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Hell Is Other People #11

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PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS IN AUDITORY SCIENCE, SITUATIONAL AWARENESS, AND THIS ONE JAGOFF IN PARTICULAR

Here’s the thing about coffeehouses. I’m not alone in the practice of, well, frequenting them alone. And if you’re there to do a little reading, a little journaling, or to get some work done, the best you can hope for is one of two conditions: either complete, monastic silence or a wall of sound.

The former condition is typically the result of either a mostly empty coffeehouse or one occupied by multiple solo patrons who aren’t looking to be bothered or to bother anyone else. It’s its own kind of bliss.

The latter condition can exist at any decibel level, amid any degree of activity, so long as every brick in that wall — every patron, every barista, every appliance, every ambient noise, the music being played overhead, the traffic noise outside — is constantly equalizing its contribution toward some semblance of balance. In other words, every sound cancels out every other sound. Particularly conversation.

Because if you’re alone in your thoughts or, as I was today, attempting to concentrate on a David Foster Wallace novel containing some fairly acrobatic sentence structure, the last thing you want is other people’s words and thoughts invading that space.

Today, after I ordered my drink, I claimed the remaining table, and now each table in the coffeehouse had a lone occupant, as did the seating area with a couch and chairs at the front. These would be ideal conditions for monastic silence, though the music coming from the back was a little louder than usual or necessary today, and for some reason the TV in front, which is typically muted and closed-captioned, had its volume up. I was sitting nearer the TV, so I was kind of making an effort to project my focus toward the music, if that makes any sense, to better cancel the two in my head.

Now to my left — I hesitate to call it a conversation, because one participant was seated and mostly silent while the other was standing in front of him and doing all the talking. It was effectively a monologue, performed for a guy sitting two feet away but projected back to the cheap seats.

The monologist is another regular. I mean, inasmuch as I’m a regular, I see this guy maybe every third or fourth time I’m there. He’s an older Hispanic gentleman with a bushy mustache and pretentions, at least, toward being a musician. He almost always has a guitar case with him when I see him. Today he’s speaking to this other man in what I’d call Reverse Ugly American. You know the stereotype of the tourist who speaks only English thinking he can make the foreigner understand him if he just says the same thing louder and slower? That’s this guy in his heavily accented broken English trying to make sure the other guy understands the words that are coming out of his mouth.

During the 15 minutes or more that the monologist is performing for his captive audience — which, in a way, is, you know, all of us — a woman and her young daughter enter and join the guy at the rearmost table, a double that can accommodate as many as six people.

Both mother and daughter are so quiet as to be unnoticeable, but shortly thereafter another man and another woman arrive and join the table, and the woman, who begins by calling out her order from the table instead of going up to the register, launches into a story and continues talking animatedly and loudly enough to be heard throughout the coffeehouse when her friends are right there at the table.

Meanwhile, the monologist has returned to his table, where a small notebook computer is open alongside a comical tangle of more cables and cords than should be required for the operation at hand. He is wearing earbuds, and at some point during the ongoing chatter from the rear table, he takes out a harmonica and begins playing half-assedly, as though he’s attempting to accompany whatever music he’s listening to in his earbuds.

This isn’t the first time he’s done something like this. The last time, about a month or so ago, he was singing.

So, not content merely to be a loud, obnoxious pain in the ass who lacks self-awareness, he has now retreated into his own private auditory world and found yet another way to be an obnoxious pain in the ass, altogether oblivious to how it might sound to the others occupying this space.

So now we have Steve Harvey yammering away on the TV, one of the baristas running a smoothie blender or grinding beans (which was almost loud enough to be a kind of salvation), music playing over the coffeehouse’s stereo, this jackass playing harmonica completely devoid of any musical context to which the rest of us can attach it, and this woman at the back who is talking nonstop as though she just got off an airplane and her ears haven’t popped yet.

I am a largely nonconfrontational person. You wouldn’t suspect it, what with the bourbon and all the profanity, but it’s true. And yet I find myself wanting to get up, make an announcement as though I’m getting ready to rob the place, and begin to orchestrate the sound design in the space and reshape the chaos that has sprung up around me, seizing control of the onsite media and imposing martial law on loud talkers and generally inconsiderate asshats as I see fit.

