The Indignity of Being Jinx

Jinx, a tuxedo cat, laying down on a fluffy blanket

Jinx has suffered a lot of indignities in her life. She’s a largely black cat that suffers from huge flakes of dandruff. She’s a short hair, but her coat is thick, especially on her hindquarters where poop likes to stick. She once broke her tail jumping off our bed, or something… we’re still not quite sure what the hell happened there. But one of the biggest indignities is when you try to pet her. Now, “you” is specific here. Katherine and I pet her, give her skritchy-scratches, brush her, generally handle her in anyway, and she rather enjoys it, unless medicine or the cat carrier is involved. But when you come in to our house, I will say to you, “Jinx will hiss at you if you try to pet her.” And you will try to pet her. And she will hiss at you.

Here’s what is confusing to you. She doesn’t run away when you come in the house. She’ll be sitting there on her perch, an ottoman that we’ve long ago sacrificed as an altar for her Highness, and look at you with calm eyes. She seems so relaxed and is a fluffy loaf, so she’s hard to resist. I understand this, and I will warn you, but this will be like a challenge to you, especially if you’re a cat person and know how to introduce yourself to a cat, so you will put your hand out for her to sniff. She appreciates the introduction and sniffs your hand with no fear or aggression. “Oh,” you will think, “clearly Jonathan doesn’t know how good I am with cats—I am the exception. Jinx clearly wants a pat on the head from me, and me alone.” Then you will attempt to pat her head or pet her, and she will rear back, scrunch her face and open her fanged mouth in the way that has scared humans for thousands of years, and give you a proper hiss. At this point, you will probably curse in fear and withdraw your hand. Jinx, in almost all cases, does not swat (sorry, Melissa), but the hiss alone will scare the shit out of you.

You may feel put off by this interaction, but what I can absolutely guarantee is that Jinx is much more offended by you than you are of her. After all, when introducing yourself for the first time, it’s rather impolite to just start molesting someone with your big, dumb hands, you dumb, stupid human.

Indy on Water

Indy relaxing on my lap

Indy has a small, narrow head which helps him drink water from a variety of containers. Katherine hates when he tries to drink her water, having gone to such lengths as putting a plate over her glass when it’s on her nightstand. Indy eventually learned how to defeat this security system by knocking the plate off, spilling the glass and water all over Katherine’s nightstand. This did not embarrass Indy, as it might a more sensible cat. Rather, he lapped away at the water pooling on the nightstand that hadn’t made it to the floor. Katherine has upped her defenses by bring up her nightly water in a container with a screw-top. Indy knows there is water in there, but hasn’t figured out how to get the cap off. Yet.

He’ll work so hard to get my wife’s water despite the full cup on my nightstand that I will freely share. He knows it’s there, and if he comes up to my face, by standing on my chest, I’ll reach over and lift my cup to let him drink. I’m a pushover. Still, Katherine’s water is so very tempting.

I usually don’t find it squicky when he drinks from my cup. I’ll drink from it after he does. This may be unsanitary, but my laziness will win out over any health concerns. There are some limits. He once sneezed into my cup—then kept drinking. I replaced that container. And if I notice him cleaning himself after a litter box visit, I’m not that lazy to ignore how gross that is. Usually, I just don’t think about it, and I’ve been fine except for my almost daily gastrointestinal issues.

We have a small water fountain in our kitchen that continually cycles the water through a filter, and Indy really enjoys that water. He’ll complain if it gets too low or if the water gets stale. I don’t know how, but we usually understand his different caterwauling between water bowl issue, a dirty litter box, and him demanding to know “where the hell are you guys?”

His insatiable love for water afforded me the opportunity to notice that when he drinks, one—or both—of his legs spasm. He doesn’t lose his balance, and if both legs do it, they’ll do it one at a time, one then the other. Which leg, or if both, seems entirely random. If he’s on my chest, or on the floor, or sneaking on the table to drink out of a glass, he does this weird, little kick as soon as he starts lapping at the water, as if he was going to start marching. It doesn’t seem to phase him at all. He’s a bit touched in the head, like all cats, so it’s probably due to bad wiring, but he’s fine with it, and it’s part of his cat-ness that endears him to me.

How Did the Mountains Get There? Where Did the Mountain Go?

There are two songs in my music library that are well-known but always lead to questions when I play them. Not coincidently, both songs reference mountains. A mountain, both timeless and unmoving, should not suddenly appear or disappear. And yet, in both songs mountains do something actively, throwing the listener out of kilter.

The first song is “Roundabout” by Yes. With the lyric, “In and around the lake/mountains come out of the sky/and they stand there.” The second is Donovan’s “There Is a Mountain,” with the stanza “First there is a mountain/then there is no mountain/then there is.” Both songs play with the permanence of mountains. But if we were to take them literally, they actually make sense.

In “Roundabout,” one can imagine a lake covered in mist, obscuring long-distance vision. As the mist clears, distant mountains seem to come out of the sky. Obviously, then, the mountains do nothing but stand there. It’s what mountains do best. It’s an evocative line, but one of the most straight forward from Yes, a prog rock band with some of the most obscure lyrics in a radio-friendly format. In fact, the whole of “Roundabout” can be seen as a journey, but the time and distance of the journey aren’t quite able to be gleaned, with lyrics, “One mile over we’ll be there and we’ll see you/Ten true summers we’ll be there and laughing too/Twenty four before my love you’ll see/I’ll be there with you.”

One mile probably wouldn’t take anyone ten years to travel, nor does ten years take place within 24 hours. Still, we can be sure that the song is about a journey, no matter the distortion of time and space. Contrast to other mentions of mountains in Yes’s songbook (they sing a lot about mountains), like “Siberian Khatru,” where they sing, “Sing, bird of prey/Beauty begins at the foot of you/Do you believe the manner?/Gold stainless nail,/Torn through the distance of man/As they regard the summit.” Here we have an eagle, let’s say, with golden talons, somewhere in the sky while people are looking at a mountain’s peak? What “manner” does the eagle maybe believe? Most Yes lyrics tend towards the inscrutable. But with “Roundabout” the mountains are clearly doing what mountains do, standing there. They may be a metaphor for something else, but they needn’t be. The literal is enough, despite hiding in a mind-twisting lyric.

Donovan’s “There Is a Mountain,” is further twisting, wrapped in a koan, “First there is a mountain/then there is no mountain/then there is.” Can we take this literally? Actually, yes. There is no mention of time, and one can posit that the mountain is visible in the day, then at night the mountain disappears, only to be seen again tomorrow. Again, this plays with the permanence of mountains and our perception. If we do not see the mountain, is it there? I won’t even touch on the philosophy behind object permanence, but I will say that the mountain does nothing when it is not seen. It does not affect Donovan when he cannot see it, so the mountain might as well be not there.

This is Donovan’s mild, folksy psychedelia. How can a mountain not be there after it was just there and then suddenly reappear? It’s possible Donovan just blinked. There. Gone. There again. More crucial than the disappearing mountain is Donovan’s relation to it. It may cause the listener to wonder what drugs Donovan was taking when he wrote it, but it’s not out of the realm of reality.

The song does present an imponderable, though. Suddenly, Donovan calls out for a Juanita. It’s never made clear why. He sings about the mountain, a snail, and a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, which are all observable and likely. But, then, he seems to have lost Juanita and felt it necessary to tell us in the middle of the song. I do hope she’s okay.

In any case, it is pleasing that these particular lines in these two songs, from over 45 years ago, still catch listeners off guard. What now amounts to background, “oldies” music still births an ear worm that bores into the rational part of the brain and causes one to question just what happened to those mountains.

Stillness

I looked at the doorway
and saw light and dark
a pathway between
the possible and the not

On the other side
rooms infinite

How could I know without crossing that threshold
And within
if I held still
my world would be the same

Nothing changed nothing gained

The doorway held
a possible future
a probable failure
most likely a couch or sofa
In between
the atoms held
a cat alive and dead
No chance for escape

Anxiety
To not or to do
Either way a choice
a decision I cannot undo

The doorway held
both light and dark
shadow and sun
neither of which could tempt me
The threshold to
A new way forward
A decision made
A confident step

Would I move

A world open to me
My thoughts are not action
Stillness is a choice

I looked at the doorway
and saw light and dark
a choice not made
between the possible and the not

The pond is not the koi; the pond is not the water

So there’s this word, Occident, which means from the West as in the Americas or Europe. Contrast this with Orient, which means from the East. I had a vague understanding that one would easily orient oneself by the eastern, rising sun, so that’s where the capitalized word came from, but I was never sure why the west was Occident.

Well, the crazy soup that is the English language actually has a lot of logic to it. In this case, Occident and accident sounding so much alike is not a coincidence. Both come from the Latin cadere meaning to fall. An accident, surely, is related to falling. So are cadence, cascade, and cadaver. And where does the sun fall? To the west. Thus Occident.

