Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Socks with Sandals

I do the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. What follows is my assignment/story.

Group 9
Genre: Comedy
Location: An upscale restaurant
Object: A photo album
1000 words

Synopsis: During dinner, Gary is forced to come to terms with his girlfriend and sense of fashion.

Gary Lemon never took off his hat. It was a red beanie, the kind that was in fashion among hipsters; the kind worn with mustaches, ironic t-shirts, and skinny jeans. But Gary wasn’t a hipster. And he didn’t wear skinny jeans. If it was up to Gary he’d wear shorts all the time.

“Shorts let my legs breathe.”

Much to the dismay of his girlfriend (and most people), it became high fashion to wear socks with sandals.

“Please, Gary. You look like a German.”

“Bah. I’m ahead of my time. Besides, socks keep my feet from sweating.”

People’s real dismay came from the fact that Gary had a girlfriend. Her name was Aurora.

“I think I’ll just call you Dawn,” said Gary upon first meeting Aurora while posting a flyer for his band.

“Why would you do that, Dick?”

“I like you.”

Aurora looked at the flyer. “Fleshlump?”

“Yeah. The name was my idea.”

“Lump is better.”

Since then they’d been dating for a year. To celebrate they decided to go out for dinner somewhere fancy.

“How about Le Grande?” asked Aurora.

“Is that the place where the d and e are both silent?”

“I think so.”


“You have to wear pants.”

Le Grande was downtown in the old Dale Granderson Box factory. The inside was modern and sleek, but the outside was worn and weathered. The front door was original to the factory.

“Hello,” said the maître d as they entered. “Welcome to Le Grande. Do you have a reservation?”

“Yes,” said Gary. “Two for Lemon.”

“Ah, yes. If you’ll follow me I’ll bring you to your table. Sir, may I ask you to remove your hat?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your beanie. We don’t allow hats in the dining area.”

Gary looked at Aurora, then back at the maître d.

“I’m already wearing pants, man.”

A teen and his parents were leaving. The boy was wearing a cardigan, but his t-shirt was clearly visible. The opposite of wrinkly - #irony.

“Dude,” said the teen when he saw Gary. “Are you in Lump?”

Gary nodded.

“You guys are awesome. I love Lump.”

Gary smiled as he watched the boy and his parents exit the factory door. He turned back to the maître d. As Gary opened his mouth, words came out, but they weren’t his.

“It’s a medical condition,” said Aurora. “He has something call curd scalp. It makes the top of his head look like cottage cheese. It’s sort of embarrassing so…”

“Oh my god, that’s awful,” said the maître d. “I’m so sorry. Please keep that on and follow me.” He led them to a table and gave them menus. “Your waiter will be with you shortly. Again, I’m so sorry.”

Gary looked at Aurora.

“Curd scalp?”

“I’ve had that in my back pocket for awhile.”

“Well played.”

Aurora pretended to look at the menu. Gary studied his.

“I’m not sure if I want the Steak Diane or the Steak Florentine. They both sound so deliciously feminine and formal.”



“Why do you wear that hat all the time?”

Gary put his menu down.

“Seriously? Are we going to do this? Now? Here?”

Aurora widened her eyes. Gary narrowed his.

“I just do,” Gary and Aurora said at the same time.

“I know,” said Aurora touching his arm. “Can I show you something?”

Aurora took out her phone. After a series of taps and swipes, she handed it to Gary.

“Go ahead,” she said. “There are about three hundred pictures in that album. In every single one of them is that hat. Every single one. Even when we went to the lake.”

Gary thumbed through the photos. Every now and then a smile would float across his face. He laughed and turned the phone to Aurora. “Remember how bad that smelled?”

“Gary,” said Aurora. “I’ve never seen you without your hat. You sleep with it. It’s me, you, and your hat when we’re in bed. I’m just going to go ahead and say it - it’s weird.”

“It’s not that weird.”

“It’s pretty weird.”

“What if it was a wig?”

“Exactly. Because it’s not.”

