One Collar to Rule Them All

May 31 – October 6, 2010

A lot of folks have pointed out that my pet cats seem to reflect different parts of my personality.  I used to think that was a little strange, but now I think I’ve come to accept it.  I think people, things, or even pets do have a tendency to come into our lives for a reason, whether we ever recognize it or not.  Up until recently, I had four cats.  

*Later in this post – I have four cats again, stay tuned.* 

Those of you who have read my previous post will know that I recently lost my beloved Purrthos, whom I had the pleasure of knowing for these past 15 years.  Admittedly, I am not the best at recognizing the facets of my own personality by any means, but this is my best interpretation of what my cats are/were to me. 

Purrthos:  Jesus, after a bong hit.  Calm, content, always happy, willing to please, purred no matter what the occasion or event.  He was like being around a smiling, laughing Buddha.  Just being with him made you feel better, no matter what was going on with you.  Loved rides in the car, loved to be carried over the shoulder by me or by anyone at the vet’s office, patience of a saint and beyond.  There are parts of me that are like this.  Not the patience of a saint part by any means – if anything, perhaps Purrthos was in my life to teach me this or at least maybe he hoped that it would rub off on me.  But I strive to be like him in many respects.  Sometimes I succeed.  

The other day I picked up my two boys early from summer daycare so I could take the older one to pick up his replacement retainer (yes, the previous one was lost, ouch to the wallet).  I needed gas, so we stopped at the 7-11 and I asked them if either of them needed the bathroom or wanted a snack or soda. All three, as it turned out. So we hit the loo, picked up a couple of Cokes, bought Starbursts and a peanut butter Twix for Mom, not that she or her thighs need it.  As I’m perusing the candy bar aisle, my older son Sean comes up to me and hugs me out of the blue and says, “thanks, Mom”.  I look at him and ask, “what for?”.  After all, to me, gas for the car and fuel for the people in it is just the norm.  “You always make everything better,” he answers.  

Oh, jeez.  A whole world opens up inside me with those five simple words.  Am I somehow not the crappiest mom in the world that I think I am?  What am I doing different that their Dad doesn’t do?  Hmmm.  Well, I can think for one thing, he probably isn’t big on creature comforts like beverages, snacks, air conditioning, and such.  Certainly he never was with me.  I remember being nine months pregnant, we’re on our way to a nice dinner party and I don’t want to get my hair messed up and I’m sweltering in the heat (it was August), so I ask him to turn on the air conditioning, and he tells me to put down the window.  When it’s 98 degrees outside.  Yeah, thanks.  God forbid he lose a mile or two of fuel economy efficiency in lieu of keeping his pregnant wife comfortable.  Which is why she is now an ex-wife.  One of a thousand reasons. 

But maybe over the years of marriage and child-bearing there was somehow forged in me at least the beginnings of patience and of doing for others before doing for myself.  The Purrthos trait.  I don’t know that Purrthos was that self-sacrificing, but he certainly never complained.  This was a cat that got some 4700 injections over the course of his latter years and never once growled, hissed, or even stopped purring.  I should be half as tolerant. 

d’Artagnan:  Sir Lancelot.  Brave, bold, intelligent, although not the best at personal hygiene, mostly he just can’t be bothered.  There are more important things to think about than bathing.  Not sure how that aspect of him reflects me … I kinda hope that’s one of the exceptions.  Always a gentleman.  No matter how much either of his younger female siblings torments him, he has yet to ever take a swipe to either one of them, despite being twice their size.  Occasional problems with flatulence (okay, I will cop to the same issue, regrettably).  

Yeah, she's cute when she's sleeping, d'Artagnan thinks ...

How do I resemble d’Artagnan?  I suppose in the first three qualities, though I will rarely admit them.  I like to think of myself as brave compared to most of my age and gender.  I kill my own spiders, deal with my own weird noises in the middle of the night, and spend a lot of time in my house by myself with no worries at all. I had to grow up a lot faster than most kids did (see my previous post about my Mom for that one), and as a result, I’m a bit lacking in the feminine graces of shyness and demurity (is that a word?  Anyway, the aspect of being demure).  I like to think I have some brains, although to me I rarely use what I’ve been given.  I do bathe regularly, unlike d’Artagnan.  I am the first to point out to my kids to only pick on someone their own size, and to never hit a girl, unless she deserves it.  I differ from d’Artagnan on this point.  Frankly, Minnie, our youngest female, could do with a good feline whack upside the head, she’s way too uppity.  And I think there are some women who DO deserve to be hit back.  Very few, but they exist.  Moreso in the cat world. 

d’Artagnan is also a dude’s dude.  Whenever I have male company in the house, be it my boyfriend, my brother, or other guests, he gravitates to them immediately.  Not so much to women, other than me.  But if my boyfriend sits on the sofa with me to watch a movie, d’Artagnan is up there next to him immediately, wanting his head scratched.  Yes, I love having my head scratched, my ears stroked, and my hair played with, too.  (I do manage to refrain from what I call the “kitty G-spot” reaction of bringing my back leg up and shaking it like a dog’s when someone does this, fortunately.)  I am a dude’s girl; I’ve always gotten along better with men than with women.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of my female friends.  I think it’s that over the years I’ve always felt like there was some secret society I was never invited to join because I didn’t know the magic password.  I grew up with a brother and, as you might guess from my earlier posts mentioning my Mom, not the most sterling of role models.  My Mom didn’t hang out with the other moms and have coffee or have playdates with them and their kids, back in the 60’s before they were even called “playdates”.  I honestly don’t remember what my Mom did with me when I was a toddler and when my brother was in school during the day, when my parents were still married.  I think I was left to my own devices a lot, so I had a pretty imaginative time with my toys – usually cars, Legos, Lincoln Logs, marbles.  I hardly ever got to watch TV in those early years, although I do remember preferring The Electric Company over Sesame Street, but I think that was in the early 70’s.  No electronics to speak of back then, no computers, no Xbox, no Nintendo DS – I think my kids would be well-served if they had the same environment today, to be honest.  When you have to find your own entertainment, the imagination flourishes.  

But back to the point – my Mom was never what you’d consider a conventional “mom” for her era.  I don’t know if she was comfortable around other women, either – I don’t think so.  But in her case, the discomfort most likely stemmed from perpetual jealousy.  I don’t know how or when that got a foothold in my Mom’s upbringing, but she was jealous of every woman out there.  Including me, once I started to look more like a girl and less like a blonde monkey.  She grew up with one younger brother, so she didn’t have sisters or stepsisters to contend with, and she was a pretty girl.  But this is my self-reflection, not hers … at any rate, she never seemed to know how to behave around women.  I guess it rubbed off on me.  My mom had lots of male visitors over the years, but very rarely did she have a female friend.  I can’t honestly think of a close girlfriend of hers that she stayed in touch with for more than a year or two. 

As I grew up, it was hard to make friends given how often we moved.  The house on Aster Street, then the house on Deodar Road.  The apartment on G Street in Chula Vista, Hamilton Street in North Park, the duplex in Chula Vista on Dorothy Street (twice, a couple years apart), the apartment on Gwyneth Drive in Tustin, the rented house on 10th Avenue in Escondido.  A dozen schools in a dozen years.  Growing up with mostly my brother for companionship, I didn’t get the world of dolls and tea parties with stuffed teddy bears.  I played with green plastic army men and a BB rifle, and liked to set ant trails on fire with a magnifying glass.  I could take the head off a plastic armyman with a BB at 20 paces, more importantly, I could do it before he melted in the tree branch I’d stuck in the ground and set fire to at the base.  I let my brother play with my first Barbie doll (a Skipper), and she ended up stuck on a roof for months.  She was a bit worse for wear when a rainstorm finally washed her off.  Eventually I ended up with a Francie doll to accompany my now Zombie Skipper. I never had a Ken doll but somehow felt my dolls needed male companionship, so I let them have sex with my Breyer plastic stallion, when I wasn’t playing down by the mailboxes in the mud with them.  I suppose if a child psychologist had gotten a look at me then, they might have had an inkling that there was something wrong with my home life. I didn’t.  I assumed everyone’s Mom accused their 9-year-old daughter of having sex with their (Mom’s) boyfriends.  Didn’t yours?   

I never learned how to braid hair and nobody ever braided mine – my Mom usually kept my hair chopped short because she didn’t want to be bothered with it. I never had slumber parties and never got a birthday party after age 5. I learned makeup application through trial and error, and probably started wearing it earlier than I needed to, because I was always convinced I was ugly.  In my mom’s eyes, my hair was too straight, or too blonde (she was a curly redhead), and once I hit puberty, she started telling me I was too fat, at 5’6″ and 110 lbs.  Only now do I recognize that last critique was her way of expressing disdain over my bra cup size ultimately being larger than hers.  Even before I knew what puberty was, I had already gone from being a daughter to an enemy, the competition for whatever boyfriend of the week happened to be in her life.  

As I got older, I didn’t know what other girls talked about, and my one or two close female friends in high school (no offense to them intended here) tended to be as socially awkward as I was, for varying reasons.  I never had that je ne sais quoi that other girls had, at least in my eyes, that allowed them to be so at ease with their own gender.  In my futile efforts to find something to bond with my father over, I developed a knowledge of baseball and football, and a fondness for sports cars, so guys always liked talking to me – they just didn’t want to date me.  I remember one period in my senior year when I developed an odd friendship with one of the star football players at school, but only via the phone.  I don’t recall exactly how it started, I think he needed a missed homework assignment and called me at home.  We started chatting, and kept chatting.  For a few weeks I felt like the belle of the ball with a secret, my football player was going to call me in the evening and we would talk for twenty minutes, forty-five minutes, more than an hour sometimes, and he told me how much he liked talking to me vs. talking to other girls.  Yet during the daytime at school, it was as though we barely knew each other.  Eventually, after counseling him over his breakup with his previous girlfriend, my football player started dating someone else, and that was the end of the phone chats.  It was fun while it lasted, though. 

When I first adopted d’Artagnan he was incredibly skittish and shy, and spent his first three weeks with us hiding under the master bed.  He had been rescued from somewhere and was at the Helen Woodward shelter when I found him.  To this day, nearly 15 years later, he still flinches sometimes when you go to pet him, as if he is expecting to be hit.  I don’t know what happened to him in the first 9 months of his life before I took him into my home, but I suspect it was traumatic.  I think he came into my life as a reminder that I need to let my past go, and be trusting and open, in order to be loved.  I think he also missed some of his early cat training in basic fundamentals, such as how to wash himself, or the fact that it’s preferable to pee outside (d’Artagnan will come in from the outdoors, where there is plenty of dirt, to use the litterbox) – much as I missed some of my fundamental “how to be a girl” training, it seems like.  We’re both misfits in our own ways.  And it’s good to have a dude’s dude around – even in cat form.  d’Artagnan and I can always hang out on the sofa together and watch TV like old buds.  

Sabine:  The Princess.  Say no more, really.  Okay, make that the eccentric Vampire Princess who hates going out in the daytime because the light hurts her eyes, apparently.  Gets annoyed at wind because it ruffles her fur.  Will spend hours grooming herself but then go outside and roll around in the dirt.  Refuses to use the litterbox when it doesn’t meet her exacting standards and will just pee on the staircase (wood) instead, thank you very much.  Doesn’t so much meow as she does squeak.  Squeaks often when dismayed or when you are messing with her.  Refuses to eat dinner with other cats and must always watch her girlish figure.  Will spend night outdoors if given the opportunity, come back inside with a coat and tail full of foxtails and will be most upset at having them picked out of her fur.  Her alternate title is the Dumb Blonde (she is a buff-colored cat), which does fit her – and fits me, too, at times.  Ditto the vampire aspects.  I can’t go outside even on a cloudy day without sunglasses.  And okay, I am not a fan of dirty bathrooms – but who is, really? 

The Princess surveys her domain

As much as I make fun of Sabine for her Princess aspects, I would like to be her.  Or rather, I would like to have someone like me around to accept me and love me anyway, despite being high-maintenance.  She is the epitome of the girl I never got to be.  If she were in human form, Sabine would probably be Paris Hilton sans the sex tapes.  And the money.  One of those girls who had a cute new boyfriend every month and you always wondered what guys saw in her because she seemed like such a ditz on the surface.  But underneath she is smart enough to land a decent guy, or at least a well-to-do one, and ends up living a pretty cushy life that involves weekly manicures, a luxury SUV, owning a Bichon Frise named Snowball or Fluffy, and does not involve having to work a 9-to-5 job.  That would be Sabine.  I’ve dated guys who have ex’s (or even current) wives or girlfriends who are those kind of women, and I guess it is part of the mystique that goes along with learning how to braid hair:  I don’t know how to be like that.  I have been accused of being too independent, too self-reliant, too stubborn – perhaps these are the things I need to let go of in order to be a Sabine-like woman?  I don’t think I would know how to stay home and be a well-kept wife, spending my days raising the children, being a soccer mom and PTA volunteer, hosting charity dinners and lunching with the girls.  I would have too much guilt over feeling as though I wasn’t earning a living of my own and too much fear of it all going sour and me being left unable to fend for myself or pay my own way.  

There were girls in high school who were planning to get married right after graduation, or maybe after going to community college for a couple years – basically they wanted to be wives and mothers, and knew that from early on, apparently.  I’m almost 47, have two school-age boys, and I’m still not sure I want to be a mother.  I don’t know if I want to be a wife again, either.  I don’t think I know how to do it right.  But a part of me admires those woman and wants to know how to be one, how to trust that a man will take care of my needs and provide for me, and that what I do as a wife and mother is more than enough of a career, and I’m doing a great job of it as well.  When I am around these women, I feel awkward and ashamed, like an unwanted party guest, the shoe that doesn’t quite fit right.  They are at ease hosting dinner gatherings and chatting with other women; I’m the one who skulks around the sidelines and never knows when the appropriate time is to ask if I can help with things in the kitchen.  Sabine, of course, would have no such problems.  Were she in human form, other women would feel naturally at ease with her, as would men fall all over themselves for her attention.  

