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On Death

Posted by admin on Aug 20, 2010 in Essays, Philosophizin, Poetry

I wrote this several years ago, but have been thinking about my brother Glen a lot, recently, so I thought I’d share.

———————-

I’m wearing my dead brother’s shirt. I can’t remember ever seeing him wear it, but it was his, and now it’s mine. If you asked me what I get out of wearing this shirt, I’m not sure I could answer you. It’s just a shirt. It doesn’t hold anything that’s left of him: all that’s left of him are my memories, my family’s memories. Maybe that’s what ghosts are made of: memories and empty clothes and an over-active imagination. The funny thing about death is–and I mean funny-strange, not funny-ha-ha–the funny thing is that everyone always thinks about loss when they think about death. I used to think the same way too. Death means the loss of someone you love, and it’s something horrible, irrevocable and final, but there’s more. You never hear people talk about the things left behind, and I’m not talking about ghosts, unless that’s what you call t-shirts and memories and regret. Some things just stick around, long after the loss, and they haunt you.

When I was 28 we moved into the Death House, my sister Jenny, her boyfriend Tim, and I. I called it the Death House because, in fact, someone had died there: two someones back in the late 1980s. The real-estate agent had been required to disclose the deaths before Tim bought the house, I guess there is some kind of law about it. None of us were very bothered about the idea. The folks who had owned it before talked of the incident in a very off-hand way, said they had lived in the place for almost 10 years and had “. . . never had any trouble . . . .” How nice. Tim, who at the time was very interested in Native American culture and religion, suggested we do a smudging ceremony in the place before we actually moved in: just a formality, and kind of tongue-in-cheek . . . kind of.

About a month after we had moved in I had a dream that scared me awake: I screamed and sat straight up in bed. Mom was visiting at the time, and was staying in the spare bedroom next to mine. She came in when she heard me scream: I actually woke her up. She asked me what had happened, and I told her about my dream, about a scary, shadowy man with wild hair who was standing in my doorway, just looking at me, wondering to himself whether or not he should come in. It took me a long while to get back to sleep after that, I was scared silly, and my overactive imagination was creating all sorts of phantoms in various corners. But nothing really unusual or frightening happened after that one time, and life in the Death House quietly, happily, continued.

After Jenny and Tim and I had lived in the Death House for a while, we learned more of the story, in bits and pieces, rumors from neighbors, and half-remembered newspaper articles. Finally, my sister did some research and found out most of the story through the Anchorage Daily News archives. It was a double-homicide: a classic tale of love gone wrong. The story goes like this: Susan and Duane had been married for about eight years, but had been separated and living in different cities for more than two. They had two daughters. The wife, Susan, had moved on, apparently, because she was in a relationship with another man named Paul. Susan and Paul had been seeing each other for more than a year; Susan and Duane had argued about the new relationship on several occasions. Some time between 4 and 9 p.m. on December 2, 1988, Duane entered the house through the back door. He had a gun. He shot them both, his wife and her boyfriend, and then he left. A neighbor was later quoted as having seen Duane drive by the house earlier on the same day.

Some time after the murders occurred, Chuck, Paul’s house-mate, returned home from an out-of-town job. Chuck was the only witness able to provide any other eye-witness information about the day and night of the killing. He got home around 9 p.m., and seeing that both Susan’s and Paul’s cars were in the driveway, assumed they were asleep. He probably puttered around a bit, as one does when one comes home after having been gone for a few days. Chuck told the reporters he remembers going to bed at about 11 p.m., and he fell asleep.

” … [He] was awakened about 3 a.m. when someone opened his bedroom door and looked at him. He told police he just looked back at the man, who then closed the door and went into [Paul's] room.

[Chuck] went to the kitchen for a glass of iced tea, then went back to bed. But he couldn’t sleep and he told police he heard movement in Paul’s room next door.

An hour later, he heard someone leave the house and start a car engine. He looked out the window and saw the tail lights of Susan’s maroon Chevrolet Beretta.

[H]e got up about 10 a.m. Saturday and began straightening the house. Susan’s jacket and gloves were lying in the kitchen and he gathered them up and went to put them in [Paul's] room.

Behind the bedroom door was a large bundle wrapped in a blanket. It was [Paul's] body. On the bed was Susan’s body, also wrapped in bedding. He called the police.”

- Anchorage Daily News. Marilee Enge. December 10, 1988.

Needless to say, this particular part of the story creeped me out. The first time I read it, my hair literally stood up on the back of my neck; in fact, I still get a chill now, reading it again more than ten years later. It captured my imagination in a way that news articles rarely do, because it made me think about death in a completely different way. I had never thought of death as something you can live with–share a house with, even–completely unaware of its presence in the next room, until some small occurrence brings you face to face with it. You’re confronted with death, and you realize that it’s been bundled and waiting for you just around the corner for, perhaps, your entire life. You just never realize it, until it’s time, or until it’s someone you know.

Ever since I can remember, I have always been terrified of death. I think I was four, and I must have seen some TV show that inspired me to ask what was to be my first deeply felt — and most unconvincingly answered — question. “Mom, what happens when we die??” I vaguely recall getting some speech about heaven and eternal life and happily-ever-after and such. It sounded dubious to me: like the answer I got when I asked her the Bible never mentioned dinosaurs. As children we often feel betrayed by the fact that grown-ups sometimes cannot give us adequate explanations for the questions we have. We learn to mistrust those lumbering giants, who painfully pick you up by digging their meaty thumbs into your tender armpits, hoisting you up — nose-to-nose — then telling you pungently how big you’ve gotten before dropping you unceremoniously to the floor where you scamper away as quickly as your patent-leather mary-janes can take you. This is how children become skeptics: they cannot believe that the only things grown-ups care to talk about with kids is how big they have gotten, or to ask them if they would please go play quietly in the other room. I remember being skeptical of this “heaven” Mom spoke of, that it was a place in the clouds where everyone lives together and is happy. This sounded suspiciously like a fairy tale to me, but I held my tongue, hoping to learn more later. At that time I’m pretty sure I was just desperate to forget about the whole, scary, unsettling idea of death and the inevitable, eternal mystery that follows.

Later, when I was nine, something else happened to increase my sense of disillusionment about the nature of truth. The subject, again, was death. This time, however, I was well-acquainted with the deceased. Our family dog Heidi had died giving birth to puppies. She was a small dog, and high-strung, she irritated me, but I loved her. Mom told me she was dead when I got home from school one day, the day I had been eagerly anticipating arriving home to a box-full of puppies to play with. I learned later that the puppies had been too big for her, and one had gotten caught sideways in the birth-canal, causing massive internal-hemorrhaging. Mom told me they had tried to save Heidi, but they just couldn’t. When I asked her what had happened to the puppies, she told me they had also died, but later my older sister Jenny told me that they had had to kill the puppies, because they were too tiny to live without a mother.

