Days Since Last Accident

Synchronicitous Events

All right, dammit, I’m pulling the trigger on a new blog feature.

For years now I have been experiencing episodes of synchronicity (or at least high coincidence) on a near daily basis.  Often these revolve around the podcasts I listen to, and how certain topics will crop up on completely different shows, recorded by completely different people, weeks apart, often geographically distant from one another, yet get listened to by me within an hour of one another on the same day.  I’ve been meaning to start writing these down, because some of them have been pretty astounding to me.  I make no claim to knowing or even speculating what any of it means, though the déjà vu side effect of something changing in the Matrix does make a satisfying form of sense to me.  Instead, I will now set about to chronicle them when they happen so as to see if there is an overall larger pattern even if that pattern would suggest that I am nuts.  Or not.

Today’s Synchronicitous Event was entirely print-based…

Some background:  While working on finding some appropriate material to read for the fastly impending creative writing class I will be teaching at a local federal prison, I was perusing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams’ posthumously released collection of writing The Salmon of Doubt.  In it, there is a brief essay describing a time in 1976 when Adams was waiting for a train and purchased a newspaper, a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies and sat down to enjoy them and do the crossword.  His items were laid out on the table before him.  Before he could open his cookies, though, a stranger across the table from him picked them up, opened them, ate one and replaced the packet on the table.  Adams didn’t know how to respond to this, so he picked up the cookies, took one of his own, ate it and returned the packet to the table.  He said they went back and forth like this through the entire pack of 8 cookies, each taking one after the other.  Only after the cookies were gone and the man had departed did Adams pick up his newspaper only to discover his original pack of cookies had been beneath it the whole time.  It’s a fantastic story, but it gets even better, for Adams used that very story as an anecdote in his 4th book in the Hitchhiker’s series, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.  In the book, his primary character Arthur Dent tells the story to his new girlfriend, Fenchurch.  My goal, having located the nonfiction version in the Salmon of Doubt, was to then go and locate it in So Long… in order to see the differences between the two in case that might be of any use to my students.  Before I could find one of my three copies of that book, though, I had to go take care of some bathroom business.

Whilst business was being taken care of, I perused my copy of Doctor Who Magazine, issue #475, in which there is an in-depth examination of the classic Tom Baker serial The Talons of Weng Chiang in their monthly The Fact of Fiction section.  The section goes back and forth between describing events in the story and providing DVD-style commentary and explanation of those events.  In the section about Part Two of the story, the article mentions that the Doctor, speaking to Professor Litefoot, makes a joke that his companion, Leela, is a savage who was found floating in a hatbox as an infant.  “A hatbox?” Litefoot responds.  The article’s commentary points out that this bit of dialog parallels a scene in Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest in which “Ernest” explains to his potential mother-in-law how he had been found, as an infant, in a hand-bag in the cloakroom at Victoria Station.  “A hand-bag?” she then exclaims in response.

Cut to ten minutes later.  I have returned to my office, found my copy of So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, am looking for the story of the cookies, as told by Arthur, but in my searching I come upon another Arthur/Fenchurch scene on page 56.  (Douglas Adams typeset the Hitchhiker’s books himself and most editions will have this occur on page 56.)  In it, Fenchurch is starting to tel Arthur about her past and Arthur says he has a question for her.  She senses what that question will be in advance and offers to say it with him.

“Was I found…” she began.

“… in a handbag,” joined in Arthur.

“…in the Left Luggage office,” they said together.

“…at Fenchurch Street Station,” they finished.

“And the answer,” said Fenchurch, “is no.”

“Fine,” said Arthur.

“I was conceived there.”

“What?”

“I was con–“

“In the Left Luggage office?” hooted Arthur.

 

Clearly the Importance of Being Earnest is what they were both referencing, a fact I never realized was the case during any of the previous times I’d read the book because I had not read the play.  It had occurred to me to wonder why Arthur anticipated the circumstances enough to form the question, but I figured, rightly so it seems, that this was an English joke or reference that I just didn’t get.  That’s all fine and good, but the fact that this synchronous bit of literature fell into my lap minutes after reading the origin of the reference in Doctor Who Magazine is very odd and disconcerting to me, though mostly in a positive way.  I like to call such off-putting and hard to explain encounters as “bad craziness”–not meaning that I think I am crazy in a bad way, but that the situation is crazy and it’s bad that I can’t explain it.  Once I found the section of the book I was actually looking for, there was another allusion to her conception in the train station, which might have caused me to go back and recheck the previous story just to make sure I remembered things right.  Again, bad craziness.

