Friday, June 03, 2016

Friday Night Fun. With Cats.

It's not even a particularly good picture. But that doesn't matter.
The banal can be hellish.
This is my Hell. It doesn’t look like much. It’s just a sack. From PetSmart. But what’s inside was the culmination of over an hour of frantic work.

My girlfriend and I made some burritos tonight. They were fine. That’s not really important except for the fact that we made them at my place. But in the summer, it’s hard to get the temperature in my place below 80. So we headed to her apartment for the night. In the front door. Up the stairs. In through the apartment door. Drop my stuff. Head to the kitchen. And stop. On a dime. Something is not right. There’s a smell of dead fish, smushed poop, and shame.

Immediately, we’re searching. We need to stop this smell. Then, suddenly, a cat swishes by. Her tail high in the air and what looks to be a breakfast sausage hanging from her matted butthair (One word. It’s a technical term.). And my chin drops to my chest.

Things have gotten better since I last wrote about these cats. They still scream the screams of a thousand spawns of Satan and they still dig their demon claws into my toes, but it isn’t as frequent. I’ve come to an agreement with Cat. I walk into the apartment, she sees me, runs to the bedroom grunting until I come in to brush her. She flops to the ground like a medieval holy woman in the throes of ecstasy and rolls around as I brush off enough hair to knit a third cat. Finally, we part ways and go about our days. Other Cat pretends to be my friend, snuggles up against my chest staring at me with what she seems to think are cute kitty eyes. Then she moves closer. Slowly. As if she’s fooling me. And tries to lick my beard. She does not. So things are getting better. Of course better does not mean good. Better never means good.

And today was not a good day. Or even a better day. Today was a day that ended with me questioning all of my life choices and how those choices brought me to this moment. Because as I follow the cat with the breakfast sausage (spoiler alert: it was poop) hanging from her butthair, I realize that she is jumping onto the bed. And as I yell “no,” the tortured no of a person who knows there is nothing that can be done, but needs to vocalize that helplessness, the cat begins scooting her hindquarters across the bed. The breakfast sausage that drags beneath her smears across what was once a (relatively) clean blanket. And my chin drops to my chest. Again.

My girlfriend has identified poop smears across the entire kitchen floor, into the hall, and onto the rug in the bedroom. There are several spots. The smell is stuck in my nosehairs. I corner a very agitated cat as my girlfriend approaches with scissors in hand. The smell is terrible as she deftly cuts away a turd the likes of which I did not know a cat could produce. Other Cat decides that this is the perfect (not purrfect, get out of here with that nonsense) time to lick my beard. And my chins drops to my chest. Yet again.

Here’s the thing: scatological humor gets me every time. I’m 32. I have an admittedly juvenile inclination towards poop jokes. But as I get onto my hands and knees to scrub cat poop off the floor, I am not laughing. As we fill a plastic sack from PetSmart with butthair, cat poop, and soiled paper towels, I am not laughing. As my girlfriend trudges to the basement with an unclean blanket with plans to launder it, I am not laughing. When she comes back up to tell me that the washing machine is broken, that she needs my help, I am not laughing. And when I realize that the laundry machine is broken broken, that I can barely change the oil in my car, let alone fix a laundry machine, I am not laughing. I stay in the basement for a while. At least it doesn’t stink down here.

Finally, the adult in me walks back up the three flights of stairs. Opens the door only to be blasted by a smell that I have finally grown accustomed to. I spray the entire kitchen floor with Windex. It’s a strong, chemical smell that masks the scent. My girlfriend lights a candle. I vacuum, scrub the rugs, wash the floors, and curse the cats. I know it’s not the cat’s fault. Every rational part of me knows that. But the fact remains that I am spending my Friday night cleaning cat poop. Or was. Now I’m eating a mint ice cream sandwich, sitting next to an open window, hoping the memory and smells will fade.

But even as I write this, Other Cat is taking laps around my lap. Back and forth. She can’t decide if she’d rather lick my beard or shove her backside in my face. I keep shooing her away. She keeps coming back. She just keeps coming back. Cat lovers will tell you it’s a sign of affection. It’s cute. Just like when they bring you dead animals. Affection. Cute. Cat lovers will lie to you and tell you cats are clean and proper and easy to cohabitate with. They will try to justify the behavior of these sociopaths. You might even fall for it. Then suddenly you’ll realize that you’re spending your Friday night cleaning cat poop off every surface you can possibly imagine.

