De Düva (The Dove)

Back in 1977 a dear friend called me and instructed me quickly to turn on PBS, as they were about to air a short film in mock-Swedish, à la Bergman. It was called “De Düva,” or “The Dove” and promised to be hilarious. It was, if you’re into that sort of thing. (Think ‘The Swedish Chef’ on The Muppet Show.)

I had been thinking about that short film recently, and there by the grace of god and Youtube, I found it on line. After my paroxysms of laughter subsided from seeing it again after all these years, I got to thinking about my own “Düva” experience.

Our small terrace overlooked the grounds of The Morgan Library, a well kept green space with lots of trees that gave shelter and homes to a passel of small birds. Among those were house finches, whose morning songs were a delight in the otherwise cacophony that is Midtown Manhattan.

The terrace wall, before (and after) “Dove Madness”

Fall was approaching and the thought of all those small, frail creatures having to fend for themselves through the coming winter made me decide to invest in a couple of bird feeders to hang from the roof of the terrace.

We were between cats then. I wouldn’t have hung bird feeders with a cat in the house.

Bought and paid for, the pair of bird feeders held promise of many hours of bird watching and listening. I hung the feeders, filled them, and then waited for the finches to discover them.

And waited. Days. A couple of weeks. More. Now it’s nearly full-on winter.

One morning I looked out to see if there were any finches and spied instead one lonely mourning dove crouched on the floor of the terrace. I was elated, as I had heard the doves calling just about every morning, but hadn’t seen them. The very first time I heard the call of a mourning dove was while on an idyllic vacation on the island of St. John in the Caribbean. Now, years later, their melancholy sounds always reminded me of that visit. I wasn’t sure what drew this dove to our terrace, but I watched it carefully, so as not to scare it away, and listened with nostalgia as it called out.

Still no finches, though. It dawned on me they might not be coming around because we humans were still actively using the terrace despite it being fall, so I took the feeders down from their hooks and strapped them onto the outer ledge of the terrace floor, outside the railing, hoping to make the feeders easier for the birds to see and giving them some privacy by shielding us somewhat from their view.

One cold morning days later, while waiting for my green tea with honey and ginseng to cool enough so I could drink it, I looked out at the terrace and noticed that the finches had finally found the feeders. There were close to a half-dozen of them, males with their bright red bellies and drab, brown females. Wondering idly as I watched, I tried to see if I could pick out obvious pairs, couples, as if married or at least betrothed. They were a joy to watch and listen to, and through all their flitting here and there from feeder to feeder, to the terrace railing and back, there was no hint of aggression in their behavior. They were good little finches all getting along so nicely! Within a few days, sparrows joined them from time to time — man, they were skittish in comparison to the finches! — and even a black-capped chickadee showed up on occasion.

This visual and aural treat recurred many a morning, with me delighting in my decision to provide food for these guys.

One day, though, a dove had returned: I barely missed it on a corner of the outer ledge pecking away at seeds that had spilled from the feeders. “Oh, how great,” I thought. So I’m feeding two birds with one seed (so to speak): the finches and the dove!

Two days later there were two doves out there, quietly and quite happily feeding on seeds that had spilled. I wasn’t able to discern much of a difference in the appearance of these two, but I imagined one was a female and the other her mate, and I figured them for a couple. In the back of my mind I held that doves mate for life (I don’t know if it’s true; I think I just wanted it to be: the concept of them maybe after a fateful event in their lives “mourning” the loss of a mate, remaining widowed forever, and calling out plaintively evermore.) Anyway, they were birds too, God’s little creatures who will procreate and bring hungry young ones into the world, just as the finches, so they needed to be cared for.

The next day, however, I wondered at the wisdom of my rationale. (And sadly, I realized I was forgetting about Matthew 6:26: “Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”) Although I still think they’re lovely and I like their call, when I looked out there were no fewer than six doves, all squawking and flapping and chasing and pecking at one another, generally making a ruckus. They weren’t acting very bird-like at all, not in my estimation. And I soon realized the finches were staying away now, probably because of all the avian aggression that these bullies were engaging in.

Worse, I had this feeling that if they kept this up, it wouldn’t be long before the pigeons caught wind of the noise and commotion and realized there was food to be had here. Pigeons I don’t want! Even though, yes, they’re God’s little creatures just as much as the finches and the doves, blah blah blah, they POOP much larger and they generally seem dirtier, and they carry diseases. There’s a reason they’re called flying rats, and in this city it’s even illegal to feed them!

It had become too easy for these ruffian doves to feed from what were essentially silos spilling endless seed onto the ledge, and thinking that doves were ground feeders, I decided to reposition the feeders once again, bringing them back in and hanging them from the ceiling. I swept up all the loose seed from the ledge, to discourage the doves from returning. (By the way, their poop was no joy to behold or clean up, either.)

Soon the finches returned and at least the littl’uns were eating again now. I was pretty sure I had solved the problem.

There were lots of doves flying around outside, but they weren’t stopping, so I guessed they had finally given up on feasting there. I felt bad about that, but I couldn’t take the chance on pigeons coming: I could get arrested! (–“What are you in for?” –“Feeding pigeons.” –“You gotta be kidding me? Are you crazy? Feeding pigeons? You are a madman!“) A small dilemma and I decided I should just make peace with myself, and accept the fact that the finches would be fat and happy, and the doves would have to fend for themselves.

