I’m Sorry, I Didn’t Understand That

The Cute Engineer got a smartphone. I remember asking him a couple of times if he was going to get Cat Selfie, and Mystery, the least mysterious cat in the world, must have tuned into that somehow because the other morning when the phone was lying screen up on my blotter Mystery hopped right up there.

“Meow?” quoth he melodiously and at some length. Mystery is a large, very talkative cat, one of those who utters sequentially in an inflected way that suggests human speech.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that,” came a robot voice from nowhere.

“What the fuck?” said I, nowhere near as gracious as a cat.

Mystery, being large

Mystery, being large

“Mrrreoowrrroww,” said Mystery.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that,” said the robot lady again.

“He’s turned on voice activation,” said the Engineer.

We probably should have given him a little more time. Or not. God knows what he would have put on the calendar.

Programmatic Music

“Brahms strongly preferred writing absolute music that does not refer to an explicit scene or narrative, and he never wrote an opera or a symphonic poem,” Wikipedia is good enough to tell me.

I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or relieved, because on my way home from grocery shopping, the classical station spun a robust performance of his Second Symphony (Neeme Jervi and the London Symphony, if you care to know), which is my absolute favorite symphony and the cause of my first ever tweenage religious experience, and I suddenly, as I would not have at eleven, heard the sock-knocking final movement as Brahms, in his imagination, at last getting Titanically to bed with Clara Wieck Schumann.

Just my dirty mind, I’m sure, but tell me it doesn’t fit. Or have I not been getting enough sleep?

It is a measure of the philosophy we gain from age that this doesn’t spoil it for me one tiny bit.

The Burper (II)

He’s still around.

Whatever it is that makes him burp a deep and gritty bass note every three or four minutes — aerophagia? Indigestion? a misplaced sense of theatricality? — it does not interfere with his lifting like a trooper, despite the grizzled nap of his hair and workout clothes that look as if they have been lovingly curated since the 80s.

Those clothes. Today he had on a matching ensemble whose zip-front jacket was engrossed across the yoke with a neat, well laid out but oddly customized-looking applique: “Mr. Fitness Pro.” I have been around a lot of gyms and never encountered a line of gear by that name. I have a disturbing feeling that he made it himself, or had someone with a certain level of design skill do it for him.

You run into this sort of thing from time to time. Back in my well beloved Weight Room — my first iron gym, a haunt of tattoo-clad bikers, misfit combat veterans and steroid-saturated muscleheads — there was a balding twerp who clearly lifted seriously but was, well, still a twerp. He used to work out with an even more twerpish character, almost devoid of noticeable muscle, who followed him around worshipfully. He wore a series of not very expertly custom-lettered tee shirts with mottoes like “Bodybuilders are the New Gods,” all of them attributed to one “Joe Tiger.” I came gradually to realize that when he entered I was, in fact, beholding the veritable Joe Tiger. I hope it was his real name.

I really hope I don’t come across this way to anybody. I have a slight affectation for coordinating the colors of my workout clothes, and a smattering of oddball habits like dangling upside down from stationary equipment, but I try not to quote myself reverently, or emblazon sobriquets, on articles of attire.

And I don’t burp. OK, if you are going to perform deep squats or back bridges, every so often you are going to pass a sizable gust of wind, but I try to control the embouchure so that it doesn’t startle anybody.


Never Call Your Cat A Dick

Or he will start having trouble with the one he owns. I think maybe. I am not sure of the role synchronicity plays in such events but conclude I should err on the side of caution.

We had a couple of large pieces of furniture leaving the house by the cellar door, so Torvald, who is usually confined there when he needs to be behind a door, had to come up to my room with his box and his buddy Aggie. I was showering and towelling when I noticed him getting into the box for a second and third time in ten minutes. This is never good, so I tottered over in my towel and knelt down to peer owlishly at what he had left, which was a squirt of something about the color of raspberry juice.

This is the sort of thing that always happens when you have strangers in the house, no clothes on (the Engineer was supervising) and a client on the way.

The client was a peach. She insisted on rescheduling and driving home so I could get the kitty to the clinic. Three days and a painful Visa bill later (before indemnification; I actually have insurance on my cats, which makes me ashamed sometimes when I think that people in this country still don’t have medical coverage), what we know is that there is a large glob in his bladder that appears to be a blood clot gummed onto a bladder stone, but both may break up, if we can give it time and get a painkiller into him for three evenings running. Do we remember that this is the cat that nearly bit my face off?

But amazingly, he is being the sweetest little creampuff ever. The vet’s discharge notes even say “Torvald was very good for his ultrasound.” Here I was warning everyone at the clinic to wear their hockey masks. Every time he sees me he throws himself to the floor and rolls about, inviting a chest rub. This morning he assisted me with the laundry, at one point assuming his famed Swastikat Pose.

Swastikat II

It looks awkward, but it’s how he relaxes.

