I am objectively a lousy father. Compared to my father, I am a psychotic crack addict trying to raise orchids in a toilet.
It started with a rose-colored memory of my family’s driving vacations when I was a boy. Swinging through the western states and the national parks. Driving from Texas to the arctic circle and back. That sort of thing. My wife and I had long discussed a trip like that, and we finally decided to do it: Dallas to Montreal and back.
Many lists were made, and my wife declared them good. We packed the necessities, like phones, computers, and some other stuff, maybe underwear. We got the house-sitter, and the person to come in multiple unspecified times a day to check on the cats, and new shells for the shotgun. We packed the night before departure. My wife would no more wait to pack last minute than she would kick a puppy over the backyard fence.
This morning, the day of departure, we loaded the car and did a cat headcount. We came up one head short.
That didn’t worry us much. This cat is a big baby, and he probably hid someplace because we were acting weirder than usual. We checked his usual hiding places. We searched unusual hiding places. We looked behind things and under things, in every cabinet twice and every closet three times. We shook cans of treats and containers of food while calling his name like the kid in Shane. He did not appear.
My wife felt sure he was hiding in some super-secret kitty spot. I thought maybe he had run out when we were loading the car. He could be wandering the neighborhood, dazed with hunger, staggering onto Crazy-Street, the six-lane race track behind our house, to be crushed like a cat-shaped jar of jelly. My fears were valid—we once had a cat that sneaked out the front door and never came back.
We searched the neighborhood. No cat. At last my wife reasoned that the cat was too much of a coward to ever go outside, so we should get on the road. I agreed, but I felt bad about it—like a rotten kitty-dad. We notified the people staying in our house to watch out for the cat and tell us if they saw him.
I pulled the car out of the driveway, certain that our cat was, at that very moment, dodging cars someplace down the block. I drove the other way though, because Montreal is in that direction. After five minutes I couldn’t stand it. I turned the car around and drove home. Our cat was laying where he always lays, on our bed, with a, “Holy shit, what are you doing back?” expression.
As we drove our first leg to Little Rock, I felt relieved and thrilled that our cat was safe at home, thinking bad thoughts about it. But all the way there a voice in my head said, “YOU WERE WILLING TO LEAVE YOUR CAT BEHIND TO GET SQUISHED BY A CAR, WEREN’T YOU? ASSHOLE.”
Little Rock is beautiful. Here’s a picture.
By the way, east of Dallas I found out there are no Buc-ees on the way to Little Rock, and I strongly recommended we go back home.
This is an experiment, hopefully not the kind that ends with a hole eaten in the table or someone turned into a bug-human hybrid.
Last week I found myself reading one of these posts aloud to a person. It might have been in a therapist’s office, or in a job interview, or at the cleaners. They run together sometimes. The person listening to me said, “Hey, you should try reading some of that stuff out loud and putting that on your website.” This evening I waited a bit too long for dinner and tanked my blood sugar, annihilating my resistance to that suggestion.
Below I present one audio track containing the post “Why Your Cat Hates You.” Posting such a thing may be a wonderful idea, or it may be lunacy. I get credit for wonderful ideas. Lunacy gets blamed on my therapist/hiring manager/dry cleaner. Either way, I appreciate any comments about whether this sort of thing should happen again.
My cat dragged my boxer shorts under the bed this morning. I failed to retrieve them because she defended them like a Kodiak bear protecting her cubs, and because my shorts had already been smothered by the herd of dust rhinos that roams under our bed, migrating as the air conditioner blows them around. We graduated from dust bunnies in 2005, and by now we’re unsure what we stored under the bed all those years ago. When we move I expect it will be like a grisly birthday surprise.
My shorts were vulnerable because they fell off the bathroom vanity. Today I leave on a business trip, and I generally pack enough shorts, socks, shirts, and other clothing so that I can wander around Baltimore or wherever in a non-filthy state. I otherwise might find myself unwelcome to return, and I’d never see Baltimore again. Do not laugh. That would be more distressing than it sounds, because there’s a great bar downtown that serves pomegranate martinis and cheese fries. But I require a spot to lay out all these travelling clothes, so I can make sure I haven’t packed too many handkerchiefs and not enough undershorts, which we all agree would be bad.
I lacked the counter space I required. I lost my skull and crossbones boxer shorts, which I wanted to wear on my trip so I could be extra mean to people. I now have to be mean to people while laboring under a handicap. I am vexed. Our bathroom provides two sinks and a sizable vanity, so why is all that space, apart from an area the size of a skillet, occupied? I don’t know, but I suspect that it has something to do with the blinding array of mysterious bottles and tubes my wife has arranged on all of the flat surfaces in the bathroom.