As we lay in bed, about to go to sleep, I told the above story of bad craziness to my wife.  She, while trying not to smirk, said she thought it was a plot against me.  She said, furthermore, that she thought there was likely a conspiracy at play.  This light ridicule is, of course, a typical reaction of people when faced with those who’ve just felt their world’s kilter jarred.  And while I knew she was mostly kidding, it still annoyed the bejeezus out of me.

“I’m making no such claims,” I said.  “It’s just very odd that the reference happened so soon after I’d read its explanation.”

 

————–

Things to do:  Reread So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.  It’s been many many years since I last did.

Things to do: Read the Importance of Being Earnest.  It’s high time I did. Might get a few more jokes.

 

The Hungry Hungry Escalator

My forthcoming children’s book will be titled: “The Hungry Hungry Escalator.”  It will be based on an incident that occurred to my in-laws and I as we tried to depart New York’s Penn Station recently.  We survived, but have been left bruised and sore, some more than others.

Let me back up.

Last week the wife (Ashley) and I went to New York City by train, on vacation with my in-laws (Ma, Pa, her sister Amber and brother-in-law J.P.)  We were to leave by train on Wednesday morning.  The train didn’t arrive until Wednesday afternoon, however.  That four hour delay, plus some more delays en route, put us off our arrival time by numerous hours.  Instead of arriving at 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, we instead arrived at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, costing us a pre-paid night in our Chinatown-based hotel rooms.   Beyond that, we had a great time, ate great food, saw great shows (the new production of Les Misrables is fantastic–and that was just for the Val Jean understudy!!!), went to some very nice comic shops, and mostly learned how to ride the subway.  (We only accidentally went to Brooklyn once.)

We were scheduled to depart Sunday morning at 6:55 a.m. so we took the hotel’s car service to Penn Station, leaving at a little after 6.  We got there in plenty of time, then found coffee and breakfast–though just barely.  I tried to order six breakfast sandwiches from a Duncan Donuts whose cashier line did not speak much in the way of the Queen’s English.  The ordering process became an Abbot and Costello routine.

ME:  Yes, I’d like six #10s, please.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes.

ME:  No.  Six of the number tens.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes?

ME:  No.  The turkey sausage muffin.  I want six of them.  Please.

CASHIER: The number 10?

ME:  Yes.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes.

ME:  No.

Repeat.

They were still assembling my six #10s when boarding was called for our train.  I escaped with a bag of sandwiches and two cups of piping hot coffee in a cardboard drink caddy, then joined the family as we headed for the escalator leading down to our train.

We passed the ticket lady at the top of the escalator, showed her our tickets and proceeded.  My brother-in-law, J.P., went first, followed by Ma, Pa, me, Ashley, and her sister Amber.  One of J.P.’s bags had a broken handle, which made keeping it balanced on top of his larger suitcase difficult.  It fell off on the trip down, but he was able to replace it.  However, as he reached the bottom of the escalator, the bag fell off again.  Ma, who was right behind him, saw it land on the steps in front of her.  She planned to step to one side of it on the escalator’s lower landing and push the bag out of the way with her own rolling bag.  Only because her bag was in front of her, she didn’t see where the landing began, misjudged the end of the escalator, caught her bag on his and then went crashing over the two bags as her legs were knocked from under her.  I looked down in time to see her fall, and I turned to alert Ashley, who was a couple steps above me.  When I looked back, I had time enough to see Ma’s coffee splashed across the metal landing plate below before I found I was being knocked backward by Pa, who had been knocked off of his feet after crashing into Ma and the luggage, not to mention his own luggage in front of him, as we were carried toward the growing pile by the still-moving escalator.

Ma was on the landing and Pa close behind her, but I was trapped at the point further up where the metal steps are still very much metal steps and have not yet shrunk beneath the landing plate.  My feet were trapped beneath Pa and the luggage, while my upper half was being gratered by the teethy metal steps.  Somehow I kept the coffee caddy level on the way down (which shows my sense of priorities when it comes to life: “Save the coffee!”).  While the cups were still in their caddy, held in my left hand, that hand was being pushed toward my face by luggage from below while my right arm and back were shoving me toward them due to being pushed by the steps from above.  I don’t count escalators as a phobia of mine, but I did watch the Doctor Who story “Seeds of Doom” a number of times as a child.  I still suppress shudders at the thought of the massive grinder the story’s villain attempted to feed the Doctor into via an automated conveyer system.   My situation at that moment felt reminiscent.

Ashley and Amber, meanwhile, had been a few steps above us, and saw the oncoming pileup.  Ashley began yanking luggage from the space between her and me and chucking it back up the escalator for Amber to catch, so that those of us in the pile wouldn’t be buried under it.  There had fortunately only been one lady above Ashley and Amber and she wisely fled back up the steps to get away from the chaos pile.  Ashley also had the presence of mind to shout for someone to stop the escalator–only, in the moment, she couldn’t remember the word escalator so she instead shouted “Stop it!  Stop it!  Stop the thing!”

