August, 2014

Rory 4 lbs-six

This morning I woke up with a cat on my leg for the first time since Ketzl died in December. It was Rory.

This was a lightweight, compared to Ketzl’s 12 pounds. I felt his four-pounds-six as he licked and leaned and cleaned himself.

In my half-slumber it made me smile.

Then he did that cat thing, where he stood and arched his back like a Halloween cat, turned in a circle, and flopped down again, against my leg.

I felt a vibration from him purring.

It made me smile again, and we both drifted off.

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A Tale of Two Kitties

It was the biggest of cats, it was the littlest of cats; it is the age of kibble, it is the age of wetties; it is the epoch of litter, it is the epoch of litter (and the epoch of litter, interminable litter.)

Two cages, four cats. In one cage, two older cats, sound asleep.

In the other, two tuxedos about six months old, most likely siblings, frolicking.

I made a squeak noise, stuck a finger into the cage, and the littler of the two came over and started licking it. The other one, bigger, held back.

“Oh, he likes me, he likes me!” I cheered, in my best Sally Field, and no I sooner said that than the other one came over and started licking, too. “They both like me!”

(It did not diminish my glee when I realized, later, that what they were licking was the residual grease from the croque-monsieur on my post-lunch fingers.)

After sleeping on it I was back at the shelter early the next morning, where the tuxedos were again playing together. The receptionist assured me they were adoptable, one female, one male, siblings, called Dot and Oreo. The adoption process was easier than I expected, and after filling out some papers and handing over some plastic cash, I became the slave of these two cats.

Who were, it turned out, both males.

The moniker of “Dot” confused the staff at the front desk, a moniker bestowed because of a small dot in the middle of the runt’s pink nose. The vet who vetted me (Oh! That’s why they’re called that!) as a potential adopter knew me from before and she assured me they were both males. No matter: those monikers were going by the wayside anyway, once the critters had enough time to engender a more likely and personal pair of names.

2016-05-18-14-40-59Enter Rory (left), short for Rorschach, and Smudge (right), short for nothing but because of all the smudges he bore, includingbasket-boy one black nose centered in a white face, a smudge so large it gave him a Jimmy-Durante look. (He grew into it, fortunately; wow, did he ever grow into it!)

They’ve been home-owners, this one, for three years now, but they graciously allow us to share the space.

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The Empty Lot Where Hoppy’s Stood

At the heel of our hill at one end of Nantasket Beach, just beyond Hurley’s bathhouse, was a small take-out refreshment stand that served the usual summer fare: fries, onion rings, fried clams, burgers and dogs, sodas and, because this was a beach in New England: Frappes. Known nearly everywhere else as milkshakes, a frappe is a whipped drink made with milk, syrup and ice cream. (In New England, just because we can, we call the same drink minus the ice cream a milkshake, which makes perfect sense. Rhode Island is another New England anomaly, I guess, with their version of the frappe being called a cabinet, for whatever silly reason.)

Much smaller in size, Hoppy’s had a fair amount of competition, with The Ledges, a more fully stocked refreshment stand with seating in an indoor bar, right on the beach nearby, run by a Greek family that also operated a D-grade hotel there; and Russell’s, another Greek family-run stand just across the road leading up the hill. Later, there was a Howard Johnson’s built diagonally across the avenue from Hoppy’s. Its orange roof drew people to it merely due to its familiarity — if not its cuisine — as they rounded the bend on Nantasket Avenue just before reaching the beach parking lot.

Despite the competition, Hoppy’s became our go-to place every evening before heading to Paragon, the amusement park down the avenue, in search of fun and adventure (which mostly consisted of people-watching — and laughing inappropriately, whenever appropriate.)

Hoppy was a gentleman of a certain age, while his wife, Mary, an Inuit, was a bit younger. They both worked the stand, and it was comforting to know that no matter which one of them was grilling your burger or dog, or frying your clams (which were full, belly clams; unlike the rubber-band strips served at HoJo’s across the avenue) or whipping up your frappe, they would taste as good as ever.

Their son Noel, too young to work the stand, was never out of his stroller or carriage, not solely due to his young age — in fact, later on, he would have been old enough to stand, had he not had some kind of chronic debilitating motor deficiency. We never thought to ask about it, but most of us probably wondered about it.