Sometimes it’s the establishment’s fault. You’re out for dinner or drinks and everybody seems to be yelling and you can’t hear your own conversation, and you want to beseech the hostess or the manager that if they’d just cut the volume of their music by half, their customers wouldn’t have to yell over it to be heard at their own table, their servers would get fewer orders wrong, you could still probably hear the music, and the restaurant wouldn’t sound like the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

It occurs to me now that if I’d had more cash on me, I could’ve Sonny Corleoned the monologist — ripping the harmonica out of his hands, throwing it on the ground, stomping on it a few times, then peeling off a few bills and throwing them at the guy before returning to my table.

Maybe next time. Because I’m pretty sure there’ll be one.

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Written by Shepcat

February 22, 2018 at 11:32 pm

A Maow Story — #3 in a Series

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Last night, for only the most trivial and arbitrary reasons, I didn’t want to eat my dinner from a full-size bowl. Too big for what I was eating, didn’t want to dirty it, whatever.

It so happens that the only clean, appropriately small bowl I had — which then proved to be almost too small for what I was eating — was Maow’s old water bowl, an off-white ceramic bowl with a small base and fluted sides. It’s been clean for the last two months, stored in the same cabinet with the rest of my bowls, but I’ve avoided it almost unconsciously. Until last night.

Even as I was ladling my dinner into the bowl, I felt wrong about it. The bowl is very much hers and was from the minute we first set it down for her. Of the three water bowls we initially placed throughout the house, to encourage hydration when we were most worried about her kidneys, it was the one she drank from most frequently, the one situated on the landing of our staircase. I once placed a different bowl there while it was in the dishwasher, and I think we both felt weird about it. They were swapped back as soon as the fluted bowl was clean.

The bowl is in the dishwasher now, and 16 hours or so later I still feel weird about having eaten from it.

Later in the evening, I dozed off during a movie I was watching, and I dreamed about Maow.

She was happy to see me the way dogs are happy to see you when you come back into the room after five minutes away, bounding over to me with uncharacteristic intensity. It would have been disorienting had she done it in real life.

At one point, she climbed up on my chest (which she also never did) and kissed me repeatedly, inasmuch as a cat can kiss, bobbing her head and planting little pecks on my cheek. However disorienting this too would have been, I recognized the moment it referred back to.

When my eldest niece, the first grandchild in our family, was born, we were all giddily obsessed with her and lavished affection on her constantly. We joke that for the first two years of her life, her feet never touched the floor, because someone was always holding her.

On what may have been her first birthday, if memory serves me correctly, I was holding her in one arm in the kitchen, where the whole family was gathered, and every so often I’d kiss her on the cheek or the top of her head. Then someone placed a bowl of vanilla ice cream in front of me, and with my free hand I took a couple of bites before putting a smaller amount at the tip of the spoon and raising it to her lips.

She loved it. And she thanked me with a tiny kiss on the cheek.

I gave her another bite of ice cream. I was rewarded with another, bigger kiss. Soon it became clear that she thought if she kept kissing me, I’d keep giving her ice cream. We ate the whole bowl this way, with me receiving a kiss every time she took a bite of ice cream.

This is how Maow kissed my cheek in the dream.

That was the second time I’ve dreamed about Maow since she left us. I believe it was entirely circumstantial, owing to my dinnertime dilemma. I don’t believe she was somehow addressing me from beyond to let me know it’s OK for me to use the bowl. I’m still going to feel weird about it for a while, and I may avoid the bowl more consciously until a little more time passes and I realize that for the love of God it’s just a bowl or that using it makes me feel more connected to her. I don’t know why it should be this bowl, of all things, that makes me feel this way, but there you have it.

In any event, I hope Maow keeps turning up in my dreams.

Written by Shepcat

January 10, 2018 at 11:16 am

Posted in Continuing Series, Life

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A Dick Enberg Story

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Comb any dictionary from cover to cover and you won’t find enough superlatives to adequately describe the legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg, who died Thursday at age 82. Football, baseball, college basketball, tennis, Olympics coverage, studio hosting — since Marconi invented radio and the first voices were transmitted through the ether, it would be hard to name a better, sharper, more engaging all-around sportscaster. In my lifetime, only Bob Costas comes close.

I grew up watching and listening to Enberg. With his trademark “Oh my!” his was one of the indelible voices of my Saturday and Sunday afternoons for as long as I can remember. Others, like Vin Scully, Keith Jackson, Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek and Pat Summerall, were more readily identified with a single sport, a single season. But Enberg’s voice was one you could count on at any time of year.1

Enberg exuded warmth and cheer and, more so than many professionals — whose style may sound clipped, practiced, cultivated, transactional — always seemed genuinely excited to be calling a game and spending the afternoon with you. In his pregame stand-ups, his eyes crinkled in a way that made his entire face smile, and you just knew he had to be one of the nicest guys in the business. You couldn’t imagine him any other way. They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but you sensed that if you met Enberg, he’d be exactly that guy — charming, friendly, the neighbor you always wished lived next door.

