Hershey Highway Revisited

There was no shortage of bloodshed in 1991. American warplanes carpet-bombed Iraqi forces. Civil war broke out in Sierra Leone. Ethnic cleansing began in the Balkans. I was bleeding from my anus.

I’m going to talk about the latter.

There was only a little blood at first so I decided to ignore it. Maybe it wasn’t blood at all. Maybe it was ketchup and my body had forgotten how to digest it. I contented myself with this bit of denial until I let loose with an absolute gusher.

Yep, I was bleeding all right so I made an appointment to see a doctor. I had insurance, but I was only 28 so I didn’t see the need for a PCP. The doctor’s office nearest my work was a clinic located in the International Terminal at SFO. I went in to have my asshole checked out during my lunch hour.

“Young man, I’m Dr. S-,” the man said. He was older, well into his sixties, and he had a large index finger. I was unaware of this latter detail upon meeting him, but found out in short order when he had me bent over on a piece of medical furniture made for anal probing. As he rooted around inside me, I tried my best to mentally detach from the situation while I waited for it all to be over. #metoo

After he was finished, another doctor came in and said he wanted to have a look inside me with a video thingy that looked a little like the stalk on the Martian ships in War of the Worlds. I was given a shot to numb my rectum before it went to town on me.

I liked this doctor better for both his demeanor and his technique. I didn’t want to disparage the other doctor in front of him though. For one thing, that would have been rude. Also, I did not know how I would have reacted if he said “What other doctor? I’m the only one working here.”

I got an anatomy lesson that day. Apparently, there’s this ridge up inside our assholes that’s prone to laceration. It can nicked by brick-like turds or perhaps a toilet-paper-wrapped finger that ventures up farther than is necessary to get the job done (don’t judge). It seems like a design flaw given the heavy traffic through that part of the body.

Anyway, a nicked rectum ridge was what happened to me. The blood that came out was bright red, which meant there was little need for alarm. It’s the brown blood from farther up that’s indicative of colitis or cancer. I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that I was bleeding down there. I had a college friend who did that. He wound up shitting in a bag and eventually blew his brains out. It was better to be safe than sorry, but once I got a clear bill of health, future butt periods merited little more than a shrug.

There was one misconception from that day that stayed with me for over 20 years: I thought I had undergone a colonoscopy. A probe did go up my ass and what it found did get displayed on a video screen. The difference was that it didn’t go up very far so the procedure, I later learned, was a sigmoidoscopy. I still don’t know what the prefix sigmoid- means. I’m guessing it’s a contraction of “Sigmund Freud.” I’ll have to get back to you on that.

If I paid more attention to Katie Couric, I would have learned the distinction. She had her colonoscopy broadcast on nationwide television back in 2000. Her husband had died of colon cancer two years earlier, and she wanted to raise awareness and inspire others to get checked. I’m sure she had some measure of success, but I can’t help but wonder how many of her viewers were sad men, white-knuckling their puds as they watched because that was as close they were ever going to get to the inside of her pooper.

Even if I had watched the show, I doubt it would have inspired me to run out and get a colonoscopy of my own. My scare was years behind me and at 37, I was 13 years away from needing to get one. Couric’s husband was only 42 when he died, but he was especially unlucky.

Despite my predilection for abusing alcohol et al, I managed to make it to 50 more or less intact. Within a year and a half, I went in for a physical for the first time in over a decade. I also planned to get checked for barnacles in the torpedo tube, speed bumps on the old dirt road, whatever you want to call them. The time had come.

After the doctor advised me cut down on my drinking (three drinks a night was cutting down; I thought I had made that point clear), she gave me two options for getting my bunghole checked. One was a colonoscopy. The other was sending a poop sample to a lab to have it tested for blood.

I would gone the colonoscopy route except that would have required that someone come with me and take me home afterward because unlike a mere sigmoidoscopy, serious anesthesia would be involved. All my close friends at the time were bar people. Don’t get me wrong, they’re wonderful people, but our commitment to helping one another only lasted until closing time.

So my only option was to mail off my poo. The lab didn’t want the whole thing, just a dab sealed in a container and placed in a biohazard envelope. There was a proper way of going about it. You couldn’t take the plastic sampler and go spearfishing in the toilet water. The poo had to sit high and dry so to ensure a beach landing, I leaned to one side while powering it out. Since the toilet had an autoflush, I had to be at the ready and stab fast before the water whisked it away, leaving nothing but a useless skidmark.

I was victorious.

It’s worth noting that I did this at work and because I was already scheduled for a layoff, I took perverse pleasure in leaving the envelope on my desk for the rest of the day. However, I resisted the temptation to be even more disgusting. It was just after Halloween so a lot of excess candy was brought in and up for grabs. I considered handling the envelope with the leavings of Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on my fingers, but decided against it. That was a brief moment of maturity on my part and I regret it to this day.

Unlike a colonoscopy, which is good for ten years, the Shitman’s Sampler is an annual event. I did a couple more rounds, but then my diligence flagged. This year, my current doctor suggested I go in for a colonoscopy and get it out of the way, Since there’s someone I could trust to fetch me afterward (thank you Becca!), I readily agreed.

I made the appointment and as the day approached, I began to wonder what would be found. Given past life choices, lung, liver, or esophageal cancer seemed the most likely causes of death, but one can never tell about these things. It had been a couple of years since my last poop test, ample time to sprout a polyp or two.

And if it was a game-over scenario, what then? I guess I’d have to start for the moment on a level I had by ever tried before. I wouldn’t go on a killing spree because that would bring me no pleasure, ditto rape, but I would damn sure take up smoking again and start doing a fuckton of drugs.

Planning for this contingency brought me peace of mind. I did not relish the prospect of having my golden years taken away, but being high as a kite during my fleeting final months was not such a bad consolation prize.

The procedure was scheduled for 2 pm with a 12:45 arrival. I took a sick day, a first at my current job. I wasn’t concerned about what the doctor would find. I just wanted it to be over so I could eat again.

