Sunday, June 25, 2017

There's a Cat Behind the Front Door

Blitz does not want to go outside.

Oh, he's drawn to the screen by flies and moths on the other side. He'll claw at it until I tell him to stop. And he occasionally stares at the birds in the birdbath, but he doesn't want to go out there. It's scary out there. The minute I slide the screen open to go out, he's gone, deeper in the house where I won't kick him out. I try to tell him I'm not about to kick him out, but he's still afraid.

Seth is the cat who wants to go outside. Whenever I water the flowers on my deck or refill the hummingbird feeder, Seth sits at the other side of the screen and states that he intends to come out. I wish you could hear it, not a plaintive tone to his meow. It's a statement, "You will bring me outside now."

If I have time to sit with him, I'll come in and pick up his harness. As soon as he hears its jingle, he's on the back of the recliner waiting for me to figure out which way his harness goes. He's impatient for me to loop it over his head and lift his foot through, left foot or right, I can never remember. Eventually, I get it all untangled and strapped onto him and then we go outside where I snap him onto Teddy's cable and he can walk along the back side of the house while I prop up my feet, read a book, and listen for the hummingbirds. Sometimes the cable gets caught up in weeds. You should see Seth, almost falling over, like a cat that doesn't like the dress his little girl dressed him in. Then, I have to walk down the slippery ramp and rescue him from the weeds. Most of the time, though, he sits and stares at the birds in the bushes. He definitely doesn't want me to go inside. At this point, he's spent eleven years inside our house with only occasional forays outside on a leash, so he isn't happy being outside on his own. These days, he gets tired sooner and drags his heavy cable back up the slippery ramp and stands at the door until I let him in. Sometimes, if I bring out a pillow, he'll sit in the chair opposite me, enjoying the sunshine and staring at the hummingbird feeder. I'm amazed that they feed with him so close, but they do.

Then, we go inside and snap off the harness and he's good for a least twenty-four hours before he's trying to sneak out the door again.

Bringing groceries in from Costco is a hazard with Seth waiting at the front door. I will use my key and open the door just a bit. His nose is there, just waiting for an opening to escape. Shit. Even if he's not there at first, he'll appear after my first trip into the house with an armload of stuff.

Costco takes at least five trips in and out of the house, sometimes more.

For each one, I have to balance my load, turn the knob to the door, check for the nose, reposition the load to block Seth's exit, then bulldoze my way in with some large object blocking his escape. Then, I need to put my load down onto the bench opposite the door and hope Seth hasn't found that ten seconds gap and escaped to the hazards of a nearby highway or a pack of coyotes in wait. If I'm successful, I have to either find his kennel and shove his unwilling body into it or go through this balance and dance process each and every trip into the house with my Costco loads.

If he actually escapes, I have to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and unload the rest of my Costco purchases. It will do no good to try to capture him when he first gets out. So then, I'll go into the house and put away all my stuff, hoping beyond hope that Seth doesn't make it down to the highway before I get back outside. The balance of time is precarious.

This makes Nick furious. There's a chance Seth might get hit. There's definitely that chance. But the difference is that if Nick goes outside to find Seth, he'll come right to him. If I go out to get Seth before he's ready to come inside, he'll let me get within a finger's reach, grin, and run away from me. That only pisses me off and extends the game.

If I go inside, Seth quickly gets uncomfortable at being outside alone and he'll leap into my arms when I come back out, as long as I've left him out there long enough. The problem is that what is long enough for me, no time at all, is shorter than what is long enough for him which is ten or fifteen minutes. Going out multiple times only extends the game.

The worst is when I have some reason I need to bolt off again and I'm sweaty from unloading $372,16 worth of groceries, I have to arrive at a meeting in fifteen minutes, and I have just enough time to sit in the car beforehand with the air conditioner on and gather my wits. When that happens, chasing the damned cat around the back of the house to bring him inside is miserable and nearly impossible. Seth can feel my need.

Mike says I should leave him out there and just go, but I've never had the nerve. How would I explain to Nick that his beloved cat is flat because I didn't have ten extra minutes to chase him around the house before my PTSA meeting? How?

Life comes into perspective when you start thinking about how someone could die out there.  So, over and over, I do it the same way. I'll do it the same way for the next six or seven years if I have to.

If I have a meeting with you and I'm ten minutes late, breathless, and sweaty, you'll know I've been chasing Seth through the weeds at the back of the house again.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Blitz learns from Seth's example.

For all that, using the litter box was a good lesson, as was staying inside the house when the dog goes outside is a help. We live by a highway. And we have coyotes. The highway is more lethal but either one would do the job.

I also like that Blitz learned that in the evening, he's supposed to lie on someone's lap. That way two-thirds of us have a cat to pet at least part of the time while we're watching movies.

When I was a kid, I had a white winter muff that had fur inside and out. It was just a little tube, big enough for both of my small hands to knot together inside at one time. I loved my muff and tried to keep people from realizing that my hands weren't in the least bit cold in the springtime but that I liked to surreptitiously pet my muff like it was a tiny kitty I was allowed to carry inside the house. All of our cats when I was a kid were outdoor cats. Eventually, my mother informed me the season for winter wear was over and she packed away my sweet muff with ratty mittens and various boots and toboggans into a cardboard box.

Did you call your winter hats 'toboggans?' I always wondered how they were related to the great sleds. When I was a kid, any knitted winter hat was called a toboggan.

Somehow, I didn't see how my muff belonged with ratty mittens, boots, and toboggans. If my muff had had googly eyes, I would have cried when my mother closed the cardboard lid. I came close as it was. That was my kitty, my bunny, my sweet muff.

I never saw my muff again.

So, when I sit on the couch watching a movie, it is with joy and a teeny bit of sadness for my lost muff that I can tuck my hands into warm kitten fur. Blitz is still a squiggly kitten, though, and I seldom get to pet him during a whole movie.

But Seth did teach him to jump onto a lap to get petted.

There are things I'm not so happy that Seth has taught Blitz though.

Did I tell you that Blitz is convinced that it is our job to lift him up onto the washing machine any time we're around when he's hungry?

Seth taught him that. Both are perfectly capable of jumping up to their food on their own, but Seth just glares at someone in the kitchen until they lift him and now Blitzen has learned to sound so pathetic when it's his turn. His tiny meows turn into an elongated 'meoooooowwwwwwww' when I ignore him. I'm certain it's a cat version of nagging. It just goes on and on until I do my job.

Then, there's the waking up game. Seth made sure that Blitz took over wake up calls when he was very young. If it's a Saturday and I'm snuggled deep in my covers, Blitz begins to leap on and off my butt. When I try to focus my eyes, I can see that it's only 6:03 in the morning, or sometimes 4:15 in the morning because it's nearly summer solstice and the sun rises earlier now. Seth only takes over if the communal food dish gets down to one layer of kibbles. That is an emergency. Then, at any hour, the whole house wakes up with his repeated siren call. I blame Mike because he gets up and puts kibbles into the bowl. I'm convinced the reason our house harbors two insomniacs is that we have these cats who live here and one tenderhearted man who will feed cats at any hour.

And now there are the baths.

I'm sure I've described how my shower time has been significantly cooled and extended because Seth opens the pocket door and comes in. Then, as all hot air escapes the room, he gets between the shower curtain and the liner and insists that I bathe him. This involves using my wet hand to wipe him from head to foot minus his butt because that is just too gross for either of us to contemplate, even when soap is available afterward. Then, when I've finished and dried myself off, I am to use a dry towel and sponge up all the wet fur so that Seth is nicely cleaned and relatively dry. He does this every other day.

So Blitz has begun to expect a bath every other morning as I'm trying to stay warm in my shower with the pocket door half open and all the steam escaped. This means that I add even more minutes to every shower and significantly lowers the temperature of the room to a chill as I stand naked in it after I'm out.

I look forward to about eighteen more years of this chilled and extended naked time after my showers because the old cat has taught the kitten how to pry open the pocket door just in case I thought about trying to close him out before I build up steam in the room.

That's what I get for thinking it good that the cat teach the kitten how to behave in my house, eighteen more years of early wake up calls and eighteen more years of being in a shower devoid of hot steam.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Dystopia in the Kitchen

I kind of hate, yet kind of love when I get so involved with an audiobook in the kitchen that I clean everything in sight and then just sit on the footstool next to the litter box and listen. Blitz loves the ends of audiobooks since he rolls around on the floor in front of me and gets his belly rubbed. I never met a cat who loved to have his belly rubbed so much. He has a blubbery little belly with dots and dashes coded into his fur.

I kind of hate listening to these audiobooks too because the afternoon is waning, gray and damp, and I haven't taken Teddy out for a walk. A day has a different aura at 4:30 in the afternoon when I haven't been for a walk, rather dreary. It doesn't help that my book is a dystopia, an apocalypse.

I kind of love audiobook days in the kitchen because my mind swirls with the story. One disk remains and I don't know how the band of musicians and actors are going to survive the post-apocalyptic battles against crazed survivors. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I promise I won't give away the story. I hate when people tell me how it ends. You're going to want to listen to this book. Your kitchen will never be so clean.

