Archive for the 'Animals' Category



Since a friend of ours asked us to watch her cat Xena for her, I have felt like I’m cheating on my cat. Xena is really a standard, black, short-hair domestic cat. Nothing special. A dime a dozen. But like any ordinary mistress, she is completely enchanting.

Her eyes are gorgeous — smoldering dark amber coals against night-colored fur. My cat is colored like a holstein.

Xena is thin and sleek, nearly weightless. She moves like a shadow. Mukau is obese and graceless; grunting comically with every leap of her corpulence.

I fed Xena a quarter of a can of cat food and gave her a bowl half full of dry food yesterday, and this morning the canned was gone and the dry was hardly touched. This morning, when I fed Mukau half of her normal serving of dry food, she wolfed it down, turned toward the oriental rug and vomited it all back up. Each nugget was intact. She had not even bothered to chew.

And yet, Mukau is very soft and warm. She is large enough to wrap herself around you, and it’s lovely when she does. She is sweet and quiet. She sleeps with me, on top of the covers, in the valley between my knees. Sometimes if she catches me on my back, she’ll crawl onto my chest and wheeze softly into my face until I fall asleep. And though she is just using me for ambient body heat, she certainly does a lot of it and seems to enjoy it. She is good company.

I guess the grass is always Xena on the other side, right? But I’ll take Mukau. My dalliance with Xena ends tomorrow. Suppose Mukau can smell another cat on me. And suppose she forgives me. If she can forgive me, I think I owe her the generosity of my full attention. Funny that she’s the house cat, and I’m the one to stray.


Feed Me. Now. OK… Now. (No, really. Now!)

The fat one is ruled by that weird little beeping box. It’s perfectly ridiculous. Any sensible cat knows when she is hungry from the emptiness inside. But this one waits until that box bleeps every morning before rising to feed me. Despite the plainly stated reminders I gently whisper from across the room in my softly melodious voice.

Sometimes he’ll get my hopes up when he stirs. But as I dash toward the door, fervently calling out my thanks over my shoulder, I am often met with a pillow he has sent sailing across the room instead of the reverberating thuds of his footsteps.

The thin one doesn’t even move, unless it’s to pack his pillow more tightly around his head.

It’s enough to drive a self-respecting housecat to hunt. Right. Hunt what, exactly? Dust bunnies? In this dismal prison I have been reduced to such desperate acts as shredding whole rolls of toilet paper, or climbing atop dressers and tables and nudging artfully selected items to the floor.

To add insult to injury, they are also giving me less food these days. If they are not careful, I could lose weight, and we can’t have that. I mean, would they dare? Is it possible? In this place they have removed all exercise from my otherwise active and vigorous lifestyle. Sometimes I need to gallop from one wall to another just to produce a heart beat, just to prove I still can. Now I need to take 20 naps a day instead of my customary 18. I am all but forced to sit at the window, looking out into open air — where is the grass, by the way? the trees? — at those pesky, those dirty, those delicious pigeons.

If they don’t begin to treat me better, I think I will kill a mouse or a large insect and leave it on their bed.

I could do it, too.


…But You Can’t Take the Country Out of the City

When I was reminded this summer of the last remaining functioning farm in New York City, the longest continually farmed land (by white people) in the state, there was no question that Jeff and I had to go check it out. Of all the crazy things to do in this city, surely this must be among the craziest. And the Queens County Fair, held in mid-September out on the Nassau County border in Floral Park, a neighborhood I’d never heard of, was the perfect opportunity.

Being good Midwesterners, we love a good fair, and having lived in Minnesota for a good chunk of time, we’ve had a taste of the best. (The Minnesota State Fair, though it is the second largest state fair in the country after Iowa, will always get my blue ribbon. But I am not without my prejudices.) The Queens County Fair is a charming escape from urban frenzy, recalling the ghosts of an agrarian past that New York City has all but forgotten, but it seemed to me ultimately a desperate recreation of a Queens that no longer exists. (I have found that Queens is often the site of such grand anachronisms. Witness the World’s Fairgrounds in Flushing Meadows.)

For the owners of the prize-winning chickens and wood carvings, this is still obviously a very present and real lifestyle, but for the vast majority of us, this is all a vision of “the old days.” The farmhouse, the fairgrounds, the vegetation, the animals — the odors — it is all an exhibit. The site is in fact a museum — a source of amusement and distraction for us city folk, no longer front and center in our minds as the backbone of a way of life.

Also, it’s a very white audience, which may have reflected the local demographic 50 years ago, but not today. The clearest example of this that I saw was the Bavarian tent, with its beers and brats and lederhosen. It’s a long-time staple of events like this, but why? The gyros and kebabs of the midway could have come out of Astoria, maybe, but a far better representation of the county might have included empanadas, halal chicken and rice, or maybe some tandoori or curry. Not that I have anything at all against beers and brats. Or lederhosen.

A woman working in the livestock tent said to a patron, “City kids don’t have a chance to see this stuff.” Goats and cows and chickens are exotic to us now. Ironically, these days, as suburbs and exurbs encroach on the shrinking countryside, many country kids don’t get to see so much of this stuff either. Neither good nor bad, I suppose; just true.