Sometimes a self-solving dilemma isn’t a good thing. It wasn’t long before the doves figured out how to hang from the feeders, sometimes upside down, even, and have a good meal. Plus, being so sloppy, they caused so many seeds to fall on the terrace floor that other doves came along and chowed down leisurely on those that dropped.

I was disgusted by all the damn dove doodoo and the feathers and the mess of seeds and hulls they left everywhere. Apparently there were these dove gangs and they fought one another for the territory. I saw them land in fours or so and terrorize the one or two that might already be hanging out contemplating a meal. Too, the feeders were emptying out every other day, which would normally occur only once a week or so with just little peepers feeding from them.

I had taken to chasing the doves away whenever I saw them and I was just afraid that I might have done irreparable damage to the sense of security that the tiny little finches had finally acquired. Why, before this madness, I could even, on occasion, be sitting out on the terrace and the finches would approach, land, eyeball me, see that I wasn’t about to move or chase them, and then set about eating happily. The few that were showing up lately had become quite skittish.

In an effort to discourage the doves I had progressed from clapping my hands loudly (worked at first, before redness and pain set in), to yelling (worked after that for a while), to yelling and waving my arms simultaneously while bursting forth onto the terrace (think: raving lunatic.)

I looked for the squirt gun (yes, we had one somewhere) but couldn’t find it, and decided that having two hardcover books or blocks of wood ever at the ready to clap together to make a really scary sound wasn’t practical, so I thought about applying for a shotgun license. I was just afraid that I’d forget to open the window or the door, and blast half the wall out. And I didn’t really want to hurt them, I just wanted to discourage them from coming back here.

Not having found the squirt gun, I dug out my plant mister bottle and turned the nozzle to a ‘jet’ setting, so I could give them a good, discouraging squirt the next time they appeared. Of course, there was always the possibility they’d love this, as by now a precocious spring had turned the weather warm and dry. I thought of filling the bottle with something nasty and someone suggested bleach, but again, I don’t want to harm them, and about the only thing I could come up with that would be repulsive enough without hurting them would be pee, and, no, I just can’t bring myself to do that. (Not even thinking, was I, about having to deal with cleaning up the pee?) (Drat.)

An ingenious (or do I mean “ungenious”?) idea came to me! I had a bail of picture wire somewhere. Using that, I would construct an elaborate maze of baffles on each feeder! They would be constructed in such a way as to bar a large bird from getting at the seed, while the smaller ones could simply pass through them! An hour or two wrapping, bending and winding this wire showed great promise. Over the next few days adjustments were needed, of course, but at last I felt I had accomplished the goal.

I hadn’t. The baffles I spent hours constructing seemed to be doing the job reasonably well, but the finches still managed to drop a fair number of seeds too, these then being sought after by the doves, in their element, on the floor.

Then the doves even learned to hang quite comfortably from relatively small parts of the feeders, even using the wire baffles themselves! An ultimate insult in this battle of bird brain vs. human brain. I even saw one of them pulling seeds very aggressively from the feeder holes as if to scatter more seeds on the floor, making it easier for the rest of his gang to eat in comfort.

I was spending an inordinate amount of time cleaning off (read: sweeping up, washing down with pine-scented disinfectant and mopping up) the terrace and the railing, which the doves also bepooped and damn it, I didn’t want to have to go through that every three or four days.

*  *  *

I’m afraid you’re going to read about me in the local paper one of these days, or you’ll hear about me on the evening news. It seems the neighbors have seen and heard me too often as I explode from the doorway, screaming at the top of my lungs, wildly waving my arms while at the same time trying to aim the two squirt bottles at those big ugly brown soilers of everything I hold sacred on the terrace. The courtyard out back isn’t all that small, so the nearest adjoining terraces are pretty far away (Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” gives a fair idea of the setup) but apparently my activities were noticeable enough that even the lady on the 15th-floor terrace across Madison Avenue shrinks in fright whenever I appear.

My blood pressure was rising from all this; I wasn’t sleeping at night, both from imagining that the dove calls I heard were coming from the terrace and from trying to think of ways to perfect the wire baffles (electrify them?) or somehow devise a motion-sensor-driven sprinkler that would activate when a being larger than a finch appeared, but would otherwise remain inactive (but then how would I be able to enjoy the terrace…) and the roiling of my mind kept me awake for days.

Finally the solution came to me: take down the feeders, do one last super-clean of the terrace floor, railing and ledge, and leave the Big Guy upstairs in charge.

Trying to forget about all the madness wasn’t easy, as the cheery little finches still came by, having been trained to show up there for food but ending up only disappointed. There was this one male who I recognized through all this (they really do have distinct personalities and looks) who would come to the railing and sing for ten minutes before looking for something to eat.

And the solution to that turned out to be getting another cat. Eventually the birds stopped coming by, and my daily terrace-cleaning routine was at last reduced to just scooping out the litter box once a day.

For lovers of mock-Swedish: “De Düva” (14 minutes. It’s subtitled but doesn’t really need to be!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X2QmLWWxq4

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Twiggy the Terrifying

Vlad the Impaler

Those of you who think John’s “Dahka” was a mean little kitty obviously never met Twiggy the Terrifying. Dahka was a scrawny, screechy little thing, but Twiggy was a hellcat. If Vlad the Impaler had a pussycat pet, it would have been a cat like T the T. (I will refrain from calling T’s name a third time, for fear of summoning him from the depths where he surely resides now, stoking fires and impaling sinners on his claws.)

