Category Archives: volumefreak

Deep Blue Moracco

Oh, heart.

I came home to play my shiny black Takamine acoustic with the turquoise and purple butterfly, but I broke a string and so…

And so listening to Underworld’s “Dirty Epic,” one of the most gorgeously dark songs ever created.

Freeze-dried with a new religion. Here comes Christ on crutches.

It’s a jammie-sad day, wandering home in the gray almost-sunset; springsky heavy with storm, broken leg aching with rain, to put on my powder blue flannel PJ’s with tiny stars on them.

I came here to my amber throne of a room — antique orange and magenta Christmas lights, gauze dragonfly wings and little fish hanging from the ceiling — to feel comforted.

And so, what? I was at the Someday Café reading Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block and I have such mixed emotions about that book each time I read it — sometimes so blithe and flimsy in its vibrant chaos, and tonight just making me sad that the whole world cannot be mint chocolate chip ice cream shakes and plastic palm trees forever.

Reality rears its ugly head.

Which is why my room is always perfect – a slice of fairytale, gargoyles and seashell lamps, surrounded by 47 notebooks — each page filled, and things around me with their polish loved off, shaped like my hands and fingers and feet.

That’s a poem I wrote once, a long time ago, about how irritating artists are. It’s coming back to me:

Tonight I am an artist
dripping with paints and sarcasm and cigarettes
red wine and candlelight
a million worn notebooks filled with the innards of my fabulous imagination
all the things around me with their polish loved off,
shaped like my hands and fingers and feet
novels with dog-eared pages and highlighted passages.
My moods come and go
but not my Piscean wizardry
I can laughingly discuss death
knowing I am too much for the world to lose.
I sit with my legs tucked up under me and write
with my Bic #2 disposable pencil that I’ve been using for years.
My striped socks don’t keep my feet warm
and my nail polish in “Cabernet” has smooshes in it
because I couldn’t sit still long enough for it to dry.
I speak softly — or not at all.
My eyes open wide and I stare with blinding thoughts screaming out of my pupils
imagining scars on your face, I hear you ask,
“What are you thinking?”
I do not answer because I think in pictures, not in words.
And you wouldn’t understand
even if I tried to tell you.

OH! The melodrama! October 1994, I think. I was surrounded by swankering sophomores, their pipes filled with vanilla tobacco, beat-up copies of On the Road stuffed in the back pocket of their dirty courderoys.

Artboys can be so irritating.

Speaking of artboys (of the non-irritating variety), Benjamin is moving in soon – in two weeks or so, and we have been discussing what to do with Bad Art Night.

I know my friends are all talented, and I also know many of them have stage fright when it comes to creation, so I began the Bad Art Night tradition, hosting parties for people to come play music, sing, read their poems and stories, display their photographs and share their paintings, or sit on the floor with charcoals and paper, coloring books and my little silver Polaroid Joycam. All without any pressure to do it well.

The last one was such a success that I realized I cannot rightly call it “Bad” Art Night. No no. It’s got to be something different this time. Ben suggested “Scared-of-Art Night” and I’m thinking of calling it “Stage Fright Night.”

One of my favorite pieces of art came out of that evening. I put a hardbound guestbook with black pages in my foyer with a jar of silver and gold gel pens, along with several Polaroid cameras. Each person that came in had to take a self-portrait for the book and write one thing about themselves that nobody else there knew – it was quite a trip.

People had some deep dark secrets, many of them involving nakedness.

Toward the end of the evening, the girls from across the street came over – Sarah, this young gorgeous creature with blond hair spiraling to her waist and bare feet and the voice of a 50-year-old black woman, wailing on 12-bar blues. We jammed out until all hours, playing Stevie Wonder (“I believe when I fall in love this time it will be forever” which will always take me back to freshman year, lying on the floor of the Berklee dorm listening to an entire room of boys singing a million-part harmony to that song, amazed).

There was not a crumb of bad art to be found that night.

