Friday, March 31, 2006
Of course this may not sound so impressive when you consider that we are talking about three people -- my wife Jena, my lifelong friend Larry, and my 91-year-old mentor and former English professor, Fred.
Actually, I have a fourth regular reader. His name is Wilbur, and he's a spider.
Not a spider spider, but a computer spider. A computer spider is a special kind of program that roams the Internet day and night in search of new or changed content. Content, in this sense, is geek-speak for all the information that gets published on all web pages everywhere, including the text posts on this blog.
Wilbur works for Google. One of his jobs is to figure out what my blog is about and who is reading it, and why, so that he'll know what ads to display at the top of this page. The more relevant the ad, the more likely people are to respond. In general, Wilbur and his fellow spiders do their jobs exceedingly well. They have made billions for Google.
Apparently, however, I have been giving him a hard time. Initially, Wilbur decided that this was a blog for poop-obsessed, Bible-thumping cat lovers. The ads CATBOX CAT LITTER CABINET, TOILET TRAIN YOUR CAT, and ONLINE CAT OWNER BIBLE alternately announced the purpose of this blog.
Then Wilbur began to question himself. Maybe he had been taking this blog too literally. He went back and reread the postings. His suspicions were confirmed. This blog wasn't about cats at all. Friday morning, the ads WHY LOSE YOUR MEMORY? and STAY MENTALLY SHARP reflected Wilbur's reassessment. This blog was by and for people who were slipping rapidly into senility.
I printed a screen shot and took it up to breakfast. "Look guys," I announced, "I'm a moron!" The boys shrugged. What else was new? My wife snorted. "Well, they got that right."
Today, however, the ads are once again all about cat litter and toilet training. I don't know what happened. Perhaps Wilbur had another change of heart. Or perhaps the higher-ups at Google decided Wilbur was too close to his work and had lost his perspective. Regardless, I'm back to being the old poop-obsessed, cat-loving Bible-thumper I've always been. Pass the nutcracker, please.
As good as it gets
"No," I typed back. "Why? Do you think I make her look bad?" Three hours later his answer appeared. "SILENCE IS GOLDEN." Just three words. Nothing more.
Jena does know about my blog, of course. No man has ever survived as many years of marriage as I have without following the rules. In this case, Rule Number 87: "If you are about to publish something that might makes your wife seem slightly ridiculous, don't! But if you must, get her permission first." Well, I didn't exactly get her permission, but I told her about each post immediately after publishing it, so I think I have kept to the spirit of the rule.
All the same, Larry's email haunted me the rest of the day. Later that evening after dinner, which for the boys was one minute after we sat down to eat, I struck what I hoped was a casual demeanor.
"Honey, how do you feel about the blog?"
She looked at me archly. "Do you mean other than the fact that it makes me look like a total idiot?"
"Sure! Other than that," I replied.
"Well, I wish you wouldn't make me look quite so ridiculous." Then, after some reflection, "On the other hand, it's mostly true, and you are having fun with it."
Lately, Jena has come to the conclusion that the purpose of life is to feel joy and to revel in our creative powers. In my case it is sheer luck that her enlightenment should coincide with the emergence of a technology that lets Joe Public blab his musings to the entire world.
It just doesn't get any better than that.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
"Look guys," I announced, holding up the screen shot like a trophy, "I'm a cat-litter salesman!" They glanced at the screen shot and shrugged. My wife muttered, "Well, maybe you'll make some money..." "...for a change," I finished her statement in my head. I can forgive her for that. The life of an entrepreneur is hard, but especially on the spouse. Lots of waiting with no income and no guarantees.
Later that morning in the shower, where I do my best thinking, the meaning of the second ad suddenly sunk in. Toilet-train your cat?!? I thought that was the whole idea about cats -- you don't have to toilet train them! They are born knowing what to do! Folks, if you have to toilet train your cat, you might as well trade it in for a dog! Or perhaps you could donate it to science or sell it to Ripley's Believe It Or Not.
Then I started wondering, what sort of idiot thinks he can make a living teaching people to toilet train their cats? Are there that many people who think they need to toilet train their cats? I guess the target market must be dumb people who are buying their first cat. "Our market research shows," intoned this entrepreneur in his pitch to the venture capitalists, "that at any given time, 5% of the U.S. population is thinking of buying a cat. By correlating that data with the latest U.S. Census stupidity data, we believe the total market of dumb people who are buying their first cat is approximately 1 million households. If we can capture only 1% of that market, we'll be rich!"