As we did about their lives, packed into that small 25-by-25-foot hut that was their livelihood and their residence. A room in the back (it couldn’t have been more than one small room and a bathroom) was where they “lived.” The stand was open for long hours in season, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and, for us nearly every evening, after-dinner and late-night “snacks,” totally unnecessary, but we were teens and teens eat a lot. It was nothing for us to finish dinner, brush teeth, use the john, and then descend the hill en masse, round the bend to the heel of the hill, and order up a mess of fries, rings, clams, whatever, before ambling down the strip to Paragon.

Somehow we most often seemed to end up near the back of the park, by the Red Mill, a tunnel-boat ride that mounted a hill at the end and then splashed down into a pool. It seemed the best place to people watch. It was also where George the Greek tried to guess people’s age and weight for a fee. If he missed, you won a prize, such as they were: maybe an actual kewpie doll, a holdover from the ‘30s or so, her head molded of that light plastic that you could easily poke a finger through if you weren’t careful; or a plastic cane with a bright, day-glo feather attached to the handle; or a comb or a mask.

The park was always crowded, so there was a never-ending parade of strangers to gawk at. It was the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, and The Fonz was a popular persona emulated by many walking by, as were Laverne and Shirley types. (We were those as well. It was ‘a thing.’) I will not say it was an age of innocence much more so than now. But it was.

On not a few occasions after having enough of making clandestine but good-natured fun of passers-by, we’d head back to the hill and stop at Hoppy’s for a nightcap that could again consist of an order of fries or clams or another frappe. Can’t go to bed hungry, after all.

And Hoppy would still be there, open for business, and happy to see us. That was the thing. A lot of shop owners don’t care for gangs of teens hanging out in their establishment, fearing it would drive away other potential business. But we were good kids, and Hoppy appreciated our business. He might have felt a crowd doing business there showed that his was a good place to eat. He always had a smile, as did Mary. Now that I think of it, whenever Noel was inside the stand where we could see him, he also always had a smile too.

It made me realize there is no way to judge other people’s happiness.

In time, gradually all our homes atop the hill were sold and we stopped going to that beach. A lot of years passed and a lot changed. The amusement park closed down, with some of the amusements being taken apart and sold off or just destroyed, while others were sold off whole to other parks in other parts. Our beloved coaster — the Giant Coaster, it was called — now resides intact in a park in Maryland. It has even been restored to a previous configuration before a fire that removed an important part of it: the corkscrew near the final landing. I swear we will make a pilgrimage there at some point and ride it again.

After nearly 50 years of absence, we convened once again two years ago in Nantasket for a cousins reunion that has already become an annual event. Some of us stayed at the now significantly upgraded small motel across the avenue from where Hoppy’s stood. Hoppy’s was long gone and the empty lot bore no resemblance to the way it looked in those days. A chain-link fence that wasn’t there before stretched halfway across the lot line, its purpose a bit of a puzzle, and its presence engulfed by vine and ivy growth. Nature already reclaiming the “new” fence. The pavement behind showed no hint whatsoever of any foundation that might have given Hoppy’s stand any support. If you stood in front of the motel and hollered “Hi, Hoppy!” across the avenue, an echo would be the only answer.
The pavement was ringed with crabgrass and weeds: common chicory with its pale blue flowers and the vine and ivy on the chain-link fence being the only inhabitants of the space. It would have seemed a bit bleak and it was not without its nostalgia, but the bursting green of the surrounding trees on our hill behind it still spoke of life going on, always, if ever changed.


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Is He Finnish? Or am I Finished?


catviaggenericumMy first appointment with a new primary care doctor last week was pretty unremarkable. He’s the second new doc in as many years, the result of our moving way uptown a couple of years ago and changing insurance providers, and then once again a year later, thanks to the vagaries of the Affordable Care Act and another insurance change. I think I’m settled for now.

Finding a new doctor isn’t easy, but thanks to online review and evaluation sites, I was able to choose one with a good reputation. His name was spelled a little oddly. A fairly common surname, it was not spelled the way it usually is, which made me wonder if he was foreign.

