Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Two for a Monday Night

• It's a delicious night. Perfect temperature. Perfect air. Around 9:30 p.m., I left my office and was startled to cross paths with a tiny skunk. (What is it with all the skunk encounters lately?) Lucky for me, the skunk wasn't fazed. It scuttled merrily along the path, pausing only to take in the smells beneath a wire trash can. The doors to our building happened to be propped open, and I found myself hoping, rather perversely, that the skunk might wander in. Instead, it wandered on across the campus, its pale back faintly aglow in the moonlight.

• A few weeks ago, I wrote an elderly friend to say (among other things) that I have a ceramic owl on my office shelf. The owl once belonged to his long-deceased wife, who was very kind to me thirty years ago, back when we were neighbors. Her name was Margaret, but, with my baby's tongue, I re-named her "Po-Po." Tonight I came home to a small envelope, plump with mysterious cargo. It turns out that my elderly friend decided to send more memories of Po-Po. The envelope was stuffed with Kodachrome slides from the early 1970s, slides of a tiny-fat me with Po-Po and my astonishingly young parents. I squinted at Po-Po and tried to remember what she looked like without her dark sunglasses. I stared at my shiny-young parents and felt a little sad that Adam and I didn't meet sooner.

Monday, September 27, 2004

If only sleep were unnecessary...

There are some wonderful threads going 'round, including these two posts by Jimbo on fashion and finances among academics. (See also: New Kid, who also has interesting thoughts on this subject, plus good links.) I want to blog on those topics here soon.

But first — another crazy Monday. Happy "start" of the work-week, everyone.

Love Stinks

Normally, Love takes no prisoners. Then one of his hunting sprees backfired (literally), and Love was skunked.

Eyes watering, Love tried to slink back into the house. He looked affronted when Adam pushed him back out onto the porch. He looked doubly affronted when, a minute later, Adam started smearing him with V8.

That rumor about tomatoes neutralizing skunk odor? It's bunk. Love emerged from his V8 bath a sticky and faintly orange cat. He still reeked.

For the record, here's a formula that does work.

• 1 quart hydrogen peroxide
• 1 quarter cup baking soda
• 1 teaspoon liquid soap

Love is still pinkish-orange around the face from bath #1. But at least bath #2 banished most of the smell.

Skunks are very humorous animals, don't you think? I dressed up as a skunk for Halloween last year. It's an easy costume: black pants, black hooded sweatshirt, white stripe down head and back. Add a tail to the pants (one white and a few black faux-marabou strips, wrapped around a wire), some ears to the hood, and you're good to go. You can also add a skunky nose, by painting black the underside of your nose -- that's the under-tip and skin around the nostrils.

Maybe it's predictable, but, once I was a skunk, I wanted to be Pepé Le Pew. So I pinned a few hearts to my costume. And Adam dressed in black as my hapless kitty-cat prey.

Did I mention that we wore these outfits for my little cousins' Halloween party? (I'm realizing that all of this begins to sound a little bizarre without that context.) My conservative cop uncle stared a minute at Adam and at the giant pink bow around his neck. Then he offered Adam a beer.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Seems like a waste of a "personal day"...

My Personal Day of Death is Monday, November 19, 2074. (Ah, plenty of time to land that tenure-track job.)

This tidbit courtesy the Death Clock site, which wants to sell you some vitamins.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Changez le monde

Saw this at Rana's site and had to try it for myself:

This blog en français.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Not a bad Monday

Saturday night: festive dinner out. Sunday a.m.: dreadful food poisoning. All who partook of the moo shoo pork were stricken with it.

Was this my penance for lapsing into porko-vegetarianism? If so, I swear—I'm solidly back on the veggie wagon. So, forget the indignity of racing to the bathroom every twenty minutes, or the agony of balky innards. By Sunday night, my hands were shaking, both from dehydration and rage. My class was getting observed in 12 hours, dammit, and I needed to be able to stand up for it!