A pictorial:
Green Acres — You can see we’re still in the city.

MENSA Chicken — Some of the chickens were wandering around the fairgrounds, while others among them were too stupid or unlucky to figure out how to escape their pens.

Big Cock — Roosters really are sort of beautiful, even if they’re standing next to a dirty man-made “pond.”

Turkey — “When Thanksgiving time is here, then it’s our turn to gobble, gobble, gobble.”

Ouch! — Do you cook with these or defend yourself against burglars?

Orange Crush — I have a perfectly healthy obsession with pumpkins.

Eat ‘Em Up — Oh, what I couldn’t do with a sharp knife and a cutting board.

Purple Haze — Look at all the shiny, purple lusciousness. This was one of the most beautiful things I saw at the fair.

All Tarted Up — Midwesterners like me have a special fondness for rhubarb.

Fat Hogs
Super Size — These hogs are so painfully obese, they can hardly stand, and their bellies scrape the ground when they walk.

Goat and Jeff
Face to Face — I can hardly tell the difference between this goat and my husband! They’re both so cute.

Goat and Arley
Man and Beast — Arley tries communicating with a billy goat.

Creepy Snake Guy
Charmer — This guy popped up all over the place. I couldn’t tell if he was officially part of the fair or if he was just some creepy guy who showed up with a snake to show around. Touch my snake! Touch my snake!

White men singing
White Men Singing — Seeing these guys sort of reinforced the whiteness of the whole thing.

The petting farm, pony rides, hay rides, magic shows and blue ribbon-winning jams and cakes and breads locked away in acrylic display boxes, each one with a single piece missing, were all standard fare. (Jeff wants to enter his zucchini bread next year!) Other random oddities, like the guy with the snake, and a kid in a hot air balloon basket demonstrating his flaming apparatus to a small crowd, rounded out the offerings. And of course there was a cornstalk labyrinth, the “Amazing Maize Maze,” which sounds funny no matter who says it. (What happens if the kids can’t find their way out? I imagined little skeletons scattered around the maze at harvest time.)

I was disappointed to have missed the pig races. Watching those little frenzied curly tails bobbing around the track was always a favorite part of my own home town’s annual fair.

The frog jumping sounded promising, too. I was imagining something out of Mark Twain, but the emcee frustrated much of his audience, including me, by dragging the show out to exhaustive lengths (much like this blog post) before actually pulling any frogs out of his buckets. All I saw in the time I waited around was a tree frog peeing repeatedly on some poor little girl’s hand.

And maybe that’s the best place to close. I’m glad to have seen the Queens County Fair. It was precious. I am amazed that such a thing can still exist at all. And at the end of the day, I guess, we wash the animal excretions off our hands and return to our city, leaving the farm behind us.


Everything is Cuter When it’s Smaller

(Almost everything.)

The most adorable man-eating killing machine I’ve seen in a long time:


Kitty Liberation Day

The unwilling captive

November 24 henceforth shall be known as Kitty Liberation Day. We expect Bloomberg any day now to issue his proclamation stating words to this effect.

One of nine friends we had invited for Thanksgiving is allergic to our cat, Mukau. And she’s a big girl. There’s a lot to be allergic to! So we knew we had to do something drastic. On Tuesday evening, I thoroughly swept and vacuumed the bedroom and invited Mukau in. While she lay comfortably on the bed, I moved her food and water dishes and her litter box into the bedroom. She quietly regarded my bizarre activity. I left the room, and closed the door behind me.

“Forgive me, kitty,” I said.

She was my prisoner.

I put a fan in the open living room window to blow out as many allergens as possible while I moved the furniture and swept the floors and vacuumed the rugs and vacuumed the furniture. Then I washed the floors. The place was gorgeous. It smelled disinfected. Surely, there would be no allergic reactions from anyone.

Naturally, five minutes after his arrival, our friend was popping Benadryl. So much for that.

Every time we went into the bedroom Tuesday night, all day Wednesday, all day Thursday, the cat tried to get out. The moment she heard our footsteps, she’d run to the door and spring toward our feet to attempt escape every time we opened it. She got more and more crafty, and her senses are far better than ours in every respect, but she always hesitated just enough for us to be quicker than she was.

She grew angrier each time. Once, there was a scuffle, and it got a little rough. She was getting desperate. I guess it spooked her, because she hid under the bed for a few hours afterward. We’d open the door, and she’d peek just her little head out from under the dust ruffle. A room made for our comfort and safety had become a torture chamber for her, for all she knew.

She complained loudly from behind the door. She had food and water. She had her potty. She had a west-facing view from the window. But even her little walnut brain had the capacity for enough object permanence to know that there was a world beyond that door that she was not a part of.

Every cry she uttered increased our guilty conscience. But our friend was having such fun hopped up on Benadryl and red wine.