Now Underworld has ended and JLC’s “Vertigo” spills from my mathematically-arranged speakers. Music is so imbedded in time and place for me. I am instantly Autumn and wearing a tawny sundress on the warm leather seat of my car. This album is the weekend I went to CT to retrieve my aging automobile, but it died on the way to Boston. My parents offered to mail me the title to my sister’s piece-of-shit minivan (which I was grateful for) but when I opened the envelope, it was actually a gift: the title to a new Nissan Altima.

Spoiled brat that I am, I drove my sexy black car named “Verna” over the Mass Ave bridge at 5:10 in the September afternoon, almost-ocean scent pouring in the sunroof, listening to “Vertigo,” singing at the top of my lungs, simultaneously pained and excited by unrequited love.

Tonight’s moodysky darkcloud evening is different from then. Except in one way: the “pained and excited by unrequited love” thing.


What can I write about that will be sparkly, witty and uplifting – vibrant enough to dig me out of this furrowed brow? Because life only exists as you document it – I’ve learned that living on the page all these years.

How about the night I found God? June 21st, 2001, 10:23 PM — standing before a magenta-lit stage, when my heart broke open and spilled on the dirty floor of the Paradise Rock Club, raining on all the late night broken beer bottles and cigarette butts, and I walked out weightless into the night, trailing stars.

The world all at once became my playground. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I just wrote. I was in such a fit of violent inspiration that I couldn’t sit still.

There was too much to do – tin whistles to be played, ceramic angels to be photographed, Irish bands to dance to, stories to be written, and people to truly listen to.

So I stopped doing drugs, cut off my long, dark hair and dyed it fushia, wrote a book, and tattooed the outline of a black star on my wrist so I would never forget how it felt to be that free.

I’m feeling a little bit of that freedom tonight.

Two Degrees

“Two degrees,” he said. As in, “out of 45.” He made the first mark on my physical therapy chart that would soon be filled with notes detailing the weakness of my ankle, as well as exclamation points warning about the strength and accuracy of my right hook. He looked up hopefully to see my stunned face.

The ruler was like a compass that we used in art class in the sixth grade. A healthy ankle has at least a 33-degree range of motion. I was at two degrees.I looked down the length of my leg to the poor limb lying helplessly on the red plastic table that was covered with a fresh sheet. From the knee down my leg was roughly the size of a watermelon, banded with deep welts where the cast had held it hostage. If I concentrated, I could point my toes a centimeter or so before the stabbing pain shot immediately up to my brain.

The physical therapy center was the first medical establishment that I had been to that was in any way soothing. It was on Huntington Avenue in Boston, on the campus of Northeastern, on the ground floor of a sunny building. The front of the clinic was all glass and you could watch pedestrians strolling by, casually using their legs for good and evil, without a thought of what it would be like to have one put out of commission for almost a year. The clinic was cheerful. Everything was brightly colored and clean – shiny wood and sparkling tile floors, giant inflatable balls in primary colors, huge elastic bands in every hue, and the dumbbells arranged in ascending weights through the whole spectrum of the rainbow. And amid all these cheery organic strength and flexibility tools crouched The Machine.

The Machine was a hulking beasts on a rickety AV cart that looked like it had been rescued from the rubble of a demolished high school somewhere. The cart creaked as it approached, groaning under the weight of its burden. I shivered in fear as the hair on the back of my neck rose. The Machine was the size of a microwave oven, that 70’s brown simulated wood paneling and obscenely large dials and knobs with little windows displaying varying degrees of electric voltage. I sat uncomfortably on the bench as the P.T. rolled it toward me. I saw the shock pads and cringed visibly. Electro convulsive therapy. I saw a movie on that once. The resulting patient rolled around in her own drool for the rest of her days.

Now they have these devices on television advertised as something you wear that builds muscle while you sit on the couch and stuff your face, watching infomercials. They are based on the same technology as The Machine. But I don’t think these people could possibly strap one of these things on their stomach voluntarily. Just like the once-popular Epilady that ripped the leg on your hair out by the root – it sounds great on TV but when you get that thing near living skin it’s a whole different story.

