The Reality Blur – Recycled Sundays

Children under the age of seven have always had difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality. Television has blurred these lines by having stars act in commercials during their shows, or flipping characters from one show to another while maintaining their stage personas.

Adults too, may find it difficult to decide what’s real and what isn’t when viewing television. You can “Chase” down the “Hall” to turn on a “Petty” talk show which will “Shirley” give you your “Phil” of “Whoopee”. You can gorge yourself on husbands who beat their wives, wives who cheat on their husbands, moms who mistreat their kids, and all kinds of lovers of deceit.

You can watch men who wear dresses, or diapers, or devices, or nothing at all. See teens who shoot drugs and folks who shoot thugs. Watch men who were women, women who were men, and people who want to change all over again. There are those who can’t teach, won’t eat, eat everything in sight, or only eat food killed during a full moon night. See tough love and rough love than those without enough love. Boo folks who harass, molest and cheat. Cheer those who have class, protest and compete.

When you’re done feasting on the obsessed and depressed, indiscreet and deadbeat, perverted and psychotic, you might want to watch something a little less revealing – a good mystery. There’s “Mystery!” For those who like literary drama with a gasp. “Ancient Mysteries” are for the more tenacious. “In Search Of…” Is for global mystery buffs and if that’s not enough, there are specials like “Magic Circles.” There are “unsolved Mysteries” featuring missing cult figures wanted for setting their grade 12 science teachers on fire. “Missing Treasures” documents missing children while “Missing Persons” dramatizes them. It’s hard to keep the mysteries straight without a detective guidebook.

If you like suspense without mystery, there’s “Rescue 911” and “On Scene: Emergency Response” and “Emergency Call.” Some are documentary, some are drama, and some are docu-drama. If nothing else, they give the reviewer an appreciation of an ordinary day.

For SF buffs, Start Trek has cloned again. The premier of Deep Space Nine did not show at the scheduled time. I’ve never seen so many bullets scroll across the screen, not even when there’s a tornado warning. Was the network hoping these apologies would stop fans from powering up their modems, breaking into the network computers and messing with their reality? Next season, I’ll be watching for “Descendents of Data” – Men, Machine or Memorex?, “Deanna Troy’s Third Cousins Once Removed” – they can only sense itches and the onset of sneezes, “Klingon Clans in the 28th Century” – will they or won’t they be able to wear hats?, and “My Mother-in-law is a Ferengi” – you call this a bargain?

For a final mishmash of reality and fantasy, we can watch shows that interview these and other stars. We are promised an insight into the real person behind the camera. “John and Leeza from Hollywood,” “Celebrities Offstage,” “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” ” Entertainment Tonight,” “The Late Show,” and “Larry King Live” features television and movie personalities as themselves. Barbara Walters prides herself on digging out the hidden emotions of stars and even did a show on Hollywood party girls, talk about “real” people.

Thanks to the likes of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, these shows are becoming more like regular talk shows. As we watch these body-sculpted, speech coached, agented, surgically-altered, and hair-implanted stars, they reveal their “inner” selves. I suppose that’s the most difficult to groom. Is it real or is it public relations?

Chronicle-Journal/Times News, October 24, 1993.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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Jurassic Dinosaurs – Recyled Sundays

Oh, those “terrible lizards.” They have captured our imaginations and our nightmares since O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope uncovered 126 new species of dinosaurs. We’ve been awed by them in the Lost World, shuddered at their ferocious battles in One Million B. C. (actually an iguana and a baby alligator), and loved them as orphans in Baby. We’ve mutated them into The Creature from the Black Lagoon (aka another dateless Saturday night), Gorgo (a mother’s love), and Godzilla (Tokyo was too crowded anyway). Dinosaurs have been combined with cowboys, sailors, lost spaceman, and misplaced cave people. Now, we have Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs, scientists, children, and an infallible security system run by a glutton with a chip on his shoulder and 15 empty chip bags at his workstation.

No matter that humans and dinosaurs have never coexisted. We are compelled to examine and re-examine what would happen should these ancient rulers gather us into the meat and alternatives food group. Surely, after all we’ve learned about the fearsome unfathomable monsters, no one would ever want to clone one, much less an island full. As the expert on chaos theory said in response to the park owner’s statement that even Disneyland had difficulties went it first opened, “Yes, but if the Pirates of the Caribbean breakdown, they don’t start eating the tourists.”