Nothing like a bout of sickness to steady the mind, I guess. Got up early and sipped on some Emer-gen-C, a potassium-rich drink that we normally reserve to the hiking trail. From now on, a couple of packets will also reside in our medicine cabinet. By 10, my gut still ached, but the rest of me felt fierce and alert.

Trial Woman is petite, and she settled herself in the very back of the classroom, so it was easy to forget she was there. Maybe that's why I also forgot to be nervous. No dry mouth this time around. No blank-minded moments of panic. Just a lively session with the students — one in which most of them spoke (and said bright things) as the classroom technology gods smiled.

So all's well tonight in Celloland. Okay, so the queasiness remains. And I'm wiped out, having taught four classes today, the last of which didn't end until 9:30 p.m. And, blast it all, I still have about three hours of homework to complete for the class I audit Tuesday morning.

Still. At least I didn’t stumble in that teaching observation.

Maybe I had a delayed reaction. I came home and flopped on the couch with Adam, whose face still makes my heart do a little dance. For the first time in two days, I gazed intently at my sweetie – and grew unexpectedly tongue-tied in the presence of his beauty.

"On Mondays, I'm declaring a two-conversation limit," I finally explained. "Only two serious conversations outside of class time. That’s all this introvert can manage." Indeed, I'd had one long, lovely chat with Trial Woman over an impromptu lunch. And then there had been a second, accidental conversation with an older male professor whom I rarely see. The first conversation ended with laughter and a promise to lunch again. The second turned to a friend's nephew, recently killed in Iraq, and we'd both ended up in tears.

“Two conversations?” said Adam. “So, no talk left for me?”

“Absolutely none. Sorry,” I said.

And then he and I talked for another two hours before bed.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Effortless Perfection

New Kid recently mentioned the Chronicle's article on undergraduate women who feel they must embody "Effortless Perfection".

I was reminded of the article while reading a campus publication on student health. Apparently, "student health" has much broader connotations that it did a decade, or even five years, ago. Yes, publication had the predictable pieces on the importance of a balanced diet and adequate sleep. But it also recommended tanning beds as a winter-time strategy for ensuring the body's Vitamin D requirements. (Recent studies have shown that complete avoidance of the sun can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency, yes. But that doesn't change the fact that tanning beds invite skin cancer!)

Most disturbing, the publication included a blithely uncritical feature on cosmetic surgery. Thesis: cosmetic surgery may be a vital tool for improving self-esteem. The article focused exclusively on the experiences of four college-age women, who, collectively, had had a breast reduction surgery, a breast augmentation surgery, a nose job, and a massive liposuction. All four of the women professed unqualified delight at the the post-op results.

The scariest sentence in the article (quoted here exactly as it appeared) came from the woman who spent over $10,000 on her liposuction; "It was five days [of] bleeding and oozing, but after it was all done, it was definitely worth the pain for beauty."

Look out! It's political!

California State University, San Marcos has decided to cancel an October 13 appearance by Michael Moore. The school's Director of Communications, Rick Moore, said that CSUSM could not use state money to finance a partisan speaker — especially not in an election year. "We were not able to find someone in time to balance Moore," Rick Moore said. "We weren't sure we could've done this legally. A private party could've come back and tried to sue."

Michael Moore was also scheduled to speak last October at CSUSM, but that appearance was cancelled on account of forest fires. "Moore had not politicized himself last year," Rich Moore said, "but we had to be careful because now we are in the middle of a competitive election."

Let me get this straight. Moore had not politicized himself before? (Oh, that's right. Before Farenheit 9/11, he only filmed feel-good romps.) Although not a new development, I'm saddened by how the term "politicized" has become a dirty word in this country. To the scaredies and the dupes, only those who would criticize the president (or his war) now register as "political."

I do hope that, having screened Supersize Me on the CSUSM campus, the school will allocate some state money to help McDonald's present its case. And the next time comedian Andy Dick is invited to perform, the school had damn well better feature a balancing comedian — one with a precisely opposite set of jokes.

