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Newt on the Lam

My father grew up on a farm in Israel and it would seem that when he moved to suburban New Jersey, he tried to recreate that experience.  Growing up we didn’t just have pets, we had a menagerie. Our household critters represented nearly every link in the food chain: fish, newts, parakeets, a parrot, 2 cats and 2 big dogs. Every animal was a natural enemy of the other. If left to their own devices, I’m sure there would have been problems, but regular feedings, attention and love were enough to maintain the delicate balance required to avoid a massacre.

Every once in a while we had a close call. On one memorable occasion, a parakeet flew the coop when we were cleaning his cage. Thrilled with his newfound freedom, he took off flying through the house. The cats chased the bird; the dogs chased the cats; two hysterical children chased the dogs; while the zookeeper, my mother, frantically followed behind hoping to prevent a tragedy. As birds are known to do, the parakeet eventually flew into the kitchen window, knocked himself unconscious and hit the floor with a thud. Before any of the humans could intervene, the nearest cat picked him up and ran under a bed. With some coaxing, the cat released the bird which came flying out from under the bed. My mom recaptured the parakeet from a curtain rod and put him back in his cage. Order was once again restored.

After that incident, I was very aware of the fragile nature of the ecosystem we had created in our home. Sometimes it was necessary to segregate the animals while we were playing with them. This was always the case when I wanted to play with my newts: Peanut and Dottie. Peanut was black with red marks on his or her belly. (I never did know the gender of my newts.) Dottie was green with three little red dots in a line on her back. Newts are not the cuddliest creatures in the animal kingdom, but they are amusing to play with. I would borrow my mom’s biggest Pyrex bowl, fill it with water then set it down on the floor. After shooing the cats and dogs from the room, I would remove Peanut and Dottie from their tank and put them in the bowl of water where they would swim and frolic. As I watched television, I would lift each of them out of the bowl and let them crawl around on my hands and legs. When I thought they might be drying out, I’d dunk them back in the bowl and let them swim around some more.

black newt photo

I don’t actually have a photo of Peanut, but this is what he looked like. Who wouldn’t love that face?

Peanut and Dottie lived luxuriously by salamander standards. They had a large tank with all the creature comforts a newt could want. I made a styrofoam raft for them to laze around on when they weren’t busy swimming in the water or crawling around on the rocks. They had regular meals and their tank was always clean. It was an ideal life for a newt, but Peanut had an adventurous spirit. One day when I woke up, Dottie was relaxing on the raft, but Peanut was missing. I got very upset and called for my parents. A search party was organized and we began looking for Peanut. In a two story house with wall to wall carpet, it was like looking for a needle in a shag covered haystack. Peanut couldn’t survive too long without being back in the water. Add to that the other animals that would have been happy to “play” with him and his chances of survival were grim.  After a few hours, we abandoned our search and held a memorial service for my beloved newt. I tried not to think about how Peanut might have died. It was just too upsetting.

dottie

Dottie was the less adventurous of my 2 newts. 

Several months later I was with a friend in our playroom downstairs. We were setting up a farm. I was making a corral while my friend sorted through a bucket of plastic animals separating farm animals from zoo animals. She pulled one out of the container and said, “This one is really cool! It looks like an alligator.”

I looked up from the work of setting up the farm and saw my friend holding what indeed did look like a small, black alligator. My eyes opened really wide and I grabbed the animal from her hands. I flipped it over onto its back and saw red spots on its belly. “That’s Peanut!” I shouted.

Clutching the dessicated, shriveled salamander, I ran to my parents to show them. “Look! We found Peanut!” I said thrusting my hand towards them. They took Peanut from me and did a cursory autopsy looking for bite marks or other obvious signs of trauma. There were none.

“Where did you find him?” they asked completely shocked and just a bit disgusted.

“He was in the toy box in a bucket of plastic animals. Maybe he thought those were his friends,” I said by way of an explanation.

“How on Earth did he evade the dogs and cats, make it down the stairs then scale the side of your toy box?” they wondered.

“If we put him back in the water, will that bring him back to life?” I asked hopefully, but I already knew the answer.

We solemnly walked to the bathroom to put Peanut back in the water and give him the proper burial at sea that he deserved.

$h!t and Run

$h!t and Run

Sled dog teams and their mushers recently crossed the Iditarod finish line in Nome completing a nearly 1000 mile journey across Alaska. Being pulled by running dogs with my hair flying in the breeze has been a dream of mine since the age of 8 when I thought it was a good idea to take our old English sheepdog out for a walk while wearing roller skates. For the record, it was not a good idea. Since that failed attempt to harness the power of a running dog, I thought a less injurious way to get that same sensation would be to try dog sledding. On our trip to Alaska, it was time to make that dream come true.

After researching various options for dog sledding, I quickly came to realize that during the summer, most dog sledding excursions use a wheeled sled. In my own crude way, I had already experienced the “joy” of being pulled along on wheels. I wanted the authentic experience of dog sledding on snow. The only way to do that in August would be to take a helicopter up to a glacier.

