THE SICKNESS OF LYLE

12_5_13 005I apologize for not posting and not being much involved in the blogging community in the last few months, a community that I have grown to love and cherish, and which I have missed. I have been working on my novel and it’s just been difficult for me to do both the novel and the blog. Generally the novel has to come first for me, before other writing, as well as bathing and eating and trimming my nose hairs and learning to play the jug, for the jug band I’m thinking of forming with the backyard squirrels.

There are quite a few animal characters in my novel, naturally. It’s challenging to try and see the world from an animal’s eyes, but it’s the best, most fun type of play and pretend for me.

Speaking of animal characters: Lyle, my orange tabby who is on the masthead above, got sick a little over a week ago. I’m so attuned to my cats that I can feel when they’re off almost immediately, which is a particularly helpful sense to have with cats, since they will do anything to hide sickness. I knew by the way he walked and his body language that he was not right.

I met Lyle for the first time through one of those desperation emails that I get too many of, from rescuers and cat-centric people. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas in 2010. Lyle was on the kill list at an L.A. Animal shelter because he had a cold. I passed the email along like I always did (and still do), feeling an extra twinge because this poor guy was going to be killed right around Christmas, merely for having the sniffles.

He was six months old and an orange tabby—my opinion then was that orange tabbies were the least attractive of all cats. If there was one type of cat I knew I was never going to have, it was an orange tabby.

Attached to the email was this photo of him:

LyleThe sad look got to me. They were trying to make Lyle festive and he was having none of it. Also the big drooping nose on him (which I love) seemed to add to his mournfulness. I decided I would foster him and try to find him a tabby-loving home. Which means I was bullshitting myself like I always do when I take in a cat—pretending I was going to foster when I knew very well that I was going to adopt. I’m a terrible foster, I fall in love too easily. Ask the fifteen girlfriends I had in the third grade. My mother wouldn’t let me adopt them, though.

A week ago Lyle’s appetite dropped to about a half of what was normal for him. He was also hiding under the TV console. These are red flag behaviors for a cat. I called the vet and grabbed the earliest appointment I could get.

I don’t play favorites with my cats but if pushed I would have to admit that Lyle is my most stunning-looking cat, proving that my perceptions, especially the old, entrenched ones, like I am a dog person and One cat is enough and Tabby cats are ugly, are often wrong. He is powerfully built, his fur is flaming-orange and tiger-striped, he has big meaty paws and a full, leonine tail. He’s even got some space alien in him, which doesn’t quite come through in photos. He has huge almond-shaped eyes and sometimes, particularly at night, when I look over and see his eyes staring at me, I think it’s one of those anal-probing aliens, the grays, coming for me.

"Gray" alien. From Wikipedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angry-Grey-Alien.png by Stefan-Xp

“Gray” alien. From Wikipedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angry-Grey-Alien.png by Stefan-Xp

Lyle’s meow is in a high register and he often chirps like a bird. I almost renamed him, “Birdy.”

The first time I took Lyle to the vet—this was years ago, just for a check-up—he freaked out. The instant I locked the carrier door behind him, he head-butted the door. He kept thrashing, ramming the carrier with his head and body, over and over, crazy with the fear of where he was being taken or perhaps terrified of being pent-up. I thought for sure he’d bloody himself, injure himself badly, and since I didn’t know Lyle that well yet, I was worried I had adopted a nervous, mentally unbalanced cat. Perhaps an abused cat.

12_5_13 016A week ago when I brought Lyle to the vet, he was subdued in the carrier. The car ride was quiet. The vet examined him and came out with that old chestnut, “If only they could talk, tell us what’s wrong.” I hated hearing this because it was another way of saying he had no idea what was wrong. He said maybe it would blow over. I took him home and that night Lyle ate only a little. His appetite was disappearing.

I brought him back in for a battery of tests. They were all negative. He ate a little food off the tips of my fingers, like a baby, but at the rate he was going he was going to start dropping weight fast. I followed him across the floor under a chair to keep shoving the food in his face. He licked halfheartedly at the morsel on my fingers, watched it plop on the ground, and looked at me. I pressed my finger into his face again and he turned his head away. That this-is-final head turn over the right shoulder that cats do. “No more,” it means.

When cats go, it can be fast. And not eating usually precipitates the slide. One night after work, in the fall of 2008, I came home to find Hooper, the second cat I ever had, gravely ill. When I offered him food, I got the head turn. He was dead a week later. Bandit, my black cat who was best friends with Hooper, gave me the final head turn on the last day of June, 2011. He died that day.

No more.

Lyle is only four years old.

12_5_13 019

In four years, I’ve discovered that Lyle isn’t mentally unbalanced. He’s not a lap cat, either. He doesn’t cuddle and he’s particular about how you pet him (cat people will know what I mean by that). But about a year ago Lyle started showing new behaviors. One day I was in the kitchen, making my coffee and staring out at the birds in the backyard, and I felt this brushing against my leg. I turned to find Lyle staring up at me. With those soft space alien eyes. I thought, what does he want? Treat? Water? Brush? Probing of my rectum? He rubbed me again.