The Machine purred and hiccupped, glaring at me with an assortment of beady red eyes. I glared back. The P.T. peeled two fresh gel pads from sterile paper packaging sporting a red cross. One on my ankle, the other on the muscle running right above the shin bone. He woke up The Machine, flipping switches and sliding levers like the Dolorian in Back to the Future. It shuddered to life, whirring violently like a flying saucer.The tiny throb started to bounce between the two pads on my leg as they convulsed rhythmically and alternately, creating a strange warmth somewhere in the middle. As the levers on The Machine climbed steadily upward on the digital display, the frequency of the beats increased until they were a steady hum. My muscles began to twitch.

It’s weird when your body does something without your consent. When you’re staring at a part of your anatomy and it’s behaving all on its own, and you’ve got no conscious control over it. I witnessed the muscles in my leg twitching in a spasm, trying to get them to stop, and they would not. The Machine had control over my nervous system, and I watched the electricity zing up and down my leg.The procedure was supposed to stimulate the muscles enough to clear out some of the edema – which is this truly disgusting kind of swelling. The P.T. would work on massaging my ankle, and as he put pressure on the bone, the flesh would pool around his fingers, and the hand prints would be left for ten or fifteen minutes. I had fun with that, drawing smiley faces and other things in my leg when I was bored.

I spent the last fifteen minutes of each session with The Machine, and often times I would be left alone with it in one of the back rooms. I tried not to look at it, tried to read the freshest copy of Entertainment Weekly. Tried not to be mad that it had control over my calf muscle and I didn’t. Tried to feel okay about being manipulated by a piece of machinery from three decades ago whose sole purpose was to shoot electricity into my body. Don’t people, in general, try to avoid electrical current? I remember licking a battery in the third grade on a dare and deciding I’d never do it again.

Although my injury was quite serious – 180 degree dislocation (foot on backward) and compound fracture (bone snapped and poking out through skin), I felt like a bit of a moron sitting there as athletes of all stripes paraded through the door, wearing their assorted injuries like a badge of honor.

Malcolm, relay runner: “Yeah – I was sprinting for the finish line, ahead of the whole pack. I felt the twinge in my thigh, but pressed on even though it hurt at the time. I couldn’t help it – I wanted to win.”

Sasha, three-time Olympic gold medallist: “The uneven parallel bars – you know how it goes.”

Todd, star NU quarterback: “I scored the winning touch-down and my team went on to win the championship. Sure, it’s a knee full of pins for the rest of my life, but imagine the stories I can tell my grandchildren.”

Kristin, klutz: “So, um, I was walking. . . down the street. . . and I fell.”

Well I guess I could flesh that story out a bit. I was walking home from the company party in January, in the dark, with a belly full of amaretto sours, and I slipped on a nasty patch of ice outside my apartment that had been haunting me since the first snow fall. I hit the pavement hard, and looked down in shock to see my foot completely facing the wrong direction, so I stood up to fix it. Yeah. You can imagine where the compound fracture came from.
Come on people — does that inspire awe, or just a sympathetic giggle? Two and a half surgeries later (one didn’t involve general anesthesia and probably should have, judging by the fingernail marks I left in the surgeon’s face) I was sitting in the bright shiny New England Baptist Hospital Physical Therapy Center, trying to figure out how to move my own toes. And The Machine was not making it any easier on me.

The Machine had a timer with an auto shut-off, and a buzzer to notify the P.T. when it was finished zapping me. But since clinic traffic picked up in the summer, I was shifted from the main area to the private back rooms, where no one could hear me screaming in surrender. Nor could they hear The Machine bleating wildly in completion. It was a 70’s buzzer, not the gentle chimes or alarm-clock-like sounds of modern technology. A buzzer like the world was going to end. And sometimes the world ended several times while I waited for the staff to remember that I was back there. I could not reach The Machine in my state — leg elevated, packed in ice.

The edema began to clear a bit, so my tangles with The Machine became more brief. Six minutes is all we spent together, and I started getting cocky about it. “So you think you’re such hot shit, huh Machine? We’ll see. We’ll see.” And I would limp out of the room, rocking on my crutches, glancing indignantly at the growling beast over my shoulder. It would shudder and glare back.

