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Archive for August, 2011

The Kitty

Pets don’t live very long, yet they still die old.

I must be out of my mind to try this.

There is a fairness and an unfairness when it comes to pet ownership. This, in and of itself, is incredibly unfair.

We snuff them out like cigarettes, it feels, our aged and aging pets, when their pain and suffering grows worse than ours does at the thought of losing them. It’s one of the most bizarre — and important — of our human responsibilities.

We pick them out, we bring them home, we shower them with toys, comfort, toys, smelly food, toys, security, toys, unbending trust, unending concern, unconditional love. All the while knowing that at some point, way too soon, heartbreak is coming. It’s accepted and expected.

We stick our noses into that soft spot on the back of their neck and take in a deep breath, always marveling at how it never smells bad.

OK, maybe that last part is just me. But I can still see in my nose’s mind, he said, putting the role of the senses to the ultimate test, what our Kitty’s neck smelled like. (Stop calling me weird.)

Seeing the smell with my nose’s mind was a part of my afternoon Monday, the much-dreaded day Karen and I finally decided the Kitty had had enough. One of those decisions in life that come with the greatest of difficulty. It better, anyway.

As hard as it may be sometimes to put the life of the pet in front of our own, that is where it belongs as age and illness replace the years of purring and playing. It was amazing to me how for a while my sadness for the Kitty’s situation was based more on me and the loss I was suffering.

Once she was swaddled and comforted in her little cardboard casket, which was then cradled in my arms as I walked out of the vet’s office and sobbed toward the car, I realized how selfish my sadness was. Took me a while to come around, but I got there. Death does that; slaps a person in the face.

As a cat owner, I feel apologetic when explaining that my sorrow is over the loss of a cat.

I mean. It’s not a dog. Dogs, in my doplic way of viewing things, occupy the top rung on the pet ownership ladder. I would not be surprised to learn there are more dog owners out there who would never own a cat than there are cat owners who think dogs aren’t worth the trouble.

This isn’t always the case, but I have run across this more than once in my life.

“Why are your eyes all puffy?”

“My cat died.”

“So? Could have been worse. Could have been a dog.”

“I guess.”

I think it’s wrong that I feel this way, but it’s one of my personal truths about cats and dogs. (Unless the dog is one of those pocketbook ones that fills the role of a cat without all the cat quirks.)

There is a fissure between cats and dogs. As there is, I believe, between cat lovers and dog lovers.

Some folks — true animal lovers — have enough love to go around. Besides simultaneous ownership of cats and dogs, they’ve probably had birds or fish or rodents or reptiles of some sort at some point in their lives. These people are unique and, I submit, too short in supply.

People who love dogs and dogs only have a tendency to despise cats. Cat lovers, on the other hand, tend to respect and admire dogs, dog owners, and the entire dog thing. With the possible exception of dog exuberance.

I have deep and equal affection for both cats and dogs, and have owned both in my lifetime. I have most frequently opted, however, for cat ownership. I think it’s the exuberance. And the neck smelling thing.

Cats are stubborn, stuck-up, finicky, snooty, a little too quiet, self-important, narcissistic, egotistical, plotting, conniving, irresponsible, fickle. Dogs slobber and fart. They take less effort to love.

Cats tend to smell better, take little to no effort to maintain, and show no lingering effects after being ignored for long periods of time. I can relate.

But I digress. Delaying the sad part, I reckon.

Today this empty house is missing one heartbeat. And the silence is deafening. Through blood-shot eyes and a squeaky voice, to the Kitty, I say:

Thank you for all the love, the cuddling, the evenings we spent bathed in the light of the television while you chased the little red dot up the wall with such hilarity that it eventually became hard to breathe.

When you sat up on your hind legs, waiting for a jax to be tossed high above your head and then like a tennis player swatting a lob, you batted with amazing accuracy that little toy back into your mommy’s lap. Also, under the couch.

When your little drug bags (which was our name for your countless catnip-stuffed toys) would disappear for months at a time; then, as if out of the blue, one day one of them would miraculously reappear in the middle of the living room floor. As if it had been on vacation (or a drug run) and was finally back home.

Thank you for the stains on the carpets that were made during your feline hairball excavation rituals. It’s a great purging mechanism with which you fluffy little bundles of love come equipped. But you should also come equipped with the same GPS system that seems to work fine when locating the litter box for those aromatic purges that come from the other end of town.

Thank you for being the therapy Kitty your mommy needed in her downest of down times. Your arrival on the scene could not have been better timed and your brand of therapy could not have been more effective.

Your brief time in our lives was not wasted. Your life was not in vain. Your impact on this very short amount of time we are privileged to spend on this earth could not have been greater.

Nor can the hole you have left in our hearts.

This empty house and these empty arms will recover in time. But this empty heart will take longer to mend. The piece you’ve torn from it has gone with you.

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Got my ranting shoes on today. Was gonna talk about bunnies and rainbows, but my thought train was diverted. So, please excuse the rantitude.

Were it not for diversion, I submit, harmony would rule our lives. Like in the old song associated with the soft drink, sung by the hippies on the pretty hill way back in the days when we didn’t realize the amount of hatred and pure disgust a soda can can generate.

Behind every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud: George Carlin was right. As usual.

See, if the world could sing in perfect harmony, it would be one gigantic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-happy, soda-belching society.

With rotting guts and waaaay too many nickel returns piling up.

But the world is not a perfectly harmonious place, because we all don’t drink Coke (“the best friend thirst ever had”). Some among us can’t have the sugar. Others among us shouldn’t.

And because Diet Coke (“just for the taste of it”) is one of the worst inventions of the past century, some of us are forced to an adjacent cooler, where the Pepsi (“it’s cheaper than Coke”) resides.

Some of us who prefer the taste of The Real Thing (“things go better with Coke”) were forced into membership in The Pepsi Generation (“you’ve got the right one baby, uh huh”) simply by our taste buds.

And glucose levels.

I much prefer the taste of Coke (“the great national temperance beverage”), but don’t like the sugar. Diet Coke (“you are what you drink”) sucks, so Diet Pepsi (“the taste that’s generations ahead”), for years, it has been.

Although the new Coke Zero (“the latest heartburn-inducing brown beverage too new to have its own catch phrases”) is an occasionally nice diversion. And it actually tastes like The Real Thing [“have a Coke and a smile”]. But I digress.)

But enough about me. And my Google search.

I have a severe, pounding hatred for bad diversion. Diversion’s bad side shows up more frequently than its good side; for example, when it is employed in an attempt to change the subject — as is the case in most answers to most questions posed to all professional politicians.

“Senator, can you tell us why you just stand around trying to look important without ever accomplishing anything outside of the spending of money not belonging to you?”

“I’m glad you asked that question, because it reminds me of the last time I saw a rainbow. …”

This is bad diversion.

Good diversion is when you’re sitting in your office, banging away at the keyboard, and a bunny hops past your window, stops, and chews on a weed just on the other side of the glass, not five feet from your head. So you stop journalisming long enough to watch him chew, all the time wondering how many tiny bugs are crawling around on his skin, under the gnarled fur. Then the boss catches you staring out the window and you try to make up some stupid excuse, like, “I was trying to think of a bunny analogy,” and you notice on your computer screen that your finger was resting on the “w” key and now you have a lot of w’s to erase. This is good diversion.

Not that it’s ever happened to me, however.

Moving on. The other day, I spent a brief few seconds during an even more brief lunch break peeking at the Facebook. That was my mistake.

I was bee-boppin’ through the comments and food pictures and song lyrics when I came upon a post shared by many in the Facebook community regarding the design of the new Pepsi (“summertime is Pepsi time”) can. And before I could stop myself from swearing at my computer screen, I swore at my computer screen. Diversion set in.

This. Right here. This is the kind of thing that will drive me to distraction, nuts, up the wall, over the edge, crazy, to drink, insane, bat-s—, bonkers and wild. Wherever a person can be driven, that’s where I was. I was gonna need cab fare to get back.

We have all this stuff going on around us in the world — some of it happy; way too much of it sad. Most of it we can do nothing about and therefore should not waste the time we have left thinking we can.

Thursday, I saw, thanks to Al Gore and his invention of the Internets, that some of us were occupying our precious summertime time under sunny skies griping about the design of a soda can.

Pepsi’s (“say ‘Pepsi, please’”) soda can, to be exact.

Seems war and economic smelt-down and the non-existence of climate change and the litter of Republicans running for president aren’t important enough topics. Thursday I learned of the Facebook campaign to boycott Pepsi (“right now”) because the newly designed can features the pledge of allegiance — with the words “under God” omitted.

As if the Right Wing wasn’t fired up enough by the fact that its last president did such a horrible job an election was lost and now candidates are falling out of the fence posts like earwigs. (On this analogy, you’ll have to trust me.) Now they have to root against all the stock car racers who have Pepsi (“Pepsi’s got your taste for life”) stickers on their cars because God was left off the soda can.

According to the Facebook post, the soda company omitted these words so as not to offend anyone. And because this is what it says on Facebook, it is almost certainly guaranteed to be the farthest thing from the truth. Because Facebook is about photos of what we had for dinner last night, and how many times we can “lol” while typing our incomplete sentences, and where we are right now, and what song lyric is running through our head.

It is not for the discovery of substance.

For substance, we have Wikipedia.

First, Dear Pepsi (“twice as much for a nickel”): You’re an idiot. A complete, unequivocal doddering fop. It’s the pledge of allegiance. It has all the words, and those words are fine. Leaving out the two most controversial ones is going to draw more negative attention and vitriol to your addlepated can makeover than would their inclusion.

Second, we should not be moved to boycott a soda because of the words on (or off) the can. It should be because the contents will eventually kill us. With this fact, however, we appear comfortable.

Our tiny brains sometimes pick the most ridiculous battles to wage. That soda hates God. Don’t drink it.

Chances are nobody would have read the words on the stupid soda can until us Weebles in the journalisming industry who spend way too much time on the Facebook (researching editorial topics) caught wind and started yacking about it. And we have so much else to discuss that is of much greater consequence. Like death and poverty.

And the bunnies outside the window. They make me smile.

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Here’s the thing.

I don’t understand why eating outdoors is such a big whoop. (Surprise FDR picnics aside.) The female ladies among us especially seem to love it. At least, the ones among me do.

In the springtime, the sidewalks of Saratoga Springs narrow by half in front of every restaurant. With the return of nice weather come the return of tables and chairs, awnings and wrought-iron railings, and uncomfortable furniture.

I only mention Saratoga because that’s our haunting ground. Many, if not most, restaurant sections in today’s modern urban settings feel the need to keep the riff raff outdoors if they’re going to be eating.

It’s quaint; it’s romantic; it’s not something we get to do every day, darling, perfect husband of mine (I am constantly told). Let’s sit outside so we can people-watch.

That’s what it is, right there. They only want to eat outdoors so they can stare at everyone who walks by and rate their clothing choice, dye job, makeup decision, bad hair, nice purse, cute top, ugly shoes and too many tattoos.

(Know how many times I have been told that tattoos are a bad decision for a woman because even though today it looks like it’s supposed to, by the time she’s old and sagging and flabby the artwork is going to look like a can of wet blue paint thrown against a beige wall. Every time a woman with a tattoo passes, that’s how often.) I’m over it.

Eating, in my humble and experienced opinion, should involve food. And utensils. Occasionally, seating. That’s all. I contend that the outdoors was not invented so people could have a place to eat.

(The outdoors was invented so a husband would have a place to put the dog house in which he is occasionally ordered to sleep.)

But not for eating.

• Because that’s where the wind is.

The wimpy tablecloth made from facial tissue fibers can’t be trusted to stay in place on the picnic table. As soon as you turn your back, it tries to escape. Until you clip the corners down with specially made picnic tablecloth clippy doo-dads.

Can’t just pile it with the dishes and utensils and drinking vessels, because more often than not, those are made of paper and plastic and are too lightweight. They blow away.

As do the napkins.

So right away, the foundation of the meal is in a constant state of escape.

I can’t blame it.

If we as picnickers were allowed by law to use real plates, utensils and glassware, this problem would be solved. But because it’s an outdoors thing, we have to eat off of dishes that blow away, with knives that snap in half if you dare try to cut a steak, which you try to wash down with a beverage poured into a cup that too easily tips over and soaks your end of the tissue paper doily that is expected to save the world.

(I always feel like the dog that knocked over the great big breakable thing and smashed it to smithereens every time the tablecloth is cleared and the giant stains in front of my place setting serve as a road map of my dining experience. I put my ears back, my tail between my legs, and skulk over to the door like I just want to go outside and go potty as they stand around my end of the table. “Oh, look, and here’s when he tipped over his glass of gravy.” … “And here’s when his elbow went into the ham.” … Horrifying.)

• Comfort. Nothing upon which the human being is expected to sit during this exhibition in plate rescue and tablecloth wrestling comes anywhere near being comfortable. And I’m not just talking about the seating at the aforementioned outdoor eateries. But they are not excluded.

Plastic stackable deck chairs were invented as torture devices. I am sure of it. They certainly should not be used for the cradling of the human posterior in a place of business that makes money by adding to the patron’s body weight. Little wobbly legs and a bucket seat that is not welcoming to the average American bucket are cruel.

Yeah, I’d love to eat here, honey. Let me just pull up a couple of these chairs and make myself comfortable.

And the person who decided seats at a picnic table should not be detachable and should be thissclose to the table itself should be forced to eat mayonnaise left outdoors in August. The number of times I have been stuck in the middle of the bench and had to wait until everyone else got up before I then fell backward onto the lawn and lifted each leg individually with a crane is zero, but I don’t think a person should be forced to dismount if they simply want to get away from the table.

Picnic tables also need a counter-balance system so a person — no one in particular, mind you — can sit on one side and not fear the entire table tipping over.

Ever again.

Boy … would THAT ever be embarrassing.

• But speaking of mayonnaise: Mayonnaise salads have long been associated with picnics and I have never figured out why. Mayonnaise and summer weather just don’t get along.

Many of the classic American picnic salads upon which we were all raised (every one of us) were based on the reliability and brute gripping strength of mayonnaise. Macaroni? Potatoes? Cabbage? Hard-boiled eggs? Stir in a cup or two of mayonnaise, carry it outdoors under the blazing hot sun, and watch what happens.

Of course, this was back in the day when mayonnaise was its own food group and we had no idea it was absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Today, thanks to the invention of TV channels that broadcast nothing but food, our picnic salads go out of their way to avoid acknowledging that mayonnaise is still a food. Until Paula Deen comes on.

• A meal should not fall prey to things that fall from trees or birds. But if that meal is taken outdoors, this threat is always there. Flies, mosquitoes, ants, wasps, neighbors, bird and tree droppings.

Yeah, let’s invite a bunch of Americans over and feed them in the middle of that menagerie. Maybe someone will bring a Jell-O mold.

• Special utensils, like the little plastic ears of corn that are intended to keep your fingers from getting burned as you wipe butter and salt all over your face. These, actually, are OK. Although you do have to hold on to the scalding ear of corn in order to get the first one in. And the second one goes in kinda crooked because you insert it while holding the plastic corn holder at the other end.

So even the fun stuff associated with eating outdoors comes with baggage. Although they can be nailed into the table to hold the paper cover in place.

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Summer is chores like mowing the lawn.

Summertime is stopping to enjoy the smell of cut grass.

Summer is grass-stained yard sneakers you had better not dare to wear into this house, mister.

Summertime is flip flops, and they can be worn everywhere. Including church.

Summer is too hot and sticky to venture outside.

Summertime is bolting out the door and standing at the street — for as long as it takes — the second you hear the ice cream man coming from four blocks away.

Summer is gnats and horse flies and mosquitoes and their incessant buzzing around your head.

Summertime is lightning bugs and crickets and tree frogs. And the cacophony with which they usher in bedtime.

Summer is too darn hot and muggy to even think about sleeping.