The kitchen rubbing has since become regular behavior, and Lyle’s timing has become preternatural, because it usually comes when I’m in the middle of some writerly brooding. I feel that touch on the back of my leg and it always surprises me and makes me soften.

After so many times, I have realized that Lyle doesn’t want anything from me. He keeps on rubbing, whether or not I pet him, or talk to him, or make coffee, or practice my jug playing.

I suspect it’s a gesture of love. My body and my being sure take it that way. If I’m in a black cloud, his touch chases it away. There’s a lot of power in that touch. A lot of power in the love of an animal.

Rubbed.

The next step with Lyle was to schedule an Ultrasound to see what was going on.

By this time, he wasn’t even giving his food dish a glance. He licked a few morsels off my fingers, but I got the feeling that he was forcing himself to do it more for me than for his own depressed appetite. Then he gave me the head turn. No more.

It is an old chestnut, but my vet was right: If only Lyle could talk.

Tell me, Lyle,” I say to him, and he looks at me for a moment, his tail up, before skulking into the corner, under the TV console. At this point, I’m questioning myself. Questioning a big part of how I have arranged my life. Why do I insist on forming close bonds with animals that will die long before I do?

Lyle and Butch silhouette

Another new Lyle behavior that has emerged: About three or four months ago Lyle started jumping on the bed. If there was space on the bed on my left side—left side only—he’d crawl up next to my head and get comfortable. He’d let me pet him without any irritation on his part. No snuggling or spooning or anything like that—but he’d arrange himself so there was at least one point of contact with me, like the ridge of his back against my chest.

At this point Lyle had been sick a week, and his appetite had faded to almost nothing. Desperate, I called a homeopathic, uh, healer, would be the proper title for her, since her first step is for me to send a photo of Lyle so she can “tune into” him. Like a clairvoyant would do. Although she’s focusing on Lyle’s energies and his illness, not his horoscope or his dead relatives. She said she’d call me back that night.

I believe there are a lot of mysteries in life. I try to be open to them. This healer had helped me with my cat Picasso as well, though he had never been this sick. But I had gone the vet route first. I called the homeopathic healer only when I was getting no answers, and the days were slowly ticking by with Lyle eating less and less.

The healer said Lyle had a stomach infection. She wanted me to start administering Sulphur, a homeopathic remedy. Apparently it’s an all-purpose remedy, effective at treating many different conditions. I started the next day, expecting a fight with Lyle, since I had to dissolve the pellets of Sulphur into water and then syringe the solution down his throat.

He didn’t like it much that I was corralling him to stick a tube down his throat. But he didn’t fight me, either.

One of the things the homeopathic healer likes to say is that if the animal needs it—the supplement or the remedy—they’ll want it. They won’t fight it, they’ll receive it.

The first day of administering the Sulphur remedy Lyle was still turning up his nose at the food. But he showed more interest in eating from my hand. At the dinnertime meal I squatted in the kitchen for about forty-five minutes, feeling pins and needles in my thighs, as Lyle, lick by lick, ate the most he had eaten in a week.

By the second day of the Sulphur remedy Lyle was back to eating full meals, albeit still out of my hand. I saw the spring return to his step. He didn’t hide anymore. He was chirping again. My anxiety began to lift. So did any lingering skepticism about homeopathic healers.

By the fourth day—the last day of giving Lyle the Sulphur remedy—Lyle was eating on his own. The next time something like this happens, the homeopathic healer gets the first call, before the vet.

003

The writing of my novel has been kind of up and down lately. Yesterday I wrote one good line. One good line plus however many shitty lines that add up to one whole page. I hadn’t written a blog post in over a month. L.A. Is going through a ridiculous heat wave and it was ninety degrees when we went to bed last night, at midnight.

I couldn’t sleep. It was the heat. It was the writing. It was Lyle deciding to jump on the bed with me.

I said before that Lyle jumps on the bed, but that’s during the day. When I’m reading or taking a nap. He doesn’t hunker down with me at night. Until last night. New behavior.

Lyle has this heavy, slightly-wheezing purr, like a fat man’s breathing—though, as I said, Lyle is in good shape physically. Well, now he is. I hadn’t noticed this purr of his for the first couple of years I had him—he never let me get close enough to hear it, to feel it.

Last night he nestled closer to me. It was almost—not quite—a spooning.

Then he hopped down. And jumped back up—chirping. Down, and up again. Then he hopped over me, then hopped over my girlfriend. Then down. And around, and back up. Chirping. He was restless, I was restless. I was just grateful he had all this energy.

He crawled in close to me again. When he gets close to me like this, touching me but barely, he sinks, like he’s settling into a hot bath.

I petted him. He purred his fat man purr, heavy and chugging.

Then he hopped down. And I got up. To start writing this piece.

Lyle Who, Me

IS MY CAT SICK?