After three months, the day came when I was informed that I would be freed from The Machine. The muscles were now a little bit more developed and the swelling was coming down substantially.I sat wistfully with The Machine during our final session. They had left us alone in the back room to say goodbye. Sure, we had been through hell. But we had been through it together, dammit. Through thick and thin, through 40 sessions of physical therapy, through 12 issues of Entertainment Weekly. There is a hostage phenomenon that occurs when someone is held for long periods of time against their will; they eventually feel connected to their captor and not want to leave them. I thought about that as The Machine purred, massaging the muscles in my leg for the last time. Sometimes at night I still see its eyes glowing in darkened rooms.

Moonbeams & Fruit on the Beach

Is there a doctor in the house? In the House of Pancakes?

So, Luna last night at the Paradise. I think I have seen them more times than any other national band. Going to a Luna show is like putting on your favorite jeans. They fit, they’re broken in, you’ve had a lot of good times in them, and you always know what to expect.

The band was rumpled and fuzzy, like they rolled out of bed from a pleasant dream just in time for the show. Except for front man Dean Wareham, who seemed to have just awoken from a vivid nightmare, damp and matted, to discover that he was playing guitar. A few songs into the show, he also discovered that he was on stage, and later, singing to a packed club. I can’t figure out how someone so tortured and neurotic in appearance can make such easy, golden music. The boy needs a sandwich and a big hug.

Luna sounds like sunshine at Coney Island Beach at seventeen, toes digging through warm sand to that cool damp part underneath, drinking a frosty beverage out of a pineapple, smiling. Driving a red 50’s Cadillac convertible with the top down, under palm trees and a shimmering sunset, with your favorite person in the world sitting in the passenger seat.

Sunlight beaming from the amps: Bright major chords and slide guitar on Dean’s sunburst Les Paul, vibrato, double-whammy, Hammond organ, and lolling, wandering bass lines. In the midst of these warm rays stands Dean, like a junkie the morning after, trembling at the mic, staring out past the audience with frightened eyes as though he is being held hostage on stage. His strange voice cracks as he sings unblinking: “You know I tried to please ya / you’re under anesthesia.”

Strange boy.

The cool thing about Luna is that they’ve enjoyed enough commercial success to keep making music for more than a decade, but I can still go see them at Paradise or Avalon for twelve bucks and not worry about lines so much.

If you haven’t heard Luna, I advise that you get your hands on some. Especially now that summer is almost upon us. I think my favorite album is Penthouse, featuring the song “Sideshow by the Seashore” (we stumbled upon the actual place at Coney Island last year while romping through Luna Park during the Mermaid Parade). The new one is called Romantica. They played a few tracks off it last night, and it was good stuff.

I need to start putting up some of my photographs. I wish I had a scanner or a digital camera. If anyone is itching to get me a ridiculously early birthday present, I’ll post an original photo essay as evidence of your greatness.

Busking & the Shower Song

busk (v.)
busked, busk·ing, busks
To play music or perform entertainment in a public place, usually while soliciting money.

I was going to work early but inspired by Daniel Barrett busking in the subway I had to come to the purple velvet basement – as if that makes it more romantic – of Starbucks and write about things far more important to me than the small business network security articles that pay my rent.

Daniel Barrett is not a Starbucks kind of guy. He said something to the effect that playing in the subway is a fall from the Rock Royalty lifestyle. I don’t know about that. In my mind, the subway musician is one of the most noble people you’ll find underground; a valiant knight among commuters, spilling his heart to the toughest crowd in town.

This morning rushed and wildly irritated, I scampered to the T with wet hair in the chilly morning, a wrinkled coat, quite a mess but needing urgently to get to my office and write about salsa and antivirus software. I had no money for coffee so I stumbled down the steps of the Davis Square T uncaffeinated at 6:43 in the morning. Just minutes before, I had tumbled from my bed, heavy with lurid, unwholesome dreams about my co-workers.