Gary took a sip of water.

“Do you know what you want?” asked the waiter who suddenly appeared behind Gary.

“No,” said Gary almost doing a spit take. “We need another minute.”

Aurora put her phone back in her purse and looked at Gary.

“I know it’s crazy because what are the odds,” she said. “But is it curd scalp?”

Gary smiled and shook his head.


“Well then what?”

Gary leaned forward in his chair, took a deep breath.

“Ok,” he whispered. “It’s my skull. I don’t like the shape of my skull. It’s flat in back.”

Gary sat back and waved his hand as if to say, ta dah!

“That’s it?”

“Yes,” said Gary. “That’s it.”

The maître d came over to the table.

“Excuse me, we’re pretty busy tonight. Tony said he tried to take your-“

“We need another minute,” interrupted Gary.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad,” said Aurora.

“It is. It’s like a board. It’s like a kitchen counter. It’s like earth pre-Columbus.”

“Prove it!”


Gary pulled off his hat.

The maître d screamed and fell into the table behind him. Plates and glasses flew up in the air, then shattered on the floor. The restaurant fell silent. All eyes went from Gary to the maître d.

“Are you okay, man?” asked Gary.

“I’m fine. I’m sorry. I just, I thought...” The maître d stared at Gary’s head and then glowered at him. “I do not appreciate being made the fool.”

“I’m sorry,” said Gary. “My head is flat in back. Like I was dropped on my head as a baby. I’m very self-conscious. In fact, this is the first time my girlfriend has ever seen me without my hat.”

“Oh,” said the maître d wiping potatoes from his jacket. “It’s not that bad.”

“It’s a little flat,” said Aurora. “But no worse than socks with sandals.”

Thursday, July 31, 2014

50+1, Fourth of July Weekend - WDM

I went home to West Des Moines for my parent's 50+1 anniversary. 50+1 because last year was a rough one. Bladder cancer, surgery, recovery, etc. But this past winter my dad told my mom, "We should have a party. We should celebrate."

Damn straight.

So my mom set it up. She sent out actual invitations. Although she didn't send any to her cousins from Detroit.

Nonetheless, they came anyway.

"Hi, we're Simma's cousins from Detroit," they fondly said when introduced. "We weren't invited."

I got in Thursday. We flew because time flies, and traveling by car with a ten month old does not.

Once we landed we threw our bags in the Nissan Whatever and flashed our rental agreement to no one because Des Moines treats people like adults.

It was hot so I cranked the AC, and then the KGGO.

Billy Idol > Led Zeppelin > Foreigner.

It will always be 1985 on KGGO.

Driving to my parents' house from the airport now gives me anxiety. Mostly because Army Post road is not the Army Post Road I remember. It curves around and then somehow you're on 63rd. I don't know. It's not until I see the Raccoon River that it makes sense again.

But we pulled into the driveway and it was all good. My sister's family was already in the pool. They were brown.

My cousin Rachel was supposed to get in Thursday, but Arthur stormed on those plans and I didn't see her until Saturday morning. But it was a bonus for me because I got to meet her 11 year old daughter, Ilana. I don't really know from 11 year old girls, but Ilana was pretty awesome. Nothing about One Direction, friendship bracelets, or Hunger Games. Just a cool kid.

Ilana embraced the chaos, pretty much lived in the pool, and made unicorn poop cookies with the younger kids. Not exactly sure what happened (although I think it had something to do with using applesauce instead of shortening) but the cookies erred more on the side of poop than unicorn...

(Double Bonus: It turns out Ilana follows me on the instagram.)

My sister and brother-in-law's family got in Wednesday; which means they already had the extra bedroom locked up for their son Rueben. But we threw an air mattress down in his room for my daughter Nola and everything was ok. Although one night Ruby just wanted to go to sleep, but Nola had to tell him about how Rapunzel could never leave the tower until she met Flynn Rider and Elsa didn't want to hurt Anna with an icy blast and Hans was bad and Olaf was a snow man but he was good and...

