Welcome to the Cat Side

Given that my reputation as a cat person, crazy cat lady, kitty mommis, etc. has been  firmly established, it was funny to look back at the below, which I wrote many years (and many cats) ago. Things certainly do change – and yes, you CAN overcome your allergies!

 

Have you ever noticed that people seem to classify themselves as “cat people” or “dog people?” I’ve always liked to think of myself as an animal lover in general, with a heart big enough to accommodate both. However, the recent (guilt-induced) acquisition of an over-the-hill calico has led to a shattering discovery. I am a die-hard dog person.

It’s not that I don’t like the cat, we just can’t seem to reach a common ground of understanding: I don’t know why she won’t try to make me happy, and she doesn’t know why I won’t try to make her happy. With every dog I’ve ever had, it only took a firm “NO” to get my point across. With the cat, the word NO seems to be a cue to raise her tail, point her derriere in my general direction, and walk off as slowly as possible while still maintaining movement.

Maybe it’s just a contest of wills. For instance, I’m determined she won’t scratch on the couch, and she’s determined she will. The really irritating part is that the minute I spot her doing it she looks over her shoulder, thinks “shit, the bitch is here,” and runs like mad. Leading me to believe she does know this behavior does not make me happy. I would think the resulting chase around the house followed by a quick swat (and I’m not saying who swats whom) confirms it. (Even as I write this she’s eyeing me, flexing her claws, and waiting for me to leave the house.)

If I could just understand why she purrs happily while I rub her tummy, then in a matter of seconds hisses, shreds my hand and disappears under the couch. Or feigns deafness when I want her to sit in my lap, only to jump on me the minute she sees my thigh muscles flex, indicating I’m about to get up. Or why she won’t eat unless the food is piled up just right in the middle of the dish. Most of all, I’m really baffled as to why, when I’m pointing at a piece of food on the carpet, her eyes are glued to my finger.

But then there are the moments she comes up to me, purrs, and rubs her little face against mine. Amid the wheezing, hacking allergy attack that follows, I think she might be worth the trouble. But I’m not romanticizing this relationship. I know that if the house ever burns down, she won’t meow to wake me, or drag me from the burning building.

She’ll watch me fry, lift her tail, then stroll off oh-so-slowly to live with the neighbors. Their cat gets to sleep on the bed.

The Dolphin Experience

This short story is based on an actual experience I had when I lived in Florida. I went to Key Largo to swim with dolphins (I did my research and picked a place that didn’t seem to be just making money off of them – the part about it being a research facility and the dolphins being able to swim out to the open ocean is true).

Most of the other facts in the story are also true, including me sucking in a lungful of sea water during a delighted gasp (hint – if you turn your head sideways while snorkeling, don’t breath in!). I gasped and hacked, and started back to the platform when one of the dolphins started swimming all over me – it was actually pretty scary and no, I didn’t have enough presence of mind to perform the corkscrew procedure.

I did make it back to the platform and did ask about the “handshake,” and yes, the dolphin was female. What I didn’t do was get back in the water, although the dolphin spent the rest of the time inviting me to come play (see photo). Honestly, it was a lot more intimidating that I had realized. And I am, basically (I think we’ve pretty much established this), as cowardly as a bunny in tharn.

 

THE DOLPHIN EXPERIENCE

Diane shifted impatiently in her seat and asked Marc for the tenth time, “How much farther is it?”

Marc just sighed and kept his eyes on the road. “Diane, I’m really glad you’re excited about this, but please, be patient! We’ve still got about an hour and a half before we get to the motel, and we won’t be swimming until ten tomorrow morning.”

Diane looked out the window and tried to calm down, but she couldn’t contain her excitement. “Marc, I can’t believe I’m going to swim with dolphins! This is the best birthday present I’ve ever had.” She was quiet for a moment, and then laughed and told him, “I loved them so much when I was a kid, I used to beg my mom to buy one for our swimming pool.”

Marc laughed too, and reached over to take Diane’s hand. “I wish I felt the way you did about it, but to tell you the truth the thought of swimming with dolphins makes me a little nervous.”

“Marc, you’re kidding. Why?”

“Well, it may sound silly, but I’m not too comfortable with the thought of being around such big animals. What if they get aggressive, or decide to attack us?”

Diane laughed. “They won’t attack us. They’re friendly, intelligent and playful. If a dolphin acted in a violent manner, I’m sure it would only be to protect itself. Or maybe to establish territory during courtship or something.”

“O.k., but what if they accidentally hold me under the water?” Marc looked quickly at Diane, but she didn’t laugh this time. She smiled and squeezed his hand.

“Honey, they know we need the air to breathe. Just like they do. In fact, dolphins have been known to save drowning people. They’re really remarkable.”

Marc still wasn’t convinced, and the next few miles passed in silence. Finally he asked, “How big are they?”

“I’m not sure exactly. These dolphins are bottlenoses, so I would guess about eight feet and maybe six hundred pounds.”

“Man! And you mean to tell me you’re not the least bit nervous about getting into the water with them?”

Diane thought about it for moment before answering. “No, not really. I’m a good swimmer, and I’ve never heard any stories about dolphins being dangerous. I think it’s going to be an incredible experience.”

Marc’s silence told Diane how uncomfortable he really was with the idea of their upcoming adventure. She knew he was worried about his ability in the water. The brochure they had received from The Dolphin Experience recommended that each participant be an excellent swimmer. Although Diane was quite confident of her abilities, Marc hadn’t had the advantage of growing up with a swimming pool in his backyard. He was worried that his swimming skills might not be adequate enough to keep him out of trouble.

Diane spent the next hour trying to reassure Marc. When that didn’t work she simply let her enthusiasm bubble over, hoping it would be contagious. Despite her efforts, by the time they pulled into the parking lot of their Key Largo motel he was still uneasy about the swim.

Diane chatted excitedly about the dolphins during dinner, but sensing that it only added to Marc’s tension, she tried to change the conversation to less threatening topics.

While they talked about the possibility of extending their trip so they could visit Key West, a young man and woman were seated at the table next to them, their baby in a highchair next to his mother. The little boy had a round, chubby face, big dark eyes and long curly eyelashes. Diane felt the inevitable tug at her heart that was equal parts pleasure and pain.

“Oh Marc, look at that baby. Isn’t he adorable?”

Marc looked over and smiled. “He sure is.” When he saw her expression go from one of joy to sadness, he reached over and took her hand. “Diane, I know it’s hard, but let’s not think about sad things right now. We’re here to celebrate your birthday. I know it’s been hard these last two year, but the doctor said there’s no reason not to be optimistic. When the time is right, it’ll happen.”

“I know.” Diane looked down and folded her hands in her lap. “I just wish the time was right – right now.” She looked up at Marc and could see the disappointment in his eyes. She felt guilty, realizing this was supposed to be her wonderful birthday trip. “I’m sorry I’m spoiling our lovely evening. I’m just going to concentrate on swimming with the dolphins. Unless you’d rather talk about something else?”

Marc said, “Oh no, of course not,” and reached for his water glass, his hand shaking in mock terror. Diane laughed. “My adventurous husband!”

That night as she lay in bed trying to sleep, Diane thought about what a wonderful man she had married. Ever since he had been transferred to Florida, Marc had been trying to find ways to help her adjust to their new home. When he had heard about a place in Key Largo — The Dolphin Experience — where you could pay to swim with dolphins, he immediately wrote to them for a brochure. She had been excited about the idea, but felt the cost was somewhat prohibitive. In order to override her objections, he had waited until her birthday and surprised her with two tickets.

