"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pitied Dates

Carol and I have a long-standing response we give to anyone who asks how we've managed to stay together through 30-plus years of marriage: "No one else would be willing to put up with us." While I've always thought Carol was a catch, and still do, I'm certain she's right about me since that's been the pattern ever since I first went on a "date".

In third grade I had a crush on Ginger Gerton. When Valentine's Day came around most kids' moms bought those inexpensive packs of punch-out cards with cartoon figures on them -- Bugs Bunny, Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo, maybe the Marvel Super Heroes. And while I had a fistful of those to pass out, I also had one I'd hand-made for my love Ginger. It was a cut-out heart with a pocket on the front of it, labeled "Sweets for the sweet" (I erased and penciled over where I'd initially printed "... for the sweat"), with a little hard candy tucked in the pocket. In our classroom there were folders underneath the blackboard with each student's name, and into those we placed our cards for one another.

Well, something in my relationship with Ginger went horribly awry and we ended up having a lover's spat on the playground after lunch on Our Special Day. After recess we came back and that's when we were allowed to retrieve our valentines from the folders and read through them. Much to my surprise, I hadn't gotten a card from my (formerly) beloved. I went over to her desk and asked if she'd gotten my artisan card. "Yes, but I threw it away!" she told me. I asked if she'd seen the candy in the pocket of hers and she said she hadn't -- "Good! 'Cause you're not 'sweet' at all!" It was a bitter break-up and I was so traumatized by the split that I forced my parents to move before the end of the school year to a new neighborhood so I didn't have to see her every day in class.

[Now, you know I didn't force my parents to move, but we did move during spring break that year. We moved frequently, for no other reason than my parents would get tired of whatever house we were living in and wanted something new. It wasn't necessarily bigger, or better, or cheaper -- it was just "different". And we always moved during spring break, which was just the pits -- there's nothing worse than being the "new kid" in class, and it's even more difficult when you are introduced to a hostile audience with just a handful of weeks left in the school year. The shunning that meets you as the newbie doesn't have enough time to wear off before the year ends and you're facing a summer without any real friends.]

In sixth grade I liked Karen Christensen and she seemed to like me. We sat next to each other a row apart and would often turn toward one another for chit-chat when we first came into class or if we had a break between subjects. Our standing joke was that we were a mixed couple -- I was Jewish and she was "Christian"-sen. Even back in that day -- late 60s -- some kids went on "dates", just the two of them to a movie or maybe bowling, but the only time Karen and I spent together outside of class was one Saturday afternoon at our school's annual fair. My mom dropped me off and after walking around for a few minutes I spied Karen and ran over to her. She was also excited to see me and we spent the rest of that blissful afternoon strolling hand-in-hand past the various booths. I had enough change in my pocket for about a dollar's worth of tickets, and I used two of them to buy Karen the enticing treat of a whole lemon pierced with a peppermint stick "straw" - you'd suck the lemon juice up through the candy and it tasted like lemonade, if your idea of lemonade was limited to "Country Time" powdered mix.

We came back to class the following Monday, with the school year winding down to a close later that week. We said we'd see each other over the summer and exchanged addresses and promised to write to each other "every day". After school ended I spent most of that first day composing a long letter (nearly an entire notebook page, double-spaced), talking about my feelings for her, asking what she was doing, and suggesting we could figure out a time and place to have our moms drop us off so we could spend more glorious time together. I walked that letter to the mailbox at the end of our street and dropped it in, full of hope and giddy with anticipation. I wrote again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and... I never got any letters back from Karen. It made for a morose summer. That fall was the start of junior high school, and on that first day of seeing familiar faces after the break I didn't see Karen's anywhere - not in any classes, not in the hallways, not at assembly. None of my sixth grade compatriots had any idea what had happened to her -- no one seemed to live in her neighborhood so she hadn't been spied all summer. To this day I like to believe she spent the remainder of her pre-pubescent years with the love letters I sent her tucked under her pillow, quietly crying herself to sleep each night and pining for what could have been. Of course, when I say "pre-pubescent" I realize she probably blossomed into nearly-full womanhood that summer, while my voice still hadn't cracked (I was one of the few male first sopranos in the chorus in seventh and the first half of eighth grades), and she'd likely tossed my pathetic little-boy missives in the trash while she went on real dates with sixteen-year-olds.

