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Month: March 2011

Flock My Life

I have this dog, an Australian shepherd, a herder by nature. He becomes distraught when a family member leaves the room. He leaps up to follow the flock-busting defector, then looks back at the rest of us, unsure of where he’s needed. He winds up spinning in circles, looking profoundly confused, and existentially frustrated.

We laugh at him because it’s sort of pathetic. But he can’t help it; he’s hardwired that way. And for the first time in my life, I understand it.

My 12-year-old left last week on a class trip to Europe. Parents are not invited, phone calls not permitted; it makes the students homesick to hear mom’s voice. Instead, we get daily Twitter posts with photos of the kids in front of French, Italian, and Spanish monuments.

For a year before the trip, friends told me, “You’re brave. I could never let my child do that.” I truly didn’t understand the sentiment. I mean, it’s not like they went to Libya. Frankly, I looked forward to having one less lunch to pack, and to bringing home Thai food for dinner without anyone complaining.

He was gone just one day when friends began calling: “How are you holding up?” Really? The kid isn’t touring the Daiichi nuke plant, I explained; he’s slurping gelato in Florence. How bad could it be?

Green is the Loneliest Color

Besides propitious weather and sublime terrain, the nice thing about living in Santa Barbara is being surrounded by a shimmering bubble of righteousness.

Shopping at Farmers Markets, championing curbside recycling, and peddling fuel-free bicycles, we fancy ourselves among the greenest citizens in the nation. We hear little rounds of applause in our heads every time we refill our stainless-steel water bottles or toss used coffee filters — and their spent, shade-grown grounds — into the compost bin. Deep down, we believe the use of canvas grocery sacks puts us at the forefront of a heroic global movement and guarantees us admission to a landfill-free heaven.

Travel almost anywhere else in the U.S., however, and we discover that in addition to being reverent and right-minded, we Santa Barbarans are also groundlessly smug. And blissfully ignorant.

Venture away from our commendably conscientious coast and we are shocked by the rest of the country’s apathy for our inviolable eco-ideals: merrily topping off the tanks on their Suburbans, using Ziploc baggies like Kleenex, cranking the air-conditioning just because it’s, you know, daytime.

“I can’t travel anywhere without Cali guilt dogging me,” says my friend Barbara. “In Las Vegas, I ask, ‘Why are you throwing that soda can in the trash?’ In South Carolina, it’s, ‘What do you mean, what’s recycling?’ I want everyone to care about the environment, but they don’t.”

Mom's Got Germs

Clone Wars. And break dancing. Only recently, though, have I learned that I am also polluted with a particularly aggressive and especially repugnant strain of cootie. For which, naturally, there is no antidote. It’s the only way to explain why my children — who spent the first years of their lives gleefully gnawing on my fingers — now recoil when I offer them a bite from my fork, insist on fresh straws when I proffer my milkshake, and wipe off their cheeks (oh, no, they di’nt!) after I kiss them. They don’t see the generosity in these gestures of mine; they see germs. Like I’m spewing deadly pathogens. Like I have a rare strain of parental Ebola that could seriously tweak their weekend plans. A swipe of my ChapStick? Er, no thanks. A slurp of my ice cream cone? Um, I’ll pass.

I Was a Flash Mob Virgin

You’ve seen it on YouTube and Modern Family. Swarms of inconspicuous passersby break into a seemingly spontaneous dance routine in a train station or the food court of a mall. Known as a flash mob, it’s a surprise public performance à la guerrilla theater, sans the buzzkilling political message.

Flash mobs create order out of chaos. In aiming solely to bewilder — and then delight — unsuspecting onlookers, they wind up doing much more: They celebrate the exuberant and unpredictable art of performance itself.

When I learned a New York choreographer was organizing a flash mob here in Santa Barbara, I signed on. I have no dance experience, but I can rock stretch pants and tie a do-rag on my head, so I figured I could fake “hip, urban hoofer” if necessary.

There were 120 people at the first rehearsal. Within a week, the number had dropped to 65 community members of literally every shape and size. Little girls. Old men. Giggling moms. In only five hours — and with just a little bloodshed — we learned the keys to conjuring order from chaos: Frustration. Repetition. Sense of humor. Motown.

“I’m Doug, and I’m a recovering choreographer,” said our “mob” boss Doug Elkins, in town for a residency with Santa Barbara’s esteemed DANCEworks program. He started us off with fancy arm work in our Lobero Theatre seats, and soon had us up onstage adding fast footwork. Elkins knew it wouldn’t be easy: “If it gets confounding or frustrating” (it did), “just go with your favorite curse” (we did).

'Yo Mama' Still Draws Laughs, Wrath

You want to spark a fella’s fury fast? Go after his mama. Young or old, nothing roils a guy’s ire like snarky jabs at Dear Old Mom. Miami Heat forward LeBron James demonstrated this during a recent match against the Pistons in Detroit.

It was late in the first quarter when a Pistons fan shouted, “LeBron, is your mom going to Boston for Valentine’s Day?” James paused on the sidelines and looked as if he might ignore it — as he does most of the smack-talk he hears on the road — but then spun around and got in the heckler’s face.

“I don’t give a [bleep] what you say,” James told the rude dude. “But don’t be disrespectful.”

But then, disrespect is sort of the point, isn’t it? Infantile but effective, matriarchal mockery has been tweaking tempers for generations. “Yo mama” invectives have their roots in slavery, when African-Americans exchanged the swipes as verbal sport, or good-natured battles of social one-upmanship.

Funny that after all these years, such low-brow put-downs can still whip up powerful emotions. Are we genetically programmed to chafe at mommy slander?

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