Recycled Sundays – Who Has Been Eating the Bird Seed?

I have difficulty saying no to charity canvassers. If I’d known about the great mice hoard, have forced myself.

A gentleman was selling bird seed for a children’s charity. We have a feeder. It was mostly frequented by sparrows who seldom eat sunflower seeds. The gentleman left the bag in my front hallway. Sit stay there until my husband came home. I couldn’t carry it to the shed myself. I couldn’t even drag it across the kitchen floor. The bag weighed more than my oldest child and was almost as tall. She’s twelve.

My husband dropped the bag in a corner of the shed. He added a quarter cup of sunflower seeds to the wild bird mixture in the feeder. At that rate, our children would inherit the remaining seeds. We seldom added to sunflower seeds to the feeder since the birds seldom ate them. One cold March morning, we discovered some other wild creature enjoying the contents of the bag. It looked like it was still full but it was actually full of empty shells.

Mice had been feasting and cleverly disguising the evidence. My husband bought six traps. We thought we’d catch three or four. After the twentieth, I realized there was a Mice Metropolis under our shed. The mouse mayor must have sent out flyers: Come for the best seeds in town.

As time passed, the trapped mice became smaller and younger. I tried not to think of Baby Mice trapped while out searching for their mothers who had already been killed. My children displayed a mixture of sadistic fascination and sympathy for the small defenseless creatures. “Do we have to kill the little ones?” (In six weeks, those little ones are having little ones.) The hardest to accept was that we refused to dig up half the yard for a rodent cemetery.

Some mice, it turns out, are more callus then we are. I think they send the stupid out to die. An unsuspecting fool springs the trap and while he’s gasping his last goodbyes, the others munch safely on the peanut butter bait

Peridocally, my husband caught sight of a huge critter fleeing as he reset the traps. It looked like the same large mouse was often enjoying the benefits of another mouse’s death. This giant may well have started the whole society. More traps were set but he was evasive.

When the count passed forty, I wondered if there any more left in the entire city of Thunder Bay. My husband kept setting up the traps. He hadn’t yet caught old Wiley.

One spring day my husband swept out the shed. Mice don’t clean up after themselves. A few boxes were damaged fortunately the mice had not chewed through the tent. Traps were reset with double doses of peanut butter.

“Wiley’s probably moved out with the good weather,” I said. “Who’d want to stay in a place where everybody gets their heads crushed?”

But the temperature dropped and old Wiley returned for another stab at the peanut butterr. He was the last one caught. He almost deserved a little grave beside the sparrow the cat got and the Bohemian waxwing that hit our neighbor’s window.

There was almost a third grade out there last fall. I discovered my husband was storing bird seed in the shed.

“Are you nuts?” I screeched.

“No problem.It’s in a sealed plastic bucket. They can’t get in.”

That wouldn’t have stopped old Wiley. Come to think of it, rodent teeth can chew through wood so why would plastic be any different? I gave the bird feeder to charity.

 

First published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

Sunday, February 2, 1992

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Recycled Sundays – Animal Karma

I am relieved to see that our Canadian animals are not following in the violent footsteps of their Old World Counterparts. I do hear stories of bear and cougar attacks every summer and nod. These animals know we are the enemy. They’ve seen us destroy their homes, clearcutting and pollution being the favored methods. They have watched us trap, poison, and shoot their kin. It’s open warfare.

What scares me is when the attacks come from an unexpected source — hoofed farm animals, for example.

I must admit, though, they were provoked. I had previously thought that inbreeding eliminated that wild eye for an eye, fang for a fang trait. Unfortunately, domestic animals have begun to show their true colors.

For example, in Manganeses de la Polvorosa, Spain, the villagers drop a goat from the church belfry to start a religious festival. My first reaction upon hearing this was, what religion thinks this is a good idea? Is this the Church of the Holy Splattered Ruminants? These people have bats in their belfry. Each year, (I’m not making this up), the townspeople toss a goat from the 14 meter high belfry, catch it in a tarp, and release it, suffering only from vertigo and a new mistrust of crowds. This feat begins the Festival of Saint Vincent, the town’s patron saint. He was famous for his works of charity, especially to the sick, old, and orphaned. He must have had a taste for kid pancakes.

Fortunately, local police force lept to the defense of the goat. Unfortunately, villagers refused to take this butting in. They attacked the police at the last festival, and the journalists for good measure. It seems the only one who walked away unharmed was the goat.

