I believe I’ve fallen behind.
Technically, I’m okay–observing the letter of the law (take some time to chuckle over that before reading on) but giving the spirit short shrift.
I haven’t observed a few other guidelines, either. I was supposed to–or maybe just invited to–choose a theme and reveal it here last month. But I couldn’t settle on anything, so I skipped that step.
It’s a shame, because I had a pretty good idea: Contrariwise. In the first place, I love the word. It reminds me of the first time I saw it in print, Alice’s meeting with Tweedledum and Tweedledee:
They stood so still that she quite forgot they were alive, and she was just looking round to see if the word “TWEEDLE” was written at the back of each collar, when she was startled by a voice coming from the one marked `DUM.’
`Contrariwise,’ added the one marked `DEE,’ `if you think we’re alive, you ought to speak.’
`I’m sure I’m very sorry,’ was all Alice could say . . .
`I know what you’re thinking about,’ said Tweedledum: `but it isn’t so, nohow.’
`Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, `if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.’
I was seven years old, lying on the back seat of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Laura’s new car, on the way home to Del Rio after a week-long visit with family in Fentress, and reading Alice in Wonderland, when all of a sudden, my stomach revolted. We stopped at the next service station so they could hose me down. My grandfather, who occupied the other half of the back seat, somehow managed to stay out of the line of fire. Aunt Laura said, “I told you lying down to read would make you carsick.” But it never had, and it hasn’t since, so I think other forces must have been at work.
Anyway, I’ve loved contrariwise ever since. Go figure.
I learned the base word, contrary, long before Alice. My great-aunt Ethel used it to describe her mare, Lady. It was an apt term. That horse personified the expression, “Beauty is only skin deep.”
She never unseated anyone; she simply refused to cooperate: hard to catch (she could walk faster than I); hard to bridle (she was taller than I); hard to saddle (she found the nearest pecan tree, leaned against it, and walked ’round and ’round while I followed, holding the saddle shoulder high and trying to heave it across a moving target.
Once saddled, she gave up being a moving target and became a stationary one. If I wanted to go one way and she wanted to go another, she didn’t insist on her way. She just stopped. And stood. And stood. And stood.
When I was four or five years old, my father let me ride her around in the little fenced enclosure where we kept chickens while he worked. Every time we neared the gate, she stopped. I would holler for my dad. He would come, say, “I told you not to let her get near the gate,” and lead her past. We would make another circuit. She would stop. I would holler for my dad. He would come, say, “I told you not to let her get near the gate,” and lead her . . . You get the idea.
So there it was. Contrary Lady. Contrary Kathy.
Oh, darn. It’s nearly midnight. Day D.
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
I’m collapsed on the bed at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Fort Worth. I am tired.
Between sentence #1 and sentence #2, I stopped and tried to scrape a little black bug off the side of the monitor–it was at the very edge of the screen, and I had no idea where it came from but knew it would somehow scoot under the chrome and stick there, halfway in, halfway out, forever, and look awful and drive me crazy–and then I realized the little black bug was the little black cursor arrow thingy. That is how tired I am.
We just returned from Pappadeaux, where I wanted to order crawfish etouffee but ordered fried oysters instead, even though I sort of remembered I didn’t like them the last time we were at Pappadeaux. I ordered wrong because once upon a time I loved oysters, but also because David ordered them, and I’m always sure if I don’t order what other people get, I’ll be sorry. While he was cleaning my plate, I told him that the next time we go to Pappadeaux he’s to demand I order the etouffee, and to remind me why.
A digression: I know Pappadeaux is a higher-class joint than we normally frequent, but still, there’s something radically wrong with any restaurant that serves a plate heaped with french fries and oysters without providing a big bottle of Heinz ketchup. If they’re concerned about appearances, they could remove it when it’s not in use. Those little dabs of ketchup they serve just don’t do.
Anyway, against all odds, we got to Fort Worth. It happened in this wise:
First, David lay on the bed upstairs and coughed once in a while and then asked William to come out, and William did. David carried him downstairs and put him into the carrier. William banged against the sides of the carrier so hard I thought he would break out. David took him to the vet.
Upon hearing William banging, Ernest scooted upstairs. I remained where I was and kept on writing. David came home and sat down. He said he guessed we might not make it to the festival. I said we would. (I’m a pessimist who lies a lot.)