I'm a sucker for a good post-apocalypse story and this one is good. I got drawn in by the virus, the very real possibility that our civilization could be brought down by a crazy flu bug.

The plague, the 1918 Spanish flu, West Nile, Avain flu, Swine flu, H1N1, ebola.

For the H1N1, Mike and I were nearly frantic. I remember the fear, birthed when Mike first mentioned a shortage of vaccines then the way that fear accompanied me in my gut like a tumor, growing heavier every day the vaccine was still unavailable. Kids in the school were sick. Substitute teachers were scarce because teachers were sick. A school near us closed for a week. We tried to keep from infecting Nick with our fear, but I know he felt it.

Nick had contracted pneumonia five times between the ages of four and nine. He was in the highest risk category. He had already been given two kinds of pneumonia vaccine, the normal one and the one they give to the elderly and those with COPD. It was hard to reconcile the sturdy kid who practiced karate against the one with a right lung that filled with fluid and threatened to drown him every year between February and April, RSV season. I had listened to him bubble as he breathed. I knew how fragile life could be.

The whole family carried tiny bottles of hand-sanitizer during the fall of 2009. My hands bled in the cracks, they were so chapped. Every time any of us came home, we stopped at the sink and lathered up. Mike taught Nick to sing the birthday song and to keep lathering until he was done. I still mindlessly sing the birthday song when I wash my hands, but it was serious then, a time to send Nick back to do it all again if he was too quick. Privately, Mike and I talked about whether we should keep Nick out of school until after he received the vaccine. There was a shortage. We couldn't get him vaccinated soon enough.

Finally, there was the day, I drove Nick to the Department of Health forty miles away and told the nurse about Nick's condition. It was the first day the vaccine was available in our area, two months before it became available to the general public. At first, the nurse looked dubious, as if I were trying to cut ahead in line. But I had brought Nick's list of meds, two steno pads filled with lines indicating the medicine, the dosage, the date, the hour, Nick's peak flow, and O2 saturation. The second steno pad was nearly full, the first completely. I didn't have to explain. She flipped through the pages and quickly left the room. When she came back, she had two shots prepared on a tray.

"I don't need one," I said. "I have a good immune system."

"You don't want this virus anywhere near your son. You have to get vaccinated too. Everyone in the family should get vaccinated." I wanted to cry.

And so we both got shots. I held Nick's hand during his and he held mine during mine. And the weight of fear lifted a tiny bit that afternoon. Nick had never been so happy to get a shot in his life. We stopped for ice cream on the way home. Two weeks later, when Nick's immunization should have been complete, Mike and I quietly celebrated in the living room after Nick had gone to bed. I felt so light, so happy. I hadn't realized just how heavy the weight of that fear had been.

And so it was easy to get drawn into Station Eleven, the way the virus ran through a flight of passengers and overwhelmed an ER. I still remembered the fear we'd had with H1N1, but I watched it as a distant fear, like the thrill of reading Stephen King back when I lived on the second floor of the old mansion built in 1886. Another crazy virus was possible, but I didn't carry the weight of it in my gut, not too much anyway. I knew I had tucked away a bottle of hand-sanitizer somewhere, but I'm not sure where.

Okay, I'll admit. I'm still a little bit afraid whenever they mention on the news that it's going to be a bad year for the flu. But people survived on Station Eleven, and now they have to survive the crazed survivors. I'd better get started on dinner. I have one disk left to hear.

There is hope still, even after an apocalypse.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, June 16, 2017

Big Tyson Goes to the Dog Park

"Hey!" the man called out from the middle of the double gate entrance at the dog park. "Does this dog belong to any of you?" He stood in the small enclosure with a woman and two dogs.

"Not mine!" I yelled. Other people looked around and shouted that he wasn't theirs either. Nice people that they were, these two stood there between the two gates for a while, not quite knowing what to do. They petted their fat antsy poodle mix. The other dog, a powerful sleek orange dog danced by the gate. He wanted to come in.

"Just let him in," the man with the Aussie puppy shouted. "He'll be fenced in in any case."

"He looks like a nice dog," the woman with a pit mix shouted.

And the people opened the gate. Pandemonium ensued, but only the best kind of pandemonium. Happy dogs stole balls, pulled on sticks, and wrestled with each other. A short dog humped the big orange dog's face. The big guy rolled over, sprang up, and bowed. He looked powerful enough to beat the crap out of a dog that just humped his face but he wasn't that kind of guy.

Chase ensued and a string of dogs raced across the green grass with the mountain as a backdrop behind them.

"Did his people ever show up?" the man with the poodle mix asked.

I looked around. Connections between people and dogs were loose, but most of the dogs looped around to their owners from time to time. No one claimed the friendly orange dog. I looked at people across the field. Each human silhouette trailed a dog's.

"I don't think he has an owner here," I said. "How did he get past the first gate into the park?"

"He was already there when we came," the man said. "I thought he was having a time-out."

"Come here, Buddy," he said and held out his hand to the friendly orange dog. My dog ran over to him to be petted. Then another dog and finally the orange one came to be petted.

The orange dog pulled against the man when he grabbed his collar and finally went down onto his back in surrender. That only made it harder for the man to read the etchings on his tag.

"Tyson! Good boy."

Tyson leaped to his feet and ran in a circle around the man.

"Maybe we should call if there's a number on his collar," I suggested.

The man grabbed for Tyson's collar again. The two of them wrestled in an awkward tug of war for a minute, twisting the collar around the man's fingers. Then, the man yelled out a phone number.

I forgot the number as soon as he said it. And I didn't have my phone out of my pocket either. He let go of the orange dog's collar and tried to ignore my mumblings while he dialed the number he'd just yelled out.

"Hello?" he said. I could only hear half of a conversation. "Do you know Tyson? ... Yes. He's here at the dog park. You can? Okay. See you in a bit."

I was suddenly glad I'd stayed a few minutes longer than I had time for.

"There should be a children's picture book about Tyson's solo trip to the dog park," I said.

The man's wife said, "Mom, you were too busy, doing laundry and dishes, and so I thought I'd take a trip to the park on my own. I am a big dog now. I can go all by myself."

I laughed. 

And Tyson ran across the field with my Teddy and a fluffy black dog named Pixie. He was wiggling on his back with Pixie when a woman came through the gate without a dog of her own.

I laughed again. "Your dog came to the dog park all by himself," I said, still laughing. Tyson ran over to her and wiggled a stubby tail. I didn't really think to look at the woman's face.

"Thank you," she said to me.

"I didn't do a thing. He was the one." I pointed to the man. She walked over to the man and I watched as she quietly thanked him, her voice hitching as she spoke. Her eyes were wide. She stopped for a minute, bent over, and hugged Tyson. He kept on wiggling and licking her face as she clicked a leash onto his collar and walked with him out the double gate.

The man looked at his wife. "She couldn't even speak on the phone, as if she'd been crying. She couldn't talk just now either."

"Good job, hon," his wife said. "A happy ending for Big Tyson Goes to the Dog Park."  I hope she writes that story.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, June 5, 2017

Pick Me Up

Did I tell you that Blitz is getting a little chubby. His brothers - I've seen them - are sleek tigers, beautifully marked, and a little too full of themselves. Blitz, on the other hand, is desperate for food and love and is so shy that he disappeared almost completely for two days in the house while it was being reroofed. He was traumatized by day and became a klingon by night. I couldn't move my feet under my chair without inadvertently kicking him. I worried that this old folding chair I sit on might collapse and he'd be found flattened beneath me, the only reason I didn't break my butt yet again.

I never told you I broke my butt as a child? In fifth grade, a kid who said he liked me pulled a chair out from under me when I was sitting down. Boom. Busted. Butt surgery.

The kitten?

Right. The kitten.

But Blitz is recovering nicely from reroofing trauma. He finally sat on my ankles tonight while Mike and I watched a movie. Moonlight. Almost tragic. Seth had been sitting like a king on a pillow on my lap.

Sometimes I hate people, even when the people are cats.

Blitz had sweetly waited until Seth was settled. Then he crept up to my ankles, no further, and laid his head on the edge of Seth's pillow. As long as I was sitting quietly with my hands on Seth, he was happy. I could barely reach Blitz anyway the way I was reclined, but I'd lift up now and then and pet him.

It's good for my abs.

It almost broke my heart when Seth turned around and began to lick Blitz on his head.

How sweet is that? He loves the little guy. (Even with Blitz's little belly roll, he's much smaller than Seth. Seth has a large frame. I blame the malnutrition when Blitz was a kitten.) Seth spent four minutes licking Blitz, telling him how much he loved him. Blitz even began to purr.

Then he hissed at him.


It's the story of poor Blitz's life, to be well loved by the man-cat and then hissed at and tossed aside.

Somehow, Seth leaped off my lap in a huff and Blitz actually stayed. Usually, it's the other way around. I decided to push my luck when I held Blitz under his armpits and dragged him up onto my belly. What a noodle. He goes all limp on me every time then leaps off the minute I let go. This time, he stayed. He even purred.

In a perfect world, we would have realized that Seth wanted to be an only cat. In a perfect world, Blitz would have been adopted into a quieter household where he would be cherished and could learn to relax more easily.