I had been on a clear-liquid diet since noon the previous day and had nothing, including water, since eight that morning. It was like Ramadan, but with liquishits. To reduce the murk in my bowels, I had to take two doses of a high-powered laxative, one at 7 am, and the other at six the previous evening. By the time Becca and I left for the endoscopy clinic, my decks were clear from bow to stern.

After filling out forms and answering several health-related questions, I waited for about an hour before being led into the back and asked the same questions again.

They gave me a patient gown to wear (open in the back, natch) as well as no-skid socks and something that looked like a shower cap. I was covered with an electric blanket even though it wasn’t cold in the room. They put an IV in the back of my hand. It was attached to a saline drip and had a little attachment where additional injections could be administered. Minus the saline, it reminded me of the thing sticking out of Kitty’s paw when she got euthanized.

Lying on a rolling bed, I was wheeled into the examination room. It was a short trip, but I made it a point to enjoy the fluorescent lights passing overhead like I was in a real hospital drama. When I arrived, they asked me to roll on my side and the anesthesia was injected into my IV. They dimmed the lights and I stared at the railing on the side of the bed, wondering how long it would take for the drugs to kick in.

“You’re all done,” was the next thing I heard. I was back in the other room, being told there were no polyps so I wouldn’t have to do this again for another ten years.  It looked like I have a lot of years left in me after all. My big blowout party is just going to have to wait.

In Praise of False Equivalence

I often turn to Facebook when life isn’t irritating enough. All it takes is a quick scroll down my timeline and I’ll find something to energize my misanthropy.

An old friend from college had put up a new spin on WWJD with the letters evidently standing for “Whom Would Jesus Deport.” It was a meme stating that heaven has both a wall and strict entrance requirements while hell is welcoming of everybody.

It’s a specious argument even if you a)believe in heaven and hell, and b)believe it should be a model for our immigration policy. The first part I’m not going to touch. Faith, by its nature, is impervious to debate. However, the anti-immigration folks might not want to follow this celestial example too close. Otherwise, they’d have to allow anyone into America who accepted Uncle Sam as their personal savior.

I doubt my friend who posted the meme was being serious. He’s a conservative Republican so he probably has a stricter view on immigration than I have. However, he is not a Christian so I doubt he puts much stock in this decidedly Christian view of the afterlife. My guess is that he thought it would be fun to shoot a hornet’s nest with a slingshot and watch the ensuing chaos from a safe distance.

If that was his intent, he succeeded admirably. An evangelical chimed in with hell being a place you choose by not accepting Christ. Another person of a differing faith replied that the evangelical was being hateful and hurtful. I took the bait as well, asserting my atheism as we atheists are so fond of doing. Not to be outdone, those with a firm grasp of the obvious were quick to point out that the USA has separation of church and state.

Then it got ugly. And stupid. One guy, a friend of the meme poster, objected to the idea of this separation, going so far as to call it “a lie perpetuated by those who want to destroy America.” He might have even written it in all caps.

That was some serious American Taliban shit right there. As an enlightened San Francisco liberal, my gut reaction was to sneer and feel superior to this benighted troglodyte. He deserved no better, but it made me feel a little dirty. Contempt against those you disagree with is easy. It’s a little too easy and often the go-to reaction for most. Liberals are smart and conservatives are idiots. See how simple that is?

If only it were, or failing that, if only I were better at making myself believe it were so. My conservative friend who posted the meme, likely for mischievous fun, is anything but stupid. We agree on next to nothing, but I don’t dismiss his opinions out of hand. For example, he is opposed to the legalization of recreational cannabis because stoned drivers are a goddamn menace. I favor legalization even though I don’t like to smoke the stuff. However, I can see his point as I once drove off the road on my moped while high as a kite. My overall position has not changed, but I’d be amenable to measures to discourage people from smoking a bowl and getting behind the wheel.

So maybe he’s the exception, a lone thinking conservative standing head and shoulders above the knuckle draggers. Liberals, on the other hand, are thinking individuals and we care more. Face it. We’re just better.

Fortunately, I have a friend who keeps me from falling for that line of thinking. That isn’t his intention, but he does it all the same. Not long ago, he posted a meme that claimed to quote the US Constitution. It said:

Article II Section 4: If the president is impeached for treason, the vice president and all civil officers shall be removed.

I was skeptical for a couple of reasons. First, it just didn’t sound right. When Clinton was impeached, there was no mention of Gore losing his job as well if the president was convicted. I went and looked it up. Sure enough, Article II Section 4 said:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

In other words, people in any of these positions can be removed from office if impeached and convicted of the aforementioned crimes. That’s a very different thing from a total purge of the executive branch.

Also, my friend has posted untrue things in the past. One particularly egregious example was the how Daisy, the 9/11 Wonder Dog. Daisy led people to safety after planes hit the twin towers. She went back in and led more people to safety. She kept going back in and ended up saving close to a thousand lives. Thank you, Daisy. Good Girl!

“What a wonderful story!” he added as a caption when sharing this unlikely tale of canine heroism.

I let that one go. It was bullshit, but it was harmless bullshit. Misquoting the constitution like this is different. Neither my credulous friend nor I want Pence taking over if Trump gets booted. The difference is that I’m not going to buy into some wishful-thinking lie to avoid that possibility.

So I pointed out his error in a comment to the meme he shared. I was nice. I did not use the R-word even though I felt it in my heart. “Please check your facts” I wrote along with a Snopes link.

“Oops, my bad,” or words to that effect would have been a reasonable response. Instead, his reply was that his interpretation of the words was valid, even if that meant changing the words themselves.

Alternative facts, it seems, are alive and well on both sides of the aisle.

