Has anyone got some wet wipes?

When Steve and I first got together Ben and Brandon were 6 and 2, respectively. They were sweet, cute little boys, full of love and innocence and that wonderful acceptance that most young children have for new adults. In the beginning, I’d meet them on Fridays for dinner at Arby’s or McDonald’s and we’d spend the evening together. Eventually, Steve and I decided to buy a house, where the boys would stay with us every other weekend.

We found a small house in a nice suburb with a fenced yard; on the weekends the boys were with us they would have a nice bedroom and a place to play outside. The boys were cautiously optimistic, Steve was worried about how they would fare on their first night in our home, and I was completely clueless.

Now let me explain. I was never one of those girls who loved babies, who played with dolls, who wanted to be a mommy. I hadn’t planned on having children, and didn’t see myself as a “kid person.” Growing up I babysat maybe three times and really didn’t enjoy it – I just didn’t get kids, even when I was one myself. I had changed one wet diaper when my nephew was an infant – a diaper my sister had to put on again because I had gotten it backward. I had reached the age of 34 knowing absolutely nothing practical about how to care for children. I was about to get my first real lesson.

The other thing I want to point out (somewhat in my own defense) is that most people get their children as babies. They’re small and helpless, and can’t move around or talk back. By the time they’re 2 and 6, most parents have gotten a handle on what to do and not do, what to give them or not give them, and how to otherwise not make a complete nitwit of themselves. In my case, however, we were gearing up for some serious nitwittery.

The first weekend the boys stayed with us, Steve had an emergency at work that required him to go back into the office after the boys went to bed Friday night. He explained this to Ben, who was (understandably) upset his father wouldn’t be there on his first night in a new house. After Steve put them to bed and left, Ben began to wail for his father.

I didn’t know what to do. Ignore him? Go up and comfort him? Go up and cry with him? Stay downstairs and cry by myself? About that time, Brandon began crying as well and I started to panic. I went with what I know best. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and said firmly, “Ben, your father isn’t here. He had to go to work. Now go to sleep.” Miraculously, the crying stopped. O.k., maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad.

I sat downstairs for a while watching television, and then went upstairs to go to bed. I checked on the quiet, evenly breathing forms, and went to bed satisfied that all was well. That lasted about two hours.

Shortly after 2 a.m. I heard a tremendous thump. I started awake, heart pounding, threw on my robe and raced across the hall to find Ben sitting on the floor looking confused. Brandon was still asleep. “Are you o.k.?” I whispered. He just looked at me with a complete lack of comprehension, got into bed and fell almost immediately back to sleep. I went back to my bed amped up and wondering what in the hell had just happened.

I lay down on top of the bed in my robe; listening intently, ready to spring into action if needed. Every sound, every twitch made me sit up in alarm. Were they o.k.? Did one of them fall on their head? Were they still breathing? Holy shit; do I remember how to do CPR? I dozed fitfully between visions of having to explain why there was a flat spot on Ben’s head, and how Brandon managed to crawl over his bed rail to play with matches.

Finally, at about 6:00 a.m. Steve returned, exhausted. He climbed into bed, and I was able to crawl back under the covers and get some real sleep. That lasted about an hour until the boys were up. I could hear what sounded like reasonable, normal kid noises, and crept across the hall to get them so their father could sleep.

I got them downstairs without incident, and was toasting up some frozen waffles while they waited at the kitchen table. Honestly, Eggos, couldn’t be easier. I set down their plates and Ben picked up his fork and started to dig in. I looked at Brandon, who was looking at me. What was he waiting for? Oh, right, he’s probably too little to pour his own syrup. Does he even like syrup?

“Hey Ben, does Brandon like syrup on his waffles?”

“Yes,” he said, confidently pouring syrup on his own waffle. O.k. no problem, I’ve got this. It’s not like you let a two-year old pour his own syrup, right? I took the Mrs. Butterworth’s and carefully poured some on Brandon’s waffle, picked up his fork, cut it into pieces, put the fork on his plate for him, and sat back smiling.