But it isn't a perfect world. Blitz knows he's loved, despite everything. This morning, he drank tuna juice. Why put that stuff down the drain when all the cats come running the minute Mike opens a can? Blitz comes with me to bed in the night and sometimes we even play soccer with a dog kibble in the kitchen before Blitz eats it and I put the rest of the kibbles away so they don't pile up under the oven.

Oh, and there's one perfect thing. Blitz has convinced every member of the family that he can't jump onto the washing machine by himself. That's where we keep cat food so that Teddy doesn't sneak it and get hot spots and ear infections from his allergies. I've seen Blitz jump. I know he can do it. And Blitz may have been given kitten food twice that day already, but he'll pace and cry in front of the washing machine and either Mike, Nick, or I will pick him up, hug him, and put him onto the washing machine for another snack. Tonight, Nick even said that he wasn't all that hungry, just wanted to be petted and push his head into Nick's chest.

We are slowly being trained, even Mike.

Once, about a month ago, Mike told me he had no intention of changing his habits in order to accommodate a kitten. None.

But I've seen him pick Blitzie up and put him on the washing machine for a snack. I've seen it with my own eyes.

The man is being trained. We're all being trained.

I just wish that Blitz would learn to hold his elbows out when I pick him up. He still noodles every single time and nearly slides out of my hands. I keep worrying that I'm going to drop him on his butt. I'd hate to break his chubby butt. Please, no chubby-butt surgery.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Telling It Like It Is

You would not believe what I just did.

On my way home from tutoring at school, I had dinner with a friend who is a teacher. I like to think she's rubbing off on me. She tells it like it is.

Afterward, I needed to pick up some milk at the Farmhouse market. It's a nice little market full of pretty produce, good quality meat, and almost everything else I might need for dinner. I love the market. I'm not the only one. It gets busy when people are on their way home from work. The parking lot was mostly full.

One guy in a sparkling blue truck had parked at an angle, taking up two spaces. What an ass. I tried to park my car as close to his bumper as I could, but unfortunately, I drive a very short car and he wasn't going to have a bit of trouble backing out of his double-spot. Who the hell did he think he was?

I fumed. I backed up a bit. My car was still too short to block him in. I hate people. There's no place in our society for people who act like they're entitled. The arrogance. I got out of the car and glared at the pretty blue truck.

Then, a middle-aged man stepped out from the front of his truck. He'd been smoking a cigarette. He ground out the butt with his toe. Then he stepped up into his truck and backed out of his double-spot while I gave him a dirty look.

I turned to stalk into the store, but, dammit, I had something to say. This was my chance to say it. I spun around, marched back, and knocked on his passenger-side window.

I had no idea what I was going to tell him but it had to be good.

The man rolled down his window.

"Excuse me," I said. No, no, no, this was not what I wanted to say to this man. "This parking lot just isn't all that big and there is no room for people to take up two spots the way you parked. There just isn't enough room. So, just don't. Okay?"

I stopped talking.

Just don't?

Just don't be an ass. Hell, I didn't say that. I didn't say anything that I meant to say. Not one word about how everybody hates people who act all entitled, how everybody wants to key the length of a truck parked diagonally in two spots but most of us won't because it's not right, how everybody would like to punch the lights out of a truck that takes up two parking places. I didn't say any of it.

Excuse me.

I blew it. I took a deep breath in and tried to maintain my glare. Maybe I could start over.

"Yes, ma'am," he said and he nodded.

I turned and shuffled into the grocery store. Maybe I still had something to learn about telling it like it is from my teacher friend.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I'm Not on Drugs

I strained my elbow. Did you miss me?

It's tennis elbow and I don't even play tennis any more. I never was very good at it anyway, but I loved the idea of tennis. Mike and I played a little when we dated. It was one of those things I just went along with whenever he brought it up. Tennis anyone?

Sure why not? Now, it makes me nostalgic. 

The real story is that I've been hanging out in the kitchen listening to The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman. He's one of those writers who writes beautifully even for speeches and introductions and rants.

I talk back to him when he pauses on the audiobook. Blitz hangs out in the kitchen with me, usually in front of the sink where I'm working, on his back with his fluffy dots and stripes showing. Maybe he thinks I'm talking to him. Maybe I am talking to him. I don't know.

Neil says things like: it's necessary to make mistakes; write what you love; read the damned comics before you put them into that clear plastic sleeve; and listen to these attributes of his favorite authors.

I love when people talk about their favorite authors. Some I had read and some I hadn't.

Isn't it amazing how two people who read totally different books can still be avid readers? There are that many books in the world, enough for a bunch of us to be able to share completely new old books whenever the subject comes up. I love that. I also love that my stacks of books teeter in piles around my house. I have books on the back of my bed. I have books stacked in the window of my bathroom. I have an audiobook in my car and one in my kitchen. Books clutter the table on my side of the couch and lie double-stacked in bookshelves throughout the house. I currently have a book under my pillow. It's true, Dog Songs by Mary Oliver. I love being surrounded by books. I'm sure I won't live long enough to read them all but I can try.

Neil Gaiman made me cry too. I wanted to hug him and say, 'yes, yes, I know what you mean about those authors you love.'

At that point, I'd finished loading the dishwasher, had wiped down the counters, cleaned the litter box, did the last load of laundry, rearranged the silverware drawer, and then I just sat on the footstool in the laundry room and listened. Blitz was certain I was sitting there by the litter box for him. He loves lying on the rug, the one covered in scattered cat litter. At least he isn't rolling in the cat litter any more, not that I've seen anyway.

I kiss that kitten. Don't blame me for wishing he weren't such a dirtbucket.

So, as I sat on my footstool listening to Neil Gaiman read, Blitz rolled back and forth on his filthy rug.

Rub my belly.

Rub my belly.

Wait, don't rub my belly.

And I realized I was crying because of the joy of Neil's words and also because I struggle with my own words. Actually, writing is easy. Editing is hard. Editing is critical, turns the words from grape juice to wine. But editing, sitting down at the screen full of words and getting the shape of them just the way I want them - that is hard.

I have trouble with the glut of words and what I should do with all of them.

I hate when people come up to me and they tell me I just have to write this crazy story that happened to them last week because I must be looking for a subject to write about.

No! I have an abundance of subjects. Write your own damned book! I have my own passions that burn through my bones. I can't write your story.

So, I sat on the footstool and rubbed Blitz's back and patted his paws, crying, mourning my age and the fact that death could come and I might not finish writing. Neil's words made me ache and then brought a brand new story to mind.

No! Not a new story. And I felt compelled, when so many other stories await, to write out the bones of it. Moss and a crater and taking over the world. Then I went back to the footstool and listened so more to Neil speak about meeting his favorite authors. Stephen King's tribute was amazing. And funny. It made me feel less alone to hear that some souls just feel better when they write. And Neil spoke about Ray Bradbury. Ray fucking Bradbury. Dandelion Wine.

Yeah, that.

Does Neil Gaiman know he's that author for so many of us? I've given is book The Ocean at the End of the Lane to about four people now, describing it as 'ethereal.' Mike keeps telling me that I don't have to buy books for my friends when it's not their birthday. I will buy more by the end of June. Don't tell Mike. And I'm so relieved I haven't read everything Neil has written yet. There are still new stories for me to anticipate.

Eventually, I got tired of squatting on the footstool. My elbow ached for ice. I turned the sound up, moved to the couch, iced my aggravated elbow with Blitz sitting on my ankles, and Neil read me a story. When Blitz looked up at the ceiling, my eyes followed his. Nothing was there, just textured white ceiling and sky through the skylights. Blitz looked up again. I couldn't keep from checking.

Haha. Made you look.


Did Blitz know more about people reading and what happens to them than I did? Was Neil up there, a speck of dust, haunting me with his words? Was I too blind to see? Only a cat can see a reader.

I swear, I am not on drugs. I'm not.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, May 25, 2017


I woke up with Blitz's shoulder pressed into the palm of my hand. I hadn't fallen asleep that way. He was further from me when I fell asleep. He had shifted, while I was unconscious, to having as much of his body as possible touching my hand.

Everyone needs to be touched.

Yesterday, I had stopped in at Petco to get a couple of cans of kitten food. Blitz won't eat the stuff I bought. I bought a case of it and he'd happily chowed down a third of it. Then one day, I put a heaping spoonful into a tiny blue and white bowl I'd bought from Uwajimaya. Yes. This kitten eats from lovely bowls. I hadn't planned on it, but I'm a woman who has interesting rocks I found in a crystal bowl my mother gave me. She would be appalled if she knew.

And that one day, Blitz would no longer eat the kitten food that was so yummy the day before. Note to self - never buy the same kitten food twice. Never ever buy a case.

Happily, Teddy snuck into the kitchen later on and wolfed down the awful stuff.

I'm still stuck with two-thirds of a case of kitten food that the kitten will no longer eat. So, I headed to Petco to try something else.

At Petco, I always stop in to see what cats need to be adopted. If there are no attendants, I talk to them and stick my finger into the tiny holes if they want to be petted. Sometimes they want that and sometimes they are too frightened. I get that. People are scary. You can't just trust a person because he comes up to you and talks quietly into your ear. People are more complicated than that.

