Bezirk [1] in Berlin #11:  AUGUST 7, 2011



 In my last post, I forgot to point out a few things about the William the Wonder Cat illustration.  Did you see the spotlight with a huge ‘W’?  Well, that’s the way other cats notify William if they need help getting into mischief.  [OK, I’ll admit that it’s a pretty pitiful cat that needs such help, but, after all, isn’t that a Wonder Cat’s job—helping the weak?]  And another delightful touch–did you notice the wall paper?  It has both a kitty face and Wonder Cat’s distinctive sign–W.


 There’s a high-end specialty food for dogs.  It claims to be a ‘biologically species-specific raw dog food.’  (Presumably this means ‘raw food for dogs’ rather than ‘food made of raw dogs.’)  The German for this type of food is ‘biologisch-artgerechte Rohfleischfūtterung.’  Alas, the acronym for this term is ‘BARF.’  There are at least 4 varieties – Barfer’s Choice, Barfer’s Pure, Barfer’s Snack, and Barfer’s Daily.    Unfortunately, even if I were rich beyond all measure and had a dog whose life depended on this particular food, it would be really, really hard to make myself buy it.[2]  I mean, if you’re going to barf it, why buy it in the first place?


Here’s a sample of the funky street art here in Berlin.  Some I like better than others, though.


Sometimes you don’t even have to look for whimsey here – it just passes right by while you’re sitting at a café with your neighbor.  We saw a girl go by on a bike.  The bike had a basket on the back. There was a dog curled up in the basket.  But things like this are so common here, this doesn’t ring the Whimsey-o-meter.  What pushed it into the whimsical was the umbrella that was affixed to the basket, no doubt to protect the dog from the sun.  Of course, this raises a couple of questions:

  • Under what circumstances is it necessary to protect a dog from the sun (especially in 70 degree weather)?
  • Given the continual movement and frequent changes in direction that are characteristic of most bike rides, how is it possible to make sure that the umbrella is always in the right position to protect the dog from the sun (especially when the basket is behind the rider)?


Most of us already know that drinking water can taste different, depending on where you are and, perhaps, where you’re getting the water from.  (Remember how much better it always tasted slurped out of the kitchen faucet than it did out of a glass?)  As a child, I spent many summer weeks with my grandparents in Louisiana, delighted both to be with them and to be away from the insanity that pervades Southeast Texas.  But the one thing I didn’t like at all was the drinking water in central Louisiana.  It pretty much tasted like dirty dishwater to me.  Many of us also subscribe to the idea that bottled water tastes substantially different from tap water.  (This certainly makes sense, given that much bottled water simply comes from the tap, but just from somewhere else.)

What none of us have heretofore realized is that the sensitive palate of the feline can differentiate various tastes specific to certain areas in a single water bowl.  Yes, William, the Wonder Cat©, has conducted extensive analytical studies and determined that the water on the far side of the water bowl is far superior to that on the near side of the bowl.  In fact, it is so delicious that, instead of merely standing in front of his water bowl to drink, he is willing to take extraordinary steps to gain access to the far side of the bowl.  Such measures generally involve taking the precarious posture of positioning his back paws on the floor in front of the bowl while placing his front paws on each side of his water bowl, thereby extending his reach so he can enjoy the delicious nectar awaiting him on the far side of the water bowl.  (Notice that I did not say ‘on the floor beside the water bowl’ – he puts his paws on the actual sides of the water bowl itself.) Needless to say, this stance is not without its perils.  More often that I would wish, his paws slide into the water bowl (or tip the bowl over), with the result that there is more water outside the bowl than was inside it in the first place (something that only small children and other animals seem to achieve).[3]  This phenomenon should be explored further as a way of dealing with the pending shortage of water that may face our planet – give a small child 8 ounces of water and somehow he’ll get 2 ounces in his body and spill another 10 ounces, giving you a net gain of 4 ounces, or 50%.


 You know how it is when you reach a certain age (or are pregnant) or are just plain, flat tired.  During such times, when you need it the most, your memory simply abandons you.  Sometimes you can’t remember whether you did something you intended to do or not.  Sometimes you think you did it but you didn’t – you just concentrated so hard on trying to remember to do it that you only think you did it.  Well, yesterday I put something in the hall that I wanted remember to take to Steve’s that morning.  When I got ready to pack my backpack, it wasn’t there.  At first I thought that I hadn’t actually put it there, so I went to its original location, only to find that it wasn’t there, either.  Now I’m in the throes of total confusion.  Did I get distracted en route from where it was to where I wanted to put it, and put it down somewhere else?  Or was it really NOT originally where I thought it was in the first place?  Having a cat in general, or a kitten in particular, and most especially William himself, introduces yet another possibility – somebody with a furry face decided it was a toy.  Our flat has only 4 rooms and 1.5 bathrooms.  We keep both the bathroom doors closed at all times to keep William from turning the toilet paper into confetti.  We also keep the guest room closed because he has no need to be there and we have no interest in giving him the opportunity to get into mischief that we can’t even imagine.  This thing was roughly the size of a soup can, so that further limits the places he could have moved it (and should also increase its general visibility in the 3 rooms where he could have moved it).  But, nope!  I couldn’t find it before I left.  However, my observational abilities with respect to practical applications are severely limited.  Yep, I can pick out one weird sign, shop, etc., among a zillion normal things while riding in a car going 70 mph in a heartbeat, but finding something like my other shoe is beyond my capabilities.  Harvey is the family ‘Dora the Explorer’ so I just decided to wait until he came home and worked his magic.