Welcome to Swedish America. And a blog that is slowly, oh, so slowly, turning into a space for me to vent about cats.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Swedish Holidays – Skottår and Skottdag (Leap Year)

While Sweden is considered to be a leader in gender equality today, there has been and still is an expectation, whether implicit or explicit, that men propose marriage. But skottdagen is different. Skottdag or skottår is leap year. Skott, in this case, means to add something into the mix. Like an extra day, for example. It’s one of those days where the world is turned upside down. Used to a year of 365 days? Tough, this one has 366! And when the world is turned upside down, it’s acceptable for women to propose.

Since the late 1800s, there’s been a tradition in Sweden that suggests that women are allowed to propose marriage on leap-year day. That awkward term, leap-year day? That’s because leap-year day hasn’t always been February 29. Turns out that before a bunch of different calendar reforms, Sweden recognized leap year on February 24 every year. In fact, February 29 as leap year in Sweden is relatively new. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that February 24 became just a normal day and February 29 was added to the calendar.

This unsuspecting man has no chance in a
postcard from the 1920s.
Image available at
But the tradition suggesting that women can propose marriage has been around longer than that. It probably made its way over from England, maybe Scotland, sometime during the 1850s. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, it had gained a little steam. Folks started joking about it. People sold postcards depicting men being chased by women with nets, women shooting Cupid’s arrows at the man they hoped to marry, and women, literally, about to bag themselves a man. Those postcards depicting age-old stereotypes, those jokes about women taking control probably further cemented the gender expectations. But along with joking about it, it seems that the tradition had at least some affect on the way women interacted with men. While there probably weren’t droves of women proposing to their partners in 1903, there probably were a decent chunk of women who felt a bit more emboldened to flirt, to show some interest, to, you know, admit that they had and could show interest and initiative with regards to men.

That’s the fun thing with traditions, they pop up, they change, they adapt and adopt, and then they disappear. Sometimes those traditions are limited to certain groups of people, which seems to be the case with women proposing in Sweden during a leap year. That is, that tradition never really took off with anyone but the Swedish bourgeois. But whether it was a domestic servant on a farm in Skåne proposing or a young woman living at home in Stockholm with support from her family proposing, folks then, and now, knew what they were expected to do.

Traditions are change, but they are there for a reason. They serve some purpose. What that purpose is probably depends on who you ask. This one, for example, could suggest gender expectations (for both men and women) were so rigid that a day on which women were "allowed" to propose could be adopted (and then adapted) giving some women just a hint of freedom. So leap year traditions become an interesting look at upended gender expectations. Of course women could propose 100 years ago. They just didn’t. At least not regularly. Societal expectations are strong and dominate how we act in the context of that society. Whether we want to openly admit that or not. So when a tradition that came along and said women could shed those societal expectations, even for just a day, people paid attention. Because think about it for just a minute. This tradition suggests that women are only allowed to propose once every four years. One day out of 1,461 days.

Of course, today there’s much less stigma attached to a woman proposing to a man. Or a woman proposing to a woman for that matter. But that doesn’t mean for a second that the expectations don’t still exist. The tradition still exists, although it's not widespread and active in the sense that women everywhere have been counting down these last 1,460 days until they can propose. But it is still widely recognized. It’s still serving some purpose. Search for some variation of “skottdag” and “frieri” in your favorite search engine today and you’ll get articles popping up from all over Sweden See? I told you:
Fritt fram för frieri – den mytomspunna skottdagen är här from Örnsköldsviks Allehanda
Skottdag — dags att fria from Sydsvenskan
Skottdagen – då är det dags att passa på att fria from Svenska Dagbladet
Frieri i P4 Jämtland på skottdagen from Sveriges Radio

So why does the tradition live on in a country that prides itself on being a bastion of gender equality? There are all kinds of arguments to be made. Maybe it’s just kind of a joke. People get a kick out of reliving those old traditions as if to say, look at our silly ancestors and look at how far we’ve come. Or maybe it’s more serious than that. Structural gender inequality, while less obvious in Sweden than in most places, suggests that there are still normative gender expectations, which can be subverted through tradition. Or maybe it's a way to hammer home gender stereotypes, by focusing on the one day when it is "acceptable" for a woman to propose. Or maybe people are just nervous about popping the question and need an excuse.

Interestingly, according to Jonas Engman, a folklorist at the Nordic Museum, the day is also seen by many to be imbued with lots of luck—sometimes good, but usually bad. Take that for what it’s worth.

Welcome to Sweden. And an extra day of work in 2016.