T the T arrived at our house very young, very skinny and very amorphous, gender-wise. Initially and to outward appearances a sweet little thing and probably female, he was named Twiggy, the reference being to the actress-model of the time, an impossibly skinny but popular Brit who more or less heralded the British Pop Invasion.

T did grow and eventually filled out a little, and at some point along the way it became obvious that “she” was really a “he,” probably about the time “he” realized he was named after a skinny little “girl,” and “he” developed his ornery character in response. (“Boy Named ‘Sue’ Syndrome.”) Like other cats, he liked to ensconce himself in dark, hidden places, but where most other cats do so merely for privacy and for the purpose of napping between meals, T did so for the purpose of ambushing any unsuspecting ankle that happened by.

T also did that cat thing where he lay on his back under the sofa and using his claws on the underliner he would drag himself around upside-down from one end to the other. I imagine that felt good in a number of ways, not the least of which was that his back got a good, invigorating rub from the carpet and his legs got a good deal of exercise. There were times, however, when, if you took notice of his expression while he did this, you wondered if that insane look on his face was the result of his just being upside-down or if he really was stark raving mad.

Savagely biting ankles was the least of his terrifying behaviors, though. He frequently chased dogs out of our backyard (no leash laws then) and on one occasion he nearly took down a toddler who happened to be passing by on the sidewalk (no fears for eight-year-olds to be walking alone in those days, either.)

T the T and I were standing at the top of our driveway when this unsuspecting waif dared to try walking by our house. I watched in horror as T, rearing up on his hind legs, began a frightening, growling war cry, and lunging forward, waving his forepaws wildly over his head, he ran down the driveway, upright, on his back legs. I’m not sure who was more frightened: the poor child (who screeched, ran off and who was undoubtedly never seen again) or I.

Still, that was not the height of T’s scourge on us. He came home one day badly scraped from an encounter with some critter or other, most likely something bigger than he, (we speculated it might have been a rhinoceros or a T-Rex, although there weren’t many of those in suburban Newton, Massachusetts) and he needed medical attention.

I’m not sure how it came to be that my dear brother-in-law Dan got to be the lucky one to take T to the vet, but so it was, and Dan, brave as ever, managed somehow to get T into a cardboard box (the safest and likely the only way to transport T safely) and into the trunk of his car, and they headed off to the Angell Animal Medical Center to get T’s wounds attended to.

Wanting to avoid any unfortunate, unsuspecting encounters by strangers who might open the enclosed box (carrying the now even more enraged than usual T) Dan took a magic marker and wrote clear warnings on each side of the box. “DANGEROUS ANIMAL” and “DO NOT OPEN – ANGRY ANIMAL ENCLOSED” and, simply, “DANGER!” and the like.

When they arrived at the vet, Dan opened the trunk of his car and, as he stooped down to pick up the carton, his pants split down the rear seam; he was wide open to the world.

Now what? How to get the carton (which only now seemed to be much larger than it needed to be, the result being it was really unwieldy, especially for someone who also needed to camouflage or shield his exposed parts) into the waiting room.

A youngster hanging about nearby offered a possible solution, and quick-thinking Dan called him over. Offering him five dollars, he asked the kid if he would carry the carton into the hospital. Wise for his young age and appropriately suspicious, the kid surveyed the carton, his eyes widening more with each reading of the various warnings plastered on the sides, and he eventually asked warily “What’s in there!?”

Dan could only answer, in truth, but meekly nevertheless, “A cat.”

Incredulity finally led to belief: with the explanation of why his help was being enlisted, the youngster, whose eyes had returned to normal size, agreed to carry the carton and made away happily with the $5 after completing his task.

T the T has long since met his maker (to his maker’s chagrin, no doubt) but his legacy lived on in our household for a long time. Note: We did have to sell that sofa and move away to rid ourselves of the Twiggy stigma, but we finally regained our peace of mind.

Gardenias and I

There have been many cats along the way, from our first, Gardenias the Gentle, another gender-bent cat (another male who was also mistakenly given a girl’s name because of a “sexing error.”) Gardenias was a gem who opened our world — mine, my sister’s and brother’s — to the care and feeding of a live pet. Unlike T, Gardenias never seemed to mind his name.

And many years later we’re graced with the presence of Ketzl the King, who cares for us deeply now, and who proves it by walking all over us while we try to sleep.

Ketzl the King

T the T gave us a lot of grief while he was alive. In death, he provides a reason for me to behave, to be good: to be worthy and to do good deeds. Hell wasn’t all that much of a threat to me before T arrived. Now, however, I strive for upright holiness, as there’s no way in … well, hell … I would take the chance of having to spend eternity with him there.

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October 10, 2012 · 6:02 pm

In a Mist. The Big Spider-Back Album

In high school, way back then, everyone was listening to the likes of Dion and the Belmonts, The Shirelles, Frankie Valli, Jan and Dean (and the little-remembered early incarnation Jan and Arnie), Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others of that genre.

Through no fault of my own, I got introduced to Bix Beiderbecke’s music and the whole Dixieland Jazz era. Not only because it was different than what everyone else was listening to, but also because it was so smooth, so slick, so original-American, I became a fan nearly overnight. And over no more than two nights I learned to recognize the golden cornet of Bix Beiderbecke, even among all the other instruments in the various bands, big and small, that he played with over the years, bands that included Jean Goldkette’s and Paul Whiteman’s. Bix also recorded several numbers with his own band, The Wolverines.

