Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Winston’s Story (Or “The Amazing and Miraculous Thing that Truly Happened to Us”) (PART 3)

I left the vet’s office broken hearted and on the verge of tears. The weight of it hit me all at once and I began cursing myself again for being the cause of it all. Winston was now likely going to die because I hadn’t taken her in for vaccinations when I should have—when I KNEW I should have. I’d also been the one to let her outside in the first place, leading directly to her being attacked and losing a major tooth. I also didn’t think it was at all likely that we would be able to find the cat that had attacked. My gut told me it had been a wild cat, but we’d still have to talk to all our neighbors to find out for sure and I didn’t relish having to do that—especially not the neighbors who live on the road just down the hill from our own, where there are many “Private Drive” and “No Trespassing” signs to be found.

I drove to the cardiologist’s office where Ashley was working and let her know what was going on. I explained the grim situation and then we stood in the parking lot hugging one another and feeling sorry for ourselves and for our cat. To me it seemed like the end of the line for Winston. What the hell were we really going to be able to do about this?

“And you’re sure you didn’t get her vaccinated since 2002?” Ashley asked.

I thought about this for a moment and had a sudden flash of what I hoped was brilliance. I knew that I’d taken Winston to the vet’s office twice since we’d moved to WV and I knew she’d received vaccination shots during the second visit. In my grief-addled mind it made sense to me that she must have had shots during the first visit too. I knew for a fact that the first visit had been in the summer of 2002 because my sister had been visiting us at the time and that’s when we’d raced Winston in ER-style for a seizure that turned out to have been a hairball. Maybe she got some shots then too. And if shots were given every two years, I must have taken her in for the second visit in 2004. Either the vet’s records were wrong or my memory was wrong. I was hoping on the former and thought I knew how to prove it.

The last time Winston had last been vaccinated, the vet had given us her vaccination tags, which I had laid on a shelf in our utility room since Winston didn’t have a collar. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know—I’m going to hell because my cat didn’t have a collar. She’s had a few, but kept losing them so we stopped buying them for her until she could prove herself a bit more responsible with her possessions.) So all I had to do was find those tags and see if they had a date on them. I told Ash of my thought, which she agreed sounded good. If true, it would solve all our problems.

I raced home and searched the utility room shelf. Lots of crap and spray cans to be found there, but no tags. I then spent half an hour turning the rest of the house upside down, looking in all the junk drawers and out of the way storage areas where I might have moved the tags, but they were nowhere to be found. By then it was approaching 5p, so I figured I’d better phone the vet before they closed and ask them what their records actually said in regard to the dates of our visits. The receptionist looked me up and said the first visit had indeed been in July of 2002, but Winston had not been vaccinated since her shots were still current from her vet in Charlotte. (See! I used to be responsible!) Our second visit to this vet, when she had been vaccinated last, had been in November of 2002. My brilliance was dashed and hope was again on the downslide.

After Ashley came home, we climbed into the car and went to go canvass the neighborhood. We started with the little dirt road down the hill from us where we thought it most likely the attacking cat had come from. We’d never met any of the people living there, but as we drove door to door they seemed nice enough, despite the “No Trespassing” signs.

At the first house, a high-school aged girl was home. She said that her family did own a cat, but it was old and gray and not sandy colored like the one we were looking for. Other houses further down the road either had no cats or much fluffier cats than the one on our mental wanted poster. One set of neighbors, though, suggested we go back to the first house, where they said a cat matching our description actually lived. Curious. Had the girl been lying to protect her cat? We’d not seen it, so we guessed it was possible.

Instead of stopping back by there immediately, we went home and gathered up the tufts of the other cat’s hair from the deck and from where they had blown onto the ground below. Just as I recalled, the fur we found was mostly sandy colored and medium-length. Some of the sandy fur had dark tips while other bits of it were sandy and gray, which again matched my memory of other colors within the sandy fur. With furball in hand, we returned to the first house and asked again about their cat.