So now it’s sometime in the early aughts — say, 2003, 2004 — and I’m living in Los Angeles. My dad, who manages a grocery store, wins a weekend trip through a vendor, and he and Mom are flown out to San Diego with a bunch of other store managers and their spouses to see the Chiefs play the Chargers at Jack Murphy Stadium.2 I drive down to spend the weekend with them, sleep in a chair in their hotel room, and figure on watching Sunday’s game in a bar in the Gaslamp Quarter and awaiting their return. But when the vendor’s point man finds out I’ve come down to see them, he finagles me a ticket to join them at the game.

This is how I happen to be sitting with my parents in end zone seats at the Murph, near an overhang bearing TV monitors showing the CBS broadcast. Calling the game that day: Enberg and analyst Dan Dierdorf, the Hall of Fame offensive lineman of the St. Louis Cardinals of my youth, another guy who always seems affable and upbeat on camera. You can’t imagine anyone not having chemistry with Enberg, but Dierdorf seems like a good match for him in any event.

So the game is going along, and our eyes are fixed on the field, but occasionally we glance at the monitor nearest us to watch a replay. I’m sure there’s some audio coming from the monitors, but with 40,000-plus fans watching a division rivalry, it’s too loud to really make out anything either man is saying. Then, during a TV timeout, I notice there are no commercials playing — it’s not the broadcast we’re seeing on the monitors; it’s the CBS network feed from the truck. So there on the monitor is a two-shot of Enberg and Dierdorf in the booth.

And they. Look. Pissed.

Now, this is just a snapshot: a couple of professional broadcasters with their backs turned to each other during a commercial break, each engrossed by his own game notes. And while I of all people appreciate that even a couple of guys as genial and good-natured as Enberg and Dierdorf can’t keep smiles plastered on all the time, there is just something jarring about this tableau.

There is a sternness to both men’s expressions that makes them, in this context, look like mortal enemies, like a couple on the verge of divorce, like a pairing the network had to put together for reasons beyond anyone’s control who were suffering through it for the paycheck.

Then the picture switched to the players on the field, the referee whistled for play to resume, and Enberg and Dierdorf undoubtedly resumed their friendly banter about the action unfolding before us.

I continued to enjoy Dick Enberg’s presence behind the mic for the next decade or so, most recently as he called play-by-play for the San Diego Padres just before his retirement, and he never ceased to be the same friendly, comforting, authoritative voice I’ve known since I was a kid.

But I’ve never been able to shake that Chiefs-Chargers memory, that rare glimpse into a moment that was most likely nothing of consequence or concern but might also have been a rare letting down of the guard that none of us were ever meant to witness, that creeping suspicion that the friendliest, most cordial of sportscasters had a dark side hidden from a world that admired him almost universally.

It’ll be the Enberg that I watched the other 99.9 percent of the time that I remember fondly, though. His is an absence in our shared passion for sport that can never be filled, only regarded wistfully when we talk among ourselves about the best who ever called a game.
 
 
 
 
 
1 That said, if I could choose only one sport for Enberg: calling college basketball alongside Coach Al McGuire. Hands down. No contest. One of the all-time great play-by-play/analyst pairings in any sport.
 
2 By this time, Jack Murphy Stadium — so named in 1980 after the late sportswriter who had championed its construction back in the ’60s — had been renamed Qualcomm Stadium after the telecommunications company that bought the naming rights in 1997, but I have always flatly refused to refer to it by its corporate name because we writers have to stick together.
 
As of this year, it’s called San Diego County Credit Union Stadium, which is more of a mouthful than Qualcomm ever was. Screw ’em both. It’ll always be the Murph to me.

Written by Shepcat

December 22, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Life, Sports, Television

Tagged with ,

A Maow Story — #2 in a Series

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I wanted my and Maow’s last day together to be as peaceful for her as possible, and for the most part it was.

I folded a bath towel so she’d have something soft to lie on, then lifted her onto my lap, and for the better part of six hours we sat in our chair together, listening to podcasts at low volume while I stroked her fur, scratched her ears and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

Later that evening, when it was time to leave for the veterinary clinic, I placed her in her open carrier and held it up near my face so I could talk soothingly to her as we made our way down to the car. She hated car trips, but this time she wasn’t enclosed in her carrier — she was now too weak to have made any attempt at escape — so I hoped that it would be a nice, calm, easygoing ride.

