There’s always a choice

When I got home from work, Julie was waiting for me. She had a sheepish look on her face and we both smiled at each other. As she told me that she had done something and wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, I already knew exactly what she was talking about. She told me to follow her into the back yard and she would show me.

As I went out the back door, I spotted the pet carrier in the yard and my knowledge was confirmed. I knew that the momma cat that no one was able to catch had just had another litter and that Julie was going to go check it out that day. That’s why I knew the moment I walked in the house and saw her face that we had just gotten ourselves a new kitten. What I didn’t know yet was how much this cat would become a part of my life.

What's not to love about this little tiger.

What’s not to love about this little tiger.

I stepped into the yard and this tiny blue eyed kitten came running towards me. He seemed to be smiling at me and Julie told me that she had named him Wiley. I liked the name and I loved the cat — it was love at first sight. This tiny creature had more personality ounce for ounce than anything I had ever seen. That very moment that I first saw him, my choice was made. I said to Julie, “We are keeping this cat!”

She wanted to know if  I was sure and whether or not I was just being accommodating, but I assured her that the choice had been made and it was real. With this kitten, I was totally smitten.

Wiley and I bonded immediately. Every morning  I would get up and mix some kitten food and water and watch him lap it up with his front paws inside the food. I had to wipe him off after meal. Every time I sat down on the couch (and a few other places too), he would jump into my lap. It became a daily ritual and it went on for over 14 years. I had to have my Wiley time and he had to have his Karl time. For much of his life, he would come running whenever I called him — not necessarily normal for the independently minded feline.

He was my little buddy and he has brought me much comfort in my life. A few years ago I was giving a presentation to about 200 people (on a subject I knew well) and my entire preparation consisted of sitting with Wiley in my lap for 30 minutes and listening to him purr. I have never been closer to any creature of a species different than mine.

Now I am faced with another choice concerning Wiley and this one is not so easy. Wiley is terminally ill and I am faced with the decision to let him go. He doesn’t appear to be suffering but he is headed down a short road of no return. That is certain. Our vet will come to our house so that Wiley’s last moments can be here in his comfortable surroundings and not in the cold, clinical atmosphere of the doctor’s office (which has always been very stressful for Wiley).

Last night at work, I thought of Wiley and thought about what his life is like right now and the light finally came on in my mind. When there is a humane way out, am I keeping him around for him or me? The answer was clear. After all he has brought to my life, I owe him this.

So once again the choice concerning Wiley is made. It’s time to let my little buddy go.

Wiley in his prime

Wiley in his prime

The kitties have spoken (sort of) and the results are in

Hello down there!

Hello down there!

I’m standing in the pet store looking at all the cat toys. So many labels with so many photos of so many smiling cats. I’ve tried them all. And they have all led to disappointment and a promise to myself to never do it again.

The way cats can actively ignore a store bought toy never ceases to amaze me. Oh, I tell myself, I know my cats habits and likes and there is no doubt they will love playing with [insert name of seriously ignored toy here]. But it seldom works. Sometimes, if a toy is saturated with fresh catnip, cats will spend time with a it — but it’s not something I would refer to as playing. It is something more akin to the way some large lollipops get treated by some children, wet and messy.

So after decades of studious research, my wife and I have developed a set of kitty toys sure to fit anyones budget. The manufacture of these playthings requires little skill (though you might possibly have to dig through your recycling bin).

Here is my list of the three most popular cat toys
1. A crumpled up piece of paper
2. An old shoe string tied to a stick (or just the string (or just the stick))
3. An empty box

I take no credit for invention of these toys and firmly believe they have been psychically communicated from cats to humans down through the ages. We are simply the conduit or vehicles through which the cats themselves achieve their goals of toy making. It’s either because cats don’t have thumbs or because they just like watching people work for them (my money is on the latter). So I leave you with several examples of some of the most fun and least expensive cat amusement on the market.

Here Kitty, Kitty.

Here Kitty, Kitty. Always make sure to crumple it nice and tight.


Charlie contemplates his next parry.

Charlie contemplates his next parry.


The right box can even provide fun for multiple cats simultaneously.

The right box can even provide fun for multiple cats simultaneously.


If boxes don't fit your cat toy budget, bags are also be very popular.

If boxes don’t fit your cat toy budget, bags are also very popular.


We don't need no stinking kitty condo!

We don’t need no stinking kitty condo!