“Here, let me show you,” the girl said. She fetched her cat for us to see. Its coloration was mostly gray, though there was a bit of sandy hair in there too. However, it was both enormously fluffy and enormously good-tempered. As we were leaving, the girl’s parents arrived. We told them that we were looking for a cat. Before we could even describe the cat in question, they described to us a cat that matched its description saying they had noticed it in the area. Unfortunately, they thought it was a stray.

Disheartened, we left and continued to go door to door on our own street. While there was much sympathy, we had no success and soon returned home.

Seeing that our kitty quarry was likely a stray, I began phoning all the farmers we know from church to ask them if they had any live-animal traps. Nope. Theirs were all Kill-Em-Dead traps. So at nearly 6:30 in the evening, it looked as though our chances of finding such a trap had passed.

“Try Lowes,” Ashley said.

Lowes? Why the heck would Lowes have live traps? They’re home improvement, not animal improvement. Still, at Ash’s further insistence, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to call. Turns out they did have live animal traps, one sized for catching raccoons and/or cats. We rushed right down to pick one up.

On the way to the car with our new purchase, Ashley said, “I really don’t see that cat coming back. There’s just no way that…” Her words dropped off as she realized what a complete bummer she was being. “Sorry. I shouldn’t say that. I should say that I really think we’ll catch it right away.”

“Damn straight,” I said. “We’ll catch it immediately. In fact, it’ll be waiting for us in the driveway when we come home. It’ll offer to help put the trap together, but won’t be able to stand waiting around, so it’ll just wedge itself in the box.”


Still, I knew she was probably right. Even if we caught a cat and not a raccoon, who was to say if it was the right cat? My memory of what the thing looked like, as viewed without my glasses, seemed murkier by the second. All I really knew was that it was big, sandy colored and blotchy. I’d seen its face, but couldn’t really remember it. My only real prayer of hope in this situation was that the cat would come back for a second round with Winston and would stumble upon the trap. This seemed a slim hope at best.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Winston’s Story (Or “The Amazing and Miraculous Thing that Truly Happened to Us”) (PART 2)

On Wednesday night, just before my wife Ashley and I were about to retire for the evening, Winston dashed to the back door to be let out. Normally, I don’t like to let her out at bedtime because this means I’ll have to get up and let her in again at some point. However, the night was warmish and our bedroom windows were open so I figured she could come back in when she was ready via the hole she tore in our bedroom window screen a couple of years back. (We’ve left it there on the premise that she’ll just tear a new hole in any new screen we put up.)

Minutes later, I had just removed my glasses and was getting into bed when I heard the sound of cats squalling on the back deck. Usually when this happens, I break my ass running down the hall, fling open the back door and find Winston and a neighborhood cat facing off at opposite ends of the deck. This time, though, I flung open the door and turned on the deck’s floodlight to see Winston and a cat easily twice her size locked in a screaming, hissing, clawing, rolling ball of kitty combat. I ran out onto the deck, in my underwear, determined to break it up, but I didn’t really want to reach my hands into the swirling mass of cat claws to do so. Instead, I gave them an Incredible Hulk roar. My Incredible Hulk roar has worked wonders in past cat fights. It even caused one invading cat to leap off the side of the deck in fear, falling ten feet to the ground, though not to his doom. This time, the other cat didn’t seem to care about the Hulk. Before I had time to consider alternatives, Winston managed to break free from the other cat and dash into the house. The other cat still didn’t care that I was standing there, for he attempted to give chase and have another go at Winston. I, in turn, tried to stop this by applying a Hulk-Smash style fist to his cat person. Naturally, I missed a direct impact and instead grazed the cat’s body. It did seem to get his attention, though, and he scurried down the deck steps and disappeared into the night.

We found Winston in my office, hiding beneath my desk. There was a strong smell of cat urine, as she’d peed her self during the fight. Her nose and mouth were bleeding, as was a back foot claw. We took her to the bathroom and began cleaning her up with moist washcloths. Upon examination, we found that the bleeding in her mouth was due to one of her canine teeth having snapped off near the gum line. It dangled free in her mouth, giving us both the willies to look at. And her back claw that we thought was bleeding turned out to be covered in the blood of the other cat, as well as a chunk of his fur. I’d seen more chunks of it out on the deck and was happy to note there was far more of him left behind than her. He had been a very large cat, easily twice her size. I couldn’t really say that I got an in depth look at him, but from what I had seen I knew that his coloration was mostly sandy with some blotches of darker hair thrown in. And while he wasn’t exactly a long-haired cat, the hair had seemed at least longer than Winston’s short orange hair.