I finally got over my feelings for Karen and got involved in the junior high social scene. We all know that's where it starts to get interesting -- we begin to experience urges and longings for intimacies that we are still too immature to act upon in an informed and cogent manner. I admit to being a pretty straight-laced pre-teen (and largely teenager, as well) -- didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't sass the teachers. Most of my friends were cut from the same cloth, at least so far as I knew. Junior high introduced the idea of school dances -- you could go "stag" (for a quarter) or "drag" (double the price). Most kids went "stag" the first time or two and we were always shocked when two of our classmates came "drag" together. But eventually we all understood the advantage of "drag" attendance (oh, how naive we were... to come to a dance "drag" these days means something altogether different. Not that there's anything wrong with that.) and showed up with someone else in tow. I'm pretty certain the first time I asked a girl to go to one of these dances with me I still expected her to chip in her half of the fifty cents.

At some point I asked a girl named Tracey to go to an upcoming dance with me and she said yes. We spent a lovely evening together, holding hands and dancing and holding hands. I didn't make any moves -- and the chaperones quickly separated those couples who tried to suck face -- but we got along well enough and continued to go out for most of the rest of that school year. Movies, skating, group and duo activities. At one point we met up with a gaggle of just-teens and spent the day on a sailboat at an event sponsored by a youth group I belonged to. We swam in the bay after the boat anchored and had a great day. When we got back to shore, everyone went inside to change into dry clothes. At some point Tracey and I found each other in an upstairs room by ourselves and... I kissed her. (This was after, like, six months of dating. Talk about a case of arrested development.) Once, twice, but when I moved in the third time Tracey backed off, looking alarmed and shaking her head no. I was confused but respected her wish and turned away, knocking a tray full of change off a table. Not with my hands.

The last dance of the school year was shortly after that incident and I when I smilingly asked Tracey, "Do ya' wanna go to the dance?" I was stunned when she replied, "I don't think so." Confused, I didn't ask for any further explanation. I went "stag" and saw Tracey there. I asked her if she wanted to dance with me and she declined. Now my heart was broken into 3.1416 pieces (we were taking Geometry that year). In today's hyper-sexualized environment, it's hard to believe that something as fundamental as a mere kiss could be construed as going "too far", but there it was. Well, kiss + erection, so that might've had something to do with it.

High school was... high school. I had my first "serious" girlfriend, Gail, and we dated most of junior and senior years. We did NOT get drunk after prom or end up in a cheap motel, etc. We continued to see each other the summer before leaving for college and came to a mutual agreement (at her suggestion) that we were open to meeting new people at school. The tradition at our high school was for the seniors who had graduated the year before to come back for the Homecoming Dance in the fall. A fair number would attend -- hair longer (boys) or shorter (girls), most with the faint smell of beer or cigarettes or... what was that other sweet odor clinging to their clothes? -- and regale wide-eyed seniors with tales of collegiate debauchery. Love-lorn as always, I'd asked Gail if she'd be home that weekend and go to the dance with me -- she said yes! I was ecstatic. It was the first time I'd seen her since late summer and I imagined we were going to pick up right where we left off. She looked stunning, as always. We had a great evening catching up with friends and each other. We left the dance and I indicated I wanted the evening to continue (I now had a clearer sense of what to do with that erection) but Gail declined and said she wanted to go home. She wrote me a letter a week or so later telling me that she was dating a guy at school and she hoped we could remain friends. I believe she offered that olive branch because she needed a ride home from school over Christmas break and I leapt at the chance to provide it. I made the three-hour drive to her school, waited several more hours for her to return from class, waited several more hours for her to pack up her shit, and then made the drive home. I helped her bring her belongings inside and said hello to her parents. Her mom asked if I wanted to stay for dinner, to which Gail replied, "No, John has to go home." I didn't... but of course I did.