I was horrified, and I think I started to cry. Jenny was immediately repentant, realizing she had shared too much with her overly sensitive sister. She hugged me awkwardly, patting me in an unfamiliar way, since at this point in our lives the only times we willingly touched each other was to kick each others’ shins underneath the dining-room table or to pinch each other on the couch. She began to talk in the way that people talk when they know they’ve upset you with something they’ve said, and they are desperate to say something else to reverse the effect of that first, irretrievable, statement. “It’s ok,” she said, patting me gently, and with the best intentions, “Heidi and her puppies aren’t really dead,” she said.

I stopped crying, dumbfounded, amazed at this newly revealed plot of pain and deception that my big sister was privy to while I was not. I had to know more. “Th-th-they’re not??” I said, hoping.

“No!” Jen said, wanting more than anything to stop the crying, “She’s not dead, and neither are her puppies! They’re in heaven!”

. . . silence . . .

. . . betrayal . . .

. . . resume crying . . .

So. That was my second encounter with the betrayal of death, but it never really hit that close to home. Although my reading material was full of tragic, eloquent, young-teen-early-adult-literary-deaths, I had yet to encounter the real deal in my real life. At least I wasn’t so dumb as to actually wish for it, but still, teenagers can be stupidly dramatic. During my teen years I would morbidly do the math. As the youngest of seven children whose days of birth spanned twenty years, and whose parents were the same age as most of my friends’ grand-parents, I was quietly obsessed with the idea that I would have to not only watch my parents die, but would very likely see each and every one of my big brothers and sisters bite it, one by one, over the years. I gloried in the dismal romanticism of this idea. Me: tragic heroine, beloved sister, and devoted poetess, dedicated to memorializing the wonderment of her amazing family. I wore lots of black.

Still, death was a very distant threat.

Even when my grandmother died in 1996, and the whole family made the trip to Conrad, Montana to pay our respects, I was relatively unmoved. I know my Dad was upset, though he never showed it. I think Mom was sad, and I know that most of my brothers and sisters shared in her sadness. I probably shed a tear or two out of sympathy, simply being around that much sadness can make you catch it like a nasty case of head-lice. In truth, though, I was relatively unmoved: I hardly knew my grandmother. She was just a photograph on the wall, and a few-times-a-year voice on the telephone: a pleasant old lady who painted pictures and wore garishly flowered house-coats the few times she came to visit. She was practically a stranger. All my other grandparents had died before I was born.

Death finally hit home, however, in 1997. It was quick, brutal, and violent; in the aftermath I felt like someone who had lived through a horrible accident. While I was physically unharmed, my body reacted in ways I had never expected. Instead of this gloriously heroically-tragic figure in black that I had always imagined myself as destined to be, I crumpled–curled inward–like one of those moth-pale sea-anemones with the million hungry tendrils that disappear in an instant the moment something larger than a speck brushes up against it. I was quiet. I sat and looked off into space a lot. I sat and looked up a lot, wondering if Dad was still hanging around, ghost-like, wanting to tell us something very important. I went to the bathroom self-consciously, hoping that my ghost-dad wasn’t watching me pee and blow my nose at the same time; hoping he didn’t see me crying in the shower when I was sure nobody could hear the sounds I made.

Time moves on, in spite of all we do to hinder its passage.

I moved back to Alaska after Dad died. We had a wonderful memorial service, after which all seven of us kids climbed Lazy Mountain in Palmer to scatter Dad’s ashes. If you’ve climbed Lazy Mountain, you know that the name is a tad ironic. There’s nothing lazy about the first leg of the climb, where the angle is so steep in some spots you are forced to scrabble at roots and tufts of dirt in order to make it up certain portions of the trail. During the rainy season, the trail is often impassable, so slick and deep with mud you have to wade off into the head-tall bushes and weeds off to either side. This usually causes no harm to the hiker, though if you’re not careful you are sure to stumble into a patch of Devil’s Club or bump into a moose, so it’s best to bring a walking stick. So we climbed, all seven of us: me, at 27, Barb and Bev–the twins–at 47. Brian was there, Glen, Eileen, Jenny, me, and a few close friends of the family. Glen carried Dad’s urn full of ashes in a back-pack, his dog tagged along.

It was about noon when we scattered his ashes, gorgeously sunny, and unseasonably warm and dry for August. We could see out over the entire Matanuska-Susitna Valley where most of us had spent a large chunk of our lives growing up; this is where Dad had chosen to move, to uproot those of his children not old enough yet to live on their own, and to bring them to this wild, heartless country. It was so beautiful it made your heart break. We took turns emptying the canister: Eileen, Jenny and me. We went down to a little ledge and opened the brass urn. There was a plastic bag inside, and a metal identification tag clamped around the twisted end into which Dad’s remains had been poured. The plastic bag was thick, we tore at it with our fingers, but we were not able to pierce the heavy-duty material. It reminded me of the Visquene Dad used when he and Glen worked construction on various job sites, the heavy plastic sheeting you used to protect the floor, to cover fiberglass insulation, to protect building materials from the rain … it was very versatile stuff … and apparently it had more uses than even Dad had imagined. We finally borrowed Pete’s knife. We were laughing by then, frustrated, with sore fingers, and anxious to get this over with.

We started to pour out the ashes, the flakes and dust and bits of bone flew out in a plume, like a reverse volcano shooting sooty-destruction down from the sky instead of up from the bowels of the earth. Eileen poured, then handed the urn with the bag still in it to Jenny; Jenny poured some more, then handed it to me; I poured. I poured some more, and still more came, you wouldn’t think an urn that size could hold so many ashes. It became darkly comical. We shook the urn, frantically emptying it to get all the ashes out. The bag finally became empty enough to pull from the urn. We yanked it out, I grabbing the bag and Eileen and Jenny tugging on the urn, and there were still more ashes in the bag, were they endless? Always the sharing little sister, I offered the bag back to Eileen and Jenny, “You want to pour some more?” I asked. “Just empty it,” Eileen said, “we need to be done with this.” Eileen was always a practical and forward-moving thinker. Dad called her “Little Itch,” because she was always so busy, so eager to accomplish and explore and go and just do things.