“Guess I’ll have to take her to the vet tomorrow,” I said.

I phoned the vet the following day, explained the situation and asked if I could bring Winston in for inspection. I also asked if I could go ahead and update her shots while I was there. I’m mortified to have to say it, but I had let Winston’s vaccinations lapse. I have no excuse for it, but as I said, we’ve never had to worry about her much so it never seemed as important as it should have.

When I took Winston in, the vet on duty, Dr. Barrier, came into the examination room and said he’d been told why I was there and had examined Winston’s records. He then asked me if the cat that had attacked Winston had been a neighbor’s cat or one that was wild. I told him I had no idea. We don’t know many of our neighbors, but the ones immediately around us don’t seem to own cats. We know there are cats in the neighborhood, because they’ve come round to visit before, but I had no idea if this one was one of theirs.

At this, Dr. Barrier looked grim. He explained that according to state law, any animal that attacks another must be assumed to be rabid unless proof can be obtained otherwise. In the case of cats, owners of an attacking animal can provide proof of vaccination. If the cat is wild, it can be captured, euthanised and tested. He said it wouldn’t have been a major issue either way, except that Winston’s own vaccinations were expired. The state requires pets be vaccinated once every two years, but are willing to allow three years between vaccinations in cases such as ours. Unfortunately, Winston had last been vaccinated in November of 2002, over three and a half years ago. According to state law, Winston would either have to be euthanized herself (the state’s preference) or spend 6 months in quarantine, unless we could provide proof that the cat who attacked her was clean. By quarantine, Dr. Barrier explained that this meant she would have to live in a small cage in a state-approved facility and this cage could only be tended to by one person, once per day, under very strict guidelines. After five months, if there was no sign of rabies, the cat could be vaccinated and then a month later released. He showed me the printed regulations that spelled this out.

Hearing that, I could not imagine anything more hellish to inflict upon Winston than six months in a cage. She was freaked out enough after being stuffed into her cat carrier and driven across town. And as half-crazy as she can be during normal conditions, there’s no way her little kitty sanity would survive 6 months in a cage, assuming she was even able to physically survive it. Perhaps if she were a younger cat, things might be different. In her case now, though, that would be cruelty at its purest.

I told Dr. Barrier that I would sooner see her put to sleep than have to go through quarantine. He said he understood, but that we weren’t to that point yet. Legally, he would soon have to phone the state and alert them to this situation, but there was some leeway even in that. Rabies takes a while to take effect, so while he wanted to keep Winston overnight for observation and treatment, he would gladly release her to us whenever we wanted. He suggested we should start asking around the neighborhood about the attacking cat and see if we could find its owners and prove its health. Other than that, he said we could get a live trap and see if we could capture it. I asked if they had any to loan out. They did, but theirs was currently on loan. Dr. Barrier wasn’t sure where in the area we could find one, because the last time his office had to buy one they’d had to drive over an hour away to the next biggest town.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Winston’s Story (Or “The Amazing and Miraculous Thing that Truly Happened to Us”) (PART 1)

Our cat, Winston Churchill: The Infinitely Bad Kitty, (a.k.a. The Kitty, a.k.a. Stupes McGee, a.k.a. Kitty Little, a.k.a. Kitty Pie, a.k.a. Kitlin, a.k.a. Goat Kitty, a.k.a. The Kittage, a.k.a. Poor Little Dead Kitty, a.k.a. Hey Cat!) is mostly finitely bad these days. That’s probably to be expected considering that she just turned 14 this past April.

Like some kind of sprawling family saga, my cat’s family history and my family history have been entwined for the better part of 25 years. Winston’s great grandparents—a crazy orange Tom and a very sociable fluffy calico—belonged to my grandmother. They had a litter of kittens, two of which came home with my sister and me—junior high and senior in high school-aged, respectively. My sister’s cat—Winston’s mother—was a beautiful short haired calico called Sam. My cat—Winston’s uncle—was a gray tabby called Al. (Yes, we were Quantum Leap fanatics. Shut up.)

