Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Mentalist: Sherlock Holmes Meets TV Psychic

December 31, 2013

            There's just enough here to keep us watching.  Just enough.  Simon Baker as sleuth Patrick Jane exudes enough wit and humility to keep the rusty old plots together long enough to be entertaining.  If it's easy to guess the killer and be right most of the time, it's a sign that the writers are being lazy.  Where's the suspense?  What's the fun if we know who murdered the victim within ten minutes?  It seems as though the writers are getting plots from a software program and fleshing them out with a strong leading cast. 
            Mind you, this is halfway through Season One.  I decided to order Season Two on the basis of a good story on Disc Four.  Maybe the series will get better. Maybe the producers got the green light on another season and decided to put more effort into the writing.  We can always hope.  It's a good gimmick, the reformed phony psychic turned cop, or "consultant", in a Special Crimes Unit.  Described that way, it reeks of Network TV, but, again, there's the work of Simon Baker.  It would be easy to sneer at a dude who looks like Simon Baker.  But his character, Patrick Jane, has been broken.  His wife and child were murdered by a serial madman named Red John.  This is the crisis that changed Patrick Jane from a show-biz psychic to an investigator who uses his skills at reading people to ferret out the criminal.  Baker as Patrick Jane carries himself with a large degree of appealing self mockery. 
            Red John hasn't been caught.  The show's producers seemed to be keeping him in a storage closet in case they got renewed.  Now they've gotten the budget for a Season Two (and, looky! They're still in production for Season Six). Now they can bring out Red John and start building a story arc that may generate some real suspense.  Meanwhile, we will keep watching.  So far, The Mentalist is a C/grade series with promise.  If it builds itself up, it might become worth three muskrats.*

*Muskrats are my grading curve.  The highest accolade for media production would be a grade of five muskrats.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Is This Story Worth Reading?

November, 2013

When I go to the library I check out five or six books at a time.  I hope that one or two will be worth reading.  I know in advance the rest won't grab my interest.  I like fiction and non fiction, I'm a reader as omnivorous as The Monster That Devoured Cleveland, except that I'm the Monster That Devoured The Cleveland Library.
I tend to avoid any fiction that features government security acronyms.
CIA, FBI, NSA, etc etc.  Those are red flags for potboilers.  Those are the books about plots to assassinate the President, the Vice President, blow up the White House or nuke Los Angeles.  I'm categorically against nuking anything, even Los Angeles.
In  spite of this common sense injunction I picked up a novel that screamed
"rogue operative", a Bourne Conspiracy-style suspense story.  I read 140 pages of the stuff before I came to a screeching  halt and asked myself the simple question: Is this story worth reading?  Was it worth writing?  It was probably worth writing because it was making its author a bit of money but I would have been embarrassed to put my name on it, much less a full page picture of myself on the back jacket cover, all dressed up in a suit and tie and looking like a Yale Law School graduate.
The nerve of the guy!
In my mind, this question is at the heart of every writing project: is this story worth telling?  If it's not, then don't tell it.
What makes a story worth telling?  I look for three elements in narrative.  I look for entertainment, information and inspiration.  If it isn't entertaining the story will belly flop like a fat clown jumping into a sandbox.  The question, then, is what makes a story a page-turner?  We have to insert the standard elements of story , i.e. a hero or heroine.  We need a villain to obstruct the hero and raise the emotional temperature of a story.  And we need a stake.  What's at stake? What does the hero want?  To save the world?  To win someone's love?  To prevent the conquest of his country? The annals of story telling are saturated with causes and quests and their corollary threats and jeopardies.  A good writer doesn't wait long before getting his hero into trouble. Stories are about trouble, about overcoming long odds, about persisting beyond the normal limits of endurance.

When I say that a story should inform, I don't refer to article-style content about a peculiar subject.  The informing is done by establishing a unique world-view.  A writer informs the reader by building a consistent milieu.  In science fiction or fantasy this Informing goes on all the time.  In conventional narrative the information flows from the slice-of-life view that the writer invents.                     Odd subcultures offer fertile ground for story telling.  The writer can be a subculture of one; he/she can be eccentric to the point of madness.  THAT information must flow through the story: the protagonist is nuts.  Inform the reader of this fact.  Achieve the alchemy of suspense by having the hero put his oddness to use in cracking the case, or neutralizing the enemy.
Inspiration is the most difficult thing to achieve in story telling.  If I finish reading a story and I'm inspired to write, I consider that a successful story.  "Inspire" is defined by one dictionary as "To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion."  That works well enough for me.  The original Greek word means "to fill with spirit," or even "To Breathe."
It's hard to bring these three crucial elements together to make a compelling story.  A writer might get two out of three.  The story may be entertaining and informative but lack inspiration.  My standards are high, I admit.  I want it all.  I want to feel lifted by a story.  I've loved reading since I was seven years old.  I'll love reading for the rest of my life.  All I need are writers to provide me with material that gives me pleasure.  I want to feel intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual joy in my contact with the written word.
          Nothing less will do.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Animal Companion Book Circle

