'em out online. Used copies in new condition went for at least $40. Ouch!

So instead, I wandered off to Wally World to get some other kind of Wonder gear for the Angel. Right past the store greeter stood a stand of kiddie "must-haves": cartoon character banks, nightlights, cereals, Band-Aids, toothbrushes, towels, backpacks, etc. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk, SpongeBob... and Dora the Explorer.

No Wondie.

A double-check of the toy and book sections confirmed the lack of Amazonian presence. Next, I tried the girls clothing department, where I caught a glimpse of a shirt with familiar scrolly logo and star-spangled burst. Hoorah! I made a beeline ("Bees! My god.") for it.

Instead of the Princess of Themyscira, it was a Hannah Montana shirt. Not only Hannah Montana, but a Hannah Montana who had confiscated the typestyle of the original WW logo as well as her TV background starburst pattern. Arrgh! What, doesn't HM make enough money without stealing it from others?

It didn't help that Dora was right beside her, smiling out from a rack of tees with those unnatural mutant eyes. That girl is everywhere!

I have nothing against Dora. She's a fine teaching tool, though the pacing of her stories needs to be speeded up if she wants to grab an Emmy for Best Drama. She teaches a second language almost as well as Rosetta Stone.

Like our Wonder Woman, Dora is kind to all. She's bright and curious. She befriends monkeys. She helps kids empower themselves.

But she ain't Wonder Woman.

I want my Wonder merchandise, and I want it now! Now! Where is it?

(above: The worlds of Bizarro Comics and the DCU both have a multitude of Wonder accessories available to their citizens. How I want that spangled rug!)

Oh, if you're into dollies—I mean action figures—there are a few Wonder Womans around sometimes if you dig far enough behind the displays of male figures. If you see someone running out of a toy store clutching an action figure box to his chest in an attempt to hide it, it's probably because the guy has just burrowed through ten packing boxes of male dolls to find the one WW doll that shipped and wants to avoid desperate WW fans who are willing to ignore peaceful Gaea's Way to get it.

(You can tell these desperate fans by the axes they carry. The "Lord of the Rings" label has been crossed out with a Sharpie, and instead "Wonder Woman" is scrawled there in a red that may or may not be Sharpie ink.)

If you're into sculptures and fancy non-action dolls, there are a few of those as well, produced on occasion by companies who charge gigantor bucks for their limited runs. For some reason, many of these models are loaded to bear with non-standard frou-frous, axes and swords, or a prostitute-ready Wondie suit. Why is this? Does anyone ever see an action figure of Superman that wears trousers? Spider-Man with a gun? Batman in just leather straps and black socks?

Every now and then an inexpensive but nice plastic figure will come out and I'll snap it up. But I want more!

I want to go to a novelty shop and buy a car license plate with holographic stars that says "1DR WMN." I want a purse with a shoulder strap that's actually a golden lasso. I want a Kanga Burger in my Happy Meal, with a Wonder Tot toy on the side. I want a star spangled iPhone with wireless Mental Radio capability. There's an app for that. I want an inflatable, battery-operated Steve Trevor to satisfy all my personal wishes, if you get my drift. I want a bunch of classic songs that tell me not to tug on Wonder Woman's shorts, or that Wondie ain't got a-nothin' on me; or hear a TV show's theme asking Wonder Woman to "saaaaaaave me!" or tell me that some sitcom's lead character is no Wonder Woman.

Why isn't Diana wake surfing beside Disney's booming "Princess" wave?

I want to be able to buy a WW tee shirt off the same everyday store shelf that sells a tee with a big "S" symbol on it. I want pink tees with "S" symbols banned by law and red shirts with =W='s worn instead. I don't want WW school supplies to be so rare that coworkers on vacation in West Virginia run to my cubicle first thing on their return to announce the sighting of a WW notebook at a Target in Bluefield.

Wonder Woman shouldn't be the spotted owl of comic book merchandising. She's an ICON. Non-geek people easily recognize and approve of her. One-half of today's kids are female, and thus presumably in her prime doodad demographic market, though a heck of a lot of males are interested in Wondie as well (for whatever reasons). (See inflatable and battery-powered, above.)

Why are they all being ignored?

Apparently there's a firm line between what's considered girlie stuff and what's not. My Xmas shopping revealed a Lego set packaged in pink plastic and marketed to girls. "All the Legos inside are girl colors," a clerk explained. "Pink, white, purple, orange, yellow..." I'd been aware of the stigma against a perfectly good pink (or as the pink-clad Cosmic Boy once put it, "Pale scarlet"), but hadn't known about the yang-repelling qualities of these other colors.

Guess we won't be hearing the advertising phrase, "These trucks are Amazon tough!" any time soon. Wonder Woman has to overcome the onus of being female before she can market certain things.

Why such a gender gap? Females are still very much thought of as the inferior sex, and anything to do with them is not to be touched by the male of the species. The two genders are kept separated and unequal, else civilization will crumble. Should we be encouraging that antiquated idea?

Marketing is not about creating social change, but rather profiting from what's out there already. So here goes: an idea as to how to market Wonder Woman to the hilt in today's world. Given: a nation of couch potatoes. Everyone's up in arms about it: get those lazy kids to exercise! Just don't expect me to get up to help.

DC should consider the marketing possibilities here: Would Superman work? He's from another planet. He automatically has superpowers, even if he lies around all day watching Spike TV and drinking beer. He's no example, no spokesman for health. Batman? Doesn't he get all the marketing already? Time to spread the Bat-Wealth. Besides, he's too cool to exercise. Best to give a kid a Batman video game and pray he doesn't learn anti-social behavior from it as he melds with his couch and decapitates someone onscreen with his virtual Batarang.

But Wonder Woman... Before the Modern Era, she was well-known for citing "Amazon Training" as a source of her power. Surely it involved unleashing the power of the mind as well as the body—just look at what she could do!

But it did involve physical training, which would naturally tie into exercise apparel, equipment, videos and programs of all kinds. Can't you just picture all the star-spangled sweat bands people could wear on wrists and forehead? Any weekend athlete would have fun wearing a yellow baseball cap with a red star front and center. Sweatsuits and gym clothes could be emblazoned with spangles, golden eagles, and red, white and blue. Patriotism, health and the Wonder fantasy, all in one!

Lynda Carter could take a break from her nightclub act to become a spangled gym franchise spokesperson. Be a Wonder Woman at Curves!

The Wii could show you as Wonder Woman (or Warrior) her/himself, as you exercised in a mythological environment. You could take a break from jumping jacks to jog after a criminal or monster, then lasso and reform him. (Possibly through the energetic Dance of Loving Submission.)

The US Army got a lot of air time with their "Be all you can be" campaign. How about the (US) President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports encouraging kids to "Be a Wonder!"?

Wonder Woman herself comes with a lot of cool toys. Why not play off these? Offer a remote-controlled Invisible Plane–tricky to figure where it is, but almost impossible to return to the store for a refund. Any girl or boxer would love her magic lasso jumprope, especially if it glowed in the dark. Wonder jewelry would include star earrings and silver bracelets. Kids could eat Amazon-powered vitamins, Paradise Island yogurt, maybe even Wonder bread.

And some day, some very special day...Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory" will show up in a Wondie tee instead of those dowdy Green Lantern, Flash and Superman things he tends to. Ah, dreams!

So what did I wind up getting as my Angel Tree kid's extra gift? A Dora book. Sigh. Maybe next year...