They were pretty good cats, as far as cats went, but were only with us for a couple of years before they disappeared. Early in my college days, Al vanished without a trace, never to be seen again. Sam also disappeared soon after, but reappeared a few months down the line looking well-fed, healthy and quite clearly pregnant. We surmised that she had been adopted by another family, gotten knocked up and had decided to return to her real home to have her first litter of kittens. She stayed with us through the birth of that litter and hung around afterward until her kittens had been weaned. Then she vanished and we didn’t see her again until she turned up pregnant, several months later.

Among Sam’s first litter of kittens, in April of 1992, was a little kitty that was missing a tail and had something of a deformed pelvis that caused her to walk a little sideways, resembling a tiny bear. Her disability didn't slow her down much, though, and since Sam was unreliable at best, my sister adopted this runt kitty and named it Cleo. Another was a tiny orange kitten that, like most newborns, closely resembled the former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. I was quite taken with her and, being as how my cat had long since disappeared, adopted her as my own.

Years passed, during which I moved out of the house, taking Winston with me to a four bedroom pad that I shared with several roommates, called Da Crib. This is where Winston gained her reputation for being infinitely bad, and began accumulating nicknames. We called her Goat Kitty because when she was irritated with us she would mew in a fashion that sounded like a little goat braying, "Myayayayayat!"

Once, Winston climbed up onto the kitchen counter and began sniffing amongst the dirty dishes in the sink. We were watching TV and wouldn't have known she was there at all until she accidentally knocked spoon into the sink. We heard, *DINK*"Myayayaayayayayat!" for she knew she had been caught. We still laugh about that.

We also dubbed her the Poor Little Dead Kitty, because we felt that one day she would prove herself so bad that we would have no choice but to kill her. (My roommate, Joe, even composed a story for his sign-language class about the Poor Little Dead Kitty and how we were eventually going to have to kill her.) How bad was she? Well, she was full of the usual harmless kitty mischief, and was forever knocking over things that we didn't want knocked over, such as trashcans, in which she enjoyed digging for corn-cobs, that she would then strew throughout the house. (Once found a cob behind the downstairs toilet, yes we did.) However, she was also fond of excretory indiscretions, such as taking a whiz on my roommates’ freshly cleaned laundry. This prompted them to stop leaving baskets of it lying around and to keep the doors to their rooms firmly closed at all times.

When she had done something wrong, we would usually yell, “Hey, cat!” at which point she would run and try to hide by sticking her head under the edge of the sofa. She did this on the grounds that if she couldn't see us we shouldn't be able to see her, and is therefore suspected of being the reincarnation of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

After that grand experiment in collegiate cohabitation flamed out, two years later, I moved back in with my dad, step-mother Myra, sister and Cleo (not to mention Myra’s cat Lucien, who was the half-brother of Winston & Cleo). After college graduation, I moved to Tupelo to begin my career in radio and Winston came with me. She was there when I met Ashley and there when Ashley moved away. Winston was there through our courtship and came with me when I moved to North Carolina to be closer to Ash. Though she didn’t attend the wedding, she did accompany us to Charlotte to move into our new apartment, following the honeymoon. And two years later, she survived yet another move, this time to West Virginia.

Fourteen is pretty old for a cat. Thinking realistically, we’ve been curious as to just how much longer she’s going to be around. Not that we’re eager for her passing, or anything, but we know that her days—as is the case with all of our days—are numbered. The only cat I've had for nearly as long as Winston was our other family cat, Bay, who we had from my 4th grade year through early college. He wound up testing each and every one of his nine lives, surviving car fan-blades, and innumerable fights with other cats that resulted in broken, punctured tails, torn ears and gashes upon gashes. He also had a tragic encounter with a group of backwoods Mississippi Satanists, who stabbed him in the chest with a bone and threw him into a fire. He came limping back home, weeks later, missing all of his hair and most of one ear and was recognizable only by a gray dot on his nose. That was a heartbreaking experience, but he survived it. Our vet then, Dr. Anthony, patched him up and he eventually re-grew everything but the ear. Though the wound in his chest never fully healed, he lived on for a couple more years.