Dad called me “Hurricane,” but that’s a different story. Nick-names stick around too, long after they’ve lost their sting – long after they’ve lost their appropriateness. Dad called me “Hurricane,” Glen called me “Juice,” though this was long before the O.J. Simpson trial. I can’t remember how I got the second nickname, I think Jenny might have given it to me when she was hurling verbal-slurs at me involving rhyming my name with various embarrassing words, then coming up with other rhymes even more ludicrous and satisfying … but it stuck around, after the original joke had passed beyond anyone’s remembering. It stuck around, another ghost.

. . . so, where was I before that long tangential slide into the tangles of memory . . .

Oh, yes. Bodies, wrapped in sheets. Creeping, lurking death that stays hidden, then leaps out at you when you least expect it. It’s like the worst game of hide-n-seek you’ve ever played. And here’s the part of the essay where I get dark, where I reflect darkly on dark things; where my sly imagination grips my reason and wrings its flimsy little neck. That kind of dark.

Cancer is that kind of dark: did I mention it? Did I mention that it was cancer that killed my Dad? You think of cancer as a long, slow, drawn-out thing, but it wasn’t, really. It wasn’t, because my Dad was never the sort of guy who went to the doctor for anything. He was a grin-and-bear-it kind of guy. The kind of guy who might sprain an ankle on the way to work, but still put in a full day then go home and self-medicate with an ice-pack and a six-pack and then go back for more; all because he had made a promise, a commitment, and he was a very honorable man.

He was a very stubborn man too, don’t get me wrong. He was so stubborn, sometimes, he terrified me. He was so stubborn that even the idea of his anger can still subdue me into a quiet, small place that I am ashamed to even admit I became familiar with. My Mom is stubborn, too, come to think of it. Fancy that. Maybe it’s Montana, and growing up during the Great Depression; maybe it’s growing up dirt-poor and Teutonic proud and completely isolated from the rest of the world. Lost, in acres and acres of dying wheat, where trips to the dentist were avoided until the last minute because they didn’t use Novocain back then, no they did not. They just put up with the pain, and went on with their lives. That kind of poor. That kind of proud, stupid stoicism. That kind of … whatever.

I wonder, really, if he ever even realized he was dying.

You see, my stoic-Teutonic Mom (Norwegian), and my stoic-Teutonic Dad (German) were, well … stoic. This means that when the shit hits the fan, nobody finds out about it. In fact, to have someone who is stoic admit that the mere possibility of the existence of shit is real, and acknowledges the havoc it would wreak should it hit said fan … that’s a big deal. So it was a big deal when Mom said, “Dad’s getting an operation. Just some exploratory stuff, no big deal. Thought you should know.” It was a big deal, but delivered in such an off-hand way, that only Jenny heard it: that foreboding rumbling beneath the surface: a warning. Jenny freaked out, bless her heart, and flew down to Arizona, where Mom and Dad had moved, in some half-baked romantic John Wayne western fantasy Dad had after he retired. Mom was just along for the ride, as long as she had her H&G TV. Anyway, Jenny flew down to be with Mom, while Dad went in to have his exploratory surgery.

So it was Jenny who called, I remember, to tell me one late afternoon at work, that when they had opened Dad up to go “exploring” like some weird medical Columbus, that they had discovered a significant sort of land-mass. Oh, hell, let’s not equivocate: they found a fucking archipelago, a completely undiscovered chain of tumorous islands that had mysteriously erupted within my father’s ribcage, abdomen, that had been there for who knows how long; and who knows how long he had lived with the discomfort and the pain and the unusual discoloration of his bowel-movements and all those sorts of things that people really don’t want to think about that much or they start getting worried about their own cells going out of whack on them and then they start worrying about dying … about how it pounces out at ya, when all you really wanted to do was put away the gloves and the coat, thank-you-very-much.

So death can sneak up on you, even while its there. It hides away in spots you don’t think to look, and it waits to present itself — and sometimes it teases — it presents itself in the possibility of death, as a disease, perhaps, that people know so little about that they are forced to remain hopeful, even when there’s really not that much to cling to. That’s another kind of stubbornness, I guess, another kind of stoic-ness: another kind of ghost. People will cling to what they want to cling to, instead of seeing what is right before them. People will see a man peeking in the room, and lay quiet, full of wondering apprehension: almost as if they’re watching a movie. People always think: it can’t happen to me, something like that could never happen to me. People are stubborn about not seeing what they don’t want to see.

In the Death House we sometimes tried to reconstruct the crime: we wondered in which room it had happened, we wondered in which bedroom the roommate was lying when the killer had come back and peeked in at him in the dark. While Tim was doing some work in one of the upstairs rooms, he found what he thought were the bullet holes in the far wall. The sheet-rock had been patched and repaired: the holes had been covered, but the evidence of the crime still remained beneath plaster and paint.

That’s another thing about death you never quite realize until you experience it; it changes you, deeply and irrevocably, and even though the damage is not evident on the outside, on the inside you remain deeply scarred, full of holes covered up with a desperate patch-job that serves only to mask the structural damage. But anyone who knows anything about houses knows that if you damage the foundation — the deep-down-insides — badly enough, that nothing is going to save that house: you might as well just rip it down.

So I still have my brother’s shirt. It says Armstrong in black letters and there’s a circle around the “A” and it’s located right over where my heart is, when I wear it. I don’t know if it stands for Lance Armstrong, or if it was just some random construction company brand he had picked up at some store that just happened to have an Armstrong logo. I guess it doesn’t matter … but I kind of hope it doesn’t stand for Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong lived.

A few years ago, after my brother Glen had just turned 50, he began to notice some changes. The most significant one was the rapid loss of weight, but like anyone, he simply chose to see that as a run of good luck. Another change was that every time he drank alcohol or coffee, his ears would turn bright red, and his cheeks … and it wasn’t just a bit of rosiness that folks sometimes get after a glass of wine at Thanksgiving dinner … you could feel the heat if you pressed your hand to his face.

But remember: a stoic family … we didn’t find all this out until later. After they were sure about the diagnosis. Turns out he had a very rare kind of cancer that grows what is called a carcinoid tumor. Basically, it’s embryonic tissue left over from when the person was still in the womb that for some reason gets reactivated and grows—very slowly—but the growth isn’t really the problem: it’s the enzymes that are released from this kind of tumor. They’re potent. They are not the sorts of enzymes you want waking up after 50-years of dormancy, saying “Gee, nice nap!! Now what can I make grow?” The redness in his cheeks was a symptom that his liver was failing. By the time the doctors finally figured out what the hell was wrong with him, it was functioning at only 10-percent. A mere shadow of its former state, I guess you could say.