Somehow, it just didn't add up. Finally, the true meaning of the ad sunk in. (Idiot!) Toilet train! They don't mean toilet train in the general sense of teaching a cat, dog, or kid where to poop -- they mean it literally!
CATBOX CAT LITTER CABINET still adorned the banner of my blog, but TOILET TRAIN YOUR CAT had been replaced by ONLINE CAT OWNER BIBLE, so I rummaged through the papers on my desk to find the original screen shot. "TOILET TRAIN YOUR CAT," it read, and continued "WORLD FAMOUS LITTER KWITTER. AS SEEN ON TV - ORDER NOW!"
Great! I thought. Now I can see cats peeing in toilets on TV. That's a wonderful way to start the day. (Mental note, check it out later.)
And what about Ginger? you ask. I'm not supposed to go in there, but wait a minute and I'll check...
She's just fine! I gave her a gentle stroke and took a forbidden look at the kittens. They are sound asleep and curled up in a kind of four-way Ying Yang position. Ginger rubbed my legs, purred loudly, and looked up at me with her bright eyes -- she positively crackled!
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Ginger finally gave birth to her four kittens and our lives went back to normal...
But, nooooo, as my boys might say. Bright and early Monday morning I was in the family room with Cooper, and had just started trying to yoga my body back into a semblance of the human form when Jena marched into the room. She was clearly distraught.
"Family Council!" she commanded. In our household, family councils are infrequent and therefore usually momentous occasions. They invariably portend a major disruption to our - my -- domestic tranquility. Cooper and I rose reluctantly to the summons. Logan, luckily for him, was still sleeping.
"Ginger is not taking care of the kittens," she announced. She had been checking on Ginger and her litter throughout the night, and Ginger appeared to be indifferent to the needs of her kittens. "She's never in the box with the kittens when I check, and she ignores them even when they are crying!" she told us. She had been up all night worrying about it. How were we going to take care of four, day-ol kittens?
I have learned over my years of marriage that problem-solving is usually not the best response to my wife when she is upset. The best response, of course, is to listen sympathetically. Cooper seemed to know this intuitively, because he immediately came to his mother's side and hugged her and climbed into her lap. I, on the other hand, mentally consulted the manual and then, as instructed, rubbed her back and kept my mouth shut. Jena gradually began to calm down.
"Of course," she mused, "I don't really know that Ginger isn't nursing the kittens. Perhaps she gets up when she hears me coming, and really is with them when I am not there."
I saw my opportunity -- and it was golden!
"Well, I could rig up a web cam in her bedroom," I offered carefully, "and you could monitor her from your laptop."
She brightened instantly. "That would be great!" she said.
My offers to solve problems with gadgets are usually dismissed summarily and with prejudice, but on this occasion the stars were in alignment. It was the perfect solution. And it meant that rather than going immediately down to my home office to start my work day, I would be making an authorized trip to my favorite store, Fry's Electronics.
In the big scheme of things, other than my being insensitive, rude, and obnoxious, my wife has very few complaints about my behavior. But I have two vices that are particularly galling to her -- my unauthorized trips to Fry's Electronics and Borrone's Cafe. Any gadget-loving dad in northern California knows that Fry's is the best store on the planet. Every coffee-and-pastry connoisseur knows that Borrone's is the best Cafe.
Now, my wife has an uncanny knowledge about my comings and goings, and she is alert to the slightest wrinkle in my daily timeline. For example, if I am gone on a sales call for a half an hour more than anticipated, she is curious as to why. And she knows that frequently the reason why is an unauthorized trip to Fry's or Borrone's. For reasons that I have never fathomed, these unauthorized trips annoy her to no end. I guess it's the idea that I'm off having a good time while she is slaving away at home.
On this occasion, however, I was not only going to take a fully authorized trip to Fry's, but I would be able to slip in an unauthorized trip to Borrone's. My wife knows that my trips to Fry's are of unpredictable duration, generally because there are so many products to choose from and so many technical factors to consider. In this case, however, I knew -- and my wife didn't -- that picking out a web cam would be a relatively straightforward affair, one that I could pull off quickly and then exploit the short duration of my Fry's trip to squeeze in an unauthorized trip to Borrone's.
Everything went according to plan. I made a beeline for Fry's, picked out a decent web cam, make a quick trip to Borrone's for a fresh squeezed OJ and oven-warmed "Tina roll" (a kind of cinnamon roll, invented by and named after the owner's daughter) and was back in no time. The web cam worked wonderfully, and the unauthorized trip went undetected.