Winston, by comparison, has had a very easy life. No major hassles in the realm of catfights or trauma and no major health problems other than a penchant for hairballs. We don’t worry much about her because she’s an infernal wuss that runs from the least little thing and starts at every sound, so the chances of her getting into danger are pretty slim. She goes outside almost only at night, where she’ll have cover of darkness in which to lurk. And we know she never strays far from the house because Winston never mastered the art of using the bathroom outside and has, on many occasions, pounded on the door to get in only to run to the litterbox and then return to the door to be let out again. Beyond the hairballs, the closest we’ve come to any problems with her have been occasional screaming skirmishes with other cats.

Herein lies our story.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Actual Conversations Heard in Actual Libraries #51

SETTING: My "liberry," the circ desk. A patron approaches to sign up for a computer. Because Mrs. A was recently at the desk, however, the pen from the sign up sheet had been removed from the sign up sheet clip-board, used elsewhere and deposited into the pen jar, as in accordance with tradition. I fish it back out from among the scant few pens and broken pencils there and pass it to the patron. I'm annoyed at how few pens are in the cup, for just a month ago Mrs. A brought in two full packs of cheap crappy pens to replace the other cheap crappy pens that disappeared before that.

ME: Where the heck are all our pens?

MRS. B: I don't know. We were just asking that this morning. Oh, that reminds me... Did you hear what they found that was clogging the toilet?

ME: No, no, what?

MRS. B: A pen.

ME: A pen?!

MRS. B: Yep. It was wedged in there sideways. It would let the liquid through but not the solids.

ME: Oh, please tell me we kept it! We should save it to loan out to patrons. `Heh heh, sure... you can borrow a pen. You can borrow our special pen.'

Alas, we had not.

Monday, May 08, 2006

More Salad Days

Last week, we the "liberry" staff left our branch in the semi-capable hands of a greenhorn while we hoofed it down to Town C for their branch's first annual fund-raising salad lunche0n.

I think Mrs. A was a bit worried about how their salad lunche0n would go, since they've never done anything like it before. There was much hand-wringing over whether or not they had enough salads or whether the venue they'd chosen to hold this in was big enough. However, when we arrived, everything seemed to be going gangbusters business. Though the hall they used was small, there was sufficient seating space and patron turnover to keep things rolling right along. The salads were also outstanding. However, some of the dining company turned out to be every bit as quirky as you might expect from “liberry” patrons.

While there were enough seats to accommodate our employee delegation, the seating was not all together, so Mrs. A, Mrs. B and Mrs. J sat at one table while Mrs. C, Mrs. Publicist and I sat at another. Before we could even start in on our salads, a very wide middle-aged man sat down in the other spare place at our table bearing the most enormous plate of salad I’ve ever seen. The simplest and most accurate description of this man’s plate of salad is to call it convex; it was a heaping, rounded dome of salad and it retained that shape for quite some time because this man would not stop flapping his salad hole long enough to eat any of it. From the moment he sat down until the three of us were finally able to disengage from him and flee the building some fifteen minutes later, this man ate maybe–MAYBE—four bites of his salad.

“I thought at least one of you would have shown up to that meeting up in Morgantown,” the man said. This was his opening line to us as he sat down and it was made in a very accusatory tone for someone none of us knew at all, nor he us. However, none of us knew that none of us knew this man, so we all just sort of gave each other odd looks while the man proceeded to hold us personally accountable for not being at a meeting the subject of which none of us had any idea about. Turns out, the meeting was something to do with a possible new levee or dam which this guy claimed could somehow cause the river levels in our neck to rise by 30 feet. We’d never heard of any of it and said so, which seemed to irritate Mr. Wide & Mouthy. He paused to take his first bite, giving me the chance to try and steer the conversation away by asking Mrs. Publicist an unrelated question or two. Nope. In the middle of chewing his bite, Mr. Wide snatched the conversational reins back and began telling us his family history.