Butch.

Butch.

ME: I’m worried about you, Butch. What’s with you not eating lately?

BUTCH THE CAT: You’re thinking I might be sick.

ME: Yes. Maybe. I can’t tell.

BUTCH: It’s a bitch, I admit. We cats. We play that stuff close to the vest. Kind of hide it. When we’re sick, I mean. Seems like one day, everything’s catnip. Then bam. Deader than Dillinger.

ME: I’d rather you’d stay away from the outdated dead gangster metaphors. Particularly the dead part.

BUTCH: Suit yourself.

ME: I wish you could talk. Imagine if our companion animals could talk. Cats, dogs, guinea pigs, goldfish—

BUTCH: Pigs, snakes, hermit crabs, anteaters…

ME: Yeah. Yes. Though maybe not so much anteaters. If our animals could talk, then we wouldn’t have to worry. We’d know if they were sick or not. If only…

BUTCH: Uh…

ME: Oh yeah. You can talk! Wow, it’s a miracle. So… are you sick?

BUTCH: Not sure. But I might have scurvy. Might, I’m saying.

ME: Really? Cats can get that?

BUTCH: Possibly. If they’re sailors especially.

ME: But you don’t have it, right?

BUTCH: I don’t think so. And I thought about the navy, but decided against it. It was the hats. I’d look ridiculous in a hat like that.

ME: So is anything wrong with you?

BUTCH: It might be a touch of leprosy.

ME: Oh my god. You have leprosy?

BUTCH: Probably not. Well, at least I think not. If my paw falls off in the middle of this conversation, then maybe yes.

ME: I don’t think cats can get leprosy.

BUTCH: But you’re not sure.

ME: No, I’m not.

BUTCH: You’re not sure about a lot of things.

ME: That’s true.

BUTCH: Like you’re probably not sure if you’re really having a conversation with me right now.

ME: That’s true—

BUTCH: Like maybe you’re just a loon. A loon who talks to cats.

ME (brow furrowing): Could be. It’s just I worry about you.

BUTCH: Shit, like you needed to tell me that. Your brain is a fear factory, you got like assembly lines cranking overtime in that flat little head of yours. All kinds of heat and choking fumes—

ME: Assembly lines in my brain?

BUTCH: Don’t interrupt me, I’m on a roll. Like I was saying, you got little kids up in your head, working twenty hours a day, slaving over your panicky thoughts. Child slave labor—I could be wrong—but didn’t they phase that out like a hundred freaking years ago? Might want to give it a break.

ME (sighing): If you tell me you’re alright, maybe I can.

BUTCH: You probably got kittens up there too, in that brain. Working them to death. Sweet little kittens. How could you?

9_3_13 007

ME: Butch. Your health. Are you alright?

BUTCH: So the other day. When you laid down to take your nap. In the late afternoon, the sun just so? The window open, the sparrows talking shit out there. Remember that?

ME: Yes! Yes I do. You jumped on the bed and came to me. You circled me for five minutes, stepped over me, kept poking your nose in my face. I didn’t know what was going on—

BUTCH: Making sure is all. Checking that everything was copacetic—

ME: And then you curled up right next to my chest. You spooned me. For the first time. I’ve had you for six years, and you’ve never ever done that before. That made me so happy.

BUTCH: Yeah, that was nice.

ME: It took so long… I knew you had a rough kittenhood. Why did it take so long for you to curl up with me like that?

BUTCH: You were patient. I’ll give you that.

ME: It was so… amazing. My arm cradling your whole body, like a baby.

BUTCH: Whoa, “baby”?

ME: Like a kitten, I mean.

BUTCH: Better.

ME: Yeah, and your face was tucked into the crook of my elbow. I could feel your cool breath on my skin. And your heartbeat—for the first time I could feel your heartbeat. I felt your energy… your being… sort of flow into me, if you can believe that. And vice versa. It was like our bodies were joined.

BUTCH: Yeah. That was nice. I liked your arm around me, that felt safe.

ME: Maybe it reminded you of the womb or something—

BUTCH: Let’s not get carried away, kay?

ME: Okay. So, please tell me. Is there anything wrong with you? Are you sick?

BUTCH: I think I’m gonna nap on the window sill for a bit. Catch you later.

ME: You’re not going to tell me, are you?

BUTCH: Relax. Go pound like five cups of coffee. For you, that’ll slide you down some. Pull you back from the edge. I probably have a few naps left in me. A few more naps in your arms. If you’re partial to that sort of thing.

ME: Of course! But you know… if you are sick. Now that you can talk, it’s like a fantastic opportunity to let me know—

BUTCH: Yeah, that reminds me. Now that I can talk. We should do something about my name. I think you can do better. We need something with more…. gravity. How about “Hannibal”?

ME: Are you kidding?

BUTCH: I’m as serious as J. Edgar Hoover. Oh. Hey look.

Butch gives me his paw.

BUTCH: My paw didn’t fall off. Guess you can definitely rule out leprosy.