The exam went without a hitch, although the visit to the phlebotomist for my blood labs was, “interesting,” to say the least. She greeted me in Spanish, ¿Habla español? to which I answered, in Italian, Non parlo spagnolo; parlo italiano.

Her response was just the type of response I might expect from a fire hydrant, had I been speaking to one, (especially since she more or less looked like one: three feet tall and two feet wide): she stared blankly at me for several seconds, before continuing the dialog in Spanish. I understand enough Spanish to know what she was saying, and although I consistently answered her in English, she persisted in Spanish.

Eventually all the eleven or so tubes in her little tray were filled with my precious blood and as that was my last procedure for the day, I got to go home and (FINALLY!) have breakfast.

A few days later, I got a printout of the lab results in the mail, and everything looked good: nothing outside the normal ranges for any of the tests, that I could see. On the report, the doctor had placed hand-written notes here and there, in the worst all-caps script ever, even for a doctor — and I worked with doctors’ handwriting for two decades at Beth Israel Hospital. I couldn’t make out a word, and I quickly found myself wondering, “What’s with all these J’s? English doesn’t use that many J’s,” which led me to think once again that he was foreign, and possibly writing in Finnish. None of the words made sense.

Next to one lab result I saw what looked like “LDW UJTAWJW O” and after puzzling over it for several minutes, I gave up trying to read any of his notes.

It was after I received a text message from my pharmacy that Saturday, alerting me to a prescription that was ready to be picked up, that I really began to wonder what he had written.

My pharmacy is really great: they refill prescriptions automatically without my having to remember them, and they text me when they are ready, indicating the first two letters of the drug being refilled. The text I got this time was for a prescription I didn’t recognize. It read “Your prescription beginning with the initials VI is ready to be picked up.”

I was confused. I wasn’t expecting any prescriptions at all, and certainly not one for Viagra. In fact, I was a little confused as to how the doc might have somehow inferred I needed Viagra and then taken it upon himself to prescribe it for me. Maybe it was just a mistake: possibly the prescription was meant for another of his patients, but it somehow got sent to my pharmacy for me. Was that even remotely possible? I hoped not.

It was Saturday when I got the text, and since the doctor’s office was closed, I thought I’d call the pharmacy to check out that angle: after all, it could have been the pharmacy’s error. That was another frightening thought I didn’t like contemplating.

I told the pharmacist why I was calling, but when she checked into it she assured me that my doctor had prescribed it for me; no, there was no doubt. I never mentioned what I thought the prescription was for, nor did the pharmacist name it, and that settled it in my mind: It was for Viagra, and the pharmacist was as embarrassed for me as I was for myself! “Well, thank you for checking. I’m sorry to bother you. It’s just that I wasn’t expecting any prescriptions just now, and certainly not one for that!” <click>

Now I would have to wait until Monday to call the doctor’s office, and that would probably be its own comedy of errors, as the first person I reached on the phone would most likely misunderstand the reason for my call altogether.

I imagined the following conversation:

(I would explain the reason for my call.)

“You want a prescription for Viagra, Mr. D? You have to speak to the doctor for that.”

“No, no. My pharmacy told me there is a prescription for Viagra waiting for me, one that the doctor submitted, but I don’t think it was meant for me. I think it was meant for someone else and I don’t want that person to wonder what happened to it.”

‘I can’t write a prescription for you, Mr. D. You have to speak to the doctor.”

“No, you don’t under… Ok, yes, can I speak to the doctor?”

“I’m sorry. He’s with a patient.”

(Of course: they’re always with a patient except for when you are the patient, waiting patiently [sic] in the waiting room, wondering when you’ll be the one who’s “with the doctor.”)

Still, I would have to call on Monday and fight through the language barrier and red tape, to get an answer: either it was a mistake and meant for someone else, or the doctor had somehow decided I needed Viagra. That second option was too unsettling: he and I had had no discussions that would have led him to believe that was the case. What could he have read into my lab results?

(At the same time, the still-adolescent — but subsequently long-retired — experimental drug taker in me was wondering how much fun it would be to try a little Viagra…)

In another effort to analyze the lab results to see if anything there would clarify the matter, I went back to the report and scoured the results for a clue. On doing so, I did notice that one result on the very last page was a little shy of the normal range: the test showed a result of 26, and the normal range was between 30 and 100, so that was low. Could that have been it? I continued to let my mind wander back to this over the rest of the weekend.