Privilegemobile 13: The Dukes of Hazard Lights

My alarm went off at 5:45, and like most mornings, it was about as well received as a PBR fart during a scheduled moment of silence. I would personally be OK with said flatulence, mostly because I would likely be the one blasting away. However, those with a sense of reverence would consider it inappropriate. They’re like that.

I was awake already and not by choice, but I had made peace with the situation. As dreary as staring at the ceiling was, it was preferable to getting up and starting my day. Alas, remaining immobile doesn’t pay especially well.

I went into the bathroom while scratching my ass and picking at my teeth with my fingernail (not with the same hand). This past Sunday, I was sitting in Muddy’s and managed to chip one of my front teeth with a wooden coffee stirrer. Some enamel came off, but not much. I still haven’t decided whether it is going to require a trip to the dentist.

It did get me thinking though. Decades of grinding my teeth in lieu of flossing them has left me with a crumbling mess for choppers and it’s only going to get worse. None of my retirement projections have included major outlays for dental care. Maybe it’ll be nothing but extractions from here onward. I think I can live with that. Whiskey is easy to chew.

The big unknown when it comes to retirement is longevity. My paternal grandmother, who smoked until she was 75, lived until she was 101. My father, who enjoyed a cigar now and then until giving them up in his forties, dropped dead at 69. My own smoking habits fell somewhere between the two therefore I should make it to 85.

Math!

I’ll probably know more after July 26. That’s when I go in for a colonoscopy. I’m not sure about the details of the procedure, but I’m guessing the doctor feeds a plumbing snake up my asshole, pulls it out, and checks the end of it for bits of tumor.

So I’ll either make it to 85 or be dead in six months. It doesn’t matter. I still need to plan on living a while. That means financial prudence. That means no indulging any of my self-destructive impulses, no matter what a hilarious piece of performance art it would be in execution.

I showered, dressed, told a semiconscious Becca I love her, and I was out the door. I later sent her a message that the garbage truck had not yet come, hoping she would get the bins and return them to their space under the stairs before our landlady did. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if the landlady ended up doing it. In fact, she did it last week while I was spending the first half of America’s birthday with a vicious hangover. I just didn’t want it to happen often enough to breed resentment. We live in a rent-controlled apartment and we’d like to stay in it for a while.

I had my coffee and bagel at Muddy’s, incurring no further damage to my teeth. I kept my eye on the time as I usually do. I have yet to miss the bus and did not want to start.

At 6:34, I left the cafe and walked down Valencia Street toward my stop. Halfway there, I saw a couple of guys talking to a cop in his police car. They said there was a Mini going in circles in the middle of the street.

Sure enough, there it was a block and a half away, and sure enough, it was spinning around with its hazard lights blinking, all out of fucks for anything in the state vehicle code. The cop took after the Mini, cop lights on and spinning. The Mini turned onto Cesar Chavez with the police car in pursuit. I continued toward my bus stop, thinking the Mini driver (no relation to the actress) would end up with a nasty traffic ticket or perhaps a DUI.

About five minutes after arriving at the bus stop, I heard a police siren. The Mini was heading my direction on Valencia with the cop still in pursuit. It was not hot pursuit, mind you. The vehicles were maybe going 25 mph with the Mini exhibiting an OJ-in-a-Bronco. I pulled my phone out to get a picture of this battle of wills, but was too late and they were gone.

Two other police cars soon came down Valencia with their lights going, presumably to join the chase. The Mini would eventually lose this contest. It is the nature of things. Still, I wanted the driver to keep going as long as he or she could. The outcome may belong to them, but the moment belongs to you. Bless you for rubbing that in their faces.

The bus arrived and I boarded, thinking of the day’s tasks ahead of me.

Mr. Dahl

John Dahl found himself wrapped in a soft, white blanket. There were voices nearby, either in the room or down the hall. He was not sure where they were because the blanket was wrapped around his head as well, but guessed they were not very close because he could not make out what they were saying.

He thought back to the last thing that happened before he ended up here, trying to put together some causal link between then and now. There was none. How could there be? The last thing Dahl remembered was dying.

Maybe this was the afterlife, but it was not like any that he had imagined. Heaven and Hell were supposed to be harps and pitchforks. Nowhere did Dante mention being swaddled and mumbled at. Or maybe he had. Dahl had never read any of Dante’s work, but he did have his preconceptions and assumed they were in accordance with the accepted authority on such matters.

For a fleeting moment, Dahl considered the possibility that he did not die at all. He quickly dismissed the notion. That bullet definitely entered his brain via his eyeball and he did have that brief, semi-lucid moment realizing what happened to him as he lay on the ground before everything went black.

Why did the cop shoot him? People who are white and unarmed are usually taken into custody. Dahl wasn’t even making any sudden moves. The policeman probably reacted emotionally and if so, it would have been most unprofessional.  Perhaps he had a daughter of his own at home, someone like Susie. But it wasn’t this Susie so in Dahl’s mind, the cop was way out of line.

How many Susies had there been? Dahl knew early on that he couldn’t keep track so decided to count in reverse. As a result, the latest became number one. The rest were unimportant. He had no recollection how many of them were named Susie, if any. He just liked the way it sounded and considering all that was forced upon them, a name change was small potatoes.

Over the years, Dahl had managed to go through life leaving a vapor trail of AMBER Alerts. It was quite a streak of success and Dahl owed much of it to his approach.

The conventional wisdom was to make his move under the guise of familiarity. “My name’s John. I’m a friend of your mother’s. Get in the car.” That sort of thing.  The problem is that most kids have learned to see through that ruse.

So instead, Dahl would play the authority card. He would introduce himself as “Mr. Dahl,” tell the kid she was in a lot of trouble, and that she had better do what he said if she knew what was good for her. That tactic proved to be highly effective and as a bonus, it established the fear dynamic. This dynamic would be instrumental for what would transpire later on.