We got into the car, and I was a moment too long getting her carrier situated in the passenger seat before turning the key in the ignition … which was my aging vehicle’s cue to trigger its alarm, the insistent, repetitive stab-stab-stabbing of the car horn, shattering any semblance of serenity we had enjoyed up to that point.

I’ve never actually timed it, but it takes somewhere between 30 seconds and a freaking eternity for the car to register that it’s being driven by its rightful owner, who opened and started it with its original factory-issued key, rather than hijacked by a common criminal who breached it with a coat hanger or a brick and hot-wired it under the dash.

Once the horn finally quit blaring, the rest of the drive entailed more fur-stroking and soothing conversation, as I attempted to reclaim our serenity en route to complete the saddest of all possible errands.

Flash forward to this afternoon, three weeks later. The clinic called to notify me that Maow’s cremains were available to be picked up, so I made that drive one last time.

After signing and dating the cremation registry, I was handed a small box containing Maow’s remains, an envelope containing a cremation certificate, and a clay keepsake with an impression of Maow’s paw. I thanked the receptionist one last time, and Maow and I left together, headed home.

Once outside, balancing these items in one hand as I got back into the car, I was a moment too long getting them — getting her — situated in the passenger seat.

I set off the damn car alarm again.

This has been a Maow story.
 

Written by Shepcat

December 5, 2017 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

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How Would Lubitsch Do It?: A Parable

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During Hollywood’s golden age, between 1930 and 1968, filmmakers were governed by the Motion Picture Production Code, often referred to as the Hays code, which set out strict moral guidelines dictating what was acceptable and unacceptable content for American audiences, with a particular emphasis on sex.

The best filmmakers, not the least of whom was my idol Billy Wilder, were masters at subverting the code. By working within the restrictions imposed upon them, working around what they were not able to show or tell, they became better, more entertaining storytellers, in part because they made their audiences put 2 and 2 together, gave them credit for their own intelligence, and made them complicit in the telling of the story. Throughout his career, Mr. Wilder credited his own mentor, director Ernst Lubitsch, as the master of this technique, and challenged himself with a sign hung in his office that asked, simply, “How would Lubitsch do it?”

To illustrate “the Lubitsch touch,” Mr. Wilder pointed to the opening sequence in Lubitsch’s The Smiling Lieutenant (1931): There’s a king, a queen and a lieutenant, and you must dramatize, without being explicit, a situation in which the queen has an affair with the lieutenant, and the king finds out.

Open on the bedroom of the king and queen. They are dressing in the morning, and it’s a scene of affectionate domestic bliss.

Now the king leaves the bedroom. As he exits, we see the lieutenant standing guard outside the door in full dress uniform with his belt and sword. He clicks his heels in salute and watches as the king slowly descends the long staircase and eventually disappears into the palace.

We cut back to the lieutenant, who, assured that the king is now gone, enters the royal bedroom.

We cut back to the king as he descends the staircase, and halfway down he realizes he isn’t wearing his own belt and sword. He turns and ascends the staircase, returning to the bedroom. “Now we have a situation,” Mr. Wilder says.

The king enters. The door closes. We are never inside the room. The door opens. The king exits with the belt and sword. Happily he descends the staircase again, but as he tries to put on the belt, it doesn’t fit. It’s too small. It’s not his belt.

The king returns again to the royal bedroom, where he finds the lieutenant under the bed.

And scene.

Faced with a codified list of restrictions, Lubitsch has told us everything we need to know without explicitly showing us the lieutenant screwing the queen.
 


 
Early Saturday morning, like thieves in the dead of night, the Senate GOP pushed through their version of a tax code that will cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, explode the national debt by $1 trillion, and benefit the wealthiest citizens in this country while ultimately raising taxes on the middle class it purports to bolster.

Since the Reagan administration, we’ve been fed the lie that, if we decrease regulation, cut the corporate tax rate, and approve a tax code that further benefits the wealthiest Americans, in effect making them all wealthier, they will then reinvest that wealth in job creation and production that will bolster the U.S. economy and trickle that wealth down to the American people at large.

And yet, since the 1980s, all that policy has achieved is to widen the inequality gap among Americans, with CEO pay growing exponentially as American wages have remained stagnant, fewer American families controlling and enjoying the majority of wealth, and corporations increasing their bottom lines by hiding profits offshore and outsourcing jobs overseas, where they can pay foreign employees considerably less than they would pay American workers to do the same work.

