Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kitty Kitty

My column from this week's paper.

Dead Cat Drama
One deceased feline in one cheap sweater makes for one lunatic encounter.

By Mary Duan

Those of you following along may have noticed that from time to time, I use this column as an ongoing piece on the rough theme of tales from the hood. I live in Oldtown Salinas, in an egregiously large Victorian we bought out of foreclosure, and the remodel of it will never, ever be complete. There’s a funeral home on one side of us that occasionally hosts parties with bounce houses, and an office building across the street where a religious-driven success group meets all hours of the day and night. (Did I mention they’re rhythmically challenged? The clapping, bass and drums are never in sync.)
Among the stranger things that have happened since my husband and I bought the complete wreck of a home: We were finishing dinner one Sunday night, heard gunshots and I opened the door to find the Salinas police had shot a pit bull that had gone on a runabout through the neighborhood; the pit bled out on my lawn in front of the pomegranate bushes. Twice, when my kids have forgotten to lock the doors while they’re inside, they’ve found obviously stoned people wandering through the dining room. One of my tenants intervened in a screaming match a local restaurant owner was having with someone trying to drive down the shared alleyway, and the owner then turned on him (this will become important later).
And then there were the two guys who used my porch as a party pad early one morning, blasting banda music at 3am, before the party turned bad and the two got into such a loud fight that the police were called, a taser was used and I’ve been subpoenaed to testify.
Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the most recent adventure, or as I’m calling it, “The Curious Case of the Dead Cat in the Sweater.”
My oldest kid was home from work and walking his girlfriend out to her car so she could go to her own job when a woman wearing a uniform from the aforementioned restaurant approached and started shrieking. “Do you even care there’s a dead cat laying here? It’s been here for three days! When are you planning on taking care of this?
“You people,” she hissed, “are despicable.”
Sure enough, there it was: a dead cat, wrapped in a dark blue polyblend cardigan, laying in the gutter, one lone paw sticking up in the air. It may or may not have been there for three days—I have no idea—but it was definitely there now.
I called the restaurant and not-so-calmly suggested they keep their unhinged waitress on a leash, or at least away from my kid and my newly acquired dead cat. And that’s when the Facebook message came in: “Have you seen THIS?” a friend wrote. The woman had taken a cell phone picture of the dead cat with my house looming in the background, written a narrative using my name and address, pointing out that the house belonged to me and that clearly my tenants (she thought the guy she was screaming at was the tenant who had the alley encounter with her boss) have turned a blind eye to the poor dead creature.
“Despicable!” she intoned.
Suddenly, I went from being the neighborhood sucker where all the hard-luck-case dogs come for a free meal to a blood-thirsty abuser of dead cats. One of her friends wrote, “I never liked the Coast Weekly anyway, now I boycott!”
Aside from the obvious question—if the waitress knew the cat was there for three days, why didn’t she call animal control herself?—we now faced the issue of what one does with a dead cat when it’s past 5pm and animal control is closed.
I did what I always do in crisis: Called my friend Carmela Moreno. She’s like Wolf from the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. She came, examined the situation and said, “I need a shovel and a contractor’s garbage bag. Go.”
The cat was shoveled as gently as possible into the bag, the bag was tied and Carmela drove off with it in her trunk.
The next morning, Saturday, she walked into Salinas Animal Services to tell them she had a dead cat that needed proper disposing. One of the nice little old lady volunteers piped up and asked, “Is that the cat from 226 Pajaro St.? I heard all about that on Facebook.”

Mary Duan is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Blaising Saddles

10 Surreal Things About Today:

10. I started the day by representing the Weekly at a symposium on homelessness. I was one of the "subject experts" in a breakout group on framing homeless issues in the media. There were about 250 people there and I had to present to the entire group at the end. The only thing I hate more than speaking in front of large groups is...well, there's nothing. Nothing more I hate than speaking in front of a large group. Also, because of my job, I just assume that at some point I've pissed off at least 80 percent of the policymakers in the room, and will piss off the other 20 percent sometime soon. One guy there asked me if I was coming to a private meeting next week held by a group of private individuals who are trying to put together a ballot measure for a public-safety tax in Salinas. I told him I didn't think I was invited because I tried and failed to get into their last meeting. He smiled and said, "Well there was some discussion about it. Frankly, you scare people."