Until I realized he couldn’t really eat with a full-size fork. HE WAS TWO. He began to pick up the waffle pieces and lick off the syrup. He looked up at me in surprise and delight, and those sticky fingers began going on his face, in his hair, on the table – pretty much everywhere, dragging long, syrupy strings behind them. I turned to Ben and asked what should have been my first question. “Has he ever had syrup before?”

Ben looked at me, “I don’t think so,” he answered. “When is Dad getting up?”

“You don’t think so? But you said he liked syrup!” I could hear the pleading tone in my voice, wondering what in the hell Steve would say when he saw the stiff peaks beginning to form on Brandon’s head.

“Well, I figured he probably would,” Ben replied, “but I don’t think he’s had it before.”

O.k., I thought, don’t panic, this is not a problem. I just need to be a bit more specific in what I’m asking. Not if he likes syrup, but if he’s ever had syrup. O.k., I can learn from that one.

I turned my attention back to Ben who was starting to get restless. “Uh, I don’t know when your dad is getting up, honey. He was out very late working and didn’t get home until about two hours ago. We need to let him sleep a little bit, o.k.?” He didn’t look convinced. “Why don’t you go in the playroom and play?”

I had set aside a large bedroom downstairs for the boys, designated as the playroom. I figured this would keep the toys and clutter out of the family room, and give me some “adult” space in the house. I had planned on putting in a T.V. at some point, but hadn’t gotten to it yet. Come to think of it, there were quite a few things I was planning on putting in there, but hadn’t gotten to yet. So I had pretty much sent a six-year old to an empty room with a few toys to entertain himself for, what, like five or six hours?

In about ten minutes Ben came back into the kitchen where I was trying to clean up both the table and a two-year old with a damp sponge. I made a mental note to buy some wet wipes.

“Will you play with me?” I just looked at him. Play? Play what? “Uh, o.k., maybe in a minute, I need to get Brandon cleaned up, o.k.?”

“When is Dad getting up?”

“Um, I don’t know honey, we need to let him sleep a little bit, o.k.?”

He stood watching me try to clean up Brandon with a kitchen sponge, probably thinking I didn’t know what I was doing. He was right.

To be honest, I don’t remember how the rest of the weekend went, but I know it was long. Really, really long – for all of us. At about 10:00 that morning, I decided Steve had had enough sleep (I mean, come on, four hours) and I went and told him he had to get up. Now. We didn’t have all that many hours before he had to go back to work. That night, he put the boys to bed and returned to the office.

When he had to leave for work on Sunday afternoon, I was the only one who wasn’t crying. I think I was just on autopilot at that point and knew someone had to hold it together. That’s kind of my groove, so I step into it pretty naturally. Ben and Brandon were in tears, and Steve, exhausted, began to cry. Being the pragmatist I am, I shoved him out the front door and said, “See you later.” Again, I couldn’t tell you what happened next, or how I kept the kids occupied but apparently I managed.

Of course we all survived that first weekend, and I’ve learned a thing or two since. Now 25 and 21, the boys are capable of taking care of themselves. There are no more baths to give, diapers to change, behinds to wipe, tears to soothe… well, you get the idea. I learned how to feed them, clothe them and put them to bed. I even cleaned vomit out of shoelaces and changed a dirty diaper whose contents seemed to have made their way up to the nape of Brandon’s neck. We all ended up being comfortable with my parenting skills, and hey, they made it to adulthood so I’m declaring success.

It is with gratitude that I think of their father and mother, both of whom generously supported me over the years as I learned the lessons of parenting, and who did all the real work and heavy lifting. And it is with awe and appreciation that I tip my hat to parents everywhere. You need strength, stamina and courage to make it through. And wet wipes. A shit-ton of wet wipes.

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 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.

 

 

 

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.

 

The Copeland Cats

At one point my love of cats – and my very patient husband’s love of me – turned me into what some might call a crazy cat lady. (Although I honestly don’t think ten cats is that many, especially when most of them are outdoors.)