 

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE CAT SITTER

026

Thank you for taking care of my four cats. Please read these instructions carefully at least five times, though ten is preferred and should give you a leg up on my pop phone quizzes.

My four cats are like four extensions of myself. Think of them as my arms and legs. If you forget or fail to follow an instruction, think of your failure as cutting off one of my limbs. So for example if you mistakenly serve my cat Sundance raw food, just picture yourself sawing my left arm off at the shoulder.

The most important thing to remember is that I live in the hills and in case you were wondering THERE ARE PACKS OF RABID CAT-EATING COYOTES OUT THERE. So please remember to KEEP ALL DOORS SHUT AND DEAD-BOLTED. If for some unfathomable reason you manage to screw this one up and let one of my cats out, it’s probably best if you throw yourself to the coyotes right after the cat. Otherwise perhaps picture me sawing off one of your arms.

The alarm code is 0510. That’s Lyle’s birthday—May 10th, 2010, in case you were wondering. A beautiful day for him and for me, so that when you press those buttons on the alarm keypad it’s not just an action that prevents a horn blaring in your ear and cops busting in and throwing you against the wall, it’s also a gesture of honor and adoration. 0510—don’t forget it, you have like 15 seconds to get your ass from the door to the keypad, and make sure you SHUT THE GODDAMNED DOOR FIRST.

If you don’t make it, and the alarm goes off, you have precious seconds before the cops storm the house. The alarm company will call you and ask for your name and password. I hope you know your name. The password is, “Butch of the Hole in the Wall Gang.” I’ll explain what this means in the appendix, but it’s witty and definitely fits his personality, which you would know if you read these instructions ten times like I asked and maybe watched “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” at least twice.

Now I’ll give you brief portraits of my cats which I hope will be helpful:

009PICASSO: Tabby, brown. Friendly, but he has standards, so don’t put on airs or go all high-pitched with the voice. Be earthy and real. Fake it if you have to. You will have to. Favorite toy is a shoelace, which he will chase around. Try to master a quick jiggling wrist snap motion with the shoelace or he may become disinterested. Practice snapping 100 times to the left, take a brief rest, then 100 times to the right. Do this for an hour every day, gradually phasing out the rest period. Say nice things about his paintings.

Lyle sun 1

LYLE: Tabby, orange. Birthday is 05/10, that’s 0-5-1-0. Shy at first, but he will open up gradually, after a breaking in period in which you must grovel on the floor before him. Try to be consistent and still as possible with your floor grovelling—so no bathroom breaks or even kneeling, otherwise this breaking in process must be started over from the beginning. Lyle loves the Halo freeze-dried treats, and when I say “loves,” I mean “goes batshit crazy for.”  I suggest first putting on the welding gloves before offering him a treat. The heavy gauge steel ones—not the light welding ones. Note the severed finger limit of liability clause at the end of this document. Sign it before offering Lyle a treat.

 

9_3_13 009BUTCH: Tuxedo cat, more black than white. My cat psychologist says Butch is the most balanced and stable of my cats. He’s serene but not too sleepy. A born leader and cat-about-town. You can see his profile on EHarmony. Butch can be very Zen, and if you encounter him in a meditative state please do not disturb him. Light a candle and spread some sage around, sprinkle catnip on a pillow and make sure you offer it to him barefoot and with a pure mind, body, and soul. Especially the soul. Don’t make eye contact with him.

008

SUNDANCE: Tuxedo cat, more white than black. Brother to Butch. Sundance is ivory to Butch’s ebony. Redford to Butch’s Newman (This will be on the quiz). Sundance is the shyest of all my cats, so I have been working on socializing him. It is very important that you continue this process, so please set aside a few hours each day to play board games with him. Don’t insult him by breaking out Candyland—he’s too old for that. Chutes and Ladders is okay if he’s in the mood but it’s very important that you let him slide the token down the chute with his paw. It’s his favorite thing about the game. Feel free to say, “Weeee!” in an encouraging voice as he performs this action. If you play Monopoly with him be careful, he’s the only cat I’ve ever seen pull off a railroads- and utilities-owning strategy.

FEEDING:

Feeding times are promptly at 8 am and 8 pm each day. Please, no excuses—stuck in heavy traffic, or “I had to work late,” or “My child got bitten by an anteater!”—there’s just no excuse for not being punctual to feed my cats. I have prepared this detailed food list to assist you in what to feed who, and in what amount:

RAW FOOD:

Picasso:         1 teaspoon at night

Lyle:                1 glob* per feeding

Butch:            1 tablespoon only on Sunday

Sundance:    NO RAW! Feeding raw = sawing off an arm!

 

NEWMAN’S OWN TURKEY FOOD:

Picasso:          Considers this food an insult. Will hate you.

Lyle:                 Nope.

Butch:              Feed him 1/2 can; the Paul Newman half only.

Sundance:      Feed him 1/2 can; Robert Redford half only.