He composed some pieces, too. Not a lot, not many that are played today; some barely remembered. One in particular, a piano composition entitled In a Mist is available as a recording and its wonderful syncopation and near-disharmony as fingers roll across the keyboard represent, to me, the easy coolness that Bix embodied.

Hailing from Davenport, Iowa, Bix taught himself to play the cornet. He devised his own method of fingering and some believe this contributed to his signature sound. He died too young, a mere 28 years old, victim of his own dissolute life and anecdotally a long night-time ride in an open car while unwittingly or otherwise plagued with a case of pneumonia. He was living in Queens at the time, and his neighbor’s account of the night he died is quite tragic-sounding, with Bix hallucinating about threatening Mexicans hiding under his bed. This was moments before he died in his neighbor’s arms. Other than among musicians, he was largely unknown at the time of his death.

A major fan and also a budding artist, I drew his likeness from images found here and there (no easy task Imagefinding them, other than from LP covers: there was no Google Images then) and some of these images were turned into placards or posters, each bearing the homage “Bix Lives!” One such poster graced the door to my bedroom for several years.

As my meager budget and near-rare finds of albums featuring Bix allowed, I managed to acquire nearly a dozen vinyl LPs on which he could be heard performing, the mellow tones of his horn always managing to breach the surface of the music and my brain always formed the words, silently, “That’s Bix.” Almost all his recorded music is on iTunes now. Finding Bix would have been so much easier back then if there were such a thing as streaming music. You can sample a 90-second section of In a Mist there. (Make sure you listen to his own recorded version; there are others, but their fingering… not the same.)

One time I was apparently boasting about the acquisition of a new vinyl featuring Bix, and my young companion, very young and naïve, asked me “What’s a big spider-back album?”

Had my head been transparent then, you would have been able to watch as I took a beat; as my mind descended into a mist, and the wheels, cams and cogs turned slowly in my brain, with tumblers eventually falling into place, trying to make sense of what I had just been asked.

I wondered:

What would be special about spider backs, that they should be in an album?
And a big album? Are there enough of them to warrant a big album? Or are the backs  themselves big?
Aren’t spiders’ bellies more interesting, and only a few at that: the Black Widows with their distinctive vivid red hourglass marking that might warn suitors of an early demise, for example? Are there others with such interesting, distinctive marks that could fill an album big or small?

And then, finally, emerging slowly from the mist:

Big spider-back album. Bix Beiderbeck album.

Oh, kiddo. You’ve just opened yourself up for a mild pummeling from me, for your — ignorance? no, innocence — and I understand why you are in the dark. I guarantee you, a week from now you won’t make that mistake again, because as you’re about to learn, Bix lives.

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How to Sing the Blues

by Lame Mango Washington

(attributed to Memphis Earlene Gray with help from Uncle Plunky, revisions by Little Blind Patti D., Dr. Stevie Franklin and me, Fat Eggplant Taft.)

1. Most Blues begin, “Woke up this morning.”

2. “I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin the Blues, ‘less you stick something nasty in the next line, like “I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town.”

3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes … sort of: “Got a good woman – with the meanest face in town. She got teeth like Margaret Thatcher – and she weigh 500 pound.”

4. The Blues are not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch; ain’t no way out.

5. Blues cars: Chevys and Cadillacs and broken-down trucks. Blues don’t travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft an’ state-sponsored motor pools ain’t even in the running. Walkin’ plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin’ to die.

6. Teenagers can’t sing the Blues. They ain’t fixin’ to die yet. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues, “adulthood” means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or any place in Canada. Hard times in St. Paul or Tucson is just depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City still the best places to have the Blues. You cannot have the blues in any place that don’t get rain.

8. A man with male pattern baldness ain’t the blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is. Breaking your leg cuz you skiing is not the blues. Breaking your leg cuz a alligator be chomping on it is.

9. You can’t have no Blues in an office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.

10. Good places for the Blues:

a. highway
b. jailhouse
c. empty bed
d. bottom of a whiskey glass

Bad places:

a. Nordstroms
b. gallery openings
c. Ivy League institutions
d. golf courses

11. No one will believe it’s the Blues if you wear a suit, ‘less you happen to be an old ethnic person, and you slept in it.

12. Do you have the right to sing the Blues? Yes, if:

a. you’re older than dirt
b. you’re blind
c. you shot a man in Memphis
d. you can’t be satisfied

No, if:

a. you have all your teeth
b. you were once blind but now can see
c. the man in Memphis lived.
d. you have a retirement plan or trust fund.

13. Blues is not a matter of color. It’s a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the blues. Gary Coleman could. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the blues.

14. If you ask for water and Baby give you gasoline, it’s the Blues.

Other acceptable Blues beverages are:

a. wine
b. whiskey or bourbon
c. muddy water
d. black coffee

The following are NOT Blues beverages:

a. mixed drinks
b. kosher wine
c. Snapple
d. cappuccino or latte

15. If it occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse, and dying lonely on a broken down cot. You can’t have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or getting liposuction.