Fifteen Minutes Three Songs

There have been many songs in my life that have meant a great deal to me. Three standouts that come to mind are songs that changed the way I thought about music in some way.

The first song is “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” by Bob Dylan. I think I heard this for the first time when I was about 10. The one thought that popped into my head when I first heard it and is also always what comes to mind when I look back is, “Am I really supposed to be listening to this?” I remember not wanting my parents to hear me listening to the song and I suppose the reason was the lines about “everybody must get stoned.” Looking back I ask myself why did I think this? How did I even know what getting stoned was? I had certainly never gotten stoned. I suppose that it brought about a turning point in what I thought music could be like because of the blatant lyrics and the raucous style of the arrangement.

This easily leads me to my next milestone song, “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones. Never in my life was there music that I was more ready for someone to event and start playing and recording than the Ramones brand of irreverent punk. For years I had been asking the question to myself, “Why doesn’t someone just record some mindless, loud, fast guitar playing and just use chords with no lead playing?” Okay, well the question was something to that effect – sure you get the idea. Then one day I was over at my friend Warren’s house and he said, “You’ve got to hear this, man.” I picked up the album and looked at those four troublemakers on the cover and was hooked even before I heard the first mis-timed count off or buzz saw chords. There it was. The world was changing. Music was changing. I had changed.

Not too many years later, something from another part of the world caught my ear and would end up playing just as important a part as those first two. It was “Awungilobolele” by Udokotela Shange Namajaha from an album called “The Indestructible Beat of Soweto.” The rhythms and instrumentation of this song and the others on the album changed what I thought about the concept of popular music forever. The realism and sincerity and earthiness of the songs suddenly made almost everything I had ever heard on the radio become meaningless and took my on a journey of musical discovery that I continue to this day.

Fo(u)nd memories

Reared at the confluence of two ditches

We lived there for nine years. I don’t see the house. I barely see the yard. My mind always goes straight to the tree lined ditch that separated our yard from the garden and field behind us. Over time the very look of the ditch evolved. It began as an intimidating scary place filled with mysterious plants and creatures. It ended up as a place that held no fear or mystery — it became my domain.

Writing this makes me think of those times and places in new and symbolic ways that I have never considered. Safety and comfort in the line that separates the house and the yard from the garden. Hiding out someplace where no one but me cared to spend any time.

My mind goes back to that ditch and the big open place where it met the drainage from the yard and the garden. On one side of the intersection was a “cliff”, all of two feet high. Diagonally across was a smooth narrow rise tightly squeezed between two trees. I rode my bike flying off the cliff and turning up the rise just in time to avoid hitting the trees. I looped around and crossed the ditch using the sturdy mock suspension bridge that my dad and I had built and flew and rose again. I would just serpentine my way through this circuit all afternoon, jumping and climbing and riding. Looking back now it feels like the only freedom I knew and I never grew tired of it.

I hated working in the garden as a kid. It was torture to me. Whenever I worked in the garden, I felt like I was being punished. And sometimes I was. Unfortunately my dad had a great knack for taking the fun out of situations that could have easily been enjoyable. It was a philosophy of threaten first — enjoy and thank…never.

After my parents split up, it was a long time before I turned the soil again. The one funny thing was that I always kept a compost pile — no garden but a compost pile and I had this really nice hoe that somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew would come in handy some day.

Then one day I just realized that I knew all this stuff about gardening. I didn’t even know or think about the fact that I knew this. I just started planting more and more things — flowers, shrubs, trees, vegetables. What once had seemed like torture was now something I couldn’t stop doing. And I knew just what to do. Things don’t always turn out just like I want but there is always a lot of learning from mistakes involved in gardening — just like any other worthwhile task.

I used to hate working in the garden because of the way my father made me work there. Now that he is gone, I work in the garden to be with my father. The garden is where I can always find him. Standing beside me, guiding me as I plant and pull weeds and check the plants to make sure they are doing okay.

So now I have my own house, which does not represent pain to me. I have my own garden which is not a  place of imprisonment and punishment. The old house and garden fade away, the image in my mind dims and blurs and is not missed or longed for. The new versions are clear and beautiful and fresh to me every day. Instead my mind now goes back to the one place that was mine back then. It was the place that no one else gave a second thought to. When I was very young it scared me but as I grew older I tamed it on my own terms and it became a place to rest and hide and feel safe and above all, have fun and be free.