As soon as the helicopter cleared the ridge of the mountain, we were instantly transported to winter. The fact that it was foggy, drizzling and cold helped set the mood. During the summer months, the dogs are kept on the glacier so that they can continue their training. With 60 plastic, igloo-shaped dog houses clustered together, the glacier looked like doggy summer camp. Oregano and I expected the auditory assault of collective barking as soon as we landed, but the only sound we heard was from the rotors of the helicopter. Once it flew away, it was eerily quiet. 

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Doggy summer camp on the glacier

The mushers introduced themselves then gave us the history of dog sledding in Alaska. They explained the different breeds of dogs used, how the dogs must be fed and cared for during training and during a race.  Because they run such long distances when racing, the mushers must put booties on each dog’s paws to protect them. If you’ve ever tried to put socks on a wriggling toddler you have some appreciation for what these mushers must do. Now imagine trying to accomplish this task on sixteen four-legged, wriggling toddlers while your hands are freezing cold. We had no idea how much was involved in running a dog sled race. It was fascinating.  

As the mushers patiently answered all of our questions, their assistants got the sleds out. Instantly, the calm erupted into a canine cacophony.

“The dogs LOVE to run,“  the musher yelled so we could hear him over the barking. “They know what the sound of the sleds means.”

Some of the dogs were standing on top of their igloos barking and howling. Their behavior reminded me of students in class yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!” Very quickly, the assistants selected the lucky winners who would get to go for a run and hooked them into position.

While the dogs were being harnessed, Mike the musher showed us the sleds. They are very light aluminum. The Flexible Flyer I used to sled down hills on the golf course after a snowstorm seemed a whole lot sturdier than the sleds they use to traverse Alaskan terrain.  At the back of the sled are narrow rails on which the musher must stand to balance himself and control the sled. Between those rails is a  flap of plastic they push down on the snow to cause drag and slow the sled. There is a small metal anchor that acts as a brake.  DSCF0134

Mike got us situated on the sled. I sat on a seat at the front. If I’m being honest, seat is a generous term for what I was actually sitting on. It was more like a butt-sized plank with a tiny bit of cushioning and handles on either side. Oregano stood behind me. The musher got on the rails all the way at the back and the assistant lifted the brake. Without the anchor holding them back, the dogs that had been straining against their harnesses began running. It was like being shot out of a cannon. I had always imagined it would be more of a gentle increase in speed. Not so.

From a distance, the dog sled looks like it glides smoothly. As we bounced and bumped over the uneven snow and ice with the sled sometimes listing to one side,  I was disabused of that romantic notion. I grabbed onto the handles on the sides of my tiny seat and held on tight.

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This was soooooo much more fun than being pulled by my dog while wearing roller skates.

Mike mushed us around to the far side of the glacier and threw the brake in the snow. He complimented us for not flying off the sled. Apparently, many dog sledding newbies are easily tossed from the sleds when they first leave the camp. He snapped a few commemorative photos then he told us it was our turn to drive. He showed us the proper stance, how to steer and had us put our feet on the narrow metal runners. Braver than me, Oregano opted to drive first. As we were flying over the snow, I noticed cylindrical brown projectiles hurtling past me to the left and right. I  thought it was another unexpected hazard of dog sledding; rocks being kicked up by the dogs. As I looked around the mountain and the pristine snow of the glacier taking a moment to absorb where I was and what I was doing, it dawned on me that there aren’t rocks on top of the snow on a glacier. It wasn’t until I saw the “rocks” falling out of the business ends of the dogs in front of me that I realized it was flying feces. To my amazement, the dogs were shitting as they ran at full speed. There was no stopping to sniff around to select the perfect location. There was no spinning in place until just the right moment in time. These pups didn’t even break stride to poop. As a member of a species that sits and remains stationary to defecate, I was truly impressed by the dogs’ stamina and agility. The most I’ve ever accomplished while pooping was finishing a chapter of a book.

Oregano was driving at the back of the sled presumably trying not to fall off. I doubt he noticed the miracle of nature I was witnessing from my front row seat. Since the real musher was standing just behind me, I tilted my head back towards him, “Are those dogs really shitting while they’re running?” He could hear the awe in my voice.

“Yep,” the musher laughed at me. “We have 16 dogs on the team. We can’t stop running the race because one of them needs to pee or poop. We’d never get anywhere.”

As I bounced along the glacier with dung being flung past either side of my seat, I had a much deeper understanding of the axiom, “It’s good to be the lead dog.”