The memory of opening her birthday card and finding the tickets inside made her smile into the darkness. So far, this trip had been wonderful. Until dinner. The memory of the adorable baby in the restaurant stubbornly refused to give her any peace, and her smile faded. She knew Marc wanted a baby as badly as she did, but never said anything because he didn’t want to hurt her.

She began tossing and turning in the strange bed and Marc stirred in his sleep. She didn’t want to wake him, although if he asked why she wasn’t sleeping she could claim she was too excited to sleep. She rolled over. If only she could get pregnant! But she knew the more she worried, and the higher her stress level, the less it was that things would happen. She rolled over again. This just wasn’t helping. She tried some deep breathing exercises to relax. The breathing, in addition to the long day in the car, finally took its toll and she drifted into an uneasy slumber.

In the morning, after Marc and Diane ate breakfast, they headed out to where the swim would take place. Marc slowed the car at a gravel lot by the side of the road and double-checked the address. He turned and drove slowly into the parking lot. Diane was the first to speak.

“Marc, this isn’t at all what I expected.”

“Me either.”

They parked in front of a small yard enclosed by a chain link fence. Through the fence they could see several small cement tanks filled with murky seawater. A fin occasionally broke the surface.

Marc held the gate open for Diane, and they walked over to the small booth that served as the check-in area. As Marc confirmed their reservations with the woman behind the counter; Diane walked over to the swimming tanks.

They seemed so small! And there was only a tiny floating platform in the middle of each tank. Although Diane was confident of her swimming abilities, it unnerved her a little that the tank had sheer concrete sides, far too tall to climb out of, or hold onto.

“Are you o.k.?”

Marc was looking at her, and she forced a smile. “Oh yes, this just wasn’t what I expected. But I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful.”

He smiled. “Yeah? Me too.” Diane raised an eyebrow at his sudden change of heart. “Anyway,” he continued, “you need to go over there and sign a release form. I’ve already signed mine, absolving The Dolphin Experience from all blame in case of any ‘unforeseeable circumstances’.”

Diane laughed. “I’m sure that did wonders for your frame of mind.”

She walked over to the booth and smiled at the woman. She read the consent form quickly, but paused when she reached the bottom. Frowning, she looked up.

“Why do I need to sign something stating I’m not pregnant?”

The woman answered without looking up from her paperwork. “Our insurance won’t cover us if a pregnant woman gets in the water.” When Diane didn’t respond the woman looked at her. “Why? You’re not, are you?”

“No.” Diane spoke softly, and signed the form. She walked over to where Marc was waiting for her.

“O.k.,” she said, “business all taken care of. We’re ready to swim.”

“Good. Well, the first order of business is a ninety minute lecture about the dolphins, how to swim with them, and what to expect. After that, we get a half hour in the water with them. Here.” He handed her a pair of swim fins, and a mask and snorkel.

They walked over to a group of picnic benches where a dozen or so people were already seated. Diane found an empty spot on a bench, and Marc sat next to her. A young blonde man walked over to the group, and dropped his clipboard and pencil on the table.

“Hi, my name’s Dave and I’m here to tell you a little about the dolphins before you actually get in and swim with them. Now I know you’re all pretty excited to be here, and want to jump right in the water, but there’s a few things you need to know first.”

Diane looked over at Marc. He was hunched over the table, and his unsmiling gaze was fixed on the their young lecturer. Diane hoped whatever Dave had to say would make Marc as eager to get into the water as she was.

“The first thing we want you to know,” Dave said, looking around at all the faces, “is that the dolphins are not here to swim with you. They’re here for us to study. Those tanks of water are twelve feet deep, and there’s a small passage at the bottom of each one. If a dolphin decides not to swim with you, it’ll swim into the adjoining tank. And if they really don’t feel like hanging around the far tank has a tunnel that goes out into the open ocean. He paused a moment and looked around, “They’re not captive here, and they don’t do tricks.”

Marc leaned over and whispered, “There may be hope.” Diane rolled her eyes and whispered back, “I’m glad they’re not forced to swim with us and can head out to the ocean if they want.” She paused, “But I hope they don’t!” She smiled.

“The next thing you should be aware of,” Dave continued, “is that the dolphins view you as toys. So if you’re interesting and fun, they’ll want to spend time playing with you. If you’re not, chances are they won’t interact with you at all.”

Diane’s attention began to wander, and she found herself looking at the other members of the group. There were an equal mix of women and men, mostly young, and one older woman. The older woman looked over at Diane and smiled happily. Diane smiled back.

“There are a few games the dolphins will play with you.” Here Dave grinned. “They basically consist of the dolphins trying to scare you with their teeth.”

Marc looked at Diane, his face serious, and his eyes wide. Diane took his hand and smiled while Dave continued his lecture.

“They won’t bite you, but they may come up to your face and open up their mouths to show you all those sharp teeth. They’ve done this before, and they know it gets a reaction. You get scared, and they swim off chuckling.”

A few of the group laughed, including Diane. Marc leaned over and whispered, “I don’t see what’s so funny.”

Dave waited a moment before continuing. “They also may try to taste you. I know it sounds odd, but you won’t even know they’re doing it. They’ll just run their mouths up and down one of your legs.”

A few people in the group exchanged glances. Some of them began to look uneasy, particularly Marc. However, at Dave’s next comment Marc visibly relaxed. “Really, you don’t need to worry, because chances are the dolphins won’t come near you. More often than not they decide they don’t feel like playing. So don’t be too disappointed if you don’t have a close encounter today.”

Diane wasn’t disappointed. She was determined to interact with the dolphins. She hadn’t come all the way here just to swim around in a tank by herself! The older woman must have felt the same way, because she blurted out, “Well, what can I do to make sure they want to play with me?”

Dave nodded. “That’s a good question. First of all, you need to look like a dolphin. The best way to swim is with your hands locked behind your back. They don’t like it when they see your arms moving. It frightens them. So does treading and splashing. And once you’ve frightened them, they probably won’t come near you.”

Marc finally asked the question that had been on his mind. “What if they accidentally hold us under the water?”

Dave turned to him. “They won’t do that. They may try to keep you from getting out of the water if they’re having a good time with you. They’ll block your progress to the platform. In that case, you need to swim in a corkscrew fashion. Do one freehand stroke with your right arm, turn in the water and do a backstroke with your left.”

Marc still didn’t look very happy, but Dave continued talking. “In each tank are two dolphins, usually a male and a female. When you first get in the water, they’ll know all about you. Using their echolocation system they can monitor your heart rate, your blood pressure, and the condition of all your internal organs. It’s like seeing an x-ray of you.”

Diane looked wonderingly at Marc. “That’s amazing.”

“They’ll also know if you’re male or female. Their echolocation can detect the presence or absence of a womb.”

Even Marc was finally beginning to look impressed as Dave picked up his clipboard and pencil.

“The last thing I’ll tell you before I answer any final questions is that dolphins are also amazing because of their mating habits. Basically they have no mating season. Like human beings, dolphins mate whenever they feel the urge. To them, it’s a gesture of friendship. So if a male dolphin feels friendly toward you, he may show an attraction for your knees.”