16. Some Blues names for women:

a. Sadie
b. Big Mama
c. Bessie
d. Fat River Dumpling

17. Some Blues names for men:

a. Joe
b. Willie
c. Little Willie
d. Big Willie

18. Persons with names like Sierra, Sequoia, Auburn, and Rainbow can’t sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

19. Make your own Blues name (starter kit):

a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.)
b. first name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi,etc.)
c. last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.)

For example, Blind Lime Jefferson, or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc.

(Well, maybe not “Kiwi.”)

20. I don’t care how tragic your life: if you own a computer, you cannot sing the blues. You best destroy it. Fire, a spilled bottle of Mad Dog, or get out a shotgun. I don’t care.

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Seasons

Spring.

She saw him and wondered who he was. There was something—no, not love at first sight, but something—that she liked. A lot. She smiled and nodded whenever she saw him. She would have liked to stop and introduce herself, but… not now, not right now. Occasionally she also said hello and asked him how he was, and she came to expect the same friendly and polite but impersonal response: Fine, and you?

So, she thought: he’s not interested in me. Well, she thought, the hell with him. That is, at first she thought, the hell with him: I’ve got someone anyway. But because there was something about him, she never voiced this, her sense taking over where her ego failed, and once they became speaking friends, she realized that she really liked him.

When her relationship failed, during that time when she tried to rearrange all the pieces of her broken life, she realized she had come to feel more for him than for anyone ever. He had become, almost surreptitiously, a friend. She talked with him about her sadness over the breakup. She could rely on him, she let him see her as no one else had. He was a sensitive kind of guy. He understood her.

When he asked her to go away with him for the weekend, he was equally surprised and flattered that she accepted. He had planned an easy trip to the shore, some sun, some swimming, some snorkling, lots of good seafood and good wine. He knew she would love this: he knew almost everything about her by now.

She wasn’t prepared for the amount of tenderness she would come to feel for him by the end of that weekend. After all, she was far from ready for another relationship this soon. She had loose ends to tie up or cut off.

When she told him she loved him, he almost shouted “No!” and he looked as if he wanted to run away, but he held back. As he listened to her he realized that he had loved her for a long time already. His heart began to smile as he watched her express her feelings earnestly, with a tentativeness that was endearing. He saw her opening up to him, offering him a likely once-in-a-lifetime gift. He smiled.

Summer.

She loved him. She loved him! He spent his days soaring, letting the joy of this knowledge carry him over the clouds and darkness of his past. Gliding freely, his life became interlaced with this revelation, traces of it brightening his life randomly, making his smile and hum. He would whistle if he didn’t think whistling was weird.

When he first became aware of it, small hints of this love peeking out from here or there, from under woolen layers of fear, it was easy to ignore. He found many ways to divert his attention or he simply looked away. As his awareness of it stirred and grew, however, he came to like it and he became comfortable in its presence and came to be comforted by it. Slowly, over time, he came to cherish the idea of loving her, and he couldn’t believe he had been afraid. He loved her! And he told her so.

He lived it; it wasn’t just talk. He showed it, and he knew it. After so many years of wondering when and where he would meet someone, he took care to express his love, over and over. It fed him as well as her.

He never doubted that he would meet someone, eventually, but he recalled painful times. Times of anguish, of loneliness, of feeling worthless and unfulfilled, of wrong relationships, of being told he was heartless and unfeeling, that he didn’t know how to love. Someone once told him he was contentious. He disagreed, of course, not even really sure of what was meant by it, but he was sure that was wrong. He knew when he was right, which wasn’t all the time, but yes, honestly, most of the time. Was he to be condemned for that? It wasn’t as though he threw it into other people’s faces. He was truly quite humble about his superior knowledge. It was a gift.

He remembered wandering through valleys of loneliness, in shadows. He learned religion because of the pain brought by being alone, and he learned new religions when the old ones failed to ease his pain. Searching, he sometimes met God, and sometimes he walked and talked with God. Other times he cursed God and all the gods for the pain. But he plodded ceaselessly, never losing his own faith, though sometimes losing sight of it. He knew it remained, however, somewhere around some future corner.

He was wary of her at first. He didn’t think she was the right one. She didn’t fit his image, and he knew she was involved with someone else. He didn’t know how serious the relationship was, but it was no matter: he would not fall in love with someone who was taken. He was that mature, at least. That adult about it.

Despite his wariness, he liked her instantly; her easygoing, quick laughter. She was generous, giving. He knew that everyone who knew her liked her a lot, loved her; and he saw that as proof of her innate goodness. Since he didn’t think of her as a future lover—she was practically getting married at that time—his demeanor was relaxed and open around her. They became easy friends, quickly, and their friendship rooted and grew and blossomed into a loving and meaningful one. He began to relax.

When she first said the words, when she first told him she loved him, she had long stopped seeing her long-time lover. She said the words and he jumped. She saw him start to panic, and she recognized the same fears she had had. She was a little amused by it—she took care not to show this—because she was secure. She knew. Even if he didn’t know yet, she knew. She was patient. She could cultivate this, confidently. She started to smile a lot. And she had been right. It was right. It worked.

Fall.

They came together easily, in a harmony that was natural and fitting. They laughed a lot, at themselves and at each other, and they were buoyed by the ease of their developing tenderness. They found sense in their life together, in the simplicity of their needs. They touched each other, and their touch was electrifying.