What did transpire varied little from Susie to Susie. Anything about a particular girl was unimportant. He did not care much about what she looked like. Hair color, eye color, and facial features were all superfluous details. All that mattered was she was nine years old (or near enough) and that she was terrified. For the rest, the Susie du jour was just, pardon the expression, along for the ride. Dahl then did what needed to be done, to use words he would later tell himself.

With the important business concluded, all that was left was a sobbing, frightened loose end. Sealing the girl’s fate by using his own name was merely a formality for Dahl. Her fear that made her so pliable (as well as so much fun) would wane once she was away from him.

This latest Susie was no different. She would tattle because that is what children do. The only way to silence her was to do it permanently. The problem was that Dahl did not see himself as a killer. For him, strangling the girl with a ligature or plunging a knife into her little heart was as much an anathema as dating a legal adult.

Fortunately for him, he had Mother Earth to do his dirty work. He also had a shovel. So in a rehash of events played out countless times before, he ordered the girl to lay still while he dug a shallow grave. Dahl worked up a sweat as he dug. He thought about making the girl dig the hole herself, but decided that would be unnecessarily cruel. She was also too small and weak to be any good at it.

Dahl stopped when the hole was three feet deep.

“Get in,” he said.

Susie complied.

She continued to sob as he put shovelful after shovelful of dirt on top of her. Dahl was not completely heartless. He could see the sadness in the tragic events taking place and to make himself feel better, he decided to believe in reincarnation.

Dahl convinced himself that Susie and all the Susies before her would come back and lead charmed lives, devoid of this sort of unpleasantness. Of course, there was a small chance that all future lives would be an endless stream of sex and death coming way too early.

What kind of God would allow that, Dahl asked himself as he emptied the last of the unearthed soil to the hole and smoothed it flush with the ground around it. It was a deep philosophical question and Dahl promised himself to ponder it when the next Susie came along.

That moment would never come. A hiker witnessed Dahl and Susie walking into the woods, thought it suspicious, and called the police. The cops arrived, but as is often the case, a little too late.

While one officer held Dahl at gunpoint, the other frantically dug up the girl. She was unresponsive. He tried reviving her with mouth to mouth, but to no avail. Seeing this made Dahl smile, as he recalled doing something that looked like this just 20 minutes before.

“Does this amuse you, you sick fuck?” said the cop who was holding the gun on him.

Dahl thought it prudent to try to calm the police officer. He knew getting caught would eventually happen. When it did, it behooved him to come off not as a monster, but as a man who genuinely loved children. And who better than Mister Rogers? Dahl had spent years practicing the late Fred Rogers’ grin in front of the mirror and now it was time to put it to use.

The impression was spot on. Maybe that’s why the policeman shot him. Dahl died before any explanation was given.

So here he was now, wrapped in a blanket, and neither shot nor in any afterlife that he had ever heard of. Perhaps he had been reincarnated, just as he hoped Susie would be. It seemed as likely an explanation as any.

Hands large enough to cover most of Dahl’s torso surrounded him and carried him away. The blanket kept him from seeing anything, but the echo of heels on floor tiles made it sound like he was being taken down a long hallway.

He heard a door open.  A few moments later, the blanket came off and he was staring into the face of a girl who looked to be about nine.

“OK,” a woman’s voice said. “I want you to meet a friend of mine. His name is Mister Doll. He is your friend as well. He’s going to help me know things that you may not want to talk about. All you need to do is point out the part on his body where the man touched you.”

The girl reached out and touched a spot between Dahl’s legs. Her hand was trembling. There were tears in her eyes.

She was just his type.

Privilegemobile 12: Bumps in the Road

The bus arrived on time today, by which I mean it showed up when it usually does. It did not arrive at the time scheduled. I suppose it would be if it did, but it would also be impossible.

Its scheduled arrival time was 6:45 and it arrived five minutes after that. This is normal. I’ve ridden the bus for years and it has never arrived at 6:45.

None of this is the driver’s fault. He cannot simply leave five minutes earlier to make it right. There is a stop before mine at 18th and Castro where the scheduled time is 6:40. The bus arrives there on time almost every day. That leaves five minutes to get to 26th and Valencia, which is possible if there is zero traffic and he makes every light. He also may need to blow through a stop sign or two.

So each day, the driver is set up to fail because he is given a timetable that is impossible to meet. This is just a small example of why the world is an unjust place. If you need a bigger one, just look around. They’re not hard to find.

I was relieved that the bus showed up at all. Something happened on Friday and Monday, and I don’t know what.

Friday was especially puzzling. It’s a light commute that day, both in terms of traffic and number of passengers. As is often the case on a Friday morning, I was the only one at the stop waiting for my bus. As minutes passed and the expected arrival time lapsed, I started to wonder if the bus had come and I failed to notice it because I was dicking around on my phone.

It wasn’t the possibility of this arose. On the afternoon of the Friday before Memorial Day, I found myself in a similar situation. On that occasion, ended up taking a later bus and did not find out what happened until I checked my work email when I got back from a week’s vacation.

“Bus broke. Tough shit. Take another one.” -Team Privilegemobile

OK, I’m paraphrasing. My takeaway was that all will be explained in due time so when the later bus arrived that Friday morning, the first thing I did was bust out my laptop and check email.

Nothing.

During the day, I wrote some code (python instead of perl for a change) and all but forgot about my morning commute. During lunch, I surfed a little real-estate porn because of a long-term goal of moving to Portland. There were some nice town homes in the $300K range, something unheard of in the Bay Area for a very long time. Ultimately, the diversion got depressing.  It’s going to be at least a couple of years before we move up there so this kind of porn proved itself to be as unrealistic as any wank fodder.

Outside at the bus stop, the morning’s mystery was back in my head, albeit not getting star billing. I was thinking about a story I had started a few days earlier then abandoned it once I realized it sucked. It had an atrocity depicted with little left to the imagination, but that was its only asset. I was making a promise to myself to sprinkle some literary value on that dung heap when the bus arrived.