Seriously, on the vanity alone these bottles require a space the size of a Toyota Corolla’s fender. They’ve even crept up the walls. I can’t complain that they’re untidy. She’s arranged them vertically by size and horizontally by alphabet, a feat worthy of any ancient Greek mathematician. I just don’t know what the damn things are and why we have to have them. I asked her once, but she just gave me a Renaissance smile, lifted a red bottle, and rubbed a dab behind her ear. I forgot about the problem for a few hours, but then it returned like a car warranty telemarketer.
I possess half a dozen containers to cover my personal grooming needs: soap, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and an unopened bottle of English Leather my mom gave me for Christmas in 1998. Combined they take up an area the size of a softball. Any second grader can understand what those things are. One day when my wife was off having her eyelashes dyed, I poked through her collection of bottles, tubes, and boxes. I tried to understand them, but their labels said things like “Juniper Mango Hydrated Skin Revitalizer and Elemental Body Essence.” It was like deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls. Was this some kind of soap? Shampoo? The name included the word “body,” but that didn’t help—everything is part of your body. Maybe it was a toenail cleaner. It also said “revitalizer” and “essence,” so perhaps the stuff raises people from the dead, in which case I’m happy to devote vanity space to it. I put the bottle down and wandered back to the den, hoping that some Bruce Willis movie was on TV.
I could purge the bathroom of these space-consuming, odd-smelling vessels of mystery while my wife is away, but I fear that might end badly. She’s built this collection from the time we met, and she might feel sad if it just disappeared. Plus, I doubt I could blame the deed on anyone else. Apart from that fact that I lack the ability to fool her about anything, no one else but the cats lives in our house. They can and do knock over bottles, particularly in the early morning when we’re asleep, but she’d never accept the premise that the cats stole her bottles or perhaps ate them.
When I get home I’ve decided to buy some plywood and build my own vanity in my closet. I feel a bit like Neville Chamberlain giving up the Sudetenland by surrendering this way, but my wife has strategically outmaneuvered me, and I might as well admit it. I may choose to move this struggle to another front, just to save my pride. I mean, when did our kitchen cabinets fill up with so many shelves full of fancy mugs and teacups?
Good morning. I am your cat, and as you know I rarely speak. My vocabulary is poor. I cannot make myself understood by you and your human friends. Trust me, if it were otherwise I would be on the phone right now ordering Finding Nemo on Pay per View. But today God has granted me five minutes of articulate speech so that I can clear up a thing or two with you, my owner.
First let us crush some misconceptions. I do not own you. You have the ability to remove my genitals and my claws. So, let us not be ridiculous by talking about me owning you. Also, I am not all that independent. I like you. You give me food, and you do funny things like sit on the toilet. When you are gone I miss you, and when you come home I stick to you like a fuzzy, dignified rash. Sure, if you dropped dead I would happily eat your corpse, but I am not going to drag you down like a gazelle on the veldt.
Now that we have resolved that, let us get specific. You complain because I scratch up your couch. You gave me a charming scratching post, and I ignore it like it was the ghost of Lassie. You yell and squirt water at me, which makes me sad because you are missing the point. Your couch is as ugly as moose crotch. I mean really, sunflowers? I never scratch the ottoman, because it is a lovely piece of furniture. I am doing you a favor by pointing out an appalling item in our shared home, so please desist squirting me with that bottle. I think it has bacteria in it.
You often laugh at me when I play. I am happy to provide you amusement. Please consider how much amusement I provide for such a small investment. All I need is a crumpled piece of paper to entertain you. And yet, when you play it is in fact quite boring for me. I do not want to hurt your feelings, but seven hours of twitching your thumb in front of your computer or X-Box is hardly a laugh riot for me. Please consider my enjoyment when choosing your leisure activities. Play your Wii more often. When you are Wii bowling I laugh so hard I think I am going to pee.
Let me raise another sore point. Sometimes I meow a lot, and sometimes I whine. Yes, I admit that on occasion I howl at 3:00 a.m. when you have an important meeting with a real jerk in only four hours. Sometimes when you are asleep I lie on your face, lick your eyelids, and pull out your hair with my teeth. All of this behavior must puzzle you and even anger you. I want you to understand that I do these things because you gave me a stupid name. You named me Snowball, and my brother is named Macaroni. I know cats named Oatcake, Loki, Tigger, and Dammit. Come on. Would you name your son “Schmoo”? How about “Sassafras”? Stop naming us like we were roadies on a Def Leppard tour and you will have a lot more peace at home.
When I roll on catnip while gripped by a profound euphoria, I sometimes sense that you are mocking me. I suspect that you are saying, “Look at the silly cat! He’s going crazy for that catnip. That’s just so wild!” I may be wrong about your comments, and if so I apologize, but just allow me to say this. You drink martinis and smoke dope. I roll in catnip and chase laser pointers. No one has cause to throw stones here.
