Friday, August 2, 2013

Who's In Charge Here?

This is a blog entry which was dropped when the format changed last year.   I'm posting it again as there has been a change here.   Our friend Oscar, the carport cat, as found dead in the side yard a couple of weeks ago.   He was pointed back to the house when he died.  We miss him a lot.   But, on and see who is really in charge here.


A tee shirt popular in the 1970's said, " BEAM ME SCOTTY, THERE'S NO INTELLIGENT LIFE DOWN HERE", and was a reference to the old Star Trek series.  Obviously, the person who wrote was visiting a planet with no cats.  .   

I have said for a long time that if the average American was as intelligent as any of my cats and even half as polite, then daily life here would be safer and more enjoyable.  In fact, let me expand on that idea to include "self sufficient", too.  

My wife and i seem to run a home for needy cats.   They come here with their little hobo-packs and toothbrushes and sit on our porch till we let them in, determine their names and feed them.  This has been going on a long time now and more than a few of the fuzzy beasts have taken advantage of our hospitality.   

Currently we are feeding and running errands for five felines, in a wide variety of colors, sizes, ages, sexes and temperaments. If there were a United Nations Of Cats, it could be headquartered here. 

Let's begin with the oldest, Gizmo.   Named after the little creature in the movie about Gremlins, she both looks and has often has acted that way.   Currently, she is about 18 years old and neither she nor us can remember her actual birthday or even the year.   She was the last  cat of a litter to be given away by some friends in Michigan and had been kept alone in the cellar till we came along.  That may have shaped her personality.  Something did.   She has always been a complainer, seemingly a common trait among "Tortoiseshell " cats, a branch of the Calico tribe.  Her life has been spent largely alone, sleeping in the furthest closet for many years whenever we were home and burrowed under the blankets on the bed otherwise.   For years we would see her pass by on her trips between the closet and the litter box, but only fleetingly.   Even now, these many years later, she has decided that she will live in the enclosed back entry way of the house, with her own litter box, food dish and water bowl.  Having a warm blanket-in-a-box bed with an electric heater blowing on her is just to be expected.   Otherwise, the complaining starts, and loudly.   She went profoundly deaf several years ago and really doesn't know how loud she is.   But, she is a little bit like having one's grandma come to live with them, and we take care of her in spite of her strange old-cat habits.  

Adagio is our Hurricane Katrina cat.    Just about a year after Katrina, while much of South Louisiana was still broken and muddy a nice looking Siamese moved into our yard.   He was rather shy, and we didn't call for him, thinking that any cat that pretty must have a home.   He began hanging around closer to the house, and then running full speed the length of the house on the roof at about midnight.  This became a regular thing.   He climbed up our pecan tree, jumped onto the travel trailer, then jumped the five feet or so onto the carport and spent his nights up there.   I suppose it was safe, and he had a great view.  One day, while I was out of town my wife and daughter made friends with him and gave him a name.  They called me on the road and told me the news.   When I got home, Adagio sat on my lap outside and told me he really needed some attention.   I was working in our travel trailer and he came right in with me.  He knew exactly how to find his way around, and knew just how to jump up and sit on the back of the couch and peer out the window.   When my wife was at work one day I let him into the house.    He made a complete inside perimeter tour, looking into every corner and under all the furniture as if searching for someone he knew.   He waited every day until I'd let him into the camper where he'd make a regular route and end up on the back of the couch.  

Making a long story short, we adopted him, as he adopted us.   I searched all the lost pet sites looking for someone reporting the loss of a beautiful and intelligent Siamese with no luck.  We came to the conclusion that he had been a FEMA trailer cat and had just lost his way when the trailer was moved or the family was relocated.  

He has grown to be a great friend and taken on the rather onerous task of making each of us laugh every day.  He is a clown and a smart one at that.  

Next came Mr. Murphy.   "Daddy , daddy, there's a really cute little gray cat in the back yard.   I'm going out to pet him."  my daughter said.   And, the die was cast.  Yes, indeed, he was a cute little gray cat, and one who was wearing a flea collar.   He took to my daughter immediatly and they sat on the back porch for an hour, talking.  But, with a collar, he must have a home, right?    We left him outside.  

