Saturday, July 28, 2007

Halloween in July

Meet the newest member of our household, as yet unnamed.

At the bottom of our steep one-way block is another steeper, shorter block -- too steep and short to be a real street, instead it's one of the famous Step Streets of the North Bronx (scroll down to the picture of Summit Place -- that's it). And it's become, somehow, a dumping ground for unwanted cats. At any given time there's usually a pack of about five or six, in various stages of health or decrepitude depending on how long they've been out there, how many fights they've been through or litters birthed. At least one woman feeds them regularly every morning, and people are always coming by with food. They have somewhere to go out of the weather, perhaps the shed behind the church rectory, but I'm not sure.

Most of them are easily spooked and wary of people, but a few are friendly. This little guy was the most charming of the bunch, always happy to be picked up and petted. I fell hard for his strange little goblin face and started bringing him treats, and in the last month or so he'd come when I called, popping up out of nowhere for affection and food.

So, y'know. Some couples randomly decide it's a good time to have children; we adopt critters. We'd been talking about taking him in for a while, and since I had a week off I figured it would be a good time to oversee introductions and keep an eye on him. Surely I can't be the only person on earth who plans personal days not around fabulous vacations or exciting events but pet adoption?

We picked him up Saturday and took him to the vet Sunday. The first thing she did was to peg him as a Bombay cat, possibly purebred. Figures -- out of all the strays to pick up off the streets of the Bronx, we get an exotic. But he fits the bill perfectly. He's a tiny little thing, but she figured him to be around a year old, so this is as big as he's going to get.

Sadly, his initial FIV test came back a "light positive," so they sent his sample off to their lab for a Western blot. Which came back inconclusive, so we'll have to get him retested in another few months. Not particularly surprising for a stray cat, but sad all the same. And we're going to have to keep an eye on him with Mr. Bonkers -- it's transmittable only if the little guy bites Mr. B, but that's not an entirely crazy scenario. For the time being they've been avoiding each other, but we're going to keep the little guy in his room -- formerly known as Gideon's room -- when we're not home.

Relations are cordial with Dorrie. So long as nobody makes any sudden moves, the two of them can coexist pretty peacefully in the same room. I don't doubt there will be chasing and hissing eventually, but at least their first impressions of each other were fairly peaceable. Mr. Bonkers has stared at him and they've hissed at each other, and yesterday he walked into the room -- Mr. B, who almost exclusively goes to the bathroom outside -- and ostentatiously peed in the litterbox. That's telling him.

Mostly he's very cautious and sticks to his room, ducking under the bed if he feels threatened. But he loves attention, and he's terribly gentle -- hasn't put his claws out once, and is completely mellow about having his feet and ears handled. He's been exploring the upstairs when nobody's around, and hopefully he'll loosen up in a few weeks. Maybe longer, who knows? And at some point he'll even get a name.

But for now he's the Little Black Kitty who looks like a kid's drawing of a Halloween cat, and he lives with us.


Thursday, July 19, 2007


Two years ago today, Milo died.

He was a year and a half old, and no one is quite sure what killed him. He started out with a huge cyst on the side of his neck in the third week of June and died of pneumonia on July 19, drowned by the fluid in his lungs. The vets ran lab samples for weeks afterward, and they never came up with a conclusive diagnosis. He just got sick and he died, a tough little dog in perfect health.

Milo was my best friend, with no nod to any tired clichés. My ex-boyfriend wanted a Jack Russell and bought him three months before we split up, and by the time we went our separate ways it was clear that Milo was mine. Everyone’s dog is special, but Milo was different, somehow. It wasn’t just his outsized Jack Russell personality, and it wasn’t his evil genius smarts. There was just something about him. People would pull their cars over and get out to kneel down and play with him. Everybody loved him, and he loved everybody, except for one person’s husband who will remain unnamed, and I’m convinced Milo was right. I took him everywhere with me, and everywhere he went he made friends.

He was small, just fifteen pounds, but he could jump four feet in the air easily. When I got home from work at the end of the day I could hear him scrabbling frantically on the other side of the door – I was always convinced that sometime after five he’d take up his post and wait for hours, if need be. He was never the kind of dog you felt OK about leaving home, not because he was destructive but because it was clear how terribly he missed me. I would walk in the door and put down my purse on the windowsill, and then I’d clap my hands and he would JUMP into my arms and lick my face hysterically, sticking his tongue as far up my nose as he could. A friend once said he had a spring in his ass, and that was as good an explanation as any. If I held a stick at shoulder height he would leap for it, doing a neat 180 while airborne. Kids in the park would say “WOW, how’d you teach him how to do that?” But I never taught him a thing. It was all part of his uncontainable exuberance.

Our cat, Mr. Bonkers, adopted us because he fell in love with Milo. Milo would bark and bark at him, and the cat would stand his ground until he stopped, and then move in for a cuddle. They would wrassle like a couple of little boys, but they loved each other dearly. Milo loved cats and kids and other dogs, the bigger the better. He thought he was a mastiff and no one ever told him otherwise.

The four weeks he was sick were like a waking nightmare. That was the single worst time of my life, I think. Whereas before there had been all the romance of being A Girl and Her Dog, once he got sick I felt more alone than I ever have in my life. I would wake at three in the morning to feel the little blast furnace of his feverish body shaking next to me. I’d turn up the air conditioner and try to sleep for another half hour, then take his temperature to find it was something horrible. And I’d sit up in bed holding him, wondering if I had to bring him to the Animal Medical Center again, if I couldn’t just give him a cool bath, if he was sick enough for me to have to leave him. And invariably I’d get in my car at four and drive down to 62nd Street on the empty streets, and wait for hours in that terrible waiting room where everyone was always crying. Then I’d drive home without him, sanitation trucks the only other vehicles out besides me, and I’d roll down my windows in the early morning heat and smell the garbage. I’d get home, shower, go to work. Pick him up a few days later and do it all over again. He always trusted me to take care of him – it showed in every look he ever gave me. He trusted me, and in the end I couldn’t. I’ve never felt so useless.

I hemorrhaged money for him. Biopsies, CT scans, IV fluids, two- and three-day stays. And every time they called my name to pay, I’d smile and pull out another credit card and say “I don’t care how many years it takes me to pay this off, as long as they’re years with him.” I ended up spending over a third of my salary that year, which wasn’t much to begin with. It will be another year before I’m done paying, I think. I maxed out all my cards and didn’t even end up with a new car or a cool stereo or a trip somewhere exotic. Just a little dead dog. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. My only regret is that I didn’t take his ashes. It would have cost me an extra $150, and at that point he was gone and I couldn’t see the use. I would like to have them now, though. They did make me a plaster pawprint, and I treasure it.

I can’t talk about the day he died. Just thinking of it chokes me up no matter where I am or how I’m feeling. Up until the day before, I had been sure – everyone had been sure, even the vets – that he would make it. But he didn’t. I will tell you that I have never wailed so loud and so hard in front of so many people.

Something inside me broke into a million pieces that day, and it’s never really come back together. I know that sounds melodramatic. But I’m not the same person I was before he died. I don’t know how a little dog’s passing could tear me up and rearrange me so completely, and why I still ache when I think of him, but I do.

Everyone told me Milo’s short life was a good one, and they were right. If a dog’s chief purpose in life is to make his people happy, then Milo was fulfilled. I woke every morning with him socked tight against my body, his nose on my shoulder, and I was so far from lonely. He would open his eyes, smile at me, roll over on his back and stretch. With his boxy little chest and endlessly long midsection, he looked like some kind of fantastic musical instrument, and I had to bury my nose in his neck and kiss him. He smelled like brown bread baking.

Rest in peace, little buddy. I loved you so much.


Monday, July 09, 2007


Doesn't this look appetizing?

Sometimes the stuff I throw out is prettier than the finished item. (It was mango salsa. Good but not transcendant.)

Also: I finally sent my friend Lysne, the person who organized my big excellent gardening care package, a box of gingerbread cookies to say thanks yet again. She took the photo -- looks like they made it reasonably intact. I sent a batch to my friend Eileen in Colorado for a belated birthday present as well.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hey Baby

It’s the Fourth of July.

Cool, a bit overcast. A good day to take stock of my gardening efforts so far, see what worked, see what didn't, think about what I might want to do next year. Definitely raised beds for the vegetables and anything delicate -- there's just too much four-pawed traffic for little seedlings. And my soil is so rocky -- no matter how much I clear out, it seems to push its detritus up almost violently from who-knows-where, like a virulent case of earth acne. Every weekend there are rocks in places that there weren’t any the weekend before, and pretty much every single evening for the past few years I've walked around the back yard and found a good handful of glass (sunset being a good time to find pieces of glass at the top of a westward-facing hill, which is where I am).

F’rinstance, today I found this bone growing in a patch I’d painstakingly cleared out a couple of weeks before. It’s a bit over three inches long, a deep yellowy brown color. Obviously butchered -- lamb, maybe, tossed to someone's dog once upon a time? If so it must have been a while back, because the woman who lived here for many years before me was a crazy cat lady, and no dog had seen this yard for a while before I showed up. Then again it could have been brought in by one of our raccoon citizens anytime. But it’s ancient, the texture and color of old wood. After taking its picture I put it down and the entire joint end crumbled off.

But the herbs are thriving, peppers and tomatoes getting bigger, squash and cucumber with flowers, nasturtiums doing their thing. Check out this epic battle of nasturtium vs. cucumber. Looks like the cucumber's gonna win but you never know.

The buddleia is finally starting to leaf out – I need to get a good set of pruning shears to cut it back, among other things. Eventually that will be a butterfly bush covered with frothy pink flowers, and presumably there will be butterflies.

And this Scottish moss, with its pretty little white flowers, is eventually going to be part of a cool rock garden/sculptural tree stump assemblage. I don’t have a clear picture of what exactly it will look like when done, and suspect it might be one of those things that’s never quite done, but that’s OK – it can be the resident artwork in progress. That tree stump isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so I might as well let it call the shots.

The pachysandra and pulmonaria that I brought down from my friend Katharine’s well-established patches in Connecticut are thriving and sending up shoots, and my hosta is already doing better than last summer. I’ve left a lot of weed plants to fill up space because green is better than brown, but I hope as I rack up some years and things get bigger and heartier, there will be more deliberation and less scribbling. In the meantime, it’s looking pretty lush and comfortable. If the Cheap Plastic Chair Company ever sends me some replacement cheap plastic chairs that aren’t broken upon arrival, we’ll have a nice spot to relax and have a cup of coffee and enjoy our lower forty.

And Mr. Bonkers loooooves him his catnip. He just might be the happiest one of us all.