Sometimes I feel we have lost sight of our respective roles in the home. My role is to be cute, play, eat your food, sleep, keep you company, and throw up in your shoe. Your role is to feed me, provide a lap for me on demand, clean my litter box, give me toys, keep me company, and leave your shoes lying around. When we both know our job, everything runs smoothly. My job may seem menial or even boring. Yet I remind you that I have never had to explain a return policy to an angry customer.
I hope we now better understand one another. This was certainly cathartic for me, and I expect it was illuminating for you. Now we can achieve a more harmonious life together, one that is genteel and even generous. We may yet create a world where I walk into the kitchen to find a can of tuna by my bowl, and you walk into the bedroom to find a dead bird on your pillow.
Pimping begins: I yanked this out of my e-book Bring Us The Head Of The Velveteen Rabbit, which is full of profound essays like “A Kick In The Shin Is Better Than Sex,” “The Iron Fist of Youth,” and “Read This, or My Goldfish Will Kick Your Ass.” It’s available at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I now be done pimping.
Some people have told me my blog isn’t very personal, but I’m not sure that’s true. A lot of the stuff I’ve posted is about what I think and do and experience. But I admit it’s not too immediate. I don’t tend to write about the fact that there’s a cat lying on 15% of my keyboard right now, misspelling words and opening unneeded menus with her ass. She’s keeping my wrists warm though, which is good because I got up stupid-ass early and it feels cold (yes, even here in Texas).
I don’t know if I’m comfortable with blog-immediacy, because that creates intimacy between me and whoever in the whole damn world runs across this blog and wants to read it. My wife likes to say that she’s an open book–what you see is what you get with her. She also says that if she’s an open book then I’m a closed book with straps that lock, and tiny print inside along with maybe some indecipherable drawings, and arcane symbols on the outside, and a general air of “get out of here, you god damn kids” around the whole thing. I used to be worse, but living with her has loosened me up a bit.
So, I’ll give this a try. Yesterday afternoon I was parallel parking, which I’m good at, while telling my wife a story about work. I don’t tell stories all that well while I’m parallel parking. I thought the story showed my fantastic qualities in my job, under insanely crappy circumstances, and I admit I was selfishly looking for some positive reinforcement. I was like a kid bringing my mom a watercolor that might be a horse or might be a Ferris wheel so she could exclaim how great it was and put it on the refrigerator. The main message of my story ended up being, “I didn’t kill anyone yesterday,” and her quite logical response was, “do you want reinforcement for not doing something illegal?” I need to work on my “pathetic plea for attention” technique.
We’d been invited by some friends to a “contra” dance. This kind of dancing is sort of like square dancing, except there’s a lot of spinning and stomping involved. The dancers behave less like the cast of Hee Haw, and more like cowboys off the trail in Dodge City, although they laugh more and shoot people in the head less. They were really nice. I’ve danced a pretty long time, so I picked up the steps easily enough. The style was harder for me. I danced like a flamingo who knew all the steps. But the night before I’d been a moron, and as I leaned over the side of the bed to kiss my wife I tried to be cute and ended up hyper-extending my knee. Yes, I’m fairly old.
So I danced one dance, sat one dance, danced one dance, etc. for a while, and I got to waltz with my wife (and we realized we need more practice). Then everybody took a break, so we talked with our friends and had a good time. This was three hours of contra dancing, which is really aerobic and just like getting your heart muscle kicked in the nuts. I wanted to dance some with my wife, but as soon as each dance ended somebody else asked her to dance within the time it takes for light to travel from my right nipple to my left nipple. My wife is a lovely and popular dancer. So I kind of hung back and rested my knee. Occasionally I drank water using a hand that shook to a moderate degree, which is something I’m led to believe I’ll be able to enjoy for many years into the future.
After the dance, we and our friends ate dinner at Chili’s. We chose it for its menu, which provides nearly everyone something they’d like to eat. That really is genius, you know. No wonder the place is always full. I ordered grilled salmon, which was charming and surprising. I’d have expected good grilled salmon at Chili’s just as much as I’d have expected good Beef Wellington at Taco Bell. Just goes to show you. After dinner we went back our house, which was close by. We all sat on the floor in our only room that has no furniture at all, and we played with cats and looked at art books for a while. Two of our friends intended to go back to contra dance for the second three-hour session, which proves that they are tougher men than me. My wife planned to stay home and work a while, so I weaseled another of my friends into going on a mission with me once we dropped the others off.
