I just blew a big ol' bubble while I was talking on the phone. Now I've got bubble-gum all over my face. And the phone. Some days I'm brighter than others. This is shaping up to be a fairly dim day, I'm afraid.
Last weekend I learned a lesson I learn at least five times a year: don't blow bubbles when you're riding your motorcycle. It collects bugs and makes a mess.
At least I don't smoke any more...
The Littlest Bear
Boy, I tell ya what, 2000 was an interesting year for me! In June I bought my little house in the 'hood. I met Dagmar over the Fourth of July holiday. Our "first date," such as it was, was at my housewarming party. (I gave a buddy of mine who knew Dagmar ten bucks to "bring that Austrian gal" to the party. Somehow he conned her into coming to the shindig, for which I gave him his ten bucks and a pint and a half of Jägermeister.)
As soon as I'd cleaned up the cans from the housewarming party the next day (and made sure I had that Austrian gal's phone number) I made a trip to the Humane Society. It was my longtime dream to own my own house -- partially so I could have a cat without worrying about landlords kicking me out. So now I got the house, it's time to get a cat... (I briefly thought about getting a pooch, but my yard is so very tiny... A cat it shall be.)
Once at the Humane Society I was immediately overwhelmed. For a reasonably small town, Sioux City had a LOT of animals for adoption. I scanned rows and rows of cages, each holding at least one cat, most having several kittens. Cats and kittens and kittens and cats. I stood there, not real sure where to start. I mean, here I am, trying to pick out a critter who will hopefully be my bestest buddy, my boon companion, my little pal. It's kind of a strange thing to think about... One wants to be careful in these decisions.
"Can I help you?" asked a lady. She seemed to work there.
"Yeah," I said, "I want a kitty..." I made vague pointy gestures at a cage of kittens.
"Oh, here's a nice kitty," the lady said, opening a cage and reaching inside. I peered inside to see a massive hissing lump of white and gray. "She's only five years old. Her owners had to get rid of her because she kept biting the children." The lump of gray and white hissed some more and nipped the lady on the thumb. "You don't have children, do you?"
"Uh, no," I said. "I'm really hoping for a kitten."
"Everyone wants kittens," the lady said, abandoning her attempt to get the gray and white lump out of the cage. "The problem is that they turn into cats and end up here, and we have a hard time finding homes for the adult cats. Are you sure you don't want a more mature kitty?" She gestured at the neighboring cage which had what looked like a mutant bobcat stuffed in it.
"No, really, I want a kitten," I repeated. "I'm looking for a smaller female cat. I have a small house so I don't really want a big ol' clumsy tomcat stinking the place up."
"Kittens, everyone wants a kitten. Okay, pick one," the lady said as she turned away.
I spent about an hour looking at kittens. Little gray kittens and little black kittens and mean kittens and shy kittens. I'd about made my decision to take a little gray kitty home with me when a small orange fluffball in a cage towards the bottom caught my attention.
"Where have you been?" I asked the orange kitten. Little kitty yawned and stretched. "Oh, you were napping." The kitten came up past all the other kittens in the cage to the front and gave me the big-eyed look. I peeked at the tag on the cage with the kittens' names on it. "Petunia, Rose, Buttercup, Shadow, Stinky" it said. I could see Stinky over in the corner of the cage. "Hmmm," I said to little orange kitten, "you must be Petunia, Rose or Buttercup."
I went to the front counter and told the lady I'd made my decision. She came back with the key and opened the cage. The little orange kitty walked right into my hand. "Oh," said the lady, "that's Buttercup. She'll be a good kitten for you." Buttercup purred and wriggled around until she was on my shoulder. She sat on my shoulder the whole time I signed the papers and paid the bill and got all my instructions... When you get a cat from the pound you gotta promise to get 'em fixed or else they'll repo your pet.
The ride home was interesting. Turns out Buttercup didn't like cars. She spent the whole ride under the gas pedal, which made for some interesting driving...
"We gotta change your name," I said to Buttercup a bit later as I dropped her into her new litterbox. "Buttercup just isn't gonna work..." If I get naming rights, I traditionally name cats after the first thing they catch, as one thing I admire about cats is their ferocious and tenacious hunting ability. I had a cat named Cricket for years.
That night my new Austrian girlfriend Dagmar stopped by to visit. "Ach!" she said as she opened the door. "Vhat is DAT?" She stared at the floor with a horrified look.