I got tired of sitting, so I went upstairs, closed the bedroom door behind me, lay down on the floor, and looked under the bed. It took a few moments, but Ernest’s big eyes finally became visible. I wished, as I do every time he hides under there, that the bed weren’t queen-sized. And that it weren’t built so low to the ground. Why do they do that?
David brought me the leash we never use, and I tossed one end toward Ernest and pulled it slowly back, over and over, as if I believed he would actually chase it so I could grab him. David brought me the meter stick. David lay on the bed, ready to pounce. I lay down on the other side of the bed and poked around and obviously made contact, because Ernest shot out the other side. David pounced. Before they made it to the carrier, Ernest freed himself from David’s clutches. Ernest is muscly.
We followed Ernest downstairs and tried to flush him out from behind our recliners (which are joined by a cat bed ingeniously constructed from a straight-backed chair, a double-decker end table, and a piano bench that needs to be reglued, topped with a variety of pillows and a quilt (you have to be there). He got past me and ran upstairs, where all bedroom and bathroom doors had been closed. Oops!
David went up after him. Ernest ran down, got past me, ran behind recliners/cat bed, ran back upstairs… several times.
Desperate, David dragged the double-decker bed over and placed it at the foot of the stairs. I added to the barricade with cardboard boxes, suitcases, and the red-and-black tote I got at Malice Domestic 2015, which had my laptop in it. While I was barricading, David brought the carrier back downstairs (it went up and down several times during the morning) and set it atop the double-decker cat bed. Then he went back up for Ernest, somehow got hold of him, and carried him down. Jubilation ensued.
David was lowering Ernest into the carrier when I saw the opportunity to help: Ernest was doing the I’m-going-to-spread-my-hind-legs-so-far-apart-you’ll-never-get-me-into-that-thing, so I reached over to squeeze them closer together. I don’t know exactly what happened then or why, but I ended up with a great big hind-cat-toenail lodged in my arm. I had to grab his foot to free my arm.
But somewhere in the chaos, Ernest ended up in the carrier, I stuck three Neosporin-covered bandaids on my arm–tiny bandaids, I couldn’t find any regular ones–and we scooped up carrier and bags and headed for the vet’s, and made it in time to leave at our ETD of 12:02 p.m. and arrive at the hotel at our ETA of 4:10 p.m.
Our original ETD and ETA were 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., respectively, but because we prize flexibility, we’ve mentioned the changes only once. That was when David said we would have to take the Texas 130 toll road because at noon IH-35 between Austin and Georgetown is a parking lot.
Well, we’re here, and David’s film runs at 10:00 a.m., so I’ll sign off. I expect to sleep well. The morning workout was so invigorating, I don’t know why I haven’t already passed out.
If I don’t sleep, it’ll be from guilt. I poked my dear, sweet Ernest with a meter stick. I’d never done that, never expected to do that, and, now that I’ve had time to think about it, I feel pretty awful. I scared him. And I did it so he wouldn’t be home all weekend, alone and scared. How dumb is that.
He’ll get me for it. He’ll give me sad, dirty looks for several days. He’ll boycott me. He’ll never allow either David or me to lay a hand on him ever again, so we’ll never get him into a carrier, and consequently, I’ll never get out of Austin ever again. David will go to all the film festivals by himself, and he’ll come home with stories of camaraderie and whooping it up* in big cities like Beaumont and Conway, Arkansas, and I’ll smile and pretend I’m happy for him. And Ernest will sit between us on the chair-piano-bench-double-decker-end-table-cat-bed and look at me and smirk.
Few things are more maddening than a smirking cat.
Our film festival experiences haven’t included any whooping up, but I can imagine.
The juxtaposition of cat and quotation prompted a question: Do cats really realign themselves?
Initially, I said, No. Cats come into the world perfect. Cats are the creme de la creme. Miss Jean Brodie need not apply.
On reflection, however, I realized that cats sometimes do realign. A case in point:
Ernest the Cat Davis is a compulsive snuggler, a compulsive stomper, and a compulsive pest. I am a born victim.