Especially in this election year.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Someone to watch over me

This time last year, Adam and I attended an orientation for new faculty. While in the campus museum, the tour guide offered up a wildly incorrect date as the year of a significant (but obscure) court trial. I whispered the correct date to Adam. At that exact moment, another of the new faculty — one brought on as a senior hire — offered the correction out loud. She wasn't being obnoxious. She simply knew the right date, and offered it. I watched her across the room and decided that I had found a kindred spirit — albeit one far more confident than I.

It turns out that the "Trial Woman," as I dubbed her, had been hired in our department. Not only that, but she had spent years as the director of a program in my specialty. The more I get to know this woman, the more I admire her. Sure, I'm apt to idealize her a bit. But I can't help poring over her emails, which are always clever and wise. And I marvel at how she always knows exactly what to say — and how to say it — in contentious faculty meetings.

Here's the scary new development: Trial Woman is going to observe one of my classes next Monday, so she can then write a teaching recommendation. She just sent an email to confirm the date. For about three seconds, I was pleased as can be. Then I dissolved into a puddle of anxiety.

SHE is coming to watch ME?

Normally, I'm a very confident teacher. I've been observed maybe three or four times before. It's not easy, but, apart from a few minutes of drymouth at the outset, I usually do just fine. But right now I'm having a physical reaction — one of those "just-had-a-near-death-experience" body shivers — at the thought of Trial Woman sitting in the back of my classroom.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Love and (no) Mercy

We have an "insufficiently aggressive" cat who no longer goes outdoors. Our sagacious, elder cat began life as a scrappy urban stray, but now spends the bulk of his arthritic days dozing on the front porch. And then there's our energetic Siamese, who's as thin as the others are fat, and whose name means Love.

Apart from one bus and one taxi ride, Love spent the first six years of his life in Adam's Twin Cities apartment. Sharklike, he paced the apartment with relentless grace, breaking stride only to leap a piece of furniture or maul a plant.

Love has a sleek build and gorgeous fawn coloring. Moved by his beauty, or alarmed by his energies, I would occasionally snatch him up and attempt to soothe him. Love would stiffen against my shoulder, but was otherwise polite, gallantly resisting the urge to sink his claws in my skin. His blue eyes quivered, or, rather, the muscles behind his right eye did. He'd always been a trifle cross-eyed, poor guy, and the right eye tended to drift toward his nose whenever Love was still.

This past year has changed all of us in this household, but Love may be the most transformed. Once we began to let him outside, Love became suddenly lovey. Now he curls up like other cats, and frequently seeks my lap. He's stopped howling the "howl of the damned" as we used to call his mournful, morning cries. And — I swear to God this is true — he's no longer cross-eyed. I don't know by what miracle, but the muscles in Love's right eye no longer vibrate.

Is it hunting that restored his vision? Sad to say, Love is a genius of the hunt. When my mother made a fuss over Love's sparkling new personality, he dashed outside and dramatically slaughtered for her a vole. I'd like to say that's the only thing he's ever killed, but to assert that would be to ignore the tokens he regularly leaves on our front step.

So, Love sees better than ever, but our love for Love remains blind. We continue to praise Love's sweetness and athleticism. We continue — probably by refusing to think about it too much — to allow Love to sleep on our bed.

But it was hard to love Love the day he tracked a mousie, one who — again, swear to God — abruptly spun around and stood on hind legs to face his stalker. It all happened so quickly. Adam was scolding and loudly clapping hands. The mouse appeared to be clasping his.

"We can work this out," the mouse's dignified posture seemed to say. "Won't you please have mercy, Mr. Hunter?""

Love's answer was to bite off Mercy's head.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Way Off

My last post, essentially a laundry list of things I wanted to accomplish on Sunday, ended with the phrase "And she's off!" Boy, was I. In calculating how long it would take me to finish all the tasks, I was WAY off, in fact. Here it is Tuesday night, and I still have three more Sunday tasks to go. Oops.