There’s more, of course; I could tell you about the drug-treatments, the trips to the Mayo clinic, the hopes for a liver-transplant being crushed when they discovered the tumors had moved to other parts of his digestive tract. They certainly couldn’t give a perfectly good liver to a fellow who had tumors growing on his large intestine and stomach. Just not practical.

There’s more I could tell you, of course, but I won’t. It’s just too fresh. It’ll be two years in October. He managed to make it till his 52nd birthday. I remember I got him a card, and nothing else. Just not practical. He didn’t mind. It made me angry that other people bought him birthday presents when he wouldn’t be around much longer to enjoy them anymore, and it would be just one more thing for his wife Peggy to get rid of. I was angry, but I don’t think I was really angry about the presents, I don’t think I was thinking too clearly a lot of the time.

I remember the last thing he said to me, though, as I was bending over to kiss his cheek and say goodbye; I was heading back to Anchorage and to school. I had been driving out most nights, just for a little bit, but it’s hard when someone’s dying – you just sit there and sit there – and you’d think the time would drag, but it doesn’t. It speeds up, somehow. All I knew was that the weekend would be gone and it would be time for me to drive back to Anchorage, and I’d feel guilty for not having read my homework. Then after class, I’d feel guilty for not being with Glen, and I’d drive back to Palmer again. He stuck around longer than anyone expected; longer than the doctor predicted; he took his time and got to say goodbye to everyone he loved. As I leaned over to kiss him goodbye, he said, “It’s ok if you can’t come out next weekend, y’know, ‘cuz of school,” and I said that it wouldn’t be a problem, that I’d come back sooner if I could.

The next night was Monday night. I had been sleeping, but around 1 a.m. I woke up – I was wide awake and felt restless. Insomnia isn’t uncommon for me: yet another thing I inherited from my Dad, so I got up and went out to the living room, thinking about reading something for one of my classes. And that’s when the phone rang. He was gone.

Now he’s a ghost to me. Now he haunts me in his old gray t-shirt and I can still hear his voice. I can still hear how he sang when he played guitar with Brian, and all of us would sing together. I can still hear it, and it breaks my heart to remember it. He’s my own personal ghost, and I think about him a lot. I wonder how I could have been a better sister. I think about how I could have gone to visit him and Peggy more often. I think about how generous he was and how kind and even-tempered. Not like Dad. Maybe he was trying to make up for Dad – with his fiery German temper – he might have been Glen Junior, but his temperament was all his own. I think he’ll haunt me for a long time; maybe I have something to learn from all this, or maybe I just need to remember him. He’s still my brother.

Here’s a poem I wrote for him, its mostly true, I think – but memories have a way of getting fuzzy on you: it’s based on a story my sister Eileen told me about she and him, when they were kids, flying kites – I think I took some liberties with her memories, but I hope she doesn’t mind. I don’t quite remember the complete story anymore anyway. She was crying when she told me about it, she said, “He was the best big brother … he never teased me … he taught me how to pitch and swing a bat, he was the best,” she said. And he was.

kite

spun spindle full of filament
stretched out and shining—stretched—
so far
in sky so brimful blue it
almost makes you cry—
the end of it—that string-part
twined around the spool—how stupid—
wasn’t tied—!
how stupid—careless—children are—
it’s lost
the kite
the bad-blue ate it up—
and happy past-time’s
flown away to sad—
the boy who held it
trailed along behind
eyes just that shade of blue as sky
to search it out—so sad—the kite—the string—
so long—ate up by thunderous
nothing-clouds
and yet he watched the sky ‘til he forgot
what bright sharp shape it held

will you remember then, the boy?
ate up by nothing thundering to life
to rend the flesh it fed upon
to silence—
rendered itself as seen in only
too-late cat-scans, MRIs, and tests—
rendered as x-ray clouds that glow
when held to artificial light.
but he would never choose that, no,
that hopeless clutch to make-believe
nor fuss about the details:
“take me home,” he said,
and so we watched
the string furl out
we knew it wasn’t tied
that there was not a knot
to stop his soul from flying
when the string—
ran
out.

 
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The Magical Wizard of Oz

Posted by admin on May 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

When I was little, my favorite book was The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. We had this ratty orange paperback version — nothing special, I’m not even sure if it had the illustrations in it. I must have read that book 5 or 6 times myself during my childhood, and my sisters had all read it too. Its popularity in our household was clearly evident: my sister Jenny and I had drawn pictures on the blank pages at the beginning and end of the book, and the spine had been reinforced several times with masking tape.

When I got into my teens, I got it into my mind that I would be a collector of books: matching sets was my ideal. I had the ambitious goal of owning every single Nancy Drew book in that yellow hard-cover style that was so popular for so long. That goal was never realized, however; do you know how many of those books there are? It’s a lot, lemme tell you.

I also wanted a matching set of the Wizard of Oz books, all thirteen of those that were originally written by L. Frank Baum.

Anyone who is a fan of the series will know that there are far more than thirteen books, as Baum’s family carried on the tradition after his death. I was, however, a purist, and I most wanted those original thirteen.

I finally got my wish, and collected a matching set of paperbacks; they weren’t high-quality collectors’ editions or anything, but they were uniform in height and color, they were polished, shiny, and the pages were pristine; they were even numbered, and seeing them lined up on my bookshelf made me feel I had accomplished something.

I gave the old orange book away.

Several years later, in my early twenties, I was at a second-hand store doing my favorite thing: browsing through the book section.

On a free-standing wire rack of paperbacks, a flash of traffic-cone orange caught my attention. I turned the bookstand, and there in front of me was a familiar orange cover that read Wizard of Oz in faded yellow letters. Dry and cracked masking tape covered the spine.

I picked the book up and opened it. There inside were the pictures that Jenny and I had drawn in purple crayon; there were even our names, and our old phone number—which I still remember because it was the first phone number I ever had to learn.

Suddenly, it became the most important book in the world, and I bought it back for 75 cents.

I just turned 40, and I still have that orange copy of The Wizard of Oz. I don’t have that first matched set any longer, however. I guess I’m still a collector, but the things I choose to collect have changed.

This graphic-story that the below image comes from reminded me of that: of the feeling I got when I rediscovered that old book, when I realized I had not even known I missed having that particular version in my hands. I had missed the comfortable softness of the pages, and the pliant flexibility of the old paper cover, its dusty texture against my fingers.

Be sure to follow the link to read the whole story called Mister Bookseller.

 
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Spam Haiku No. 3 – found poetry

Posted by admin on Apr 27, 2010 in Humor, Poetry, Spam Haiku

This is the third in a series of quasi-haiku found-poems gleaned from various spam emails I have received.

