Conversation with Tom Vitale, Part 1

October 15, 2021

By Karen

Tom Vitale is author of In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain, published October 5.

We spoke by phone October 10. The full transcript of our wide-ranging convo runs 6,400 words, so I’ll be sharing it in a series of edited segments. First up…

Lingering (Now)-Solved Mysteries

Cats Working: Tom, thanks for doing this. How do you feel now that your book’s out and has a life of its own?

Tom Vitale: It’s weird and a bit surreal. It’s hard to be excited like I feel I should be, because it still means Tony’s gone. Overall, it’s becoming clearer that I needed to write the book to help process all the different crazy things going on inside my mind.

CW: I scanned back through the blog, and maybe you can tell me something about the Chase Sapphire incident. It was No Reservations, Season 6 —

TV: Yes, I know that quite well.

CW: Tony started using this credit card. In fact, I just rewatched Prague, and he flashes the card upside down, which I took as a “Fuck you, Chase.” What was that about?

TV: I worked on the Chase Sapphire integration in Harbin, China. He pays for a big meal at the end with his card. I remember Tony thanking me for that placement because it didn’t stand out like a sore thumb. Chase paid him for product placement. Typical Tony, he hated doing it.

TV pays pretty well, but not that well. The real money comes from product placement or endorsements, which Tony resisted because his integrity wouldn’t let him sell out. But he was always looking for ways to do something pretty low-impact. Chase Sapphire was one. I think we had to use it five times in that season and work it in naturally. There was a Bing thing we had to do once —

CW: Yes! My next question is Bing.com. He did a commercial.

TV: I had to direct that. Bing was a Microsoft search engine, and I don’t even know if it still exists. We staged a faux-production meeting, and we actually had to use Google to find Bing. Microsoft was hoping it was going to be big, and they paid for a commercial. I don’t remember if it ever aired. Nari, and I think Sandy, were in it.

CW: It aired because I saw it, but I don’t remember it. At the time, I wrote that Tony said in it he made all this travel plans using Bing.com.

TV: [Laughs]

CW: There was some outrage over Chase Sapphire, particularly. We thought evil Travel Channel had forced him to do it. But thanks to you, now the truth is on the record.

TV: Travel Channel probably proposed those. They came to him to all the time with product placements. I remember one involving Cadillac he refused, but they did it anyway, and he was furious.

He didn’t want to do them, but he also needed to pay for private school for his daughter and so on. He rejected many things and would joke, “You endorse Imodium one time, and then for the rest of your life, you’re the Imodium guy.”

He had so many opportunities over the years that he refused. Making those shows was so hard, he was looking for income that didn’t mean 250 days a year traveling around the world.

CW: Here’s more trivia. In August 2011, Bill Maher had Tony on his HBO show, Real Time, and Maher was an asshole. Tony came on with a copy of his latest book, and it sat uncomfortably on the table. It seemed Tony expected to discuss the book, but Maher ignored it. At one point Maher even called Tony “Arthur.” Did Tony ever mention it? He never did Bill Maher again.

TV: Tony used a lot of unflattering words to describe Bill Maher, but I don’t remember him saying anything specific. I never saw it, but he did not enjoy it.

CW: I would wonder why Bill Maher would set a guest up like that, but he’s just a dick.

TV: It was funny how personally Tony would take things. I once read this book called Cockpit Confidential by an airline pilot who basically dispelled notions about fear of flying. I was talking to Tony about it, thinking there was no way he’d be aware of this book. Not only was he aware, he was quite angry that the author ripped off his title for Kitchen Confidential. I just couldn’t believe he knew or cared, because the two books couldn’t compete in any way.

CW: That is funny. I’ve got a Cruise Confidential, about working on cruise ships, on my bookshelf. Tony created a genre.

Now I’m going to share a story I’ve never told anyone. Once upon a time, I received an email from a woman, I think on the West Coast, who told me she had Tony’s cellphone number. She’d been calling him repeatedly and hanging up because she wanted to hear his voice. She felt badly about it and decided to confess to me.

I kept telling her she had to stop it. She finally sent me a number and said, “OK, now that I’ve given his number to you, I feel free of it and I don’t have to call him anymore.”

I never heard from her again. This is the number she gave me [XXX-XXX-XXXX]. Do you remember if it was his?

TV: I’m looking it up right now. Yes, that was it.

CW: So, she really had it. I didn’t know what to do with that information at the time. Did he ever mention getting those hang-up calls?

TV: I don’t remember that specifically, but he was paranoid, and I’m sure that contributed. Very early in No Reservations, they put his phone number on the schedules. For some reason, there was a big kerfuffle and it was taken off. I don’t know if those things could be related.