 

ZIWIPEAK CAT FOOD:

Picasso:          Okay, but don’t try to lace it with medication. Will smell it. And hate you.

Lyle:                 Where’s this crap from? New Zealand? Nice try.

Butch:              1/2 can, mashed with lobster fork**

Sundance:      1/2 can, built up into “food mountain”***

 

TIKI CAT FOOD:

Picasso:           You lick it first, I want to see if you’re trying to pull some shit on me again.

Lyle:                  Cool label. But nope.

Butch:               1/2 can, but if I get scared you have to feed it to me under the bed.

Sundance:      If he’s scared, I’m scared. And I won’t eat his portion, so don’t mix them up.

*1 glob is more than 1 tablespoon and less than 1 hunk.
** Fondue fork is acceptable in a pinch, but regular fork is unacceptable and Butch will smell that he’s being served with an unworthy metal and will refuse food and won’t even look at you again.
*** No Devil’s Tower food mountain, that is frightening to cats. Aim for something pleasant and mildly majestic, like something out of the Adirondacks mountain range.

9_3_13 019

 

LITTERBOX SCOOPING:

Look, if the Egyptians can do it, you can do it. The Egyptians revered cats and built pyramids, you know. And mummies—they had mummies! Don’t forget the real tiny pieces of old clumped urine and feces that the scooper sometimes can miss. Buy a pair of Velcro gloves—the sticky Velcro on the outside—and then just sift through the litter with your gloved hands. Those little pieces of filth will find you! Once your gloves are thickly coated with little shit- and piss-balls, you can simply discard them. Or scare your children with them!

IN AN EMERGENCY:

Don’t worry, I won’t blame you. Not to your face, which is what matters. But look, all I’m saying is that the cats were fine when I left. Cat curses are a bitch to remove, so you know—all your hair falls out at the very least, and I’m talking armpit hair as well as head hair.

My veterinarian’s number is 1-888-ohmygodwhatdidyoudotomycats.

If anything happens, call me anytime, day or night. Even something like vomiting a hairball—please take photos of the scene and be able to describe in detail what the cat was doing before and after the regurgitation event, where exactly you were, and what exactly I was thinking when I entrusted you with my cats.

IN CONCLUSION:

I hope you enjoy your time with my cats. Help yourself to anything you want around the house—except the coffee, snacks, computer, blow dryer, or garden rake. Feel free to relax, have a cat or two curl up in your lap, and watch a program on my 60” high definition TV—as long as you pick one of the 27 nature programs I’ve recorded for the cats.

Just remember to keep the goddamned door SHUT AT ALL TIMES.

Picasso plus_Auguest 2013 005

 

I LIKE TO RUB THINGS

Lyle, pre-rubbing.

Lyle, pre-rubbing.

Yes, I am a cat

And yes, I like to rub things.

Yes, this is my calling

And yes, my duty.

Yes, this is the core of my cat-ness

And before I am done

Oh yes!

I will make you tremble

before my rubbing of things.

I rub to leave my perfumed scent

I rub to show up my fellow cats—

Away with you while I rub here!

I rub the book you hold,

And do I not

help you to read it?

I rub the answer

to that question

It’s yes.

I rub couch, chair, and bed.

I rub corners, doorways, and your head.

I rub the dead mouse on the floor

I rub the mailman at the door.

I rub you coming out of the shower

I rub you scrubbing those dishes

I rub you rubbing your girlfriend

That’s some nice rubbing yourself—

I commend you!

I like to rub things

Look there’s the couch

I like to rub things

Look there’s your chin

I like to rub things

Look there’s a poisonous jub jub tree

I like to rub things

thirty-six times each

just to be sure

I like to rub things

Hey what do you have in your hand

Let me ask you one thing

Would it be okay

If I rubbed it?

Look I know there is no money

in this rubbing

but hear me out here

I have a great argument

for rubbing…

(Hold on a second

while I rub this over here.)

Now what was I rubbing?

I am a rubbing fiend

I will leave no surface un-rubbed

I am a rubbing fiend

Get your girlfriend on board

I am a rubbing fiend

And I must be adored.

Do you believe me when I say I rub

for world peace?

Do you believe me when I say I rub

to balance the budget?

Do you believe me when I say I rub

because I love you?

Please now

Rub the answer to me.

Rubbed.

Rubbed.

THE BOBCAT AND THE BLUE JAY

Bobcat. Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons, Alan Vernon.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bobcat_%28Lynx_rufus%29_portrait.jpg

Bobcat. Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons, Alan Vernon. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bobcat_%28Lynx_rufus%29_portrait.jpg

It’s been a strange week and for a good chunk of it I’ve had to wrestle with a lot of fear, mostly around the fact that my life looks completely different from what it was last year, and I mean completely. —A good thing, but I’m not playing it safe right now, particularly with regard to my career. I have shifted from a very lucrative job into things that are closer to my heart, and while my intuition tells me very clearly and quietly that I am in the right place, my survivor instinct is screaming bloody murder, and needs something to happen now.