When I adopted Sabine, she was a sad, miserable little 7-month-old kitten who had been dumped in the night repository at the San Diego Animal Shelter for “house soiling”.  Turned out she was sick with some kind of bacterial infection that was giving her digestive tract a (pun intended) run for its money, although as far as #1 went, it did take awhile and a number of whacks on the butt to get her to stop peeing on every piece of furniture I owned.  Her hallmark effort was one morning when I was lazing in bed with a (now) ex-boyfriend and the two of us started kissing and making out, and Sabine crawled up in between us, all cute and purring and cuddly … and let loose with a flood of cat pee that soaked through to the mattress.  I could have killed her.  In retrospect, I think it was her commentary on my relationship.  I should have paid more attention, I could have saved myself several more months of dealing with someone else’s emotional baggage. 

Minnie:  Cold-blooded assassin.  Most likely a former KGB agent in a previous life.  Was adopted at 1 year old and had already had a litter of kittens despite being no larger than a kitten herself.  Has since eaten her way up to a much larger size, at least in girth.  Afraid of absolutely nothing, including vacuum cleaners.  Constantly looking to kill gophers, birds, lizards, mice, etc.  Torments d’Artagnan.  Oddly enough, always left Purrthos alone.  Chases her sister Sabine given any opportunity.  Even though they are both girls, Minnie is probably the polar opposite of Sabine.  She is more of a dude than d’Artagnan is at times, certainly more of a dude than me.  But she embodies more of my personality than Sabine does.  While Sabine is pretty much afraid of everything and as dainty as a white doily under fine china, Minnie is that hard-fired stoneware coffee mug you’ve dropped half a dozen times and it scarcely suffers a scratch.  She is about as far from being a girly chick as the Earth is from Jupiter.  While I don’t consider myself that far gone, I do recognize that I am a bit too masculine at times myself.  My stubborn and independent streak is often a setback in terms of my dating life.   Guys apparently like their chicks to need someone else to kill spiders, fix toilets, and do other manly things.  I’m not one of those chicks unless it’s a matter of sheer muscle power that I’m lacking.  And even then I’d rather hire someone than ask, I hate to admit weakness.  

Blofeld's Next Cat

Minnie kills all her own spiders.  Surprisingly, Sabine does too, and usually eats them.  Probably one of the few things they actually have in common.  Under the tough exterior, though, Minnie does actually have a softer side.  Trouble is, you usually don’t see it until she’s asleep!  But when she is sleeping, or just waking up, she is adorable.  Soft as a dark gray little bunny and purring contentedly.  Not surprisingly, I’ve been told the same thing about myself – that I’m cute when I sleep, I look like a little girl.  I suspect that Minnie had a tough life her first year, living on the streets, giving birth to a litter of kittens that no one knows what happened to.  At a year old, she was barely over 5 pounds when I adopted her, but was a tough, scrappy little thing already.  She grew up a little too fast, I think, much like I did.  I don’t remember much about my childhood that was child-like.  But when we both sleep, the outward mask falls away and the innate vulnerability emerges.  Minnie is probably the most like me, which is probably why I was compelled to adopt her.  I wasn’t looking for another cat when we got her, and if anything, I’ve always wanted a calico kitten or maybe a black and silver tabby.  Minnie is a rather indistinct gray with faint stripes and a lighter underside, not a cat I would have really picked for looks, and given the number of times she has ripped open my skin with her claws, I didn’t adopt her for her sweet personality, either.  But as much as the other three, she represents a part of me, a creature that I feel needs me in her life, and her in mine.  

May 31: I got Purrthos’ ashes back from the vet late last week.  The cremation service did a nice job, he came back in this little cedar box with his name engraved on the top, complete with a lock and key on the outside.  It’s a lovely box, too nice to put in the ground, really, that would seem like a waste.  I picked up the ashes on Thursday afternoon, along with getting an injection of Synvisc One and cortisone in both knees and going to my kids’ Open House at school that evening, then packing for a weekend trip (leaving Friday immediately after work) via the train up to Santa Barbara.  Needless to say, it was kind of a hectic afternoon and evening, and I really didn’t have much chance to think about the ashes or what they represent aside from bringing the box into the house and setting it on the kitchen counter. 

Once I got back from Santa Barbara and had the day to clean up the house, do laundry, pay bills, do chores, etc., my mind finally has a chance to slow down as well.  And I realize that all day I’d been hostile, short-tempered, easily angered, frustrated … almost as if an easy-going, perpetually happy part of my nature had somehow been removed from me without warning. 

I want to ignore this, think that it’s just me over-reacting, that maybe I didn’t get enough sleep, I’m just grumpy about other things.  Okay, yes, I am grumpy about other things.  I interviewed for a job early last week that I would have jumped at the chance for … and didn’t get it.  Thought I had a really good shot at it, too.  And didn’t get it.  So yeah, I’m upset about that.  I was counting on it to the point where I was ready to give one days’ notice (or less) at my current job and just walk out the door with my things packed.  Am I that unhappy there?  Lately, yeah, I am.  This job would have been a much better opportunity for me, better pay, more interesting work, and most importantly, the feeling that I was actually using my brain rather than just being some mindless drone who is only appreciated for the fact that I sit at a desk and work a computer for 8 hours a day, and heaven forbid if I’m 10 minutes late on starting that 8-hour shift.  I don’t need a whole lot to make me happy at work.  But I’m not getting it now in any case. 

So that’s one thing.  Part two, okay, yeah, I’m not so thrilled about my whole knee pain issue.  I had my second injection of cortisone in both knees about two weeks ago, and it was already starting to wear off this past week.  Thankfully, my medical insurance approved the Synvisc injections, which one can think of as “synthetic viscosity” or a man-made version of the lube between our joints, derived from the coxcombs of roosters, of all things.  I hope it works and makes a difference.  I have osteoarthritis of both knees and have basically no cartilage left in them, at age 46.  Yeah, that makes me mad.  But I also know full well there are a lot of folks in far worse shape than I’m in.  I should be grateful I can still walk, period.  And that my brain still works (more or less) and my eyes still work, and my ears, and all those other parts.  Normally I am and I don’t even think about it, and I’m one of those stupidly happy people that you wonder why the hell they’re so happy.  

It’s like my ignorant bliss seems to be missing lately.  Like I’m missing … Purrthos.  The Purrthos part of me, anyway.

July 16:  It has taken me awhile to write this post.  Probably because delving within is never easy.  And since I started it, I ended up adopting a new cat.  I’m not entirely sure why, I was kind of enjoying the ease of just having the three fairly low maintenance cats around (although I have since found out that Sabine has a heart murmur, and a noticeable one at that, so stay tuned).  But perhaps my subconscious felt otherwise, or just fate does have a way, once again, of bringing these fuzzy little creatures into my life for a reason.  I recently took d’Artagnan into the vet for a long-overdue blood test to follow up on his hyperthyroid condition from last year, for which he ended up spending a week at a specialty vet and having a radioactive iodine injection.  While I’m there, the staff all told me again how sorry they were about Purrthos’ loss and how much they missed him, as do I.  Then Dr. Alexander told me about a little kitten they’d recently gotten in from one of the feral cat groups – they trap cats and bring them in to be neutered, tag them by clipping an ear, and release them back where they were found, in the hopes of allowing them to live naturally but curtailing their numbers at the same time by sterilizing them.  They had brought in a brother and sister, trapped together.  The sister was ill and didn’t survive, but the brother did.  Dr. Alexander thought he was young enough that he could be adopted into a good home, and she allowed me to meet him while d’Artagnan was taken back to another office to get his blood drawn.

Yeah, okay, I'm a sucker for a cute face. With long whiskers.

She brought in this skinny little orange and white tabby, with legs that went on forever and a tail like a garter snake on a starvation diet.  She’d been spending the last few days carrying him around with her in a towel or a canvas bag, keeping him close and petting him, getting him used to be around humans.  She said he was extremely curious about other cats and kept wanting to be near them, same as dogs that were coming through their offices.  She let me hold him for a bit and I noticed his neck was thinner around than my wrist (and I have thin wrists), and he had these huge ears on a small head, with big eyes, giving him something of a Yoda-like appearance.  His fur is shorter than that of my two short-haired cats at home (d’Artagnan and Minnie), just slightly beyond the length of peach fuzz, and I think it’s going to stay that way.  As I petted him, I was rewarded in a few minutes with a low, rumbling purr.

And thus my household became four (cats) again.  My boys and I settled on the name Yoshi for our new arrival – they liked it because Yoshi is a name in Super Mario Brothers; I liked it because it sounds Japanese and he looks like an exotic, kind of foreign cat.  His fur is very short and his head reminds me of an Egyptian cat.  His tail is almost as long as his body.  He’s now six months old and with the exception of Minnie stalking him on a regular basis (which is why Minnie is the only cat in the house who wears a bell on her collar, so you get advance warning that she’s coming), he seems to be fitting in pretty well.  He gets hyper and loves to chase toys or his own tail, or shred Kleenex and generally bounce off the walls to the point where he is panting for breath, always a funny thing to see in a cat. I still miss Purrthos, though.  The house was more harmonious with him in it, and with his loss, it’s like there has been a dischordant note in an ongoing symphony that I can’t seem to get rid of.  It will take time.  Certainly it has taken my whole life thus far to get the parts of myself in order; why should I expect anything less from my cats?

Posted in I Hate The Living, In Memoriam | 2 Comments

Elegy for a Musketeer

May 17, 2010

I had to put my cat Purrthos to sleep this morning.  Purrthos was a tortie flame-point Birman that I adopted back in early 1996 from the El Cajon animal shelter when he was about 6 months old.  I think I guesstimated his birthday as being sometime around October of 1995, which would have made him 15 years old in a few more months.  When I first got him, he was this little kitten with a purr as loud as a jet engine who wanted to sleep right next to my head on the pillow every night.  Eventually he succeeded, and he grew bigger.  And grew.  And GREW.  In his prime, Purrthos was well over 18 pounds and he was a fluffy cat, striking and beautiful with his cream colored fur, light orange points on his face, the faintest of stripes on his lower legs, and the prettiest pale blue eyes.  His purr grew right along with him.  You could be in another room of the house and easily know where Purrthos was just by sound, because the only time he ever stopped purring was when he was in a deep sleep.  Until today, that is.  Today he finally stopped purring for good. 

When we got Purrthos, I think the Disney remake of The Three Musketeers movie was out (with Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, and Chris O’Donnell) and I loved the characters.  Originally we thought of calling our new kitten some Spanish word for “fleabag” given that he was covered with fleas from the shelter, but a good bath, flea dip, and bug-bombing of the house took care of that.  Oh yeah, and we had him fixed at the same time.  Talk about a welcome home – right off the bat he gets his nuts whacked off.  Poor kitty.  Although knowing Purrthos, he probably purred until the anesthesia kicked in.  He was going to be named Porthos (choices were that, or Athos or Aramis – the latter two sounded rather silly if I stood out in my backyard calling them out loud), but it became pretty evident what his true nature was soon after we got him, and nothing but Purrthos would do.  Over the years, people would comment on how much they liked his name, occasionally they’d pick out that it was a Three Musketeers name when they heard he had a brother named d’Artagnan (and later, a sister named Sabine), although the best remark I got was someone asking me if “Purrthos” was the name for the Greek God of Cats.  I liked that the best.  

Mr. Purrthos

In addition to being the world’s friendliest cat, Purrthos was also a beautiful animal.  I never knew how a cat like him had ended up in an animal shelter.  I researched cat books when he was a kitten, trying to figure out what kind of kitty I’d adopted.  The closest breed he matched was a Birman.  Occasionally I liked to re-read the stories you can find online about the Sacred Cats of Birma:

The unusual coloring of the Birman is the subject of a charming legend. Centuries ago, the Khmer people of Asia built the Temple of Lao-Tsun in which to worship a golden goddess with sapphire-blue eyes, Tsun-Kyan-Kse. Mun-Ha, a much-loved priest, often knelt in meditation before the goddess with Sinh, a beautiful white temple cat, beside him gazing at the golden figure. One night raiders attacked the temple and Mun-Ha was killed. As Mun-Ha died, Sinh placed his feet upon his fallen master and faced the golden goddess. As he did so, the hairs of his white body turned golden, and his yellow eyes to sapphire-blue, like hers; his four white legs turned earthy brown – but where his paws rested gently on his dead master, they remained white as a symbol of purity. Next morning, the hundred white cats of the temple were as golden as Sinh, who did not leave the sacred throne until, seven days later, he died, and carried his master’s soul into paradise. Since that time, whenever a sacred cat died in the Temple of Lao-Tsun, the soul of a priest was said to accompany it on its journey to the hereafter.  (Courtesy of www.birman.org). 

Interestingly enough, when I first adopted Purrthos, I remembered looking at his face with his beautiful blue eyes (his are actually more of a light, sky blue than dark blue – perhaps the reason he ended up in a shelter is that he didn’t meet the breed standard), and in a more melancholy moment, thinking, “my cat has the face of Jesus”.  He did.  Purrthos had a pure, innocent face, sort of what I’d always envisioned the son of God would look like (well, if He were a cat, anyway).  I’m not a religious person by any means.  My religious upbringing is a smattering of being dragged to Christian Science services on random Sundays by my Mom, even though she professed to not care for the practice, and me telling her that I thought the assistant minister was a child molester.  I was all of maybe 10 years old and I already thought about things like this.  Sad, indeed, the loss of innocence.  