I heard the drummer first, unmistakable. I recognized the rhythm immediately, strokes on the up beat, knowing I would see him rising slightly in his seat once I turned the corner and headed down the escalator. Bells, a shaker or tiny cymbal on each moving limb, wispy brushes — a human drum kit with a big smile and a voice like October honey.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

My recent love affair among the Cambridge and Somerville buskers began courtesy of Brian Webb, who impaled me through the heart one morning as I dragged myself through a pit of despair to the T and heard him singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” golden voice echoing through filthy bricks and buzzing mercury vapor lights. I’ve been trying not to cry in public so much but… He was intense, his voice simultaneously rough and delicate, wearing gnarled wool gloves with the sawed-off fingers, and the little caramel and white dog was curled up in his guitar case. It was one of the first times I’ve skipped the train to sit and listen to someone play.

I pored through the Phoenix each week looking for potential Brian gigs where I could actually sit down in a chair and order a drink. The Kendall Café it was, and I only had to wait two weeks.
But a few days before the show, I ran into another round of buskers. These two guys were playing in the Davis T, so good I had to stop and listen, toss them a buck, and jot down their name in my journal for further research. The guitar player sang this bittersweet song, his smiling drummer harmonized, and all was right with the world.

I have this “Shower Song” problem. Sometimes a particular song will grab me against my will and begin playing in my head whenever I turn on the shower first thing in the morning. It is some phenomenon that prevents me from concentrating on any other song for most of the day, and it often grasps me insidiously before I can defend myself. As annoying as it can be, it is the mark of a truly well-written tune.

Around the time of my enchantment with the Davis T buskers, I developed a new Shower Song. It began in the morning and lasted all day. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I couldn’t remember where I knew it from. Some movie? At first I thought it was a Nickel Creek song, or maybe I heard it during the sprawling hours I spent tuned to the Emerson radio station. Its origin escaped my memory but stayed at the forefront of my mind and I sang it to myself while making shampoo horns.

Wednesday, March 27 was the Kendall show. Brian Webb was up on stage, endearingly silly with a radiant smile and ridiculously talented guitar playing. He was so aggressive and confident with the guitar – his sound is bold, honest, and passionate. I was glued to my seat, and grateful to hear an entire set without standing next to a trash can that smelled like dairy swill and decomposing copies of the Metro.

My friend and I decided to stick around for the next two acts, figuring they might be good. When the headlining band came on, I was immediately bowled over – so many of them on this tiny stage, big sound, and the lead singer saying “don’t be afraid – we’re just going to rock out here.” And the fiddle player who I fell in love with instantly, jamming out on violin in a Hustler t-shirt, finishing his solos with a dramatic sweep in perfect form (summoning visions of him at age 12 in a little tux playing classical recitals with his parents clasp-handed and breathless in the audience). I’m sitting there with the biggest smile I’ve worn in months because the music was so bright and beautiful that it wrapped me warm and happy like a yellow cotton cardigan.

As the next song began, I turned to my friend, saying, “This is a cover. Who is this?” He was drawing a blank. Then I realized all at once who the band was – and that they were playing the Shower Song I’d picked up in the subway, and it was their song, “Carter’s Tune.” I opened my notebook to the page where I write down new music, and there was the name: the Daniel Barrett Group. What a wonderfully strange coincidence! That show was so amazing I left and my face hurt from smiling all night.

So this morning to see them again playing the Davis T on my wet-hair angsty morning was a gift.
Street musicians have always fascinated me – music in general being my reason for living. Maybe it’s the urgency of the performance, immediate and organic, just a voice and a beat-up acoustic guitar. Maybe it began when I was 16 and first running around New Haven, and the boys in my favorite band would play on the sidewalk across from the café and we’d sit for hours listening to them. Even if they didn’t book a gig, they had an audience. I remembered their favorite brand of cigarettes to toss in the tambourine with a flower and a note saying thank you for brightening this little corner of my world. I’d sit and write truly awful poetry about the sad, starving eyes of the street performer which I will spare you right now. I haven’t read it in a while. Something about crying for help with bleeding fingers on silk and steel strings. *Cringe* I was a tender and volatile youth.

One of my newest project ideas is to do a piece on busking in the Cambridge/Somerville area, and find out all the things I am dying to know about it – do research and of course take tons of beautiful photographs. Which may be difficult because I believe in college in Journalism Law I learned that shooting in the MBTA is illegal. I will fight the law in the name of art.