I also tried shouting, but I wasn’t much more coherent because I was staring at the business end of two scalding coffees being pushed closer to my face while I was being pummeled by the toothy metal steps on the other side.  (My other arm, I realized, still clutched the bag of sandwiches.)  The extended handle of my rolling suitcase was being pummeled by the steps and it sounded as though it was being crushed.  This sent me into a panic because I figured my fingers would be next.  Ashley said I began screaming a mixture of “STOP IT!!!!!  STOP IT!!!!!” and “OWWWWWWW!” at the top of my lungs.

Below, J.P. was trying to hit the stop button, but it was covered by a plastic lid that was latched in such a way that simply lifting it wasn’t part of its design; it took him a bit to get it open and hit the button and the escalator came to a halt.

I managed to climb out of the luggage and get to my feet.  I had still not spilled the coffee.  I was shaken and cursing, mostly under my breath.  I looked down to see where Ma was at.  She was standing down on the concrete of the train platform, looking back up at me with wide eyes.

“Ma?  Are you all right?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said.  Her expression made me wonder if she was more badly hurt than she looked. What I didn’t realize until she told me later was that Pa had pushed her free of the escalator and she’d been able to turn around to see me being grated by the steps.  She had been frightened for me because I was wearing my leather satchel around my torso and she could see the strap tightening.  This was because the steps were pushing it further beneath me, but to her it looked as if part of the strap might have been caught in the works and was in danger of strangling me.  My incoherent screams couldn’t have been helping matters.  Thinking about it now, though, had I not been wearing the satchel, I would have been a little closer to the steps themselves and might have been physically injured as opposed to pride-injured–which is mostly what I suffered.  At no point did I feel like I was being choked, but Ma she was about to have Pa free me with his knife.

The ticket lady came down the now stationary steps and was very concerned for all of us.  She didn’t want us moving around until she could ask a few questions and assess the lawsuit potential–though she didn’t actually say that last part.  Ma said she felt like her hip, shoulder and arm were probably bruised, but she didn’t feel anything was broken. I shook myself out and said that I felt okay, too.  Pa, who over the course of the last year has undergone not only triple-bypass heart surgery, suffered a stroke, recovered from it, and had his carotid artery cleaned out, said he felt fine.

The ticket lady offered to help us fill out an accident report, but that would involve not being on the train, which was about to leave.  Seeing that we were all pretty much intact as far as we could tell (not to mention the inspection of my physician wife), and how none of this had been Amtrak’s fault to begin with, we decided to just soldier on down the track.  We boarded the train.

I think we were all in a bit of shock for a while.  The situation, bad as it was, could have been worse.  Mostly, I felt stupid for not being more quick-thinking in the moment and winding up at the bottom of the pile so swiftly, while Ashley, Amber and J.P. saved the day.

After half an hour or so, we all ate our cold breakfast sandwiches and drank our coffee.  I felt a little sore and for a little bit I thought I’d bruised by coccyx, but I eventually decided there wasn’t much wrong.  (I’ve still had cause to shout “Ow!  My coccyx!” over the past day, but only because it’s fun.)

The rest of our train trip home was, thankfully, uneventful and undelayed.

Dear Bryan Fuller…

Just read the news about the potential PUSHING DAISIES Broadway musical.

As a huge Pushing Daisies fan, with many many friends who are as well, I think I may be the only one I know to say: I’m actually against this.

While on paper a Pushing Daisies musical seems like a great idea, IMO it is too drastic an alteration of the ideal format for the story it was telling and existed in, which is television or film. The show was born in that medium and did amazing things in it while it lasted. It also incorporated many elements of Broadway musicals along the way, which were used to make this little TV show about a bittersweet relationship between a piemaker and the reanimated dead girl that he loves, into something magical and unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV.  ON T.V.

Could a stage version of the show exist? Sure.

Could it be amazing? Sure.

Would I want to see it? Sure.

Should I shut up and trust that you and your fellow creators know what you’re doing and have a master plan in place?  Quite possibly.  But I cannot do so without respectfully appealing to you to reconsider this Broadway plan in the short term.

I maintain that the stage will not be the ideal place for a fitting conclusion to your story–a conclusion or continuation that we the fans have wanted so badly since it went off the air. A translation to the stage, while gaining all the elements that make Broadway musicals so special on their own, will lose much of the visual and special effects elements that helped make that show beloved. Television acting and stage acting are different creatures. It’s closeup magic versus stage magic; David Blaine versus David Copperfield. Both are impressive, but for very different reasons.

As great as a PD musical could be, I will miss the twinkle in Ned’s eye, Chuck’s knowing smile, Emerson Cod’s world-weary sneer, Olive’s subtle longing, the conflicted expressions of Aunt Vivian, and the one-eyed steeliness of Aunt Lily. (And what about Digby?!)