While everyone else laughed, Diane raised her hand. “Is this an aggressive sort of attraction?” She didn’t want to sound silly, but she knew animals could become very aggressive when their sexual drive was involved. She didn’t want to get in the way of a male dolphin who was headed for his mate.

“Oh no,” Dave said, “it’s a very social behavior for them. Basically it’s just their way of shaking hands. The reason they go for your knees is because if you were a dolphin, and your feet were your tail, your knees would be reproductive organs. But really, it’s nothing to worry about. They’re not aggressive.”

After that Dave answered a few more questions, then broke the large group into smaller groups of three. The older woman was matched up with Diane and Marc. As they walked toward their assigned tank, the older woman turned to them. “Hi, my name is Grace. Aren’t you just thrilled to be here? This is like a dream come true for me!”

Diane smiled at her enthusiasm. “It is for me, too. I really hope the dolphins like us, and want to play with us.”

The trio reached their tank and a worker pulled on a rope attached to the platform in the middle of the water, bringing it within reach of where they were standing. Holding their snorkeling equipment, Diane, Marc and Grace stepped down onto the platform, which bobbed and shifted with their weight.

Diane donned her fins, mask and snorkel and looked at Marc. “Here I go!” When she finally eased herself into the water, she felt a thrill of excitement.

Locking her hands behind her back, Diane headed out into the middle of the tank. The water was very murky, and it was a little spooky not being able to see more than a few feet in front of her. She felt something brush her shins, and for a moment felt a tremor of fear. She took a deep breath through her snorkel and reassured herself — after all, there were only dolphins in the tank. She felt a presence at her side, and turned her head to look to the right.

A happy aquatic face was beaming at her. Diane was awestruck, and gasped in delight. Unfortunately, because her head was turned her snorkel had dipped into the tank and she sucked in a lung full of salt water instead of air.

Hacking and treading, Diane’s head broke the surface of the water. “Drat!” She was sure the dolphins would be scared away by her noise and clumsy treading. She decided to head back to the platform and recover her composure.

As she began to swim back she suddenly saw the dolphin directly in front of her. She stopped short and began treading, wondering if it wanted to play. The large animal floated patiently in front of her without moving. My gosh, she thought, they are big! As she tried to swim forward, the dolphin deliberately blocked her progress. Diane was afraid for a moment. Why was this dolphin trying to keep her from getting out of the water?

Diane began coughing again, and realized she needed to get back to the platform. She was getting tired. She tried swimming forward, but again the dolphin blocked her progress. It obviously wasn’t trying to play with her. She suddenly sympathized with Marc’s fears, and wondered if this dolphin was going to become aggressive. Remembering Dave’s lecture, she swam arm over arm, alternating a freestyle stroke with a backstroke in a corkscrew fashion until she reached the platform.

The workers at the center were all gathered around the sides of the tank, talking excitedly. As Diane pulled herself onto the platform, Dave came over to the edge nearest where Diane was sitting and asked, “Could you please get back in the water?”

Diane looked up at him, puzzled. “Well, to tell you the truth, that dolphin kind of makes me nervous. It didn’t seem to want to play, but it wasn’t letting me out of the water either. Was it trying to, you know, shake hands?” Diane blushed as she asked, but forced herself to look Dave in the eye.

He didn’t laugh. In fact, he looked very serious. “No, that’s Sandy, the female dolphin. Please, could you just get back in the water? You don’t have to swim or anything, just float around.”

The dolphin that had been swimming with Diane rose halfway out of the water in front of her, almost as if beckoning her back in. Grace swam over and said, “Look, you’re getting a formal invitation. Come on back in.”

Marc, who had been floating around near the platform, wasn’t happy at all. “I don’t know, that thing tried to keep my wife from getting out of the water. It doesn’t seem safe for her to get back in.”

Dave sighed and turned to Marc. “I promise you, nothing will happen. We’ll monitor the situation very carefully. It’s just that this is a very unusual behavior, and we’d like the opportunity to study it.”

Diane looked at Marc, then at Dave. The dolphin rose out of the water again, and when Diane reached forward to touch her nose, Sandy rose up and bumped Diane’s hand. Diane looked over at Grace, who was in the water playing with the male dolphin. The older woman was having the time of her life. Well, Diane thought, I’ve got my breath back, and this is the chance of a lifetime. I’m not going to spend it sitting here on this platform.

She smiled at Marc. “Go on now, keep swimming. They don’t seem to want to play with you anyway.” He looked at her for a moment, then stuck his head in the water and began floating.

Diane slid gently into the water, and placed her head down so she could breathe easily through her snorkel. She didn’t swim or tread, she just floated. She was aware that the dolphin was right beside her, and when it nudged her it was so gentle she just moved slightly in the water.

Diane propelled herself forward a little, in the direction the dolphin seemed to want her to go. Finally, she was in a corner of the tank floating on her stomach and breathing through her snorkel, and the dolphin simply hovered near her. At one point Grace tried to swim over, but the dolphin gently kept Grace away from the corner. The male dolphin didn’t even attempt to come close, and Marc stayed where he was, apparently happy the dolphins were keeping their distance.

Diane tried to swim out of the corner a few times, but Sandy gently herded her back in. Diane reached out to stroke the smooth skin that covered the wall of solid muscle. It felt like a wet inner tube.

As Diane floated on the water, Sandy turned and looked directly into Diane’s eyes with one of hers. She made small clicking and whistling noises, and Diane desperately wished she knew what the dolphin was saying to her. She made some strange noises through her snorkel, and hoped the dolphin knew she wanted to be friends. She was still a little nervous, but tried to relax and keep her breathing normal, so the dolphin wouldn’t detect any rise in her heartbeat or breath rate.

Just as she was beginning to feel a connection with Sandy, and completely comfortable with her, she could hear someone calling her name. She pulled her head out of the water and began treading. It was Dave.

“Your half hour is up, it’s time to come out now. I need to talk to you.”

Again, Sandy didn’t want Diane to leave the water, so she had to corkscrew to get back to the platform. As she was drying herself off she looked down into the tank. Sandy had raised her head out of the water, and was looking directly at Diane. The dolphin made a few clicking noises, and seemed to nod her head.

“Bye Sandy.” Diane had a strange feeling that the dolphin was trying to tell her something very important, and Diane just couldn’t understand what it was. She looked at Sandy for a long moment, then joined Marc and Dave by the benches.

Dave was obviously excited. “We really should be mad at you, but that was great! We’ve never had a chance to see that behavior before.” He looked down at the notes on his clipboard. “And we monitored you so closely, there couldn’t have been a problem.” He looked up again and waved the piece of paper he was holding. “And you did sign the consent form stating you weren’t pregnant.”

At this point Diane interrupted. “Pregnant? But I’m not pregnant.” She looked at Marc who shrugged and said, “I know. I tried to tell them.”

Dave looked from Marc to Diane, and then spoke directly to her. “Are you sure you couldn’t possibly be pregnant?”

Diane was hurt by the remark, but replied calmly, “Of course I’m sure. Believe me, if I were pregnant, I’d know it. There is just no way I’m pregnant.”

Dave didn’t look convinced. “Well, Sandy sure thinks you’re pregnant. She was acting as your midwife. That’s why she separated you from the others. The females do that for each other. One dolphin stays with the pregnant female and takes care of her for the entire pregnancy, and then helps with the birth.”