“See, me and my brothers are down here to take my granddaddy to the doctor. He’s 107 years old,” Mr. Wide said. He then went into more detail about his 107 year old granddaddy and how he was getting to be kind of a mean soul in his old age, unafraid to speak his mind. They practically had to trick him, B.A. Baracus-style, to get him to come to the doctor at all. (“No fly! No fly!”) We gathered that they were all visiting from a neighboring county. Mr. Wide then went on to detail how his grandmother had lived until just a few years previous and his great-uncle had lived to 114. Some of this was interesting enough, if a bit out of the blue, so we listened politely, nodding and trying like hell to get through our salads as quickly as possible. Minutes later, he was still at it.

“And then, granddaddy didn’t want to give his concentration pictures to his kids, so he gave `em to me. I wanted to make copies of them, but I don’t want to mail them anywhere cause they’re valuable and I don’t trust the mail.”

“Uh, what are concentration pictures?” I asked.

Mr. Wide looked at me as if I had just asked if cheesecake is tasty or if gasoline is expensive. “WHERE are YOU frum, buddy?” he said.

“Mississippi,” I said. I know, I know--hardly my best defense.

As Mr. Wide then irately explained, “concentration pictures” were photographs taken during World War II by soldiers who helped liberate German Concentration Camps. Despite my government-sponsored education, I was, of course, familiar with the history of World War II, and the fact that pictures had been taken at Concentration Camps. However, I had never once heard the term “concentration picture” associated with them nor do I think I should be expected to since “concentration picture” is clearly missing the necessary noun “camp” that might have given me a bit more of a clue as to the definition of the term. This didn’t stop me from feeling a bit smaller in intellect, though, particularly since I was now being lectured on the subject by the likes of Mr. Wide.

The next ten minutes passed very slowly, as Mr. Wide continued to jump from topic to topic, dominating the table chatter. (It was NOT a conversation, as that involves more than one person speaking; it was a lecture.) I eventually tried to change subjects to one where he would have no firm ground to stand, by asking Mrs. Publicist if she was writing any stories for a local publication she and I have both freelanced for in the past. Unfortunately, she was writing a story about a historic building in a neighboring county--the very neighboring county Mr. Wide was from. Once again, he had a conversational foothold. He immediately began interrogating Mrs. Publicist about the county and managed to learn that she used to live there herself and still owned property there. He then lectured us at length on the history of the county, the latest gossip as to who was doing who wrong and who was in trouble with the law, etc. It was painful.

We had completely finished our salads before Mr. Wide had even made a noticeable dent in his. Fortunately, we all like each other, so no attempt was made to flee the table and strand one of us in Mr. Wide’s gravitational pull. Instead, we had each other’s backs, and brought up the topic of how great the desserts looked and how we should all go see what was available. With that, we made our escape.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Actual Conversations Heard in Actual Libraries #50

SETTING: My “liberry” shortly after a OUAW story time session. Little Kevin and Little Chuck Martin are at the circ-desk checking out books when their mom notices something is amiss.

MOM: Chuck, where is your shoe?

CHUCK: I don't know.

MOM: Where did you have it last?

CHUCK: I don't know.

As we are seconds away from closing and I want all patrons to leave, I dash to the children's room to look for Chuck's shoe. That Chuck had lost his shoe was hardly surprising. Not that the kid's dumb, or anything. In fact, he's pretty sharp. He actually once negotiated with me as to how many stories he was willing to sit through before he would stop paying attention to me and read his Calvin & Hobbes book instead. (Two. The answer is two.) He'd probably left his shoe behind on purpose just so a big deal would be made about it.

Sure enough, I found Chuck's shoe beneath the kid's computer where he'd been minutes earlier. I passed it to his mother, who passed it to Chuck.

MOM: And what do we say to Mr. JUICE?

CHUCK: Thanks, Mr. JUICE. You're the best.

ME: Whoo hoo!

CHUCK: You're really really super. You can't be touched. Nobody beats your high score.

It was only then that I realized how backhandedly disingenuous Chuck's comments were, despite his cheerful tone. That a kid so young could wield sarcasm so deftly was impressive. The little shit.

An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.