A Younger Version of Purrthos

It always used to amaze me that Purrthos really lived up to his name. He truly purred for every occasion.  Eating, sleeping, drinking, using the litterbox, eating grass, and so forth.  Take him to the vet and he’d purr when he got his temperature taken (I always did wonder about that one).  He loved getting baths and would purr at the groomer when he got blow-dried.  Once a year in the summer, I would have his fur shaved down, because I live in East San Diego county and it gets over 100 degrees pretty often in August and September.  When I started to see Purrthos lying on his side on the tile floor in the kitchen as often as he could, that was usually a sign that it was time for his summer trim.  Which he also loved.  The ladies at the pet groomer place loved to see him and were amazed that a cat was so mellow and easygoing, and actually purred even while he was getting his fur shaved off.  He liked to sit on my lap in the car when I took him to the vet, purring all the while, trying to schmooze his face into the steering wheel or up against my chin.  Although he wasn’t the world’s smartest cat, Purrthos did know in the winter that sleeping on my pillow with his belly pressed up against the top of my head, was a good way to stay warm.  And I adapted to having him sleep there, both the physical size of him hogging up my pillow as well as the noise factor of his purring.  I got to the point where I would wake up in the morning and he’d be there, stretched out across the top half of my pillow, sound asleep, and I hadn’t even noticed him all night. 

About six months after we got Purrthos, we got another kitten to keep him company, another male, in late 1996.  Originally named “Bootsie” by the animal shelter, I decided that moniker simply wouldn’t do, and he was re-christened as d’Artagnan.  d’Artagnan is a black and white tabby with white “boots” on his legs, so yeah, the original name fit … but let’s get real.  Bootsie?  No.  Just not a dudely enough name, if you ask me.  He was a little older (9 months) when we adopted him, and had already been fixed, but for some reason that didn’t stop him from occasionally trying to hump Purrthos.  He was a shy, skittish cat who spent most of his first month with us hiding under the bed, and during the rare times he did come out, his flatulence could clear a room.  I almost took him back to the shelter, it was that bad.  Thankfully his digestive system, along with the rest of him, adapted to his new home, and the toxic gas clouds became less frequent.  Amazingly, d’Artagnan eventually grew to be nearly as big as Purrthos, and in the last year, bigger, since Purrthos lost weight over these past several months.  But he will never match the size of Purrthos’ heart. 

My cat family grew again when I adopted Sabine in 2006, after my frustration with various cat adoption agencies around San Diego (“you can’t let your cat outside, it might get eaten by a coyote” … even though I have never willingly left my cats outside at night in over a decade and they seem fine and still love to go out …) drove me to the San Diego County animal shelter, where I found this sad-looking but beautiful buff-colored Somali kitten of 7 months old, with the softest fur I’ve ever felt on a cat and a face like a blonde Capuchin monkey, who had been dumped off at the night depository at the shelter for the crime of “house soiling”.  It did turn out that this little kitty was sick, and some antibiotics took care of the issue of the soiling, but, it turned out, not the peeing part.  I fell in love with her and brought her home, and she proceeded to pee on just about everything.  She has since learned the error of her ways, and now she only thinks out of the box when the litterbox needs cleaning and she feels the need to let me know as much … so she will pee on the hardwood flooring on the stairs, just to remind me to do my job.  Sabine’s original name (given by the shelter) was “Sweetie”, but being the first girl to be introduced to my two old boys (Purrthos and d’Artagnan were then at least a decade old each), she needed something a little classier.  The Countess DeWinter’s name from The Three Musketeers was Sabine.  So the new cat became Sabine.  Her various nicknames are all forms of “Princess” or “Her Highness”, but she is also known as the Dumb Blonde or the Vampiress.  

Our 4th Musketeer, as it were, is Minnie.  No, there is no Musketeer named “Minnie” that I know of.  Minnie is a bit of an entity all to herself.  She was a spur of the moment adoption from Petco in Santee in 2008, a tiny little gray kitty, a year old, who had already had a litter of kittens and yet weighed just over 5 pounds.  My kids and I couldn’t imagine such a small cat actually having kittens.  Minnie looks most like a British Shorthair, with a slightly flat face and a solid gray body.  To me she looks more like a sowbug, also known as a roly-poly or a potato bug, depending on what part of the country you live in.  She must have had a sparsely fed existence as a feral cat, because as my housecat, she is making up for lost time and calories, and has managed to put on a good three or more pounds since we adopted her.  She is still just as small as she was before – now she’s just wider.  I can see how Minnie probably fared quite well for herself in the wild – of my four cats, she is the most persistent hunter.  My boyfriend dubbed her the KGB Assassin, and it fits.  She will hunt down and kill just about anything, and if hungry enough, eat it as well.  She reminds me of a refrigerator magnet that The Onion website sells online that reads, “Kitten thinks of nothing but murder all day.”  That’s Minnie.  I adore her, but I know at any given moment she is probably trying to figure out some elaborate scheme that involves smashing my head in with a large, weighted object. 

Minnie came with her name, that was the title bestowed on her by the adoption agency that put her at Petco.  It suits her.  I thought about giving her a Musketeers name, such as Constance, who was one of the maids in waiting, but that really doesn’t fit her at all.  What does fit her is something along the lines of Minnie Mouse … she resembles a mouse with her short, dark gray fur and furtive, scurrilous nature … and well, what do you know?  Weren’t the members of the Mickey Mouse club called the “Mouseketeers”?  Close enough to Musketeers for my sake. 

Sometime last year, my kids decided that all of our cats should represent either religious deities or characters from Star Wars.  Minnie was the easy one, she is the Devil, Satan, Darth Vader, or that creepy-looking red dude with the dual lightsaber (Darth Maul).  Sabine is some lovely golden-haired angel or Princess Leia.  d’Artagnan seems to be tagged as either an Archangel or Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Purrthos?  From Star Wars, he is Luke Skywalker or Yoda.  On the religious side, my kids came up with the same observation I’d had about him years earlier.  “He has the face of Jesus,” Trevor said once, with all the innocent wisdom of an 8-year-old.  

Back in October of 2003, Purrthos was diagnosed with diabetes.  Type I, the variety that needs regular insulin injections.  My then-husband and I noticed that he’d started drinking a lot of water and peeing a lot, usually not in the litterbox, and was losing weight.  Our 18-pound cat dropped to below 13 pounds.  I was pretty dismayed at the news.  Diabetic?  Shots?  TWICE A DAY?  Our two boys were 4 and 2 at the time and were more than enough responsibility for us.  But we adjusted, or more accurately, I adjusted, and became Purrthos’ primary medical caregiver.  It was up to me to make sure we had enough insulin and needles on hand, and to take the time off from work to take him in for glucose checks.  Back then he got Humulin-L, manufactured by Lilly.  Eventually Lilly pulled Humulin-L off the market, and I scoured various pharmacies to stock up on what little I could find, because it was relatively affordable, being a human insulin.  Somewhere during all of this, I separated from my husband, moved out into an apartment, remodeled our first home, which had been a rental for the past 8 years, divorced, moved back into the old house, with 50/50 custody of my kids and full custody of d’Artagnan and Purrthos, who were around 9-10 years old at the time.  I offered to share custody of the cats with my ex but he told me to take them.  Most likely he probably didn’t want to be bothered with the time and expense involved in Purrthos’ care.  After Humulin-L went off the market and my stash dried up, I had to switch to Glargine insulin (also known as Lantus), which is about five or six times the cost of Humulin-L, and only available from my vet’s office.  I used to be able to get Humulin-L at Target, which was a lot more convenient, especially if I ran out on a weekend when the vet’s office was closed!  

As Purrthos got older, other things started to go wrong with him, as you might expect with an animal with a chronic medical condition.  He developed a heart murmur, and then hypertension.  I never understood how an animal who slept 22 hours a day could have high blood pressure, it certainly wasn’t from stress.  🙂  He developed arthritis and started limping, fortunately the medication he was put on for that helped a lot.  And, this past year, bladder and kidney stones, to the point where he needed abdominal surgery to remove them.  His bladder stones were of the variety that are hard to get rid of, so I needed to be aware of a reoccurrence of them.  After he recovered from his surgery, he developed an enlarged liver, but his blood tests didn’t show any cause.  Throughout all of this, I have had more than one person comment to me that they would never go to such lengths for a cat, and couldn’t understand why I would. 

I thought about this a lot in terms of what Purrthos’ care cost me since 2003, in time and money, and it boiled down to this: 

  • 4750 injections, given twice a day, 12 hours apart
  • Humulin-L and Glargine insulin: ~ $8000
  • Insulin Needles, approximately 4750 syringes: ~ $1500
  • Vet appointments for glucose monitoring, blood tests: ~ $7200
  • High blood pressure monitoring tests and daily medication, from 2008-onward: $1000
  • Arthritis medication (shots, one every three weeks): $200
  • Medication, tests, vet visits, and eventually abdominal surgery to remove bladder stones: $2000
  • Additional costs of special dietary food:  $2000
  • Cost for petsitters to come by and administer injections whenever I was out of town or away from the house for the evening: $1000
  • Time off from work for veterinary appointments, usually averaging 1 every 3 weeks:  Not calculated
  • Cost for additional laundry (washing soiled rugs, blankets, etc.) and gas to and from vet appointments:  Not calculated

In short, over the course of the years, I could have probably paid off my car with what I’ve been shelling out with the care of this one particular cat.  Suddenly this morning I went to feed my three other cats and it struck me.  I don’t have to go looking for Purrthos to make sure he comes out and eats, so I can give him his shot.  I don’t have to go looking for where he might have pooped lately (hopefully on a  washable throw rug and not the carpeting), and I don’t have to gather up the kitchen, entryway and hallway bathroom throw rugs every day or two anymore to wash them because Purrthos has peed on them.  I don’t need to remember to make sure I have enough glargine insulin in the fridge to get through the weekend, or enough needles on hand.  I don’t need to figure out when I can take Purrthos in for his next glucose check, which always had to be done 6 hours after his morning injection, so the timing usually involved me having to take at least a half day off work to go home and get him and make sure I got him to the vet at the right time.  

The song “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent” does remind me of one more bullet point for my list from above: 

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes – how do you measure a year in the life?
How about love?  How about love?  How about love?  Measure in love.
 

  • 7,884,000 minutes of unconditional, purring love:  Priceless

It’s Wednesday morning now and I’m getting ready for work.  All I had to do was pour food into three bowls, add some kitty treats, and I was done.  If I stay out late or spend the night with my boyfriend tonight, I don’t have to worry about making sure someone gets to my house to give Purrthos an injection in the evening and in the following morning.  I don’t have to warn anyone else to watch out for cat poop on the bathroom rug or pee on the kitchen rug.  I have three cats now that are, well, the reason people prefer cats – because you can leave them alone for hours or even a day or two at a time with just food, water, and a clean litterbox, and come back and they’ll be just fine.  It’s hard to believe that it has been almost seven years since I’ve had that level of freedom with my pet ownership. 

All that being said, I would love to see the face of Jesus just one more time.  

I miss you, Purrthos.

A P.S. to this – I have to give my utmost gratitude to the caring and wonderful staff at Balboa Vet Hospital (www.balboavet.com) – Dr. Alexander, Dr. Lee, Juan Pablo, Jessica, Michaela, Rachel, Tamsin, and all the rest of the staff, plus their office kitties, Harrison and O’Malley – thank you for taking such good care of my baby all these years.  I know you loved him as much as I did.

Posted in In Memoriam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

She’s the Moon

  

Moon Goddess Artwork by Josephine Wall

May 1, 2010 

There is a new Peter Gabriel song (actually a remake of a song by Bon Iver) called “Flume” out now – I highly recommend both versions.   

Only love is all maroon
Gluey feathers on a flume
Sky is womb and she’s the moon  

Flume Clip (on Amazon)  

I haven’t the foggiest idea what it means.  But the more I listen to the song, particularly the Peter Gabriel version (he repeats “she’s the moon” a few times at the very end), it makes me think of my mother.  Or a mother, anyway.  Not necessarily mine.  Which brings me to the subject of my post … mothers.  

To say my Mom was dysfunctional is like saying Hitler was kind of a bad guy.  Were there weirder Moms than mine out there?  Oh yes.  Were there kids who were more abused than I was?  By far.  I’m not writing this as some kind of “pity me” epitaph.  More of a realization of what I wish I’d had for a Mom back then, and now.  

The moon from my backyard.

In a lot of ways a Mom would be like the moon to me.  Distant, but yet always there – even on the nights you couldn’t see her, you knew she was there.  I have never found the night to be as scary or intimidating as literature and folklore make it out to be, and to me the sight of the moon is always reassuring, welcoming, somehow warm and soothing despite knowing how cold it can be on the dark side of it.  In my world, a Mom was like the moon.  You  could look up at her and know that she would never go away, she was always there.  She may have sometimes seemed cold or distant, but you never doubted her love, her presence.   

I suppose the reason I don’t really fear nighttime or the dark as much as some people do is that at least once my Mom went to bed, my house was relatively peaceful.  As long as my Mom didn’t decide to sleep with me, that is.  Which she did, on occasion.  At some point when I was around age 9 or 10, the roles in our household started to shift.  My mother gradually became the child, and my older brother and I were the parents.  My brother was left to the responsibility of making sure my Mom got home alive and intact when she was out drinking too much at a bar, even if it meant having to go out on his bicycle (after a slurred phone call from her in which he usually had to guess where she might be – woe be it to him if he couldn’t figure it out) to wherever she was and drive her home.  Mind you, for most of this time he was underage and didn’t have a driver’s license yet.  But I guess he was technically a sober driver, just not a legal one.  I shudder at the thought of this now that my oldest son is 11 already, and can’t imagine there being a day where I would ever put him in the position to drive me home when I was intoxicated, let alone ride a bicycle across town, through nighttime traffic, to find me.   

As for me, I started to take on the role of the mom, the one who helped manage the household budget and was, in a backward way, the mother to my own mom.  She would have a fight with her boyfriend and couldn’t sleep that night, so she’d want to sleep in my bed.  Me, the 10-year-old, and she, the 36-year-old.  I’d have to be the one to console her when she cried.  And then she’d get grouchy and yell at me for keeping her awake because I was wiggling around too much in bed.  In  MY OWN bed, which was a twin, while her queen-sized one sat empty just across the hall.  The ludicrousness of it baffles me in retrospect.  I hated those nights.  The only other living thing I wanted in my bed as a child was our cat, Parkie. I rarely let my own kids sleep with me unless they’re really sick or have had some awful nightmare, but even then, with the latter scenario, I try to coax them back into their own bed later in the night, once they’re happy again and have forgotten the bad dream.     