They each held on briefly to fear, waiting for other shoes to drop, fear of skeletons about to be discovered in dark closets, fear of horrifying pasts. When a shoe did drop, it was only while they tore off their clothes as they dove into a passionate embrace, once more before going to work, in a fit of spontaneous elation and lust. Whenever a little skeleton dangled and bone-danced before them, they laughed in its startled, eyeless face. And it was all easy. They grew together, as long-separated twins would, on being reunited, but with the added excitement of intensely hot and satisfying sex. By now, their closets were empty of fear.

When they fought, it was usually quick, intense and painful. They had become so open with each other that they felt a good deal of ease in expressing their unhappiness or disappointment in each other or in life. They knew that ultimately this was a good thing, it would nurture their relationship, but while they were arguing it felt anything but good. They didn’t argue often, but the intensity of the disagreements seemed to grow, along with an indignation, as if they were asking themselves—not each other—”Why are we fighting? Shouldn’t we be past that?” They had a few walk-away fights, but they didn’t stay angry overnight. Mostly they cherished their time together, they missed each other when apart, and they fell in love over and over again.

Winter.

It snowed again last night, huge heavy flakes. They dropped gently, thousands of brilliant stars falling from the night sky, a sky now left dark and starless. They shrouded the hillsides in luminosity, their light, their glow, their flicker just now diminishing. They made small sounds as they landed, barely audible from inside, and you had to strain to hear them, you had to listen intently. The silence of the night was scarcely disturbed by this sound, a primal stillness only damped more by the mantle of white. It went on.

When morning came, it was so brilliant it hurt. The bright, hard blue sky heightened the radiance of the snow cover, and the cold dry air carried the brilliance easily. It blew, sometimes hard, gusty, buffeting, and the cabin shuddered.

Still there were few sounds, not even the gentle plop-plop, plop of last night’s snowfall. It was a lifeless quiet. Nothing stirred except the dry trees that swayed in the wind. The wind scratched over them, and they complained, creaking. Small clouds fleeted overhead, trailing only momentary shadows across the blue-white brightness, silent shadows, moving on. Still again. Silent. Bright.

The cold-clad hills reflected distant dreams. An occasional shadow from a passing cloud recalled a hot-air balloon swiftly and silently soaring overhead, racing toward a new horizon and a new adventure. A trail could be seen winding up one side of a faraway rise. It divided the trees just enough to be visible, despite the snow that covered it, disappearing into the blinding white.

Inside now, the eager crackling of a newly lit fire signaled promises of warmth. As the fire struggled to life, it sought tender kindling, spreading and growing and consuming. The flames danced in the cold room, warding off the chill. As they grew, they cast a yellow-warm glow. The firecracker-crackling subsided as the flames settled, and now only an occasional pop — I’m alive! — was heard.

It was only much later, or so it seemed, that the gentle rumbling of water spoke in this near silence, boiling in the scratched-up saucepan sitting on the cast-iron stove. The steam swirled and rose, dissipating too quickly in the dry air. The bubbling became a gurgle as the water remaining in the pot lowered, a throaty rattle. Their two once-used teabags waited nearby.

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Moby and the Dick

Hey, Anne,

I’m going to take a wild stab here and suggest that Sylwester is probably pushing up daisies now. He was after all, something like 93 at the time he had his penile implant. I will also go so far as to suggest, however, that it’s entirely likely that his Dick is still Mobying along, although it won’t be doing his young wife any good any more (she was something like 26?) And on further conjecture, it’s most likely she’s okay with all this, having become his sole heir.

Oh, yes, I’ve been watching Louie CK. He’s very funny and there is something incredibly likable about him (that word, ‘likable,’ doesn’t look right. I had an ‘e’ in there at first [likeable] but spellcheck said no, so I took it out and spellcheck is happy. Still, to me, however, it looks like it should be pronounced ‘lickable,’ and that’s a very different thing). The series are available on Netflix, which I just reactivated, and I’m watching it the way I like most: several episodes at a time. I decided a long time ago that if I can wait until something becomes available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, I will wait for that and watch mini-marathons (mostly ad-free, too!) and be better off. I’m only at season 2, so I have a lot of enjoyment ahead of me.

I think I had the same unfortunate kinds of revelation about The Dick when I was reading it. At one point (and I wasn’t even doing mushrooms at the time) I was convinced some gremlins were adding pages every time I put the book down. That probably happened to me right about where you might be now in the book: at the lengthy discussions of whale anatomy. Still, I muddled through it and if I hadn’t, we wouldn’t be able to be having these scintillating discussions about blubber. I noticed that, even with all Melville’s perseverating on details of whales’ bodies, he omitted any references to the males’ p3nises, and I wondered if a latent homosexuality wasn’t responsible for that. Fortunately I have seen some of Isabella Rossellini’s fascinating series on animal sexuality and she filled in the blanks there.

I’m glad you had good days with Alan before sending him off back to school. I can relate to his wanting another pair of the same Merrells that he’s worn for years now: I have a pair that I absolutely love love love, and they don’t make them any more. The closest things to them (I’ve now tried two different types) are nowhere near as comfortable. I’m kicking myself (with the shoes on, even!) for not buying up a half-dozen pair when I had the chance. I had to google to find them in the first place — saw a pair on someone and liked them — and it was no easy task finding them in the first place: I didn’t even know who made them. It was a most fortuitous moment when I did find them, but I wasn’t forward-thinking enough to realize they would wear out before I could procure another pair.