He definitely would have done some thinking, like, “Where was my number left out? I was just on a shoot, and it was on the schedule.” He might have had some idea who it was.


BOOK REVIEW: In the Weeds (with Bourdain)

October 8, 2021

By Karen

This book’s full title is In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind the Scenes with Anthony Bourdain by Tom Vitale, who spent well over a decade working as an editor, director and producer on all four of Bourdain’s travel series: A Cook’s Tour on Food Network, No Reservations and The Layover on Travel Channel, and Parts Unknown on CNN.

When I first wrote about this book back in May, I dissed this cover…

But now that I’ve read it, I think the cover is just right.

We’ve had a Bourdain avalanche lately. Last week it was his Definitive Oral Biography by his assistant Laurie Woolever. And now we have the inside scoop on his TV life.

Both books add considerably to what we thought we knew about Bourdain. What sets Vitale’s book apart (and above, I would argue) Woolever’s is its sometimes almost painful sense of immediacy and intimacy. Vitale’s writing seems infused with Tony’s darkly funny snark. For example, in describing a furious exchange Tom had with a member of the security squad in Libya, he writes…

“Damien reminded me he hadn’t been just any old soldier, but one of those specially trained killy soldiers.”

Vitale also has a keen eye for description and paints vivid pictures of the countries they visited. Of filming in Naples in 2010, he writes…

“Tony walked across the pebble beach and sat on the gunnel of a bright turquoise-and-red-striped fishing boat. It was one of those overcast days that did something strange to the light, amplifying rather than muting color. Clouds obscuring the sunset glowed an almost cotton candy pink and reflected off the shore.”

If you’ve seen the shows (Vitale directed about 100 of them in total), he makes you want to binge-watch them again.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter, “Jamaica Me Crazy,” where they filmed Parts Unknown in 2014. It was one of the rare times that Vitale and other crew indulged in a zany adventure that Tony was largely unaware of. (I happen to know the Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in Ocho Rios where much of the action went down.)

In the Oral Bio, we get recollections of those who knew Tony, as told to Woolever, as told to us. But Vitale was THERE, in the weeds. His is a firsthand account of working, often under ungodly pressure, with Bourdain, who had conflicted feelings about even being on TV, and it often wasn’t pretty.

For all of Tony’s empathy with the people he met in his travels, much of the time he seemed oblivious to, or even deliberately fed, the crew’s tension and frustration. While filming in Baja, Vitale recalls Bourdain saying to him…

“Jeez, you never give up, do you?!” he joked. “When I die, you’ll be there at my funeral, poking me with a stick, asking, ‘What are your first impressions of being dead?’”

But I don’t want to give the impression that Vitale is out to trash Bourdain. It’s the opposite. In spite of everything, Tom loved and was devoted to the guy and never dreamed it would end so horribly.

Vitale is unsparing in exposing his own personal phobias and weaknesses, and is probably unaware that his efforts to overcome (most of) them seems almost heroic. He was willing to sacrifice anything to serve what he considered a higher purpose: helping Anthony Bourdain tell his stories.

Another difference with the Oral Bio is the chronology. Weeds opens in the immediate aftermath of Bourdain’s death, then Vitale weaves past and present together in a seamless way that totally makes sense.

Cats Working even gets a shoutout, but no spoilers here.

Vitale’s research involved immersing himself in the vast trove of documentation he’d collected — logs, notes, video. As a result, he could vividly recreate that life in a way that makes you almost forget Tony is no longer wandering the planet.

In the first few pages, Vitale describes an incident with Bourdain in Manila that’s never explained, but it foreshadows what happened to Eric Ripert when he entered Tony’s last hotel room France.

Vitale also recounts a violent incident during their second trip to Borneo that also never gets explained, but it shows a side of Tony darker than anyone has ever seen.

Such was Bourdain’s life. His public persona was all about confidence, love and acceptance, but privately, he was filled with doubts, insecurity and possibly self-loathing. Vitale saw it all, and tried to alleviate the bad stuff when he could.

I’m grateful that Tom Vitale chose to work through his pain and regrets by putting them on paper, giving us a better understanding of the man who entranced the world while thinking so little of himself.

BONUS: Coming up next week is my interview with Tom Vitale.


REVIEW: Bourdain, the Definitive Oral Biography

October 1, 2021

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s assistant Laurie Woolever has pulled off another remarkable feat with Bourdain: the Definitive Oral Biography, although I wonder how “definitive” it will ultimately be. I still have 100 pages to go, but I can’t wait to tell you about this book.

Woolever interviewed 91 people Tony knew throughout his life. Some are his famous friends or career-related contacts whose names I recognize, but many aren’t.