Wanna guess where he found it?  We have some slide-out drawers under the bed (gotta take full advantage of every cubic millimeter of storage space!).  These drawers are actually just low wooden boxes with snap-on covers, which Master William considers to be four huge cat beds.  He has a particular fondness for the drawer under my side of the bed, and often naps there.  He sometimes brings his toys with him, apparently to enhance his dreams.  Yep – the bottle had caught his eye and he had appropriated it as a toy and had brought it to bed with him.

Cautionary Note to Young William:  It’s really not a good idea to hide stuff from (or otherwise cause trouble for) the person who controls the kibbles.


 I noticed something in the grocery store today.  The kitty litter can be found right next to the toilet paper.  How prosaically fitting!  I can’t help but wonder whether or not this placement was intentional.  I know it’s something that would certainly have occurred to me.  And as my mind ponders these mysteries of the Universe, such as whether or not the litter/toilet paper juxtaposition was intentional, other minds are occupied with pursuits such as pondering the square route of  minus one.


Actually, there are a number of secrets to staying married; here are but a few:

  • Never try to do your income taxes together; hire a CPA (cheaper than a divorce).
  • Never try to hang paintings/pictures together; always have a third person involved.  (We have a dear friend whom we call our ‘Aesthetic Advisor.’  He has an artist’s eye for such things.  At least equally important, having a 3rd person there statistically reduces the probability that one of you will do something to the other that may result in jail time.)
  • Never wall-paper anything together, particularly if it’s a small bathroom, in an old building (where there are NO right angles), and you’re using a pattern that only repeats itself every 17 inches so you waste a lot of paper and then someone has to go back to the store for more while they have wallpaper paste all over them.  On the other hand, ENGAGED couples should be REQUIRED to do this.  If they still want to get married, then they can – but think how many divorces could be prevented if every engaged couple submitted the strength of their relationship to such a rigorous test before tying the knot.  Of course, the wedding planners and divorce attorneys would probably fight this proposal tooth and nail!


After being married for close to 44 years (even if there was a 1-year hiatus while Harvey was in Viet Nam), you start to run out of things to argue about.  In some cases, the topic you argued about becomes moot – such as whose turn it is to get up with a crying baby.  In other cases, the topic is resolved by the argument and it miraculously stays resolved.  Then there are the topics that at least one of you has just lost interest in.  Rarely do new topics to argue about arise.

But there seems to be some need within us all to argue about something every once in a while.  Don’t you just hate it when you’re really in the mood to argue but there’s nothing left to argue about?  We’ve found a way to handle that.  Whenever we feel argument-deprived, we just make up things to argue about.  For example, we can take a situation (e.g., the fact that we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway, or that ‘fat chance’ and ‘slim chance’ mean the same thing[4]) and argue about how that came to be.  Or, we can argue about things for which there is no answer, such as how many grains of sand there are on the planet.  Then there are always hypothetical things, such as “If we were on a cruise and we both wanted the lobster, but there was only one left, what would we do?”  You’d be surprised how many lazy afternoons can be whiled away having these kinds of arguments.


He just went by again!  Albert Einstein apparently lives or works somewhere near our flat, because I often see him bicycling by as I sit at my laptop.  Well, maybe not Albert, actually – but I’m willing to bet that this guy has a fair share of Albert’s DNA!!


I saw something at the grocery store that claimed to be ‘Texas steak.’  Being as how I spent better than a quarter of my life there (in Texas, not in the grocery store), I figured I just had to find out what the German interpretation of ‘Texas steak’ is.  First, it was marinated in spices – not too bad, and probably stretching the German palate’s tolerance for ‘scharf’ foods.  [One good thing about German is that they have separate words for ‘hot’ as with pepper and ‘hot’ as from heat—the former is ‘scharf’ and the latter is ‘heiss’—so they don’t have to constantly explain the difference.]  True Texas steak is generally just the steak itself.  Any seasonings (other than maybe pepper and salt) are added at the table.  Second, the steak was maybe ¼ inch thick.  No Texan would even consider that cut of meat to be a ‘steak’ – even chicken-fried steaks (known elsewhere in the US as ‘breaded veal cutlets’ and more commonly known in Germany as ‘Wienerschnitzel’) are thicker than that.  It was acceptable and edible (although something Texans might more typically eat in a sandwich), but there was nothing about it that truly said ‘Texas’ or ‘steak.’  (Well, I’m pretty sure it DID come from a cow of some sort.)