This is Bear

General Stonewall Jackson Cichlid

          In my efforts to remain the world's most obscure talented writer, I have enlisted the help of my household animal friends. I've told the story of Bear's rescue from the puppy mill.
I've told of my encounter with General Stonewall Jackson Cichlid. I'd like to introduce the other members of the book circle and give a thumbnail description of each of my friends.
           Bear is certainly the leading intellect of the group. He is willful, stubborn and sometimes hard to motivate. He learns dog tricks as if they're beneath his dignity, (which they are), but in order to please us he sits, shakes hands and rolls over.
          Bear is the most loyal of fans. He loves my writing and his critiques are incisive and sometimes painful. But that' as it should be. A writer needs to hear about failures from someone who is supportive. A book circle such as this one, dedicated to the work of a single author, is a special vehicle for the writer's work.
          Bear's loyalty is demonstrated in his absolute devotion to his sex partner,
a stuffed dog named Samantha. Here it is, almost a year since his nuts were cut off,
and Bear still humps Samantha two or three times a week. He has no shame in these public displays. He does a little dance around Samantha. He jumps up and forward in a canine declaration of love and dominance. It's a complex movement. His hind legs make a motion as if he is kicking dirt backwards into the faces of any rivals. Those legs stay on the ground while Bear raises the front of his body to a forty five degree angle. This is accompanied by a simultaneous hop forward by a few inches. This dance is done in a circle around Samantha before Bear begins the serious humping.
          "Ufff ruff," he says. Samantha lays on her side. She's a toy, she's inanimate. It doesn't matter to Bear. When he was just a puppy he had his first girlfriend, a toy brown dog named Greta. Somewhere between Greta and Samantha, and before we had Bear's nuts chopped off, we mated Bear with a real toy poodle named Snickers. That's another story. The union, however, produced another member of my Book Circle. This is Gabriel Kuruk (pronounced koo-roook).
         Gabe is a dog of mischief. He was the runt in a litter of two. His sister Kiani
is about the size of her mother, Snickers. Gabe barely weighs three pounds. Bear is a hefty hunk of muscle tipping the scales at seven pounds. Undaunted by his smallness, Gabe is fearless and clever. As a critic of literature he's a joker and is apt to make snide comments about my Philip Roth-style stories of Jewish life in the suburban sixties. Still, it takes all kinds to make a dynamic Book Circle.
          We know that Gabe prefers comic books. We also know that he's not stupid.  He takes his time learning things like "shake hands" but once he's mastered a skill he takes it to breathtaking extremes. Gabe shakes hands with everyone and everything.
          Bear always knows which end Samantha is the business end.  Gabe doesn't care. He messes with Samantha just to piss on his father's head.  So to speak. On our walks with the double leash it's Bear who usually pisses on Gabe's head. It only seems fair that Gabe will take any approach to Samantha:
head first, hind end forward, I don't think he really knows the difference. Besides,
it's too late for Gabe to attempt any production of heirs. He lost his nuts the same day Bear's gonads were separated from his body.  It seems to have done little damage to the father-son bond. They may tease one another, they may piss on one another's heads, but they remain close.

(More tomorrow about the Animal Companion Book Circle, sharing the works of

the world's most talented obscure writer, Art Rosch.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Brief Lesson In Sunshine

A solar flare of considerable size and power

Don't park your go-cart on the sun
don't park your skateboard or your razor on the sun
don't park your mountain bike or scooter with
a clown horn or a hooter don't park anything NASA's not tutored
on the sun.  Don't mess with the heliosphere
don't fuck up the corona don't throw old popcorn or discard soda
don't park your pickup to kiss your girlfriend
within a light year or with your door open
a solar mass ejection might damage your erection
even wearing goggles don't go there for a snoggle
don't do back flips or wheelies on the sun.

Taken in ultraviolet light. Temperatures of areas shown as white: one million degrees
The solar magnetic field.  It flips every eleven years.  It's getting ready to flip again.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

From Playboy Magazine: Sex And The Triple Znar-Fichi

Copyright law prevents me from doing a straight scan of this story, so I've cut and pasted some of the graphics and re-typed the text.  This appeared in the Fall issue of Playboy (let us say it's been a few years, shall we?).  It won Best Story Of the Year Award.

