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

Steamed

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.

What?

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