Most notably, Woolever spoke at length with Tony’s first wife Nancy (who also contributed touching never-before-seen photos) and his now-14-year-old daughter Ariane. Cats Working readers who have always wondered about these two important females in his life will be gratified by how openly they share their memories.

The book’s format surprised me in the best way. I expected 91 straight interviews, which risked becoming dull and redundant. Instead, Woolever pulled off the Herculean task of breaking each interview down by topic, then reassembling those pieces under 59 page-turning chapter headings into a miraculous chronological narrative.

Instead of picturing each person sitting across from Woolever with a tape recorder between them, it’s more like she gathered a room full of people to casually share notes on Tony topics like, “I Absolutely Always Saw a Talent in Him,” “I’m Not Gonna Censor the Guy,” “He Was a Man of Extremes,” and so on.

This, coming on the heels of her previous project, where she stitched together World Travel: An Irreverent Guide from Bourdain’s vast trove of published materials, makes me think Woolever does 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles for fun, like those geniuses on YouTube who solve Rubik’s Cubes in 5 seconds.

Tony’s brother Chris and mother Gladys (who died in 2020) are included, and they sketch out the most complete picture yet of Tony’s father, Pierre Bourdain, and Tony’s relationship with him. The closest I’ll come to a spoiler is to say that you’ll see Tony’s parents in a whole new light, particularly Gladys.

Of course, Ottavia pops in throughout, although Nancy naturally dominates the early years when she and Tony were together, and we learn some of her side of that story for the first time. As the person who “outed” Nancy online back in 2008 in an old episode of A Cook’s Tour, I was stunned (and chagrined) by her revelations about traveling to Spain with Tony.

Nancy connected Woolever with friends who knew Tony in high school and at Vassar, but the one period where there seems to be a hole is during his CIA years (the culinary school, not the spy agency), and what kind of student he was there.

With 100 pages still to go, I haven’t quite gotten into his final years and what I know is coming, although late last night I touched the edge of that on page 330 when someone said, “And then fucking what’s-her-name entered his life…”

Woolever, keeping the wagons circled, didn’t interview “fucking what’s-her-name,” nor, I’m curious as to why, Tony’s most notorious “fixer,” Zamir.

My next observation isn’t to fault Woolever in any way, because I’m gaining (and confirming) many insights into Tony’s behavior and events.

Weirdly, many people speak of him in present tense as if he were still alive. But even so, because they and Woolever are two layers between the reader and Tony, I feel like I’m in one of those dreams where you’re searching for someone. You keep meeting people who say, “Oh, he was here a minute ago, and he did this…” but he’s always just around the next corner and out of sight and you wake up without finding him. I guess there’s no escaping this detached quality, given the secondhand material Woolever’s working with. But the people she talks to tell myriad great stories about him.

The other thing that surprised me physically about the book is the rough paper, which seems destined to turn yellow. You’d think anything with Definitive in the title would have some archival quality, but I’m guessing it was a cost decision.

Bottom line: If you’re still curious about Anthony Bourdain, this is a book to read sooner rather than later.

PS: On Tuesday, October 5, we have another Bourdain book coming out, In the Weeds: Around the World and Behind-the-Scenes with Anthony Bourdain, by Tom Vitale, who directed 100 episodes of Tony’s various travel shows. I’ve already read it and will have much, much more to come on it, so stay tuned.

Trust me, there’s virtually no overlap between these books, even though Vitale is interviewed in the Biography. I found Tom’s to be the more satisfying book because you can call it anything but detached. However, both are must-reads if you want answers to many (not all) of the questions Tony left us with. I hope we’ll have conversations here about both books, so get reading!


I’m Being Trashed By a Rash

September 24, 2021

By Karen

Apologies for being scarce, but weird things are happening — with me, the cats are fine — causing anxiety, doctor visits and so many trips to Target pharmacy that I’ve lost count.

I became an itchy snow globe in July, without the globe. My scalp started falling apart. This photo isn’t my head, but it looks like this…

Judging from scarier images online, my problem seems relatively mild, but I immediately cut my hair short. (I also went lighter, got highlights, and restored my bangs. It’s cute.)

Next I had a peely red patch above one eyebrow. It spread. Today, my entire neck and shoulders look sunburned, and leathery red patches keep popping up everywhere else.

My regular doctor thinks it’s psoriasis and/or eczema. Since it usually takes months to book a dermatologist, he prescribed some oily overnight shit for my scalp and said, “Sleep on a towel.”

Well, I lucked out (maybe) and got a dermatology appointment within a week. Since the scalp oil was pricey and I wasn’t keen on ruining the pillowcases, I decided to wait it out.