          Sitting indolently in his gravity couch, Nerl Forfeech was drooling over this month’s Plaything centerfold.  The shiny cellulose pages fell all the way to the floor, because on the planet Znar-foot there are six genders, and the photograph included all the erotic subtypes.
          In this issue, as always, a gorgeous nude Six sprawled in the typically
suggestive pile, gravity being so low on Znar-foot that any other arrangement would have resulted in the lovers floating away.  Their faces were lit with the ecstasy of romantic communion, their organs photographed in a teasing way to be almost, but not quite, visible.  Nerl, idly fondling one of his protuberances, sighed as he viewed the tinted nipples, the arousing half-glimpses of fur-covered apertures.
          Then, suddenly, the door-iris swooshed open and Cloong walked in.  Nerl hastily stuffed the segments back into the magazine.  He almost fell from the couch as he attempted to hide the issue under some cushions.
          Cloong giggled at her embarrassed partial lover.  “Oh, go ahead, “ she piped.  “I know what you're looking at.  I don’t care.  They ARE rather lovely... but so impossible, don’t you think?”
          Nerl threw down the magazine in disgust.  “I wish you weren’t so right. I’ve had only two Sixes in my entire life, and both of them got weird right away... right after....”
          His voice trailed off at the memory of it.  The ecstasy!  And then, inevitably, confusion.
          Cloong took Nerl by the trunk nooks, and they clung together in mutual  frustration.  Cloong was Nerl’s Two.  And together they had a tentative Three with Albolon Farfing, who, unfortunately, was doing a loose sort of thing with a Two, Three and Four down in the Freesex District in the city of Fichi Forfoot.   Albolon had a tendency to be unreliable, but still they loved him, if a bit reservedly, in return.
          “What do you want to do tonight?” Cloong asked, licking Nerl’s eyeknobs playfully.  To Nerl it only made the craving for someone to be inserting into his side slits more powerful.   Cloong was only a quasi-fem, good for sucking and the like....but he shouldn’t be too unfair to her.  After all, he was only a quasi-him.  His abilities were also limited.  Like it or not, it was the way nature made them.  With dozens of erogenous zones, the Znar-fichi needed flesh on all sides, working in combination to produce the orgasmic culmination of multiple personalities.  You could get off with Three; Four and Five were even better.  But being a Six was the only way to achieve the ultimate OMYGOD-gasm.
          “What can we do?” Nerl echoed distractedly.  “Is there anything we can actually do to remedy this feeling?”
          “Sure,” Cloong cheerfully volunteered.  “We can go pick up Albolon and cruise a Triples Bar.  You never know what might happen.”
          “Not again,” Nerl groaned.  “I can’t take it, the futile games, the flash and glitter.  I’m not a complicated person.  All I need is a good, simple five-to-one relationship.  That’s not so much to ask.”
          “Come on, “ urged Cloong, lifting her appendagtes in his trunk nooks.
The effect was sufficiently erotic.  “You’ll never meet anybody if you don’t show your faces.  What can you lose?  Would you rather stay home all night and masturbate in the washing machine?”
          “Okay okay,” Nerl gave in.  “Let me get my threads on:  my jewel-studded trunk shapers and my simulated-tumescence trouser pads.”
          “That’s the way!” Cried Cloong, getting up off Nerl’s abdominal folds. “Dress up sexy!”
         After picking up Albolon, the three of them strode snout in snout down the flamboyant promenades of Flesh-Bargain City, the official cruising ground for Znar-Foot’s frustrated sexuals.
          Cloong was bouyed up between her partial lovers, dressed in a revealing mini-suit that left quite a few of her tubes exposed.  The night was torpid, just right for the ongoing voyeurism of Six Sex Street.  Albolon and Nerl were elegant beyond compare in their striped priapic enhancers.   As they progressed down the brightly lit avenue, they caught the envious stares of  lonely Ones or Twos, and occasionally the pitying glances of bustling Fours and Fives.   But there were no Sixes.  The Sixes would undoubtedly be at someone’s apartment, either having sex or arguing.
          Cloong, Nerl and Albolon stopped to peer into various clubs and bars, to see which ones were running Threes that night.  
          As they walked, peering through the transparent view bubbles of the different clubs, they were inevitably accosted by street hustlers making suggestive offers:  “Say honeys, I got just the Three for you, never been Sixed before, any of them.  Got a taste for some fresh action?” This came from a character who sported a mustache grown straight across the top of his skull crest.  Anotoher tout wheedled at them: “Need a massage, sports?  Got a lovely pair, just juicin’ to get their trunks on you.”
          Ignoring the lascivious stares and remarks, Cloong, Nerl and Albolon at length came  to a well-known place, The Sexagram Club, and saw that it was running Triples that night. The house band, The Numbers Racket,  could be heard raucously blaring.  The partial-lovers' pulses raced with anticipation at the wild action within.  The Racket, a successful Four offstage, never failed to turn on the audiences with their erotogymnastics and jerk’n’jell music.  Cloong, Nerl and  Albolon showed their IDs and entered the crowded room that smelled of stimu-mist and trunk-pit persp. 
          “Hey babies,”  a Triple called out, rocking past in an orbiting dance.
“Hey hey, let’s get it on.”
          Cloong pulled back.  “How unsubtle.  Come on, boys, this is no place to meet nice people.  Let’s get out of here.”
          But Nerl and Albolon had already spotted some promising looking action.
“No, let’s stay, Cloong.  It was your idea in the first place.  If we don’t like it after a while, we can go someplace else.”  They pulled her farther into the seething mass, where dancing bodies yanked and plopped spasmodically, imitating sex.
          Onstage, The Numbers Racket had sprawled atop one another in a simulated orogenital configuration, while  dancing Threes screamed their shock and delight.
          Against the walls of the room, stimu-mist vendors lined up next to sensory-enhancement dealers, exchanging money balls for popular brands of dope.  The rest of the room was all dance floor, with sufficient space in which to flirt, writhe and show off simul-sex aptitude.
          Cloong and her hims moved onto the dance floor, their eyes constantly shifting across the room, taking in the more attractive groups, canceling out the ones who held no immediate appeal.
          Since their tastes were relatively alike, they intuitively crossed through the various combinations until they were close to another sexy Three who seemed alone.
          Perfect!  A Three with two fems.  Cloong lowered her tubes a trifle suggestively at the him of the group.  Meanwhile, Nerl had shown a definite tumescence at the she in the flaming orange trunk gripper.  They danced closer, coyly initiating eye contact.  Albolon, however, didn’t move correspondingly.  He was too busy eyeing a fem in a different Three altogether.
          Cloong jerked at him and he staggered forward.  “Idiot,” she hissed, but the cute Three had caught the little interchange and had indifferently moved away through the crowd.
          Nerl reprimanded Albolon. “You blew it for us, man.  Didn’t you see those gorgeous fems?  We would have been perfect.  I just know it.”
          Albolon cursed.  “Ah, the one in the dotted tube-throttler was a pig.  I almost scored another Three for us all by myself until you pulled at me so obviously.”
          Cloong waved her eyeknobs impatiently.  “Look over there.  Do you think we can all agree on one Three to come on to?  How about that short-tall-tall number in the corner?”
          Al and Nerl furtively checked it out.  “Okay.  Let’s go.”
          Again, they spasmed across the dance floor, dodging single and double Triples to get near the attractive Three that Cloong had pointed out.  This one was a good dancer, doing all the most fashionable orifice-openers among several maneuvering Threes.   They were dressed in one of the latest cozy-suits, a gauzy garment that joined the three bodies in a spacious but intimate arrangement.  There was an obvious zipper where another Three suit could easily be hooked in.
          “We don’t have one of those suits,” Nerl commented negatively.
“This Three’s too uptown for us.  And look at the competition.  I hate standing in line.”
          “Don’t be a onesyhead,” said Albolon, who lusted after high class liaisons. “We’re artists.  Rich Threes need us.”
          “Now that I think about it,” said Cloong abjectly, “rich people have no sensitivity.  Maybe we should go check out that long-haired Three over there in the middle.”
          By the time they were in close,  Albolon was dragging the others.  The music lulled for a moment.  Agressively, he leered at the Three and said, “Hey, babies, didn’t we meet at a sensory-awareness clinic in Big Stir?”
          The chic threesome laughed disdainfully and, without even answering, lost itself in the crowd.
          Nerl and Cloong clung to each other in utter embarrassment.
          “Albolon,”  she said sadly, “if we don’t get our relationship together, pretty soon we’ll be a Two.”
          Albolon farted from his side vents in frustration.
          “Would that be so bad?  I’ve heard you guys whispering together, I know what you think.  You think I care about that Trip up in Snort Beach, the one you guys can’t stand.”
          He was beating his trunks up and down laboredly.  Cloong stroked the pits with tender solicitation.