I dunno. Sometimes I glimpse the simplicity and elegance in all the chaos. It’s the closest I get to the divine. I also get a chuckle that finding the origin of an obscure word can send me into a Zen state.

Jonny Appleseed

I work out east on the south fork of Long Island. It’s about an hour commute, door-to-door. My wife, to make sure I eat something during the day, will put together a lunch for me that will include a piece of fruit. Otherwise, if I ate anything during the day, it would be something like cookies or a brownie, because I have absolutely no will to eat well. And I would never pack or eat a piece of fruit of my own volition, because, again, no will to eat well.

That it is autumn, I’ve been getting apples in my lunch pack. Apples are fine covered in caramel and maybe possibly in hot apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But I hadn’t eaten a whole, unadulterated apple in some time until my wife started sending me off with one. And the only reason I started to eat them was because I had nothing to eat on the long ride back, and an apple was slightly better than nothing.

After a few days of eating apples on the ride home, I’ve actually started to like them. There are hundreds of varieties, and getting to know the different qualities of each has been deliciously educational. And throwing out the apple cores has been fun. There’s a lot of wooded areas I drive through during my commute, and instead of holding on to the apple core for the remainder of my trip, I fling the core out into one of the wooded areas. I guess, technically, I’m littering, but I’ve thought of it as providing the start of a grove of wild apples for future generations all throughout the east end. I’m the Jonny Appleseed of Sag Harbor.

But I probably deserved it when I went to throw an apple core out and opened the wrong window, causing the apple to smash into the closed front passenger window and create a mess of apple fragments on the passenger seat. I am very lucky to have not broken the window, now streaked with dried apple juice. Maybe I missed an errant seed during clean up and will soon start a grove of apple trees in my Toyota.

War Is a Foreign Currency

War is a foreign currency
When I see it, I know intellectually
There are others that carry it
Though ugly and grotesque
Funny papers and garish hues

But I can’t see what it is good for
I can’t spend it
I don’t know how to get rid of it
So it gets stuffed in a shoebox
The memory uncomfortable to hold

It isn’t an asset
When it crosses borders
The locals hate it
What good is it?
A banker may know

War is foreign currency
I have no way to balance out
The loss I will take
When it’s given back to me as change

Originally published 20 Mar 03

Tabula Rasa

Because destruction is my ken
and fire cleanses
Because mistakes were made
and warnings ignored
I clean my slate

Absence is not loneliness
There is nothing…
and that is my canvas

Starting from scratch
is better than sinking lower
in a morass of malaise

Absence is not escape
There is nothing…
and that is my inception

Because evolution is too slow
and entropy reigns
Because time won’t stop
and death takes it all
I clean my slate

Originally published 26 December 2008

Packing material

I was fixing our dishwasher (sorry ladies, I’m spoken for) and had to order a replacement for a broken part. Normally, I use Sears Parts Direct because they hadn’t been too expensive, and they’ll carry parts for my ten year-old Maytag. But the broken part, a little piece of plastic called the impeller, was over seven dollars through Sears, and I thought that was a bit much. I searched the Googs again, and I found the part through PartSelect for a buck cheaper. I also ordered a filter, which was $5 cheaper from PartSelect than through Sears, and shipping was about $2 less. So, good deal, I thought.

And to confirm the good deal, I ordered the parts on Wednesday night, they got the parts to FedEx on Thursday, and, although shipping was FedEx Ground, I received the parts on Friday. (I love New York—almost all ground shipping still gets here within 1–2 days.) The parts were as ordered, so PartSelect has confirmed me as a faithful customer.

So no real complaints there, but I had to laugh when I saw the box that these two plastic pieces, totaling no more than $20, were shipped in. (Cat and table for scale-the box was over four feet high.)

Indy inspects a box that was just delivered.

Here’s the exploded view.

The two packages and two dozen air bags that came out of the large box.

And finally with the parts that were shipped. There may have been slight overkill here. The long, white plastic piece is the filter, which is millimeters thick and is installed when connected into a circle.

The packages have been opened to reveal a thin white plastic band and a tiny 2 in wide disk.

Ah! But there was something else in the box:

Indy peers out of the box. How'd he get in there?

As a total aside, the cushiony air bags used for shipping were manufactured by Sealed Air. I was lead developer on their 2011 Online Annual Report! (Sorry fellas, I’m spoken for.)