After spending years trying to write something “serious,” I decided to go back to what comes naturally, and wrote the very sing-songy poem below about the heyday of the “Copeland Cat” era. The photo above shows the nine outdoor cats having breakfast on the porch. Although most of the cats are gone now, I have fond memories of the sight of “all the cattails wavin’.”

 

THE COPELAND CATS

In the country, in Virginia, in a little place called Rockville,

Is a farm that gives a second chance to cats that got a raw deal.

Here the catnip grows in long straight rows; the farm’s called Copeland’s Haven.

Come and take a closer look – there’s something quite amazin’!

 

There are kitties at the Copeland’s over-running all the acres,

With their whisker-lickin’ groomin’ and their loud meowy-makers.

First is Idaho, then Leroy, next are Zed, Moe, Boo and Tina,

Then there’s Chingo, Honey, Rikki, and there’s also Grace and Xena.

 

All the kitties love the Copelands, in particular the Missus,

‘Cause she’s the Kitty Momma granting all their kitty wishes.

And although she is a human she’s an expert at the art

Of understanding feline feelings and respecting feline hearts.

 

So come and meet the Copeland cats, their antics are amusing,

(Just know that some may run away, while others may be snoozing).

But even so, come say hello – give in to cat seduction,

We’ll get you started on your way with this brief introduction.

 

Idaho’s an indoor cat; he’s pampered, sleek and happy,

He loves to eat his chicken bits and nap in Momma’s lappy.

On winter nights he stays inside and curls up by the fire,

In spring the open windows let him hear the birdie’s choir.

 

Leroy is the leader of the cats that live outside,

He’s a black tuxedo rascal with a lion’s royal pride.

He will be the first you’ll see, the one to give a greeting,

And Leroy is the first to give another cat a beating.

 

Zed is quite a scrapper with his dapper, long black coat,

He’s got a ton of cattitude and not much else of note.

He loves to run and climb the trees; he loves his kitty kibbles,

And when you’re busy petting him, he loves to give love nibbles.

 

Moe rhymes with “NO” – it’s apropos – the naughty little booger!

He’s also loving, cute and smart, and can be sweet as sugar.

He loves to chew on cardboard, eat the bills and tear up tissues,

Apparently this little guy is full of pulp-based issues.

 

With Boo it’s true you don’t see much, he tries not to be seen.

A solid black, big ‘fraidy cat, his birthday’s Halloween.

He slinks along behind the trees; he likes things nice and quiet.

And Boo’s the first to rush away should things become a riot.

 

Tina is the biggest cat and stately as a queen.

A calico with manners, she is never cross or mean.

She is fond of Chingo, and she finds his love inspiring,

Although his constant presence can occasionally be tiring.

 

Chingo is a tabby cat that sports a fat white tummy,

From thinking that most everything is absolutely yummy.

He’s in love with Tina, so much so it makes him loopy,

And when she is ignoring him, his tail gets sad and droopy.

 

Honey is the newest cat; he comes from who knows where,

He needs to learn to bathe and groom his honey colored hair.

He wants so badly to be loved, but runs away from petting,

You’ll always find the clumps of fur he leaves behind from shedding.

 

Rikki is a little man; he’s white with tabby patches,

He’s always mending from a scrape or one of many scratches.

Although he’s shy he’s quite a guy, he’s full of kitty charm;

The Momma’s constant worry is he’ll come to kitty harm.

 

Poor Grace is just a mental case and needs to get a clue.

She’s purring while you’re petting her, then bites before you’re through.

She has a way, like Puss in Boots, to look sad and appealing,

She could be sad, she could be mad – who knows what she is feeling!

 

Xena is a princess and our mighty warrior kitty.

She’s a pastel tortoiseshell, and just so itty-bitty.

She hunts for prey both night and day; you often see her stalking,

And when you hear her tiny voice, its daintiness is shocking.

 

That’s all the cats there are for now; the future is unwritten,

For if the Momma sees in need a kitten, she is smitten.

Come back to see the Copeland cats, they’re here at Copeland’s Haven,

You’ll recognize it by the sight of all the cat tails wavin’.