In fact he moved into the carport and ate out of an old dish for many months.   I let the hose nozzle drip just a little and he could turn his head and drink, and drink, and drink.  We started bringing him in on the cold nights and he got along with the other cats, an important consideration.  Boys will be boys and he started coming home mornings with cuts and bloody spots.   Eventually he must have crossed trails with a really tough cat.  He turned up with some major bites and cuts on his head, requiring about $400 worth of shots , stitches, drainage appliances and medicines, but we can't sit and watch an animal suffer.    The doctor was very clear when he explained that if we left this cat outside, that he and I would be developing a costly relationship.   Mr. Murphy moved inside.   

Since then he has grown to match the rather impressive size of his feet.   He has a beautiful double-thick coat of glossy gray fur and a magnificent tail.  Having the two "big boys" in the house didn't really create problems but the excitement level increased when they raced the length of the house and wrestled in mostly good-natured fun.  He found a faucet dripping in the bathroom one day and his earlier skill-set of drinking from the faucet came back strong.   Yes, i admit it.   We sometimes let it drip now, just to make him happy.  

For about five years a "Russian Blue", or something quite close to that has been our official carport-cat.  Oscar is a rough, tough survivor.  He has come home chewed and dripping blood.   He refuses any sissy medicines or any more attention than a pat on the head and a dish of dry food.  There is no picking up Oscar.   I've tried and he is a strong competitor in the wriggling event.  He has never bitten or clawed or hissed and is a perfect gentleman to all of us two-legged types.   

In 2009 we went camping for a weekend in October and brought the camper home on Sunday and left the door open as we took out every bit of food, turned off the water and the power.   I locked the camper and pretty much forgot about it.   By about Wednesday of that week we noticed that Oscar was not around.    We called for him, left food out, cruised the local streets looking for a body to no avail.   For weeks I walked into the woods behind the house and called.   I whistled for him morning and night, and after about six weeks figured he was gone for good.   Then, one morning very early we both awoke to an alarm sound.   I don't know how we woke up, as it was very faint.   Then it hit me, it was the smoke alarm in the camper.    I pulled on a minimum of clothes, found the camper keys and a flashlight and ran full speed out the door.   I popped into the camper and found the smoke alarm sounding and Oscar sitting on the couch.....small, skinny and hungry.   He had spent an honest six weeks with no food and no water.   Two little dried out cat-turds and two little yellow spots on the bathroom floor and then he was empty.    Whatever would posses a non-social cat to walk into an open camper is beyond me.   But, he did, and he survived.    He stood and was petted well and often for days and the sharpness of his emaciated spine actually was uncomfortable on our hands.  He was a rather shrunken cat skin on a very bony frame and it was several weeks till he felt right when we petted him.  But, he is still with us, and he usually spends a night or so away and a night or so here with us.    We often wonder if he has another family convinced that he needs cat food, too.  He would have made a great house cat, too bad we didn't meet him sooner.   

This brings me to Millie, the small, squeaky cat.   Late last winter she showed up, walking side by side with Oscar when we brought his food out.   He tolerated her very well.  She limped badly and was just a little spot of a cat.   Eventually, we were able to pick her up and look at her foot but found nothing.  One day, her basic architecture began to change and within a couple of weeks she was about as wide as she was long.    All in due time she brought us all four of her new kittens.   

We had never had new kittens here at home and it was overall a good experience.   The wonder of babies extends past just grandchildren, and includes baby cats.  One was a steel gray female with blue eyes. One was a striped tabby like Millie.  One was pure black and smaller than the others and the last was a striped gray and fuzzy female.  All of them were beautiful and eventually all went to new homes.   

Millie is now an inside cat, creatively re-plumbed by the Vet to eliminate any further chance of kittens here.  It turns out that her limp was caused by a bullet wound and the x-rays show fragments still remaining in the tissues.  She loves to play and chases the big boys through the house at full speed, on three working feet.   They all seem to enjoy the game and after two or three laps they all collapse on the carpet in front of the TV and rest up.   