          “No, no,” said Nerl, “we’re not jealous of them, Albolon.  It’s just that sometimes your crude come-on ruins our chances.”
          Albolon backed away petulantly.  “You’re just possessive, that’s what.  Just because I have my own style and like to check out things on my own.”
          He turned, broke away from them, while they stood there, stunned.  All around, Threes were watching them and giggling.
          “And you know,” Albolon said stingingly, “I do get off on my other Trip. At least my Snort Beach floozy gives me plenty of space.  Not only that, but they give better trunk, too.”
          “Albolon, you’re crazy,” protested Cloong.
          “You see,” he said, his eye nooks wide, “that’s what you really think of me when I’m being honest.  Well, we're finished! Goodbye.”
          He pivoted and was lost in the whirling bodies.  Cloong and Nerl tried to catch him, but the door of the club hissed and shut and Albolon was gone.
          Shocked, under the mortifying gaze of  twittering Threes, they left the club.  Outside, the street was empty of Albolon.
          With tears rolling down their face-folds, they made their way across the livid avenue, but the lights and gaiety had lost their charm.
          “Let’s go home, Nerl,” Cloong said mournfully.  “This is no way to find your nice, simple five to one relationship.”
          Nerl stood stubbornly in one spot. “Go home?  You must be kidding!  We just lost our Three.  I don’t want to go home alone tonight.  I’m just not ready for it.”
          “You’re NOT alone,” said Cloong, a trifle peeved.
          “You know what I mean,” said Nerl, regretting his spite.
          “I guess I do,” she said, fatalistically.
          Nerl gazed up into the dimly visible heavens, reddish in the glow of the street lights.  All his anguish at the way they had been constructed poured out of his heart and flailed weakly against the indifference of the cosmos.
          “There are are some worlds out there,” he said distantly, “where I’ll bet they have only three genders, or maybe even just two.  Different arrangements entirely.”
          Cloong laughed and took his center trunk with her snout.  “Come on, Nerl.  That’s absurd.  Think how dull life would be.  It would all be so simple!  TOO simple.”
          He shook his shaggy mane, as if to dispel the far-flung fantasy.  Taking his partial girlfriend  by one of her more exposed tubes, he led her down the hysterical walkways in search of a Four-Two club.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Cat Without A Purr

This is the only children's story I've written.  I hope my wife can do the illustrations.  Meanwhile I have a few photos of our own cats with which to liven the tale.

           "Wow!  What a big cat!".
          That was David's first thought as he looked at the animal that had jumped his fence and landed in his yard.         
          David wanted all creatures to have good homes and plenty of food.  People in his neighborhood called him "Mister Zoo" because he adopted so many animals. He had six cats, four dogs, a parrot, a guinea pig and a pony.  They all lived in the house except for the pony, who slept under an awning in a fenced patch of grass.  The pony was only about the size of a little boy and spent the day wandering around with the other animals.
            David watched the cat quietly.  The animal was sitting like a king in his garden.  He had long black and white fur.  His ears were torn from fights and there was a scar on his nose.  His fur was matted with mud and was full of sharp sticky little leaves and twigs.  His paws were so big that David already had a name for him.  He was Paws!
            David knew that trouble was coming.  The wind changed direction.  It carried the smell of a strange animal.  Six cats, four dogs, a guinea pig, a parrot and a pony caught the smell of the new cat.  Their heads turned at the same time, eyes and noses searching for the stranger in their garden.  They saw him, sitting calmly in the middle of a patch of red flowers.
            It was as if someone had blown a whistle to start a race.  Tweet!  All of David's animals went zooming across the yard at top speed, barking, flapping, neighing and hissing.  Attack attack!  A stranger is in our midst!  Drive him away!
          That's how animals treat strangers.  Animals think about food a lot, and strangers might eat their food.  So their first idea is to chase away new animals.
           Paws didn't run away.  The animals came to a sudden stop in a circle around the new cat.  Wait a minute!  What's going on here?  This cat should be running for his life.  Instead he's standing straight and tall and telling everyone, " You don't want to mess with me.  I'm a pretty tough cat."
            Sniff sniff.  Sniff sniff.  The animals circled the stranger, sniffing his nose, sniffing his toes, sniffing his ears and sniffing his other parts.  Paws sniffed back.  In animal language this sniffing is like seeing a movie or reading a book.  The sniffing says everything.  After sniffing, animals aren't strangers any more.  They decide by sniffing who's going to be their friend.
            This time David's animals decided that Paws was going to be a friend.  They  turned and walked towards the back porch, escorting Paws like a super hero.  They let him go up the steps first. The food and water dishes were on the porch.  The pony waited for everyone else to get up the steps and then he followed.  His hooves made sounds like drum beats on the wooden deck.
               Paws was hungry and thirsty.  The animals stood back while the cat drank a long drink, his tongue going "flup flup flup flup."  Then he ate all the kibble in one of the dishes.
            He was a big cat and he was really hungry!
            David went into the house.  The animals followed.  Even the horse went into the house. 
            David had never seen anything like this, never seen his animals make friends so quickly.  They not only accepted the cat: they made him their leader, just like that!
            Paws rubbed against David's legs with his tail going swish swish swish swish.  David got onto the floor and gave Paws a scratch on the ears  The cat rolled onto his back while his tail went swish swish swish swish.  David scratched his tummy and the cat's eyes were half closed with happiness.
            One thing was strange to David.  Paws didn't purr.  David  could tell if animals were sad or lonely.  He could tell if they had made a great journey across mountains and deserts.  Paws was one of those cats who had traveled a long way.  Today he had found a new home!  He should be happy.
            But he didn't purr.  That was strange.  Happy cats purr.  Don't they?