When I’m lying down, he marches back and forth across me, turns ’round and ’round like a dog, and makes biscuits. Lots of biscuits, and I am his bread board. When he’s ready, he settles down and snuggles.
When I’m sitting in a recliner, working on the laptop, he jumps onto the arm of the chair, right side, reaches over, and tugs at my shirt. I pet him. He tugs the shirt again. I pet him. He tugs the shirt again. Etc. I know I’m reinforcing the tugging, but it’s either that or lock myself in the bathroom.
Tired of tugging, he turns 180 degrees and straddles my forearm–the one attached to the hand sliding the mouse around on the chair arm/mouse pad. Then he settles and tucks himself in, leaving my hand in what would be prime tummy-rub position, if I weren’t holding the mouse. When it comes to pinning, Jesse Ventura has nothing on my cat. I eventually I manage to extract my arm.
Then he crawls onto my leg. I quickly shift the laptop to the left. He goes into stomping mode.
This is where the real battle begins. While stomping, he backs up and tries to straddle my forearm. I resist. There’s one upside: The sight of him making biscuits with his front feet and at the same time stabbing one hind foot in the air, trying to glom onto my arm, is funny, and I laugh and release endorphins all over the place. The endorphins almost make up for having to hold his tail to keep it out of my face.
Finally he tires and collapses, on the keyboard if possible. Once in a while he hits the Enter key. His rear has sent several unfinished emails. If I’m lucky, he turns over so his tummy is exposed for easier rubbing. If I’m luckier, he oozes down to the footrest.
It’s a lengthy and exhausting process, and it takes place several times a day.
Now, here’s where realigning comes in. For quite a while, I’ve tried to influence Ernest’s behavior.
While he tugs and stomps and kneads, I say, “Lie down, lie down, l-i-i-i-i-e-e-e dowwwwn.” It’s begun to sound like a mantra.
For the first few years, he ignored me. But lately there are signs it might be working.
He doesn’t stomp as long as he used to. Today we set a record. I said, ” L-i-i-i-i-e-e-e dowwwwn,” only fifteen or twenty times before he obeyed.
Obeyed isn’t the correct word, of course. Cats don’t obey. They don’t react to stimuli. They are the deciders. There’s a reason Pavlov had a dog.
But Ernest is changing. He’s realigning.
I took some photos of Ernest realigning. To see captions, hold the pointer over pictures. The black-and-white stripes are my shirt. I wanted to get a shot of the tug-holes in the shoulder, but my arms are too long.
William visited the vet Monday to assess the efficacy of the weight loss program he began in December.
Before continuing, I’ll note the difference between this visit and the one last December: On Monday, David took William for his checkup, and a good time was had by all. In December, I took him, and he bit me, and I had to go the emergency clinic so my arm wouldn’t fall off. And the vet tech was doing the same thing to him both times. But I needed a tetanus shot anyway.
To resume–I wasn’t surprised when David reported there had been no efficacy at all.
For the past three months, we’ve fed the guys less, and better quality, cat food, but William’s waistline hasn’t shrunk. Neither has Ernest’s, and he could stand some shrinkage, too. They rarely ate all they were fed. But even less food was too much.
Solution: No more grazing. No more nocturnal snacking. When they finish a meal, food disappears. That’s it. No more. Nada.
Today we began serious dieting. Breakfast was served between 10:00 a.m. and noon. (I got a late start, so they did, too.) They left half uneaten. I trashed it. Dinner would be served at 6:00
In the early afternoon, they appeared in the living room. Ernest did his usual thing–positioned his posterior on the arm of the recliner and propped his front end on my shoulder, then tried to scooch the rest of the way across and drape himself over the rest of me. I can’t see the keyboard that way, so I did my usual thing and resisted.
But William did the unusual–he sat in front of my chair and stared at me.
By mid-afternoon, I felt like a swimmer in a shark tank. I typed, they circled. Then both sat and stared. Then they sashayed back and forth from me to the empty dishes.William meowed. Most days he speaks only to Ernest and to David, and in a conversational tone. My meow sounded like a cuss word.
I promised their papá would serve dinner at the appointed time.
An hour later, the situation had worsened . They trotted around the house at my heels. They emitted faint little mews: “Please, sir, may I have some more?”
I truly sympathized. I felt their pain. I suggested they do something to take their minds off their stomachs. That’s what I do.