I am forever running ten minutes to two days behind my good intentions. Call it Standard Cello Time. Yep, that's where I live.

I have to admit that it's been helpful and motivating to cross tasks off a posted to-do list. I don't know what this says about me (maybe that I respond well to shame?), but I got way more satisfaction from striking out items on-line than from scratching them out in my little notebook. That said, I promise not to become a chronic list-exhibitionist.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Accounts and Accountability

If you were to map the messiness of my office in relation to my level of job satisfaction, you would get a U-curve. Stacks of paper and clippings mount in haphazard piles when I am at my most depressed. But then same thing tends to happens (albeit with piles stacked at right angles) when I am feeling happy and productive.

In the (rare) in-between times, my desk is clean.

Task #1: Clean upstairs. Reduce chaos on desk.

I've been lucky to get two classes of really lovely students this semester. I like them. I like what we're working on together. Ergo, time spent on class prep automatically expands to fill whatever time remains between now and our next class. Stop that, and prep instead during Monday's morning hours. (Given the new, blink-and-you-miss-it, 55-minute class period, I always have plenty of material left over anyway.)

Task #2: Assess status of class prep. Allot one hour today for re-visiting the assigned reading, but do nothing else until tomorrow a.m.

The class I'm auditing happens Tuesday morning. I am on campus from 9 in the morning until 9:30 at night on Mondays. Ergo, Tuesday morning homework has to be finished today. Remember to keep focus on 2nd project's January deadline and be practical about all else. I am not taking this class for any sort of credit, which means (though it pains me) it must be triaged. Three hours max.

Task #3: Winnow list of articles from yesterday. Choose one and write up study flaws.

Task #4: Write up one-page proposal for my own study.

Task #5: Finish assigned reading.

Task #6: Email prof. with request (nay, tactful demand) to perform "group project" alone.

Always it is last. I'm talking, of course, about my own writing. But I've committed to sharing a polished article to colleagues by mid-October. For that to be possible, I'm going to have to do a little bit of work on it each and every day. (Even on hectic Mondays.) We'll start slowly today.

Task #7: Devote one hour (minimum) to revision project.

How hard could it be to nudge letter writers and send them an application overview? That's the easy part. More daunting is the need to send them copies of my job letter. Just make a start on that latter task, okay?

Task #8: Draw up nudge note and application overview.

Task #9: 30 minutes rumination/freewrite on job letter outline.

The stuff that really eats the day away:
• Unscheduled reading, or the random picking up (usually at mealtimes) of the Harper's, the New Yorker, or whatever other delicious article my best friend, Greta, has recently photocopied for me. Am trying to keep this urge in check. Never mind that I read a magazine cover to cover yesterday...
• My general absent-mindedness, or tendency to float through an afternoon without direction.
• Long phone calls from people that I love. (Can't do much about that, can I?)
• Uhm, blogging.... (but such a pleasure).

Other assorted tasks for today:
Reply to email from Yahoo account that I do not check regularly enough
9 p.m. "date" with Adam. (We're going to watch premiere of "Jack and Bobby.") (show was interesting, but not enough to make us tune in again)

There's the starting bell. (No guns in this race, please.) And, she's off!

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

So, I’m going on the job market this fall. I’m also supposedly polishing up a manuscript that should have gone to the publisher by the end of August. And I’m gearing up for a new project, one that overlaps with a field not my own, and that therefore demands that I do a lot of self-educating and catch-up reading.

Given these demands, it would probably be foolish for me to have volunteered to be a adviser at the school where I am a “part-time faculty.” (Translation: Adjunct married to a full-timer.) And what a waste to volunteer again this fall to teach a special freshman-only seminar—one that requires me to coordinate field trips and even entertain students in my home. Yeah, these things suit my temperament, but probably I shouldn’t have been so eager. Every time the Dean sends form letters reminding me of how wonderful I am, and how outstanding all this is going to look in my tenure file, I have to laugh. Ha ha! Good one, Deanie. (What tenure file?)