College was a struggle for me on a variety of levels, but those academic and social adjustments are another story altogether. I ended up coming home for the second semester, enrolling in the local community college. Lots of kids, even some really smart ones, went there in order to save money while getting most of their required courses out of the way and transferring to other, better schools to pursue their majors. A buddy from high school named Randy, who was a year ahead of me, was there and had dated Karen, a classmate of mine, during our senior year. His tale of romantic woe was much like mine and Gail's -- Karen had gone off and was seeing other people while Randy still pined for her. One day Randy told me Karen was coming home for the weekend and had agreed to go out with him -- but only if he found a date for her girlfriend from school who would be visiting. Well, there I was.

Randy picked up the girls that Saturday night and then swung by my house. I climbed in the backseat and met "Mary" (I'm putting her name in quotes because I really don't remember it, for reasons you'll soon learn). During the drive into town I chatted up Mary and was, I felt, at the top of my game. I joked with everyone and had them in stitches during the entire drive, my seat-mate included. We parked and headed into a local bar (drinking age was 18 then and I just barely qualified). The place was packed, with folks two- and three-deep at the bar as well as taking up nearly all the available space in the joint. Randy offered to get the first round and dove into the crowd. It took him nearly twenty minutes to come back gripping four beers, which we in our youthful ardor quaffed in about 30 seconds. I offered to go get the second round and Mary said she was going to find the ladies' room. It took another twenty minutes before I came back with brews in hand, finding Randy and Karen but not Mary. Karen said Mary hadn't returned from the ladies' room while I was gone and she was worried and was going to look for her. Karen waded off into the crowd and didn't return for a solid half-hour. She said she'd seen no sign of her friend. I said I'd work my way around to take a look, eating up another thirty minutes and still no sign of Mary. Randy went next, taking just as much time and with the same negative result. Karen said she'd try once again and was gone for what seemed even longer. When she came back she leaned over to Randy and spoke in his ear. They exchanged confidences for a few moments, then Karen turned to me and said, "Mary met some other guys and she said they would give her a ride home." So much for turning on the charm. We packed it in and headed for home. On the drive back, Karen was so kind and spent the time chatting me up -- how was school, was I working, who else had I seen, do you remember when...? It was very sweet of her. I found out later that Mary made it home in the wee hours, somewhat disheveled... and Karen told Randy that same night she just wanted to be friends.

I took a much more casual approach to dating for the remainder of my college and post-college years until I met Carol. There was one long-term relationship in there but no thoughts of marriage or deeper commitment, at least not from my perspective. Carol and I "met cute", as they say in the movies (she was a lifeguard, I was a camp counselor, and we met at after she'd fished one of my charges out of the pool). While we had our fits and starts along the way, we quickly came to the conclusion that we were meant for each other. That brings us back to today, with all those years in and many more on the horizon.

But we were at Home Depot the other day and Carol said she had to find the ladies' room... I held my breath until she came back.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Vodka Catatonic

Our cat Chloe has, like that parrot in the fabled Monty Python sketch, "ceased to be." With a bit of an assist from her loving owners...

As you may recall from this post, our cat Chloe had been experiencing... intestinal issues. We tried a conservative approach to treatment, first with antibiotics and then, when those had no discernible effect, a course of steroids. The steroids didn't help with the diarrhea either, but Chloe's slugging percentage rose nearly 100 points in a week.

The other morning I came downstairs and showered and after I completed my toilette I exited the bathroom and noticed a... distinct odor. I was fairly certain I wasn't the source since I'd just scrubbed up, so I strode over to the cat boxes to inspect. I found, outside of the receptacles, several pools of... Nah, I'm not even going to try to describe it, delicately or otherwise. It was clear that: A) the medication wasn't helping and B) it was only a matter of time before the cat bypassed the designated area altogether and decided to go wherever she wanted in the house, much like my great-aunt sometimes did.