Another hoofed fellow didn’t fare as well. A Romanian farmer in December 1991 wanted to clean the skin from his slaughtered pig. He usually used a vacuum cleaner to inflate the pig and burn straw over the skin to remove the hair. Do you suppose that’s where they got the idea of the giant Miss Piggy as a parade balloon?

The farmer’s vacuum broke so he used bottled gas. The pig went whole hog on revenge, exploding and injuring the farmer who spent three days in the hospital. I wonder whether a man who ignites a gas-filled creature should be allowed to work with sharp garden tools.

This is the kind of behavior I might expect from animals who have been treated as nothing better than a vegetable for consumption. But I didn’t expect vengeance from man’s best friend.

Last winter in Moscow, Gennady Danilov, at the young age of 33, was shot by his dog. His dog got his hind legs caught in a trap while they were out hunting. When Danilov tried to free him, the animal struggled and made the rifle discharge.

So far, these acts of vengeance have not spread to North America. Perhaps they are still to come by the poor unfortunate animals we use and abuse. However, I live with three cats. I would never allow my children to toss them. I lock the felines in the basement whenever I am working with any flammable substances. No firearms are allowed on the premises. But deep down I know this is futile. When they study me with six gleaming yellow eyes, I try not to imagine what kind of revenge they are planning in return for the last trip to the vet.

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

Sunday, June 14, 1992

Recycled Sundays – Defensive Ballroom Dancing

My husband and I are learning how to ballroom dance. I’ve always liked dancing but never learned the difference between a box step and an I-stepped-on-his-foot step.
Square dancing is experiencing a revival. It looks like fun too, although I am kept from participating by the music. Country and western gives me a nervous twitch. The lyrics make me want to slap the person next to me. The nasal twang makes me want to kick them while they’re down. But the intricate steps and choreography are impressive.
So, too, with ballroom dancing. It’ll be a long time before I can ever cha cha with Charro or Viennese Waltz without counting under my breath but I like a challenge.
The most reassuring thing about dance classes is that everyone struggles together. We all learn at our own rate and since I’m in the couples class, we bring our own encouragement. The confidence is most noticeable in men. Remember in school when we learned square and folk dances? The boys all turned into Jerry Lewis. As adults, they have weathered worse and survived. The travelling step isn’t as daunting when you have lived through parenting or job loss or divorce.
We practice our steps separately at first and the males are a joy to watch. Every man has his own style. One keeps his mouth tightly closed in determined concentration. A dust molecule couldn’t penetrate those compressed lips. One blushes brightly when he stumbles, seemingly unaware that four or five other guys have made exactly the same mistake. The older gentleman is as smooth and debonair as Fred Astaire while the younger fellow performs with the rigid precision of a military drill. One dances to the beat of a different drummer. Then there’s the totally in control gum chewer who not only remembers the steps and keeps the beat but doesn’t even seem to bite his tongue.
The women watch from the sidelines as their partners learn a new step. They parade past us like graceful peacocks each subtly flaring their invisible feathers. They boogie, rock, sizzle and strut. Of course, it’s easier for them to look good since they get to go forwards. They are most challenged practicing the spins. I imagine it’s because they didn’t have the opportunity to spin in a flared dress as a child like many of the women have.
When we women practice, we have to dance backwards without anyone to lead us away from each other. Since most of us are wearing heels, we move rather tentatively, not wanting to impale the woman behind us onto the gym floor.
Finally we get to dance together. The instructor calls out the men’s steps. The women must reverse the footing and do it while dancing backwards. So, we struggle with gender imposed restrictions, one step forward and two steps back, madly translating the dominant patterns until it makes sense from our point of view – just like real life, eh? Later on we get to change partners and try to accommodate a different man’s body shape and size with its unique rhythms.
At this point I am anything but graceful. I sweat like a high school gymnast without a bucket of chalk dust. I vary between counting the beat and reciting, “long, long, short, short” like a tribal chant. Not exactly the romantic exchange I had in mind when we started.
My husband has trouble leading. It’s the first time in eighteen years I’ve let himcontrol me without an argument. When my husband asks the female instructor for help, she offers to go through the steps with him. He hesitates, hands raise and asks, “Are you being a lady?” She laughs good naturedly and says, “That’s questionable.”
Our favorites are the polka and the tango. I give my husband a little extra room so he doesn’t bang my sore knees when we twist in the polka. He gives me a lot of extra room when we do the lunge in the tango. He’s learned that falling to the floor and clutching oneself is not an option in ballroom dancing. We’re getting pretty good since we learned to dance defensively.

 

 

 

Recycled Sundays – Brick by Freaking Brick

When my husband – Mr. not so handy – and I – Mrs. impossible ideas – bought a home needing “a bit of work“ we consulted an interior decorator. The only good advice she gave us was to move the bedroom dressers side-by-side. Another suggestion was to re-brick the fireplace.
The real bricks in the tiny corner fireplace had been painted white to match the plastic ones on the upper half. The decorator recommended a kit that included half inch clay bricks, a cutting instrument, and mortar. It should take a weekend to complete.
We purchased enough materials to cover both the real and plastic bricks. Whenever a clay brick needed to be cut, I was to repeatedly score the line with the cardboard cutter-like instrument until the brick could be snapped in two. Sounded easy.
I laid out old newspapers and began. By the third day, I had completed the bottom two rows of the fireplace. Each brick had to be held in place for 20 minutes for the mortar to partially set.
Slicing the bricks progressed at the pace of a legless turtle. I measured the size of the brick needed, drew a straight line on the surface and scored – a misleading term for scratching. The instrument had the sharpness of a tomato. My nostrils were plugged with clay dust and I tasted like the inside of a kiln. After 40 minutes, the brick was scored enough to risk snapping it in two. Then I started over since it only broke properly every fourth time.
When we were half finished the neighbour expressed doubts that our floor could hold the extra weight. We can kept going.
At the three-quarter‘s completed mark we encountered little indented and protruding shelves which required scoring of dozens of bricks. We kept going.
We ran out of mortar. We ordered more and kept going.
Four months later we were finished. I had blisters, lung damage, and a hunched back. All that was left was to clean the draperies, furniture, and rugs. When the mortar dried completely we realized the last part, done with the second shipment, was a different shade. I resisted the urge to sledgehammer the whole fireplace.
At a party, our host said he had done similar work in his basement. We went to see. Two entire walls, floor to ceiling, were covered with thin clay bricks. I fell to my knees in homage.
“How long did this take you?“ I gasped.
“The long weekend.“
I demanded to know his secret, rambling on about my frustrating scoring and the box of broken bricks.
“I rented a machine,“ he explained. “You just plug it in, set the size , and feed in the brick. Cuts it perfectly every time.“
Our new home has a fireplace too. It’s a black metal Franklin stove. There isn’t a brick in sight.
First published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News
Sunday, September 16, 1990

What Did I Put in My Mouth? – Recycled Sundays

After reading a particularly good article on contagious diseases, I provided separate bathroom cups, towels, and face cloths for my husband and myself. I made sure our toothbrushes were always different colors. The segregated cups and towels often fell by the wayside, but the idea of someone else accidentally using my toothbrush was more grotesque than sharing a Q-tip.

When my children arrived bathroom hygiene became trickier. The towel on the floor generally belong to my daughter and the scrunched up one behind the toilet was my son’s. Fortunately, their toothbrushes were smaller than mine, so when mix-up occurred, it was usually between them. Santa helped out by bringing brushes decorated with Muppets and Bugs Bunny cartoon characters. The problem now was who got radical Gonzo and you got stuck with silly Tweety. We muddled along, everyone attempting to keep their own germs. Everyone, that is, except Virgil.

Virgil is a cat. He was named after the chimpanzee in the movie Project X who caused all the trouble at the research lab. Virgil, the chimp, was charming, intelligent and strong willed. My Virgil is charming and strong-willed.

Like most cats, Virgil loves to swat dripping water. With two kids in the house, you can bet there’s always a leaking faucet somewhere. I learned to rinse out the sink and the bathtub before using them.

One day, as I worked on marking, I saw movement in my peripheral vision, (a woman with one husband, two kids, and three cats, and a classroom full of kids develops rabbit vision – able to see in 360°). Virgil slunk by and raced to the basement.

 

“Kids,” I called. “Virgil just got something in his mouth and the way he’s acting, I suspect he shouldn’t have it.”

Let the chase begin.

Gleeful screams of laughter, thumps and crashes followed.