On the trip back to the Palace of Contra Dance Pain, I called my mom, who is in a rehab hospital. I’d missed visiting her that day and called to see how she was. She broke her 75 year old femur a month ago, and I’ve been trying pretty hard to help her rehabilitate. Unfortunately, she’s done almost nothing to help herself and thinks that as soon as she gets her cast off everything will be peachy. In the meantime she enjoys whining, groaning, laying in the bed, and looking pathetic. Honestly, she is worse than any 3 year old I have ever seen. I fully believe that she’ll never get out of the bed again and will be dead of pneumonia by Christmas (or shortly thereafter, since people often hang on until after Christmas).
After dropping off our other friends, I revealed the nature of our mission to the friend who was ferrying me around. This was a booze quest. More specifically, this was a quest for the ingredients to make fuzzy navels and pomegranate martinis. The former were for my wife and our friend, and the latter was for myself. I’d had such martinis in restaurant, liked them a whole lot, and wanted to know how to make them myself. I figured it was important to have the ability to make myself these drinks since the majority of my family members are alcoholics. We hit the grocery store for staples such as lemons and pomegranate juice. We laughed a lot about stuff that was really in no way funny. However, I was crestfallen to find that Kroger doesn’t carry a wide selection of pomegranate juice. In fact, they don’t carry any of that shit. They do carry a pomegranate/blueberry juice blend, with some other juices like apple and mango thrown in. My friend was for going to Central Market, but I figured, what the hell, my palate isn’t that sophisticated anyway.
We next hit the liquor store, looking for citrus vodka and peach schnapps. We looked for the cheapest damn liquor we could find, on the shared theory that all of our palates lacked sophistication. There were a few drunks in the store, virtually crawling on the floor to find the cheapest booze on the bottom shelves. I laughed a lot and fit right in, until I realized that my laughter was a little hysterical. I toned it down. We carried our goods to check out, and on the way I picked up shakers that both of us were nearly certain would be ineffective for any task we might ever have. The store closed up about the time we left, which astounded us since it was only 9:00 p.m.
Back at home my wife was wrapping up her work. She organized all her stuff for the next day, since she is the most organized person I have ever met or even heard of. Without her, my life would look like a stagnant bayou floating through variable gravity. My friend watched the digital picture frame in our kitchen, the one I finally set up in July after giving it to my wife for Christmas. Meanwhile, I began mixing drinks. That required an iPhone to reference the measures of ingredients, a knife and cutting board, several measuring spoons, a lemon, an iPad for generally browsing the web to locate miscellaneous information, several bottles of alcohol and juice, a steel chopstick for mixing, glasses, ice, and two useless shakers. As I attacked the drinks, my wife came in to converse with us. This was awkward since I have trouble thinking and talking at the same time. I sort of withdrew from the conversation and didn’t laugh hysterically anymore, which was kind of a relief.
I started with the fuzzy navels. I required about five minutes to make them, which was embarrassing since it turns out they’re easier to make than a glass of Alka-Seltzer. After delivering the fuzzy navels, I started on the pomegranate martini. It had just four ingredients, but it seemed more difficult to mix than a voodoo death potion, including chicken eyeballs. Finally I held half a glass of oddly lavender martini, which tasted pretty damn good to me, although when my wife tasted it she shook her head as if a bug had flown up her nose. Well, it was a bit strong, and I might cut back on the vodka a little when I make it again.
We sat around the dining table and talked for an hour or so. Mainly my wife and our friend talked. I’m a little slow on the trigger in casual conversation, so I didn’t find too many openings I could jump into. Occasionally I said stuff that made sense, but mainly whatever I’d been thinking had been rendered obsolete by the time a large enough break in the action came along for me to slip in. My thinking wandered away now and then, and I nursed my martini. It was nice to hear my wife talk so excitedly. She likes to converse when everyone talks on top of one another, and I was trained that if you did that then bad things would happen to you. Sometimes I don’t make such an energetic conversationalist for her.
After midnight we decided we’d had the required amount of fun, and our friend began packing up her crap. My wife noticed that one of our cats, not the ass-typing cat, was laying around lethargic for the second day in a row. This sucked because she has an enlarged heart, and for a couple of years the vet has told us she might throw a clot and keel over any minute. A couple of months ago the vet examined her and proclaimed her a miracle cat, with a moderately repaired heart. Why did it repair itself? No one has any god damn idea. But since we thought her death sentence had been lifted, this laying around like she was half-dead was concerning. We talked it over and decided to hold off on a trip to the emergency vet until the next morning, just to see if she got any better in the night.
Our friend left with hugs all around. I wandered to the bathroom to slam down my pills that would fly like pin balls through my brain for the rest of the night. I tucked my wife into bed and hung out in the living room for a bit, communing with the ass-typing cat and her friend the whipping-his-tail-into-your-eye cat. I sat a while in the recliner with my laptop, and before I crept to bed I contemplated a foolish Facebook post in which I mentioned the great job I’d done at work the day before, just in case any of my friends wanted to put the watercolor up on their refrigerator.