I'd write more but Gizmo is calling for food, the litter boxes need to be cleaned and refilled and it's time to fill water dishes and open a new bag of Purina.   Who is in charge here?   You have to ask?    

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Boy Peddler

It was a dark and stormy night.     No, wait.  Scratch that.   It was a dark and stormy morning.    I knew my papers were in and waiting for me because I had heard the delivery truck rumble past the house as i lay in my warm bed.   The truck ran right past my house, a humble little "five-room bungle"  and then dropped the bundles of heavy Sunday Milwaukee Journals a block away at "Dick's Tackle and Bait", a corner store specializing in minnows, grimy floors and men who smoked and cursed.   I wasn't allowed inside, Mom's orders, but in just a few minutes i'd pedal my bike, a metallic blue Royce with a huge paperboy basket down the block and make the first of three trips bringing my papers back to the house.  

I always clipped the baling wire that bound the big, heavy bundles close to the little spun connection and hung the wire up on a nail in my Dad's shop.   Over the years we found a million uses for that wire, fixing things and making little stuff. Over forty years later, when my father passed on, my brother cleaned out the old house and discarded a bushel of carefully hoarded newspaper wires.  

The papers came with a scrawled note on each bundle.  "Route 21  22 Cop 1 of 3"   and so on.   In the end, i needed a total of sixty-five copies of dry, presentable papers.  The bundles came wrapped with old newspapers to keep them dry and salable no matter what the weather was like.   That was the idea anyway.  If there were any which just plain were not good enough to deliver, I could call in and hope the man would bring me a couple of fresh ones.   If not, I'd have to buy one or two at the grocery store and just plain take a loss on them, to make my customers happy.  That was an important business lesson, "Keep your customers happy. Even if it costs you money".    We still run our business that way and sometimes our profit slips, but our reputation is good.  When i had counted all my copies, and stuffed the color sections like the comics and the ads and color magazines into the middle of the "black" sections I could begin to load my bike.   

The old Royce was blue, had fat tires and just one speed.  The speed was whatever speed I pedaled and with a full load of papers it was low speed.  My basket was used when i got it from another paper boy.  He was old enough he could "retire" and get on with life, head off for High School and have a girl friend.  Maybe even learn to drive.  The basket was huge and was fitted to the front of my bike with heavy galvanized struts that ran down to the front axle to carry the load   I could usually fit about twenty-two Sunday Journals in that basket and I'm pretty sure that the combined weight of the bike and papers was nearly double my own weight  The Sunday Milwaukee Journal was running over 1,400-pages at that time and twenty-two of them was a load.  

So, loaded down with the papers, my route book showing who had paid and who had not and dressed for whatever sort of weather was happening, I'd head out.   Peddling on sidewalks and streets, along the route I knew so well, I'd stop, lean my bike against the nearest tree and walk the paper to the door or porch.   Every customer had a special place they wanted the paper and the expected it to be there, on time, dry and right side up.  We Sunday route boys envied the Daily boys since they could fold and tuck the papers making them throwable.   A Sunday Journal simply did not throw.  Fourteen-hundred pages of newspaper are an atomic explosion waiting to happen if thrown.  

This was back in the days when a ten-year old kid could ride his bike out in the pre-dawn dark on city streets in some questionable neighborhoods at times almost without fear.  Actually, my biggest fear was having a flat tire three miles from home with a load of papers on.  When the basket was empty I'd high-tail it back home and pack the big basket with another load of papers and go back to where i had left off.  Then, repeat till the papers were all in the right place.  But, my day was not done.  I could usually make a fast trip around the whole route again, stopping at houses that still owed me money.  Then, high speed pedaling brought me home again, where I'd count all the money I had collected all week and after the route was done.  Hopefully I'd have enough to pay the Journal company.  The manager of the local office was a sort of rough guy, not too old, named Tony.  