I learned how to mix martinis when I was around 9 years old, for my Mom, it was Tanqueray gin and a touch of dry vermouth in a glass over ice.  She had one favorite glass, it was a deep blue highball with white flowers in the glass, that surprisingly never ended up being used as a projectile to throw at my brother or myself.  Amazing, given that everything else ended up that way.  Coasters, wooden figurines, those vague candy dish/ashtrays you made in grade school out of a leaf print or your hand and some orangey-red clay, your name and the year scratched in the back with a toothpick before it was fired and presented as a Mother’s Day gift … they all ended up being thrown at us and with varying levels of damage.  Not surprisingly, the clay mementos never made it to my adulthood.  The coasters survived, and this set of three carved wooden cats (sort of a Balinese style, tall and sleek) had dents and dings and ears that were glued back on again.  Silly little things, but I still own them, only because there is so little left otherwise.    

And now, as an adult, I am surprised at the things I wish for that are Mom-like.  Someone to talk to about my kids, about their behaviors.  Someone to brag to about what my boys do, or complain about the times when I get the pouty face or the Stink Eye from one of them, who isn’t an ex-spouse, a friend, a sibling, or a boyfriend.    

That's My Boy!

My older son got an award at school today.  The California public schools administer a test every spring called the CST or STAR test, basically they are standardized tests in English/Language Arts and Math, and as the years progress, other topics get added.  The 5th graders get tested on Science for the first time this year.  I took a quick look at a sample of the CST questions in English for 11th graders, just for the heck of it, and to be honest, I’m not sure how well I’d do, given that my experience of reading and interpreting literature and even most documents is colored by years of life experiences, opinion, and correcting other people’s documents for a living.  Anyway, back to my son.  The school decided to give out medals to the kids who actually scored a perfect 600 score on the Math portion of the STAR test in the last two years.  (I guess nobody got a perfect score in English, which actually sort of makes me sad).  They had cute Olympic-type medals on red, white, and blue ribbons made up for the kids and gave them out in a post-lunchtime ceremony that the parents of those particular kids, and all of the children in grades 2-5, were invited to.  It was probably the first time that I scored a seat in the auditorium for any of the school events I’ve been to in the last six years, given that there were only 23 kids awarded medals, so only those parents were present.     

A lot of times now when I attend things for my children, I find myself thinking of my Mom and my own childhood at these same ages.  My sons are 8 and 11, in grades 3 and 5.  I don’t remember a lot of elementary school – unfortunately huge chunks of it are big blanks.  But I think I remember more of school than I do of my home life, which probably tells you something.  I remember moving almost once a year, usually based on some whim of my Mom’s or because of some boyfriend she was then dating or had just broken up with and felt she had to “get away from”.  In third grade, I went to three different schools.  Two were due to moves, the other was due to a district change mid-year.  In retrospect, my sense of self-deprecating humor was probably born out of a need to find a way to fit in, having always been “the new kid” in class every year.  I had very few close friends growing up, other than my older brother, because he was the one who was always there.  Everyone else, I got to know them for a few months, maybe a year, and then we moved away again.  Small wonder that I tend to make friends with men more readily than I do women.  Girls take longer to get to know … by the time someone got to know me, I’d moved on.     

I can remember parts of 5th grade, though.  That year isn’t quite as hazy as others.  Part of the reason was that I had a great teacher that year, and, coincidentally, my first male teacher, Mr. Carl Strickland.  Mr. Strickland passed away a few years ago – it was just a random thing that I happened to see his obituary in the newspaper, and I don’t subscribe and rarely read the paper as it is.  A slightly burly man with salt and pepper hair and matching beard, he had no hesitation in taking disruptive students outside and slamming them up against the wall.  Ahhh, those were the good old days.  And in many ways, yes, I mean that.  No, I’m not advocating child abuse in the schools, but if a teacher needs to control his or her classroom and is stuck with a consistently misbehaving student AND the parents seem to do nothing to intervene, then at that point, I think it is the teacher’s discretion to figure out how to deal with the kid.  Mr. Strickland was cool, he let us decide if we wanted to be known by nicknames, and we could think it over and let him know.  My brother dared me to have him call me “Fred” (my brother’s nickname for me, I think he got it from a comic strip), and so, not wanting to look like a sissy to my big brother, I did it.  My report card for that year even said, “Fred is a great kid!” on it.  At least I knew that Mr. Strickland was proud of me.     

Fred was a great kid.  Despite being so nervous on the first day of school every year that I usually threw up (always being the newbie didn’t help any), I liked school.  It was my refuge from home and from my mother, a place where I could receive praise for what I did, honest feedback that didn’t always have to turn into some discussion about my mother’s issues or a fight over some perceived reaction I must have had to what she said.  I was consistently a straight-A student, always flying under the radar, with a quick, dry wit that became honed over the years.  I liked it when I made people laugh.  It proved to me that at least, for the span of a few minutes, I was capable of making people happy.  I could never do that at home.  I loved our big, dumb cat, Parkie, too, for the same reasons.  I could make her happy by simply petting her, feeding her, paying attention to her.     

Parkie the Cat - kind of dumb, loved to roll in the dirt, and always lovable.

Parkie made the list my brother and I kept stashed in his dresser drawer of “Things Mom Starts Fights Over”, too.  Right up there with “no ice cream”, “Your Father”, and “the dishwasher”.  Mom was perpetually on a diet even though she was 5’5″ and weighed maybe 110 pounds, so even though she rarely ate ice cream if we had it in the house, there was hell to pay if my brother and I had eaten it all.  Yes, I realize there is no logic whatsoever in that thinking.  My Mom was not a logical person.  She would have made Mr. Spock’s head explode if they’d ever had an argument.  But when you’re a child and your parent is the center of your universe, you don’t stop to question such things – because you don’t know that you even should question them.  For us, it was survival, trying to figure out how to shift tactics to keep Mom happy so she wouldn’t blow up at one of us.  You don’t question the logic of the enemy suddenly throwing a book at you when yesterday she only threw ashtrays … you just learn to find new ways to duck and cover.     

Even the solutions never worked in our house.  My brother would offer to ride his bike out to the store (at night) to get more ice cream, but if he did, she would bitch about him taking too long, the flavor he brought home (always whatever one she’d asked for, but she would have changed her mind by the time he returned) or the fact that she no longer wanted it.  It was a pity we didn’t have cell phones then, I could have called my brother to abort his errand half the time because my Mom had passed out in bed, thus rendering the ice cream a moot point.  It didn’t matter what you did, it was always a lose-lose situation.    

I remember one time when I was goofing around with the cat in our kitchen when I was around 14, and I had put the cat up on top of the refrigerator.  Parkie jumped down eventually, but not before managing to knock off a bone china teacup from a small collection my mother kept up there.  Why they were on top of the fridge collecting dust and where no one could see them, I never knew.  My Mom was furious with me over the broken cup and saucer – after all, they’d belonged to her mother (who had been dead for some years now and whom my mother never claimed to like anyway, but to my brother and I was one of the sweetest women we ever knew), how could I have been so thoughtless?    

After she slapped me and stormed off, I swept up every single piece of that cup and saucer I could find and put them into a paper bag.  Over the next few days, I painstakingly glued the pieces back together, some of them as small as the size of a fingernail clipping, probably over 50 pieces in all.  There was one tiny piece I never found, I suspect it had ended up in that dark, dusty crevasse under the refrigerator, so the cup ended up with a missing sliver on one side of it.  It could never be used to drink tea out of again, but my Mom didn’t use those cups anyway, nor did she drink tea.  I kept the whole mess hidden in my room, on a corner of my desk, under a t-shirt, so she wouldn’t see what I was up to if she came in my room.  After I finished, I went over the whole cup and saucer with nail polish remover to remove any lingering traces of Superglue stickiness, and I have to admit, it was a pretty good reconstruction job.  From the outside, save for that little sliver, the cup looked perfectly right again, white with a dainty floral print and a gold-rimmed edge.  Look inside, and the white interior was a fine spiderweb of healed cracks. I actually thought it looked more interesting than it had before, it gave the cup a lot more character.     

I presented the cup back to my mother the next weekend morning while she was drinking her coffee and smoking a cigarette. I shyly brought it out and set it on our kitchen table next to her and proudly said, “Look, I fixed it.”  The tentative offering of another apology, the broken made whole again, the child looking for the mother’s forgiveness to close the wound.     

My mother picked up the cup and immediately her eyes zeroed in on the missing sliver and the web of cracks on the interior.  “It’s still not as good as it was,” she muttered.  With that, she hefted the cup and saucer tossed them together down on the linoleum floor, destroying it once again.    

I left the kitchen.  I didn’t want her to see how much it hurt.    

I hate that particular memory, but I keep it fresh in my mind because now, when my kids accidentally break something in the house that might have once been precious to me, I remind myself that they are only things.  Children are much harder to put back together.     

Back to school and my son’s award.  I am ridiculously proud of him for getting a silly little medal on a ribbon, took photos of him during the ceremony and afterward, which I will post on Facebook and send off to friends in emails, hugged him probably a dozen times and told him how smart he is and how proud I am of him.  None of the things my Mom ever did.  Despite being a stellar student, Fred never got told that her Mom was proud of her.  Looking at the API rankings of most of the schools I went to (13 schools between kindergarten and twelfth grade), a lot of them were in poorer areas of town with more diverse racial mixtures and, now, more problems, and their API scores reflect it.  My son is fortunate enough to go to a public elementary school with an API score this year of 926, the highest in the district and one of the top 100 in the entire state of California.  The API scores of the schools now that I attended as a child range somewhere around the 500-600 mark, some lower, some higher.  Thirty years ago they may have been higher, but I doubt they were ever in the top 100 for the state.  So maintaining straight A’s at sub par schools maybe isn’t such a big deal; I used to rationalize that as one of the reasons my Mom never seemed proud of me.  Not that my Mom would have cared about API scores or rankings.  The only time my school entered into her thoughts was when I wasn’t there because I was home sick and thus inconveniencing her.     

When I graduated high school, I was on my way to UC Berkeley on a full scholarship for their aerospace engineering program.  (Not what I finished in, obviously, or I would probably be successful enough and busy enough to not have time to write a blog).  Despite years of being educated at crappy schools, I managed to score in the 1400’s on my SAT scores.  Back in my freshman year at Escondido High School, I remember telling my Mom that the Chicano girls I shared my locker with (there weren’t enough to go around, so you were assigned to share lockers) were stealing from my lunch, usually always my dessert.  She then launched into a pop psychology diatribe on the fight or flight scenario, and how I should confront these girls or spend my life living in fear.  Wisely, I chose to ignore her, thus saving myself from getting my ass beaten up in the parking lot after school by a bunch of gang chicks, and made it all the way through to graduation.  I also ignored my own initial ideas of injecting my Ding-Dong filling with strychnine just to see what would happen to the unwary snack thieves.  Instead I took to carrying my lunch around with me in a tote bag, until the point where I had become close enough friends with another girl that I could switch to sharing her locker instead.  Now, as a parent, I try to recall this little incident when my kids have problems with other children in school and think about what I would have preferred that my Mom have said or done about my purloined lunches.  I may not have always come up with the best solution as a child (nor will I as an adult), but I did what I needed to do to cope.    

My Other Ray of Sunshine

The biggest thing lacking in my upbringing was a sense that my brother or I ever brought any joy to our parents’ lives. It took me years of therapy to pinpoint that one.  Think about all the reasons that people have children in the first place, admittedly, not all of them are healthy or sensible.  But ideally, people have children, or adopt children, because they want them.  Having that child in their lives brings more joy into a life that, hopefully, is already happy.  I will be the first to tell you that my two boys can be a pain in the ass.  But I will also be the first one to tell you (and tell them) how happy I am that they are with me, that they exist, that they are a part of my life.  I hope that as they grow to adulthood, even if they don’t remember my words, that they will always remember a feeling of being loved, being wanted, being cherished just because they exist.  Their father and I split up over five years ago, when our boys were just 3 and 5 years old, and the guilt from that still tears at me at times.  I never want them thinking that they were a reason for the divorce, because they weren’t.  And I’m very glad that their father shares custody of them, so they have not just one, but two loving homes to go to.   

My father saw us every other Sunday afternoon, for maybe 3 hours or so.  He never pressed for or wanted more custody, and somehow got away with only paying $75 a month per kid for child support for my brother’s and my entire childhood existence – it never increased, he never offered more.  My Dad was a nice guy, but he wasn’t a father.  Whether or not he would have manned up and been one if something drastic had happened to my Mom (sometimes wishful thinking on my part when my Mom pulled one of her many suicide attempts), I don’t know.  I can’t really imagine him doing much more than providing food and shelter and telling me to stand up straight.  I can’t fault him that much, he was born in a time (1926) when men really didn’t have to be parents, they just had to be providers, and if you had a son, you had to teach him how to throw a baseball and how to drive a car.  My Dad did neither of those with my brother – being only 5’4″, my Dad wasn’t particularly athletically inclined (although he might have been a good jockey), and my Mom got stuck with the task of teaching my brother how to drive.  Or rather, my brother got stuck with my Mom.  I can still remember a time in Tustin, when he stalled our VW Scirocco (one of the few times it wasn’t in the shop) during an unprotected left turn on Red Hill Avenue, one of the busiest streets in the city back in 1975.  Great place to take your son out for a practice drive.  My Mom started screaming at him about being a failure and embarrassing her, all while the car was still stuck in the middle of oncoming traffic, with me in the back seat.  I would have (as a Mom) hustled my kid out of the driver’s seat and switched places, got the car moving again to get my family safely out of traffic, and pulled over to let everyone calm down afterward.  Instead, my Mom got out of the car and announced she was walking home, leaving an unlicensed driver with only a learner’s permit to finally get the car started again and drive himself and his little sister home.    