What I decided, vis-à-vis the PT, is to skip it for the time being. I had a couple of revelations a couple of weeks ago, and having done a little investigating on my own, I’m undertaking to make things better by the use of vitamin E and Ensure Muscle Health Formula. I fully expect to see improvement and fewer aches. The vitamin E also helps the lymphedema and other things, and I’m already seeing an improvement there. Hey, even if it’s placebotic (a word I just made up) I’m happy with that.

Speaking of neologisms, yesterday I accidentally made up a really cool one. I was texting John about the shooting at the Empire State Building, and I meant to write “…an ex-employee pulled a nutty and a gun…” but somehow a slip of the finger turned it into “…an exployee pulled a nutty…” and I didn’t realize the typo until the text got sent. When I saw what happened I realized, given all the disgruntled ex-empoyees out there who pull nutties, we have a serious need for the word “exployee.”

Not much going on here now: the newsletter is at the print shop; proofs have been reviewed and approved, so it’s out of my hands and on its way eventually into the hands of our beloved members/readers, which, fuck ’em.

And thinking waaay back to the BI Yiddish class, I’m pretty sure we didn’t learn right-to-left script because we didn’t use the Yiddish alphabet. It was meant to be a crash course in medically focused conversational Yiddish, so didn’t we just use Roman transliterations of the words? (I’m asking you, but it’s okay to say you don’t remember. I seem to have this weird propensity for remembering minutiae from the past — and forgetting to do things like put on pants before going outside — but even I’m not sure of what we did in that class.)

Okay, some Walrus is telling me it’s time to stop talking about Merrell shoes and whaling ships (and we never got to cabbages or kings, but that’s perfectly okay) and to get myself motivated and moving. Odd. “Motivate” comes from a Latin word that means “move,” and yet we can use both “motivate” and “move” in the same sentence and not be redundant or repetitive.

Crap; I just blew it.

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Little Tuxie, The Cat!

Tuxedo was one of John’s cats who lived with him and her sister, The Evil And Ever-Cranky Dahka, in Clinton, MA, before moving to NYC with John in 1995. (By then, Dahka had mercifully gone to meet her maker, Bastet, in what would have to be the equivalent of Little Kitty Hell.)

They lived in Clinton on the third floor of a sweet Victorian house on a street right out of ’50s television. On my first visit to Clinton I had arrived in the dark so I didn’t get to see much of the town or the surroundings. In the morning when I awoke I went to the window for a first look-see.

Pulling back the dotted Swiss I leaned over and peered down the three stories for my first look at a street-sans-sidewalks and couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh my God: It’s Mayberry!”

Life for Tux on the third floor was pretty sweet. There was a strange little double-hung sideways window that stayed open most of the time, through which Tux could exit to a roof. From there she managed to get down to the next level and from there to the yard below. Getting back in seemed to be as easy for her just by reversing the steps back up to the roof outside the sideways window and back into the apartment. Unless she decided to splay out on the roof for a while, enjoying the warmth that emanated from the sun-warmed shingles. It wasn’t uncommon for John to get a phone call from a neighbor, “Hey, John, do you know there’s a cat on your roof?” “I do.”

The Park Avenue apartment was a neat one-bedroom cum-small-terrace and Tux loved going out there—here, a small hopper window that remained open all the time gave her free entry and exit—to eyeball the house finches, sparrows and the occasional black-capped chickadee that flitted around out there. On one occasion I found a half-dozen small feathers on the living-room carpet, but mercifully nothing else, nor did Tux subsequently egest anything untoward and birdlike.

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A few years passed and Tux heard Bastet calling her, too. She withered slowly but luckily rather painlessly, so there wasn’t a lot of suffering for any of us, especially her.

Before she popped off, however, John and I had planned our first-ever real vacation: a week at the Cape. Never having taken a real away vacation (all the others were to a family home in RI, where everything that we needed was already there, so packing meant throwing a change of underwear—if we thought of it—into a paper bag and grabbing a bottle of water for the train ride) we kind of maybe over-packed for this week away. Somehow we ended up with ten bags, backpacks and other assorted satchels in our collection of away-stuff.

Tuxie went to her reward just before the vacation, so a few changes were necessary. First, call Janet and call off her house-and-cat-sitting week at our place. Next, what to do with Tux…

We were planning to stop at the home in RI on the way, and the expansive yard there would surely provide a final resting place for Tux, so that was the plan. The few days before we were to leave posed a problem, however, but luckily our freezer provided the solution. Into a classy Lord and Taylor box she went, tissue paper and all, and we apologized to her posthumously for having to seal such an elegant container with shiny gray duct tape, but a serious seal was needed, so that we did and into the freezer she went.

It seemed forever before: Saturday morning! Vacation! Okay, we’ve never done this before, so we need to be sure we count all the bags! every time we move somewhere: to the cab downstairs, to the train station, onto the train, off the train and into the waiting car in RI. Okay, let’s head out. Bags? Ten of them, right? One-two-three, etc., up to ten. Got it!

Into the trunk of the cab they went, all ten; into the back seat we went, the two of us, and off on this adventure. About three blocks. That was as far as we got. The traffic was ridiculously heavy for that time of the morning, and down Park and around the corner was as far as we got before we bogged down.

Still, we sat comfortably, and we griped only half-heartedly about how long the ride would take, until, as one, we turned to each other wide-eyed and blurted “THE CAT!

Drat! The little uncounted eleventh item, the duct-taped L&T box, was still reposing chillily in our freezer at home. Could we leave it until we… Oh, lord no.