Furthermore, an ending to Ned and Chuck’s (and Emerson and Olive, and Lily and Vivian’s) story needs to exist in a format that can be shelved alongside the TV box sets we’ve watched and rewatched and forced so many others to watch over the years. Give us something which can be enjoyed by the mass audience worldwide that fell in love with the show! Requiring that it be seen on Broadway, where it will have a limited run, for a limited amount of people–or, if successful, will start trading out cast members when they decide to move on to other roles, assuming all of the original cast will even commit to it–is FAR from the same thing as a final curtain TV movie. And, frankly, it isn’t fair to the thousands of fans who have kept the fires burning.

This is not to say that I believe a Pushing Daisies Broadway musical couldn’t be pretty damn astounding on its own merits. It certainly could. And I would actually be 100 percent behind it had the show been given a proper ending on television. By all means, do an adaptation then and give us a Broadway show. But please, Bryan Fuller, don’t give it to us in place of the ideal ending to your story just because it could be cool. Kickstarter this thing like Veronica Mars. Let the fans fund a movie, or Netflix or Amazon mini-series, (assuming rights could be secured). Bring back the cast. (Okay, you can recast the kids, or just pick up young Ned and Chuck’s story further along with the same actors, somehow.) Bring back Barry Sonnenfeld to direct it. Bring back Jim Dale to narrate it. Give us the ending that I know exists in your head. And do so in the same format in which it began: film.

Yours,

–eric

Kitty on a Milk Carton (Part 2)

On Sunday, after church, I went out to investigate the forest floor beneath the hickory tree we’d seen the vultures in, in case there was any gray fur left from a kitty meal.  I didn’t find any.  Meanwhile, the wife went down the hill to try and talk to neighbors.  They knew D.J. and had seen him around in the past, but not recently.  They agreed to keep an eye out and to check their outbuilding in case he’d snuck in there.

Throughout the afternoon, we kept waiting for him to just meander on in, but other than repeated “Fatty” misidentifications, we saw nothing.  It was to the point that Ashley couldn’t even be sure she’d seen him when leaving on Saturday morning.  She was afraid she’d just seen fatty trotting by the driveway.

“Oh, no,” I said.  “Fatty doesn’t trot.  He lumbers.  And it wouldn’t have been any other cat because it was running toward our house.”

At 4:50, Sunday afternoon, I was struck by the sudden feeling that D.J. was alive.  It was a warm and confident notion that said, he was not only alive but was on his way home.  In fact, it was so strong that I wrote it in my phone, as if speaking or writing it would make it real.  I then watched the back door, waiting to see his kitty face peering through it, or to hear his “wipewipewipewipewipewipe” trademark.  Nothing.

Sunday night, I posted a picture of D.J. to Facebook and asked my friends of a praying mind to say one for him.  A number of people responded that they would.

It was difficult to go to sleep for both of us.  We were both feeling down and with good reason; see, beyond Emmett’s brief disappearance from a few years ago, we’d had a previous experience with a cat disappearing, which did not end so well.

Avie Kitty

Avie Kitty

Our cat Avie was the second cat we had following the passing of my 17-year-old cat Winston.  (The first died of panleukopenia, and the less said about that the better–beyond the standard, “Get your kitten vaccinated!” advice.)  Avie was a sweet kitty, though vicious if you happened to be a baby rabbit.  We nicknamed her Kissy Kitty, because she tended to snuggle up on my wife’s chest and would kiss her sweaters.  We left Avie with our friend Scarlett while we took our dogs with us on vacation back in 2010.   When we returned, Scarlett informed us that Avie had escaped the house during the week and had not come back.  We shrugged this off, thinking she would eventually return, or that it wouldn’t be a problem to locate her.  None of our efforts proved fruitful.  We searched the neighborhood, put up posters all over, went door to door with flyers, and made daily trips to the Bluefield Humane Society for three months because we had a tip that one of their neighbors regularly caught local kitties in a live trap and hauled them in to kitty jail.  (We even called that neighbor, just to let them know we were on the lookout for a particular kitty, but they denied being the neighbor that did this.)  We had a few leads, but mostly these turned out to be the wrong cat.  We had fingers crossed that she might make it across town and turn up at the house someday, but if she ever did it was after we moved to Lewisburg.  We were broken-hearted for weeks, and could only console ourselves with the hopeful vision of Avie sitting on the lap of some little old lady, kissing her knitted shawl.  It still makes me sad to this day.