I’m better about pushing through the fear now. I can feel myself fumbling for the way out of my fear even while I’m stuck in the middle of it. It is really like trying to find your way in a dark room, bumping and scraping along and trying not to trip over something and break your neck—knowing that the light switch is there somewhere, you just have to find it. And you will.

Also now when I am stricken by this fear I am still able to keep myself open to the outside world, not switch off like a robot beeping and blinking  down into dumb oblivion—which is what it used to feel like sometimes.

Because I managed to wedge the door open a crack to my senses and my soul, I saw two amazing things in my backyard this week. The first is that I saw a bobcat loitering in my backyard. I spotted him the moment he had taken a drink from a bird bath I have back there. He angled his head up toward the sky and the fur on his throat undulated as the water slid down his gullet. Then he shook his head, sated I guess, and looked around the yard, like, What have we got here?

The status of bobcats in the United States is varied and in my research I can’t even get a clear idea of what it is in California. But they are protected in a limited fashion and just last year a law was passed to prevent their trapping near Joshua Tree National Park—trappers were skulking at the edges of the park (where the bobcats are protected) and luring the bobcats out to kill them for their fur. Most of the research I’ve read says they are stable in California, endangered in other states.

The bobcat figures in Native American mythology, and if you take in the broader mythology of their cousin the lynx, the pool of otherworldly meanings gets very deep indeed. In general the creature is associated with silence, patience, and wisdom. The bobcat is the keeper of knowledge and the guardian of secrets, but he keeps this knowledge to himself.

I have lived in the hills of Hollywood since 2005, and many forms of wildlife are common—deer, coyotes, owls, raccoons, and on—but this is the first bobcat I’ve seen anywhere in California. My best description of them is that they are “a cat-plus”—they look very much like a tabby house cat— tabbies themselves looking like mini-tigers. But bobcats have extra down-turning flares of fur at their jowls… and they’re big. Like “Uh-oh, Fluffy is eating people” big. And of course bobcats are recognizable by their stubby tails—the one in my backyard didn’t show me his until the very end of his visit, when he jumped up on the fence ringing my property and slunk back into the trees.

Photo from Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons,docentjoyce.   http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bobcat_photo.jpg

Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons,docentjoyce.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bobcat_photo.jpg

If that was the high point in my backyard entertainment this week, the low pointor the heart-sinking point—was the day after the bobcat sighting, as I was on my way to refill the bird feeders. As soon as I stepped out into the backyard I saw a puff of feathers flying up in the air. It was like seeing a puff of smoke and listening for the report of the gun, looking around for the sniper.

The sniper was a Western Scrub-Jay, one of at least a pair if not three or four that visit my feeder on a regular basis. I like them because of their royal blue-and-white coloring, like they’re flag bearers for some Nordic country. I also like them because as a kid growing up in Massachusetts I loved watching the northeast blue jays—they were blustery, noisy, with arrowhead-shaped crowns that would fan out like peacock feathers when they got agitated.

The scrub-jay doesn’t have this crown, his head is round, but the one in my backyard was agitated—at me. Because I had just walked in on his attempted assassination of a sparrow.

600px-Aphelocoma_californica_in_Seattle

Western Scrub-Jay. Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons, Minette Layne.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aphelocoma_californica_in_Seattle.jpg

The jay squawked at me and I actually turned around, thinking he must be talking to someone behind me. But no, he was telling me to mind my own business, and as I watched he swooped from the hand railing that leads to my upper deck to the wounded sparrow slumped in the grass—which I hadn’t seen at first.

The jay pecked at the sparrow, then flew back to the railing to squawk at me some more. Go away! I’m trying to kill this pipsqueak bird here.

photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons, Alvesgaspar. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Passer_domesticus_April_2009-1.jpg

Sparrow. Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons, Alvesgaspar.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Passer_domesticus_April_2009-1.jpg

Look, I know animals kill each other for their own reasons—most of those reasons being: I’m hungry. In the Scrub-Jay’s case, they’ll attack other birds rarely, but it does happen.

I hate seeing any creature killed though, especially anything that is weaker or defenseless. This sparrow was much smaller and seemed to be hurt pretty bad.

So I have the battle in my soul of do I help the bird or do I keep my stupid human mitts off this situation—because as a rule we humans can’t seem to keep our mitts off of anything—that’s why so many animals are suffering.

The jay is not weighted down from any similar inner turmoil. He swoops in and scoops up the sparrow and tries to fly off with him. I guess the sparrow is heavy for him though, because he drops the sparrow near my neighbor’s back door—plunk. He’s only managed to carry him about fifteen feet—and the bullying scrub-jay is perched on the roof staring at the sparrow, staring at me, staring at the sparrow…

I take a few steps and the jay dives down at the sparrow again, and this is the moment that pierced me, that really just got me: the sparrow’s head buried in the dirt, flapping one wing weakly up behind him at the jay stabbing him in the back with his beak… then as the jay flew away again, seeing the sparrow quivering, moving, trying to move… trying to crawl away from his fear and pain… no different from all the images I’ve seen over the years of dying humans in wars or genocides or accidents… the last moment, the last embrace of the earth, the last plea for help from the dying spirit.