Either a day at the vet, being fluid-infused, injected, ultrasounded and urine-sampled, gave him a kinky taste for human attention, or made him appreciate the joys of life at home. Not sure which.

News as I get it.




1. Yesterday

David rapped at the door around midafternoon. He looked like hell.

Longtime readers will remember David, my witless, hapless gardener, who mows my lawn, plants three rows of organic vegetables in my back yard, witnesses Jeebus and talks to cheese. I hadn’t seen him since October and hadn’t heard from him since around Christmas; he always sends a Christmas card, with a tract, and in this case enclosed a note apologizing for not returning my last phone call, about some corded yard tools I wanted to offer him. He’d been sick, he said, and just not up to anything.

He has always had a stunned, exophthalmic look that suggests too many nights spent on benches or other dubious accommodations, but now his eyes are wide in a haggard face and there is no missing what he described as a loss of twenty pounds (“I think I gained about three back since I been feeling a little better”). He went on about Candida and irritable bowel and his colon, see, he has a lot of colon pain.

I don’t know whom he might have seen about this. When I tried to explain to him how he ought to look into getting insurance under the Affordable Care Act, because for one thing he would be assessed a fine if he didn’t, he objected that he had waited months to get accepted at the Free Clinic and he can’t go there any more if he has insurance. I don’t think they do colon checkups.

What he wanted to tell me about, though, other than the usual spring heads-up that he would be amending the soil and need the water on outside, was the rabbit. Something had killed a big buck rabbit and eaten a good bit of the soft parts, and the remains were out in the yard and well, he could take care of it for me, he guessed.

I don’t know if he was fishing for a tip of some kind. I have been letting him occupy two or three square yards under my porch and grow his family’s food in my yard for years. I think it runs to a dead rabbit. I suggested he get a shovel and move the sad carcass under the thick shrubbery at the far end of the yard, which verges on a four-lane divided; in this weather, only an octave above freezing, I figured decomposition and scavengers would do their work before any olfactory nuisance set in.

I had to finally more or less shut the door in his face, because he will go on, but dear goddess, even though he appears fit to work, I have seen that gauntness before, and he looked like mortality on two legs.

2. Last Night

It was really this morning, I suppose; around five. There was only the suggestion of pale light coming through the window at my head, there was a cat against my ribs, and I was vaguely half-awake as I often am around five. I lifted my right hand to scratch the cat’s head — it was Miss Nickel Catmium, an especially tenacious coverlet fob — only the hand didn’t lift.

I picked it up with the other hand and cocked it back. As soon as released it flopped down again, like an empty glove.

I felt like a person trying to open the door of what is obviously his or her own car (before realizing that there are six identical cars in the same lot) and getting no result. Lifted the right hand again with the left hand. Watched it drop.

Mother fucker.

The extensor muscles on the dorsal aspect of the forearm, which perform the unavailable movement, are also dab at constricting the nerve that transmits the signals. I was still too groggy to panic when I dug my thumb into them. Ow. (Normal reaction). Lifted hand. Hand moved.

The Massage Gods are telling me not, ferfrigsake, to book four in a row then dinner then one more, and the next day book five then dinner then one more, no matter how many hurting runners and people who have just buried their fathers etc. etc. call up. On investigation the bicep of my good right arm was a mine field of trigger points, my collar bone was cemented to my ribs in a way that snarls the whole brachial plexus, and there was a giant glue-ball in the place where the root median nerve penetrates the trapezius. I had pins and needles in the hand until half way through my first appointment, and the three fingers served by the radial nerve had all the coordination of a monkey’s paw right through my workout.

This must be what it feels like if you have a stroke or multiple sclerosis, and I am only glad I had to experience it when I was not really awake, because mortality. Enough already.

3. This Afternoon

Carol was at the door this time, my rarely-seen back-fence neighbor, who has a rescue dachschund but otherwise lives alone (divorced, like me, her ex-husband dead, like mine). I had a fibrositic Ukrainian lady on the table but the knock had sounded urgent.

“I’m so sad,” Carol began.

I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do about that.

“I took my dog for a walk for the first time in a few days [the dog is getting older, I reckon; she has a fenced yard to go out and crap] and there’s this big dead rabbit and he looks awful, awful, something has been eating on him, and I love the bunnies even if they poop all over my yard and I guess they eat David’s garden, but he’s in your bushes and I don’t know what you want to do…”

I explained that David had been going to take care of the matter, only I expected him to put the remains way, way further back in the bushes than an elderly dachsie’s leash could reach.

“It’s just so sad,” said Carol, who has never before seemed to me an emotional person. Unsure whether I was being called on to perform grief therapy on the spot, I kept thinking of an increasingly impatient Ukrainian in suspense. “Does the animal welfare for the county pick them up? Have you called them?”

I recited the number, which I’ve had off by heart for years. No I hadn’t. Go ahead, please, please. I got back to my victim before she cooled off.