Only it wasn’t the same bus. It was smaller, not short-bus smaller, but a step in that direction. It was also a mystery solver. A replacement bus meant that a bus needed replacing.

I boarded the vehicle and the first thing I noticed was how fancy its interior was. The window blinds were akin to what one might find in the home. In the front of the bus, there were two rows of seats facing each other like a booth in a restaurant. I moved to my usual spot at the back of the bus and plopped my ass into an unexpectedly soft seat cushion.

It all felt like a slice of heaven until we got on the highway. It was then that I discovered that the bus had no shock absorbers to speak of.  The extra cushion in the seats came in handy every time the bus hit a bump and sent me airborne.

To be fair, I don’t think the vehicle was ever intended for intercity travel. Its designers probably intended it to shuttle white-collar dullards between a Marriott Courtyard and some conference at the Expo Center.

Since I am prone to motion sickness, reading was out of the question. I spent the trip staring out of the window and waiting for it all to be over.

Monday was another no-show for the morning bus. This time I had the reassurance of fellow stranded passengers around me. Fifteen minutes into our delay, one of them was on the phone to the shuttle service wondering what the holdup was. The customer-service rep assured her that a bus would coming along in 30 minutes. There was no truth in what was said, but it did succeed in getting the caller to hang up.

I waited until the next scheduled bus arrived. It was not time wasted. I spent the hour reflecting on what I witnessed and thinking about all the lies people have told to make others go away. I’ve been on both sides of that equation more times than I can remember. That’s probably true of most folks. I thought about a world where that was the driving force of society and concluded that it wouldn’t be such a bad place, no worse than what we have going on right now.

Acoustic Kitty 2001-2018

“To think, I killed a cat” -Sid Vicious 

I woke up shortly after midnight on June 13. The cat was on the bed with us and I thought I had rolled over on top of her. I had read a tragic news story about a father who had killed his infant child in this manner and while this might have been a good move for him in a financial sense, it must have been emotionally devastating.

I checked the cat to see if she was still alive. There was no response to my gentle prods. This did not necessarily mean she was dead. She was dying, but had been for some time. I grabbed my phone from the bedside table and turned on its flashlight. Kitty squinted a bit from the light and I could see that she was breathing normally.

That was a relief. Becca and I had already decided that we were going to take her to the vet to be put down, but I did not want my fat ass to move up the timetable. We both knew the risks of having her sleep on the bed with us, but we did not want her last night to be spent on the floor alone. There was not much we could do for her at that point, but at least we could do that.

Confident that I had not clumsily bumped off the cat, I put the phone back on the cordless charger. I keep this on the bottom shelf of the bedside table because the charger’s pulsing light, barely noticeable in a well-lit room, is annoyingly bright when the light is off. With the pulsing glow largely eclipsed by the edge of the bed, the effect was almost soothing. I stared at Kitty next to me. Every so often, her legs would twitch or her head would briefly raise. For the most part, she was motionless. She was not really asleep because her eyes were partially open.  She was not really awake either because she seemed mostly oblivious of everything around her, including me.

I watched the cat fade in and out with the charger’s light and thought about the night we met for the first time.

Acoustic Kitty was born nameless and feral sometime in the middle months of 2001. When she was a kitten, she, her mother, and other members of the litter would sit on the deck outside the sliding-glass door to the kitchen, hoping to get some food. Both Laura (my wife at the time) and I were softhearted when it came to cute animals so their endeavor was almost always fruitful.

As months passed, the litter began to shrink in size. It would be nice if Kitty’s siblings were adopted by loving residents in the network of backyards. This was doubtful, doubly so as it was more infirm-looking kittens who disappeared first. It was far more likely that they fell victim to raccoons, disease, or young serial killers in training.

After a while, only Kitty and her mother were left.  They eventually went their separate ways. Neither Laura nor I were interested in adopting a cat at first, but Laura did arrange with the SPCA so the mother and daughter could be spayed. Captivity lasted only long enough for surgery to heal and then they were set loose.

That November, Laura traveled to Bolivia to visit friends who were living there. Meanwhile, I spent my days working at a startup that was circling the drain.  Nights were spent in a bar, drinking until I half believed that I might still become one of those dot-com millionaires after all.

One of these nights, I staggered home and decided to conduct a little experiment. Instead of setting the food dish outside, I would plop both it and myself on the kitchen floor. I sat cross legged and tried to remain motionless. Kitty, being feral, was hesitant at she moved behind me, rubbing her body against my back as she passed. She eventually let me pet her. By the time my wife returned, we had ourselves a cat.

Six months later, Laura left for reasons that had nothing to do with the cat. Kitty stayed on for another 16 years. I learned to adore her quirks and mannerisms, and perhaps she did mine as well.

Her habit early on of attacking my toes when they poked from under the comforter was less than ideal, but for the rest she was utterly charming. I loved how talkative she was, her affectionate head butts, and how she was a total attention whore. I didn’t even mind the prezzies she gave me from her hunting expeditions. They were gruesome, but her heart was in the right place so I made it a point to let her down easy.

“Thank you for the eviscerated mouse, but after this burrito I don’t think I could manage another bite,” I would say.

By the time Becca first visited in 2013, Kitty’s days of hunting mice (and toes) were behind her. She was just as affectionate as ever, perhaps even more so as her feral instincts began to mellow with age. It was not long before Becca was in love with the cat as much as I was.

In recent months, Kitty began to decline. She lost weight, grew more listless, and peed wherever it suited her. Multiple trips to the vet turned up evidence that her kidneys were failing and a few suggestions to improve her health. Nothing really worked. She was old and dying. Becca and I resigned ourselves to that and figured all we could do was keep her as comfortable as possible for the time she had left.

Neither of us were in any hurry to have her put down. She did not seem to be in any pain and still purred when given scritches. As long as she could enjoy her existence at all, that was good enough.