We have reached the stage in my family where our children can watch many of the shows we watch. I do provide Parental Guidance when possible. Unfortunately, no one provides guidance for me. Jurassic Park is a good example.

We waited 65 million years for this movie and they still had to make us wait an extra three minutes. It goes to show, even dinosaurs can’t stick to a schedule. I was a little anxious about allowing my son to sit in the front row with his friends. I’ve heard the “frightening scenes” were rather intense. I should’ve been more concerned about sitting in the middle of the theater with a perfect view of the screen. I had nothing to hide behind when T Rex had a coward lawyer for breakfast.

I try not to cover my face during frightening scenes. Considering how much it costs to attend the movie, I want every visual penny’s worth. I did try to mute the impact though. First, I sank a little lower in my seat. The next scene, I pulled my knees up to my chest. Soon my hands were pressed against my temples, not covering my ears her eyes, but close by should I go on frightening scenes over. When a frightening scene was combined with extreme suspense, I sunk to the level of the spread fingers. That’s when I put my hands over my face at the horror of what might possibly happen in the next few seconds, but keep fingers spaced and I can see the screen and don’t miss what actually happens in the next few seconds. My entire body now looked a contortionist’s and should another 12 inch tooth appear, I would more than likely jump higher than the bloody ovi raptors. The “raptors” stole the show from the enshrined villain, good old Tyrannosaurus rex. Although raptor means “egg-stealer”, these clever clawers were out for prime kiddie crunch.

In the 1970s, scientists began to argue that dinosaurs were warm-blooded. Maybe, but the raptors and Rex is in Jurassic Park were definitely cold-blooded hunters. Dinosaurs ruled the earth for 140 million years. Humans have been here only between two and 5 million years. Scientists have argued long and hard over why dinosaurs became extinct – either asteroid collision, collapse of the ecosystem, or climate change. Jurassic Park, among other things, leaves the viewer with the firm impression that if dinosaurs had not disappeared from the earth, we wouldn’t be here.

The collapse of the ecosystem, hmmm. Would that be like the destruction of large natural habitats, deforestation, pollution, overhunting, overfishing…? Climate change, eh? Would that be like depletion of the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect,.. I wonder what powerful, dominant species is waiting next in line for extinction?

First published 1994 Chronical-Journal/Times News

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Rejections – Recycled Sundays

A fellow writer was asked which magazine ran her articles and stories.

“Oh, I write mostly for rejections,” she joked.

The inquirer responded seriously, “I don’t think I’ve read that one.”

None of us have. That’s the problem. With the increase of multimedia entertainment, and the spiraling cost of books, publishers are far less likely to gamble with new writers. The buzzword is “marketability.”

To be fair, there seems to be more new writers than ever, many victims of unemployment. A popular or prestigious magazine may only have space to publish one out of hundreds of submissions. The competition for books may be even worse.

Take a look at what’s available in children’s books today. There are still incredible works of art and charm, like Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman, but they are competing fiercely against the “market-driven” fluff generated by Saturday, and daily, cartoons. Not only does every superhero, cutesy puppy, and valiant pony cartoon generate lunchboxes, stuffed toys, action figures, and clothing, but books as well. Many of these books have as much art, depth and originality as a cereal box.

Sadly the scene is not much different for adults. The public’s voracious appetite for talk shows has spilled over into writing. By the way, you’ll know they’ve run dry when they feature talk show host’s interviewing talk show hosts. Magazines run more sensational pieces than they used to as in “women who cheat on their husbands… And don’t feel guilty,” followed up by, “husband’s who know their wives cheat… And don’t feel angry.”

Spill your guts novels are rampant as in The Life Story of The Girl Door: Alcoholic, Sexual Compulsive, Self-mutilater and Collector of Hood Ornaments. Many of these are written with the same/and report style as a talk show.

Still there are editors and publishers who’ve managed to keep their standards intact. Swamped by submissions, they do not have time to personally critique a writer’s work. You may find it strange that and “emerging” writer will be happy to receive a private comment on a rejection form. The personal connection can be enough to spur a three-month rewrite. There are those, though, who find it painful because they still don’t know where to head.