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The reason it is good to be the lead dog…

Things that Go Sweat in the Night

If jumping to conclusions qualified as aerobic exercise, I’d have the body of a supermodel. My personal blend of creativity and anxiety allows my mind to conjure up a myriad of possible outcomes for any given situation. While the creativity comes in handy for problem solving, the anxiety morphs those problems into some pretty far-fetched worst case scenarios. Despite what appears to be a pessimistic tendency to imagine catastrophes, I prefer to think of myself as an over-prepared optimist. I hope for the best, but prepare for calamity. If I panic ahead of time by considering so many possible outcomes, I’m happily surprised when things work out. If one of the less desirable outcomes presents itself, my anxiety has already been spent and I can focus on dealing with the dilemma. While this may not be the healthiest mental game plan, it has worked for me so far.

Oregano has seen this side of me and accepts it. He is usually even amused by it. When we were newlyweds and our first cat, Scooter, developed a large bump on his tail, I was concerned. On the way to the vet’s office, my eyes welled up and I started sniffling. Since I’m not normally a crier, Oregano looked over at me with great concern. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m worried that Scooter has tail cancer and we’re going to have to put him to sleep.” I whispered in a barely audible voice.

Oregano looked at me like I was insane. “Tail cancer?!  Is that even a thing? Why on Earth would you think that he has tail cancer?”

“I don’t know if tail cancer is a thing, but why else would he have a big lump on his tail?” I asked trying to make my absurd concern seem rational. In all fairness to my anxiety, he did ask what was bothering me. I was just telling him. He hadn’t asked me to evaluate the plausibility of my concern.

“We don’t know why he has a lump on his tail which is why we’re going to the vet. Besides, if it is tail cancer, he can always live without his tail. We won’t have to put him to sleep tonight,” he said attempting to calm my fear.

As it turned out, it wasn’t tail cancer. It was a big, old goose egg he got from running around the house sliding into the walls while chasing his toys. It’s been more than 20 years and we still don’t know if tail cancer is even a thing, but since then, Oregano has learned to find the humor in my creative anxiety.

A few weeks ago, I started waking up at 3 a.m. drenched in sweat and unable to cool myself off. This is a rarity for me. I’m always cold. During the winter, I sleep on a heated mattress pad in long pajamas and socks. Oregano is always hot, not in the smoldering sexy way, more like the human space heater way. The first night I woke up sweating, I looked over expecting to find him splayed out on top of the blanket. When I saw him sleeping soundly without any sweat beading on his forehead, I knew it was just me. Eventually I cooled off and fell back to sleep convinced it was just an isolated incident.

The morning after my fifth consecutive night of nocturnal perspiration, I woke up and announced to Oregano that I had gone into menopause, He looked at me with the same mixture of concern, disbelief and amusement he always has when my mental train goes off the rails.

“Really? Menopause? Just like that? That seems unusual. I thought it was more of a gradual thing,” he said.

“Well, I am a woman of a certain age. I didn’t think it was supposed to happen so suddenly, but I’ve never done this before, so who knows?” I replied seeming quite logical. “I guess this means the end of my youth,” I announced with dramatic flourish.

Stifling a laugh, Oregano asked, “What makes you think you’ve instantly entered menopause overnight?”

“It wasn’t overnight,” I replied defensively.  “It started on Saturday. It’s been five nights now.”

“What’s been five nights now?” he asked.

Trying to explain myself I said, “I’ve woken up at 3 a.m. sweating and unable to cool off. Look! I even had to take off my socks.” I lifted my bare feet in the air and wiggled them. “Night sweats are a symptom of menopause.”

“Oh, well, if you had to take your socks off because you were so hot, that must be menopause,” he kissed my head, chuckled and got out of bed.

As I was getting ready for work, Oregano called up from the family room. “When did you say your sudden onset menopause began?”

I yelled downstairs, “Saturday night.”

“You said it happened around 3 a.m.. Was it the same time every night?” he asked like a detective trying to solve a murder.

“It was,” I replied.

“Didn’t you think it was unusual that it happened at the same time every night?” he bellowed from the bottom of the stairs.

“No,” I said irritated by the inquisition.

“Our new furnace was installed this past Saturday. Do you think that might have something to do with your night sweats?” He was not letting this go.

“I doubt it. If it was the furnace, you would have woken up sweating, too.” I countered making what I thought was an excellent point.

“Maybe not,” he responded. “You sleep in the little heat cocoon you’ve created for yourself.”

Finally, he was quiet and I went about my morning routine.

“You can relax. It’s not menopause,” Oregano yelled up the staircase. “I just checked the programmable thermostat. It must have gotten messed up when they installed the new furnace. The heat has been coming on at 2:45 a.m. and it is set for 74 degrees.  The upstairs has been warmer than usual in the middle of the night and since you sleep like a baked potato wrapped in tinfoil, you woke up sweating, but I didn’t.”

Oregano reprogrammed the thermostat to our regular settings. That night I slept sweatless through the whole night. When we woke up, Oregano asked, “How was your menopause last night? Any better?”

Water Under the Bridge

Water Under the Bridge

The difference between bravery and stupidity often lies in the outcome of the undertaking. Ideas that seem good at inception often prove themselves to be significantly less than good in execution. Setting goals for yourself is a laudable endeavor, but when you are only focused on the end result, you often get swept up in the process. Oregano and I proved this theory while vacationing in the Florida Keys.