You see, with my Mom, it was never about her kids, it was only about her.  Not that one’s life should be entirely devoted to their children, I think that’s a little too self-sacrificing.  But it is a good thing if the happiness of your children, or at least their safety and comfort, sometimes enter into your thought process.  My Mom never owned a four-door car or thought to buy one, so I was always stuck dealing with her ire when I had to climb in and out of the back seat (I never did it fast enough).  My grandfather passed away in 1976 and I remember my brother and I were both in need of new school clothes and shoes (I grew up thinking high-water pants were the norm, at least for me).  The small inheritance my mother received was quickly spent on new clothes for herself, booze, cigarettes, drugs, and an ill-advised loan to a flaky boyfriend so he could buy a vintage Porsche, most of which was never repaid.  My brother graduated high school the following year and there was nothing set aside for him to go to college, not even a community college.  He went into the Navy and made his escape, leaving me to put up with her solo for four more long years.  It wasn’t until I was 16 that I got tired of her hitting me and finally slapped her back – surprisingly, that finally stopped her, at least on that level.   

When I was in junior high, my history teacher figured out that I probably needed to get an eye test after seeing me squinting at the chalkboard on one too many occasions.  My Mom never noticed.  But she did finally take me in for an eye exam.  My first prescription at age 13 was 20/200, or roughly -2.5 diopters.  The first time I walked out of the optometrist’s office, I wonder how the hell I’d been able to function prior to then.  I could finally SEE!  Over the next few years, my eyesight continued to deteriorate, to where I was up to -6 diopters (and wearing contacts) by my senior year of high school.  I had nightmares throughout high school that I was going to slowly go blind.  Nobody else in the family had crappy eyesight, what was the matter with me?  Did I confide any of my fears in my Mom, like most kids would have?  Nope, not a word.  I may be a slow learner, but I was finally learning my lesson with her.  Bringing up the subject would have gotten me a lecture about the time I’d broken my glasses three years ago and how much that cost her.  Or her traumatic experience of having measles as a child and how selfish I was by apparently accusing her of being a lousy mother because my eyesight getting bad. It was amazing the way she could twist any topic around to have all the arrows pointed in her direction.    

My older son was born with a heart arrthymia – I believe the term for it is “sinus brachycardia with premature atrial contractions”.  My OB/GYN actually picked it up in my 34th week of pregnancy on the Doppler, and it scared the crap out of me to have that reassuring thumping sound suddenly sounding anything but reassuring.  During the delivery, his heat rate kept dropping precipitously until I turned onto my left side … and then had to stay in that position for the next two hours during contractions.  Since then, he has had to periodically be hooked up to a portable Holter monitor to record a 24-hour EKG of his heart.  He does okay with it, sometimes he thinks he’s like Doc Ock from the Spiderman comics, with all this stuff hooked up to his chest and a little machine with a digital readout hooked to his waistband.  But I’ve also taken the time to explain exactly what is going on with his heart to him.  The arrthymia seems to be resolving itself as he gets older and his cardiologist thinks he may just outgrow it, I hope he does.   Basically it means that one chamber of his heart has an extra electrical node that fires off and overrides the regular one, causing him to have extra heartbeats.  I tell him it’s like having an extra battery, or an extra lightswitch that flicks on when it’s not supposed to, and that over time, that extra lightswitch will probably stop working.  I think he gets it and seems comforted by my explanations. 

When I was 11, the age Sean is now, I had to have surgery on my little toes.  I had hammerhead toes, a condition where my little toe went up over the top of the neighbor toe next to it.  Caused discomfort in shoes until the toe worked a hole in the top of the shoe, or with Mary Jane styles, it would stick out of the top of the opening while the other four stayed inside.  It was kind of cool to go down the beach and leave four-toed footprints, not that we ever went to the beach very much because my Mom had such fair skin and hated the beach.  When it came time to explain the surgery to me, my mother, ever the mistress of tact, told me I was going to be put to sleep and the doctor was either going to  cut all the muscles to my little toes or he might have to just cut them off.  Then she got annoyed at me for getting dizzy and blacking out after listening to her.  Fortunately, I still have my little toes, and they lay there nicely obedient, down with the other four.  I had to wear those dorky post-surgery shoes, sort of a wraparound style that would allow for room for my bandages, for a few weeks afterward.  My uncle came to visit that summer and offered to take my brother and I to what was then the Del Mar Fair (should still be called that, frankly – “San Diego County Fair” is a stupid name).  My Mom wouldn’t let me go because of my shoes and bandages, she didn’t want them getting dirty, even though I pleaded with her that we could change the bandages later, they were due to be changed anyway.  No dice.  I had to stay home while my brother had a blast.  When my Mom finally did get around to changing my bandages, she hadn’t bothered to actually buy any gauze and such, she just decided to use Handi-Wipes from the kitchen.  I think they were pink and white striped ones.  So as if my blue wraparound shoes didn’t look bad enough, now I had to complement them with pink Handi-Wipes.  Even though we lived in San Diego for 16 out of my 18 childhood years, that was the only opportunity I ever got to go to the Fair as a kid, because … well, you already guessed it.  My Mom didn’t like the Fair.  

The Best Mom I Ever Had - My Grandma

After my older son was born, I ended up with severe postpartum depression.  It wasn’t pretty, but that’s a subject for another post, if I ever feel like writing about it.  My shrink told me later she was pretty close to hospitalizing me. Over the course of many, many therapy sessions, my upbringing came up and my therapist was continually amazed that I hadn’t ended up in therapy or had a nervous breakdown years earlier.  Who, moi?  Just stubborn, I guess.  At some point she asked me if I had any baby photos of myself around that I liked, and I brought in one of myself with my Grandma, it must have been from Easter of 1964, I would have been about 9 months old then.  The photo was actually on a slide, and I got a print made from it.  It’s my Grandma holding me and this silly inflatable Easter bunny.  According to my Mom’s cousin, my grandparents adored my brother and I, and it crushed them when my Mom would play stupid mind games and not allow them to visit us.  My therapist told me to put the picture somewhere in a frame where I would see it frequently, like on my nightstand, and every time I looked at it, she wanted me to ask myself if that little girl in the photo deserved love?  Did she deserve to be cared for and raised by parents who were proud of her and supported her?  Where she knew that she brought joy into their lives? 

Of course she does, I answered.  Every child does.  

Her prescription from that point on, was simple. With my own children, whenever I doubted myself as a mother, I was to think of that little girl and think about what she should have had, how her mother should have behaved.  And do that with my children.  In essence, she called it “re-parenting” myself through the process of raising my own kids.  It hasn’t been easy.  There are times when the temper flares I remember from my mother rise up in me like some uncontrollable, boiling volcano.  But I control it – most of the time.  And the few times I don’t, I apologize to my children, and I explain.  And I learn, and grow, and try to get better at it.  I don’t know that I’ll ever have the parenting thing figured out.  But maybe that’s part of what makes a good parent – never being sure that you have all the answers.  

The other thing my therapist told me that stuck with me years later was this odd little biological footnote.  Since every woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have, at some point in time, before my mother was born, the egg inside her that eventually became me was actually inside my grandmother also, when my mom was still in her womb.  So back in 1937, some cells that became me 26 years later were nestled in my Grandma’s womb.  My same Grandma who loved me unconditionally, the only mother who ever made me feel like I brought joy into her life.  That makes me feel loved. 

Sky is womb and she’s the moon.

Posted in Mother's Day | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Salt of the Earth

April 20, 2010

There is a woman I know at work, really only in passing, from occasionally seeing each other in the ladies’ room.  Her name is Deborah, but she goes by Debbie.  She is an older black woman, I have no idea what her age is – she could be 50 or she could be 75.  She works in the other side of the warehouse, somewhere – we both work in a large, Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark military warehouse.  I’m in a squat white building in the middle of the two-story structure, and Debbie is somewhere down at the far west end.  She’s usually bundled up in a jacket so I suspect she actually works out in the warehouse itself.  Her long silver-gray hair is always pulled back in a french braid or a tight bun at the nap of her neck; yet despite the stiffness of her hair, her manner is the exact opposite.  She is missing a tooth (or two) in the front of her mouth and has the world-weary eyes I might associate with a woman in a Dorothea Lange photograph. Yet her smile is omnipresent, a glimpse of sunshine that never leaves her face. 

Today on my way out of the restroom, Debbie was coming in.  “Good morning, sexy Momma!” she greets me.  She compliments me on my t-shirt, a graphic print with the words, “Cherry Cocktail” and a rhinestone-studded image of a cherry-garnished martini glass.  I thank her, and she shrugs and smiles.  “I used to drink,” she says, “not anymore.  My boyfriend, he drinks.  I figure someone in the house gotta be sober, so it’s me.  Besides, I know why he drinks.  And he’s not a mean drunk, he’s just a happy drunk.  I can live with that.  He takes care of me … but that man can’t cook!  He tries, though.  He’s always there – whenever I gotta go in for some test or something, and when my weight is up to here (she gestures with her hands to indicate, I assume, a waist) or down to there (gestures again – as I know her, Debbie is a slender woman) … he’s always with me.  He’s a good man.”

I nod and smile back at her.  “He is a good man.  I could live with the drinking, too.”

Posted in Just for Sh*ts and Grins | Leave a comment

Oggie and the Shroud of Santee

April 6, 2010 

I started out my day in a weird mood … you ever have those?  You just can’t pin a finger on it but something’s bugging you.  I ended up just getting grumpier as the day went on.  Maybe it’s hormones.  Maybe I shouldn’t have had a martini so close to bedtime – perhaps my blood alcohol hadn’t reached 0.00 again by the time I woke up.  Or it’s because my boyfriend had to go out of town on a business trip today and won’t be back until Friday … and this is a week I don’t have custody of my kids, normally a great opportunity to spend more time with him.  

But I doubt that’s it.  As the day went on, I realized how frustrated I’ve been at work lately.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my job, I’m grateful to have it.  I’m complaining about myself.  I have two bachelor’s degrees from UC Berkeley and a handful of master level classes in educational technology and regulatory affairs, and I’m working as a supply technician in a military warehouse.  I’ve held down jobs in biotech and pharma that paid almost twice as much as I’m making now, with more impressive job titles, better benefits, more perks, nicer restrooms and great coffee.  I’ve been a Manager, and an Associate Director, supervised people and got to go to company meetings across the country.  I felt like a somebody

Now?  Well, I won’t say I feel like a nobody, that’s a little too cliche.  Maybe I just feel lost … and frustrated, impatient, and out of place.  I took this job because I’d been unemployed for 6 months and nothing else was panning out, and I applied for dozens of jobs in my field.  But the more I work there, I am reminded that I am capable of so much more.  Why can’t I find THAT job?  More importantly, why don’t I know what it is?  That, my friends, is the $64,000,0000 question.  Or I’d settle for $64,000 a year.  My job now primarily consists of reviewing charges in our financial tracking system from freight forwarders we deal with – FedEx and DHL are the primary ones for the sites I’m responsible for.  I have to make sure we’re being charged the correct rate per pound or kilo from that country or state, checked against rate sheets, that we’re not getting charged any unnecessary extra fees, and that the shipments have all been correctly posted as both shipped and delivered in our other tracking system, that the shipment is being charged to the correct accounting code, there is a delivery signature, the weight matches what we said it was, and so on.  A lot of checking and cross-checking.  I seem to be pretty fast at doing it and pretty accurate, and my boss now keeps assigning extra work to me, usually some kind of historical troubleshooting, as in why haven’t these charges from the last six months been paid yet or why didn’t these shipments get there within our acceptable timeframe?  In addition to my regular job.  I guess the goal is to try and clear about 100 invoices a day on average.  I seem to be paying closer to 160, sometimes almost 200.  My only reason for not being able to process more than that is that the tendonitis in my wrists flares up, so I have to slow down.   

Then a day comes along like today, where I find myself sitting there and thinking, “what the fuck am I doing?”.  There are maybe 8 of us there that are contractors, including myself.  The rest are civil service employees, mostly retired military guys.  From what I understand, all of us contractors get paid the same hourly rate – regardless of years of experience in the job.  So I’m making the same per hour as someone who has been there 10 years.  Okay, that seems a little strange.  From the government’s point of view, I can see why the contracting route vs. civil service is a cost-effective measure for them.  

As for the civil service folks, well, I’ve heard all the jokes about how little work government employees do and how hard it is to get rid of the slackers.  I think my coworkers are a mixed bag.  Some of them seem very dedicated, some less so.  Some of them seem to have a hard time figuring out how to remember their passwords, let alone doing their job.  There is a group that comes in at 6 am and leaves at 2:30, then another group from 7 to 3:30, and then a few more from 8 to 4:30.  I’m in the middle group and pretty much always the last to leave from that batch.  From about 2:50 to 3:25, I notice the bulk of my same shift coworkers (only one in that batch is a contractor aside from myself) pretty much are sitting around and shooting the shit until they leave for the day and don’t seem to have anything to do.  Either that or they aren’t doing it.  Meanwhile, I’m still plugging away and wondering if I’ll ever get caught up this week (it doesn’t help matters that one of our systems was offline a couple of weeks back and shipments that should have posted automatically didn’t – and still don’t – so we’re having to do that manually now, which makes everything take more time).  

The eyelid twitch sets in when I start to ask myself “why”?  Why do I bother to have a work ethic when I could just plod along, tell my supervisor I have too much to do and ask for some of it to be offloaded onto someone else (after all, someone else(s) used to do my job – I am one more person than they had before), and relax?  I don’t get paid any more per hour if I clear 100 transactions in a day or 200, and it seems like all I will end up getting for myself is more work and more special projects with no sign of monetary reward. 

Needless to say I came home in a foul mood.  I drove home thinking of my backyard.  Oddly enough, now that it is devoid of grass and beginning to be devoid of weeds as well, I’m enjoying being out there a lot more.  Maybe I will finally appreciate the appeal of digging in dirt.  As long as I have decent gardening gloves.  I’m not into bugs and I’m allergic to weeds, and grass, and just about every plant I touch, including Christmas trees.  I used my lunch break to look up fake landscaping boulders online.  I had no idea that Costco carried such things on their website.  And they even had a limited selection of do-it-yourself pond and fountain kits.  Very cute. 