For example, Lisa Powell’s fictional biography of Elizabeth Tutor has received the following rejections:

“This is indeed an outstanding historical and lives up to all the fine things you said about it… As I admired it, I didn’t feel we could do the right job with it in the current market.”

And another, “… There’s so much to admire here that it is with great regret that I’m returning the manuscript.”

And again, “this is a beautifully written and exquisitely researched historical on the Virgin Queen… It would probably be a high risk project in today’s market.”

“You should not be at all discouraged by the fact that we will not be making an offer for the book because this is an extremely publishable novel and a more commercial publisher, I’m certain, will positively leap at the chance to publish it.”

Lisa’s waiting for that leap, net in hand. Should any publisher give the smallest hop in her direction, she’s ready.

Some editors try to soften the blow with humour here’s one I received:

“Congratulations! You have been chosen to receive this beautiful hand-lettered rejection slip! We know you will be proud to add this attractive notice to your personal collection. For additional copies send your contributions to:… Note: in the event that your next contributions accepted for publication we cannot send you another card, and you will just have to be satisfied with money… Sorry – the editor.”

Satisfy me, already. I can take it.

Chronicle-Journal/Times-News, May 30, 1993

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Halloween Costumes – Don’t Touch My Whiskers

Orange and black dots the landscape, natural and retail, as we head into Halloween. Now that my children are old enough to put together their own costumes, or perhaps forgo the whole process, I can afford to be nostalgic about dressing up little ones. Since going house to house is no longer as secure, exciting event I experience as a child, dressing up became the best part.

There was a time when I prepared for Halloween in July. I’ve always loved costumes but felt self-conscious myself. The universe has been generous enough to give me two children, a male and a female upon which to indulge my fantasy. I learned, however, that the universe has also provided them with very early opinions and a strong sense of self. Halloween was spelled “compromise.”

I dressed my daughter as a little devil for her first experience of thrills and chills. Raising an individualistic human being is such a shock for first-time parents, this could have been my Freudian slip. It may have been overkill, though, is the worst Halloween prank she was capable of doing was putting all the pumpkin “guts” back inside the hollow shell.

Her second Halloween, we taught her to distribute candy. Every time the doorbell rang, she screamed, “Kids! Treats!” For weeks the meter reader, salespeople, and soul savers were startled by this greeting often followed by shrieks of disappointment.

She had it figured out the third time around. Being a lover of smurfs and cats, she dressed as Azreal, the orange tabby on the cartoon show. After trick-or-treating at the homes of friends, we tried to bathe her. Between loud meows, she informed us emphatically that we were not to wash off the white face, black nose, and whiskers.

Periodically over the next few days, I dabbed at her face with a wet cloth, whereupon she would shriek angrily and run to the bathroom to make sure the cat face was still there. I hid her from the neighbours, concerned they might consider this neglect. It took three feet of bubbles in the tub to convince her that the kitty was “tired.”

The fourth year I dressed her as Snoopy, complete with face makeup. I guess I’m a slow learner. She refused to speak for the entire evening, expecting us to respond appropriately to bark whimpers. My husband took her to a few neighbours, one being the family with a small black poodle she adored. Every day she passed this place, she would pet the dog on the head and tell him he was pretty. Unfortunately, her costume was a bit too authentic. The poodle decided his home was being invaded by a large, poorly proportioned beagle and went after her. Daddy snatched her away from the jaws of the territorial pet, but was unable to protect her little heart from being broken. She decided Halloween really was a scary holiday.

The year I spent hours making her a tooth fairy costume, complete with embroidered bag on her hip, it snowed enough to allow Santa to ride sleigh down Main Street. The only clue to her identity was the wind mangled silver wings strapped to her snowsuit.

The next year I decided to go with the flow. She dressed as the Snow Queen in Han Christian Anderson’s classic fairytale. She wore a blue gown embroidered with silver snowflakes under her winter clothes, fuzzy white mittens, and a blue tinsel wig. It was another windy night. If I had lost sight of her, all I needed to do was follow the trail of blue tinsel.

My son preferred more traditional costumes, the more macho the better. I’ve never told him that I was tempted on his first Halloween to dress them in a suit and tie with black-rimmed glasses. He was such a plump, wrinkly baby that it would be easy to pass them off as Mr. Maggo. Instead, I dressed him as a smurf. He was about the right size and intelligence.

