Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fifty Shades of Schadenfreude

I heard a word the other day that was new to me; it was: “schadenfreude.” The word itself is delicious. Try saying it over and over. Now, try to stop saying it. It’s really addictive.

Schadenfruede was in an email story written to me by my dear friend, Bernie, who lives in Vancouver. She used it in the context of trying to thwart a squirrel from purloining seeds at the bird feeder. It was a very funny story and she agreed to let me share it with you. It follows at the end of this blog post.

Because I had never before heard the term schadenfreude, I looked it up online. Wikipedia defines it as a “loan word” borrowed into English usage from German and it means taking pleasure at the misfortune of others. I know what you’re thinking, “That’s not very nice.” That’s what I thought, too. But I also know that I would feel every little ounce of the same satisfaction as Bernie in winning a battle against a squirrel. So, that made me wonder, are there degrees of schadenfreude?

This philosophical question is somewhat akin to, “Is it ever O.K. to tell a lie?” That old chestnut has been discussed to death, of course, and everyone knows that the usual answer is, “No," except if it’s a tiny white lie, such as a small fib to spare your best friend’s feelings when, yes, those pants really do make her butt look big. In this spirit, I pondered, are there times when schadenfreude is O.K.? Can we find the good in schadenfreude?

My thoughts immediately went to Wile E. Coyote. As a kid, I didn’t just take pleasure at seeing this canis cartoonibus fall from mile-high mesa ledges with a dusty thud on the desert floor. I fell on the floor in hysterics. Growing up, my brother and I watched Saturday cartoons together and howled with laughter every time.  Maybe it was a slippery slope; I’ve loved physical comedy ever since.

I mean, would we find Lucy and Ethel stuffing their faces with chocolates funny without schadenfreude? I think not.

Would TV shows like “America’s Funniest Videos” even exist? O.K. bad example – it would surely be better for mankind if they didn’t.

Practical jokes depend on schandenfreude. Seeing a pompous ass taken down a peg or two is also always satisfying. Celebrity magazines depend on our worst schadenfreudian tendencies for their success. O.K. – again a bad example.

So, from here we get into some murky, grey territory where schadenfreude is concerned. None of it is pretty, but let’s acknowledge our human failings and admit we’ve all had these less than noble moments:

·         Smacking the heck out of a house fly exclaiming, “Got’ya, you little bugger!”

·         Not with glee, but at least with a sense of relief, thinking, “I’m glad it’s not me!” when we see TV news images of folks stuck in O’Hare airport for three days due to a snow storm.

·         When your team wins, and the other team LOSES!!!! Boo-ya!

·         Being the person to snag the last giant shrimp at the buffet. BOOM!

·         And my personal favorite, hiding the only garment in your size on the store rack so nobody else can find it while you decide if you are going to buy it or not. Schadenfreude.

So maybe you have other examples when schadenfreude seemed like a good idea. Please share. Maybe you’ve got a squirrel stealing bird seed in your backyard.

Here’s Bernie’s story. For those of you that don’t speak Canadian, please refer to the footnotes.

I put up a squirrel proof bird feeder this morning. This after several years of NOT feeding the birds and only affording them bathing facilities in the spring and summer months. I run hot and cold on the idea of bird feeding. The cold part includes attracting rats and having the ground under the feeder mushy with sprouts in the spring. I also think that my personal birds don't want the whole neighbourhood¹ over here. I have a darling Swainson's or Hermit Thrush that I just adore. The chickadees are cute but they are like the “neighbours kids,” cute for a while but then I wish they'd go home. The sparrows are hard to like but I keep trying. They always munch on my sprouted peas and beans in the spring…sometimes ruining the whole crop. They are pushy, too. Basically, Cockneys. Unlike Juncos, who are the Progressive Conservatives² of the yard. They’ll move when asked but feel they have a natural right to be here. I‘d like for them all to coexist on what remains of flower seeds and the plentiful insects on and around the cherry tree. I feel the diet is a healthy one. No one is overeating and the population is kept in check. So, why have I decided to put up a bird feeder again? The answer has to be schadenfreude. Quite simply I am looking forward to watching the squirrels thwarted. Especially the little black one that caused me to fall on my face three years ago. (I was chasing it with a broom.) Every time I see that squirrel I do a slow burn. Sometimes I gesture wildly at it and make as if I am going to give chase. It really doesn't care; makes my lawn lumpy with nuts every year. I need to be here the day, the hour and the minute that this squirrel tries to access the feeder. It was the YouTube video of a squirrel 'out of luck' on this feeder that had me in the car and driving directly to “Wild Birds Unlimited” last Sunday afternoon. Once I put the feeder up the word got out very quickly. They all showed up, plus the relatives!!! One adorable Red Breasted Nuthatch made me squeal. Still, they ate a lot. I'm starting them off with the uber deluxe mix. This will be the only time I ever purchase that. NO shells! So no mushy sprouts in the spring. But …I won't be affording them this luxury (or me!) much longer. They must think they are in Kitsilano!³ I expect even more will be here tomorrow. But you know who I am waiting for.