The coda to that story is that our friend Scarlett, from whose care Avie had escaped, is responsible for giving us D.J. and Emmett.  She’d picked them up as kittens from the humane society a couple months after Avie’s disappearance and her kids had named them Deja Vu and Emma.  Only they wouldn’t stop peeing in this one spot in her house, no matter what she did, so she said we could either take them or she was returning them to the humane society.  We, somewhat reluctantly agreed.  Emma turned out to be a boy, so we renamed her Emmett.  And since one of my Top 10 favorite movies is Silverado, I decided that if we had an Emmett, we needed a Jake, so that’s what I renamed Deja Vu.  The conversation in which we broke this news to Scarlett went something like this…

“We’re renaming Deja Vu to `Jake,'” I said.

“Oh, Jake, like in Twilight?” Scarlett said.

“No!  Not like Jake from Twilight,” I said, annoyed at all things Twilight.  “And the other one we’re renaming Emmett, cause it’s a boy.”

“Oh, Emmett, like in Twilight?”

Knowing that this would be a conversation we would probably have to keep having, we abandoned our Silverado theme and just renamed Deja Vu to D.J.

As we weepily lay in bed Sunday night, the wife said, “I guess we lost another kid.”

“Oh, I still think he could turn up,” I said.  “I keep waiting to hear him wiping at the glass.”

“Yeah.  Me too,” she said.

We talked more about the possibility that he was trapped somewhere, maybe in someone’s garage.  However the fact that it was now Sunday night and this hypothetical family had not returned from their hypothetical weekend trip to free him weighed on us.  If he wasn’t trapped in a garage, and if he wasn’t dead on his head, the other alternative was that he was alive but injured and couldn’t reach the house.  The fact that it was already 20 degrees outside and snowing didn’t help us in this line of thought.

I slept fitfully.  The wife barely slept at all.  Then what little sleep we were getting was broken by the sound of chainsaws at 8 a.m. Monday morning.

On Friday, some utility workers had been sawing trees and limbs along the power line path, just below our house and evidently they’d returned to finish the job.  It made me wonder if the sawing might be connected with DJ’s disappearance–if, perhaps, he’d been investigating some of the piles of sawed limbs and become trapped beneath them in a limbslide.  The men wrapped things up by 8:30, though, and no cat turned up.

I phoned the office of the veterinarian in proximity to us, but they’d not had any anonymous gray kittie’s dropped off.  Neither had our own vet.  We then tried to phone the humane society, also over the hill from us, but they were closed on Mondays.

We went our separate ways for errands, and met for lunch before heading home.  I was the first to arrive, hoping to find D.J. waiting at the front door.  He was not.  I called “Heeeeeere kittykittykittykittykittykitty” in the front of the house.  No cat rolled up.  I took the dogs inside and then stepped onto the back deck, where the cat also was not.  I gave it another “Heeeeeere kittykittykittykittykittykittykittykitty,” really putting some voice into it.  Screw the neighbors.  No kitty.

Looking down the brambly hillside behind our house, I decided I was going to head out into it to have a look around.  We know this is D.J.’s primary route to getting down into the rest of the neighborhood, so it made sense that he might be in there.  It would also allow me to investigate the piles of limbs the utility men had left.  I went back inside and began bundling up.  As I was doing so, the wife arrived home.  I told her of my plan, which she said was a good one.  I was then pulling on my gloves, headed for the back door, when I looked up and saw a kitty face peering over the top step.  I did a double take, not wanting to be fooled by “Fatty” for the 53rd time in as many days, but this was definitely a skinny kitty.  I then gawked as my brain sent several “Please Confirm!” messages to my eyes.  They confirmed.  I froze in place, refusing to take my eyes off of him for even an instant, as though he would run away or disappear if I did.  Then, in one breath, I said, “Holy shit!  It’s D.J., I swear to God it’s D.J., I am looking right at him, you have to come and see!”

She came over to see and he didn’t vanish.  We then both carefully moved toward the back door, slipping through its gap and not allowing the dogs to follow.  He didn’t run away, but he did seem strangely cautious, or even dazed.

DJ Kitty returned

DJ Kitty returned

“Let me see him,” the wife said, reaching down to pick him up.  She held him gingerly, as though he might be injured, but he made no pained cries.  He just looked like he was in shock to be home.

After a thorough examination by Dr. Ashley, we determined that D.J. was a little dirty, smelled of old dust, had a few superficial cuts, may or may not have had one of his back legs gnawed upon by something, but was for the most part fine.  We took him in the house and gave him canned cat food.  Then Ashley did another more thorough examination before announcing that she thought he was going to be all right.  He spent the rest of the day napping on our bed and seemed pleased to be inside.

We still have no idea where he was all this time, but our suspicion is that he was indeed injured.  His back leg, while not hurt enough to cause him to cry out, did show signs of having possibly been in the mouth of another creature and we wonder now if he might have been caught by one of our neighbor’s dogs down the hill.  He may have been hiding in a culvert the whole time.  Or he might truly have been trapped in a garage.  What matters most is that he was returned to us.  Our prayers were answered.