Perhaps my biggest fascination comes in the midst of a realization that most of my favorite bands ever are accessible to me in that I can walk up and say hello that was a breathtaking set (even if that means sneaking into the dressing room to eat pizza with Rob Dickinson from Catherine Wheel — but that’s a whole other story for another time) and how lucky I am that is the case.

I know this is a crazy stretch but try and follow me here: InSync was playing on TV or something last night; I saw some commercial during my weekly hour of television that I allow myself (and yes, “Felicity” — and no, not worth it) thinking what people go through to see this music, their favorite bands, so rarely. No matter who people listen to, or how bad I think their taste is, they are just as impassioned about InSync and Britney as I am about Jump, Little Children and Josh Ritter. Except I can go see these people play, and not in a hockey arena, hearing their voices as they sound naturally. When Jump, Little Children plays “Where She Lies” completely acoustic without amps in a sold out venue, and you can hear Jay Clifford taking a breath between lines, it’s another Kristin Cries in Public moment…

I mean, they are so real, these humans giving the gift of song right before me, so casually. That satisfies me in a way that I can’t explain, the ability to approach them after the show and say “GODDAMM! You knocked my socks off.” In my mind I know their CD has held residence in my disc changer for over three years – seriously now – and I can never really make them understand that the third track on their first album was my Shower Song for five weeks running. But I can say thank you, and smile, and hope somehow it will be enough to keep them making beautiful music.
Thank you.

Ming Farrah Piedrita

I brought Ming home on a Friday night. It was the same night Shannon brought home the 27″ television that seemed to take up the whole living room. We sat on the couch saying, “I can’t believe that thing is in our apartment.” I was talking about the TV and she was talking about the chinchilla.

Ming came into my life in a fit of creative exuberance veiled as a poor excuse for treating seasonal depression. It was February — that dreary month in Boston when the asphalt and sky have merged into one slate gray, the wind whips through your Gore-Tex and sunny days seem so far off you want to say your good-byes and head over the railing of the Mass. Ave. bridge.

So I decided I needed a pet. Another pet. The twin partners in crime — key-stealing, Velcro-eating, remote-control-chewing ferrets — weren’t enough of a handful.

I stopped at the Pet Shop on my way home. The bunnies, cute and dumb like your high school sweetheart, were plentiful. And right next to the bunnies were the chinchillas, like elusive, fuzzy little old men, seemingly crossed between a squirrel and a kangaroo, sitting on the edge of a dusty glass bowl. It was a cage full of big ears, bolts of velvety wrinkled fur, and feather duster tails that moved swiftly in circles.

I’d worked in pet shops my whole life and had encountered several chinchillas along the way, but was never particularly thrilled about picking them up because in general they didn’t like to be held, they were quicker than I could ever hope to move, and their skeleton under all that fur is about the size of a lemon. This allows them to jump four feet straight up and to run five times faster than your average household dog. For some reason I didn’t think these acrobatics would be a problem in an apartment with few walls, lots of furniture, slippery hardwood floors, two people, two ferrets, and an occasional golden retriever.

I stood for a while, watching the half-dozen chinchillas bouncing around upside down in the cage and rolling with chinchilla glee in their dust baths. I fed them raisins and began singling out the ones with the most personality.

There was one courting me through the bars of the cage, handing me peanuts in exchange for the raisins I offered. He’d pull down his ear for cleaning and then it would spring back with a tuft of moistened fur sticking up like a lynx. He knew he was cute. Watching him I thought of the Mogwai in “Gremlins,” the one you keep in the dark that sings and coos sweetly. And like the Mogwai, our nocturnal chinchilla hated bright light and must never get wet.

But the chinchillas were strange and beautiful and exotic. And in case I hadn’t already made up my mind, I got a rush of creative rationalization.

I would write children’s books about the adventures of this chinchilla, and use the live one as a model for my illustrations! I could teach children about South America, chinchillas’ native land. I could even toss in a bit of rudimentary Spanish. He could be my muse, my little creative energy box in an imported bamboo cage on top of my writing desk.

I promptly ordered up the chinchilla with the peanut in his hand.