            David was tired from working in the garden all morning.  He went into his living room and sat on his big soft chair.  He was surprised when Paws jumped right onto his lap and looked straight into his eyes.
            "I wonder," thought David, "what stories this cat would tell me if only he could talk."
            It seemed as if the cat heard his mind.  He's trying to tell me his story, David realized.  Paws opened his mouth and said softly, "Yow?.  Myow?"  His voice was gentle, almost too quiet to hear.  It was a sweet voice for such a big tough looking cat.
            I wish, thought David, that I could speak the language of animals.  They could teach me so many things!
            David stared into Paws' eyes.  As Paws said, "Myow?", a light slowly came from his eyes, a golden light that floated like a cloud around David's head.  The cloud became so thick that David couldn't see his house any more.  Instead, he saw people and places, he saw summer and winter, he saw deserts with cactus and high snowy mountains.  He saw good people and bad people.  Then David heard Paws' voice.  Inside the golden cloud, the  cat was speaking to him in a new kind of language, and he understood!  There were words in this language but there were also pictures and feelings.
            "I remember," the cat said, "I remember the first time I opened my eyes.  I was being fed by my mother.  My sister and two brothers and I were drinking milk
and purring.  All I knew of life was a giant purr, the sweet taste of milk and the sound of my mother's heart beating. 
            Mother had given us our names.  These are special cat names that a mother gives to her kittens when they're born.  There is no way to say them in human language.  I may have many names in my life but nothing is more important to me than my first name, the name my mother gave me when I was born.
            As I got older, huge hands picked me up and held me in a warm place where there was a giant heart beat.  My mother told me that these were the family that we lived with.  They gave us names, too.  They called my mother Violet.  They called my sister Fanny, and my brothers, Manny and Lanny.

            My name was Claude.  Don't ask me why.  I thought I might be Danny or Sammy, but someone  named me Claude.  Maybe it was because of my big paws.
            When I was about a month old I found out that I was different.  We had just stopped being a pile of kittens at mama's tummy and were getting picked up by people, one at a time.  The family's kids picked up Manny and I could hear him purring all the way across the room.  Lanny and Fanny didn't have any trouble purring.  It was just me.  When I got picked up, my tail went swish swish, swish swish, but there was no purr.  When we were all together I thought I was purring but now I knew I was different and it made me very sad.  I tried to purr.  I rattled the bones in my throat, blew air through my teeth, wiggled my tongue as fast as I could.  Nothing I tried sounded like a purr.
            My mother was worried.  Late at night she took me to the computer and used her paws to Google the word "purr".  We read all kinds of things, but it seems that no one really knows how a cat purrs.  It just does.  Or, in my case, it doesn't.
            "I'm sorry, little one," my mother said.  "Without a good purr your life might be harder than most cat's lives.  Just swish that tail of yours and you'll find someone to love you."
            I hoped she was right.  Another month passed and Manny found a home.
Then some people came to the house and fell in love with Fanny.  She went away with those people.  I missed my brother and sister but this is the way things are with kittens.  They have to find new homes or pretty soon there will be a hundred cats in the house and in my opinion I would not want to live around a hundred cats.  Not even fifty.  Or twenty.  Two or three is just about right.
            Pretty soon I was the last kitten.  A very nice lady came to the house, smiled at me and picked me up.  I swished my tail as fast as I could. 
            "You are very handsome, little kitten," she said.  I was thinking THIS IS IT THIS IS IT!  Someone will love me and take me home.
            A strange look came over her face.  It was a look I would get to know.  I would know that look on a hundred faces in a hundred places.  It was a look of disappointment.  It was a look of rejection.  That's when someone sends a feeling at you that says, "No, I don't want you!"  That's what rejection is.  And it hurts.  It hurts really bad.
            "What a shame," the lady said.  "He doesn't have a purr.  Not even a little vibration.  I'm sorry but I can't take him.  Who wants a cat without a purr, a cat that can't tell you when he's happy?"
            "I can tell you!", I yowled desperately.  "I swish my tail like this, see?  Swish swish.  Swish swish.  I'm happy I'm happy, see?  See?"
            She didn't see.  She couldn't understand my language.
            The next day my family put me in a box and took me to the grocery store.
The kids sat with me out front.  They had written words on the box: FREE KITTEN.
            People picked me up, stroked me, my tail went swish swish, but always that look came, that look of disappointment and rejection.  The look that said NO I DON'T WANT YOU.  People put me in the box and walked away
            Then a man came along.  He barely looked at me.  He didn't pick me up.  He asked the kids, " I have some mice in my apartment.  I need a good mouser.  Is this cat a good mouser?"        The kids didn't want to lie.  They shook their heads kind of up and kind of sideways and said "ummmm, welll....there aren't any mice in our house.  Not a single one."
            "All right, I'll take him" said the man.  He picked me up, tucked me in his jacket and drove me to his place.  I was filled with joy.  At last, I had a new person, I had a home!  It was sad to leave my first family but that's how nature works.  Kittens get adopted.  And now I was too.  I was, at last, adopted by a new person.
            The man gave me food, water, a scratching pole and a box to go in.  Then he went to work and he was gone all day.  The windows and doors were closed.  There was no fresh air.  The place didn't smell good. 
            I was terribly lonely.  The hours went by so slowly that I wanted to cry.
            Then I heard a tiny sound.  I looked under the couch.  A little creature with a pointy nose and a long tail was looking back at me.
            "OH!" It was surprised and almost ran away.  "OH!" I yelped and almost ran away too.  Then the creature took a close look at me.  "Whew, what a relief," it said.  "For a minute I thought you were a mouser.  But I can tell you're not the type.  Right?"
            "A mouser?" I said.  "You mean?  Uh..."
            "See?" the creature said with relief.  "Your mother wasn't a mouser and your grandmother wasn't a mouser and I'll bet your great grandmother wasn't a mouser either.  It runs in the family.  You either are or you aren't.  And you're not!"
            "So", I said,..."I presume that you are a mouse." 
            "That's right, I'm a mouse.  My name is Duke."
            He extended his paw and we shook paws and decided to become friends.  All the rest of that day we talked and played.  When we talked we used the language that all animals use.  It's called Everything Language.  All around the world animals talk to one another in Everything Language.  For some reason, people can't speak this language.  That's sad because if people spoke Everything Language maybe they wouldn't treat us like we don't have any feelings.
            When the man came home Duke vanished under the couch.
            After the man sat down with his newspaper I jumped up on his lap, swishing my tail.  "Hello kitty," he said, "we haven't given you a name yet.  What shall we call you?"
            I rolled over on my back and stretched.  I rubbed my chin on the man's knee.  I was doing everything a happy cat can do.  I was watching the man's face.  I was praying that I would not see that dreadful look on the man's face.
            "What's the matter," the man said.  "Don't you like me?"  There it was, the look that I feared.  If a face could be a door, this one was closing. 
            "I gave you the best food," he snarled.  "I got you a bed and a scratching pole.  Why can't you give me one little purr, to say 'thank you'"?
            "I'm doing my best," I said in Everything Language, which of course the man did not understand.  "I'm swishing my tail!  That says I'm happy, see?"  Swish swish, swish swish.
            The man didn't understand.  At that very moment, Duke poked his head from under the couch and said, "Forget it, dude.  The guy's a total loser.  He doesn't have any friends, he doesn't do anything besides work, he never goes out to have fun.  He just watches TV all the time."
            Then Duke ran scampering all the way across the room and vanished beneath the refrigerator.  Talk about bad timing!
            The man had seen my new mouse friend.  His face turned red, and he picked me up roughly.  "That's it!  I've got a name for you.  Useless!  That's your name!  Useless, Useless, Useless!"
            He opened the door of the apartment and threw me into the street.  The door slammed shut.
            I didn't know what to do.  This was supposed to be my new home.  I had a new friend.  I couldn't leave Duke.  I scratched at the door and cried.  When it opened I thought I had been forgiven.  I was wrong.  The man hit me with a rolled up newspaper and yelled "Get out of here you useless cat!"
            I ran and ran until I came to a place with trees and a little creek.  It was getting dark.  I found a hole in a fallen tree and crawled inside as the night covered the woods like a blanket.  I heard the flapping of owls' wings and the wind whispered through the moonlit branches.  I was so scared that I could only repeat my first name, the name my mother gave to me, my secret cat name.  I said it over and over.
            After a while I was so hungry that I forgot to be scared.  I went back to the place where the man lived.  I saw people putting bags of good smelling stuff into silver cans.  When I was sure no one was looking I jumped on top of one of the silver cans and tried to get food out.  The lid was too tight, so I made the can rock back and forth until it fell to the ground with a big clatter.
            There was food all over the place.  There was chicken, hamburger and cheese.  I was just taking a bite when something came running out of the woods and knocked me backwards so hard that I turned a circle in the air.
            "Who...who are you?" I whispered.  I was looking into a face full of sharp teeth.  They belonged to a creature with a long ringed tail and a black mask over its face.  Behind the leader there were four more of the animals, snorting and growling.  I thought it was the end, that my life was over.
            The animal stood up on its hind feet and puffed out its chest.
            "I am Raccoon Tour," it said.  "And these are my brothers, Raccoon Bob, Raccoon Slob, Raccoon Knob and Raccoon Job.  They are so stupid they wouldn't be able to find their own tails if I didn't help them along."
            Raccoon Tour shrugged his shoulder.  "What can you do?  Family's family, right?"
            The other raccoons muttered "Yeh yeh yeh yeh," as they chased one another's tails.  One of them thought it had someone else's tail but turned out it was its own tail and when it pulled hard, it fell over and yelled "Ouch!  Cut it out!"
            The others went "Heh heh heh heh" and turned into a big pile of masked ring-tailed animals.
            "These cans belong to us," Raccoon Tour said.  "Nobody eats from here but my family."
            "Yeh yeh yeh yeh," said the other raccoons, rolling around and biting at the air.
            "Now I ain't a bad guy," said Raccoon Tour.  "Here's a little somethin, so you don't starve to death'."  He reached into the spilled food and held out a piece of meat about the size of his nose.  It wasn't much.

            "Now get outta here and don't come back, little kitty, 'fore I get mad."
            "Fore he gets mad fore he gets mad" said the rest of his brothers.
            I ran back to my hole in the tree.  I ate the little piece of food.  I was still very hungry.  I repeated my secret cat name until I fell asleep.
            In the morning the wind brought me smells of cooking breakfasts from a hundred directions.  My stomach was growling.  It kept saying "Hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry, feed me feed me feed me feed me."  The noise my stomach made was even louder than the noise my mind was making.  Inside my mind a voice said over and over again, "I'm scared, hide.  I'm scared, hide."
            I had to ignore that voice.  If I listened to that voice, I would  starve to death.   So I picked out the best of all the smells and I followed it.
            There was food, lots of food.  I made myself as brave as I could and went to ask for something to eat.  With all this food, no one wanted to share.  Dogs chased me.   People called me bad names and sometimes threw things at me.  I had to find food that wasn't being eaten and guarded by such mean people.
            At last I smelled something that didn't have a dog, a cat, a skunk, a raccoon or a person eating it, guarding or protecting it .  The smell came from inside a big shiny car that had an open window.  I was able to jump onto a fender, then crawl over a big mirror and slip into the front seat.  At last, there was food! In the back seat was a slab of meat surrounded by two pieces of bread.  This was wrapped in paper, which I tore apart and began to eat until my tummy bulged.  I felt sleepy, so I crawled onto the floor and tucked myself under the seat.
            A noise woke me.  We were moving!  A man with yellow hair was playing with dials on his dashboard and loud groaning sounds were coming out of speakers, sounds that I didn't understand.  The whole car vibrated.
            "Uh..Uh.." the speakers said, "Mama wants you to get Down Dude, Get Down Get Down Get Down, Dude...Uh..Uh..Mama wants you to get Down".  The singer, if that's what it was, sounded sort of angry but he was singing about his mother, so I thought it must be okay.  I don't understand human beings but everyone loves their mom.
            The car drove for a long time. 
            It stopped at a building with colored lights blinking on and off.  I hopped out of the car before the driver saw me.  There was a road vanishing into the darkness.  Cars zoomed by so fast that the wind made my fur move.
            The building smelled like food.  People went in and out, with shiny bags of meat and bread.  They got back into their cars and drove off into the night, towards the mountains in one direction, towards the city in the other.  I didn't want to stay near this place.  The people acted bad.  They walked like their legs were made out of rubber and they pushed each other around.
            I was very confused.  I waited for the cars to pass, then I ran across the road.  This place didn't have tall trees like my birth place.  The ground was sandy and I could see spiny bushes and tumbled rocks in the moonlight.  I crawled into a little space in a pile of rocks, hoping that I would be safe until morning.
            The sounds of the night were like the pages of a story book turning.  Coyotes ran across the hills in single file, wailing at the moon..  Snakes rattled, badgers dug tunnels in the sand.  Scorpions crawled from rock to rock.
            Then something was hissing at my hiding place.  It was too big to get in, but it sniffed and growled.  The fur on my back grew stiff and I growled back, hoping to sound bigger than I was.  The creature started digging at my shelter and when it peeked in with one eye I saw that it was a cat twenty times my size.
            I prayed that I would be safe.  Just as I thought I was about to get eaten the monster let out a scream.  Its eye vanished and I heard it yelling as it ran across the desert.
            "Thank you, thank you, for answering my prayers." I said to God.
            Then a little black nose appeared.  A familiar face peeked into my hiding place.  It was Duke.  He swung a porcupine quill like a sword.  He had used it to stick the mountain lion's hind legs. 
            "Duke!  You saved my did you get here?  How did you know?"
            "I've been following you since you left that jerk's place", Duke said, "that loser who hit you with a newspaper.  I got into the trunk of the same car you hitched a ride in.  I've been doing that for  years. I've been a thousand places.  Trucks are the best.  Just get in where the driver won't see you and eat all the stuff he throws on the floor."
            From that moment, Duke and I traveled together.  He knew a hundred things about the world and he taught me how to live.  He rode on my back, hidden in my long coat.  We journeyed across the country from summer to winter and back again.
            I grew into a full sized cat, a very big cat.  Once I saved Duke from a fox that bit me on the nose before I could chase it away.  Another time Duke saved me from some bad people.
            I was trying to get milk from a camping place.  There were a bunch of men who were trying to be friendly.  "Here kitty kitty," they said, "y' want some milk?"
            I started to go towards the campsite when Duke grabbed my ear.  "No no, Claudio," he said.  "Can't you see their eyes?  You can always tell about people by the kind of light that comes from their eyes."
            I looked at the men.  There were guns leaning against trees and propped inside their pickup trucks.  There was dark light coming from their eyes.  The light looked like storm clouds.
            "See that?" Duke explained.  "That dark light means trouble.  No matter how hungry you are, never NEVER mess with people who have dark light in their eyes.  Wait until you see people whose eyes have golden light, or silver, or rainbow colors.  Those are good people.  They'll help you.  They'll give you food even when they're starving themselves.  There aren't too many people like that in the world, but you can find them if you look.  Let that be your guide about human beings.  Look at the light in their eyes."
            One of the men kept saying "Here kitty kitty kitty," and his voice sounded like a snarl.  His hand was resting on one of his guns.  Now I saw the stormy light that came from his eyes.  I was running fast when the gunshot went whizzing over my head.  Duke was clutching my mane and we vanished into the night.        
            I think that was the most important lesson I ever learned.
            One hot summer day Duke and I were resting in a bale of hay at the back of a barn.  "Duke," I said, "Let's find a real home, with a real family."
            Duke sighed.  "Be my guest, o best friend of mine.  Just remember: I'm a mouse.  Even a purrless cat can find a home sooner or later.  But a mouse?  Who are you kidding?  Who would want me?  Mice are not welcome, not anywhere!"
            "Duke, you're not just any mouse.  Come on, you've got to believe in yourself.  You're Duke, the wisest mouse in the world.  I could not have survived without you.  You taught me everything I know.  We just have to keep trying and never give up until we find a home for both of us.  All we have to do is watch the light in people's eyes until we find a person whose light is the purest sun-shiny gold."
            Duke's shoulders slumped with weariness.  "I'm getting kinda tired of wandering around, with no place to call my own.  Everyone needs a home.  Everyone deserves a home."
            We started the search.  We went from town to town and from farm to farm.  There were a lot of good people in the world, but the light that came from their eyes was...well...ordinary light.  It changed from bright to dark sometimes, or it was golden colored but really not very bright.  Duke and I knew that our home would not be an ordinary home.
            Sometimes we found people who took us in for a few weeks.  They thought Duke was cute.  Sooner or later, something changed.  The people would stop being so friendly.  They put out traps and poison, trying to get rid of Duke.  It was time to move on.
            We traveled all the way to the ocean.  I wanted to hop a boat but Duke refused.  "I get seasick, Claude.  I get it bad.  No boats!"
            We turned around and started back towards the mountains and the deserts.
We climbed a string of hills.  One day after I had reached the top of a high hill, I looked below and saw a place that was as beautiful as the place where I had been born.
            Duke was very quiet.  I could tell what he was thinking.  It looked like his birth place too.
            It was a little town.  The houses had big fenced yards full of apple and pear trees.  The light that came from the peoples' eyes was as clear and bright as any we had ever seen.  There were children and pets everywhere, and the people moved and walked with their hands and legs swinging loose.  They weren't like the people in the big cities.   City people moved like they had molasses poured down their pants and were trying to keep it from running into their shoes.
            We watched from the top of the hill.  We went down and started going from house to house, family to family.  One day I saw a man.  I had never seen eyes that held such beautiful light.
            "Do you see him, Duke?  Do you see that light?  It's like the sun but it doesn't blind me."
            Duke wrinkled his nose.  "Not bad.  But he's got a lot of other animals.  Look at all those cats.  What if one of them is a mouser?"
            My heart sank.  The man had six cats, four dogs, a guinea pig, a parrot, and pony.
            "Stay here," I told Duke. "I'll go find out."
            I waited till the man wasn't looking.  I jumped up on the fence and let the animals see me.  They came running, barking, hissing and flapping.  I ran back up the hill.
            "Just wait," I told Duke.  "This may take a while."
            A few hours later, I jumped back up on the fence and walked back and forth.
Again, the animals came running.  The dogs leaped in the air, the cats got on the fence rail.  The pony neighed.  The parrot squawked.  The guinea pig sighed because it wasn't much good at jumping or running.
            I ran away.
            Later that day, I did the same thing.  And I did it again.  The sun started sinking behind the hills and I returned to Duke. 

"You're doing a great job, buddy, a great job." Duke was sarcastic.
            "Sometimes good things take time," I told my friend.  "You know that.
You've said it to me many times.  If something is worth having, you keep working.  You don't get angry or sad, you focus on your task and you keep working."
            "You're right,"Duke apologized.  "I'm just sitting here watching while you do all the work."
            The next day I jumped on the fence.  The animals looked at me and then ignored me.  They had gotten bored with my routine.  So I took the next step.  I jumped down from the fence and landed in the yard, in the middle of a patch of red poppies.
            This was too much.  The animals had to do their duty.  They charged at me but this time I didn't run.  I wanted to run.  My fear was saying, "I'm scared, hide!  I'm scared, hide!"
            I told my fear voice to be quiet.  I didn't run.  The animals stopped and looked at me with questions in their eyes.
            "Who are you?" they asked. 
            "My first name is the name my mother gave me," I told the animals.  I said the name and the cats understood it because it's a special cat name that only cats can pronounce.
            "My second name is the name given to me by my birth family, which is Claude.  That's the name I use most of the time.  I have another name which I never use.  That name is 'Useless'.  I've also been called 'Heycat, Purrless Wonder, Getouttahereyoupest,' and all sorts of names."
            The cats told me their cat names and their first family names and the names they used with the man.  They told me the man's name was David.
            The dogs had only one name apiece.  The bird had twenty names and the horse didn't know its name but it thought it might be  'Giddyup' or 'Come On Let's Go'."
            I learned with great relief that none of the cats were mousers.  I called to Duke.  He was just outside the fence.  He crawled under and came towards us.  I could tell he was nervous.  He got up on my back where he usually rode and clutched tightly at my fur.
            Introductions were made all around.  "By the way," said the cat named Isadore, " we know a lot of nice lady mice around here.  You should feel right at home."
            Duke and I and David's animals made a plan.  Then we went to our positions and waited for David to appear.  After a while, he came from his house and walked toward the garden.  I sat calmly in the poppy patch while the animals put on a great show of trying to chase me away.  As I had hoped, David was amazed.  He approached me and bent to scratch my ears.  My tail went swish swish swish.
            "I've already got a name for you," he said.  "I'll call you Paws."
            It sounded good to me.  What's one more name?
            David turned to go back to the house.  All the animals followed.  Duke stayed hidden in my fur. 
            David sat in a big chair and I jumped right up on his lap and looked straight into his eyes.  Then something happened.  The light in David's eyes jumped out and met the light in my eyes.  In that moment, somehow, David learned to speak Everything Language.  We could understand each other.
            David had been thinking, "I wonder what stories this cat would tell me if only he could talk." 
            I had always been able to talk in Everything Language.  Now that David could understand,  I told him my whole story.  When it was over, David asked me politely, "If you're starting a new life, maybe you should have a new name.  Do you mind if we call you Paws from now on?"
            "Yow, myow," I said.  "I don't mind."
            A little wrinkled nose came from the fur behind my ears.
            "You must be Duke, Paws' best friend," David said.  "You've been brave, loyal and wise.  Welcome.  Welcome Duke and Paws.  Welcome to your new home.  This will be your home forever."
            "Thank you," said Duke.  "But I don't want a new name.  Is that okay?"
            "I don't make people do things," said David, " that they don't want to do."
            My tail and Duke's tail went swish swish swish at the same time.
            "This is my kind of place," said Duke.  "A place where I can be free."


Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Key To A Good Relationship

Healing Hands: mine and Fox's.  My left hand was pressing the shutter release.
A Key To A Good Relationship

            My wife and I have been together for almost eleven years.  I can't imagine having anyone being as close to me as she is.  We are like two tuning forks, vibrating at the same frequency.  I know what she is feeling, when she is feeling it, and I always know that she understands me.  That's a gift, a god-send.
            Our lives are not easy.  We duel with illness, poverty and aging.  We're really struggling.  But being together in adversity makes that adversity more bearable; I know someone's got my back.
            We may be hanging on the very fringes of society.  We are daily bombarded with messages from this culture that tell us we're not valued as elders, we are dispensable and  no one cares about our health or our future.
            Yet we have a successful relationship.  How much is that worth?  Everyone knows that a great relationship is priceless.  The Fox and I have one, and I'll share a lesson that I've learned about maintaining such a gift.
            We never forget to be courteous to one another.  In large things and in small, we speak gently, say "thank you", "please", and offer words of praise.
            It would be so easy to take one another for granted.  It would be so easy to leave out the endearments and the expressions of gratitude.  But we're getting old.
We don't know how long we have on this earth.  So we'll continue to nurture one another with every passing day, gratefully.  

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