Kitty on a Milk Carton (Part 1)

D.J. Kitty

D.J. Kitty

We have two cats, a gray kitty named D.J. and fat lump of a sealpoint cat called Emmett. In fact, we call Emmett “Fatty Lumpkin” most of the time cause it just fits.  Emmett is very beautiful and very stupid.  D.J. is skinny, affectionate and intelligent.  He’s smart enough that he knows exactly which of our buttons to press to get what he wants.  Sometimes this makes him exasperating because getting us to do what he wants often involves waking us up in order to let him out.  He usually does this by knocking shit off of my bedside table, or clawing the window screens which, on our windows, are on the inside.  Lately, now that he’s learned the bedside table puts him in arms reach of me, he’s taken to clawing some unseen thing beneath our bed where I can’t reach him, which he will do until I get up to at least try to reach him.   For the most part, he doesn’t even have to burn this many calories, because our dog Sadie knows D.J. pisses me off through this behavior and, when the cat enters the room in the wee hours, will preemptively wake me up by whining to go potty in order to prevent me being upset with the cat for being awakened. It’s a symbiotic relationship that seems to work for everyone involved, because I’m never upset with the dogs for waking me; it’s the cats, who have a litterbox, that anger me through their interruptions to my slumber.  I say all that as further evidence that D.J. is quite intelligent, because often when I am awakened by the dog I will find him lurking just inside the door to our room, waiting to slip out with the dogs.  And I provide these examples of his intelligence because it illustrates the degree of fear my wife and I were filled with when D.J. turned up missing this past weekend.

The last time I had seen D.J. before his disappearance was sometime on Friday.  I don’t recall him coming in for dinner, but I was busy getting ready to go act in a play.  Didn’t see him when I returned and didn’t see him for breakfast on Saturday.  In the afternoon, still having seen no sign of the cat, I mentioned it to the wife.  “No, I saw him this morning,” she said.  She’d been on her way out to go do some early-morning charting at her clinic and had seen him running along the edge of the driveway in the direction of the house.  I’d not seen him, though.  It was not like him to miss breakfast.

Later, after he’d missed dinner and had still not turned up by the time we came home from the final night of my play, we began to be concerned.  I went to front and back doors calling, “Heeeeerekittykittykittykittykittykitty!” expecting to see him come running from the woodshed, or to eventually hear him wiping at the glass of the back door.  We call it wiping the glass, because that’s what he does.  Just stands up on his hind legs and wipes up and down the glass of the door with his front paws, creating little squeaky “wipewipewipewipewipe” sounds.  It’s one of his trademark moves.  We did not hear them that evening.  Instead, we had several bursts of hope followed by misery when we mistook Fatty for DJ as he lurked outside the back door, several minutes after one of us had put him out the front door.

After midnight, having no luck sleeping, I got up to walk out in the 30 degree weather to check the woodshop in case he’d managed to sneak inside there when I’d briefly gone out in the afternoon.  Nope.  I then walked out and checked his usual haunt of the woodshed, just to confirm that A) he wasn’t there, and B) he’d not been killed in some sort of woodpile avalanche.  He was not and had not.

We know D.J. to be a wide-ranging cat, having seen him all over the neighborhood, but he’s fixed, so the usual male “catting around” hasn’t really been a factor.  He’s also so smart that we know he can find his way back home from pretty much anywhere he’s wandered, so, to our way of thinking, if he had not come home something was wrong.

Back when we lived in Princeton, our other cat, “Fatty,” disappeared for a few days.  After the first two, we realized something was up and began to worry.  We figured he was either dead, trapped, or he’d managed to wander into an adjoining neighborhood and, being fairly stupid, got lost.  Our money, somehow, was on trapped, though.  This was over a three day holiday weekend, and we were imagining him wandering into a neighbor’s open garage on a Thursday only to be trapped when they departed, closing it behind them.  We’d even had a neighbor describe seeing him in the vicinity of another neighbor’s house–a neighbor she knew had left town in just such a manner.  We still don’t know for sure if this was the case, as I heard no mews when snooping around that neighbor’s yard.  But on the afternoon of the third day he turned up, a bit skinnier than when he’d left, but otherwise okay.

The wife and I hoped this would turn out to be D.J.’s fate, and not something more sinister.  We live on the edge of some woods, and allegedly pet-hungry coyotes have been known to roam the area.  That coupled with the 22–count `em, TWENTY TWO–gigantic vultures we saw roosting in a hickory tree behind our house on Saturday was enough to turn our thoughts dark.

