Monday, September 19, 2011

Holding my breath

Some things are inevitable. For example, when I ordered a dinner-sized Mediterranean salad with teeny tiny olives lurking under the lettuce, it was inevitable that I would crack a tooth. And when we lived under an enormous hundred-year oak that tilted protectively toward our house, it was inevitable that hurricane winds would blow it down on the roof. It was also inevitable that the insurance would find a way to screw us (actually two ways). Now that I live in the stunning, best-kept-secret Oakland Hills, it is inevitable that my dog will get royally skunked.

I first became aware of the danger while walking Winston before bed. It gets really dark up here - streetlights are about as rare as Republicans in Berkeley. If there's no moon out, you just stumble through the night until some motion detector flashes its disapproval at you. My dog and I were making our way toward a lamppost 100 yards away when a long black shadow undulated across the illuminated section of road. It moved with the fluidity of an animated ink blot being painted by some unseen hand. Too small to be a cat or a racoon, too big to be a possum, or a rat. Winston barked and lunged and pulled on his leash but I held on tight. The shadowy creature paused, stuck its tail up into the air like an exclamation point and trotted off. A skunk for sure.

Fair game as far as my yorkie is concerned. Rodents are his calling. His ancestors were bred to control the rat population in the Yorkshire coal mines. Small mammals to Yorkshire terriers are like catnip to cats. And Winston is no Paris Hilton purse pet. He's big boned and well fed and perfectly capable of taking on a skunk. Or so he thinks.

Until I moved to the Oakland Hills, I had only had one experience with skunk proliferation, on a hike in Point Reyes. It was a foggy, monochromatic day, but the skunks were in high spirits. Maybe it was mating season. They were leaping vertically out of the brush all around me, their little black and white coats a stark contrast to the drab, dry grasses. I was reminded of one of those kiddy arcade games, where you have to smack down a plastic critter before he retreats into the console and another one pops out. I don't know if the skunk-folk around here wish they were back in the wild, but they seem pretty well-adapted to me. I have yet to walk Winston without running into them. Darting out from under my car, conferring in pairs in the middle of the road, sashaying across the street like they own the neighborhood. Even when they're keeping a low profile, I get olfactory reminders of their presence, a whiff of angry skunk or a blast of dead skunk in the middle of the road.

Anyway, I want to be prepared, so I went down to the local pet supply and asked for emergency deskunking supplies. They were sold out – the entire shelf was empty. The girl at the register told me it's hard to keep up with the demand. At least three skunked dogs are brought in for a bath every week.

Like I said, it's inevitable – Winston is overdue.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Electronic Lover

Advertising, which, by the way, is my trade, first violated my privacy when I was in my early forties. I had a miscarriage and I took it really hard. Exactly a month before what would have been my due date, a FREE carton of Similac was delivered to my door. It was a mind fuck I did not need as I was just getting over the initial event when the mail man dropped off my FREE formula.

Target marketing, of course, is not exactly news. I remember when I first started out in advertising, back in the late 80s, I learned, to my horror, that I was a" Volvo-White-Wine-And-Brie." That was an early inkling that I wasn't nearly as special as I'd like to think.

Fast forward to the golden age of electronic marketing. Now, the targeting isn't just more precise, it's instantaneous. Recently, I googled a mental illness because I was worried about a loved one (who thankfully is fine). For the next month, every time I went online, I was greeted with ads for brain drugs to treat the condition.

I work at home and am on Facebook and Linked In quite a bit. Since I am naturally gregarious, I must take my mind out for the occasional walk. As a result, the entire web knows my business. Lets say I recommend a book on Linked In. The next time I go on Amazon, that book is in my face, along with others featuring similar subject matter, or by the same author. "Buy me, buy me!" they scream. But I am so creeped out, I'm not buying any of it. (And like most people waiting for the other economic Doc Martin to fall, I'm not buying much of anything).

Sometimes, the targeting doesn't work because it equates curiosity with sustained interest. Like when I went to Sarah Palin's Facebook page, out of sheer voyeurism. I got my comeuppance. For days, I was bombarded with mega churches and right wing political stuff. It was as though my computer were possessed by demons. Finally, I got smart and started clicking offensive.

Most of the time, the spiders do their job with graceful diligence. I sign every lefty-environmento-human-rights'ish petition that comes across my mailbox. And I admit, I have been lured into buying a concert ticket or two – my enthusiasm for music trumps the creep out factor. But damned if those bloody algorithms don't know me better than my husband does. The roots folk music, the spas I'll never frequent but like to read about. Never in a million years would the dear man send me a link to that dramatic Canadian Inn on a forlorn spit of rock overlooking the Pacific. You can almost hear the crash of the surf. " I am so there," I call out to my nameless, faceless electronic lover.

But whether it's through intrusive advertising, or whether we are willful participants in helping Pandora suss out our exact musical tastes, having one's mind mined on a regular basis, and being fed so many spot-on bits of bait, does bring up questions of identity. Certainly, it's disturbing to think that one's personal take on life could be reduced to an algorithm.Our tastes and opinions are why we dress and look the way we do, have the friends, romantic partners and careers we have. They are one of the filters through which we view the world.

My husband always says I'm so predictable. My electronic lover thinks so too.