On Tuesday evening, that all changed. When we were giving her subcutaneous fluids, we noticed a raw spot on one of her hind legs. Her walking skills were not great and she must have been dragging herself around while we were at work. She also looked miserable.

That was it. She was clearly suffering and we could no longer in keep her around in good conscience. I would call the vet in the morning to have her euthanized. I didn’t want to do it. I had hoped that Kitty would check out on her own schedule, peacefully and painlessly. But just as living can be a messy business, dying can be as well.

I had a hard time getting back to sleep after I awoke that night. I watched Kitty in the pulsing light, breathing rhythmically. She seemed OK for the moment, or at least as OK as she was going to get. I figured that if there was a perfect time for her to exit the world, this would be it. Instead, she just kept breathing, neither awake nor asleep, somewhere between dead and alive.

Looking back, I’m glad she held on until morning. Dying on her own might have been painful, and neither Becca nor I wanted that. I called Mission Pet Hospital and made an appointment for 11 am. The vet was very nice and gave us a few moments alone to say our goodbyes and shed a few tears,

There were a lot of tears.

Chiming In

Consider this a placeholder, an acknowledgement to my few but treasured readers, a fart to blast away the dust that has been gathering on this blog for the past two and a half weeks. I’ve been trying to regain focus, both in writing and in life in general.

There has been some progress on both fronts, but nothing to brag about. As for writing, I have the beginnings of a story. It’ll take some time to turn that into something that doesn’t suck so you won’t be able to read it for a while.

As for life in general, I don’t see anything too horrible on the horizon except for the imminent death of Acoustic Kitty. I don’t know when that’ll be. I just want her to be as comfortable as possible between now and checkout time. I would prefer that to happen on her timetable rather than having a vet expedite the process. That may not happen though. If she gets any worse, I may not have a choice.

I’ll probably hit the bar tonight, the first time since we got back from Portland. I want to treat myself to a moment of booze clarity,  that moment when I have just enough liquor in my system to stifle the noise so I can make sense of a little piece of my existence. It won’t last. Even if I stop drinking right then, the alcohol in my stomach will snuff out that wisdom after it enters the bloodstream.

That’s all for now. Have a lovely weekend.

 

 

The Chicken Crosses the Road

I kicked the cat last night. I didn’t mean to do it. I was asleep and dreaming about something that made my legs flail about. The cat was apparently down by my feet.

I woke up to Becca telling me, “You’re kicking the cat. Stop it!” When my eyes opened, she had gotten the cat out of harm’s way and was turned away from me holding the animal and shielding her from further assault.

If I were a truly decent person, my reaction would have been something like Holy shit, I hope the cat is OK. Instead, it was Great, so now I have to endure the shame of being a cat kicker. As a result, the delay I had getting back to sleep was not caused by worry for the cat. I was more preoccupied with coming up with a way to demonstrate how sorry I was. Skulking away to sleep on the couch was one option that popped into my head. Committing suicide was another. Ultimately, I did neither.

This is familiar territory when I fuck up somehow. The idea is if I punish myself sufficiently, then maybe no one else will. Admittedly, it isn’t healthy. Then again, neither am I.

The cat isn’t healthy either though I can’t expect her to be. She is 17, which is pretty old by cat standards. Her white-cell count is up and she has kidney disease. She probably has more stuff wrong with her that the recent blood test and ultrasound can only hint at.

In the morning, she gets her daily dose of antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory, and an appetite stimulator. In the evening, she gets a needle jabbed into the loose skin in her shoulder and has 100ml of water drain into her from a plastic bottle that hangs from a lamp near the couch. Becca does the needle jabbing. I hold the cat in my lap and tell her what a good girl she is for putting up with our shit.

I believe the cat will die this year. I have no expertise in these matters, but I do know she is old and sick, and that old, sick things have a way of dying.

Her death, when it does come, will make me sad. I know she’s just a cat, but she’s my cat and she has been part of my life longer than most humans.

I try not not to think about it too much. Like most unpleasant occurrences in life, I’ll pretend it’s not happening while it’s happening and try to make sense of it later.

In the meantime, I go through the motions. Motions are put there for us to go through. No good has ever come from asking what the point is. Just stick to the script and play part I was given. It sucks, but it could be a lot worse for me.

I could be the cat.

Murray the Moray Cures Cancer

Murray was not an average moray eel. For one thing, he was much bigger. Remember that moray in The Deep who ate Lou Gossett’s head? Murray was perhaps even bigger than that.

Unlike many morays, Murray did not make his home in a coral reef. Who can blame him? The reefs are in a state of decline. The Great Barrier Reef, which may have to change its name soon, has lost half of its living coral. As is the case with most ecological disasters, humans are to blame. Some of the damage is up close and personal, caused by divers who are souvenir hunters or just plain clumsy. The pieces of coral broken off by these inconsiderate clods in a matter of seconds can take years to grow back.

Some might argue that it was Murray’s moral obligation to defend the reef, to bite the intruders’ heads like so many Lou Gossetts. While satisfying perhaps, this course of action would not be terribly effective. The bulk of the damage done is not from divers, but by climate change and pollution.

Instead, Murray has chosen to make a portable toilet on a city street his lair. In pure Darwinist terms, this was a smart move. For one thing, this habitat was not threatened. Human influence has been proven to increase, rather than diminish, the prevalence of public toilets. Also, the water is bluer than in any ocean.

So it was there Murray lurked and waited, his mouth opening and closing in a manner consistent with a moray eel. He was hungry, but he was also patient, and it was not long before a suitable meal came along.

Casanova Joe needed to poop. All the businesses up and down the street had signs in their windows saying that their restrooms were for customers only. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem. He would duck into a cafe, order a coffee, make a trip to the toilet, and be on his merry way. Today was different. He was late to work. Even if we wasn’t, he had no money because he left his wallet at that woman’s house.