Neither one of us is particularly athletic, but we have been kayaking off the beach at our hotel for the past few winters. One year, we were kayaking in the warm, shallow water at a pretty good clip and were quite impressed with our paddling prowess.

“We’ve gotten a lot better at this,” I shouted over my shoulder to Oregano.

“Yeah. We are really in the zone. At this rate, I think we could actually make it to Duck Key,” he said pointing at the island directly in front of us.  

We were half way to our goal when common sense seeped into our consciousness. Upon more careful consideration, we determined that the next island looked closer than it actually was so we turned around. It wasn’t until we pointed the bow of the boat towards our island that we realized why we had the feeling of being such powerful paddlers. The strong headwind hit us smack in the face. The kayak was bouncing on the waves and we had to dig deep to make any forward progress. It was exhausting, but if we stopped paddling to rest, we were simply pushed back erasing all the progress our physical labor had produced. After an hour of slogging our way to a shoreline that never seemed to be getting any closer, we beached our kayak and I flopped, exhausted into a hammock.

“Well, I guess we’re not quite the paddlers we thought we were,” I said to Oregano while letting my rubbery arms dangle over the edge over the hammock.

“That paddle back was challenging and we did it, so I prefer to think of us as strong kayakers,” he replied.

“One might argue that strong, experienced kayakers would have realized they were being carried along by the wind and current rather than patting themselves on their backs for being so awesome,” I countered.

“Be that as it may,” Oregano said, “we were strong enough to paddle back safely. That counts for something.”

Chalking up that experience as a lesson learned, each year we’d try to explore a different area around our island. Not too far from our beach is a bridge for the Overseas Highway. More than once we had talked about paddling under the bridge which would take us from the calm Atlantic Ocean to the equally calm waters of Florida Bay.

Sitting on the dock one night, Oregano announced, “I think we should try to go under the bridge this year. We’ve gotten a lot better at paddling and it would be fun to explore the bay.” 

bridge-from-distance

Our lofty goal was reaching the bridge in the distance.

“I don’t know,” I responded. “Just getting to the bridge seems like a long paddle. How much energy will we have left to explore the bay? We’d also still need to have enough umph to make it all the way back.”

“We’re strong enough to do it. We’re in a tandem kayak so we can take turns paddling if we get tired,” he said trying to persuade me.

It was an enticing idea, so we waited for a day when the winds were calm. (See, we had learned not to go on a windy day.) We set off from our beach full of vim and vigor.

bridge-from-water

a close up picture of the bridge from the kayak

As we approached the bridge, I turned back towards Oregano, “Are you sure we should do this?”  

Before he could respond, we got sucked into a current that pulled us under the concrete arches of the bridge. Our kayak spun around in circles as we got frighteningly close to the low sides of the arches. Instinctively, we put the paddles up to keep our heads from banging into the concrete. As we swirled around uncontrollably, we quickly reviewed our options before we didn’t have any.

“What do we do now?” Oregano asked, his voice echoing off the concrete arch.

“Well, we’ve got 3 options.” I responded. “We can protect our heads until we get dragged out into the bay then paddle to the edge, hoist the kayak out of the water and walk back across the road with it.”

“We’d have to cross the highway carrying the kayak and we’re barefoot. Next idea?” Oregano responded.

“We could abandon the kayak and swim back.” Oregano and I were both on the swim team and knew we were strong enough swimmers to make it back to shore.

“You hate swimming in the ocean with all the critters.” Oregano shot down that option as we continued being tossed around the whirlpool.  “What’s option 3?”

“Paddle like hell and hope we can push our way out of this swirling vortex of near death,” I shouted.

“Start paddling!” His answer reverberated off the bridge.

“Ok. Dig in! This is going to be quite a feat!” I said leaning forward to avoid smacking my head.

We paddled as hard as we could to get the kayak to move forward against the churning water as we laughed at our stupidity. After ten grueling minutes that seemed like an hour, we cleared the vortex. Once we were on flat water, we bobbed peacefully in the ocean to rest and reflected on our experience. 

bridge-from-above

We only noticed the swirling waters AFTER we got sucked into the current.

“Wow! We made it out of there!” Oregano said celebrating the not so small victory of emerging without concussions. “How did we not think about the current?”

“From the beach, the water looks calm. To be precise, we never really did commit to going under the bridge. We got sucked under it while we were deciding.We may have survived the swirling vortex of near death, but we still have to paddle all the way back to our beach. Let’s save the congratulations for when we are safely on land.”

Forty-five minutes later we arrived on our beach. Our arms and shoulders were a little worse for wear from the intense paddling, but the kayak, paddles and, more importantly, our skulls were still intact.

“See, I told you we could kayak all the way to the bridge and back. We reached the goal we set for ourselves,” Oregano said feeling a sense of accomplishment.