Carol came downstairs as I was finishing clean-up. I apprised her of the situation and it didn't take us long to agree that Chloe's time was coming to an end. We called the vet to review and she was very understanding, offering only a mild suggestion that we perhaps would consider another round of antibiotics (to which we said "Nuh-uh"), and recognizing that the next most likely causes were really serious stuff like lymphoma or a cat with a "Jewish stomach" (as some of you may know: a miserable, incurable condition). We felt since Chloe was a cat who shied from human contact that our ability to administer any medications or manage her care would be almost impossible. Under those conditions, we felt making a quick move to prevent Chloe's further suffering was the best course of action. The vet agreed and then transferred us to the front desk to set up Chloe's "end of life" appointment for later that morning; "end of life" being a euphemism for "costly veterinary visit".

We managed to get Chloe into her carrier without too much difficulty. She wasn't happy about being confined and fortunately the vet's office was a short drive away. As soon as we walked in a staff member named Renee came out, knowing why we were there, and ushered us into an examination room so we could review the protocol.

Renee asked us to sign a form that Chloe hadn't bitten anyone in the past fifteen days. I discounted any injuries obtained from putting her in the carrier twice in the last two weeks and signed the form -- if she was rabid, she took that secret to her grave. Now the hard decision came -- credit or debit? Well, before that we needed to indicate whether we wanted to be present when the vet administered the lethal injection. I asked, "Do you mean present like in the room, or in the general vicinity?" She confirmed she meant the room, and after a bit of tearful consideration we decided not to observe. This cat derived no comfort from our proximity in all her years living under our roof, so why should we be visible in her final moments to further agitate her? We then had to decide among three options:
  1. Bring her home intact to bury her.
  2. Have her cremated and have the cremains returned to us.
  3. Have her cremated with nothing given back.
Carol and I actually had talked about this before heading over. We've had cats for years and this wasn't the first "end of life" pet situation in which we'd found ourselves. When we had Felix whacked... I mean our first cat who peacefully slipped the surly bonds of Earth came home in a "cadaver bag" which we then put in a shoe box to bury in the backyard. Josh and I picked a quiet spot underneath a corner pine tree and dug a hole. We plunged the shovel into the ground three or four times and then Carol called to us from inside the house: "Hey, what happened to the TV?" (We all grieve in our own way.) We'd managed to chop the coaxial cable in two. The repair visit from Comcast cost almost as much as the vet's fees for the euthanasia. The next time we were faced with that decision, with Felix's brother Oscar (who'd reached age 20), we told the vet, "Nah - you can keep him."

So, we went with Option 3. Renee took Chloe away in the carrier and was gone only a few minutes before returning it to us, with Chloe in the hands of the vet tech who would prepare her for the injection. We left, distressed and upset, and drove back to the house making little conversation. As we entered we were met by Sophie, the cat who had showed up along with Chloe on our doorstep all those years ago, poor little kitties abandoned by their previous owner. Sophie gave us a look that said, "I know what you did." At least, that's how we interpreted it. Then she went over to the food dish and chomped on some kibble but kept one wary eye on us the entire time she ate.

That evening we sipped a couple of stiff drinks and looked through our collection of cat photos, reminiscing about our dear Chloe and coming to grips with our decision to end her life. I know there are some folks reading this who would advocate for trying all available treatments, and maybe if it had been one of our other cats who are, how should I say, not mental, we might have considered a more valiant course of action. But we're at peace with our decision and feel we intervened before Chloe really started to suffer from whatever had caused our formerly chubby tabby to lose so much weight and struggle with her normally conscientious sanitary routine. I feel if Chloe were able to communicate with us from wherever she is now, she'd look at us with those big saucer eyes and say, "WHAT HAVE YOU SONS OF BITCHES DONE TO ME? FIRST YOU HAD ME KILLED AND THEN YOU HAD MET SET ON FIRE! YOU BASTARDS... I HOPE YOU ROT IN HELL!! I'M ON FIRE! OH MY GOD... I'M ON FIRE..."