Yesterday, when I went to look in on the cats, an attendant had a cat out of her kennel. She was gorgeous. I knew her. At least I knew her in a previous incarnation. She was my angel.

"Can I come in?" I asked. The sign said they weren't open for visitors for another hour.

"Sure. This is a rest period for the cats, but come in anyway." Was I a prospective adopter? She wouldn't want to lose someone ready to bring home a cat.

And the cat came over to be petted. And petted. And petted.

I held back tears.

During my freshman year in college, my roommate announced one day that she was going to the Humane Society to adopt a cat.

"But animals aren't allowed in the dorm rooms," I said.

"I know. So, you won't tell anyone."

She was adamant and so I was not surprised that afternoon when she came home with a gorgeous cat. The cat had long luxurious fur. She had a white bib and feet and gray and tan calico. She had sharp green eyes like my roommate. They were perfect for each other, two of the beautiful people. My roommate named her Angel.

Within a week, Angel had peed on my pillow twice and broken the perfect clay pitcher my sister had made for me. You should never bring anything really nice to a dorm. Roommates and their cats were certain to ruin them for you.

Angel, my roommate told me, had come from an abusive home. She only peed on my pillow because she was afraid.

But I'd been asleep at the time. What the hell did she have to be afraid of while I was asleep? So that night, when my roommate was asleep and Angel snuck over to my bed to presumably squat on my pillow, I grabbed hold of her. I growled a little and whispered, "If you have any intention of staying in this room, you will stop peeing on my pillow. Forever." She stared back at me.

Then, I petted her long fur and told her she would be okay here. If she stopped the peeing.

And you know what? She never peed on anything except into a potted plant that I liked ever again.

She still broke things though, a small mirror my sister had made, a replacement pitcher, a vase. If I was studying too much and not paying sufficient attention to her, she'd push something breakable. I'd look up. She'd stop. I'd look back at my work and she'd push it again, closer to the edge of the desk. I'd look up, glaring at her. The edge of my vase was hanging off the desk.

"You wouldn't dare."

"I would." And she'd push it a little more.

Angel was interested in gravity. And the center of gravity. When she pushed it one more bit and the center of gravity hung too far over open space, it toppled off the desk and crashed in such a lovely way, pieces scattering across the floor.

That got my attention. Then, as I cleaned, Angel would thread through my feet and hands to get all of the touching that she needed.

She was a needy child. Regular touching wasn't enough for her. You had to put both hands into the job. You needed to stare at her with love and adoration while you petted Angel. Angel had to be the center of your universe at least four or five times a day. After about six months of staring into her eyes this way, I became Angel's person. It was inevitable. My roommate loved her and needed her, but Angel belonged to me. Or, more clearly, I belonged to Angel, at her service until death do us part.

There was a marriage of sorts. It feels good to be bonded to another creature in this lonely world. To her, I was beautiful no matter how hard my roommate worked to make me feel fat and stupid. Angel knew better. Angel snuggled into my sweater drawer and seldom crossed the room.

And she hadn't changed a bit in her newest incarnation. She still demanded two hands and a deep hypnotizing gaze. She stayed interested in being petted long after another cat would swat your hand and walk away. She still loved me even though death had taken her away from me and I couldn't care for her properly while she was gone.

I looked up at the attendant.

"I can't take her home. I really can't. We're full. We have two cats and a dog already." Angel was trying to hypnotize me. I could feel it.

"She doesn't like dogs."

I didn't correct the woman. All cats love my Teddy. All cats are the boss of my sweet Teddy and they know he is absolutely no threat to them.

But our house is truly full. Mike would not let me bring home another cat. He didn't really want the last one, the one who snuggles up against the palm of my hand while I sleep. If I brought home another cat, Mike would start calling me the crazy cat lady. I would hate that.

I would hate it because it's true.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Afraid of the Dark

I am afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of tight spaces, and I am terrified of being held under water. These days, I usually swim alone or sometimes with Mike or Nick, people I trust, though I had a couple of moments there when Nick was learning to swim and clutched at me for buoyancy. Mostly I taught him to swim in chest-high water but once or twice he caught me off my feet and I had to work to keep from thrashing about in the pool and hitting him.

As for spaces, I don’t do much caving these days and only have a bit of trouble in an MRI machine or on the aisle seat on a plane when the flight attendants park the drink cart to block me in. For both of these occasions, I’ve discovered that closing my eyes and imagining that I float near the beach in an ocean bay can keep me sane for the few minutes it takes for things to open up again.

As for the dark, I still struggle. The movie, I Am Legend, didn’t help. Mike tells me it wasn’t that scary, but that movie cornered me for years.

I could tell you the origin of every single one of these phobias, being held under water until my lungs felt like they were going to explode, being coerced to crawl through a hollow log in exchange for a stick of gum, and being forced to practice piano in the dark.

I blame my brother.

When I was about seven, I was required to practice piano for a half an hour each night on the old upright grand in our basement. It was a cold, dark basement with casement windows and that concrete smell that always associates itself with dank memories. If I tried to look out the windows, I saw leaves and a scrim of dirt.

The worst part was that the light switch for the room hung at the landing of the concrete stairs just outside the door of the basement. I had yet to discover the courage to go into the hall to my father’s den and turn on the other light there.

This layout gave my brother free reign to capture and torture me while I played. He’d wait until he was sure I wasn’t standing by the door, until I was in the middle of a scale then switch the light off and then on again. Then, he’d switch it off and walk up three steps to the heating duct and practically press his lips to the dusty vent.

“Frankenstein,” he would whisper. “Frankenstein,” he would say with drama, holding the last syllable out with a tremor. The word shivered and reverberated through the ducts until it came alive in my imagination, wolves and wild cyborgs both with red eyes, worms and snakes slithered down the hall behind me until they waited just behind my piano stool.

If I stopped playing, my mother would yell through the floor for me to keep practicing until my half hour was up. Those were the longest half-hours of my life.

I learned to memorize very quickly and played as best as I could while half-turned on the swivel stool so that my poor eyes could discern any light that drifted from the casement windows. It was always dim in that basement, but at night passing cars or lightning played tricks on my eyes.

I tried to remember the positions of each item in the room, chairs, tables, toys, and I prayed they hadn’t shifted when the next streak of light illuminated the room. Tiny reflections became eyes. Invariably, I thought I saw minuscule differences in the flashed scenes. That chair with the black shadow behind it had shifted toward me. Some tinker toys had been removed from the path.

In those moments, in that dark or dim room, I lived an Alfred Hitchcock life, altered reality, even after my brother gave up whispering into the duct and left me paralyzed in the dark, waiting for someone to come down to watch TV.

I blame my mother too.

She requested that anyone wanting to watch TV wait until I was done practicing. One half hour of practicing daily. I never had the courage to walk across the room in the dark to find the light switch on the landing or in the hall. If I moved, the predators could see me clearly. If I stopped playing the keys, they would be able to locate my breathing.

By the time anyone came, I sat at the piano, still playing for the company, but with tears in my eyes. I always dashed them away because my brother had called me a baby too many times for me to show my fear.

I still imagine creatures, usually rabid people, coming around a dark corner like the one to that hallway. I still don’t like that place in my mother’s house, all that terror built up in one place, making the veil between reality and imagination very thin. Anything can make its way through dimensions where terror resides.

But now, I have some sort of angels that accompany me. At night, when I walk through my dark hallways, avoiding the desire to run back and forth turning lights on ahead before turning lights off behind me, I turn the flash of my iPhone on so I won’t trip over anything. That light is no help against night’s creatures. None. It only reminds me of the man with the pen light who tried to break into my car one night.

I always check to make sure the front door is locked and the reflection of that light in the window takes my breath, as does the possibility in the eerie light that the doorknob will slowly turn as if someone on the other side was teasing me, about to shift inside.

No. That light is no help.

What reassures me is the way Blitz’s furry feet patter down the stairs. He is excited to get a midnight snack, some kitten kibbles with tuna flakes on top. And Teddy, pounds down the stairs knowing he’s about to get one of his hypoallergenic cookies before snuggling into his bed next to my bed. Those clicking toenails need to be clipped, but not until tomorrow when I am more awake.

I am not alone in this darkness. The predators on the other side of the veil can’t find me here in the light of the good company I keep.

Thank you for listening, jb

The Inattentive Mom

As I made my smoothie this morning, a fresh ice cube fell, bounced, then skittered across the floor. I'm not a morning person. I'm just not. My hands don't function before 6:00 am. My mind... Well, my mind doesn't work a lot of the time.

 I stood and stared dumbly at it lying there. Blitz came running into the kitchen.

"New cat toys?"

I wondered briefly at him batting around an ice cube, nodded my okay, and went back to trying to get the blender lid screwed onto the top of my cup.

"Don't do it." Seth's cat voice seemed to come from the other room.

I looked up, as if through the wall to the living room and went back to my smoothie. That thing never threads. Wrong twice, then lefty-loosey, lefty-loosey, lefty-loosey until both sides seated and finally righty-tighty. And blend ...

"Just don't." Seth's voice seemed like it was louder than usual. He sauntered into the kitchen.

It's my imagination. Rampant, especially in the morning.