Now I think I know why I got the quick derm visit. That doctor, who I won’t name because there’s follow-up involved, is no star on HealthGrades or any other review site. Patients describe him like Jekyll and Hyde — mostly Hyde.

I met Hyde. He barely spoke to me. He told me to stand in front of him in my underwear and an open-backed waist-length gown and, without a word, roughly yanked down the back of my panties to check my ass like he was unwrapping a package of meat.

He also thinks it’s maybe psoriasis and eczema (no straight answers from anybody with these skin conditions) and he prescribed two remedies to use twice a day for two weeks. Clobetasol solution for scalp ($49) and Triamcinolone ointment for face and body ($8, a bargain!). Note: Tony couldn’t resist photobombing them…

To the extent I can get Clobetasol on my scalp, it seems to help. I’m less itchy and a bit less sheddy.

Triamcinolone is a devil’s concoction of mineral oil and Vaseline. I can’t sleep or wear clothes in it and it leaves grease marks on everything it touches.

The dermatologist muttered something about doing bloodwork for strep (??), so I had to go get that done another day at a lab.

No strep. No kidding.

When the triage nurse called me with those results, I went full Karen on her about Triamcinolone, which felt like the doctor’s idea of a sick joke. She said she’d speak to him.

Target’s now holding a tub of cream Triamcinolone for me for the same low price. So, the doctor had the equivalently priced choice of absorbable cream or nonabsorbable greasy goop, and he went with goop. Yeah, he’s probably sadistic.

After three days on the grease, nothing’s really improving. The nurse said it takes a week, but I don’t believe her. Skin can heal fast with the right treatment.

I’m suspicious because I just realized an expired tube of cream I have from a 2014 lichen sclerosis incident (another lousy dermatologist at the same practice —another story) is the SAME stuff.

Two years ago, my gynecologist diagnosed a small spot of lichen on my nether parts and said I could use that old cream on it. After one application, the spot disappeared.

So, when my current blotches started, I tried that cream on a few and NOTHING HAPPENED, which is why I started seeing doctors.

I told Mr. Hyde all this, and he still prescribed it again. I hope he proves me wrong and my does skin clear up, but I’m not hopeful.

So, please excuse me, I’ve been preoccupied.


Richmond Bids Adieu to General Robert E. Lee

September 9, 2021

By Karen

It’s a rare morning when you can wake up to GOOD news, but September 8, 2021, was one of those days.

After a legal battle that began last year during the Black Lives Matter protests in response to George Floyd’s murder, on September 2 the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the state-owned statue of Robert E. Lee could be taken off of Monument Avenue.

Majestic, moneyed Monument Avenue has been a shrine to the Civil War for over 100 years, featuring statues of several other Confederate “heroes”: namely, Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury (Google him, I have no idea), and Jefferson Davis, who was the Confederacy’s Donald Trump. These three have already been removed.

Now, with Lee’s departure, the last man/statue standing on Monument Avenue is, fittingly enough, black tennis superstar Arthur Ashe.

Fun Facts about the Lee statue:

  • It was the largest Confederate monument in the U.S.
  • The pedestal, now covered with graffiti, is 40 feet tall.
  • The bronze statue of Lee and his horse was 21 feet tall.
  • The statue weighs 12 tons.
  • The horse isn’t Lee’s faithful steed Traveler, but some rando whose name I didn’t catch.
  • When it was erected in 1890, they hoisted it onto the pedestal in seven or nine pieces (I saw conflicting numbers) and welded them together.
  • The pedestal contains a time capsule that’s said to include a rare photo of Abraham Lincoln in his coffin. We shall soon find out, because that capsule is being removed and replaced with a 2021 capsule that the governor’s wife helped assemble. [UPDATE 5 MINUTES LATER: I just read that they didn’t find the capsule today where they thought it was and plan to keep looking.]

It seemed thousands of people turned out, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Governor Ralph Northam. Local TV stations had live coverage. The area around the statue and streets were blocked off. The crowd cheered and sang as Lee sailed majestically through the air…

Photo: John McDonnell, Washington Post

I didn’t see any hordes of Confederate sympathizers protesting. Maybe they were all too busy preparing to storm the Capitol in D.C. again on September 18.