( TO BE CONTINUED…)

Actual Conversations Heard in Actual K-Marts #3

SETTING:  Super K-Mart in Beckley, W.Va.  I have enter and approach the service desk clutching a bag containing a defective bubble gun in one hand and my receipt in the other.  This was a bubble gun I had purchased during a tour of multiple Beckley-based retail outlets the previous week, which I was hoping to use for the play I’m directing (“Fish Schticks” by Brett Hersey), which requires bubbles and lots of them.  As previously noted, the gun refused to fire.

CLERK–  Hello, sir.  May I help you?

ME–  (Setting the bag upon the counter)  Yes.  I bought this bubble gun here last week.  It doesn’t work even a little bit.

CLERK– (Looks down at my bag.  Allows a pregnant pause.)  Um, sir, this is from Magic Mart.

(I look down at the bag, from which I had pulled my receipt mere moments beforehand.  Both the bag and the receipt have Magic Mart logos prominently printed on their surfaces.)

ME–  Oh.  You are correct.  Sorry about that.

CLERK–  Oh, no problem.

(I then gather up my bag and my receipt and flee the building.)

I’ll take “Spayed `ers” other than James for $100, Alex.

Yep.  One week back, we took the dog in for a spayin’.  We chose to do this during a week that the wife otherwise had off from work.  (She had not requested a solid week off, but that’s what they gave her.  Doesn’t matter to her, she gets paid the same either way, but it was a nice and unexpected vacation.)  We did this because if anything were to go amiss with Maya’s recovery from the spayin’, the wife wanted to be home to monitor it.

Since the wife had so many days off, my mother-in-law decided to come up as well.  This is always a welcome event.  For one thing, I love my mother-in-law.  For another, she’s a spectacular cook and I’m guaranteed biscuits and gravy for at least one of the days she’s around.  (Which I then take pictures of and text them to my brother-in-law as proof that I’m her favorite.)  The other advantage to having Ma around is that she helps keep the wife occupied allowing me to otherwise get work done.   Since I work from home as a writer, I do have to actually spend some time doing that sort of thing.  But when the wife is off, I feel obligated to spend a good amount of time with her, too, and sometimes my work life doesn’t get the attention it needs.  So my deadlines were thankful Ma was in the house, too.

Maya’s surgery went well.  I went with the wife to pick her up the following morning.  We were waiting in the vet’s lobby when they brought her out.  Maya went right to the wife first.  After receiving a pet there, she turned, noticed me and I got to see her little doggy expression change from one of mere happiness to happiness double plus joy. 

During her recovery, she was a good deal more subdued than her usual self–which is to be expected, since her belly still hurts.  (“Mama paid money to have my belly cut open,” we frequently say, using our Maya voice.  We’re such idiots.)  Much of her initial recovery time was spent camped out on what we call the dog couch, which is to say our old couch that we never sit on and which the dogs get more use out of.  And while she had pain meds to help, I think she was still in pain, because she became very sensitive to the presence of the other dogs.  If Sadie, for instance, tried to hop up on the opposite end of the dog couch, Maya would sometimes yipe as if Sadie had jumped on her.  But we all saw that Sadie hadn’t come close to even touching Maya.  Perhaps Maya wanted to be in pain in private, because she soon retreated to our bedroom, or even our bedroom closet where she would bury herself behind the clothes hanging from the lower shelf.  Sometimes she would hide under the bed in my office.  Her appetite was also much lower than normal and she almost never finished her own food, let alone tried to steal the other dogs’ food.

Even now, a week later, Maya is still pretty subdued compared to her former boisterous puppy self.  She’s begun to play again, and chases Moose around, as well as the cats, but she’s not as needy as she was before the surgery.  Maybe it’s a hormone thing and this is the new default for Maya.  Can’t say I really mind, but it is a difference.

The other thing that has changed since the surgery (fingers crossed) is that we’ve had no more accidents.  Maya also seems far more willing to vocalize when we ask her if she needs to potty.  She’s even gone to the back door, clawed it and gave off a whine to let us know her intent, a few times.

This.  Is.  Awesome.

So far so good.  I’m not going to go so far as to say anything foolish, like, “Well, guess we finally got her potty trained,” cause if I did I’d probably find I’d been sitting in dog poo for the past two hours.

Days Since Last Accident = -1

Every time we think, “Oh, hey, it’s been a couple of weeks at least since Maya last had an accident.  I think she’s finally potty trained!” we’re swiftly proven incorrect.

This morning, upon rising at the behest of Maya who seemed to be indicating that she had to potty, I let her and the other dogs out and then set about to make breakfast.  Being as how it was still -3 degrees outside due to the polar vortex, I let them back in pretty quick, but gave them plenty of time to do their soon-to-be-frozen business.