Blitz batted the ice cube experimentally. Then he chased it while Seth sat on his haunches and watched. Fun! It slid to the refrigerator. Then, he batted it under the stove. He dug it out, now fuzzy with fur. He paused. I looked casually at him, wondering what he was thinking.

Then, he licked it.

"No!" I yelled, only managing to startle him further.

And he spun around once and ran from the room with the ice cube hanging from his tongue.

It fell off before he made it to the cat tree in the living room. I stood on my tiptoes, trying to pet him in the top spot. Seth walked casually into the room to watch.

"I told you not to." Do cats laugh?

Blitz leaned away from my hand and glared.

"You hurt me!"

Not my imagination.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Am Not My Son

I've settled into a groove with you haven't I?

My life appears to be all kitten, all the time.

It's not. I assure you. But it's so easy too look at Blitzen with his little belly roll, the way he tilts his tiny head, the way he sits with his front paws apart. He looks like a boy studying a gully. Is it too far to leap, will I fall into the mud, or can I make it?

Blitz doesn't leap well. He's gotten into the habit of asking Nick or Mike or me to lift him onto the washing machine where we keep the dry cat food away from Teddy. Teddy loves dry cat food, but he's allergic so if he eats some, he goes outside and pukes later on. It's always a flurry toward the door when he makes that gulping sound. Everyone with hands leaps from the couch or the computer or the food preparation in the kitchen to go unlatch that door and let him out. We only put the wet kitten food on the floor because it doesn't seem to bother anybody very much.

Did I tell you that everyone eats each other's food? Blitz eats diet cat food and dog food, turning his nose up at the kitten food I patiently put into a little bowl for him on the floor every morning. He asks for it, so I give it to him. Then he sniffs it and goes over to what I've given the dog and eats a little of that instead. I've tried different flavors, every flavor there is. He doesn't think, because I give it to him, that it could possibly be as good as what I give the dog and the old fat cat.

Didn't I tell you this already?

Didn't I tell you that when Teddy eats, Blitz likes to go and nip at his ankles and tail because he doesn't want the dog eating the food that is surely better than his own? And Teddy tolerates that, sometimes stepping back from the bowl and sometimes wolfing down what he can before he's kicked out entirely. Blitz never bothers to nip at Teddy's ankles when he sneaks over to eat from the kitten bowl. Why is that? And why do I never hear Teddy sneaking?

How does a dog keep his nails from clicking on a vinyl floor when he's headed for wet kitten food?

The sound of a dog tiptoeing.

I have to tell you that I'm in a groove. Nick drives himself to all of his own events. Evenings are quiet. Mike and I eat dinner together in front of the TV. We take walks together with Teddy. Even when Nick is home, he's behind a closed door, either playing video games, watching Netflix, or occasionally doing homework.

Yesterday, a friend of mine said, "I am not my daughter. If her life falls apart, that's not me."

It was like a coat I wanted to try on. I wanted it to fit. I wanted it to look good on me too.

Nick's life is not my own.

He's not an adult yet, but he's ready, with his closed-door message, to be let go of. A little. He can make his own plans. He can be late. He can, God forgive me, decide to watch television and play video games all weekend and never see a single friend.

I'm telling you that if Mike hadn't been in this household, that would not be the truth. There would have been limits starting at age four. I told Mike that I blamed him for the amount of time Nick spends in front of a screen.  I don't usually play the blame game, but with this, I did. He nodded his head and looked away. It wasn't the nicest move I've made during an argument, but it felt like the truth. I worry about the screen time. Nick's less social than he used to be. His reading and writing scores are lower than I know he's capable of achieving. He needs more exercise than he gets. The worst thing I can do is take away television or video games. It's as if I've actually injured him when it happens.

I worry. You can see that I worry, can't you?

So, Nick and I are at an uneasy truce with regard to his habit. He knows I don't approve. I've explained why I think it's too much. I've nagged. I've yelled. That time is past. I'm telling you that if it were drugs or alcohol, Mike would be onboard with any necessary treatment. He sees the damage that I see. He just thinks Nick will come out of it on his own. I'm not so sure.

So, I press my lips together or ineffectually nag once in a while. Nick ignores me and keeps watching. And I try not to stew about it.

I am not my son.

But with the funny kitten, the dog and his lovely walks, and the fat old cat who demands that I sit down so he can be petted, I have pulled myself away from living Nick's life. I am not Nick.

Instead, I occasionally tie a long string to Teddy's collar and get him to run around the house so that Blitz can chase it. The look on Teddy's face when he finally understood the game?


Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, April 30, 2017

An Employee for the Pile

It's late and Blitz is bored. The poor kitten has about sixteen toys in various places around the house. He collects his favorites by the heater where he liked to sleep in my sewing room.

He's a thief.

The other day, I caught him with my favorite pen by the toilet in the bathroom. No one steals my favorite pen. I sanitized it, put it away, and caught him an hour later, gracefully choosing my favorite from among the other pens and carrying it away like a prize at the carnival.

Only he doesn't have hands, so he carried it in his mouth.

Still, the pride on his face was huge. Huge.

So, I was trying to finish up when I didn't really get a damned thing done today, just a little bit of productivity, a half an hour without being distracted by Instagram, Facebook, or Netflix. It's Saturday. There is Netflix.

As soon as I got settled in behind the wheel of the computer, Blitz went on the hunt. I could see it. Someone, probably me, will be missing something by morning. Mike abandoned camping gear in various piles around the house. He's camping with the Boy Scouts this weekend. Nick, our personal Boy Scout, stayed at home and only recently disconnected from the video game he was playing for six hours before I sent him to bed. No wholesome camping in the great outdoors (rain) for him. To his credit, he did some homework earlier. A pile of books, mechanical pencils, notebooks, and a calculator still sits in a pile on the floor. I have my favorite pens, a couple of binders heavier than Blitz, and my thumb drive. Damn. Not the thumb drive.

There is lots of potential for loss here. I wonder if Blitz works for the pile.

Do you know about the pile?

Somewhere in the Universe, there's a pile of all the lost items, the nail clippers, the scissors, the homework, the phone numbers, the keys. Everything, even the car that disappeared momentarily from the parking lot where you were sure you parked it. This pile is constantly in flux, removing and returning items, usually after you've gone out and bought a new whatever-it-was to replace the old whatever-it-was.

The pile is magnificent. It is complete at all times, containing everything that was ever needed, holding onto the most necessary items just past most levels of frustration. Remember fax and copy machines that never worked when you were in a hurry?

That was because of the pile.

Remember finding your keys in the freezer?

Also the pile.

People, this is not my own invention. Somebody else theorized the existence of the pile and I'm just promoting it. I'm going to go look that up. I can look anything up. Except for weird stuff. I don't want weird advertisements coming up on my computer. So, give me a minute, won't you?

Wow! George Carlin! I can't compete with George Carlin. That man was funny. Remember the list of words you couldn't say on TV? I miss George Carlin.

I should just quit and turn off the lights now. George Carlin. Holey moley.

But I can't, not just yet. Blitz is playing with a pink eraser in the kitchen. It must belong to Nick because it has six graphite holes on each side that probably go all the way through. Years ago, I told him I would not buy him a new eraser just because he had destroyed his old one by punching holes through it and drawing all over it so that whenever he tried to erase anything, a graphite smear spread over the page. So, he still uses this slightly damaged one from at least a year and a half ago. I know it's that old. I'm sure.

Last fall I went around the house and collected motley folders, only slightly dinged binders, loose lined paper that wasn't too crumpled, and notebooks that only had writing on five or six pages. I found an assortment of chewed pencils and a handful of pens from hotels we'd visited. I even found a couple of Master locks and coerced Nick to remember combinations until he hit on a correct one. I didn't buy any school supplies at all last fall. I was an absolute curmudgeon, now that I think about it, but that's what happens when a kid whines that he needs six different folders and you can pull out a basket that contains at least eighteen gently used folders, most of which are pink or purple but are still somehow unacceptable.

So, I know that eraser could be from middle school and is still in daily use.

Now, I have to stay up and watch the kitten to see if I can tell just exactly when that eraser, probably the only decent eraser in the entire house, goes onto the pile. It's like trying to stay awake to see the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. He's still having a good old time, tossing it into the air with his mouth, adding cat drool and tooth holes to what Nick will need to erase his homework next week. It's under the left leg of the piano now, next to Mike's computer bag with the ID tag that has new cat teeth imprints on it. It's not on the pile. Not yet. But Blitz isn't done pawing at that pink eraser and I'm pretty sure he works covertly for the pile.

I'm getting sleepy. It's about to happen. I just know it. I just can't stay awake, not one minute longer.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Two-Turd Solution

I've been sick. Did you miss me? The good news is that I'm not dying, at least not today. The bad news is that I still feel like crap.

The nice thing about my critters is that they know when I don't feel well. Last night, I'd been sleeping on my back with my arms and legs splayed out. I woke up wondering what wet thing was in my hand.

It was Blitz's nose. He had buried his face in my palm. It almost made up for what has been going on in the litter box.

Did I tell you about the litter box?