So I must be doing it for the money, right? Technically, yes, although the University doesn’t pay us in plain old dollars. That would be crass. No, my reward comes in the form of a mysterious “research fund,” from which I may seek remuneration for anything related to my teaching. The problem is that I have to spend money before I can get reimbursed, and reimbursement takes 6-8 weeks. So I’ve learned to get creative—both with my personal accounting and with the items I document as teaching-related. Books are easy to get reimbursed. So is anything from OfficeMax. They balked at the laptop battery, but eventually that went through. Unfortunately, what I really need is a new pair of glasses. But the university does not regard clear vision as “essential” to my teaching or research, and so my blurry old specs will have to do.

Okay, so volunteering for time-suck jobs that pay in unorthodox ways did not make sense. But I’m okay with my decision to serve on a departmental committee related to the field in which I got my Ph.D. True, I spent all winter doing research and making syllabi, on the understanding that we would launch a new undergraduate major in the fall. Too bad the Dean, who had pushed for a speedy adoption of the new major, abruptly put the kibosh on our planned roll-out. He waited until June to make his announcement—just in time to rescind the summer funds attached to my (small, but much-needed) summer job. Sigh. An expanded version of our committee begins meeting again next week.

On the plus side, a stalled committee should mean more time for my writing. That’s a healthy development. I’ll be teaching a new honors course in the spring, plus another brand-new class connected to the brand-new research project. But, between now and November, when those new syllabi are due, I’m only obliged to teach the frosh seminar and two other classes that I’ve taught twice before. Gravy. Only an idiot would give up any of that precious fall time by auditing not one, but two graduate courses. But, hey, they’re free! Okay, so the quantitative methods class (again, related to new project) is eating up 11 hours a week. (That’s three hours in class, plus 8 hours each week of reading, interviews, and other homework.) At least the medical humanities class is a breeze. The good news on that front: we spend half our time watching films. And I’ve already read half the books on the syllabus. Sure, I had to re-read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein last weekend, and that took a rather long time. But I enjoyed the novel a thousand times better this time around than I did upon first reading it at age 14. So it’s all worth it. Right?

Plus, check out this restraint. I have not (yet) signed up to continue the dance classes I began this summer. They happen to fall on a Thursday, which I have dubbed my Sacred Writing Day. On Thursdays, I am not required on campus. Better still, Thursdays happen to be the ONLY day that Adam has to go to campus. Alas, both this Thursday and the last were swallowed up by incidentals. The first was a casualty of a special occasion and dinner guests. This week’s was a casualty of class prep, deferred housework, and sheer exhaustion.

What a whiner, you may be thinking. The truth is, I’m also a horrible misanthrope. A couple of cool women from our school’s MFA program recently made more formal overtures of friendship after a few lively conversations around the copier They’re both incredible, inspiring people—but, at the moment they were jotting down my phone number, this was my silent prayer: “Please never, ever call me.” I’m not doing a good enough job with my existing friendships. The prospect of new ones feels like a burden right now.

I am not complaining. Or, okay, maybe I am griping a bit. But the days are full and happy—except in moments when they tip into overwhelming. The problem is that the regular writing and job application-prep is not happening yet. And that’s starting to alarm me. Many of the obstacles thrown in the path to my goals I have tossed there myself.

If visitors to this site can indulge me (or—sorry—even if they can’t), I think I need to take the next few posts to figure this out. I’m an organized person—a long-time, professional multi-tasker. Lately though, I worry: Is this multi-tasking avoidance? Some of this multi-tasking is avoidance.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Freeze! BPC!

Taking advantage of the Labor Day sales, I bought some new underwear over the weekend. At the checkout, I was automatically enrolled in my local department store's "Bra and Panty Club." Yep. And I have a membership card to prove it.