Notes for Performance:

  1. The title of the original spam serves as the title of the poem and should not be read as part of the spam haiku itself.
  2. The symbol [--] indicates a place where there was once a hyperlink in the original spam email. It should be read as a significant pause in the haiku, building tension and offering the performer a chance to make meaningful connections with the audience.
  3. Punctuation: all punctuation and typographical spacing has been left as it was in the original spam email. The performer can interpret these as he or she sees fit, using the time to gesticulate sorrowfully at the sky, or to grind ones teeth in anguish.

———- Spam Haiku: No. 3 ———–

Re:HelpMedicinesNow

evening nothing
March ,
[--] nature morning ,
each during

received 4/26/2010

———————————————–

Interpretation and Significance: This spam haiku “Re:HelpMedicinesNow” reflects the Spammer’s views on what he/she perceives as the dangerous over-prescription of anti-depressants by medical providers for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). Probably.

A close-reading of the haiku leads us to understand the ironic nature of its title. The first line, “evening nothing” evokes the feeling of the long, hopeless descent into the season of depression — a depression that lasts not a single evening, but an entire winter, carrying on through “March,” which we see set apart in the second line, like a small beacon of hope. These two lines create a tension for the reader, who feels the inextricable agony of being trapped by the relentless onslaught of uncaring seasons.

The third line, however, is the turning point of the haiku. The line “[--] nature morning ,” shows the reader that there is hope for the future, there is a dawn, and it will come sometime after March, with the spring, unless you happen to live in Alaska, and then it won’t come until May, or even June. In which case you’re probably better off taking the Zoloft, sweetie***.

The final line, “each during” is an acknowledgment of the difficulty one might have in trying to work through such seasonal depression without the help of pharmaceuticals. However, if one remembers the lesson of the seasons, one might be able to remember that SAD, too, is only a seasonal affliction, and that if one were only to get over one’s self already and stop being such a pussy, one would be better off.

***disclaimer: the author of this blog would like to remind her readers that this is the spammer talking, not her, and that the haiku should not be used as a replacement for going to see an actual medical professional to help you with all those fucked up issues you’ve got going on in that brain of yours.

 
0

Spam Haiku No. 2 – found poetry

Posted by admin on Apr 21, 2010 in Humor, Poetry, Spam Haiku

This is the second in a series of quasi-haiku found-poems gleaned from various spam emails I have received since beginning my job hunt more than a year and a half ago.

Notes for Performance:

  1. The title of the original spam serves as the title of the poem and should not be read as part of the spam haiku itself.
  2. The symbol [--] indicates a place where there was once a hyperlink in the original spam email. It should be read as a significant pause in the haiku, building tension and offering the performer a chance to make meaningful connections with the audience.
  3. Punctuation: all punctuation and typographical spacing has been left as it was in the original spam email. The performer can interpret these as he or she sees fit, using the time to gesticulate sorrowfully at the sky, or to grind ones teeth in anguish.

———- Spam Haiku: No. 2 ———–

RE:erectile pills buy here

open probable,
ocean [--] probable,
problem

received 4/2/2010

——————————————

Interpretation and Significance: This spam haiku “Re:erectile pills buy here″ reflects the Spammer’s views on Offshore Drilling. Probably.

The opening line “open probable,” almost exactly does not mirror one of President Obama’s election campaign statements that he supported a more modest approach offshore oil exploration and drilling than that of GOP candidate John McCain. Also, the choice of the word “probable” indicates the Spammer feels nervous about the prospect of this, suggesting the spammer has a strong environmentalist stance when it comes to the issue of natural resources.

The pattern repetition of the second line, with just a single word changed and the added tension afforded by the significant pause in between the two words serves to further build the tension that the Spammer feels over the prospect of the beautiful ocean floors being deflowered by the evil offshore oil derricks, which, of course, represent penises.

Finally, the Spammer ends the haiku with the significant single alliterative word: problem. As in, Houston, we’ve got a problem, and it’s offshore oil drilling. The word “problem” also hearkens back to the title of the poem: how the current reality of the erection of oil derricks for offshore drilling is a bitter pill to swallow, indeed. Our spammer appears to have lost all hope because the country appears to have bought into some kind idea that electrical cars are lame because you can’t hear them coming and you might run over blind people, which is totally not a non-sequitor.

Furthermore, the choice of using a single-worded final line indicates just how close the Spammer is to despair. He’s just way far much too full of despair to go on any further. He has to go cut himself now.

And that’s a problem.

 
0

Spam Haiku No. 1 – found poetry

Posted by admin on Apr 21, 2010 in Humor, Poetry, Spam Haiku

This is the first in a series of quasi-haiku poetry I have created using found words from the various spam emails I have received in the last year.

Interesting side-note: I never before had received spam until I started signing up for online job-search sites … coincidence? I think not.

So, if spammers can capitalize on my needs, I can steal their words and turn them into something new … something beautiful …

Notes for Performance:

  1. The title of the original spam serves as the title of the poem and should not be read as part of the spam haiku itself.
  2. The symbol [--] indicates a place where there was once a hyperlink in the original spam email. It should be read as a significant pause in the haiku, building tension and offering the performer a chance to make meaningful connections with the audience.
  3. Punctuation: all punctuation and typographical spacing has been left as it was in the original spam email. The performer can interpret these as he or she sees fit, using the time to gesticulate sorrowfully at the sky, or to grind ones teeth in anguish.

———- Spam Haiku: No. 1 ———–

Re:#MEDICINES#098

difficult fish ‘
dollar [--] field ?
close .

received 4/18/2010

——————————————-

Interpretation and Significance: This spam haiku “Re:#MEDICINES#098″ reflects the Spammer’s views on Health Care Reform in America. Probably.

Consider the number 098 as an allusion to the popular Jay-Z song “99 Problems” wherein he says:

“I’m from rags to ritches niggas I ain’t dumb
I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one
Hit me”

The suggestion becomes that the Spammer has only 98 problems, which means that, for the spammer, neither the bitch, nor health-care is a problem: something that only an evil Socialist Canadian would boast. We must therefore assume this spam comes from Canada.

Or Nigeria.

The Spammer also appears to be belittling America and the “difficult fish” she is trying to land, i.e., health care reform, or perhaps the Spammer is suggesting something larger: something grander, like the ending of all illness and strife altogether, whereupon we might even interpret this spam haiku as a Utopia piece.

The significant pause, [--], in between the words “dollar” and “field” seems to suggest that the American government has a long way to go before the positive effects of health care reform will be felt.