9. Just as the symposium was ending, I received a text message from my boss offering me his tickets to an event this evening, a sold-out, celeb-studded dealie with lots of food and wine. We were a media partner in the event, but still, those tickets ran $180 each. And I hesitated because I knew I would have to talk to people and frankly, people scare me. But a woman at the symposium overheard my angst and talked me into going. I am glad she did, because...

8. This is Richard Blais, winner of Top Chef All Stars, restaurateur and cookbook author. You know how some people seem great on TV and end up being douchey in real life? He is not one of those people. I am taking a picture of him taking a picture of a picture of himself (we threw down at the table next to his station) at the Monterey Plaza Hotel. He was completely self-deprecating and funny and genuinely nice. He wanted to be there and he was happy to talk to people and he laughed at himself taking a picture of a picture of himself. Also, he served geoduck rolls, i.e., lobster rolls only with geoduck. And the guy next to him, whom I believe was Chef Tim Wood of Carmel Valley Ranch, was dishing up (ladling up?) the most amazing clam chowder.

7. And then there was this:
That's Carla Hall on the left and Chris Cosentino on the right. The event tonight was Carla Hall's "Street Food Extravaganza" at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Cooking for Solutions event. I've interviewed Chris a few times for different things, but this week we featured him on the cover of the Weekly. The little dude in the rhino hat Chris' and Tatiana Graf's son. He loves chocolate.

6. Also, there's Carla and Michele Ragussis.

Michele was serving arancini, traditional arancini, stuffed with ragu and cheese and I swear to God it was only my sense of shame that kept me from eating more of them than I did.

5. Also, there's this.

From left, Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, along with Carla, Carmela Moreno and Rick Moonen.

What's that? You've never heard of Carmela Moreno?

She was my date for the night, as Chuck had a previous engagement. Carmela is our dog whisperer. Carla asked if anyone wanted to come up and talk to her, and Carmela strode right up, "strode" being a relative term because when you're 5 feet tall, have had five glasses of wine and your kitten heels keep getting caught in the cobblestone, striding isn't really what happens. Carmela, who is an original red diaper baby, explained that street food has always been the food of her people. (I kept waiting for her to raise her right hand in a power salute, cry out "si se puede" and try to unionize the hotel workers. "I checked," she told me. "They're already union.") Note that Pawlcyn and Moonen, of RM Seafood in Vegas, came up AFTER Carmela. Moonen planted a kiss on Mela's cheek and told her he liked her passion. "Who is he again?" she asked me on the way home.)

4. This is where my phone apparently stopped taking pictures. Other perfect bites from tonight were Mary Sue Milliken's and Susan Feniger's churros with chocolate sauce. ("I swear this is my last one," I told her. Art Smith, Oprah's own, thought that was funny.) Also, I talked to Susan Feniger about Real Housewives of OC. Apparently she was on it at some point, and she said nobody ever admits to watching it. "I watch it," I told her, "and I don't care who knows it."

3. I had the opportunity tonight to run over someone who caused a dear friend a great deal of pain. He stepped RIGHT in front of my car. I didn't take the shot. Earlier at the event I had seen him ogling, in a most unseemly way, a group of Real Housewives of Monterey County. They were digging the attention, and I wanted to tell them, "Ladies, only if you want an incurable chronic disease." But I didn't. Didn't run him over either. Probably for the best.

2. I've learned to light the charcoal grill. Tomorrow, after I'm done sleeping for 12 hours, finding the perfect aqua blue pashmina (I have a coupon! For Beverly's! One of the Real Housewives of Monterey County was wearing one and I'm feeling covetous), I am going to light the grill and grill flank steak. I will probably forget to take a picture of it.

1. Nigel is woofing in his sleep. Oliver has the worst gas ever. Also, I need to vacuum.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

One Bullet

My sons engage in a Friday night ritual known as Magic: The Gathering. I don't pretend to understand it—it's a game, it's a game involving cards and there are points and some events are held solely to build decks and some cards can be worth a lot of money, but I'm not sure how since this isn't a betting game and I swear the next time they drop cards on the floor and leave them there I'm going to hurt somebody and sometimes their friends come to play but Friday night they go to the comic shop for Friday Night Magic.