Although I don’t go into costumes with the same gusto anymore, I appreciate those who do. I love to attend the Halloween parade at school. Students and teachers come up with novel and weird ideas. Last year, one dressed as a black wolf. She wore a sign that said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m a vegetarian.” One student caught a quick glimpse of the sign, turned to his teacher said, “Why would I be afraid of a virgin?”

Beats me. It’s the little black poodles who are scary.

October 17, 1993

Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Recycled Sundays – The Lost and Confused

 

Maybe it’s because I’ve been lost so frequently myself that I am good at connecting with lost people. Perhaps those of us that have a poor inner compass show a special aura. Instead of a personal magnet steering me in the right direction, it attracts misguided souls to me. I seem to have a talent for discovering lost people in need of assistance.

I can spot them instantly. First, they walk slowly, hesitatingly. Second, they search about with the intensity of mongooses watching for cobras. Third, and this is the dead giveaway, the little ones cry or sniffle and the older ones mutter to themselves. I can’t help it. I inevitably make eye contact.

Often, the hardest part is not getting them where they want to be. It’s understanding what they are saying.

I’m not talking about the individuals lost in the unforgiving northern woods. I discover lost children at crowded events and lost adults on city sidewalks. It’s nothing life-and-death, just enough to throw my schedule into chaos.

The most recent example was when I was running late for a writers’ meeting, again. Usually I am a prompt, dependable person, but recently life has been overwhelming. I have been late for the last two meetings and I was determined that I would be on time this evening.

I arrived a full twenty minutes early. It was a gorgeous evening and I had enjoyed the walk. Rather than waiting in the windowless college, I decided to enjoy a little more air. That’s when I saw the same woman I noticed on the way in.

She was walking slowly, looking questioningly at people, glancing around as though someone had remodelled the campus when her back was turned. I knew that expression. She passed at least a dozen people on the sidewalk plus a field full of soccer players and their audience and headed straight for me. I had made eye contact.

I don’t get it. Do I have an invisible lighthouse beacon where my third eye should be? I could be a Jean the Ripper for all they know. Yet instantly, they’ll put themselves in my hands.

Of course, she was lost. She was looking for Sharkey’s Pub where a volunteer tea was being held. I’ve never been there and most times I can’t find the room I’m looking for, but I usually know where other lost people need to be. I had passed the pub the week before when out bicycling.

By this point, she was too tired and disoriented to be given verbal directions. I had to lead her to the door. Thankfully, the writers’ group was understanding about why I was late for the third month in a row. I was thankful that the woman was empty-handed.

I have found a child with chocolate ice cream dripping down her arms and all over me. I have found a child with filthy hands who insisted on clutching me until his father came in sight. I have found a child with an excited puppy who urinated every time you spoke to it (the puppy, not the child – the child was too busy crying). But, come to think of it, I’ve also found a child who urinated every time he cried as well.

The absolute worst is when the lost person is carrying stuff that they are too tired to carry any longer. Not only must I play pathfinder and counsellor, but pack horse too. The one that almost did me in was two summers ago. In an unprecedented attack of fitness and environmental awareness, I decided to walk from the Thunder Bay Mall back to Northwood where I live. About halfway to the Arthur and Edward Street intersection, I connected with a lady. She met all the qualifications – walking slowly, looking searchingly, and muttering to herself. This was going to be a challenge. She was muttering in another language.

She was in her sixties, wearing a heavy coat, slight moustache covered in sweat, and carrying not one, but two, 4 L jugs of cooking oil. It was about 23°C and rapidly rising. After a bizarre conversation only partly in English – punctuated by large head movements and heavy sighs – I realized she was looking for the Plaza she had previously passed. I took her cooking oil and we began the trek back.

A few blocks later, I too had sweat on my upper lip and everywhere else. I sent up a plea that this lady would soon discover the joy of cooking with Pam. I had started this walk to challenge myself but this was more like a survival hike. Eventually we passed the bus stop where, the lady informed me, she had disembarked. She had turned the wrong way upon exiting. I wondered if she would have walked all the way to Kakabaka Falls if I hadn’t met her.

We made it to the parking lot where she pointed out her son’s restaurant. Oh good, I thought, I can get a cold drink before I keel over. The lady insisted on taking the cooking oil, no easy feat since the muscles in my hands had seized up around the handles. Refreshed, she hustled away, ready to deep fry at any moment.

I like to think she said thank you in her own language, maybe even offered me a drink as I staggered away. My legs felt like rubber. I was muttering to myself when I noticed a younger woman looking at me with concern.

“Fool,” I thought. “Doesn’t she know better than to make eye contact?”

August 22, 1993

Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Recycled Sundays – Giving Thanks

We’re heading into the over indulgence season. Thanksgiving is the time of overindulgence in poultry and pumpkin. Halloween is the time of overindulgence in terror and treat. Christmas, the ultimate blowout, is the time of overindulgence in everything. Appropriately, these days of decadence are followed by Year’s Day, the time of reparation and resolution.

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, those of us with gardens that barely yielded spinach, peas, and lettuce, may feel the holiday has lost its impact. It is difficult to be thankful for the cloudiest, coldness, wettest summer most of us ever remember. It is difficult for me to express gratitude for wormy carrots and radishes, green tomatoes the size of my thumbnail, the smallest yield of zucchini ever (I previously thought it was not humanly possible to consume all the zucchini grown by a single plant), clematis that never climbed, honeysuckle and sweet pea that never attracted a single hummingbird (did anyone actually see one this summer?) and annual flowers that were stunted by spring frost and killed in late bloom by autumn frost.

In an effort to achieve the appropriate holiday attitude, I will consider the many things for which I should be thankful. First, I was able to construct that previous sentence without a dangling participle. Second, I am not a farmer whose survival depends on tomatoes the size and quality of children’s marbles. Third, odds are that next summer won’t be a record-breaking summer miserable weather. Fourth, I can’t remember any other summer where forest fires were next to nonexistent on the news. Also, we had some impressive rainstorms but not a single hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or sinkhole.

I’m thankful I’m alive and have a decent chance to remain that way for respectable time since I live in Canada not in a Third World or a war-torn country.

I can read this newspaper, unlike 5% of Canadians who have trouble dealing printed matter. I can afford this newspaper, unlike 14.3% Canadian families living below poverty level. I can write this column, which means I have a sense of humour (hopefully).

Smile wrinkles are far more attractive than frown wrinkles.

I’m thankful that the Peregrine falcon has been downgraded on the list of endangered Canadian species and that Pee Wee Herman has been downgraded on the list of bizarre species. I’m thankful that I’ve never fallen for Woody Allen who has been downgraded, period.

I’m thankful that Ann Landers, like expensive wine, has improved over the years. Tina Turnner is still steaming windows at age 54. Although John Crowe is Canadian, at least Dan Quayle isn’t.

I’m thankful all the kids are back to school and life is following a rough and wild routine. We no longer feel like golden agers going to bed before the kids now that bedtime is scheduled again. I enjoy our togetherness more when I have some time alone.

Camping season is over and none of us was eaten by a berry starved, compost crazed bear.

I’m grateful for small golden moments of sweetness, such as my little boy’s voice wafting up from the bathroom as he sings a YTV songs that never, never, never, never end. My Third World foster child wrote to say she is married, (we didn’t even send a cow). The new wallpaper actually looks better on the bathroom wall than on the roll except for that giant bubble that didn’t exist before I went to work.

It’s good to have a day that reminds us that I have so much to be thankful for. Ideally, I should make it a regular experience. After all, there’s something precious in every single day.

October 11, 1992

Chronical-Journal/Times-News

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO MY FELLOW CANADIANS!

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

You Take the Call When It Comes – Recycled Sundays

In a recession, people do whatever they can to earn extra money. This is the story of one such man. To protect his identity, he will be known as James. James Blank.

First, James was screened (RCMP, etc) and once cleared of counterfeiting or cigarette running, he was instructed to go to the front desk of the Balmoral Police Station and request The Test.

He was prepared. But, the police officers were not. They didn’t have a clue what to do with him. They sent him to a Traffic and Highway trailer parked in a lot. This runaround, James suspected, was a test of tenacity. The secretary attempted a quick getaway, something about going for a break, but James persevered. They returned to the police station together. She told the officer where to find the forms in his office and managed not to sigh too loudly.

There were two chairs in the reception area. James was given a blunt pencil and a three hour test. Balancing the pages on his lap, James wore the pencil down to the writing quality of a chisel. The officer hesitated, possibly considering asking for two pieces of ID, and then lent James a pen.

While describing the ins and outs of Thunder Bay, James ignored the ringing phones, people rushing in and out, and overheard conversations such as, “Is the burglar still on the premises?” In spite of these distractions, he passed the test. Now James could take his place among those brave men and women who cruise our city streets 24 hours a day.

Next came the license picture. James went directly from his day job. The photographer gasped, “You’re wearing a suit and tie! You don’t even need a comb! You’re so polite. Are you sure you’re getting the right license?”

On his first day, James checked the vehicle and his essential gear. He checked the thermos, phonebook, map, receipt book, pen, second pen,  book of streets, , pouch, seatbelts, mirrors… The radio crackled, “007, aren’t you ready yet!?”

His first assignment. Cruising through the early morning dark, James scanned the poorly lit house numbers. Why didn’t they supply night vision goggles? Wrong direction? Brake! Backup! Turn! Cross! Suddenly a figure loomed up out of the darkness. He was ready. He rolled down the window, smiled, and said “Good morning, sir! Taxi?”

The customer, shivering with his hands in his armpits, replied, “I’m not standing out here for my %$#@$% health. Take me to Roland Street.”

“Yes, sir. Where’s that?”

“Just take me to the stand.”

James wondered if it was a store or restaurant. “What’s The Stand?”

The customer groaned as he slammed the door. “The taxi stand where you got the cab… Rookie.”

On a slow day, like most, James listened to theother cabbies over the radio. There had been no call-ins or flag-downs for an hour. A new cabbie checked in.

“006 ready, he announced. “Flag for Marquette…Michigan.”

James laughed.

“In your dreams,” responded the dispatcher.

Cabbies strove for airport calls, lucrative fares. James would be happy with any fare on a dry day like this one. Finally, he got the call; a customer! James responded quickly, hoping for an airport destination.

The poor customer didn’t know that mechanical tasks were not on the three hour cabbie test. This call required the collapse of a wheelchair. James struggled and stumbled, then tried jamming it in the trunk. No go. The patient customer, paralysed from the neck down, gave step-by-step instructions on how to fold the chair. James continued to struggle. The customer continued instructing, volume increasing.  He leaned out the back door. James pushed, rotated, and squeezed the chair. It finally folded. He quickly stowed it in the trunk and hopped in the driver’s seat. Red-faced, he wiped his brow as he turned and asked, “Where to?”

The Valhalla, a $4 fare. James wondered if he could figure out how to reassemble the chair as they pulled out. But, tough assignment or not, James had to do it. Face it head on. After all he had taken the call and he was 007. James, James Blank, a cabbie.

Chronicle-Journal/Times-News Regional Newspaper

April 19, 1992

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Getting to the Vet on Time – Is It Possible? Recycled Sundays.

It’s bad enough when my mailbox is stuffed with bills, requests for donations, and rejection letters, but I really hate it when my cats get more personal mail than I do.

Their veterinarian sends them postcards. At least, they don’t picture domestic cats lazing in the sunshine on southern beaches wearing sunglasses and sipping kittenaid. The postcards picture a cat with his dentures in a glass and a dog with an ice pack on his toothache. It reminds them to brush regularly (in our house that is as often as they crown a new monarch in London) and make an appointment to have their teeth cleaned. I guess I can do without those kinds of postcards. Then again, so can my cats since they can’t see two-dimensional pictures anyway.

Vet day in our house resembles a chase scene from the old Keystone Cops movies. Everyone tears around the place, upsetting things, making spectacular collisions, and accomplishing very little. Because of our three cats – Virgil, Patch and Misty – we must go through this three times a year. We learned the only way to catch Virgil is to offer him food. That cat would put his head under a guillotine for kitty snack.

However, Patch has to be cornered. Everyone must act nonchalant. The cat traveling case should be hidden out of sight. Whoever is chosen to catch the animal must behave as though he is only slightly interested in the cat, just pausing for a quick petting. The more interest is shown, the better Patch hides. Once he is apprehended, he pays us back by dropping hair the way a lizard drops his tale or an octopus shoots ink. I suspect he thinks if he sheds enough hair in one spot, we will be fooled and take that to the vet instead. Too many trips in a row and he’ll be needing treatment for baldness.

Misty is almost impossible to catch. Highly suspicious by nature, we must be doubly sly to fool her. She is not drawn to kitty snacks and could live very well without humans, thank you, as long as she had clean litter.  SHE decides when and where she will be petted and by whom. Catching her requires an ambush which must succeed on the first try or the next 20 minutes will involve slamming doors, moving furniture, Olympic leaping, and bandages – for the human, not the cat. Once captured, stuffing her into the travel case is like trying to put bubbles back into soda pop.

I grew tired of all this nonsense, so when Virgil had an appointment, I caught him 15 minutes early and ignored his yowls of protest from the carrying case. Unfortunately, I had promised my children they could come and, of course, their school bus was late that day. They were met with a barrage of commands. “Respond immediately and cooperate completely or you’ll be left behind.” They unloaded their school stuff and then piled into the back seat. I put Virgil in his cage on the front passenger seat. The clock was ticking. Everyone had their assigned roles. This would be a test of our teamwork.

When I parked the car in front of the veterinarian’s, my son jumped up on the sidewalk and dropped the quarter into the meter as ordered. My daughter locked and slammed the sliding passenger door and then stood back. I jumped out and raced around to get the cat from the front passenger seat. Precise drill corp! We were amazing!

 

 

Then, I realized the passenger door was locked. My purse was on the floor with the keys in it. WE had made it on time, but not the cat. He was inside his cat cage, locked inside the car beyond my grasp. Fortunately, our vet still used wire hangers.

First published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News, Sunday, January 24, 1993

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

How to Provide Outside Entertainment for Indoor Cats – Recycled Sundays

When we brought our first two cats home from the pound, we were committed to keeping them indoors. I had vivid memories of the black tomcat named Fluffy from my childhood. He would disappear for days and then return looking like he’d escaped the dungeons of the Marquis de Sade. He was slashed, bruised, lost half an ear, blinded in one eye, and often infected. When he meowed on the doorstep, I hesitated, not knowing what grotesque sight would await me.

Fluffy

In addition, he was often ill from something he’d eaten – birds, rats, frogs, or garbage. He’d hack and gasp until finally discharging it under our kitchen table whereupon shrieks of, “I’m not cleaning that up.” would begin.

(I subsequently learned that outdoor cats pickup fleas, parasites and disease as well. I was not going to clean that up from my own cats either.)

One day, I realized it had been weeks since we had seen old Fluffy. We learned he’d been struck by a car and left in a ditch. When our three cats bite the dust, my husband wants the reassurance of verifying it. I’m not sure if this is sentiment or revenge.

When Fluffy was small enough for me to pick up – 1956 (age 3, me not the cat)

Indoor cats share, with outdoor cats, the peculiar instinct to eat whatever strikes their fancy. Our three have ingested elastics, Construx rings, rubber washers, and Barbie doll shoes. Patch chews any pen that has been previously chewed by my husband. Virgil eats anything that once contained food including takeout plastic ketchup packages.

Still, we try to limit what goes into their stomachs and provide them with a healthy lifestyle. We’ve given them opportunity to get outside without risk.

The first year, we tried a harness and leash in the back yard. While Patch was content to watch the butterflies, Misty worked herself into a fevered hysteria. Whenever a crow passed overhead, she raced in the opposite direction, choking herself on the leash and then scrambling and clawing free. I wondered if she viewed Hitchcock’s The Birds before we got her. Shouldn’t the birds be afraid of her?

We decided to try a cat pen. Since this might be worse than the harness and leash, we haphazardly slapped scrap lumber together and wrapped it in chicken wire. The neighbour’s children came to watch. Then the neighbours. The pen turned out larger than we intended causing someone to question whether we’d recently rescued a panther from the pound and failed to tell them. Afterwards, everyone dragged over their lawn chairs and we watched the cats try it out. I guess there’s not a lot of excitement on our street.

We doubted the wretched pen would make it through the winter. This summer, it was four years old. We decided to replace it and do it up right. We planned and measured. We used better lumber. This pen was going to last until the last cat died of old age. We made it a little smaller so I added entertainment. There is a long platform for stretching out in the sun, a cozy corner seat for privacy, a trellis for climbing, a swing for batting or daredevil tricks, a suspension bridge for working out Marine style, and the double thick scratching post. I’m still searching for a plastic tunnel for hiding and crawling.