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do with the backyard of this house is put in some kind of fountain or waterfall at the back of the yard, by the retaining wall.  My house is a split-level home; the first floor meets the street, the second floor meets the backyard as it is built into a slope.  There is a flat section of yard and then a retaining wall and a slope filled with red apple iceplant and three eucalyptus trees going up to my neighbor’s backyard behind me.  I let the grass die off last summer as I couldn’t afford the watering bill, and since my kids and I all develop hives if we touch grass anyway, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep something lush and green that we never used.  Since then I’ve been in the process of clearing it out and killing it.  The existing retaining wall was probably built shortly after the house was, in 1981.  Or at least it looks that old.  It consists of large boards held in place with brick planter stands.  The middle section of boards has been bulging out the last few years, and that section happens to be where I’d want to put in a fountain.  Behind that same section of boards is also where Oggie is buried. 

The Tabula Rasa of my backyard (the left side, with Sabine the cat looking at the plants)

I suppose because I feel so out of control of the destiny of my career of late, I guess I need to feel in control of something, even if it’s just a large amount of dirt.  By the time I got home, I decided I was going to tackle that middle section and start tearing it out.  Just what I propose to do with it is beyond me, since I can’t afford to hire anyone to build the new retaining wall I want to put in about 5 feet beyond the current one.  Nor can I really afford to buy the materials for doing it myself.  But maybe I can come up with something and just dig in that section to put in my fountain where I want it, so I won’t have to move it later – reinforce the sides until I have the time and money to move the entire wall back.  If I were my ex, I would probably sit down and calculate the cubic footage of dirt I’m proposing to move out of this one section (roughly six feet across, three feet high, and maybe four feet deep).  I’m not.  I’m not a real analytical chick, either.  When it comes to something like this, I just start doing and figure it out as I go along.  I’ll probably end up dragging up garbage bags from the garage to fill with dirt that I will either use elsewhere or I’ll weasel it out in my trash, week by week.  When there’s a will, there’s a way.  I’m not under any major deadline to get this done and hopefully the worst of the rainy season is over with, so I don’t have to worry about the hillside sliding down into my yard. 

(Note, if you click on the photos, it should bring up a larger version; click again and you will get the full-sized one – hit “back” on your browser to get back to this post)  

My ex and I bought this house 4 months after we were married, back in 1992.  The previous owners were planning to retire and travel across the country in their truck and 5th wheel trailer, taking their smallish yappy dog along with them.  They also had a cat, and reasoned that the cat wouldn’t really enjoy traveling in an RV for miles on end, so we (or rather, I) offered to take the cat when we moved in.  My ex liked to say we paid $181,000 for the cat and got the house thrown in for good measure.  I can’t remember what the cat’s name was when we got him.  Sweetie or Kitty Cat or something lame like that.  Supposedly he was about 5 years old but I think he may have been a few years older.  I renamed him Oggie, which I didn’t tell my ex was the nickname of a cute guy I met in Norway back in 1986 – I think the actual spelling of his name was Augie (pronounced more like “ow-gee”), but it was close enough for a cat.  Oggie was some kind of mix that was closest to resembling a Turkish Angora, a creamy white with gold highlights, and a lion-like ruff around his neck in the winter months, a shapely Siamese-type head.  He was about the snootiest cat I’ve ever encountered, and the pickiest eater as well.  He picked at dry food during the day but preferred the canned he got at night, and we soon learned that the smellier the food, the more he liked it.  His favorite was some god-awful Fancy Feast Fresh Catch variety which, thankfully, they don’t carry anymore.  It was like mackerel, sardines, shrimp, and eyeballs in jelly.  Okay, not quite, but pretty close.  It was all shiny and gelatinous and stank like dead fish to high heaven.  He couldn’t eat it fast enough before it stank up the whole house.   

Three years down the road, Oggie ended up with kidney failure, a very sad and drawn out saga that made me resolve never to treat a cat for that ailment again in the future.  We ended up having to put him to sleep in early 1995.  We brought him home from the vet, wrapped him up in a small white bath towel with a rainbow stripe from a set I’d had since college, and buried him in the backyard.  Under the red apple iceplant, behind the middle section of the retaining wall that is now rotting apart.  I hated losing Oggie. 

Later that year, we adopted Purrthos from a shelter, a little six-month old kitten who purred like a jet engine almost constantly.  He’s 15 now, diabetic, arthritic, and hypertensive, just had bladder stones removed and now has an enlarged liver.  And he still purrs almost constantly.  His sibling d’Artagnan, adopted several months later, is 14 now and definitely the alpha male of the house.  He probably has yet to wash himself in all those 14 years but I love him anyway.  Life goes on, does it not? 

Other side of the yard, retaining wall at the back

For some reason I needed to find Oggie’s body in my hillside once I started digging into the retaining wall.  Maybe to see what was left of him, or because in some macabre way I feel my life is like Oggie’s, like I’ve just been buried away somewhere, never to see the light of day again.  Not to say that my life isn’t good or lacking in joy – that isn’t what I mean.  I guess it’s my ambitions that seem to have fallen by the wayside.  I don’t think anyone knows just how scared I was being without a job all those months.  I’m able to put on a pretty good front, much like Purrthos always purrs, even when he’s getting a shot or some other procedure that I know can’t be pleasant for him.  Months of figuring out how to pay $5800 worth of bills on $1900 of unemployment income and my child support checks.  After I took this new job, I told myself that was it, I was just going to be happy with this and let my previous, more driven self go underground.  And convince myself I could do it. 

As evidenced by the beginning of this post, I’m starting to fray a bit around the edges.  I’m no intellectual by any means, but I have often thought that I would be happier if I were dumber, or at least I would be more easily content.  I could just watch TV in the evenings and not ponder my existence, just do my job and be happy with my lot in life, rather than go through my days feeling as though I’m failing to fulfill the promise of my existence.  If I were a monk, I’d be that dude in The Name of the Rose who’s always flogging himself with the cat-o-nine-tails for whatever his unmentionable sins were.  

Looking for Jimmy Hoffa

I finally found Oggie. I broke out the top board and dug in behind it by a couple of feet, and started digging down further.  I wondered if a bath towel would survive 15 years of being buried underground in regularly irrigated soil.  Surprisingly, it did – sort of.  Not exactly like finding the Shroud of Turin or anything; in fact, if I hadn’t known what it had been before, I wouldn’t have guessed bath towel with rainbow stripes.  There is a huge hole in it where a tree root thicker than my arm grew through it.  I dug around the remnants of the towel and finally was able to pull the whole bundle out of the hole.  I put it on the ground and unwrapped it, not quite sure what to expect.  I’m used to skeletons from my anthropology classes, clean and dried out white bones, hundreds or hundreds of thousands of years old. 

What a bath towel looks like after 15 years in the ground

What shocked me about Oggie’s remains was the fragility of them, the smallness.  Tiny little pieces here and there that were indistinguishable from the twigs in the ground next to him – what were those?  Fingers, feet, ribs?  They are brown with age and dirt, crushed by the weight of the ground above and the invasion of a tree root, and probably not helped by my initial efforts with a shovel.  Without knowing why, I pick out all the pieces I can recognize as bone and put them into a bowl from my kitchen. I bring them inside and wash them off, spread them out on a couple of paper towels to dry.  Once they’re dry, I gather them back up again into a plastic bowl and look more closely. 

Oggie, 15 Years Later

This isn’t Oggie, the cat.  Yes, these are his bones.  But nothing here shows me his beautiful light blue eyes, the soft silk of his fur, the bushy brush of his tail that he’d always manage to swipe across your face, the inquisitive nature that had him always wanting to lie on my husband’s Evening Tribune newspaper (back when San Diego still had a morning and an evening paper), where he would purr contentedly and demand that only his head be petted, and woe to the unwise hand that drifted elsewhere, only to be greeted with claws … in short, his soul. 

In like fashion, I realize as I’m doing this little excavation project that the me that goes to work now everyday isn’t the Cathy that I know.  While I am scarcely bones (my increasing thigh girth certainly belies that theory), I am a shell of what I should be.  Trouble is, where is the rest of me? Hence the reason I blog here … because I have lost that soul.  I kind of doubt it lies behind my retaining wall, but maybe building one will help me find it, who knows?

Before I go to bed, I put the bowl of cat bones outside on the patio table. I don’t want it in the house.  I’m not dead yet.

Posted in I Hate The Living | 1 Comment

Drinking the Kool-Aid

March 19, 2010  

Lynde in 2010! Hey, I've heard worse options!

My girlfriend and I decided recently to come up with a new political party.  We have the Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Green, etc.  Our new party will be the Futility Party.  Our mascot will be a sleeping three-toed sloth.  And the candidates we put forth will either be non-existent, fictional, or dead – because any of those options seems to be better than what we have to deal with now.   Right now I’m thinking Paul Lynde for California’s next governor. The state and its budget are both complete jokes, why not throw in some of those dry witticisms from the Hollywood Squares and make it a guest on Saturday Night Live?   

You rang?

Or let’s just get the Kool-Aid dude to break up the tension.   

But more to the point, if there ever is one with my posts … what Sue and I both have been feeling for the past year, probably longer, is this perpetual feeling of doom, the waiting for the other shoe to drop, the wondering when this is going to get better, and the frustration of asking how it all went so wrong to begin with.  I often wonder lately why the suicide rate during The Great Depression wasn’t higher (or maybe it was, and just under-reported).  From my perspective and I’m sure that of a lot of other people, our current “recession” isn’t over yet.  Not by any means.  No, we are not on our way to recovery yet, either.  And frankly, even though this isn’t classified as a “depression” (I honestly don’t know what the cutoff or criteria is, forgive my economic ignorance), whether it’s a recession or depression, it sucks, big time.   

Dick Cheney making his point with another hapless victim.

Side note:  Sue had a great way of expressing this the other day.  She said, “Maybe the Dementors (from Harry Potter) are already living among us, sucking the life out of everyone.”   

Normally I would agree and say yes, I think they’re called Republicans, but since I’m dating one of them I can’t really say that anymore.  And I don’t even know what political party I would vow adherence to anymore, hence my earlier comment about forming a new one.  More on this line of thought about the Dementors in a bit.  

For all our elected officials who think that when someone who has been on unemployment finally finds another job, that all’s right with the world, let me explain a few facts of life from my own example to you, and you can figure out the trickle-down ramifications of it.  And before someone jumps on my case, this isn’t a “poor pitiful me” whine, I admit to being guilty of living beyond my means just as much as a fair number of other people.  I am not without my financial sins by any means.  I just think that a lot of stories similar to mine get overlooked in terms of economic analysis.  Politicians may tell us the recession is on the rebound or over, but I say something is still very rotten in the state of the union.  

In January of 2008, I took a new job with a venture-capital backed veterinary medicine startup company, apparently at just the right time – a week after I gave notice, the biotech company I was at laid off 2/3rds of their employees.  One of them would have been me had I not already given notice.  I knew the shit was en route to the fan anyway, so I’d been looking for something else for a while and got lucky via a referral from my current boss.  My new job was going to be a three-year contract, where we (4 of us, eventually set up in an office space in Del Mar, California) provided clinical and regulatory support services to a company based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  A three-year deal at $75,000 a year, plus an additional $15,000 a year to cover benefits, retirement contributions, etc. – all the stuff you don’t get with a small, private employer.  So basically $90,000 a year.  Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.   

I had to obtain my own health coverage, but that was to come out of that $15K a year, and since my last job paid $70,000 a year, I was still making a fair amount more than I used to.  And I chose to remain blissfully unaware of the impending economic bubble burst that came along later that year.  My house had appraised at $575K back in 2005 when my ex and I divorced (we were fortunate to end up with two homes, which I am thankful to my ex-husband’s frugality for that – we kept our first house when housing prices were poor and rented it out for years).  In 2008 it appraised for $500K ($75,000 less than only three years earlier) which should have been a warning sign to me right there, but I was happy that my refi still met the 80/20 loan-to-value ratio, I got a good fixed loan rate, paid off a home equity line and a couple credit cards and was able to put some extra into a down payment for a new car.  My 2000 Subaru Outback was paid for but approaching 160,000 miles – it still ran fine, but it was really showing some wear and tear, so I splurged on what I now call my midlife crisis car, a 2008 Cadillac CTS in Black Cherry, with the 3.6 liter engine.  Still living beyond my means but confident that I’d get things under control at some point, after all, I had a good, well-paying job, right?   

In May of that year, I took my kids up to Santa Barbara for a weekend, just the three of us, and we got a nice hotel room with a beach view.  In August, I took them to Legoland for two days for my younger son’s birthday and got them each an annual pass, and we stayed at a hotel nearby, also a treat, vs. the 45 minute drive back home each night.  My part-time nanny/babysitter lived with me part of the time and I could afford to pay her then – she would take the boys to school in the morning while I headed off to work in the opposite direction (my kids go to school by my ex’s house, not mine – he lives in the better school district and we have shared custody), and helped out with taking my older son to soccer practice and the occasional evening of babysitting if I went out for happy hour with friends.  

I met a new guy that summer and we started dating steadily in September/October of 2008.  I got my house cleaned every two weeks, had a gardener mow the grass and keep the landscaping up twice a month, had 200 channels of cable and HBO, went to Starbucks once or twice a week, and loved shopping at Cache, Georgiou, Nordstrom (for shoes) and Kohl’s.  I kept the hot tub in my backyard full and heated and used it often, ran the A/C in the summer (and it was beastly hot that summer) and the heat in the winter, watered the grass, got the roof repaired, and so on.  It was a good life.  I felt okay bidding on stuff at the silent auction at my kids’ school and donating to the PTA, buying gift wrap for the school fundraiser.  I had a security system installed and paid the $39 a month for the monitoring service. The kids and I went out to dinner on occasion (admittedly, just to Chili’s or some other place with a kids’ menu), and when we got take-out pizza, we got Round Table.  I love Ketel One vodka and hate the cheaper stuff, and could easily drop $200 in an outing at BevMo to try out new liquors and decent wine.  I liked Matrix Biolage shampoo, getting highlights done by a stylist, Charmin toilet paper, Philosophy’s Cinnamon Buns body wash, Tide Total Care detergent and that ritzy Downy fabric softener in the pretty packaging.  Was that so bad, really?  I was just being a good consumer, doing my part to keep the economy alive, and hell, in my mid-40’s, I think I deserve a little luxury!  And I thought I was making enough money to be able to afford it.   