It was the best day of my life.
"What about Ginger?" You ask. While I was off on my quest for web cams and cinnamon buns, Jena had made contact with the Cat Lady. After learning that Ginger had been exposed to numerous visits from the boys and their friends, not to mention me and Jena, the Cat Lady admonished us, saying that all the commotion had probably caused Ginger to snap, so to speak. She was off balance. The thing to do, she continued, was to leave the cat alone! After a day of doing just that and monitoring Ginger on the web cam, we found that the Cat Lady was right. When left alone, Ginger did just fine. Ginger's snap had only been temporary.
Life, at last, returned to normal.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Ginger popped that Saturday night. Well, spluttered might be a better word for it. It started at 9:15 PM and continued intermittently until midnight, when I was finally able to go to bed with the delicious anticipation of knowing that I would be scooping the poop of four more cats for the next 15- 20 years.
Actually, the whole thing really started earlier that afternoon, when Jena announced that today was the day. Ginger was breathing heavily and looking for places to hide. What's more, she advised us, we were all to be on our own for the day, because Ginger was going to need her.
Now, I have been known to breathe heavily and look for places to hide, but Jena never decided to stick close to me on those occasions. Regardless, after two weeks of any day now and the National Cuddly Kitten Day fiasco, I for one was going to reserve judgment until after the Great Moment.
But that didn't prevent me from trying to stir up a little excitement. As one after another 10-year-old boy trooped in that day for a combined marathon play date and kitten vigil, I advised each of them that Ginger was "about to pop" any minute now! They would then look at me with wide eyes, and I was having a great time until one of them asked me, "What does that mean?"
One of the great things about 10 year old boys is that they are incapable of sarcasm. Whenever I embroider things a bit, they either role their eyes or take me seriously. If a teenager were to ask me "What does that mean?" it would have been with an intonation that made it clear I was an idiot. So it wasn't until Matthew asked me very seriously "What does that mean?" that I realized how idiotic the phrase "about to pop" was.
Otherwise, the day went by uneventfully, except that occasionally I would stick my head into Ginger's room (it hasn't been called the "guest" room for several days now) only to see Jena and Ginger sitting side by side on the bed, with Ginger's paw on Jena's leg. Jena explained that every time she tried to move away from her, Ginger would meow and look up at her with pleading eyes. She definitely didn't want Jena to leave. It was also on one of those visits when Jena announced that she wanted to keep Ginger. Ouch.
Later that evening around 9:15, with Sean and Ty staying for a sleepover -- their friend AJ had been dragged off under stiff protest by a parent earlier that day -- and with me upstairs cleaning up after making dinner for the boys, Jena whispered into the baby monitor that Ginger had just given birth to her first kitten. Actually, I was only told this later, with much exasperation, because the truth is I hadn't heard a thing, probably because I had long since trained myself to ignore the baby monitor.
As a consequence, Jena had to pull herself from Ginger's side to let the rest us know that Ginger had had her first Great Moment. Jena had decided that it would be too disruptive to have all of us barge in on Ginger simultaneously, so the boys lined up for their turn outside Ginger's room with a natural amount of pushing and shoving, and that's how it went for each of the three subsequent Great Moments. Logan happened to be in the room when the third one popped, to his delight. Cooper then decided he wanted to see a Great Moment too, so Jena let him into the room on the condition that he be absolutely quiet. He did this so well that he had nodded off when the fourth and final kitten popped so suddenly that even Jena didn't see it. Cooper then retreated with considerable disgust. He of course confessed afterwards that he didn't really want to see a Great Moment, but it obviously galled him that Logan had see one.
Jena midwifed Ginger through each of the Great Moments, all 3 1/2 hours of them. Since we had fixed up Ginger in a box inside the closet, Jena had to assume an unnatural position in order to be by Ginger's side the whole time. If it had tried it, I would be hospitalized today with a slipped disk.
On second thought, if it had been up to me, nothing of the sort would have happened, because I would have left Ginger to her own devices on the grounds that cats had been doing it on their own for millions of years. But then, what do I know?
Pass the nutcracker, please
The subject of this posting is cats. Cats are much on my mind these days because, at this very moment, a little rescue cat named "Ginger" has taken up residence in the guest bedroom next to my home office for the sole purpose of giving birth to a litter of kittens. If she has two kittens we will keep them to replace the two cats we lost six months ago. If she has four kittens, we will give two away. But if, according to a kind of logic that is not accessible to most fathers, she has three kittens, we will keep all of them.