So now I'm wondering, first, shall I record this "BPC" membership on my professional CV? Next, will the DMV accept the membership card as a form of i.d.? And, finally, is it possible that the benevolent order of the BPC is, in fact, misnamed? After all, one can easily purchase a bra. But, as far as I've seen, one could never, ever purchase a single "panty." (That would be akin to shopping for paste and scissor, right?)

Maybe I'll establish a breakaway organization that shuns the unfortunate "panty/panties" terminology altogether. I'll call us the Guild of Dainties, the Union of Unmentionables, or the Society of Underpants. Or, more inclusively, the Cooperative of Undergarments. We'll open our meetings with clasped hands and the proud singing of our anthem, "I see London, I see France..."

Monday, September 06, 2004

Lying Down, pt. 4

G.’s an apolitical animal, neither interested in nor much aware of the nation-state. But if he were suddenly inclined to stand on hind legs and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, he’d have no problem at all finding his heart.

It’s beneath the circle of pink skin, the plucked-chicken patch where his fur was shaved away.

At the center of the circle is the spot where G was pierced, his scabby emblem of combat. The vet deciphered the wound like a rune stone, translating the dark purple bruises as throttle and fang scrape.

The vet handed me morphine, baby aspirin, and antibiotics. She wrote up a regimen of warm compresses. And then, as G. buried his head in my armpit, she diagnosed him as “insufficiently aggressive.”

“Do you know what G. is like?” (Do I know what he’s like?) She snapped her clipboard and sighed. “No more outdoors. Clearly, he’s way too gentle a cat.”


Lying on the guest bed with a doped-up G., I press to his heart the cloth meant to coax out infection. My own heart feels suddenly lodged between my ears, making audible microbes multiplying beneath flesh. If the compress doesn’t do its work, the antibiotic will. So why are they still so noisy, these invaders? I think I can hear them marching, swarming, thrumming below skin.

Or else… plaster? Adam appears on the stairs, so I put the question to him. “Is it just me? Or do you hear something in this w—?”

I snatch G. from the bed, having suddenly glimpsed the true source of the invasion.

Bees. A double nest of bees. They’ve claimed the attic, the corner trim, the southern shingles. Although we did not welcome them, the wall by the guest bed is entirely theirs.

The bees die. G. lives. He takes the pills quietly until the day I lose my touch and permit one to melt on his tongue. G. hacks, drools, and gives me a look of reproach. But he lets me push another pill down his gullet later that afternoon.

Life stutters on. Outside, the world pulses and hums. We try to ignore it, but it spills out the kitchen radio and all over the dirty dishes.

I’ll wipe the dishes and my eyes with gloves sufficiently aggressive. Isn’t this the example we should teach? (Beware the wide world, the stranger cat, the dangers that would crawl beneath your skin.)

One pill remaining, babycat. Promise to reject the lesson that bitter makes you safer.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Lying Down, pt. 3

“Ohhhhh, I think Smokey is nervous!”

The urine dripping from his carrier attested to that.

Personally, I thought that Smokey had it right. It was Friday night, and the waiting room at the emergency vet was hopping. The technicians were kind, but more concerned about collecting my $75 admissions fee than listening to my frantic account of why there might be blood oozing from the front of my cat.

Smokey’s owners cooed at G. “What a beautiful little guy!” I forced a smile, but felt as if I had entered a bizarro universe. Did they not see G.’s red and sticky fur? Did they think we were at a frickin’ picnic? Smokey’s owners chatted merrily to the proud woman with the wormy retriever (“There’s a worm coming out of his butt right now!”) and to the struggling-to-grow-a-mustache kid whose baby pug had dislocated a leg. These pet owners acted like happy conventioneers. Shouting above the din from the waiting room TV, they traded opinions on the rain, sneakers, and back-to-school shopping.