I think I told you that he'd peed in my work bag, then in the hamper on my new favorite pink shirt. I don't know if I admitted that it must have been him and not a mouse that had peed in Nick's duffle bag. The whole thing was so gross that I visualized bringing him back to the clinic to get a refund.

Right, a refund. He was free, completely free. How could I bring him back?

That's the hard part. You can't easily bring a horrible adoption back when you have gotten to know the people who adopted him to you. Oh, who am I kidding? Most places emphasize the forever home. Forever. Until death do us part. It's harder than a bad marriage. Pet divorce is a travesty, shameful, always the fault of the human. Didn't try hard enough. I've thought that myself, more than once.

I knew I could never face them if I failed. I just couldn't, not even if the pisser peed in every corner of my house and pooped in my purse. Right, he peed in my purse.

So, I sat down with him, stared him into his hazel eyes and talked it out.

"You can't keep peeing on our stuff. You just have to use the litter box, Blitz. It's too hard to replace all the karate stuff that you ruin and to wash the pink out of my new favorite shirt. It's already faded and I only wore it once. You have to stop."

He stared back at me for a minute, flipped onto his back, and batted my hands with his paws. No claws, just soft gray paws.

"I mean it," I said. But I knew he'd won the argument.

Later in the afternoon, I was walking Teddy with a friend of mine and admitted that I'd considered sending Blitz back. She stopped walking and stared at me for a minute. I almost started crying as I looked back at her.

"It's just too disgusting, all this pee everywhere."

"What have you tried?" she asked. No judgement. Wow. I need to keep this friend.

"We're keeping every bag in the house zipped up tight and I bought new hampers, colors and whites, with lids on them so he can't jump in."

"And has he peed on them?"

"Not yet," I went on. "And I'm going to get a third litter box to make sure that's not the problem."

I kept babbling.

"I even had a talk with him, you know, visualizing the problem and then visualizing the solution. I've heard somewhere that if you visualize things as you talk that the animals can understand you more easily."

She tilted her head. That might have been a little woo-woo for her.

"Maybe you should have a talk with your other cat. Does he keep the kitten from going in?"

Puzzle pieces clicked into place.

"Oh ..." I said. "That's good."

It wasn't Seth's fault either, I thought. It was my fault. The litter boxes were getting dirty too quickly. As soon as I got home, I cleaned them and set an alarm on my phone for five minutes after Mike and Nick left the house in the morning. I could sleep in on the weekends, but I was always home, wondering what to do next when Nick and Mike left in the mornings.

So far so good. A few weeks have gone by and Blitz has only peed in the litter boxes. Everywhere else is good. I have been a litter box queen. The little guy even comes around while I'm cleaning and looks at me almost with a grin on his face.

Now I have a new problem: Blitz rolls in a clean litter box every morning when I'm done. It's disgusting and Mike caught him at it last weekend.

"I can barely make myself pet him any more," he said as I tied up the smelly plastic bag of turds and clumped piss. I didn't say anything. I agreed with him, but how do you stop yourself from thinking about when your pets lick their own butts then try to lick your hand? How do you stop thinking about how they sit, bare-assed, on your favorite book or pillow? What about everything else? There were so many spooged diapers and constant puke on your shirt the first couple years you carried your boy around? What about the little gobs of snot you found stuck to the wall by his bed when he was eight and you had to make him clean it up before he stopped doing it? What about when you stepped in poop at the dog park and had to run your shoes back and forth over the gravel in the parking lot before you got into your car? What about the things you manage to culture in the back of your refrigerator? What about dust mites and face mites and probiotics? It's all so very disgusting when you think closely about it.

So now I'm the litter box queen implementing the two-turd solution. When I leave two turds on top of the clean litter box, Blitz doesn't roll in it.

Most of the time.

Thank you for listening, jb

Update: I just realized that I wrote this story already. Sorry. I really have been feeling like crap. It's time to go sit down and put on my cat blanket, two cats on my lap and knees. They fight over who gets my lap. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Rolling in Cat Litter

"The kitten is rolling in the litter box," Mike said this morning. "Look at him."

"Ew, gross," I said. The little guy was born under a mobile home in a trailer park. Did it feel like home for him to roll around in the dirt?

"Shouldn't we squirt him?" he said.

"And make him feel like he's not allowed in the litter box at all? I don't want to go back to him peeing in everything."

See, I should have told you the story about 'the little fucker.' Remember the mouse in the duffel bag?  I was wrong. That was cat piss, not mouse piss. I should have known it was too much volume to represent a mouse. I should have, but I didn't. A few days after the duffel bag debacle, I picked up my big work bag that had turned into a purse. What the hell? Stuff inside was wet, and sour. Everything, my phone charger, my favorite scarf, and even the Ziploc of food I keep in there. The Ziploc had been unzipped. I threw away unopened containers of tuna salad, applesauce, and peanut butter. Oh man. I had seen the kitten in there, but I thought it was funny.

Not funny.

Then two days later, he peed in the hamper, on my new favorite shirt from LL Bean, a soft pink T-shirt. I had never even worn it. Oh, I was pissed at Blitz, totally pissed. Can you give a kitten back after keeping him four months?

I thought about it.

Blitz could tell I was mad at him. Without any provocation besides me fuming and calling him 'little fucker' as I stood at the washing machine with the pre-wash stuff and my new pissy shirt. I wasn't sure this smell was going to come out. He started running away any time anyone walked toward him. He seemed more feral than he'd been a month after we brought him home. A gentle friend of mine said I needed to make sure Seth wasn't keeping him out of the litter box. We have more than one litter box, but did the little guy think to go to his own box downstairs when Seth was crabby about his litter box upstairs? My friend is brilliant. I went out, bought a hamper with a lid, and implemented my new plan.

I decided to keep the litter boxes seriously clean. I would clean them every day instead of every second or third day. If they were clean, I thought, would anybody care who was peeing where? I set an alarm on my phone to go off at the same time every day to get into the habit.

And it worked like a charm. Seth was so happy. I could tell by the way he hovered whenever I sat down on the footstool to do my dirty work and went in to mess it up after I was done. After I had washed the hell out of my new favorite shirt two more times, we were in a groove. No more  accidents. Feral cat settling down. I had been able to see how Seth hounded Blitz over food and lap time and I managed to let Blitz know he wasn't supposed to hide in the house like a feral kitty. I promised him we'd get through all of the bumps together. He wasn't going back.

And he was so happy. He went back to playing on his back on the kitchen floor despite the potential for inattentive feet bumping him. He rolled around under the rug and played more in the open. He even rubbed his face on Teddy's face whenever we came home from a walk. Jackson Galaxy from My Cat from Hell would have been proud of us.

Life was good.

Until the little cretin started rolling in the cat litter.

Maybe the litter box is a bit too clean. I could leave a couple of nuggets in there to persuade him. Maybe I need to bring in a big pot of grass and soil for the little dirtbag to roll in when he's happy. I could picture him, rolling in his little square foot of grass in the corner of the kitchen. It would look ratty and pathetic after a month of chewing and rolling but it might make him happy.

You can take the kitten out of the trailer park, but you can't take the trailer park out of the kitten.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 24, 2017

Three and a Quarter Outrageous Things

I am the kind of woman you don't really want talking to your children. I'm a bad influence. Really.

The other day, I got my copy of Jenny Lawson's new doodle book in the mail. You Are Here. I proceeded to draw the me-dot on the title page with the little arrow and the crazy maze around the me-dot and then I added a Jenny dot, imagining that we were both there, somehow, making a connection. Jenny's an artist and I am not and it showed but still, it made me happy. There's something about doodling in a book that is illicit and wonderful.

See, what did I tell you? I find myself telling kids that I like graffiti and marginalia in library books, but only if it's good stuff, only if it adds to the situation. Actually, I hate graffiti that denigrates anyone or claims a spot as a drug drop or or just tags a business with ugly spray-painted words like 'fuck' or 'shit.' Can't these people be a little more creative with their curses? And I hate, absolutely detest when people edit library books or write stuff in the margins as if they are the better author. Write your own book, ass-wipe.

I told you I was a bad influence.

So, I thumbed through Jenny's book, pausing at the cat page at which point Blitz jumped up onto the book and pressed his butt onto the page. I tried to take a picture of the irony with my phone, but Blitz batted at my hand and jumped off exactly as the fake-shutter sound clicked. All I got was a blur. You couldn't even see the page or the cute striped and spotted pajamas my kitten wears.

Then, I flipped some pages again. It said "YOUR TURN." On the previous page, Jenny advised that I should write down five outrageous things that I've done.

Did my mother put you up to this, Jenny?

Four things popped immediately to mind, not necessarily in this order.

First, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in one day. Sixteen and a half miles. I carried two cans of Dr. Pepper and two Snickers bars in my pockets. I wore a pair of Keds tennis shoes. I made it out alive.

Don't you hate when you're playing truth or dare and someone picks truth and you tell them they have to admit to the most outrageous thing they've ever done and they end up bragging about something like that?

I do too.