I confess that I am partial to cats; but if you had predicted only a month ago that we would become a foster family for sex-crazed felines, I would have written you off as a nut. But here we are. Pass the nutcracker, please.
Well, I really only have myself to blame. This is merely the culmination of a decade-long connivance and contrivance on my part to avoid getting a dog. Now, don't get me wrong. I love dogs. I really do love dogs, EXCEPT when they are pooping on the yard, peeing on the camellias, barking in the middle of the night, chewing expensive swim goggles, chewing expensive replacement swim goggles, jumping on visitors, sniffing our guests' crotches, and most especially, licking their own crotches.
So, as you see, I really do love dogs. But if I have to have a pet -- and I realized as soon as we had our twin boys that this was inevitable -- I would be inclined towards having a cat. Whatever their shortcomings, cats are relatively low maintenance, and they never embarrass you in public. Of course, with twins, one cat would never do; so, naturally, we had to get two cats. But eventually those cats were deemed family cats, and for his 8th birthday Logan decided he wanted to have his own cat. (Cooper elected for a Nintendo Game Cube.) That's how Furball came into our lives. I lobbied hard to name him Hairball, but I was soundly defeated in a family plebiscite. I consider this one of the great missed opportunities in my life.
Like the others, Furball was a rescue kitty. He wasn't our first choice; but when, on their birthday, the Jena and the boys went to pick up kitty #1, he was ill. The Cat Lady said to wait a couple days, but then it wouldn't be a birthday present, so they came home with Furball.
Now, I'm a pretty good judge of cats, and I knew within 48 hours that Furball was not going to be the kind of cat that would be partial to human contact, much less jump into our laps for some heavy petting and purring. I, on the other hand, would be scooping his poop for the rest of his natural days. So I calmly suggested to my wife that we take Furball back to the Cat Lady and get kitty #1, who had probably recovered by then. My wife, who had quickly bonded with Furball, looked at me with an expression that I shall never forget. All at once I knew I was the most insensitive, stupid, and uncaring stupid man that had ever existed. Furball took his rightful place in our family.
Well, that gave us three cats, which is the maximum number of cats that a family can have and still be considered normal. It wasn't too long, however, before Logan began to feel -- and rightly so, I think -- that he had been gypped. After all, Cooper was having a blast with his Nintendo Game Cube, but the only time we saw Furball was when, in an uncharacteristic fit of generosity, he decided to bring a dead, half-eaten rat into our living room. So, Jena went on the lookout for a new kitty.
Her prayers were answered when a woman in her exercise class announced that a feral neighborhood cat had given birth to a litter. Jena and the boys went for a look-see. Then came one of the (many) phone calls that every dad dreads. "Honey, Logan has found a kitten that he really wants, but Cooper is just devastated that he can't have his own kitty. Would you mind too much if we were to get two kittens?" With visions of tears and trauma flashing through my head, I accepted the inevitable.
I suppose, deep down, I figured that if we loaded up on cats, it would be easier to beat back the inevitable demand for a dog. As you can probably guess, that was a flawed strategy. But that's a topic for another posting.
So that's how we came to have five cats, putting our family solidly into the eccentric category. Notwithstanding the crack in our social standing, for a time all was well with the new kittens. It turns out that when kittens are first born, they are much like human babies and need feeding every couple hours for several weeks. Additionally, they can't pee or poop, much less clean up, without assistance from their mother. So Jena, as their adoptive mother, had to play the role of the mother cat for that period or time. Much to her credit, she did so wonderfully well and without complaint. As a consequence, Golden and Houdini turned out to be exactly the kind of affectionate and cuddly cats we sought. Things settled into a comfortable routine, with the only disruption being the occasional gift of a dead bird, rat, snake, or rabbit.
Then, in the space of one month, after years of allowing our cats to roam our rural neighborhood without incident, Furball, Golden, and Houdini disappeared. We learned subsequently that one of the neighborhood ladies had started to feed the coyotes, presumably because they are cute. So, our neighborhood, which had been miraculously free of coyotes for years, had become a regular stopover for hungry coyotes on the prowl for a midnight snack.
For several months thereafter, the remaining cats, Bailey and Whiskers, were confined to quarters, and nobody had much appetite for expanding the family. But as you know, time heals all wounds, and about two months ago both boys were lobbying for another cat.