Was her name Marion or Marianne? He couldn’t remember. She was a sales rep for some cheese company. His wallet must have fallen out of his pocket when he was hurriedly taking his pants off. As was often the case when hooked up, he was in an equal rush to put his pants back on so he could slip out of her apartment unnoticed. There wasn’t anything wrong with the woman other than that she was really into cheese and made him sample it before she agreed to have sex with him. The sex was not bad. Neither was the cheese, but he sampled so much of it that it sat in his gut like a brick.

Joe spotted a portable toilet on the sidewalk. Thankfully, it was not padlocked. He went in, latched the door, dropped his pants, and sat down. He grunted. He was looking forward to ridding himself of this cheese log, but it did have one benefit. It took his mind off the dull ache in his testicles. He had an unusually high sex drive, which earned him the moniker “Casanova Joe,” and was prone to painful bouts of blue balls if he went too long without release. He thought he was experiencing that again now even though neither masturbation nor sexual intercourse could make it go away.

Meanwhile, Murray the Moray waited in the dark blue water below, poised to strike.

The fact was that Joe did not have blue balls at all. What he had was testicular cancer. It started to hurt when it hit stage three and like Murray, it was ready to make its move. Any lymph node would do, telegraphing the malignancy to a spot where it might kill him.

Murray was unaware of the tumor as well. What he saw was a juicy morsel, his for the taking. He was not about to let the opportunity slip by. He sprang forward and clamped his jaws tightly on the scrotum.

Casanova Joe shrieked in pain and tried to stand up, but could not. The mouth on his testicles refused to release its grip. Joe’s bowel movement fetched loose in the melee and poked halfway out of his anus, firm as a baguette. Perhaps if Murray had bitten down on his penis as well, the feces would have come out the rest of the way. The professional literature in this area of medicine has yet to take a stand on this issue.

Murray thrashed about in the toilet water while Joe struggled in vain to get to his feet. In this tug of war, something had to give and the weakest link was the flesh of Joe’s scrotum. When it it tore, Murray fell back with a mouth full of testicles and tumor, which he soon swallowed.

Joe burst out of the portable toilet. The half-birthed cheese turd sticking out of him wagged like a dog’s tail, but that did not mean he was happy.  He could not walk very well because his pants were around his ankles. He could not walk very well because his balls had been bitten off.

He could, however, scream perfectly well so he did a lot of that. “Snapping turtle!” he shouted over and and over as blood gushed from his crotch. He wasn’t sure that it was a snapping turtle, but it was the first thing to pop into his head and he was in no mental condition to come up with other options. A passerby took Joe at his word and called the Department of Animal Control.

When Animal Control arrived, they expected to find a snapping turtle in the water. They did not expect to find a creature like Murray the Moray. Murray was no ordinary moray eel. He was not only much larger, he had arms, legs, and a wife and kid at home.

Penny from Heaven (Part 3)

Saturday had come and the news was still abuzz over the plane crash Wednesday afternoon. It had gone down in a wheat field, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky. Over 200 people were aboard that airliner and the air hung thick with the smell of jet fuel and overcooked meat.

Special media attention was paid to the 16 students in the choir and two faculty members who had died. It was heartstrings gold so the adults were portrayed as saints, the teens as perfect angels.

One news reporter lusting for a Local Emmy stood in front of the wreckage, rattled off the 18 names then said, “They’re all behind me in that twisted metal and debris, hopes and dreams snuffed out by this tragedy.”

He was wrong. Not everyone in the choir died in that plane.

Upwind and a few miles north on the Burrell farm, the air was clear and calm. There was no fire and smoke, no stench of charred flesh. It was there that Penny Nicholls had fallen from the sky and landed almost unnoticed.

Earl was the only witness when it happened. He had just returned from watching the lacrosse team practice. After he parked the pickup in front of his shed, he saw Penny in free fall. She had her arms outstretched and looked like she was trying to fly, but not doing a very good job of it. Then he noticed her tartan skirt and knew she was meant for him.

Three days later, Earl was still madly and deeply in love. Nevertheless, he needed to focus. He had a job to do.

He was in the master bathroom grabbing his mother’s makeup and stuffing it into a pillowcase he was holding. He wasn’t sure what was needed and what wasn’t so he decided to take it all. He also took her perfume and deodorant because those might be needed as well.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” his mother said after walking in on him.

“I’m just borrowing these, Mom. I’ll bring them back when I’m done.”

“Done using them for what? Have you turned into a transectional? Say it isn’t so, Earl. You’d make one plug-ugly girl and it would break your father’s heart.”

“I need them for my girlfriend.”

“You have a girlfriend? Will wonders never cease? Does she have a name?”

She did indeed have a name. It was Penny, but Earl had no way of knowing that. He started off calling her either “Honey” or “Babe,” and the two soon melded together.

“It’s ‘Honeybabe’,” he said.

“That’s a stripper’s name,” his mother said. “Just because you stuff dollar bills in a whore’s panties while she dances with a pole, that doesn’t make her your girlfriend.”

“She’s not a whore. You don’t know her. You don’t know anything. I’m leaving,” Earl said. He turned and walked away with as much a resolute stomp a man missing half a foot could muster.

“Not with my things, you’re not,” his mother said.

“Screw you, Mom.”

Earl descended the stairs and crossed the living room toward the front door. His mother was close behind, yelling how no girl could possibly want him, how worthless he was, and how much she regretted not aborting him.

Earl’s father sat on the couch, not looking away from the TV.

“Earl’s gone crazy and ransacked my belongings. You’re his father. Say something to him,” Earl’s mother demanded.

“Knock it off,” his father said. This was his go-to when Earl got out of line.

“Screw you too, Dad,” Earl said.

“I said knock it off,” his father said. This was his go-to when Earl did not knock it off.

By now, Earl was out the door and hobble-marching to the pickup truck parked on the gravel driveway. His mother stood in the entrance to the house and continued to shout unkind things, but he had already mentally blocked her out. The sound that hit his ears was transformed into how adults talked in “Peanuts” TV specials by the time it reached his brain.