1.     Canadian spelling of “neighbors” following proper English (as in England) language.

2.     The Progressive Conservatives are the political party currently in power in Canada. They’ve been in for a long old while, hence their smug sense of entitlement.

3.     Kitsilano is a trendy, upscale, former-hippie/doper neighbourhood on the shores of English Bay in Vancouver. You can bet that birds in this neighbourhood get top grade seed, dude.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Boy in a Dog Suit

My fur son, Riley, goes to Club K-9 Doggy Day Care every Tuesday and Thursday. This gives me some time to do things. Don’t judge me. He has a lot of fun running around with the other dogs and comes home a very tired, happy dog. In the meantime, I get a few uninterrupted hours to write, shop, exercise, tidy up, have lunch out, or even have conversation with adult people!

Most other days, I am a full-time, stay-at-home dog mom. That’s because Riley is a full-time dog. And by 5:30 when Ken arrives home from work, I’m ready for a glass of wine. “You watch him! I need to go sit down!”

During the day, here is the conversation I have with my boy:

 “RILEY!! Will you PLEASE…..” (Check all that apply):

ü  Stop tearing up the lawn!

ü  Quit barking at that jogger!

ü  Get your face out of the dishwasher!

ü  Leave that squirrel alone!

ü  Stop chewing on your foot!

ü  Drop that plush toy/drop that stuffing!

ü  Quit pulling me!

ü  Get out of the Hostas!

ü  Not drool on my pants!

ü  Just give me 10 minutes of peace!

I don’t intend to be such a cranky mom, but Riley is not a dog that can go unsupervised for more than a minute or two. When he was a pup, we fenced the yard so that he could be outside by himself safely for at least short periods of time. Nope, not our Riley. He can get himself into trouble at the drop of a…well…how can I put it? Let’s just say that he likes to clean up after himself.

Now, I don’t want to hear, “You haven’t been tough enough on him!”  He isn’t an unruly, untrained brat! Not at all! Riley has had tons of training – all of it in today’s kinder, gentler method using rewards for “right” behaviors.  Even though we don’t use punishment or negative reinforcement, a choke chain or domination that would have us referring to ourselves as “Alpha,” positive training is supposed to be much more effective. Riley has learned basic good manners and impressive obedience skills. We praise him for his successes. And he has had many. He even has his Canine Good Citizen certificate.

He is certainly the apple of his Dad’s eye. This is a man whose face melted when he first held his new puppy in his arms. This is a dog dad who says things like, “Who’s the best boy in the world?” and “I don’t know what your problem is, dear, he walks fine with me.”

I do love the little guy. He can be such an angel especially when he’s sleeping. He does this thing that would break your heart. When Ken is leaving to go to work, Riley and I sit on the stairs and give Daddy a kiss good-bye at the same time, both of us laying a wet one on each of Ken’s cheek. Very sweet.

So, why do I nag and scold? Why do I feel like a total failure of a dog mother that Riley can chew on my last nerve? Is it because he’s a boy? If Riley were a human kid, he’d be Dennis  The Menace. He’d have a cowlick, dirty face and grass-stained knees. He is boisterous, mischievous, smart, agile and athletic. He is a bit of a goof. I think he might have ADD.