The economic side of the paper business was like this:  every copy of the 1400-page paper cost me nineteen cents.  I sold each one for twenty-five cents.   So, for six cents per customer i rode my bike out at least once, probably more to collect, then rode again to deliver the paper, then rode into town and waited in line to pay the company and clear my name, thus allowing me to get papers the next week.  Basically, I'd spend six to seven hours a week collecting and delivering papers in all sorts of weather, risking my self and my bike at every turn and if everything worked just right, i'd make a grand total of $3.10 .   

I worry some times that I'm not too bright.   It all seemed OK to me at the time, and even looking back now I can see reasons why it was a good job. Learning the real value of a dollar is something that sticks with a person.   The paper route taught me more than i realized at the time about retail sales, profit margins and self-investment.  I really found my place on Easy Street after that, as  the next job i got paid me sixty-six cents an hour !  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Through Another Man's Eyes

Like a lot of young fellows when I was a kid, I built model airplanes.   In fact, I dreamt of airplanes, hung out at the airport, followed pilots and begged to sit in airplanes and cranked my head back every time an airplane went over. I especially loved the old biplanes and used to sit and watch an old Stearman, flown brilliantly, dust the fields of the Libby’s Food plant near home. 

Years later, many years actually, I was working and living a remote area of northern Michigan where the local 2000-foot single strip airport was on a hilltop adjacent to what passed as a downtown business district.   Small planes came and went, doing “fire-watch” or “Wolf-counts”, transporting the sick and injured out of town on medical flights and others with pilots who just enjoyed flying.   One day about 1998 or so I was walking between the bank and a local shop and happened to look up in time to see a classic biplane pass over the downtown, and make it’s turn to “final approach”, then cut the throttle to land.   It made me happy to see the old bird not only flying, but also landing at our local strip. 

The next day as I left home to drive to work another plane was coming in to land, and to my surprise it, too, was a bi-plane.   In fact, that whole week I didn’t see any monoplanes come or go.   So, out of curiosity (nosiness) I drove up the hill to the airport which was really just a small collection of old hangers, one paved strip and a string of tie-downs in the grass.   There were no bi-planes there, just the usual collection of Cessna 182’s and a Piper.  While I was there my old buddy Bob landed his 182, having come back from an early fire-watch flight for the USDA Forest Service.  He waved as he taxied by and I had to leave to get to work.   I must have missed whatever event had brought all the really interesting planes to town. 

Summer was over, and Fall was in the air.   The long flights of geese and ducks were passing over, headed south like retired teachers.  Sunshine turned to blustery mixed rain and sleet and a flight of Canada Geese dropped low, headed in for Ice Lake.  One goose, separated from the others, passed over me at about 200-feet of altitude and (I’ll be damned), he was a Bi-goose!!  He had four wings!!  My first thought was, “Of course he is flying alone, the other geese know he’s different and won’t let him into the group”.    I really wanted to take a picture, thinking that The National Enquirer might pay good money for something like that. 

About that same time I noticed that the State Highway Department had let their quality controls slide, as all the highways in the area had multiple yellow lines on both sides and the normal double line down the middle was now a whole groups of lines, eight or ten running together.  Things continued to get stranger and stranger yet.  When I was outdoors at night there was not just one moon in the sky but many, in fact with either eye I was seeing about eight moons, all floating near each other with some “smeared” images between them.

The marks I made on my work to guide a knife or a drill instantly became groups of marks.  And, that’s when I decided to go see my optometrist.   “Yup,” he said, “You need new contacts.  The disposables you have been using aren’t stiff enough and your vision is distorted.”  So, I switched from the nice, soft, weekly-wear lenses I really liked to some firmer, day-wear-only lenses.   That seemed to help for a time, but within six months I was back for a change.  A new prescription, new, fresh lenses and I was good as new.  And, six months later I was seeing bi-planes again.   A friend directed me to an Ophthalmologist in Escanaba and after waiting the ninety-days or so until I could get in to see him we finally met.  His opinion was that specialized lenses with hard centers and soft perimeters or skirts would solve my problem.   And, so they did, for almost a year, with several changes of prescription. 