He got in the truck and started the engine. Penny was in the passenger seat, leaned against the window and door.

“Hey Honeybabe,” Earl said. “I should apologize for not introducing you to my parents, but trust me. You wouldn’t want to meet either of them. All they care about is pretending to farm and getting a fat subsidy check. They don’t know what it’s like to be in love.”

He put the car in drive and drove off in the direction of the public road. Perhaps his parents were going to throw him out of the house for this. It was a strong possibility, but Earl didn’t care. They were his past and the past was time spent without Honeybabe.

That past Wednesday when Penny Nicholls quite literally fell for Earl, he felt like he was the luckiest man in the world. She was just a speck when he first saw her, becoming bigger and more beautiful the closer she came to earth. Did she look at him and smile just before she hit the ground? Earl was pretty sure that she had and there was no way to prove that she hadn’t. Upon impact, she had bounced several feet in the air before coming to rest face down in the rich topsoil of the Burrell farm. Earl ran to her, rolled her over, and smiled. He knew she was 18, of age. He was sure of it. Earl put his hand up her skirt, worked his finger under her panties, and plunged it into her lovin’ stuff.

“Consent,” he said.

Things moved pretty fast from there. He picked her up and carried her to his shed. She was not a small girl and with his handicap, he found it difficult to keep balanced. Still, he loved the way she felt in his arms.

She was a vision of loveliness when she swept downward from heaven, but it was the landing that perfected her for Earl. Nearly every bone in her body was broken. This made her very pliable.

He dumped Penny on the cot in the shed and began to undress her. Dead girls were supposed to be cold, but this one’s body was still quite warm. Earl liked that, but what he really liked was how flexible her shattered limbs were. He could bend them any which way and they would offer no resistance. A girl shouldn’t resist. She should consent.

For the briefest of moments, Earl wondered if a dead person really could consent. He quickly dismissed the concern as ridiculous. Was what he was about to do any different from that time he went to town with a sweat sock stuffed with Libby’s Potted Meat Food Product?

After Penny’s last article of clothing was removed, Earl spent the next several hours doing things he had never done with a woman before. Earl was still a virgin so one of these was simple sexual intercourse. So that’s what all the fuss was about, he thought. Good stuff, that vaginal penetration, but what else could he do? It turned out plenty.

He gave the other two popular orifices a whilrl then found he could improvise many more simply by folding her skin into a receptive crease. Given her corpulence and extensive skeletal trauma, almost every part of her body was a potential field to plow. After traversing her anatomy, he would always return to the original point of entry. It was the alpha and the omega, the homecoming, and the promised land.

Six hours into this marathon lovemaking, things began to go horribly wrong. Her body stiffened, resisting his advances.

“Come on, Honeybabe. You know I love you,” Earl said, but to no avail. Even her face had changed. Gone was the relaxed smile she wore when he first saw her that seemed Do whatever. I’m done caring. It had now hardened into a disapproving scowl.

In the following hours, her muscles tightened even further.  It got to the point where he could not force her knees apart. Even though both femurs were snapped, her thighs were like granite.

Earl gave up. He sat on the floor in the corner of the shed and stared daggers at her. He called her unkind names. He threw an empty Coke can at her head (it missed).

He left the shed and did not return for an entire day. During that time, he went about his routine as if nothing changed. He limped around the fields of the family farm, overgrown with weeds because the government was paying them not to grow anything that year. He sat at the dining table with his parents, eating his food but not speaking with them. The external Earl was as fine as he always had been. On the inside, he was devastated.

The world might have dismissed him as human garbage, but he thought Honeybabe was different. What had he done wrong? Was he really that worthless? He finally could not bear his heartbreak any longer and returned to the shed. Penny was still stiff as a board. Even though he didn’t believe it would work, he begged her to take him back.

“Oh Honeybabe, my heart is in a tizzy and I yearn to get busy,” he said, hoping an attempt at poetry might melt her. It did not. He began to sob and rocked her in his arms. He cried himself to sleep.

When he woke, Penny had relaxed. She was not as limber as when she bounced off the ground, but there was a definite improvement. She also looked a little bloated. Had she put on weight? Earl didn’t mind. He liked a woman to have some meat on her.

“Who’s my little piggy?” he said and gave her a playful squeeze. She responded with a fart that sounded like someone clearing the spit valve on a tube and smelled a whole lot worse. Earl chuckled and let out a fart of his own.

Honeybabe was his again and he decided to celebrate the occasion by taking her out on a date. She did need some freshening up beforehand.  Her eyes looked a little deflated and her once creamy complexion had turned into paisley-like red splotches on fish-belly white. If he took some of his mother’s beauty products, they would fix that right up. It wasn’t like they were doing the old bat any good anyway.

“Tits on a mule,” he said.

An hour later, the makeup and sundries had been procured, and Earl had made his escape and fled the family farm. He grinned and tunelessly whistled as the car continued down the road.  Penny was slouched in her seat, perfectly still except for a bit of pinkish foam bubbling from one nostril. He had stopped a while back to put some makeup on her. He used too much and made her look like the Joker, but he didn’t mind. She was beautiful to him no matter what.

“Out for a drive on a glorious day with my Honeybabe. Life couldn’t be better,” Earl said.

He sniffed.  Had Honeybabe farted again? It sure was something. He rolled down the window. That helped some. He then reached into the pillowcase, pulled out his mother’s perfume. He gave her a few squirts from the atomizer, and realizing this was insufficient, he unscrewed the top and dumped the remaining contents on her head.

“Nothing personal, Honeybabe,” Earl said. “Your womanly aroma is just going to take a little getting used to. What a day I have planned for us. We’re going to a lacrosse game. The girls there think they’re too good for me, but I don’t need them. I have you. Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s give them a little show, you and me. It’ll be fun for us and maybe they’ll learn a thing or two. How ’bout it?”