Before picking up Bruce and his family Friday afternoon from the Megabus stop, I stopped off at Tasty Tacos first because Hello, Tasty Tacos! When I saw the sign against the sky it was like angels singing. Ahhhhhhhhhh!

But then when I saw the sign on the door, it was the sound of a child crying out in pain. AHHHHHHHHHHH!

Well, maybe that was me.

The Megabus stop, by the way, is not so easy to find - even with a smart phone. Seriously, look it up. They don't make it easy.

I ended up at the new science center. Oh wait, there's a new science center?! What happened to the old one with the big pendulum and the Pink Floyd laser light shows and those stuffed raccoons with the pointy teeth they kept downstairs by the big windows?

Eventually I found the Megabus stop just as they were de-bussing. I saw Lowell's mop of hair.

Oh, I'm sorry, duh, of course, Bruce and his family came. I say duh because they are now part of my family. It's not such a long story, but Bruce and his family visit my parents as much as I do if not more. That is, they will visit on their own. Without me.

No, seriously.

And as much as they love my parents, my parents love them.

As a matter of fact, it was thundering early Saturday morning and it had just started to rain. So I went outside, grabbed all the towels off the deck, and went back upstairs. An hour or so later I came back down. My mom was on the phone looking out the window talking to Alice Friedgood. She didn't know I was right behind her.

"It's raining," she said. "I came to get the towels, but someone already got them. It was probably Bruce."

I gently tapped her shoulder.

"Uh, it was me, mom. Your actual son."


(Just so we're all on the same blog page, I have no problem with this. None. I don't feel usurped. In reality, I probably just beat Bruce to the punch. And besides, Bruce owns the refrigerator with his mad Tetris skills.)

Friday night all the families with kids went to the Des Moines Golf and Country Club for the fireworks. I've only been once - last year. Bruce has gone more than me.

It's a lovely affair. Everyone plants a blanket or some chairs on the grassy hill by the clubhouse. And then they wander off to the dance tent, or to the driving range which turns into a mini-carnival with rides, and booths for face painting and spray-on tattoos.

The rides are not full on hardcore carny, but the spinning bathtubs horrify me.

However, at this point my 4 year old is content with the train ride that takes the 6 and under crowd out to the deep end of the driving range where the heavy hitters send their range balls.

Short shorts wearing tween girls line up at the booths to lift their tank tops and get unicorns and butterflies airbrushed on their hip bones. Boys get dragons and skulls on their arms. The effect is like a prep school truck stop for underage drivers.

It's mostly little kids in the dance tent as they hop and bop to classic rock, or KGGO if you will.

There's an old tree off to the side of the clubhouse just after the dance tent. It's perfectly in the way of the fireworks, or at least it was last year. Imagine the fireworks are like the sun. Now imagine the sun is directly overhead and you put your hand up to block it. That's what the tree is like. But we sat there last year and I liked it because there were less people sitting near us.

When we ran into the Friedgoods, I told them where we were sitting.

"Over there," I pointed. "It's a terrible spot."

"I'm sure it's fine," said Alice. "We'll see you there."

We got some cotton candy for our daughter because we promised her cotton candy. We promised her months ago and like a dog whose toy you put behind a closet door, she's been fixated on it ever since. Also, in case anyone has forgotten, cotton candy is toddler meth.

"Can we get more for later? Can we? Can we? We're probably gonna need more."

"What you have is fine, sweetheart."

For me, Des Moines is Tasty Tacos. For my wife, it's the ice cream sundae bar at the club. Unfortunately, they closed the sundae bar early.

"No!" my wife cried. "How can they do that?"

"I don't know, sweetheart. I can get you some mints from the locker room."

Once it gets dark it seems to take too long for the fireworks to start. You can feel everyone collectively tensing up. C'mon, let's go! I have to put my kids down! If this doesn't happen soon, tomorrow's gonna suck. Honey, do you remember if my tee time is 8 or 8:30?

The first one went up...

Whizzzzzzzzz... POP!