They get there by 6, they're home by midnight. I miss them because they used to hang out with us on Friday night, but they're past that point in their lives. Even the owner of the Chinese restaurant comments on it: "Only two? No boys?" he asks and I say, "No boys. They don't like us anymore," even though I know it's not true. This Friday, though, Sam stayed home because he's on restriction—the kid has one job—school—and he has been pretty half-assed at his job and gaaaah! just do your homework why don't you—and so Bobby went on his own.

He came home much earlier than normal and came straight to our room, also not normal. He knocked so as to avoid seeing us doing something embarrassing and then came in and sat on the bed. "I'm going to tell you something because you're going to find out anyway and then you're going to be pissed off at me for not telling you." (As an aside, it must be a pain in the ass to have a parent, specifically a mother, who's a journalist because there is just no way to keep a secret from a mother who's a journalist.) And then he told me the place he plays Magic, Current Comics, had been robbed at gunpoint. Two boys, two hoodies, two ski masks and two guns. They came in and demanded the register take, and the wallets of the dozen or so kids hanging out. And one of them pointed a gun directly at my son's chest while they were robbing the store. He was standing less than four feet away.

They got away with the register take, about $300, cash from some of the players' wallets and a laptop.

"Were you scared?" I asked my son, because how could you not be. "Not really," he said. "Nobody tried to fight them, nobody resisted, there was no reason for them to shoot anyone." But I know, and he knows, that if you're the kind of guy who takes a gun to commit a robbery you might not need a reason, a provocative action on the part of the victim, to shoot.

Which is why I'm awake at 3am and writing this. My son and his girlfriend went to a movie tonight and when he came home he came straight to our room, knocked so as to avoid seeing anything embarrassing and asked if it was normal to feel on edge after having a gun pointed at you. "Totally normal," I told him, but more importantly, so did his father, also known as the calmest man in the world. Chuck told him that he, too, was upset about it. We all know I was upset about it because, hello, that's my function in the family. Bobby said he thought he had a panic attack after the movie when they were going to 7-11 to get ice cream. The new guy who moved in across the street was staring at him and it put him on edge. My stomach has been in knots all day and I can't sleep either. I'm doing this instead.

Have you ever had a gun pointed at you? I have. Similar circumstances. I was 17 and working at a fast food place on the South Side and a guy came in late one Sunday night and robbed us. I was working the register; I took his order, I turned around to make the order and next thing I know he's yelling at me, "Hurry up, get it in the bag!" I turn around saying, "Sir, I am going as fast as I can," and that's when I see the gun. I freeze. I forget how to open the register. We don't bother locking the drop boxes below the registers, so I pull the money from there and hurry up and get it in the bag.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Music Man

I'm reposting the one below one as a minor remembrance to the "Really Famous Musician" referenced in it. Bill Bennett, all-around nice guy, a man of great and wry humor and principal oboist for the San Francisco Symphony, was stricken by a massive brain hemorrhage during a performance on Feb. 23. He never regained consciousness and died on Feb. 28. He leaves behind one of my favorite people—his wife, Peggy, one of the funniest women I've ever met—and two teenage sons.

This YouTube clip will give you a little idea of what Bill was all about.

And here's the post from 2010:

This morning my husband and I drove our eldest son Bobby to San Francisco International Airport for a flight that will eventually land him in El Salvador. To the question, "Why is your son going to El Salvador," my standard answer is officially, "Because I am an idiot."

I guess the real answer is somewhat more difficult to figure out. My son has parents who are overeducated overachievers who way the hell oversheltered him for the first 14 years of his life. And then we moved to Berkeley two years ago and it all went to hell. Sort of. I think the best thing about Berkeley is that it's a great place to raise free-range children. Our youngest, Sam, started taking BART by himself when he was 11 because his best friend moved to the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel. We would drop him at our end, they would pick him up on their end. We armed both of them with bus passes and let them head off to Eudamonia in downtown Berkeley. Or to the ledges outside of Berkeley High where the skate punks gather. And every time they walked out the door, my heart would seize until they came home.