As the owner reached in to grab the fur ball of my choice, which I had spent almost an hour selecting, he squinted and said, “I can’t sell you that one.” I questioned him agonizingly. The man pointed out that my chinchilla was missing a hind leg. He had adapted well but the owner refused to sell him to me. After some debating I picked the female that kept pushing my first choice off the bowl. She had sass. The owner informed me she was more rare than the traditional grays because she was cloaked with a hood of charcoal black. She looked somehow Asian under all her sudamericana – she had sly and sleepy Japanese eyes. Piedrita seemed appropriate. “Little stone.” But she was begging to be called “Ming.” Ming Piedrita traveled first class from The Pet Shop to my house in an empty box of antibacterial hand soap. That should have been a sign.

I sat on the couch and slowly opened the box, lifting Ming out and holding her against my chest. Her little heart was beating furiously. Her fur was so soft, any Gund would be jealous. I set her down on the couch next to me. She hopped up to the highest point on the couch, and then to my shoulder. She began grooming my hair with little monkey paws. Instantly, I was smitten.

She grew more comfortable in her surroundings and before long, Ming had made the jump from the love seat to the couch, almost a foot apart. On baby legs she was already a pogo stick with a mission.

Our little household seemed happy. The animals came out in shifts because they’re natural enemies. Sometimes Ming could play in my bedroom while the ferrets raced around the living room tipping over beer bottles and stealing our keys. Then Ming had my whole room to herself, including two windowsills and a seven foot high rug-covered chinchilla condo my dad had built. It was during this time alone that the little demon in her began to fester, encouraging her to inflict damage I am still finding years later.

I think Shannon liked the chinchilla but didn’t know quite what to do with her. That was most people’s reaction. She didn’t come when called, she was nearly impossible to catch, and she took to fibrous textures like a lawnmower. If she found a postcard on the coffee table she would give it a scalloped border in under a minute, turning it carefully to each new flat side, leaving a lacey pattern meticulously gnawed into the surface. She especially liked books, and especially books with glue bindings. Unfortunately, this included several on Shannon’s book shelf in the living room.

One book in particular suffered a nasty fate. When Ming was finished eating the entire cover off, all that remained was a few pale green fibers. I felt awful. I promised Shannon I would replace the book. I asked her where she got it, my keys and wallet in hand. Dublin. Used book store. It was a first edition.

Strike one for Ming.

Soon after, Ming took a middle name, “Farrah,” which was, coincidentally, Shannon’s middle name.
Strike two came a week later during a much-needed recuperative dinner. We’d both had a hectic week and we were relaxing with a spread fit for queens: hommus plate, Greek olives, mesclun mix with raspberry-walnut vinaigrette and fresh mozzarella, a bottle of Chianti. I poured two glasses and we sat down to enjoy our meal.

Ming wanted in on the action. She hopped up onto the back of the love seat a few feet from the table and looked simultaneously cute and disinterested. Every time I looked at her she looked away. I reached out to grab her and she fled the couch, only to return during my first bite of salad. Soon I realized she had every intention of jumping. Ming lifted off into the air and my arm shot out to block her landing. She propelled herself directly into the center of the dinner table. Exiting via Shannon’s shoulder, she sprang cackling from the room, leaving behind her a wake of broken antique wine glasses, pita, and raspberry walnut vinaigrette.

From this point on she was no longer “Ming Farrah” to Shannon. She became “Chinchilla.” A name said often, and always with a certain degree of accusation.

During an online research session in which I tried desperately to find advice on handling the increasingly difficult Ming, I came across an interesting tidbit. As I relayed it to Shannon her eyes began to shine. On my laptop was a photograph of a five-year-old holding a chinchilla (the animal must have been drugged) and underneath it, the warning: “If you squeeze your chinchilla too hard, its eyes will pop out.” A concrete threat emerged in our household after that day. “Chinchilla!” Shannon would call, affecting a generic Asian accent, “I’ll squeeze you till your eyes pop out!”

Strike three resulted in Ming being confined to my bedroom forever.

One night our friend Leila was over and we stayed up late talking. When I was almost too tired to get off the couch, I began to call Ming. I rattled the box of raisins that often drew her out of hiding. She ducked her little head out from under the couch with a huge dust bunny crowning one ear. We remarked on how precious she was. We spent the next hour and a half trying to catch her.