But here's the thing. It did feel outrageous. It was stupid because I was so incredibly thirsty on my way back out. If not for the occasional spigot, I would have been in a world of hurt. And the next day, I had to sit in an airplane for six hours to return from my business trip/Grand Canyon hike and my calves seized up completely. I had done a total of zero hours of training to prepare for this hike. So, when the seat belt sign went off and we were allowed to exit the plane, I had to do it on tiptoes because my heels absolutely would not stretch flat to touch the floor. That night, I saw that I had ten tiny bruises under my toenails because they hadn't been cut short enough for my Keds. One of those toenails almost fell off it became so separated from the nail bed. It still grows in a little wonky, as if the hike permanently shifted the nail to an odd angle.

Yeah, when you hear that whole story, it really is a little outrageous, isn't it? Now go read Girl in the Woods where a woman hikes thirty miles a day through the desert and mountains to go from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. Now tell me my sixteen and a half miles, my Dr. Pepper, and my Snickers bars weren't inordinately ridiculous.

So, number two of the outrageous thing I did. Hmm.

The Grateful Dead concert on the beach in Santa Barbara California when I was twenty-three...

Oh, I can not tell you about that. I've only ever told one person the whole story, though by today's TMI standards, by Amy Shumer standards, I'm a colossal bore. 

Someday I will tell you that story, but I think I need to be fifteen years further along my timeline to when people won't believe me any more. Have you ever noticed how old ladies get very very innocent as they get older. Or rather, our perception of them does. No, they couldn't possibly have been to Woodstock or participated in the gay 20s or been a fan of Betty Friedan or Erika Jong. I remember getting embarrassed by the relative fluff of a romance novel my grandma gave me when she was done with it. Grandma, how could you? I could never get through watching an R-rated movie in the same theater with my mother without falling apart either. But I refuse to get totally innocent when I go gray.

Fuck that. I did things.

But I'm not going to tell you about Santa Barbara, not yet. Nick is only sixteen. He's pretty mature, but he's not ready to hear the truth about his mother. Not yet.

So, I couldn't write about the Grateful Dead concert into Jenny's book. I just couldn't. What if somebody read it? What if I forgot I wrote it and donated the book and someone connected that story to the real me?

You know, I really am a little bit boring about sex. Sorry. I just am.

So, onto number three.

There was the time I ran the team marathon with my Lockheed crew in Central Park. Yes, I think I can tell you this. Each of us ran our 2.6 miles and overall, we did pretty poorly. I was never a fast runner, so I slowed the whole crew down into obscurity. Did they really think we were going to win?

Yet it was a gorgeous day in New York City, the springtime that happens one day and is over the next. Blue sky. Sun. A cool breeze. And Tom brought a couple of six packs of beer. Tom brought beer to every event. Tom also tended to moon the women in the group and fall over after consuming his six packs and he would just lie there with his pants down, giggling, while the rest of us tried to figure out who was going to drive him home and who was going to follow along in his car.

That afternoon, I was in no condition to drive Tom's car home either and I learned a cruel truth about businesses near Central Park only after I realized I had no money left to spend. Many of them absolutely will not let you use their bathrooms unless you buy something.

Well, fuck.

You guessed it. I peed behind a bush in Central Park when I was twenty-four years old.


Then, for number four, I could tell you about the time moments before I had back surgery. They'd given me some kind of heavy narcotic but this happened before they anesthetized me completely. I told dirty jokes while lying nearly naked on the operating table, filthy jokes, jokes I could only tell after having four or five beers with my girlfriends.

Here's what I remember. They rolled me into the room on a gurney. Then, six people used the sheet under me to lift me onto the operating table. It was frigid there. They told me that the cold kept bacteria from growing.  I asked for a blanket. Instead, they started pulling the gown away from my body. Then, they injected something into my IV drip and suddenly I was no longer afraid or cold. Embarrassed?

Why the hell would I be embarrassed? I felt as though I'd peed myself. Did I pee myself? It didn't matter.

You know, I'm not entirely certain if I peed myself or not.

Then, I asked my gorgeous young doctor if I could tell him a joke. He said, "Why not?"

It was the one about the penis and the tennis shoe. Everyone laughed.

Then I asked them if they knew why bunnies didn't make any noise when they had sex. When I told them, they laughed again.

Hell, I was good. Maybe I should do standup.

Michael Jackson's other glove?

Another laugh.

A nurse said, "Doctor, shouldn't we get on with it?"

She looked kind of stern behind her mask, as if I'd had too much to drink in a public place.

But my sweet doctor said, "Do we have to?" He had such beautiful eyes.

Then, the anesthesiologist leaned upside down over my face and asked me to count backward from one hundred. It was all so very funny. I counted to 98 before my eyes rolled into the back of my head. I was still giggling to myself when I silently reached 96.

The next day, the doctor walked into my room and told me a filthy joke before he told me my surgery went very well. My mother had arrived and sat upright at my bedside.

When he left, she said, "That was completely unprofessional. Do you have any idea why he'd think to tell you nasty jokes?"

And I said, "I have no idea."

There you have it, three and a quarter outrageous things I did.What have you done? Are you willing to admit the truth?

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kitten Time

Here's a quickie. When I wake up in the morning, I usually sit at my desk for a few minutes and jot down my list of stuff I have to do, try to remember what day it is, and generally get organized.

Lately, that meditative time, the only time I set aside for myself, has been altered, significantly.

Instead of focusing on how stiff my shoulder is, how my eyes are still bleary, what I was dreaming just now, and what I face in the day, I sit at my desk with my pen in hand and try to figure out how to write in a notebook that is shielded almost completely by cat butt and cat paws.

Blitz sits on my notebook, believing with his whole heart that this is the time in the morning during which I devote both hands and sometimes my cheek to petting him and telling him what a good baby he is. It's all about Blitz time, nothing else to do but sit here on this clean sheet of paper and bat around that long stick I brought for him to play with.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 17, 2017

Books I Loved Lately

It's been a long time since I told you what I'm reading. I didn't mean to neglect you. I just got out of the habit for some reason. There are some amazing books out there that you need to know about.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield is a great book for teenagers or anybody else who has a difficult goal in life that they want to achieve. I'm listening to the audiobook. I like listening to his voice. Hadfield talks about how he was lucky enough and prepared enough to actually become an astronaut. He also talks about NASA methodology. Sweat the small stuff. The small stuff can kill you. Acknowledge your mistakes and dissect them so you can learn from them. Plan for what will go wrong. Watch your attitude. It's a pilot pun. He couldn't help himself.

The thing I like about Hadfield's book is that it has made me rethink how to get to my goals. It's cheerful, not preachy at all and his example inspires me. He has the attitude we try to instill into our Boy Scouts. You know - trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind. You know the type of man I'm talking about.

As I listen to him describe his experiences, I can imagine as he looks through his visor and sees the Universe, right there beside him.

I always wanted to see the Earth from space. I realized a couple years ago that I probably wouldn't have done all that well. I get motion sickness sometimes. What do they do with puke on the inside of a space suit? Can they vent it into space? I get carsick in the back of a van. I get air sick on turbulent flights, but I never get seasick. It could be the horizon. And I was too excited the one time I was in a helicopter to do anything but laugh and cry with happiness. That pilot bobbed all the hell over the place when he realized how much I loved flying. Not a moment of motion sickness. Go figure.

I'm also a little claustrophobic. Three people in a tin can? Nope. It wouldn't work. Just picture me dancing around the house, trying to get out of Mike's dry suit shirt when it squeezed me around the neck just a little bit too tightly when I was getting ready for a kayak trip. I'm okay in elevators, unless people are packed in like sardines. But squeeze me into a tube like a cave or an MRI and I'm counting breaths, closing my eyes, and imagining how I'm floating out on the ocean.

No, I wouldn't have been a good astronaut, as much as I'd like to have seen that view, the Earth, a blue, green, and white jewel on a bed of black velvet space.

Hadfield's book could inspire a teenage boy who isn't sure he can see his own future. I'm buying copies for kids I know. I'd buy a copy for Nick if I thought he'd even open the book. It is so damned sad to me that I can love books so vehemently when he has such a lackluster response to them.

The other book I love is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. The hard part is that he dies in the end. This man was a neurosurgeon and he was also a poet. It was a beautiful book about living and about dying. It confirmed for me yet again that the human body is a miracle of minute mechanisms and that death is, well, inevitable.

Don't you hate trying to write something beautiful about something beautiful? It's harder knowing that Kalanithi died and if there is life after death, he could be practically looking over my shoulder as I write. What's another word for profound? How can I write about the human body when I haven't studied the human body in so long? What are the details about this book that I loved so much? I can't just say it made me laugh and cry. I can't if I imagine he's right there, wondering what I'm going to type next.

Dead people plague me. I had a bullying boss once who died of pancreatic cancer after I quit being her minion. If there is life after death, this woman knows just exactly what a bitch I believed her to be. She could possibly have the gratification of knowing the anguish she put me through. I worked so hard for her never to see it. So, if Paul Kalanithi is floating out there somewhere, I hope he's not critiquing my critique. I gave up poetry years ago.

And dudes, I listened to Beowulf translated and read by Seamus Heaney. This book is a video game! I tried, I really tried, to get Nick to listen to it with me on our way to school, but I'm giving him have a choice in more arenas. I know, right? I want him to love books on his own now that I've run as far with him as I could. We read hundreds of books together. But he said no to Beowulf. How can you hate reading so much that you don't want to listen to a book on tape that's basically a run through a video game, weapons, armor, battles, and celebrating afterward all included? Of all the classic books I was supposed to read, Beowulf was one of the easiest.