"Stephen!" shouted Alice dragging her chair toward the clubhouse (along with a dozen others). "These seats are terrible!"

"I told you."

"Uhhgg. Don't talk to me!"

My wife and daughter and I lied in the dark on the blanket and looked up at the fireworks behind the tree. Every now and then there was a high one we could see through the thin branches at the top. And there were one or two that shot out to the sides. It wasn't so bad. It was nice lying there. But then I had the genius idea to move toward the sand trap where we could enjoy an unobstructed view AND have no one near us. Win-win.

After the last one we joined the slow march back to the parking lot. Nola was coming down off her cotton candy high, but she was pretty good, not too fussy. I was quietly appreciative of my wife who had enforced the forced nap.

Jason and Bruce were in the kitchen when we got home.

"We're going to do karaoke," said Jason. "You want to come."

"Hmmm, let me think about it no."

"C'mon. We won't stay long."

"Um, no."

I went to bed.

My parents hosted a dinner party at the Embassy Club West Saturday night. I don't think I've ever been to the Embassy Club, let alone the West one. Apparently it's where the Ponderosa Golf Club used to be, which quite frankly that BLOWS MY MIND.

Stephen, the maitre 'd, worked with Guido (of Guido's) back in the day. Back in the day Guido's was THE restaurant in Des Moines. And for my family, it was a staple on birthdays, anniversaries, or any BIG occasion.

Outside there is a small pond with a bridge that crosses it. It felt like I was in Florida, on one of the Keys. But maybe that was the humidity.

My sister suggested to me that we play the video at the restaurant because not everyone had seen it. The video is probably one of the best things I've ever done. I made it about 10 years ago. It's footage of my parents getting married and them as a young couple.

But what makes it especially amazingly extraordinary is when my dad was in Viet Nam, my parents used to send each other letters on audio tape. In the pile of old 8mm films that make up the video; there was one of those audio tapes. So it's like my mom is narrating the whole thing.

My parents are private people so we don't make the video a big deal. I have it hidden deep on one of my facebook pages. But I can share it here because no one really reads this blog.

(And that's ok. No harm, no foul. C'est la vie.)

Sunday morning was the big brunch at the country club. My sister had called me a few weeks prior and asked if I'd written a speech.

"Um, no," I said. "Was I supposed to?"

"Well, if you want to be the favorite child..."

We didn't tell our parents that we were giving speeches as we've learned it's always best to keep expectations low. I suspect my parents suspected we'd say something, though.

My parents held their brunch in the Starlight Room. It's where my sister got married. It's a pretty great room. And it was filed with people I recognized if didn't fully know. Some faces had changed, some were exactly as I remembered - maybe the hair was grayer, or snow white in some cases; sotra like a Bar Mitzvah time capsule come to life.

I saw my friend Dave's parents. I gave Mrs Feingold a hug. Mr Feingold put his hand out.

"Oh, no, Mr Feingold. You bring it in."

Whenever I saw a childhood friend's parents, they asked to be called by their first name. I nodded and told the story about Ab's dad.

Ab's dad had pulled me aside sometime after college and said, "I think you're old enough to call me by my name. Call me Max."

"Ok, Mr Bear, will do."

(Because I met him as Mr Bear. His first name is Mister. It will always be Mister.)

Anyway, my parents went up and thanked everyone for coming. Both my parents spoke well, but my dad dropped some wisdom on everyone.

1) Don't go to bed angry. (I've heard that before.)

2) There's no 'I' in team. (We've all heard that before.)

3) WE comes before I in WEDDING. (Hmmm, that's a good one.)

My sister went up and gave her speech. It was solid. She was solid. Then I went up to do mine. I started off pretty good, although I thought the slow learner line would have received a bigger laugh:

...It’s about trust and communication and love. And you have to work at those things. My parents taught me that. They continue to teach me that. So as a slow learner, you can imagine how much I appreciate that they’ve been married for 51 years.

I was on the last paragraph, and that's when it hit. I laugh/cried.