I went back in the house, ostensibly to retrieve the scoop for the bird seed. I still couldn’t decide whether to interfere or not. I felt terrible. I felt like I was trying to create a sanctuary for the birds and instead I had built a gladiator arena.

The ancient Egyptians had a hieroglyph of the sparrow. The meaning was “small”, “narrow”, or “bad.” In the Bible, the sparrow represents God’s acknowledgment of minor or seemingly insignificant creatures.

When I came out of the house the jay and the sparrow were gone. Just a few wispy feathers hanging in the air.

A CONFESSION

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I have a confession to make. I have been living a lie for many months—almost an entire year—but I can’t live with the guilt and shame any more.

I am deeply thankful for all the people who have read this blog and that have subscribed over the past year. I have become quite a blog reader myself over this time, so I know how hard many of you work on yours and I know everyone just has busy lives in general. So I appreciate the support. And for that reason I owe you the truth.

The truth is that it’s not really me that is writing this blog.

The truth is that I am a human being, and a human being of my particular type is not capable of writing a blog. You see, it’s too complicated to figure out and what if what I write sucks and what if people leave negative comments or even worse—no one reads at all. What if when I click on my page all I get is crickets and tumbleweeds or maybe some hell beast with three heads and a long silver tongue and all he does is spit at me.

I am afraid. Too afraid.

So I confess that the real writer of this blog all these months has been my cat Lyle. He’s done a pretty good job, I think. He’s a very good observer of cats, that’s for sure. But I also liked the one he wrote about Dick Cheney. Lyle is very good at satire.

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Lyle, ghostwriter cat.

I also confess that it wasn’t me who took the trip to Thailand to volunteer with elephants. Thailand was too far away and I didn’t speak the language and what if I got Japanese encephalitis and what if I got lost in the jungle and I was wayyyyyy too old to do something like that, for sure.

I was afraid. Too afraid.

So I sent my cat Sundance instead. Sundance got to meet some of the most amazing animals on the planet. When he got back, Sundance meowed at me about the elephants Thong Dee and Mana and Lulu and even about another cat that would follow him around sometimes. Sundance also met some pretty cool humans and he almost got a tattoo but backed out at the last minute.

Mana. Mana and Sundance got along well and even went drinking together.

Mana. Mana and Sundance got along well and even went drinking together.

Sundance brought back a Chang Beer T-shirt for me. When he handed it to me he was shaking his head. “You missed it, dude,” he said. “It was quite an amazing trip.”

Next time,” I said.

Yeah, right,” he said, and, after a month-plus away, returned to his favorite sleeping spot, curled up on the printer.

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Sundance. World traveler. Friend to elephants.

I confess that this year I met a beautiful woman I really liked but what if she thought the things I liked were stupid or that I was ugly or she wondered why I went to the bathroom so much (because I was trying to escape—and yet have a believable cover story)?

I was afraid to ask her for a second date. Too afraid.

So my cat Butch asked her out instead.

Man, what are you thinking?” he said to me as he hung up the phone. “She’s amazing. Oh well—you snooze you lose.”

This girl and my cat Butch have been going steady for many months now. They seem to be doing really well except sometimes when they’re watching a movie in a theater and Butch will suddenly throw up on the floor. I also think she’s a little tired of scooping the litter box after him—she wonders if he’ll ever be mature enough to handle that himself.

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Butch. Ladies’ cat. Can drive a stick.

I confess that in February of 2013 I was in the second decade of the same job—a job I was very grateful for, a job which paid me a lot of money, a job which didn’t match my insides any more.

My insides were to be a writer. Or some of my insides, anyway. I think I have a liver and a couple of kidneys in there too.

I was afraid. Seriously batshit scared.

I stayed in the job.

Thank god! You have to stay in this job forever! You are not capable of making money any other way. It’s okay to be unhappy as long as you’re making money. You’ll die if you leave!”

But my cat Picasso, who was working alongside of me, decided to quit. I guess he wasn’t afraid. He sashayed into my boss’ office and hissed at him.

What about the future? What about the February 2015 mortgage payment?” I asked Picasso.

Buddy, you’re tripping hard,” he said, while cleaning out his desk, packing up the scratching post, and taking one last piss on the carpet.

Picasso. "The hell with all a y'all," he hissed, and stormed out of his job.

Picasso. “The hell with all a y’all,” he hissed, and stormed out of his job.

That was a big move for Picasso. Quitting the job allowed Lyle to start fumbling around with a pen and Sundance to crawl into the window seat on a plane to Thailand. It allowed Butch to learn how to drive so he could take the girl out on dates.