Our experience with cats is that the younger they are when you get them, the better. If they are handled and treated well by humans when they are very small, they will usually grow up to be affectionate and friendly. It turns out, however, that our experience in adopting Golden and Houdini was not the norm. The usual protocol for feral litters is that they be surrendered to a rescue facility where they will be cared for and not put up for adoption until they are several weeks old. That's generally OK, but if you want to increase your odds of having an affectionate cat, you might want to get them earlier.
After some investigation Jena discovered that the only official way to get kittens when they are very young is to become a foster family. If you had told me one month ago that we would become a foster family for cats, I would... oh well. Nuts. We are a foster family for cats. And that's how it comes about that there is a pregnant cat in the next room, and that's why cats are much on my mind. Well that, and my own foibles.
So I will tell you one last story, then leave you to ponder the futility of fatherhood…
Apparently, one of the benefits of being a foster family to a pregnant cat is that we will be able to witness the great event, perhaps even immortalize it with a video camera. I wouldn't have thought this was something that would be of much interest to 10-year-old boys, but I would have been wrong. It turns out that this is of interest not only to our boys, but to all of their friends, who have asked to be put on alert. One of their moms even called to warn us that Ginger had better not give birth on Wednesday because AJ was fully booked that day and she didn't want to have to deal with that.
So, to ensure that we wouldn't miss the great event when it happened, Jena rigged up the boys' old baby monitor in the guest bedroom, where Ginger resides, and put speakers in both the kitchen and our bedroom. I was instructed to keep the video camera fully charged and at hand. We then heard of another foster family that left their home for one hour, only to find upon their return that the cat had given birth, cleaned up, and left a mint on the pillow. (That last detail is poetic license.) So now we are all on shifts to ensure that we don't miss it.
Well, she came to us two weeks ago, and we are still waiting. We had a near miss list last week. Jena decided to see if Ginger could tell us when she was going to give birth. So she asked Ginger about each day of the week with no response from Ginger. But when she said "Thursday" Ginger responded by rubbing her legs and meowing. Then Jena found out that Thursday was National Cuddly Kitten Day, so that clinched it. We went on high alert.
National Cuddly Kitten Day came and went without incident. Things settled down again. Then one morning Jena decided that Ginger needed fresh air, but as the window in Ginger's bedroom lacked a screen, she couldn't open it for fear that Ginger might escape. So I was asked to move the screen from my office bedroom to her (Ginger's) bedroom so that she could get fresh air. OK, I'm a guy, so I don't need fresh air or care about having bugs buzz around my head while trying to make a living.
Later that morning, during a convenient moment, I went into Ginger's bedroom to attach the screen. Seconds later I heard a stampede of steps down the stairs and the door to the bedroom was flung wide open. There, crowding into the bedroom were my wife and an group of boys, all expecting to witness the Great Moment. They had heard the unusual noises on the baby monitors upstairs, and figured that the Great Moment had arrived. Much to their disappointment, the Great Moment turned out to be me, attaching the screen to the window.
That gave me an idea.
Knowing how much the boys love practical jokes, I waited a couple hours to give myself a little cover. Then, when my wife, the boys, their friends and I were gathered around the kitchen table for lunch, I mumbled that I had to get something from the fridge in the carport. I proceeded, unseen, to Ginger's bedroom and crept in taking care not to make any noise. Then, after practicing it for a moment in my mind, I proceeded to make what I imagined was the sound of a cat giving birth.
The expected stampede began immediately, and in moments the door was flung open by my expectant wife and a group of eager boys.
Well, I confess that I thought the sight of me pretending to be a pregnant cat would be greeted first by shock, but then, naturally, by waves of laughter. It would be a childhood memory that would last forever. At every reunion for years into the future, long after they had grown up and had families, someone would invariably say, "Do you remember the time when Cooper and Logan's dad tricked us into believing that he was a pregnant cat? Then they would all crack up.
Well, the look on my wife's face as she stood in the doorway and saw the source of the noise told me instantly that the next ice age had begun. The laughter from the boys was gratifying and gave me some hope, but only last night a couple of them told me I was way out of line, and they really knew it was me all along.
In retrospect, I can think of ways I could have done it better, like warning my wife in advance. I didn't of course, because she would have vetoed the idea. So dads, if you want my advice, let me tell you to learn from my experience and never, ever, pretend that you are a pregnant cat!
Copyright (c) Brett Walter