I guess turnabout is fair play, though.  There was once (but only briefly) a restaurant in Beaumont, Texas, called ‘The Rathskeller.’  When it first opened, you could buy genuine Sauerbraten (a German roast that has been marinated in vinegar and other seasonings – to include ginger – and usually served with potato pancakes and that wonderful sautéed red cabbage with apples).  After the first few weeks, the ‘Sauerbraten’ degenerated into nothing more than a pot roast, which was tasty enough but it was also something you could get at home every other Sunday.  [On the alternating Sundays, of course, it was fried chicken.]  Apparently the palates of most folks in Southeast Texas didn’t appreciate the savory Sauerbraten (even though they’ll eat gumbo made from any carbon-based life form and go through a quart of jalapenos like they’re eating popcorn).  You’d think that German food would fare well in Texas because lots of Texans have a German heritage.  (But, alas, if you thought that, you’d wear Army boots and chase rabbits.)  When Germans couldn’t get into the US through Ellis Island, lots of them came in through Galveston.  Many settled in Central Texas, near San Antonio, naming their towns[5] things like Waelder, New Braunfels, Gruene, and so on.  There’s actually a dialect of German (called ‘Texas German’ – as oxymoronic as that sounds) that evolved in that part of Texas.  Unlike the dialect of Pennsylvania German, which is alive and well among the Amish, precious few folks still speak Texas German any more, though.

But, back to the Rathskeller.  Eventually, it met the same fate as anything else ‘new’ or ‘different’ that’s ever been introduced to the folks in Southeast Texas – it just faded away into the sunset.  I can’t imagine any more change-averse folks on the planet!  And, by natural selection, those of us who were interested in something more than the same-ol’ same ol’ got the hell out of Dodge (ala Janis Joplin, Towns Van Zandt, Edgar and Johnny Winter, Mark Chestnut, and Bubba Smith, to name just a few), while the change-averse folks just stayed there and continued to breed.  Another guy who escaped from Beaumont was Bob McDill.  Maybe his name doesn’t ring a bell for you, but if you’ve listened to country music radio for more than an hour, there’s a good chance you’ve heard a song that Bob had a hand in writing.  Folks like Alan Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Don Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, Bobby Bare, Anne Murray, Juice Newton, and even Perry Como, have recorded his songs.  Some that come to mind off the top of my head include:  ‘Amanda’ (sung by Willy Nelson, among others); ‘Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On’ (sung by Mel McDaniel and also by Sammy Kershaw); ‘Gone Country’ (sung by Alan Jackson); and my own personal all-time favorite – ‘Red Necks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer’ (sung by Johnny Russell and also by Mel McDaniels (   Harvey went to high school with Bob and I had the pleasure of knowing him back when he was going to Lamar University in Beaumont.  Yep, the boy got himself a degree in English literature and took it to Nashville to write country songs!  Don’t ya just love it!??!


Our dear Electra (also known as Momma’s Little Mutant) is supposed to have curly fur, all over her body.  Alas, she doesn’t.  Instead, she looks as though some misguided pet groomer has mistaken her for a poodle and given her the standard haircut.  She’s curly around her neck, shoulders, and legs.  The rest of her body is covered with an incredibly soft fuzz.  (In some way, this compensates for her sparse fur because, once you touch that peach fuzz, you are seduced into stroking her continually, almost as though you are in a daze, which also keeps her warm – well, not the daze but rather the stroking.)  Naturally, she suffers a bit more from the cold than she otherwise would.  It’s no surprise that she spends lots of time snuggled up with a chenille blanket.  Even without thumbs, she’s amazingly adept at arranging the blanket to suit her.  What puzzles me, however, is the part of her body she chooses to cover with the blanket – it’s her head.  She leaves her bare body parts outside the blanket.  Well, I must remember – her little brain is only the size of a walnut.

[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

[2] Gotta just love Microslop Grammar checker – it wanted me to replace ‘hard to make myself buy it’ with ‘hard to make I buy it’—another ‘helpful hint’ from those labzoids in Redmond!!

[3] Gotta love Microslop Grammar Checker – it’s flagging this as a sentence fragment.  It’s got a subject (paws) and a verb (slide), so I wonder how this could be considered a fragment.

[4] Props to George Carlin, God rest his soul!

[5] And here, Microslop wants to make ‘towns’ possessive!