I drank the Kool-Aid, I admit it.  (For those who don’t understand this reference, look it up on Urban Dictionary.com or read up on the Jim Jones cult massacre, but the first choice is probably more appropriate here).  

Let’s flash-forward a bit now.  In March of 2009, my boss told me that my salary was immediately being cut by 15%, and I was given a 60-day layoff notice.  I started looking for a new job almost immediately, but when May came along, I still hadn’t found anything.  I went on unemployment and continued looking.  The house next door to me went into foreclosure.  The house around the corner from me, the same model as mine, went on the market for $395,000.  My take-home pay dropped from $5200 a month to $1800 on unemployment.  My health insurance, already higher than normal because of my pre-existing medications of an anti-depressant and a beta blocker for high blood pressure, went from $220 a month to $341 a month.  Groceries went up, after school care went up, car insurance went up, water and utilities skyrocketed, cable rates went up (don’t they always?).  One of my four cats developed a thyroid problem and needed medication and then needed a radioactive iodine injection to the tune of $1000.  My other old cat, already diabetic for the past 6 years (he gets insulin twice a day), started needing arthritis and blood pressure medications.  I needed additional scans on my last mammogram and got cortisone injections in both knees for osteoarthritis to see if it would help the constant pain I have in them.   

I was used to applying for jobs and almost always getting an interview in the past, because I can write pretty good cover letters that get attention.  And generally, if I get an interview, I get offered the job.  Not anymore.  My applications went off into some black hole/dead zone like the waste from an Imperial Star Destroyer, and my life floated off with it like the Milleneum Falcon, only sans the handsomeness of Han Solo.  I didn’t have medical device industry experience, even though I had a decade of medical drug industry experience, that wasn’t good enough in a market where HR reps seem content to wait for that 100% match rather than taking a chance on the 90% match who might enjoy the job more because they’re learning new skills (a daring idea, that).  Thanks to a wasted year of the feds arguing over the healthcare initiative, drug companies were all taking a ‘wait and see’ philosophy with regard to future growth and hiring, and seem to continue to do so.   

I didn’t have eCTD submissions (electronic drug approval applications) experience, because my last two companies went bankrupt before ever buying the system(s) they were planning to put in, that I was going to be in charge of.  In the meanwhile, plenty of other regulatory folks in San Diego were learning those systems, and by gosh, when they looked for jobs, they had a much better shot than I did at a very limited field to begin with.  A tech writer temp job for Qualcomm that I worked at 4 years earlier (same job, same department even) that paid $35 an hour back in 2005 was open again, this time for less than $20 an hour.  And I couldn’t even get the time of day when I applied to that one, either.  I had recruiters call me about administrative assistant jobs paying $17 an hour when I was making almost $12 an hour on unemployment, and all I felt was insulted; after all, I had been making $43 an hour!  

Over the course of the summer, things started to shift and fall by the wayside.  I stopped watering the grass and let the lawn die, and eventually got lawn killer and sprayed the whole yard myself, with the intent of re-doing the backyard into some more water-efficient landscape once I was working again and could afford to put in new plants, gravel, bark, and drip irrigation.  I drained the hot tub and turned it off.  We stopped going to Round Table and started getting the $5 ready-to-go Little Caesar’s cheese pizzas instead when Mommy needed a night off from making dinner.  I dropped the HBO and cut the cable to 100 channels, I laid off my part-time nanny and asked her to move out so I could save on the water and utilities from having her living here.  I only had the housekeeper come once in a blue moon, and cut back on the gardener.  My only rationale for not stopping both altogether lies in the fact that between my bad knees and back, I’m useless for most floor, toilet, bathtub cleaning, and gardening, and I don’t even own a lawnmower and didn’t want to buy one.  I’m still trying to find a cheaper vodka that I can tolerate, since most of the time now I’m too depressed to consider actually giving up drinking.   

This beret covers my gray roots splendidly! Why didn't I think of this before?

My tax refund in May 2009, that I’d planned to use to put into college funds for my kids, instead went to paying my mortgage payments.  I didn’t really have much planned for this past summer, but part of that tax refund was going to go for a three-day weekend trip to the beach somewhere with my two boys, maybe a hotel in Carlsbad or the Crystal Pier, I’ve always wanted to stay in one of those places.   No more Starbucks, Cache, or Georgiou.  I’ve switched to Suave and generic toilet paper and the cheaper variety of Tide, and frankly, I don’t think my hair smells as nice nor are my clothes as clean, and my butt gets sore because it misses the Charmin and we all know that I’m full of shit.  I hate the way my hair color looks when I have to color it myself, and my gray roots are so stubborn with regard to over-the-counter hair color that they’re on a par with Che Guevara.   

I cashed in one of my IRA accounts from a previous job and used the proceeds to cover three mortgage payments before Chase went into foreclosure on me, and the rest of it went to pay down credit cards I’d been running up trying to make my other expenses.   My mortgage payments are $2550 a month, I think you can do the math with that $1800 a month in unemployment and figure out the problem pretty quick.   

I was proactive and filed a Homeowner Assistance application with Chase almost as soon as I got my layoff notice.  I’d heard these things take months so I figured I should get going ASAP.  Fat lot of good it did me.  I applied in April 2009.  As part of your application, you have to send in your two most recent paystubs.  So I did, the latter one reflecting my 15% pay cut, which I noted on the copy.  My hardship letter specifically stated that I would be unemployed as of the end of May.  What I didn’t really find out until months later is that the assistance program really isn’t designed to help you if you’re unemployed – basically the bank doesn’t want to talk to you if you don’t have a verifiable income from a new job.  So there was one hurdle.  Second hurdle was that I didn’t hear back from Chase until the end of September, at which point I got a form letter denying me, based solely on those two paystubs, telling me that I made too much money to qualify for a loan  modification.  They had my application nearly six months and never even bothered to read the hardship letter.   

At some point over the summer, a good friend suggested I apply for a position as contractor for the US Navy, his company did a lot of shipping with them and they were always looking for bright people to work in the office handling all the data entry aspects.  As you may have figured out from a previous blog post, that is where I ended up.  I applied here in August, part of the application process requires going through a security clearance process, or at least the clearance of a “person of trust” for a government job.  I thought, okay, well, it doesn’t pay what I’d like but I’ll apply for this as a backup, sure that something else would come up in the interim.  I interviewed for a fantastic position at Allergan up in Irvine and was willing to commute 90 miles each way for it, the hourly rate was good and I was desperate.  Supposedly they loved me in the interview and then poof!  Nothing.  They didn’t even contact the recruiter back.  This seems to happen waaaaay more often than I think anyone realizes, at least that’s what I’ve heard from a lot of recruiters and fellow unemployed friends.  I think part of the federal government’s whole job stimulus package should have been a mandate that companies post viable jobs that they actually intend to fill within a month or less AND that they interview people who are currently unemployed, if they meet the requirements.  That gripe stems from running across this article on Yahoo:  

Yahoo Career Article Link

Gosh, thanks, folks. I can only hope that every HR weasel out there who pulls this kind of shit gets to experience the same kind of hell themselves at some point in their life.  I was starting to think I should invent my own creatively named consulting business just so I could say that I was still employed – maybe something as a lab technician for a clinical trial involving domestic housecats.  Four of them, to be specific, and they all happen to live under my roof, but hell, nobody needs to know that.   

Related to this is my gripe that companies that are doing well enough to stay afloat in a recession should do just that – stay afloat.  Stop being so fucking greedy, you don’t need to make a 20% profit every quarter or even a 10% profit.  The job market is continually being increased by newly unemployed people who were working at jobs with companies that are still making a profit, folks who thought they were “safe”.  So maybe your company only made 2% last quarter – what happened to common decency of just hanging on and waiting for better times?  Why does everything have to be driven by the stock market and by continual greed?  I’m not going to go off here on the banks pocketing enormous salaries and bonuses for their upper execs who did nothing to deserve it, or all the investment firms that soaked their investors for money while vacationing off in the Bahamas when the shit hit the fan.  It sickens me, and that is putting it mildly.   

I made so many phone calls to Chase that left me in tears over the last several months.  I’ve applied for one job after another and another and another, even applied again a few months later when the job ended up disappearing and then reposted again in some slightly different form.  Positions that I thought I was a perfect fit for didn’t even contact me.  Positions where I knew someone at the company, friend of a friend or an old coworker who could recommend me to HR or to the hiring manager, didn’t contact me.  And yes, I did finally end up as a contractor working at a Navy base, putting absolutely zero of my previously hithertofore believed valuable work experience in biotech to use, aside from knowing how to use a computer and the ability to fog a mirror.  Am I angry about all this?  About now that I have to reapply to Chase now that I finally have two paystubs in the bank (well, I have the pieces of paper, the money is gone the split second it hits my account, if I’m not already overdrawn) and go through the whole process with them again and humiliate myself?  Damn right I’m angry.  Am I angry that my previous job was supposed to be a three-year position that ended after less than half that?  Hell yes, I am.  And that the CEO of the company that was supporting our contract managed to waste $10 million of venture capital funds in less than a year, money that was supposed to run for three times that long?  All on outlandish office furniture, matching shirts for a sales team with no product to sell, fancy dinners, brand new computers, brand new this and that, while our Del Mar office struggled along with hand-me-downs and office equipment from my last company’s bankruptcy sale.  And yet I was the first one to be laid off, not him.  Am I bitter?  I think you can answer that one.  

And thus finally brings me to the point of this post.  The bitterness, the anger, the frustration, the depression.  It staggers me to see how callous we have become toward one another in light of mutual, widespread fuming.  There is no answer, no immediate overnight solution to our economy.  And with the widespread pervasiveness of the internet, we can make our feelings known so much more quickly and widely – just think, 20 years ago, you would have had to call up a bunch of people one at a time to bitch about your life.  Now you can complain to dozens, hundreds, even thousands simultaneously.  And thus the venom spreads.   

I’m not a religious person by any means, but even I have often heard the quote of “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.  Ask yourself who is to blame for our current economic disaster.  And before you answer, take a long hard look in a mirror.  I certainly have.  That Kool-Aid was pretty tasty while it was being served up.  Your neighbor Jim down the street who took equity out of his home to buy a new car, maybe a set of silicone boobs for the wife and a pool table for the rec room to spice his life up a bit.  Your cousin Verna who needed back surgery and borrowed against the equity on her condo.  The back surgery didn’t go so well and now she’s unable to go back to work, and her condo has dropped 30% in value in 2 years.  The young couple, newly married, getting into their dream home with only 3% down, sure that in just a couple of years, the value of the place would increase by at least $100,000 and they could cash out and put that money into a bigger down payment … before that balloon payment hits on their adjustable rate mortgage, and before their rates adjust and their mortgage goes up $400 a month, or $800 a month, or worse.  Your enterprising Uncle Phil who refinanced his house, did some home improvements and funneled the rest of his equity into starting up his own business with that kiosk at the mall that sells hand lotions from the Dead Sea that was going to make him a millionaire.  The mall lost two of its anchor stores when the Mervyn’s and Macy’s folded, and half the town is out of work.  Including Uncle Phil.  Now his mortgage payment is $1000 more a month than it used to be and the beloved house that he and Aunt Ginny have had for 15 years is suddenly $200K under water, and Aunt Ginny’s ailing mother is moving in next week, so Ginny has to take time off work to take care of her.   

My good friend Jeff bought a nice house in the high 500’s when everything in the neighborhood was going for well over $600K.  It now appraises at $335,000 and he owes around $420,000 on it – all the equity from his previous two homes that he rolled into it is locked up or basically lost.  I told him instead of struggling to make payments on it now that his oblivious wife is divorcing him, he should mail in the key and walk away, and start saving anew for another place.  His self-absorbed spouse was thinking they could just sell the home and split the profits – duh, there are none to split, only mutual debt to shoulder.  A prospect which, for him in his mid-to-late 40’s, completely sucks.  Who wants to be starting from scratch when you’re almost 50, with nothing to show for your years of homeownership, especially no home?  Brutal.  Was Jeff wrong to buy his house?  He probably had a 20% down payment on it, pretty decent compared to most homebuyers from the last several years.  Could he have predicted the house would drop 40% in value in less than 5 years?  Probably not.  Who could?   

It goes on and on and on.  We all wanted something without waiting for it, the shiny appeal is so hard to resist – of course you need a TV bigger than 30″!  The Big Game (football, baseball, March Madness basketball, Olympic Curling, take your choice) is on next weekend and you want to impress your friends at your party with that whopping 56″ HDTV that ripped out your drywall the first time you tried to install it.  The new car to impress clients or annoy your ex-spouse, the new wardrobe to show off your svelte new post-diet figure, or do a better job of disguising the pre-diet waistline.  That nice crystal or china for when company comes over, even though that’s maybe twice a year.  The $30 bottle of wine even though you really can’t tell the difference from one half the price after the first two glasses.  Lessons for the kids and buying that electric guitar for Billy instead of just renting one.  And you might as well get a nice one because what if he grows up to be the next Jimi Hendrix?  Given enough time we can manage to rationalize just about anything.  

We all work hard, right?  We all deserve to reward ourselves now and again, that seems fair.  Regrettably, credit (albeit often at a price) is about as easy to get these days as a cup of coffee at Starbucks, maybe easier, so we don’t need to wait for anything.  The term “delayed gratification” fell out of our vocabulary, if it was ever in it to begin with.  I think it depends on your age.  