Our dog before Riley was a Golden Retriever girl. Sami was a dainty, darling dog whose mission in life was to be a gentle soul. She was patient and stoic when little kids asked if they could pat her. At age 15 when she passed on, she left behind a collection of unharmed plush toys that filled a bushel basket. She didn’t like to get her paws wet. She was “Sugar and spice, and all things nice.” When Riley came into our lives he demonstrated the other half of that old verse, “Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of.”

But that’s my Riley. Shredding a plush toy per week. Splashing through rain puddles. Bounding through leaf piles with a goofy grin on his face. Running full out across a field when his dad throws a ball for him. Emerging from underbrush covered in mud and burrs. Yanking the leash suddenly backwards knocking me nearly off my feet so he can sniff interesting “D-mail” messages from other dogs. Barking furiously at kids on skateboards. Digging craters the size of Texas. Sitting in the middle of the yard with a toy in his mouth staring at the door until I come out to play. And then running away as soon as I do.

He is such a boy. And such a great dog. We have to run now. We are off to his Games and Tricks class.


Friday, November 2, 2012

My Own Personal Horror Movie

Although Halloween is over, beware of monsters that walk among us all the rest of the year.

In fact, don’t they say that each of us harbors suppressed demons? Characteristics that, when unmasked, reveal our worst selves? Alter-egos that, if released to roam, could scare little trick or treaters who dare come to our door?

None of us is immune from goblins that lurk within. Isn’t Halloween all about confronting these nightmarish terrors and thereby banishing their devilish intrusion on our happiness and well-being?

In that Halloween spirit albeit a couple of days late, if you will indulge me, I will confront my inner fiends right here and now.

Warning, this blog may not be suitable for all readers.

First let me introduce, for your consideration, an ogre that has intruded upon my inner peace of late. Meet:

IRRITABILIANA. This fire-breathing, dagger-glaring gorgon has been coaxed out of her Cavern of Cranky by political campaign ads. She can be heard screaming from three blocks away, “I CAN’T STAND ANOTHER AD!!!! WHERE’S THE REMOTE? MUTE!!!!!! MUTE ALL ADS FROM NOW UNTIL NOVEMBER 6TH!! MUTE, I SAY! MUUUUUUTTE!!!”

Next, permit me to submit:

CATASTROPHENA. Whirlwinds of apprehensive energy and cyclones of anxiety blow in with this beast before she touches down to watch the Weather Channel unmoving, in zombie-like trance from dawn to dusk. Whether it be torrents of rain, deluges of snow, tidal waves, tree-toppling winds or fracturing fault lines, she will remind all who come near, “It’s Global Warming. I’m telling ‘ya. We’re all doomed.”

Or, one of the more heinous of creatures:

NAGULITA. You want to be reminded of something? BWAA-HA-HA-HA! You’re really asking for it, aren’t you? Wear your sun block! Drink more water! Turn the lights out! Put the milk away! Oh, there is no limit on how many nags this niggling, gnat-like, needling Nagulita can torment you with!

Next up is:

HISTRIONICA. OH-OOOoooo-oooowwwww!!! She’ll howl as though the moon is transmutating her into a hideous she-wolf creature. But it is only a surface scratch. A simple, “Owie!” would suffice. But Histrionica makes a big deal of EVERYTHING! She can be seen taking out the garbage or picking up socks with heavy sighs of forbearance as though to silently communicate, “My life is SO difficult!” But she never asks for help. Oh, no, that would ruin everything, because she HAS TO DO IT ALL!! Oww-oooo!

And one of the most insidious of inner devils:

DYSCALCULIA. Dyscalculia lurks in that shadowy realm where murky math muddles change from a twenty or confuses calculations for cooking a 14½ pound turkey at 20-25 minutes per pound.  Capable of draining the life-blood from a bank account in under a half hour, Dyscalcula swoops down over the internet to reign destruction over online shopping venues, but she is doomed for eternity to NEVER being able to balance a check book!

Hm. Oddly, I feel a little better. Thanks for listening. I really should get going now and wash some dishes, do some ironing, make the bed. You know, before HOUSEWORKPHOBIANA makes an appearance. Erk……erk……oh, no...it's...erk...too....LATE!!!!