“If our goal was demonstrating our utter lack of understanding of ocean currents, then you are right. Goal achieved!” I gave him the look then dropped onto the nearest lounge chair and took a long nap.

paddles-at-sunset

Holiday Meltdown

When we were young Jewish children growing up in the 1970’s, there weren’t any Hanukkah TV specials. We watched all the traditional Christmas animated shows like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Frosty the Snowman.” Back in those days, we didn’t have DVRs. We didn’t even have VCRs. When a show was on TV, you watched it.  Since we only had four TV channels to choose from, holiday shows were on once for the entire year. There were no 24 hour long marathons of A Christmas Story or Elf. If Rudolph flew off in December 1977, you could kiss him goodbye until 1978. When the holiday specials were on, it was imperative to have your tiny, pre-teen ass glued to the seat in front of the TV. Perhaps if the shows had been on more than once a year, my mother in law would have been able to preview them to avoid a traumatic childhood experience that scarred my husband well into his adult years.

Unaware of the horror he was about to witness, the young version of Oregano sat down to watch “Frosty the Snowman,” one of the few holiday cartoons that wasn’t entirely Santa-centric. He happily watched the show until Frosty made the fateful decision to enter the greenhouse where he shortly thereafter dissolved into an amorphous puddle of water studded with the accessories he had been wearing.

frosty-the-snowman-dead-frosty

Let’s digress for a moment to consider the foolishness of a man whose entire existence is predicated on being frozen choosing to enter a greenhouse. While his altruistic motives to warm the cold, little girl who had followed him northward were admirable, Frosty should have exercised a bit of self-preservation and not stepped into the hot house with her. He knew he was being pursued by an evil magician trying to reclaim his magic hat. Deciding to step into a hot house even for just a minute while evil lurked close behind was not the wisest choice any right-minded snow person would make.

When all that was left on the screen was a puddle where the portly snowman had been, poor six-year-old Oregano began bawling uncontrollably. My horrified mother in law jumped up from the couch and did what any protective mother would do when her child was in distress. She dashed across the room and switched off the TV. Remember, this was back in the days before remote controls. If you wanted to turn off the TV to stop your child from viewing the atrocity of a beloved snowman liquefying before his eyes, you had to actually walk clear across the room to do so. The horror – how did we live like that?

She soothed a distraught Oregano then tucked his exhausted little body into bed. Thankfully, the nightmare of what he had witnessed did not haunt his dreams.

That was the last encounter my husband had with the animated version of Frosty until we were married and he was 26 years old. One night during December, “Frosty the Snowman” popped up on the TV screen as I was channel surfing. I left it on for a few minutes and Oregano looked up at me and said, “How can you watch this? It’s horrible.”

“Well, it’s from 1969 so the animation leaves something to be desired compared to today, but it is nostalgic,” I answered.

“I’m not talking about the animation. I can’t believe they let this snowman just die. It’s supposed to be a children’s cartoon,” he said angrily.

I looked at him like he was insane. I couldn’t understand his reaction to such an innocuous cartoon. “What are you talking about? This is “Frosty the Snowman,” not some horror show.”

“I know. I watched this when I was a kid and it traumatized me. When he melted, I was upset and crying so hard, my mother had to turn off the TV to calm me down.”

“You never watched it again after that?” I asked.

“No. She wouldn’t let me watch it and, to be honest, I never had a desire to watch it again. Why would I? It’s not exactly a fond memory,” he replied.

I was stunned and looked at him in disbelief. “So you’re telling me that in the past 20 years, you’ve never seen this entire cartoon. No one has discussed it with you and you don’t know what happened to Frosty?”

“I already told you. No!  He melted! That’s how it ended,” he was getting irritated with me.

“I think it might be time for some Frosty therapy. Let’s watch the show together. If you start to cry, I promise I’ll turn off the TV.”

He reluctantly agreed mostly because that was the only TV we had in our apartment and I wasn’t relinquishing the remote control.

As the show continued, I watched Oregano’s reactions to it. Finally, near the end of the show, the dreaded scene appeared on the screen. The little girl wept into the puddle that was once Frosty while a montage of Frosty’s happier, more frozen times flashed across the screen as Jimmy Durante was singing. Oregano glared at me.

“I don’t understand how this is appropriate for kids.” He was truly annoyed.

“Despite how pissed you are at me, you seem to be holding up rather well. Just hang in there a few more minutes and I think you’ll feel better.” I cajoled him.

Reluctantly, Oregano sat there and waited. Santa arrived on screen, threw open the door to the greenhouse and comforted the little girl weeping over the puddle. He reminded her that Frosty was made of Christmas snow which is, as we all know, more magical than everyday snow. At that moment, a cold north wind blew into the greenhouse. Frosty’s puddle of magical, melted Christmas snow transformed him back into his more solid self. Without the hat though, he was lifeless. Santa threatened the evil magician with permanent banishment to the naughty list if he tried to take Frosty’s hat again. As soon as the hat was placed on his refrozen head, Frosty returned to life, hopped into Santa’s sleigh and they headed for the frigid safety of the North Pole.