An elderly German Shepherd limped past us with an inverted lampshade around his neck. Smokey’s owners clapped. They clapped when the pug emerged in a teeny cast. (Okay, so that was kind of cute, but should we really applaud an immobilized pup?) They clapped the loudest when the tech invited Smokey to the back.

“Don’t let anyone sit in the pee!” the younger woman called to me cheerfully, hoisting Smokey’s cage from its damp spot. I nodded, repressing the urge to demand why her incontinent cat had trumped my punctured one.

Apparently, Smokey’s posse had been the life of the party. In their absence, the rest of the waiting room grew quiet, save for the high-gloss hairdos babbling on Headline News. “This just in from our education desk: Today’s college freshmen have never known a world without When Harry Met Sally…”

G. is eight, and not a big fan of movies. He adores music, however, and so often reclines, belly-up, in the space between our stereo speakers. If pressed, G. will dance. Or, rather, I bob around the room with him on my shoulder, and G. purrs in time to the beat.

G. spends a good chunk of his days curled either in my lap (where he is now) or beneath the heat of my desk lamp. Every morning when I wake up, he is there. After I’ve hit the snooze bar six, or nine, or eleven times, he is still there. While I’m dressing, G. sits patiently on the bureau, and then stretches out arms to be carried to the kitchen. (This has remained our little ritual, even after Adam took to feeding the cats before I wake up.)

G. has been nicknamed “the koala,” on account of his habit of wrapping forepaws around my neck just like a koala hugging a tree. He knows but one trick, and it is to leap from the ground to my arms. It’s an impressive feat, especially for one so round and soft-bellied as G.

It probably won’t surprise you that there are a lot of photographs of G. If I were to stack these in order and then flip through them rapidly enough, I’d have something close to a home movie. Then G. would grow again from downy baby to mature, Minnesota cat. He’d dally and doze among my grad school books another seven years. He’d make another five country-country trips.

In the home movie, G. would have a second harrowing encounter with an enraged man, G.’s steps tangling with mine as we scrambled up the hallway to avoid the man's blows. And, when that man slammed the back door and departed our lives forever, G. would again come and stand on the tops of my feet. The message was “Don’t leave”; but I think he was also saying, “Don’t fall down.”

A Paris Hilton look-alike (but brunette) sashayed into the vet's waiting room, a cowed-looking black dog in tow. “Oh my God, he’s disgusting!” she said of the dog. “Look at all that dandruffy stuff on his back.”

“It’s not that bad,” whined Paris’ boyfriend, who had now taken the leash. The dog burst into excited barking and lunged for G., whom I quickly slid behind me.

“Your kitty would make a nice snack for my dog,” laughed Paris, as she moved toward Smokey’s bench.

Her joke was so funny that I forgot to warn her about the pee.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Lying Down, pt. 2

My uncle’s cat, Buddy, was a supermodel among cats. Buddy had unusually long legs, enormous green eyes, and a sleek, white coat. But what made Buddy really gorgeous was his personality. If a cat can have charisma, Buddy had it. In the short time that he lived with us, everyone in the family fell under his lover’s spell.

Buddy had been a Boston cat until my Uncle Davy moved to Pennsylvania. Davy had come back home to help out with my grandfather, a man who loved cats, but who also was tipping into senility. Buddy must have been baffled the day my grandfather put him outside, because Buddy had only ever known the wide world from the windowsill of his Cambridge flat.

It was my mother who recovered Buddy, trotting along the banks of a local creek. He’d turned up as cheerful as ever, but sporting a nasty gash on one shoulder. We all fussed over his injury and then my mother carted him off to her longtime vet. Dr. Mickels pronounced Buddy charming, but frowned when he learned the story of his injury. “And what is the status of this cat’s shots?” he wanted to know. My mother didn’t have the answer, but said she was certain her brother would have kept the shots up to date.

In fact, in the chaos of his move, Davy had let Buddy’s rabies vaccination lapse. By six days.