The obvious benefit of paying American workers is that we would turn around and put that money back into the American economy, creating more growth, but the gun to the American electorate’s head is the notion that, unless we give the corporations and the wealthy what they want — more wealth up front — they can’t (read: won’t) give us the jobs and income we need to contribute to the American economy.

In point of fact, American corporations are more beholden to the shareholders they already have than to any notion that they might create new shareholders, who are by now so far behind the richest shareholders in this country that they could never catch up. So corporations will continue to outsource jobs to bolster the bottom line for those shareholders, in much the same way as the GOP will continue to court their political donations by creating for them the conditions most favorable to their continued growth and increasingly obscene wealth, which — as the last four decades of American life has shown us — is never going to trickle down to the American public at large.

In the middle of the last century, the average tax rate for the wealthiest 1 percent of American households hovered between 40 and 44 percent while corporations were taxed at a rate between 52 and 54 percent, which not only benefited all Americans and allowed us to rebuild the country after the Great Depression but also allowed us to help rebuild Europe after the Second World War under the Marshall Plan.

And while those rates were a restriction of sorts on the wealthiest Americans and American corporations, it didn’t prevent them from investing in American workers and spearheading a quarter century of growth and innovation during which American homeownership rose significantly as the rise of suburbs corresponded to the growth of American cities; we funded public education and the arts; college enrollment and graduation rates rose steadily as tuition remained affordable; we developed safer, more efficient automobiles; we built an interstate highway system that stitched the entire country together; we advocated for cleaner, safer food, air and water; we made life-saving advances in medicine and medical technologies; we developed faster, more efficient computers that increased production and reinvented the American workplace; and we put satellites into orbit and man on the moon.

Despite those restrictions on the wealthiest among us, somehow we accomplished all this without explicitly screwing American citizens.

And scene.

Written by Shepcat

December 3, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Life, Movies, Politics, The Nation

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A Maow Story — #1 in a Series

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It should surprise no one that I have an occasionally volatile temper and a frequently expressed penchant for profanity. The luxury of working from home for as long as I did is that I could express the upper registers of my outrage and artistry without shattering the presumed civility of an office environment and being summoned to H.R. for a lecture or my dismissal.

The downside of this arrangement was the proximity of my lone, entirely innocent office mate: Maow. When jackasses at work stressed me out, it caused me to stress out Maow, which was the very last thing I wanted.

So after unleashing a torrent of obscenities, I would often find myself kneeling down to Maow, stroking her fur to calm us both, and apologizing to her as soothingly as possible: “I’m not mad at you. I could never be mad at my Maow.”

Flash forward to the terrible last month of her life. She had spent an entire week, more or less, in seclusion behind the gold brocade chair, but as time went on and she rebounded a bit, she returned there only periodically, instead spending most of her time in the dining area or on the couch with me.

I wasn’t working then but would from time to time drop an F-bomb or spew a flurry of invective — a computer crash here, a Trump sound bite there.

On at least three of these occasions, my outbursts prompted Maow to emerge from behind the gold chair, as though she knew I needed to stroke her fur and come down from my anger.

Pets. What did we ever do to deserve them?

This has been a Maow story.

Written by Shepcat

November 16, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

Tagged with

My Accomplice and Muse, First of Her Name, Queen of Our Realm, Ruler of My Heart

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When the love of my life left for Hawaii, she left in my care, as it were, the last great love of my life.

Adriane’s rationale was that at Maow’s advanced age, the sedatives, the long transoceanic flight, and the stress of relocation would wreak too much havoc on her tiny heart and her short- and long-term health. And I agreed.

Adriane decided. I agreed.

Because a drowning man doesn’t politely decline the offer of a life preserver. More than that, it was a great sacrifice Adriane was making for me, an act of love, of trust, of kindness — the single greatest gift anyone has ever given me.

Without Maow, I’d have roamed that empty house alone like the aged, diminished Kane in his Xanadu. It would have seemed cavernous and isolated, haunted, unmoored and adrift, like a ghost ship tossed about the dark waters of the gray, gloomy Pacific Northwest. Maow imbued it — and me — with life.

I woke every day knowing I could get through it with her at my side. “It’s going to be a very pretty day,” I would tell her, “because you’re in it.”

It was too much to ask of this tiny, chatty, cranky 7-pound bundle of bones and fur, this sentient miracle of evolution, that she bear the weight of my love and grief and anger and self-loathing. She took me on as her project anyway.

She kept me afloat and helped me find our desert island. I was Crusoe, and she was my Friday.
 


 
In the beginning, she was called Trixie.1

When Adriane discovered her in a shelter in San Diego in January 1999, she learned that the 8-month-old kitten had belonged to a sailor whom the Navy shipped out to another port and who had cried, heartbroken, when he had to return her to the shelter.

Adriane, whose genetic predisposition toward pragmatic pet names has always been a source of wonder and humor to me, brought her home and rechristened her Kitty, and Kitty she was for the next 11 years or so.

Some months later, an enormous, fluffy Maine coon entered their lives. Adriane named him Big Cat2, or B.C., and though he was afraid of virtually every other thing in the world (e.g., the ceiling fan in our bedroom, hilariously), he would proceed to be Kitty’s bully and tormentor for the remainder of his life.

Adriane and I moved to Sacramento together, and after six months I had only just begun to develop a relationship with B.C. — though not so much with Kitty, who habitually made herself as invisible as possible so not to invite any more of B.C.’s attention than was absolutely inescapable — when we had to euthanize him at Thanksgiving.

Within a few days, upon realizing that B.C. was gone and was never coming back, Kitty came out of hiding and out of her shell. With a vengeance. Previously resigned to silence, she began to speak up and express herself as though for the first time. And would not. Shut. The fuck. Up.

In short order, we began referring to her as The Mouthy Broad, the cranky, bitchy, opinionated soul of our home.

Alternately, because of her habit of crossing her little white paws in front of her (they looked to me like the dress gauntlets women of high society wear to the opera), we called her Fancy, a diminutive of her full title, The Disapproving Fancy Who Disapproves.3 (When she lay with just one leg stretched out in front of her — see above — she was “half fancy.”) And though officially still Kitty, we continued to call her Fancy off and on for about a year or so, up to and after our next move, to the Pacific Northwest.

During that time, I began to develop a closer bond with her, slowly earning her trust, giving her as much attention as she’d allow as she sorted out whether my attention was as toxic and unwanted as B.C.’s. This included my grabbing and squeezing her rear haunches in the transaction that would come to be known as grabass. Amazingly, she indicated that she liked this particular bit of attention. Instead of fleeing me upon release, she’d walk a few steps, stop, wait for me to grab her butt again, repeat. This became the hallmark of our daily interaction, prompting Adriane to remark, often, “You two have such a weird relationship.”

I also developed a habit of conversing with her in her own language. As long as she now had so much to say, I wanted her to know that the home office heard and understood her concerns. So when she maowed at me, I maowed back at her, and before long she became, inevitably, indelibly, Maow.

Now you know.
 


 
I never liked cats.

I understood all too well that other people did — adored them, in fact — but they just seemed like furry little assholes to me. With rare exceptions, they still do. Asked if I’m a cat person, my typical response is, “No, I’m a Maow person.”

The first cat I ever loved was my cousin Jeff’s cat, Lindberg, with whom I forged a fierce, unbreakable bond after a harrowing day together — and apart — on my very first day in Los Angeles. I became his go-to sitter for the last five years of his life. He was affectionate and willful, playful but corpulent and leisurely, and more than a little vindictive if you crossed or slighted him. He was, I’m almost entirely certain, the reincarnation of Orson Welles.

After Lindberg left us, I went back to not having any use for cats. Until Adriane.
 


 
Inasmuch as any creature, let alone a 7-pound ball of fluff with a brain the size of a walnut, can understand human language and human love, I repeated certain phrases as often as possible (see “pretty day,” above) in the hope that they would begin to imprint themselves on Maow’s DNA, so that she would understand at a molecular level that I loved her, and how much.

In Casablanca, Leonid Kinskey portrays the Russian bartender Sascha, endlessly infatuated with and solicitous of Madeleine Lebeau’s icy and manipulative Yvonne. Though she repeatedly, coldly fends off his advances, Sascha always cheerfully responds, “But, Yvonne, I love you.” And it was in Sascha’s voice, a little mockingly but entirely truly, that I first responded to Maow’s objections, “But, Maow, I love you.”4 Before long I ditched Sascha’s voice altogether.

That said, Maow lived in dread of our more demonstrative displays of affection. As someone once pointed out on Twitter, the reason cats are so pissy is that they’re God’s perfect killing machines but they weigh only 7 pounds, and we keep picking them up and kissing them all the time. Despite the rare occasions when she’d purr, Maow hated being lifted into our arms, suspended 5 feet above the floor and cuddled until we got our fix, burying our noses in her fur and inhaling deeply. (Always a fastidiously clean cat, Maow had the best smell, though hard to describe — a little smoky, a little like fresh laundry, not like an animal at all.) It became my habit, just before kneeling to release her from the indignities and encumbrances of my affection, to whisper into her ear, “Thank you for letting me love you.”

And though, whenever we left town, we left her in the care of others who would check in with her regularly if not daily, she would roam the house in our absence, looking for us, yowling her plaintive little yowl until her voice was hoarse. We’d return home to find her waiting, pissed off, expressing her discontent with a series of raspy little exhalations where words ought to have been. Depending on how long we had been away, it would sometimes take days for her voice to return. The length of time during which we’d await her forgiveness became shorter with each subsequent trip, and I want to believe that it’s because I told her often, “I will always, always come home to my Maow.” Even if I was just going out for groceries or to the movies or into the city for an evening of drinking with my fellow Men of a Certain Age, I would announce upon my return, “Who always comes back to his Maow? This guy.”
 


 
The night I took Maow to the emergency veterinary clinic, they let me go back to the big examination room where she was being processed, to see her before I left. All sharp angles and gleaming surfaces, the room was bright and noisy, and there was a yelpy dog in the cage next to hers. She was absolutely miserable, burrowed into the blankets, already smaller and weaker because of her illness, but she summoned enough energy to raise herself a little when they let me open her cage door. I loved her up and rubbed the bridge of her nose and spoke to her as reassuringly as I could, and when finally I willed myself to leave her in the clinic’s care, I reminded her one last time, “I’ll be back for you soon, because I always, always come back for my Maow.”
 


 
I’ll always feel bad that the last six months of Maow’s life were so stressful.

When Adriane and I finally put our house on the market, the daily peace of The Silent J was shattered and life suddenly accelerated into overdrive. Workmen came to floor our bathroom, steam our carpets, clean our windows. Maow’s once vast, open landscape became strewn and stacked with boxes as I packed for our move. Our real estate agent dropped by frequently, and the staging of our home meant that furniture and other familiar items disappeared from view and were replaced by alien presences not to be trusted.

Our first weekend on the market, as other agents and prospective buyers invaded the sanctity of our made-over home, Maow was incarcerated multiple times and removed to the park uphill from our house. Though it was only five minutes away, she hated her carrier and rides in the car and the fear and uncertainty they portended. Even though I often fretted that her world was so small, she fretted even more the wider world outside its boundaries. As objectively pleasant as our park and the time we spent there were, she was so distrustful of it that on our first visit she never emerged from the carrier she so hated.

Then came moving day, on which her world was invaded and pillaged, even her hiding places removed as she cowered under them in panic. Then she was left alone for a few hours in the completely empty house before I returned, incarcerated her again and drove her across town to our new apartment, the familiarity of all our things in one place providing no comfort to her at all.

Next, just as we were settling into our new environs, came the bedbug infestation, which didn’t victimize her, thank God, but which resulted in multiple exterminator visits, more incarceration and removal to distant places, more moving of furniture and vacuuming upon our return.

Then a visit to the vet.

One stress- and/or diet-related question to which I sought an answer prompted the office’s suggestion that it was about time for Maow’s annual wellness checkup and that we could get a fuller picture if I brought her in.

Incarceration. Car trip.

She was examined by the charmless lead veterinarian, the more coldly clinical, less comforting of the office’s three vets, who referred to her in the abstract as “the geriatric kidney patient” and “the individual” as he talked through her various conditions — the ongoing but not as yet prohibitive decrease in her kidney function (“stable” was the only prognosis we had received from her most recent bloodwork), the discovery of a heart murmur and a slightly accelerated heart rate since her previous visit, the possibility of hyperthyroidism and decreased metabolism, and other age-pertinent generalities to be on the lookout for as she declined. Which she did, almost as if on cue.

Not long after that appointment, Maow stopped eating, stopped pooping, became withdrawn and disappeared for long stretches behind the gold brocade chair (once my grandmother’s, adopted by Maow as her preferred perch after the move), as though she was trying to make herself smaller and invisible all over again.

I called our charmless vet to express my concern, and when he returned my call at day’s end, his only suggestion was to mix up her diet as much as possible, to try to entice her with new things. Which worked, however briefly and if only in small amounts. I allowed myself to be encouraged that Maow was eating again at all, but even that was short-lived, and she continued to become weaker and smaller.

On the advice of a vet Adriane knows in Hawaii, we made an appointment for subcutaneous hydration, which we hoped might also stimulate her appetite. The tech informed me that Maow had lost 2 pounds in the last month — which I knew, hence the appointment — but seemed otherwise indifferent, offering no suggestions and deflecting any questions I had, saying that our charmless lead vet could answer them all when he called back with the results of Maow’s latest bloodwork.

Which he never did.

Rather than wait until Monday for answers from someone who showed no urgency for or interest in our pet, rather than spend the entire weekend watching Maow starve herself to death, Adriane frantically consulted yet another veterinarian, and we ultimately settled on my taking her to the aforementioned emergency clinic. In the 48 hours she spent there, and again upon our return, I dealt with no fewer than nine different people — receptionists, technicians, nurses and doctors — each of whom went out of her way to be warm, considerate and comforting to both Maow and me. Adriane and I will be forever grateful to them, even as we remain perplexed and outraged that we didn’t feel one-tenth of that consideration from Maow’s own vet.

Maow rebounded in their care, however little and however briefly, and was discharged to me Monday night, with our hopes that I might have at least the coming week with her, to make her comfortable and spend as much quality time with her as possible.

It wasn’t to be.
 


 
At 9:44 p.m. Tuesday, November 14, 2017, Adriane and I said goodbye and let go of our brave, patient, perfect girl.

I had woken that morning to find that Maow was still lethargic and unresponsive, dismissive of food and oddly distrustful of water, though she’d at least make herself drink occasionally. Three times in the ensuing 24 hours she had urinated on the carpet where she lay, too weak even to walk 3 feet to the litter box I had brought out to her. Any energy she still had was spent resisting my attempts to pry her tiny jaws apart to medicate her. Twice she spat out the Prednisone tablet I was trying to force her to take, and after a failed third attempt I couldn’t will myself to continue fighting her. Even though the vet who had called with her ultrasound results said it was a matter of days, plural, I knew I couldn’t make her endure another day, singular. I called Adriane and told her I’d take Maow that night to be euthanized.

I decided. Adriane agreed.

It was the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced, knowing that I was escorting Maow to her death, but Adriane assured me repeatedly, however counterintuitively, that I was doing her the greatest kindness I would ever perform for her, thanked me for being her caregiver, apologized repeatedly for making me go through it alone. We had discussed the possibility of her catching the next flight out from the islands, but it quickly became apparent that we’d be making Maow hold on for hours that would become increasingly painful to endure.

We had a nice last day together. At least, I hope some of it felt nice to Maow — that she felt love — through the fog of her pain. Adriane FaceTimed with us in the morning and again that evening before we left, so she could say her goodbyes to the perfect creature whom she had loved for half her own life. In between, Maow and I spent the long, quiet day together in our favorite place: in our ratty old leather wing chair with Maow on my lap, as we had spent so many long Sundays while I drank coffee and proofread, awkwardly reaching over her whenever I needed to type or use my trackpad, and most evenings in front of movies and ballgames on TV.

When we took our last ride together, she was too weak to require incarceration. I removed the lid and gate from her carrier and padded it with a towel. I drove with one hand and stroked her with the other the entire trip.

Upon our arrival, a surge of adrenaline made her hyperaware of her surroundings, and I had to steel myself against this false resurgence of life, calm her down, soothe her nerves, and get on with the terrible task at hand. We spent a quiet half hour together, I reasserting my impossible, undying love for her, before I summoned the doctor.

I held Maow on my lap, and the first injection put her to sleep in a few seconds, her weary little head slumping over the side of my leg. The second injection — the coup de grâce — was quick and painless. Maow’s tiny, remarkable heart finally stopped, only because I told it to. Only because I let her go.

Thank you for letting me love you, Maow.

What I owe you is beyond evaluation.
 

 
 
 
 
 
1 An aside to those of you who knew Maow: God, can you even imagine?

2 In the years during which Adriane and I fell in love and were separated by a thousand miles, B.C. would occasionally enter the room while we were talking on webcam. Adriane would pick him up, and as he went limp his full weight would go completely square in her arms, like an enormous, furry suitcase. Hence, forever after he was Suitcase to me.

3 This is why, when Facebook insisted on a vanity URL longer than four letters, her presence there was signified by /disapprovingmaow.

4 Look, I’m a movie guy. I can’t help myself. When I imagined what Suitcase might say to me if he could talk back, for reasons I’m helpless to explain I always imagined he would speak in the voice of the French actor Jean Gabin from Grand Illusion and Pepe le Moko. And in my mind he always referred to me as “the tall one.”

Written by Shepcat

November 15, 2017 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Life, Love, The PNW

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