Finally, the ambiguity of the final word “close” — which asks the performer to interpret it for his or herself: is it close as in “near,” or close as in ‘”to shut?” – is shrouded in mystery. To read it as the former suggests the benefits are, perhaps, nearer than originally anticipated. However, this goes against the loss and bitterness felt in the second line: “dollar [--] field.” Is the Spammer, then, trying to appeal to our sense of irony? To read the word close as “to shut,” however, lends a much more somber, nihilistic sense to the poem’s message: that Health Care Reform is, indeed, the beginning of the end of the American Way of Life, and that is a Very Bad Thing.

All told, it is difficult to fully understand the message of this spam haiku within one or two readings. Try reading it aloud to yourself five- or six-hundred times and tell me what you think!

————————————–

 
3

To the Young Dude I Let Cut in Front of Me at the Supermarket

Posted by admin on Mar 19, 2010 in Essays, Humor

Dear Young Dude,

I’m sorry I let you cut in front of me at the store. You see, I noticed you only had a can of soda in your hand, and I knew that my overladen basket of groceries would take a while to scan and bag. Also, I had my eye on that giant can of Diet Red Bull in the case near the register, and I thought that letting you go in front of me would give me time to get some of that delicious highly-caffeinated goodness. So I waved you ahead of me, only half noticing how you nervously avoided my eyes as you muttered your thanks.

So when I noticed you reaching for a package of condoms that they display right at eye level right at the register where everyone and god can see you reaching for them, I politely averted my gaze, while smiling secretly to myself knowing that some young person was going to be having some safe sex tonight.

It was because I felt so happy for you that what happened next was so painful to witness; it was the sort of thing that can scar a person for life. It really sucked that those condoms were hung on one of those flimsy plastic strips that never seem to work properly: either they cling to the tiny packages with the claws of an eagle, or they have a tendency to drop every single package at the barest touch of a hand.

And then, there’s the third situation, and I’m really sorry it happened to you.

Sometimes those plastic strips don’t even stay where they’re supposed to. Sometimes those plastic strips come completely off their hooks, clattering noisily to the floor, drawing attention, and spilling packages of condoms everywhere.

So, I’m really sorry, young dude. I didn’t know you were getting condoms … I didn’t know that you would suddenly be surrounded by Moms and their kids and surly looking older men who would all see you knock and entire display of Trojans to the floor of a busy supermarket at 5 p.m. on a Friday.

Sorry dude. I hope you weren’t too embarrassed, and I hope you have the most fantastic safe sex of your entire life tonight.

Sincerely,

Jessica

 
2

Poems from the past: Leopard

Posted by admin on Mar 18, 2010 in Poetry

This image reminds me of a poem I wrote a long time ago, must have been 1990?

===========

If I had a leopard
I’d take him for walks
In the park.

And no one would pester
Or bother or bug me
After dark.

And I would be happy
As free as could be;
I’d be proud.

For I would have no one,
Not no one to fear …
Except my leopard.

 
0

Poems from the Past: Clearly Stated

Posted by admin on Mar 18, 2010 in Poetry

I used to write these goofy little brain-twister poems quite a bit. I thought I’d share one …

———————————————–

Clearly Stated

What I am is here to be;
What I be is who I am,
And am is I — for where I be
Depends not on yourself, but me.

—————————————————

Photograph by Lyubomir Bukov, please visit the site!! I borrowed the photo without permission, but am hoping linking to his site makes up for it …

 
0

Living With Sean is Hazardous to My Health

Posted by admin on Feb 1, 2010 in Essays, Humor

After a depressing day of applying for various jobs, I always enjoy stopping by the Etc. section of Craigslist. There, you can find all sorts of odd jobs and money-making opportunities. I’ve even found a few research-study opportunities, for example, I participated in two different research projects on jury selection: a few hours time and a couple questionnaires, and you walk out $50 richer. It’s sweet!! There’s ads wanting to hire dominatrix-trainees; there’s ads seeking out “healthy” heroin addicts. There’s ads offering 8 to 10 thousand dollars for egg-donors. Believe me, if I was younger, I would totally do it—but the cut-off age seems to be 29. Individual couples are even willing to pay more if you fit into a very specific demographic, e.g. Jewish heritage, both paternal and maternal, with a documented family history going back several generations … that kind of stuff.

So today I’m looking through the Etc. section and come upon this listing for a medical study: Been hit on the head? Knocked unconscious?

Hells yeah! I’ve been looking for a medical study for a long time: they pay BANK, like, upwards of $1,000. ! But sadly, I’ve not yet fit into any of their criteria. There were studies for depression—but you can’t already be on anti-depressants; studies for ADD, but you have to be younger than 17; studies for the effects of alcohol and common OTC drugs on certain reactions and behaviors, but you can’t be on hormonal birth-control; studies for restless-legs, but I haven’t had anything resembling an episode of that in half a year … grumble.

So anyway: I was all excited about the Been hit on the head? Knocked unconscious? study. For yes, I have been hit on the head and knocked unconscious not once, but three times in my life!! (Yes, this explains a lot, but back to the story). Once, when I was a baby, I was dropped on my head: I had hairline fractures and everything! They measured my skull to make sure my head wasn’t going to explode like an overripe tomato. The second time it happened I was five; it was a sledding accident, and I woke up draped over a fallen tree, like something out of a cartoon. Luckily, besides being a surefire means of child-destruction, that runner sled was a good medical conveyance which served to drag me home safely to Mom, the couch, and all the hot chocolate I could drink. The third time was at a birthday party and it also involved sleds. I was about 13, and we were sledding down a terrifically exciting but fraught with danger hill that doubled as my friend Darcy’s lawn. It was very steep, very short, and there were lots of trees to dodge around. Being already brain-damaged, apparently, I decided it would be a good idea to ride down this hill backward, with my friend Deanna up front. It happened very fast, I saw her bail off, and before I could react: BLAMMO. Me, meet tree. I woke up staring into the sky, surrounded by a circle of my friends’ faces. I remember thinking at the time that it looked very much like a shot from a movie. Then the pain hit. My mom was quickly called and I spent the next few days resting in bed, trying to sleep but continuously being jarred awake, re-living the crash over and over in my sleep.

So I opened the listing—Been Hit in the Head? Knocked Unconscious?—visions of BANK dancing in my oft-concussed head. I quickly scanned the requirements, eagerly looking for how much my well-dented noggin could bring me in:

Have you suffered from a blow to the head in the past 10 years?
Did you experience loss of consciousness or memory after being hit?
Did you experience excessive sleepiness?
Are you between the ages of 18-65?