Here it is on the ground…

General Lee’s face was apparently sculpted from a cast of his real face, so the likeness is genuine. He shows a Melania-like disregard for this final humiliation. All he’s missing is her squint…

I’m including this photo I took off the TV because it’s pretty funny. The equipment near his face looks like he’s smoking a cigarette in front of his own pedestal to face a fire squad…

Before transporting the statue to an unknown location for storage, workers carefully dissected Lee at mid-torso…

Trump said they cut the statue into three pieces, but I haven’t seen that. I just hope they didn’t hurt the horse. Here’s what else the orange clown spouted, just for the attention. The sentiments do reflect his idiocy, but he clearly didn’t write this because it’s coherent…

“Our culture is being destroyed and our history and heritage, both good and bad, are being extinguished by the Radical Left and we can’t let that happen! If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago.”

Trump’s handlers obviously don’t realize that Lee ended the Civil War in “complete and total surrender” at Appomattox.

This was the front page of our local paper today. The Times-Dispatch must feel frantic as Civil War “developments” they’ve relied on for decades as a daily staple of their reporting dry up…

Accompanying Trump’s mental diarrhea was a page of public comments, mostly pro, some con. Some Southerners are still butt-hurt that owning human beings for profit is no longer a “thing.” It will probably take another generation or two for them to die off. The fewer reminders they have of the “good old days,” the better.

Some years ago, I was driving through the rolling Virginia mountains toward Charlottesville (probably going to visit Thomas Jefferson’s beautiful home, Monticello). It made me sad to think that after spending most of my life here, I still couldn’t consider myself a Virginian because Virginia refused to let go of the Civil War.

A writer in today’s paper, Robert Allen, arrived here in 1977, five years after me. His impression of Richmond matched mine…

“…a Lost Cause theme park; statues, streets, schools, bridges, buildings — the glory of the Confederacy was the only story Richmond was telling.”

Thank God, times are FINALLY changing here. A few years ago, nobody would have dreamed Richmond would sacrifice Monument Avenue’s perverted grandeur to get with the century.

There’s still one relatively modest Confederate statue in another part of town, of General A.P. Hill (I know, I have no idea either). It stands in a well-traveled intersection, and the general himself is buried under it — get this — standing up…

Those crazy Confederates, what will they think of next?


Tony Leads a Revolution & Other Cat News

August 27, 2021

By Karen

When I named him Tony Bourdain, I should have known Tony the cat would be a rebel. The hill he’s chosen to have me die on is apparently collars. For decades, all of my cats have worn collars without incident. Until Tony…

“Some kitties are born to greatness. I’d rather claw my way to the top,” says Tony the Troublemaker.

You may remember, last year at the beginning of the pandemic, after Tony destroyed his orange collar, he got a blue one

“Does is bring out the pink in my nose?”

It didn’t take him long to scare the crap out of me by working his jaw under it to choke himself. I think he cut his tongue in the struggle because the collar was bloody by the time I heard his screams and snapped it off of him.

That was the end of collars for Tony, until this past April when Max’s birthday wish was for everyone to get new collars.

The ones I found were light and super-soft, but Tony popped out of his almost immediately. Roc and Max, who have both always worn collars, seemed fine with theirs.

But Tony must have been applying peer pressure behind my back, because Roc eventually popped his collar off, repeatedly, until I gave up.

Max held out until about a week ago, when he turned up naked one morning. Several days later, I found his collar at the base of his favorite perch…

Max would have let me put it back on him, but it’s looking shabby now. To go for his annual checkup and shots yesterday, he did agree to wear Tony’s like-new collar to the vet’s. Who do you think wore it better?…

Another Mysterious Incident…

A few weeks ago, I found this mouse in the hall outside my bedroom…

None of current cats have EVER played with it, and I have no idea which toy box it came from. But it’s tatty, so somebody must have loved it once. I just don’t remember who.

After several days undisturbed on the floor, it disappeared and I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then it reappeared and I saw Roc give it a few half-hearted kicks, but nobody has touched it since.

Tony and Roc have favorite toys (yellow sparkle ball, Fuglen the bird, respectively) they carry around, but they never just carry around random stuff, so red mouse is our new mystery.

RAL’s 2022 Calendar Went to the Dogs…

Because the contest got so cut-throat last summer when Tony came in 12th and became Mr. July 2021 on the Richmond Animal League calendar, I’d never get mixed up in this event again. The contest for the 2022 calendar wrapped up last Saturday and I caught the last 30 minutes. It raised a bit less than Tony’s calendar (approx. $66K vs. $80+K), but the competition was no less vicious and only three cats made the final cut.

Another black dog comfortably dominated by $6.5K until the last eight minutes, when a pair of dogs in third place threw in $6.6K and claimed the No. 1 spot.

The top fundraising cat, in fourth place with just over $3K, was a tux named Popeye Hailey…

“Popeye is a chip off the old Maxie in his snazzy collar,” says Max.

Also winning was a black cat named Thackery the Bestest…

“Black cats rock!” says Roc.

