A friend once took me to an authentic Chinese restaurant. The menu was in Chinese, which I don’t read, but I browsed it anyway because that’s what proper diners do.
Ultimately, I had to trust my friend’s discretion and eat what he ordered. It was delicious. But I found the whole experience disorienting, like stepping out of an airport into a city you’ve never visited, clueless to which way is north.
That’s how I feel when I read comic books — which I almost never do. I didn’t grow up reading them, so the navigation system is foreign; I don’t know where to look first (pictures? word balloons?) or where to look second (left-to-right? top-to-bottom?). And so many of them have repugnant content: ghastly violence toward painfully proportioned women and, not to be accused of sexism, ghastly violence at the hands of painfully proportioned women.
A literary snob, I always figured comic books were for people who had trouble with, you know, actual reading.
But then I married a comic-book geek. My husband grew up with his nose buried in Spider-Man comics and now makes his living as a graphic designer in the comic-book biz. This weekend, he’s dragging me once again to San Diego’s annual Comic-Con, the nation’s biggest celebration of pop-culture fringe. The convention’s 100,000-plus visitors are a motley jumble of Star Trek, Twilight, and Bettie Page fanatics, but what binds them all together is comic books. Four-color, saddle-stitched, your-grandpa-used-to-read-’em comic books. Comics about superheroes, bad guys and, lately, nerd girls.
Compact yet fluffy. Decadent but dainty. Self-contained and yet utterly, maddeningly un-portable. I think it’s cupcakes’ inherent contradictions that make them so irresisti-licious. For years now, chic towns across the nation have been worshipping cupcakes; Santa Barbara alone claims several gourmet boutiques devoted to the frosted confections.
And I whole-mouthedly approve. If you ignore the fact that they’re pricey and fattening — and let’s do — cupcakes are the perfect food. “Miniature” equals “adorable” and cake is no different. I like the integrity of a cupcake, each an original and self-contained work of art rather than a crumby fragment of a larger whole, a sloppy slab o’ Bundt, if you will.
I appreciate that cupcakes — whether petite or the size of my head — have a guess-free serving size, and that their frosting-to-cake ratio is considerably higher, and thus more mathematically yumptious, than regular cake.
I like their symmetry and the bling you often find on top: jelly bean, coffee bean, sugared berry. I relish that they’re fork-resistant and, being too tall for a mouth and too precarious to turn sideways, leave frosting on your chin and nostrils, making you look and feel like you’re four years old.
I’m sitting with some great old friends from high school, catching up on the last 20 years of our lives. There was a time when we had everything in common, from favorite teachers to lunchtime hangouts to homework due dates. And it’s fun — even comforting — to see how much we’re still alike politically, professionally, socially …
But then talk turns to the way we’re most different: My kids and their cats.
Often there’s judgment implicit when breeders and nonbreeders get to squawking about offspring. But not us. My pals seem genuinely charmed when I brag about my smarter-than-average spawn (whether they find my kids inspiring or my preening adorable, I can’t be sure). And I don’t question it when they tell me their cats are awesome, their life is good, and that they aren’t convinced procreating would improve it. I believe them.
Except … there’s something about the way they say that — is there a flicker of doubt on their faces? a subtle rise in intonation? — that makes it seem more like a question than a statement. It feels like they’re asking me outright: Starshine, why have kids?