Fursona Non Grata

Written in Spring 2015 for my Creative Nonfiction class.

Alex Berger
Monday, May 4, 2015
Creative Nonfiction
Waxing Gibbous Moon, Illumination 95%
Homo sapien
Blood Type A+
Familiar: rat

Okay, I’ll admit it! I love dogs. Although I claim that my favorite animal is the elephant (my older sister insists that this is only because she told me so when I was little), it really is the dog. I come from a long tradition of dog lovers, to put it lightly. My dad had an Alaskan Malamute named Keemak growing up, and my sister and I could recite by heart, despite the fact that the dog had died years before we had been born, that Keemak had once snapped up an entire roast beef off the kitchen counter, that he had been a best-of-breed champion in the dog show, that he had jumped on Grandma’s friend’s lap right in front of her (Grandma has since learned how to discipline dogs, and to this day she is the only person on whom our current dog will not jump in excitement), and that once a thief had stolen a Saks Fifth Avenue bag off the backyard fence and later must have been surprised to find his prize a stool sample. After much begging and pleading we finally got a dog of our own, who is the best dog in the world, who is my brother when he’s being good and “the dog” when he’s being naughty.

I know that the dog who played Toto in The Wizard of Oz was a Cairn Terrier. I know that some dogs have hair that grows forever like the hair on people’s heads and some have fur that grows to a certain length and falls out. I know that when a dog and its owner gaze into each other’s eyes, both produce oxytocin. I know it happens with my dog.

I know almost every breed in the AKC (American Kennel Club) and can identify a dog based on nothing more than a vague tendril of description: on one occasion, my friends began to tell me about a sighted “majestic dog with long, flowing hair” and I only needed to Google Afghan Hound and confidently display my image search results.

“Is this your dog?”

It was their dog.

Another time, after I took off to sprint along the ocean shore, a different friend said, “When you’re running, that’s when you’re the truest form of dog.” The same friend, after I showed him a dog video, asked me how much of my time was devoted to thinking about dogs. I would say approximately 80% of the time.

I text my parents and sister a dog picture or three every day in our group message. If any of us meets a dog, we send a picture. Just the other day, I was on my way home and stopped to pet an Alaskan Malamute. The owner seemed surprised. “You’re the first bicyclist that’s ever stopped to pet my dog,” he said.

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Hair

Written in Spring 2015 for my Creative Nonfiction class. Original title was actual hair taped to the paper.

1996
A Plague On Both Your Hairses

I had straight hair until I was two years old. Then—as far as I can tell from pictures—I woke up one morning with errant and unruly head wings and brown loop-de-loops. My life was never easy again.

 

2004
A Portrait Of The Author As A Young Man

Today there are no more empty lots of construction sites in my neighborhood, but long before my older sister had even thought about going away to college we played in skeletons, those pre-houses that made us wonder things like What was this or that room going to be used for? or Was the family moving in here midgets? We never cared to find out because a completed house had no intrigue at all.

We crawled like curious squatters on a jungle of rebar, cinder blocks, splinterful planks and cotton candy insulation, but the best part of any house wasn’t even in the house; it was the unfinished pool: standing in the middle of a huge concrete hole in the ground with sides that curved up twice my height, I imagined what it would be like to stand underwater, to stay sunken and forgotten without need of breath, watching the sunlight’s glittering halo grasp ceaselessly around an inner tube up above.

Then we got caught.

The patroller, overflowing in the seat of his golf cart, was missing only a corkscrew tail as he huffed down his snout at us. I looked away; the hair on the back of my neck stood up to let hot and cold tides of shame rush and radiate in my young and small body; the hair that curled no further than my earlobes seemed to coil further into itself as the guard, noticing my lack of attention, said “Excuse me, son” to the back of my head.

Mother consoled me by assuring me that “son” was a unisex term.
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La comida porteña: a comprehensive guide

Originally published July 6, 2014 on mi amiga’s study abroad blog while we were in Argentina.

As I sit here in my host kitchen eating a slice of birthday torta, it occurred to me that what Hayley’s blog lacked is a critical view on various foods in the area.

1. Sandwich quest

The Hamburger: One of my first meals in Buenos Aires at a typical Argentine cafe set the precedent for my restaurant experiences for the rest of my stay here. I ordered a cafe con leche and a hamburger: first imagine my delight when my coffee came with “the works” (a vasito of seltzer, a tiny cookie) and then my bewilderment when my meal was a giant plate of fries, two patties, and a fried egg. If you didn’t catch it, the missing thing is a bun.

The Chivito: Then, I fell in love in Colonia. It’s a day-trip kind of place; there’s nothing to do there besides take a tour around the historic quarter of the city. But before embarking on said tour, we went for a quick bite at a tiny food stand, and ordered Uruguay’s national dish, the Chivito. Chivito means baby goat, but it’s made with beef, a fried egg, cheese, bacon, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, pickled peppers, peas, lettuce, tomato, and sometimes the beloved (but in my opinion, repulsive) olive. The sandwich haunted my saliva-frothed dreams for weeks after that trip, until I finally ordered one here in Buenos Aires. I was disappointed. Uruguayos do it better.

The Choripan: Having had success in the past with sandwiches filled kilometer-high with condiments, this butterflied-sausage on a roll seemed like a good idea to a hungry Saif and I. We only had to wait a few minutes for the $2 (USD) chorizo to cook on the grill and then had free reign with a huge table of condiments. I tried to put on every one, but Alicia (mom) and Kevin (dad) really were rushing us. It was pretty good, but there were grisly bits in my sausage and the bread couldn’t really hold the meat. I would go back again so I could actually put on every condiment.

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Yelping Yelp

Alex B.
Saint Louis, MO
67 friends
104 reviews
Elite ‘15
★★★★★ 10/3/2015

I have a record of every poop I’ve taken for the past two years. My spreadsheet includes data such as date, time of day, approximate size of the poop and number on the Bristol stool scale. I also track my menstrual cycle, and for some time tracked my sleeping, eating and water drinking. I love logging my personal habits, writing, and food, so it was inevitable that I started Yelping.

I had forgotten my original impetus for starting. Looking all the way back on page 11 of my profile, I found my first Yelp review from October 13, 2013. Apparently, my $20 charcuterie board at Café Napoli, mostly peanuts and a slice of salami cut into four pieces, “was disappointing enough to cause me to create a Yelp account and write this review.”

For the uninitiated, Yelp is an online “urban guide” founded by former PayPal employees in 2004. Their mission is “to connect people with great local businesses.” It’s crowdsourced, so anyone can review and rate businesses. A real profile picture and real name, listed on the site in the format First Name, Last Initial, are a part of the transparency that gives credibility to a user’s reviews, in addition to a history of authentic reviews on his or her public profile. With 90 million reviews and counting, the most-reviewed sector is the shopping category, which makes up 23% of reviews, and a large focus on the site is food, with the restaurants category as a runner-up at 19%, but categories of reviews range from automotive to education to beauty services.

People even entrust their health to Yelp. Three discrete surveys conducted by Software Advice claim Yelp is more popular than Healthgrades, RateMDs, Vitals and ZocDoc to find a doctor. It’s the number one resource for finding an attorney. Yelp has 142 million unique visitors each month on average, and businesses that use a Yelp Business Page experience an $8,000 average annual increase in revenue. It’s a prominent company, and the mark of Yelp means something to business owners—“People love us on Yelp!” commendation stickers adorn the windows of establishments that qualify based on their history and rating on Yelp.

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