“It’s a toothbrush!” my son squealed.

A snake twisted through my stomach.

“Take it away from him and throw it in the trash,” I shouted.

More gleeful screams of laughter, thumps and crashes.

After supper, I went to brush my teeth. As soon as I finished, I realized no toothbrushes were missing from the container. Four people, four toothbrushes.

I bellowed to my son, “Where is the toothbrush you took from Virgil?”

He smiled proudly and stated, “I got it back.”

“Which one was it?”

Innocent shrug. Yuck! Feeling like Lucy after Snoopy licked her lips, I gargled and rinsed and until my mouth stung. I explained to my son, yet again, the importance of listening to my entire instructions.

Last month we took Virgil to the vet for his yearly check up. He had the beginnings of gum disease.  The cat had to be put under anesthetic to have his teeth scraped. When we picked him up, we were given the dual enzyme cleansing system – a box of animal toothpaste and a tiny toothbrush with a few bristles shaped into a point. If we want to Virgil to stay healthy, we’re supposed to brush his teeth.

Right! I have enough trouble getting my kids to brush. How does a cat swish and spit? Of course, Virgil has no excuse to steal anyone else’s toothbrush now. He has his own red one. Then again, he’s colorblind. Perhaps I should get him one with a picture of Garfield. Now,of course, he doesn’t want anything to do with toothbrushes.

Let the chase begin.

Recycled Sundays – Achoo!

I know I’m coming down with something when I become accident prone. The first viral assault tends to knock out my coordination, not that there’s much to begin with. But, when I try to lick a stamp and get a papercut, I know it’s a stuffy head is on the way.
I was getting cocky this year, not having missed a day of work even in the midst of cold and flu season. Then, Mr. Virus slapped me a good one. It wasn’t the kind of virus for the victim is knocked off her feet for three or four days and then recovers. It was the peekaboo kind.
There was a slight fever that came and went for no apparent reason. In midsentence my face would suddenly flush in the room would seem a little smaller. I would return to work after day in bed and then find my head drooping to my desktop, an overpriced paperweight. By the end of the day, lifting my briefcase seemed as impossible as restoring Michael Jackson’s reputation.
There were sinus headaches and fever headaches and “someone hit me in the temple with a hammer“ headaches. There were aches and pains, and pains and aches, as though I had run the Triathlon wearing barbed wire. I never knew armpits good hurt so much.
But most of all, there was exhaustion. I easily slept 10 hours a night but every afternoon I napped as well. “I can’t possibly need more sleep,“ I’d tell myself. Then, I would put the milk in the cupboard and the sugar in the fridge or I would change the empty toilet paper roll by throwing away the new role and trying to flush the empty cylinder.  When I wasn’t sleeping, I was resting. The couch is permanently form to my body shape, left side down, space for the remote by my elbow.
This might not have lasted for weeks if I had given in and gone to bed at the start but colds and flu never arrive at convenient times. There were pre-Christmas tasks to be done. There were jobs at work no ask no one else could do. They were commitments to be met. There were people who needed me. The virus and I were on alternate schedules.
To complicate matters, I never get sick alone. Leaving living with a family means someone else always catches it. To be fair, I think my son had it first. It just seem to hit him hardest after I spent my first day in bed. When a child is sick, the sick mother‘s recovery takes second place.
I didn’t read a large novel curled in bed but sat on the couch, a small corner of my son’s blanket on my feet, reading aloud the original saga of Batman with a cough drop in my mouth. Forget watching relaxing ballet or figure skating on television. By the end of the first week I memorize the songs and chants in Power Rangers, “Go! Go Power Rangers! (hopefully out of sight). There was Captain Planet and the Planeteers, “You can be one too! Saving the planet is the thing to do.“ As opposed to what? I’ll never forget Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, “This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on my friend.“ It gave me a strong craving for not roast mutton.
I learned how to lock on my Camp Caribou baseball cap should I ever be forced to wear one. I learned that Samurai Pizza Cats are smart mouth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip offs that deliver pizza by being shot from a revolver and fight an interior decorator in their spare time which seems a bit drastic now that chrome and black plastic is no longer popular. I learned that Dennis the Menace was really a sweet little boy.
Instead of cross stitching orwriting letters, I play played canasta, washed sheets, played canasta, washed pajamas, and played canasta. Thank goodness my son received an automatic card shuffler for Christmas. I was getting permanent heart and club works on my hands.
I also spent a great deal of time exclaiming over three dimensional or holographic or brilliantly coloured comic characters. They had names like Daredevil, Dead Pool, Ghostrider, Punisher, Spawn, X-Men, X-force and X-cutioner, some of which I think are actually the good guys. Everyone was armed to the teeth with super weapons and seem to have several problems with saliva control and mucus. This was an eye-opener and let you some rather intense discussions and weeding out of the comic collection. I miss the days of Archie and Garfield.
First published by the Chronicle-Journal?Times-News
Sunday, January 2, 1994

Recycled Sundays – Breastfeeding Pads are Tricky

When I was a child, my mother warned me never to go out with pins in my underwear.
“What if you were hit by a car? You don’t want the doctor to see your panties are held up by a safety pin.“
If I was in an accident, severe enough to be hospitalized, my underwear would be the least of my concerns. But I didn’t say that. That’s why I found breast-feeding a little disconcerting. Well, not the feeding, the accoutrements.
I was a devoted nursing mother and faced all the typical challenges with determination. But, I must confess, I hated the underwear. Nursing bras, even though composed of ribbons and strategically placed flaps, are not pretty. Add to this the alternating smells of vitamin A&E ointment and damp tea bags (for soreness) not to mention swelling and shrinking breast sizes (not the same) and you understand why I felt like a frump.
I was determined to find the perfect nursing pad – material placed inside the bra to absorb embarrassing leakage. I tried cheap circular ones which didn’t absorb. The outlines of expensive circular ones showed through my clothing like headlights. Folded cotton fabric gave me a square shape. None of these stayed in place unless they were pinned and, my mother‘s voice echoing in my head, I drew the line at pinning.
Finally, I found the perfect pads. Round, soft, absorbent, slightly cone shaped to stay in place, comfortable nursing pads. The crowning glory was a subtle nipple shape in the centre to avoid that padded appearance. I never left home without them.
I gave working as a part time teacher-librarian a shot for a while. I was still nursing and thought my schedule and my trusty new nursing pads would get me through a few hours.  One day, about an hour after I fed my baby her lunch, I felt a draft on my right breast. As I was engaged in conversation with three of my coworkers, I couldn’t openly check the source of this sensation. With subtlety befitting a secret agent, I located the cause. My perfect nursing pad was missing.
Trying not to panic, I quickly glanced around. Three steps behind, on the rust-coloured carpet, sat my white pad as bright as a full moon. The femininely-shaped tip left no doubt as to the purpose of this object.
Immediately, taking command, I delegated jobs to my coworkers, quickly stepped back and placed my foot over the pad. As soon as no one was looking in my direction, I scooped it up and threw it into the trash. No good. The can was completely empty. The pad shone brightly up at me. I grabbed the largest paper I could find, wrapped the pad and dropped it back into the can. I tried not to jump when a student walked up and asked me for help finding a particular book.
The next day, I used pins.
Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News
Sunday, October 21, 1990
PLEASE NOTE: Both A and D ointment and the tea bag treatment are no longer recommended for a breast-feeding mother.