Diane was dumbfounded. “Well, I’m sorry, I don’t know what she thought, but I’m definitely not pregnant.” She could hear the edge in her voice, and felt herself starting to fight back tears. She took a deep breath and reminded herself this wasn’t Dave’s fault, and they said they hadn’t seen this behavior before, so it was just some kind of mix-up.

They spent a few more minutes talking with Dave, and then she and Marc gathered up their belongings and got back in the car. Diane told Marc she didn’t feel like seeing Key West, and just wanted to go home. Although she was sure Marc knew how upset she was over Dave’s insistence that she was pregnant, she tried several times to reassure him that she was happy they had come, and that she had loved swimming with Sandy but was just tired and wanted to see Key West another time. Inside, she was wondering how an experience could be so wonderful and so miserable all at the same time.

Although it should have been a happy memory they discussed for weeks, after they returned home Diane and Marc spoke very little about the swim. Diane just couldn’t shake off the blue mood that had enveloped her after leaving Key Largo, and Marc just talked about future trips to other areas of Florida.

As the weeks went by, Diane’s lethargy continued. Eager to lift her spirits Marc began surprising her with little presents, making her feel all the guiltier for her inability to regain her usual bubbly mood. He also tried to take her out for dinner at new and interesting places, which she refused. Because he was so worried about her she tried desperately to be happy, but she just felt worn out.

Finally, she called Marc at work late one afternoon and suggested they go out for dinner.

“Why?” Marc sounded surprised, and Diane knew it was because she hadn’t wanted to go out for weeks.

“Oh nothing special.” Her tone was light. “Just hurry home.”

“O.k., I’m on my way.”

When Marc walked through the front door, Diane was on the phone. He heard her say, “Yes, yes, I know, I couldn’t believe it either. I just thought you’d like to know. Thank you; me too. O.k., bye.”

She hung up and walked into the living room where Marc was setting down his briefcase and danced around him. “Hi honey, I’m so happy you’re home.”

Marc looked bewildered at the sudden change in her personality, but he only asked, “Who were you talking to on the phone?”

“Dave.” Diane giggled.

“Dave?” Marc looked even more bewildered. Then suddenly recognition lit his face. “Dave from the dolphin place? Why were you talking to him?”

“I wanted to tell him. . .” Diane paused, looking at Marc with shining eyes. She giggled. “I wanted to tell him, Sandy was right.” She laughed out loud.

Marc looked blank for a moment, and then his eyes opened wide. “The dolphin? You mean the one that. . . you mean you. . .” When she nodded, he let out a whoop and lifted her off her feet, spinning her around. When he set her down she was laughing breathlessly.

“Can you believe it? I was only two weeks pregnant and that dolphin knew.” Diane looked at Marc and smiled. “I knew she was trying to tell me something, I just didn’t know what it was!” She lifted her chin and asked Marc, “So what do you think of the dolphins now?”

Marc just shook his head in wonder. “I think they’re amazing.” He gave her a big hug. “I think you’re amazing. And you know what else I think?”

“No, what?”

“I think we should name this baby after the lovely lady who tried to tell us it was on the way.”

“Marc! What a wonderful idea! Boy or girl, we’ll call the baby Sandy.”

The Cat’s Meow

I’m not sure why I’m on the boat.

It seemed like a good idea at the time – the seas were relatively calm and the wind seemed favorable. I came aboard to swab the decks and I worked hard; I finally made my way up to deck hand. Of course there were times we all thought the captain was a little off-balance, but the ship was still afloat so no one said too much.   It was a bit strange to be on a steamship in the age of technology, but you don’t fix what’s not broken, and after all we were chugging along and keeping up. We often saw wreckage from the high tech-ships that weren’t as sea-worthy as everyone thought. It wasn’t pretty. Occasionally we could pick up a stray crew member here or there, but let’s face it, you can only carry so many people on board.

The real danger was running out of steam. Or, more precisely, coal. In case that ever happened someone had to know how to sail. We had a plan – you know, like a backup plan – to ensure that if we ever ran out of coal, we’d still be able to navigate and move in the water by using the sails we had stored below decks. At least until we got more coal. There was a team of people assigned to the care and maintenance of the sails, to make sure they were always in top working order. It didn’t matter that we’d never actually tested the sails – we were confident they’d work, and the fact we had a backup plan was really the point anyway.

So it seemed like a good thing when I was able to move into a position on the wind team. We would learn about the elements, check what was going on around us, and make sure that plans were in place in case we ever needed to unfurl our sails. It was theoretical work for the most part, but that’s always been a plus for me. I mean how can your theory ever be wrong if you never have to put it to the test? You can be completely unskilled and have no idea what you’re talking about, but still be considered a genius. I just had to pray that we’d never run out of coal.

I was feeling pretty good about my new job when I was invited to a meeting. The Captain’s Third-in-Command, right-hand-man’s best girl Barb wanted to meet with me one-on-one. This was a big deal, and I needed to be on my game. In the meeting invite I was informed that it had been decided I was the perfect person to implement our new Cat’s Meow Strategy for wind detection.

My guess was this new strategy had to do with the fact that we had no vet on board and the two cats we brought with us to control mice turned out to be a male and a female. It’s really hard to tell with a cat until one of them is pregnant. So we now had a lot of cats and I figured someone was trying to keep it from looking like an accident. Which is easy if you just make it a strategy. I mean, what else can you do? You can’t start heaving cats overboard willy-nilly. You just look like a bad guy and the press has a field day. We had to find a purpose for the cats.

Although I was still fairly new to the concepts of wind direction, I felt confident  we would fare just fine if we ran out of coal. If nothing else I could just put my finger in my mouth, hold it up, and figure out which side got cold first. That would be the wind direction. That and a basic compass were all I needed. And if the sails failed to perform that really wasn’t my problem. All the same, I was feeling just a little anxious when I got to the meeting room. Barb came in and started talking before she sat down.

“I’m glad you were able to meet today. This project is of the utmost importance and we have a very short time frame to get it done. In fact, this has to be up and running within a week.”

“Really?” I ask, “Why? At the last check we had plenty of coal, so there’s no reason to think that we’ll be needing to use our sails anytime soon.”

She smiles, and I know I’ve asked something so elementary she’s wondering how I ever achieved my current position.

“Because there’s a deadline,” she says, quietly, patiently, kindly.

“Oh,” I’m feeling a little dense, but want to make sure I understand, “why is there a deadline for next week when we know we won’t run out of coal next week?”

She looks pleased. I assume it’s because I’ve shown an ability for following a line of reasoning. “Great question. There’s a deadline for next week because that’s when I said we could get this done.”

“O.k.” I’m pretty sure she can see my confusion, but her smile is designed to give me confidence, let me know my incompetence is not a problem, and that she’s is in charge and will lead us where we need to go.

“Well, let’s just get started and I’m sure this will make more sense once we get into it.” She settles into the chair across from me, folds her hands, places her arms on the table and leans forward. Her eyes are serious.

“You know about the cats.” It’s not really a question, more of a statement, but she is obviously waiting for a response. I want to make up for my earlier failings, so I’m eager to show off what I do know.

“Yes, I know that we’ve really got more cats than we need. Of course there really isn’t an offboarding strategy this far out to sea, so if we want to maximize cost effectiveness we need to ensure we’re leveraging all of our resources in the most appropriate manner possible.” I am rewarded with a beaming smile.

“Exactly. And that’s just what this project will do. I have every confidence you’ll be able to have this up and running by the deadline.” I don’t share her confidence, but I’m not bringing up the arbitrary deadline again. I just nod so she can continue.

“We’ve decided that the best way to utilize the cats is to have them help predict future wind direction. Using the cats, you’ll check the wind direction each day at 2-hour intervals, and then record the results. You’ll need to graph the wind direction and be able to make predictions based on statistical data. You’ll want to determine if the height of the water has any impact, and you’ll need to ensure that the sails are in operable condition.”

Now my head is reeling. Although my finger and a compass seem unbelievably unsophisticated, I know they’ll work. I’m not bringing it up. Instead I try to think this through, integrate the knowledge I have of the other working areas. All I can manage is, “But, I don’t work with the sails. The people who work with the sails are all in an upper echelon of the ship’s hierarchy. They only talk to me when they’re demonstrating that we don’t really have a hierarchy.”

She frowns and I realize I shouldn’t have said that to her. Now she’ll probably wonder who I’m talking to and what they’re saying. Fortunately she doesn’t go after that tangent – probably one of the reasons she’s in her current position. She simply says, “Well, you’ll need to tell them what information they need to provide you. You need to measure sail readiness and include that in your graph.”

I’m starting to feel like I’m not a problem solver. “O.k., I guess I’m just a little confused as to how I’m going to do that. The sails are kept below in a restricted area I don’t have access to, and anyway the sail readiness team runs regular testing to ensure the sails are wind worthy. Can’t I just use the work they’ve done?”

She is starting to look a little strained. I know she’s way ahead of me here and I’m just not keeping up. I’m really trying, but I’m just not seeing the value add.

“Don’t worry about access to the sails. I’ve got a meeting scheduled with the sail master and I’m just going to tell him he’s giving you access. Just trust me on this and don’t worry about that part.” I nod, thinking it’s not going to be that simple, and still not understanding why I can’t just use their data, but I’m going with it and assuming it will all start to make sense. Eventually. And hopefully before the deadline.

“So once you have the readiness data you can herd the cats and start the meow analysis.”

“I’ll call it the ‘Meowalysis,’” I smile. She looks at me with a frown and says, “The what?”

“Nothing,” I say and remind myself to stop talking and keep nodding. She pauses a beat and then continues.

“So once you’ve herded the cats it’s a simple matter of gathering the data. I would recommend you start individually. Take a cat to the bow and wait for it to meow. Then capture the meow data on the matrix. Make sure you get a good sample, and then analyze the meow data with the other data, and prepare your findings for the meeting. I’ll need to see your first draft with enough time to make changes before I present. Is two days from now fair?”

“O.k.,” I’m not feeling confident at all. But I’m going to make this work. It doesn’t matter what they ask, I’m going to make this work. She nods, once, briskly.

“So, I’m sorry,” I say, wondering if I’m sorry for my obtuseness, my presence on the ship, or just my life choices in general, “but can you help me understand the big picture on this strategy?”

“The cat will meow and then you’ll record what direction the wind is blowing. Eventually we’ll be able to predict wind direction by the cat’s meow.” This is said perfectly reasonably, perfectly calmly. It simply makes no sense to me whatsoever and there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this. I need to signal my understanding while clarifying what I’m supposed to do with another question.

“Got it, but I’m not sure how I’m going to determine the direction the wind will blow by the cat meowing. I mean, it might meow when there’s no wind at all.”

She nods. She looks very serious and thoughtful. This is, of course, a good point. Let’s face it, there’s no one on the face of the planet that has any idea what’s going on here.

“I’ve anticipated you would need help with that, so I’ve prepared some tools to help you.” She hands me a page of handwritten notes and hand drawn pictures of kitty faces with various un-catlike expressions. “This document can used as a guide to the meaning of meowing. Of course, each cat will have its own individual vocalizations, so the guide is really a framework – a starting point if you will – for you to develop your own meowing meaning chart. You’ll also need to ensure you track any new cats that provide input, or cats that for whatever reason,” and here her voice fades a little, “are no longer providing data.”

I run my hands through my hair. I know I’m starting to come apart a little, but this is getting crazy. “But, I don’t think cats can predict which way the wind will blow.” There. That’s a better argument. Now I’m thinking this through and focusing on the result we’re trying to achieve.

“Well, we’ve noticed that the cats don’t like getting their fur ruffled up the wrong way. You’ve seen that, right?” This is said in a ‘you’re part of the team’ tone of voice. Now she’s feeling sorry for me. This doesn’t bode well. I just nod.

“So since they don’t like it, they’ll meow in displeasure and turn to face the wind, thus providing us with information on the direction the wind is blowing.”

“Well, yeah, at that moment. It doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about future direction.”

She sighs. “That is why you have to analyze the meow.” The depth of my stupidity is now starting to annoy her. I just give up. I’ll figure out a way to herd the damn cats – if one or two escape no one will know unless I say something, and why would I do that? I’ll take them on the deck, wait till they meow, and somehow put together a matrix with all the data. Maybe if I use a lot of charts, graphs and illustrations it won’t matter if the data makes any sense.

“Great!” I take the guide and give her what I hope is a confident and winning smile. “I’ll have the draft ready for your review in two days.”

She smiles and rises. “Perfect! Just let me know if you have any questions in the meantime. Now I’ve got to go meet with Johnson. Those damn goats we brought on board aren’t milk goats after all, so we’ve got to figure out what to do with them. He’s got some kind of strategy he thinks will help. He’s calling it the Great Goat Rodeo. Sounds like it’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck event.”

I just nod. A goat rodeo. Should be fun.

 

 

 

Bo Vine Gets Her Wings – Part 1

My husband Steve is from a small town in Iowa called Fairfield, and when his boys were young we used to go there every summer to visit his folks. They had a house on a few acres of land, and two very large buildings where his dad used to keep his milk trucks. When Steve was growing up, his dad had a milk distribution business – in other words, his dad was the milkman.

Steve and his siblings had to help with the business by running milk routes. And oh the stories they tell…. You’ll find bits and pieces of them in the short story below. I began writing this for my youngest step-son Brandon when he was around six or seven (I think). If I’m recalling correctly he suggested the subject of a flying cow, and the below is Part I of the result.

(For those of you who end up wondering what in the hell golden domes and pillows have to do with flying, you can get the full scoop from Google, but basically there’s a community of folks in Fairfield who practice Transcendental Meditation in big golden domes. It includes a practice called “yogic flying,” where they sit on pillows and then do these crazy butt hops. Like really high, long butt hops. They must have some serious glutes on them. But it’s not really flying. True story. Look it up.)

 

Bo Vine Gets Her Wings

Once upon a time there was a cow named Bo who lived on a very nice farm with a very nice farmer named Vine. The farm sat in the middle of a beautiful green field that was somewhere very close to, but not exactly in, Fairfield, Iowa.

Bo had a good life on the farm; Farmer Vine was very kind and the grass was very green and abundant so Bo always had plenty to eat. When Farmer Vine came to milk her in the morning and then again at the end of the day, she would contentedly chew her cud, knowing that the milk she was giving would go to feed children in schools, and people in hospitals.

In fact, every morning she would see the milkman drive by, delivering her milk all over Fairfield and all of Jefferson County. She would wave her ears and swish her tail and give him a big Moo to say good morning, but the milkman never seemed to notice her. He did, however, notice the farm dog who would run from the field to chase the truck. Each morning the milkman would call out, “Hi dog!” But he never said anything to Bo.

Bo wished that people would notice her more. But, after all, she was just a cow and people living somewhere very close to, but not exactly in, Fairfield, Iowa didn’t normally notice cows very much. Sometimes while she was chewing on the grass in the field she would wonder if anyone other than Farmer Vine would ever notice her.

And one day, while she was eating and wondering that very thing, a small bird flew down and began pulling a worm out of the wet grass in front of her. Bo said, through the grass in her mouth (because cows don’t have very good manners and often talk with their mouths full), “It must be wonderful to fly.”

The bird cocked his head and looked at her with his shiny round eye. “Well,” he said, “I’ve never not been able to fly, so I wouldn’t know what not flying is like. But I would have to guess it is wonderful. I can go pretty much anywhere I want, I can get there quickly, and I can see everything that’s on the ground.” And to demonstrate he quickly flew up to the branch of a nearby tree, over to a phone line, landed on Bo’s back for a moment, then lighted back on the ground in front of her.

If Bo could have clapped, she would have. But being a cow all she could do was sigh, which just sounded like a long moo. “That was wonderful,” she said. “I would love to do that.” She chewed quietly for a moment, then asked, “You don’t think you could teach me to fly, do you?”

The bird considered it a moment. “I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s not like I really had to learn. It would be like me asking you to teach me how to give milk.”

Bo thought about that. It was true, she would have no idea how to teach someone to give milk – it was just what she did. But the idea of everyone noticing her in the sky seemed like a good one.

“And anyway,” he continued, “I don’t think a flying cow is a very good idea. You’re awfully big, and it would probably scare people to death.”

Bo just hung her head, and the bird felt badly for her. He tried to think of something that might cheer her up, when he had an idea.

“Wait a minute,” he said, “I just thought of something. Not too far from here is a very strange place with big golden domes. I’m sure that while I’ve been eating on their lawns I’ve heard that they’re teaching people to fly in those domes.” Bo felt a sudden surge of joy.

“Please,” she said, “tell me how to get there!”

“Well,” the bird said, “you go over that field, two cornfields to the right, and you’ll see one of the domes.”

Bo turned her head in that direction, wondering how far it would be for her to walk. She wasn’t sure she would be able to find this place by herself.

“One more thing,” the bird continued, “they can’t teach you to fly unless you have something called a pillow. Do you have a pillow?”

Bo shook her head sadly. “I don’t even know what a pillow is,” she said, “and somehow, I just don’t think it would be that easy for me to get there. You can fly, but I’d have to walk and it sounds like it’s a long way away.”

“I’m sorry,” the bird said to her kindly. “But cheer up. After all, you’re a cow, and cows don’t fly. They do a wonderful job of giving milk to people, but they just don’t fly.” He finished the worm he was eating and hopped over next to her. “I’ve got to be going now,” he said, “I hope to be back some time again. It was nice chatting with you.” And with that he flew up and over the trees at the far end of the field.

Bo felt so depressed she couldn’t eat for the rest of the day, and didn’t have very much milk to give that evening. Farmer Vine was afraid she was getting sick, so he led her into the barn for the night. He gave her plenty of hay, patted her on the back, and said goodnight.

Bo slept, and when she awoke her hunger got the better of her. Farmer Vine came in and for awhile she chewed and swished, and listened to the sound of her milk hissing into the pail. After the milking, Farmer Vine put her out in her field. Bo just started walking. As she walked, she noticed a hole in the fence that hadn’t been there before. Looking around, she decided to go through.

She found herself in another field she didn’t recognize at all, on the other side of the fence. As she walked she noticed that the grass looked very green. She dropped her head and began to eat. As she pulled up some grass, she raised her head and looked around while she chewed.

“I so wish I could fly,” she thought.

Now, what Bo didn’t know was that she wasn’t in any ordinary field. She was in an enchanted field, that grew only four-leaf clovers. And as anyone knows, when a cow makes a wish while chewing on four-leaf clovers, that wish is sure to come true.

Just as Bo was starting in on another patch of clovers, she noticed a tickling feeling in her left ear. She swished it around, and kept chewing. The tickling came back, just like someone was tickling her ear with a feather. She turned her head to see who would be playing this game with her, and couldn’t believe what she saw.

There was a large wing coming out of her left shoulder. Turning her head quickly to the right, she saw another wing.

She mooed in amazement. “Wings!” she exclaimed. “This must mean I can fly!” She wasn’t sure exactly how to do it, but she tried shrugging her shoulders a bit. The wings moved, creating a soft breeze. Delighted, she began flapping them harder. To her utter astonishment, her front hooves came off the ground. With a few more flaps, Bo was in the air.

First, she flew around her pasture looking down at the barnyard and the farmhouse. She flew over the barnyard, mooing in excitement. The other animals just couldn’t believe it. The pig fell right into his mud hole, the chickens began laying eggs from excitement and the cat completely ignored the flying cow and continued to clean her face.

Bo swooped down and off, eager to see what else she could see. She flew over some trees and saw a small town. It must be Fairfield! She flew toward the town square, with its shops and gazebo. She was anxious to see all the people, and have them notice her. Her! Bo the Flying Cow!

In the square there were some grandfathers and grandmothers sitting on a bench feeding a big group of pigeons. “Wow,” Bo thought, “what a great life. Just sit there and get fed.” Some of the birds were on the ground in front of the bench, and some were on a statue of a man reading a book to a child.

As Bo flew overheard, a large – very large – shadow passed over the bench. One of the grandmothers looked up and screamed, dropping her bag of bread crumbs. The sound nearly scared Bo right out of the sky. It scared the other people too. They began running and shouting, pointing up at her. They ran to their cars and began driving them off, and someone brought out a cloth to cover the statue. Bo wanted everyone to just calm down, and for things to be like they were. But it was too late for that.

She landed next to one of the pigeons, who looked at her sideways. “Well,” it said huffily, “I don’t know what you think you’re doing here. You’ve completely ruined our breakfast!” A few of the other pigeons nodded in agreement.

“I’m sorry,” Bo said. “I didn’t mean to scare anyone or ruin anybody’s breakfast.” And although she was sorry, she couldn’t understand how anyone could be upset over a few breadcrumbs.

“I just got these wings,” she said, fanning them gently, “and I’ve heard so much about Fairfield, that when I saw the town square from the sky I just had to come down and take a look.”

The Gallery

Image courtesy of Dan Handler.

I wrote this story shortly after college. The idea came to me, out of nowhere, fully formed one day while I was work. I have no idea what was up with that, but I sure wish it would happen again some day. Apparently, my muse actually is a magpie. Or maybe a cow pie. Perhaps that’s where all the shitty ideas come from….

The Gallery

“Why don’t you like my cat?”

“It has nothing to do with not liking your cat.”

“Is it any cat? Do you not like cats?”

“I like cats, cats are fine.”

“Yet you reject my cat.”

“Your cat is always sticking its ass in my face.”

“That’s not just my cat. All cats will stick their ass in your face. It’s instinct.”

“Well, then, let’s just say I don’t like cats.”

“I thought that was the problem.”

 

We are looking at the painting. It is a large white canvas, devoid of paint. “That’s not a painting.” He looks at me with certainty. “It has no paint on it, so how can it be a painting?” “Perhaps it’s simply classified as art.” “Art perhaps, but it’s not a painting.” “Does it matter what it’s called?” We look at each other. We look at the canvas. He looks at me. “Yes, it matters. They want to call it a painting, and it’s not a painting.” “Well, what do you want to call it then?” He considers. “I don’t know, maybe it’s best to just call it a painting.”

 

“Now you’re annoyed, I can tell.”

“I’m not annoyed, it’s just that I don’t dislike animals.”

“But you just admitted to not liking cats.”

“It’s not cats, it’s their behavior. I can dislike part of their behavior without disliking cats in general. Or maybe just not like one particular cat.”

“I didn’t think you liked my cat.”

 

The artist is standing next to us. He has listened to our conversation and is angry. “No, it’s not a painting. I’m the artist, I should know what it is.” “It is a painting.” “But you just said it wasn’t a painting.” “I changed my mind, now that I look at more closely I can see that it definitely is a painting.” “No, no, you were right, look at it, it has no paint on it, it’s not a painting.” “If you have to interpret your painting for the audience, it’s not a very good work of art, is it?” The artist walks away. He is very angry.

 

“Why are you trying to make me admit that I don’t like your cat?”

“I think it would be healthier for you to see that you don’t like the cat and admit to it, rather than try to pretend something that’s isn’t true. You may end up sublimating your dislike of my cat into something else.”

“Would it make you feel better if I said I didn’t like your cat?”

“Well, if it would make you feel better, I think it should be said.”

 

The artist is coming back with a group of people. They look hostile. They are carrying books of poetry by Gertrude Stein. They are coming our way and I want to leave. “Let’s just go, it’s not worth arguing about.” “It’s not an argument, it’s artistic debate. Everyone has a right to express an opinion, although the more I look at it, it really doesn’t seem to be a painting does it? What do you think?” Even when I close my eyes, I can see them coming.

 

“She likes you. She never purrs unless she like you.”

“Cats always like you when you’re allergic to them. She sheds a great deal, doesn’t she?”

“It’s in the nature of a cat to shed. It’s hot outside.”

“Don’t you brush her?”

“Sometimes, but she doesn’t always like it.”

“Can I put her down now?”

 

They are all angry. They are shouting at each other. “How can it be a painting if it has no paint?” “You idiot, do you think the only element of a painting is paint? What about the creative process?” “So then if this is a painting, anyone who states they are an artist is an artist.” “No, art takes creativity.” “So then, it’s not a painting, but it is art.” “Then we’re all artists.” “No, but we could all be painters.” I am still considering the blank canvas.

 

“Would you mind keeping her off my lap?”

“But I thought you liked cats.”

“I do, but only when I want to like them.”

“She doesn’t want to get off your lap. Don’t push her, she might scratch you.”

“But I don’t want her on my lap. Couldn’t you get a dog?”

“No, I’m a cat person. Maybe if I offer her some food she’ll get off your lap.”

 

“Look, if he just painted it white, then it would still be white, it would have paint on it, and it would be a painting.” “But it wouldn’t be a work of art.” “But he would be an artist.” “I like it.” They all look at me. I take money out of my purse. I give it to the artist and take down the canvas. I wonder if it will look better in the living room or over the bed.

 

“Why should you have to offer her anything? She should simply get off my lap because she is an animal and I want her to.”

“But she does have a will.”

“And I have an allergy.”

“Isn’t an allergy also a function of will?”

“She really is purring. Does it really mean she likes me?”

“I think you’ve held her long enough.”

“No, it’s o.k., she’s happy on my lap.”

“Give me back my cat please.”

 

The painting is hanging over the bed. I want to enjoy it alone. In silence. I wonder what they are arguing about, now that I have the painting. I lie down on the bed. The room feels much more peaceful than I remember it feeling when I left. I think, it was a lot of money, but you really can’t pay enough for peace of mind. I fall asleep.

 

“Look, she’s my cat and I want her back now.”

“But she’s happy on my lap. Don’t pull her, she might scratch.”

“I’ll get some food, to entice her off your lap.”

“But I thought you were concerned with her will.”

“If she wants the food I offer to her, then it’s her will that she get off your lap.”

“I would think you would be concerned with the happiness of your cat.”

 

I am awakened by the artist and the group of people carrying books of poetry by Gertrude Stein. They seem happy to see the painting. “You see, I told you she would put it in the bedroom.” “But it would be better in the living room.” “A work of art is a personal experience.” “But it’s the responsibility of the owner of a work of art to share that art.” “What if the artist never shares it?” “Well, that’s different.” I try to go back to sleep.

 

“Look, just as I’m enjoying your cat, you want to take her back.”

“Please give me my cat.”

“But I’m trying to show you that I like your cat.”

“Please give me my cat.”

“I really believe your behavior to be irrational.”

“Please give me my cat.”

“But I like your cat and want to hold her.”

 

I hear a loud voice. “But we never decided if it was a painting or not.” Voices are raised. I consider the artist. I consider the painting. I consider the people with books of poetry by Gertrude Stein. I take a knife, rip the canvas from the frame, and stomp on it. The group is silent. Their eyes are hostile. “She destroyed a work of art.” “She destroyed a painting.” They look at me. “Do you realize a great work of art is an individual effort?” “That was a once in a lifetime piece.” “That can never be recreated.” “It was a blank canvas.” “It was a work of art.” “So a canvas can be replaced, but the work of art can’t?” I leave the room.

 

“Please give me my cat.”

“Are you jealous that the cat likes me?”

“GIVE ME THE DAMN CAT.”

“I never have liked your cat.”

Conversations with Death

Several years ago Dan (you’ll know about Dan if you read the first blog – he’s the artist who supplied the drawing accompanying this blog), gave me a call and asked if I wanted to work on a project with him. And of course I did, so he told me what he had in mind.

He was thinking about a series of stop-motion vignettes about Death. Maybe Death in a bar, talking to the bartender. Bitching about his job, being a regular guy – but of course he’s Death so it really isn’t regular at all. I thought it sounded fun, so I began coming up with concepts. Death and teenage girls, Death and the Darwin Awards, Death has a tough day at the office. We went through several iterations, and the scripts below represent a few of my favorites.

NOTE: In initial drafts I often insert little jokes to myself that not many people will get – I find it fun but I’m guessing a lot of readers would find that annoying. The reference to the “E-Ticket ride” is one of those. Some will get it, some won’t – but you can always Google it if you’re interested.

NO BONES ABOUT IT

Scene: The bar. BARTENDER is behind the bar, DEATH is sitting at the bar, one hand curled around a drink, a cigarette in the other, smoke curling up. The door opens (or maybe we don’t see the door, maybe HUNCH just walks in from offstage) and HUNCH walks in (HUNCH is a very small skeleton with small bones and is slightly hunched over) and sits down next to DEATH.

BARTENDER: What’ll you have?

HUNCH: Milk. And make it a double.

DEATH looks at HUNCH and doesn’t say anything, looks at the BARTENDER. BARTENDER sets down milk.

HUNCH: (Takes a drink.) Good for the bones. You know, exercise, strength training, extra calcium. Don’t want to get too brittle.

BARTENDER reaches out to HUNCH, wait a beat, then pokes a vertebra (probably through stomach under rib cage?) Slight cracking sound and HUNCH compresses ever so slightly.

HUNCH: HEY!

BARTENDER: Wow, that IS brittle. (Reaches out, pokes another vertebra. Slight cracking sound and HUNCH compresses just a little more.)

HUNCH: What the hell! Stop it! I’m not bubble wrap, damn it. (BARTENDER just laughs and starts to reach out again. HUNCH jumps up).

HUNCH: That’s it, I’m outta here. (HUNCH turns to leave. BARTENDER looks at DEATH. Without looking, DEATH reaches back and pokes HUNCH in the hip. Cracking sound and HUNCH goes down.)

BARTENDER: (Looking down over bar.) Nice.

HUNCH: (Pops back up on one leg.) I suppose you think that’s funny!

DEATH: No, not really.

(HUNCH hops out of the bar. Once offstage we hear a crack, then HUNCH speaks): DAMN!

BARTENDER and DEATH look at each other.

DEATH: Now THAT’S funny. (Holds up his drink, the BARTENDER picks up the milk and they click glasses. DEATH takes a sip, and the bartender tosses the glass of milk.)

 

A VERY DISNEY DEATH

DEATH walks into the bar, sits down and doesn’t say anything.

BARTENDER:  The usual?

DEATH:  Yes. Please. (Silence while BARTENDER gets drink. Puts it in front of DEATH who curls one hand around it.)

BARTENDER:  Tough day?

DEATH:  Not really. Just got back from a job in Florida.

BARTENDER: Retiree?

DEATH: No. Tourist. Wanted to get a photo of himself petting an alligator. It’s kind of nice when they make it easy.

BARTENDER: Oh. Right. (Pause while DEATH takes a drink. We hear a buzzing noise and DEATH pulls out his device and looks.)

DEATH: (Sighs.) It never ends. Back to Florida.

BARTENDER: Tourist? Retiree? Jousting mishap at Medieval Times?

DEATH: (Stands.) No. This time I’m headed for the Tragic Kingdom.

BARTENDER: Don’t you mean the Magic Kingdom?

DEATH: (Looks up.) Not when I visit. (Stands and puts device away.) I’ll be packing an 8.5 earthquake in my carry on.

BARTENDER: (Nods head.) Innovative. That’s the ultimate E-Ticket ride, eh? (Pause.) See you later?

DEATH: Count on it. (DEATH exits.)

(BARTENDER picks up DEATH’S glass, looks around, downs the rest of the drink. Wipes out glass with towel and puts glass back under bar.)

 

KNICK-KNACK PADDY WHACK

Set is completely empty except for DEATH, standing to the left of the scene, studying his fingernails.   A moment of silence.

We hear the sound of a dog barking, footsteps running, and panting.  SKELETON goes running through scene R to L with DOG chasing and barking (DOG is a skeleton dog with a perpetually wagging tail).  DEATH’S head turns to watch them goes by.  Goes back to studying his nails.

Sound of dog barking, running, wagging.  SKELETON runs by L to R.  As SKELETON passes DEATH, DOG jumps and grabs an arm bone – hand and all.  SKELETON shrieks and keeps running, DOG chasing.  DEATH watches, studies nails.

Dog barking, footsteps running and panting, wagging furiously.  DOG comes running by with arm in mouth (maybe hand is hanging and flapping?)  SKELETON chasing.

SKELETON:  Come back here with that!  I need that!  That’s my arm dammit!

(Stops in front of DEATH, panting.  DOG is nearby, growling, taunting with arm, still wagging.)

SKELETON: (Looks at DEATH.) It’s my neighbor’s dog.  Barks all night, craps in my yard, and keeps taking my extremities.  He buried my damn leg last week and I had to hop all over for days before I could find it.  Left his damn teeth marks in my fibula.  (Holds out his leg for DEATH to see.  DEATH looks leg up and down, goes back to nails.)

SKELETON:  You ever have this problem?

DEATH: (Looks at SKELETON, then at DOG.) Play dead.  (DOG drops into a pile of bones.  DEATH picks up arm bone and hands to SKELETON, who puts it back on.)

SKELETON:  Thanks.  (Pause.) Huh, I had no idea that dog could do tricks.  (Walks off.)

DEATH: (looks down.)  Good dog. (The tail slightly poking out from the pile of bones wags back and forth.)

I Call the Shots

When I was a kid, anytime I had to get a shot, have my blood drawn or suffer any other medical torture, I could hear the adult voice saying, “Be brave, be good, be a ‘big girl’.” So I would try my hardest not to fear the needle, not to cry out in pain, and to act as though the experience never bothered me.

I’m not a kid anymore.

Therefore, I am no longer brave, good or big. I am cowardly, bad and puny. Maybe it’s simply a regression, or a necessary expression of an earlier repressed fear. Maybe I’m just a wimp. Whatever.

I didn’t realize how bad I was until I went to the doctor and was informed they would have to take some blood. Now, don’t get me wrong, after two surgeries and two glucose tolerance tests it’s not a new experience. It’s just one of “those things.” Give me an intramuscular shot, set a bone, send me for a lower G.I.. Just don’t take my blood.

Anyway, the nurse comes in and starts to rub that alcohol cotton swab up and down my arm and ties on that rubber thingie (tourniquet? Am I going to bleed to death otherwise?). That alone makes me woozy. I tell her, “I’m not good at this, I’ll probably jump a little.” She jabs in the needle, I jump and she whines, “Hold still.” I’m sorry, did “I’ll probably a jump a little” not mean the same thing to you as it did to me?

Even with my head turned the other way I know she’s digging for that vein. I can feel it. It’s like inner-elbow excavation. My hands are starting to sweat and I know my blood pressure is rising. Along with my lunch.

“Hmmm. I couldn’t get anything. Oh well, the seal on this vial is cracked so it wouldn’t have been any good anyway.” Well that certainly instills confidence. Not to mention that if someone doesn’t get the blood on the first try, I really snivel. She tried to go for other veins, but I kept whining, “You’re not going to try that one are you?” until she tried the same vein again.

“Are you getting any blood?” Her silence was my answer. The needle probed some more and I tried not to pass out. She threw down the empty vial and proclaimed cheerfully, “Well it’s time for the butterfly needle.”

“What’s a butterfly needle?”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ve had one before.”

Now, doesn’t it strike you that if I’d had one before, I wouldn’t ask what it was? She returned with a funky looking needle, then tied the little rubber thingie just above my wrist.

“Now wait a minute, you’re not taking it from my wrist.”

“Oh, sure, we stick it right in and the blood just pours out.” That was it – I was done.  I mean seriously, I only have my Web MD but I’m pretty sure blood is never supposed to pour out of you – what’s next? Leeches?

“No.” I pulled my arm away and held onto it. “I don’t want my blood taken today, I’ll come back tomorrow.” A complete fabrication, I know, but my life was on the line.

“No, you came in today, we’ll do it today.”

“I don’t want you to take my blood.” I was ready to come to blows over this. She regarded me for a moment, probably regretting giving up veterinary science, and then said, “Fine, I’ll let the doctor do it.”

She left, and I seriously considered making a break for it. But I knew I’d have to see this through – they had my social security number. By the time the doctor got in I was half frenzied.

“I don’t want my blood taken today!” One look at my face and he knew it was a no go (I’m guessing the recognition of near hysteria is one of the things they teach you in med school). He and the nurse calmly spoke about me in the third person, gave me my bill and let me go.

As I drove home the foolishness of what I had done overcame me. I could just hear the adult voice saying, “I’m so ashamed of you, why weren’t you brave?”

Hey, I was brave – it took guts to stand up to those vampires, fight my way out of there, and escape with my arm intact. And, shut up – you’re not the boss of me.

Yeah, it’s good to be a grown-up.