Upon reflection, perhaps I can glean some of the rationale behind her mistrust of people. Rest in peace, our Little Fat Girl...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Happens...

When a frog gets warts?

When you and the other guy blink at the same time?

When someone says "I could care less" and then actually does?

When your sneakers make noise?

When you tell someone they are "as beautiful as the day is long" during the Winter Solstice?

When you trip and fall ass over teakettle at a Starbucks?

When you find out the person you accused of telling a "bald-faced lie" has alopecia?

When you wake up in the hospital and find out living really isn't that easy with eyes closed?

When your face gets stuck that way, and everyone says you look great?

When you become the "Big Cheese" but you're lactose-intolerant?

When you dump Xanax in a lake? (Answer: You reduce surface tension.)

When the forecast calls for a 50% chance of rain? Does that mean it's equally as likely that we'll be invaded by aliens on that day?

When a fish drops out of school?

When you try to paddle someone else's canoe?

When you get excited your wife mentions she'd like a three-way, and then you realize she's talking about a light bulb?

When you are dyslexic and ask for persimmon to go to the bathroom?

When you remember where you put your car keys but forget where you wanted to go?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cat-Shit Crazy

After we moved up to the lake house, my wife decided to take on the primary responsibility for cat care. This was no cavalier decision; as you may recall, we've got five of the buggers living with us and each one gives us paws... er, pause to reconsider why we ever decided to become "crazy cat people" in the first place.

Anyway, I have suddenly been absolved of responsibility for a variety of tasks that took up a fair amount of my time each day -- supplying food and drink, combing through litter boxes, and most significantly the elbow grease required for puke-stain removal. I don't think any of our cats leave "deposits" more than the average cat does, but when you annualize those singular occurrences and multiply them times five, barely a week day hour went by that I wasn't huddled over a hardwood floor/carpet/couch/bedspread without a damp paper towel and bottles of Carbona and Febreze in hand(s).

When Carol told me she felt I'd been saddled with the responsibility long enough and she was going to take it on, I first thanked her and then asked if she was embracing this task out of a tremendous sense of guilt due to some deep, dark secret she was keeping from me. She paused and thought for a moment and then assured me that wasn't the case.

Of course, now that this was Carol's project, it was going to handled Carol's way. This meant:
  • Carol made her own litter boxes (out of large storage bins -- based on a recommendation she read on the internet).
  • We were now using a new, plant-based litter (commercially available, but can be cheaply substituted for by purchasing a markedly-similar brand of animal feed at a farm supply store -- based on a recommendation she read on the internet).
  • She was reconsidering whether the cats were eating the "right kind of food". When I pointed out that we'd managed to maintain the oldest members of our current brood in good health for the last 13 years and the eldest of our two original cats to age 20 on the same cuisine, she told me she would discuss diet with the veterinarian -- having read some recommendations on the internet.
  • Rather than taking our grand-cat Miles (he is our son's cat but we've had legal custody of him for the last 5 years), who is the one long-hair in our coven and requires the occasional "lion cut", to a professional groomer, she purchased an electric pet-hair clipper and decided to handle the trim herself.  She felt confident in her ability to do this after watching the vet buzz one quick swipe off Miles's butt and then followed it up by viewing a number of YouTube cat-clipping videos on the internet. She bought the clipper from Amazon.com, which I understand is also on the internet.
But please don't think I'm trying to sound ungrateful, or I'm second-guessing any of Carol's decisions. She felt if we were more vigilant in our grooming practices, the cats would ingest less hair and therefore produce less hairballs. That made sense. She felt if they were fed more easily-digested food, they would produce less waste product (both fore and aft). That also made sense. She felt if we took a more holistic approach to cat ownership, it would result in a happier household for all of us. That made no fucking sense at all.