A tortie came in 11th place. Next year’s calendar will have nine dogs and only three cats.

The real drama was a cat named Father Christmas we were all rooting for because he looks like Tony’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather…

“The family resemblance is unmistakable,” says Tony.

But in the LAST THREE MINUTES, some stupid dog in a bandana made a last-ditch donation and pushed Father Christmas off the calendar into 13th place by only $21.

FUN FACT: The roughly $2.5K that Tony’s fans contributed last year would have put him in seventh place in this year’s contest.

Roc Dreams He’s a Tabby…

With humidity, the weather here has been feeling like 100+ for weeks on end now and we’re all wiped out. I happened to catch Roc this morning in Max’s favorite perch spot, masquerading in stripes as a tabby…

Max Rediscovers the Upstairs Perch…

Max hasn’t gone near the blue perch since I dragged it to the top of the stairs last November after building them a grand new perch for early Christmas.

This week, he rediscovered it and its fabulous aerial view of the front yard and neighborhood. Tony, who has been claiming exclusive rights, was none too pleased…

“Max, you can borrow it for a little while, but I’ll BE BACK!” says Tony the Terminator.

Biden Finally Cuts Our Losses in Afghanistan

August 20, 2021

By Karen

I support Joe Biden 100% in pulling out of Afghanistan now, and I’m glad he’s not apologizing for it. It’s been 20 years, and it’s hopeless. The only thing we actually managed to accomplish was a temporary reprieve for girls and women so they could get educated and hold jobs without being butchered for being female by twisted fundamentalist fanatics.

Even that small normalcy is probably dead now with the Taliban back in power.

It only took the Taliban 10 days to show us that all we thought we had “built” — a functioning government, a military 300,000 strong — were illusions.

Afghanistan is just as corrupt and chaotic as ever. Prolonging our presence a month, a year, a century won’t change that.

Afghanistan is a landlocked hellscape, suitable mostly for growing poppies for opium, of roughly 40 million inhabitants. 56% still live in poverty and fear, even though the U.S. has poured $2.6 trillion into defense and infrastructure.

Our two-decade occupation has been a clusterfuck. But rather than blaming Biden for it all, let’s refresh our memories that it was the brainchild of these three clowns…

Obama tried a troop surge, and then a draw-down after he killed Osama Bin Laden, who put the bull’s eye on Afghanistan in the first place by using it as al Qaeda’s base for planning 9/11.

As for Trump, investigations will probably reveal eventually that he saw an opportunity skim a cut of all that sweet U.S. aid for himself by “doing a deal.” So in 2019, he sent his stooge Mike Pompeo to work out the details with the Taliban.

In exchange for virtually nothing but the Taliban’s promise to be good, Trump freed 5,000 of their fighters, including their co-founder, Mullah Abdul-Ghani Baradar, who is Afghanistan’s new president this week. The chickenshit president we were propping up fled to the UAE as soon as he saw his army laying red carpet for the Taliban. Pompeo looks so pleased with his handiwork…

Trump’s deal included removing all American troops by [UPDATE: May 1, 2021. Biden delayed that to September 11, but then accelerated the pull-out to beat his new deadline]. The Taliban had only to mark the “Retake the Country” date on their calendars.

Biden accelerated the pull-out, apparently unaware that an Afghan military isn’t really a thing. Not only did Afghan soldiers not fight back, they handed the Taliban billions of dollars’ worth of the weapons and equipment we paid for.

Scenes of the scramble at the Kabul airport to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghans who helped us have been sickening. Those people don’t have a single Afghan policeman or soldier to escort them and protect them. It’s entirely up to us to get them out of there. while the Taliban stands at the airport gates, whipping, beating, and shooting at them.

I blame our State Department and Immigration. They KNEW there would be a need for evacuation. For months, they could have been quietly running a clearance operation for evacuees. Instead, they’re gift-wrapping them in pointless red tape and handing them back to the Taliban for execution.

Our betrayal of those people who WERE brave enough to fight for their country is the shame the United States will never live down.

PS: Earlier this year, CBS launched a sitcom called The United States of Al, about an Afghan interpreter who comes to live with the Marine he helped. It’s been renewed for a second season, which starts in October. But right now, with interpreters being hunted and killed by the Taliban, making jokes about it feels like bad timing and terrible taste.


Delta Surges, Masks Disappear. WTF?

August 13, 2021

By Karen

During the one brief, shining moment COVID was on the decline, I still never went out frivolously or stopped wearing a mask — not even after July 1, when it once again became a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to conceal your face in public. (Luckily, I haven’t heard of anybody going down on a mask rap.)