Several minutes later, as I wrapped up the preparation of breakfast, grabbed my coffee and headed for the sofa, I spied a huge pile of poop by the back door.  I doubted greatly that this had been deposited before the wife left for work, so it must have happened while I was making breakfast.  The thing about me is, even though it’s entirely unappetizing to have to clean up dog shit before eating a freshly prepared breakfast, it’s even worse to just leave it there and eat that breakfast, knowing it’s there to be cleaned afterward.  So I had to clean it up, but not before shaming the dog for doing it in the first place.  While Maya has made great strides in keeping her waste within her until turned into the out-of-doors, she still hasn’t quite figured out a way to willfully alert us when she has to “go.”  Or, to mangle some terminology from Dune, to demonstrate pottysign. 

At night, she’s much better.  We’ve been keeping the dogs closed in our room, which keeps her from wandering elsewhere in the house to make a deposit.  Instead, she usually wakes up, stands and shakes her jowls violently.  When we hear this, we just get up and let her out and she’s never failed to “go.”  This is as close to achieving pottysign–to paraphrase a term from Dune– as she usually comes.  And it only happens at night.  During the day, when she has free run of the house, we basically have to notice her acting like she might have to potty, which is pretty subtle cause to the casual observer it appears exactly like her normal dog behavior.

Most of the time, we just notice her lingering by the front or back door, or peering out of a door adjacent window, and we just get up and let her out.  Occasionally, when we see her at the door and we ask her if she has to go potty, she’ll give us a satisfying whine in the affirmative.  But, again, it all requires we notice her doing that, cause damn if she’s gonna say a peep.

Toward the end of the day, having been let out for a solid 20 minutes not 15 minutes beforehand, I was in the kitchen making supper when I happened to glance toward the back door and saw another pile.  Two in one day, both while I was otherwise occupied in the kitchen, no effort made to alert me beyond staring out a window.  Maybe.

Actual Telephone Conversations Heard at My House #2

TAMMY– Thank you for calling LOCAL Animal Hospital, this is Tammy.

MY WIFE– Hi, Tammy.  My name is Ashley Fritzius and I’d like to call and schedule for our dog Maya to be spayed, probably some time this week, if you can.

TAMMY–  Oh, very well.  We can get that scheduled for you.  (LOOKS UP RECORDS)  How does…. next Thursday morning sound?

MY WIFE– That will be great.  How much will it cost?

TAMMY–  How much does she weigh?

MY WIFE–  (LONG PAUSE)  You spay by the pound?

TAMMY– (ANGRY)  No, we don’t spay by the pound!

(Tammy then snippily told my wife that weight was a factor in the amount of anesthesia they would have to use and that we would have to pay for.  The wife plans to apologize after bringing the dog in tomorrow.)

Supercalifragilisticoprophagialidocious!

Cease Coprophagia Soft Chews.  Yessir.

Cease Coprophagia Soft Chews. Yessir.

Maya has taken to eating, um, well, poo poo.

I first suspected this when I smelled it on her breath as she jumped up to lick me on the face whilest I was sitting on the sofa.

“Ewww!  Get away!  You’ve been eating shit!” I screamed.

A few nights later, when letting Maya and Moose out to potty at 4 a.m., I spied Maya waiting patiently near Moose as he was taking a dump.  Then, from my vantage point inside the glass storm door of our front entrance, I saw Maya calmly walk over to where Moosie had made his deposit and just as calmly lower her head toward it, mouth open.  I flung open the door and hissed “NO!!!!!!!!” unintentionally waking everyone in the house in the process, but intentionally getting Maya to look up suddenly and guiltily and dash for the house before she could be christened a “bad dog.”

“What?  What is it?” the wife called sleepily from back in bed.

“Maya’s eating shit,” I whispered.

“What?”

“Maya.  Is.  Eating.  Shit,” I repeated.

“Oh, no.”

We then both had to hunker down in the covers and pull all limbs beneath, lest any stray dog licks from the edge of the bed send us flying to the shower in the wee hours.

Yesterday, while taking the dogs out for a walk, we were making our way across the yard toward the trail head, when I noticed Maya bending down for something in the grass.  As I watched, she gobbled up a few recently thawed links of poop, and then moved on toward a new pile, chewing all the while.  

“No!  No!  You don’t eat shit!   You DO NOT eat shit!” I screamed.   Maya heard me yelling and cowered in the grass in “bad dog” pose.  I realized I’d maybe over reacted a tad, and then tried to tell her she was a good dog.  But every time I spoke pleasantly, she would run toward me for petting, reassurance and, of course, slobbery dog kisses, which in turn made me scream “NO!” and run away, which caused her to cower again and start the cycle anew.

Perhaps we’re not feeding her enough, as coprophagia is a sign of underfeeding.

Days since last accident = 0

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