Always ready to take charge and solve problems, (a boon, but also at times a bane), John said “I’ll meet you at Penn Station!” and jumped out of the cab before I could even get out the words, “But… but…” and he ran off back toward the apartment.

“But… I have ten bags to manage… ” I whimpered softly, to no one. Oh, maybe there will be a Red Cap at Penn, and even though they’re ridiculous rip-offs, this time I would have to avail myself.

Wrong. No Red Cap. And no John yet, with or without dead cat. I had no choice but to start strapping bags and such onto whatever parts of my body could hold them and I gotta tell you the process was no easy deal, but I finally managed, and having turned myself into a walking luggage rack I made for the entrance to Penn Station.

Slowly. Very slowly. And arduously. But I made it to the doorway and when I got there I wondered why the automatic doors didn’t open. I didn’t see it as an omen portending a series of failures of modern technology, but it was. Getting the doors open turned out to be easy though: leaning into them slightly, I found the weight of what felt like 800 pounds of luggage open them without a problem.

The next failure was waiting for me at the top of the long descent (long? ridiculously long) down into the station: the escalator wasn’t working. As, in my mind, I saw myself plunging helplessly to my death under some tonnage of bags and backpacks down the thirty feet of stairway, I took to them very carefully. I had only gotten down two steps when a “gentleman of a certain Penn-Station demeanor” who was leaning idly against the wall hollered, “Y’want help witcha bags?”

Now, I’m no naif: I know about guys who offer to help tourists and other easy marks with their “stuff” who bolt off suddenly, carrying away your best belongings, but even so, I contemplated ever so briefly taking him up on his offer: stealing some of my stuff would mean less for me to carry.

“No, thanks,” I said, as I cursed the street-smarts that kept me from letting him have at it.

Did I mention this was in July? Did I mention July in NYC is most often very hot and way too sticky-humid for human comfort? It was. Arriving at the bottom of the stairs I had to take several moments to ferret out my handkerchief and wipe my brow, an effort that became futile in a heartbeat, as the hanky was soon sopping wet.

Some passersby stared, as if wondering if I were maybe some poorly thought-out performance art. One or two of them even stopped to watch, the way you do when you have the time to enjoy the entertainment provided by subway buskers and the like. When I eventually shuffled off, I didn’t care one bit about their apparent disappointment at a “bad show.” At least it was free.

I turtled over to the departure board, at the same time looking hopefully but futilely for John. The board showed an on-time departure for our train, a miracle in itself, so I was obliged once again to make my way down another staircase, to the lower level. Oh, there are escalators that span those levels, too, and these were working, but of course they were all working upward to accommodate arriving passengers.

The train having arrived at last, I trudged on board and managed to find two seats together, which I quickly took ownership of by dropping onto them two of the myriad containers that had by now almost become part of me. Stowing the remaining eight was no easy task, as the overhead bins were already pretty full, so I had to spread out the rest of our booty, hoping my efforts to remember where each of them was would pay off.

Finally—finally!— I could sit, and dropping in a lump onto my seat, I continued to wipe my face with a handkerchief that needed frequent wringing-out.

A-a-nd, enter John, one second later. “Oh, you got two seats together!” “~no comment~” mostly because I still couldn’t talk. He, too, had to hunt for a spot in the overhead rack for Our Beloved Tuxedo, and having found one he returned to his seat.

“I had to run all the way here!”

“~grumble~”

Eventually, I cooled off both physically and mentally, and the spirit of adventure returned, as all seemed well. For a time.

As the train approached Westerly Station, we began gathering our belongings. Westerly is a small station and not all the doors open there, so you sometimes have to traverse several cars to get to an open door. Dragging the bags through two cars to the only door that would open, we made sure once again to count them: One, two, three, the rest. Small sigh. We stood in the doorway as the train slowed, getting really excited now: the first leg of our trip, the train, was nearly completed and it was usually the most difficult.

Slowing; slower, slower — train whistled as it neared the station — we’re smiling, we’re happy, we’re—Oh my god! “THE CAT!”—once again in unison. And once again, John is off, running back through the train to retrieve Our Poor-But-Beloved Tuxedo, who had been about to be abandoned on a train. (Most likely until the train reached its final destination, Boston’s South Station, at which time some nefarious crony would probably see the duct-taped L&T box and grab it, thinking it was full of $100 bills or something. We decided it might have been worth leaving Tux, just for the joy of contemplating the face of such a would-be thief, after he struggled to get through the duct tape to find, by then, a well thawed and probably partially decomposed cat.)

You can probably guess who has to deal, once again, with shuffling ALL TEN BAGS off the train. And was I really, really hoping John wouldn’t make it off the train in time and end up in Providence? No, not really. Big sighs were hove all around as John made it off the train and back to me and our stuff.

Back at the house, a small hole was dug with reverence and sadness, into it went Tux and over her went a sweet little rose bush in lieu of a grave marker. We couldn’t think of a better resting place for a wonderful friend.

I am pleased to say the rest of the vacation went by astonishingly swimmingly, both literally and figuratively.

A year went by and we were back at the RI house when one morning John noticed a rather nondescript gray bird perched in Tux’s rose bush, singing gleefully. “I wonder if that bird is driving the spirit of Tuxedo crazy.”

“Nah. It’s a catbird. It’s having a little chat with Tux and she’s loving it.”

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