I can actually remember the days when stores did lay-a-way policies.  Remember those?  Back in high school and college years (early 80’s), I can remember buying a few things that way, usually clothes.  I got my Mom this ridiculously expensive (for then) luxury bathrobe when I was up at UC Berkeley, it took me weeks to pay for it.  But I still got it in plenty of time and got to enjoy actually wearing it for a few days around my dorm room before I went home for winter break.  Soft red wine-colored velveteen with a white satin collar, it was like a Joan Crawford era robe, something you’d wear with slippers trimmed with maribou fur.  I can scarcely remember lay-a-way policies, they varied store to store, but usually it was something like 20% down, then you had to pay another 40% of the price within a few weeks, then pay the remainder within another few weeks.  Realistically, this was a form of delayed gratification, and it did make you think about your purchase a little more, it wasn’t just a one-time hit on a credit card.  You forfeited the money you’d put down if you didn’t make the next payment in time, and you didn’t get the item, either.  Eventually stores moved away from that and even the Mom and Pop department stores (mostly long gone, or they’re “boutiques” now) started offering credit cards at 18% or 21% interest, so you could get what you wanted RIGHT NOW without having to wait to pay for it via lay-a-way policies.  

And then when things start to go sour, we rationalize the negative.  

Well, of course it’s someone’s fault, right?  The banks, for lending money when they shouldn’t have.  Those stupid people who borrowed beyond their means, who got into houses they couldn’t afford (in this case, they’re always faceless, nameless humans, not people you might actually know).  Blame the Bush administration.  Blame the Obama administration.  It’s the fault of the Republicans for being so callous and greedy.  It’s the fault of the Democrats for giving away all our money.  It’s the fault of the immigrants, for taking all our jobs.  Or the terrorists, because they have ruined everything, especially air travel.  The Pro-Choice folks, because they murder babies.  The Pro-Life folks, for bringing unwanted children into the world when we already have more than there are homes for.  Blame the Jews, because they don’t celebrate Christmas.  Or the Muslims.  Or the Christians.  Other countries can blame us now for their economic downfalls; some of the biggest investors in the U.S. mortgage market were Greece and Spain, both nations now on the verge of economic collapse.  Pick your target(s), aim, and fire.   Even better if you can find some way to use your religion as your excuse.  Fundamentalist Christians use the Bible as their excuse for committing the murder of an abortion doctor.  An Islamic extremist will use the Koran as his excuse for committing Jihad and ramming a plane into a building.  Isn’t it strange how far things can go awry based solely on interpretation of books that no one knows the author of? 

And now we have the Tea Party, which seems to be the floundering and angry voters who feel abandoned by the Republican party and perhaps the dissillusioned Democrats as well, all of them finally waking up and realizing gosh, they have no clue what the government is doing with their money and they want to know about it!  To counter that, there is now the Coffee Party as well, which seems to have a similar directive but with less shouting involved.  Better late than never, folks – but again, the sense of blame must be involved.  It’s never a case of “Gee, I really am pretty clueless as to how the federal government operates – I’ve never really studied how the Ways and Means Committee works or what the function of the Federal Reserve is – maybe if I was more aware of these things I could make better informed choices when I vote in elections, rather than just voting for someone on a visceral level.”  Instead you have people out there with this, “why wasn’t I told?” attitude that they use throughout their lives, as if it is now socially acceptable and even commendable to spend your existence with no more awareness than a protoplasm.  “But nobody told me …”  How often do we hear this plea nowadays?  ALL THE TIME.  I just popped open Yahoo to see what the news du jour was, and one of the leading stories was how homeowners who are being helped by the Fed’s homeowner’s assistance plan are shocked … SHOCKED! to find that their credit scores have gone down.  Well, DUH.  As if they wouldn’t have gone down a whole lot lower if your house had been foreclosed upon.

Your Winnings, Sir

Here Are Your Winnings sound bite

Let’s have a brief history lesson here.  Does this situation sound vaguely familiar?  “Many voters, seeking an outlet for their frustrations … began turning their support towards the far right and far left of the political spectrum, opting for extremist political parties …”   

It describes the seeds which helped foster the rise of Nazi Germany.  People were frustrated with the economy, their government, unemployment, and the feeling of being put-upon by having to take all the blame for WWI.  Here in America, it seems that the rest of the world hates us for something.  The terrorists hate us for our freedom.  Or for our smugness.  Or our supermarkets.  Or because we have Chuck ‘E Cheese.  Or wait, that’s just me, sorry.  But we feel put upon, trapped, stuck in a stage play where we don’t know our lines and we don’t know when the curtain call is.   

So we take it out on each other.  Every day you read about yet another group of people who are “insulted” by something said or done by a politician or by another group.  You can’t call someone retarded because the Special Olympics folks get in your face.  The President can’t suggest people not blow their money in Vegas when they know they should be saving for their kids’ college funds without the City of Las Vegas getting their bowels in an uproar.  Black people can use the term “nigger” freely in rap music, but woe to the comedian who tries to use the same term in a joke.  And everyone seems to feel like they’re owed something – because they grew up in a crappy neighborhood, because they went to a crappy school, because weird Uncle Kevin exposed himself to you when you were 10, because your dog bit you in the leg once, because you have straight hair and you always wanted curly – well, dammit, it just isn’t fair!   

We blame the Republicans and the Bush administration for setting up the dominoes that led to the collapse of our economy and the housing market.  (Well, I do, anyway).  Others blame previous administrations for the softening of the lending standards to the point where banks were encouraged (or even chastised if they didn’t) to hand credit out to every Tom, Dick, Harry and their cousins so we could all participate in the American Dream of owning a home and living the good life, regardless of ability to pay.  We blame Obama for not being able to fulfill the terms of his campaign promises, for being a Socialist, for being born in Hawaii, for not being able to give up cigarettes, for the continued lack of jobs.  So rarely does it occur that someone sits back and contemplates our current situation and says, “Gee, you know, if you look at it, you can see where this policy shift let to X, then that led to Y, and then over here we had this change of direction, this interest rate change, this push from the left and this push from the right, and it just led to a big mess.”  Or something like that but with bigger words.  

Get over it.  Yes, I know there are people out there who, over the course of the last decade, continued to save wisely and spend frugally, and they have every right to grumble about the rest of us being the grasshopper while they are the ant.  For all the good it does them.  I know of at least 15 people who are dealing with fallout from unemployment, pay cuts, furloughs, housing price collapses, or all of the above.  And I don’t even know that many people.  And maybe you are truly without sin and can start chucking rocks at the rest of us with abandon.  But before you start rooting around in the dirt for a hefty stone, ask yourself if you know a Jeff, or an Uncle Phil and Aunt Ginny, or Jim or Verna … or maybe you are one yourself.  People that have no issue with spouting violence and anger at a rally usually feel quite different about yelling the same thing directly in the face of someone they know and/or care about. 

I hate the living. And get off my lawn.

Back to those Dementors from Harry Potter.  I used to picture a human form of a Dementor as being someone like Dick Cheney, or old man Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  I no longer do.  Although, admittedly, there are way too many Dick Cheneys or Old Man Potters living amongst us.  As there are nasty old Nurse Ratchetts and Mommie Dearest types, all of whom are angry, bitter, depressing, and seem to serve no greater purpose in life than to spread anger and hatred.  But think about this … isn’t the collective negativity of 10 Dick Cheneys just about equal to the lower-level bitterness of 1000 of the rest of us?  According to an online US population “clock” at the time I wrote this post, there are 308,904, 994 people in the United States alone.  If even half of those are grumbling and griping about how their bad luck is the fault of all “those people” out there who didn’t make their mortgage payments without recognizing that the other half probably ARE “those people” and most likely their friends and neighbors … well, that’s a whole lot of negative energy.  And even that supposedly good half probably has their fare share of unpaid or defaulted credit card debt, or they’re on welfare or disability or some other form of government subsidy when they are fully capable of working, but feel they’re somehow entitled to get money for nothing. 

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Let’s go back to that mirror and look long and hard before you start blaming some nameless, faceless “them” for your issues.  Walk that mile in the other guy’s or gal’s shoes.  And ask yourself, truly, how much do you really need to be happy?  There was a time when I was ecstastic to be able to listen to a good tune on my Sony Walkman (cassette tape, no less) while riding a BART train to school or work.  I love a fireplace on a cold night and with a good movie that makes me cry.  When did life have to get so damn complicated and when did we, as human beings, become so greedy and judgemental about everyone else’s lives?  What makes you happy?  Just YOU.  Something that doesn’t require thousands of dollars or the expense of someone else’s peace of mind or tax dollars?  And how have we lost sight of it?

I think of that old quote from the comic strip Pogo.  “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”  WE are the Dementors, and the only ones sucking happiness out of our lives (and conversely, the only ones who can breathe the happiness back in).  

Come, take a deep breath with me …

Posted in I Hate The Living | Leave a comment

The Witching Hours

February 7, 2010

I hate Sunday nights.  Not all Sunday nights.  But more often than not, when I find myself having an evening that really sucks, it’s a Sunday.  To be fair, I don’t remember if I hated Sunday evenings back when I was still married.  There was always too much to do before Monday to really wallow in one’s thoughts much, making sure the kids had enough diapers, formula, milk, wipes, clean clothes, Cheerios, and so forth for getting started for the week.  Cleaning out the diaper bag and cleaning the house, loading the dishwasher, putting away laundry, getting ready for the week ahead.  The cycle continues.

Now that I’m older, divorced, and my kids are getting a little older, I find myself on Sunday nights every other week completely alone.  My ex has 50% custody, so I have my two boys every other week.  This is one of those solo Sundays.  I think I hate these the most.  Because I don’t look at Sundays the same way anymore – yes, there are the inevitable, before-the-week-starts chores of laundry, dishes, cleaning out my purse (a nightmare) and tote bag (ditto).  But no kids, no spouse, no one pressuring me to do any of these things.  And therein lies the problem.

Given too much time on my hands, I think too much.  Rather than enjoy the time and read a book and escape like most normal people do, I get wrapped up in some notion and BROOD on it until the cows come home.  Sometimes even long after they’ve come home.  The holsteins are setting up camp in the living room with an espresso maker and I’m still sulking.  I wish I could do something productive like go take out my frustrations on my elliptical exerciser that sits downstairs, but ask me to and I can come up with a list of excuses longer than Rapunzel’s locks faster than you can get the words, “but why …” out of your mouth.  I’m well-practiced at it.  And no, I’m not looking for sympathy, or motivational lectures or speeches.   A kick in the ass, maybe, but that’s about it. 

I spend large portions of my life wondering why I can’t just be normal.  Admittedly, I don’t really know what “normal” is.  But in some part of my mind I think that normal people actually enjoy shopping at Wal-Mart and find watching prime time TV fulfilling.  They don’t ruminate over what they could have been or whether or not they should have pursued a post-graduate degree, and odds are that they don’t even know what the word “ruminate” means.  Now I’m no genius but for some reason I come off to a lot of people as being very smart.  Probably just the occasional use of big words, I’m guessing. 

Sometimes I think the reason I write this blog is merely so that maybe somewhere out there, someone else in the world will read these words and think, “Hey, I feel like that a lot, too.  I’m glad to know I’m not alone.”

But back to Sunday nights for a moment.  I’m not sure what it is, but something about Sunday nights seems to bring out different instincts in different people.  A nesting instinct, a booty call urge, you name it.  Not the same as finding oneself alone on a Saturday night with no date prospects.  The Sunday night booty call is more of the white flag failure, the “I’ve gone the whole week and haven’t gotten laid by anyone except my hand; help me out here.” 

I seem to attract the type of guys that see me as nothing more than a booty call, too.  At least a lot of them do.  And I suppose I can’t complain – there is a more masculine, testosterone-based side to me that has a tendency to look at men as notches on a bedpost myself.  Like I’d like to sleep with them just for the sake of satisfying my curiosity about what it was like, and then move on.  Rather chauvinistic of me, I’d have to say.  However, there are men that I’ve actually dated, or been friends with, ones I’ve met in the office or elsewhere and had real conversations with, and thought that we were friends as well as the occasional lovers.  What I don’t get is what is it that prompts these guys to contact me and inevitably, with little or no other conversation, ask, “wanna fuck?” usually coinciding with sending me cell phone photos of their erect penis.  Am I the only one this happens to?  Bear in mind, I now have a sizable enough digital collection of cell phone penis photos that I’m planning to publish a coffee table book on the subject.  Thinking of calling it “Cocks on the Line” or maybe “The CockTail Book”.   Or for shits and grins, maybe I’ll start sending photos of penises to guys who send them to me … except I won’t send them a photo of their own equipment, I’ll mix them up.  I’ll caption it as “Juan, the Pool Boy” and see what happens.

Do guys think that this turns women on?  I think this is one of those classic Mars/Venus communication breakdowns.  Yes, I understand that men get very turned on by looking at naked females or even just female body parts – a breast or nipple, or the curve of a hip, for instance.  Women, by and large, aren’t wired this way. I don’t get turned on by visual stimuli, unless I’m waking up next to George Clooney and he tells me he’d love to take me shoe shopping.  But even then I’m wondering how fast I can get dressed before he changes his mind.  Sending me a photo of your dick is like sending me a photo of your new Ryobi compound mitre saw.  I get equally excited by either because they end up in the same category in my mind.  It’s a tool.  Why do men think that this will have me salivating like some Pavlovian puppy and calling them up to say, “oh, God, I must have you now!?”  Honestly, unless you have a dick the size of a Vienna sausage that is going to have me stifling a laugh and looking for the nearest frilled toothpick to poke it on the end of, by and large, most men’s – ahem – equipment looks about the same to me.  And I’ve probably seen somewhere between three and four dozen of them, which I think is a lot more than most women of my generation.  There is larger and smaller, bigger and slimmer, curved and straight.  But I just don’t get as excited by looking at it as you do.  Odds are good I have something in my nightstand drawer that outguns it by several hundred RPMs anyway and I don’t have to deal with it telling me online that “well, if you don’t want to fuck, then we’re through talking” and going off to pout like some petulant child, even though they were the one who brought up the whole f-word question to begin with, and we don’t even have an ongoing relationship! 

Oy vey.  And I thought women were complicated.  Yes, these are things that typically happen to me on a Sunday night.

Posted in Just for Sh*ts and Grins | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment