Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
Ahem. This is actually the June issue. It was ready to go up about ten days ago, but then I woke up one morning and discovered that my desktop computer, the one attached to the ginormous monitor I use when my eyes aren’t working very well (which is frequently the case), was dead as a mackerel. Monitor OK, power supply functioning, fans fine, various drives OK, but it’s d-e-a-d, Jim.
It’s not like I ever really liked the thing; it was a cheapo sub-$400 Dell I picked up on clearance about three years ago. But it was quiet (I have tinnitus already, thanks), and did have an i5 quad-core processor, so it was pleasingly zippy. Plus which it came with Windows 7, which can be handy, so I set it up to dual-boot with Linux. I’m pretty sure the motherboard just croaked. The ethernet network subsystem had died for no good reason about a year after I bought it, which suggests sub-standard soldering. A little Googling indicated that this particular crapoid Dell model — Vostro 260 — has an astronomical failure rate, usually manifested (often shortly after warranty expiration, of course) as a refusal to boot when every test shows it should.
I back stuff up, so I didn’t lose much aside from several days of trying to get the damn thing to work. You’d think I’d have learned not to trust Dell (I now own four dead Dells, dating back to the early 90s), but it was cheap. Now I’m relying on a ten-year old reconditioned laptop that’s gonna have to last another ten years the way things are going. This is all immensely depressing.
Gus and Phoebe, in that order.
On a cheerier note, as promised, here’s Gus the Cat, boxed and ready to ship along with his sister Phoebe. Gus and Phoebe arrived as tiny kittens one day in our yard, along with their brother Harry, ate some leftover pizza, and decided to stay. Their wayward mother, Kiki, wandered in a few months later, bearing such a remarkable resemblance to the crew that the familial relationship was never in doubt. Sadly, Harry died of a respiratory problem a few years ago, but Gus and Phoebe carry on, each with their own unique and sometimes disturbing personality.
The first hint we had that Gus wasn’t your normal couch-cat came when we caught him trying to open the sun porch door with the car keys clenched in his teeth. That’s only a slight exaggeration; early on Gus demonstrated such awesome door-opening skills that we replaced the European lever-style doorknob on that door with a conventional round one. Gus still opens doors occasionally (we keep the outdoor ones locked now), but for the most part confines himself to opening cupboards and closets.
Gus is famous among the other cats for inventing Cat Chow Hockey when he was just a kitten. This sport involves carefully lifting a single bit of chow out of the bowl (optimally located on a high table), placing it on a flat surface, and slapping it with one’s paw so it flies across the room. This gives Gus something to chase and a nice reward at the end. Lather, rinse, repeat. Gus has been known to amuse himself this way for hours at a time. While our dog Pokey was still with us (she died of lymphoma last year), Gus had to race to beat her to the prize. Pokey loved cat chow almost as much as she loved grazing for raccoon scat in the yard.
Gus is also the only cat we have ever had that took pride in teaching tricks to other cats. When we bought a touch-sensitive robot mouse for the gang, they sat around staring at it in torpid puzzlement until Gus stepped forward, tapped the thing to activate its routine (running in circles and cackling maniacally), and then stepped back and looked at the other cats with a “your turn” expression until they got it. Gus is also a master of the “I am everywhere” routine. You’ll see him sound asleep on the bed as you leave the room to go downstairs, but when you get to the living room, there he’ll be, sound asleep (or pretending to be) on the couch. Gus also does this “silent cry” thing where he’ll look at you beseechingly, open his mouth as if to cry, but make no sound. It’s as if he’s too weakened by hunger even to meow. Mama Kiki does exactly the same thing. No shame, any of them. Gus is, incidentally, the reason we unplug the toaster every night.
To return to the computer thing for a moment, I have come to realize lately that any kind of debilitating long-term illness is pretty much a passport to the poorhouse. About nine years ago I signed a deal with a major publisher to write what would be my fifth book, for an advance of, let’s say, enough to buy an economy car new. It was a very good advance at that time; today it would be unheard of for a book on language. Yay! Most money anyone ever offered to pay me for anything! (It’s worth noting, however, that the amount is less impressive when you consider that actually writing the book would probably take 18 months.)
In any case, my euphoria (and the $$$) evaporated a few months later when I was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis and I couldn’t finish the book. (I suddenly couldn’t lift my left leg or focus my eyes, among other disturbing symptoms.) Since then it’s been an increasing struggle to a) keep up with my columns and this site, which produces just enough revenue to pay hosting fees and feed a few of the cats, and b) deal with financial emergencies I can’t begin to cover. Our sole car, a trusty Toyota we bought used, is 17 years old (!) and clearly needs some serious repair. After decades of bad dentistry and worse advice, I need full upper and lower dentures, to the tune of ~$5,000. The chances of me ever having $5,000 at one time are pretty clearly zero. I think I’ve figured out why so many folks at the lower end of the economy play Lotto. I’ve considered starting a Kickstarter campaign or something, but it’s not like I need a new kidney. Your contributions and subscriptions, however, will be deeply appreciated.
And now, on with the show….
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
Whaddaya mean May? I distinctly said to wake me in April. This is an outrage.
But wait! Look over there! A kitty! Apparently reading Slashdot. Odd. Anyhoo, this is Marley, one of the famous Garage Kittens from about eight years ago, now all growed up and permanently ensconced on my desk. Seriously. All the other cats wander around the house, find new favorite spots, look out the window, chase mice in the kitchen, but not Marley. Marley has a job: sitting on my desk, and he takes it very, very seriously. Marley never moves. Marley is bolted to my desk.