"Oh, that's my new kitten," I said, scooping the cat formerly known as Buttercup off the floor. "Kitten, meet Dagmar. Dagmar, this is a kitten."
"I'm allergic," said Dagmar. "Cats make me sick."
It's a testament to her love for me that Dagmar went out and bought a bucketful of allergy pills and came back to visit again the next day. "Dat furball," she said, perched gingerly on the sofa, "it has a name?"
"Not yet," I replied. "Cats are known for being fierce hunters. I'll name her after the first thing she hunts. I have to take her to the vet to get her shots in a little bit. Do you want to come along?"
"Vell, okay... I guess I did take my allergy pill. I should be okay to go with you to the vet. Vhat is de furball doing now?" She pointed to the kitten, who was engaged in a mighty struggle with something over there in the corner.
"Yay!" I said. "The kitten is bravely earning her name! Let's go see what she caught..."
So, when we got to the vet, the first question on the form they handed us was "Pet's Name." I dutifully wrote "Fruitloop."
"Ah," said the vet, "so it's time for young..." (he looked at the form) "Fruitloop to get shots, huh?" The vet picked young Fruitloop up off the counter. A few minutes later Dagmar and I stood by the door as the vet gave us our final instructions. "The shots are good for six months, you'll have to bring Fruitloop in again then for some more. Oh, and you got him from the Humane Society, so you'll have to get him fixed in a few months as soon as he's old enough."
"Um..." I said, "You mean get HER fixed, don't you?"
"No, Fruitloop's a boy," said the vet. Dagmar broke out laughing.
"Gaaaahhh!" I said. "I told the lady at the pound I wanted a girl cat -- they're smaller and don't pee on people. And the sign said 'Buttercup'." Dagmar laughed harder.
"Well, Buttercup's a boy. It's good you changed his name. Here, do you want me to show you?"
"NO! No, I'll take your word for it..." Dagmar had tears running down her face.
So, I picked out a girl cat named Buttercup and ended up with a tomcat named Fruitloop. Go figger.
Fast forward to the weekend (editor's note - I stole this part from a column I wrote for a local paper years ago): “Had much to drink tonight?” asked the nice policeman. “Oh, a few,” I answered, muttering a word my dad taught me under my breath.
I’d been in the neighborhood all of a week, and hadn’t yet met my neighbors. Now, at a quarter to four in the morning I’m getting pulled over in my own driveway. I looked to the left. Sure enough, the lights were on in the house next door, and someone was peeking through the window. I looked to the right. Yep, they were watching as well. Poop.
I explained to the nice officer that I had just finished playing with my band at a local bar, and he suggested I might as well step out of the car anyway. I watched my new neighbors watch me touch my nose and walk an imaginary line. “Hey, Ethel,” I could hear them say. “Come watch the new hippie get arrested. Bring the popcorn.”
The nice officer eventually agreed that I wasn’t a hazard to society and let me go my merry, though embarrassed way. For a week I avoided the neighbors. Long hair, black leather jacket, odd hours... I don’t often make a good first impression.
“What do you wanna bet my neighbors are still up?” I asked my friends about a week later as we came around the corner to my house at a quarter to four in the morning. “The last time they saw me I was standing on one foot trying to say the alphabet backwards.”
“Naw, don’t worry about it,” my friends said. “No one will notice.” So I got out of the car, wearing nothing but a very colorful blanket.
In my defense, we really weren’t skinny-dipping. I had worn my clothes in the water; hence the blanket. Wet clothes are COLD. As I scuttled towards my house I happened to glance across the street. Sure enough, the neighbors were there, sitting on their porch. “Hey, Ethel, get the popcorn! The hippie’s out doing odd things again.” I waved. They didn’t. I vowed to be inconspicuous and polite in the neighborhood from that moment on. I just wasn't fitting in. The neighbors wouldn't talk to me.
Three weeks later I was wandering about the neighborhood peering furtively under bushes, hoping desperately that no one would notice me. “HEY, MAN, WHAT’S GOING ON? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” my friend bellowed from his car as he pulled up.
“Trying to be inconspicuous,” I answered politely. “My cat escaped.”
“Oh, man... Fruitloop’s gone?”
“Yeah, I must have left the door open a bit,” I answered, peeking under someone's car.
“Let’s go look,” he said.
About that time Dagmar happened along, hoping to visit. We explained the situation and headed off down the street to find the cat. So we’re wandering the streets -- an inconspicuous, skinny hippie boy, a very conspicuous professional comedian, and an amused Austrian woman.
“Excuse me, haf you seen a liddle kitty vandering by?” Dagmar asked a couple of girls. I noticed their father watching from the side yard.
“Yeah,” one of the girls answered. “A little yellow cat was playing around here about half an hour ago. He ran off that way.” The other girl ran up to her worried-looking father and said something in a language I didn’t recognize. The father smiled and waved at us. We headed in the indicated direction.
About a block later, we ran into another group of kids. “We’re looking for a little tiger cat,” said my friend in his best John Wayne voice. “Can ya help us?”
“Yeah,” said one of the kids. “We’ll help watch for your cat.”
Half an hour later, after talking with several groups of kids, I was sitting on the curb, head in hands, sure that my poor little kitty was gone. I could hear echoes of “Ver haf you gone to, liddle Fruitloop,” and “Here kitty, kitty, kitty; Come here, ya little pilgrim,” dancing down the street. I suddenly realized that I was hearing other voices as well. (I mean besides the ones in my head.)
Not only were my friends looking for my cat, but several packs of neighborhood kids were calling for my cat as well. I looked up the street an saw a little old lady standing in front of her porch with a bowl, peering expectantly around as though sure that my kitty would come running for a milk treat.
I walked up the street a ways. A couple sitting on their porch asked if I was the one with the lost cat. “Yep,” I answered. “Don’t you worry none 'bout your cat,” the man told me. “Come round midnight he’ll be crawling up to your door, smilin’ and lookin’ all satisfied.”
“I hope so,” I replied. I wandered off to talk to the little old lady with the milk. “You haven’t seen my cat, by any chance?” I asked her.
“No. Are you with that foreign lady who was asking about a cat earlier?” she asked. “I’ve been hoping to find her cat, too. It’s nice that people care about their pets.”
“Yep, we’re looking for the same cat,” I replied. “I’m starting to get worried.”
“Well, if I find him, I’ll let you know.”
About that time I heard a bellow from the couple on the porch. “HEY! HEY! HEY! I found your cat! He’s right under here!” I looked down the street and saw the man waving his arms at me, smiling. “Fruitloop was sitting under my chair the whole time.”
Several months later, I still got a friendly nod and a smile from the little old lady. The neighborhood kids came to tell me every time they saw a stray tabby cat outside. The couple on the porch always waved at me when I walked by. It’s a little humbling to realize that one little lost cat could bring an extremely diversified neighborhood together, get one inconspicuous hippie welcomed to the community, and provide a "bonding" experience between my friends and I.
The power of pets. Amazing.
A few months later: "Vhat I don't understand is vy he always pees on my right foot. Never on my left, only on my right foot." Our relationship was still fairly new, so I wasn't sure if Dagmar was truly upset or only peeved. I could certainly tell she wasn't happy, though. I handed her another paper towel so she could wipe the Fruity-pee off her shoe.
"I don't know," I said. "I hope he quits peeing on you when we get him fixed. They say male cats don't mark their territory so much once they've been fixed."
"Vell, I'm NOT his territory," she said. "Why doesn't he pee on you?"
"Well, maybe he sees me as the leader of the pack, so to speak. He doesn't know where you fit into the pecking order yet. He might be trying to solidify his role in the household."
"So if you're the king, what am I?"
"Well, you're obviously the queen, Princess!" I said.
"Vell, den, that must make Fruity the joker, huh?"
Life went on. Dagmar and I got married, Fruitloop got fixed and quit peeing, and the allergy pill makers made a mint. Our happy little household trundled along well as could be for years. Mama-Bear, Papa-Bear, and the Littlest Bear of All. Every year we take Little Bear Fruitloop to the vet for a checkup. The vet was a little peeved at us last February.
"Fruitloop's eight now," he said. "Last year he weighed sixteen and a half pounds. This year he weighs over seventeen pounds. That's really too big for a cat. Now I told you last year that you needed to watch his weight. We need to get him down to about twelve pounds or so..."
"But but but but..." I said intelligently, "we put the poor little boy on diet food." I looked at my beloved wife Dagmar for support. "Yeah," she said, "und ve hardly give him much at all."
The vet peered over his glasses at us. "You may need to exercise him more, or limit his portions. Somehow he has to lose some weight. He's a healthy cat other than that, but just like in people, the more he weighs the more likely he is to die at a young age. He's been slowly gaining weight for years, and I've been telling you for years to do something about it. It's time for you guys to listen."
We collected Fat Boy Fruity and made our way to the door. "We'll do better," I said to the vet. "We'll make sure to exercise him more."
When we got home, Dagmar went straight to Fruitloop's food dish and dumped it out. "Sorry Little Buddy," she said. "From now on you only get a cup of food a day." I rummaged around and found the kitty's favorite toy and put it out where we'd be sure to see it more often.
Strangely enough, our new routine of feeding Fruits less and playing with him more actually lasted quite a while. Normally within a few days we're back to our old ways, but this time we stuck with it for a while. A few weeks ago Dagmar called across the house to me, "You know, I think Fruity's lost some weight!" I went over and looked at the boy. "Yep, he looks a little skinnier to me too!" We were happy -- this is what the vet wanted!
The next week found Dagmar and I standing in the kitchen, staring at Fruity's food dish. "I haven't fed him yet today," I said.
"Me either," answered Dagmar. "He's not eating, is he?"
"No, he's not."
"Shall I give him some chicken?"
"Sure, sounds good."
Fruitloop did indeed eat the chicken. The next day he started eating his food again. Life went back to normal -- the three of us in our small house. I'd nap on the couch with a Fruit-Monster snoozing on my feet. We'd sit in the computer room where Dagmar would play hide-and-pounce with the Ferocious Fruits. Rarely has there been a time in the past eight years where we're home and our Little Bear isn't within just a few feet of us. We're a close fambly. (Daddy sings bass, Mama sings tenor, and kitty sings Fruitissimo.)
Then he quit eating again.
"Should we call the vet?" Dagmar asked me, a slight quaver in her voice.
"Nah, he's okay," I said. "He's just being finicky."
But Dagmar persisted. "He's looking awfully skinny. I vood like to call the vet. I'm worried about the little fella." I nodded. "Okay, but the vet's just going to say that he's just being finicky..." We made an appointment.
"He's lost a third of his body weight," said the vet. "That's not good in such a short time. Something's wrong with him. This is not trivial." He pulled the thermometer out of where they put thermometers in cats. "His temperature is okay... I'm going to need to do some blood work." He picked up Fruity and went into the other room. We heard a yowl as the vet drew blood...
Dagmar and I made small talk until the vet came back with our little buddy. "I'll send the blood sample off to the lab this afternoon," the vet told us. "You take Fruitloop home. I'll call you tomorrow and let you know what I find out. It could be any number of diseases. I have suspicions that he's a very sick little kitty, but we'll know more tomorrow."
Dagmar drove us home as we sat in stunned silence, Fruitloop on my lap, staring apathetically out the window. "Vhat are we going to do if it's serious?" asked Dagmar. "We should probably talk about this."
"There's not much we can say until we know more," I said. "We'll do what's best for Fruitloop." He lay still as I stroked his chin.
"It's going to be hard not to be selfish," said Dagmar. "I vant him to be around." We paid a lot of attention to the little guy that night, scratching his head, not complaining when he woke us up at four in the morning. Dagmar cried.
The next morning (yesterday) I sat at work fidgeting, waiting for the vet to call, wondering if this was the day I'd have to make the decision to put my buddy down. When my cell phone finally rang I didn't want to answer it. Maybe if I don't know what's wrong, well, maybe then there's nothing wrong...
"Hi, this is the doctor from the vet's office. I have the results back."
I mumbled something.
The doctor continued, "Fruitloop's glucose level is over twice what it should be in felines. He has diabetes. He's a very sick cat." The doctor talked a lot more, finishing with "You'll have to give him shots twice a day. I'll need you to bring him in so we can get his insulin level stabilized, and we need to keep him for some more tests to see how serious it is."
My little buddy's been at the vet's office ever since. He's a sick little kitty. But of course we'll do what we need to do to keep him... The insulin is (they say) about two-hundred dollars a year. That's not bad. We can afford that.
Tomorrow we get to bring our little pal back home again. Tomorrow we can sleep knowing Fruity's with us. Tomorrow we can hug him. Tomorrow we start the insulin.
Tomorrow I get to see the shock of betrayal in my little pal's eyes as I jab a needle in him as he sits in my lap. Twice a day I'll hurt my kitty. Twice a day from now on I'll be able to hear the vet's voice in my mind telling me over and over to limit my buddy's intake. Twice a day I'll feel guilty that I was irresponsible. Twice a day I'll have to look into those big trusting eyes as I give him an injection and wonder why I was so selfish, why I let my cat get sick, why I didn't listen...