Now, jump ahead to about 2004 and my new residence and business location in South East Louisiana.  My eyes were killing me.   I couldn’t see, I was in constant pain, and I didn’t know any eye-care specialists near my new home.  Finally, a kindly customer directed me to a really skilled Optometrist in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, just an hour’s drive away.   With high hopes and great expectations I walked in for my appointment, and in spite of a full waiting room and busy exam rooms that doctor ran every test he had available.   His staff and office crew did everything to make me comfortable as they shuffled everyone along on their way through the office.  After about four long hours of tests, and eye drops, and peering and measuring and waiting, and staining and UV sensing and more waiting, the Doctor took me into his office.   “Finally”, I thought to myself, “A doctor who has it figured out and I’ll be able to see again!!”  What a disappointment when he looked straight at me said, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you here.   In fact, I’m not even going to charge you for today, I feel so bad that I can’t help.   But, I know a man who may be able to help you.   You have a disease called Keratinous, a thinning and bulging of the corneas, and only a real specialist can fit lenses to your eyes.   Dr. Steve Gill is that doctor, and he works miracles.   Here’s his number, and good luck.”

Finally, my problem had a name, and I guess that was good.  If you know your enemy you can fight back.  I still could not see, but at least I had an option.  As it turned out, Keratinous is progressive and just continues to get worse and worse until the victim cannot close their eyelids over the bulging corneas.  There is no reason why some folks get it and some don’t, it does not appear to be environmental, or caused by a virus, or genetics, it is simply “luck of the draw”.   About one in two thousand persons, mostly men, exhibit some symptoms late in life, and one in several thousand of them have it so bad it cannot be corrected with different contact lenses or spectacles.  Of course, I was that lucky one in ten thousand persons who was going quite blind.  And, even luckier, I was near a place where I could expect real, effective treatment.   The Low Vision Clinic of Louisiana State University was in New Orleans.   Dr. Gill was the miracle-worker who fitted lenses to my bulgy eyes, and brought sight back to me and I will forever be grateful for his patient care and attention. 

But, remember that Keratinous is progressive and when it became impossible for even Dr. Gill to make lenses, which would balance and stay on my eyes then Dr’s Kaufman and Kim took over. Surgical removal of my corneas and human tissue transplants were required.  When we refer to an expert we sometimes use the phrase, “He wrote the book on such and such.” Meaning that we truly admire their skills.   In this case, Dr. Kaufman had, indeed, written several books on corneal transplants, and was a world-renounced authority when it came to this surgery.  I could not have been in a better place. 

By this time, looking with either eye, I could easily see and count over seventy images of the Moon on a clear night and the spread from one side of the group to the other covered nearly one-quarter of the sky.  All together there were over one hundred and fifty of them, all connected with fuzzy, indistinct bright zones.  This was due to the lumpy nature of the surface of my corneas.  I can’t begin to describe to you how crazy the world looks to a person with advanced Keratinous. 

Over the course of two transplant surgeries and two lens removal and implant surgeries, several years of healing and eventual stitch removals and the learning of great patience I recovered enough sight to drive again.   I am still very dependent on one contact lens, an amazing example of optometry which holds my new left cornea in shape.  I don’t drive after dark, as the slight dimple at each of the thirty-six stitch locations magnifies the “flare” of the headlights.  I am down to about a dozen Moons, as seen with each eye, so it is easy to imagine living in a Sci-Fi world. 

Why have I told you all of this?   I wanted to publicly thank my great doctors and their assistants.  And, there’s one more thing.  Right now, while you are thinking about it, pull your Driver’s License out of your purse or your wallet and turn it over.    Do you see on the back that little “check box” which gives permission to pass on your organs when you no longer need them?  Since you have minute, get a pen and check that box YES.  You see, my new-used corneas came from donors who were willing to pass their gift of sight on to a stranger. .   My first surgery was on a Friday morning.  That means that on about Tuesday of that week some poor joker didn’t make it home for dinner.   It was his cornea I got, the one I’m looking at this monitor with right not.   It’s really him I want to Thank.  Get your pen. Do it.  What goes around comes around.