My Kingdom for a Burp – Recycled Sundays

By the time my colicky daughter was one week old, I cherished belches. Colic, for you sheltered souls, results in painful gas. Babies cry incessantly and periodically empty their stomachs.
I read books and articles, consulted medical personnel, and coffee klatched. I found there are 4,000,552 possible causes. I could avoid seven. No cure! Everyone, even experts, agreed that burps are gold nuggets for which parents pan.
After I had fed and burped my daughter, her daddy put her in the carriage. The jiggling motion, we hoped, would soothe her and release trapped gas. Our daughter was quiet until daddy reach the farthest point in his walk. Then she screamed, swallowing large quantities of air, until they reached home. As daddy lifted her from the carriage, she released both air and stomach contents.
We thought it must be the carriage. We bought a frontal baby carrier. She screamed like a tortured spider as we negotiated her arms and legs through the holes. On the walk, at the halfway point, she began to howl. Daddy lost 15% hearing in his left ear. When he arrived home and untangled her, she vomited on cue, but with a bonus. The new target was daddy‘s hair.
Strategy number two was improving our burping techniques. We tried a dozen variations over the shoulder. Our daughter refined her skill into projectile vomiting. That meant nothing was safe. With the deadly accuracy of a trident missile, she white washed the house.
I laid her across my knees, shortening the attack distance. I laid her on the carpet with triple blankets underneath. I rubbed her back as I cupped her fat cheeks. I bent her like a Gumby doll. We have a treasured photograph of daddy carrying her in the colic position. She is lying a straight on his arm, head in his hands, as he paces. Baby is asleep. Daddy’s hair is grubby, there are bags under his bloodshot eyes, and he has lost all feeling in his arm. Although we managed to get window shaking belches from her tiny tummy, the miserable colic remained.
Strategy three involved machinery. I laid my daughter in her bassinet on top of the dryer and stood close by. The gentle vibrations and monotonous sounds were soothing but woe to mothers who run out of laundry. I washed sheets twice a week.
Car drives were suggested. I avoid traffic lights and slowly rolled through stop signs, unable to halt until she been had been asleep for 20 minutes. Arriving home, I had a choice: unbuckle her and wake the sleeping dragon or catch some rest in the driver’s seat. Because the tank was continually drained, gas attendants knew me by name.
When I reached the post zombie state and put ice cream in the cupboard and shoes in the refrigerator, a friend rescued us with the Swing O-Matic. My daughter slept in a cloth seat suspended from rods while we cranked it up. For 15 minutes, the gears clicked. Baby dropped off to sleep. But when the rocking stopped, she jerked awake and howled. If we wound up the noisy gears as the mechanism slowed, she would screech for quiet. We took turns cranking during the night providing each other with 30 whole minutes of rest.
As with most stages, colic past. Four months felt like four years. By age six my daughter had mastered stomach gas. At will, she could lose a belch loud enough to startle birds in flight. Generally though, she saved the good ones for wedding receptions and attending the ballet.
Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News
September 30, 1990

A Crowbar and a Cat – Recycled Sundays

I bought my daughter a new mattress not knowing this would lead to 12 garbage bags of rubble. I also owed her an apology for blaming the dankness in her room on leftover pizza, bugles, and chocolate chip cookie crumbs. When I pulled her bed away from the wall, I discovered the homeowner’s dreaded enemy – mold.
Why is it that repairs are usually thrust upon people at the most inconvenient times? Major emergency renovations were needed on our first house when I was staying at home, caring for a two-year-old, and expecting another child.
Our first year in our second home, the furnace needed to be replaced on Christmas Eve. So I was not completely surprised to discover our present house needed ripping up, painting, plastering, the removal of the window, and re-tiling all when the forecast read 32° below zero Celsius with a windchill of 48 below expected. When else?
Still two incidents reminded me that I should be grateful for solvable problems. I discovered our bathroom leaking water into the exterior wall, down into the flooring. I realized I had to attack the leak from the bathroom on the opposite side of the wall. What I thought was a little leak between ceramic tiles turned out to be a waterfall through the bathroom window. There I was, crowbar in hand, knee-deep in broken ceramic tiles and soggy wet sheet rock, when I realized I had left my daughter’s bedroom door open. Not only was the floor a mess of splinters, but I had removed the furnace intake vent cover. Where were the cats?
I ran to the bedroom. Patch, our timid cat was peering down the open vent. Luckily he raced out of the room without argument. I shut the bedroom door and went back to my crowbar. Thump, thump, rattle, echo. I realized it wasn’t me making that noise. It sounded like an aluminum shed door. But it seemed to be coming from the basement. I went to the basement.
Then it seemed to be coming from overhead. I quickly counted the cats. Two there, one missing. Virgil, our “try anything doesn’t know the meaning of fear” cat was gone.
I raced back to my daughter’s bedroom and crouched in front of the open vent. The sounds were coming from inside!
“Virgil,” I called.
A pitiful mew came in response. I continue to call and he continued to mew. Finally, his bewildered little face appeared at the opening. Unfortunately, getting in wasthe easy part. A large nail protruded into the vent. Climbing in wa sno threat but coming out, the nail would pierce his skull. It took every bit of sweet talk I had in me to keep him in place while I bent the nail with my bare hands. Since I usually get my kids to open screw cap bottles for me, I can only credit this power to a surge of adrenaline.
Although the nail now was safely bent, Virgil was too spooked to climb back out. I envisioned him racing off in another direction only to fall down the chute and plaster his chubby little body against the furnace filter, setting off the most impressive sparking since my sons sandbox days. How to get the curious cat out? He was as stubborn as a cat can be but I knew the way to his heart. I remembered there were some kitty treats in the kitchen cupboard my son uses to bribe the cats when he brushed them. Virgil would do the fire walk for tuna flavoured treats.
Willing Virgil to stay safely near the entrance of the vent, I waste into the kitchen, my heart pounding. I threw open the cupboard door, grabbed the container, and shook it to ensure there was enough inside to coax him out. I whirrled around, prepared to dash back to the bedroom, and tripped over Virgil. He recognize that sound.
After I shut the bedroom door, I fed Virgil, and the other two as well since it was somewhat of a celebration, I flopped down in front of the television. A bit of mindless morning TV should calm my nerves. The Los Angeles earthquake came into focus on my screen. As I rubbed Virgil’s chin, I watched entire streets burn. I realized having to knock a hole in the wall at 40 below wasn’t so bad after all. Besides, I had my favourite kitty to console me. I was actually pretty darn lucky.
Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times News,
January 23, 1994