Early this morning, not a minute after our friend left, I opened the door and stepped aside. Mukau looked up and muttered. She looked at the door. She looked at me. She started as if to hop off the bed, but she stopped. Could she trust us? Was this another nasty human trick?



Walking along the shoreline toward the parking lot at the beach yesterday, we saw a little kid and his dad fishing. They were standing on the beach like anyone else, but they had rods, hooks, and fishing line. It seemed unusual and dangerous to be fishing where other people were swimming, but what do I know?

   Image hosting by Photobucket
Flounders are weird-looking. They swim sideways, and they have evolved to have both eyes on the top side of their bodies. I wonder if it’s always the same side. And who decided: right or left? Mother nature is a slow-poke, though: Their mouths are still sideways.

As we passed by, the dad was stooping down to pick something up from the sand. It looked like a large, broad, flat, brown leaf. Some kind of fish, I figured. Sure was ugly. He carried it carefully with two hands and walked toward the water. The kid, maybe 6 years old, maybe 7, looked up at us and exclaimed, “We caught a flounder!”

Then, turning to the people walking just behind us, he added, “How unusual!”

It was this second part that caught my attention, his high-pitched voice, his stress on the second syllable: “How un-yoo-sual!” I started laughing to myself at his precociousness as I walked away.

He was beside himself with surprise, joy, pride. I heard him repeating it a few more times, probably to anyone who looked at him. A flounder! How unusual!

When I was a kid, catching any living creature was a thrill, from the smallest tadpole to the largest pike. I loved fishing as a kid — everything but breaking the worms apart with my fingers. (I usually used a knife. A clean cut seemed more humane. Certainly less messy for me.)

His dad must have said it earlier. Looking at the fish on the line, the kid asking what it was, he must have said something like. “Huh. A flounder. How unsual.” And that kid, so desperate to grow up and emulate his dad, was sharing the news with us all.


Robot Cats!

Image hosting by Photobucket
Won’t scratch your couch

I came across some information about robotic cats which led me to this commercial. I don’t know which is creepier: the robotic cat, or the lady delightedly playing with it.

At first I couldn’t fathom why someone would want one of these things. Then the following occurred to me:

  • They eat electrons, which are cheaper than cat food.
  • They do not require a stinky litter box.
  • They will not scratch the fuck out of your couch while you are out of the house.

To the Dogs

Walking from my gym to the E train at 8th avenue last night, I had occasion to pass Penn Station. I saw a dog shitting on the corner and its owner picking up the pieces. The wee thing was shivering violently and looking as if the cold were some kind of punishment. “Just give me the rolled-up newspaper!” I could hear him calling. “As long as it’s indoors!” Must be an out-of-town dog, I thought. New Yorkers love to dress their dogs in ridiculous outfits.

I passed by.

As I crossed 8th, there was another woman walking two dogs. I passed by.

Then there was a man holding a little bulldog. Carrying him across the street. Well, it’s slushy and cold. What a nice guy. I passed by.

Then I saw a great big cage on wheels. OK, a kennel on wheels. In it was a beautiful breed, though I’ll be damned if I know what it was.

OK, what’s going on here?

My eyes travelled along across the street ahead of me, from the kennel-on-casters all the way to Madison Square Garden. It was a surreal, orderly, linear exodus of dogs and owners. Some were caged. Some were carried carried. The majority were on foot. It all depended on their size and preciousness. The kennelled ones were witout exception skinny little things, shivering horribly, unused to such harshness. Great big ones lumbered by, sniffing all the random objects before them — the garbage can, the empty planter, the mailbox, other dogs — anything within leash range. One owner pulling a kennel was trying to surmount the snow drift between him and a taxi. The wheels were stuck and the dogs looked completely freaked out.

All these breeds, and there wasn’t a Siberian husky among them that would help pull?

It was like the Ark had just docked into a West-side pier. Not Noah’s, but rather his younger, less intelligent, rather more myopic brother. There were several varieties of terrier, a dalmatian, precious shih tzus, a robust English mastiff, a shaggy and ostentatiously tall Afghan, a couple enormous great Danes, French bulldogs in triplicate, several kinds of spaniels, border collies, bizarrely sculpted poodles (at least their haunches were warm, I thought), some creatures that looked like miniature greyhounds, or really big four-legged spiders, I couldn’t tell.

Ah… of course. This is the after-party of the Westminster Dog Show. Funny how the show’s lustre is dimished somewhat as soon as the animals are forced to deal with the real outside world and everyone’s rushing back to the Hotel Pennsylvania for a rub-down in the doggie spa and a snausage night cap after such a long and tiresome day. Even at events where it’s the humans being judged, the red-carpet affairs, when everyone shows up individually to make a carefully timed appearance, is where the glitz and glamour play out. But at the end of show, when everyone has a kid to tuck in or a martini with their name on it, we are all reduced to cattle.

The canine queue stretched all the way into the loading bay of the Garden, far back into the innards of the building. These must be champions. They were all certainly well-behaved. With the exception of the first little pup I saw, who I’m nt concinved was with this crew, I saw not a single turd among them.

the untallied hours