My son wanted to know why we never built him such a neat playground. Afterwards, we watched the cats try out our three days of work. The neighbours didn’t join us this time. I guess their lives must have more excitement now.

Patch put one foot on the ground, stared around, then the second, paused, then the third. He left the fourth inside the window as a safety anchor until he started to stiffen up. The cats realize there was soft dirt with the old pan used to be. Immediately, to started to dig their way out. Ungrateful wretches! Patch touched the swing and then leapt straight into the air when it moved, frightening all three back into the house for a full 10 minutes.

When they returned, they sat in a row at one end of the pen and stared through the chicken wire as though a parade was passing by. That side had been boarded over before. They’d never seen our patio area. I don’t know what they expected the picnic table to do.

The entrance to the cat pen is through a barred basement window. The cats are just small enough to fit through the bars. We let them come and go during the good weather. Occasionally, they wake us up by fighting under our bedroom window but usually the disruption is from someone else’s cat allowed to wander.

I wonder what they are hissing and yelling through the chicken wire, “Ha, Ha, I’m free to run onto the road, kill the baby birds in your birdhouse, and mess in your owners’ garden.”

To which Patch replies, “Yeah, but you ain’t got a swing,” and Misty adds, “and all the Barbie shoes you could ever eat.”

First published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News, Sunday, July 25, 1993

Canadian Obvious – Recycled Sundays

A regular feature heard over a local radio channel is a quickie magazine excerpt type show called Canadian Living. Occasionally,  the host has interesting information or valuable tips to pass on. But more often than not I feel the show should be called Canadian Boring.

I wonder if the hostess doesn’t just take notes while she’s shopping, compiling the sales person’s comments until she has a three minute spot. She’ll talk about walking, cleaning your teeth, drinking water, anything. Although her information can be helpful, such as new research on sunscreen, she is an expert on the obvious. I’ve decided to save her a little trouble. I’ve lined up a few topics along her general style.

Screwdrivers – how do you decide which screwdriver to use on which screw. Plastic or wood, which kind of handle gives the best grip? Right to tight, left to lose, but how do we get the darn thing started?

Parking – Should your automobile face into the garage or out of the garage? The dangers of shutting the automatic garage door before shutting off the automobile engine. What exactly does that big black spot on the garage floor mean?

Salad dressing – Should the bottle be shaken up before it is put on the table or before it is poured? Should the dressing be shaken horizontally or vertically, or should it be swirled?

Atishoo – Tissues versus handkerchiefs. Balancing the environmental impact, germ control, convenience, expense, and the yukkies.

Boiling water – kettle or pot? Copper or cast-iron? And where does the micro-wave fit in?

Breathing – How deep? How often? Expanding the tummy versus the chest. The great tragedy of mouth breathers.

Just to get her off on the right track, I’ll do a sample show:

This is Canadian Boring with Very Monotonous. Today’s show: 87% of Canadians are reading impaired. I’ll explain right after this.

Insert a commercial for tires that will keep the audience’s attention better than the main feature.

Recent studies have shown that 87% of Canadian adults do not know how to read a book properly. In one study, researchers (who are too unimportant to recognize here) found that 12% read the last page of a novel before reading the complete text. In another study, researchers (whose names escape me at the moment) learned that 32% turn the pages from the bottom thereby risking leaf injury. The same researchers also learned at 36% read with improper lighting.

The man at the  bus depot also informed me that a huge percent use proper bookmarks, from chewing gum wrappers to nose rings. And a shocking 22% never finish the book! That’s good news for writers to write better beginnings than endings. Other benefits include less wear and tear on books and used bookstores and more books being started. I’ll be back after this to tell you about tomorrow’s show.

Insert commercial for radio station contest in a feeble attempt to offset any decline an interest caused by Canadian Boring show.

Before you roll over in bed and adjust the blankets, some issues to consider tomorrow. For Canadian Boring, I’m Very Monotonous.

In the midst of an information explosion where the public is inundated with more scientific fact, world news, and environmental controversy and they could possibly handle, perhaps there is a place for Canadian Boring. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to spend a few minutes a day listening to advice we can handle. It’s harmless to actually feel competent on occasion. Here’s one more Canadian Boring tip. It takes fewer muscles to smile than frown. Catch you next week.

Chronicle-Journal/Times-News Regional Newspapers

April 25, 1993

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages