Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Exit Before the Bridge



The appointment was at noon. Sure as fuck I wasn't going to be early.

I washed my face and brushed my teeth. I took a bunch of deep breaths and woke Oliver from his nap.

"I'm sorry, buddy," I said. "We gotta go."

I put him in his carrier and went out to the car.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"You know where," I said. "I told you."

"You did?"

"I told you last night and again this morning."

"I know. I'm just fucking with you."

When we finally turned on Webster I took some more deep breaths. I saw the crosswalk counting down on Clybourn so I slowed to catch the red. I rubbed Ollie's ears.

"That's nice," he said.

I parked in the lot in back. It was beautiful out. A cool gentle breeze, a clear blue sky.

Oliver meowed.

"I think I'm feeling better," he said.

"Please don't make this harder than it is."

Outside the building I pounded my chest with my fist a couple times and walked inside. Thankfully the place was empty.

"Hi, can I help you?" asked the woman behind the desk.

I couldn't say my name.

"Are you here with Oliver?"

I nodded.

"Come this way."

She led me to the first room. It was dimly lit. There was a blanket on the exam counter.

"The vet will be with you in a second."

I put the carrier on the blanket and unzipped everything. I played with Ollie's ears, scratched under his chin. He didn't want to come out.

A dude came in with a clipboard. I couldn't make eye contact so I just kept looking at Ollie.

"Have you thought about the ashes," he asked. He asked quietly and respectfully. But I had already done everything over the phone before I came last Saturday, the first time.

To avoid these things.

"I already did this," I growled softly. "It's already paid for."

The dude slinked out the door. I felt like a dick, but not really.

The vet came in. I continued to avoid eye contact. There was no reason to connect with anyone.

"Have you ever done this before?"

"Yes," I said.  "With another cat. New Cat. But he was already out. They found a bunch of cancer."

"Ok, well, we have to put a needle in first," she said. "We can do it in back or we can do it in here with you."

"Here," I said.

She went to the back to gather her supplies. I could hear other animals, people talking. I turned my phone back on; which seemed to take a fucking eternity, and searched for bird sounds on Spotify.

"Birds, buddy," I said. "Just listen to the birds."

"Yeah," he said. "That's kinda nice."

"And think about Rainbow Bridge."

"I don't think that's really a thing, man."

"It is."

"Sure, ok."

The vet came back with the dude.

"John's just going to assist me for a moment."

I nodded. No hard feelings for John.

John shaved Oliver's fur on one of his front legs. And then tapped it to find a vein. He inserted the needle while the vet held onto Oliver.

"Ow!" said Oliver. "What the fuck, man! Is it amateur hour?! What the fuck?! That hurt like a bitch, dude!"

"Sorry," said John.

"Let's get the collar," the vet said to John.

"Yeah," said Oliver. "Go get the collar. I'll fucking take your hand off at the elbow next time!"

"It's ok, buddy," I said. "It's ok. Shhhh. Shhhh."

The vet put a plastic collar around Oliver's neck and John tried the needle again. Finding purchase, he taped it down, and left the room.

"You can hold him," said the vet. "Or we can do it on the counter here."

"I'll hold him."

"Do you want some time?"

I nodded.

I sat down on the chair and put Oliver on my lap. I turned up the bird sounds.

"You can hear the birds, right, buddy?"

"Yes."

The vet came back, asked if I was ready.

No one's ready.

I nodded.

She knelt next to me and fished out the catheter which was buried under my arm.

"What's going to happen?" I asked.

"I'm going to give him this to get him relaxed," she said holding up a white solution. "And when you're ready I'll give him this." It was some other solution. Or maybe it was the same. There were a lot of tears. "Then I'll check his heart to make sure it's stopped."

I nodded.

I leaned into Oliver's ear.

"I love you so much, little man."

"I know."

From here it's a blur. I don't know how much time went by. It wasn't long. I couldn't see Ollie's face because of how he was on my lap. I just kept petting him and crying and hyperventilating and petting him and crying and hyperventilating. I was a hot hot mess. The vet started crying, too. Here's a giant bulk of a man holding onto a 6 and a half pound cat like all love's gone crying like a goddamn baby.

Oliver seemed calm, relaxed.

"Are you ready?"

NO! I'M NOT FUCKING READY! NO ONE FUCKING WANTS THIS!

I nodded.

I didn't really notice anything in Oliver. I just kept petting him. 

Hot tears, sobbing.

"His heart's stopped," the vet said all of sudden in front of me, a stethoscope in her ears. "He's gone."

The knot in my stomach spasmed. I arched my back and grimaced in pain. I'm sure the vet was freaking out, but I held my eyes shut tight. Maybe this is what I deserved.  

The pain soon stopped. I took a long deep breath.

I petted Ollie some more, kissed his head a bunch of times.  The vet took him from me in the towel.  I saw his paw sticking out and I looked away.  

I got up to leave.  I went back to Ollie on the table.  I saw his tongue out.  I don't know that I will ever unsee that.  He was dead.  I closed my eyes and kissed his head four times.  

"Bye little man," I whispered.  "I love you."

The vet led me out the back into the sun.

"I'm so sorry," she said.

I walked over to my car and threw the carrier in back, slammed it shut. I held my hands up over my head and stared into the sky. It was a terrible and beautiful blue.

FADE TO WHITE

"Hey," says a voice. "Hey, Oliver. Dude!"

FADE FROM WHITE

Oliver opens his eyes.

"New Cat?"

Oliver




Almost 20 years ago in DC my friend Valerie was watching my apartment for me while I was on a trip. When I got back I opened the door and saw a little black kitten pop out of the kitchen and then go back in.

I called Valerie.

"Hey, Val."

"Hi. Welcome back!"

"Thanks. Listen, maybe you were hitting two birds with one stone, but there's a cat here."

"Oh, that's your cat."

"Val, I don't have a cat."

"I got you one."

"You can't give me a cat. I can barely take care of a plant."

"Her name is Spooky Bear."

Spooky Bear rubbed up against my leg.

"You want me to take her back?" asked Valerie.

"No."

"Great! Have fun with Spooky Bear!"

"Well, her name's not Spooky Bear."

I always thought of myself as guy who if I had a dog, its name would be Dog, or Pal. Because I never thought of myself as a cat guy. Ever. But if the same DNA applied, this cat's name should be Cat, or Pal. But when Spooky Bear jumped up on the table and sat with her tail wrapped around herself, she was an elegant and regal creature. She was black and sleek, like an olive. A little black olive. Olive, I thought. I will call her Olive.

But as I noticed Olive walking away from me one day, it seemed she had a few more parts and pieces than she should have. And when a friend who knew about cats visited, he said, "That cat's a dude, dude."

So Olive became Oliver.

He moved with me from DC to Chicago. We lived in different apartments and condos. From my apartment on Montrose I learned A) the building had mice, because B) Oliver was a mouser - as one evening he presented me a 'gift'.

As much as I can claim Oliver as my cat, I am his person.  It's my lap, my pets, my ear rubs.  I'm the one who can hold him for any length of time.  It's my bearded chin he rubs his head against.  I'm the one who can nip the nape of his neck and find no retribution; only purrs.

As my cat he's seen me through thick and thin, and then back to thick. He's seen me through different jobs, girlfriends, and Superbowl parties. He's seen me at my best and worst. He's seen things of which I'm glad he can't speak. Or judge.

He met my wife. And then he met my children. He's always been there for me. I tried to be there for him.

I regret we didn't play 'sheet' more. (Sheet was a chase game Oliver played whenever I made the bed.  My role was to simply keep airing the sheet as he chased an imaginary foe across the mattress.)  I also regret I didn't pet him more or rub his ears more or kiss his tiny head more because, well, duh.

But that's it. I spared no expense. I gave him the best I could. I think he had a good life. I will miss him. And I will always always love him.

Bringing him to the vet that last time was the hardest thing I've ever done. I wish it on no one. But it's important to remember that it's not something we're doing TO them. It's something we're doing FOR them. To stave off suffering, to give them dignity, to do what they cannot.  

At least that's what I keep telling myself.

A friend shared this with me on facebook. It's the last stanza from Robinson Jeffers' poem The House Dog's Grave, and it's from the dog's perspective:

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.

And here's this, which has helped me in the past.

Peace out...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

MIchael Clayton of 4 year olds



Original Email From E to his friends and family:

SUBJECT: Michael Clayton of 4 year olds....

I was recently traveling from Los Angeles to Madison with my 4 year old son KP. The trip involved two flight legs; one from Los Angeles to Dallas, then Dallas to Chicago. And then a bus ride from Chicago to Madison.

The night before the trip KP had a high fever. Nothing too unusual for a four year old. We gave him some Tylenol and the fever seemed to pass. We set off early the next morning on our sojourn. It started out well. He got to see the cockpit with the pilots. And I gave KP my iPhone. He seemed in good spirits.

We landed in the Dallas airport and had 45 minutes to make our connecting flight, which, of course, was on the other side of the airport. We hustled through the moving walkways and endless terminals until we got to our plane - on time. I felt KP's forehead; he was getting warm. We got on the plane. His forehead was now really warm - like you could fry an egg on it. I pressed the airline attendant button.

"My son isn't feeling well, could you get him some water?"

She came back with the water. I guess I looked uber concerned. She asked if he was going to be alright?

"I don't know, he has a really high fever."

The airline attendant got her supervisor involved. It was escalating. We had just pushed off from the gate.

The head airline attendant said she could tell the pilot to re-doc the plane and then we could get the paramedics to come to the gangway if I wanted that because 'there's not much we can do for him at 30,000 feet.'

Paramedics?

I was starting to panic and was relaying this to SP on the phone. She was starting to panic.

Was I sentencing my child to a cooked brain? No, no, he's had a high fever before and the flight was only an hour and a half. I made the call to go for it.

As it turned out his fever broke on the flight, and by the time we landed he was doing fine.

I turned on my cell phone after we touched down. Ding. ding, ding - text messages started turning up. Some from SP, but some from SS. One said I've set you up in a hotel room not far from the airport across the street from an Urgent Care facility and right next to a drug store.

Holy crap! This had gone nuclear. Code red!

SP had called SS and he had calmed her down; albeit over FaceBook. (Sometimes interacting with SS is more immediate over the web. Imagine the movie Her). He had served as her on-line therapist while at the same taking care of our every need. He had gone into Michael Clayton mode.

I called SS. "Thank you so much, but I think KP is going to be fine and we are going to press on to Madison."

SS you are truly a wonderful friend. Thank you so much.

If you are ever in Chicago, and need a fixer, I highly recommend SS. Just don't call him; email him on Facebook and he'll be right on it.

Cheers,
E

__________________________________________________________________________

MY RESPONSE:

RE: Michael Clayton of 4 year olds....

too kind, but first off, you can call. calling is fine.

;-)

#rashomon

so i was having lunch when my leg buzzed. it was a facebook message from sp - not unlike a text - to those who might not know. she explained about the high fever, the plane, the bus ride, and was hoping e & k could stay with us overnight.

no prob, i said.

sp also said she hoped k wouldn't get everyone sick.

ok, right, i thought. that.

anyway, i could tell she was upset. i did my best to tell her everything was going to be ok, and i would take care of everything on my end.

i thought about texting my wife and making sure it would be ok for e and k to crash with us. but then i thought, wait, no, i'm not even going to involve her. i got this.

i quickly did the math. i added a sick kid to healthy kids, divided that by close proximity, and then multiplied the sum by a germophobic wife. then i took the total and subtracted days off from school and work and added the cost of a new couch - as pam would set fire to the old one upon e and k's departure.

i had solved for hotel room.

i called the sheraton near ohare - a ten minute free shuttle leaving every twenty minutes. there was an urgent care across the street and a walgreens down the block. if i confirmed the room now for the best rate, it would be non-refundable. so i just had to wait to talk to ek. but the trigger was set. i even had my route figured out to meet them with organic chicken soup, oxidant/vitamin enriched natural juices, and children's motrin.

well, i talked to ek after he landed and it seemed everything was ok. i conveyed as much back to sp, and left her with, 'if there's anything else i can hardly do, just let me know.'

because i didn't really do anything.

but i loved michael clayton, so i'm good with that. :-)

hope everyone is well, and that gf had a happy bday.

-s

ps. twitter parable: when you're trapped on plane, stuff happens on the ground...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Organic Polar Vortex, or Simply Shopping Sunday Night



Normally my wife and I shop for groceries at Whole Foods Sunday morning. But because of one thing and another, I had to run out Sunday night to get supplies. It was crazy crowded. There was a security guy blocking the entrance until more cars left. It just happened to be the eve of Polar Vortex 3, but I don't think that was the problem.

Let me go back a second.

Personally, I'm fine with GMOs and fruit that stays fresh for a month. But we started shopping at Whole Foods when we had our daughter. My wife and I didn't like the idea of her developing breasts as a six year old.

And then we bought into the philosophy of paying for organic food now instead of medical care later.

But I hate shopping at Whole Foods, and I shop at a NICE one. I mean a REALLY NICE one. It's the Wholy Foods Cathedral on Kingsbury across from the strip club. It's huge! There's a bar right when you walk in, but there's another bar for wine and cheese on sort of an island between the liquor and dairy - which as I write it out makes a lot of sense. There's a 'Taste of Chicago' section with BBQ, burritos, and pizza. There's a grill and a sushi bar. You can eat upstairs, or outside along the river. There's a baby section and a toy area. You can buy shoes, socks, and hemp spun hoodies. There's a community center where they play trivia games and sing songs - no, I'm not kidding. The people who seem to live there aren't necessarily homeless. Maybe officeless is a better word with all their laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The tables in this area are from CB2. They're called Darjeeling Dining Tables and they're made from reclaimed railroad ties. I know this because we looked at them for our own dining table. (Eventually we got something from Ikea. It's made from baby seals, but it creates a reasonable airiness in our dining area.)

The reason I hate shopping at WF is trifold. The first one is obvious. It's expensive. We go once a week and I don't get out of there for anything less than a $250. Ever. The second is the perceived superiority as it relates to parking. Even those behind the wheel of their low emission SUVs (powered by repurposed sewage) are total assholes - just like you and me. No one wants to walk an extra 20 feet if they don't have to.

BECAUSE AMERICA, YO!

(That's why I started parking on the roof. No one wants to be in uncovered unheated area fully exposed to the elements.

Again, BECAUSE AMERICA, YO!)

But here's the third reason, and the big one. And I'm sure I'm wrong to feel this way - but I can't stand the people who walk around with a glass of wine and/or beer in their hands. I find it irritating. Just stay in the bar area...

Maybe if it was in a red Solo cup it wouldn't be so bad. Or something styrofoam, something casual. But it's not. The beer is sloshing around in formal attire.

"Hey, look at me," says the Belgian IPA. "I'm in a goblet."
"Ya,' says the Doppelbock. "I'm in a Pilsner."
"That's all well and good," says the Flanders Oud Bruin. "Snifter here."

The beer is pretentious. I think that's what it is. And the wine, well, its glass has a delicate stem - it's snooty by default.

Hmmm, how to put this?

Shopping for groceries is NOT a quaint bespoke outing!

You don't call up your friends and say, "Hey, I know, let's get some beers, push a cart around and fill it with produce. We can check out the 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating in the meat area, sample some free range olives, and get a pound of bulk quinoa. It'll be a blast."

YOU'RE IN A GROCERY! No one wants to be there if they don't have to. Sure, it's lovely, but it's a place to buy kale and recycled toilet paper. IT'S A FUCKING GROCERY! Put your beer/wine down, buy your organic frozen pizza, and go home...

Because now you're just some bearded hipster dbag with a handcrafted German import lolly gagging haphazardly in the baking aisle trying to decide if you want the amber organic honey, the dark organic honey, or maybe it's time to agave nectar a try. I've got a list, dude! I need to get the grape jelly with the bear on it, and be home before my wife loses her mind with the baby!

Ain't nobody got time for this!

Bah!

Now where was I? I don't even remember. It was crowded and everyone was in my way.

"Excuse me."
"Ooops, sorry."
"No, you go ahead."
"Right behind you."
"Ooops."

I got through my list and headed to the check out. Luckily no one in my lane noticed there were two registers and the first one just had two single dudes with baskets. I made it to the belt and started to unload.

"Is there some end of the world newsflash I missed," I asked the clerk. She looked at me blankly. "Because it's so crowded?"

"Oh, that," she said. "That's just Sunday night. It's always this crowded."

"What's with all the beer and wine?"

"You're like the fourth person to ask that. I don't know. People like to drink."

"And shop for groceries."

"Yeah, I guess. That'll be $284."

Sigh...

When I got home I told my wife about my unbridled hostility toward the crowds and beer swilling cart pushers.

"I think it's fine," she said.

"What? Seriously?"

"Well, if your kids are driving you crazy and you have to get the shopping done, it might as well be pleasant."

"But-"

"No mom wants to drag their kid into a bar in the middle of the afternoon. Or drink at home alone. If I wasn't nursing I would totally call up some friends and-"

"But they're in my way!"

"Everyone's in your way."

Sigh...

Damnit, she's right. Well, mostly right. Just keep it moving, people. And while grinding your organic Blue Mountain coffee beans grown by Jesuit Monks in Hawaii, remember not to leave your driving gloves behind.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

New Years Rocking Eve



Oh, did I forget to mention what P and I did New Years Eve?

We totes slept most of the day, didn't eat, and then went out around 9:45 to hit some clubs, enjoy some bottle service, etc. We did karaoke somewhere - can't even remember - except for P belting out 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' - which was totally worth the price of admission! BRILL! And we were getting hammered on something called Ball Droppers - these shots of who knows what with silver flakes in it - I don't even know.

It was a furnace in there so we went outside and P was all like, "I can't feel my nose!" It was actually pretty cold - who parties in a puffy coat?! LOL!

So we cheesed out and ended up at the Castle Nightclub because it was right there.

And AW SNAP - it was totally BANGING! CHAMPAGNE SUPERNOVA, Y'ALL!

It was a sea of people, a wild crush of humanity. We couldn't move. We were like one mass organism - no head or tail - bouncing and jumping to the music. It was soooo CRAY! And then all of a sudden it was midnight - BOOM! All these balloons and like a ton confetti dropped from the ceiling. Everybody was screaming and yelling! It was AMAZEBALLS! I swear I heard gunfire.

Anyway, I'm not even sure how we got home. Uber was no help at all and it seemed like we waiting for a cab for hours.

Oh, wait, it was a limo. Now I remember.

P lost one of her shoes, so she went right out in the middle of the street and waved down a long black Escalade. "STOP!" she yelled out, "I need to get home NOW!"

And guess who was in said Estretchcalade… Kanye and Kim. KIMYE! I know - it was SO weird. Because they were like, "Hello."

And we were like, "WHAT THE FUCK IS UP, Y'ALL!?!?"

And they were like, "Nothing. We're headed toward Oak Park if you'd like a ride."

So we got in and then we all sat quietly for twenty minutes until they dropped us off. Oh, as we got out Kanye asked me if I knew how much extra it was to mail a square envelope versus a regular one.

"It's just how much it weighs," I said.

"No," he said. "It's the shape, too. Square costs extra."

"I don't know then."

"That's cool. Have a happy new year."

"Thanks. You, too."

Kim leaned over and pointed toward P's feet.

"I like your shoe," she said.

But I don't think P even heard. She was pretty wasted.

Full Disclosure: P did not lose a shoe.
Fuller Disclosure: P did not get wasted.
Fullest Disclosure: It was actually 'Here I Go Again' with car hood choreography and everything.
Fullestest Disclosure: P was asleep by 9:45, and I stayed up to see the clock go from 11:59 to 12:00 because it seemed like bad luck not to.