Virginia’s mask prohibition went back into effect when Governor Ralph Northam allowed the pandemic state of emergency to expire on June 30. Now, the Delta variant is rampaging through our red regions. But instead of again requiring masks in indoor settings, Northam’s wussing out and says just to follow CDC guidelines, which seem to change every five fucking minutes.

(I don’t blame the CDC, but keeping up with this shit is exhausting.)

Northam, a pediatric neurosurgeon in real life, just mandated masks for everyone in K-12 when schools open in the fall. Some parents are outraged, because they must want their kids sick or dead.

But many adults are NOT following CDC guidelines. As of this moment, the CDC says EVERYONE, vaccinated or not, should mask up indoors in “high” or “substantial” transmission areas. According to this map, that’s most of Virginia.

Many vaccinated people are apparently unaware they can inhale snootfuls of Delta from unvaxxed maskholes who walk among us. Even if the vaxxed themselves don’t get sick, they become walking COVID carriers.

This past week at Food Lion and Sam’s Club, I was gobsmacked to see predominantly barefaced customers, and some employees. The ones in masks mostly seemed to be older ladies like me who don’t want even a dab of COVID.

I blame this on the myriad stupid sources people consider “news.” I’m not just talking about Trumpy media outlets and Facebook.

With the proliferation of cable channels, streaming, social media, and even CNN’s sketchy coverage of most things, there’s no longer any main trusted source where everyone gets the same story. We used to get our news from competently staffed newspapers and career journalists like Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Huntley and Brinkley, and other professionals committed to reporting the facts without putting their own editorial spin on them.

Speaking of news, spare me any more tales of how COVID is ravaging states in the South and Midwest — a.k.a. Trump Country.

Last year, they were all oblivious while hundreds of thousands of their fellow Americans suffered and died. Today, they still refuse the vaccinations that could save their lives because their ignorance has become impenetrable after soaking in so many lies and conspiracy theories from God-knows-where.

So, now it’s their turn to get deathly ill and die, and in the immortal words of Melania’s jacket, “I really don’t care, do you?”

My sympathy goes to the selfless medical providers tasked with trying to save these morons from horrible, 100% preventable, self-inflicted deaths after they thoughtlessly sucked in a deadly virus through their maskless pieholes, mistaking it for “freedom.”

Now that it’s no longer blue states bearing the brunt of fatalities, some Republican leaders are admitting masks and vaccines aren’t so bad after all. It’s finally dawning on them that they’re screwed when they succeed in killing off much of their base in those sparsely populated, vast swaths of nowhere. They forgot to ram through any laws in those states giving livestock the right to vote.


Instead of Accountability, Committees and Investigations

August 6, 2021

By Karen

So we have yet another example of yet another powerful politician — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — investigated by the state’s attorney general and found to have “violated federal and state” laws against sexual harassment.

Cuomo denies all of it and remains governor while the state legislature conducts ANOTHER investigation before impeaching him.

If you or I “violated federal AND state law,” we could scream our innocence until our lungs burst while we were thrown in jail to await trial, with the certainty of a guilty verdict.

But if you’re an old white guy who wears ties, it’s OK to commit felonies willy-nilly. The only consequences you’ll face are a harsh speech and some hand-wringing while the so-called “authorities” form a new committee to confirm their already-completed investigation into the misdeeds the world already knows you committed because you yourself left a complete, bloody trail of video and audio we’ve all seen, as well as written evidence and a queue of witnesses eager to rat you out.

What I’d like to know is, who kidnapped accountability, and how do we get it back?

Five members of Trump’s Cabinet were referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, yet they all walked away unscathed with their fresh taxpayer-funded fortunes to write their lying memoirs.

Despite being suspended from practicing law, raided and having his electronic devices seized weeks ago, Rudy Giuliani is still blathering threats on TV that anybody who dares to hold him accountable for any of his myriad crimes — for Trump and side gigs purely for profit — is a liar and will pay for it in heaven, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

While the Trump Organization itself and its chief financial officer Alan Weisselberg are under indictment, life goes grifting along for the other culpable executives, Trump’s demon spawn, Junior, Eric and Ivanka.

And Trump himself, the most hardcore, inept crook ever to befoul the Oval Office, has proven every day, on multimedia, beyond all doubt, that he’s a thief, cheat, mass murder, seditionist and traitor. Yet nearly seven months out of office, he’s still being treated like a monarch who answers to no law.

So, Trump merrily plots Phase 3 of his coup. Phase 1 was to overturn the election. Phase 2 was to dispatch his crazed MAGA cult to kill Congress.