To wit -- the feline-focused lifestyle was almost immediately put to the test when our cat Chloe developed a case of explosive diarrhea. I'm talking nuclear here; it was like a fire hose of liquid cat shit being sprayed on any previously dry and not-a-litter-box surface.
  • Now, a brief aside about this particular cat: Chloe was a stray who showed up at our door (along with her sister Sophie) 13 years ago. We coaxed the two of them inside, which took a few days, and once we did they were promptly transported to the vet for shots and spaying. Chloe, we quickly discovered, was a sociopath. Other than those occasions where we've had to chase her around the house to get her in a carrier for some reason, we have literally not put a hand on her -- because she won't let us. She gets along fine with the other cats, and is absolutely devoted to her sister, but she'll have nothing to do with human beings whatsoever. If you've ever been to visit us and have seen the cats, you've never laid eyes on this one. Sophie was also initially quite skittish and didn't like to be handled, but over the years she decided we posed no threat and became a very affectionate kitty who happily cuddles next to us on the couch or bed and enjoys being petted and brushed. Chloe, on the other hand, will be stretched out in front of an open door, laying in the warming sunshine, eyes closed and purring contentedly -- and then if one of us approaches her general vicinity, her eyes pop open and ZWING! she flies out of the room. My point here is that if any of the other cats had been afflicted with the runs, our affection for them would lead to grave concern and a relentless pursuit for a cure so they could be returned to their prior healthy and loving state. But Chloe -- not quite as much.
Chloe had apparently been suffering this malady for a few weeks, but we never saw which of the cats was leaving the trail of slurry behind them. Once we moved up to the lake, we finally caught Chloe mid-spray one evening (you know when you were a kid and your dad was watering the lawn, and you'd be inside behind a window and he'd spray the hose at you full-force and it made that pounding sound against the side of the house? That's what Chloe's affliction sounded like.) and promptly made an appointment to have her checked out.

The vet was a charming woman and quite thorough and obviously a "cat person". Chloe was hyperventilating through the entire exam but stayed still and didn't hiss or sink her teeth or claws into the vet (which she's done to both of us in the past. And by "the past", I mean in the fifteen minutes before leaving the house when we had to catch her to get her in the carrier.). The vet made some observations and recommended blood work and x-rays as long as we already had Chloe in the office. Sure, sure - it's only money, right? We wanted a conclusive diagnosis, regardless of treatment options. We left with a traumatized cat, a vial of antibiotics, and a bill for $300.

The vet called the next day with results of the tests -- of course, they were all IN-conclusive. It could be this, or that, or that, or that or that or possibly that... I think she laid out the diagnoses in order from least- to most-expensive to treat. At some point, the words "biopsy" and "exploratory surgery" were introduced into the conversation and Carol clearly stated, "We are NOT interested in anything invasive." They agreed on next steps and we were now ordering a probiotic dietary supplement (I think John Stamos endorses it) to help counter the effects of the antibiotic. And maybe we would consider a course of steroids. A few minutes later the vet called back to say, "Oh, and I don't think I mentioned before -- it could also be THIS..." which I believe would require the most costly course of treatment of all, combining surgery, chemo, prescription diet, aromatherapy and recovery time at a clinic in Baden-Baden. We reiterated our preference for starting with small steps.

Anyway, Chloe is several days into the moderate course of treatment and while she's still crapping up a storm, at least she's doing it within the confines of the storage bin cat boxes (each is big enough to hold the entire transcript of the O.J. Simpson trial). She seems a touch less jumpy around us; perhaps she now realizes just how much we care about her well-being and some of her icy reserve is beginning to melt. Or maybe she's just zonked from the pills. Through it all -- Carol has taken the lead in pill-administering, litter-cleaning, poop-pickup and carpet shampooing. The other day I wanted to express how much I admired her dedication during this crisis and so walked over to offer some affectionate words of encouragement and a loving caress. She saw me coming and ZWING! she flew out of the room.

I wonder if what Chloe has is contagious? I hope not, since we've already ruled out anything invasive.