Ming decided she was going to play tag with us. She skimmed the floor with the grace of a figure skater on crack. She was careful to knock down or break anything she passed. She screamed the whole time, a loud, pulsating half-hiccup half-squeal that made me feel simultaneously guilty and annoyed. She couldn’t really be scared; she knew the nightly drill. Raisin can shake. Show of head from under couch. Thirty seconds of playful chasing. Corner and catch chinchilla, cuddle soothingly for ten minutes, apply yogurt covered raisin, then cage. The process never varied. Until this particular night. Which ended in Leila, of Barbie doll dimensions, lifting up one end of my enormous couch so I could parachute beneath it on top of Ming with a bath towel.

After that, Ming didn’t see the rest of the apartment. Except for a few times when she rushed by me, sneaking out my door and into Shannon’s room, climbing into her dresser to chew little holes in her Victoria’s Secret underwear.
Theories abound as to why Chinchilla finally lost it. Being a grains and berries kind of girl, she luckily lived in a vegetarian household. The closest thing to meat our refrigerator ever saw was the frozen swordfish that Shannon brought home periodically and threw out a week later.

So this is my theory. Suddenly it was summer. The Boys Next Door shared an alley with us and my bedroom windows opened onto that alley. They had a large grill and several insatiable appetites. And they were not vegetarian.
Little Ming’s favorite spot in my room besides my bookshelf, which she tended to with tireless relish, was my window sill. The Boys Next Door barbecued every night and they talked to her when her silhouette appeared in my window. The grill, directly across and upwind from my left window, exhaled a constant and overpowering stream of carcinogenic smoke and the smell of searing beef hide. Sometimes when I opened my door to enter, I had to wave the black smoke aside to see my way across the floor.

I think the smell of burning animal flesh made Ming nervous.

Since her quarantine to my room, Ming and I became bunkmates. The only problem was that I slept from eleven until seven and she from seven until eleven. While I tossed about on top of my sheets in the August night, she chewed furiously on her chinchilla bungalow, stopping only to spring onto the bowl for a hearty clank to break up the monotony.
As summer wore on and the barbecues came fast and furious, Ming began behaving strangely.

She became exceedingly vocal, yowling until all hours, especially if there was a full moon. Her squalling began whenever something existed near her. She would bark at the book case and then run and hide in her hut, or push on the screen top until the stone gargoyles weighting it down fell to the hardwood floor with a deafening thud. Soon the ever-sweet werewolf chinchilla supplemented her howling at the moon — with biting me.

I was appalled and insulted. I thought we had a connection. This clearly drew a line between Ming and me. No more yogurt covered raisins from the hand that feeds.

Ming picked up one last bad habit. And this was when her gender came into question. One night after I had caught her for bed, I was holding her in front of me. She turned her head and bit me once on each hand, as usual, and then sprayed a healthy stream of urine directly in my eye with the accuracy of a sniper. At which point I dropped her and ran from the room to exclaim to my slightly concerned, but mostly entertained, roommate that my beloved pet had pissed in my face.

For me this meant war.

For Ming this meant mating season.

I was wrong about Ming’s gender. Not that I ever checked, but I got a feminine vibe from “him.” Besides, the sex of my pets is irrelevant to me unless I plan on breeding them. Even if I had thought about breeding chinchillas in the past, I would not be stocking up on 70 lb. bags of yogurt covered raisins in my lifetime. So Ming was coming into sexual maturity, and wanted to mate, and was surrounded by steak fumes. Ming Farrah Piedrita became a different animal to me. He became, well, “Chinchilla.”

Chinchilla was adopted by a lovely woman in Salem with plans to breed and a need for a “feisty” male. Well, that’s just what she got. I think.

So over a year later I see my exposed stereo cords scalloped and shining copper, I open an old jewelry box and find it stuffed with pilfered raisins, I find my J. Crew Grecian leather sandals with only one of five straps left — perhaps her only way to deal with smoke signals sent from an ailing calf on the grill.
Oh, Ming. I do sleep better at night.