Marley on the desk.
Actually, Marley does sometimes wander off to eat, repel invaders, and so forth, and sometimes Marley will be standing on the couch or a table when he senses that I am about to walk past, headed for the desk. Marley waits until the last possible moment and then quickly leaps toward the desk so that he sails across my path, clearing me by mere inches. Actually, that’s on a good day. On a bad day, he either slams into my arm or misjudges the distance and lands on the floor.
Marley, incidentally, is discouraged from going out in the hall because he has a record of attempting to leap from the hall table to the banister above the stairwell and overshooting the mark. Marley apparently cannot fly, and is very lucky the stairs are thickly carpeted.
But mostly Marley just sits on my desk. Staring at me. For hours at a time. Staring at my face. Sitting or lying next to the keyboard, staring at my face without blinking or moving a muscle. I know he does this because he likes me (at least I hope that’s it). Occasionally he’ll make his signature noise, which is the sort of chirping trill usually associated with songbirds. (Marley can also say one word — “Hi” — very clearly. This cat ain’t normal.) Every so often he’ll reach out verrrry slowly and tap me on the nose if he senses I’m not paying attention. Apparently I’m supposed to stare at him all day, too. If I finally can’t take it anymore and stand up and gently carry Marley over to the nice soft couch where the other kitties snooze, he flies back to his spot on the desk before I get back to my chair. I sit down and there he is, staring at me, now with a hurt expression on his kitty-cat face. Then I have to watch a half-hour of Maru videos with him to cheer him up. Marley loves Maru. He’s also the only cat I’ve known who really enjoys watching TV; he’s endlessly fascinated by Mister Ed.
Marley is not a small cat, and I’m always surprised by how heavy he is, a fact that suddenly became important about two weeks ago. I have a smaller writing desk behind my big desk, where I sometimes type on my laptop. I’ve been dragging this little desk around since 1969, so it has considerable sentimental value. But its real attraction lately has been that if I’m typing on it with my laptop, there’s no room for Marley. He has to stay on the big desk behind me. This understandably frustrates him, and he occasionally leans over and taps me on the shoulder to get me to turn around and pet him a little.
So one evening two weeks ago, I’m typing away at my little desk when Marley realizes he’s been patient long enough and decides to leap from the big desk to the little one, apparently planning to land in my coffee cup. Unfortunately, I picked the exact moment of Marley’s takeoff to swivel in my chair towards the big desk, and Marley hit the side of my head going full tilt. He must have had a good bit of momentum, because I felt like I’d been beaned with a fur-covered bowling ball. Wow.
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Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
Hey, it’s still March. And it snowed here the other day, real whiteout conditions. So there.
Today is Spring-like, which seems to lift the birdies’ spirits but fills me with dread. There’s four acres, more or less, of grass out there that’s going to start growing, and I am utterly incapable of mowing it. Our only working mower is a little push machine, the aged garden tractor having at last given up the ghost, and I can’t convincingly walk across the room, so using that is not an option. Neither can we pay the $75 bucks per week, minimum, to have it done. We also have five, count ‘em, five fallen trees scattered around the place, plus two that are ready to go. One would think that folks around here would like them for firewood, but apparently not, and tree services are ruinously expensive. I also am faced with having to buy dentures if I wish to keep eating, and that’s my priority (not that I have the money, but, y’know, just in terms of priorities).
The neighbors are already cranky about the fact that 3/4 of our land is wild brush, so this should be an interesting summer. Maybe I’ll just put a big sign in the front yard reading Fairfield County Pick-Your-Own Snake Farm.
Elsewhere, Richard Cohen, who is married to Meredith Vieira and has had multiple sclerosis nearly all his life, has been undergoing experimental therapy and reporting the experience on his blog. I admire his courage and hope it helps. My form (primary-progressive) doesn’t have any approved drug therapies, which is just as well, since I could never afford them and would be very leery of the documented side-effects even if I could.
Onward. I was browsing Netflix Instant recently, and came across a listing for John Huston’s last film, his 1987 adaptation of The Dead, which is, of course, the final story in the collection Dubliners by James Joyce. It’s widely considered one of the finest short stories ever written, and I still remember reading it for the first time decades ago. It stays with you. I’ve seen the film two or three times, and it’s a fine film, but the story, especially the last bit, is essentially unfilmable, and really demands to be read. Go on, I’ll wait here. (Whatever you do, don’t read the leaden synopsis on Wikipedia. It reads like a book report written by a sullen junior high student stuck in detention.)
Meanwhile, back at Netflix, I don’t know how I would have summed up The Dead in twenty words, but I sure hope I’d have done a bit better than:
“After a convivial holiday dinner party, things begin to unravel when a couple addresses some prickly issues concerning their marriage.”
Prickly issues… Oh, I get it. It’s the Irish version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with extra snow, right?
Speaking of Netflix Instant, people seem to have noticed that this kind of service (Hulu, Amazon Prime, Redbox Whatever, etc.) don’t exactly offer top-tier current fare (Netflix Instant Thinking About Adding Good Movie). There are apparently good reasons for this. Personally, I can do just fine without Gravity and the latest Seth Rogen crapfest if I can watch the entire run of The Rockford Files, the first eight seasons of Law & Order (Original Recipe), and such gooey schlock as the UK sci-fi-time-travel series Primeval (raptors in a shopping mall!) whenever I want for eight bucks a month.
Well, anyway, I’ll try to be on time in April. In the meantime, please consider subscribing or simply making a donation to our continued existence.
And now, on with the show….