That's all for now. My wish for you is to have enough time to sit down and read a whole book this weekend. Or listen to one.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Mouse in a Duffel Bag

I hate when I sit down at my computer and get distracted by social media. There are articles that people have shared, irritated posts I want to comment on, and photos of people's kids having fun. Lately, the March for Science has some amazing entries and I've been inspired by them, but every time I comment on one, I get notifications for every other person who says the same thing that a couple of dozen other people already said. If all I have to write is "Absolutely!" then maybe I should forgo the effort.

"Me too."

"Good luck."


"I agree."

Any of those should just be deleted before I press the post button. There's also a time, when about three people have told similar stories in detail, that adding my own story to their story is just narcissistic. And yet, I persist in a lame attempt at social network validation. It might be more effective if I called a friend and asked her to lunch. She'd confirm that I'm actually a pretty funky woman, but she likes me anyway.

Isn't there something productive I could do instead?

Right. I already did productive. I washed sheets and did a load of dishes. I mostly cleared my desk of stuff I don't use.

Plus, I cleaned up after a mouse. What a butt-load of work it is to clean up after a mouse.
Last night, Nick came out of karate angry because his gloves and helmet smelled like piss. I had noticed during the week that Blitz stood on the karate bag for an hour or two. I thought it was just the cat bonding, rolling around in the sweat of a boy he loved. Nope. It was definitely a mouse. I hate that smell. It makes me think of the truck we just donated, a thing that still operated fairly well, but was actually so smelly that Boy Scouts couldn't stand to sit in it. Did you ever smell a carload of teenage boys? This truck smelled worse than that.

Last night, I confirmed that the whole karate bag was fouled by sticking my nose into it and taking a deep breath. Yup. Piss. I sniffed again and theorized, based on the smell, that it was a rodent and not a cat who was at fault. I didn't linger over the smell, but set aside the bag to deal with in the morning.

Can you get the hantavirus from smelling fresh mouse piss? Can you get it from wearing a pissy helmet on your head?

This morning, I gingerly took everything out of Nick's karate bag. I should have used gloves and a gas mask. Seven socks. Seven. A gob of stickers glommed together. One pair of foamy nunchuks. Two pair of bamboo nunchuks. I had hit myself in the head, multiple times, trying Nick's bamboo nunchuks when he first showed me what he was learning. A jock strap and cup. There are things a mom should never have to do. Handling this was one of them. Three mechanical and two #2 pencils. The receipt for his second brown belt test. Two identical patches dated 2013. Two punch cards. An outdated EpiPen. Two inhalers. An eraser with pencil-sized holes bored all the way through. A mouth guard in a ratty Ziploc bag. A foam helmet. Two new sparring gloves. His gi, top and bottom. And his brown belt with three black stripes taped onto the end.

Again, I used the sniff test. One sparring glove smelled putrid. I just bought them last month when Nick's hands finally grew. The helmet was definitely pissy. The foam nunchuks and one of bamboo ones smelled pretty gnarly. The jock strap was ripe, but that was Nick, totally Nick. The olfactory bulb in my sinuses is a wonder. Why the hell did nature think I needed to be able to distinguish between crotch, cat piss, and mouse piss?

Oh, the joy of being a mom.

I filled a bucket with Nature's Miracle, almost fully concentrated, and began to wipe down or soak anything that couldn't be thrown into the washer, wearing rubber gloves almost to my elbows. Then, I threw the gi, the duffel, the brown belt, the jock strap, and seven socks into the washer with another strong dose of Nature's Miracle. After that, the mouth guard went into a pot of boiling water.

This mouse had the piss scared out of him while Blitz stood on the karate bag and pawed at and rolled on the sparring glove where he hid.  That glove couldn't just be wiped down. It was soaked in 'scared the piss out of me' piss. Could I distinguish between the piss of a frightened mouse and a happy one? I'd almost guarantee that I could. Almost.

I have no intention of proving that one in a lab.

In the end, I still had to throw out the new sparring gloves, the helmet, the foamy nunchuks, three socks, and the duffle bag because the smell was just too pervasive even after all the washing I could manage. I also threw out four mechanical and two #2 pencils, an outdated EpiPen, and a glob of stickers glommed together. I kept the eraser with the holes in it. I don't know why, but I figured it didn't smell so it was okay. Maybe I kept it because it was an art piece that every child has created in his lifetime.

When I was done, I wanted to steam clean the floor where the duffle bag had sat. I bleached the bucket that soaked the pissy stuff that couldn't roll around in the washer. I wanted to bleach the bathroom and utility room floors and then shower and scrub my skin until I was pink, but I was interrupted.

I was standing in my kitchen when the cat came running in and stared at the floor by the dishwasher. No big deal there. Cats were always running past me and staring at stuff. Then, what I thought was a gray toy mouse but was in fact a real mouse ran across the floor and under the oven.

I screamed.

"There's a mouse under the oven!" I yelled. Suddenly, Mike and Nick were in front of me, armed with an arsenal of airsoft guns and head lamps. I ran to get a broom to poke at the creature. Usually, when there's a mouse in the house, I let the dog and the cats help me hunt it down and I capture it in an old plastic container. Usually, Teddy and I drive a ways down the road to the horse field and let it go free. Not this time. I had to clean the hell out of stuff that would never come clean. I'd inhaled so much mouse piss that it felt like I still had piss lining my sinuses. I'd had to throw stuff away. I just bought those sparring gloves. And my house still felt dirty!

This time I cheered as Mike shot the shit out of that little sucker with Nick's airsoft gun.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mike's Superpower

Mike has a superpower. I hate it.

I was brought up to follow directions. Even when they aren't particularly good for me, I tend to follow directions. Sounds good, right? It's an admirable trait that threatened spankings as a child made for a better adult, right?


I realized how dangerous this trait was when I was a cute teenager on my own beginning to date. It was not easy but I began to say no, just a little bit. After college, I moved to New Jersey, just outside New York City where protecting yourself was difficult even without this trap of doing whatever every Tom, Dick, and Harry told me to do. It was there that I began to get angry, to fight back. I am certain that if I hadn't, I wouldn't be here now.

I still struggle. When people catch me unawares, I almost automatically submit.

"Hey, will you stay up all night at the lock-in with a hundred sweaty teenagers this Friday night?"

"Sure. What time should I be there?" is my automatic response if I don't plan an answer ahead of time.  

I practice saying no. I manage to put myself out of range of the questioners, avoiding the PTSA leaders stalking me at school functions. I've practiced saying, "I'm sorry. I've got a packed schedule right now. I'm very busy volunteering in other places." And then I can talk for fifteen minutes straight on what I'm currently signed up to do.

I'm going to practice a little more right here.

Right now, I'm working on Citizenship in the Community with a dozen Boy Scouts. So far, I've spent three hours sitting with noisy argumentative boys and at least as many hours in preparation. If you need to know how to play the game of Sorry or Texas hold 'em poker with a Citizenship in the Community theme, I can tell you. On Wednesdays, I tutor students in Language Arts. I like that one. Cancel everything else and I'd still enjoy sitting down with these students. I routinely edit for two or more writers as they bring me their work. I generally like that part too, except when they say they need it by Friday and I'll be losing sleep to get it done. I'm also a part of a letter-writing campaign with an Indivisibles group that isn't even in my district. Oh, I belong with this group because they are my community, but it's hard to be effective outside my district. Still, I'm writing letters to the editor and managing templates so other writers have a place to start from when they sit down at the page. This is getting harder because it's a different kind of writing entirely. I have to get my facts straight. I have to write reasonable responses to crazy governmental actions. It's exhausting and I'm not sure how much longer I can do it.

There are a handful of people I would say 'yes' to for nearly anything, but I still practice that phrase, 'I'll check my calendar' so I don't get caught up the way I did the year after my son left the elementary school and I ended up working with two classes to write and bind 87 unique books, one by each child, and me.

So, I practice saying no.

But Mike has an in. Next week, I'm helping him run the VanDeGraff generator at the elementary school science fair. Why? Because he said he was going. In fact, he's going to two elementary schools this spring and I'm going to be there with him, hair on fire, fingers tingling. To his credit, he didn't even ask me to help, but I volunteered before he ended his story of how the second school contacted him. I hate getting zapped. I really do.

Mike has a special power, though. When I am about to go to sleep, he makes suggestions. All it takes is a comment on his part and there I go, doing exactly what I am told.

"You're going to stay up too late watching the news tonight, aren't you, and then you'll wake up at four in the morning." He said this last night. He was chatty, commiserating with me. I know it was commentary, a joke between him and, well, him. I've asked him before to tell me I'm going to sleep until I'm done, but he has a wild hair now and then and says it anyway. I don't think it's funny. At that hour, I'm tired. I'm suggestive. I most often, despite my best interests, do exactly what he believes is simply a joke. But it's just not funny.

This morning, I woke at 3:59am.

I'm not kidding. I was less than a minute early.

Thank you for listening, jb