If so you may qualify for a clinical research study of an investigational medication.

I was so excited I almost missed the end of the first requirement.

Almost.

“Dammit,” I said to Sean.

He looked up from his computer, “What?”

“There’s a clinical research study I thought I would qualify for, on head-injuries, but they have to have happened within the last ten years,” I said. “Crap, you know how many times I’ve been knocked out!”

“Does it say anything about how recent it can be?”

I was half ignoring him, reading the announcement over more closely. “Hmmm?”

“Does it say anything about how recent it can be?” I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, he’s reaching toward me with a book in his hand. “Hold still, shh-shh-shhh, hold still. This book is kind of small, I’ll probably have to hit you several times with it … no, no, no,” he says, soothingly, “… hoooold stiiiilllll.”

Does anybody have a helmet I can borrow? I have the feeling I should wear one for the next several weeks.

If you don’t hear from me, tell my mother that I love her very much.

 
0

Harley and the Firemen

Posted by admin on Jan 28, 2010 in Essays, Humor

It’s hard not to like firemen. Really: the job of firemen has been romanticized for probably as long as they’ve been driving around in those big, giant, shiny red trucks. They have all the gadgets and muscles of a policeman, without the billy-clubs and pepper-spray: what’s not to love? But if you look past the rubber-suited, fire-hose-totin’ glamour, firemen really have kind of crappy jobs. Think about it, they’re either hanging around the firehouse for endless hours, playing cards, listening to music, maybe lifting weights … shirtless … perhaps taking long, hot saunas with other muscular firemen, roughly rubbing scented oil into each other’s rippling pectorals … *ahem* … sorry, got off track. Where was I?

Oh yes, talking about how lame the job of being a fireman must really be. Either they’re waiting around for a really terrible fire to happen, or they’re putting out a really terrible fire, which boils down to: really boring, or really depressing. I imagine the greatest perk for a fireman must be saving things. Sometimes they get to save a home, sometimes they save people, and sometimes they even save people’s pets.

Like many people, I’d been raised on books in which naughty puppies got lost and found, and foolish kittens had gotten stuck in trees. More often than not, a cheerful, smiling fireman was on hand to save the day. I mention this because I have my own personal Golden Book memory, wherein my dear cat Harley was stuck–not in a tree, but in an apartment–and I called upon some wonderful firemen to save him.

Our story unfolds in Seattle. I was watching a friend’s house while he was out of town, not actually staying there, just watering the plants, and bringing in the mail; he was going to be out of town for a while. It was winter, and in the Pacific Northwest, that means temperatures in the 40s and 50s, and rain: lots and lots of rain. This particular winter, however, Seattle experienced one of its rare snow storms.

Now, in Alaska, when 6 or so inches of snow falls, people might talk about it, and say: “Boy, it’s sure snowing!!” Then they’ll go outside, sweep off their car, and drive to work, or to church, or the grocery store. Shoot Alaskans get a FOOT of snow, and people will STILL say, “Boy, it’s sure snowing!!” And they’ll go out, brush off their car, and drive to work, church, etc. … we ain’t phased by snow.

Not so, Seattle. If an inch of snow falls, the city slams to a stop. Cars are in ditches. It’s national news. People are stocking up on canned goods, writing their wills, and surreptitiously eyeing the family dog, wondering how he might taste.

So, it was snowing in Seattle. I was at work, and they decided to send us all home because it was so dangerous out there. “Ha ha!” I chuckled to myself, and cheerfully walked the 2 miles home in a bare 2 inches of snow. The busses were all snarled up in traffic, Volvos and Lexuses (Lexi?) skidded recklessly, and it made me feel self-righteously smug about my finely honed winter-survival skills; having been raised in Alaska, I wasn’t going to let this piddling excuse for precipitation stop me. I laughed at the snow, “Ha HAH!” I went happily to my apartment, then, faced with the potential of a long gray afternoon inside with nothing to do but housework, I decided to go see a movie instead. About two hours later I came home, and realized that since I had even more afternoon to kill that I might as well take advantage of the time and do some much-needed organizing. I had a tiny studio apartment on the side of Queen Anne Hill, overlooking the Space Needle and Mt. Rainer. It was miniscule, but it was mine; I and my fat cat were quite content there. I grabbed my keys and headed downstairs to my storage unit.

The apartment building where I lived at the time had been built during the World’s Fair in the 1960s. Each apartment had a nice, efficient layout that included a pint-sized kitchen, a full bathroom. In spite of its miniscule size, however, and its official title of studio, the floor-plan was quite clever, so there was some actual privacy between the living room and the bedroom. The bedroom overlooked an interior courtyard/parking-lot for the apartments; the front door and window were connected to an outside hallway/balcony of sorts. The building’ original purpose was to be a high-end extended-stay Motel for happy and wealthy World’s Fair attendees.

Did I mention the front door locked automatically?

So, in a frenzy of organizational-good-intent, I shuffled, I organized, I rearranged, I grabbed keys, and I hauled myself downstairs to my storage unit to store some extra bulky stuff that didn’t really need to be in my place. When I got downstairs, however, I discovered I had grabbed my friend’s keys and not my own. Fuck. So there I was, locked out of my apartment, wearing only jeans and a sweater in the middle of a Seattle snowstorm, outside an apartment located halfway up one of the steepest hills in Seattle. This wouldn’t have mattered to me so much except for one thing: Harley. Harley was a diabetic kitty.

I had only recently discovered the diabetes, having taken him to the vet in a panic when I realized he’d been eating just as much yet still losing weight. He was also drinking and peeing an awful lot. I was going through cat litter like crazy. After going through the guilt and remorse over having let him get so fat in the first place–which played a pivotal role in his acquiring the diabetes, just as it does for humans–I steeled myself and decided I had to continue taking care of him. The vet told me that maintenance and management of diabetes in cats isn’t quite as difficult as one might imagine, and that diabetic cats can live quite comfortably for a long time; plus, cats are the only animals who can actually recover from diabetes, so there was still hope for the future. I was still, however, learning the intricacies of denying him all the food he wanted–the bad habits of an over-indulgent Mommy were hard to break for both of us–and giving him insulin shots twice a day. So as I stood outside my front door, looking bleakly at the impostor-keys clutched in my fist, I realized that it was time for Harley’s shot, and time for his food, and he was stuck all alone inside!! Oh shit. This was a life-or-death situation!! Visions of diabetic comas danced in my head; me watching helplessly through the window as my dear little boy slumped to the floor, eyes locked with mine. Visions of busting out the huge picture window next to the front door also scurried around in my brain for a moment too, but I knew replacing that big old window would cost me more than I paid for rent each month. I could see Harley through the window, wide eyed, staring at me expectantly. I could see his little mouth open and close with each meow although I couldn’t hear him over the whoosh of the wind and the sound of my own heart pounding. What to do??? What to do???

