Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cat Tree

While Amy at I Wonder Wye was making all the cat owners jealous of the pussy playground in her bedroom, she practically dared me to post a picture of our cat tree. And I can't pass up a practical dare. Except when I feel like it. But I also have to tell the story, because that's how I roll.

My parents used to warn me that my smart mouth would get me in trouble one day. This is the sort of thing they were talking about. It started with Hurricane Katrina. While Katrina apparently caused quite a ruckus south and east of here, it was more of a "typical" hurricane experience for us. We live well inland, so there is never really any danger of tidal surge or serious flooding, but the storm was definitely too long and violent to be any fun. It's sort of like a near miss from a tornado, but several hours long. We were without power for about a week, and we lost several small trees, including one at the end of the driveway that I had never liked. 

You know those big carpeted pillars they make for cats to climb around on? Apparently they are called cat trees, and the wife had been talking about wanting one for our new kitten to play on. The tree at the end of the driveway reminded me of a little peach tree far away that a former cat of mine had loved to climb around in, so when I saw it laying across the driveway I said, "There's your cat tree."*

I knew I was in trouble before the words finished leaving my mouth. I had the chain saw out before I knew what was happening, and a couple of weeks later we were trying to wrestle a tree through our front door. It turns out that trees are made largely of wood, which makes them really heavy. We only bashed the wall in a couple of places, and other than one set of little insects who hatched in the bark a few months later, it hasn't really been much trouble.  Its has become part of the indoor landscape, so to speak. I forget it's unusual until I see someone staring at it.

Man, it's great to be the only cat in the house.

The cat liked it pretty well, and she napped in the little bed frequently. That is until we got the second cat about a year later. He loves it. He tears around on it a couple of times a day. His favorite new thing is to jump from the bed at the top to the chair below. He tends to chase her up and strand her on the extremities, so she doesn't spend much time up there any more.

As you can imagine, we get a fair number of comments. The funny thing to me is how many people don't say anything. It's not the sort of thing one fails to notice. The good news? It occupies a space that otherwise would probably contain a baby grand piano, even though neither of us play.

The things we do for love.

*We called it the "cat-tree-na" for a little while, but that turned out to be too dorky, even for us.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

10 things I hate about Des Moines

Daisyfae's post showing off her Scrap Award reminded me of when I lived in Des Moines for about 18 months in the mid-80's, right before I came down here. It definitely seemed like longer than a year and a half. Almost every move I've ever made has turned out well for me in one way or another. The only good thing I can say about moving to Des Moines is that it felt really great to leave. And before people start jumping in to defend the Jewel of the Des Moines River, here are a few tidbits of my personal experience.

1. It is really, really dull there. And cold. And dark. I spent two winters and one summer there, which may have influenced my opinion. The locals used to say that there was nothing between Des Moines and the North Pole but a couple of barbed wire fences. They thought it was funny.

2. I was working as the assistant manager of a waterbed store. I almost got fired for failing to keep my manager from playing fast and loose with the store's finances, even though I had reported everything she was doing to her boss a year before and been told not to worry about it.

3. My soon to be ex-wife was unemployed and depressed almost the entire time we were there.

4. One of my employees became obsessed with me and started phone stalking me. It took almost a year to figure out who it was. She left the store a short time after the whole thing came to light and claimed she joined the Army, but that was a hoax. As far as I know, she was watching me until we left the state.

5. The place we lived in West Des Moines was small, dark and crappy. Our landlord was a total douchebag, and we ended up having to send a lawyer after him just to get out of town. The lawyer was also a douchebag, but I'm not here to make lawyer jokes.

6. Okay, maybe just one lawyer joke. This is the only one I know that most lawyers will laugh at.
Q: What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 75?  A: Your Honor.

7. I had a big car accident -- my fault -- and totaled my favorite car I've ever had, a 1982 Subaru Brat. Yep, just like the one Joy drove in My Name is Earl, except mine was tan. I was a nervous driver for years afterward.

8. All my hair fell out. Well, all of the hair on my head, and a good deal of the hair elsewhere. I looked like that kid Henry from the old Saturday Evening Post cartoons. We never did find out why, though this list is giving me ideas. There are also a lot of agri-chemicals in the water, which could have done it. A dermatologist gave me some experimental apricot goo that made my head itch and turn purple and we switched to bottled water. Most -- though not all -- of the hair eventually grew back.