Such as, once about a zillion years ago, when I was in the third week of a medically supervised liquid fast, I took my mind off my stomach by feeding the sad, hungry stray dog that had occupied the garage for a week, thus ensuring I would feed him the next day, and the next, and every day after that for the rest of his life.
(And to put minds at ease, I’ll add that what the other participants in the program and I commonly called a fast was not the kind Gandhi went on, that doctors were in charge, that I was adequately fed, and, after the third week, not hungry, and that I never felt so good in my life as I did during the seven months I lived on 520 calories a day. There is nothing so energizing as a ketosis high.)
Well, anyway, the guys pooh-poohed the stray dog idea and kept on channeling Oliver Twist.
I couldn’t stand it. “Three bites, I will give each of you three bites. That’s it. Three bites.”
Ernest vacuumed up his bites as soon as they hit the dish. William sat on his haunches, looked at the kibble, looked at Ernest, looked at the kibble, looked at me. I’ve known for a long time that William is passive aggressive.
Finally I said something like, “Eat the (*$))T(#@^&^ food.” I don’t approve of strong language, but I was trying to hold Ernest back from invading William’s territory and scarfing down a total of six bites. Cussing seemed right. Especially since William had already cussed at me.
When he was ready, William ate, slowly and daintily. He then padded into the living room and lay down on his rug. Poor old Ernest kept on begging. His metabolism is faster than William’s. He moves around more. Sometimes it seems William has no metabolism at all.
And that’s what makes this kitty diet challenging–two cats, different needs. Could I try feeding them on opposite sides of a closed door?
Not unless I want the door to be shredded. Which I don’t.
It’s now nearly midnight. Two kitty dishes sit on the kitchen floor. They’ve been there for four hours, too long, really. One is empty. The other appears untouched.
Ernest just ate a bit more and now sits on his rug, washing his face. William sits there washing his feet. I don’t know when he last partook.
I wish I could make them understand that soon I will remove both dishes. When they want their midnight, or whenever, snack, it won’t be there.
I don’t want them to overeat. I want them to satisfy their nutritional needs. I want them to eat enough. Just enough.
Just enough to keep them from goose stepping all over me in the middle of the night.
Just enough to stave off hunger pangs so I may wake in the morning, all by myself, refreshed, no cat standing on the pillow batting at my nose.
Just enough. Oh, sure.
William bit me at the vet,
Didn’t like the aide’s assistance,
Used his claws and fangs to set
On the path of most resistance.
Say I’m teary, say I’m mad,
Say that pills and needles hit me,
Say my arm’s inflamed, and add,
William bit me.
Jane Carlyle, wife of philosopher Thomas Carlyle, was not a demonstrative woman. But one day when writer Leigh Hunt arrived for a visit, Jane jumped up from her chair, ran across the room, and kissed him. Surprised and delighted, Hunt memorialized the event in a poem: “Jenny Kissed Me.”
Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.
My apologies to Mr. Hunt and Mrs. Carlyle. I mean no disrespect. I couldn’t have written the parody if I didn’t love the poem.
Louisa wrote in her journal about a conversational lesson with Mr. Lane:
“What virtues do you wish more of?” asks Mr. Lane.
Patience, Love, Silence,
Obedience, Generosity, Perseverance,
Industry, Respect, Self-denial.
“What vices less of?”
Idleness, Wilfullness, Vanity,
Impatience, Impudence, Pride,
Selfishness, Activity, Love of cats.
Yesterday evening we had the pleasure of attending a celebration of our friend Judith Rosenberg’s seventieth birthday.
We first met Judith several years ago when she joined the 15 Minutes of Fame writing practice group. Through both her writing and our conversations over lunch, we’ve learned that she hails from New York, that she earned a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, that she sings and plays the guitar, that she writes poetry, that she likes Indian cuisine, that she has thought of writing fiction based on her doctoral dissertation.
Now. Reading over the preceding paragraph, I’m struck by its inadequacy. I should have taken notes during the open mic segment of the party, when people who have known her for many years, worked with her, traveled with her to the Texas-Mexican border reminisced about their friendships, using words such as dedication, service, tirelessness, brazenness, and spirit of anarchy.