When I get choked up, I laugh/cry. In life I try not to cry. Yes, I know it's just some macho bullshit, but that's my DNA. I get it from my dad. People hate going to emotional movies with me because they think I'm laughing at the movie. I'm not. I'm weeping. Only it comes out as a laugh/cry.

Ok, I said to myself. It's ok. Just pull up. Pull up. You can get out of this.

I continued with the speech. A few words came out. But it happened again; the laugh/cry.

Keep it together, man. We can do this. Just pull up.

A man at the next table called out, "What's so funny?"

You're too low, Striker! You're too low! Pull up!

I tried to continue with the speech, but all the engines had burst into flames, oil was splattered across the windshield, and the plane was going down!

My sister parachuted in to finish the speech for me. As I was trying to show her where the wings had come off, my daughter (out of nowhere) started pulling on my leg.

"It's ok, daddy," she said giving me a tiny thumbs up.

O M G!


It was totes adorbs and those within view/earshot gave a welcome awww. And like Popeye with a can full of spinach, I was able to muscle through the last lines.

Because when they’re dancing; when they’re looking into each other’s eyes, when one moves to the left and the other knows to go to the right, when they’re holding each other, when they’re in that moment where it’s just them; and there are no hospitals, no appointments, no tests, no mishegoss about their children or anything else. When they are dancing, everything else falls away. And they are not my parents. They are Michael and Simma. And that’s why we’re here tonight.

As I leaned down to pick up my daughter, I hit her forehead with the stem of my wineglass. It was NOT that big a deal, but I knew how it was going to end so I quickly exited stage right. I went over to the corner, kissed away her tears, and thanked for coming up to help daddy.

It was truly a wonderful weekend, and all of a sudden it was over. We were heading home.

I laugh/cried when I said goodbye to my parents. Part of that laugh/cry is because I'm afraid I will never see them again. The other part is the first part, too. I'm just a big baby.

One last thing I want to say about Des Moines is that it's not a visit home unless we go to the HyVee at least three different times in one day.

One night (a second trip for me) my wife went to go look for one more thing while I waited up front NEAR the checkout. Three different customers asked me if I was in line.

"No," I said. "I'm good."

And four different employees wanted to help.

"We can check you out at four, sir."

"I'm good," I said. "Thanks."

That's NOT how it is in Chicago.

Oh, Des Moines, how I love you.

They say you can't go home again. You can. It's just different.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bring on the True Death

My wife read the books. She liked the books. We both liked the show when it started.

It was easy to appreciate the gay allegory. The God Hates Fangs sign has always been a poignant moment in the opening title sequence - which, by the way, is the best part of the show. Now with Hep-V they're sorta touching on AIDS. Sorta.

Not sure what season the showrunners doused the books in gasoline and set them on fire, but it's been a pretty steep trajectory down for awhile now. We should have got out years ago, back when I tweeted to Jenna Jameson about how terrible it was.

Whatever supernatural being they introduced at the beginning of each season, I would look over at my wife. "So, this is from from the books, right?"

And when they did that whole farewell to Terry episode... "I feel I should probably read the books because I had no idea Terry was such a big deal."

My wife couldn't even roll her eyes.

We were done last season because it was sooooo bad. But then it was announced that this would be its final season, and, well, I'm a sucker for closure. So, ok, fine.

The best thing about the show is Pam. It's actually the only thing. Her line last week, 'Hey, look at me. I'm a republicunt,' was pretty great.

It makes you think the writers still care. But then they deus ex machina something about Fangtasia being part of the underground railroad so there are secret tunnels the vampires can use to sneak into the dungeon and blah blah blah. It's like they had the interns do it.

Alan Ball must be turning over in his grave.

My hope for the finale: Sookie moves to Argentina to live with a band of faeries. And Bill pilots a boat into the bayou, fakes his true death, and lives out his remaining days as a lumberjack.

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?"


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?"


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.


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


Oliver opens his eyes.

"New Cat?"


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.


"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...