And then I moved them back to Salinas and pissed them both off.

I think I'm hoping Bobby will figure out his life during a few weeks in Central America. He's a low-ambition kid, a smart as hell, exceedingly eloquent 16-year-old kid who has no interest in performing for his parents or for his teachers. He always has a few books going, he loves theater and music and baseball. He thinks he wants to join the Peace Corps, but that could change by tomorrow.

Our friend Max has been planning this trip to El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize for months. His wife, Feliciana, needs to be in Guatemala for the next nine days to ... celebrate? mourn? the first year anniversary of her father's death. Max is going to take his boys, Bobby and a fourth teenager--the son of another set of friends--surfing and hiking and for Spanish lessions in El Salvador before they head to Guatemala on Thursday, where they will work at a clinic sponsored by Max's congregation and hopefully help out with any work that needs to be done at Feliciana's house. She was raised in the mountains, three hours away from electricity, and with both of her parents gone, the small farm and the house now are hers.

We met all of them at the airport this morning, where Dr. P, the mom of the fourth teen, asked me how I was doing with the trip. Because her husband (we'll call him RFM, for Really Famous Musician) was freaking the hell out. Dr. P will be joining them on Thursday, when I will start freaking out a little less.

"I'm freaking out too," I said. "Do you have your prescription pad? Can I have some valium?"

She didn't and I couldn't. But we sat in a lounge area while the boys got their boarding passes and talked about our worries.

Chuck: Dengue Fever. You're on your back for eight days and you can't take care of your own basic needs.
RFM: Nodding. Yeah, that's a bad one.
Me: I'm worried about kidnapping, illegal organ harvesting and Central American jails.
Dr. P: You can't be worried about organ harvesting. That's not a legitimate fear.
Me: It's my fear and I'll worry if I want to.
RFM: Condoms. I forgot to tell him about condoms.
Me: Yeah, we went over that one last night.
Dr. P, eyes widening: Condoms? You don't think ... really? Condoms?
Me: They're teenage boys.
RFM, sighing: I'll go tell him.

We lingered on as the boys and Max wended their way through the security line. I wrapped myself around my baby's neck and hung on until it was embarrassing for both of us.

And then I let him go.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Fine Art of Puttering

I last had significant time off of work in June 2012, when I went back to Chicago to be with my mother as she died. That was three weeks: the dying week, the funeral week and the drive back to California with my sister and all of her possessions in a U-Haul week.

I'm on vacation this week and I'm strangely defensive about it. People ask me what my grand plan is, and I have no answer. I just kind of want to be in my house and putter. And eat cheese—good cheese, the expensive stuff, not like the fistful of discount pepper jack I just hoovered. I want to plant some plants. I have about 70 tulip bulbs that need to go in the ground, and I have an entire succulent frame that needs to be planted and hung. I want to create some art. I help create a really cool newspaper every week, but I haven't created anything using paper and paint and brushes in a long time. I want to take a few day trips. Read fiction. Go to the city council meeting for my own amusement, because they're funnier than any sitcom on TV right now. (Except Girls. Holy hell, have you seen Girls? Funniest thing going. I am fully aboard the Lena Dunham train.) I thought I might go to Chicago this week, but fuck, it's like 22-degrees there right now and according to the forecast, when it's not snowing in the next few days, there will be freezing rain. I'll wait on Chicago.

I've technically been on vacation since Friday, but it doesn't really count since the office holiday party (which always takes place about a month after the holidays) was Friday night. And even before that, during the day, my boss kept emailing me with, "Hey, I know you're on vacation, but what do you think about blah blah blah." Good party. Excellent party. I have to be drunk to dance in public and boy did I dance. Woke up Saturday and my hair hurt. Ate waffles with my husband, walked over to the homeless encampment at City Hall (or, as I like to think of it as, an object lesson in what happens when the city dismantles a homeless encampment and leaves the denizens with nowhere else to go). Last night, a cocktail party at our friend Nate's house. This morning, sleeping, reading and puttering. I puttered and Chuck made David Chang's steamed pork buns

I puttered here:

I also puttered here:

And then I puttered here too:

Puttering, for those unfamiliar, is the fine art of rearranging stuff.