Dr. Mickels looked sick. “I wish you’d never brought this cat to me,” he told my mother. “Now I’m going to have to call him in to Animal Control.”

Buddy’s first misfortune was having made contact with a possibly wild animal. His second was having made contact with PA’s unforgiving rabies laws.

Dr. Mickels’ verdict: Everyone in the family would have to submit to a painful course of abdominal shots. That is, we’d have the shots unless Buddy could be proved to be rabies-free.

There was just one catch. Buddy’s “innocence” could only be proved by examining his brain. And his brain could only be examined by taking off his head.

Horrified, my mother offered up her family's bellies for the shots. She offered to track and capture all the raccoons near my grandfather’s house, so they could be tested for the virus. While Dr. Mickels made his calls, she fantasized about grabbing Buddy and running back to her car.

To this day, she says ruefully that that is what she should have done.

Buddy was confiscated and destroyed by the state of Pennsylvania. And, perversely though we hoped for them, we never did need those human rabies shots.

G’s vet records were not yet filed. Because his vaccination appointment had coincided with the arrival of houseguests, I’d stashed the paperwork in a giant box, along with all the other piles of paper from my office floor. Now I ripped through the box, teary at recollections of Buddy and at the prospect of G. in peril. For several agonizing minutes, G’s records didn’t present themselves. And then, at last, they did.

I walked slowly downstairs, records in hand. Adam was trying to soothe G., who was growing restless in the carrier.

“For future reference, A, you could have told me a tiny lie. Just a tiny lie of 'I’m sure they gave the shot, but let’s double check' would have been fine in this case.”

“So G.’s covered for rabies?


“I’m so glad, because, honey — he’s starting to bleed.”

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Lying Down, pt. 1

Last story first. It begins with a beloved cat with brand new, and reluctantly granted, outdoor privileges. Two weeks earlier, he'd had his shots. And, for the first time in his little life, it was Adam, and not I, who took him to the vet.

I'm a fan of vets, but am forever embarrassing myself in their offices. Whenever my cat is vaccinated or has blood drawn, I inevitably get weepy. I can't help it. I love G. like I love certain members of my family. I adore my husband's cats, too. But, with G., I'm the overprotective mother who can't bear to watch her child endure pain.

So I struggled to keep cool when G. returned home last Friday morning, his ruff damp with another animal's saliva. A moment earlier, Adam and I had both been startled from our desks by a yelp of hurt surprise. In my mind, the sound was an opera singer's note, flung into sky and marring sky with its tracings. The sound was frailty. It was disagreeable black satin. Then the sound dropped to earth and became the panicked shape of my G., scrambling toward us from the tree line.

I pored over G's grey fluff, but, apart from the saliva, could find no other marks. Since G. didn't offer any explanations, we decided he must have tangled with the neighbor's kitty — mouths clamped on necks in that disturbing cat way. G. didn't ask to go out again for the rest of the day. Instead, he burrowed himself deep in the back closet, beneath the swaddled slant of my grandmother's tabletop. I checked on him a few dozen times, and then left for campus.

By 6 p.m., G. was feverish and rag doll limp. I cursed myself for staying on campus so long. Adam was apologizing profusely for not having paid more attention.

"It's okay," I said, loading G. into his carrier. "It's going to be okay. I'm just so grateful he recently had all his shots."

Adam's face twitched.


"His shots. I'm not sure..."


"I'm just not sure— I don't remember— I'm not sure I asked for ALL his shots."

One by one, each of our three cats had been allowed access to the outdoors this summer. More by accident than design, we had staggered their vet visits, but the bills were steep. It didn’t help that we hadn't received a paycheck since May. And by early August, when Adam had taken in G.…

“Tell me that he had his rabies shot.”

Adam looked stricken. “I’m just not —”

“Tell me he had the shot. I need you to tell me that right now. Tell me he had the shot, Adam.”

(Pause.) “I don’t want to say something that might not be true.”

I stared at him a moment and then darted upstairs to check the vet records.