And, later, in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning, at my usual 3-AM-wake-up to pee, the fog began to clear. I went to my desk and looked at the report again. Somehow at that hour my mind always seems to become more acute, astute and adroit. I looked at the single lab result that was off. It was for “D 25 OH D3.”

Looking again at the doctor’s hand-written note next to this I understood it with sudden total clarity. Feeling as adept as Alan Turing at deciphering code, I was now able to read all the gibberish the doc had written everywhere on the report and make sense of everything. What I saw as J’s were I’s, the O’s were D’s and vice-versa; and the W’s could be either M’s or N’s — or W’s — take your pick or infer which from the context…


So then, “LDW UJTAWJW O” was really “LOW VITAMIN D” and the doc had prescribed VItamin D tablets. I laughed out loud at my assumption about what I thought had been prescribed, and my chuckling kept me awake for a long time.

As the final irony, on Monday right after I picked up my vitamin D, I got a text from the doctor alerting me to the fact that he had prescribed it.

Ultimately, afterward, a small disappointment descended on me. Vitamin D was no Viagra. Not even close.

I couldn’t help but feel a little let down [sic], because, after all, as my forebears used to say, “Hail, Priapus!

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March Sanity

There are buds all over the little tree in the back yard now. They’re small, to be sure, but in the low angle of the bright morning sun they’re very visible. This is the tree that only a few weeks ago gave up the last of its small yellow berries to the foraging birds who appeared more and more frantic for sustenance as the sun lowered daily in the sky and the days cooled.

The other day I spied what looked like two adolescent mockingbirds in that same tree. Those would be a treat to have around this summer. A year ago about this time there was a pair of doves nesting on a window ledge across from me. There hasn’t been a sighting of them yet this year, but I do hear them calling in the dark early hours. After the madness of February’s stormy season they are relief-sighing sights, the buds and the new generation of birds.

I wanted to get into the park the other day to look for green sprouty things popping up but as often happens in the winter months, over by the Hudson River it’s 10-15 degrees colder and it feels even more so due to the persistent gales that roar off the river. My stay — not really worthy of that term, as it turned into a sprint over and back — lasted mere minutes.

It’s calmer today and along with the bright sunshine it’ll be a good day to hunt for hints of crocuses and daffodils and such. Might even see a Magnolia bud on that tree in front of the Shinasi Mansion. They always look so hardy with their fuzzy warm-looking coats.


Keep marching in, Spring. You’re really welcome here.

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Ode to February

Ode to February
(with apologies to all late Aquarians and Early Pisceans)

O, February,
you quiet, little middle-time,
you period of nothing,
you rest-stop,

You gray, dark, quiet,
slumbersome days of waiting.
Waiting, stoic.

Waiting to get past you,
waiting to get by you,
waiting to get over you,
you hump in the middle of the roof,
you last rise before the gentle, welcome
downhill swing into spring and summer.

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Newtown. Unnatural Disaster.

I woke up this morning feeling energetic. More than usual. Nice. Wrangled into my sweats — it’s Saturday! — splashed water on my face, vigorously towel-rubbed it dry. Poured a large glass of filtered H₂O and brewed an Americano.

Gave the kat his treats and brekky… Threw his stuffed mouse across the floor so he could get on with his daily chore of chasing it. Nice morning.

Sat at the MacBook and signed in.



I was feeling energetic because I slept deeply and I slept deeply because I was oh, so weary by the end of yesterday. A day off by one: Friday the 14th instead of what it really turned out to be for all of us. And every one of us got shot yesterday.

As of now: no explanation;  as of never: no justification. Guns didn’t kill those children. Guns didn’t kill that boy’s mother. (A boy. A child. Killing children. I used to think “children having children” was wrong. Do I need to say that “children killing children”…) A boy killed them.

Where and how and why does a child get so lost so early on, so badly overlooked or ignored or forgotten that he explodes in so much passion in such a way?

I’m asking questions that fall into that “no explanation” space.

And now all that energy I was exulting over is pouring back into my heart, which is huddled, crouched; shuttered and shuddering; weeping.


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