Words are Confusing – Recycled Sundays

Considering the complexity of the English language, rich with synonyms, homonyms, and metaphors, it is amazing that humans understand each other as well as they do. Still, if we could eliminate misunderstanding most therapists, lawyers, marriage counselors, and peacekeepers would be out of a job.

 

Children play an old game called telephone or gossip which also illustrates how garbled messages can become once they leave the first pair of lips. A single misunderstood word can give the sentence a widely different meaning.

 

It can be very confusing for a child when they have missed understood a word and then hear it in a different context. I remember when my son was first learning to play Monopoly before he could read most of the words. He thought Pacific Avenue was Specific Avenue. He finally asked me to explain this oddity when I use specific in a non-Monopoly context too many times.

 

He also thought Qaddafi was a car. I wondered what brand of oil Gaddafi would use.

 

News broadcasts, often told too quickly, are a great source of misunderstanding. When President Bush made a cultural faux pas and offended the Australians, it was the topic of discussion at our dinner table.

 

“Did you hear?” said our daughter. “The American president gave the V for victory sign wrong when he drove past some Australians in his car and now they’re mad at him.”

 

“That’s not true,”said my son.

 

“It is so,” I said my daughter. “I saw on the news. We even talked about it in school.”

 

“That’s impossible,” continued my son who was an avid student of geography. “How can the president of the United States drive. his car to Australia?”

 

Perhaps in a Gaddafi.

 

After further discussion of the history of the V sign, my son offered his own interpretation. He thought that perhaps politicians use the two fingers up to signal the postal employees to raise the price of stamps two cents.

 

Even simple words used in slightly different ways can be misleading. My husband said they were 2000 applications to attend the faculty of education this year but only 400 seats were available. My son wanted to know if the rest would have to stand. I hoped it wouldn’t have to be in an unemployment line after graduation.

 

I often wonder about the hidden messages in questions. Recently a waitress asked if I wanted something tall and fruity or short and tart. Neither sounded appealing to my tastes.

 

You can often tell a lot about someone by what they don’t say. In a West Coast First Nations burial ground, time is marked by centuries. The headstones say which century a person died in. That certainly speaks of a long-range view. Without ever having met them, you suspect they are the kind of people who would support Spaceguard. Spaceguard is a proposed project that would track asteroids and comets heading toward earth that are capable of killing  one billion people or more.

 

We are living in a time when the information highway is spreading, yet few people can read the road signs. If you’ve ever followed a debate on a computer bulletin board you will have seen communication and miscommunication at its highest level. Unfortunately, those who don’t learn to ride the information highway will be bypassed or perhaps driven right over. Still, it is a message labyrinth even King Minos would find puzzling.

 

Numerous episodes of  In Search Of and Ancient Mysteries are devoted to unraveling messages left by previous cultures. I shutter to think what future cultures may deduce from our leavings, Madonna videos, Beavis & Butthead cartoons, newspaper war coverage, Snow CDs, bathroom graffiti, and income tax guides. If we have trouble understanding it as we live through it, future civilizations will be stunned. Anthropologists and archeologists will probably term it as the Time of Insanity. The general public will ask them to be more specific, especially about the game called Monopoly.

 

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times News

February 6, 1994