This dementia patient is going around proclaiming himself our once and future dictator, and what accountability does he face? State, federal and congressional committees and investigations grinding at a pace to make even snails lose their shit.

Meanwhile, the halls of Congress reek from the stench of Republican vermin who commit daily treason by lying and aiding Trump’s coup attempts when they should be rotting in cells for engaging in sedition.

The only conclusions I can draw from all this stonewalling and inaction are:

1. Prosecutors (I’m looking at you, Merrick “Molasses” Garland) intend to foot-drag until statutes of limitations kick in and render certain crimes moot.

2. Prosecutors are waiting for the perps to die of natural causes before they’re brought to trial so nobody has to be the one to blame them for anything.

In the meantime, while Trump Republicans foment chaos and anarchy, Biden, bless his heart, ignores it and gaslights us with happy talk about bipartisanship and what a great country we are.

You know what would REALLY make this country great? The swift and safe return of accountability.


Cats Working May be Haunted

July 30, 2021

By Karen

Yesterday was a big day here, but as in any suspense tale, I’m going to work backward to describe it.

Last night, after an afternoon under the bed (why in a minute), Tony must have been feeling his 31 days of fame waning as Mr. July on the Richmond Animal League’s calendar.

After dinner, he threw himself down on the living room floor to contemplate his next career move and wonder if he had peaked too soon…

“Could I really be a has-been at 2 years old?”

But with Tony’s looks, brains and charisma, he has nothing to worry about. I’m sure we’ll figure something out.

In the afternoon, a crew I’ve been waiting nearly two months for finally showed up to take down the dead tree in the front yard.

In the spring, I worried when that tree was a few weeks late putting out leaves, and its trunk looked paler than the others. Then when all the new leaves immediately began to die, I had to pull the plug on it or risk it taking out my office and the kitchen in a storm.

I never watch when I lose a tree, but I think it came down in sections because there was never a big crash. A lot of moss in the yard was torn up where I guess the pieces fell.

Nevertheless, it was a noisy business. Roc sat calmly in the living room with me through it all. Max stayed in the Man Cave and Tony went under the bed.

Grinding the stump turned out to be the worst of it. This is now our view from the big kitchen window. The red circle is where the tree was…

Now all is sawdust where once there was moss.

My yard guy isn’t returning my calls about cleaning up. Here’s the mess from the walk, facing the house. This isn’t a situation that’s just going to heal itself over time…

The rocks strewn about were the border of a patch of daffodils and azaleas, now a wasteland.

But the day began in my bedroom with something I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it myself. This bookcase is one of six around the house and stands opposite my bed. It holds mostly New Age books from my 30s, as well as other prized volumes, like the copy of Little Women I got at Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord, Massachusetts, where she wrote it…

The corner shelf holds some of my vast cats collection.

Notice the arrow pointing to a book I pulled out on the bottom shelf, just to show you where it came from. It was actually on the shelf in line with the rest. Since Roc refused to participate in a reenactment, the black stuffy cat on the floor is his stand-in, and a waterbowl is to its left.

Anyway, I was making the bed and Roc was getting a drink. He turned to walk past the bookcase when that book suddenly flew out and fell on the floor in front of him. Roc jumped back, but then calmly went around it and hunkered down in the opposite corner to watch ME.

Did he know or see who did that?

It was just like the poltergeist activity you see on Paranormal: Caught on Camera.

The cats never bother that bookcase, and I haven’t touched it myself in months. This is the book that flew out…

Why this book? Does the title have any significance?

It happens to be the last book I shelved there, unfinished because I didn’t like it. I felt a little tingly as I put it back.

There’s no way that book moved on its own. No book has EVER fallen off that shelf before. So, what was it? It couldn’t have been the spirit of the tree, because this happened hours before either of us knew it was going down that day.

BONUS: Cats Working reader Glamour Milk uncovered this (possibly) maiden interview with Anthony Bourdain in 1995. He was just 39, pre-thumb ring, pre-Les Halles, beginning his writing career as a novelist with Bone in the Throat)…

On “Connie Martinson Talks Books,” August 1995

He wrote a second novel, Gone Bamboo, before he hit it big with Kitchen Confidential. You have to download the interview here…

https://ccdl.claremont.edu/digital/collection/cmt/search/searchterm/Bourdain%2C%20Anthony/field/creato/mode/exact/conn/and

But it’s well worth it, especially in hindsight, for what he says about loyalty and betrayal.

Many thanks to Glamour Milk for her online sleuthing. Morgan Neville might have been interested in this for Roadrunner, had he uncovered it.

The same link includes another 2002 interview about A Cook’s Tour. Notice Tony’s marked increase in confidence, sophistication and gray hair. Also, the thumb ring.


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