I went knocking on neighbors’ doors, one after the other, trying to find someone who was home and who would let me use their phone. I finally found someone, a nice young gay man who owned a flower shop down the street–really! I apologize if this is starting to sound like a Meg Ryan movie, but I swear this is all true. So anyway, this nice fellow lets me in to use his phone. I try calling the building manager to see if he or she has a key: no answer, no answering machine. I try calling the building management company number. Again: no answer, no answering machine. Apparently, snow in Seattle affects not only the roads and traffic, but the phone lines. I heaved a sigh, and decided to call a locksmith and blow the $80 to get my door unlocked. Amazingly, I reached someone on the first try! I told him my situation and he said “No problem.” Then I told him where I lived, and he laughed, and said, “No way can I get up there, that street’s crazy.”

Dammit!

Each new locksmith I called gave me the same answer. I was getting more and more frustrated, and was also cognizant of the fact that I was tying up this guy’s phone line and still Harley was inside my apartment, hungry, thumbless, and ignorant about what he could do with thumbs to a doorknob if he did have the thumbs and the brains … and the height. Poor Harley.

I was out of ideas and out of options … almost. I decided to do what any reasonable person who had a cat needing rescuing would do: I called the fire department. No, I didn’t call 911, I wasn’t that freakish. I looked in the book and found their non-emergency number; I called up the closest house and explained the situation to them in low, embarrassed tones, ending with: “So, if you’re not busy and there aren’t any real emergencies or anything … do you think you could … maybe … help me out?”

They said they could help me out, those generous, kind people at Seattle’s Queen Anne Fire Department, whose headquarters were mere blocks away from my apartment, and who were known for … well … doing firemen-y things, which presumably included cat-rescuing, and not making fun of the girl who called them to do so: at least, not to her face.

I stepped outside to await my (and Harley’s) rescuers, the snow still falling, falling, “My soul swooned slowly as I heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” (Ahem … apologies to James Joyce, also dead, for that last bit that I stole from his short story, ‘The Dead,’ but nothing I came up with myself quite invoked the poignancy of the situation … really … *cough*… anywaaay).

I was expecting the firemen to just show up in one of their smaller vehicles, all unobtrusive and such, I mean, they were rescuing a cat. But no, this was apparently an emergency worthy of the full hook-and-ladder truck. I raised my hands to my face as they pulled up, they had the lights flashing and everything. The truck was as red as my face. No less than four firemen got out, dressed in full regalia of yellow rubber slickers, boots, hats, the works. We all stood in front of my building, in front of my door on the third floor exterior walkway, the lights flashing wildly from the street below, my neighbors peering curiously of out their front doors; meanwhile, I’m trying to will myself back in time a few hours to before I had locked myself out of my fucking apartment.

The Captain took a look at my front door; he tried all the same things I had tried, including inspecting the front window to see if we could somehow manage to break in. It was with mixed feelings I discovered that he couldn’t successfully break in either, which meant I had a relatively safe apartment–nice to know–but still, there was Harley inside, anxiously, curiously peering through the window, his little mouth opening and closing in silent meows.

We decided to go around to the back of the building to take a look at my bedroom window as a potential access point. There were no walkways in back and no easy access since I was on the third floor. No access, that is, unless you are a fireman, with one of those cool retractable ladders. We looked at the windows, and saw the hinges were on the outside, so one of those firemen grabbed a couple tools and scurried up, loosened the hinges and managed to get them undone. He slithered through the window into my bedroom, resplendent in his yellow slicker, and planted a big sooty footprint in the middle of my pillow, which I secretly thought was kind of hot.     He went through to the front door, unlocked it, and reunited me and my beloved Harley. The rest of the fellows during this time had been chatting pleasantly with me, asking about my cat, me, talking about the snow, asking about Alaska, they were just really cool about the whole situation. I think they found it rather amusing, and probably a nice change from pulling scared people out of burning buildings.

I was so grateful and so relieved, I wondered if there was some way I could express my thanks; the stupid locksmith would have cost me at least $80, but the only thing I was paying these guys with were my taxes. It actually kind of blew me away that they had been so gracious and so willing to help a dingbat in distress and her obese, insulin-dependent cat. Rescuing people and pets is their job. It’s a hard job, and I really wanted to do something to show them how much I had appreciated their help.

So after they had left, I gave Harley his food and his shot, and we sat down to have a little chat. Yes, I talk with my cats, or rather; I anthropomorphize my cats for comedic effect. Got a problem with that?? So I asked my wise and satiated kitty what he thought I should do for the nice firemen who had rescued him.

“Who?” he asked sleepily.

“You know, the guys in the yellow coats,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he replied, “those nice boys! They were so helpful! You should feed them.””

“Feed them?” I asked, picturing IAMS for Firemen in a big teal bag.

“Feed them,” he said, “guys like to be fed.” And finished doling out wisdom, Harley curled up and went to sleep on the couch. After I thought about if for a second, though, he had a point: food is always a welcome gift, whether you’re a cat or a fireman.

I walked down to the grocery store a few blocks away, enjoying the still-falling snow and the unusual quiet of the Seattle streets. I bought some apples, disposable pie tins, extra flour, and other necessities, and I baked those nice firemen a couple of apple-pies. I know, it sounds corny, but the whole situation was just so bizarre, and, since it was over, pretty funny too; it was the whole firemen-rescuing-the-cat scenario, combined with the stranded-woman-in-a-snowstorm thing: you’re my only hope, you big hunk of muscle in a yellow slicker, help me big fella … I thought I might as well add my own cliche to the mix and bake ‘em some apple pies. The pies came out of the oven golden-brown and oozing with sweet, sticky juice. I packed them carefully, covering them in foil, then in a box, then in a towel to keep them warm, and then I walked the two blocks to the fire station and knocked on the front door.

The captain himself received my pies with graciousness and more than a hint of laughter in his eyes. He did seem rather touched, though, and I was glad I had done it, though mortified at my own involvement in this embarrassingly wholesome “Andy Griffith Show” scenario. Oh well, it was for a good cause. We shook hands, and I turned and walked back into the snowy night, my hands stuffed securely in my pockets, home to my sweetly sleeping Harley.

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