As the final song played including the lyrics, “Don’t you cry I’ll be back on Christmas Day,” Oregano turned to me with a look of utter shock and disbelief.

“Holy shit! He comes back to life?! Is this a different version than the one we watched in the 70’s? I had no idea!”

“It’s a Christmas miracle!” I exclaimed as I switched off the TV and headed to bed. My work here was done.

 

 

Orange is the New Cat

Orange is the New Cat

Going into the pet store on a Saturday is always a risky endeavor. Rescue groups and their charges crowd the area just inside the entrance. There is no way to get to the food and supplies in the back of the store without walking past scores of adorable cats with hard luck stories and sad faces. Other than steering clear of pet stores on weekends, the only other strategy I have at my disposal is to walk quickly and avert my eyes. Sure, I’ve bumped into a few people and displays, but I’ve managed to avoid the woeful stares of the homeless pets.  As long as I don’t stop to pet anything, I can get in and out of the store without coming home with a furry family member or a guilt trip.

Oregano and I needed some pet supplies. Since it was late Saturday afternoon, the rescue groups were gone and we were able to safely maneuver through the store without having our heartstrings tugged. I grabbed cans of cat food and Oregano hoisted the 42 pound bag of litter into the cart.

“Is there anything else we need for the boys?” I asked surveying all the cat accoutrements in the aisle.

“Nope; just litter and cans of wet food. We’ve got everything else already,” he replied as he started navigating the cart to the cashier.

Our feet were not yet across the threshold of our home when Oregano exclaimed, “Crap! I forgot we needed dry food, too.”

After a brief discussion on the merits of remembering things like that prior to leaving the pet store and a calculation of how many days’ worth of dry food we had left, we decided we’d have to go back to the store the next day.

“Maybe we can get there early to avoid the rescue groups,” I suggested.

“You’ve made it through the pet store on weekends before. You can do it again,” he reminded me.

He was right. I’d been in the pet store lots of times on the weekends and I’d never come home with a cat. Maybe I had more willpower and common sense than I was giving myself credit for.

The next day we walked into a different pet store. There, in the center aisle, unavoidably placed, was a long row of crates filled with cats. A sad faced orange tabby caught my eye. I wandered over to him, scratched his forehead and read the bio taped to his crate. He was just a year old. It said he was very shy and needed a home with patient parents.

Keebler close up

Within a few minutes, a volunteer from the rescue group wandered over with a huge smile on her face. “Would you like me to open the cage so you can pet Keebler? His fur is very soft,” she said.

“Oh, no. That’s OK,” I said. “I was just reading his bio. I’m not looking to adopt a cat. We already have two cats at home. I noticed that it says he’s shy. Three years ago, we adopted one that was very shy. We named him Linus because he used to hide under blankets all the time.”

“Linus is a cute name. Is he still really shy?” she asked.

“Not anymore. He’s a total scam artist. He was just looking for the right suckers to lift up his blanket in the shelter. He looked sad and terrified, but after a few months with us, he became a lap cat who constantly craves our attention.”

“You sound like just the kind of parents Keebler needs,” she said.

Oregano saw me talking to the volunteer and walked over. “He’s another fraidy cat like Linus,” I said.

The volunteer opened the door to the crate. Without even realizing what I was doing, I reached in and began scratching Keebler’s back. He started to purr and arched his back into the air giving us the “elevator butt” salute.

The volunteer looked surprised. “He has never had that reaction with anyone else during these adoption days. He usually just cowers in his crate.”

“I’m sure you say that to all the prospective parents.”

She smiled, “I’m serious. He’s never reacted like this to anyone else.” She glanced at the other volunteer. “We believe the cats choose their parents.”

“I agree with you about that, but I’ve already been chosen twice. I’m not currently on the market,” I replied while still petting Keebler’s arched back.

Oregano chimed in, “He is an orange tabby. You’ve always wanted an orange tabby.” He wasn’t helping the situation.

“Really?!” said the volunteer sensing that she had two suckers on the hook.

“Today is Mother’s Day. He needs a mom.” She was really working this sales pitch.

“Wow! What do you do when you aren’t volunteering with the rescue group, sell used cars?” I asked.

She laughed, “No. I’ve made it my mission to find him a home. He’s been at the shelter for 8 months. Because he isn’t outgoing, he gets overlooked. He needs just the right home with patient parents who will give him time to come out of his shell. You two sound like you’d be the perfect family for him.”

“He’s cute, but we already have two cats. We don’t want to upset them by bringing in another cat,” I said, shutting the door to Keebler’s crate. “I have a rule that the cats shouldn’t outnumber the humans in a home. If they had thumbs and our credit cards, they’d stage a coup and lock us out of the house.”

Oregano had started petting Keebler through the crate. I saw the look on his face. The volunteer saw the look on his face. Then he spoke, “There’s really no reason why we couldn’t have three though. We have enough room. We helped Linus come out of his shell. We know what to do for Keebler.”

I glanced to my right, I think I saw the volunteer jumping up and down, but maybe that was my imagination.

I glared at Oregano. “Just because we helped Linus, doesn’t mean the same things will work for Keebler. We are not cat whisperers. We can talk about this while we get the dry food you forgot about yesterday.”

We thanked the volunteer, said goodbye to Keebler and walked away.

“We could totally do this,” said Oregano trying to convince me.

“No we can’t!” I said emphatically.“I’ve never had three cats. I don’t even know what the dynamic would be like. Who knows if they’ll even all get along? It’s always risky introducing a new cat,”

My resolve was weakening. I could feel logic, common sense and reasoning evaporate. Why did I stop and pet him? I know the rules. I looked at Oregano, “Let me text my friends who have three cats and see what they say about the logistics and dynamics when they brought their third cat home.”

My friends replied quickly. After reading their responses, I realized these were the wrong people to ask for guidance. When I looked up from my phone, Oregano was gone. I found him in the next aisle looking at litter boxes.

“What are you doing? We already have two perfectly good litter boxes.” I asked.

“We do, but we’re going to have three cats. We’ll need one more while Keebler gets adjusted to his new home,” he said sheepishly.

I stared at him in disbelief.

“What advice did your friends have?” he asked.

“They were not the least bit helpful. They wanted me to text them a picture and asked when they could come over to meet him,” I replied.

That did it. Oregano picked up the new litter box and started walking back to Keebler’s cage. “We haven’t made a decision yet. Where are you going?” I called after him.

“Yes, we have,” he responded over his shoulder as he kept walking. “I’ve wanted a third cat for years, but you’ve always said no. This is the first time you are even considering it, so I’m jumping on this opportunity before you change your mind.”

When we reached Keebler’s cage the volunteer we had spoken to earlier was jumping up and down and clapping. “I was really hoping you’d come back,” she practically squealed.

“We’re seriously thinking about it. Can I pet him again?” I asked.

She opened his crate and once again Keebler let me pet him and arched his back. I glanced across the top of the crate and saw the look on Oregano’s face.

“OK.” I conceded quietly. “It looks like he’s adopting us.”

At this point, both volunteers were ecstatic. They scurried around gathering applications, medical records and other papers. I sat down to fill out the application fully expecting that they would need to contact our vet and references. I was asking what day during the week we’d be able to come back and pick him up. The volunteers stopped moving around and looked at me. “You can take him home with you today,” they practically said in unison.

“Today?! We don’t have a carrier with us and he’s too big to fit in my purse. We can’t take him home today! We need to prepare the room for him.” I was starting to panic. I am not an impulsive shopper and definitely not when it comes to something that is a 15 year commitment.

“You don’t take credit cards. I don’t think we have enough cash for the adoption fee.” I was grabbing at straws.

Oregano stood there amused by my panicking as he reached into his pocket. “Actually, I happen to have enough cash with me, so that’s not an issue,” he said gleefully.

Holy crap! Were we really going to leave this pet store with a new family member? How did this happen? My heart was racing and I felt like I was going to throw up.

“You can borrow the carrier we brought him in today. Just bring it back to us. We’re here every weekend,” offered the volunteer.

“Oh, I see how you people operate,” I said. “Next week I bring back the empty carrier, fall in love with another furry orphan and wind up with a fourth cat. It’s a vicious circle.”

Oregano and the volunteers were laughing at me. “If you’re that worried about your newly developed lack of self-control, I’ll bring the carrier back next weekend without you.”

I pulled him aside, “Are we really doing this? We’re going home with a new cat?! Don’t you think we need to go home and beat this idea to death, overanalyze it for a few months, you know, like we usually do?”

“Yes. We’re really doing this.” He kissed my cheek and walked off to pay for the cat food and the new litter box.

When he returned we posed for a commemorative photo for the rescue group’s website then walked out to the car carrying Keebler in his borrowed traveling crate. On the drive home I glanced in the mirror and saw him curled up looking terrified. I’m pretty sure I looked terrified, too.

playing with my big brother

Linus immediately recognized a fellow fraidy cat and  welcomed his new, nervous brother.

A few days later, we took Keebler to the vet for a wellness exam. When our vet walked into the exam room and saw a cat that looked nothing like our other cats, she laughed, “What did you do?”

“Well, we went into the pet store to buy cat food and came home with a cat,” I explained.

She smiled, “That happens a lot more than you’d think.”

I looked over at Oregano and said, “Just to be on the safe side, we’d better order our cat food online from now on.”

Keebler seems happy and relaxed in his new home.

Keebler seems happy and relaxed in his new home.

 

 

 

 

 

Jack O’Lantern Seeks Jill O’Lantern

** Here’s one from the archives. In other words, I wrote it three years ago when I could count the number of readers on my fingers and toes.** 

 

Who doesn’t love selecting that perfectly shaped, deep orange Halloween pumpkin? No other fruit or vegetable evokes such thoughts of autumn’s colorful leaves and cooler days. Since picking a pumpkin is fun, I thought growing my own pumpkin would be even more fun. I have friends who were surprised to see pumpkins emerge in their yards on the site of the remains of last year’s squirrel ravaged jack o’ lanterns.  How difficult could it be to purposefully plant pumpkin seeds and nurture them into would be jack o’ lanterns?

In past years, I’ve attempted this feat with marginal success. I planted seeds and coaxed them into sprouts only to be defeated by assorted mammals, insects, drought and unintended neglect. Vowing this year would be different, I sowed my seeds outdoors and soon sprouts sprouted, leaves unfurled and vines began trailing. Optimism for a home-grown pumpkin was at an all time high. Each day I watered my little pumpkin patch occasionally indulging the fledglings with fertilizer. When the first pumpkin blossoms formed, then bloomed, Oregano and I were euphoric. We’d never had blooms before. Surely little round pumpkins couldn’t be far behind.

By August,  the euphoria at seeing pumpkin blossoms faded to concern for the well being of my pumpkins to be. There was nothing that even remotely resembled a baby pumpkin growing in my pumpkin patch. No round bundle of joy to nurture and rotate so it doesn’t grow to be lopsided. How would I ever have a pumpkin by Halloween? I did what any expectant gardener would do; I consulted the internet where thirty minutes of research yielded quite a lesson in pumpkin procreation.

Pumpkin blossoms are only open for one day before they shrivel and die. Bees are the primary pollen distribution network. If the bees aren’t in the mood or aren’t in the neighborhood, the pumpkins miss their window of opportunity to leave their mark on the world and die as virgins. There seems to be a lot that needs to happen in a short period of time to create that little miracle of life known as a pumpkin. Most of the gardening websites suggested human intervention in the pollination process to improve pumpkin production. To be honest, that’s a little more involved than I was planning on getting with my pumpkins. My desperation for  little orange pumpkin babies was so strong, I was willing to resort to artificial insemination. After reading up on the various methods of pumpkin matchmaking I was ready to help my shy pumpkin flowers do the deed. One website even jokingly suggested setting the mood with a little Marvin Gaye or Barry White.

As is important in most baby-making processes, a male and female are necessary. It was crucial for me to tell the difference between male and female pumpkin flowers and after searching Google images, I confidently returned to the pumpkin patch to get personal with my pumpkins. Since it was late in the day, blossom shrinkage had already occurred and I was forced to pull the petals apart to peek at my pumpkins’ private parts. This seemed akin to pulling down their pants and I found myself apologizing to the pumpkins for this invasion of their privacy.

All too quickly it became obvious why I didn’t have any pumpkin babies budding on the vines. I had a homosexual pumpkin patch! There wasn’t a single female pumpkin blossom in the entire patch. My dreams of a home-grown jack o’ lantern were withering and dying faster than a day old pumpkin blossom. Trying to stem my disappointment, I stripped off my gardening gloves and consulted websites where I learned that this was a common issue. Apparently the male flowers are first to arrive on the scene to attract the pollinators to the area after which the female flowers should begin to grow. Mother Nature, being a wise woman, doesn’t want to waste her females’ precious six hours of fertility waiting to get laid if there’s no one around to get the job done.

Each morning I trekked to the pumpkin patch to peek at the newly opened flowers hoping a female had decided to crash my all male pumpkin party. Some may consider this the behavior of a pumpkinphile. While I found my new fixation on the sexual orientation of my pumpkin blossoms a bit unusual, I did not to think of myself as a pumpkinphile. I wasn’t doing anything criminal nor did I have any intent on harming the pumpkins. I was not getting some sick satisfaction from this – well at least I wouldn’t until I saw a baby pumpkin growing. Since I was in this for the offspring and not the sex, I preferred to classify myself as a pumpkin fertility facilitator. I found myself in a situation with which The Peanuts character Linus would be very familiar; I was waiting for The Great Pumpkin to arrive. When that female pumpkin blossom does finally rise from my pumpkin patch, she’s going to have her pick of guys and I will be at the ready to quickly pollinate her before she withers away.

Epilogue

Several weeks later I visited the Green Animals Topiary Garden near Newport, Rhode Island. While walking through the various gardens that day I recognized male and female pumpkin blossoms on the vines. I was curious to see how this professional pumpkin patch was progressing. As I approached, I saw that there were small, green pumpkins maturing on the vines. It was at that moment, on a rainy day, in a pumpkin patch far from home, that I understood the dreams of my own home-grown jack o’lantern were squashed.

Seeing this pumpkin growing squashed my delusions that I’d have a homegrown jack o’lantern.

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