Summertime is being lulled to sleep on the porch, thanks again to the symphony of critters safely on the other side of the screens.

Summer is cleaning and vacuuming the pool, maintaining the filters and pump, as the dark stain of perspiration spreads between your shoulder blades and the sweat drips off your forehead and lands on the lens in your glasses, which continually slide down your glistening nose.

Summertime is diving head first into the pool, glasses, t-shirt and all, when this chore is done.

Summer is filling these darn ice cube trays again for what seems like the hundredth time because everyone else in the house apparently only knows how to empty them.

Summertime is the noise those cubes make in a tall glass as they are jostled by lemonade or iced tea.

Summer is waiting on the front porch — seemingly for hours — as mom and dad take turns, endlessly cranking the handle on the ice cream maker.

Summertime is when the ice cream is finally frozen enough to eat and the kids each get a paddle to lick.

Summer is the mean blue jay, landing on the feeder or the bird bath, scaring all the other birds away.

Summertime is all the other birds — in tree tops, on roof tops, and at the top of their lungs — welcoming another daybreak. Because they can. And the blue jay can’t.

Summer is too hot to cook indoors.

Summertime is firing up the grill under the burning hot sun, where it is 20 degrees warmer than it is in the house. But who cares? It’s burgers and dogs.

Summer is another sweat-soaked t-shirt on top of the pile of laundry.

Summertime is the faint smell of charcoal briquette smoke on that shirt.

Summer is sunburn and peeling noses.

Summertime is the smell of coconut oil roasting on human skin bathing in the white-hot high-noon sun. It’s lying on the beach with your eyes closed, listening to the waves, the muffled conversations, the beach volleyball game, and someone’s radio cranking out the music of vacation 2011.

Summer is so bright outside, the squinting gives you a headache.

Summertime is that odd few seconds that occur while sunbathing when — after your eyes have been closed for several minutes — you open them and everything is the wrong color. It only lasts a short time. Until you hurry up and do it again.

Summer is misplacing your sunglasses. Again.

Summertime is the color they turn everything (again, with the colors) when you put them on. Here, too, your eyes adjust and the odd colors become the norm. Until you take the glasses off again and the whole process repeats.

Summer is: “Don’t stay in the pool too long. Your fingers will get pruney.”

Summertime is pruney fingers. And they smell like chlorine.

Summer is stuck in traffic, hoping the car won’t overheat.

Summertime is piling into the car on a sunny day with no place to go and all day to get there. Spontaneous road trips. (I thank my best good friend Kim for this one.) And if the dog is lucky enough to tag along, summertime is also the look of sheer delight on the dog’s face when he sticks his head out the window, the ears and jowls flopping to beat the band.

Summer is the beautiful green of the spring lawn fading to tan under the dog-days sky.

Summertime is all the kids in the neighborhood gathering at one house to spend the afternoon jumping through the sprinkler.

Summer is weeding the garden.

Summertime is picking fresh tomatoes and string beans, wiping them on your shirt, and eating them — warm right out of the garden; waiting until the last possible second to pick the corn; getting a second or third cutting off of the swiss chard and the spinach; pulling the little string on the back of the pea pod, popping it open, and popping the peas straight into your mouth; finally picking that giant zucchini and taking its photo for posterity.

Summer is the poor dog, mouth drooping, sweat flicking off the end of his elongated tongue, panting like crazy under that thick fur coat.

Summertime is taking him for a walk over to the crick (“creek” to the city folk) and watching him lose his mind in the cool water. When he’s done having more fun than he’ll ever remember, he’ll stand right next to you as he shakes the water off, he’ll smell bad for a couple of hours, and he’ll smile while doing it. As will you.

Summer is the itch of a pricker bush after it scrapes open the skin on your leg.

Summertime is the wild berries on that bush, which will get eaten instead of carted home in the plastic containers you brought with you into the woods. Silly you, thinking there would be enough berries to bring home.

Summer is dirt and gritty.

Summertime is livin’ easy. The songs tell us so.

Summer is too short.

Summertime is what fills its days.

And both are just fine by me.

 

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