Me in Des MoinesImage from here

9. My parents divorced while we were there. The worst part of that was having to listen to my father tell me things about my parents' sex life that I still haven't been able to wash out of my brain.

10. Did I mention it was dull? I didn't get the people at all. I mean, they were decent, hardworking sorts and all, but they would watch a good time pass them by and just say, "Yup. There it went." There was only one parade the whole time I was there, and no one threw anything. I made exactly one friend the whole time I was there, and he joined AA not long after I left. True story.

It was about 10 degrees F when I left Des Moines in late January. When I got down here it was about 55, with a low expected of 27. And everyone was freaking out because it was going to be so cold. I knew I was in the right place.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One is the loneliest number

Occasionally, at the end of a long day, especially when I have been trying to be all analytical and sciency like I was yesterday, my right brain will rebel against the repression, paint itself blue and attempt to take over my mind. At these times, my thoughts tend to puddle into a loose collection of images, semi-random associations and fragments of stories, some real and some imagined. Sometimes there is music.

When I left my lab last evening the sky was on the move. Low and heavy overcast slid eastward as a solid block, accompanied by occasional thunder. Random gusts and a few sprinkles warned those of us walking to or from our cars to quicken our pace or risk being deluged.

I walked past a three car gridlock, caused by one person attempting to turn around and two more pulling up right behind them. I overtook a young woman with multi-colored hair and a Yankee's jacket on her way to the bus stop. I felt the set of my Land's End raincoat, and the New England life it promised, as clearly as if it had spoken to me.

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the vastness of possibility. The ocean of lives I could have lived -- that we all could live -- filled my mind and rolled away like the clouds. A different decision on one day as a child, or a different flip of a coin could have sent any of us in radically different directions.  A Maine writer. A show business douchebag in L.A. A crocodile hunter down under. All were probably within my reach at some point.

It seems unfair how puny our lives are, when our imaginations can hold so much. How can it be that we only get to live one life, and that we don't even get to choose which one in advance? I'm not sure whether it's more frustrating that so much of our life is out of our control, or that it takes most of us so long to realize it, and to begin to enjoy what we've been given.

This caused me no end of anguish in earlier years, and on occasion I medicated heavily against the pain. Eventually I really came to understand and accept what my father meant when he used to say, "There's a long way between what we've got and what's fair." I chose years ago to focus what a treasure this single life is, and what a sweet one I drew.

I have got to spend more time out of the lab.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Old Apartment

This song came up on my iPod yesterday on the way to the grocery store, and I listened to it three times in a row.

If you're not familiar with The Barenaked Ladies, I would recommend watching the video over reading this post. While probably currently best-known for writing and composing the theme song for The Big Bang Theory, they have a long history of really fine music with intelligent and often humorous lyrics. This particular song has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It's a wonderful reminder of the intensity with which love can sting, and how quickly that pain can take us to a dark and bizarre emotional place. This is especially true when we're young.

I have been cruising memory lane a good bit lately, what with recent Facebook activities and talk of various reunions, and this one took me straight to grade nine and LC. Not LC specifically, but to the breakup of our relationship. I had met LC at church camp the previous summer, and we dated through most of ninth grade. The bulk of this time was spent in her parents' basement trying to wear each others lips off. The intensity may have been enhanced because this was all happening in the shadow of her father's very impressive gun collection.

As I recall, LC decided sometime in the Spring that she was done with it. I couldn't tell you why. I doubt I ever thought to ask. All I knew was that it sucked more than anything had ever sucked in the history of things that sucked. I pleaded and railed. I walked in the rain. I punched walls and telephone poles. I made ill-considered phone calls at inappropriate times. Surprisingly, none of it worked. We stayed broken up forever. I knew I would never recover. And I didn't. At least not until I started dating Red a few months later.

It's not that we don't feel pain when we get older. My father's death hit me harder than I thought anything could at this point in my life. And I really hate to imagine what it would do to me if The Wife and I broke up. It's just that we (hopefully) eventually gain a tiny bit of perspective, and come to realize that what is happening to us is neither unique nor probably fatal, and that we will live to play/love/work/whatever another day. The lack of inertia in teen emotions is entertaining and dangerous, and a significant part of what makes it the time of our life we often remember best, at least in terms of minor triumphs and tragedies.