And just so you know it wasn’t always easy for them: Lyle’s first written piece was a barely-readable haiku about choking a bluebird to death. Sundance hid under the bed for the first two days of the Thailand trip. Picasso wasted the first three weeks of his new freedom playing Bejewelled. And Butch for some reason tried to get to second base on only the third date with the girl. Bad kitty.

Thankfully I have all these wonderful cats, who are fearless and are able to live in the moment. Thankfully they’re around to live my dreams and live my life for me.

So before I have to hand this blog back to Lyle (he’s editing this as we go, from his position in my lap) I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season.

I know my cats will have a wonderful one for me.

Oh—and Lyle told me to tell you he’s working on a novel. It’s probably going to have cats in it, and surprisingly a dog too.

I was going to tell you something else but Lyle just hissed at me to delete it. I hate how he rips apart my stuff.

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A COUPLE OF CAT LISTS

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THE 10 MOST AWESOME THINGS ABOUT HAVING CATS:

  1. Cats, as a general rule, are not needy. They’re independent and interaction with them is often on their terms. This gets you settled with the fact that it’s really not all about you all the time. (Dogs will cause you to mistakenly believe this.) Cats show you how it really is in the world: it’s all about everyone except you. This is a valuable lesson to learn, and will spare you much suffering.
  2. Cats are the most awesome spooners. (With apologies to my girlfriend.)
  3. The cat walk is one of the most awesome things in the world to watch. Cats are actually cool, and it’s who they are, not some put-on. I’m looking at you, Gerard Butler.
  4. You get to live with the cousins of tigers. That’s pretty awesome—appreciate it. This will be at an even higher premium when tigers are driven to extinction, which won’t be long now.

    Lyle.

    Lyle.

  5. A cat purring is one the most awesome sounds in the world. I’ll put it up there with the sounds of rain in the jungle, bird song, a babbling brook, or your doctor saying, “You’re perfectly fine, and this bill is on me.”
  6. You can talk to a cat. I’m serious, try it. They will meow back at you, and once you back and forth with your cats enough you’ll be able to understand what they’re saying. Mine usually tell me to suck it up and stop complaining.
  7. They rub up against you. This expresses love as well as ownership. So cats are the only example of a benevolent dictatorship in the history of everything.

    Picasso.

    Picasso.

  8. You save a life if you adopt one from a shelter or a rescue. My cats Butch and Sundance were part of a cat colony on the streets of Hollywood. Picasso was a stray on the streets near downtown Los Angeles. Lyle was at a kill shelter and was scheduled to be euthanized during Christmas week in 2010 because he had a runny nose. I’m not kidding—a runny nose. (Lyle is the face of this blog, by the way.)Lyle sun 1
  9. Cats are creative muses. I’m convinced of it. If you have a novel trapped in you then you pretty much need a cat napping in the chair within six feet of your keyboard for you to even have a chance of getting it out.
  10. If a cat loves you, you know you’re something special.127

THE 10 MOST NOT SO AWESOME THINGS ABOUT HAVING CATS:

  1. There is no place safe from cat hair. Especially not the underwear drawer. Corollary: your dark clothes will look like they’re all trying to grow beards.
  2. Cats are in no way shape or form anything but carnivores. If you’re a vegan, this will cause you endless confusion and inner turmoil.
  3. Veterinarian trips. Cats will not go quietly and the claws may come out. Stuffing yourself into a suit of armor might help with this. Otherwise you will pay for these unwarranted and undignified kidnappings.
  4. Cats throw up a lot. You’re going to want to rethink buying a house with a lot of carpeting. My carpeted bedroom floor looks like Laos circa 1970.

    Butch.

    Butch.

  5. Cats hide sickness really well. It’s probably the worst holdover trait from their wild ancestors (You know, the “show no vulnerability to survive” thing—the same crap that’s drummed into a lot of young boys). Things will be coasting along like normal and then it’s nightmare time.
  6. Dander balls the size of tumbleweeds.
  7. Cats operate from a state of fear, with rare exceptions. So they don’t sit well with new people or new places. And they’re always ready to run away. The good news is if you operate from a state of fear, your cat will show you how silly it is to live life in this way. (I am talking about myself, of course.)Beautiful Butch
  8. If you get to a place of appreciation of the species, it’s hard to stop acquiring them. I have four. I was not “a cat person” growing up and never intended to get even one.
  9. Scratching furniture. Remember #4 in the “most awesome” list: you get to live with the cousins of tigers. Don’t forget how awesome that is. Move it up to #1 if you want. As far as the scratching, put up a few scratching posts—cats are drawn to them like Gerard Butler to crappy movies. I mean crappy movies to Gerard Butler.
  10. As with any animal, the bond you form with a cat is deep and it’s for life. And their lives are significantly shorter than yours.

    Sundance.

    Sundance.

And the biggest myth about cats I’d like to dispel: the one about cats being ‘aloof’ and not capable of forming a real bond with humans.

It’s real simple: you get what you give with a cat.

One other myth: there’s no such thing as a ‘crazy cat man’—there’s only a ‘crazy cat lady.’

Not true.001