Along about dinner time I glimpsed a green-uniformed party striding purposefully down the yard with some sort of poled implement.

Am I becoming hard-hearted in the face of mortality? I love the bunnies too, but it is a matter of natural law that some of them die; I’m guessing fox, this one.


The Wrong Ass

This is Mystery.IMG_0107

He is a great, friendly, waddling, yellow, seventeen-pound kibble-eating machine who goes through life perpetually perplexed about what just happened, a persistent hunter of catnip mice, a dedicated hairdresser to all other cats, the least mysterious cat on the planet.

Mystery, in the five months or so he’s been here, has become comfortable with the duvet on our bed, and flops there by the hour practicing competitive napping. Mr. Ferguson gets along with him fine now and shares the space or leaves it to him.

Mrs. Nickel Catmium-Ferguson (I can’t remember if I mentioned that they must have gotten married at some point when our backs were turned) is less sanguine. Unless that means “bloody appalled.” She does not scream at him, which is a mercy, because her scream is the sound of a fire siren being gang-ravished, but flies to the top of the cat tree and gazes on in spotted horror when he ambles up to police the crumbs of kibble she and Fergie have left behind. In Nickel’s view, there is only one decent cat in the world, and that is her husband; when she is not snuggling with him in a cat bed meant for one cat, she is following him around the house with her nose beneath his parabolic tail, telegraphing as if it were always a new discovery that Fergie’s ass is the Best. Thing. Ever.


This evening Mystery was enjoying a nice siesta at the foot of the bed when Nickel ambled into the room, stretched up to the level of the mattress, saw a gingery posterior and applied her nose to it, then started back in horror, crumpled her snout in regular pleats like a chef’s toque and uttered a venomous hiss and yowl of shocked detestation. Sniffed again. Hissed again. Mystery turned his head and stared blearily as she let rip a third time: “Uh… the talking bits are up here.”

She’s been stomping around ever since, if cats can stomp, complaining that she was hoodwinked. Or buttwinked. Or something.

Why Don’t Women Have An Army?

Wonder WomanThis is a despairing, helpless, political-style post, and probably something that someone else has said better, so if you are not inclined toward that type of thing and come here for my profane-cynical-gymrat-scholar-with-cats stuff you can skip past it.

Just only, why the fuck do not women have an army? An international National Guard of decently equipped and trained ground troops, fighter pilots, special forces and snipers? We are certainly capable of it. Women serve in the armed forces of beaucoup nations (including nations where they say “beaucoup”), they fly missions, they work in combat zones. I, sixty years old with shit vision, still do a full-time physical job and regard a lingeringly trick hip as a reason to do more handstand push-ups.

So why not? Is someone out there a better political organizer than I am? Someone who can stand talking to more than five people a day? (That does not seem to be most women’s problem, from where I sit, but it is mine.) We need it. Good Goddess, we need it.

I’m not talking about military reprisals against the countries where a man can control his wife’s choice of occupation, or which have no laws punishing marital rape or wife-beating (OK, fantasies are allowed). But in the name of Hippolyta, this, and this. If ISIL or Boko Haram is in the neighborhood you might get shot or beheaded, but if you are a woman you will be enslaved and beaten and raped, lather rinse repeat, in the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate. Yeah right.

Where are the women’s armies taking on these smug, sick bastards selling teenage students in bride markets, beating women and selling them again when they heal, dumping their dead bodies out of windows? I mean, Netanyahu is imploring the Jews of Europe to “come home” to safety in Israel already after a short spate of terror shootings that about equal a bad night in Chicago. (The Jews really figured this out; is there anyone in the world who doesn’t respect the IDF as a fighting force, whatever you think of Israeli politics?)  Egypt didn’t even stop for a pee before swooping down on Libya after this week’s auto-da-fe. NATO nations have a deal: we signed an instrument, someone invades you, I come help. If only the developed world had a Women’s International Guard that would come to the defense of women facing wholesale capture and abuse by insurgents, while the politicians figure out what to do about the everyday wife beaters and rape artists that I guess we are going to have to pick off piecemeal in the courts.

I dream of it, women like the women I work out with, women like the ones on ESPN or UFC, women like the leathery old babes that come to me for massage before entering a triathlon as a seventieth-birthday celebration, quick, fierce, hair cut short or tied in tight braids, lethally accurate with modern weapons, competent in the cockpit, ruthless. They exist. There will be more of them. I want to see them in a strike force,  platoons of merciless Boudiccas, a monstrous regiment of women with skin in the game that male troops can never have, swooping in with sniper fire and tactical airstrikes and oh crap, I don’t know, Wonder Woman’s lasso if someone can find the thing.

I know. Wonder Woman’s lasso was made up. But all the rest seems theoretically possible.

Any retired women generals getting fed up with home life out there? Let’s talk.