In fact, brazenness and spirit of anarchy make me wish I’d both taken notes and asked questions. I believe I missed some interesting stories.
The Judith story I’ll share will seem trivial compared to what others have told, but it relates to something in her personality and character that I have personal knowledge of, and that appeals to me: Judith likes dogs. Not long after we met her, she adopted Chucho (Chuchi to his friends).
According to my research, chucho means dog, mutt, or mongrel. Depending on where in Latin America you happen to be, it can also mean long-eared owl, sweetheart, rawhide whip, jail, shiver and shake, gossipy, tamale, and custard-filled doughnut. It can mean something else, too, but I won’t go into that. It’s enough to say that Judith’s Chuchi is a sweetheart. There’s a bit of custard about him, too.
When Chuchi became part of Judith’s family, our writing group was meeting in the large back room of a small but popular coffee shop. We arrived early on Saturdays and took over a far corner, moved tables together to accommodate the usual six or seven people, and settled in for the next two or three–or four–hours. Because the City of Austin allows dogs on decks and patios of eating establishments, Judith brought Chuchi along. He was blessed with the enthusiasm of (large teenage) puppyhood, but he behaved admirably, especially when Judith was with him. When she went inside the main room to order breakfast, leaving David to act as dogsitter, Chuchi loosened up, danced around a bit, greeted strangers. David is not a strict disciplinarian.
While we breakfasted, wrote, and read, Chuchi lay on the floor beside Judith’s chair. Occasionally he took a stroll, bumping legs, poking his nose out from under the table, reminding us he was there, willing to accept all morsels that came his way, probably wondering why none ever did. Chuchi wasn’t allowed people food.
This pattern continued for the better part of a year, until one day a man with an air of authority about him approached Judith and kindly told her that Chuchi was violating a city ordinance: dogs are allowed on decks and patios outside. The room we met in had once been outside, but since the gaps in its concrete block walls and its partial roof had been closed, and it had been gussied up with paneling and A/C and a heater, it was now inside. He was sorry, but Chuchi could not return.
We were sad, but soon afterward we moved our meetings to a library, where dogs don’t even think about entering. So Chuchi wouldn’t have been able to stay much longer anyway. And since libraries don’t serve food, he probably didn’t regret his banishment. He enjoyed our society, but the aroma of sausage seemed to be the real draw.
We couldn’t get a picture of Chuchi last night because instead of attending the party, he went to a sleep-over.
All right. End of Chuchi story and back to his owner.
Judith’s passion is social justice. She is board president of Austin tan Cerca de la Frontera, an organization that seeks to address conditions of social and economic injustice along the Texas/Mexico border particularly as they affect women and communities of color, and to find community-driven alternatives through transnational solidarity and fair trade. She’s also involved in Women on the Border, the Texas Fair Trade Coalition, and Fuerza Unida. She organizes delegations to travel to Mexico to meet with maquiladora workers in communities along the border.
You can read more about Judith and Austin tan Cerca’s activities at the ATCF website. Judith may show up again here as well. There’s still research to be done on that spirit of anarchy thing.
Last night, while I was working–aka playing Bookworm–William jumped into my lap. Fortunately, the camera was within reach, so I was able to document the adjustments he made searching for the perfect position of repose.
Note on Position #1: What looks like a spot of mange near his tail is merely the result of being rubbed too hard, too often, in the same place. He approves mightily of the petting, but I’m afraid to withstand even a Texas winter, he will require a pair of pantaloons.
Every Christmas, David gives me a gift commemorating our visit to the UK ten years ago. The latest was a small figurine of the Queen, which resides on the lamp table beside my chair. The Queen seems comfortable there, upright, smiling yet dignified, never the focus of unseemly familiarity.
Yesterday, though, returning from my critique group meeting, I found her toppled over and lying supine on the marble table top, a position she would not have assumed voluntarily. Then, this evening I caught Ernest standing on the back of the couch, his front paws on the table edge, snuffling her glove.
I shooed him down, but he refused to leave.
Instead, he settled on the couch and gazed up at her, his green eyes wide.
It took just a moment to discover the reason for his interest.
On top of the Queen’s handbag is a solar panel. In the lamplight, it prompts her to move her hand at the wrist, back and forth, in a royal wave.